3B – The Stars

Diogenes slipped under the tarpaulin.  Rupert and Undine sneaked under an empty crate.  As the iron steamer reversed its engines and pulled out, they heard the hubbub of streets and mute wail of sirens, dividing mist and the wrecks of wooden rafts.  The engine coughed steadily, the sound muffled slightly by aluminum tacked to the frame by iron slats.  It was hardly a seaworthy vessel. Yet it meant escape and a strange glee clung to Diogenes’ guts.

He lay back.  The whole structure of Grabmaler’s assault on commerce and trade shifted into a more accurate if obsessive focus.  Destroyed docks gave out to the oily, polluted waves of the bay.  The nodding elders of maritime wrecks — tugs, trawlers, barges, even yachts — decayed in the unconscious shadows of New York harbor.  Like pathetic metal insects they lurked, rusted and fell anonymously, sinking into brackish murk.

Diogenes could see the phantoms against the blueprint of Grabmaler’s world: the need not to work within a conventional business climate but to cultivate political and economic chaos so that the former owners of economic assets, money, land, metals etc. would end up with nothing.  Feeding off the doubletalk of a spent morality, which applied only to a free market regulated by law, Grabmaler and his contacts drew power from the Collapse and so sped it forward, completed its destruction.  This necessitated suffering as well as the creation of an emotional, even a religious smoke screen around the transfer of resources.  Power meant organizing chaos. He must have accelerated the loss of electronic accountancy through elaborate fraud, for paper money was really an anachronism, but a necessary one for the Treasury Dept. before the government fell. Trade again meant barter and could all be controlled by one group — now that global currency speculation and electronic share and bond transfers had dumped all but the West into a permanent economic twilight and all the regulatory toggle-switches were flipped on to stop it to no avail — the last Collapse finally came through the former ‘G7′ capitals. More than a Mafia collected on it too. A meritocracy of greed cultivated disaster to create two societies, with an abyss dividing them as absolute as that between Stalin and the kulaks.  In the chasm between rigged chaos and its shadowy beneficiaries — the Grabmalers — hung a cloud of unknowing.  No insiders had ever escaped to tell in a coherent way, the truth.  And the longer it went on, with the print medium either controlled or destroyed, and the fracturing of idioms — Benedict’s conscious introduction of flawed language to further wreck conscious discourse — the less anyone could stop it. Ever.

Now, as they slid away from the harbor, Diogenes didn’t care whether he died at sea or not.  Only to escape, to leave grisly New York in their wake.  Let private sirens and car alarms wail at the sun, demented street preachers foam on soapboxes, let the inverted skyscraper with its printing room idle in profane sanctity. Let transvestites argue with unemployed lawyers before cracked mirrors in squatted offices, or crouching idiots twist candy wrappers on sticks in the eternal midnight of Lincoln Tunnel below.  Only to sail!   Escape.

Shivering with evaporated sweat, they began to busy themselves by picking among the Black Market oddities: trunks of gold watches, flares, sausages, cigarette cartons, door knobs, phony Euros, lipstick, rope, condoms.  They then tiptoed gingerly back to their squatted places.  Diogenes felt great.  Undine wept — tears tracing cinder cheeks.  Rupert collected himself and reflected.  He had rarely ventured beyond Grabmaler’s complex.  He had never floated on water.  He could hear the crew well enough, yelling and drinking, listening to scratchy rock-n-roll, partying till dawn.  As the crew began to relax into their bunks, or walked down rusted stairwells, thumbing frayed girlie magazines, or swinging dumb drunk in their hammocks — they all dreamed.  Europe beckoned.

After dawn the crew lay silent as it rained. The waves rolled and the stowaways covered their faces and slept.  After they got underway each day followed the same pattern.  The crew proved terribly lax and predictable.  They’d leave the cabin in drug-induced stupors, stumbling out for a case of whiskey after having lost at cards.  Or bored, they would blow up condoms in unshaven buffoonery.  They never swabbed the decks nor ventured out if the cargo lost its canvas in a storm.  Sometimes when the toilet clogged they relieved themselves in the waves pointing at dolphins or at the clouds or starlight, shouting obscene nonsense.  Nothing mattered to them.

