As Verity was brushing her hair and Ralph taking a shower; as Ethel was riding her porcine pulled cart around Fekenham, so Parminter Fullcock was settling down to breakfast. With only six months left to the regional elections Parminter Fullcock, happy with the way his campaign was going, now needed to cement relations with local business before taking a hard earned holiday. Parminter had sat at the breakfast table with Henrietta hovering over him with a foolscap pad beside him upon which a half-dozen names were written. She had had a worried look on her face. She was worried about him. Not that he would have admitted it but his recent weight loss was due to nervous energy and Hen, as he affectionately called her, was duty bound to build him up with large portions of food. She had placed a generous plate before him that was filled with two eggs, two sausages, two rashers of bacon, two large fried tomatoes, a hill of beans, a pile of mushrooms and two slices of fried bread.
“Crickey dear, I’m not sure I can eat all that!”
“With all this dashing about the region going hither and thither, you’ll need to keep your strength up and there is nothing better than a full English to do that job.”
She had tickled him behind his big ears, ears that stuck out like those of a bull elephant. She had never, not even when she had first spotted him walking toward her at Fekenham Fayre, been bothered by his looks nor the size of his ears. Years ago, after they had started courting, Wulfric Wainwright had ridiculed Parminter by calling him Dumbo. He had not risen to the bait but instead had laughed it off even though she, beside herself with rage, had wanted to punch Wulfric on the nose. He moved his head away from her fingers giggling all the while.
“Don’t you dare do that, you know how I like it. It still sends me all sort of wobbly at the knees.”
Henrietta had smiled as she returned to the sink to finish the washing up.
“What names have you come up with?” She had asked.
Parminter had tapped the pen against his teeth as he thought about the list before him.
“Rufus Barleycorn, Ralph Ramhard, Arthur Bentwhistle, Shazli Braganza Smythe, Brenda Sharptack, Victor Clapp, Wulfric Wainwright…”
“Wulfric? He’s nothing but a minor businessman. Why him?”
Inwardly Parminter had smiled to himself. Hen had never liked Wulfric and even though he didn’t know why it tickled him that she never let a grievance go.
“His business has a solid turnover,” he replied.
“You always told me ‘turnover is vanity, profit is sanity.”
“Indeed I did. His profit is good though, very good and besides he is an old friend whose support I will need if I am to beat Snatch-Kiss.”
A low grumble had come from deep within Henrietta. “I don’t like him.”
“Who? Snatch-Kiss or Wulfric?”
“Neither but Wulfric in particular.”
Parminter had smiled as he forked in a mouthful of bacon.
“All these years, must be over thirty, and you always disliked Wulfric. Why? He is one of my oldest friends.”
“You have a funny idea of what makes a friend.”
Parminter had then picked up a slice of fried bread and dipped it into the yoke of his egg. His balding head framed by his large ears and small, almost effeminate features, gave Parminter an odd look.
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
Henrietta scrubbed at a frying pan. Suds had flown as she rubbed. She manhandled her left breast back into the cup of her brassiere then pulled the strap higher up her shoulder.
“He has always derided you, your success, and your company. You say oldest friend; I’d suggest he harbours enmity toward you.”
Parminter had speared a mushroom and then tore of another slice of egg.
“You are missing the point. He doesn’t harbour me any malice. He is envious of me and my family. He always was even when we were at school.”
Hen had rinsed the frying pan then laid it on the draining board. She then dried her hands on a white towel. When her positive her hands were dry she applied lotion rubbing it in vigorously before replacing her wedding band back on her finger. “Nonetheless, a friend is someone you can both rely on and trust and you can’t.”
Parminter, aware of the time, had balanced an unlikely amount of beans on his fork which he then shovelled into his open mouth. “How long have I been in business?” He asked chomping all the while.
He then scooped another forkful into his mouth.
“And you think I have run a successful company without being aware of who and who not to trust?” He said through a mouthful of beans and mushrooms.
He had cut up an egg and sausage then had devoured another mouthful of food.
Hen then sighed. “I worry about you dear. I get concerned that you, being a decent man, might get hurt by all the pressure.”
Parminter, his plate cleaned of food still had a residue of egg mixed with ketchup.
“May I have a slice of bread please?” He had asked.
Hen had cut a slice, a thick wedge, which she had then passed to him.
