The summer sun beat down upon the head of Craggy Ampule Ponce. It made him feel rather good about himself but then again feeling good about himself was de rigeur as far as Craggy was concerned. After all, he thought, I care bugger all about anyone else.
As the sun shone it glanced idly off the glass of Portuguese plonk that stood on the café table. The sun made the wine look all the redder, almost incandescent crimson. Craggy pulled a face then sipped at his drink of choice. It was a visage used to inform anyone observing him that he knew a thing or two about wine. The fact he didn’t was immaterial. Life was a game of impressions and Craggy was used to impressing all the right people for all the wrong reasons.
Born West of London from the union of an able factory worker named Stan and an ample hipped woman named Gladys, Craggy had grown up on the narrow ledge of life where the wind blows bitter and cold baths are better than the taunted ‘smelly, smelly, flies on your belly’ of contemporaries.
Being ten years his elder sibling’s junior had meant young Craggy had grown up a virtual only child. His brother, Roger Andrew, was like their father, short and vindictive. He had no time, certainly no love, for his baby brother. He didn’t so much detest him as denied his existence. They never did anything together, not even fight. The silence between them was celestial. It went on forever.
Childhood friendships were fraught with petty jealousies that extended beyond the schoolyard into adult life. Where Craggy’s chums found success, Craggy found failure.
Annie had been a mistake. He could see that now. Starting a relationship with someone with learning difficulties had not given him a second thought. After all her father was a junior member of parliament so proved very useful in the scheme of things. Hampton, Annie’s father, had been a darn good sport. He had taken his little angel’s boyfriend out to some of the swankiest restaurants in London. He then introduced him to a lifestyle Craggy had hitherto been unfamiliar with but soon grew to like.
Annie’s weight problem hadn’t overly bothered Craggy. True he liked his women petite with rather prominent features. Annie certainly had that. Her arse was, as Craggy once commented to a friend, a place you could park your trailer van in and forget about it for the weekend. Their sex life had been robust. Craggy’s bedroom prowess extended as far as his imagination which in turn was limited by his singular lack of sensitivity. Foreplay was, as far as he was concerned, something one shouted when playing a round of golf.
Craggy’s preferred technique was to grip the woman’s ankles before forcing her legs onto her chest whereupon he, having uttered gung-ho, would drive himself into her. It was, he told his friends, the Dominant Slavic. It was certainly a position that had surprised Annie when first enacted. Being a female of large proportions, her breasts had been squeezed so thoroughly by her thighs that they oozed down her side like melting putty. Her mirrored reflection made her look like a Dali painting.
Craggy had managed, having taken the balance out of their shared business account, without his partner’s knowledge, to book a long weekend away at La Tremoille. Paris being the evocation all things romantic and with the hotel, just a short walk away from the Champs-Elysees and the river it had seemed the best thing to impress Hampton with. And if Annie found it as intoxicating as he hoped: Bingo!
They had done all the touristy things including Notre Dame, The Eifel Tower, walking along the Seine then eating at L'Astrance. The restaurant had vertiginous prices that had made Craggy inwardly blanche but he was later rewarded when overhearing Annie talking to her father. Daddy, you have seen nothing like it. I mean the prices were unbelievable. Happy? Of course, I’m happy. I’m in love.
The air of monetary C'est la vie had also impressed the boy from Wanstead. Having grown up in a council house with a stunted father whose idea of parental guidance was the leather belt he wore about his waist and a mother who knew her place, the idea of spending money as though it were tap water impressed him. So did the attention he gained from young females seeing him in the company of such a well-known individual. Craggy was, at the stage in his life, a man of champagne tastes with an H2O bank balance. That, he promised himself, was about to change.
Nonetheless, he and Annie were as compatible as sewage and sauvignon blanc. The sex had been unremarkable but he couldn’t complain about that, it was more to do with the conversation that cantered around a sort of verbal two-step featuring Winnie-the-Pooh and an inebriated Don Quixote. To say it was painfully puerile was understating the obvious. Still, the silver cufflinks and the Mont Blanc fountain pen had come in rather handy.
Craggy knew precisely when the affair has turned sour. It was after the visit to Hever Castle. He hadn’t minded going round that ruddy water maze but Annie’s insistence she soaked him to the bone had proven a tad too much. Of course, that had only been the start of it. What really brought matters to the boil, as it were, occurred when Hampton received his little angel’s credit card bill. At first, Hampton couldn’t quite understand why his daughter had bought another Rolex but girls being girls he let it pass. The suit from Gieves and Hawkes costing three thousand pounds, a man’s suit at that, was a different matter. Hampton felt himself unravel at the seams.
The meeting at the Ritz hadn’t gone as Craggy had wished. Calling Hampton a dry wank was not received in the ironic manner it had been meant. Sharp words were uttered. Hampton made it perfectly clear what Craggy should do with himself but not being adequately flexible or double jointed proved a physically impossible task.
There wasn’t a tearful goodbye from one heartbroken lover to another, no Romeo and Juliet. Craggy did what Craggy does best; he scarpered leaving Annie to weep alone. As Annie cried so Hampton contemplated his options as he polished his twelve-bore. The activity was purely therapeutic but the notion did have appeal even if an extended residency at Wormwood Scrubs didn’t.
Craggy decided a career in catering might be the order of the day
Richard Hindsmudge, one of Craggy’s oldest and best of friends, had devised a scheme, bona fide in every respect, which called for a business to respond to a catering establishments needs in times of emergency with cutlery and, if necessary, crockery. Richard has inherited means enough to both support himself but also to invest in entrepreneurial plans if they presented themselves. Neither short on capital nor intellect if woefully lacking in character judgement, Richard had not the required skills to present a business. He needed someone with prerequisite amounts of B and S but also the nerve to promote such an enterprise to the market.
Realising Craggy’s godlike skills in selling fish to fishermen the obvious plan formulated in his mind to which, when explained to C.A.P was snapped up fingers and all. A partnership, made in heaven or so it seemed, was created.
“It’s like that old song,” suggested Richard as he and Craggy sipped champagne whilst dining at the Savoy, “I have the brains, you have the looks, let’s make lots of money.”
The truth of the matter could have been couched more accurately as ‘I have the money and you the ability to sell.’ Craggy just smiled as he accepted the password and bank details to their joint account.
Hindsmudge and Ponce sounded suspiciously like a pair of solicitors or worse, estate agents. Craggy came up with the name Arcard which was the letters from the two friends names cut-up then merged together. Richard thought this was a brilliant name for the business which it was. It wasn’t Craggy’s though. He half inched the name from ‘Puddles’ Morgan one of their coke snorting buddies before registering the name as his creation. Well, mates are mates after all and what is mine is mine and what is yours is mine too. All for one and all that especially when the one in question is Craggy Ampule Ponce.
