Copyright © Richard Ruzyllo 2011
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
A small boy lay huddled on his bed in the dark. Downstairs he could hear his father’s coarse laughter booming around the farmhouse kitchen. A bottle crashed to the floor. Chairs scraped violently over the flagged floor. Then his father’s voice again: low, urgent, exhorting. A woman’s voice responded. The boy recognised the strange accent of the young hitch-hiker who had walked off the moor late that afternoon and arrived at the front door.
His father had been working in the barn. The boy had answered the door, standing curiously on the stone step, clutching the iron door handle. She spoke gently to him. He thought the words were English but her pronunciation was unlike anything the boy had ever heard. She smiled as she spoke. Her hair was dark, tied back in a knot, and her face tanned like a faded chestnut. On her back she carried a large canvas sack. She held a large stick, as long as the crook his father carried on the moors at lambing time. He had never seen a woman carrying such a large stick before. Women carried pails, babies, baskets of washing; not huge sticks. He couldn’t remember his mother carrying one. Then again, he could scarcely remember his mother who had gone, so his father had told him, to live with his grandfather, under a flat stone in the churchyard in the village down in the valley. She certainly never wore trousers as this woman did. Thick, corduroy trousers like a man’s, stuffed into heavy leather boots from which spilled coarse red woollen socks. He continued to stare at her impassively as she attempted to make herself understood.
The rain that had been threatening all of that glowering August day began to fall as they stood there. Behind the woman a lean, mud-encrusted sheepdog stumbled out of the barn and began to bark loudly, advancing slowly through the mud and the farm debris, the rusting machinery and empty diesel drums. Behind the animal, from the darkness of the barn, came a harsh command. The dog stopped and lay flat in the mud, its eyes unwavering, fixed on the stranger at the door. The woman turned and looked. From the barn door emerged a large man dressed in an army beret, a soiled khaki army jacket, dirty overalls and wellington boots. He vainly tried to rub engine oil from his hands with a filthy cloth. He paused in the doorway and froze, his stubbled chin dropping in amazement. The woman dropped her stick, the backpack slid to her feet. Her hands flew to her face in delight.
“Eerrmwright,” she cried in tones of delight.
The oil cloth dropped from the man’s hands. He gasped.
“Candice,” he croaked, “tha froggy bitch. Is it really you, mah luv?”
“Ow, Eerrmwright,” she replied breathlessly, “c’est moi, mon amour”
The boy and the sheepdog watched in innocent bemusement as the man and woman rushed to each other and embraced in the middle of the yard. The boy’s father lifted the woman in his arms, clamped his lips to hers, and whirled her around and around until dizzy with the motion and with lack of oxygen they collapsed to the ground.
He held her at arms length and gazed at her with wonder and astonishment.
“But how?” he began. She raised a finger to his lips and nodded in the direction of the boy.
“Later, Cherie…I weel explaan heverytheenk.” The man nodded slowly, as if a truth of enormous cosmic significance had dawned on him. He was suddenly conscious of the rain falling across his face, of the coming darkness and the wildness of the moors roaring like an ocean through his blood. He gripped her shoulders.
“Aye, I get tha drift, Candice. Let’s give lad his tea and get ’im to bed.” He stood up and pulled her to her feet and looked down at her up-turned face gazing at him with adoration and happiness.
“Then we can shag.” he murmured reverently.
Now the boy listened intently under the heavy quilted eiderdown. The rain slashed against his bedroom window. The woman’s voice broke out loudly from below; a shrill cry somewhere between astonishment and delight. Crockery fell to the floor. His father laughed again but in a strangely gruff, choking way. The boy held his toy lamb closer. In the warm darkness of his bed he pressed its firm woollen form against his groin, folding a leg over it to make it secure. Recently he had discovered an unfamiliar but highly pleasant sensation resulted from this contact. Increasingly, when frightened or perplexed, he had discovered he and his woolly friend, Larry, could lose themselves in a warm bath of sensation for hours on end. Without friends and seldom at school the boy had no companionship other than his father, the sheepdog and Larry. He took his pleasures and consolation where he could. He missed his mother.
Footsteps stumbled up the stairs. His father’s bedroom door was noisily opened and slammed shut. More laughter, then shrieks of delight followed by grunting and moaning. Bedsprings creaked. What was going on? Then the woman shouted louder and louder:
“Eustace ! Eustace! Non! Non! Mais oui! Mais OOOOOOOuuuuuiiiiiii! Aaaaaaaaah!”
This last utterance was a scream rather than a moan, a high treble of ecstasy in counterpoint to the animal noises which he could only assume his father was making. What was his father doing to the woman? His mother had never made noises like that. Silence fell in the farmhouse. The boy rocked gently against Larry until he fell asleep. Outside the rain abated to a steady drizzle.
In the morning the boy dressed as usual and went down to the kitchen. Empty bottles lay scattered on the floor amid fragments of plates and cups. A chair lay on its back. Draped across the dresser lay a pair of what he recognised as the woman’s corduroy trousers. Her boots and socks lay in a corner of the room. From under the kitchen sink the dog whimpered. It was tied to the sink pipe. The boy had never known the dog to be tied up before. Since his mother left the dog had shared his father’s bed. The clock ticked sonorously on the wall. He had not been taught to tell the time but he knew from the daylight that it was late in the morning. Yet the door was still locked, firm evidence that his father was not yet awake. He had never known his father be anything other than an early riser; often, in winter, he would be in the barn or out on the moors long before the sun rose. He sat on the bottom of the staircase and stared up at the landing. He could see the corner of his father’s bedroom door behind the oak bannister rail. He stood up and went to the kitchen and untied the dog and led it back to the staircase. He sat down again and the dog settled against his feet.
Incident Report Sunday 15 August 1947 PC Winstanley
‘On the afternoon of the above date I was progressing by bicycle along the road past Higher Hardbottom Farm at approximately 3.45 pm. I was struck by the absence of normal activity about the farm. The front door was shut and there was no sign of the dog that usually barks when strangers pass the gate. Dismounting I approached the farmhouse and as I did so noticed that a bedroom window lay open and unsecured. Below the window I found footprints made by what I took to be hiking boots. The footprints proceeded to the orchard wall where they ended. I made my way to the front door and knocked repeatedly without reply. Upon looking through the kitchen window I observed furniture and crockery in considerable disarray as if a struggle had ensued. I determined that the circumstances looked suspicious and fetched a ladder in from the barn whereby I effected an entry through the open bedroom window. Upon entering the bedroom I found the deceased, Eustace Ermwright, upon the bed. Upon inspection no vital life signs could be found. His throat had been cut and there was a good deal of blood upon the bedclothes and pillows. There was no undue sign of a struggle having taken place although drawers and cupboards here and throughout the house had clearly been opened as if the intruder were searching for something. Nothing appeared to have been stolen. However, a message had been inscribed in what I now know to be the French language upon the mirror of the deceased’s wardrobe in what appeared to be red lipstick. I am given to understand the words, when translated, mean: ‘Death to the despoilers of French Cuisine.’ The deceased is known locally to have served with the Allied forces which liberated France four years ago and spent some time in Paris but that is his only known connection with that country. The deceased’s son, Albert Ermwright, was found hiding under his bedclothes in a state of nakedness. He was clinging to a toy woollen sheep,was unable to speak and resisted all attempts to part from his ‘companion’. The Ermwright’s dog was found in the kitchen. It’s throat had been cut also.’
The wind blew cold and bitter around the dark stone walls of Hardbottom Manor. It was six in the morning of another dour Pennine day. Within the great house life began to stir.
It stirred particularly energetically within the oak-panelled sanctuary of the master bedroom, where beneath several strata of woollen blankets, two bodies writhed together in a ferment of gasping passion. Hot breath clouded the cold bedroom air as the creaking of the centuries old four-poster bed reached staccato proportions. Then the telephone rang.
