Tossing the G string to one side Nigel selected a pair of skimpy gold coloured underpants with two eyes, a moulting black Mexican style moustache and a long pink plastic nose sewn onto the front of them.
“Tools of the trade,” he explained clutching his stomach.
“Aaah! My mouth opened and shut, opened again, shut. The action reminded me of a guppy I’d had as a kid, Did it all the time until my brother put our neighbours tomcat in the aquarium with it.
“I though you were a comedian.” I said inanely.
“No.” He snatched a white posing pouch out of his bag and used it wiped away the beads of perspiration that suddenly spouted from the pores on his forehead. Giving the now soggy pouch a sour look, he tossed it on the floor before adding. “Your boss said you were a bit wet round the ears. I didn’t believe it at the time.”
My hackles rose as he selected a threadbare off the shoulder fake leopard skin leotard, along with black ski mask.”
“Jason’s not my bloody boss.”
“No, not that twat.” He carefully laid a red trimmed black cape alongside the leopard spotted leotard.
“Herself, the blonde with the nice tits and a tongue that could peel a lemon, Sally.” He grimaced as another stomach spasm made his muscles contract. “She said you were too many sandwiches short of a picnic to be an investigator, but you were big enough to sort the local tough nuts when they got a bit out of order. “
Involuntarily I squared my shoulders until the sandwiches bit sunk in, but by then it was to late to say anything.
Dropping the oversize eye patch with a Jolly Roger printed on it that he was draping artistically over the long pink plastic nose, he grabbed his stomach with his right hand. After giving me a wild look, akin to panic, he retched, clamped his left hand over his mouth and with a muted wail of anguish stumbled through the curtain between the dressing room and the bog.
I was staring through the curtain at Nigel doing a break dance on the damp cracked tiles of the toilet floor when a voice close beside my ear said. “He’s got another ten minutes. Now they want another game of Bingo first.”
I clambered through into the toilet, managed to trap Nigel in his gyrations and felt his forehead. He was burning up with fever.
“I said, they want another game of Bingo first.” I felt this hot breath on my neck as he peered over my shoulder. “Bugger me, he’s at it again, tell…
“He needs a doctor, where’s your phone.” I snapped standing up sharply. It hurt my shoulder, but not as much as my shoulder hurt his nose.
“Yoofe maffe miffe noffe bleefe”
He wasn’t wrong, a cascade of bright red blood had spurted down the front of his shirt and painted surrealistic patterns on the faded check of his suit.
Served him right for breathing down my neck.(If I remember correctly, in the Dollywood version I actually beat him to death with the weighted end of a pool cue).
Ten minutes later, having called for an ambulance for Nigel, stopped the Manager’s ‘noffe’ from ‘bleefin’ I phoned our office to try and find out if Jason knew if Nigel had a Welsh agent and if so, how I could contact him or her that the only strip her artiste was going to do was out of his vomit stained clothes and into his pyjamas.
As it turned out I needed have rehearsed what I was going to say because all I got was Jason’s affected answer phone voice telling me that all PISSESS investigative operatives were out on assignation, and to call again later if you still need a DICK.
I was busy packing up Nigel’s gear, an ambulance had whisked him away in double quick time to whatever pain factory it came from, when a fairly tubby girl of around seventeen timidly stuck her head around the dressing room door and said. “’Me da wants to know when you’re going on, cos they’ve add free more games of Bingo free, and they want the turn.”
“There is no turn. He’s sick, gone. If he tries very hard, I’m sure your Da will remember helping to put him in the ambulance.” I smiled into her blank eyes. “I’m packing up his things, then I’m leaving.”
She wasn’t listening. “Where’s ‘is standin then?”
“There is no stand-in. Your dad will just have to cancel and give them some of their money back, that’s all.” Seemed simple to me, not to her.
“I’ll tell my Da”
I shrugged; She could do what she liked.
“He’ll have something to say I’m sure.”
“So have I” I said as I finally managed to force Nigel’s bag shut against the escapologist attempts of the long plastic nose. “Goodbye”.
I almost made it to the exit before I was ambushed by the bloody club manager, two formidable looking middle aged women and, surprise, surprise, my bloody brother Jason.
Virtually frogmarched into the man’s office, I was forced into a chair by the menacing proximity of a mighty bosom. Ignoring my contemptuous scowl Jason asked cryptically. “No job too small, a bro?”
”What are you talking about?” I had to ask although I doubted his answer would make any more sense that the question.
“Show must go on eh. Can’t let the side down.”
I was right. As my brother has the intellect of a roll of wallpaper I could be forgiven for still not being fully in the picture. I, it seemed, was the only person who wasn’t.
“She’s agreed to give you a bit extra time to get ready see.” She of the menacing bosom said as she snatched Nigel’s bag out of my hand and began rummaging through it.
“Nice of her in the circs”, my brother agreed, moving round to try and get a peek into the bag.
“Not much choice, considering.” Club manager, still dabbing, without success with a wet sponge at the bloodstains on his suit.
“Ruin her do if all she gets tonight is the bingo”. Second matron, less imposing frontage but with arms like a prop forward.
“Oh I’m sure she’ll get a bit more than that” menacing bosom gave a dirty sounding laugh as she held up a skimpy black leather posing pouch with an embroidered red Indian face, sporting a sown on bedraggled orange feather and an obscene brown floppy rubber tongue.
I hadn’t seen that when I’d looked in his bag.
Grinning, she waggled the thing in front of my face and grinned at me and it crossed my mind that she had quite a pleasant face in a threatening sort of way. “That should give her something to think about, shouldn’t it my handsome.” she said puckering her lips suggestively.
