Friday, 16 May 2014

The Village Tales of Fekenham Swarberry - Simian Simpering - Private Detective and Surrealist Investigator - "Dredging Silkworms and Ten Reversible Faces"


We first met Simian Simpering in The Village Tales of Fekenham Swarberry - Book Three. He was an oddball police inspector sent to investigate a series of crimes which he then gets completely wrong. The concept behind the character was a mix of Hercule Poirot and Kermit the frog, a short, bald man whose head sticks out of his collar like a penis tip from a foreskin with feet set at odd angles and voice like a punctured helium balloon. This didn't bode well for the future of the character. Undeterred, and still unsure of how to flesh out this oddly named individual I stuck him into the charmingly titled "The Sordid Story of the Enema Bandit of Winchester."  It should have been a starring role but again someone else solves the mystery.

What to do with this bizarre character? I had no idea. I then wrote down a number of chapter titles, ten in total, and then proceeded to write them all. They were odd but still not quite what I wanted. The trouble was I really had no idea what that was. I ploughed on. I finished the ten chapters within a month or so whilst working on regular Fekenham stuff. Job done I then asked for help in the form of an editor. Enter L of W who kindly volunteered.  She has subsequently had counselling poor love.

Her comments suggested the stories were grotesque, angry and not very funny. I thought about this. It was an accurate critique. Fekenham is Amatory Absurd, a bit bonkers perhaps but by and large romance mixed with some humour and some other bits of tat. The feeling I was getting for how I wanted Simpering was that it should be far more grotesque than it already was and any humour should be black, monotone and dry I guess I wanted to add a little of Ivor Cutler with a twist of Magnus Mills and a dash of Edward Lear to the process. 

Simian Simpering may have been born from the pages of Fekenham but it is very different. Grotesque, absurd, dark as treacle, sometimes surreal with a deadpan delivery. The following is pretty much how it was first written and then edited..It sits within the Fekenham continuum but does so uncomfortably. It remains Amatory Absurd but is not light, middle of the road material and probably should be published in some left field, far out magazine.

Tell me what you think.....but at 8,000 words it is a bit long so be warned.)

Stinkfinger Cuttlefish

The brass plaque on the black door declared in Goudy Old Style: “Ebenezer Cuttlefish – Dealer in Antiques.” It was, thought Simian Simpering, a particularly attractive font. The recently ‘retired’ policeman, now a private detective, looked at his wrist watch. It read ten twenty-eight. He was two minutes early. He lifted the brass knocker and boldly knocked twice.

There was a scuffling behind the door, a few words uttered that he couldn’t discern, a sharp cough, and then the door opened. A jolly-faced woman in a floral dress of varied and vivid colours stood before him. She seemed to be formed of three sections, all equal in size and shape. Her breasts made up the first section with a degree of cushioned bulk, her middle, also well developed and of similar size and volume, formed the second with her hips and bottom merging into one seamless circumference, the third. She appeared to be a woman constructed of three tyres set upon a pair of scrawny legs.

“Hello!” warbled the woman.

“Good day,” said Simpering.

Upon hearing the detective’s voice for the first time, Mrs. Scrubber, for that was her name, looked a little shocked. Simpering sounded a curious cross between choir boy and a steam- driven traction engine, for his voice was high and squeaky. It was as if he had just sucked upon a canister of helium. She needn’t have been concerned, though, as he always sounded like that.

He was, thought the doughty woman, an odd looking man. He stood about five feet six and was not so much bald, although he was, as practically hairless. He had no eyebrows, and his eyelashes seemed so fine as to be almost non-existent. His skull flowed into his neck, which had several chins. It gave his head the appearance of being like a thumb popping out of a shirt collar, or a male member peeking out of a foreskin. His eyes were large and bulbous, his nose broad and flat. His ears were so small they seemed to be two holes set either side of his head. His stomach was round like a beach ball, his legs thin and bowed, and his feet splayed out like the hands of a clock set at a quarter to three.

“I am Simian Simpering, Private Detective and Surrealist Investigator.”

“Come in,” said Mrs. Scrubber.

And he did.

The tea had provided a pleasant interlude, as had the tiered cake stand filled with delicious fairy cakes. Simpering’s eyes had stuck out as though on stalks when he saw them. The fact that Mrs. Scrubber had intended them to be shared did not occur to the detective. He scoffed the lot. The look of annoyance on the housekeeper’s face didn’t register with him.

“You said it was his associates in the antiques trade who referred to your employer as ‘Stinkfinger?’ asked Simpering.

“That’s right, on account of him smoking those vile Turkish cigarettes. They made an awful smell that left his fingers rather ‘whiffy’.”

Simpering ran his forefinger around his shirt collar, then dabbed at the corners of his mouth with the doily from the cake stand, completely ignoring the napkin that sat on his lap. Then, with bulbous eyes half lidded, he enquired of Mrs. Scrubber, “And he just disappeared without warning or telling you where he was about to go?”

The woman took out a pristine white handkerchief which she threw around her nose.

“He just up and vanished without a by your leave. Not one word was said. I think he may have been abducted, or worse.”

“May I see his room?”

“Of course,” said Mrs. Scrubber, rising from her chair like a living advert for Dunlop. “Follow me.”

The housekeeper traipsed ahead. Simpering waddled on behind, his feet at right angles to each other, his knees bent, his stomach pronounced beneath his concave chest, his shoulders  appearing to support a head that had no visible neck whilst his arms hung limp and still by his side.

The wallpaper was patterned and appeared to move. The design was of boundless lines that waved as he walked, moving up and down like the tide.

“There was the fish,” said Mrs. Scrubber.

“Fish?” queried Simpering.

“Scaly, floppy things with fins and a tail – they live beneath the water.”

“I meant what kind of fish,” wheezed Simpering.