Diogenes thought it a delightful situation.  Undine bided her time, taking long naps, sensibly reminding everyone to carefully replace any cargo they budged.  Rupert grew furrow-browed, his cleanwashed face caked with salt and weathered with seawind as he sat out-of-sight near the prow. He copied Diogenes by dropping his party suit into the Atlantic when he found some greased wool pants. He spent his days cleaning their tiny stowaway corner, mutely wiping the cracked salt from his corner or taking care to empty their excremental pail without clatter.  He coughed hard, developing a hack and often crawled to the prow, meditating under leaden horizons.

He was fatherless now.  Grabmaler was dead.  His past, a falsehood.  Sifting through a memory he would fret or convulse angrily.  Undine too had changed.  None of the pristine first impression remained, none of the judgmental distance.  She was homeless now but seemed to revel in it.  She encouraged Rupert to rid himself of illusions and to murder this father-pretender by untangling his lies.  Diogenes worked on his own rope lying at night wedged in his hut of canvas and steel.  It occurred to him that Grabmaler was right when he said that he was no longer a man but a process.  There were moments in Grabmaler’s eyes when tiny volcanoes — eruptions of disastrous guilt — blinded him with rage.  This, Diogenes thought, in his geologic or genealogic inquiry, hardened Grabmaler’s resolve to go on weaving, to tie and to pull so as to strangle in others what he had lost in himself.

Rupert watched Diogenes nestle in his niche.  And Diogenes would watch Rupert carry his colossal contradiction as he stepped over wooden cases.  He balanced it well, Diogenes thought, with all the resentment he had to control.  Undine’s concerns worked in an opposite direction, toward a future in Europe.  Paris still had that legendary draw on young girls it had centuries ago.  Are the monuments destroyed, she wanted to know?  Could she examine the rubble as Diogenes explained he had once done in Rome? She’d pick her way through the debris of Notre Dame and the Sacré Coeur and walk the Tuileries and inspect the plundered remains of the Louvre.

For two weeks, undiscovered by the crew,  Diogenes looked up at the stars and at rose-colored Mars.  His eyes teared and his nose ran as he hacked up the black wads of street filth which collected in his lungs for decades.  He recalled at night his boyhood and adolescence.  His relentless late-twenties travels through Europe: canaled Venice and Amsterdam, beige winesod evenings talking in Paris, that uncut diesel smell of old East Berlin and spired Prague — Marrakech at night as the Medina closed down — riding trains to Barcelona and walking Las Ramblas, smoking, eyeing attractive girls.  The sea swelled high with gray metallic wave and white-flecked foam.  Gulls fed off banana peels and crew-tossed bread.  Wrapped in his doubled cloak, Diogenes mused that the sea was the only place left free of the Plague, or of Grabmaler.  He spotted whales plying mist and wave, undefeated, wily in their wide wakes, having endured the beginning and the fall of humans.  They swam just as they did when Odysseus was said to have been harassed by Poseidon or luckless Anthony seduced by Cleopatra to die in far Egypt.  They outdistanced the Middle Ages when hag masses succumbed to Plague and clerical numbskulls sent others to die in Africa.  Whales eventually shrugged off Russian and Japanese and North American fisheries and survived the fall of economies which would sell their guts for cosmetics.  They too might have died and Man would have dragged all of them with him, into Hell.

This would be freer than a landed death, Diogenes reflected, watching stars revolve, or wisps of cloud under a bright half-moon.   Venus shone in light-full mystery and the Milky Way mirrored the surf.  Racing through his own crimes and tears, the puniness of his ball-peen hammer ego, he felt grateful to escape the shallows, if only to see again the stars.