Arcard flew like the proverbial. It had the wings of a dove and the growth of a hormonal teenager. Within two years they, have given themselves healthy wages that allowed them to forage around London’s nightclubs sniffing this and shagging that at whim and as the fancy took them. Then Craggy caught sight of Maria, a dainty Greek girl with large liquid brown eyes, a prominent nose, a feature he liked and a wealthy father who owned a successful chain of restaurants which he liked even more.
The relationship started in a gentleman’s convenience in ‘Django's Den’ off Holborn whilst hunkered down on all fours snorting cocaine from the seat of the lavatory. It was a beginning that never bode well. However, Maria liked it buns-up and Craggy was ever happy to oblige. Cocaine and copulation – the fruit of the gods thought the young ponce as his balls banged against the Greek girl’s vulva.
Captivated completely by the diminutive darling, her features, her sex drive and her bulging purse, the Prince of Charms felt the odd embrace of love grip his heart.
“This is the one,” he told Richard as the pair slipped LSD tabs beneath their eyelids, “I am smitten.”
Smitten he was and so much so he felt the need to impress both daughter and father, for after all when fishing for the big one large bait is often required.
Being lovers of cricket both Richard and Craggy were members of the notorious ‘Whackers’ fan club, a society pledged to follow where England went and support their team with all their passionate might. They, along with six mutual acquaintances, booked holidays to coincide with England’s tour of the land down under.
Australia beckoned as only Oz can but Craggy had other plans. Maria had seen a ring she loved, a stonkingly large diamond set upon shoulders of white gold, first spotted in a shop in Covent Garden. The boy from backstreets fully intended she should have it.
In his head, self-centred and self-obsessed as it was, he truly felt something for the girl. If the other half of his mind was merely seeking to impress his prospective, father-in-law then what of it? He was in love. Being rich and in love was nothing but an added bonus, double bubble in the lottery of life.
They made love that night, Maria and Craggy. She, backside raised and on her customary all fours, he armed with a tiny sprinkle of cocaine which, having licked his forefinger first, he jabbed into her anus before applying a dash to her clitoris.
“It makes us go like steam-driven engines.” he had told her as he wrapped his legs around hers like a hermit crab trying to gain entry into a shell, “it’ll make the sex last forever and when we come it’ll be with a bang.”
His description of their drug-fuelled congress ably described the flight to Australia although the landing went more with a bump than a bang.
The first day of the test went as predicted, less well than predicted ordained, as England’s batsmen couldn’t swat a fly let alone a red leather ball flying at them at max velocity. Undeterred by the wilting willies of the woebegone wicketeers, the gang of six, Richard, Craggy, Gussie, Si, Des and Hugh decamped to the drinking pavilion whereupon they all got roaring drunk, abused the Aussie female staff before tar and feathering a young gay male using Crème de menthe and peanuts. They were abruptly ejected by Melbourne Cricket Club’s security guard so retreated, much like their team, with tails between legs back to their hotel rooms.
It was whilst Richard, fully Brahms and very Liszt, collapsed upon his mattress, that Craggy telephoned home. The call he made was to the bank; to be precise, to the bank where he and Richard had their shared business account. Instructing the clerk to transfer £50,000 into his personal funds, Craggy lay back smiling and smug. The next day, having made up some cock and bull story about Maria being unwell, he flew home, went straight to the bank, took out the cash required and then beetled over to Covent Garden where he purchased the ring of his beloved’s desire.
That night, by way of celebration having asked for the hand of his true love in marriage, he plucked another ring as apparently, Maria liked anal sex. She really was his kind of gal.
The months preceding the wedding were fraught with threats of litigation. Once having discovered how his friend had financially deflowered him Richard became incensed with righteous rage.
“The bastard stole fifty grand from me.” He bellowed puce-faced at his legal advisor Esmond Fillet who gathered pen and pad before starting to jot down notes. He looked up from beneath his Pince-nez.
“He didn’t actually.”
“What do you mean he didn’t? It’s there in black and white in the statement. Craggy removed fifty thousand quid from the account.”
The solicitor coughed then arched an eyebrow.
“It was a joint business account,” he stated matter-of-factly.
“Whose bloody side are you on?” demanded Richard the veins in his neck gathering like thick cord.
“Yours but let us deal with the facts coldly and with as little emotion as possible otherwise the law will twist your anger until it strangles you.”
Which was exactly what Richard would have liked to have done to his erstwhile friend – strangled him.
Craggy studied himself in the cheval mirror. He cut a fine figure he thought to himself, a bit like Henry VIII, all firm calves and generous girth – very manly in a bulky kind of way. His face had charm too. Okay, the nose looked in need of straightening. His injury on the field of Rugby, ruggers being his sport of choice after cricket, had bent the facial apparatus a bit but that surely added character?
He tugged the knot of his tie into position ensuring his shirt didn’t crease. Dressed only in shirt and socks with underwear, suit and shoes lying on the bed he recalled last night’s bedtime gymnastics. How Maria had the flexibility to perform such an act was beyond him. He could barely touch his own toes let alone lick his anus. The memory aroused him. He stood looking at his erection rising up begging attention. Tonight would be his honeymoon but the thought of her delectable posterior meant prompt action was required now. If the act of masturbation has any point apart from self-pleasure then perhaps it is to ensure seed as that of such a man is only ever spent fertilizing the wash basin.
Having completed the necessary Craggy was a little alarmed when the door to his room flew open and in shot Maria in a wedding dress looking like a cat who has had the bird pulled from its teeth. She walked straight up to her man and gave him a perfect left hook that sent him reeling.
“You bastard!” She hissed spitting her venom with vitriolic vehemence.
As Craggy, still dressed only in shirt and socks with todger shrinking faster than a slug covered in salt, staggered about holding his sore jaw, so Maria’s father walked in like a Grecian phalanx of one and landed the perfect uppercut on Craggy’s chin sending the man tottering onto his back.
“YOU BASTARD!” Echoed Daddy.
Rolling about on the floor like a beaten cur Craggy managed to avoid the booted toe of Elia Obstrepolis before it connected with his rib cage.
“What? What have I done?” groaned he as though butter wouldn’t.
The response, delivered in caustic harmony ran like a litany of verbal abuse. Apparently, it hadn’t just been best friend Richard singled out as an easy touch but also Maria whose personal account was now light of ten thou. This withdrawal had financed the gleaming Rolex now clasped around Craggy’s wrist. His explanation of wanting to appear at his best on their wedding day cut no mustard with either father or daughter. The later who then delivered the sharp end of her heel onto said rogue’s neck. Craggy departed in the only manner left to him – sharpish – running away with genitalia clasped firmly in hand he fled the hotel and was promptly arrested for indecent exposure before being carted off to the local nick.
Spending a night in the clink bore him no ill effects not after he had invented then delivered to the officers of the law yet another masterpiece in creative thinking. He told them his fiancé had caught him at it with the hotel chambermaid. Men being men, generally speaking quite thick if not loathsome, old bill swallowed this fabrication hook, line and etc.
