Single & Single
This gun is not a gun.
Or such was Mr. Winser's determined conviction when the youthful Alix Hoban, European managing director and chief executive of Trans-Finanz Vienna, St. Petersburg and Istanbul, introduced a pallid hand into the breast of his Italian blazer and extracted neither a platinum cigarette case nor an engraved business card, but a slim blue-black automatic pistol in mint condition, and pointed it from a distance of six inches at the bridge of Mr. Winser's beakish but strictly non-violent nose. This gun does not exist. It is inadmissible evidence. It is no evidence at all. It is a nongun. Mr. Alfred Winser was a lawyer, and to a lawyer facts were there to be challenged. All facts. The more self-evident a fact might appear to the layman, the more vigorously must the conscientious lawyer contest it. And Winser at that moment was as conscientious as the best of them. Nevertheless, he dropped his briefcase in his astonishment. He heard it fall, he felt the pressure of it linger on his palm, saw with the bottom of his eyes the shadow of it lying at his feet: my briefcase, my pen, my passport, my air tickets and travelers' checks. My credit cards, my legality. He did not stoop to pick it up, though it had cost a fortune. He remained staring mutely at the non-gun.
This gun is not a gun. This apple is not an apple. Winser was recalling the wise words of his law tutor of forty years ago as the great man spirited a green apple from the depths of his frayed sports coat and brandished it aloft for the inspection of his mostly female audience: "It may look like an apple, ladies, it may smell like an apple, feel like an apple" -- innuendo -- "but does it rattle like an apple?" -- shakes it -- "cut like an apple?" -- hauls an antique bread knife from a drawer of his desk, strikes. Apple translates into a shower of plaster. Carols of laughter as the great man kicks aside the shards with the toe of his sandal.
Winser's reckless flight down memory lane did not stop there. From his tutor's apple it was but a blinding flash of sunlight to his greengrocer in Hampstead, where he lived and dearly wished himself at this moment: a cheery, unarmed apple purveyor in a jolly apron and straw hat who sold, as well as apples, fine fresh asparagus that Winser's wife, Bunny, liked, even if she didn't like much else her husband brought her. Green, remember, Alfred, and grown above ground, never the white -- pressing the shopping basket on him. And only if they're in season, Alfred, the forced ones never taste. Why did I do it? Why do I have to marry people in order to discover I don't like them? Why can't I make up my mind ahead of the fact instead of after it? What is legal training for, if not to protect us from ourselves? With his terrified brain scouring every avenue of possible escape, Winser took comfort in these excursions into his internal reality. They fortified him, if only for split seconds, against the unreality of the gun.
This gun still does not exist.
But Winser couldn't take his eyes off it. He had never seen a gun so close, never been obliged to take such intimate note of color, line, markings, burnishment and style, all perfectly pointed up for him in the glaring sunlight. Does it fire like a gun? Does it kill like a gun, extinguish like a gun, removing face and features in a shower of plaster? Bravely, he revolted against this ridiculous possibility. This gun does not, absolutely does not exist! It is a chimera, a trick of white sky, heat and sunstroke. It is a fever gun, brought on by bad food, bad marriages and two exhausting days of smoky consultations, unsettling limousine rides through sweltering, dusty, traffic-choked Istanbul, by a giddying early-morning dash in the Trans-Finanz private jet above the brown massifs of central Turkey, by a suicidal three-hour drive over switchback coast roads and hairpin bends under red-rock precipices to the world's utter end, this arid, boulder-strewn promontory of buckthorn and broken beehives six hundred feet above the eastern Mediterranean, with the morning sun already turned to full, and Hoban's unblinking gun -- still there and still a phantasm -- peering like a surgeon into my brain.
Copyright © 1999 by David Cornwell. Reproduced with permission of the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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