The proposition (& the unexpected elevation of Espe Lamplap)
07 January 2016
Here’s the first part of the first chapter of my third Inspector Metau book. The story has Metau in charge of a motley group of reserve police whose job is to keep alive a new member of parliament, one Espe Lamplap MP. The man Mr Lamplap inadvertently defeated at the polls is planning a by-election after an unfortunate accident is made to happen to said Lamplap. But, at the beginning of the story, this is all still to unfold - PF
ESPE Lamplap was lying in bed one morning idly picking his nose and occasionally scratching his crotch.
The sun had been up for quite some time and his wife and daughter had long ago departed for their garden.
He farted loudly and decided he had better get up before he wet the bed. He ambled to the door, briefly checked outside and then urinated onto the bare patch of worn earth just beyond the entrance.
Farting once more he turned around and rummaged through the ashes of the fire looking for the lumps of kaukau his wife would have left cooking for him.
He took the kaukau outside and sat on the grass while he ate it. In front of him the land fell away for some distance before it met an eroded trench that passed for a road. A couple of stalls had been erected on either side where his wife and daughter occasionally sold vegetables and firewood to passers-by.
Beyond the road the land dropped further away until it reached an angry little stream that frothed over mossy rocks. Beyond the stream forest climbed up the opposite hillside.
There didn’t appear to be many other people about; he could hear the occasional shout in the distance but the road was empty. Espe assumed everyone was in their gardens or had gone into town to the market.
He farted again and then burped just as he spotted someone coming along the road. When he saw who it was he ducked his head and tried to shrink until he was invisible.
Pastor Riktas had a towel over his shoulder and was obviously heading for the downstream pool to carry out his daily ablutions.
Espe remained immobile until the pastor had disappeared down the road. The last thing he wanted this morning was another lecture about his indolent and irreligious ways. He stared at the vacant road and then struggled to his feet.
He was about to go inside and rummage through the ashes in case he had missed a piece of kaukau when a movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.
A large black Land Cruiser was slowly making its way down the road. The driver was carefully dipping his wheels into the large ruts and then rocking gently out of them one at a time.
Espe sat down again to watch the tortoise-like approach of the vehicle. Its windows were darkly screened and he couldn’t see who was inside. In this environment it looked like an alien spacecraft. To his surprise it pulled up directly below him and sat there shining like a malevolent beetle.
Eventually the driver’s door opened and a small man climbed out and clambered up onto the grassy verge and stood staring up at him. After a while he began waving with forward sweeps of his hand.
Espe looked over his shoulder but there was nobody there. The man was obviously waving at him and appeared to want him to come down to the vehicle. Espe sat still and farted a couple more times. Eventually the small man began to climb up the slope towards him.
When the man got closer Espe recognised him as his wife’s cousin-brother. What does he want and where did he get a big car like that he wondered?
It took the man several seconds to catch his breath. At least his return journey would be downhill Espe thought; if he had gone down there he would have had to climb back up the slope and it was too early in the morning to do that.
“Good morning wantok,” the little man finally said and held out his hand.
Espe considered the hand for a moment and then reached out and gave it a half-hearted shake. It was the hand that he used to scratch his crotch and eat his kaukau, portions of which were still clinging to it.
The man retrieved his now sticky fingers and said, “The Member would like to talk to you.”
“Yes, he’s in the car waiting.”
“He wants me to go down there?”
“The Member says he can’t climb up here, it’s too steep.”
“What does he want with me? I haven’t done anything.”
The little man looked at him with distaste. It was patently obvious that Espe hadn’t done anything for a long time but he decided on discretion and didn’t mention the fact. Instead he wiped his sticky fingers on the side of his trousers.
Espe sighed and struggled to his feet. The little man offered him a hand but he deferred and finally gained an upright position. He followed the man down the slope.
As they got closer to the vehicle a rear window magically rolled down. A very large man was splayed over the back seat sipping on a can of Pepsi Max.
“Hello Espe,” the Member said with a broad and greasy smile. “How have you been keeping?”
“Hello uncle; I’ve been well.”
“That’s good to hear. And your good wife, my sister-cousin and her delightful daughter; what’s her name again?”
“That’s your wife; I mean your lovely daughter.” Again the smile, slightly less greasy and more business-like.
“Ah yes. Rhapsody; a rhapsody in red. How is she, she must be all of twelve by now?”
Espe had to think before he replied. “She’s fourteen, sir.”
“A proper little lady already; is she pretty?”
“I think so, sir.” What’s this then; surely he doesn’t want to marry her; he’s got three wives already.
