That sneaky little sneaky peek into the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_ had confirmed Miss Lennox’ fears, there were more than the one of them. Charlie had said only one had been guilty of the attempted soap powder arson attempt at Mr and Mrs Singh’s 24 hour Convenience Store (Fully Licensed) but had then been bullied (as in de-doughnuted and de-Tizeresque soft drinked) by four horseman. And yes, there were three more characters she did not recognised: one of them looked rather like he was having words with the tattooed untattooed man who was working behind the counter whereas the other two were staring at her pal Helga’s pet which appeared to be getting a little aeriated. Miss Lennox was well acquainted with ‘Snarl’ as he often popped around the Home to play fetch and give the various Straifs and Ways rides around the garden on his back. He also loved to have his tummy tickled but right now ‘Snarl’ was straining at what appeared to be a lead comprised of something more associated with mid-50s Clydebank whilst baring his not insignificant teeth. Also in the bar were Helga (or Big Helga from Crewe as she was more readily dubbed, one because she was built like a brick out-house and two, strangely, because she was from Crewe), the Landlord of the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_ (who was well known for wearing lounge suits and singing in the style of Tony Bennett), Mavis Davis and Hermione Greer (the dusty ladies from the Post Office), a significant number of the Men who enjoy Fisticuffs along with the entire staff of the First National _Paul_And_Land_Bank_, Big William (more of whom later) and, shockingly, far too many fourth and fifth formers from the _Paul_And_Land_ Big School. Shameful thought Miss Lennox but let’s stay focussed on the problem in hand.
Inside the bar, things were getting tense. ‘Blackheart’ and the tattooed untattooed man were at stand-off, Mexican style, but there were no shooters involved in this particular stand-off. Just raw nerve. ‘Blackheart’, his throat dryer than a very dry thing on National Dry Day in Dry-Land, cracked first and he hissed out “please”. “So what can I get you stranger?” replied the tattooed untattooed man without a hint triumph in his voice. “Err, make that three halves of lager shandy, err, please” replied ‘Blackheart’ “and two bags of Cheese and Onion and…. Hey ‘Kid’, you want a bag of crisps?” ‘Kid’ actually fancied a bag of Cheesy Wotsits but looking at the behaviour of the wild animal in the corner he decided against it and instead opted for a bag of Pickled Onion Space Raiders. “You boys go careful” said the lounge suited landlord, “don’t you go affecting my profits, you hear. Helga, put the jukebox back on love, I put a quid on there earlier and I haven’t heard anything by Barry Manilow yet”. Helga flicked the switch and Boney M spluttered back into action “…… Rah Rasputin, Russia’s greatest love machine, there was a cat that really was gone” (or something like that).
Hearing the music restart, Miss Lennox sneaked another look through the window whilst at the same moment, as if they were psychically linked, Big Helga looked toward the window and saw her friend. Big Helga winked and Miss Lennox immediately knew that the situation was under control. Silently, Miss Lennox gave the signal for the Straifs and Ways to stand down from their positions of heightened readiness and she led the group across the street. Once on the other side, she promised them all Chinese from _Paul_And_Land_’s only Chinese Takeaway which, given it’s unique status, was called the _Paul_And_Land_ Chinese Takeaway and was owned by Pan Yan (you have to be a certain age to get that one so ask an adult if you don’t get it).
Back in the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_ things had calmed, ‘Snarl’s’ snarling had receded although he was still staring at the three strangers as they took seats in the furthest corner of the bar. He was still aware of their presence as was Big Helga. The three strangers, sat in the corner, were speaking quietly among themselves and the conversation centred on ‘Mad-Boy’, he’d now been outside finishing his cigar for some fifteen minutes and it wasn’t like him to waste valuable drinking time. ‘Red’ stood up, walked to the door which he opened and looked out. There was a strong smell of chlorine in the air, there was a Panzer Tank parked outside and there, lying on the ground, was a still burning cigar but no sign of ‘Mad-Boy’. ‘Red closed the door and returned to his seat in the corner. The quiet conversation continued. Helga, in need of another Cranberry Juice, got up from her seat and walked to the bar. The untattooed tattooed man knew her favourite tipple and reached for the carton in the fridge whilst Helga listened intently to the conversation. She heard the words ‘Mad-Boy’, liability and missing and put two and two together and decided that she would need to step into her office (also known as the Ladies. And if you didn’t notice there were four ands in that sentence and now seven, if you count the ones in the brackets. Is that some kind of record, I wonder?).
