, , , , , , , , , , ,

acts-of-faithPaul is surprised when he is summoned to see Luke late one evening. He is even more surprised to find that he is the only person present apart from his host, and is conducted into a small cosy room at the back of the house, covered with bookshelves on which there are volumes of Hansard and copies of Luke’s own publications and lavishly illustrated guides to various places Luke has visited. Some of the shelves turn out to be false, and are swung back to reveal a lavishly stocked bar. Paul is offered whiskey but declines and asks for beer. This takes some time to be brought, and until it is Luke guides Paul around the room and shows him several photographs of ceremonial occasions on which he shook hands with diverse Heads of State, some of them the representatives of ancient and revered dynasties.

They sit down at last, before a mock fireplace with a large metal grille in it across which orange flames dart after Luke throws a switch. Paul is reassured to be told that this is simply a very sophisticated form of air-conditioning, and that it is cold air that is being blown forth. They go on to talk about high technology, and Luke’s detailed plans to reconstruct all the buildings and bridges that have been damaged in the riots, and many more besides, in all sorts of intricate shapes and vivid colours and stupendous sizes. Luke wants to know whether Paul thinks the Big White Power, or indeed any other Powers of whatsoever shade, would be interested in these eminently forward looking plans.

Paul gives a non-committal but enthusiastic answer. He knows that there is more to come. Luke moves on to discuss international reactions in general to the recent events, and varying perceptions about the particular roles of White Powers and Red Powers and Brown Powers and even Muslims. Paul notes that Luke says nothing critical about anyone, except possibly Karl Marx and his Brothers and hangers on in a collective sense, and he himself follows suit. Luke then goes on to talk about Trincomalee, and the need to exploit the resources of that splendid natural harbour in conjunction with a Responsible Power; but Paul still feels, fascinating though the subject might be, that Luke’s heart is not in it, and that there is something more which this meeting is all about.

Luke then talks about the splendours of the sea and the beauties of Ceylonese beaches. He refers lightly to the fact that Paul possesses a beach house, but at this point Paul asks for more beer. Luke has the glasses refilled, and then mentions Paul’s friendship with Shiva. Paul thinks that Luke will refer to Shiva’s will, the contents of which seem to be more widely known in the higher echelons of Colombo society than might have been expected, but he does not and instead talks about the fact that the beach house was owned jointly by Shiva and Paul. He adds, as it seems inconsequentially, that there is reason to believe that the people who attacked Shiva came from the constituency in which the beach house is situated. Paul wonders whether he will ask if there is any reason why Shiva and Paul should be unpopular there, but he merely goes on to describe the attempt to reclaim the other body that had been found with Shiva’s. He adds that the identity of the man had been established, though the police had reached the conclusion that there was not enough evidence to proceed further in inquiring into the attack on Shiva’s house.

Paul is not quite sure what this is all about. He ponders the possibility of there being under Luke’s benign exterior an attempt at blackmail. This suspicion is increased when Luke smoothly moves on to talk about the Red Shadow, and the exposure of his activities in that neighbourhood. He pays tribute to Mark’s detailed account on television, but adds that Matthew deserves even more credit for the unmasking of the nun at the airport. He adds that of course it was easier for Matthew, since the airport too lay in his constituency, and therefore he could order things as he required there. Nevertheless it took great courage to act so decisively in a context which might have given rise to an international incident, and where diplomatic privileges might have been invoked. Fortunately, Matthew had enough strength of character and independence to brook no nonsense in what he very properly and patriotically regarded as his own territory.

Luke then refers to Trincomalee again, and its importance for the Powers of Good during the Second World War. From then on, they talk in general terms about history and international relations and inter-governmental agencies. Paul is aware that the real business of the day has been conducted, and he now allows himself to talk freely. He does not believe that there was anything more than the most tentative stab at blackmail. Much more important was the reference to Matthew’s unwavering sense of purpose. Yet the reference to the beach house was clearly vital and Paul continues to reflect upon it after he leaves.

It is only when he gets home that he realises that Luke had been telling him that the mob that assaulted Shiva came from Matthew’s constituency. He decides that he must check on this information, though it seems to him unlikely that Luke would simply have made up a story so readily verifiable. He is correct. The story is soon confirmed. Luke was indeed telling the truth.

Angry though he is, Paul decides that he must proceed carefully, and with due regard to what is owed to Shiva’s memory. As a first measure, he sets about the determined infiltration of Matthew’s household. He lives next door to Matthew, and had indeed gone some way towards this purpose already. His own household is not unskilled. Possessing ready access to duty-free liquor, and able to carry conviction in their promises of entry permits to greener pastures, their concerted efforts soon bring some success. It is not too long before Paul has at least one member of Matthew’s household under his thumb, so to speak.