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Ghost And Ragman Roll

Ghost And Ragman Roll

Book excerpt

Prologue

Four weeks ago 

You had to laugh, and people did, since the fight was on a distant beach, the seaward side of Fort Cumberland, situated on the barren South-Eastern tip of Portsea Island. It had been a moonless, pitch black, October wintry night. Apparently, Richard the Lionheart, the founder of Portsmouth as England’s proud strategic Naval Port, turned in his grave; his heritage defended by the 6, 57, a collection of seedy, fascist, football yobs, from an attack by Lenin’s Britain, an equally seedy group of moth eaten, radical, left wing thugs; though not all was as it seemed.

The rip tide sucked out many of the protagonists, those few taken by Police, mainly the wounded, were not talking, and those supposed to have survived, disappeared.

The local paper likened it to the Mods and Rockers, rival fashion gangs that held pitch battles in coastal towns in the nineteen sixties, going on to preach about modern values to a populace that had yet to recover from being raped and pillaged by greedy Bankers. The British people were still saturated in debt, and life remained difficult with little prospect of change, despite the pressure supposedly being eased after the Nation’s debt had been rescheduled over seventy years, and not a penny paid back by the Bankers. There remained a natural suspicion, latent anger bubbling below the surface, people suspected the Bankers were at it again and grumbled, and those who knew the British temperament warned, this could be a precursor to something a lot worse; letters of complaint? God, and then what?

“It’ll be a lot worse,” Jane Austin said sagely to the newspapers, tapping his nose, “the pressure may be orf, but there’s a residua…, linger…, a lot of anger ‘anging abowt, and that can be manipulated,” and this, ironically, from a man who enjoyed a laugh.

* * *

 

Three weeks ago

It was time to turf the fat bastard out, and he was unceremoniously dumped on Eastney beach amongst a gathering of tramps, ‘Serve the fucking arse right,’ a passing comment as they turned and left.

* * *

 

Two weeks ago

The financial world was stunned, Banker, Jacqueline Parmentier had left her chic Paris apartment, tipped her hand to her eyes to deflect the gusting rain saturated wind, she never saw the gunman, bumped into him; “Excusez-moi” bystanders reported her saying, just before being shot, twice, in the head.

* * *

 

Now

‘Av a bleedin’ egg and bacon sarnie for Christ’s sake and let’s get going, you can eat it in the car on the way.’

They were getting breakfast at the cabbie cafe in Charing Cross, a quintessential London, greasy spoon, and Delores loved it. She didn’t like her travelling companion though, a hideously overweight misogynist oaf, who will almost certainly end up in Portsmouth with egg yolk down his trousers.

He did, and he tried to wipe it up with his grubby index finger elbowing Delores in the process, causing her to drive all over the place, ‘Oi, watch what yer bleedin’ doing tosspot!’ She rebuked, in her spiky cockney accent.

            ‘You wouldn’t let me stay and eat this in the cafe, so how am I supposed eat wiv you all over the fucking show?’

            ‘Shut it, bozo.’

So he shut it, and she continued weaving down the A3 to Portsmouth.

Chapter One

The fat bastard hotel manager, Brian Pinchfist, was no longer fat. Whether he was still a bastard remained to be seen? He claimed to police he’d been kidnapped and held, underground, by people unknown to him who disguised their appearance and voices. He had been found by a Portsmouth Ranger, Jet (John Edward Thomas) Norris, having been unceremoniously dumped beside the incongruously garish, pastel coloured, bathing huts on Eastney beach, the pink one. Frozen, soaking wet and filthy, his almost skeletal body lost in his baggy shabby rags, he had shivered uncontrollably on a foul, early November morning. He had only a motley crew of noxious smelling tramps for company, if you excluded or could see, the equally skeletal, Ghost, hauntingly concerned for Pinchfist’s welfare. Standing off from the toxic collection of human detritus was Jet, who, although more aromatically agreeable, had an equally comparable toxic personality.

The street people were too polite to mention that Pinchfist, this skinny, raggedy bastard, smelt pretty much as they did, except for maybe the Meths and Special Brew. Jet was not so circumspect in his verbal exchanges to Fat Bastard or the tramps. He was often on the receiving end of critical denigration, not least his colleagues calling him Knob-head when he wanted people to call him Jet; a cool name. So, he enjoyed any opportunity to pass on some vitriol, in equal measure, in the manner of all good bullies.

