[Latest episode of the unrolling story, in which Suggie is put out of commission and the scaly-backed Outreach Church gathers its clans.]
Suggie noticed that the other creature was hanging back. He didn't like the pistol--or was it that the first fellow was entitled to the prize?
Two against one was always bad news, but what chance did a single cop have against a pair of Roamers? He fired another shot which went wide but then his attacker leapt foward and kicked the shooter from his hand.
The gunfire had caused a woman over on the street to shriek and Suggie could see a crowd of people gingerly moving towards them from the direction of the pub.
'Now!' shouted the Roamer in the shadows, looking over his shoulder. 'Rip him! They're coming!'
Before Suggie's assailant could rip anything he was dragged backwards by two sturdy individuals in gaudy bits of old clothing. One was puffing at a pipe of War Horse.
Latest part of the continuing tale in blog form, in which a nasty gets physical.
Suggie knew the man he followed out of the Moon on the Water might be a member of the group that his landlord Grant Appleton had been gathering in town, but maybe not.
That landlord of his was one of the big cheeses in a cult that had been piggybacking on the Christian message and infiltrating nonconformist religious organisations. The Supreme Godhead Outreach Church was one of these, a pathetic band of pilgrims whose crusading efforts had seemed to be petering out before this.
As an undercover detective he, Lance 'Suggie' Southgate, had been put on the case to gather evidence when anonymous sources claimed Appleton was involved in the ritual killing of a young mother and child. Cannibalism and the drinking of blood were features of the crime. These atrocities were nothing but a sickening stunt designed to grab the headlines, some said.
He had his pistol but was not expecting to use it. This toe rag had given him some dirty looks and flobbed on his T-shirt, that was all. There might or might not be some business here involving the Red Scab Chain. Anyway, Suggie was prepared to dish out a few licks purely in his capacity as a private citizen out for an evening's fun.
'Here, Peeler!' said the miscreant out in the dark,'want another gob of spit?'
Suggie moved towards the guy who beckoned him on, walking backwards along the shadowy side of the Moon on the Water towards a bit of ground belonging to Saint Justin's Church, now deconsecrated and being turned into a tanning salon.
The chap looked tougher now than he had seemed at the bar. Suggie went at him, ready with an elbow to the jaw.
When his elbow connected with the chin of the Gloomy Gus Suggie felt as if he had received 2000 volts into the funny bone. He tried a quick left to the gut but it never materialised. The sneering face before him showed a pair of two-inch canines no longer retracted.
'See to him,' said someone behind Suggie. There's boyo number two, thought the detective. He did not turn to see, for fear of giving an advantage to the shape before him with the fiery eyes and snarling mouth.
He drew his chrome-plated automatic which he swung into the brute's head. The Roamer screeched piteously, holding his battered ear.
Oh for a crucifix, the detective thought to himself. Complacent jokes he had grinned at a few hours earlier, about bloodsuckers and Dracula, flew through his mind like the confetti of hell.
He glanced over his shoulder. The other fellow was waiting in the wings, outlined against the lights and traffic outside the Moon on the Water. His open mouth had canines like butcher's hooks.
At this moment the stocky detective was glad of his gym sessions and daily routines at home. Even now he was reluctant to open fire. The whole thing was weird, and it could be a massive con. Worse than that, he could shoot them point blank and find the slugs had no effect.
The guy who had spat swiped him with with a backhanded blow to the temple. Suggie went down onto the dirt of the old churchyard. Realizing he could not take another crack like that, he sent two bullets into the fellow's belly and he fell, but he got up again and danced toward the cop as if asking for more.
Latest part of the unrolling blog story, in which Suggie, while out for a drink with Cass, is targeted by a vampire
'Maybe all of the Red Scab Chain are not actually at the talk,' said Suggie, angling his chin towards the far end of the bar. Cass let his eye pass over a crowd of yokels who'd already had a skinful before entering the Moon on the Water. Beyond them stood two taciturn freaks, watching the other drinkers.
Suggie grinned at the crowd of noisy rustics.
'I like that bunch of carrot-toppers,' he said. 'They live down the river in bivouacs. I was talking to one the other night--they do seasonal jobs, you know, picking and so forth.'