“Now ladies, children present.” Club Manager
Braving a buffeting from reinforced 48” chest, I eased myself out of the chair. “Would someone care to tell me what the fu…,” whoops children present, “what everybody is talking about?”
“Its Muriel’s 18th birthday treat see, Bingo, then the stripper. We all work in the tyre factory, clubbed together see, be a girls night out for all of us. “ She of the forearms added, strong valleys accent coming through, which explained the bad case of dress sense. “ Been looking forward to the stripper see, Muriel didn’t talk about anything else all day at work other than the stripper, see.”
I shrugged sympathetically. “Sorry, I can see how disappointing it must be for her, but its really not my fault. A case of force majeure.”
“False what?” Jason asked screwing is nose up which was his version of looking superior.
“Be a case of fuckin murder if someone don’t do the turn.” Club manager.
I thought of reminding him that there was a child present, but thought better of it. “Force majeure. It means circumstances beyond ones control.” I explained to my dim witted brother.
“I knew that.” He answered, resisted the urge to make some inane comment like ‘just checking’ turned to the two women, manager and daughter, gave them his best used car salesman’s smile. “ Don’t worry” he said soothingly, “Jet will do it.”
‘Do what?’ I was about to ask, then it dawned. “No I won’t” I said vehemently. No way. No…sodding…way. Subject closed”
Jason suddenly lurched sideways as somebody behind him pushed him hard out of the way.
“Yes… you…sodding… will.” Sally said, “and that’s final.”
It turned out Jason was as unprepared as I was for Sally’s sudden and unexpected appearance. Last he’d heard was that she was still in <st1:country-region w:st="on">Ireland</st1:country-region> with my car and a <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Dublin</st1:place></st1:city> bookie.
Nor did we have anytime to find out why or when she had come back because she disappeared at the same speed she’d appeared, this time with one arm linked to menacing bosom and the other to prop forward forearms.
The agonised squeal of a microphone suffering severe feedback had the effect of pushing all thoughts of my brothers detestable woman out of my mind.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen” squeal, squeal, unconvincing laugh from the club manager, “Sorry, I mean just ladies.” Long drawn out howl as he tried to unclip the mike from its stand.
The floor began to vibrate as the women in the auditorium began to stamp their feet. It reminded me of the sound the Zulus had made bashing spears against their shields in the film of the same name. It also sounded just as terrifying.
(In the Gollywood version they had a Kazoo band and half a dozen cheerleaders. When the French epic directed by Maurice Capricious graces the silver screen I imagine there will be some middle-aged to ancient geezer playing an accordion, backed up by half a dozen women in regional costume doing a clog dance.)
Sound of amplified throat clearing, then. “Sorry you had to wait so long, but unfortunately,” the stamping grew loud enough to frighten the Zulu’s, “your Artiste for this evening ‘Naughty Nigel’ has been taken sick; in fact they’ve taken him to the hospital”.
Stunned silence followed by shrieks of anger interspersed with death threats.
Definite panic in his voice as he said between squeals of feedback. “But…but, so you won’t be disappointed, after a high speed dash and at great expense the management…”, voice drowned out by very loud catcalls “…by one of his very satisfied customers…”
Loud thud, which sounded as though he’d dropped the mike, followed by an amplified woman’s voice “That’s true girls, very satisfied.”
From behind the curtain a woman in the audience screamed “Let’s get a look at ‘im then”, whilst Jason, staring at me suspiciously, asked “What’s she mean Bro, very satisfied?”
I had no idea what his bloody woman meant, nor did I have time to work it out. The club manager came back on after, I imagine, wrestling the mike from Sally.
“All the way from Measlyg we have… we have…?” Mumble of Sally’s voice, “…Macho Mike”, horrendous howl of feedback, “…the Magnificent.”
My mouth fell open in horror as pushing me through the threadbare curtain onto the stage, my shit of a brother said gleefully, “Go for it Bro… ‘Macho’”.
“Where the hell are you?” I asked him.
Four days had drifted wearily past since the babysitting episode, the last three of them I’d been totally alone.
The only reason I’d been given for my brother’s sudden absence was a note shoved through my letterbox saying ‘Sally ned’s backup’ in Jason’s childlike scrawl. I didn’t know what he meant, but it kept me amused for a while wondering who Ned was before I remembered Jason was, in today’s parlance, spelling-wise challenged.
It was the first time the office phone had rung during Jason and Sally’s absence. Typically it had to have been my brother, and even more typically, his reply was inane. “Here.”
“Which is?” Breathe deeply, remember the danger of heart attacks between forty and fifty.
“Oh!, You mean right now. At home of course. You want, we can do a debrief over the phone.”
“Do a what?” The only briefs I knew were what they were now calling men’s underpants in mail order catalogues. I suspected that had nothing to do with what he was talking about
“Debrief bro.” He sighed. “ Stands for debriefing. Like you ask about the subject and I tell you where I’ve been. If you want.”
What I wanted was to knife, shoot, strangle, and kick him to death in any order it came out. “Where have you been Jason?”
“That’s subject to need to know, bro.” The was a gentle hum in my ear, the jerk had rang off.
Yes to all of the above, but first I wanted to torture him for a very long time.
“ So what sort of a comedian are you Nigel?” I asked as I tried to avoid yet another of the series of potholes that had decorated the Pontycymchesty to Blaenodyn road since the Romans had stopped maintaining it.
“Not really a comedian as such, more of an artiste really, an exotic entertainer.” Nigel replied in his soft Southern Irish accent.