“Ah Booger the bloody thing,” commented a voice hoarse with lust and a lifetime of Condor Flake.A hairy rock supported by a column of blue-veined granite rose above the yellowed pillowcases, veered sharply sideways and gripped the telephone viciously around the neck. At the same moment a bedraggled and much-relieved black-faced sheep fought its way blindly onto the floor dragging bedclothes with it as it did so. It ran hastily to a corner of the room and stood there shivering. Occasionally it bleated pathetically.
Bereft of the sheep and coverings, Albert Ermwright OBE, Founder and Chairman of Ermwright Black Pudding International, sat bolt upright and attempted to blast the telephone into a million pieces. “Ermwright OBE !” he roared, “and thou’d better have a bloody good reason for phonin’ at this fuckin’ time in’t mornin’.”
“M’sieur Ermratt” crackled a nervous voice, “ c’est moi, Jean-Claude. Ah ham so sorry to be disturbing you at thees time, but Ah have noos which Ah sink weel anterest you vairy merch.”
“It ’ad better be interestin’ you Froggie Dago bastard,” observed Ermwright pleasantly, “or else thy balls be forfeit.”
“We ’ave found ’im, M’sieur Ermratt, ’ere in France.”
“Tha doesn’a mean?”
“Oui, M’sieur, there is no mistake.”
“Describe ’im !”
“Gucci ’ow you say Wellingtons, gold lame suit, green eyes and a Flick knife with which he desecrated the table of ’otel in which we observed ’im.”
The plastic of the telephone in Ermwright’s hand squeaked as his grip tightened in excitement. “Bha God, thou’s got the bastard. That ’as to be ’im. Tell me Jean-Claude, where was he spotted?”
Ermwright’s face turned purple with sudden fury. “Watch thy fuckin’ mouth!” he snarled across the Channel.
“No, no M’sieur Ermratt,” protested the Frenchman in agitation, “eet is the name of the place where we found ’im.”
“Stupid Frenchy boogers,” grumbled Ermwright, his veins receding back into his paunchy cheeks. “Any road, what’s tha done about him?”
“Three of our best men are at thees time following ’im. We can pick ’im up at a moment’s notice.”
“Nay, don’t make any moves yet. Tha’ll not find it so easy to pick ’im up just like that. No, just stay wi’ ’im and don’t let ’im out of thy sight. I’ve waited this long, I’m not blowing it now we’ve come so close. Thou wait by t’ phone. I’ll be back to thee shortly. Comprendo?” Ermwright slammed down the telephone receiver.
He threw aside the remaining blankets and went into the adjoining bathroom. The sheep bleated nervously as he passed and backed into a wardrobe. In the bathroom Ermwright turned on the shower, adjusted the regulator to freezing cold and stood under it with only the faintest shudder. This was a time for clear-headedness. Ermwright reflected on his early morning news. He still could not believe his luck.
The shower and Ermwright’s meditations terminated in a long stream of hot urine that warmed his toes . It was one of the few indulgences – apart from his sheep, his pipe and his beer – that he allowed to soften his otherwise Spartan existence. He towelled vigorously, sprinkled Vim under his armpits and dressed.
Over a breakfast of pig’s trotters, tripe and Thwaite’s Mild, the Chairman of Ermwright Black Pudding International thought deep thoughts. The thoughts fluttered over the oak table like fledgling vultures, clattered against the dining room windows and then, sensing a carcass, gathered strength and winged their way into the leaden sky and across the Channel all the way to Juan-les-Pins.
REAL LEATHER BALLS
The rain lashed down from a growling sky. It ran in streams down the channels of the corrugated roof of Grindrod United’s only covered stand onto the cloth-capped heads of the first three rows of supporters. The water lapped gently about the lower rims of a dozen wheelchairs containing war veterans. Their minders stood back deep in the crowd ignoring their charges’ pleas for shelter. Around the rest of the stadium five thousand other flat-capped and gaberdined Grindrod United and Blackmore Town supporters steamed gently in the downpour. It was half-time. The home side were three-nil down. The home crowd conversed in muted tones, sullen and bitter. Clusters of Grindrod supporters shook their heads in disgust and intermittently mumbled a chorus of despairing ‘nays’. The parentage of the board of directors, the manager, a number of players and their ancestors were all bitterly disputed. Below the wooden stands lines of men pissed against the blackened brick foundations. Behind them morose queues formed for cups of watery tea and meat pies. The longest of these queues lay before a wooden stall mounted on large rubber tyres. Above the stall, nailed to crude upright posts, a large sign announced in large red letters:
ERMWRIGHT’S WORLD FAMOUS THROWING PIES
throw ’em up or throw ’em down tha’ll not find better!
The author of this elegant advertising slogan stood behind the stall, placing pie after pie in paper bags and handing them over to his grateful clientele. Beside him a large metal box received the heavy copper coins with a ‘chunk’ that indicated good takings that day so far. Beside the box, its chin resting on the side, sat a bedraggled Jack Russell terrier with one eye who greeted each customer with a warning growl. Albert Ermwright had little need of the extra security. At twenty years of age he stood six feet in his socks. A well-muscled young man with a ruddy face and a developing beer gut, he had a look about him that warned others he was not to be trifled with. Those who had taken liberties with him had done so to their cost. Albert Ermwright was famous in Grindrod for two things: his fists and his throwing pies. Both were hard and capable of causing distress as a number of wrecked bars, jaws and ribs around the locality bore witness. Young Ermwright loved three things in life: his own way, ‘brass’ and sheep shagging. In his cups, at the mellow phase, just before he declared total war on whoever was unlucky enough to be standing too close, he would confide his heartfelt devotion to these three verities. Those who knew a little about his past attributed his wild and mercenary ways to the fact that he had been raised in an orphanage for most of his young life before graduating to a Borstal. Others simply attributed it to being a Yorkshireman. Those who knew a little more about his history – the police and staff of the former orphanage for instance – could point out that his entrance exam to the Borstal had been passed when he burned down the orphanage following a disciplinary matter concerning young Albert’s unauthorised use of the institution’s livestock for purposes other than husbandry. This had involved, as the presiding magistrate of the juvenile court had put it ‘unnatural practices’ with the orphanage goat. However, as the child psychiatrist pointed out, the goat might be considered fortunate compared to the six rabbits, three cats and the Warden’s black Labrador, all of which vanished, along with quantities of fat, flour and cutlery from the kitchens, two days before young Albert was discovered selling meat pies to Grindrod citizens at the orphanage gates. All were agreed that young Albert was a menace to society. They were also agreed, on the strength of third party evidence, that Albert made exceedingly good pies. In Borstal Albert learned fast, becoming one of the youngest ward ‘bosses’ in the institution’s history, ruthlessly exploiting his natural cunning and violence to dominate the inmates and a number of the staff as well. Yet in spite of everything Albert Ermwright retained an eye to the main chance. To the amazement of the authorities he enrolled on the City and Guilds courses in butchery with great success and proved to be an enthusiastic and model student. He volunteered for work in the Borstal kitchens and soon won acclaim for the quality of his pies and black puddings.
“For a vicious young thug, young Ermwright is an excellent chef,” said the Warden one evening as he wiped the last bit of gravy from his lips. “How does he do it?”