London was no longer a refuge súr. There were too many baying for his blood. Best to nip over the channel and seek solace and respite in Ibiza. Six months as a bouncer of DJ should fit the bill nicely. Time enough to cool hot heads whilst recovering his indefatigable spirit.
Juan Jose was a weedy individual with a wife statuesque and bosomy. The sanctuary afforded by those massive mammaries were, or so Craggy believed, a solace sought by Solomon. They were somewhere you could lay your head, post-coitus, and nuzzle in the sweat of passions released. Her husband, small by comparison but large of character and fierce of will, was the club owner to whom Craggy received his weekly stipend. As a boss, Juan Jose was sanguine to a point. The point being, do as you were told and do not fuck the client be they male or female. Small or medium-sized canines didn’t count and were fair game as was the neighbours’ goat. Craggy declined these generous offers and, unbeknown to Juan Jose, started shagging his wife Ximena.
Her breasts lived up to their reputation.
For six months Craggy lived the life of Riley. (I have often wondered who this Riley is/was that so large a legend had been afforded him.) Anyway, not content with bashing the arse of Ximena, who copulated like an even-toed ungulate, the man from London’s west side wrote his own story as he went about his business breaking Juan Jose’s golden rule and fornicating with anyone or thing, goats aside, that would allow him the pleasure. Having the Rolex and a large bank account helped. It gave him the appearance of someone with rather than without. The former being nearer the mark for what he had wasn’t really his own.
For six months Craggy lived the life of…oh, hell been here before but you get the picture. Then, one day as Ximena uttered one of her mighty bellows heaving one momentous breast from her suckling lovers mouth as she shook the foundations with her seismic orgasm, Juan Jose burst into the room, the kitchen as it happens, the table as it goes, armed with a sizeable pitchfork with which he perforated his wife’s admirable buttocks before trying to do the same to Craggy’s soft belly.
Craggy fled the scene like Butch and the Sundance Kid. Fortunately for him, no mighty military force was waiting outside just a single cab into which he, naked as the day he was born, dived.
As they drove away they could see the diminutive figure of Juan Jose chasing Ximena with a raised pitchfork. It looked like a scene straight out of Moby Dick.
Finding sanctuary in a local hotel Craggy, with more front than Wallmart, first procured clothing before phoning a friend. This final act was perhaps the most audacious as it was to old friend Richard’s, the man whose money he had absconded with, best friend Gussie.
Augustus Nettle, to give him his full and proper moniker, was a Recruitment agent and was also not short of a bob or two. Hearing his old mate’s voice for the first time in half a year came as somewhat of a shock.
“I thought you were dead,” said Gussie acidly.
“So did I,” replied Craggy oozing contrition.
With all the guile of a papal cleric Craggy managed to manipulate Gussie, who proved difficult to persuade that his once time friend wasn’t, in fact, a low down snake, that a grand injustice had been done, that he, Craggy Ampule Ponce was in point of fact the injured party.
“Well I never,” breathed a beguiled Gussie gullible as a guppy.
That night Craggy took to his bed knowing full well that he had not only found somewhere cosy to stay in The Smokes but also employment. Yes, Gussie had offered him a job.
Snuggling down the best one could on top of a moth-eaten, lice-ridden bed in a sweltering hot room, Craggy felt a wave of relief wash over him or at least he thought that was what it was but then he smelt the acrid scent of petroleum. Standing over him with a tin can upturned was Juan Jose.
Craggy slid from the cot like a kipper on an oily slick deck as Juan Jose fumbled in his pocket for a box of matches. Fortunately for the Englishman, the Spaniard dropped the box allowing Craggy time enough to push the older man over before paddling off out of the open window.
The hotel was on the lower end of impoverished so had no swimming pool. What it did have, encrusted with algae and pondweed, was what once had been an ornamental water feature.
Craggy dived in praying that Juan wouldn’t spot him and that his lungs would hold out long enough for the madman from Málaga to pass by. Minutes seemed to take a slow stroll as Craggy’s lungs began to ache. Unable to hold his breath any longer he sat up, looked around to see if the coast, or in this case the back street, was clear. It wasn’t. Juan began to beat Craggy about the head with the petrol can cursing him in Castilian, Galician, Basque and Catalonian. He was, after all, a man of many parts even if the one his wife wanted to utilise was the one that didn’t work.
With inexplicable expletives raining down upon him accompanied by the percussive pummelling of the petrol can, Craggy did something utterly out of character - he grew balls. Bunching his hand into a meaty fist he aimed and landed the perfect punch onto Juan’s large proboscis.
The nose made a squishing sound, spreading muck, mucus and an amount of blood from each nostril. The blow in itself should have poleaxed the Spaniard but so enraged was he, filled with enough testosterone to pump an American Rugby, sorry Football team, that he merely shook his head. That shaking of the head was his fatal error for as he did his foot slipped upon aforementioned algae and he went arse over apex knocking himself out of the ledge of the once ornamental water feature.
This was all the luck Craggy needed. He hot-footed it back to his room, grabbed his suitcase with passport contained therein, an armful of clothes and made what can only be described as haste away from Juan and the pox-ridden hotel.
Hailing a cab was not an option. There was only the one and the cabbie, who had driven Juan Jose over, had been watching the action waiting to see who the victor would be. He threw his cigarette away, spat into the dust and climbed into the driver’s seat followed sharply by a quivering Craggy.
The Spanish airport had seen many an oddly dressed person or three walk through its passport control but nothing quite the figure cut by Craggy Ampule Ponce who, having neglected to pack shoes or trousers, resorted to dressing in suit jacket, white shirt and tie, a garishly coloured pair of swimming shorts with a hideous faux Hawaiian print finished off with a pair of flippers wedged on his feet..
Craggy flippity floppetied through customs announcing nothing to declare, stopping only briefly to turn and see what the kerfuffle was behind him. It was Juan José brandishing a large mallet who was hauled away by airport security, before boarding the airship (business class) and crashing into his seat exhausted.
With no further altercations, alarms or postponements the airship gracefully swept away from its mooring post leaving Juan José languishing in gaol as Ximena left her home, husband and nightclub behind making tracks back to her Madre y padre.
Ah Bueno, eso es la vida.
The lights of goode olde London towne lay below like sperm blobs on a black man’s belly. It was a welcome sight, a very welcome sight indeed. Craggy passed through customs with the least sniggers possible for someone who looked such a prat. With little of his, or rather Richard and Maria’s money left, he booked himself into a cheap hotel that sold stale sandwiches from a vending machine and iced beer at the bar. As any true Brit would tell you, beer should be consumed warm. This indecent Faux-Pah did not prevent the lad, now dressed in disreputable bathrobe and slippers supplied courtesy of the hotel, from consuming vast amounts before retiring to his room.
Blotto and rat-arsed the man slept like the proverbial.
The morning came. Craggy checked out, having used a false identity, leaving behind his bed bug ridden cot covered in puddles of puke and having neglected to pay his bill.
