JOST A MON

The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

I was told this tale a few years ago. Once upon a time, in a small town in northern New Jersey, at a rousing crescendo of Beethoven's Ninth, the conductor of the local orchestra found himself missing time. This happened once or twice, but caught up in the fervour of the moment, neither his listeners nor the orchestra noticed the slip. The conductor, a small and precise man, was saddened by the experience but not too surprised. He was, after all, almost seventy years old, and his strength was not as of old.

Later, acknowledging the adulation of the audience, he begged for silence and announced that the time had come up to put aside the baton. It is time, he said, for the orchestra to be guided by a younger and stronger and more energetic person. The audience gasped. There were cries of support and tears from the more sensitive in the crowd. But the conductor was resolute. To a standing ovation from all concerned, he marched off the stage, went home and burst into tears.

An hour later, there was a knock on his door. His wife opened it and in marched in a suave and oily gent, accompanied by two gorillas. We have great plans for the concert hall, said the gent. We cannot have you retire. Your announcement today has adversely affected our reputation. And our bottom-line.

On his way out, the gent nodded at the gorillas who then proceeded to shake the conductor about till his teeth rattled. There will be no more warnings, said the gent.

Shaken and slightly addled by the experience, the conductor collapsed onto his Lazy-Boy and covered his face in his hands. Silent sobs racked his frame. Then he got up, squared his shoulders and said to his wife, I need a grenade.

Over the next few days, much to their embarrassment, the local newspapers had to retract their announcements of the conductor's retirement. Reading between the lines, it was amply clear that his volte-face was not entirely welcomed by all the editors.

On the following Saturday, the concert-hall was well-attended. Among the regulars, at least, the conductor was fairly popular and they looked forward to his comeback with some delight.

The joy was not to last. Soon after warm-up, the orchestra stood up to welcome the maestro to the podium. He entered diffidently, his hand in one pocket. His voice choked with emotion, he thanked the audience. I cannot go on like this, he added. Then he pulled the grenade out of his pocket, ripped its pin out and tossed it into the crowd. In the ensuing explosion, four people were killed (three of them newly converted Jehovah's Witnesses who hadn't been able to quite relinquish their love for music) and several severely injured.

The conductor was arrested almost immediately and arraigned. He pleaded guilty to four charges of murder and ten of causing aggravated bodily harm. The jury took no time at all to return a verdict of guilty. He was slung into death row where he calmly awaited his sentencing.

You are a vile, vile man, thundered the judge. I sentence you to death by electric chair.

Several days later, the executioner and a local priest turned up at the conductor's cell. Any last wishes? said the executioner. The conductor asked for a dozen bananas on a silver platter. These were brought to him. He ate the bananas with relish, placing the peels in an orderly heap on the platter. He was then blindfolded, led to the electric hair, and a wired jacket placed on him. The priest muttered a benediction. Everybody stood back and the executioner threw the switch.

Sizzle, sizzle, snap. The conductor's body throbbed under the shock and his head fell forward. The prison doctor came forward to examine him, ready to pronounce him dead. At that moment, the priest who was close behind yelped, He's alive! Amidst the general consternation, the conductor opened his eyes and gasped. He was immediately rushed to the local hospital, where a verdict of God's intervention was read out to him. He was free to go home as soon as he recovered.

A few days later, as the conductor slowly regained his strength, he was visited by the oily gent and the gorillas again. Thought you could get away from us, eh? said the oily gent, shaking him by the collar. Think again. The gorillas shook him about some more. We'll see you at the next concert, they said in parting.

The following Saturday, the concert hall was packed. Aficionados of the classical arts were outnumbered by thrill-seekers and the lumpen elements eager to share in the ignominy and titillation of a murderer about to present a comeback concert. The conductor was greeted with fear by the orchestra and a deathly, if highly anticipatory, silence by the audience. He didn't bother to acknowledge them. Reaching underneath the podium, he extracted an Uzi submachine gun. Calmly, he began to spray the crowd with bullets unstoppable. Amidst screams and gore, he emptied the magazine into the audience. The carnage was eye-watering. Fifty people were killed and almost twice as many wounded. The policemen who had earlier been brought in for security rose from the floor. They had hidden behind the chairs when the firing started. They clapped the conductor in irons, and shaken and frightened, led him straight to the court house.

The judge could not believe his eyes. Hastily, a jury was co-opted from another case, and they - staunch citizens, every woman among them - could not hide their fear or disgust when they announced the verdict of guilty. Fifty times guilty, screamed the headlines in the Local Herald the next morning. He was sentenced to death by electric chair, only this time the power applied would be five times higher than before.

Again, on the morning of his execution, the prison priest and the executioner joined him in his cell. Any last wishes? said the executioner. I'd like a dozen bananas on a silver platter, said the conductor. He ate the fruit with quiet relish and, having placed the peels in a neat pile on the platter, went with dignity to the chair.

After he was wired up, the room was cleared. Everybody retreated to an adjoining room. The executioner pulled the switch. The execution room filled with smoke. The smell of burning flesh oozed out into the corridors, causing the doctor to gag. There was a loud crackle and a thud, followed by silence.

A few minutes later, the doctor (having taken several deep breaths first) went into the execution room. A few seconds after that, the air was rent by agonised shrieks. The executioner and the priest, followed closely by other dignitaries, rushed in. They were greeted by a sight that chilled their souls. The doctor, eyes wide open, was shrieking, He's alive! He's alive!