Exotic? In the eerie intermittent glow from the Mini’s dashboard, it went on and off with each sweep of the wiper blades, he looked more like an extra in a Zombie film. Nigel was the reason Jason had been absent. Sally had called Jason over to Ireland in order to escort Nigel back to Pontycymchesty to start his tour of ten South Wales clubs. Nigel was apparently a client for our ‘minding’ services.
On the up side he was at least thirty.
On the down side, he had turned up with a bad case of the flu, which Jason immediately contracted. Before rushing home to recuperate by watching kid’s TV, my brother explained my need not to know had suddenly turned into a need to know. It appeared that as I was now stuck with the ‘assignment’ of ‘minding’ Nigel for his first club date, which happened to be in that uncut shimmering uncut jewel in the South Wales’ crown, known to all as Blaenodyn.
Sally it seemed was still in Ireland, Dublin in fact, with a bookie she’d met whilst signing up Nigel. In Jason speak, Sally’s assignment, was to find out which member of the subject’s betting shop staff was sticking his fingers in his overflowing till.
Jason was happy with it. He even showed me a Polaroid photo he’d taken of the bookie, who incidentally looked like he could easily have made it as a film star helping sally into the red leather passenger seat of his Porsche.
I would have been just a shade concerned if it had been my woman, not that I had one. As the woman concerned was the detestable Sally, if my brother was happy, who was I to cast doubt.
Naturally it was pissing down, it was after all South Wales. Sally had still got my, sorry, the company, Jaguar, so I had to use my old Mini. I’d kept it in my lockup garage ever since I bought the Jag because for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to part with it. I hadn’t of course kept it taxed, MOT’d, or insured.
Nigel, who was looking sicker by the minute, didn’t know this and all I could hope was, considering the weather, that the plod that worked with Mrs Davies’s son, Trevor, were keeping themselves tucked up warm and dry in the Police Station.
I for one had no objection to them drinking tea and minding their own business.
There had already been one bad scare as a set of blue lights came up fast behind and then overtook as it rushed to the scene of an accident. An accident that considering the traffic jam it caused looked likely to make us late for Nigel’s gig.
if I hadn’t been worrying about the cops and a polite tap on the window accompanied by, ‘Excuse me Sir, but I couldn’t help noticing that your tax disc is out of date , and so forth,’ I might have taken more interest in why Nigel needed ‘minding’ in the first place.
It came back to me as we worked our way into the hinterland and away from the bright lights of Port Talbot steel works that Nigel had told Jason that normally he only worked in Ireland although once, a couple of years earlier, he done a 12 date tour of South and Mid Wales.
It seemed that he’d had so much barracking and associated problems, such as a dented nose and broken collar bone, from the indigenous piss-head population, he’d vowed never to return. That he’d obviously been offered enough money to change his mind was an indication of how good a comedian he had to be.
What I didn’t ask myself was, if he was that good, why had he had so much hassle and, why did he need a minder?
As we slithered bald tyredly into Blaenodyn, Nigel began making nasty gagging sounds and began to desperately wind his side window down. He almost made it. That is too say, he got his chin and mouth out before the window jammed so at least only half of the vomit slid down the interior door trim.
My fault, I admit. The hole in the exhaust pipe was just under the passenger seat, so in addition to the flu, he was also the recipient of quite a lot of carbon-monoxide.
“Sorry about that;” he said with a pasty faced grin when he finally managed to un-jam his head from the window.
I mumbled something about ‘No problem’ whilst trying not to inhale. The stench of vomit was villainous.
“Mind if I use this?”
I shook my head without looking as I was too busy trying not to run over a short fat geezer standing in the middle of the club’s car park. Pushing my spare sweater out through the stuck partially open window so that it slide down the side of the door to land on the mans shoes, Nigel muttered to me, ‘Sorry , I used it to wipe up. I hope it wasn’t a good one.
Not any more, though it could have been used to wipe the rest of puddle water I sprayed over Tubby, the club manager’s, check suit, if he hadn’t picked it up and wiped his face with it first.
(In the Nollywood version, so I’m old, the club was a Las Vegas Casino, the club manager a car parking attendant whom I shot dead because he didn’t know how to drive my manually geared Ferrari. Just goes to show. Oh yeah, and Nigel was a hermaphrodite.)
Chapter Three Howling harpies
The clubhouse was a single story building with peeling faded brown paint, an almost illegible sign that proclaimed that it had once been a cinema, and a series of uninspired daubs of graffiti, mainly depicting exaggerated part of the male and female anatomy.
It stood, a forlorn monument to archliberal nonentity, in the shadow of the disused slag heap that hovered an omnipresent menace to the municipal car park.
The ‘artistes’ dressing room was a what had obviously been some sort of storeroom for spare seats and was curtained off from a hole in the wall of that gave direct access to the men’s bog.
Coming from somewhere behind the room, probably the auditorium where the screen had once stood, came a bedlam of voices, that seemed to be clamouring for something, although it was impossible to make out what.
The second we’d arrived in the room, Nigel had made a gagging sound and dived through the curtain to commune with a white porcelain telephone. He was still in there when the manager exploded through the door.
From the pink glow, he’d obviously washed his face after wiping it with the contents of Nigel’s stomach. He had however missed a piece of carrot on his tie.
“I’m the new manager” he said pompously his beady eyes flashing around the pokey hole, before asking. “You the turn?”.
“No.” I pointed to the curtain, “He is.”
“Well that’s a bloody relief, I doubt they’d be that chuffed with you, Too old see.”