“Thanks. My dear I work every day with pressure. It comes with the job. Being chairman of a large industrial manufacturer necessitates a constant demand on me. I handled that down turn in trade two years ago well enough didn’t I?” As he asked this he swept his plate clean soaking up the egg and ketchup onto his bread.
“I was rather thinking of that dreadful business with Jarvis Crunch.”
Parminter had flinched at the very mention of that man’s name but passed it off.
“I did what had to be done under the circumstances. I had no choice to sack him. I wasn’t happy that my hand was forced but sometimes hard decisions have to be made.”
Henrietta had filled the kettle with water. She spoke over her shoulder.
“I was talking about his dismissal but rather his suicide. You can’t hide it from me Parminter that upset you more than you let on.”
There could be no denying it. Having sacked a valued employee, a fellow director, although unpleasant, had not left him with sleepless nights. The suicide was a different matter. He felt somehow responsible. He had folded the last of the bread up and popped it into his mouth.
“I confess that did upset me. It made me question myself. Had I overlooked something? Should I have been aware of the man’s state of mind? I never did get to the bottom of why he tried to steal my personal folder. It contained nothing of importance regarding the business. It was all relating to my political campaign. Why on earth was he interested in that? Anyway, having searched within myself trying to assuage my guilt not knowing what I could be guilty off, I came to the conclusion that should something like that happen again perhaps I will ask more questions. See what was behind such odd behaviour.”
Hen had sighed. “So you do think you were responsible in some way?”
Parminter then pushed the empty plate away from him and sighed. “I think we all are responsible for both our actions but also inactions. Now then, I best be going.”
“Cup of tea first?”
“No thanks I have a busy day ahead of me. I’ll see you later.”
Hen had watched him rise from the table. She wondered how such a decent man, when compared to the ruthless nature of others like Rupert Snatch-Kiss, had managed to survive so long in business. He had though. Always honest, forever fair. She worried how he would take defeat if the vote went the other way. With integrity, she told herself, for he had more of that commodity than anyone else she knew.
She had watched as he, car keys in hand, had first waved a cheery goodbye to her before climbing into his beloved Rolls Royce. As the motor car had smoothly pulled away crunching over the gravel drive Hen had gone back to where Parminter had left his pad with the names on. She gazed down at it.
10.15. Fekenham. Brenda Sharptack.
11.15. Arkenfelt. Cheryl Bunkum.
Noon. Stop for lunch on way to Poole.
2.45. Greet Mandible Pimp, business strategist, at Poole Harbour.
“So,” thought Henrietta, “he’s going to head south before going north then heading east. Silly bugger!”
Brenda, her figure fuller than how Parminter last remembered, stood smiling as he entered her office. Office is rather gilding the Lilly somewhat. In reality the space she used to answer communications, open letters and deal with bills, invoices etcetera, was more a cluttered spare room. It was also where she, when a little tired, she was after all in her late sixties now, would take a quite forty winks away from the hustle and bustle of the tea room. She had embraced Parminter who had fondly placed a kiss upon each side of her face.
“You are looking as lovely as ever,” Parminter had said smoothly.
With anyone else Brenda would have taken the compliment with a pinch of salt but Parminter, not being one given to either handing out platitudes or someone capable of flirting, Brenda took it at face value.
“Thanks. I do my best,” she had smiled ushering him into her room. “Tea?”
“That would be lovely.”
Parminter had looked around the room. There were two desks. One was clean and fastidiously tidy, the other the mirror opposite. The first had a telephone upon it, a fresh notepad, a pen and pencil neatly arranged side by side, a reading lamp with a green glass shade. There was not a single speck of dust upon the surface. The other desk was covered in folders, piles of paper stacked high, a waste basket with what looked like rotting fruit composting within it is wired circumference. Wilted flowers, their petals fallen upon the desk and floor, dry as death leant inelegantly in a vase bereft of water. What little space there was on the desk was covered in a thick coat of dust.
Beyond the Cane and Abel desks, a little to the left, stood a shelf filled with regimented rows of box folders each one clearly marked with date and content. On the very top were three large boxes. Again, each one was marked accordingly. Slightly to the left stood upon an ornate wooden pedestal was a large potted plant, an aspidistra. Woven across the dark green leaves was an exotic lacework of cobwebs which looked like a forgotten veil from some forlorn bride. The roots of the plant had grown massive and now thrust themselves up and away from the pot they were bound to and looked much like the haemorrhoids of a large bovine beast or the bum boil on the backside of some Botswanan baboon. At the foot of the pedestal was a brass coal scuttle filled with dried pampas grass.
