“Indifference, Grundy, is never, in my opinion, a very attractive quality. It is not one that I admire. But I have to admit, until I heard this story, I never thought it could be turned into an attribute.”
Palin’s dinner companion and particular friend, John Grundy, waved away a cloud of cigar smoke, fixed him with a deadpan expression and said, “Whatever.”
Palin ignored his old friend and taking a sip of brandy continued as a rictus of a smile flickered across Grundy’s face.
“The man who told me the story was called, Moreno. Juan Moreno. Came from a circus family. Spanish, of course but, apart from his appearance, he was as English as you and I. Met him after a show, “Treasure Island,” oddly enough…”
Grundy cleared his throat, “Didn’t have one leg, did he?”
“No. But he did have noticeably long arms. When I got to know him, he claimed it was genetic. The Moreno’s had been trapeze artists for generations. Seemed to have had some sort of effect on the length of their arms. Particularly noticeable because, Moreno said, the family were all like him, all rather stocky built. Didn’t know whether to believe him or not.”
“What was he doing in Treasure Island?”
“He was one of the Pirates. Given up the circus trade. Apparently, he found travelling around Europe a bit dodgy.”
“Why was that?”
“Well, the peripatetic Moreno’s had travelled and consequently bred all over the place so although they were Spanish, there was the question of their nationality.”
“You mean, the country in which they were born?”
“Precisely. Moreno woke up one morning in a Parisian hotel to find the gendarmes knocking at his door. He’d been born on a French tour and although the circus moved on to Poland a few days later, this qualified him for National Service in the French armed forces.”
“Mon Dieu !”
“I should say. He was 18 at the time but eventually, after a bit of explaining, he got away with it. When it happened again, somewhere in Eastern Europe, he decided enough was enough.”
Grundy narrowed his eyes, “What do you mean? You can’t be born in two places.”
“Of course not. The second time was due to a grandfather having been born where they were performing. That, apparently, qualified him through the male line. Anyway, the circus trade not being what it was, he decided to pack it in and try his hand as an actor. Has done rather well for himself. Small parts, mostly. But works a lot as a stuntman. Stand-in for the stars.”
“Many stocky film stars with long arms, are there?”
Palin shook his head in weary disbelief. “You’d be surprised.”
“One or two women, possibly?”
“Do behave, Grundy. Do you want to hear the rest of the story, or not?”
Grundy knocked back the last of his Laphroig, “I could hardly be indifferent.”
Palin fixed him with a basilisk stare and continued, ” You won’t be when I tell you what he told me.”
“Go on.” Grundy caught the wine waiter’s attention and pointed at their empty glasses.
“Well, last year, Moreno told me one of his uncles was touring in Africa, Botswana I think it was. Circuses are still popular over there and the Marenos are a popular act. Not many people are willing to do a triple somersault without a safety net. Juan’s uncle, Pepe Moreno sort of held at the troupe together. Not only performed, mostly as a catcher…”
“Very long arms, I suppose?”
“…but also did the scheduling for the group, publicity, all that sort of thing. Much easier to do these days with mobile phones and laptops.”
Palin saw Grundy’s eyelids beginning to droop.
“Well, to cut a long story short, it was a combination of Pepe’s indifference to danger built up over a lifetime of triple somersaults, his unnaturally long arms and his laptop that saved his life.”
Grundy’s eyes stopped drooping and fixed him with a look which suggested that there might be a final window of opportunity opening for Palin to finish the story before Grundy’s third large whiskey brought the evening to a close.
“The thing is, Pepe was a keen photographer and had arranged a trip up into the mountains. All perfectly safe, according to his guide. It was while they were out there, on a high plateau, looking down into a spectacular rift valley, that they were attacked by a troupe of baboons. Well, one in particular, a huge dominant male. Most people would have panicked, I suppose. But not Uncle Pepe. Probably due to the height they were at, he’d managed to get an Internet connection on his laptop and was concentrating on getting a few e-mails off, when the apes attacked. He couldn’t have seen the dominant one until the screams of the rest of the group caused Pepe to look over his shoulder. As the ape leapt at him, his jaws wide apart, Pepe stood up, closed his laptop with a look of complete indifference, held this position on the edge of the cliff, extended his long right arm and thrust the laptop into the baboons open mouth, where it lodged. The ape veered away to Pepe’s right and fell screaming over the cliff into the void bellow.
Pepe turned to the rest of his astonished group, a look of supreme indifference on his face and said, “Thank God for laptops.”
Grundy, his jaw slightly open by now, gathered himself together, “Because the laptop saved his life?”
“Well, there was that and his cool indifference but no, according to Juan, he meant thank God because he’d just pressed ” send” on his e-mails.”