He jerked round as something sounding like a whale farting (assumption only on my part never having heard a whale and so forth) erupted from the curtained-off bog.
“What the fuck was that?” he blurted.
“What’s the matter with him?”
“Fuck” a look of panic crossed is face. “Well he better get well fucking fast. They’ve nearly finished the Bingo and they’ll want the turn next, they’ll go mad otherwise, there’ll be no holding them.”
“I’m alright now”. Nigel’s deathly pale face appeared round the curtain. He didn’t look alright, in fact he looked definitely un-alright. The manager however look relieved, muttered ‘fuck’, disappeared, reappeared, muttered ‘five minutes’.
“What do you want me to do, apart from drive you to the hospital?”
Nigel gave me a greenish smile. “Nothing much. It depends if they have let any men in.”
That confused me. “Why shouldn’t they let men in,” I asked.
“Holy Mary , mother of God.” He gave me a pitying look. “Where did you grow up. They’re not supposed to be any men on a ‘Ladies’ night but in Wales you can never be sure. Sometimes they get so pissed up they find the courage to gatecrash and take the piss out of the stripper.”
He touched his slightly bent nose. “Then it can turn a bit ugly.”
In all my forty odd years of existence I’d never seen a live stripper and felt mildly excited by the prospect. I hoped after Nigel had done his act, we’d hang around long enough for me to watch a probably not so young, young lady grind her way down to G string and nothing else. “She on after you?” I asked trying to sound casual.
Nigel laughed, I think, could have been a groan, and started to unpack his costume bag. Pulling out a purple G string with an crumpled appliqué daffodil pocking out the back. “The strippers not a lady”, he said as he smoothed out the petals.
“I’m the stripper mate.”
A Job (God help us)
“Who are you then?” She asked, a women in early sixties, who would have looked motherly if she hadn’t bee squinting at me, distrust written all over her face.
“There’s a sign on the gate saying ‘No Salesmen’ if you’d looked.” Subject closed, she started to shut the door.
“I’m not a salesman; “I said hurriedly wondering if I should use my foot to stop the door closing and deciding I was far to embarrassed to try it. “I’m from P…I…S…S…I said drawing it out and making a mental note to discuss our company name with my partners. “You are Mrs Davies, and this is No.3, Sunnyside Villas.
“Well I’m the minder you ordered. Six o’clock sharp you told the secretary.” It gave me a small rush of pleasure to describe our ‘never stop reminding me’ ex policewoman Sally as a secretary.
The sad thing she wasn’t there to hear it.
The one and only phone call had been from a Mrs Davies of No.3, Sunnyside Villas, Cymchesty. She had need of a minder for the evening.
Jason had blanched immediately saying, as the firm’s front man he couldn’t become involved in anything remotely likely to be physical. Sally said she couldn’t do it because she was waiting for an important phone call from a possible prospect, so she had to man the phone for the evening.
Jason looked vaguely surprised at the thought that anybody would phone us about anything important, shrugged and went back to his comic.
I, as the suddenly elected new security and minding expert, got the job.
“Well now, why didn’t you say so in the first place”. Mrs Davies opened the door, her face still a mask of suspicion, “strange occupation for grown man though, if you asks me.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Best humour her, as my partners had not ceased to remind me, she was our first real customer.
“Only we was expecting a young girl see. Good job is it, do a lot of it then do you?”
“Yes”, (whatever ‘it’ was)
“Well you knows you business I dare say”.
“Yes indeed”. (What in hells teeth was the old bat raving about?)
She finally stepped away from the door. “You better come in then, the children are in the lounge watching Tele.
“What children.?” Confused.
“The Hall’s children of course, you’re supposed to look after them for the evening. They’ll be down in a minute, their just getting changed.”
She gave me a pitying look. “The Halls of course.”
Something nagged but I didn’t have time to worry about it. Frozen in the doorway, I blurted. “I’m sorry, “I think there’s been some sort of mistake, I’m a University lect….a private detective. Investigator. I, er, we, PISS, that is, thought you wanted someone, er…some VIP, er…,or something protected for the evening.”
“Well we do in a way I suppose, and there’s no need to use bad language.” The creases in her face solidified with distaste. “I told the girl who answered the phone clearly enough that what was needed, was a child minder.”
That bitch Sally had made a fool of me again. “But, but… but, we’re a, a, a, detective agency, why, why… on earth did you call us?”
“Well I don’t see why not.” She replied sounding miffed. “You’re listed in the yellow pages in the section on baby sitting and minding.”
Bastard Jason. He’d said he would take care of our advertising, i.e. listing us in yellow pages.
“Do you want to meet the children now then?” She asked.
“Jethro, how lovely to see you but…”
I knew the name Hall meant something to me, something not good. I just hadn’t realised just not good that something was going to turn out to be.
Turning I watched the lovely Stephanie Hall, young wife of my much detested ex head of Department, Professor Felix Albert Hall, descending her staircase, her eyes puzzled.
“…to what do we owe the pleasure?”
“He says he’s the baby sitter.”
(Thank you Mrs Davies I don’t actually remember saying that.) ”Actually.” I began…
“Well, what’s our city’s newest super sleuth doing here I wonder my darling?” Professor Felix Albert Hall drawled in his best Winchester and Oxbridge accent, as he appeared on the stairs behind his wife, resplendent in his ermine trimmed gown and tasselled mortar board.
“He says he’s the baby sitter.”
(‘Thank you again Mrs Davies. Did anyone speak to you?)
“I’m not sure darling.” Stephanie Hall said with a tinkling laugh as she gazed backwards and upwards at the hairs in her husbands nose.