Craggy loved London. Loved its energy and its smell. Life hummed there, it throbbed with a vitality few other cities had whilst the constant construction of new buildings gave off a dry aroma of brick dust. It was, of course, the epicentre of the Commonwealth exerting an enormous influence over all others within that alliance. Even on a world scale, London punched above its weight. Financial Institutions from around the globe chose it as the ideal spot for both connections to the Commonwealth but also those of Federal Europe.
Growing up in the Smokes was an experience both sweet and sour. Living in a comparatively small terraced house, one that described the occupants as being of the lower classes put an untold burden upon the boy who wanted nothing other than to be accepted by those who looked down on the likes of him and his family.
“We may be working class (his mother insisted on using that distinction rather than lower class – a girl has her pride after all) but we ain’t common.”
Craggy smiled but knew bullshit when he smelt it. Working or lower really didn’t matter, the likes of the boys he longed to play with, Richard Hindsmudge. Augustus Nettle, Simon De ’Beauvoir (toffee-nosed git), Desmond Lugg and Hugh FitzHughes had parents that didn’t so much speak with plumbs in their mouths but bought the greengrocers, lock stock and barrel and shovelled the produce in vast quantities behind their privately paid for dental work.
As an extremely bright lad, the young Ponce sailed through lessons his desired peer group didn’t. When he was attaining high grades Richard, Gussie, Si (‘to my mates but not you wank stain’), Des and Hugh didn’t make it beyond a collective C. Embittered by the failure the obvious target to relive their frustrations on was Glad and Stan’s little bubbie, Craggy.
It was at this tense time, with a canny observation of that old capitalist maxim – supply and demand, that Craggy spotted a way out of the relentless tauntings and a way by which he could ingratiate himself into the gang's good books.
“I can do your homework for you if you like.”
It was at first treated with some contempt.
“Why would a shit face like you, a working-class oik, want to help your betters?” A reasonably fair question under the given circumstances, if a little laced with bigotry, and asked by the largest prize pompous pratt of them all, Simon of the D.
“’Cos that could mean I get to hang around with you all,” replied the C of P
“Bollocks!” cried Hugh (my cocks a bigun)
“You get the grades you need and I get to be part of the coolest gang in the school.”
Of course, when put like that, who in their right mind could refuse? It was a way in, Craggy knew that but at least it would give the poor boy from the poor family an opportunity – it would give him time to tighten the knot and tighten it he did.
Once hooked the gang of five became the gang of six. Craggy did as promised. He spent his evenings not only doing his but also the homework of the others. It paid dividends. At one point Simon (always the grit in the gusset) prevaricated suggesting Craggy had fulfilled their needs but was expendable.
“Not sure Mister Nutcrusher would share your perspective, I mean if he found out.”
Mister Nutcrusher was the school headmaster. As teachers went he made a good dictator. Some kids thought the large shed that stood beside his office window was in fact either a large gas oven where he sent young people he didn’t like or possibly filled with instruments of torture that would have taken pride of place with the Conquistadors.
“Are you threatening us?” Asked Hugh his face turning crimson.
“Of course not, we are mates after all aren’t we?” Smiled Craggy
The five friends all concurred that they were.
It was after this that Craggy’s natural skills at deception mixed with an innate sense of charm proved an asset for the gang of five, sorry, six. His rep grew along with a degree of notoriety among the other school children. It was about this time, now aged fourteen that Craggy lost his cherry. He didn’t so much lose it as wasted it.
She bent over the dustbin, knickers around her ankles. He aroused with an erection fit to puncture the Hoover Damn. Shutting his eyes at the point of penetration was not such a good idea as the squeals of ‘Hogg Eyed Penny’ proved.
“You dirty perv,” she screamed, “you just shoved that thing up my dirt box!”
It was a lovely turn of phrase but then again Penny, well versed in teenage sex behind, in front of, on top of and often all over the bike shed; knew a thing or two about romantic endearments. Craggy stared dumbfounded as his projection pumped its load involuntarily onto the bubble gummed covered tarmacadam.
Pearls before the swine were the single thought that flashed through his brain box.
By the end of his time at school he, and his gang of six for they were now his rather than he being theirs, left with a haul of qualifications that baffled all but a few.
Gussie sat at his desk feet up. Had he been taller he might have looked like a powerful tycoon but being vertically challenged he resembled a badly drawn caricature of himself. Craggy was seated before him his hands around a steaming mug of coffee.
“So,” said Gussie attempting to sound businesslike, “this is what I want you to do.”
Craggy slurped noisily at his coffee. Gussie raised an eyebrow. He suspected his friend had made the noise deliberately, a way to put him off his stroke as it were. He suspected right. Gussie coughed louder than his friends slurping. Craggy looked up with mock surprise etched on his face.
“Sorry mate, I was miles away. Did you say something?”
Gussie was used to this tactic, he’d witnessed it before. Richard had often remarked that ‘Sparkle,’ as they good-naturedly called him, was a bit of ‘hand job’ when he played his mind games Gussie lifted his feet from his desk and then planted them firmly on the polished wooden floor before him. Standing up he walked around the stocky presence of his friend and soon to be employee and went to get himself a coffee.
“Top up?” he asked.
“Not half!” grinned Craggy proffering his empty mug.
Here was the perfect opportunity so Gussie honed in.
“I will pay you fifteen thousand a year. You will deliver to me, clients. Lots of clients. I source the best talent for the publishing world and now I need someone to do the head hunting for me.”
He looked at his friend as he passed him his coffee expecting some sort of protest. He was mildly surprised by Craggy’s reply.
“Fine. When do I start?”
O.R.S, or Oriel Recruitment Services to give it its full and proper title, was doing rather nicely thank you. The company turnover was on the up. Profit margins healthy. Gussie had started the consultancy from scratch four years ago and was justifiably proud of his achievement. Taking an extra pair of hands really was no issue. His P&L being good enough to support both of them even if it took old; Sparkle’ a while to get going.
“Monday?” replied Gussie sipping his beverage.
Monday arrived with it usual drab appearance. Funny how days have their own personalities. Monday was definitely less worthy than the days it sat betwixt. Something less cheerful than a Sunday and far more sluggish than a Tuesday. Craggy entered the spirit of the thing, new job and all, whilst driving thoughts of it being a Monday out of his mind. There is a quote about Monday, thought Craggy, that goes something like this ‘Monday is the day when you catch up on all last weeks mistakes.’
The first task at hand was in making a coffee for himself and one for Gussie, a repeat really of their last meeting, sort of a ritual one does when starting somewhere new, somewhere fresh.
“Right,” said Gussie, “there are some things you will need to know about recruiting staff for the publishing world.” He shuffled a wad of papers on his desk then placed them back exactly in the same place he had picked them up from. “You, see publishers are a funny bunch. You have literary agents who are all of them a bit whako.”
“Whako?” queried Craggy, “how do you mean?”
Gussie accepted the coffee Craggy proffered him and sipped from it.