Just as Diogenes fell in love with the stars, a crew member discovered his crusty, wizened face staring out of his doubled cloak and tarpaulin.  The strange light which reflected from the stars on the sea made his bony visage — his jutted jaw and greenlit hair — all the more grotesque.  The drunk crewman didn’t know whether to laugh or shout out and for a long moment stared at the unmoving head.  Diogenes sensed his stare finally and slowly swiveled as a praying mantis might and met the sailor’s eye.

“Well, what have we here?”

“A stowaway, obviously.”

“Are you alone?”

“No, we are three.  A young man and his girlfriend.  And my name is Diogenes.”

“Is that your first name?”

“That’s my only name.  My birth certificate was lost well before the Collapse.”

“You’ve been crouching in that miserable corner for two and a half weeks?”

“I’m used to it.  It seems everyone is doing their share of crouching these days.”

“Are you some kind of spy?  Some kind of agent?  Because if you are we’ll throw your ass overboard and you can supply a shark or two with a hearty scavenger’s breakfast!”

“I’m a fugitive not a spy.  And you can dispose of me as you please.  But the two kids could do some hard work for you.  There’s no need to hurt them.”

“Especially the girl?”  he said, leering.

“You’ll have to kill her first.”

“A fugitive from what?”

“From injustice … For want of a less dramatic explanation”.

“Save the romance, just the facts Dyedjenes.”

“Well, I used to work as a clerk …  for Tombstone Internationale … a small firm.”

With this, the man’s mouth shut firmly.  Then he added, “Go on.”

Then I worked for a man named Grabmaler.”

Stop there.  Let me bring you down to our captain.”

They walked by where Undine and Rupert were hiding and collected them, tiptoeing over rubbish and rusted barrels as dusk fell and sheets of foam blew across the deck.

The captain was drumming her fingers on her aluminum settee when they clambered down the iron stairwell.  A bit of mildewed bread with blue cheese, cheap wine in a plastic milk carton and a few rotten grapes were laid out.  Her bleached hair was combed back against her skull and a few chin whiskers hung from her heavy-set masculine face.  Posters and newspaper clippings were tacked on the wall and some dangled from her messy desk.  She looked rather bemused as they stood at attention before her — the grimy orange rust of the boat poking out now and then from clippings of sea disasters behind her.

She burst out a hoarse laugh: “You mean you’ve been with us since Hoboken?”  It apparently tickled her.

“Yes.” Diogenes answered for them.

“Are you the group leader?” She chided sardonically, sagging breasts moving under funky suspenders.

“Yes … he is a good man.”  Rupert said, embarrassing them both.  The sailors all laughed as she made a mock-surprise look.

“What’s your story?”  She asked Diogenes.

“I was evicted from Tombstone International where I was a clerk.  I saw Rupert here threatened by a street mob who beat me when I tried to help.  A dog named Virgil dumped me in a mass grave in Hoboken where a guy named Grabmaler invited me into a tent.  That’s when Rupert showed up with Undine.  Since I had dabbled in printing Grabmaler put me to work, enslaved me,  counterfeiting money until I pissed on his carpet.  We then escaped together and jumped on this barge and enjoyed the opportunity to rest for two weeks.  Then your man here discovered us.”

His breakneck narrative greatly amused the crew, but the captain grew more interested and serious as she considered Diogenes’ thumbnail history.

“And what about you, little darling?  Did you run into trouble before you met grandpa here and Prince Charming?”  She asked, leaning toward Undine, remaining ironic.

The crewmen chuckled but were hardpressed not to stare at Undine.  She stood there, slim, feminine, defiant and sexy despite her salty dungarees and canvas jacket.

“Everything I do is on my own accord.  We both were part of … or lived under the protection of Grabmaler.  My family dissolved after my father lost his job and my mother passed away.  Without Diogenes, it is true, Rupert and I wouldn’t be here … but Diogenes pursues what is true and we intend to do the same.”  Undine breathed, finishing stiffly.

The captain clapped her swollen hands, rotten front teeth showing: “Your too good to be true!”