“I don’t know its name. It was odd though,” replied the housekeeper.

“In what way?”

“It didn’t have an English name.”

“The fish had a name?”

“Not like Gordon or George, but sort of foreign like.”

“Perhaps you could spell it for me?”

“Eye tee.”

“I meant the fish’s name.”

“Oh,” sighed Mrs. Scrubber indulgently to herself, masking her annoyance. “X.I.P.H.I.A.S  A.S.T.A.K.O.S.”

“Greek,” confirmed the detective.

“All of them foreign languages sound Greek to me.”

The housekeeper opened the door to a room. It was unlike any other, filled with an odd array of things, objects and bric-a-brac. A stuffed beaver sat on top of a glass case that contained an equally stuffed and therefore dead trout. A large flag of the Empire, all red, white and blue, was pinned to one wall. A potted aspidistra, its grim leaves bent in supplication to a statue of Napoleon that confronted it, stood to one side of the aged banner. A many-layered edifice constructed of boxes filled with books leaned and buckled before resting against the wall. It could have been a sculpture, were it not for the eighteenth century wig that crested it. Several trays filled with regimented rows of brass buttons along with gleaming medals lay around the floor. A euphonium, upended, relaxed against a nude mannequin. From the loud end a gloved, china hand extended upward as if someone were sinking into the silvered musical instrument, hoping for a passing stranger to pull her free. On a shelf trembling beneath the weight of its load sat a horde of shellac records, black and dusty. From the shelf hung a swordfish with a broken bill; along its side some hooligan had scrawled the words, ‘not much good with trees.’ In one isolated corner of the room was a bed surmounted by a veiled, tent-like affair.

Beyond the confusing disarray and shambolic disorder was the smell that pervaded the room, drifting out of the door like a contagion. It was a disgusting, sweet, cloying scent, heavy and noisome. If it had been given a colour, it would have been rancid green.

“That’s where he slept,” informed Mrs. Scrubber. “I seldom came up here.”

“There is a wardrobe over there, hidden behind the three-legged buffalo. What is in there?”

“Boots and suits, bits of his clothing like socks and shirts.”

“Has it all been emptied?”

“Not a thing is missing apart from what he kept in the drawer.”

“Which was?”

“A Victorian bathing suit.”

“Did he wear it often?”

“Only when dining.”

The housekeeper closed the door coughing. Her eyes had started to water. Unfortunately, the smell was much like a multi-tentacled monster of the deep whose body remained after its limbs had been sliced off; only in this case the smell remained.

“Let’s go back downstairs,” insisted the housekeeper with her hand firmly covering her nose.

Simpering nodded as well as a man who has no neck can, then followed Mrs. Scrubber down the stairs past the wavy lines that threatened to send his motion sickness back up his throat.

“Did your employer ever have visitors?” asked Simpering, as he recovered his blitzed sense of smell.

“Not really,” grimaced the woman, pushing her false teeth from one side of her mouth to the other. “Apart from his colleagues and clients he kept himself pretty much to himself. There was that woman, though.”

Simpering moved his head from side to side before running his forefinger around his shirt collar again.

“What woman?”

“A whore, a tart, a street walker, a prostitute, a call girl, one that indulges men’s carnal weaknesses, who accommodates their deviant desires by performing tuppenny uprights against the factory wall.”

Simpering gazed around as though looking for the district the woman spoke of, but, acutely aware of her opinion on such matters, looked back at his peculiarly right-angled feet.

“Had you seen this woman before?” he asked.

“Never; she only came the once.”

“And Mister Cuttlefish?”

“I never had sex with him so I cannot comment.” winked the widow.

“I meant, had she visited before?”

“No, never. She was undeniably attractive, if you like them a bit brassy. Red lips and rouge with perfumed armpits. I could never see the point of spraying your armpits with scent. A bit of soap morning and evening keeps me fresh.”

The detective scratched his nose and blinked three times. Having collected his thoughts he asked one final question.

“Was there anything else the master left behind, anything that may seem unimportant to you, but to the keenly deductive mind may prove invaluable?”

Mrs. Scrubber bent her head in thought, resting her chin in her hands, with her elbows torturing her thin legs. Finally she looked up at Simpering.

“There was the numbers.”

“Numbers?”

“He wrote a line of numbers on a scrap of paper that he left beside the phone.”

“May I see it?”

“You can keep it, if it helps.”

:

:

Ventnor, the hillside town that nestles on the south coast of the Isle of Wight was plagued this day by a flock of screeching seagulls, gannets more like that swooped across the sky in low formations searching for food. Their voices sounded like the cries of tormented children or the ghosts of lost souls seeking solace. They wheeled and spun, white birds on a dark sky.

The sun had gone seeking shelter behind hoary clouds. The day was dreary as a sullen wind chilled the bones of the townspeople. Simian Simpering slapped one foot in front of the other as he tripped down a dismal incline. His head slipped inside his shoulders in an attempt to escape the biting breeze. In one hand he carried an umbrella. His other hand was tucked deep inside his trouser pocket.

One of Ventnor’s successful ventures was the antique business. A group of shops clung to each other beneath the roof of an uninspiring building that had once been a warehouse. Someone had placed a sign above the significant entrance. The sign read, ‘Almanac Antiques and Curios’. It was an insipid inscription but it appeared to attract sizeable crowds. Not that the people who visited were of considerable size, but rather, the browsers who visited arrived in vast numbers. Today, though, the normal clientele had stayed indoorsforced there, no doubt, by the inclement weather.

The detective found the shop he was looking for. It was of a cheerless faux Edwardian design, dreary as tea stains. The legend above the door startled him: ‘The Congregation of the Peculiar Fish’. Inside the shop was the woman he had come to interview: Velma Crackoneoff.