The answer to that question lay partly with a piece of yellowed paper wrapped in oilskin and buried in a tin under the ruined barn of Higher Hardbottom Farm, its location and contents known only to Albert. Upon this paper was inscribed a recipe for the making of meat pies and black puddings which had originated from the kitchens of the court of Louis XIV and which had been fiercely guarded by generations of French chefs. In time the recipe, among others, had become the exclusive property of the Parisienne lodge of Les Masons de Gastronomie. The members of this shadowy society regarded themselves as the divinely appointed custodians of the purity of French cuisine. In the execution of this role they at times resorted to brutal and often fatal tactics against those who they suspected of wishing to steal their secrets or expose the mysteries of their art. By mischance one of their victims had been Eustace Ermwright who, during the liberation of Paris had succeeded in liberating not only the city but also one M’lle Candice Cheval, the wild and free spirited daughter of a prominent member of Les Masons de Gastronomie. As a devout Ermwright, Albert’s father had also thoughtfully liberated the family safe of some cash and a plain envelope before disappearing through a window into the night and eventually back to a demobbed Britain. The money had been long spent on a lost weekend in Paris before the surprise arrival, three years later, of Candice Cheval at the farm, driven by the threat of certain death of her and her father at the hands his colleagues unless their property was returned safely. However, the contents of the envelope remained in Eustace’s possession who, unaware of its significance, had one day drunkenly passed them to his small son along with his war medals as curios of his wartime experience. Albert had been fascinated by the strange writing and vowed one day to find out what the words meant. During the trauma of Candice Cheval’s visit to the farm the boy had held on to his treasure secreted inside the folds of his toy sheep, and before the welfare people had finally arrived to take him away he had managed to bury the papers in a tin box in the barn. Thus was laid the foundation of what would one day become the biggest meat pie and black pudding empire in Europe. But not all of Ermwright’s pies were designed for succulence. In Grindrod pies could have other uses and after all, not all meat grew in fields as the mortuary assistant at the local hospital often pointed out.
The teams trotted onto the pitch, their baggy shorts swishing wetly. The referee blew his whistle. The heavy leather ball cannoned about the mud. Two minutes into the second half the Grindrod net bulged for the second time. The Blackmoor United fans exulted. Heavy silence settled over the home supporters as the goalkeeper picked the ball out the back of the net.
The first pie hit the Grindrod centre-forward precisely in the nape of the neck. He fell like a pole-axed cow and lay still. The second pie propelled the Grindrod ’keeper into his net where he clung desperately like an injured daddy longlegs. A hail of pies poured down on the pitch like the arrows at Crecy. The players ran for their lives toward the tunnel. A Blackmoor defender fell and was half carried by team-mates. The Director’s box emptied as if an air raid warning had sounded. As the referee staggered and fell to his knees, blood pouring from a pie-inflicted wound in his scalp, a watery sun peeped briefly through the clouds and the rain faded magically away. The crowd cheered happily as steam rose from the litter of pies, blood and injured spread around the pitch.
“Eee,” remarked a satisfied Grindrod supporter to his friend as a solitary mounted policeman was pulled from his grey horse and trampled underfoot, “that Ermwright certainly makes good throwing pies; Ah reckon ’eel go far!”
Dudley paid the taxi and walked away, ignoring the Patois curses behind him and the occasional gob of spit that emanated from the taxi driver’s fleshy mouth. Dudley presumed that the man had not been impressed with the twenty centimes tip that he had pressed into his hairy outstretched paw. When Dudley was out of range of the spit he turned round and said in beautifully modulated English; “Fucking fat-faced Frog.”
He emphasised his point by an upward motion of the forearm. There was a strangulated cry from the taxi followed by the crunching of gears and revving of the engine. The taxi zoomed off down the road, leaving parallel lines of smoking rubber on the cobbles.
Dudley was just walking into the “Whisky-a-Gogo” congratulating himself on the alliteration of what he had just said to the taxi driver when he heard the inevitable screech of brakes, followed immediately by the brief sound of two car horns blaring and then the dull crunching noise of the impact. Here in Juan-les-Pins, especially during the tourist season, this is the traditional way that a foreigner leaves a taxi.
Dudley fought the temptation to join the crowd, which had, by now, reached about sixty people. He caught sight of a peanut vendor hurrying to the scene of the accident. He in turn was being followed by an ice-cream cart and half a dozen stray dogs. A Police siren wailed in the distance.
The smoked-glass sliding doors hissed and bumped shut behind Dudley and the dry heat of the street was immediately replaced by the too-cool antiseptic smell of air-conditioned air. Somewhere below him he could feel the monotonous thump of a bass guitar. Although it was only mid-afternoon, he knew that the discotheque would already be full of sweet-smelling smoke and not-so-sweet-smelling bodies. He handed over one hundred francs, put on his dark glasses and felt his way down the stairs. He fell twice as he groped his way to the bar.
The barman recognised Dudley and began to mix Dudley’s usual drink. This was a mixture of draught lager and bright-red Cassis syrup. Dudley hated the taste but enjoyed the way that the drink glowed under the ultra-violet lights. “Voila, M’sieur. Zat will be one hundred Francs.” Dudley peeled a note from his wad and paid.
“Does M’sieur wish for some company? P’haps a nice little Algerian girl? Guaranteed virgin. ’Ow you say? Nice girl. Good family. Only fifteen years old.” The barman was winking and emphasising his point by thrusting his crotch into Dudley’s rolled-up bank note. This particular girl had slept with at least five men per day for the last five years. She was twenty years old with a three year-old daughter. Therefore it seemed to Dudley that the claim “guaranteed virgin” was something of an overstatement.
“No thank you,” smiled Dudley. “Is the English girl here today? I would like to speak with her. It is very important. Every time that I ask I am told that she is not here. Why is that?”
The barman’s eyes suddenly became two pulsating ruby beacons as the music from the stage reached a crescendo .The crimson lights above the bar flashed in phase with the beat. Had the lights not flashed, Dudley would have seen the disturbed look in the barman’s eyes as he lied:
“Oh, you mean that Miss Diana again? No, I have not seen her for a very long time.”
Suddenly the barman glanced behind Dudley and immediately walked away to the other end of the bar. He seemed to put all of his concentration into polishing a beer glass. Dudley sensed something press into the small of his back. He wasted no time. As soon as he felt the pressure on the base of his spine ease a little, he spun round ducking and moving to his left at the same time. He had seen the same trick performed many times in the old James Bond films.
He slipped. He fell. Six hands began to haul him roughly from the floor. Dudley resisted.
The music played on and in the flashing light, the struggle near the bar took on the semblance of a ghostly rugby scrummage. Dudley heard the metallic “click” of a Flick knife being opened. (The French refer to the Flick knife rather euphemistically as a ‘couteau automatique’. However it still has not attained the absolute respectability that the name might suggest.) Dudley felt a gentle pressure under the right ear where someone had placed the blade.
“Get up you leetle, ’ow you say prick.” breathed a voice which sounded (and smelled) very much like a whispering Peugeot diesel engine.
Dudley looked up just as the second of the trio, who looked like a gorilla in a Burton’s suit, stood on Dudley’s sunglasses. Unfortunately the sunglasses were still on Dudley’s nose and this caused a certain amount of discomfort as the Frenchman’s heel ground into his face. The third member of the group introduced himself.
“Bonjour, M’sieur. Inspector Hannaux. Gendarmerie Nationale. I hapolergise for my two assistants but ……………”
“Get up you leetle, ’ow you say…. preek.” repeated one of the two gorillas. He drew back his left boot and eyed Dudley’s groin. Inspector Hannaux smiled an indulgent little smile: “Ca suffis, Marcel.” He turned once again to Dudley. “As I was saying, M’sieur. I ham sorry for the behaviour of my two assistants but zey have not hurt anybody today. Yet. They are being playful.”
“Leetle preek. Leetle preek.” repeated the gorilla.
“My assistant here is practising his English, M’sieur. Please do not be halarmed.”
“Why does he keep calling me a little prick?” Dudley was beginning to feel a little angry.
“As we are a special squad who, ’ow you say, deals wiz ze English touristes, every one of our agents ’as to learn useful English, ’ow you say…. phrases. Marcel is repeating lesson number one.” Marcel nodded proudly, his eyes still riveted to Dudley’s groin. Inspector Hannaux continued.
“ Please get up very slowly, M’sieur Dudley. But please do not make any, ’ow you say, sudden moves. Marcel is very nervous. He enjoys listening to other people screaming. In the same way that you or I might listen to Chopin or Debussy, Marcel has cassettes of people screaming.”
He turned to Marcel and smiled. Marcel misunderstood the smile and assumed that his Chief was now giving him permission to hurt Dudley and maybe make him scream. He kicked Dudley in the groin.
