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Playing for Keeps

Robbie, an orang-utan in army fatigues and a sky blue helmet, slouched through the door of Emmaís office. Blonde stubble glistened in the black-streaked face. He glared at Des, who strode past him and stood tall in the middle of the floor, every inch the successful salesman, confident in his pretence that the restrained sparkle of his suit hadnít gone missing, and that the pile of the carpet hid his scuffed shoes. Charles, Emmaís personal assistant, unshaven, his off-white jumper more off-white than usual, waited by the door.

Robbie looked hopefully towards the soft chairs and the wood-panelled refrigerator. Emma, as big as any of them in her maroon business suit with the shoulder-located helicopter pads, signalled towards the hard chairs in front of her quarter-acre desk.

Robbie scowled at her. "What is this? A court martial?"

Emma shook her head. "Not yet, but it could be, if you havenít got a good story. Thatís why I asked Charles to bring you here, straight off the plane." She inspected Robbieís uniform. "Donít get me wrong," she said. "I donít mind that youíve blown up a parliamentary delegation. Most of us are tempted to, at some time or other. We usually resist it." She leaned forward. "But this delegation was the responsibility of my department. Escorted by my personal assistant."

She waved towards Charles, who said, in a voice of doom, "They were from marginal seats, every one of them."

Emma pointed to the sky. "There are people up there who are not happy."

Robbie scowled at her again. "You canít blame us if they blunder into a minefield," he said.

"We can, if you laid it."

"Well, I didnít. Gave up that game ages ago. Too bloody hard to find the winning side, and too bloody uncomfortable if youíre not on it. Iím in to sports administration now. For the UN."

Emma looked at the army fatigues again. "Whatís the sport?"

"Genocide," Robbie said. "Itís really catching on. Be in the olympics in no time. Proper team game. Requires real managerial ability." He looked at Emmaís padded shoulders. "Youíd love it."

"What are the rules?"

"To get it going," Robbie said. "you gotta have a facilitator. Find somewhere where thereís two lots of people living together who are different somehow. You know, one lot short, one lot tall. One lot talks posh, the other doesnít. One lot been there longer. And they start digging, and soon enough, it all starts spilling out ó they pinched our land, they took our jobs, they stood on Aunt Mabelís corns, they...they...they... The further back it goes, the more everybody thinks itís forgotten, then better the game. Then you sort of stir the pot a bit, and its on for one and all."

"Itís action packed," Des said. "Made for TV. No need for replays, itís all happening. Biggest problem is fitting in the ads. And lots of tension, because getting points on the boardís really hard. Like soccer."

"You got to totally wipe the other side out before you score," Robbie said. "Mostly you get a nil all draw. So Milbi was great. One all."

"Milbi," Emma said. "Island in the Indian Ocean. Thatís what I want to know about. How the pollies got theirs."

"They werenít part of the game," Robbie said. "It was over by then."

"So what was the game?"

"Campbells versus Macdonalds," Robbie said. "Old Scottish brawl. Massacre of Glencoe, 13th February, 1692. And that wasnít the start of it."

Charles put on his Information Database expression. "Milbi was settled from western Scotland, as a result of the Highland Clearances," he said. "Beginning of last century. Problem was, the first boat load was Macdonalds, the second Campbells."

"No problem, really," Robbie said. "Jesus, they even intermarried. But thereís always a guy on one side with a chip on his shoulder and one on the other with bricks in his head. And the local paper never minded a beat-up to go with its page three boobs. Then, the three hundredth anniversary of the massacre, someone put a can of soup through the window of the hamburger joint ...

"The cops kept them quiet for a while," Robbie said, "The odd knifing after the pub or the splash of kero on the front verandah, but that was all. Then the cops managed to execute the wrong guy, and got put down, and it was on for one and all."

"Only safe place was the Presidential Palace," Des said. "Alice Kavanagh is Irish, so she was out of it."

Emma looked down her nose at Robbie with a disapproving frown. "And you were the facilitator?"