“Hello Felix.” I said with a snotty nonchalance I didn’t feel. “Actually I’m not the baby min, sitter, nor am I, for the record a super sleuth. In fact I’m a private detective and there has obviously been some mistake. So…”
“My Trevor’s a detective with the Endbridge CID. Inspector see”. Mrs Davies sound proudly, adding, “doesn’t do baby sitting though, too busy catching criminals see.”
(Very interesting Mrs Davies, now sod off, preferably for ever)
The Halls had reached the bottom of the stairs and were standing side by side staring at me in amusement, although when I raised my gaze from Stephanie’s magnificent cleavage, I though I saw a hint of sympathy in her eyes.
“I’m not a baby sitter.” I repeated, aware of a faint note of desperation settling into my voice.
“That’s what he said he was.” (No I didn’t Mrs Davies. Will you please shut up.) “My Trevor always says its important to listen carefully so that you can clearly remember what everyone says. That’s my Trevor.” (Take your Trevor and stuff him up…)
Improvise; “Well, actually, I’m standing in for Sally, she had a double booking you see, so I said I’d help out. Actually”.
“So who’s Sally?” Stephanie
“My em, niece.” (What possessed me to say that?)
“And she’s our baby sitter?”
“Well, yes… we work for the same company and she, I mean the secretary took a double booking and…
“But you said you were a detective, old son, so is this Sally, your niece, also a private detective?” Professor Felix Albert bloody smartarse fucking Hall.
“She does babysitter on the side.” I felt an influx of panic, this was getting worse and worse.
“Well I hope you haven’t taught her to swear like you do. Never heard the like.” (Mrs Hall, please, please, go away.)
“Jethro swore at you?” Stephanie, incredulous.
“No I didn’t. It’s the name of our company. P.I.S.S.
No, no not piss,” help me, “ P.I.S.S. It stands for PONTYCMYCHESTY INVESTIGATION and SECURITY SERVICE.”
“God!” Stephanie. She looked sideways at her husband and gave a short bark of laughter.
I shrugged. “Silly name really.” I said, allowing myself a little bark too. “You know what these people are like.”
“Not really?” she stared at me her eyebrows dancing a jig as she tried to keep a straight face.
Glancing impatiently at his watch, the master of the house slid past his wife and stopped in front of me. “Well, whether you are supposed to be our baby sitter, sorry child minder, or not old man.” Professor Felix Albert, who doesn’t deserve a wife that looks like Stephanie, Hall, said sarcastically, “as you’re here Jethro, dear boy…”
“You might as well meet the children.” Stephanie Hall completed.
In the Jollywood version, that is Jason’s version, Mrs Davies was David the Butler, Felix Albert Hall was a Senator and his wife Stephanie, (sorry Sandy) was Hall’s third wife, an Eurasian stick insect starlet with flat chest and no bum. God knows what she’ll look like in the French film, apart from being stark naked that is).
“Where’s my car?” I asked Jason the next morning.
“Yes Jason, car, mine, Jaguar, I’m sure if you try, you will remember it.” I was trying hard to keep my temper. It wasn’t his fault he was a congenital idiot, but if he kept on staring at me with that stupid blank expression much longer I was going to stop trying so hard.
The Halls had come back, slightly the worse for wear, from the University’s, start of a new academic year, ball around eleven thirty. They brought an empty milk bottle in with them. It had been left on their doorstep. In it was a note. For me.
Job on. Took Com. car.
Love S xx
Felix Albert asked if the ‘S’ stood for my niece Sally, then bellowed with laughter when I said ‘Not really’.
( It made me feel much better about having let both of their young children eat a compete tub of chocolate ice-cream each, and that they’d both thrown up copiously all over themselves, their pyjamas, beds and Winnie the Pooh carpets and wallpaper.)
Back to the car, or rather lack of it.
“Sally’s got it bro.”
“I know that Jason.” I fished a piece of paper out of my pocket and waved it at him. “This is the receipt for my taxi fare home.”
“Right.” He went back to staring morosely at the silent telephone.
“What I want to know”, I continued, with admirable patience, “is where is the sodding thing now?”
“Sally’s got it.” (God give me strength) “She left for Fishguard, first thing this morning. That’s why she….”
“Why Fishguard ?” I interrupted not able to bear the thought of him launching into the ‘Sally’s got it’ routine again. The recurring urge to kill him that I’d experienced since the day he spoke his first baby words, was once again in ascendancy.
“That’s it bro. She gone to Ireland to discuss an assignment. Needed wheels so she took the company Jag. Right.
No, not right. Breathe deeply, stay calm. Think Zen. “What assignment Jason?”
My brother, who was also my business partner, shrugged. “Beats me.”
Kill him now a little voice screamed. “You mean you don’t know why she’s in Ireland?”
“No, not exactly.”
I stood up, then sat down again, on my hands. It was that or strangle the pot bellied bastard. “Why not?” I asked.
“Need to know.”
“Need to know bro, you know.”
“No. I do not… know.” I started to rise slowly, sliding my now numb fingers out from under my bum. Screw think Zen. Think thuggee, think assassin. Think murder.
The phone rang, saving his life, I think. He passed it too me saying smugly. “It’s for you.”
For some reason I assumed it was Sally so I immediately asked her what she was doing in Ireland, using as they say, some strong language.
When I’d finished, Stephanie Hall asked me to what address should she send the cheque for the child minding, less of course, the dry cleaning and decorator’s bills.
My dim witted brother Jason lobbed me a ball as I walked through the door of our seedy third floor office.
