Not much to say this week as I want to get on with the fiction. However. . . as I accidentally opened a A….. Prime account last week we decided to watch the much-praised Transparent before I cancel it – the Prime account, that is. I’d really wanted to see Transparent for its representation of an ageing, transitioning MtF transsexual. Having seen 6 episodes I am disappointed. The trans bits are fine and in fact Mora seems to be the only normal person there. It’s just that her kids are dysfunctional – the son is a sex addict, the elder daughter is (re-)discovering that she is a lesbian married to a bigoted husband, and the younger daughter (apparently the brightest) is a drug addicted weirdo (that is not being prejudiced because I haven’t quite worked out what her angle is). The programme has a lot of gratuitous sex while lacking laugh-out-loud humour. Also I didn’t know that American college professors were so well off. Although retired, Mora is apparently able to hand over her amazing house to her kids while going to live in a small apartment. So, not the enjoyable, thought-provoking exercise I was hoping for.
Here is another of my writers’ group efforts from a few years ago. The task was to follow the first paragraph that was given to us. As you can see it turned into a sort of parody or pastiche of a type of detective story (not Jasmine Frame). I’m not sure whether it counts as a complete story or an incomplete novel(la) but it is a bit longer than my usual blog offerings. Enjoy it, if you can.
The Necessity of a Raincoat
My mother always said, ‘don’t forget your raincoat, you never know when you might need it’. She was right. It was one of the essential tools of my trade. Mine was not the stereotypical trench coat. Pale beige with concealed buttons, it had two diagonal outside pockets. It just reached my knees, a compromise between the possibility of wet trouser legs and being able to run, and it had a thin collar just wide enough to put up and stop raindrops dripping off the brim of my hat. I can’t say I was that attached to it as I had a habit of going through raincoats rather rapidly. Keeping rain off was just one of its assets but it was not much use in the cupboard when I was stranded five miles away.
“Hiya boys,” I said trying to appear relaxed about being dragged out of my own home.
“Shurrup,” Gus, on my left, said, or it may have been George; with identical crew-cuts and black suits, they were easy to get confused.
“Where are we going?” I tried again.
“Shurrup,” said George, or it may have been Gus, and for added emphasis showed me his fist complete with brass knuckle duster. I had a fair idea where we were headed unless this was my last trip in which case I was bound for a shallow hole in a remote field. I was somewhat relieved when we headed into town and not at all surprised when we drew up at the “Golden Chip”; not a fish restaurant but the town’s brand new casino.
The two burly boys marched me down an alleyway, through a side entrance and pushed me into a dark space. The lock clunked and I groped around finding that I was in a small store room. I tried out my locksmithing skills, such as they are, but was defeated. In fact, it was rather a secure door for a simple store room but the smell suggested it was used for holding animate or previously animate stock rather than mere paper goods. I sat down on the concrete floor to wait, knowing that my kidnapper was intending me to stew for a few hours.
It was gone 2 a.m. by the luminous dial of my watch when the door was flung open and my two friends dragged me out blinking into the dim electric light. They escorted me up a couple flights of scruffy stairs to their boss’ office and stood me in front of them facing his large oak desk.
“Hi, Boyd,” I said cheerily, not adding the ‘Big’ that usually went with the occupant of the leather chair behind the desk. He tended to get a bit sensitive about his nickname. 5 ft 4 in his built-up shoes, big in stature he certainly wasn’t, but he was big in the business of fraud, extortion, and any other illegal activity you care to mention. Big Boyd was the biggest big man in town. He’d even bribed the council planning officers to turn the town’s third best cinema into a casino. He wanted to bring 1970s Las Vegas to a part of middle England that hadn’t yet discovered the 60s.
He glared at me from the tiny dark eyes under his thick bushy brows and Brylcreamed black hair.
“Henley, isn’t it; private dick,” he sneered.
“Joe Henley,” I nodded, almost adding ‘at your service’ but there was no way I wanted to be in his service.
“You’ve been snooping,” he said.
I didn’t answer.
“I don’t like people nosing around my property, particularly good for nothing losers like you.”
I was a bit offended by his assessment of my skills but still I said nothing.
