Monday, March 04, 2019

Eddie Whelan - Autobiography. Chapter 2

Rejecting the idea of taking the car into town, Derek hurried after Eddie on foot, devising a search plan as he went. Having visited Holt on a regular basis, Derek knew the layout of the town well, there were not many pubs or hotels so it would be a logical process of elimination, or all he had to do was look for the one with the police cars outside.
Derek checked his watch again, Eddie had been gone for just over an hour, when he was in the right frame of mind, or possibly the wrong frame of mind, Eddie could get completely thrashed in two hours, a fact Derek remembered well, as he had been there when Eddie’s second marriage had hit the skids.
He paused and stood for a moment taking in the street view, and considering Eddie’s character. He was a creature of habit, admittedly, a lot of them questionable, and he was in a strange town, so he would head for something which would be likely to give him the most pleasure, and as there was no brothel it would be either pool or some other form of entertainment… “The Fiddlers pit, it’s Friday and that means karaoke night.” Derek muttered to himself, and hurried off in the direction of the pub.
He could hear the entertainment from half way down the street; pausing on the threshold he listened, Eddie was singing. “Since my baby left me, I’ve found a new place to dwell; it’s down at the end of Onan Street, at hairy palms hotel…”
There was a roar of appreciation from the punters who were obviously up to speed with the news. The fact that Eddie had not even attempted an Elvis impression was the only upside. Derek shook his head; eighteen years in the British army had prepared him for many things, except Eddie’s knowledge of ersatz lyrics to well known chart hits, some of which still took him by surprise. He waited for the end of the song, and then entered to cheers and applause.
Uh oh, it looks like my minder’s rumbled me, someone get him a beer and a seat, thanks.” Eddie said and waved across the room to Derek, who allowed him self to be manhandled towards the bar.
Do you know him?” The barman asked handing him a pint of bitter.
Guilt by association,” Derek said putting the money for the drink on the bar.
The opening bars to one of Eddie’s chart hits ‘Climbing the walls’ rang out causing to Eddie frown, “Ooh it’s been a long time since I heard this track naked, I think it needs a bit of a tweak, any way let’s see if I can remember how it goes.”
Behind him Derek heard the scraping of chairs; he turned round to see his fellow patrons on their feet their drinks temporarily forgotten, moving their bodies in time to the music and clapping and stamping along with the beat. Derek watched in admiration, it had been three years since Eddie’s last performance, and he was working the audience as if he had stepped off the stage just the previous night. He felt a light tap on his shoulder, and turned to see who wanted his attention.
When your mate has finished, tell him I would like a word with him.”
And you are?” Derek studied her closely, she looked as if she had walked straight from a Beryl Cook canvas, she was elegant, well spoken, and very well dressed, her age was hard to pin down but if he was pushed to hazard a guess, Derek would have put her somewhere in her fifties.
I’m Kim the landlady dear, or to use modern parlance the licensee. In short, I’m the one who decides on the entertainment, and I have an offer to make your pal, that’s if he’s interested. As I said, tell him to come and talk to me.”
She wandered to the other end of the bar to attend to a customer who was banging his pint glass on the counter. “I’ve told you Danny, if you keep doing that, I’m banning you for a week, you are not the only customer in the bar. Now you can damn well wait a bit longer, and don’t pull that face at me, if you don’t like it there’s the door.”
Her voice rang out across the pub, and Derek flinched at the drubbing she was handing the importunate Danny, reflecting that she could have given his old Sergeant Major a run for his money. Downing the last of his pint, Derek wandered over to the little stage where Eddie was performing, he waited until Eddie had finished and was taking a mouthful of his beer. Eddie leaned into him “W’sup?” He asked, putting the microphone to one side.
Nothing, the landlady would like a word with you when you’ve finished.”
Which one is she?” Eddie asked downing more beer. Eddie discreetly motioned to the landlady, who was now working the optics. “Did she say what she wanted?” He asked, taking another mouthful and watching her over the rim of the glass.
No, she just asked me to tell you to go and talk to her.”
Ok, right, I’ll do one more number and come over.” He handed his now empty glass to Derek with the instruction for a refill, and went to the DJ in charge of the karaoke, and together they began scrolling through the song list, Eddie pointed to the screen, and grinned. Derek was almost at the bar when the opening lyrics of ‘Fat bottomed girls’ by Queen rang through the pub, followed by an almighty roar of appreciation from the crowd.
Four minutes later when the song had finished, Eddie handed the microphone back to the DJ, much to the disappointment of the crowd who were not shy about letting their feelings be known. Eddie took the mic back. “What? Come on, I’ve hogged the stand long enough; it’s someone else’s turn.” He handed it back and sauntered towards the bar, Derek became aware of snatches of conversation as Eddie drew closer, the odd “thanks, it’s much appreciated,” “yes of course I’ll sign it,” filtered through the background rumble.
Derek turned to watch Eddies progress, he was acknowledging the compliments and shaking hands, and accepting the odd kiss and hurriedly scrawled phone number from the girls who had expertly manoeuvred themselves to intercept him as the made his way through the crush.