She gazed at him now, her face ash pale, with stark black eyebrows that curved menacingly above her eyes. Her nose was proud, if pronounced, as it felt its way stealthily toward her generous mouth. Her chin was weak, melting into the folds of her neck. Around her head a puzzle of hair strayed from her scalp in a corkscrew explosion. Her teeth were thin and long. She smiled.

“Welcome, Mister Simpering. It is good to meet you. Please take a seat.”

Simpering shivered into a Victorian balloon-backed chair, resting his forearms on the ornate, shapely hand rest. It was an attractive seat, but as uncomfortable as a bed of boulders.

“Absinthe?” asked the female seller of antiquities, arching her crow black eyebrows.

“Coffee.”

“Disgusting mud, I never drink it; Absinthe?”

“Perhaps tea?”

“Like ditch water. Absinthe?"

“Thank you.”

“You know why I never drink coffee?” asked Crackoneoff, her voice like dusted ice.

“No,” replied Simpering squeezing his buttocks closer together in the vain hope of creating more mass thereby adding comfort to his seating matter.

“In Bulgaria a friend once poured me a special coffee, a delicacy and highly thought of by those who are connoisseurs of such things. It was rare and expensive. I was told to savour the flavour, which I did. My friend then told me where the coffee comes from. Do you know where it comes from, Mister Simpering?”

“No.”

“The bean is eaten by a cat that digests the food, passing it through its alimentary canal before evacuating its bowel. This excremental delight is then roasted and sold to the public in jars. The thought of drinking a foul liquid that has come out of some feline anus does not whet my appetite.”  

Simian made a small, tight wheezing sound. His face revealed that he too disliked the thought of drinking liquid from anyone’s bottom, let alone a cat’s.

“Have some absinthe,” cooed the dame.

She poured a small amount of the drink into a very large glass. It was a vessel skilfully engraved with vine leaves that covered the naked body of a water nymph. Simpering took a tiny sip, coughed once and then put the drink down in front of him onto the brocade cloth that covered a rickety three legged table.

“I am a fan of yours,” said Velma, her voice thick with Eastern European phlegm, her eyebrows heavy with dust.

“Really?” replied Simpering, his face contorting with the taste of the vile liquid he had just swallowed.

“’The Wobbly Widow of Wessex; ‘The Rubber Duck Dagger,’ and of course, ‘The Enema Bandit’.”

“Ah, yes.”

“Your fame runs before you,” exhaled Velma in a breath of absinthe vapour as she ran her forefinger over the pallid skin of the detective’s left hand. He flinched and moved it away. While they spoke a group of Hasidic Jews passed by the shop window dressed in black hats and black coats, with trousers that had disagreed that morning with their shoes. A bearded, bespectacled Jew was reading from a black book. He looked as grim as Monday. Inside the shop it was still Sunday.

Behind Velma lay a collection of curious objects: a Prussian Officer’s helmet with a gilt, pointed shaft, a set of woodworking tools made of polished mahogany, a series of books designed in an art deco style, a bronze, life-sized statue of Tarwinkle Mullins, the oceanographer and famed aqua-mariner.

“I am looking for someone,” squeaked the ex-policeman.

“Aren’t we all?” smiled the collector of antiques, as she sipped again from her glass.

“A man referred to by some as ‘Stinkfinger Cuttlefish’.”

“Ahhhh,.” whispered the dame, her breath intoxicating Simpering as it wafted into his face. “Old Ebenezer. What’s he done this time?”

“Disappeared.”

“I see. You were wondering if I knew where he had disappeared to.”

“I was, yes.”

“Sorry.”

Outside the shop window two men carried an incredibly long ladder. It was so long that only one man could be seen at a time, and a minute passed before the second man appeared. Both men looked identical. This was perfectly acceptable, as they were twins. Both wore bowler hats, and both had bushy moustaches that decorated their top lips like ferrets at a barn dance. They might have been twins.

“Perhaps he ran off with a woman?” suggested Simpering.

“You mean the travel agent?”

“Do I?”

“More absinthe?”

“No thank you. I fear I have drunk too much for I cannot see, let alone feel my fingers.”

Velma poured herself another glass which she consumed in one gulp.

“Why don’t you visit this address?”  She pulled an impossibly long quill pen from the desk behind her, dipped it in a bottle of blue-black ink, and proceeded to scribble letters on a sheet of paper. She looked like Moses in drag thought Simpering.

Simpering thanked her, and then left. His legs left before him, while his head, filled with alcoholic fumes, followed soon after. He was unsure where his torso was.  A group of nuns, wimples white and freshly starched, hugged each other as he passed by. They seemed nervous at his presence, even when he doffed his hat at them.  A tiny burp passed his lips, followed by an acrid smell. He apologised out loud, but no one heard him.

The dull day drew damp circles on the pavement as he walked. He looked again at the note Velma Crackoneoff had given him. “Mirage Holidays – where illusions prove real.”

:

:

The road looked as if it had been drawn with a charcoal pencil. It was thin and grey, and along its course a line of cars drove, emitting white clouds from their exhausts that strung out behind them like balloons tied by string. The cars were blue, black, green and red. The sun shone in an exhausted sky. The sky was the palest of blues, so pale it might have been white.

Seagulls soared above the cars silent as nuns, their wing tips cutting the air. On the forlorn pavement a woman walked stiff as a broom leading three pampered poodles that paraded past, coiffured and scented. They looked like a circus of cotton buds. The woman called out to the dogs in tones of encouragement, “Zipper, Clipper, Dipper! Heel girls, heel.”

They ignored her, ruffling their fur as they walked.

Simian Simpering stood at the corner of a road looking at a shop. The shop was a travel agent, painted in vivid aquamarine. The shop’s name announced itself as “Mirage Holidays.” It was closed. A handwritten sign hung in the door window declaring the following: “MIRAGE HOLIDAYS ARE CLOSED FOR A FORTNIGHT DUE TO VACATION.”

