In spite of the optimism expressed by his Cabinet, Tom’s address to the nation did not have the effect of making the violence subside. Far from it. Indeed on the next day things seemed to get very much worse. Roused to a consciousness of their economic deprivation, hordes of Sinhalese rushed through the streets looking for Tamils who might illicitly or otherwise be engaged in plumbago mining and suchlike and thereby making the money that was the birthright of the majority race. Anyone who was found with more than fifty rupees on his person who could not explain his occupation in Sinhalese was promptly put to death, or at the very least had his money confiscated. The police participated actively in this latter exercise, being perturbed by the confusion caused amongst arrack renters by the new regulations and therefore requiring alternative sources of income to those that had kept them in food and drink in recent times. To complicate matters further the navy misunderstood Tom and thought that he had declared that ship chandling was a Tamil monopoly that ought to be abolished; they promptly went out and burned down all the godowns they could get at, so that rumours of food shortages began to proliferate.
It is a matter of historical record that the credit for the swift restoration of order goes to Mark. We, however, who are privileged enough to comprehend the underlying causes of great public achievements must note also the significant intellectual contribution of Dulcie, the emotive consequences of Shiva’s death, and above all, the personal magnetism of Tom himself. It is after all because of Mark’s overweening ambition to have an affair with at least one of the women attached to Tom’s family that on that fateful day he visited Dulcie and had with her the inspiring conversation that we are about to record. For the sake of propriety, it is worth recording however, that, frequently though he visited her, she had never succumbed to his blandishments, not even in the distant days when he had possessed all his teeth and indeed several other faculties.
‘Tom’s retired to bed again,’ he announced gloomily, and downed his glass of Bristol Cream in one hasty gulp. He much preferred whiskey, but Dulcie never served anything but sherry before dinner. ‘Everything’s in a hopeless mess.’
‘It’s all due to the communists,’ said Dulcie firmly. This had been her father’s explanation for all problems during his days of prosperity, and she had never seen any reason to doubt his wisdom.
‘Reds under the bed,’ Devika piped in helpfully. When her sons had married she had been taken in by her stepdaughter.
‘Reds in the bed more likely,’ Dulcie snorted. ‘It’s all your fault.’ Mark was embarrassed for a moment, but it turned out Dulcie was not referring to his private life at all. ‘Look at that communist diplomat you’re allowing to corrupt all those boys in Negombo. Too much red meat, that’s what it is.’ She paused dramatically, as she often did, and Devika giggled obligingly, under the impression that a joke had been made. Dulcie withered her with a look. ‘They’re Catholics, that’s what it is,’ she went on. ‘The Buddhist peasantry that is the backbone of this country doesn’t eat meat. Just a little dried fish, and that also not always. But you people are encouraging the poor to want more than they can have, and the communists are inciting them to go about killing people and setting fire to things, and to do all sorts of filthy things instead of being satisfied with their lot and going fishing. No sense of values, that’s what it is.’
‘You’re certainly right about that awful man.’ Mark was still very bitter about the Red Shadow’s involvement with one of his own mistresses. This was why he had described in graphic and derogatory detail to Dulcie what he had since heard about the Shadow’s subsequent deviations. ‘I gather he was right in the thick of things near the airport, where they burned all those factories.’
‘Trying to destroy the Free Trade Zone. It’s all so transparent, once you begin to put it all together.’
‘Yes, just look at the way they killed that poor child Shiva,’ Devika added mournfully. ‘Jealousy, that’s what it’s all about. Now you can hardly get Indra to eat anything, he’s so upset about what’s happened, Phyllis said when we rang today.’
There was an awkward silence which is why Mark, who thought he was very sensitive and loathed tactlessness, remarked hastily, almost without thinking, ‘Perhaps we should proscribe those fellows too, in addition to the Tamils.’
‘That’s what you should have done right at the start. Then the soldiers would have been on your side and shot anybody who tried anything funny. Now they think, these rioters are patriots who are trying to get back what was taken from them by the Tamils. Once you tell them that they’re only communists who’ve had too much to eat, the army will soon put a stop to all this nonsense. Everybody knows soldiers can’t stand communists. Look at what’s happening in Argentina—or Thailand or Indonesia or anywhere sensible.’
‘You know, I think you’re absolutely right,’ Mark said thoughtfully, and then did what he had never done before: he asked for another glass of Bristol Cream, and downed it resolutely.
He went straight off to see Tom, and fortunately found him amenable. Tom indeed was even more upset now than before, for he had gathered from sources in the Big White Embassy that the International Monetary Fund was going to call in all its loans, being extremely annoyed with him because of the restrictions he had announced in his address to the nation which the Fund felt were a fundamental assault on the principles of a Free Market System. In actual fact this was only a reaction suggested by Paul, who was very bitter and contentious after he had got back to Colombo and found out what had happened; but Tom was not to know that the threat was not an actual one, and he was therefore very worried, and so the more eager to grasp at Mark’s suggestion, since it would also serve to re-establish the libertarian good faith of his government. Even more gratifyingly for Mark, Tom was too overwrought himself to appear on television, and also felt that he could not so suddenly contradict what he had himself said just the day before.
It was accordingly Mark who appeared later that evening before a traumatized nation and declared that it had now been discovered that all the recent troubles had been engineered by the communists. Fortunately he had been able to obtain clips from news stories shown abroad that depicted the Red Shadow floundering about in the thick of things. This evidence, Mark held, established conclusively the involvement in the disturbances of the Big Red Embassy. Furthermore, the plot was an insidious one, designed also to undermine the moral foundations of the nation, and had been brewing for a very long time. In proof of this, Mark quoted extensively, in ringing tones, from the dossier he had obtained from the Negombo police on the Red Shadow’s activities in that area.