He stopped as he was waylaid by Danny the glass banger, he had his hand on Eddie’s shoulder, Derek could see by the look on Eddie’s face and his stance that things were about to get hairy. “Oh hell, there’s always one bloody idiot.” Derek put his unfinished drink on the bar and began wading through the crowd who appeared to be unaware of what was about to happen.
Eddie?” Derek moved next to the pair, giving Danny ample time to move away but he refused to budge. “Oh look your nanny has arrived just in the nick of time to save your arse.” Danny mocked.
No sir, actually he employs me to keep him out of trouble.” Derek said as he casually eased himself between Eddie and Danny, with one final blistering look, Eddie moved away to the bar. Any further need of action on Derek’s part was rendered unnecessary with the arrival of the landlady. “I told you last week when you tried to start a fight with Sophie’s brother, one more incident and you would be barred.”
And I told you he started it, you stupid bitch.” Danny swung his hand at Kim’s face.
Oh no you don’t bucko,” she grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back.
Get off you cow, I’ll have you for assault.” Danny struggled furiously trying to get free.
I don’t care, you’re barred, and if your barred from here that means you are barred from all the pubs in town, don’t come back.” She barked and marched him to the door.
Nobody does this to Danny Walker you haven’t heard the last of this bitch.” Danny bawled.
Ooh I’m scared.” She retorted as she bundled him through the door. The pub had gone quiet, the regulars and assorted guests all staring in surprised amusement. “All right floor shows over, if you want to sit around and watch me, I’ll start charging theatre rates.” Kim informed them sharply. There was a sudden inspection of beer mats, and the rise of deep and meaningful conversations as the punters decided as one they had not seen what just happened. She made her way back to the bar, picking up empty glasses en route, plonking them in a basket to go in the washer, and then she turned her attention to Derek, who said, “ex military!” It was not a question, but rather a statement.
Yes how did you know?”
I recognised the attitude. Eddie’s gone to the cludge, he’ll be back shortly.”
Nice intervention there, I thought for one moment it was going to kick off.” Kim said, pouring herself a glass of blackcurrant and soda.
That’s why he employs me, to keep him out of trouble; he can look after himself, if you know what I mean.” Derek said raising his eyebrows for emphasis, pushing his now empty glass across the bar; Kim took it asking if he wanted a refill. “No thanks, but I’d murder a coffee if you have one, and so will Eddy.” He said, seeing the man himself wending his way back through the snug.
Where’s the skunk monkey?” Eddie asked lodging himself on a bar stool next to Derek.
Who?” Derek asked frowning.
That idiot who tried to start a ruck, where is he?” Eddie scanned the bar area, searching for Danny.
I kicked him out, I’m Kim by the way and I own and run the Fiddler's Pit.” She placed two cups of coffee on the bar. “I nearly dragged you off the stage after your first song, I thought for one moment the DJ had brought a ringer in, but then I recognised you. I’m looking for a resident singer, would you be interested, or are we too far below your radar?”
The way things are at the moment Kim, I’d be happy with a pitch by the door and a flat cap.” Eddie griped and took a mouthful of coffee.
So, would you be interested?”
Is this a serious offer?”
Of course, come to the back office, we can discuss it now if you want.” Kim moved his coffee mug to one side and lifted the access hatch, then called to the barman, telling him she was going to the office. Quickly swallowing his coffee Eddie got up to follow her, to the accompaniment of ribald cheering and whistles from his fellow drinkers.
Eddie turned and faced the crowd laughing. “What? If you’ve got it, why waste it.” He joked, and turning back to Kim, followed her through to the office, with the crowd cheering him on his way with the opening chorus of ‘Fat bottomed girls’.
Down to business, ideally I’m looking for a band, but if you insist on going solo, I think I can work with that. I’m offering the standard payment of two hundred a night” she paused for a moment reflecting on the comment of her barman had made regarding Eddie’s drinking habits, that he didn’t so much drink as inhale, then reluctantly added, “and free beer topped at five each, so if you are bringing in a backing band you’ll be paying them; I can give you three months regular work, after that it’s negotiable. Are you interested?” Kim’s forthright attitude left Eddie stunned, he was used to protracted discussions, wrangling and arguing, and the paring down of details until some reluctantly accepted solution was finally agreed on.
I’ll take it. Have you ever considered becoming a manager in the music business? You’d make a killing.”
Never, bands coming here on a Saturday night are as close as I wish to get thank you. I have a band booked for the next two weekends, so you can start the week after next, will you be working solo, or can you get a band together?” She asked.
Giving the situation barely a second thought, Eddie said. “I’ll have a band.”
Good, let me know when you’re ready and we can go through the health and safety talk, I’d prefer to do it when you’re all together, I hate having to repeat myself, and as you will be a regular feature, I’ll draw up a contract for you all to sign.” She got up, and pushed her chair back under the desk.
Thank you, Kim.” Taking his cue, Eddie stood up, the interview was over. He followed her back to the bar, and resumed his seat beside Derek, who checked his watch and said. “That was quick.”
It was work, I don’t mess about. It’s going to be a bit of pain though.”