He looked through the window. At the back of the shop a wall was covered with posters depicting various holiday destinations: Italy, France, Germany, Spain and Greece. The Greek poster seemed to have received more attention than any of the others. Surrounding it were additional images of Grecian temples, along with pictures of Aphrodite, Apollo and Zeus.

Simpering puckered his mouth and then looked about him. A smell of vinegar from the fish and chip shop opposite permeated the air. The smell was intoxicating, and so Simpering, feet at right angles, waddled across the road. As he thrust the shop’s door open a claxon sounded, brazen as a goose. From behind the counter a bearded man appeared. He looked dowdy as he wiped his hands over his apron.

“Kipper by name, fish and chip seller by trade. How may I best assist you, sir?” The welcome had been well rehearsed. It sounded rusty with overuse.

“Fish, please,” said Simpering, licking his lips in anticipation.

“No chips?” asked the be-whiskered gent.

“Just fish,” replied Simpering.

The fishmonger grunted acceptance.

“Cod, halibut, sole, plaice, octopi, eel, shark fin, squid, scampi?”

Simpering licked his lips again; a droplet of drool escaped his mouth. His tongue shot out and prevented it running down his chins. “Yes, please,” he squeaked.

The fishmonger’s eyebrows rose like twin half-moons. “Fair enough,” he said as he began frying. “I haven’t seen you around here before, have I?”

Simpering rolled his head from side to side in an imitation of a nodded negative. “I am a detective. I wanted to speak with the owner of the shop across the road.”

“Mirage Holidays?”

“Yes.”

“What are you detecting then?” asked the man as oil bubbled, hissed and spat.

“A disappearance. Do you know the owner of the holiday shop?”

The man indicated he did. “Candice Arrisol? Yes, I sort of know her; comes in here once in a while to buy chips. Not like you, though, as she never eats fish. She’s on holiday, you know.”

As he spoke the shop door opened again, letting in another customer. It was a young boy with a mushroom-shaped birthmark on his left cheek. The boy looked at Simpering inquisitively.  The birthmark looked blank.

The fishmonger saw the boy and called out, “Won’t be long, young man; just serving this detective gent first.”

The boy looked at Simpering again but without a glimmer of passion or interest. Simpering raised his hand to his mouth and then coughed.

“Candice Arrisol. Do you know where she has gone on vacation?”

A clatter of noise crashed the question as a dogged dust van pulled up outside the shop. The handbrake was applied with a croak of protest. The driver clambered down from the van, followed by a team of four men, all of whom, with cigarettes lit and hung like lanterns from their clenched teeth, burst into the fish shop. The tumult of their conversation erupted as though it were a riot of topics. Football, sex, beer and food, then sex again seemed to be the subjects at the forefront of their minds.

“Be with you gents in a minute, I am just serving this detective bloke.”

The dustmen all looked with interest at the frog-like Simpering.

“Candice Arrisol?” asked the detective, risking repeating himself.

Fishmonger Kipper glanced at the diminutive detective, frowned and then snorted.

“I don’t know. She didn’t tell me where she was going, she just went.”

The door opened again with the same hideous sound of a claxon farting. A young couple strode in, he in a leather jacket, she in a skirt that revealed more than it promised. The heads of the dustmen turned as they all eyed her approvingly. She seemed unaware of their attention but continued to harangue her boyfriend. “I didn’t say you had to buy me one, but I thought you might at least have given it some thought. That’s your problem though, isn’t it? You never give anything much thought. Me Mum said all men were like that but I said, ‘Not my Calvin, he’s not like that,’ but oh how wrong I was. It wasn’t a demand, it was just a thought, but you didn’t, did you? Think, I mean. I know what you said, but I spend a lot of time on my own, and when you are not there, what am I meant to do? Just get all unnecessary, waiting for you to return? Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that you aren’t the best, you know you are but a girl has feelings too, and sometimes you are away for days. They aren’t expensive either. My gran has one and she loves it. You will think about it, won’t you Calvin?”

Calvin nodded that he would.

Kipper the fishmonger called out to the couple. “Shan’t be long, just serving this investigative detective chappie here,” he assured them.

The couple looked at Simpering disapprovingly: they had no idea what an investigative detective was, but they strongly thought they wouldn’t like one. The fishmonger passed the packet of fish to Simpering, who greedily accepted it as he foraged in his pocket for change.

Having paid, he was turning to leave the shop when the boy with the mushroom birthmark on his face tugged at his sleeve. “Bournemouth,” he said, “She’s gone to Bournemouth.”

:

:

The old man sat stock still, a fedora on his head. He watched as a short, fat-faced man walked toward him. The other man had a strange gait. His feet stuck out at right angles, and they appeared to flap against the paving slabs.

The first man tapped the bowl of his pipe against the sole of his boot heel. He watched as the ash fell like confetti, then he refilled the pipe, dragging a match across the rough surface of the brick wall behind him.

The odd looking, round-headed, foot flapping man now stood directly in front of him, wheezing breathlessly. The walk up the hill had obviously tired him. The old man waited patiently as the other got his breath back. The old man was shocked when the odd one spoke: the voice that assaulted his ears was an octave higher than he had expected.

“Hello, I am Simian Simpering, Private Investigator. You must be Flanders Flanderson.”

The old man inclined his head to the left in acknowledgement of the fact that he indeed was. “How can I help you?” When the man spoke it was a distant rumble. His words seemed to come from somewhere deep within him. It was a cavernous articulation of words that rolled heavily, as with a great weight of meaning or intent. It was like the tolling of a bell at midnight. The man was obviously Welsh.

“I am seeking to find someone.”