“Well, what I mean is they are all a bit off-the-wall, a bit eccentric and they all like the sound of their own voices. Take Marmon Lakeswill.”
“Who the devil is Marmon Lakeswill when he’s at home?” quizzed Craggy.
“Oh, he’s never at home. Practically lives out of his Kensington offices. Dines at Simpsons on the Strand. Has a raft of bestselling authors. Recently signed up that Tory chap, you know the one who shafted the party, the old Chief Whip.”
“You mean Regus Nasaltwist?”
“That’s the man. Anyway, where was I, Oh yes, publishers? Well, you see we have two target sales areas. Publishers and Literary agents both of whom require assistance or rather staff to assist them. Lit bods less than publishers of course but that just goes with the turf. Your job will be to select decent people who fit the client's requirements precisely. No tosspots you know of but genuine people with a talent for the business.”
Craggy placed his half-drunk coffee at a desk he presumed would be his.
“Sounds easy enough.”
Gussie smiled wanly, scratched his nose and picked up a pen and started scribbling down notes on a large foolscap sheet of paper. When finished he passed the note to his friend.
“Listed here are the company names, the contact person and their phone number. I want you to spend the day getting to know our clients. You might want to pop along and see one or two of them, sort of put a face to the voice.”
Craggy scrutinised the list running his finger down like a schoolboy. He stopped at one, the final name on the sheet which had been underlined and had asterisks either end.
“Who is this Jane McSpinter?”
“Hobby and Pilchard?”
Gussie took a deep intake of breath.
“I have been trying to get in there for years. That woman, Jane Doft is a tough cookie. She takes no prisoners. They are massive in the bookselling world. Virtually every decent author is with them. Marmon Lakeswill gave them, for a large fee, that politician we spoke of. They have signed him up for a massive retainer. If he sells well they, and him and that old rogue Lakeswill, will become millionaires.”
Craggy raised his eyebrows in an appreciative gesture.
“But you can’t crack the nut that is Jane Doft?”
“Being trying for aeons. The woman hates men.”
Craggy smiled. “She hasn’t met me has she?”
It did take a little longer than Craggy had at first thought to get a meeting with the terror of publishing, Jane Doft. Gussie had been patience personified but after two months had elapsed suggested his friend admit defeat. Craggy would have none of it insisting he could detect cracks in the rampart. Gussie smiled and re-shuffled the papers he kept on his desk for such a purpose. Then, as month three was sneaking in the back door so the panther of publishing agreed, rather wearily thought C of the P, to seeing him in her office the following day. Something in her voice, aside from the resigned sound of granting him the one thing he’d been hounding her for, was that she was rather desperate for his help.
Entering the resplendent offices of Hobby and Pilchard (est. 1901) one encounters what seems like a gargoyle made flesh. She, for a female this Grotesk be, is large beyond imaging, with a hairy upper lip, limbs that stand solid as chunks of masonry, arms the size of a Bulgarian weightlifters thighs and thighs no man would think of climbing for fear of what they might find lurking higher up.
“Yisssss?” lisped the hideous slab.
“Craggy Ampule Ponce for ten o’clock meeting with Jane Doft.”
“Hiiirrm,” came back the incomprehensible reply as the sentinel, the gatekeeper reluctantly lifted a small telephonic device in the gargantuan grasp of her mutton like fist.
“Thirr isss a Mistir Ponce ti see yew.” For such a devoutly lumpish woman, all gables and lintels of muscle and bone, her voice was decidedly atonal and squeaky.
The response, although Craggy couldn’t hear it, had little effect on the physiognomy of the brutes’ countenance. She merely waved her claw hammer hands in the approximate direction of the office sofa before uttering something constructed of alien syllables.
Possibly Scandinavian, old Norse perhaps. A bit like Ragnarok but with hopefully less bleak a future.
Craggy sat. In front of him on a highly polished coffee table were a collection of high fashion magazines plus one or two industry periodicals. Picking one up the virgin recruitment consultant leafed through the content. An ad caught his eye that was secreted away near the back of the magazine stuck somewhere between the Jobs Vacant section and vintage books for sale.
It was a tiny rectangle containing the briefest of resumes in which the advertiser was extolling their own virtues in the hope of someone spotting their talents. There was a contact number and a name - Rory Strobelight.
Craggy carefully tore the ad from the page, placed it into his wallet then sat back. An ominous hissing like that of a leaking valve sonically threated him.
The grotesque monstrosity was glowering at him from beneath her tympanum eyebrows. Sensing danger Craggy swallowed hard, smiled an insufficient smile and then waggled his fingers in a friendly manner. He received an awful look that suggested she knew how best to break those digits in possibly as many as seven different ways. Craggy sat on his hands waiting patiently.
When, after a taut period of twenty minutes, Jane Doft appeared before him Craggy found himself slightly lost for words. She was nothing like the dictatorial harridan Gussie had led him to believe he would meet. She was in fact rather attractive with nice tits and that sort of pronounced nose Craggy favoured. Nor was she as old as he had imagined, 35 or maybe 38 at the most. She was wearing a very business-like white blouse tucked into a knee length black skirt with matching, two-inch heeled shoes.
She smiled briefly then proffered her hand. A tiny Patek Phillipe glittered indecently from her wrist.
“Mister Ponce. Sorry for keeping you waiting. I am without a PA and my workload has increased of late. Perhaps you’d like to come through to my office so that we can discuss how you might be able to help me.”
“Bingo!” Thought Craggy.
The office, the inner sanctum sanctorum of this legendary figure wasn’t as resplendent as he thought. It was large yes but very purposeful, methodical in intent with an efficient, almost severe quality. The room said fit for purpose.
A large desk took centre position with two smaller ones to the left. An old leather Chesterfield, with a coffee table in front of it, sat framed by an expansive window that offered a panoramic view of London. The Houses of Parliament nestled next to the Thames. The Embankment ran beside it boasting its Victorian history.
“Please take a seat. Would you like tea or coffee?”
Her voice was cloaked in an austere professionalism that disguised a warm tone.
Jane (such a simple name for such a powerful woman) swept the receiver from the cradle, spoke into it quietly but authoritatively ordering two coffees. Moments later the Troll from Trollheim bouldered in carrying a tray with cups, a jug of milk, a bowl of brown sugar cubes and a coffee pot. The aromatic smell spoke of ground coffee, not the instant variety. Having placed the tray on the table without spilling a drop or scratching the surface, madam ugly left without uttering a single word.
“As you can see I have two empty desks. Both my PA and assistant have left, suddenly, and I am struggling to manage. I have neither time nor inclination to seek new candidates. That is something I’d rather you would do. Time is of the essence. I need someone, or rather someone’s, ASAP. How much and how soon?”
She indicated he should help himself to the coffee as she poured her own. Craggy got up and stood beside her. He was five eleven. She came to his chin so was about five four. She had deep brown eyes and reminded him of some opera singer his father had liked. He couldn’t remember the name but the singer had died relatively young.
