Murder in a Ghost Town – part two

Vesteralen

OLAU WASN’T THE only entrepeneur with big plans for the island ghost town of Nyksund, north of the Arctic Circle. As though placed there solely to enrich my plot for a Hollywood blockbuster, a wealthy German businessman had a similar idea for attracting tourists, involving a son and his girlfriend.

While the entrepeneurs were constructing tourist paradises from their deserted, tumbledown fish warehouses out of planks and nails, I was busy re-building my own, imaginary, ghost town out of words, and peopling it with crude stereotypes.

I had come in search somewhere isolated, and off the beaten track, where I could finish my novel Pedersen’s Last Dream. At first sight, Nyksund seemed to fit the bill. But the strangeness of the place, and its few inhabitants, had got my imagination running wild. I was starting to have doubts whether I could live there for any length of time. The atmosphere wasn’t quite right, and a completely different idea was forming inside my head. A film script.

Though I’d seen the rivals exchanging smiles, whenever their paths crossed, I got the impression they were at war, even if they didn’t know it. And the ghost town was far too small for them not to cross paths several times a day.

When Mark, the Aussie I’d met in the best hostel in the world, and I popped across the bridge to the German side of the harbour for a couple of beers, it felt a bit like treachery. We were crossing a frontier to join the enemy.

In contrast to Olau’s rest houses for tired backpackers and Scandinavian families seeking adventure on a budget, the warehouse the Germans were converting was intended to blossom into an artists’ colony. The bar was fronted by a verandah that looked like something out of Tennessee Williams’ Deep South. From an initial impression, it was definitely more stylish and inviting than Olau’s functional café.

The first important difference was the Germans had got their priorities right. If there’s one thing that’ll attract artists and poets to a place a lot nearer to the North Pole than Monmartre, it’s a well-stocked bar. While upper floors were still being converted into staff accommodation and a guest house, a good proportion of the lower floor had already been turned into a softly-lit room of comfortable chairs and tables. Studios, where well-heeled artists could fill vacant space with concepts, while downing cocktails, and burning through plastic, seemed still on the drawing board.

The wealthy German entrepeneur was staying at his own guest house with a female companion. And what a couple  they made, especially with the dramatic makeover I was about to give them to help my script along. They weren’t quite right as they were. But all they needed was dressing up with a generous helping of poetic licence.

In my mind’s eye, a fiftyish Farrah Fawcett Majors lookalike took form. Moping in the bar, she slugged back G&Ts on the rocks like there was no tomorrow. Her heavily-lined permatan face, was the bitter reward for too much sun following a couple of decades lounging on gaily-coloured deckchairs by kidney-shaped swimming pools. The wealthy entrepeneur I metamorphosed into a retired army colonel, more British than German, who’d spent much of his life in a far-off tropical ex-colony, where brown people still serve your choice of tipple in a cut glass tumbler on a silver tray. If my colonel had learned anything useful from an over-privileged life it was which end of a cigar to light. Both characters appeared well outside their natural habitat, which had previously been a lot nearer the Equator. So far north of their orbit had they ventured, I had them living in their own make-believe world, within my make-believe world. A make-believe world where he could still get his shoes polished by a shoeshine boy, while reading yesterday’s edition of The Financial Times, and she still could hail a rickshaw to take her to Raffles for high tea.

Despite it being the height of the holiday season, there was nobody else in the deserted town, so my cast was complete. Or so I thought.

Even I couldn’t have imagined the plot descending into the surreal. But that’s exactly what happened when two young football fans and a girl entered stage left. I could tell they were drunk despite them trying to act as though they weren’t. However, they couldn’t keep up the pretence as soon as it got them got their beers. The colonel seemed oblivious to their state. But not for long. While one of the fans began chanting You’ll Never Walk Alone, the anthem of Liverpool City FC supporters, otherwise known as Liverpool’s Red Army or The Kop, at the top of his voice. The other yelled back “United!” In support of Manchester United. I couldn’t quite make up my mind whether they were taking my script way too Woody Allen, or a touch too Stanley Kubrick.

For those interested in that sort of thing, The Kop adpoted the anthem after Gerry and The Pacemakers’ version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein song, from the musical Carousel, which stormed to Number 1 in the British record charts soon after its release in November 1963.

Once my colonel and his female companion became alerted to the young fans state of insobriety they reacted as if the trio were the advance contingent of an army English soccer hooligans, who were somehow wandering into the ghost town of Nyksund on their way home from a match. And they wern’t going to hang about to discover the real story. He and Farrah surrendered the bar without struggle, and retreated into the shelter of their room upstairs.

Mark and I sipped our beers, quietly observing the scene as neutrals. I began to ponder how I could fit the new arrivals into the script. Obvious candidates for a frenzied attack on someone or other, on the other hand they could just as easily become targets.

As it turned out, despite their allegiances to English soccer teams, they were Norwegian locals from nearby Myre, out for a weekend party at a family cottage in the village.

Quite clearly, the colonel didn’t think they quite fitted into the sort of artists’ colony he had in mind. And I don’t suppose Olau would be too keen on crowds of drunken locals stumbling about his traveller’s haven of repose either. Nevertheless, things were working out very well for my script. Now I had a cast most Hollywood screenwriters would die for. There were more motives for slaughter than Stephen King could dream of. It would be so easy for me to have one of the cast to go berserk with a chainsaw to complete my first big screen bloodbath. But hadn’t I seen something similar before somewhere? It wasn’t long before I began to realise it was time to move on. What does the fox say?

Copyright © 2013 Bryan Hemming

Another piece of Norwegian music by TV comedy brothers Bård and Vegard Ylvisåker, who form Ylvis.

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