In the _Paul_And_Land_ Chinese Takeaway, Miss Lennox’ mobile phone rang, she answered (as most people do) and explained to the caller what had taken place over the past half hour or so. All about Charlie, the fire at Mr Singh’s, the mobilization of the Straifs and Ways, the Lennox Gang’s favourite maneouvre and the disappearance of one of the four horseman. “So where is he he now?” asked the caller, to which Miss Lennox replied “honestly, I don’t know. Mr and Mrs Singh took him away in their Caravanette so maybe he’s at their shop. Helga, this line is very echoey, are you in the toilet?”
‘Mad-Boy’ was indeed at Mr Singh’s shop and was at this moment awakening from a chlorine induced snooze. He looked around him as he could and thought “why do I appear to be stuffed into a large barrel?” He lifted his eyes to where the light was entering his curious prison cell and his gaze was met by two sets of very dark eyes and what looked, to him at least, Muslim faces. He was still gagged by the cricket box so was unable to speak and, although things were still a little hazy, he was almost sure that he heard the words ‘Garam Masala’
The good people of _Paul_And_Land_ were, if truth be told, an adventurous bunch although not adventurous enough to get through numerous sacks of spicy spices that Mr Singh had bought on the opening of his shop. He had tried many ways of shifting the stock: decanting the contents of the sacks into small jars, providing meals to the Big School, utilising some of them in his home cookery courses and even offering various spices to Pan Yan at cost price. Even so, he still could not shift it all and most of it was now well beyond its obligatory ‘sell by date’. However, in the ‘Say and Waive’ section of the shop, anything was possible. So now he had two of his sons, scoops in hand, ready to empty the ground mix of peppercorns, cloves, cassia, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, bay and caraway into one of the large barrels. ‘Mad-Boy’ saw the first scoopfuls enter the barrel and quickly shifted his head so as to remove his eyes from the fall of whatever was being poured into the barrel, scoopful by scoopful.
Big Helga entered Mr Singh’s shop just as the two sacks, now almost empty, were being upturned to get the very last bits into the barrel. For once, Big Helga had walked (a fact that was not lost on the few _Paul_And_Land_ residents who had seen her in this curious, for her, pursuit. So curious, more than curious actually, so flipping weird that jaws had dropped, eyes had boggled and bowels had emptied. Yes, that flipping curiously weird) from the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_, stopping en-route to stick her arm through the Panzer Tank’s turret hatch and pull out an aluminum case which she now placed onto Mr Singh’s shop counter.
In a heavy Cheshire brogue, Big Helga spoke: “na then, Hardeep, yer rait?” (that may be nothing like a heavy Cheshire brogue but let’s pretend, shall we? The old willing suspension of disbelief as Samuel Coleridge Taylor called it. And on the subject of poetry, back at Ms Lennox’ Home for Straifs and Ways, the assembled Straifs and Ways were getting stuck into their takeaway).
Ms Lennox had decided that the Wedgewood plates and Mother of Pearl handled silver knives and forks would be best for this meal. She’d got enough for the girls too and the Marks and Spencer sisters (Mylene and Lulu), Grace ‘Welsh’ Jones’, Kathy Kirbymoorside and Lulu Marks and Spencer’s half sister, Lu, had joined the boys for the meal. Mr Singh’s youngest, who had been concieved on a holiday in the United States, also joined them, he often did and was great friends with them all. It was young Leavenworth Singh who spoke first above the rattle of expensive cutlery on priceless plates, “this is lovely, Ms Lennox, thank you for letting me eat with you and all my friends. And how did you know that my favourite tea is Sweet and Sour Haggis?” Ms Lennox smiled at Leavenworth and replied at she made it her job “to make sure everyone is happy”. She did a fine job of it did Ms Lennox as the various burps, belches and trumps attested whilst the crockery was being cleared away. This being Tuesday, it was poetry night and all the Straifs and Ways gathered in the Parlour to hear Ms Lennox read them a poetic poem written by a poet. It was at times like this, even though he loved his Mum and Dad and his two brothers, Vauxhall Victor and Room 213 Hotel de la Paix Bruges (Mr and Mrs Singh were big on naming their young ‘uns based on place of conception), that Leavenworth sort of wished he could be a Straif and Way.