“Who might that someone be?”

“Ebenezer Cuttlefish.”

The old man sucked heartily on his pipe, letting small plumes of smoke billow from the corner of his mouth. He reminded Simpering of a locomotive from the great age of steam.

“I am not sure I am familiar with that name. Is he from around here?”

Simpering rolled his head as he ran his forefinger around his shirt collar. This rolling was what passed for a no.

“He lives, or rather lived, on the Isle of Wight.”

The old man sat back in his deckchair as he pulled upon his pipe, now satisfied that it was truly lit. A lazy cloud of smoke rose from his lips, drifting about his face and head as though trying to hide the old man’s features. “I used to holiday there as a child. My parents took my sister and I there each summer. That of course was a long while ago. I am not sure I would recognise the place now.”

Simpering again ran his forefinger around his shirt collar. He looked uncomfortable. The old man judged it to be from the walk up the hill. “Would you like a drink of something? I have a jug of iced tea in the kitchen. We could go and sit in there, if you would like that?”

Simpering smiled an amphibian smile, all watery insincerity. “Thank you; that would be most welcome.”

The old man rose slowly from the deck chair, obviously with some effort. His joints creaked as he stood up, indicating arthritis. Simpering followed the old man into his house. Inside the décor was unfussy, minimal. The floor of the expansive hallway was plain pine. The walls were painted a nondescript colour. The hall had nothing in it apart from a large painting on the wall that bore the signature, “Don Van Vliet.” Simpering took this to be some old Dutch master. He thought the painting was awful, a series of sketched lines and blobs of paint.

They walked into the kitchen. A large pine table stood centrally in the room. In the middle of the table was a clear glass jug filled with a light brown liquid.

“Please sit down,” said the old man.

Simpering did as asked. He sat as the old man poured the drink into a tall glass. Through an open window a gentle breeze blew. Through the same window flew a parakeet with vivid coloured plumage. In its beak it carried a letter. It landed on the old man’s arm.

“Hello Brazen. Have you something for me?”

The old man took the letter from the beak of the bird, which hopped from his arm onto the kitchen worktop. Opening the letter as Simpering sipped at his iced tea, the old man smiled. He then folded the letter, which he placed in his trouser pocket.

“Now then, where were we?”

Simpering gave a high-pitched cough. He placed the glass back on the kitchen table and then looked through his hooded eyes at the old man. “Ebenezer Cuttlefish,” wheezed the detective.

“Ah, yes, the man you are looking for who resides on the Isle of Wight.”

Simpering weakly smiled. “The very same, but I need to know if he is now in Bournemouth.”

The old man laughed a hearty laugh. So loud was it that the parakeet squawked, then flew out of the open window, defecating as it left. It alighted on a monkey puzzle tree in the garden. “Hence your visit today,” grinned the old man, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes.

“I need to establish whether he is here or not,” said Simpering.

The old man pulled out a pen from a drawer. From another he pulled out a sheet of paper upon which he wrote two lines:

EBENZER CUTTLEFISH.

BOURNEMOUTH?                                                                                                               He folded the letter in three, then went to another drawer from which he produced an envelope. He pushed the letter into it, then turned to the open window and whistled softly. The parakeet flew to the window ledge, its beak open. The old man placed the letter into the bird’s beak and then waggled his fingers dismissively. The parakeet turned and flew away. Simpering looked on agog.

“You didn’t address the envelope,” he chided.

The old man looked sternly at the ex-policemen.

“I know my business,” he said. “Brazen knows his. He will return within the hour with an answer. More iced tea?”

“Thank you,” said Simian Simpering, none the wiser.

The hour ticked and tocked in a dull sort of way. The parakeet returned as the old man said it would. The bird dropped a note into the old mans lap which the old man picked up, unfolded, read and then smiled at Simpering.

“Ever been to Greece?” he asked.

:

:

A distant tolling of a single bell accompanied by a lone dog barking began the day. It was already hot. Simian Simpering threw back the cover from his bed, then placed his feet on the tiled floor. Even that was warm. He stood up and stretched one way, then the other. He clasped his hands above his head, bent his legs and then did five squats. His face went so red that he looked in danger of his head igniting: a beetroot-red Buddha. His exercises over, he went to the bathroom, where he brushed his teeth, emptied his bladder, then ran a bath. He poured a dribble of scent into the bath, swishing the water around with his fingers and then climbed in.

The water lapped around his chin as he lay luxuriating in the perfumed comfort. Outside the bell had stopped, but the dog continued barking. Wrapping a white towel around his corpulent midriff, he clambered out of the bath, then flip-flapped wet-footed back to his bedroom, where he dressed in a straw boater, a white shirt undone at the throat, and a thickly striped blue blazer with white linen trousers. He looked very much like Toad of Toad Hall. Neglecting to eat breakfast, he left his villa and began the long walk down a crooked road that bent around a hill.

In front he could see the ocean, a startling blue vision that gently bucked and throbbed, stirred by the early morning sun. An overwhelming blanket of heat, followed by a sawdust wind, ran its abrasive hand across his face. He licked his lips, thrusting his chin forward to receive the sun’s kiss. It was a robust wind, but not unkind. He didn’t mind it at all. Rhodes waited before him, a Colossus from a far gone age.

The hotel ranged down the side of the mountain, a village within a town. A host of umbrellas crowded around a regiment of tables like mushrooms around paving slabs. He stepped forward, feet firmly marking the hour sign of ten to two. Doffing his hat to a widow in black, he waddled down the road, then started the upward ascent to Rhodes. It was to the hotel that he looked and now steadfastly stepped.

Half an hour later, sweating profusely, he marched into the hotel foyer. Waving his straw boater in front of his face, he approached the front desk. A tanned man with a thick moustache that lay above a banana-bent mouth did his best to smile at Simpering. The man said something in Greek that Simpering took to be a greeting.

