With the literary gauntlets thrown to the ground, the war of semantics is universally declared. Gabler has inflamed Kidd by using Bloom’s unverified consciousness as a trifle to be rearranged for professional gain. Kidd’s retaliation to proclaim undying loyalty to the Master’s Bloom, not Gabler’s interpretation, and vowing to defend every nuance of Bloom’s character for all eternity, has plunged academia into opposing factions – pro Gabler or pro Kidd. Nobody is allowed not to care.
Kidd, his passionate flight from verbal fisticuffs accomplished, halts before a reflecting windowpane. He dusts down his Italian suit and runs manicured fingernails through coiffured silver hair to reimpose the unflustered bearing of the cool, astute academic which is his reputation. Calmed by his mirror-image he smiles, confident that he possesses the superior intellect and wherewithal to defeat the mighty Joycean estate’s attempt to place before the public a version of the Master’s great work that is sullied, misappropriated and wholly without consideration for the Master’s wishes.
Clear of observers Kidd turns to embrace his fellow skedaddler, to eulogise on the
neat execution of their showmanship. But behind and around him all he can see is emptiness. Bloom has vanished as if he never existed. Frantically he retraces his route back to the conference hall and with accumulating frenzy searches offices and reception rooms. But Bloom is as disappeared as a draft manuscript used to light a bonfire.
His wrath amplified by heartbreak he allows no time to elapse before confronting the man he believes responsible for the abduction.
In his orotund tone Gabler refutes all of Kidd’s allegations, using the same dismissive phrases he has come to rely on in vindicating his redefining of the Master’s masterpiece. “Kidd,” he rails. “My only motivation in this matter is to have the privilege of answering a worthier challenger than you represent. Your misguided attempts to unseat me are fuelled by envy, and envy Kidd is such a poor stimulant, cheap and redolent of the secondary school playground. One day, when you have grown to maturity, you will comprehend why I, Gabler of Zurich, was the chosen scholar to disambiguate and rehabilitate the Master’s priceless gift to the literary world.”
Kidd can only respond to the vituperative baiting by reiterating his accusation.
Gabler, his pre-eminence assured, summons with obvious satisfaction a minion to escort his accuser from both his office and the building, and out of Dublin altogether if he thought he could get away with it.
With acrimony and grief using his heart as a kettledrum of conflict Kidd scours the Irish kingdom in a bid to uncover a clue to Bloom’s whereabouts. Yet literature’s
most celebrated character has disappeared from land, page and vision, and despite all his rhetoric Kidd can find no one who will implicate Gabler with the outrage. Hornmad and obstinate in his resolve to expose the Zurich maverick as a common rogue he appoints an O’Connell Street private eye to investigate the abduction, declaring no stone should be left unturned, no bookstore unvisited, no lending library untraversed and no possible hiding-place left unexamined in the quest for Bloom’s repatriation to the worthy and the worshipful.
Lorenzo Buck, supine and inertly delirious, imaginatively rides the fire-encrusted waves of magenta light astride a golden hypodermic that in its habitude holds power over his barbarous nature. In his rabid state of fantasy, he breaths pink oxygen and suckles on the nipples of three-breasted enchantresses and witnesses with gleeful fascination replays of his past inglorious lives and future incarnations which serve to increase his infatuation with the horrific and morbid. With dilated blue eyes he cheers as a sword wielding knight charges at the sun and plucks from its fiery core the severed head of his last girlfriend, its bleached countenance contorted by the cruel ecstasy of his need for revenge.
As the sun dies, the moon floods the subjective void with opaque light and cavorting dancers appear on its powdery surface, the slender, translucent troupe holding out their arms to him, indicating by the generosity of their smiles that they wish to pay him sexual homage without recourse to monetary exchange.
The magic of the drug transports him onward, to obfuscating lands and coruscating planets, to electrifying radiation belts and through the cortices of swirling Black Holes; the daily journey a spiritual re-focusing of who he is and what he has become.