Dudley screamed. Marcel smiled and pulled a miniature voice recorder from his jacket pocket. He held the microphone to Dudley’s mouth with a trembling forefinger on the “record” button. Dudley looked up at Inspector Hannaux who nodded at Dudley, indicating the recorder with another brief nod of the head. Dudley understood and screamed once again into the microphone.
Marcel grunted and smiled. He held the recorder to his ear and pressed the “playback” button. He then turned and lurched off in the direction of the toilets. He was frantically trying to undo his flies as he stumbled between the tables.
“He will be back in a couple of minutes.” shrugged the Inspector. Dudley stood up. The other “assistant” made a move towards him but backed-off when the Inspector hit him across the mouth with a well-timed back-hander.
“I merst hapolergise once again, M’sieur but my other assistant, Serge, shared a room with Marcel at the hospital. He is also on tablets. They both think that I am their mother.”
For the first time, Inspector Hannaux looked embarrassed. Serge put his knife away and began to cry. Massive sobs racked his sofa-like shoulders. The Inspector put his arms round him, kissed him on the forehead and began to rock him very gently. Gradually Serge calmed down and he too went off in the direction of the toilets. Dudley looked sadly at the French Inspector and suddenly felt strangely proud of the British police.
The Inspector seemed to read Dudley’s thoughts and with a helpless little gesture of the arms said “Come with me.” The Inspector indicated that Dudley should follow him.
They weaved their way through the tables. The relentless blast of the music was becoming painful. Eventually they found an empty table and sat down. Dudley thought that this might be a good time to remove the remains of the sunglasses from his nose. The Inspector took off his overcoat and threw it over the back of a chair. They ordered their drinks.
The Inspector ordered a Marie Brizzard which tastes like a mixture of Smirnoff and Colgate. Dudley decided that an Armagnac and Lime would be in order. They sat in silence until their drinks arrived and then sipped them as they watched the performance on the dance floor. Dudley sat and absentmindedly massaged his groin, which was still throbbing from its encounter with Marcel’s boot.
A prostitute in a diaphanous pink Mini dress which did not cover her crotch misunderstood Dudley’s intentions. She turned to Dudley and began to move her hips in a forward and backward motion which allowed absolutely no error for misinterpretation. She began to massage the front of her panties. She appeared frantic, throwing her head back and moaning occasionally.
Dudley, completely oblivious to the girl, was still preoccupied with the massage of his own genitals. The prostitute could stand it no longer. She danced across to Dudley.
“Ello, Cherie,” she shouted, fighting a losing battle with the music, “Can I be of service to you? You want ze blur-jobbe? My name is Diana and I ’ave strong lips” The massage of her own crotch continued.
Dudley was completely oblivious to the lady because he was now sporting a ‘semi’. He felt someone hitting him on the arm. It was the Inspector. The Inspector appeared to be sweating and was indicating something with violent jerks of the head. It took Dudley several seconds to realise that the girl was standing next to him. What is more, she appeared to be playing with herself. He dragged his eyes from her damp panties and looked at her face.
His face paled.
He knew her face! Even about one centimetre of make-up could not camouflage the fact that this was the girl that he had been looking for. He wanted to say her name, but something told him that he should not. He looked at her and felt the years drop away.
“Candy Ermwright,” he said anyway, “If only your father could see you now.”
The Inspector pulled out a chair from under the table but it was too late. The girl screeched, turned, and before either of them could move, disappeared into the gloom.
“A funny effect that you ’ave on women, M’sieur Dudley.” grinned the Inspector.
Dudley stood, ready to follow the girl but suddenly all the lights appeared to flash together, the music became louder, then quieter, there were screams and Dudley felt himself fall as he twitched into unconsciousness.
The Rolls Royce hissed through the wet night, a fine spray of water and hedgehog guts rising in its wake. At 3 a.m. there was little activity on the Ml. In the back of the vehicle, the bulk of Albert Ermwright slumped. He dozed fitfully, a dribble of spittle hanging along his pipe-stem like a rope along a spar. The stale odour of fart was overpowering. Seeing his employer asleep, the chauffeur quietly closed the glass partition and lit up a king-size.
A hedgehog appeared close to the white line separating the inner lane from the middle. The Rolls swerved gently across. The hedgehog described a slow tumbleweed arc over the bonnet and vanished into the darkness. The glow of the cigarette illuminated the grin that twisted the features of Doug ‘Wheels’ Maloney. His thirteenth hedgehog of the night. Thirteen. Unlucky for some.
Behind him Ermwright stirred at the change in motion and mumbled in his sleep. The car sped on southwards.
Meanwhile, in Brighton, the crew of luxury motor yacht BLOOD 1 had been working through the night, preparing the vessel for sea.
This was the first time that Captain Joseph Peake could remember the Chairman of Ermwright Black Pudding International ever requiring the vessel’s services outside of the Spring Bank Holiday. The terse wording of the coded Fax received the previous day suggested to him that Ermwright was bent on business rather than pleasure. As yet, the destination of the voyage was unknown. Peake merely had the instructions to be ready to put to sea at 7 a.m. The Fax had been headed ‘highly confidential’.
Peake glanced at his watch. 0500 hours. A cold wind blew in from the Channel. The deck under his feet rolled viciously. Dawn had broken as a slightly greyer version of the night. All around BLOOD 1 smaller craft pitched and rolled, tugging at their moorings.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Doug “Wheels” Maloney swung the big car left at the junction and accelerated past the sign bearing the legend ‘Brighton 33 miles’. Twenty-five minutes past six. He was hungry. A vision of bacon, eggs, sausage and fried bread swam before his eyes. Then hot sweet coffee and a ten-hour sleep.
The reality of what lay ahead intruded into his fantasy. He suffered from seasickness on a rowing lake. He resigned himself to the knowledge that within an hour he would be hanging over a rail, spewing into the heavy waters of the English Channel. The feeling of impending doom was not new to Maloney.
Once he had lived with that sensation amidst the blue smoke and roar of the world Grand Prix circuits. Fifteen years previously he had nearly been a household name to all motor racing fans. The best of the second-rate Formula One drivers of his day, Maloney had thrown more races, leaked more design secrets and sabotaged more competitive cars than any other driver in the history of the sport.
In 1979, his last year of racing, a bank account in Zurich registered £1,742,906 deposited in the name of Douglas Smith. Persons familiar with Maloney’s track record and lavish life-style might have been forgiven for being surprised at the size of the account.
In 1980, following the official ban and the police enquiry (dropped for lack of evidence) Maloney had chosen to live abroad, living generously off his capital. Posing as a property developer, he bounced cheques along the French and Italian Riviera, only to discover that the partners that he had defrauded en route were the financial managers for the biggest crime syndicate in Western Europe.
His Zurich account, already heavily depleted by his enjoyment of life, evaporated completely in the wake of an expensive retreat into anonymity, which terminated behind the bar of the Plume and Feathers in his native East End of London. However, you cannot keep a good man down.
In 1984, Maloney appeared in the public eye once again, behind the wheel of a range of assorted vehicles, usually accelerating away from the front of the Midland and National Westminster Banks and occasionally, decelerating in front of Securicor vans. His associates at the time were a shy and reserved crowd, usually preferring the anonymity of female stockings or Mickey Mouse masks about their heads to hide their uneasiness when frolicking in the capital.
It was during this period that the nickname ‘Wheels’ was inserted into his name, and once again he nearly became a household name on the lips of a small portion of the British public: normally referred to as ‘the Bill’.
In 1986 he changed his address from 34 Honeywell Lane, East Ham, where he cooked and cleaned for himself in quiet domesticity, to cell 86, HM Prison, Parkhurst, Isle of Wight where, to his delight, (apart from the bucket) people cleaned and cooked for him. His former employers, specialists in high finance and freelance demolition, had likewise been invited to partake of free Government hospitality. The difference was that they, having been diagnosed by the authorities as being incurably poorly, were spending their sojourn at a large hospital called Broadmoor which is in Crowthorne – a small and attractive village in the Royal County of Berkshire.