'Makes 'em brawny.'
'Makes 'em frisky, too.'
Three or four women Cass would never have referred to as slags were being passed from one to the other, it seemed. Youngish and raddled, they looked pretty good to the yokels.
'Those other two fuckers not only clocked us earlier, they've got to do their damnedest not to show any fang,' said Suggie with a laugh. He had switched from lager to vodka-7s.
It seemed as if the two Gloomy Gusses had found something to smile about: Suggie Southgate.
'I'll get those ugly bastards,' muttered Suggie.
'Easy, Sug,' said Cass. 'Don't get preposterous on me just as people are starting to enjoy theirself. Those mediocre scrotes have only come out tonight to watch the shenanigans and listen to the band. They're not hard cases. The band draws all sorts, man. Carter Hubris have really got something on the ball--smokin' hot, they are.'
The rock outfit had set up their stuff earlier on the plinth at the far end of the pub, beside the door that led to the hallway and toilets. Now these scarecrows in studded leather and greasy threads jumped to their stations and got ready with their instruments.
'Carter Hubris for ya, ladies and gee!' the showman among the barstaff brayed into the mic.
'One and a two and a three and a yah!'
The pub jolted to lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, drums and sax. Plus the highly amped-up microphone wielded by the singer, a broomstick with a smoky baritone.
'I've heard these boys before,' said Suggie, nodding his head to the beat. 'Great gig last week.'
'They was here lassweeeek!'
Cass nodded then and smilingly began to sway like many others among the congregation.
The band's industrial-grade rhythm swirled in the air full of strong-smelling spirits and beer and the fog of cigarettes and pipes. It was a normal Friday night.
Cass was digging it all, partly because of Suggie's talk when he could hear it, his take on life and his memoirs of the Royal Navy. Cass was well aware that many of these riffs had the shakiest basis in fact. But what did that matter when you got a better Friday at the Moon on the Water than any other pub in town, including the Bull Baiter? The weekend was here.
Whatever remarks passed between them, and no matter how much they laughed, and whenever they sprang up turn by turn to replenish the glasses, they kept their eyes on the scrotes at the other end of the bar.
The table of the Carrot Toppers was between Cass, Suggie and them.
* * * * *
Harris and Webber did not look cheerful but they were happy to have been assigned the job on Southgate.
'We've seen enough of these Supreme Godhead-type shows after all,' Harris had said as they followed Southgate towards the Moon on the Water. 'It won't surprise anyone in the know if Vauclare takes over the pulpit towards the end.'
'Unless he lets the older Appleton have a chance,' said Webber. 'He's been giving out a bit of the oratory too these days and no doubt sees a career path for himself in the Movement.'
'You can't begrudge a guy his ambitions,' said Harris. 'At least he's got more go than his brother Teddy. Grant has been known to sip from you know where. Teddy would live on formula forever--if you let him.'
Settled in the noisy pub, they glanced over at Southgate just enough to stir him up.
'Grant Appleton knows a copper when he sees one,' said Webber. 'I'm sure he's right about the swine getting digs at Parkside in order to snoop.'
Yes, it was time Suggie Southgate was got rid of. It must be accomplished with neatness and discretion, because the word was he could be attached to Scotland Yard.
'Watch me draw him,' said Harris. 'Once he's outside I'll slice him and drain some. You be there in case he's got more fight than we think.'
Webber gave a sound like a gasp and there was a brief sight of white incisors.
Harris worked around the roistering humans at the big table, working up a mouthful of saliva.
He halted in front of Lance Southgate and launched his foaming stream onto the breast of the human's T-shirt.
'Outside's the place for your sort of impertinence, Mister!' shouted Harris over the sound of the band. He spun around and walked back, past Webber and into the hallway of the pub and from there into the buzzing neon night.
Suggie was still wincing from the shock and he pulled the T-shirt away from his chest as if it were soaked with acid.
Leaning over, Cass called into his ear: 'Leave it, Sug, the guy must be a psychopath. 'Don't--'
But Suggie snatched his arm away from Cass, jumped up and raced through the hall and out into the road.
Latest part of the vampire tale set in King Leonard's England. [Story up to today go here.]