“We are running from Grabmaler.  Since Rupert and I were children … maybe twelve or thirteen …”

“You’re children now! “  She giggled, sucking gums.

“Our fathers were both businessmen … successful businessmen and they lost their jobs.  My parents tried begging, in Penn Station, but gave up.  My father was soon after lynched by extortion thugs and my mother committed suicide when I was twelve.  My younger brother discovered her … brains on the living room curtains!“  Undine almost shouted the latter with intentional brutality as her temper flared.  Everyone dropped their attitude, especially the captain.

“My extended family drifted away from us too when repossessers showed up.  An employee from the Treasury Department found my younger brother and I was still living there, hiding in the closet.  Since there were no longer social adoption agencies who’d handle us we were turned out on the street.  The old bureaucrat, though, eventually rang up someone who knew Grabmaler and, after wandering around a New Jersey suburb for several months, I was carted away to his complex — leaving my brother behind.  Rupert has a similar story, perhaps not as gritty, to tell about his real father and family.”

“Mine is gritty too.”  Rupert echoed, shame-faced.

“You don’t have to say any more,”  The captain said, slowly. “Relax and stop hiding.  And I promise you you’ll not be touched by any of these pigs who work on my leaky shitheap — this sliding coffin — we call the Kronstadt.  What puzzles me, what I can’t figure out, is why you think you’ll find a better or cleaner life in Europe?”  She motioned to them to sit on upended trash pails.  “And why did you choose to hide in my ship?”

Undine replied: “We met a man who lived in a box named Aloysius who told us we could stowaway here.”

The crew all mugged to each other and laughed again.

“You know him?” Rupert asked.

“Yes,” another crewman answered, “He’s an old favorite of ours!  He gave us a lot of laughs on our way up the coast from Newport News once.”

“Aloysius said to us that he had always dreamt of going to Germany but I’m excited about Paris,” said Undine, relieved.  Her sheer health was followed by animal-like shivers from the crewmen. “He told us we could get to Europe and we want to go there.”  She added, embarrassed.

“My!  We all have our illusions.” The captain said, cracking her knuckles.  “But fear no more ... we are all hard pressed these days.  As long as you disembark at Calais.”

“Why Calais and not London?”  Rupert spoke up.

“London?”  One of the crewmen gasped.

“That’s Jack.”  The captain added impatiently.  “Maybe Trotsky should tell you what’s going on -- he’s read a lot.  What did you major in at Louisiana State,  political science?”  She asked, pointing to him.

Trotsky nodded, an unobtrusive bystander with a frumpy nose, high forehead and bleached orange hair, fingering a cigarette.

“Besides, you goodfornoth’n stowaways … you disturbed my dinner!” The captain smiled with rotten teeth, stabbing her cheese.

Trotsky walked Diogenes upstairs while Rupert and Undine stayed behind to eat with the sailors.  A storm was picking up and the wind carried sheets of heavy fog.  The sea rolled heavily but they were able to talk under a canvas stretched out from a steel frame on deck.

Trotsky appraised Diogenes with laughing, ironic eyes.

“Well,  what do you want to know?”

“Everything you know about Europe.”

“Diogenes, is that your real name?”

“Yes.” Diogenes answered.  “We want to go to London and not Calais.”

“London!” Trotsky glanced at him anxiously.  Listen, you and I are fellow thieves and adventurers, comrades at sea, so to speak, and I’m with you in your decision but Europe is in big trouble.  And London, my God!  A half-dozen nuclear reactors were blown up.  Radiation victims are left to rot in the streets.  Burned crowds hold lynchings and cry for saboteur’s blood coughing up their lungs.  It’s a slow, hideous death just to breathe there …”

Philanthropists and do-gooders try to gauze people’s mouths, lance sores, butter or salve blisters but evacuation is the only solution. To breathe there means … death.”  He looked up shyly to see the effect his news would make on Diogenes, assuming that Diogenes loved London and the news of its disaster would ruin his trip.