The distance between them and himself gave Maloney some comfort as rumours ran rife that Maloney had closer relations with the CID than one would normally expect from a man in his occupation. It had also been rumoured that this relationship had somehow contributed to the dissolution of the organisation for which he had worked. Certainly his release from Parkhurst, only two years after his arrest, appeared in comparison to the sentences imposed upon his former colleagues, somewhat unusual.
Once again on the trail of anonymity, Maloney had sought refuge in the North of England. Here he had met Ermwright who, upon being appraised of Maloney’s credentials, immediately and enthusiastically recruited him as personal chauffeur. This was not only a surprise to Maloney but also to the Job-Centre in Blackburn.
Maloney had now been in Ermwright’s employ for just over four years. The money was good and the duties were varied. One minute hi-jacking frightened ewes from the Lancashire moors, the next driving his master to conferences of the Allied Meat Manufacturers Association. The latter type of activity was innocent enough, but to Maloney, the former episodes suggested a future opportunity to supplement his earnings at his employer’s expense. Currently, to that end, Maloney was working on a project to smuggle an Infra-Red Video camera into Ermwright’s master bedroom. Technically, the task was proving more difficult than he had anticipated. He had begun to despair of getting anything concrete on his employer’s sexual predilections, but the events of the last 24 hours had given him fresh hope.
As the grey expanse of the English Channel appeared for the first time between the roofs of Brighton, Maloney reflected on the heavy wooden crate that he had helped Ermwright load into the boot the previous evening. It had been dark in the Blackburn side-street, yet Maloney had, in the flare of a match, seen the partially obliterated initials M.O.D. stamped across the lid.Then the tarpaulin had been draped over the crate, the Pakistani had been handed a bulging manila envelope and the journey to Brighton had begun.
The ultimate destination was unknown to Maloney. All he knew was that a sea trip was involved.
Arms smuggling? It seemed unlikely. Ermwright had enough loot without that, and from legitimate sources too. Neither was it likely that the Chairman of an International Company would become personally involved in that type of clandestine operation. No, something very dirty was afoot, and Maloney was determined to find out. Whatever he found out, there would be a price for his continuing discretion.
IN A CLASS OF HER OWN
Dudley picked up the telephone in the staffroom. It was the Principal’s secretary.
“Oh Mr Dudley, it’s you. The very man. The Principal would like you come to his office straightaway please. It’s most important.”
Dudley grunted and put the ’phone down. Unhurriedly he pulled on his jacket and ambled to the door. A student was waiting for him in the corridor.
“Mr Dudley, I was about to knock. I want to know if you can give me some extra assignments to do for my Business studies module. Please.”
“Fuck off,” suggested Dudley. The student stared at him in distress.
“I can make it worth your while.” she offered.
Dudley paused and stared at her appraisingly. She was a bit spotty, he decided and her bum was too big. “It’ll have to be money or drugs,” he said, cutting to the chase. “Which’ll it be?”
The girl looked relieved. “Will whiskey do?” she enquired nervously. “It’s twelve year old single malt. I can nick it from my Dad.”
“OK,” said Dudley, “See me at four o clock in the car park. A whole bottle mind. I don’t want to see the seal broken.”
“Oh thank you, thank you.” gasped the girl, but Dudley was already striding down the corridor. He reached the entrance to the mezzanine suite of Grindrod College.
A smart sign was affixed to the wall beside the polished silvered pine doors. It announced:
OFFICES OF THE PRINCIPALSHIP
Chief Executive Martin Primm MBA BEd
Dudley pushed open the door and stepped into the thickly carpeted luxury of the Principalship offices. Martin Primm’s personal assistant appeared from behind a word processor and rubber plant.
“This way Mr Dudley,” she trilled, “The Principal is expecting you.” Dudley stepped toward the door of the office of the Chief Executive. As he did so the PA laid a perfectly manicured but straining hand upon his arm.
“I think we’re forgetting something Mr Dudley.” she smiled in her best Joyce Grenville manner.
“You want a shag at this time in the day?” exclaimed Dudley in mock surprise. The PA recoiled in disgust.
“You’ve a filthy mouth Mr Dudley. I should report you for sexual harassment.” “They’d never believe you.” smirked Dudley. The PA went scarlet with rage but somehow managed to control herself.
“Please remove your shoes before you enter the Principal’s office. You know the rules. That carpet in there is worth a fortune.”
“Worth an entire networked computer system in the Business Studies block actually,” retorted Dudley, “but we never could find out what exactly happened to that, could we?” Before she could stop him he had turned, knocked briefly and entered. Martin Primm, Principal and Chief Executive of Grindrod College sat behind his vast aerodrome of a desk. He sat stiffly upright, a tall, thin man dressed in a powder blue Yves St Laurent suit. His elbows rested lightly on the polished desk surface, which was empty apart from a miniature brass cannon pointing directly at the door and an intercom set. Behind him, twinkling kaleidoscopically against the smoked glass windows overlooking the Grindrod municipal baths stood a computer screen.
“Ah, Dudley, do come in.” Primm’s otherwise expressionless face winced slightly as he saw that Dudley was wearing shoes, but he refrained from comment. Instead he delicately removed his gold-rimmed spectacles and gestured in the direction of the deep leather executive couch.
“Let me introduce you to the Chairman of the college’s Board of Governors, Mr Albert Ermwright and his lovely daughter, Candy.”
Dudley looked down. There, his buttocks driving a valley deep into the upholstery, sat a very large, fat but powerful looking man in a cavernous double-breasted suit. His face was scarlet beneath the glistening dome. Hands the size and shape of small shovels rested on his enormous thighs. Big shiny black boots lay like miniature Doberman dogs below his trouser turn-ups. Dudley swore they were hob-nailed. Ermwright’s eyes stared coldly up at Dudley whose proffered hand he ignored. Dudley shivered. For a moment he felt as if he was being measured up like a side of beef.
“Nice to meet you.” lied Dudley. Ermwright grunted and continued to stare at him.
Then Dudley saw Candy for the first time. She sat next to her father. She could not be more than seventeen and she could not less resemble her father. Candy Ermwright was blonde, slim and demure. She uncrossed her legs and stood up to shake Dudley’s hand. An expensive fragrance filled his nostrils as she flashed her dark eyes at him and smiled broadly.
“And so nice to meet you Mr Dudley.” she said softly. She smiled again and Dudley felt her delicate fingers rest a fraction of a second longer in his hand than they should have done. It was as if a Pennine sunset had suddenly and unexpectedly filled the office. Dudley felt dizzy. He stared at her as she sat down. From a long way off he could hear Primm’s voice.
“Mr Ermwright has come to me with a particular request Dudley,” he said. “As you know, Ermwright Black Pudding International is perhaps one of the biggest meat conglomerates in Europe, if not the Western world.” He beamed admiringly at Ermwright who grunted non-commitally.
“Through Mr Ermwright’s… . er… . . association with Grindrod College we have, as it were, acquired many benefits: advice, assistance and generous donations to assist with the repair of our capital fabric so badly neglected under the previous stewardship of the local education authority.” As he uttered the words ‘local education authority’ Primm actually crossed himself. Ermwright snorted disdainfully. Dudley reflected on the fact that a number of these ‘generous donations’ also found their way indirectly into the Principal’s own bank account but said nothing. “Clearly it behoves the college to be equally responsive to the reasonable requests of such a benefactor from time to time and as circumstances warrant.”
Ermwright stirred impatiently on the couch. The leather squeaked under the compressed woollen cloth of his trousers. Primm flickered a wary glance in his direction and moved on more quickly.
“Mr Ermwright is anxious that his daughter, Candy (he smiled ingratiatingly at the girl who turned away and stared blankly at the carpet) acquires a view, an understanding, of the family business but in a structured way. It is his desire and doubtless that of Candy, that she should simultaneously study for her BTEC National Diploma in Business Studies as she undertakes a year’s induction of Ermwright Black Pudding International. However, he would prefer her not to study at college but to receive one to one tuition in the work place. I have suggested that we might achieve this by seconding you, Dudley, to be her personal tutor for the next year or even two, depending on Miss Ermwright’s progress.”