“What’s your story?” he went on, his neck beginning to turn pink as his level of frustration grew. I didn’t speak while I tried to think of a suitable answer.
“Look, you may think you’re tough,” he went on, “but my lads can soon have you chatting away as if your life depended on it.” He didn’t add ‘which it may’. Actually, I’m your original ten stone weakling, so being tough is not one of my attributes.
I felt hot breath on the back of my neck as Gus or George panted with anticipation of a bit of violent recreation.
“I’m on a case,” I said at last.
“Aren’t you the lucky one. I’m surprised anyone would choose you to pack a case let alone solve one,” he laughed at his little joke and Gus and George chuckled.
“It’s a missing girl,” I went on ignoring his banter. I thought I might as well tell him as I was damn sure he knew the story anyway.
“So why have you been snooping around my business?”
“She was last seen coming into this place.”
“Hundreds of people come here every night. The Golden Chip is a popular recreational establishment.”
“But most come out again. This girl apparently didn’t.”
“Oh, come now,” Boyd smiled and shrugged, “Everyone leaves sometime. She probably went off with some new friends.”
“Perhaps,” I conceded. It was exactly those new friends that I was concerned about.
“I’d certainly know if someone was hanging round when we closed up, so you’ve no reason to be concerned on that score.” He gave me his widest smile, the one that reminded me of a crocodile just about to snap.
“None at all, as you say.”
“Well, I’m glad that’s settled. Gus and George will see you out with a little reminder of what we think about snoopers.” He nodded to my companions and dropped his head to read some papers. I was lifted by strong hands under my armpits and carried out. We returned to the side entrance. I suppose I hoped to be just thrown out but Gus and George were keen to carry out Boyd’s final order. How do you brace yourself for a beating? I’ve never found an answer. Gus or George held me up and George or Gus hit me in the stomach, first with his right and then his left. Then they threw me out.
I lay winded for a few minutes before I summoned the energy to haul myself to my feet then staggered to the main road. It was quiet. The lucky and not so lucky punters had all left. The last bus was long gone. I had no money for a taxi, and it was starting to rain.
Why was Big Boyd so concerned to warn me off the Lucy Miller case? Lucy was a nineteen-year-old student who considered university an opportunity to party. To Mr and Mrs Miller, nevertheless, she was still their little princess, as pure and spotless as a fairytale heroine. When Lucy didn’t ‘phone them for a day or two they got worried. Of course, the police weren’t interested – how many students ring their parents every other day. So, the Millers came to me convinced that Lucy was missing. It didn’t take me long to find out that she was. None of her student friends or lecturers had seen her for days but, as I told Boyd, I had traced her as far as the Golden Chip. She’d told a girlfriend that she was going there but who she went with I had yet to discover.
Perhaps Boyd thought that his warning would be enough to deter me, in which case he knew me less well than I knew him, especially as I now knew that my investigations had set his alarm bells ringing. I dressed, took my raincoat out of the cupboard and got the Austin 1100 out of the garage.
I parked a few streets from the casino and wandered down the High Street with my raincoat over my arm. It was a fine, early spring morning. The overnight rain had cleaned the place up and given it a fresh odour. There were more people around than at 3 a.m., quite a lot in fact, in and out of the butchers, bakers, grocers and hardware stores. I went into a little cafe opposite the Golden Chip and sat in the window sipping a hot, sweet tea. Nobody went into or came out of the old cinema building and there was no sign of the big Wolseley or Boyd’s own Roller. I decided this was probably as good a time as any to do some real snooping.
I crossed the road and looked carefully left and right. At the end of the alleyway beside the casino I noticed some rubbish bins. It’s always worth looking at what people have thrown out and my luck was in. Among the potato peelings and empty whisky bottles was a black and white mini dress. It was creased and dirty but there no stains that were obviously blood which was heartening. It was Lucy’s. How did I know? Well the name tag obviously sewed on by her loving mother gave it away. If her dress hadn’t left then there was a chance she hadn’t either. I had to give the casino itself a good going over notwithstanding Boyd’s warnings.