“How long have I got?” He asked as he poured the coffee, black, into a porcelain cup.
“One week at most.”
“Fine. As for cost, we take ten percent of the successful applicant’s annual salary as a one-off payment. In this case times two.”
“I have no problem with that. My only concern is timings. It is imperative that both a new PA and assistant join me here within the week.”
Craggy turned and walked back to his seat holding his coffee cup in the palm of his hand.
“I guarantee you shall have both and in that time frame. Why, may I ask, is it so vital to you?”
She sipped her coffee. Her lips, sensuous but not large, delicately forming a tiny O.
“I, or rather Hobby and Pilchards, have an international fair at the end of the month, one I must attend as I organised it. For me to be there I will need assistance.”
Craggy drained his coffee, stood up, carried the empty cup back to the tray then turned to face her.
“I’d best get cracking. I have your number. Do you have my comwand number? Take my card anyway in case you need it. I shall find the appropriate candidates by the day after tomorrow and shall call you then.”
It was all bluster of course. He hadn’t the faintest idea how he would start such a process but he knew a man that did. By his own reckoning, the only way to get into Jane’s knickers was to impress them off her. He would do, by hook or by crook he would.
He smiled at her passing her his card with one hand whilst taking her other to shake goodbye. She gazed up at him. Yes, she was good at her job but those eyes said there was more about this woman than just her professional exterior. He would find out who lived behind the persona and preferably whilst making love. For now, though the old S in Sparkle had his job cut out for him.
It is funny how sometimes, infrequently perhaps, that things go exactly according to plan. Craggy, with a little help (OK a hell of a lot really) from Gussie managed to locate (source being the modern idiom) two superbly talented people with the right qualifications for the job as outlined by Jane Doft. So overjoyed was she that she accepted, a little reluctantly it has to be said, Craggy’s invite to dine with him at The Savoy. It was a little OTT, a case of gilding the lily perhaps, but what the heck. Gussie flinched briefly when informed but conceded that Craggy had managed to get a toe into the impenetrable hub of one of the world’s leading publishing houses. Anyhow, he should be able to offset the cost of expenses so no skin of his nose let alone coin from his purse.
The meal went as well as could be expected. It didn’t crack the iron-clad armour that Jane wore but it did manage to oil the rusty bits. There was no point in attacking the redoubtable defence. Far better softly, softly catchy monkey. He did detect a slight defrosting in the manner of the conversation which, business-like for the most part, did stray into some slightly more personal areas.
His offer to drive her home was politely declined so instead he ordered a cab. He watched as Jane was driven away quietly confident that she, a woman of precise nature but also, or so he judged, one who honoured those that helped her. It was this old-fashioned sentiment that Craggy thought her weak link. It was this he now would set to work upon. When the next opportunity arose, and he was positive there would be one, then he would be there to help.
That was plan A.
Plan B was of an entirely different proposition altogether.
Now Melisa was a girl who liked to party. You could say she was a good time girl. And that is what Craggy showed her.
Having watched Jane depart in the taxi the artful if amiable Mister Ponce caught another cab straight to Mel’s flat in Bermondsey where he collected her then had the driver take them to Merlin’s in Grays Inn.
Merlin’s was a nightclub, one that didn’t open its doors until a time normal folk have washed up, sat down to drink tea, watch some TV, had a cup of cocoa before retiring to bed.
The pair arrived a little after midnight (well a girl does have to shower, dress and apply make-up doesn’t she?) then, having sat drinking Kir Royale’s for an hour, got up and boogied till the early hours.
As dawn was breaking so the couple, pissed as farts now caught yet another cab. This one went directly back to Mel’s flat (Craggy was now sharing with Gussie on the understanding it was only until he found something of his own) whereupon he popped a little package into Mel’s purse and then with a nod and a wink they both went to the toilet where they snorted a few lines. (Snorting coke from the bowl is a tradition don’t you know) then he, with little resistance from she, fell into bed where they shagged each other rigid.
The whole point of this exercise, from Craggy’s perspective anyway, was to befriend the young, impressionable Mel who would then be more amenable to leaving Hobby and Pilchards employ at a given signal. You see, this would benefit all parties. Gussie would make money when Jane asked Craggy to find an urgent replacement, Jane, having briefly gone into meltdown over yet again losing a member of staff, would be cock-a-hoop (hopefully enough to allow Craggy entry into her boudoir, Mel would get a job with a better salary (Gussie could sort that) and of course Craggy would get his commission. Happy all around.
Within the month Melisa handed her notice in. She had proven a good worker, had helped Jane at a time when she most needed assistance but now had found a better, higher paid job. Or so Jane was led to believe.
Initially, Jane was crestfallen and reacted rather badly especially after she agreed to match the salary of the other company. Mel said she couldn’t as she wasn’t of that nature to accept an offer then play one employer off against another. Jane, with much regret and noting the honourable way in which Mel seemingly conducted herself, acceded to the resignation and got straight on the phone to O.R.S.
It was not a malicious ploy after all. No one got hurt and Craggy’s star rose in Jane’s esteem. (If indeed stars rise in such things)
Again Craggy asked Jane out for a meal. Again she accepted. This time she also accepted his offer to drive her home but, having previously worked out the subtleties of seduction, Craggy, when asked if he’d like a coffee, declined.
The romance was now underway. The fish, unbeknownst to them, was nibbling at the bait. The hook was trembling on the lip, now it was just a case of waiting, waiting for that bite. They didn’t have to wait long. When the bite came it was as fierce as it was complete.
A series of dates then followed. Dinner at the Chelsea Bridge, Opera at Covent Garden, a concert by the Thompson Family. These were interspersed with bouquets of flowers, boxes of Belgian chocolates, perfume from Paris and then, the clincher, a Tiffany bangle.
Swooned would be the appropriate word if this a work of eighteenth-century fiction but seeing as this is the 21st century perhaps head over heels might be better. No matter how you qualify it Jane was in love.
Consummation followed a delightful afternoon taking tea at the Ritz before an evening spent at The Globe watching Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet.’
Having imbibed far more alcohol (champagne, forever champagne with Craggy) than she if not he, were used to, the couple took a cab back to her house where again she asked the coffee question to which he replied in the positive.
If Craggy had suspected within Jane a smouldering sexuality held in abeyance by an iron will he could not have foreseen how violent an outburst it would be upon release. Jane, plainly named but a torment of desire was all teeth and claws. Tiggerish? Perhaps. Feline? Yes. Ferocious? Most certainly; a passion unleashed with nails raking flesh, tongue licking skin, teeth biting, thrusting hips, flailing limbs – a thing born of a physical longing unbridled.
Craggy thought of himself as a sex athlete. He believed he could maintain his end throughout the course of a night and beyond. His self-belief in his prowess proved accurate – just. By the dawns early light he was, to use a slang term, cream crackered.