“I’ve died and gone to Heaven,” thought Dudley. “I fucking have. Ermwright’s God, Primm’s Jesus Christ and Candy’s the angel I’ve been assigned to. This is the break I’ve been waiting for! With any luck and a following wind I can have her cherry and a seat on the board of Ermwright International within twelve months. Then fuck Grindrod College and fuck Mr Martin ‘keep your shoes off my carpet’ Primm too.” These thoughts whizzed through Dudley’s mind faster than a ferret in pair of Y fronts.
“It sounds like a most interesting proposition,” he heard himself say in a thoughtful and reflective tone of voice. “Excellent,” said Primm, “then that’s settled. Perhaps after today we could arrange for Dudley to meet your director of training, Mr Ermwright and plan a scheme of work. Meanwhile I’ll consider with Dudley’s Head of Faculty how we can arrange for someone to take over his lecturing responsibilities and sort out the details of his secondment. I assume you would like him to start in the Autumn?”
He beamed at Ermwright who suddenly rose to his feet. Primm hastily stood also. Ermwright scowled at Dudley. “Tha starts on Monday, 8.00 am sharp. Reet? Ah I’ll send chauffeur to tha house t’pick thee oop.” He turned a belligerent gaze upon Primm.“Problem wi’ that?”
“Er.. oh no. Certainly not,” assured Primm hastily. “No problem at all. Soon fix that. No need for a lot of bureaucracy eh?” He laughed nervously. No one joined in.
“Good,” announced Ermwright and strode to the door. He held out his hand.
“Come along now Candy my dear. These gentlemen have work to do and so do I.” He turned in the doorway. “Good day to thee Primm.”
He crooked his finger at Dudley. “A word in tha ear lad.” They stood out in the corridor. Ermwright gripped Dudley’s arm and steered him into a corner. “One thing lad,” he muttered, his fleshy lips and yellowed teeth inches away from Dudley’s face. “I knaw what tha was thinkin’ in there. Mebbe you can have it away with mah daughter and get a seat on the board.”
He smiled grimly at the surprise that briefly flickered across Dudley’s face. “Aye, tha sees, Ah’m a fuckin’ mind reader, me. Well let me tell thee somethin’ for nowt. You work hard for me and Ah’ll not see thee short.” His grip tightened on Dudley’s arm until the circulation ceased. “But should Ah catch thee with tha hand up yon lass’s skirt and the other one in my till then it’ll be the end of thee. Dost understand me?” The sweat had broken out on Dudley’s brow. He gasped with pain.
“Yes, yes I do Mr Ermwright, perfectly.”
Ermwright released his grip. Dudley slumped back against the wall resisting the urge to clutch his arm.
“Very well, Mr Dudley,” snorted the Chairman of Ermwright Black Pudding International. “So long as we understands one another.” He turned and tenderly ushered Candy toward the door.
“Goodbye, Mr Dudley,” She smiled winningly over her slender shoulder, “I’m so looking forward to Monday.” The silvered pine door closed behind them.
“Well,” exclaimed Primm stepping out of his office, his composure regained, “that was all rather splendid don’t you think so Dudley?”
He smiled at the lecturer. Dudley rubbed his arm thoughtfully and said nothing.
ALL AT SEA
Captain Peake watched the South Coast of England recede into the distance. He felt uneasy: uneasy about the secrecy surrounding the voyage.
Peake was a middle-aged man who had survived two torpedoed ships in the Suez Canal and an Exocet attack in the Falklands. Consequently, he believed in Jesus Christ and somehow felt that the Lord would not have approved of the operation that he, Peake, was now passively engaged in.
The Holy Eyebrow would have been raised, he felt, over the crate residing below decks and over the thin-faced ‘chauffeur’ who had accompanied Ermwright aboard. The Holy Eyebrow would have gone positively Roger-Moore-like over Ermwright himself, he thought.
Ermwright’s first instruction to Peake had been to “get fuckin’ crate aboard”. His second instruction had been “to piss off quick” and his third had been “Don’t let the soddin’ coast guards know we’re leavin’.” All this afflicted the honest Peake with great concern. And now, the fourth instruction, barked at him three miles out in that heaving oil-slick that separates England from the Continent: “ Head for Antibes.”
Whatever was afoot, Peake had no intention of becoming involved. He would simply drive the yacht and think of Jesus. BLOOD 1 came about.
In his cabin, Ermwright gazed coldly out of the porthole. His eyes registered the dribble of vomit easing down the spray-speckled glass. Maloney had been right about his sea legs. Ermwright sniggered for a second. Serve the smart-ass right. Next to a panic-stricken ewe, the contemplation of pain or suffering in other human beings gave Ermwright the most pleasure.
No that was not strictly true. There was one person above all other living things upon whose mind and body the infliction of intense agony would give Ermwright satisfaction of almost orgasmic dimensions.
He turned to the open crate and picked up an electrode that lay among the jumble of wires and equipment. Absentmindedly he stroked the metal between thumb and forefinger. Once again he gazed out at the tossed waves and sheeting rain. Soon, very soon, he would meet that person for the second and last time.
Above Ermwright’s head, Maloney’s stomach flung yet another string of sputum and half-digested Wimpeyburger into the teeth of the gale. Alone in front of the wheel, Captain Peake knelt in silent prayer.
As if in answer, hundreds of miles to the south, the morning sun broke over Antibes and Dudley, who, hands and feet securely bound together, lay in the back of a lorry. An Israeli Uzi machine pistol was pressed to the back of his head.
NOT WAVING, JUST DROWNING
It took BLOOD 1 five days to reach Antibes. This caused some dissatisfaction to Ermwright who not only possessed his own executive jet but understood also that France was across the Channel and that consequently all coastal towns were somewhere near Calais and consisted mostly of a Hypermarket and carpark. By the time they were in the Bay of Biscay, Ermwright was becoming irrational. By the time they were in Marseilles harbour, he was becoming demented. By the time the Capitannerie at Antibes was in sight, his brain had become totally unglued.
As BLOOD 1 was reversing onto the Quai d’honneur at Antibes, the Harbourmaster happened to be passing-by on his bicycle. The temperature was approaching 40 degrees Celsius, so he was slightly taken aback by the sight on the aft deck of a man wearing yellow oilskins and bright-red Wellington boots. The man was purple-faced and blowing into what at first glance appeared to be an inflatable sheep.
The harbourmaster brought up his binoculars (which he even took to bed with him) and looked at the strange apparition.
“Oui, c’est un mouton,” he thought to himself. Then he noticed the British red ensign on the back of the boat. “Les Anglais,” he muttered for the millionth time in his life. He spat. And again for good measure.
Jacques Plyum, the Harbourmaster, was on his day off and was driving round the Port on his velo in full Eddy Mercx regalia. He leaned forward to take another pull of pink wine from the bottle fixed to the handlebars. This operation was becoming increasingly difficult as Jacques stomach flowed unevenly either side of the crossbar as he leaned forward.
Below, Ermwright OBE and the plastic sheep were joined on the aft deck by a thin man with a scar.
Jacques Plyum squinted. He fancied that the thin man looked familiar. He peddled on, watching closely.
The thin man picked up a rope and threw it at the quayside just as Jacques and his pushbike toppled into the harbour. Out of the corner of his eye Ermwright saw the rounded figure of a red-faced Frenchman drive off the quay and splash into the water.
“Froggie bastard” muttered Ermwright for the millionth time in his life. “ I ’ope tha drowns. Looked like a good bike too.”
While Maloney was tying the boat up with what was supposed to be a bowline, but appropriately looked more like a sheepshank, Ermwright watched the Harbourmaster come up twice and then disappear into the black water.
“I could have sworn that you’re supposed to come up three times before tha’ drowns. That wa’ only two.” He tried to fit the valve into the sheep’s backside as he spoke.
Right on cue Jacques Plyum surfaced for the third and conventionally, the last time. “Au secours” he gurgled “I have lost ma bicyclette and ah ham drowning. Je meurs. Au secours. Au secours.”