Apparently, during his near three months of captivity, the fat bastard was made to negotiate every scrap of food, frequently unsuccessfully, and had to learn to go without, or so he claimed. The Doctors said he was in reasonable shape, considering, as though he had been on a well-controlled emergency diet; quite remarkable. There appeared to be no ill effects if you ignored the pong, they said, ignoring the pong and Pinchfist himself, who cowered, cartoonlike, behind a drip stand.

Pinchfist was unaware he had been missing for so long, and looked forward to being reunited with his family, and was amazed when, after hospital discharge, he was immediately arrested, and within a short time incarcerated, again, although this room did have a window, even if it had evident bars, and the police were moderately polite. His confusion was exacerbated when it was explained to him the cell’s Teasmade was on the blink, though they did give him a sausage sandwich, but that sense of temporary rapture was spoiled when the Chief Inspector, a man called Jane Austin, said he would like to shove the sausages up his arse; meteorologically he said, but probably meant metaphorically?

            Prior to his disappearance, the obese manager had huffed and puffed his way through his hotel remedial and refurbishment works, had manipulated all of the payments to suppliers, and reneged on the final account, so the builder lost a considerable sum of money. He had excuses of course, and all the builder could do was watch as everyone believed the fat bastard. The Builder and his family suffered, they cut back. People gave him time to pay the incurred debts; he was a good man, but enough was enough and other people had their own bills to pay, didn’t they? A deal was offered, but it would go nowhere near what was owed, although it was acknowledged a good job had been done; small comfort. “What goes around comes around”, more small comfort, and offered by comfortably well-off people who knew only square meals. Even if it came around and visited itself upon Brian Pinchfist, what would it achieve? Everybody believed the fat bastard, he was making a profit for the hotel for the first time, and the owners turned their own blind eye. So Pinchfist was arrogantly immune, and snuffled his piggish way around the hotel, bullying, stuffing and gorging, uncaring of the pain he caused other people.

“Penny-pinching, that’s how you make money in this business”, is what he would proudly say as he would negotiate and renegotiate on previously agreed bargains, until he had bled people dry. If you refused to negotiate or to accept his offers, “So sue me”, he would stutter, not through any speech defect but because his words had difficulty in passing the layers of facial fat that constituted corpulent chops.

The builder fretted; what could he do? Then, out of the blue, the hotel settled the debt plus a bonus and a letter; a full apology. It saved the builder and enabled him to pay everyone else and the back payments on his mortgage, but where was Brian Pinchfist? It seemed he had disappeared with not a word of leave-taking; a last magnanimous gesture? People said if it were, it had been his only one, and had been a Brahma at that. The Pinchfist family were equally mystified, fat and mystified, but unmoved emotionally and physically as they stuffed their faces around the telly and looked upon the unrecognisable image of their dad, mum’s husband, like a pencil on the TV screen. Found, but where has he been? Please contact… the kids changed the channel; Sponge Bob was on the other side.

The Portsmouth Community Police Department were equally mystified, not so plump, though some thought Detective Chief Inspector Austin could maybe shed a few pounds. Ironically, it was Austin who had suggested the hotel owners appoint an auditor, to see if Pinchfist had enabled the hotel to shift a few pounds of their own, which he had, of course, the irony being, the shedding of the fiscal had enabled the growth of the manager’s larded pounds and his family’s combined blubber. It became apparent that over a long period of time, Pinchfist had sifted and sorted small amounts here, and little bits there, of cash. DCI Austin called it sausage and mash; he was from the East End of London. “An irony that”, he told people, who were themselves mystified. Jack Austin liked being an irony, it made a change from being an enema, by which he meant an enigma. DCI Jack (nicknamed Jane) Austin was known as the Mr. Malacopperism of the Portsmouth Community Police Force, getting words and expressions wrong, and often inappropriately used, at the most inappropriate times and places. This is what made him so funny, people said. He couldn’t see it himself, but then he only had one eye.