Cass and Suggie were enjoying drinks in the Moon on the Water. Often on a Friday night an influx of lads from HMS Cerberus, a training vessel moored along the estuary, would be carried in on the incoming tide of weekend shenanigans. English cadets and a leavening of saffron-skinned Iranian sailor boys too, were often seen in that vicinity in those days.
'You know the funny turn you had the other night?' said Suggie.
'What, when Mr Vauclare wanted to mix it? Yeah, it was weird. I felt myself go, like,' said Cass. 'I thought I'd develop a head cold out of that, you know.'
'No, I think it was the use of powers, man. And not angelic ones, by any means.'
'What, you saying it was something coming off Vauclare, like? Hypnotic or something?'
'You could call it that, I suppose,' said Suggie, tamping a wad of War Horse shag into the bowl of his pipe. 'Yeah, a form of unangelic hypnosis used by Eric Vauclare on you the same way it has been employed on one or two other people.'
'What, you mean he makes a habit of it? No, come on, man, I think I just had a dodgy piece of chicken burger that lunch time now you mention it. That swine Vauclare was just a stranger in town looking for a punch-up.'
Suggie lit his pipe and a blue cloud poured from the side of his mouth.
'He's in this town for a specific reason. He's one of the jokers behind the Supreme Godhead Outreach Church.'
'The Happy-Clappies?' said Cass.
'No laughing matter is the way I'd put it. A colleague of mine doesn't refer to them as Supreme Godhead Outreach, to him they're the Red Scab Chain.'
'One of your friends in the Snake Pit or what they call the Nut House?' said Cass.
Suggie smiled to himself and ran his hand over the blue patterns on his scalp.
'You think I work the Health Service and that's it? Psychiatric, like?'
Cass did not attempt to find an answer for this, but contented himself with getting up to refill the glasses.
While he was at the bar, in came their fellow-tenant, Royston Beckett. His girlfriend was with him, the luscious blonde, Adeane Wentworth.
'Hey Roy, what you two having?' said Cass. He gave a welcoming smile to Adeane as Beckett spoke to the barman.
Then Suggie waved Adeane and Royston over to sit with him.
That guy's a fantastic actor, thought Cass, knowing what Suggie really thought of Beckett. On the other hand, who wouldn't be glad to see Adeane?
'You're cutting it tonight, Royston,' said Suggie, indicating Beckett's charcoal three-piece suit.
'You both look set for something special,' added Cass. Adeane smiled demurely.
'Well, it should be memorable, anyway,' said Beckett. 'We're getting in on a bit of the spiritual vibe at the Church Hall of the Outreach people. Instruction and insight.'
Cass coughed on his glass of red wine, some of which he spat onto the floor, laughing. Beckett turned on him.
'Sorry Roy, it's just that Suggie and I were just--'
Suggie's foot lashed out at Cass's shin under the table.
'We were just debating whether to go ourselves,' said Suggie.
'Don't you need to go home and change first?' said Adeane.
'Well no, we don't. Come as you are is acceptable tonight, according to the flier. Says here, "Formal or cords, trainers, whatever."'
Suggie showed her one of the yellow handbills that some disciple had distributed to all the tables in the Moon on the Water.
The talk shifted to other things, such as Royston Beckett's successes in life. He's out to impress Adeane and she's going for some of it--only some of it, thought Cass.The place had suddenly filled up.
'Thanks for the drink, Cass,' said Beckett. 'We've gotta run. Might see you there?'
'Yeah, might,' said Suggie.
Beckett and Adeane were some time threading through the concourse at the bar trying to get out.
'She won't be with him long, I bet you,' said Suggie.
Latest part of the new tale about King Leonard's England. [Story up to today go here.]
Early on a Friday evening at Parkside, Tyrone Cass had just paid his rent downstairs in the kitchen.
He returned to his room and put his rent book in the drawer, brushed his teeth and shaved, then on his way out he saw Suggie coming back up the stairs with his tenners still in his hand.
'I'm rich,' said Suggie with a snigger. 'Old Appleton didn't like the colour of my wages earned by the sweat of this and that.'
'What, your rent money? He didn't want it?'
'That's right. Said he didn't want any rent from me, I gotta get out.'