On the wall above the clean desk upon which Brenda was now perched was a painting of Molly Sharptack, the founder of the famed tea rooms.
Brenda had picked the phone up that sat on her desk. “Janet, bring me a pot of tea for two would you? Thanks.” Turning to her guest she had assured him that tea was on its way. “I took the liberty to speak with Arthur, Ralph, Shaz and Cybil regarding supporting your campaign,” she had added, “like me they want you to win so we have formed a business alliance to support you with both our names but also some cash. It won’t be much but significant to our means.”
Parminter’s jaw had dropped. His face had flushed red. The tips of his ears had turned bright pink. “That is unbelievably good of you all. I hadn’t expected any support in that way. I do have means of my own you know.”
A knock at the door had announced Jane who entered the room with a tray containing a pot of tea, two cups and saucers and a plate of chocolate biscuits. Brenda had indicated for Jane to place the tray upon her desk (the clean one) before thanking her. Jane, a mousey looking girl with more freckles on her face than stars in the night sky, smiled demurely. Her head was thinner at the top than at her jaw. Her head was shaped like a triangular shaped cheese, it started small at the top before growing larger and fatter at her chin. The freckles were also odd. They were not of one singular size, shape or shade. They looked like drifting cut out coloured card falling from on high that could, if you so wished, be joined together by a thin pencil line to form abstract art forms. Jane had smiled then silently left the room.
“We know that but as Ralph said, we all want you to win. We think it high time the Whigs returned to their Distributist roots. We think you are the man for that job.”
Parminter had accepted the proffered cup and saucer declining sugar and smiled to himself. The reference to Emeritus O’Brien was gratefully accepted. Of all the men of politics he admired, Emeritus O’Brien the top most.
“You think my party leader has lost his way?” Enquired Parminter.
“I think the path he is on is the one laid before him by his predecessor. Like her he cares more about the nation’s finances than the nations folk.”
A little abashed at hearing of this condemnation of his leader’s abilities Parminter had felt he should, somehow, defend his Prime Minister.
“Andrew Flair has decreased national debt, has increased full employment, engaged well with the other three nations of Albion and has consistently championed a compassionate response to Chinese immigrants fleeing their Imperialistic homeland.”
“And put up taxes left right and centre at the cost of the working man. He has totally ignored the little entrepreneur in favour of the larger and has continued to follow Margaret Major’s policies on building up our military not so much as a defence but in preparation for a war he should be doing his best to avoid.”
Parminter breathed heavily. He still hadn’t quite got to grips with dealing with negative issues when talking with the electorate.
“So why are you so avid in your support of me?”
“You are not a stuck up bastard like Andrew Flair.”
Parminter had laughed. Hearing someone who was rather posh themselves use such language always seemed incongruous. In this Brenda was very different to her good friend Verity Lambush who could flay the skin off the back of a rhinoceros with just one well-structured sentence. Where Verity oozed sophistication, Brenda bristled with invective. It was not only their approach to life that differed but also their looks. Verity was, when dressed appropriately, an attractive woman with dark hair now greying, chiselled features and piercing grey eyes. She was also, at five seven, tall for a woman. Brenda on the other hand was blonde, blue eyed, five feet five, fleshy and very irascible. They were in fact like chalk and cheese which is probably why they got on so well when together. After all opposites do attract.
“I hope my policies give greater confidence in me than my everyday man outlook?”
“It has nothing to do with your policies although they are pretty much what the people want.”
“If not them then what?”
Brenda crossed her legs, leant forward and placed her hand on top of Parminter’s.
Parminter had seemed looked taken aback. His face flushed. Brenda continued.
“You have the one thing that neither Snatch-Kiss nor Andrew Flair possess and that is honesty. You mean what you say. People like that. It is the one element lacking of late in political figures. You are the first politician since Emeritus O’Brien to possess equal amounts of honesty, intelligence and integrity. It is a rare gift. Now all you have to do is persuade the electorate that you are the man for the job.”
Parminter had looked genuinely abashed by this comment. He scratched his left ear which set it flapping. A storm of dry skin swirled.
“I have none of my fellow runner’s wealth. I cannot match him on that score. All I have is a desire to do something positive for the region where I live, and have lived, for the past sixty-five years. I very much admired Emeritus O’Brien. He was all you could wish for in a politician. He had incredible vision but also the ability to convey his ideas in the simplest terms so that everyone could understand him.”
