Compton knocks on Ren’s door.
‘Er… you might want to go to the office right now.’
‘What is it?’ says Ren.
‘A little present from Murnesia.’
‘It’s best if you take a look yourself.’
Ren hurries along to the departmental office. The whole disaster of the Murnesian state visit is something he’d gladly never think of again, but of course everyone he meets wants to talk about it. It certainly created some media interest in the Murnesian visit, to put it mildly, although obviously not in the way Raven was hoping for. Ren avoids talking about it, mostly because of George’s death.
Thankfully no-one else but George was killed that evening, but thirty-seven people were injured, three seriously, including the Professor of Chemical Engineering who has just come out of his coma. Twelve Murnesian politicians and delegates were injured by being clubbed by protesters, two ending up with broken skulls, and most with broken bones somewhere about their person. The protesters who attacked them didn’t fare much better.
George’s funeral had been spoiled somewhat by the unnecessary presence of the Murnesian ambassador and his wife, and a gaggle of Murnesian security service agents. It was hard to properly say goodbye to George when agents from the same security services who had killed him were sitting nearby, even if the security services had some claim to say that they couldn’t really be blamed for opening fire on him. The autopsy report said that it looked like he’d had a massive heart attack just before he was shot – although it was hard to be sure due to the damage done by two bullets which had entered his heart – so he may have died anyway. It turned out that George was really seventy-one, so at least there was the small satisfaction that he had lived a longer life than had initially been supposed.
As they walk along the corridor, Compton says, ‘I think it’s a small token of appreciation from Ding.’
Gossip has it that Raven is nearly spastic with rage at Philosophy for ruining his ‘most important event in human history.’ The whole ‘Oxbridge in Rankpo’ project has been postponed indefinitely following the bad publicity, which Raven regards as a financial disaster, especially now that Bear Hall will have to be completely rebuilt, although many others in the University think the University has avoided a financial disaster, as the latest rumour is that there was never going to be any money up front, and the University was expected to stump up a lot of the cost of building the campus itself. ‘Raven’s vanity project, it might have bankrupted us,’ is the gist of the latest gossip doing the rounds.
Raven, however, is unable to take revenge on Philosophy, due to one of Philosophy’s distinguished Professors having been shot dead by the Murnesians, and because Ding is so grateful to Ren. The man in the cricket coffin who looked like Ding, and who Ren saved from a beating, or worse, was not Ding, but Ding’s beloved older brother, and political adviser, Dong. Ding and Dong have been inseparable from childhood, and it was Dong who drew Ding into the imaginary delights of the coming Communist utopia in the 1950s. So while an unbalanced Raven fantasises about doing grievous harm to the Philosophy Department, he is currently impotent.
Although Ding is grateful to Ren, Ren’s actions during the riot have not been made public. He has been asked by the Murnesians to say nothing, and although he doesn’t like the Murnesians, he has no desire to announce to the world that he saved a veteran Communist killer. Foz doesn’t want to say anything either, although Foz is not in the Murnesians’ good books because he told Dong to go and hide in the toilet. Raven and Robot are the only other people who know what Ren did, plus Compton, who Ren has told under a condition of complete secrecy.
Ren goes into the office.
‘Oh,’ is all he can say. ‘I wasn’t expecting that.’
In the office are two life-size white marble statues, one of George, and one of him.
The former statue sees George dressed in a toga, with a youthful, powerhouse body and rippling muscles, posing mightily, with a book held out well in front of him. His face, however, is the face of old George, with his wrinkles, squint, and glasses, so an unkind person may be tempted to speculate that he is holding the book that far away so that he can focus on the words. However, a closer examination of Marble George’s eyeline reveals that at the moment that has been immortalised in stone he is looking not at the book but into the far distance, as though he is searching for a glimpse of an ancient, transcendent truth not easily discernible by lesser mortals.
The general effect is of a Disney version of Hercules that’s had George’s face superimposed. And George’s face looks very much like it does on the photo of him that is still up on the departmental website, so there’s no prizes for guessing where the sculptor got their inspiration from.
The statue of Ren has him playing cricket, batting, with pads and gloves on. He’s in mid-stroke, playing a straight drive, with the bat near his feet. It doesn’t look quite right, at least not to a cricketer, because his head is too straight. It isn’t leaning over to his right-hand side like it should be with that sort of shot. His face also looks very much like his photo on the departmental website. It’s not a bad photo, that one, thinks Ren, and his face in marble doesn’t look too bad at all.
‘Which one’s you, Ren?’ laughs the departmental administrator, Wendaline Clugston.
The statues stand atop their own bases. Ren’s just has his name on it, whereas George’s has his name, and the dates 1938 – 2002, on it. 1938 is the birthdate for George that appears on several old internet sites, but as has been recently revealed, George was really born in 1931.
‘Why do you get a statue?’ says Wendaline. ‘You weren’t shot.’
‘I was sitting next to George,’ says Ren.