“There were probably more funds missing than could be interpolated through the books and through those suppliers who were prepared to turn the Queens Shilling”, Austin had said, meaning Queens Evidence, but maybe he didn’t? They were in the naval port of Portsmouth, where in the not too distant past, men were pressed into naval service, forced to take the King’s shilling. “The navy was after all a sausage and mash business, like hotels”, Austin also said, knowledgably, checking to see if his nose grew. “Money over the bar and dealing with suppliers, backhanders, greased palms, know what I mean, nudge, nudge”, he had said, fluttering his hand under his arm pit which caused a slightly malodorous (he called it manly) breeze downwind.

Following the arrest, interrogation, and charging of the equally fat accountant, Gertrude Git (she had German origins, “probably the Gestapo” Jack Austin had commented and had later been rebuked for), and if Pinchfist had been around at the time, he would also be well and truly banged to rights.

Later on, it was concluded that in total a very large sum had been taken over a long period, and clearly Fat Bastard had done a runner, albeit everyone agreed this was a highly inappropriate use of the term, to infer he could run anywhere. The local Evening Newspaper suggested he had done a “Wobbler” with the money, and reported the owner of the hotel group, who had turned a blind eye, had suffered an extraordinary accident that left him blind in one eye, ironically, not unlike Chief Inspector Austin of the Community Police Unit, who seemed oddly proud of that particular Irony! But then again, he was a drinking pal of Bernie LeBolt, crime reporter for the local Evening News.

 

Chapter Two

The honeymoon - Honfleur, France, a few weeks after the fat bastard, now skinny, had been found.

Sunday was market day in the historic square in Honfleur, and Jack was in amongst the throngs, clearly, or evidently not so clearly, speaking his pigeon French; not to pigeons-francais but to the confused market stall holders-francais. Mandy could see the Gallic shrugs from the window of their hotel room in the Hostellerie Le Chat, although the hotel is now known by another name, Jack insisted on calling the hotel by its “proper” title; he couldn’t pronounce the new name anyway. What you call a “Jack-no-say-quoi” he had said, laughing. Jack Austin was not the sort of person who took change all that well, or speaking another language, and that was obvious to Mandy even from a distance. She reflected, and then smiled to herself watching him, secretly admiring his confidence in amongst the old enemy, as he called the French. She thought she would nip out and join him, maybe they could have a coffee on the square together.

 Waltzing out through the swishing, former Le Chat’s electric glider doors, she managed to catch up to him as he regaled a trader about selling pets from a stall. He was preparing to buy all of the mangy kittens just before Mandy stopped him, ‘Jack, we’ll not be able to take them back with us. Let’s have a coffee on the square, eh?’

The magic word, coffee, a bit like fish or seafood, all words that got his attention, and the kittens were immediately forgotten; some Dr Doolittle. He changed her mind about coffee on the square and suggested they would prefer the harbour front. She was okay with that, even though it was chilly, but the rain was holding off and the French had it sorted of course, the outside seats had clear plastic enclosures ready to roll down should it rain or if the wind picked up, so yes, that would be nice.

They were enjoying a wonderful honeymoon and were not about to let the November weather distract from the pleasure they were having in each other’s company, entering their second week away, and they had visited many places in Normandy. Mandy, practiced in the art of living with Jack, had listened with a great deal of patience and not a little amusement as he made like he knew the history of everything, and insisted on telling her. In Bayeux he had explained parts of the tapestry, and when she pointed out that the card describing the exhibit said something else altogether, she had to stop him approaching the assistants to point out their error. But this was the Jack she fell in love with, and he loved her, and this made her feel amazing inside.

She stood patiently watching her eejit trying to organise the best seat by the harbour of the particular cafe that currently took his fancy. While he argued incomprehensibly with other patrons, she reflected on their, what seemed like a long and incident-filled journey, over what was, in reality, a short period of intimacy that had brought them to this point in their lives. She was a successful police officer, Detective Superintendent Amanda Bruce, now Mrs Austin, as she had married Detective Chief Inspector Jack (nicknamed Jane) Austin. She smiled to herself as he was not much of a copper, and little by little she had found out over this short time, that seemed like ages, he had probably never solved a crime in his life. He was though a mustard spy, and Jack would agree he was brilliant, not action man spook, but the cerebral kind. In fact, you had to keep the inept, clumsy, gigantic oaf of a bloke, definitely out of the front line or he endangered not only himself but anyone in the vicinity, and that included the bad guys.

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