It was well known, Mark went on, that there was an international conspiracy of Marxist-Anarchist-Catholic-Homosexual-Arms Merchants, operating since the unfortunate demise of General Franco from a secret address in Barcelona. They were avid readers of the obscure poet of sexual inadequacy and religious casuistry, T S Eliot— who was, as was well known to all those like himself who had lived through and studied that period carefully, one of the primary reasons for the Great Depression. Calling themselves Panthers and Jackals and Tigers and such like, they modelled themselves on the inferior cats in general and were implacably opposed to Lions and Capitalists. They had succeeded up to a point, having overthrown Haile Selassie, the Lion of Judah, and Reza Pahlevi, the Shah of Persia, who called himself a Peacock, but who was in fact descended from lions, as everyone knew who like himself had studied Persian history and looked upon the shattered monuments of Persepolis; however, in trying to unify Ireland against the wishes of the great British Lioness, or in trying to divide Ceylon against the wishes of the great Ceylonese Lion, these feline conspirators had bitten off more than they could chew.
The Ceylonese Lion might seem toothless at times—and at this Mark smiled sardonically, and thrust his chin defiantly forward—but there was more bite to him than deviants could comprehend. His Excellency had, therefore, decreed that from that very moment onward— and he would brook no delay—all communists of whatsoever persuasion were to be proscribed: they could henceforth engage in no businesses at all, and all their property was forthwith to be vested in the state. All leading communists were to be subject to these penalties, and indeed to others including jail and the deprivation of their civic rights, if they did not furnish written proof that before the promulgation of the Presidential Decree, which was an Executive one to boot, they had abandoned their misguided principles and their tendentious activities.
There were five principal communists in Ceylon at the period of these momentous events. They were all of them listening avidly to Mark’s performance, being all of them more fond of him than otherwise in their own different ways, for they looked upon him as being more malleable than any other of Tom’s possible successors and therefore did what they could to boost him up. The Stalinist and the Trotskyist indeed both decided independently to ring him up the next morning and congratulate him on the professionalism of his performance. Having been to Cambridge and the London School of Economics respectively, and having played croquet and cricket and imbibed the virtues of fair play and such like, they assumed that he had simply been exaggerating for effect and accordingly retired calmly to bed. They were rudely surprised when a heavily armed contingent of soldiers turned up soon afterwards to take them away. It should be mentioned however that their sanguinity was so far justified, at any rate in the short term, in that they were both of them treated exceedingly well, and were even provided with copies of Punch, which neither had seen for a very long time and which reconciled them to a great extent to their fate.
We can be relatively certain that such kindly treatment would not have awaited the Maoist or the Che Guevarist who, having been to the Sorbonne and Lumumba University in Moscow respectively, were not thought of as socially significant or in any way entitled to peer group treatment. However, the question did not arise for, fearing the worst when they heard Mark, they had promptly gone underground and thus escaped the soldiers who were despatched to fetch them only after Mark had finished speaking. The government indeed was more than pleased at their disappearance since, as a news flash on television declared soon afterwards to the nation, it provided conclusive proof of the existence of the plot Mark had described.
The Leninist too had vanished, which certainly added fuel to the fire for, as the newspapers were stridently to claim over the next few days, he ought surely to have been quietly at home of an evening at his venerable age unless he were up to no good. As it happened, he had been at home, but the soldiers had missed him. Having long known his man, Mark immediately realized what had happened when the story was told him, but it was felt that for the good of the country, and of the Leninist, the matter should be left to stand as it was.
He was the most senior of the Marxists and, though he had not been anywhere significant outside Ceylon for any long period of time, he was a founder member of the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India and had had so many adventures during those heady days of his youth that he had been in great demand at elegant dinner parties ever since. During the Second World War he had on several occasions been on the point of being arrested by the British, and had frequently had to make desperate dashes for freedom, disguising himself as a woman more often than not to elude his pursuers. Once, it was fairly common knowledge, it was Tom who had sheltered him, in his carefree days when he had not been a member of any Executive, let alone a Presidential one.
As the years passed, however, a problem had developed, in that the Leninist had achieved such notoriety during those glorious days, never achieving any comparable success since in any field, that as he grew older he had begum to hark back rather too often to that period. In particular, he used to dress up frequently in women’s clothing and, though he usually did this in the privacy of his own palatial home, he had increasingly often been known to open the door to visitors in the more dashing of his costumes. It was in fact this habit that saved him on the present occasion. Having watched Mark’s performance on television, and reflected to himself that the young man was becoming really quite an accomplished orator, the Leninist was idly thumbing through some fashion magazines and sipping his Crème de Menthe when he heard a thunderous knocking on the door. He had an agile mind and promptly suspected the worst.
Answering the door himself, he announced to the soldiers in his most accomplished falsetto that the man they sought was upstairs at the back of the house, and that there were several people with him. The soldiers rushed upstairs in a body, and the Leninist slipped quietly through the door, and then rushed as fast as his high heels would permit him down the drive, through the gate, along the road, and into the next gate but one. This belonged to Veronica, the German Jewess we have mentioned already as being Secretary of the Human Rights Movement. As he had expected, she gladly took him in and, though she insisted on strenuous exercises every morning, made him quite comfortable. There, to all intents and purposes unsuspected, he lay low. We shall not see him again until his final momentous contribution to our story, when the wheel will turn full circle and history will repeat itself, and the Leninist will appear once more at Tom’s table, but on this occasion in stiletto heels and a plunging neckline, for fashions change even if people don’t, as the wheel spins.