Thursday 6 May
Having seen neither (greying) hide nor (leathery) hair of Swarthy Erick in Chorlton on the day of Clark and Rita’s wedding last weekend (highlight: the funnier of two Catholic fathers scanning the room for three signs of Rita’s future intentions before settling on ‘aisle’, ‘alter’, and – spreading hands forth as if to capture the congregation – ‘you’) I determine to track him down on a dark and brooding election night. Working on a hunch I hire a wagon and head up to Lancaster, managing to stay on it during this visit to the only pretty grey town left in England (see previous here)
My first point of enquiry is, naturally enough, the Pope Street residence of Jefferson and Melinda Cake, the former being a close school-friend of both myself and Erick. How strange to think that last time I was here, for a party, I inadvertently exposed an illicit love affair – opening myself up to poker-hot agonies, where today I chuck Licky’s name around like it were yesterday’s tripe, rather than tomorrow’s gold dust. In spite of the small talk Melinda will not divulge Jefferson’s whereabouts and likewise claims to have set neither fair eye on the third scruffy Arbuckle of our shambolic trio. Draining my cup of tea I request the use of their back garden for a pre-departure cheroot, and in doing so inadvertently stumble upon a gold mine. Or more accurately, I find Jefferson’s disproportionately loyal black & white pooch, Anubus, growling at me – to his wagging backside a mountain of slag more suited to a non-PC Detective-Inspector’s lexicon. In fact it is the entirety of the stolen coal, and rather than some stereotypical overweight, alcoholic cop who has his problems but who finds his heart in the right place every second Tuesday when it isn’t being operated upon because of all the chips, it is Porthole who is suddenly at my side, out of nowhere. Hurrah!
‘Be gone now, foul hound!’ he explodes, sending a Thai fighter spinning into a ginnel.
But Anubus won’t take things lying down and is soon diving into our favourite water-based detective; doggy logic suggesting that if the human will throw himself around suggestively, the canine has no choice but to fetch both balls. While battle rages I turn to Melinda.
‘Why?’ I ask.
‘Because the poor need this loot more than your cotton and coal traders ever will!’
Melinda takes time out from cooking with flour, eggs and milk to hit Porthole over head with the Little Book of Conscientious Living. Already tickled into unconsciousness it is with horror that I watch my closest ally nibbled to death with a good quiche entree. He loved a pipe after a meal but now there isn’t one bit of him left to smoke it. We watch his smoking implement fall to the ground and rotate to a standstill in the gutter.
‘This...’ I tell Melinda gravely, ‘...has got serious.’
‘There will be occasional victims in the struggle to free the people.’
‘Try explaining that to a Lancaster Peeler.’
‘Okay,’ her eyes flash, ‘what do you want?’
Forever putting my friends first, it takes me milliseconds to request enough of the coal to support the Voluntary Early Death of Dylan, DH, Deidre Darknight, Bateman and myself. The rest of the profits can go to the hellish other ‘people’ as far as I’m concerned. Ourselves provided for, there is only one question left for Melinda,
‘Just how long have Jefferson Cake and Swarthy Erick been members of the People’s Liberation Front of Hoylake and West Kirby, and what exactly are they planning for tonight?’
‘It was the A-level politics,’ Melinda admits, shame-faced, ‘back at Coldly Strange. Jefferson never recovered from getting a B, while you...somehow...’
(Edited for purposes of modesty, but yes – I did get a slightly higher grade)
Election night, London – Late...too late. Hundreds of British Broadsiding Corporation journalists have taken every decent horse in the country meaning the only method of transport left open to me is time travel, a sadly imperfect ‘modus operandi’ that sees me overshooting somewhat to a future time of hatless heathens. I’m assured the technology will have been perfected soon after my lifetime but that does me no good today as Erick and Jefferson have long since put their plan into operation. There they are, up in the inky-stinky sky, easing their air balloon between clouds of soot and black-lunged seagulls; sprinkling the populace with their specially-developed dust of indecision (the Wirral and Switzerland being the only two known places where apathy and existential panic can be mined in equal quantities). By daybreak it has become all-too-clear that their plan was never to blow up Parliament – but to hang it.
‘Agitators! Anarchists! Antipodeans!’ I yell upwards, shaking both fists violently, until fairly quickly I find my knuckles relaxing as I begin to think that they probably weren’t so bad after all...and in fact if they were running for government I might even...
A storm beginning, Melinda goes out back to scold Anubus and as she does so is one of the first to observe the brand new Frankenstein coalition emerging from behind the castle walls. Surely it won’t take long to tip him over; his last act to take the economy down with him? And then the real fun can begin.