I yelped, caught it, recognised it as a hand grenade from the various war
Sally, who was on her way out of the ladies, caught it in one hand.
Jason was in fits. “It’s rubber” he crowed in that awful infantile voice he’d used every time he thought he’d been funny or clever. “I bought it in a charity shop”
It had crossed my mind as I was scrabbling to get under my desk that the thing hadn’t felt like metal. Cursing my brother, I sheepishly scrabbled back out again as Sally dropped the thing on my head, then caught it as it rebounded.
That was the upscale part of the morning. The rest of it settled into its usual pattern of absolutely nothing even vaguely interesting happening other than musical sounds coming from Sally’s state of the art computer. She was vainly attempting to regain enough RAM to play solitaire.
(State of the art over twenty years ago. Back then most people hadn’t even heard of a laptop, let alone seen one. Cell phones were in their infancy, were the size of a small television and cost the National debt to operate).
Jason was pretending to be reading his paper and giggling every time he reached a bit he could understand in the comic he had hidden inside it.
I was, as usual reflecting on why my parents had lumbered me with cretin for a younger brother. Was it a punishment for some heinous crime in a previous life, or just a case of ‘shit happens’.
On a personal note I also spent a lot of time pondering why I had not inherited the down to earth commonsense both of my parents seemed to have naturally, and I was incapable of nurturing, even artificially.
It also transpired that I hadn’t accidentally hit Prentice in the face. While I had been apologising to the owner of the bag of carrots and her schoolgirl companion, Sally’s bus seat companion had made the mistake of feeling up Sally’s bum as she slid past him. His nose evidently had been softer than her elbow, sad really.
Two months earlier, shortly after my forty sixth birthday, I’d opted for a career change. In a moment of foolish despair, I’d given up trying to instil some appreciation of Blake, Wordsworth and Shakespeare into a new generation of disinterested undergraduates, (most of the first year students I tried to teach were so hung up about not getting AIDS, the only thing they fucked was the English language), and had chucked in my safe pensionable academic sinecure to become…to become, a private investigator.
Somehow, the how being a mystery that will stay for the rest of my life, I allowed myself to be talked out of the money I’d managed not to pay in alimony to my ex-wife, and become a partner in a private detective agency.
My other partners were of course, my brother Jason and his stunning looking sarcastic, sensual, sneaky, sneering, soul mate, Sally. I even accepted, despite being the one who came up with the money, to be the most junior partner. As they pointed out at length, they were the experienced ones
Sally had been a detective constable with the Metropolitan police, why she wasn’t still, was not explained. She had met Jason when they had both been working for a West country detective agency. Why they had left this said agency to come to Pontycymchesty was also never quite forthcoming.
The most mystifying thing of all was, what on earth, may late twenties, beautiful blonde bitch of a partner saw in a moon faced pot bellied idiot, as represented by my waste of space, thirty three year old, brother.
Being junior, one of my jobs, in fact the only one was taking charge of the post, had been any, and stationary. With no important letter to open and distribute, (‘i.e. chuck across the office) to its recipient, I opened the box of business cards which Jason had used my car to collect that morning.
Jason had also been the one that designed them; he had after all got a G too Z in GCSE art.
Personal Investigations performed in total intimacy
Chief Investigator and Securety Consultant: Jason Floweres
No assignation is too small for P.I.S.S.
He had no English language or intelligence qualifications whatsoever.
“Whattya think?” he asked lowing his paper concealed comic and smirking proudly, “gets it said right”.
Wrong! But never mind. Did he really I wondered, want to know what I though, because I thought he was a pr…
Reaching across my desk Sally plucked the card out of my fingers “Let me see.” She said, then she said “Jason, you utter prick”
Which saved me the bother. (In the American version, the U.P. was me and somehow I’d got downgraded from lecturer to janitor. God only knows what I shall become in the French one)
“What’s wrong darling, don’t you like them?” He stood up and put down his paper carefully so that his comic didn’t fall out. “I did think that perhaps instead of ‘Personal Investigations performed in total intimacy’, I could have put, ‘Intimate investigations carried out with complete dispensation’, but…”
“From whom?” I asked.
‘What’ was one of the two standard Jason responses when asked a question he didn’t understand. “Dispensation.” I replied, “Who from, the Pope?”
Now he was really lost. Sidling round his desk he muttered plaintively. “ I thought they were pretty cool”
“You thought they were pretty cool.” Sally echoed, lips tightly compressed.
“Ummm” Jason’s other standard response when asked a question.
“Interesting choice of words, original spelling” brotherly contribution from me, unacknowledged as usual.
“Apart from ‘security’ being spelt with ‘i’ not and ‘e’, why personal investigations Jason?” Sally snarled as she very slowly tore the card in half and dropped the pieces in front of him. “Shouldn’t it have been ‘Private?”
From the perplexed expression on his face he was obviously so engrossed in trying to work out which ‘e should be replaced by an ‘i’, so he actually answered a question using words. “Yeah well,” he said bravely, ”I thought I’d made us sound a bit different.”
Oh we were different alright, especially him. “That’s two thoughts he’s had in one day” I muttered, helpfully, or so I believed.
She didn’t even have the courtesy to look at me when she said “Shut up”. Jason was saying “ “Well babe” (babe was one of his new ‘in’ words) we can still call ourselves P.I’s”
(And we all know what the P stands for Jason, don’t we?)
“And as PI’s Jason, do we have assignments or assignations?” she asked pitilessly.
“And are they intimate or discreet?”.