Robbie stared back in horror. "Christ, no! Iím no bloody politician."

"Then what were you doing there?" Emma asked.

"Observer," Robbie said. "If thereís UN personnel, it stops the do-gooders interfering, trying to stop the game. We get a bit of flak, but what referee doesnít ..."

Emma looked at Des. "And why were you there? That doesnít look like a UN issue suit."

Des look smug. "Business," he said.

Emmaís eyes narrowed. "Second-hand tanks?"

"Mines," Des said. "Great deal. Super-light. Easy to carry. Thousand to a one-man pack ..."

"And bloody useless," Robbie said. "Gust of wind, they blow away. If you want a mine in your mush, buy Des."

"We achieved excellent coverage," Des said. "Thereís nowhere on the island that we didnít reach. Even the reef, and thatís inaccessible."

"Anyway," Robbie said, "the game was finished. Weíd checked it out, made sure the score was right, and gone back to the airport. Down the back road, because Des knew the batch of mines theyíd used there were duds. Arms fair display stuff. And just when we got there, this dirty great jumbo jet comes thundering in, and who gets off but Charlie here and his mates."

"They appeared to be interested in business activities, in the personal services industry ..." Des said.

"We told them Milbi was no sexual free trade zone, and most of the residents had had better things to do with their daughters," Robbie said, "but theyíd heard some story from some sex tour operator. Trying to get them off his back, I reckon. So they were going in, mines or no mines."

"We explained the survival contingencies associated with any transportation beyond the immediate vicinity of the airport," Des said, "but they insisted that airport/hotel transfers had been paid for."

"Their bloody tongues were hanging out, they were that keen," Robbie said. "Guy on one side was banging me in the ribs, saying ĎWhereís the action?í, guy on the other was foaming at the mouth, shouting ĎYouíre a pander, sirí, and me thinking Iíd had a good nightís sleep."

"They thought that Des and Robbie were covering up," Charles said.

"So we told them to take the armoured car, and off they went, straight down the freeway," Robbie said. "Best we could do, in the circumstances."

He grinned. "Sounded like cracker night. Pop, pop, pop-pop-pop, pop, pop-pop, fading slowly into the distance. Then BOOM! when they hit the big one. Good thing Des and I didnít go that way, because that was no dud, for sure. Charles wanted to go and rescue them, but we told him not to bother, not unless he had a big vacuum cleaner.

"Then we commandeered the jumbo, and here we are," Robbie said.

"Our problem is," Emma said, "Charles was supposed to be looking after them. I donít want him demoted to base-grade and transferred to Innamincka."

"We could get Alice to give him diplomatic immunity," Robbie suggested. "She mightnít have any citizens, but sheís still President. And a Milbi passportíll get you into a couple of countries, at least."

"Why not shop around the TV Current Affairs programmes?" Des said. "ĎI was death pollies minderí. Thatíll go great. Heíll get more than enough to tell the public service where to go."

"Why donít we send Robbie or Des to Innamincka instead?" Charles suggested.

The telephone rang. Emma picked it up. "Hmm ... I see ... Yes ... That does make a difference ... Certainly, Iíll do that. ... Thank you."

She put the receiver down, looked at Charles, and grinned. "Itís okay," she said. "That was the Speaker. He says heíd refused permission for the trip. Heíd told them that a parliamentary delegation looking at sex tourism in foreign countries might be misinterpreted."

"So they ignored him, too," Charles said.

Robbie pointed at Charles. "Sounds like itís you thatís in trouble then, for helping them."

Emma shook her head. "They conned everybody. Enough, anyway, so theyíve got to keep it quiet. Even the plane was booked up to the Parliamentary account."

"So what now?" Charles asked.

"The Speakerís making sure the journos know that it was a private trip. That means you werenít there. Not on official business."

"Iíll fill in a leave form," Charles said.

Emma smiled at him. A thatís a good dog smile. "Did you have a good holiday?" she asked.


Copyright © D.W. Walker, 1994

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