The Aston Martin was parked in a lay-by. Ralph had pulled the car over when steam was clearly visible rising from the engine. He had sighed as he opened the door before climbing out.
‘I’ll take a look. You stay here,” he said to Verity.
The former headmistress watched as her husband lifted the bonnet, one hand firmly on the gunmetal grey. She shook her head and then placed her hand on the door catch. She not only loved the American heart and soul but had huge admiration and respect for the way in which he had left an outstanding and prosperous career as a lawyer before taking a run-down public house and turning it into a runaway success as a restaurant. The Duck and Dragon had long been losing business to its nearest rival the Frog and Radiator but Ralph’s vision coupled with his business acumen delivered it from the jaws of bankruptcy. Yes, she had great approbation for the man she loved. However, he was crap as a mechanic. At least she, no matter how useless a father hers had been, had at least instructed her in the art of motor mechanics. Raising her skirt as she walked toward Ralph placed certain erotic connotations in the Americans mind. When Verity started to unpeel her stocking from her well-honed leg those self-same feelings went into overdrive.
‘Honey,’ grinned Ralph holding his hand's palms outward, ‘we haven’t got time if we are to catch the courier.’
Verity passed her stocking to Ralph. ‘You will need this for the fan belt.’
Ralph frowned. His downstairs apparatus wilting. ‘Say what?’
‘The steam coming from the engine indicates the fan belt has sheared off. A useful alternative is a ladies stocking.’
‘But, you are wearing a garter belt,’ pleaded Ralph stuttering slightly.
‘What I am wearing are suspenders,’ replied Verity, mischief playing around the corners of her eyes.
Ralph laughed. ‘Sounds remarkably like an echo of this morning’s conversation. Damn sexy whatever you call them. Even with this setback, we should be able to overtake the crozier carrying courier. We could take advantage of the situation?’
Verity let her smile light her eyes. ‘What situation would that be? The opportunity to, as you Yanks say, fool around?’
‘It’s worth consideration,’ said Ralph running his hand down Verity’s cheek, his thumb brushing her mouth.
‘Indeed, it is,’ whispered Verity licking Ralph’s forefinger, ‘and having given it due thought I think it best we forestall the present opportunity and fix the fan belt first. I said this morning a good thing is worth waiting for.’
Verity thrust the stocking into Ralph’s hand. He smiled then sighed. ‘I’ll be holding you to that.’
Within minutes Verity’s stocking had replaced the faulty fan belt.
‘All done,’ affirmed Ralph brushing his hands together. The rumba in his underpants had slowed to a sedentary waltz even though the home fires embers still glowed. Verity watched her partner as he climbed in the car stretching his legs beneath the dashboard. He smiled, she winked.
When Ethel had left Apple Crust Retirement home with Susanne Beaufont and Elvis Linkthorpe stuck to her heel, she had ensured Bladder had a full stomach by feeding him scraps from the meal she and the others had enjoyed. It wasn’t that she thought her pet needed feeding but realised fuel for the journey ahead was required.
A pig’s diet is not what you think. When left to the own devices, the nature intended, they eat grass along with other green stuff but prefer to snuffle around digging for roots and insects but with the arrival of the fall turn to acorns, nuts and fruits. However, pigs, much like humankind are omnivores and when hungry will eat anything including meat. Whatever the slop was that Ethel gave to Bladder in an old tin bucket didn’t dissuade the porcine charioteer from tucking in as though it hadn’t eaten in weeks.
As omnivores go, Vicar Linkthorpe was well impressed with the beast now pulling Ethel’s wagon. He too could eat endless amounts, most of it indigestible to the rest of humanity. He had now met his match though. Upon bidding Constance and Charles goodbye, he had snaffled a large slice of gruyere. Of all the coagulated milk proteins, that is cheese, he had consumed, he had never, even at his ripe age, eaten gruyere before. He chewed the brick-like fodder running his tongue over little cracks that split its surface like faults in a slab of concrete. He gnawed and gnashed with all his might but what felt like a leaden mass to his cavum oris refused to be masticated. All hope of the foodstuff reaching his alimentary canal seemed remote. He persisted with aching jaws but thoughts of his mandible and maxilla moving within closer proximity was a chew too far. Saliva had helped a little but now his mouth felt as dry as the Mojave. Fortunately, he had also half-inched a full bottle of water of which he took a swig. Rinsing said like liquid around his mouth ensuring there was ample supply behind the lump lodged in his orifice he gave a hearty spit sending yellow block rocketing away from his tired mouth at velocity. He was, not to put too fine a point on it, gob-smacked when a pained voice cried out.
