Characters: hanging on to what matters

When I last met my mentor, Alia Bloom, we shared coffee in the sun on the terrace of her home, and I hesitantly agreed with her suggestion to dispatch Buddy Winter.

I created Buddy so it was only right that I be the one to destroy him. He was an awful man, but like a nasty old uncle who nobody likes, he was part of the family, and allowed everyone else to feel better about themselves.

Driving back to Hawke’s Bay I lamented that the loss of the man whose, ‘complexion was the colour of wet slate with hands so swollen his knuckles were mere creases beneath angry skin.’  By the time I reached Woodville I was having second thoughts. Without Buddy there would be no ranting about the Vietnam War, ‘Westmoreland was totally incompetent. He couldn’t understand guerilla warfare. None of the brass did. Carpet bombing. What a mess. I flew over Cambodia and Laos in seventy one. Where they’d bombed looked like a landscape from the moon.’

On the long stretch of the Takapau Plains Buddy fought for his life. ‘Who else will help Sam Yuan with an entry visa?,’ he taunted me. And, ‘If you dump me you’ll have to get rid of Danny too, and Mr Lau. What about Lau? You gonna kill him too?’  Buddy was ex CIA so knew all the tricks to seed doubt in my mind.

Fortunately I had Leonard Cohen on my side, ‘Everybody knows that it’s now or never, everybody knows that it’s me or you.’ So I cranked up the volume and Buddy shut up for awhile. But he was back again by the final verse, ‘And everybody knows that you’re in trouble, Everybody knows what you’ve been through.’

I stopped in Flaxmere to visit a friend. He’s got a ‘green’ reputation, if you know what I mean, and Buddy, being a raging opium abuser saw that as a way to play the moral high ground. He’s as cunning as a front bench politician, and by the time I reached Waimarama I’d conceded to his persuasion, that rather than kill him off, he played a diminished role.

About an hour into reshaping Buddy’s influence in my book, I heard my Mother cry out. The tone of her voice had me on my feet and up the stairs real fast. My Dad was slumped in his chair. ‘I think he’s dead,’ she said. I cupped his head in my hands. He was cold and blue. Did I think, ‘It’s Buddy that has to die, not you?’ I don’t know. But I pulled my Dad out of his chair and when he hit the floor I thumped his chest. He caught a breath. I rolled him into recovery position and we waited for St John.

After that it was easy to let Buddy die.

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