Diogenes simply moved on.  “And Amsterdam?”

All of Northern Holland has been reclaimed by the sea. The economy, of course, collapsed.  It’s become a kind of surly, sand-bagged, sodden, port town now.  People compare it to Marseilles, drugs, guns and prostitution are the only ‘currency’.  It’s not a quaint, historic canaled Dutch city anymore — an ‘island of tolerance’.  It’s dangerous and brutal but it’s faring better than New York or London.  As long as you can keep your head, your mouth, above water.”

“It doesn’t sound so bad.”

“Good luck getting there because we’re going to Calais.”

“Well what about Paris?

“Paris? It’s decay is unique.  It’s not a matter of crime or death.  It has simply descended into a kind of pink hue of its former self.  Sex — no, fornication — is its only pastime.  All the flora and fauna of perversion are there with a carnival atmosphere.  Middle-East refugees, death-camp escapees from Russia, atavistic French nationalists and the whole of the former French bourgeoisie seem camped along the rotting Seine. They’re starving but with a certain corrupt dignity, assuaged by neon clownishness and sex.”  He then tried to confide in Diogenes:

“Have you ever ‘made love’ to a woman you knew to be a lunatic yet also too beautiful to resist?  When the facial expressions ruin the curve of her mouth or her seductive body?  There is something wrong in fornicating with a lovely girl who is mad, isn’t there?  A hidden mendaciousness in it.  Or perhaps not too hidden.  That’s what it’s like to be in Paris, now.  If it will stand still long enough — you can fuck an overripe, beautiful lunatic — Paris — anytime you want.”

Diogenes sat befuddled.  He had scraped since his mid-thirties in New York, and introverted his vision into the smallest focus possible.  Now Europe had also changed.   They rested on their haunches as the damp night enveloped the windy fog and floods of memories washed back.  The fall of cities into clouds of dust and smoke — the sliding of structures of steel and glass into littered streets — the whine of sirens and the wail of horns and shouting multitudes — seemed like a silent movie to him at sea.  And yet, each choice meant another heap of trouble.  Another pile of rubble.  As coal-dark waves crested in high crags of patina-green and scuds of cumulus hung low in the last stab of red dusk, it all seemed unreal.  And nauseating.

“Let me tell you something Diogenes”, Trotsky said, trying to rally his spirits and keep from getting sick, “Berlin! Berlin! — is the freest city in the world.  The Germans have finally done something worthy historically.  After the Western Collapse the little that was left of the German government had control only over a few dusty offices in the back of the Reichstag.  With the European Collapse the government finally fell, which began a short, violent rule by decree reflecting a right-ring Bavarian government’s effort to “purge” Germany of immigrants.  Germany fragmented into a series of regional fiefdoms.  Berlin, after a celebrated day when they blew up a large cache of rifles and tanks which marked the end of the Nationalist’s rule — began a party they claim that was heard around the world.  They danced and partied for a full week — and occasionally a few still do if they’re drunk enough with memories and hooch.  Since then they’ve set up an independent government — an anarchist’s City-State — which defies what is left of the puppet regime still loyal to the gutted Reichstag and what’s left of Germany itself, which still worships the corpse of German unity.”

The autobahn to Berlin, despite fallen trees, car wrecks etc. is also the least obstructed road in Europe.  It’s hard to get in Berlin — they screen you to see if you’re crazy or aggressive.  And what is more controversial, they began raising a landfill border around the city proper, like when they were encircled decades ago by the Russians.  They have border stations which they run like psychiatric clinics just inside what they call ring camps, which is really to keep people out.  But once you’re in — and it’s not that hard to get in without weapons, unless you’re violent — it can be a wild party. Besides, since the weather’s changed it’s warmer in the winter. To walk in the Tiergarten or stroll along rubbled Potsdamerstrasse and listen to crazy music on loud-speakers and — well — strictly speaking there are no laws except an organization of citizens to keep the peace and, well, that’s where I would go if I didn’t eke out a living on this stupid barge.  I’d go to Berlin: ‘Freest City in the World’!”