‘You bastard. That lump hit my head!’
Alarmed by the sound of a male voice hollering its hurt Ethel reined Bladder to a halt.
‘I can’t see you. Are you alright?’ she called.
‘Course I’m not alright. Some twat just spat a hunk of solid cheese at my fucking forehead’
Ethel looked from left to right trying to locate the voice. Linkthorpe and his French lover did the same.
‘C'est un fantôme,’ whispered Susanne her voice trembling, ‘there is no one there just a voice, a désincarné voix.’
‘Tommyrot,’ said Linkthorpe, ‘I recognise that voice although I can’t think where.’
‘You shoved me in a pillow case, remember? The fire in France?’
The voice came from below, beside the wheel of the chariot. Linkthorpe looked down.
‘Gromtic!’ Exclaimed the vicar. Whereupon he leaned over the side of the cart, grabbed hold of the dwarf by the lapels before hoisting him on board. ‘How the devil are you?’ Asked he.
‘Apart from being spat at with half-chewed cheese and then manhandled onto a pig drawn cart, I’m fine.’ Gromtic drew breath then continued, ‘Has anyone ever explained to you that my being of small stature doesn’t mean others of less challenged height have the right to go pulling me up by my coat, then dumping me like a wilful child. I have feelings you know. Being diminutive doesn’t degrade dignity it demands it.’
Linkthorpe grinned then pinched Gromtic’s cheek between forefinger and thumb. ‘You are a little stick of dynamite when cross aren’t you, my little friend?’
‘I AM NOT LITTLE,’ bellowed Gromtic, ‘I AM OF SHORT STATURE!’
A silence ensued. Gromtic stared menacingly at the village vicar. The village vicar stared back. Gromtic noticed what can only be described as a smirk upon the vicar’s visage.
‘You’re winding me up, aren’t you?’ whispered Gromtic huskily as though the wind had been taken out of his sails or rather his lungs.
‘Just a bit,’ said the verbose vicar, ‘you see as far as I am concerned God made us all, therefore, we all must be the same. Size really is immaterial. It’s the person within that counts.’ Linkthorpe concluded with a childlike gesture. Placing his palms upwards and his arms outward as if saying “All done.”
Gromtic laughed. ‘I suppose I have to accept that explanation even if you did manhandle me.’
‘I did save your life remember at no little expense to myself.’
Gromtic laughed. ‘You threw me in a pillow case then carried me upstairs bashing my bonce on the bannister.’
‘It was the stairs actually.’
‘Yes, I know. By the way your alliterative effect, the author likes a bit of alliteration or haven’t you noticed?’
The two men shook hands, Gromtic smiling. ‘Where are we headed and why?’
It was a direct question or rather two direct questions fired at machine gun rapidity.
‘We, and I guess that now includes you, are going to Poole Harbour in pursuit of a corpse with a huge erection,’ replied Ethel throwing in her two-pennyworth to the conversation. The response, even when said aloud, sounded surreal.
Ethel looked about the cart. A vicar, a former whore, a dwarf and a fat lady. It could only happen in Fekenham she thought.
The sky had shifted from pewter to charcoal. The night was drawing in. Ralph turned the headlights on and focused on the road ahead. His mind returned again and again to his wife beside him. Verity wearing a duffel coat could arouse him but knowing she had a garter belt around her waist had sent his libido into the stratosphere. He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand and focused on the beams of light glued to the tarmac.
‘Tired?’ Asked Verity.
‘A little,’ he replied, ‘but I’m okay.’
‘We can’t be that far behind now,’ stated Verity sounding hopeful.
‘I wouldn’t have thought so.’
A car coming the other way flashed its headlights causing Ralph to blink. Verity held her hand across her face.
‘Why’d they do that?’ she asked.
‘Maybe thought I had full beam on or the guy driving is just a jerk-off, one who thinks they are the only car on the road. Dunno.’
Ralph banged his fist against his chest.
‘Anything wrong?’ queried Verity.
‘Indigestion. I shouldn’t have wolfed down lunch.’