When his icy blood is able to pump once more through his hardened arteries he is jettisoned from the hallucinogenic comfort-sleep to the paroxysmal screams of reality. The burning light of day cruelly will not relent and in looking away in protection of his aching corneas he notices a bloody scimitar and a decapitated head at his feet and he emits a holler of demented pleasure.
“Christ man! Look at this beauty!” He picks up the head by its long blonde hair and kisses the lips. “Hell! I must get some more of that blessed cocktail.”
With mock ceremony he places the head in an empty fish-tank and dances his way slowly to the bathroom for his daily ceremonial disgorging of vomit and blood.
Despite the indignity of the abduction and the loss of Bloom’s stabilizing influence upon his life Kidd has managed to publish his vaunted and self-praised riposte – A Joycean Scandal! His precise objections to Gabler’s mauling of the masterpiece are laid before the readership with the careful qualification of a philosopher, his contentions rolled-out with the uniformity of a red carpet.
The popular press, though, are distracted by the injudicious fornicating of a bright young parliamentarian and a renewed threat of war in a far-off land, and Kidd’s exposure of the nefarious scheme to keep a book of intellectual grandness inside the restraints of copyright is of no newsworthy use to tabloid and broadsheet alike.
So as the physical dimension holds its breath as the tentacles of a foreign war extend beyond the reach of sanity, Kidd rewalks Bloom’s pilgrimage on the halcyon day of the funeral and in modern time strolls in fawning harmony with the pedestrian plotting of a bygone age, his feet not guided by a gaudy A to Z but from the knowledge recorded in his imagination – That were the city destroyed it could be recreated brick by brick simply by reading my book, the master had boasted. And Kidd’s easy navigation of the ancient architecture provides proof, if proof were ever needed, of the Master’s claim.
From Kingstown pier to Bride Street, from the City Arms Hotel to the hubbub of the Evening Telegraph, Kidd searches for Bloom. From Windmill Lane to Lime Street and on to the linseed crushers and the postal telegraph service he is unable to detect any trace that Bloom ever passed by. It is as if Bloom never really existed, if he never greeted his many friends as he established himself a true hero of classical fiction.
At his hotel the night porter surprises him with a sealed envelope, explaining in his fractured dialect that a gentleman of foreign distinction had instructed him to ensure the letter was delivered to his hand.
The copper-plate correspondence is a demand for a showdown; a barbed request that he address an arbitrating audience at the Joycean Hall. Kidd, his ire raised to the boil by Gabler’s unfaltering impudence, immediately sets to work to devise a strategy that will surely unpin his foe and through the dark hours his excitement and anticipation escalate and belief re-enters his heart that Bloom will soon be restored to him, that he might be the prize for winning the arbitration.
At the sounding of the dawn bird-chiripping chorus his itinerary for the day is set, his glorious extermination of Gabler and his self-seeking inventions logged in alphabetical order in his head. And with a solemn affirmation to God that by bludgeon or neat parry he will not fail in his mission to retrieve Bloom from the bondage of the specious don he falls into a fitful slumber.
Lorenzo Buck is seated on an ottoman in the foyer of Finn’s Hotel. His unkempt form lurks with alien effect behind a rumpled copy of the morning’s racing paper as his clandestine eyes pursue the clientele, on the lookout for the merest glimpse of a well-stuffed wallet in the back pocket of an elderly gentleman or a sparkly necklace dangling with seductive grace from a bare-throated lady.
The evening remains dusky, the spoils limited, his desire to ride again a golden hypodermic demanding a successful outcome to his labour. His blue eyes dart impatiently from one figure to the next, the sight of half-pint sippers and lemonade guzzlers collapsing his mood and slaughtering by degrees his patience.
He alternates between leaving and staying and all the while he prevaricates the niggling devils within him stroke and stir the craving that is food and drink to him. One well-stuffed wallet, one sparkly necklace, is all he needs. One quick stroll to an isolated spot and abracadabra his life is as extended as the Count Dracula’s.