Diogenes’ eyes dimmed somewhat.  He hadn’t considered Berlin.   He tried to imagine a city built in rings, like Saturn, only with millions of sleepy heads and campfires surrounding it.  He looked again at Trotsky, listening, apprehensive.

“It’s a city which has mutated so many times, I guess, in history, that one more molted skin doesn’t matter, and though it’s crawled back into a kind of chrysalis, it’s still a butterfly!”  Trotsky laughed, happy that the whisky drained from his glass, waxing romantic about Berlin.

“You mean they exclude people from the city?

Well, yes.  But don’t get me wrong, they’re poor and they’ve thorny problems, but the city keeps out deluded German nationalists, right-wing extortion squads, Atavists — nuts following a drug-baron who wants to force time backwards who is just now invading Prague, doomsday visionaries — to keep the proper craziness in. But beyond that — it’s possible to live there.”

“And what is the proper craziness?”  Diogenes asked, as Trotsky studied his glass.

Meanwhile, a party broke out in the cabin below.  Everyone was singing a popular song.  Jack, ridiculously drunk, emerged from the hold wearing tassels hanging from rolled-up dungarees over rubber wading boots.  He called out to them to join the party, staggering, offering them his bottle, kicking over a pack of phony Euros which fell into the sea. After he settled down, they drank together silently as night progressed, the party continuing below. Then Jack and Trotsky left, promising to persuade everyone to come on deck.

Riding high, propped against the rusted starboard ledge, Diogenes had a chilling memory of the pit.  He remembered Grabmaler’s scowl, looking down at him as he struggled.  The way he towered over him — and the faces of the dead.  He then remembered a moment he had in Bordeaux years ago when he walked with a girl, enjoying the docks and the mild wine and seeing an old woman with a gouged-out eye.  The flesh was moist around the hole where her eye had been and she moaned and picked at it.  He started to tear at this inexplicable memory — wondering why such emotion followed its forced entry into his mind — when he saw something rolling across the waves. It was traveling at incredible speed over the crests — a multicolored apparition — a hologram! There were two lovers inside it, cinemagraphically perfect, and it eerily hovered toward the barge.  It was Rupert and Undine making love. What mixed emotions he felt at this monstrous image — when he suddenly saw that it was no longer Rupert’s but his own face in the orb of light.  He looked further into Undine’s likeness — her face expressing pain — while he wore a malicious sneer as she began to age.  With increasing velocity the Undine in the hologram aged — breasts sagging, bones stiffening — until she was a hag and then a corpse crumbling through Diogenes horrified fingers.

Diogenes guiltily glanced around to check if anyone else had seen the illusion — the visual outrage — and when he turned back, Grabmaler’s visage had replaced his.  He alone filled Diogenes now with horror, mouthing inaudible curses with salacious lips.

As the hologram dissolved Diogenes shivered and gasped for breath.  It was in his doubting moments that the Grabmalers appear — he said to himself — sending their visual calling-cards.  He was leaning over the ledge of the boat trying to retch when Undine appeared on deck with Jack, Trotsky and Rupert in tow.

Jack had decided to give Diogenes a party hat — an old fedora — and to find gifts for them among the cases of stolen goods.  He yanked open a box of what looked like flares and gave Rupert a burlap sack to roll dozens of them in. For Undine he pulled out some phony Euros, several cartons of cigarettes, and a gold watch — enacting a kind of gentlemanly ceremony in offering them to her and requiring a kiss on his bristly cheek.  For Diogenes he went through the case of sausages which the three of them had already broken into and also handed him a walking stick which he claimed to be a sign of wisdom — and not just a prop for old men.  Then he broke open another bottle of whisky and passed it around.  About this time, Trotsky, who had disappeared in the hold, produced a guitar and pleaded with Undine to sing — as they had heard her below.