Espe was calculating how much the Member might be prepared to pay in bride price when the man spoke again.
“I have a proposition for you to consider Espe.”
“Ten pigs and ten thousand kina,” Espe replied quickly.
“Five pigs and five thousand kina.”
The Member laughed. “I don’t want to buy your daughter Espe; I have enough trouble with my wives already.”
“Don’t look so disappointed; this is a business proposition.”
A business proposition! Good grief; what sort of business could he possibly be talking about? Espe had left school halfway through grade eight and had absolutely no skills whatsoever; unless you counted eating and farting.
“There’s a national election next month, Espe.”
“Yes, and I’m planning on re-contesting my seat; I believe I owe it to my people.”
“But I have a slight problem, Espe.”
“Yes, Espe; a problem. It seems the good Pastor Riktas is also planning on contesting the seat.”
Espe looked nonplussed. The pastor was down by the stream washing his shirt and brushing his teeth as they spoke.
“I don’t think he will win, sir.”
“I don’t think so either but I need to be sure. There will probably be another dozen or so candidates but they don’t concern me as much as Pastor Riktas.
“They are all, how shall I put it, susceptible to temptation but the good pastor seems to be much less inclined and he has quite a substantial following of people who might be persuaded to vote for him.”
“Yes, sir,” Espe was looking truly puzzled now.
“I need a distraction, Espe; someone from the pastor’s clan who might be convinced to oppose him.”
What on earth for, Espe thought? The Member saw what was thinking.
“To split the clan vote, Espe; do you understand?”
“I think so, sir.”
“I was wondering whether you might be interested, Espe. I could cover your costs and add a bit to make it worth your while.”
“Why not Espe? I can’t think of anyone else with your, umm, integrity and finger on the pulse of clan thinking.”
“Very good Espe. Then we have a deal?”
“Just between us, Espe; no need to tell anyone, eh?”
The Member snapped his fingers and an unwifely but feminine hand emerged from the front passenger seat bearing a wad of kina notes. The Member took them and selected several. He passed them out the window. Espe took them.
The driver got back into the vehicle and started the engine.
“My people will be in touch Espe,” the Member said with another greasy smile. Then the window, like Aladdin’s cave, mysteriously closed again.
Espe watched the vehicle drive a short distance down the road, execute a bumpy turn and then sashay past him back the way it had come.
As Espe counted the notes in his hand he vaguely recalled that the Member had promised to fix the road during the last election campaign. No doubt he would make the same promise again.
Suddenly the pastor appeared on the road in the distance on the way back from his wash. Espe scuttled up the hill as fast as he could and ducked inside his house.
By the end of the week Espe had all but forgotten the strange visit by the Member. In fact, he began to wonder if it had happened at all. Then he felt the comforting pad of kina in his pocket; it must have happened after all.
He was wondering how he could get into town to spend the money without alerting his wife or her family one morning when a small Isuzu truck pulled up on the road below.
Several men jumped off the back and began unloading tools and bits of timber. A couple more headed off towards the stream and the forest beyond carrying an axe and bushknife.
They laboured for three days, hammering and sawing and dragging timber out of the forest. Espe felt tired just watching them.
The truck disappeared for half a day and then came back with thatching for the roof of what now looked like some sort of meeting place. Espe concluded that they were building a new, if strange looking, church for Pastor Riktas.
His speculations ended on the fourth morning when the men tacked a large sheet of tin, the reverse of which had an SP Lager bottle and a grinning man on it, and painted a new sign on it.
The sign read: ‘Vote  Espe Lamplap – Campaign Headquarters’.
Espe recognised his name but couldn’t work out what the other words meant.
The next morning an earnest looking man in a light blue suit struggled up the hill to his house and after getting him to sign numerous documents he didn’t understand insisted on taking his photograph.
For this he asked Espe to comb his beard and put on a clean white shirt and a black tie that he had brought with him. When Espe complied the man handed him another wad of kina notes and left. Espe put them in his pocket.
He was still wearing the shirt and tie when Agnes and Rhapsody returned from the garden in the afternoon. They gave him a strange look and started to cook dinner.
The shirt had become rumpled and soiled by the end of the week and the tie had been purloined by Agnes to tie up a bundle of firewood.
Things went quiet for several days until a flat back Land Cruiser turned up and started unloading cartons of SP lager, packets of bread rolls and frozen lamb flaps.
Shortly thereafter a lot of people started coming and going and the building reverberated with country music, laughter and shouting well into the night.
The gaiety and frivolity went on for several weeks. By then Espe’s wife had worked out what was going on and demanded her share of the money in Espe’s pocket.