I drew my pistol from the pocket and wrapped the raincoat around my hand. A raincoat makes a satisfactory silencer and conceals the weapon from casual inspection. Then I tried the side entrance. It wasn’t as strong as the door to the storeroom where I was locked up and gave with a good shove of my shoulder. I slipped inside, pulled the door closed and listened. There were no sounds of movement. I was hoping that the nocturnal crooks were safely tucked up in bed. I moved along the narrow corridor trying all the doors. Most were unlocked and opened to reveal nothing of interest. I climbed the stairs and searched the upper floors. I was getting a bit nervous of the time I was taking when I climbed the final flight to the attic rooms. The first door opened to reveal piles of old film cases and rolled up posters; a treasure trove for movie buffs but not what I was after.
I got to the last low door cut to fit the roof line. I tried the handle. It was locked. I thought I heard a noise and placed my ear against the wood. There were sounds muffled by more than the thickness of the door. I stepped back and charged. The door jamb splintered and I fell through. Something sharp hit my forehead and I struggled to regain my balance. I lifted the pistol ready to fire. The small room, a cupboard really, was lit by a hurricane lamp that had hung from the roof just inside the door and was now on the floor, fuel spilling out, catching alight. I grabbed my raincoat in my spare hand and beat at the fire, smothering the blue flickers before they became roaring orange flames. Panting, but reassured that I had not set off an inferno I looked around. It was pretty dark now but what I could see was pretty significant. On the floor with ankles and wrists tied, dressed in just knickers and a bra was a young woman. A pair of tights, hers I presumed, was tied around her mouth. She was wriggling and mumbling. Her eyes stared at me, wide open and scared.
“It’s OK, Lucy,” I said, “I’m a friend. I’ve come to get you.” I bent down feeling in my jacket pocket for my Swiss army knife. It took quite a few moments to cut through the ropes around her wrists then I set to releasing her ankles while she tugged at the gag. At last after much effort she was freed and struggled unsteadily to her feet, shivering.
“Are you the police?” she asked, quite understandably.
“No, and we need to get out of here quick before someone comes back for you. Put my coat on.” I offered my raincoat, now a little singed and covered in soot. She put her arms in the sleeves and wrapped it around her torso. I grabbed her arm with my left hand and dragged her from her cupboard, leading with my pistol.
There wasn’t opportunity for conversation as we went down the flights of stairs, pausing on each landing to listen for sounds of other occupants of the building. My heart was thudding in my chest as I anticipated Boyd, Gus and George or any of his other bully boys appearing, but we reached the ground floor without incident and exited through the shattered side door.
The alleyway, enclosed on both sides by tall buildings seemed to stretch to infinity but it was our only route back to the civilised world of the High Street. I kept Lucy behind me trying to hide or shield her just in case one or more of Boyd’s employees appeared. I could hear behind me her miserable sniffles and stifled squeals as her bare feet stepped on the sharp gravel. I dragged her along as fast as I could, waving the pistol in front of me, my trigger finger tensed. I wasn’t afraid to fire in order to make our escape and thoughts of innocent bystanders barely passed through my head. I suppose it took us ten seconds to get to the road but it felt like ten years. We burst out into the hustle and bustle of a daytime shopping neighbourhood. I pocketed my pistol, drew Lucy to my side and hurried down the pavement, zigging and zagging around shoppers and tradesmen. No doubt people looked at us and wondered, but we had passed them before it occurred to them to question us.
We reached my parked 1100 and I bundled Lucy into the passenger seat. I ran around to get into the driving position and had the key in the ignition, engine running and in gear in one smooth movement. I pulled into the traffic and glanced at my passenger. She had folded in on herself with my raincoat wrapped tightly around her.
“I want to hear your story,” I said as calmly and kindly as I could manage, “but we must get you somewhere safe.” The question was where that might be. My house was the first place Boyd would think of looking when he discovered his loss, and Lucy’s digs would be the second. A police station would be the normal, respectable answer, but in this town, Big Boyd’s fiefdom, I wasn’t certain of where the loyalties of the boys in blue lay. I’d rescued Lucy, at the expense of one raincoat but I wasn’t certain I could keep her safe. This story had some life in it yet.