She sang a popular song called “The Hag” which was a blues lyric everyone knew.  As she began the captain emerged, climbing the rusty stairwell and thrusting her thick neck out.  The rest of the crew followed her, amazed since she never walked to the deck nor climbed stairwell which put a strain on her bad back.  She wore a sweet euphoric smile on her pained face as the wind carried the melody.

Trotsky strummed.  Undine had been trained classically by her parents as a child — she had a fibrous, woodwindy mezzo-soprano which dropped and then lilted upward with a silvery transparence.  It seemed to make up for everything, for timbres and tones lost in the cacophony of falling markets and the noise of survival.  It seemed to perforate the thin still-racing cloud off the stern.  And, just as the childishly awed potato faces of the crew fell under the spell of the angelic sound, the French coast appeared.

CALAIS TO PARIS

Rain greeted them when they reached Calais.  After brief good-byes with the crew they crawled away from the shore.  They could see the train which the crew told them to board. It was one of the few accepting passengers in Europe. The tickets, however, could not be bought except through the owners and this involved long haggling.  Their immediate worry was how to get on without alerting the train officials.  They crept up a grassy dune, inched through birch trees and pine then slopped through puddles onto broken asphalt. Seeing no one, they slipped quietly into the bathroom, and locked the door.  No one was yet in the car and they waited an hour listening to French passengers board.

They were reasonably sure no one wanted to use it while the train stood still. The last stragglers climbed on and they lurched forward.  They heard the controleur take tickets, the passengers grunting as they rifled through their jackets and purses.  Diogenes thought it ironic that he ended up locked in a French toilet.  Though this aluminum hole and flap differed little from those on American trains — he had always felt the French, at least in the old days, forced the issue of man’s relation to his own shit. He found an ancient issue of Mademoiselle to prop open the flap.  The air cooled, rising from the tracks.

As the train jerked along, Undine’s excitement wore off and she fell asleep on Rupert’s chest.  Swaying back-n-forth they fell into the rhythm until a few passengers tried to enter the toilet without being able to do so.  They did not question the controleur yet– thinking someone was engaged and it better to walk onto the next car.

Then a knock came upon the door: “Et alors, que se passe-t-il là-dedans?” Rupert stared at Diogenes without the faintest idea what was being said.  Undine slept.  Diogenes shook his head and tightened his lip so as to signal that they should not reply.  The controleur began to rap and then pound on the door, shouting: “Ouvrez cette porte si vous êtes dedans!”

Rupert whispered breathlessly in Diogenes’ ear: “What is he saying?”

“Let them blowtorch the lock if they want.  Not a peep!”  He whispered back.

The controleur turned to the other passengers and asked: “Avez-vous vu quelqu’un rentrer là?”

A crusty peasant dressed in Leiderhausen marched up and stated: “Y a personne qu’est rentré dans ces chiottes. P’être bien que la porte est bloquée?”

“P’être.”  The controleur replied and began ramming the door with a flexed shoulder while the passengers from the train lifted themselves from the seats to watch.

“Sortez de ces foutues chiottes, nom de Dieu!” The crusty peasant shouted rapping with his walking stick on the door.

Rupert gaped at Diogenes as if to plead for some solution but Diogenes remained adamant.  Undine awoke.

“Mais vous venez de me dire qu’il n’y a personne à l’intérieur!”  The controleur said to the peasant.

Meanwhile the passengers had lined up around the door until the controleur felt the situation presented more of a problem than the mystery of the locked door and ordered everyone to their seats.  The passengers sat up fascinated, awaiting a solution.  The controleur had tired of the situation and lied: “La porte est coincée on dirait; il n’y a personne, c’est sûr; on arrangera ça au prochain arrêt.”

The passengers felt disappointed but seemed to accept the explanation and Rupert and Diogenes relaxed.  Only the peasant dressed in Leiderhausen kept a maniacal vigil.  Diogenes, meanwhile, reminded the two to remain absolutely quiet during the remaining four hours of standing like horses in the latrine.