“You what?” shouted Ermwright holding one hand to his ear and indicating the noise of the engines with the other.
Jacques Plyum went down for the last time just as Maloney looked over and idly thought to himself that the fat red face definitely looked familiar. Within one nanosecond he had also worked out that if the man was important, there could be advantage in saving him. Maloney threw the stern line into the water. It was immediately picked up by the propeller and the port engine stalled, causing the yacht to steer violently to starboard.
Oh, reader. What a remarkable chain of events was then unleashed!
Ermwright stumbled and let go of the inflatable sheep. Because the stopper was not in the valve, the sheep took off and after going about twenty feet in the air, it veered to the left and landed on the backside of the first mate of the yacht moored five berths from BLOOD l’s place. The first mate’s naked backside was at the time moving in a regular forward and backwards motion as he busily screwed the yacht owner’s wife.
Because he was very nervous of being spotted, had a history of heart trouble and should not have been doing this in the first place, he had a heart attack while on back-stroke number 99.
The owner’s wife, mistaking the first mate’s gasps as expressions of ecstasy began to thrust harder and harder until she noticed that the man on top of her had gone limp in several places simultaneously. She looked at his eyes which had rolled upwards in their sockets and realising that he was dead, she screamed.
Just at this moment, her returning husband, having forgotten his wallet and hearing his wife’s screams was motivated to run up the gangplank, down the side deck and onto the fore-deck where his wife’s screams were coming from. He saw his open-legged wife being apparently restrained by the also naked first mate who, in turn appeared to be being rogered by an inflatable sheep.
Meanwhile, Maloney had calculated in the next nanosecond that there might be some margin in rescuing the fat Frenchman who looked like an older version of a fisherman that he knew many years ago. The fisherman in question had been able to steer from Antibes to Calvi in Corsica without looking at either the compass or a chart. In fact, if he remembered correctly, this fisherman navigated the entire Mediterranean with the aid of a page torn from a school atlas.
Unbelievably, these thoughts all went through Maloney’s brain in the split-second that he stepped onto the rail and dived into the Mediterranean.
Fifteen feet below, in the black quay-water, Jacques Plyum had more or less drowned. If it had not been for Maloney, the ex-tuna fisherman turned smuggler, turned Harbourmaster would have died in the water that had been his life for these past fifty years. All that Maloney had to worry about was the avoidance of injury by the eight-or-so heavy red and white life belts that were being thrown into the water by the crews of several yachts.
Maloney struggled but eventually managed to pull the motionless body to the surface, up the boat’s stern swimming ladder and onto the deck. Had the propeller not been snagged by the rope, Maloney would have been cut in half by the propeller blade. At best, he would have lost both arms and Jacques Plyum’s head.
The engines of BLOOD 1 had been shut off and Captain Peake was on the aft-deck stepping over two very wet bodies and officiating in the tying-up ceremony which was now being watched by twenty people. Another siren wailed. It was an ambulance, which had been despatched to pick up a dead first mate from the boat just along the quay. There was nothing that could be done for him. However, the eager paramedics found to their gratification that the yacht owner’s wife had to be treated for shock, a black eye, several broken ribs and a broken arm.
Jacques Plyum opened his eyes, looked up at the azure sky, and felt something warm and wet in his mouth. It was Maloney’s tongue. Maloney was attempting his first-ever kiss-of-life. The fat Frenchman retched. A garlic-flavoured consommé of harbour water, rosé and diesel spurted skyward.
Just a hint of the stench of the pink-green liquid had a profound and resonant effect on Maloney. He vomited into Ermwright’s wellington boot.
Dudley was frightened of the dark. Especially proper dark. And this was proper proper dark.
The darkness was that of a large cool wine cellar belonging to a Chateau between Antibes and Biot. The Chateau was an ostentatious monstrosity mostly paid for by the proceeds of a lifetime of smuggling. It belonged to a mysterious owner that no one had ever seen. It was rumoured that the few people who had seen the owner had one thing in common. They had all died. Accidentally. However, this phenomenon was no statistical accident.
Dear Reader- A little background for you.
In the Far East, the barman is very often the owner not only of the bar but also of the gambling den behind the shop, as well as the attendant drugs business. Jacques Plyum, the Harbourmaster operated on the same principle. He lived in the chateau, claiming that he was Gardiennageing it for a Cabinet Immobilier. The Cabinet Immobilier was in turn acting on behalf of the mysterious Mr Big who owned the Chateau.
In fact, Jacques Plyum was not only the owner of the Chateau, he was also Mr Big and he owned the Cabinet Immobilier. Dudley had been captured by a couple of psychopaths in Jacque’s temporary employ. They had been disguised as policemen. The two psychopaths, Serge and Marcel were the personal bodyguards to Don Angelo. Don Angelo was very important.
Several months ago word had reached the Mediterranean Mafia that there was a reward of $1,000,000 being offered for the capture of an individual who had deflowered the daughter of a well-connected Englishman. That individual was Dudley and the well-connected one was Ermwright. Dudley had also stolen something very dear to Ermwright – a secret formula for black puddings and throwing pies. The Ermwright fortune had been built on this formula. The formula had been sold to a national superstore chain and threatened to undermine everything that Ermwright had worked for.
Ermwright wanted Dudley alive because he wanted to kill Dudley himself. Because Ermwright was several sausages short of a pig he had also hatched up an even more grotesque plan. For this plan, he had used his European Masonic contacts which reached all the way to the summit of the European Parliament.
The French had been instrumental in making Ermwright’s black puddings and throwing pies conform to the latest European directives. This had added to Ermwright’s madness. Because Ermwright was now having to put more meat, real blood and other natural ingredients in his products, he was facing financial ruin.
He needed revenge.
He had decided a year before how he would kill two birds with one stone. He would murder and then gut and fillet Dudley. He would also have liked to wipe out the entire French race, but a quiet inner voice, the voice that spoke to him in the dark, sheep-shagging hours, whispered to him that this was not a practical option.
Through his contacts Ermwright determined that Dudley would be served at an EEC dinner which was going to be attended by all the EEC heads of state. The fact that his own Prime Minister was also to be present at the dinner was regarded by Ermwright as a “major” bonus.
Ermwright’s recurrent daydream was interrupted by his right welly being filled by about a quart of Maloney’s vomit. Maloney was on all fours next to a fat bastard who appeared to be attempting an impersonation of a vomit fountain. A sudden gust of wind blew pink Plyum-vomit onto Ermwright’s yellow oilskin.
“Bastard!” offered Ermwright.
Maloney’s whole body heaved again. This time into Ermwright’s other boot. Ermwright kicked Maloney, picked up a hose and directed the high-pressure jet in turn at his own boots, Maloney’s face and finally Jacques Plyum.
The crowd on the quay had disappeared just as quickly as it had materialised. The French and water, it is said by those on the Euro-sceptic wing of the Conservative Party, do not mix.
Had Ermwright understood Jacques Plyum’s Provencal patois, he would have understood the references to sheep-shagging Englishmen and threats of horrible mutilations of small Anglo-Saxon genitalia with sharp pointed objects.
Ermwright dragged first Plyum and then Maloney into the wheelhouse and went to the fridge in the saloon in order to offer the two men some refreshment. By the time he returned to the wheelhouse both men were sitting up.
“Ere y’are froggie bastard” said Ermwright handing Plyum a bottle of Theakston’s Brown Ale and another to Maloney. “Thanks boss” gurgled Maloney.
“Fuck off and get it down tha neck you Irish twat” said Ermwright demonstrating yet again why his only real friends were sheep.
Plyum put the bottle in his mouth, took a pull and spat it out, spraying Ermwright, Maloney and the wheelhouse.
“Thees tasting like the Engleesh piss.” he said ungratefully, “ Eet is not fit for drinking by a Frenchman.”
Ermwright slid open the wheelhouse door, grabbed the still-weak Plyum by the collar and heaved him over the safety rail, straight back into the water.