The conductor, weak and battered, lay on the floor, his legs strangely askew. He had a sheepish expression on his face. I'm sorry to cause trouble, he whispered, but nobody heard him as they whisked him off to the hospital.

A month later, reprieved by court order, and his legs having regained their strength and suppleness, the conductor was allowed to go home. His wife greeted him with quiet affection, and they sat down to a sumptuous meal.

Their front door crashed open suddenly, and into the room stepped the oily gent. Only he was not quite so oily at the moment. Even his gorillas were ashen. They gulped as they stared at the conductor. I don't know what you are and I don't care how you did it, whispered the oily gent although at the moment he was close to wetting himself in fear. But if you are not back at the concert hall next Sunday, you'll wish you had never been born.

The thugs then ran out of the house, barely pausing to close the door behind them.

The conductor sighed. He took his beloved wife's hand in his own. I need dynamite, he said.

The following Sunday, the town was brought to a standstill by a traffic jam that extended miles outwards. As delicately nurtured locals agonised over the infamy brought upon them, the rest of the country appeared determined to catch a glimpse of the notorious conductor. Tickets for his latest comeback were being exchanged for spiralling figures. The local parks arranged large screens to show the concert live, and were filled with avid attendees. A rollicking picknicking mood seized the town. People looked eager to forget the carnage of the last few weeks. Chatty but scandalised pundits pontificated on what this meant for the American psyche.

The concert-hall was packed to the gills. The police gave up on crowd control and retreated to their armoured vans. The orchestra had to be smuggled in via helicopter on the hall roof. At the appointed hour, the town held its breath in anticipation of the appearance of the most spine-chillingly evil villain the country had ever known. In front of screens in parks and homes across the nation, citizens paused their activities and waited with their mouths open.

In spectacular slow motion, the concert hall erupted. Its walls of concrete blew outwards. The helicopter on the roof was tossed high into the air. Shards of glass flew everywhere, embedding themselves in the soft flesh of the crowds outside, gouging deep gashes into the armoured vehicles. Mangled bodies hurtled through the air. Blood and entrails splattered across a radius of fifty metres around the remains of the building.

Hours later, when the police came a-knocking at the conductor's house, he was sitting quietly in front of his TV. A remote detonator was in his hands. He was dragged past dazed and confused and numbed citizens into the courthouse. The judge, reeling with horror, dispensed with any trial whatsoever. He had just enough strength to put on his black robe and sentence the conductor to death by electric chair.

The preparations for the electrocution were detailed, swift and implacable. The north-eastern power grid was diverted into a specially constructed substation, from where thick copper cables led into a converted warehouse and connected to a chair. The townspeople were warned to evacuate to its outskirts. Television cameras dotted every available space inside and outside the execution chamber.

The executioner, pale and sweating behind his mask, asked the conductor if he had any last wishes. A dozen bananas on a silver platter, said the conductor. Close to tears, he ate the fruit. This time he didn't bother to heap the peels neatly. He was then escorted to the warehouse, tied into the chair, a mask placed over his head.

The posse retreated to the outskirts of the town. The executioner, at a nod from the mayor, pulled the switch. A loud hum began and spread outwards from the warehouse, whose walls turned red and melted. The lights in cities as far away as New York went out. Then there was an almighty flash of light streaking upwards to the heavens. The warehouse disappeared. The TV signals went dead.

An hour later, when the ash had settled and the metal frozen again, the executioner and the doctor went in search of the conductor's body. It was not found. The next day, however, a small man walked into the courthouse. Evidently he was not in a good way. His hair stood frazzled, his clothes sizzled, his body was marked with great rents. Blood was clotted all over his charred face. His lips were dry and cracked. Nobody dared approach him as he staggered towards the rooms of the judge who had sentenced him. A retinue of civil servants followed him at a distance, cowed and fearful.

The judge took one look at him and fell on his knees. He looked up to Heaven and screamed, What is the matter with him, dear God? What is the matter with him?

The small man brought his face close to the judge's. In horrified fascination, everybody leaned in to listen.

I've been trying to tell you all along, he gasped. Nobody would listen.

I am a bad conductor.

9 comments:

labsji said...

Laugh Out Loud, Roll over the floor and Laughing!!!
This deserves attention, and perhaps a cartoon from from xkcd.com

Fëanor said...

Kulls, go for it. Maybe I'll post the cartoon as a link to where you put it :-) (But I thought you had already heard this story? It's an old kadi, you know.)

blackmamba said...

Simply Electric!

More kadi please.

Fëanor said...

@Blackmamba: welcome and thanks for the punny comment. ;-) I'm afraid my family is all worn out with my kadis, but I'll endeavour to assail the blogosphere in force.

Gurusharan said...

You got me there! You are at your sniggering best.

laviequotidienne said...

I think it is a good thing I do not know all bloggers in person.

This one would have you running around the city being chased with a baton in MY hand and I may not be a good conductor but I am a great thrower!

Fëanor said...

@gurusharan, @laviequotidienne: surely you appreciated the delicate touch with the dozen bananas on a silver platter? (devilish chortling ensues...)

towardstengen said...

Lol! What a groan inducing kadi, I got thrown off by the bananas.

Fëanor said...

@towardstengen: yup, the bananas were to add a touch of verisimilitude.

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