“Hello,” wheezed the detective. “I wonder if you can help me?”

 “If I can.” The Greek man seemed a little taken aback by the high-pitched, altitude-defying voice of the froglike man.

“Is there a letter for me?”

“A letter, sir?”

“Yes. Mister Smith said he would leave it here for me to collect. He is still here, isn’t he? I haven’t missed him?”

The desk clerk spun the hotel register around, then quickly ran his eyes over it. “No sir, he is still here. Would you like me to let him know you are here?”

“That’s very kind of you, but we have already arranged to meet at the Acropolis.”

With a nod of his head Simpering turned and left. Outside, warm air wafted around the detective’s face. Sounds of the market place drifted in on the mildly scented breeze. He walked on past a woman who sat with legs spread like tent rods beneath the volume of her heavy skirt.  Her belly rose and fell like a hideous bellows. She waited outside her shop, smoking a charred black cigarette. She called out to Simpering in her native tongue. Simpering didn’t understand a word of it, so he smiled, doffed his hat and then passed on to the next shop, where a curvaceous young woman with more frontage than the local supermarket stared at him.

“Hello mister,” she smiled through the whitest of teeth, speaking in perfect English.

“Is this the right way to the port?” asked Simpering.

The girl pointed in the direction Simpering was already heading.

“Thank you.”

The day sighed wearily; it was a melancholic note that reflected the detective’s tiredness. Seeing a small café lurking down the shaded corridor of a high-walled alleyway, Simpering went down it until he reached the entrance that matched the sign he had seen. There was a small pond surrounded by tables above which a host of open parasols bloomed. He dragged a chair across the cobbled courtyard, then sat down at a table. A flighty young female dressed in jeans and white blouse approached him.

“May I have a Campari and ice please?”

The girl giggled, then nodded manically before rushing away in a hush of denim and cotton. She returned minutes later, bearing a tray upon which was a tall glass chinking with ice. She giggled again and placed the drink before him. Then she stood beside him, twitching nervously as she waited for payment. Simpering pulled out his leather purse, produced a note of lightweight monetary value and passed it to the girl.

“Keep the change,” he said, with self-imposed importance.

The girl fled the scene, giggling as she went, leaving Simpering to sip at his drink. As he drank, he thought. His thoughts gathered wings of fancy that flew in ever decreasing circles around his ever-active brain; a house in Shanklin; an antique centre in Ventnor; a beach in Bournemouth; a series of handwritten numbers; a hotel in Rhodes. What did it all mean? The detective drew a deep breath and then sipped again at his Campari.

Putting down the half empty, half-filled glass on the table before him, he opened the letter he had received from Mrs. Scrubber in response to his own communication. Her writing was a scrabble of letters poured onto the page in defiance of syntax or structure.


Dear Sir,


Thank you for your most decent letter to me at the above address as I was at my sisters feeling depressed and lonely, me that is, not my sister, for worrying about my master and what condition he may now be in, I mean is he alive or dead or worse, something in between? Heaven forbid I say, heaven forbid. But I have been so stricken with worry that I couldn’t dust let alone cook, for if I did I may very well have casseroled my duster and broom instead of carrots and broccoli.

Thank you for letting me know Mister Cuttlefish isn’t with that strumpet. That he hasn’t moved to Bournemouth as I feared he might. It is a place of retired fossils, so I couldn’t easily conceive of him retiring there. I know he has his funny ways but washing in formaldehyde isn’t one of them, and his dentures were only there as he had hygiene issues with his gums, not his choppers. Glad to know he isn’t there. That is a real weight off of my piles and no mistake. She may fancy herself, but lord knows I think she looks more like a lobster after the pot if you know what I mean?

I am going to stay at my sister’s for the next week or three, so if you need to write to me then please send to the address as above, as my sister doesn’t mind odd letter from odd men. Not that you are at all odd, even though this whole business is.


Best retards,


Mrs. Scrubber


Simpering re-folded the letter, which he then placed back in his pocket. Then he took his glass and drained it. He let out a burp that sounded like an informed, polite croak, if burping aloud can ever be such, before standing up. He brushed his hands down his clothes, took his hat from the table and put it on his head. The sun was still stirring the day. Heat was shimmering off the tiled rooftops.  The sky was an azure backdrop for the sun to glaze. At the edge of Rhodes was its famed port. That was where Simpering was now headed, where the cats roamed wild.

:

:

Feral cats appear to have a claim on the docks of Rhodes. They roam free with impunity in vast gangs. You will see them dotted about the place, lounging on walls, lying beneath arches or walking in pairs along the streets. The fact that this is Greece and not Egypt may at first seem puzzling, for the feline friends seem given the same rights as those once accorded by the ancient Pharaohs. If they have names, no one knows them, but one suspects there is at least one Bubastis among them somewhere.

Simpering sat licking an ice cream. It was held in a tub which had a wooden spoon set beneath the lid. The detective scooped out a lump of the frozen foodstuff and held it to his mouth on the end of the spoon. His tongue flicked out as nimble as lightning. As he ate, he observed a man who sat some distance from him on the sea wall. The man was thin, but not painfully so. It was not the thinness brought on by lack of food, but rather by diligent exercise. The man looked to be in fine fettle. One could even go so far as to say he was at the peak of human fitness. He may have been a jogger or perhaps a cyclist or even someone who partook of squash. Simpering didn’t know the man’s sport of choice; he just knew, from keen observation, that the man was fit.