Two ladies of the night enter the hotel, seating themselves on a chesterfield, in hope of early trade. His hopes rise as well-heeled faces look in their direction. Casually they exchange banter, unaware of the wolf lurking close by, commenting on the rich pickings that will come their way once the culture vultures trundle from the Joycean in need of light relief. They laugh copiously; their night predicted.
His patience exhausted Buck, his night equally predicted, Buck saunters from the Finn, the racing pages stuffed inexcusably under his arm, invigorated by the thought of pickpocketing one by one the horde of literary debaters and disposing of their remains in the river if it should suit his requirements.
Gabler stands erect at the lectern, his manner of delivery as rigid as his arrogance, his carefully scripted notes barely disturbed. The defence of his verification of the Master’s masterpiece remains unchanging. The audience are eagerly quiet, enraptured by the semantics of the debate, assessing his polemic for evidence of sincerity and wisdom. Some sit glum-faced, jurors evaluating and sifting his finely constructed phrases for clear-cut signals of falsehood and mercenary intent. Others sit as if on a bed of thorns, escorted to the hall as guests, the promise of an evening of scholarly enlightenment wilting by the syllable as if poison accompanied the whiskey into their flasks.
Kidd sits alone at the back of the stage, the inflated rhetoric and egotistical diatribe stripping away his invisible cloak of imminent triumph. His faith in academia is slowly diminishing as the audience gobble up the ordered dispute as if they were barnacle geese removing fields of their winter wheat, their humdrum lives enlivened by the half-cocked duel. He had received a generous round of applause when he opened the proceedings by announcing he would offer no direct criticism of Gabler and the burghers of the Joycean Estate and merely advised lovers of the masterpiece to read the professor’s edition and to form their own conclusions as to both the quality of the finished product and the shabby motivation that serviced its creation. It is his tactic to ensnare Gabler in a vacuum of his own plotting.
Yet Gabler thunders on. “The people who speak in opposition to my work are dumb pedants. Mr.Kidd and his ‘kiddling brethren’ are closeted academics driven by envy and xenophobia. The Master, as we all know, was a meddler and fiddler, wanting alterations to his work as it was printed. I am sure he would be amused by the brouhaha served up by a little meddling here and a little fiddling there.” He soaks up the encomium of the converted, taking his applause, his victory, as if it were a bouquet of roses, with no semblance of shame on his pink face.
Enwrapped in the blackness of the butcher’s doorway Buck espies his chosen victim. He inhales the sweet essence of the thin joint which rests like papier-mâché at his lips and caresses the hilt of the scimitar strapped unsheathed to his leg.
Gabler, heady from the kick of his oratory, walks aimlessly from the limelight and unknowingly towards Kingstown pier. Passages of the Master’s scripture echo from the gable ends and disfigured monuments of square and cemetery. He walks the cobbled streets with the relaxed air of a holiday-maker, the tang of success intertwining with serene recollections of the years spent making sense of the corrective markings and the corruptive misspellings of French printers; time honoured now by the showering of esteem and acclamation.
A street-light beyond, Kidd awaits his moment. He studies Gabler’s shadowy passage with hawk-like astuteness. His plan is for the confrontation to be swiftly enacted, the cut and thrust witnessed only by the spirits of Bloom’s acquaintances.
Equally close by, equally in the dark, Buck mentally rehearses his method of work.
At the pier Gabler rests on a bench. With heightening contentment he inhales a big fat cigar and flexes his shoulders. The memory of his emasculation of Kidd burns iridescent on his mind’s eye and simultaneously his imagination runs a continuous film of the achievement; his foe’s contumelious behaviour smashed to smithereens.
Recognising that Gabler is woolgathering Kidd seizes his moment, spurting from the darkness wild-eyed and leaping on the unsuspecting professor, dragging him to the cobbles.