‘Why doesn’t Grant get one? He was there too.’
‘A statue of Grant would be otiose, seeing as he already exists in statue form,’ says Compton.
‘Do you think they expect us to put these in the courtyard?’ says Wendaline.
‘The dates on George’s statue would indicate that,’ says Compton. ‘I don’t know about Ren’s. As a junior member of staff, and one who is very much alive, with, one would hope, his best achievements still to come in the decades ahead, I think that putting this in the courtyard would not be appropriate, whatever the intentions of the Murnesians. Ren did, after all, escape entirely unscathed.’
‘Totally agree, Compton,’ says Ren. ‘I think I’ll take it home.’
‘You’d have to ask Grant about that,’ says Wendoline.
‘Was it addressed to me, or the department?’
‘Let me look at the wrapping.’
Wendoline sifts through the masses of wrapping and finds that the statue of Ren came addressed to Ren.
‘It’s mine, then. Anyway, I can assure you that Grant will have no interest in claiming for the department a bad statue of me playing cricket. I doubt he’s even going to want that one of George. It can’t go up in the courtyard, surely? It’ll only make people laugh. Hardly fitting for George.’
‘How are you going to get yours home?’ says Wendoline.
‘I’m going to take it right now,’ says Ren. Before anyone sees it, he thinks. ‘I’ll go get my car and park it out the back in the loading bay.’
‘It won’t fit in your car,’ says Compton.
‘I’ll tie it to the roof.’
‘String. From the stationery cupboard. Can you get a couple of balls, and some scissors, while I get my car?’
When Ren comes back he has brought with him a blanket from his car.
‘Let’s put this over it to protect it’ he says, although really he just wants to hide it from view.
He and Compton carry the statue to the lift.
‘Have you seen the latest stories from Murnesia?’ says Compton while they’re in the lift, which is, thankfully, unoccupied by anyone else other than Compton, Ren, and Marble Ren. ‘That Ding is set to be toppled by Fan, because of the shame Ding brought upon Murnesia due to George getting shot?’
‘Yes, I saw that. I don’t suppose George ever thought that he’d be responsible for the downfall of an Asian dictator. Even if he is getting replaced by a near-identical Asian dictator. Do you think this is real marble?’
They carry Marble Ren, or Pseudo-Marble Ren, over to Ren’s car.
‘I’m not sure this is a good idea,’ says Compton. ‘That heavy base unbalances it. It may even snap off if the statue is held horizontally without any support for the base. Why don’t you wait, and get someone with an estate car or van to help you take it later?’ says Compton.
‘No way. I want this thing out of here immediately, before anyone else sees it.’
Ren puts the blanket on top of the car, to prevent scratches, and they place the statue on top of that. Ren folds the blanket over the rest of the statue, and then winds the car windows down.
‘We just wrap the string over the statue, and then through the windows, over and over,’ says Ren. ‘We need to do it enough times so that the bands of string are thick, otherwise it won’t be strong enough.’
‘It’s going to need to be tight,’ says Compton. ‘Any looseness could be fatal. You’re trying to hide this thing, but if it goes through someone’s windscreen and kills them you’ll be international news.’
They start tying it, but then Compton looks at his watch.
‘Shit, I have to go, got a class to teach. Sorry. You can wait for me if you like.’
‘I can do it myself. You go.’
Ren uses up all of the two balls of string tying up the statue, getting it as tight as he can, but he can’t do it as tight as he could if he had someone helping him.
Then he drives off, very carefully. All is well until he gets about halfway home, when he can feel the the statue starting to slip around a bit. He pulls over, cuts the knots with the scissors which he’s brought with him, and re-does the string. Then he drives the rest of the way home very slowly. He gently pulls up on the apron at the front of his house.
He gets out and looks at the statue on the car, satisfied with himself. A bit of string and bit of improvisation is all you need to handle most things, he thinks. He cuts the string, and pulls the statue into his arms. As soon as he lifts it away from the car, however, he feels the heavy base threaten to get away from him. This is a lot harder with just one person to lift than with two. He can’t get control of the base, and the smooth stone slips through his arms. The base hits the concrete hard, and the lower half the the statue disintegrates into rubble.
The Indian man who works in the corner shop across the road runs over to help.
‘Oh dear,’ he says. ‘You should have asked for some help. That is the end of that. Was it expensive?’
‘Nothing to worry about,’ says Ren breezily. ‘Just a joke statue made up by some art students. I’ll just keep the top half. Be easier to get in the house now.’
The shopkeeper goes back to his shop, and Ren takes the upper half into the house. It takes him a while to clean up the rubble, and then he notices that despite the blanket, the roof of his car has some nasty scratches on it. It’s not easy being a hero of the Murnesian revolution, he thinks. But things could be worse – most heroes of the glorious Murnesian socialist revolution ended up with a bullet in the back of their head. So he goes inside for a sit-down and a coffee and a counting of his blessings.