Simpering, on the other hand, was anything but fit. He seldom exercised, unless it was to walk to the lavatory, and he ate far too much. His thoughts took regular exercise normally when chasing imaginary fat bottomed girls around plush bedrooms. In fairness, his favourite food was fish which was said to be very healthy for you, but his love of rice pudding, in vast quantities, very definitely wasn’t. The tub of ice cream he was now consuming was his third in the last hour. He thought of it as keeping the flavour going. His tongue, though, chilled to the back of his throat, was beginning to issue a warning of having had enough.

A cavalcade of taxis drove past, horns tooting. A boy with a balloon chased his parents, who had walked on ahead. The balloon bobbed and wobbled. “How fine the skyline looks,” thought Simpering, as he watched the blue reach seemingly forever. It dressed the sea with a matching colour as seamlessly as though they were one. Groups of tourists meandered by, holding cameras and posing against ancient walls. It was easy to imagine the Colossus straddling the harbour, stout legs standing strong against surf and sun.

Simpering finished eating the ice cream. He scrunched up the empty carton and then tossed it into a bin. Avoiding the temptation to purchase another, he stood up, brushed down his trousers and then walked toward the man sitting on the dockside wall. A coach, filled with empty seats and driven by a sallow-skinned sausage of a man, slid between the pavement and the road, effectively blocking Simpering’s path. As the detective was halfway across the road with traffic approaching, he had no choice but to turn back. He stood looking at the driver, whose thick bottom lip jutted out sullenly. From down the road a siren broke the tranquil aspect of the sea town. An ambulance battled its way against the cars that lined the road. Eventually it passed Simpering, its lights blinking and blazing urgently. It faded with the sound of its siren, leaving the coach standing still. Its driver opened his window and looked out. As he did so, the traffic started moving taking the coach with it. Simpering looked twice, but the man he wanted to speak with had moved on.

:

:

Simpering had returned to his villa, where he had bathed. He seldom took a shower, preferring as he did to luxuriate in a hot bath filled with scented water. This time he had used the bubble bath he had bought earlier from the market. It gave off an aroma of honeysuckle. He liked that smell, so he poured an overly generous amount into the bath as the water was running. By the time the water had risen to the tub’s rim, the bubbles had scaled the walls and were touching the ceiling. Unperturbed, Simpering slid in.

He sniffed dreamily at the froth that surrounded him. His eyes glazed over with sheer joy at the bliss of feeling hot water rise to his ears. The bubbles added to the overall effect of sinking into a heaven of heated balm.

He remained in the tub, occasionally topping it up with fresh hot water, the effect of which was to raise the level even higher, until water cascaded over the rim, splashing noisily onto the tiled floor. Simpering appeared unconcerned. He simply lay with eyes narrowed to slits, licking his lips in sheer ecstasy.

After an hour and a half, he rose like a reduced Poseidon from the depths. His skin was sickly white and flaccid, with a host of wrinkles that scored his flesh with their puckered lines. Wrapping a large white towel around his shoulders and then tugging it in close to his chins, he left the water-filled bathroom behind and went into the living room, then out onto the patio.

He looked at the distant horizon. A red sun was sinking into the cobalt sea. Simpering felt there should be steam rising from the ocean, as it appeared that the rubicund orb was sliding beneath the cool waters. The pool in front of him looked chilly, and even though the approaching evening was still warm, the detective shivered.

Returning to the living room, he closed and locked the patio doors, ensuring they were secure. He then went up the cold tiled stairs to his bedroom, where he dressed in a linen suit of pale khaki. He set his feet into a pair of leather sandals. His feet were large and long; disproportionately so when compared to the rest of him.

When he was finally dressed he took a straw boater from the wardrobe and set it upon his head. The rim of the hat slipped down where it confronted his ears, which conceded defeat and bent slightly at the weight of the millinery.

Outside the evening drew in upon itself. Cicadas creaked like broken saxophones. Stray cats slunk along walls, playing at being shadows. The lone dog that barked to greet the break of day was now giving dusk the same courtesy. Street lamps flickered on, looking wan and thin. A fat woman carrying a bundle of washing hurried by; her nose was large and her chin whiskered. She was dressed in widow’s weeds of black.

Simpering made his way back to Rhodes. There was a restaurant he liked that had two trees with white hoops painted on their rough bark. One tree leant to the right, the other to the left. Forming a bridge between the two was a shelf upon which a selection of jars stood.

He found a suitable seat and settled himself down. A waiter approached, asking if he would like a drink; then he place the menu before him.

“A Campari with lots of ice please,” said Simpering, searching the menu for dishes containing fish.

The waiter bowed and then hurried away. A street cat sneaked in under the table and rubbed its head against the detective’s leg, mewling softly. Simpering ignored it. More cats arrived as the waiter returned, carrying the Campari and ice on a wooden tray. Simpering thanked the man, sipped slowly on his drink and gazed about a bit..

“Are you ready to order yet sir?” enquired the waiter, with an exotic jumble of vowels.

Simpering said he was, but still run his finger up and down the menu.

“Calamari.”

“No starter sir?”

“Calamari.”

“And the main course?”

“Calamari.”

“I see and for desert?”

“Rice pudding.”

“Certainly sir.”

The waiter wafted away. The cats remained, staring now at Simpering from the sanctuary of the tiny wall that surrounded the twin trees. The kitten that had tried to gain his attention had given up and was now working its act on a young couple who had just arrived. Light was fading now, and the street lights shone like shrunken stars captured behind bowls of glass. Simpering had been studying the young couple when an embarrassed cough alerted him to another’s presence.

“Ahem.”

Simpering looked up. It was the man he had tried to speak with at the harbour.

“May I join you?”

Simpering indicated he might. “Please, take a seat,” said the detective.

:

:

The brass plaque on the black door still declared in Goudy Old Style: “Ebenezer Cuttlefish – Dealer in Antiques.” It remained, thought Simian Simpering, a particularly attractive font. He looked at his wrist watch. It read ten twenty-eight. He was two minutes early. He lifted the brass knocker and commenced to boldly knock twice.

