Macbeth

as retold by himself in ďRaymond-Chandler styleĒ

Call me Mac.

It was the kind of day when you can do your washing without taking your clothes off. That's to say, damp. Banquo and I were damp all right. And not just from the rain. We'd been beating the hell out of a bunch of rebels and Norwegians. And I'm not talking about tennis.

Scotland's a big place, and we had most of it to cross to get home. A lot of the scenery looks as though someone backstage is having a joke, and this bit was no exception. They called it a blasted heath. It looked as if whoever drew it had been trying to rub it out ever since. Kind of weird.

But not as weird as the three dames we ran into. I mean, Iíve seen all kinds of broads, but this trio made me realize I had to redefine the species. If Helen of Troy had a face that launched a thousand ships, this lot would have sent any fleet into a mudbank.

'Hail!' yelled out the youngest of them, and she wouldn't see ninety-five again. I looked up into the sky. Well, I thought she was talking about the weather!

'All hail, Macbeth!' screamed the second, who'd passed her sell-by date a couple of centuries ago. 'Hail, Thane of Cawdor.'

'You got the wrong guy, ladies,' I told them. But they hadn't finished their little production number.

'All hail, Macbeth, who'll be king one day!' screamed the third, who made the other two look like winners in a beautiful baby contest.

Now, I'm the last guy to mind a compliment from an older woman, but this was ridiculous. No one gets to be king unless he's got royal blood in his veins. Or unless he drains a bucketful of the stuff out of its rightful owners.

'What about me, ladies?' snaps out Banquo. 'Don't I get nothing?'

'No throne for you, big boy,' says the third crone, the one who looks like she's just taking five minutes off from being dead. 'But your kids'll be sitting on it all right.'

'Ladies, talk sense,' I told them, but suddenly they were nowhere to be seen. I was just wondering whether it was something I ate, when up come a couple of guys with a message from the king. They told me he liked the way I'd recycled those rebels into crow food. In fact, he liked it so much he was going to make me Thane of Cawdor.

I called my wife, told her the news. If that close-harmony trio had got it right about me being Thane of Cawdor, chances were the king bit might be on the line too. I told her that.

She liked it. And when I got home she had news for me. The king was checking in for the night. Into our guest bedroom. 'See to it that he doesn't get any breakfast,' my wife told me. And it wasn't his diet she had in mind.

Round about the cocktail hour, the king steps on to our front porch. 'I like the view here, folks,' he tells everyone. Enjoy it, king. It's the last you're ever gonna see.

I wasn't feeling so good about what I had to do. As kings go, he was a good one. And now he'd really gotta go. 'I ain't doin' it,' I told my wife.

She had a few things to say to me about that. Like how she was gonna give me a new name. Coward was the name she had in mind. And a lot more like that. 'OK,' I told her, Iím doin' it.'

What a broad. And she had a plan. The king had the usual crowd with him, bodyguards, hair-dressers, you know the stuff. She served them up a nightcap with a kick like the acceleration of a getaway car. Besides the liquor, there was a certain little white powder in it. Those guys weren't gonna wake till morning, not if you'd tickled the soles of their feet with a dentist's drill.

By this time, I was strung up to such a pitch I was seeing daggers before my eyes. And they weren't pointing to the exit doors.

A few minutes later, there was a lot of blood about the place. The king's blood. And most of it was all over me.

I could see my wife didn't think the color red suited me. Nor was she too keen that I was carrying a handful of daggers. 'Get back in there,' she hissed, 'and make it look as if his servants did it.'

'Lady,' I said, Iím not going back in there.' Quite apart from the king looking like someone had been trying to turn him into several orders of steak tartare, I'd been hearing this voice, saying I wouldn't be sleeping no more. Not for the rest of my born days. Which wasn't exactly the king's problem. Just then, someone knocked at our front door. I wished they could have woken the king. But he'd dropped off into the big sleep.

The guy beating a drum-break on the door was a fella named Macduff. He had an appointment with the king. An early one. He was a spot late for it, though. He went into the king's bedroom and came out looking as if he'd just bet twelve million dollars on a horse. And lost.

'He's dead,' he snapped out.

'You don't say?' I said, acting as hard as if I were in line for an Academy Award.

Just at that moment, the king's sons, who were staying at our place with the rest of the crowd, wandered along to see what had happened. When they realized daddy wouldn't be tucking them up at night no more, they took one look at me, packed their bags, and got out of the place with the speed of an express elevator.