'What did you say?'
'I said if you don't take what's offered, fine,' said Suggie. 'That's all the more for me to play with, right? I mean, I offered it, and for his own peculiar reasons he told me to keep it.'
'Yeah, but he's your landlord and you need a place, don't you?'
'I've got a place and here I'm stayin'. Eviction is a long process, baby. If he wants to refuse the legal rent I offered him, that's his business. All the more for beer and the magic mushrooms. He can't keep me out of my lawful place where I live. It'll cost him quite a bit to get rid of me, don't you worry.'
The scythes and sickles tattooed on Suggie's shaven head gleamed in the light of the declining sun which percolated into the hallway of Parkside.
'I'd need to get it straightened out if it was me,' said Cass. 'I like that date stamp in my rent book--for peace of mind and security, man.'
'Yeah, well Appleton likes you, doesn't he? You're the Star Boarder, like,' said Suggie. 'I'm not.'
* * * * * Grant Appleton sat behind his cashbox in the kitchen. He looked fifty and was considerably older.
A Silex of ground coffee stood hot and ready for those tenants who wished to help themselves and stay and chat after parting with their shekels. Some did. Tyrone Cass, for example, usually took him up on the offer. He would chat just as if Appleton were a regular human being. No trace of suspicion or fear--and no creep-arsing or crawling, either. It was a pleasure to have dealings with such an unaffected human.
Yes, Mr Cass was the nearest you would get today to an old-style gent. If this place got sold off, Grant Appleton would ensure that he and one or two others would be offered alternative accommodation. Lance Southgate, or 'Suggie', would not.
When the last guest had paid, Appleton put the cash in the safe in the back room that he and his wife used. The landlord had a string of guest house properties along the lines of Parkside and they all had accommodation for a live-in manager and rent collector. But Parkside, a three-storey pile with white plaster and oak beams outside, seemed like home, and he always collected the rents there himself, or put his wife onto it.
As he was picking up his jacket to leave there was a knock at the back door.
'Grant! It's Eric!'
Appleton swore to himself. Vauclare!
You never knew when that freak would call. He opened the door.
'Is he here?' asked the man with the black moustache.
Royston Beckett, one of Appleton's tenants, had recently become a 'project'.
'Yes, he's here. He paid his rent earlier. He's solid, a real convert, that one.'
'Not like the other chap, then. I was tackling him a few nights back and that brother of yours had to stick his nose in! I was testing his temper in the Bull Baiter. I came over as a staunch Republican that night, ha ha ha!'
'Well, Teddy agrees with me and I'm glad he jumped in. Leave Tyrone Cass out of it!' snapped Appleton.
A splash of foamy saliva flew from Appleton's lip.
Vauclare's eyes flashed but he looked away and sighed. When he turned back to Appleton he was smiling.
'But Cass would be so good for us. Athletic, intelligent--and good-looking into the bargain, what?'
'You in love with him?' sneered Appleton.
They both had to laugh at that one.
There was the sound of feet coming down the stairs and voices in the hallway of Parkside.
Appleton opened the door a crack. There stood Royston Beckett with a young woman. She was a blonde and wore a skimpy black cotton jacket over an off-white dress. Black patent leather high heels accented her honey-coloured legs.
Looking over Appleton's shoulder, Vauclare slowly expelled air between his teeth.
The landlord drove his elbow into the iron-like ribs of the figure behind him, then spun round with a right hook which narrowly missed the black moustache.
'You fucker!' he said, 'you disgust me. What are you thinking of now? Snatching a well-attached young woman out of my rooming house? Haven't you ever heard of MI6, or the white coats? Or INTEG?'
'Calm yourself, Grant baby,' said Vauclare with a laugh. 'I can't help it if my vitality sometimes gets the better of me. Naturally, I would never incriminate you and Janice. Parkside will remain what it is for as long as you like.'
'Look, Eric,' said Appleton, 'you've got your needs, of course you have. Just don't satiate them here, that's all I'm saying. I mean later on, if she comes in with us, who knows? But for now, discretion, right? Have some patience, man. Who knows what will happen in the days of triumph that lie ahead, what?'
'Of course. We can all run riot then,' leered Vauclare.