He felt he had muscles long forgotten that had returned to nag at parts long unused. Walking was painful. His thighs screamed at each step ‘Please stop, please stop.’ His back felt like the ancient mariner had climbed on his spine then hammered it with an old oar. The sniggering coming from beneath the bed sheets helped matters not. He turned around gingerly trying not to taunt his frame with its battered flesh.
Jane was barely visible. Her head buried beneath a pillow and her chin wrapped in a sheet. The only thing to be seen was her eyes, nose and mouth. “No, no, no. Don’t think about that mouth. It is an illegal conduit.” He steeled himself, nodded his head nonchalantly ignoring the pain that strode up his neck like a pole dancing hippo wearing ice skates.
“Hi. I thought you were asleep.”
She giggled again and then thrust her hand out crocking her finger at him, beckoning him to come close. Fear rose in his chest, did a double backflip before landing in his stomach. He felt a panic attack banging on his chest.
“Er, I have to go, er, the loo I mean.”
The laughter that followed Craggy, nipping at his ears and ego, was as much disconcerting as a challenge. Having peed he then quickly showered before returning to the bedroom feeling slightly rejuvenated. Hot passion followed. Too hot for comfort for Craggy. Having blisters on his manhood was a new experience for him.
The affair began plotted and executed by him but it ran now under its own steam. Craggy felt swept up not just by his lover's energetic passion but by her almost manic adoration of him. No one, absolutely no one, had ever before committed to him so totally. Her love of him was absolute. Of course, he quite liked her too but her feelings for him consumed them both. It was a curious business altogether.
“You better tread carefully,” advised Gussie the next day (or was it the one after that? God his tackle hurt.), “she could end up getting hurt.”
Craggy rubbed his chin but remained standing. Gussie had offered him a seat but Craggy thought if he sat down he may not be able to get up again. His thighs had turned to jelly.
“Possibly. But think on this…she’s offered me a job working for her at Hobby and Pilchards.”
Gussie wasn’t much of a one for making energetic movements, he preferred to keep histrionic starts and jumps out of his suite of body languages, but having heard Craggy’s statement, delivered it has to be noted with some nonchalance, he positively leapt up like a Caledonian Salmon flying back upstream.
“Well, she can’t have you. You’re contracted to me!”
“Keep your wig on old son. Best think things through before making inflammatory statements like that.”
“There’s nothing inflammatory in what I said. I was merely stating a fact. You work for me. Besides, it’s a breach of confidence. One can’t go poaching another man's staff. And what pray tell do you mean about thinking things through?”
Craggy was fiddling with the latest gadget in Gussie’s office. It was a silver coloured water dispenser, one of those new inventions created on the back of aquanautic science. We owe a lot to Tarwinkle Mullins thought C of the P. He placed a glass beneath a tiny spout, pressed the button and whoosh, ice cold water flowed into the receptacle.
“Clever,” he said, “neat idea.”
“Kindly concentrate on what’s being discussed,” cried Gussie unable to let the bone drop far from the jaw, “you shan’t be leaving me. You’ll just have to tell her.”
Craggy slurped the water then let out a breezy “Ahhhhhh.” It was a disconcerting sound. It was remarkably like a self-satisfied and quite frankly smug sigh of contentment.
“You are up to something and I don’t like it whatever it is,” said Gussie.
“Oh, you are right, I won’t be leaving you but I will be joining Jane at Hobby and wotsit. This you see is the plan. I join one of the world’s largest publishers doing whatever it is they want me to do, shagging sweet Jane along the way, and then, when firmly ensconced in the fabric of the company when I know who is who I can start earning my crust for you.”
Gussie blinked. When he did he really resembled previously mentioned guppy.
“You are making no sense.”
Craggy smiled, slurped his water some then let out another irritating “Ahhhhh!”
“Will you stop making that noise. It sounds like a cow that’s just been relieved of a heavy burden of milk and please, please explain yourself.”
Craggy smiled again. “It’s simple,” he said, “Once in H and P I begin finding out who is happy there and who isn’t, sort of doing a census as it were then, once I know the lie of the land, I start stirring things up a bit with the dissatisfied, planting seeds as it were, telling them that I know of alternative publishers who’d pay someone of their calibre a far better salary.”
“But you don’t know of any other publisher.”
“No, that’s right I don’t but you, my dear old Nettle do. Together we shall start moving staff from Hobby’s, moving them into better-paid jobs whilst doing a reciprocal the other end.”
“But that’s unprincipled, possibly illegal, certainly immoral,” squirmed Gussie afraid of the very thought of being caught.
“Probably,” said an unconcerned, uncaring Craggy, “but we will make a bundle of dosh in the process.”
Gussie blinked his guppy eyes looking rather stupid but also rather entranced by the thought of avarice is a warming experience.
“What about Jane. Don’t you care? What if they find out?”
“Jane’s a pro. Tough as old shoe leather. Anyway, she got a good seeing to so why complain? And frankly no, I don’t and lastly, they won’t. Now then, are you up for it?”
And so it began. Craggy Ampule Ponce officially joined Hobby and Pilchards as Consultant Publisher. His line manager being Jane Doft. His duties unspecified. Within a month the first member of staff resigned their post much to the dismay of the Head of Finance who had valued their input. A new replacement was soon found by that excellent recruitment agency, ORS. Sweet as a nut.
Of course nuts rot if left uneaten. Others get crushed underfoot.
Jane didn’t twig at first. Oh, she knew the staff were leaving, had been for six months or more, at an alarming rate but she hadn’t put two and two together. For one thing, she was so desperately in love she overlooked any flaws Craggy had. She even made excuses for what she described as his comic eccentricities.
“I had to take the car in today for servicing so I caught the bus,” he related over a glass of white, “the bloody thing was full of coffin dodgers. Anyway, I stood up to get off when I spotted this old fart with a tash wanting to get off so I stood back, you know, remembering my manners as it were. Silly bastard just stood looking at me so I indicated he should go first. He didn’t move. He just stared at me so I thought maybe he was geriatric or something so I raised my voice saying ‘after you mate’ whereupon he slapped my face. Turns out ‘it’ was a woman. Buses like that are a good case for euthanasia.”
The morale at work went into rapid decline. As the former employees left so they were replaced by Gussie’s company but by people less talented, less able to perform the roles given them than the previous individuals.
An emergency meeting was called by one of the partners, Percival Pilchard. All senior members attended. During the course of discussions, mention was made that the partners believed somebody or somebodies were acting out of malice and were poaching their staff, that a sort of deliberate ‘talent drain’ was being enacted wilfully to deplete Hobby and Pilchards workforce bringing the company to its knees.
“I think we need to examine relations between ourselves and Oriel Recruitment. I think something odd is going on there. As far as I can see the only one, apart from our competitors, who are benefiting from this state of affairs is Mister Augustus Nettle.”