Brenda had smiled. It was a warm movement of generous lips circled by lines that revealed she laughed a lot. She had taken Parminter’s empty cup and refilled it.
“Have you spoken to all the small businesses in the village?”
Parminter sipped his tea then replied. “All but one, yes.”
“Susanne Beaufort’s bordello.”
There was a sharp intake of breath from Brenda taken at a most inopportune moment as she had just taken a bite out of a chocolate biscuit along with a mouthful of tea. The effect of breathing in biscuit and tea caused an almighty expulsion of same which had shot from her mouth and nostrils at maximum velocity peppering Parminters shoes with a brown like artex. She then began coughing, barking like a renegade sea lion more like, as she choked upon the contents of her semi-consumed foodstuff. Parminter had reacted quickly. He put his cup and saucer down and took Brenda’s from her shaking hands and then began to forcefully pat her back.
“Are you okay my dear?” He queried as the flat of his hand beat upon Brenda’s back.
“Aruugh, Aruugha,” sputtered Brenda her eyes streaming as she tried desperately to wipe her nose with the napkin. Parminter had passed her is handkerchief then slapped her back once again. “Don’t try speaking. Wait until you have your breath back.”
With a series of deep sea diver gasps, hearty intakes of air that turned Brenda’s puce coloured face to its normal pink, the tea room’s owner regained her composure. Seeing she was seemingly recovered Parminter had sat down again in front of her.
“Alright now?” He had asked.
“No, I am bloody well not alright. Don’t you dare speak with that French strumpet, that harlot! You do know Arthur Bentwhistle is frequenting her establishment?”
Parminter said he didn’t.
“Well he is. He has gone back to his old lothario ways. I think he is fornicating with Black Betty.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Lupini has noticed him wearing after shave. He is also taking a great deal of care in his appearance and going out during the day claiming he is attending to pub business but Lupini thinks he isn’t. The only place she thinks he could be calling on is that woman’s The Soft Room’s.”
Parminter, unable to resist a chocolate biscuit when dunked in tea, dipped a nibbled corner of one into his brew.
“Apart from suspecting him of returning to his former pursuits do you have any proof he has been visiting Susanne’s shop?”
“Shop? It’s no shop. Cybil’s post office is a shop. My tea rooms are a shop. That place is a veritable den of inequity.”
“Into which you have witnessed Arthur Bentwhistle entering?”
“Not as such, no.”
“I thought not.”
Brenda blushed. Her anger rising to cover her retreating embarrassment.
“Listen Parminter, surely you are not defending Arthur or that horrible business?”
“Defending someone you have no proof of being what you think he is? Yes, I’m afraid I am. As for Susanne, well, better legalised prostitution than illegal. At least her enterprise is properly monitored and besides, as much as you and I fail to understand why men need such a service, need it they do.”
He had then looked to her for response. Instead she stared stoically ahead. It was as if by gazing into some faraway distance she could let a silence descend on a lost argument, as if this inaction might save her face. In this she was not dissimilar to Verity Lambush thought Parminter. The only difference here was that Verity would have neatly changed subject as if to wrong foot her opponent before returning unexpectedly to it again later. Brenda gazed on then brushed down her skirt with the palm of her hand.
“Have you spoken with Clyde?”
Parminter had been unsure of who Clyde was. “Who is Clyde?”
“Clyde Woodclatter, the editor of the Fekenham Gazette.”
Parminters brow had creased into a frown. “No, I confess I had forgotten him.”
“Well, if you are going to speak with the vicar’s mistress then you really should seek Clyde’s support too. He may only be the editor of the village ‘rag’ but his paper is read by many. Would you like me to speak to him on your behalf?”
“If it’s no trouble,” said Parminter as he got up from his seat.
“Are you off now?” Asked Brenda as she too climbed down from the desk she had perched on.
“Yes. I am scheduled to meet with Cheryl Bunkum out in Arkenfelt. Then, once that is done will stop for a spot of lunch before meeting with a business stragegist who I am reliably told will be off enormous help. You know me, I so hate being late.”
Brenda had kissed his cheek then wished him well.
“Do you think I stand a chance; with the election I mean?”
“Bit late to be having concerns now, you are only a couple of months away for polling day but yes, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. People like and trust you Parminter. Good luck.”.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.