Next part of the new tale about King Leonard's England. [Story up to today go here.]
Forcing a laugh, Mr Moustache raised his fists.
A look in his eye told Cass he'd plunged into a trap.
The punches Cass threw did not connect and suddenly he was unable to raise his arms. He stood there in that neon-lit street on a cooling autumn night as people passed by taking no notice of him or his antagonist. Tyrone Cass was stuck in a galactic glue, looking at a sneering face with a moustache. From his opponent came a smell of copper and bile and something out of the gutters of a medieval butcher's shop.
Cass's arms fell to his sides and his enemy put his arm around his shoulder. They began to walk along the street like weary drinkers.
Cass was inert, hovering above his body as they moved among the crowds of easy-going townsfolk out for a good time on a Friday night.
Mr Moustache halted in his tracks. Cass sensed an uneasiness in that tall, sinewy frame beside him.
Before them stood a prosperous-looking middle-aged man telling Moustache, or Vauclare, something vital. He spoke in a muffled tone, hacking the air with his hands. His eyes bulged with protest and indignation.
Cass fell to the pavement with a thud, as if a cord that held him suspended had been cut. He sat up and leaned against the wall, watching Vauclare and the other man walking away without a backward look.
He got to his feet, brushing at his jacket and trousers.
'Hey, mate, you OK?'
It was Dozy Derek from the Bull Baiter. His teeth outlined with green plaque showed in a wincing expression.
'What happened?' I came out of the pub and saw you mixing it with that king-hatin' git, then the pair of you started walkin' off all pally-like.'
'Have you seen that bastard before tonight?' asked Cass.
'No I haven't, and the pleasure is not one I'm anxious to renew, I assure ya. But that chap over there was with him in the pub earlier.'
Derek nodded towards a figure standing just beyond the glare of a streetlight, a thick-set man in a dark raincoat, staring unconcernedly into space.
Vauclare said he'd been having him watched.
'Anyway, see ya, mate.'
With a semi-military touch to his bulky cloth cap, Derek continued on his way to work.
Though he was still spaced out, Cass decided to approach the guy and ask who he thought he was looking at. Attack is the best form of defence.
He was no more than fifteen feet from the man now, expecting--hoping, that he would refuse the confrontation and walk away.
But the fellow stood there with an eager smile on his face.
Lifting his shoulders and flexing his arms that still felt half-dead, Cass knew he had to make the best of it.
'Hey, man, it's not worth it!'
Rushing up behind him was Suggie, a fellow boarder at Parkside. Suggie worked at the nut house or 'Snake Pit', so called, with Dozy Derek. Beside Suggie was yet another colleague, they must all be starting a shift at eleven.
In truth, Cass was still woozy from his encounter with Vauclare. Suggie took over, going over to see off Vauclare's friend. Suggie had a shaven head with sickle designs tattooed on it. He drew his lips back and growled at the guy under the light. Suggie's arms and legs were shaking, vibrating, but not out of fear.
The other Snake Pit worker stood beside Cass and did his part by swearing valiantly at the stocky stooge under the light.
The guy in question walked.
'I know that bastard, Cass,' said Suggie. 'He's a bad lot, and so are his buddies. Are you OK, man?'
Cass explained the whole deal.
'Listen Bob,' Suggie told his colleague, 'you go in and cover for me. If anyone asks tell them I'll be a bit late starting, I've got to walk a friend home who's had a turn, right?'
'Yeah, man,' said Bob, and slapping them both on the shoulder he hurried away to clock in.
'You don't have to walk me back Sugg, I'm all right.'
'No, I'll help you back to the digs, old mate. A run-in with Vauclare! ... You see, you don't know if he's finished with you for tonight, do you? He could be around the next corner, man. Or even waitin' back in your room.'
Suggie winked and pulled a chrome-plated automatic from the breast of his bomber jacket.
'If he gets tasty I'll give him some lead in his pants.'
Here is the start of a new episode set in 'the Land of Jistabout', that England where Dion is the Prince of Wales.
The black-moustached stranger in the public bar that night crumpled the newspaper and hurled it to the floor.