Another car rushed past but this time there was no irritated flashing of lights. This was followed shortly after by another. Verity’s comwand buzzed.
‘Wotcha Verity, it’s me, Ernie.’
‘Everything okay? Mum and Charles alright?’
‘Far as I know, yes. It’s not them I’m calling about.’ The flattened vowels of the Eastend born villager rasped across the airwaves. A momentary flash of
‘Remember the dig the old bill was conducting on the green?’
‘Well, they’ve found something.’
‘Yes, but more than that a note.’
‘Yeah. Haven’t the foggiest what’s written but it ain’t half caused a stir. Cyril is being tight-lipped. You could get more info out of a duck’s arse. Couldn’t get a word out of him. That Lazarus chap is on the scene and seems bloody interested. One of the Winchester plain clothes let slip something about a ‘Pagan Preacher.’ Mean anything to you?’
‘Yes, yes it does. Anything else?’
‘Nah, just thought you and his nibs might want to know. Take care.’
Zebulon Cisonius. A blast from the past. A man who came, saw, served up a cocktail of hallucinogenic drugs imbibed with enough aphrodisiac qualities for a grown man to shag an entire nation, people, poodle’s sheep and anything with a pulse. Then, as soon as he arrived he disappeared. Gone without a trace. Could that be the body they had dug up?
‘Penny for them.’
‘What? Oh, just thinking about what Ernie said.’
‘The police have found a body buried under the green.’
‘And you think you know who it might be?’
A sudden wreath of steam began to curl its way out from beneath the bonnet of the vintage car.
‘Damn it!’ Cursed Ralph, ‘Will you look at that. Looks like your stocking’s snapped.
A short distance down the road another lay-by waited for them. Ralph flicked the indicator and began to slow down.
‘Feels like we are fated not to catch that courier. I’ll go see what’s happened.’
As Ralph climbed out of the car so Verity undid the buttons on her suspender belt, lifted her leg up until her heel sat on the car seat and then removed the other stocking. She then followed Ralph toward the car’s front where he was staring angrily at the engine.
‘Would you believe it? The same damn thing has occurred. Look, your stocking has frayed.’
Verity bent closer looking for the cause of the problem. She ran her fingers around feeling for any obvious foreign object in the pulley.
‘There,’ she said holding aloft a pebble, ‘that is the cause of your problem.’
She proffered her other stocking which Ralph gratefully accepted nodding his head as he did in mild awe.
‘I marry a Head Mistress only to find she is really a Head Mechanic.’
‘A woman has many talents.’
‘Sure, she does. Like tempting her man with her bare legs.’
‘Take a mental cold shower. We’ve a corpse to catch.’
As day faded shifting the colour of the sky from a purple bruise to ebony so Elvis Linkthorpe had to admit Bladder had amazing stamina even if the beast lacked control of its bowels. Earlier on as Ethel had stood astride her chariot, wind in her hair, chins wobbling with the vigorous movement of the porcine pulled pallet, Linkthorpe, seated downwind of Bladder, was admiring the less than graceful way the animal was dragging the four passengers, a heavy wooden cart, down roads intended for use by motor cars. Lacking any sense of style or grace the pig chose to bundle along full pelt. There was no question of pacing for power provided the only purpose and poise was pointless in the face of such power.
It was then, observing as he was the majesty of might that, much like an older gentleman under extreme exertion, Bladder lost control of his sphincter. Expressing himself loudly with an almighty fart before ejecting an enormous amount of excremental fluid all of which flew at the hapless vicar at velocity. Susanne screamed in French, a curse strong enough to raise the corpse of Charles de Gaulle. Gromtic uttered a series of unrepeatable words beginning and ending in every letter in the alphabet. Ethel, unable to see what was occurring behind her back had Susanne relay events in graphic detail. The words didn’t make for a pretty picture. Vast volumes of dung hung over your village priest don’t make it even as an abstract.
As if God doesn’t have a sense of humour it began to rain. Tiny spots at first that fell against Linkthorpe in sublime insignificance then began to grow in size and force. Linkthorpe shivered.
‘Might be for the best,’ he said to no one in particular.
‘So, the rest of us get soaked to the skin whilst you shower the shit from your cassock?’ Responded Gromtic.
‘I’m not wearing a cassock.’
‘Metaphorically speaking,’ grunted the dwarf.
