• 05 May 2010
    When Procession of the Dead was first published in 1999 as Ayuamarca, there was a scene where the Cardinal explained to Capac how he played the stock market so skillfully. I decided, when revisiting the book, that the scene was a bit too ridiculous, so I altered it extensively. This is how it originally appeared.

    “Alright, I’ll let you in on my stock market secret. But heed this, Mr Raimi: this is for your ears only. I have been king of the market for the better part of a decade and a half. My prowess is the envy of brokers the world over. There are men who would pay any amount you asked for my secret, bankers who’d go down on their knees for it. The fact that Inti Maimi imparted such a secret so carelessly worries me, and there shall be an enquiry into the matter. Steps shall be taken. I’d advise you not to get too close to that particular fallen angel in the near future. But, now that the cat is out of the bag, why not? I’m sure you’re just the man to appreciate it. Follow me.”

    He led the way out of the office, past the receptionist and the waiting crowd, to the elevator shaft (only one of the fleet’s lifts stopped here). He pressed a button and the doors slid open seconds later. We stepped in. “Six,” he growled at the shivering attendant. We descended.

    Downstairs, after a short walk, during which everybody we met scurried to get out of our way, we arrived at a large set of sliding doors. The Cardinal tapped a code into the console to one side. The doors opened and we entered. We were in a long room with two simple benches stretching along both sets of walls. Several men and women were sitting quietly, some together, some alone. They were low-lifes, tramps and hobos and the like, dirty and unwashed. Only their feet were clean.

    The Cardinal walked past, blind to their presence, till we reached another set of doors at the far end. He tapped in a set of numbers. The latch on the door clicked open but he paused before entering. “Do you have a sensitive nose?” he asked.

    “Not particularly,” I said.

    “In any case, be prepared, Mr Raimi. This room is possibly the foulest on the face of the Earth. Have your fingers ready to clamp your nose shut. OK?”

    “OK.”

    He opened the door, we scurried in, and he shut it rapidly.

    He hadn’t been joking. The room carried the most disgusting stench it had ever been my misfortune to encounter. Rotten eggs, diarrhoea, manure, vomit: none could compete, even bunched together. My hands flew to my nose quickly and I found myself gasping for breath and blinking the tears from my eyes.

    “What the fuck is it?” I managed to croak. The Cardinal smiled and pointed round the room in answer.

    Four people in gas masks were sitting at desks near the walls. They had sheets of paper in front of them, which they scrolled down constantly, never looking up. In the middle of the room a tramp was sitting at a small table, full of all kinds of dishes which he was happily sampling. His trousers had been pulled down around his knees and his unattractive bottom hung over the rear of the chair. As I watched I saw his cheeks bulge and the sound of an almighty fart tore the air apart. The covered figures at the desk reacted quickly, their hands flying to computer terminals, fingers tapping madly.

    “What is this shit?” I shouted.

    The Cardinal laughed. “Some years ago,” he said, “I was thumbing through the market reports when I suddenly let rip with the strongest fart this body of mine has ever mustered. It was horrible. I had to open the window before I dared breathe. It -

    “But enough of that. The point is, as I stood there, breathing in the fresh air, waiting for the fumes to clear, I was struck by a notion. It was ludicrous, but I’ve made more than one fortune betting on the insane outsider, so I decided to test it.

    “I returned to my desk, found the name of the company I had been studying when the wind broke, and bought up every share I could. They were a tiny operation, not very successful, going nowhere. They -”

    “I’m sorry,” I said, “but can we step outside? I’m going to gag if we stay here a minute longer.”

    “Of course, Mr Raimi. How inconsiderate of me.” He led the way out. When we were back in the waiting room he spoke in a low voice, so the other tramps could not hear. “But then, Mr Raimi, this company hired a new kid fresh out of college. It turned out he was something of a genius, full of ideas. He turned them round completely. I forget what field they were in, but they were soon dominating whatever it was and I made more money than even I care to think about.”

    “I don’t believe this,” I said, shaking my head.

    “Nevertheless …”

    “Let me guess. You made a practice of this. You based all your stock market deals on how your sphincter performed. You found it worked. Every time you went through a list of names and produced a tiny fart, you invested cautiously. A big fart: a big investment. A huge whopper and you threw in everything you had. Then you got tired of flapping your cheeks and decided to see if it worked with others. You found it did, so you brought in the most flatulent bums you could find and set them to work. And you’ve been milking their holes dry ever since.

    He was grinning with delight. “You have such a way with words,” he complimented me. “Have you ever considered poetry, Mr Raimi, as a means of earning a living?”

    “I don’t believe it,” I said again. “This is a hoax. You set this up to put one over on me.”

    “You were the one who raised the subject,” he reminded me.

    “But … I didn’t …It couldn’t … It really works?”

    He shrugged philosophically. “Not all the time. Nothing is fool-proof. But I’ve ruled the market for years. I’m the best there is. Ask anyone.”

    “Do they know what they’re doing?” I nodded at the figures spread along the benches.

    “No. Only those who monitor know. And they are paid momentous sums to keep it to themselves.” He slapped my back and started back for the lift. “And that concludes the story of the stocks and the farts,” he said. “Did you enjoy it, Mr Raimi? Was it all you had hoped for?”

    “You’re a crazy man,” I laughed, only half joking.

    “In a crazy world,” he said, “isn’t that the best qualification there is?”
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