A couple of days later, I was sitting around in my crown, thinking how swell it was to be king, when I recalled what those geriatric chorus-girls had told Banquo about his descendants becoming king after me. That didn't sound so good. So I called up a couple of guys I knew.

Swell guys, these. So tough they made Al Capone look like Minnie Mouse. 'Hi, fellas,' I greeted them. 'I got a guy called Banquo and his kid son coming over here for a meal. See he gets a knuckle sandwich instead.'

'Just that, boss?' they grunted.

'Not just that. I'd like some local undertaker to be making enough dough today to take his wife and kiddies to the seaside.' I'm such a soft-hearted individual.

'We get you, boss,' they said. And sure enough, a couple of hours later, Banquo was being measured for a wooden overcoat. But not his kid, who'd run off when the fat hit the fire.

Just because Banquo was dead, it didn't mean we shouldn't lay a place for him at table. A lot of the smart set were coming to dinner, and it doesn't do to let on you've just introduced one of your guests to the grim reaper. So there was Banquo's knife and fork.

And jeez, there was Banquo, looking like he'd just been through somebody's office shredder. And he was the color of the day-before-yesterday's milk (apart from the blood, which was all over him, and was the usual red). 'Get the hell out of here!' I snapped at him. 'Don't you know you're dead?'

Seems he agreed with me, because he just vanished, the way those sweet old ladies had done. Talking of them, I reckoned it was time I paid them another visit.

As blasted heaths go, this one was looking more blasted than ever. And my lady friends were brewing up a bit of lunch. You know the sort of menu, eye of newt, tongue of dog, leg of lizard. The kind of things you can get at any witches' lunch-counter.

'How's the future looking?' I asked them. So they told me. Or rather, they laid on a show.

You've heard of special guest appearances? Well, these were special ghost appearances. And I just sat there listening, and freaked out. A case of spook when you're spooken to.

'Beware Macduffl' snapped out the first ghost, but the second one said I didn't need to fuss myself about any guy who'd been born of a woman. Which I reckoned meant I had nothing to fear from one hundred per cent of the population.

Then up comes another of these freaks, this time to tell me I wouldn't bite the dust till Birnam Wood marched up Dunsinane Hill. Suited me, since most woods I know like to stay put. But what about Banquo's descendants, I asked them. Was there any truth in the nasty little rumor that they, and not my kids, if I had any, would become king after me?

For an answer, who should pop up but Banquo again, showing me his family photo album. And sure enough, all the kids were wearing crowns.

That was all I needed to make my day. And no sooner was I back home than some guy tells me Macduff has fled to England, and is getting a lot of guys together to pay a visit to me. Not the friendliest of visits.

Well, two can play at that game. He'd made a little mistake, had Macduff. He'd left his family behind. So I got those guys who'd done such a nice job on Banquo to pay a call on the Macduffs. Next day, there weren't no Macduffs left to call on.

Things were starting to get hot for me. You've heard of rats leaving a sinking ship? Well, let's just say the vermin count at my place was going down by the hour.

Then there was my wife. She'd taken to washing her hands. Approximately ninety-seven times an hour! To get the blood off, she said, though there wasn't any blood that I could see.

Yes, the poor dame was losing her mind. And I thought my own had decided to say goodbye to me when I looked out of the window and saw a lot of trees on the march. Sure enough, it was Birnam Wood, come to see how things were doing on Dunsinane Hill.

Now, the habits of trees don't greatly concern me, but after a while it struck me that all this traveling timber was just a load of camouflage. I mean, real trees don't carry swords.

Yeah, they'd come to get me, and just as my wife had decided it was time she tried out her grave for size. I was rattled, I admit, but if it was curtains for me, I was gonna take a hell of a lot of guys with me.

Sure enough, in a few minutes, my sword had managed to investigate quite a few sets of guts. Then who should come up for a personal encounter but Macduff. 'Save your strength,' I told him. 'No one who was born of a woman can harm me. Which just about rules out the whole of homo sapiens.'

'Sorry to disappoint you,' smirks Macduff. 'Ever heard of a caesarean? My ma was gonna have a difficult labor, so they cut me out. Geddit?'

I got it, all right. And I got his sword too. Right where it hurts most.

If I ever meet those three weird sisters in the next world, I've got a bone to pick with them.

 

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