All attendees were sworn to secrecy. “No one,” they were instructed, “apart from those within these four walls knows of my suspicions. It must remain that way. Jane, I’d like you to conduct a covert enquiry to establish if ORS is in fact behind this situation. Keep it secret, Jane, no one must know.”
It was a task suited to Jane. She had a keen sense of loyalty to her bosses and the company she worked for. Unfortunately, though, she was in love.
She didn’t at first tell Craggy any detail of the meeting although he knew it had been convened. Jane went about her business, quietly and with all due method, uncovering all pertinent facts including interviewing one or two ex-members of staff she knew personally. Not all of those were happy they had left and one was particularly disappointed with the move.
“I thought from all I was told that I would be improving myself, that the new job would mean better pay for doing the same thing I did at Hobby’s. That was a pile of baloney. I do far, far more and with a lot more pressure involved. I wish now I hadn’t listened to him.”
Him? Him who?
“Who shouldn’t you have listened to?” asked Jane.
The girl reddened and declined at first to answer. Jane persisted promising she would ensure her old job could be given back to her.
“So who was it then? I need to know Sue as we have to put a stop to this before the companies decline worsens.”
“I didn’t want to say, didn’t want to hurt you or have you get angry with me but it was Mister Ponce, your Craggy.”
The news shouldn’t have come as the hammer blow it felt like. On reflection, it was obvious what Craggy was like. Devious, manipulative and uncaring. That thought, no, that knowledge hurt beyond belief. Hindsight is such a valuable gift sadly never available as foresight. Sue only confirmed what Jane had long known but denied. Even so, with this information available to her she found she couldn’t betray him. Yes, she must deal with the situation but her own way.
“Thanks, Sue, for being upfront and honest with me. I shall deal with this.”
“And my old job, will I get it back?”
“I promise you I will speak with Mister Pilchard. Leave it to me.”
So Sue left leaving Jane contemplating what best course of action to take. Confronting Craggy seemed the best way. She needn’t involve her boss not if she could resolve the situation. She decided when she addressed Craggy, telling him she knew of his duplicity and how he had embarrassed her and caused the company such grief, she would suggest her proffered his resignation, apologise to the partners leaving her clear to resume normal duties. They would stop seeing each other, if only temporarily, which would give time for Craggy to think about what he’d done. Yes, he was a devious fink but he was her fink and she simply couldn’t stop her feelings for him, couldn’t stop loving him. Besides, wasn’t everyone entitled to a second chance?
Both Craggy and Gussie were away at the time. A cricket tour somewhere or other that the old crowd of friends had gone to watch. When the pair got back she would speak with them both, get her feelings aired and get Craggy to tender his resignation. They would be back after the weekend which left today, tomorrow, and Friday for her to collect herself before speaking with them and then Mister Pilchard.
The best-laid plans of mice and men. If ever a phrase invented to haunt Jane’s dreams this was it.
Wednesday went then Thursday. Friday followed and at eleven in the morning she was summoned into Percival Pilchard's office. An ominous silence hung heavy. Her bosses face was grave, almost sad.
“I have some disquieting news to deliver to you, Jane. Please take a seat.”
Jane felt her knees weaken. She was a senior member of staff but still felt a queasiness overcome, a sense of guilt perhaps.
“Anything wrong Percival?”
He looked up from under his pince-nez. “Yes, I am afraid there is. You have not been honest with me Jane. You knew of your boyfriend's antics, the way he has been poaching staff on behalf of his friend Augustus Nettle and hasn’t alerted me, who have always admired and supported you, whilst Craggy Ponce has brought this company down to this current situation. No, please let me finish. I know this by accident learning only of it last evening from a conversation had with a former employee. To say how disappointed I am in you does not convey the depth of my hurt at your betrayal. Both I and Hornby have held you in such high esteem and for so long. To discover that you not only knew of this man’s odious behaviour but then kept it a secret from us leaves me with only one action to make. Please clear your desk, say your farewells to those colleagues you wish to then leave. It grieves me to dismiss you but you have given me no alternative.”
She looked at him then stunned into silence. Unable to speak she rose from the seat. She didn’t see for eyes were filling but Percival Pilchard looked ashen white and close to tears himself. Jane left her office without taking anything from her desk or without saying a word to anyone. Those that observed her leaving thought she was drunk as she swayed as she walked.
It was then, as left the building with the embankment ahead of her, that the truth hit her, she had been used. Craggy, that bastard of a man, the man she had fallen in love with had played her like a novice.
Leaving her car in the bay marked Director she caught the train home.
Gussie caught the first wave when Percival Pilchard telephoned him on his comwand. That in itself alarmed him for the one thing all who dealt with Hobby and Pilchard knew was that the partners only spoke to suppliers either at moments of catastrophe or when severely displeased. In this case, both scenarios were true but the later more pertinent in Gussie’s case.
After the call, shaken to his roots and starting to panic, the mortified Mister Nettle contacted the normally ebullient Mister Ponce via comwand. The conversation did not go well. Craggy remained unperturbed by events even when told his love, Jane, had lost her job and that they, O.R.S, had been notified of a pending litigation against them and had lost the business of the world’s largest publishing house.
Craggy grew increasingly annoyed with his friends call insisting he was busy. It turned out he was in bed with one of the hotels chambermaids. When Gussie lost his temper Craggy responded with a mouthful of obscenities culminating with wishing his friend would die slowly of cancer.
Convinced his one-time friend had ruined him Gussie buzzed his solicitor appraising him of what had just transpired. The man of the law, sharp as a pin, enjoined Gussie to calm himself then when in a more stable frame of mind, compose a letter of dismissal to one Craggy Ampule Ponce copying him in. This, he said, must be sent by same day delivery to both recipient and solicitor. Once he received said missive he, the solicitor, would bring a countersuit against the ex-employee for breach of contract, for contravening confidentially agreements and for a host of other misdemeanours. He closed the comwandcon by assuring Gussie it was Craggy, not he, who would suffer. Gussie was not convinced, did as was instructed then fled back to London.
It wasn’t until later that day, having left his friends to contemplate his and Gussie's falling out, that Craggy also returned to London. Upon arrival at his flat, he was greeted by two uniformed policemen. Fearing the worst Craggy took the bull by the horns (being someone full of both bull and horn it was an easy act to put on) and advanced toward the plod. However, it wasn’t to arrest Craggy for his criminal business activities that he owed the police the visit, it was to tell him that his girlfriend had committed suicide.
Jane had run a bath then taken an overdose of tablets washed down with whisky.
Now, seated at a café table drinking Portuguese plonk, Craggy was ruminating. His thoughts were not racing but meandering. If he had any feelings of guilt he didn’t show them being far more concerned by the letter sent from Gussie and the other from said man’s brief.
The shit was about to hit the fan.
Time to find a hideaway.
He sipped again at the red wine, pulled a face for the wine tasted like metallic camel’s urine and spotted, as he swallowed, a travel agents shop across the road advertising holiday’s in Turkey.
“Oh yes,” smiled Craggy, “perfect.”.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.