William S. Burroughs walked out onto the beach at dawn. He was in no mood for small talk, having only just arrived on the Catalina flying boat. He hadn’t slept in thirty hours, and as soon as he'd stepped onto the wharf, a poet walked up and demanded to know what he was doing on The Island. “You’re not a poet, you’re just a washed-up junkie living on the title of one book.” Jamie Grant didn’t even see Bill’s beloved .45 Colt long pistol leave the shoulder holster. The bullet whizzed by Grant's left ear, at least an inch clear of his pale lobe, but the shock of actually being shot at was too much for Jamie, and he passed out. After they’d restrained him, affixed a wire mesh mouth-guard and thrown him into a cage, they went through his pockets. Along with a vial of wheatgrass juice they found a note: Your Red Work will be rewarded. Alerting the poets to my appointment as commander of the Waggaists was a stroke of genius. Frederick Seidel. As well as having to deal with Grant, William S. Burroughs had been using Shelby’s boathouse and was pissed off because the Beluga Caviar had run out. He saw me writing in my notebook and said: “When a man is on Beluga there’s nothing he won't do to satisfy his cravings. He’ll lie, cheat, steal, even kill for a spoonful.” He looked over at the boathouse. “That Shelby has completely vaporised, he’s slippery as an eel. I know he’s made the Devil’s Bargain.” Old Bill was going to be a formidable enemy. He knew Shelby had the only supply of Beluga and he needed a fix.
The sun was up. First light had revealed ZZ Top’s Chevy coasting silently down the road. William S. Burroughs fired off a few rounds. “Those guys are evil idiots.” The candy-coloured Chev ran straight into the wall that surrounds the citadel. The impact wasn’t too serious but it made a racket. It was then we noticed there was still somebody in the rumble-seat, this time a bulky figure, almost too large and tall to be occupying such a tiny space. As difficult as it was to make out the figure’s identity, this time it was not Mondrian.
Rimbaud and Baudelaire were out and about, walking off whatever they had been drinking the night before—they saw the Chevy coming and were about to run over to say hello when it crashed into the wall. Rimbaud unsleeved a small brass telescope he’d taken from a dead trader on the Ivory Coast. “It’s certainly not Piet in the back.” “Give me that glass” said Baudelaire, grabbing the telescope.” “Well fuck me, it’s Gerard de Nerval” “How can you tell?” “I can’t, but I love the sound of his name. Just to mouth those syllables gives me such relief.” Rimbaud shivered. “Well whoever it is, I don’t like the look of it." Baudelaire took a few steps, leaned forward, visored his eyes with the blade of his hand and peered into the hard, oncoming light. “Charles, do you always have to be so theatrical?” “Yes, actually, I do.” “Come on” said Rimbaud “I think we should go and offer our services.”
The stagers and pagers had the celebrations out of the way. A war-council meeting had taken place, the anti-waggaist troops were ready. Neither Bukowski or Dorn had attended. They’d gone off on Silliman’s Boston Whaler, trolling for Waggas using lures made from the tail-feathers of water-hens. They’d caught a couple of cobia on the downriggers, and were now cooking them on a beach-fire. The aroma of charcoal-seared fillets, the strolling poets and an ozone breeze layered with brine and wildflowers had created an atmosphere of calm. But it was an illusion, a balmy trick of the senses. A false calm had settled on The Island which had drugged many of the poets.
Rodney Hall had been diving. He’d salvaged both halves of his recorder and had dried them out and sanded each half, patching them back together with super-glue and rod-binding thread. He’d spent the morning trying to get some chamber music out of his sorry-looking instrument, but the broken music resembled a cowbird regurgitating a jar of Beluga Caviar. Luckily, this distinctive sound was beyond the hearing of William S. Burroughs, who was off with Rimbaud and Baudelaire, hiding in a scribble of scarlet bougainvillea. Baudelaire wanted to know what they were going to do about ZZ Top and the crashed Chevy. “How about I just walk up the road rolling a joint and go over and tap on the window and ask Billy for a light,” he suggested. “And thus we’d blow our cover” said Burroughs out of the side of his mouth. “Besides, ZZ have swallowed the cunning propaganda that smoking-dope will turn a human brain into a bowl of pythonic chowder. The whole music industry has been sanitised, sucked dry of the creative virus itself, and they can’t even have a drink to forget their past glory.” Baudelaire raised his hand and put a finger to his lips. ZZ Top and their passenger still hadn’t moved, though he’d seen something move behind the retaining wall. “What is Shelby doing there? And for Christ’s sake, who else is in there with him?”
Down on the beach the poets were ready, and soon the Symbolists would be missed, the alarm raised. Rimbaud picked up a stone and threw it hard and high. It hit the Chevy’s windscreen and an orb spider cast the white net of its web across the glass. Burroughs pulled out his Colt and fired off a few— a line of tiny full stops ripped along the bonnet. “O my, we are in Bad Company,” said Baudelaire. William S Burroughs narrowed his already narrow eyes and brushed fallen bougainvillea petals from his freshly pressed pin-stripped suit.
Rodney Hall had given up on the recorder and was now sitting in a folding chair playing an Appalachian dulcimer. He saw Bukowski and threw himself over the instrument. “Relax, man,” Chuck said as he walked past. “The currawongs are safe and so is your zither.” “It’s a dulcimer,” Rodney said. “Well whatever it is, don’t let Dickey hear it. You’ll end up in the hillbilly scene from Deliverance.” Rodney was about to play again when he heard shouting from the southern end of the beach. He stood up and saw someone running towards the wharf.
Philip Levine was first on the scene. He caught Mallarme as he collapsed from exhaustion. Rodney knelt in the sand. “Stephane, what’s happened?” “Gone,” Mallarme said. “That’s not a bad start,” Levine said. “And then?” “Arthur. Charles. Gone.” Levine let Mallarme fall to the sand and walked off in disgust. Rodney knelt over him: “Where have they gone? Have they left the Island?” Mallarme reached into the pocket of his trousers and lifted out a small bottle. Rodney sniffed the bottlemouth and a green ghostprint of absinthe cleared his head.
“ZZ Top,” Mallarme said with deliberation, “are dummies.” Rodney turned to the poets who were watching from the wharf. “It’s time to go!” He shouted. “Get into your platoons. Remember your plans and do not deviate from them. As the poets rushed about gathering supplies, filling backpacks with planks, fibre snares, zest spray-cans and throw-nets, Bukowski and Dorn were under the canopy of the Boston Whaler, drinking bourbon and betting on the outcome of the war. “The Waggaists are all talk,” Dorn was saying. “Ten to one there’s only a handful of ‘em and they’ve called our bluff.” Bukowski rubbed his chin and looked down on the frenetic activity. “There’s something wrong with this picture. There’s someone we’ve all passed over in our hurry to storm the citadel.” Dorn’s bottle of Maker’s Mark was stalled halfway to his mouth. Bukowski tipped his bottle, drank, swallowed and sighed. “Shelby,” he said.
K. Slessor, at the Front
K. Slessor, at the Front