Espe had wandered down to the building at the bottom of the hill a couple of times but on each occasion someone had shoved a beer into his hand and told him to get lost, everything was under control they said.
Pastor Riktas had discontinued his daily pilgrimage to the pool and was apparently preaching from his pulpit about the evils of vote buying and rigging. People Espe had hardly ever seen before occasionally came to the bottom of the hill and stood there waving their fists at him.
On one memorable occasion he had gone into town on a PMV and noticed the signs hammered into the side of the road with his picture underscored by a large number one in a black square.
He had sunk slowly into his seat hoping no one would notice him but it was no use. Someone with a mobile phone on the bus had phoned ahead and a couple of reporters were waiting for him at the market.
“What are you going to do for the people in your electorate?” they asked without preamble.
Espe fidgeted nervously and then said, “I’m going to fix the road.”
The next day the headline in the local community newspaper announced in bold lettering: ‘Candidate Promises to Fix Road’. Underneath was a photograph of Espe in his soiled and greying shirt, minus the tie, at the market. The newspaper said he was ‘meeting and greeting’ the public.
When voting day came Espe went to the village church where the polling was being conducted. A sign with his face on it sat among about a dozen others. A much larger sign with a photograph of the Member beamed over the top of them all.
Pastor Riktas was standing at the door of the church-come-polling-place handing out how to vote leaflets with his photograph on them. Espe took one and the pastor stared daggers at him. He had his name crossed off the electoral roll and took his voting slip to a booth. He voted for the Member, just as he had always done.
A week or so later the results were announced. Espe had won by a narrow margin.
The Member demanded a recount and Espe increased his lead. People began climbing up the hill to congratulate him and tell him about how they needed money to send a favourite son to college or pay for a life-saving operation for their daughter.
Then, late one night, some men he had never seen before burst into his house and bundled him off down the hill and into a waiting car. Agnes and Rhapsody simply blinked and went back to sleep. In the morning they set off for the garden as usual. After a short discussion they left some kaukau cooking in the ashes of the fire.
The next day, after being locked in a small room overnight in town, Espe was bundled into a small aeroplane for his first ever terrifying flight. By the afternoon he found himself in a large room on one of the top floor of the Crowne Plaza in Port Moresby.
His assailants had ordered several plates of chicken and chips from room service and after it arrived handed him a loaded pistol and told him not to let anyone into the room under any circumstances. Then they left.
Epse gingerly picked the pistol up by the barrel and put it in one of the bedside drawers. Then he sat on the bed and started on the chicken and chips.
He was still trying to work out how to turn on the television the next morning when the men returned. They had a petite Chinese woman with them. She ran a tape measure over him while trying not to touch him and wrinkling her nose. The men asked him if he wanted a girl. He looked back uncomprehendingly and they shrugged and left with the Chinese lady.
A couple of hours later they came back with two sets of clothes. They showed him how to work the shower in the bathroom and then helped him into one of the suits. They went away again.
Espe sat on the bed feeling resplendent and uncomfortable in his new clothes staring at the flashing screen of the television that the men had turned on for him.
Later in the day a dapper little man with a neat white goatee came to the door with two large men with spiky hair and rolls of fat around their necks. The little man extended his hand and said, “Welcome to the party.”
Espe took the hand but he wasn’t sure he wanted to go to a party.
Presumably Jamie Briggs will eventually take over from Alexander Downer in London.
I could never imagine voting for anyone called 'Jamie'; what were the good folks of Mayo thinking?
If they are going to keep doing that the Irish Prime Minister should demand they change the name of the electorate.
Posted by: Phil Fitzpatrick | 07 January 2016 at 11:57 AM
Admit it Phil, you have borrowed this idea from Australian politics!
The political culture that produced Craig Thomson, Gordon Nuttal, Peter Slipper, Bernard Finnegan, Bronwyn Bishop, Jaimie Briggs (my very own local member!) and other similar creatures must have inspired the creation of Espe Lamplamp MP.
Regardless, it seems you have come up with a great yarn.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 07 January 2016 at 09:21 AM
You'll be surprised at the transformation that SP Lamb Flap undergoes Robin - that is if he can survive the people out to kill him.
I haven't settled on a title yet but I'm thinking about 'Inspector Metau and The Case of the Good Politician'.
Keep an eye on the forest over the road from his house and the state of the road in between.
Posted by: Phil Fitzpatrick | 07 January 2016 at 07:51 AM
Good one, Phil. It's a definite segue to a Metau mystery, I reckon.
Posted by: `Robin Lillicrapp | 07 January 2016 at 06:49 AM