Panicked by the possibility of two well-stuffed wallets tumbling into the devouring waters, Buck sprints from his hiding-place to plunge on top of the grappling academics. With probing fingers he tries to force a hand into any pocket that will open up to him.
Gabler, his heart pounding toward cardiac arrest, struggles without coordination to dislodge his attacker. Kidd in turns writhes and strains to disentangle himself from the spindly hands of his own assailant.
Terrified that his efforts will be in vain and come morning he will awake more dead than alive Buck unleashes the sword, brandishing its magnificence in the faces of the literary protagonists. Moidered and unbalanced Gabler and Kidd stagger to their feet united by a nightmare that a lifetime in the shadow of the Master has not prepared them. With self-preservation to the fore they step away from the flashing blade. Buck rushes forward, the welfare of the stuffed wallets his only care.
Obsessed by imminent decapitation, their arms entwined, Gabler and Kidd, retreat in backward steps to the abyss of black water.
Apoplectic at the crunching splash accompanying his victims escape Buck lays down the sword and swallow-dives into the water in pursuit of his plunder.
Moyer, the O’Connell Street private eye hired by Kidd, sits in his dingy office and speculates upon his luck. On his desk, the banner headline as bold as brass, is the local newspaper. – THREE BODIES PLUCKED FROM WATERY GRAVE – At the office door his secretary peels off the faded lettering of the former MOYER’S DETECTIVE AGENCY, soon to be replaced by MOYER’S LITERARY AGENCY.
“Ah, my dear Molly,” he shouts, shouting being his quiet way of talking. “It should be gold-leaf. One day it will be, mark my words. With photographs of the famous on the walls and gold statuettes in oak displays cases. Yes it will, it will.”
“You spoke, Mr.Moyer?” Molly questions, curving her plain flour face around the half-opened door.
“Ah, no Molly. But as I have your attention could you phone our Mr.Bloom. I believe he remains in Trieste. I need to keep a strict eye on him, to make sure he’s getting on with his memoires.”
“Should I know this Mr.Bloom, Mr.Moyer?” she asks, still hopeful of getting home early.
“Molly! Moll. The whole world will shortly know Mr.Bloom and in knowing him we will have our bread buttered for many moons to come.”
“Is he a writer, like Raymond Chandler?”
“No, Molly, he’s much much more bankable than a mere writer. Writers become lazy once rich, fattened by wealth. Or they take to drink and become morose. Characters like our Mr.Bloom are dependable and immortal and will remain fashionable for as long as people read books. And people will always read books, Molly. They always have.”
Muddled and only waiting for the right moment to ask for a holiday, Molly peels the backing from a letter M and softly closes the door.
“You know, Molly,” Moyer continues, spinning his swivel chair to face the bare windows, oblivious to the loss of his audience. “I should take up this writing lark. Good money to be made with words. Indeed, Moll, I already have a plot. If you are considerate to me I’ll write you into the story. Make you famous like our Mr.Bloom. Would you like that? Immortality. Think about it. What do you think for this as a plot? A smartass walks into the office of a private eye and instructs him to find his friend. He points the private eye in the direction of a highfalutin professor and suggests he ask a few pertinent questions. But the highfalutin professor pays the private eye to take the abducted friend off his hands. Says he only kidnapped the guy as a publicity stunt. Then the abducted guy tops the lot of them by paying the private eye to get him as far away from the smartass and the highfalutin professor as possible. Says he has to write a book about some charismatic guy of legend who wrote a book intellectuals revere as close to holy but which in reality was only intended as a hoax a millions words long. Least that is what I believed he inferred. I may, of course, in my ignorance, got it ass before elbow.”
Molly once more curves her face around the half-opened door. “I’ll ring Mr.Bloom now, is that okay?”
Moyer reflects, spinning around to examine the reverse of Molly’s handiwork. “No, perhaps not. Let’s leave him in peace. Isn’t it enough to know that he is there, an arm’s reach away, his stream of consciousness a fiction to inspire and bewilder, to prosper our dreams and to make us pots of money.”