As the journey continued the rain that had threatened to turn into a full-scale downpour retreated slowly then stopped altogether. Albion, like its Commonwealth confederate, New Zealand, often had four seasons in one day, sometimes in one hour. Ethel only had to stop once when Gromtic felt the need to relieve himself. She pulled the cart near to a swathe of trees where the dwarf disappeared for a couple of minutes. When he returned he was smiling.
‘A load off my mind, ‘he jested.
Linkthorpe didn’t bother with such niceties as calling for a pit stop but simply unzipped, hung his male member over the side downwind of all and let nature take its course. When he had finished he wiped his hands down his trousers.
‘You are covered in the poop,’ hissed Susanne, ‘and so now are your hands.’
Linkthorpe blinked. He hadn’t thought of that. An admission that won him no prizes for his honesty but three dark looks for his stupidity.
The cart, or chariot as Ethel liked to think of it, had been built by Tom Theobold, once the proud owner of Fekenham Swarberry’s ironmongers now relocated to Muckleford. He had utilised an old wooden bench for the purpose of having a somewhere for passengers to sit. Removing the legs, he had screwed the bench directly onto the chariots frame. Then he had fitted a cushioned seat for added comfort.
‘I will sit here,’ said Susanne holding firm to the left-hand side of the bench.
‘And I will sit here,’ articulated Gromtic pushing himself hard against the right-hand side.
This left only one option for Linkthorpe, he had to sit in the middle like a thorn among two fragrant roses, a noisome nodule nestling amid twin nosegays.
The rain had left a fine surface sheen on the road, a sort of mirror reflection that caught the street lamps light. To the wayward vicar, it struck him as a reverse of a celestial sky with the tiny splodges of light appearing as stars. Had you engaged Linkthorpe in conversation, the topic of which was his personal spirituality the answers received may have startled you. A priest for sure but one not committed wholly to the dogma of any one given church. Although he personally believed in God he didn’t see why anyone else need share his views. Man created words for things he had very little idea what they truly were. God was such a word. God a deity? Perhaps. God a force greater than humankind yet from which they, along with all creation, were part and parcel of. The eternal, the unknowable, the unnameable. Maybe Tao. Maybe Dharma but not necessarily the God of the Old Testament. Why Jesus had said ‘heaven lies within’ therefore why not God?
Ethel had travelled this road many times, certainly more than either Susanne or Gromtic and probably more than Elvis. She knew the sweep of the road its curves and corners having travelled down it many times when younger on the way to the sea. By her reckoning, she was about seven miles from the port. She appreciated she could never keep up let alone overtake Ralph and Verity in their Aston Martin yet something deep inside her, a feeling, an intuition, told her she had an important role to play and that she must at all costs be at the harbour to assist the Ramhard’s. And with Ethel, once she had determined to do something then by golly she did it.
Ralph banged the flat of his hand against the Aston Martin’s steering wheel causing the horn to blast its distinctive sound. ‘Damn it, damn it, damn it.’ He sighed deeply, his frustration evident. ‘Seven miles to go and the goddamn fan belt is sending up smoke signals. Can you believe it? This car has never let me down before. We don’t have any more stockings available unless you have brought spares.’
Verity shook her head. ‘I don’t I’m afraid.’
‘Hey, what the hell. Nothing you can do. You’ve saved our bacon two times already.’
‘I said I didn’t have any spare stockings. That doesn’t mean I haven’t an alternative. By the way, it’s twice, not two times. Now, why don’t you remove the frayed fabric? Go on, get out. I’ll be straight along.’
Looking a little nonplussed but confident of his wife’s abilities to not only find solutions where none are obvious but her innate resourcefulness, Ralph did as requested. Opening the hood whereupon a head of steam hissed out, he peered into the engine. As he did so Verity climbed out of the car. He watched her out of the corner of his eye, saw her hitch her skirt up to her waist revealing black panties that matched her bra and suspenders. Then he watched mesmerised as she removed them. He was thinking of how this whole process of Verity removing first one stocking then another before finally taking off her panties had been like an slo-mo striptease. Then, breaking into his thoughts came a familiar voice.
‘Just as I remember it, one hell of a sexy arse!’ shouted Elvis Linkthorpe from a cart containing Ethel Blowvalve, Susanne Beaufont and Gromtic. Even Bladder seemed to appreciate the view..
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.