Friday 30 April 1865
And so it arrives at last...my final day at the Cotton Exchange. I’m struck by such a narrow range of emotions as I hop, skip and jump into work this morning (calmness mixed with serenity mixed with relief mixed with gratitude) that it’s a not insignificant battle to decide whether I’m walking on air or pushing gently through candyfloss cobwebs; though once I’ve trodden deep into some worm-filled poodle poop (where do my neighbours think they live? Monaco?) I’m quickly reminded that some loose ends are yet to be tied up. While Porthole Drift (the water-based detective) has confirmed the arrest of the agitator Swarthy Erick, we have no guarantee that the stolen coal now recovered has been fully counted and accounted for. The result could be that our long-promised Voluntary Early Death Allowance is held up for a day or two. Not interminable, but a man has debts...and not only to society.
Recall the Male Eagle soars overhead. Why? Last time I used him I was a single man; his job to hunt down pigeons I’d sent out late at night with amorous messages for unsuitable women – I hadn’t employed him in months. Then Sanchez flutters down beside me and starts pecking at my squirming soles.
‘Get off! What you doing?’ I counter, my day quickly unravelling.
‘Eagle try to kill Sanchez,’ he mimes.
‘Message from that Afthole.’
And then suddenly there arrives the pungent smell of the sea, mixed with the iron tang of blood – a combination that takes me back to Demspon’s stag do in Whitby when we mistook the cliff-top graveyard for the club, The Cliff-top Graveyard. Will I ever get to work today? It’s Porthole, his breath as unholy as what comes out of it is full of them.
‘Batson, I didn’t want to ruin your last day. But alas, your premier witness, Tom Fatbottom, has been struck down.’
‘An inappropriate response to excessive politeness.’
‘We have nothing on Erick or Patterson – they will simply revert to their story of having found the coke on top of a toilet cistern.’
‘And the payout?’
‘You may have to wait a while...’
A darn and blast it has to be for now – though the latter works well in summing up the after-work festivities. One forgets the generosity of friends (‘workmates’ – what a horrible word) when one of their number departs and not only am I lavished with gifts while still on the warehouse floor (World Cuppa ’65 collectamungo, plus dozens of cards portraying foreign types; art books; a bottle of beautiful Talisker) but innumerable whiskies at the Briton’s Protectorate thereafter are thrust into my hoary paw. I don’t have to spend a penny I don’t already have – save for the developing costs of the daguerreotype images that Dylan and I partake in as we hand in our passes, say goodbye to security and bid our lives in cotton and coal farewell forever.