Sally treated me to one of her baleful blue eyed stares before. “Please stay out of this Jet. We both know that as an ex academic you think you have a superior intellect than us simple ordinary people;” (ordinary, she was about as ordinary as Lucretia Borgia, she was also not at all simple, my brother, well?).
Still staring at me , she reached out and took Jason’s hand in hers before continuing. “So please try and understand, you will only confuse him terribly if you discuss two concepts at the same time.”
Couldn’t argue with that. Picking up the packet of cards I asked, “Take them back to the printer’s then, shall I?”
She nodded, transferring her gaze back to her beloved moron. “ Yes please and have them change personal to private…”
…”assignation to assignment…”
“…performed in total intimacy to carried out with compete discretion…”
“But Sal, I thought”
“I suppose we could be intimately discreet.”
She ignored me
… get them to spell security correctly and get rid of the Chief Investigator Jason Floweres crap completely and…
“Oh no ….babe!”
“…get them to adjust the font sizes to take up any unnecessary space.”’
I glanced at my brothers face, was totally unmoved by his obvious distress, picked up the packet and said, still looking at him, “speaking of unnecessary space…?”
If they’d had a row, they were over it by the time I got back from a not very happy printing firm.
What’s more a magical event occurred as I walked through the door. The phone rang.
(In the Piddlewood version, the phone didn’t ring, it was a letter, delivered by a FedEx courier. The rest was almost right. In reality, Sally answered the phone In fiction, Sam opened the letter. I got sent out for bagels.)
Chapter 1 The Big mistake
On the morning the story really begins in earnest an icy wind was blowing in from Siberia, or Norfolk, (Global warming phobia hadn’t yet struck, at that time we were still panicking about an immanent ice age), and the city cowered under a grey acrid swirling shroud of residual soot from a thousand Guy Fawkes’ funeral pyres.
Personally I felt sorry for the poor man that we have brainwashed recent generations of our children into burning in effigy. He and his fellow conspirators were the only people to have had a practical idea on how to shut politicians up.
This however, apart from explaining my mood which was already fairly depressed has nothing to do with my story, which began inside a bus; a <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placename w:st="on">Pontycymchesty</st1:placename> <st1:placetype w:st="on">City</st1:placetype></st1:place> bus to be exact.
For anyone who has not experienced it, this is an unique environment where the great smell of cheap aftershave, and even cheaper perfume, metamorphoses with cough drops, damp clothing and seats that had hosted thousands of transient bums, into a palpable miasma that can only be immediately associated with the interior of a Pontycymchesty City bus.
All the aforementioned would have just been bearable had it not been for the blonde with angry hazel eyes glaring over the back of her seat at me.
(In the Sillywood version she had cropped dark hair, the bus was a <st1:state w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">New York</st1:place></st1:state> to Kennedy shuttle; according to Jason who advised on the film, she did have the same size tits.)
Maurice Capricious I believe is thinking seriously about the French High Speed Train. Both shuttle and train in terms of transport would make truth about the following five minutes more difficult, if not impossible. I digress.
“Why do you keep following me?” she said loudly enough to cut across a discordant orchestra of coughs and sneezes.
I didn’t react other than to give her my carefully cultivated glacial stare. I wasn’t following her, I had no need to, I knew where she was going. She was my brother’s girlfriend and one of my partners. The only thing I couldn’t fathom was why she was on the same bus as me.
I was using public transport because my brother had borrowed my car, admittedly without asking. As she and my brother cohabited, I had quite naturally assumed she would be using it with him.
“Well what”? So much for glacial stare, needs more work
“Why are you following me?”.
I sighed, I hadn’t a clue what she was up to, but it had gone far enough. Apart from the rumble of the engine and alarming creaks as the driver slung the vehicle around corners, she had succeeded in stilling the surrounding bubble of conversation. Heads turned in our direction as the other passengers sensed they were about to have their daily lives brightened by a touch of drama.
“Don’t be absurd Sally, you are well aware tha…” (In the film, the name Sally had been changed to Sam. Maureen who married Mulligan, wrote and told me.)
Once more I digress. Okay, I will stop there and try and be more focused. Maurice, the French film Director I suspect is going to call her Severine and make her a redhead, still each to his own.
To recap. The story, my story began in the well known Welsh city of <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Pontycymchesty</st1:place></st1:city> in 1979.
‘Freezing wind from <st1:city w:st="on">Norfolk</st1:city> or was it <st1:place w:st="on">Siberia</st1:place> ,etc…………’
“How dare you…”
She had turned round fully in her seat to stare at me with that perfect oval face, flawless skin and full lips that I hated so much. So had the young man with the pustule specked neck sitting beside her, turned round that is, I didn’t notice if his lips were full nor not.
“…accuse me of being absurd, and how on earth did you know my name...?” aside to ‘Spotty’, being careful with emphasis “I knew he was following me, everywhere I go he’s there”, she gave a mock shudder “ I can’t imagine how he could possibly think I would be interested” she grimaced, “and old man like him”.
“Take no notice darlin, he’s just a dirty old git.” Misplaced sympathy from boil neck as he gave me what I imagined was his hard man sneer, before he frowned in recognition, “I know you” he spluttered after his first surprised grunt, “your Dr. Floweres, I ‘ad you in my first year”
So he did. I felt a certain relief and being identified as a respected member of society, not just another dirty old git. It was short lived.
From the seat behind me I heard a woman’s voice mutter. “Did you ‘ear that? ‘Es a doctor. Just cos ‘es a Doctor, don’t mean ‘e can go around bothering women do it?”