'They give a whole page of the local rag to that Royalist toad Max Lovell twice a week, do they? What a poxy place this town is,' he called out to Dozy Derek, who was seated three feet to his right.
'Well yeah,' said sixty-five-year-old Derek, 'I was readin' that bit about the Countess of Brigg's new baby. He do go overboard all right.'
The old fellow signalled for another mug of ale. When he had polished this one off, Derek would start his shift at the nearby asylum for the mentally unstable.
'You don't speak ill of the King here, though, I take it?' he said.
The stranger had already got some fierce looks from those drinkers present who revered their King.
'I speak ill of hypocrisy and flattery--and also injustice where I find it thriving on account of a lack of men of good will,' said the stranger. 'I've formed a habit of saying my say and letting my thoughts flit where they want. Does anyone object to that?' he asked, letting his hand fall on the butt of a pistol stuck in his waistband.
'Calm down, me gents,' said the landlord. He smiled at the stranger and also at the king-lovers. 'Political views are there to be expressed, we've all got 'em, and this is neither a Loyalist house nor a Republican one. It's a debating chamber--of sorts.'
'I don't dispute your right to speak, sir' said Tyrone Cass, who was sitting to the left of the moustachioed stranger, 'but I say fuck those who are holding the King in chains, and long live His Majesty. And this,' he added, raising his glass, 'I drink to the health of the Prince of Wales, wherever he may be!'
A dozen or more drinkers echoed the loyal toast.
The stranger spat onto the sawdust floor.
The toast proposer, Cass, a well-set-up youth of thirty or so, decided to ignore the gob of spit. With a flourish he finished off his glass of red wine and poppy seeds, then got up and waved goodnight to the barman and Dozy Derek.
Outside a low moon gilded the rooftops of the broad streets of the town. Cass squared his shoulders and felt for the switchblade he had taken to carrying.
Mr Moustache had followed him out onto the well-thronged street.
'Yes?' said Cass.
In the glow from the pub's glass doorway the stranger had a businesslike look.
'I didn't want to say too much in there, but I would like to know: do you fight as readily as you spout your nonsense?'
'I haven't got a shooter, just a hog sticker,' said Cass, taking a step to the right.
'You were pointed out to me as you went into the tavern. We've had people watching you, man.'
Two policemen on brown and white ponies cantered by.
'Let's try fists,' said Cass, running at the fellow.
He threw a right hand which the stranger coolly ducked.
'Come to fight and I'll box. Come to box and I'll fight,' he said.
This is Rick Ransford we're talking about, who burned his balls in the shower and never even realized until his wife noticed the swelling. (From this it sounds as if his multiple sclerosis is pretty bad after all and getting worse, though apart from now being wheelchair bound practically I don't see many signs of deterioration in him.)
That old swashbuckling Rick who says for all he cares his pension money can go to a school in India rather than being devoted to getting him a decent top set of teeth or implants.
Rick, the Bob Dylan of Stanmore Housing Estate, who when the swaggering toe rags down on the river bank were bragging about who they were going to beat up, sat in a quiet corner among the bushes while a number of girls gathered around him. He could start a good line of chat and they were drawn by 'his so potent art'.
Who denies now that he had the best of it?
Who was it that sent a Stanmore Housing Estate pin-up a letter suggesting she might like to 'do it in the road'? If it had been anyone else but Rick she would have raised an almighty stink about this correspondence.
Rick, who forever praised up Ken Pettifer, the man who saved him from the Supreme Godhead Outreach Church.
'When old Ken heard I had got into their clutches he went to see 'em and gave 'em a dose of the old Rugged Cross, straight from the shoulder,' says Rick.
'Did they like it?'
'Do a rat like a terrier? Boy, he tore into those Outreach and quoted 'em up and down St John on this and St Mark on that. They couldn't refute a word of it or prove what he said was wrong.'
'Good old Ken,' I said.
'Damn right. He told 'em to get out of it.'
'You were in serious danger of falling for their line of heresy, were you?'
'It was the first stages. The brain-washing had started, man, and though I consider myself fairly aware, at that point I saw them as nothing more than amiable pals on the Road to Jericho. When Ken got into it, the jig was up, man. The prophet spake, like, and the swine swirled over the Gadarene cliff into the gulf below.... Yeah, the gulf below.'