From behind the door the familiar sound of the scuffling footfall of Mrs. Scrubber could clearly be heard. The door opened, revealing the woman looking much as she had the last time they had met.

“Mister Simpering! How good to see you sir. Why, I was only thinking of you this morning as I was pouring bleach down the old porcelain trumpet. Come in, come in.”

Simpering followed the three-tiered woman with stick-thin legs down the hallway with its curious, hallucinogenic wallpaper.

“I haven’t got you anything to eat sir, as I didn’t know you were coming. Would you like a cup of something –  tea or coffee or cocoa?”

Simpering coughed meekly, adjusting his necktie as he did.

“A pot of tea would be most welcome,” he wheezed.

The tea soon arrived, but sadly, as far as Simpering was concerned, with no sign of fairy cakes. He waited as Mrs. Scrubber stirred the pot with a silver spoon. Then she poured the steaming brew through the strainer into the polite white teacups that sat idly awaiting the hot liquid’s caress.

“Well, sir, what news, of me master I mean?”

Simpering picked up the cup from the saucer, stuck out his little finger and sipped genteelly. He returned cup to saucer with a mild-mannered clink and then looked directly at the housekeeper.

“I now know why he was called ‘Stinkfinger,’” said the detective, with confidence.

“As I said last time you was here sir, on account of the Turkish fags he smoked.”

“No, that is not correct. Your master never smoked Turkish cigarettes. Your master had the habit of smoking marijuana!”

Mrs. Scrubber looked appalled.

“Mister Cuttlefish? Are you sure sir?”

“Indeed I am. I can prove it to from the evidence of the ash that I took when I last visited.”

“Well I never. But what about that strumpet he was consorting with, that provider of carnal pleasures; that siren of soft beds and rubber Basques, that whore of Babylonian legend?”

“Candice Arrisol?”

“A loose woman’s name if I ever heard one!”

“She is a travel agent.”

“Well then, I hope she likes sex and travel.”

“Whatever for?”

“So she can fuck off.”

Simpering ignored the obscenity.

 “Your master visited her shop seeking advice on a holiday destination. He was uncertain whether to go to Italy, Spain, Turkey or Greece.”

“He hasn’t run off with this Candice then?”

“No. She is in a relationship with a barber from Bournemouth.”

“Oh! But what of my master, sir? Did you locate him, is he safe?”

Simpering lifted the cup to his mouth again, taking another delicate sip with his extended lips.

”Your master is fine. Let me explain this odd little mystery that has so upset you. The numbers you found written down were in fact a series of numbers from a lottery ticket. They were indeed the winning numbers. Your master won a sizeable amount of money!”

Mrs. Scrubber could contain herself no longer which, when considering her physique resembled three tyres stuck one on top of the other, was not surprising.

“How much money, sir?”

“Enough for him to take up residency in Rhodes; enough for him to have met the young daughter of a Greek shipping magnate and to offer her a proposal of marriage, enough to leave his business behind and start life anew on foreign soil.”

Mrs. Scrubber started to blubber. She pulled her hankie from her sleeve and loudly blew her nose.

“What of me sir? Oh, what of me?”

Simpering laid his hand upon the housekeeper’s knee, which fortunately she didn’t object to.

“Your master is not an unkindly soul. He has made sure you will be secure.”

“He’s left me his house! I knew it! God bless him for a saint!”

Simpering screwed up his face. The look was not a pleasant one. Mrs. Scrubber was a little alarmed by it.

“Sadly, no, he didn’t leave you anything, but he did sell the property to me, and as I need both a home and office to work from, I wondered if you might work for me?”

Mrs. Scrubber smiled. “I’d best go and get some more fairy cakes then, hadn’t I sir?”

“And fish,” said Simpering.

“A nice little plaice sir?”

“I think I could grow to like it,” replied Simpering.



. . . Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

3 comments:

LeeKwo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LeeKwo said...

The wayward ways of Russell CJ Duffy
“Dredging Silkworms and Ten Reversible Faces"

The girl giggled, then nodded manically before rushing away in a hush of denim and cotton. She returned minutes later, bearing a tray upon which was a tall glass chinking with ice. She giggled again and placed the drink before him. Then she stood beside him, twitching nervously as she waited for payment. Simpering pulled out his leather purse, produced a note of lightweight monetary value and passed it to the girl]
This is brilliant the whole story is inspiring and has some great insights into how we are as humans/.
[Outside the evening drew in upon itself. Cicadas creaked like broken saxophones. Stray cats slunk along walls, playing at being shadows. The lone dog that barked to greet the break of day was now giving dusk the same courtesy. Street lamps flickered on, looking wan and thin. A fat woman carrying a bundle of washing hurried by; her nose was large and her chin whiskered. She was dressed in widow’s weeds of black]
Its so original its difficult to compare to anything else/You need to publish something/Simian Simpering and Mrs Scrubber need to be introduced to the world/Unfortunately I haven’t read any of the texts you offer as similarities to this work/Private Detector and Surrealist Investigator/
The characters are certainly grotesque and the humour hilarious/black/
[The sun had gone seeking shelter behind hoary clouds. The day was dreary as a sullen wind chilled the bones of the townspeople. Simian Simpering slapped one foot in front of the other as he tripped down a dismal incline. His head slipped inside his shoulders in an attempt to escape the biting breeze. In one hand he carried an umbrella. His other hand was tucked deep inside his trouser pocket.] Great observation/imagination/Well done mate/

twh said...

simpering and scrubber end up together? well, after a fashion anyway. i wonder if simian's thoughts will now turn to chasing mrs scrubber's fat bottom around the house....

will simian have his own 'goudy old style' shingle now? and will there be more to read in the not-too-distant future?