“Bluddy right it don’t. Should be bluddy struck off”. Woman’s male companion, no brighter obviously and of same ethnic origin as ‘Spotty’, <st1:city w:st="on">London</st1:city>, but not <st1:place w:st="on">Mayfair</st1:place>.
The head scarfed lady passenger in front of Sally and her spotty champion spun round in her seat and tapped ‘Spotty’ on the shoulder. “I’d get your wife to change her doctor if I was you see.” Native Welsh. She shook the dewdrop that had formed on the end of her nose onto Prentice’s shoulder before fixing me with rheumy eyes. “Can always tell a bad-un”, she sniffed, “shifty looking;” .
I’d remembered, Spotty’s name was Prentice. An uninspired student which is an academic term for ‘thick as shit’.
“He’s not a quack. ‘es an English lecturer at the Uni.” Prentice said flapping at the damp patch on the sleeve of his blue anorak.
Was, I though, was.
I risked a quick glance at Sally who couldn’t make up her mind whether carry on the masquerade of being falsely outraged by me, or truly outraged that anyone would think she was Spotty Prentice’s wife.
“That’s even bluddy worse innit”. Mr. ‘I’m from <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">London</st1:place></st1:city>’ behind me. His voice had raised a full octave from nasal whine to a nasal whine with attitude, “teaches kid’s don’t ‘e , all the same these aca, aca, aca… whatsit types, perverts, queers and ponces if yer asks me”.
Obviously a thesaurus fan. I thought about pointing out nobody had asked him when Prentice piped up. “She’s not my wife.”
“No.” I snapped , trying out the glacial stare again. It made my eye sockets ache, adding. “She’s my brother’s wife.” Why didn’t I stop at ‘No’?
“That’s incest that is. His brother’s wife see, stands to reason”. Headscarf, lips so compressed with righteousness her mouth looked like a vertical scar. Prentice shifted sideways as another dewdrop began to form.
I stood up, desperate to get off at the next stop, which by coincidence was the one I wanted. The bus lurched round a corner, I lurched with it and was catapulted across the lap of the 14 or so year old schoolgirl opposite.
She screamed and I found myself face down kissing a plastic bag full of carrots in the shopping bag of the elderly lady sitting next to her.
I dragged myself upright, my repeated “Sorrys” lost amid a flurry of…
“Look at him, he’s at it again”,
“Should be locked up ‘e should”
“They’re all like that see, doctors.”
The bus began to slow down as I turned towards the door. Sally had got in front of me. Someone, I suspect Prentice pushed me hard in the back making me swing out wildly to keep my balance, not wanting to end up once again with a face full of carrots; my nose still felt sore after the first time.
The plastic bag had split on impact and a particularly affronted carrot had gone straight up my nose and might have penetrated my brain if my adenoids hadn’t got in the way.
All the flailing around brought my hand into contact with something hard, probably human from the yelp.
Got upright just in time to see Sally step down off the bus. Hurrying forward towards the still open doors all I could hear was…
“Look ‘es after ‘er again”
“Old enough to be her father”
“Must be his kid brother’s wife? Disgusting I calls it, disgusting.”
“You can always tell these pederfiles, its in their eyes my Gareth always says.”
“Shameful I calls it, and him a teacher.
The doors hissed closed again and the bus jerked forward
Voice from the back “should let him off driver, might be hell of a boy like, but you don’t want him on your bus, do you.”?
Bus screeched abruptly to a stop. Giving me a filthy glare the bus driver pressed the button and the door opened.
I heard one parting shot.
“Good bluddy riddance”
I looked up as the bus drew away.
Prentice, was staring down at me, hand clutched to his nose, blood on his fingers. Oh Good! My nose felt comforted that it hadn’t suffered alone. There was no call for concern, my flying hand hadn’t hit anything human after all.
Sally was nowhere in sight.
“Good bloody riddance” I muttered, echoing thesaurus man, whilst thinking, I should be so lucky.
My pride and joy, a 6 year old 2.8 Jag was parked on the yellow line outside the office block where the Pontycymchesty Investigation and Security Service rented a third floor matchbox. The front offside wire wheel was comfortably encased in what was then, one of the new fangled wheel clamps, and the bonnet had a new motif perched on it. Sally.
She slid off as I approached, the metal studs decorating the back pockets of her jeans making an unhealthy rasping sound on the damp paintwork.
“What was that all about?” I asked, trying to sound only vaguely interested and failing miserably as I noticed the scratches from her studded jeans looked like snail trails in the soot coated bonnet.
Sally grinned. “Field test”
“And what’s that supposed to mean”? Strained.
“It means you failed your U.P. test Jet. Standard procedure.”
‘U.P test, standard procedure’. Up to that morning she hadn’t spoken as thought she was a walk-on extra in a spy movie. Suddenly she was starting to sound like my brother, who talks in semi incomprehensible jargon most of the time.
Well screw her, her standard procedure and her U.P.test whatever hell it was. “Don’t call me Jet” I growled, adding petulantly, “and don’t sit on the bonnet of my car”
She laughed. ”Company car Jet darling.” Sticking her denim encased bottom out backwards she wiggled it against of the front of the Jag until there was a long agonised screech of metal studs against paintwork.
Once satisfied she’d done enough damage to reinforce her female supremacy, she blew me a kiss, repeated, “Company car” with pursed lips and crossed the pavement to the entrance of our building
I’d forgotten that in a stupid euphoric moment under the influence of cheap champagne, I’d agreed to that.
On inspecting the damage I noticed she had written ‘It means UNDER PRESSURE and a big X in the grime on the windscreen.
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