As soon as I met Rick at the age of sixteen I could tell he was a one-off and no mistake.
We had to write a character study for the English teacher and I created a fairly close picture of Rick which hinted at an impoverished past and mythological possibilities.
The thing was written, I suppose, under the influence of Rider Haggard in some of his more long-winded outpourings about the Soul. I had always got B++ or higher from Mr Parkes before, but this time I rated a C- when my piece came back with dotted lines under some passages which he called 'bombastic' and 'inflated'. This led to Smicker, the class swot, claiming I had started a Michelin and Good Year school of prose writing.
There was no thought of showing the masterpiece I had written about him to Rick himself, of course. If I had, he probably would have thought it was magnificent--I was after all a Grandison Grammar boy and sometimes top of the class. If I thought enough of something to scribble it down, that was enough of a recommendation for him any day.
Rick was a bit gullible after all, or Ken Pettifer would never have needed to save him from the Supreme Godhead Outreach Church.
Hey debonair people, soon I will have a page on Story Cartel for the 'Jistabout' novel, A Prince in Gangland.
They work it so visitors to their website will be able to download a free copy in exchange for an honest review. I hope that friends and visitors here who have yet to get into the saga of the Royal House of Dalvad will take advantage of the promotion. That alternative Jistabout scene is a world of its own, bizarre yet familiar.
Long live Leonard VIII and may Prince Dion remain forever cool.
My friend Rick may be in a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis but it doesn't hamper him more than necessary. Among the sallies he made yesterday was the snatching of a piece of fried bread from a plate on a deserted table as we coasted into Bonaparte's.
Soon after we'd ordered he needed to go to the toilet and empty the bag on his leg or there could be a flood. So I wheeled him to the toilet door then he took over himself. Some time later I saw a pensioner helping him out through the door.
'What is it, Rick?' I say, taking over from the other fellow with thanks. 'You managed it last time, so I thought you were all right. What's wrong?'
Naturally I felt guilty, but you can't watch him every second.
Well, he turned to his macaroni cheese and chips (all home cooked, they said). Before he took a bite he spooned a good two thirds of it into a black plastic bag to refry later.
'They give you a lot here,' he said, 'and it's a bit of a job.'
'Yeah, especially since you still haven't got your top set of teeth, right?'
'You said it.'
'But why don't you get implants put in?' I say.
'What? At £1000 a tooth?'
''You've got the money.'
'Well, I don't want to spend it on that. I can eat all right with my gums. And if I need to smile I make sure I keep my mouth shut, that's all.'
We had two games of chess. I conceded the first when he got my queen five minutes into the game. There's no excuse but I suppose I was distracted, watching the world go by the big bay windows. Bonaparte's is so situated in the Mall that a lot of light pours in from the glass dome outside the restaurant. It's just such a great life movie to watch: all the girls gliding by on their lunch hour in casual summer outfits. You watch for people you know and don't see any, and you're amazed at the million you have never met and never will.
Two or three times Rick checks to make sure I'll be phoning again to take him out next month.
'You're the best friend I ever had,' he says. 'Old Barry was the other one.'
'Well, we were the Three Musketeers,' I said.
After wandering round the charity shops we get to the pick-up point to wait for his wife Rena and I see that Rick has in his hand a kiddies' book and a little shrink-wrapped pack containing a jigsaw puzzle.
'How did you get those, Rick? I know you didn't buy them, as I'm handling all the money.'
'I just forgot and put them in the bag on my lap,' he says.
'That's great, we're probably on CCTV. We're lucky they didn't collar us both as we were leaving, man. They'd think we were practising the old wheelchair scam and you can walk better than they can.'
After the wheelchair rolls up the ramp into the car and they both disappear waving, I take the items back to the shop where they are accepted with a shrug and a grin. I'm not even sure it's the right shop as we'd been to one or two different charities, but I act confident and hope for the best and they sling them back on the shelf where they keep what Rick calls the 'grandchildren's stuff'.
I walk for the bus and reflect that without intending to Rick could drag somebody down to a place of policemen and fines and stories in the papers explaining that 'the shopkeeper was not suspicious at first.'
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