“This evening”, said Ms Lennox, “I’m going to read a poem by one of my own country’s greatest poetic poets” and she opened the big book of potic poems. All of the Straifs and Ways and Leavenworth Singh sank a little deeper into the Queen Anne sofas and chairs awaiting their journey to rhyming heaven (or just straight paradise in Leavenworth’s because he was Mr and Mrs Singh’s atheist son) and Ms Lennox began to read.
Big Helga on the other hand was beginning to question (for the sake of clarity, we’ll drop the heavy Cheshire brogue, you know, sort of Samuel Coleridge Taylor style. Just for clarity, you understand, but if you want to read it in a Heavy Cheshire brogue, please feel free. I suppose you could even seek out a translation into Heavy Cheshire brogue but that’s your prerogative and we cannot guarantee that some of the plot, yes there is one, may actually be lost in translation. Back to Big Helga now, and beginning to question). “So, Hardeep, the last time anyone saw this ‘Mad-Boy’ character was when he was bundled into your caravanette and you drove off from the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_. Yes, we all know what went on in the shop and with Little Cheerful Charlie. And it does appear that this ‘Mad-Boy’ was something of a psycho but the last thing we want is a visit from, shall we say, the Authorities. So, when did you last see this ‘Mad-Boy’, Hardeep?”
Mr Singh could not lie, it was not in his nature, but he could be economic because that was not really lying. So, being economic, Mr Singh answered Big Helga, “well Helga, this man was in my shop and then he disappeared. I cannot see him anywhere, he has disappeared”. Very economic.
“Is that the truth, Hardeep?” pushed Big Helga. Mr Singh retained his position of economy in his answer “Miss Big Helga, he was here and then gone, disappeared. Please Miss Big Helga, ask my family. Ask Mrs Singh, ask Vauxhall Victor, ask Room 213 Hotel de la Paix Bruges. They will confirm that this ‘Mad-Boy’ has disappeared”. Mrs Singh had just come down the stairs and through the door that led to the Singh Family’s upstairs flat. She had been upstairs watching Tipping Point and was, as usual, thinking “what is this rubbish and why do I feel the need to watch it?” As she had been upstairs, she was unaware of ‘Mad-Boy’s’ fate and therefore did not need to be economic. Big Helga asked the question and Mrs Singh turned to Mr Singh “what is this Hardeep, this man who would try to destroy our lives, he has disappeared. How could this happen? Sometimes Hardeep, I wonder why I married you!”
Mrs Singh’s outburst convinced Big Helga and she relaxed. “Come on Hardeep, take the case off the counter before someone comes in”. Mr Singh slipped the aluminium case behind the counter breathing a mental sigh of relief but his relief was somewhat short-lived as Big Helga continued “what’s that new smell Hardeep?” “That’s some Garam Masala, Miss Big Helga, but it’s not very nice. I’ve tried it and it leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth”. For once Mr Singh was not being economic.
In the bar of the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_, one of the group from the First National _Paul_And_Land_ Bank had joined the three strangers in the corner and the four were now engrossed in conversation. Still very quiet conversation and had Big Helga been in her former seat, she may have noticed the envelope sliding across the table, prior to sliding into the newcomer’s inside pocket.
Back at the Home for Straifs and Ways:
Oh wert thou in the cauld blast,
On yonder lea, on yonder lea;
My plaidie to the angry airt,
I’d shelter thee, I’d shelter thee:
Or did Misfortune’s bitter storms
Around thee blaw, around thee blaw,
Thy bield should be my bosom,
To share it a’, to share it a’.
Or were I in the wildest waste,
Sae black and bare, sae black and bare,
The desert were a Paradise,
If thou wert there, if thou wert there.
Or were I monarch o’ the globe,
Wi’ thee to reign, wi’ thee to reign;
The brightest jewel in my crown
Wad be my queen, wad be my queen.