“Go on, then Maloney, save ’im, but don’t bring him back here. Nobody insults Theako’s ale. Especially not a fat frog on a bike. Bastard.”
Maloney did not move a muscle as Ermwright perhaps thinking of the entente cordiale, strolled onto the side-deck and threw Plyum a rope. He threw the other end of the rope at a Customs officer who was just about to board BLOOD I. The customs officer, not realising that there was a drowning man on the other end of the rope, irritably threw his end of the rope into the back of a ski-boat which was just about to break the port’s speed limit of 4 knots. lt was only when the driver of the speedboat realised that he could not achieve any more than twenty knots that he turned round and saw that he was towing something that looked like a bundle of washing through the water. It was obvious to him that he had picked up a rope with something tied to the end.
Just as you leave Antibes Harbour, there is a long spit of sharp volcanic rock. The driver of the boat predicted that if he went round the spit and then turned the wheel hard to starboard, he might be able to snag the bundle of rags on the rocks and when he got out to sea, he would cut the rope which he noticed had become entangled on one of the transom cleats. There were simpler options of course, but he was Italian after all.
He gunned the motor as he swung out of the harbour and veered sharp right past the spit of sharp volcanic rock. As he spun the wheel he squinted with satisfaction at the way his Rolex sparkled against the golden hair on his tanned wrist. Spray peppered his collarless silk shirt. A thin gold chain clung in the breeze to his throat. ‘You are all man, Vincente,’ he smiled to himself.
The bundle of rags mounted the rock, screamed and detatched itself from the rope.
The next stage only took a fraction of a second, but nevertheless hurt. When Plyum let go of the rope, he really did not have the time to consider the whip-like behaviour of the residual ten metres of rope that slid through his hands and whipped between his legs. As the end of the rope shot past Plyum’s balls, it behaved like the end of a bullwhip. There was a cracking noise like a mini sonic boom followed by another scream. The time in between the two screams was less than one second, and yet, because Plyum’s brain had temporarily lost its ability to calculate time accurately, the pain could have lasted one second, but it could have been three days.
“Ze English pig has to die,” gasped Plyum with a restraint he considered remarkable in the circumstances. The outside of Plyum’s hands looked as if they had been trapped in a mincer. The insides of his hands had severe rope-burns. A newly-found hatred kept Plyum going until dawn when he was rescued by the predominantly gay Greek crew of a sailing boat which was headed for Monte Carlo at the end of a prolonged circumnavigation of the globe.
By the time Plyum had been dumped in Monte Carlo the following day, his hands were not the only sore part of his anatomy. The only English pig that he currently had in captivity at the moment was Dudley. Plyum, in the absence of any rational incentive, decided he would go and damage Dudley before going back to Antibes for the owner of BLOOD 1.
Dudley had been in the dark cellar for two days and two nights. However, total sensory deprivation had led him to imagine that he had been there for at least a week. This was confusing because he did not feel particularly hungry. Little did he know that in a couple of hours, food and drink would be the last things on his mind.
Plyum limped painfully into the cellar at approximately midnight. In his heavily bandaged hands, he held an object, which looked like an oversized stainless steel test-tube. It was about ten inches long and about one inch across. Under his arm, he had a jar of KY jelly, and a custom-made miniature cattle prod.
“Ah weel give you Mad Cow disease you silly Eenglishman,” he whispered to himself. Rage, vengeance, lust and excitement fought for ascendancy in his hairy Gallic breast. He paused and thought to himself “Why not? No-one will ever know what happened in this cellar.” He smiled as he unscrewed the KY jar. He ripped open a Ribbed Durex packet with his teeth.
In the local village they imagined that they heard strange noises that night. They appeared to be coming from the Chateau. They fancied that perhaps the owner of the Chateau was entertaining a reluctant young lady who was, as well as being extremely vocal was simultaneously both negative and religious. How else, they wondered, might one explain the shouts of “NO!!” interspersed with the occasional “Jesus!”
I have been writing commercially for many years and have had articles, training material and a ton of other stuff published and been paid for it.
However, publishing a novel, as many of you who are reading this know, is nigh-on impossible. Unless you are extremely lucky, a “celebrity” or have achieved some sort of notoriety, the chances of an agent or a publisher taking you on are near-zero.
As someone who is used to writing a few thousand words and then being paid, imagine how difficult it was to start receiving enough standard rejection letters to wallpaper an average four-bedroom house.
Then, several months ago, I was shocked to receive a letter from a Brighton publisher who LIKED my book. I had done the usual “Synopsis, a few sample chapters and letter” and probably like you, had grown used to the sight of my own envelope (the one with the fold across the middle) containing the unread script with the standard bland agent or publisher letter hitting the doormat.
This time it was different! I had been asked for the whole script!!!
To cut a long story short I delivered the script by hand and was told that they would be in touch in a few DAYS!!
An envelope arrived three days later. Contract? Advance? I was already imagining the Booker speech!!!
Alas, it was a letter enclosing a glossy brochure. Apparently, the publisher had several publishing “plans”. Plan A was very straightforward and consisted of the publisher picking up all the costs. I read on.
The publisher LIKED my novel but would like me to contribute over £10,000 towards the “printing costs etc”. For that I would even receive a load of beautifully-bound copies of my novel for distribution to “friends and family”.
My Nuts were Crushed!
That was my “road to Damascus” moment. No more letters or calls to posh breathy women agents who “used to work for a major publisher”, no more rejection slips and no more damaged ego.
As someone who understands a bit about marketing and PR with a wife who used to be in direct marketing, we decided “Fuck the lot of them!”.
They won’t be around in a few years anyway and had I REALLY contemplated giving away a percentage in “commission”?
I knew that about HALF of the book market is now in electronic form so Amazon was the obvious way to go.
We had the book uploaded and selling on Amazon within half a day. The BIG lesson that I have learned since Day 1 is that price DOES matter and that the name of the game, if you are an unpublished unknown, is to get your name out there. Use the first two or three novels for the initial marketing but make it as easy and painless for your future fans to download your book onto their kindle, iPad or PC.
Keep the price below ONE POUND!
Yes, I know that 100,000 words of hard slog seems very cheap but in business (that IS what you are entering!), you have a simple choice:
Low turnover with high profit OR, high turnover and low profit. Electronic publishing is a major opportunity for the latter!! Forget the agents! If your book is good enough, it WILL be picked up by a publisher.
The book “Crushed Nuts on the Cote d’Azur” IS semi-autobiographical and is based in the South of France where I lived for many years. (Photo above is me and my son in the 1980s in Port Vauban (Antibes) before all the Russian gin palaces arrived).
The germ of any idea for a novel is somewhere in YOUR experiences. I had some fantastic times in the Med and met interesting people such as David Niven , Henry Kissinger, Roger Moore, Michael Caine and many other celebs.
We went to the Cannes Film festival EVERY year and I used to see the Monaco Grand Prix from the aft-deck of someone’s (anyone’s) yacht. I knew which yachts were owned by the Mafia and which French customs officers were corrupt.
I was offered a job by Brigitte Bardot’s husband and was asked by a well-known British barrister if he could watch me screwing his girlfriend. I spent a couple of years living on a yacht and worked undercover for a well-known insurance company which insures expensive yachts and ships. At some stage these experiences ( and many others) will become mutated and appear in subsequent work.
Believe it or not, during those days, I had a proper job and a family!
You may be a writer who has not had the opportunity to experience and “touch” life in such a direct way. That does NOT mean that you do not have something GREAT to say. Your sources may be less glamorous and you may consider them mundane but if you are what I call a “looker” – an observer – it does NOT matter.
I ALWAYS carry either a Moleskine or CIAK notebook and continue to be obsessive about noting down phrases I hear or weird things which I see. It’s almost a curse.
The only practical piece of advice which I shall pass on to you is to be humble enough to accept advice and criticism and don’t be “precious” about your work.
Once you have been paid for something, it doesn’t matter WHAT a sub-editor or editor does to it!
“Crushed Nuts on the Cote d’Azur” is HERE.