Why? You’ll be working.”
Come on, let’s go. I have some ground work to do, and I don’t want to discuss it here.” Eddie left the bar and began to make his way through the pub leaving Derek trailing in his wake.
Why didn’t you want to discuss it in the pub?” Derek asked when he had finally caught up with Eddie.
Because Kim wants a band and I said I’d have one.”
Ask your old band members.” Derek suggested as if the solution was obvious.
While it’s only polite to give my boys first refusal, its fifty quid a head so they may not go for it, John’s wife spends more than that on one lipstick. All I can do is ask, and if they refuse, well, that’s where I perform miracles.”
What do you mean?”
I’ll have ten days to find and audition musicians and bring them up to speed. Come on let’s get back to the rectory.”
Thirty minutes later Eddie was rifling through his suitcases, finally producing his address book. “Yes.” He hissed in jubilation. “Why do I need an address book when we have all this fantastic technology at hand? Because no one is interested in taking it for unpaid debts.”
Derek watched in amusement as Eddie thumbed through the pages until he found the page he was looking for, Eddies’ filing system seemed to defy all known logic, instead of listing the five band members individually he had entered their names collectively under N, for Nighthawk. Even then the names were not in alphabetical order; Mick Pincott topped the list, then Sean and John Gifford. Next came Mike Portaway, and Steve Pryor came in last. Eddie checked the time, “I’ll call the gang at a more humane hour, the prospect of fifty quid a pop isn’t worth disturbing their beauty sleep. And talking of beauty sleep, I need mine.” He pulled off his jacket and t-shirt, pausing to take stock of his last statement, he looked shocked. “Hells teeth, don’t tell anyone I said that, I’ll be drummed out of the musicians union for failing to live down to the expected standards…just so long as it’s eight- four time I’ll weather the shame.”
Night, Eddie.”
Yeah, night,” Eddie crept to the bathroom to clean his teeth and have a quick wash. Returning to his bedroom, he rifled through the assortment of books on the shelf. He had a suspicion there would be a dearth of Fanny Hill, Tom Jones and Deccammeron, and was not surprised when his suspicions were confirmed, so picking ‘Aunts aren’t gentlemen’ by Wodehouse, he pulled off the last of his clothes and climbed into bed, worrying that he should perhaps start wearing pyjamas in case he run into Derek’s sister or the kids one night on his way to the bathroom, he then spent twenty minutes worrying if that worry was a symptom of encroaching old age, before submerging himself in the world of Jeeves and Wooster.
He had read three quarters of the book when he decided to call it a night; it was three thirty, good job he didn’t have to be up early. “Go get ‘em boys.” He mumbled on hearing the distant sound of a fire engine somewhere in the town, at least he had the luxury of making a choice about staying up all night, and with that comforting thought, he rolled over and drifted off to sleep.
Up not so bright and early the next morning, Eddie decided to wander into town; he wanted to ask Kim if there was a back room he and the boys could use for rehearsals. As he helped himself to coffee, Derek hurried through with some large bags. “Charity shop donations.” He muttered by way of an explanation.
Are you on your way there now?”
Nodding, Derek continued on his journey. Eddie gulped down the last of his coffee, and decided to tag along for the ride.
As they approached Cannon Street where the Fiddler's Pit was, the road had been blocked off and there seemed to be a lot of activity, a police van and a couple of fire appliances were parked by the corner with a police officer who seemed to be deep in conversation with his left hand standing close by. He eyed the car making motions for them to stop. “Sorry sir, there’s an unsafe structure; you can go via Purcell Street.” The police officer said pointing out the route of the redirection.
What’s happened?” Eddie asked, craning round Derek.
There was a fire in the pub sir.”
Not The Fiddler's Pit, when did that happen? It was fine when we left last night” Derek asked, it was a fairly safe guess as it was the only pub in Cannon street.
He did not get a chance to say much else, the police officer moved away and pulled out his radio and began speaking to some unidentified body, obviously off site. Quickly returning, the officer then asked. “Were you both in the pub last night?”
Derek nodded, "I’m Derek Conboy,” he motioned to Eddie, “and I’m Eddie Whelan.”
What time were you in the pub last night?”
Eddie thought for a moment before saying, “I got there a little after eight, the karaoke was just starting.”
What time did you leave?”
Disgustingly early I’m sorry to say, I sang six numbers, so it must have been around ten or just after.”
The officer paused, no longer than a heart beat, Eddie recognised the symptoms, the penny had dropped, in his world of 2+2 makes 5, he had found a 6. “And what was the reason you left so early?”
Did there need to be a reason Eddie wondered, were all police officers such suspicious bastards, or was he feeling just a touch sensitive due to recent events?
He didn’t raise the point he just said, “I had just cut a deal with Kim to perform at the pub telling her I would have a band. I intended to call my boys when I got back to the Rectory, but had second thoughts about disturbing them. As I said to Derek, fifty quid a pop was not worth disturbing their beauty sleep. Look, can I get through I need to speak to Kim.”
I’m sorry sir but that won’t be possible. Did you notice anything unusual in the pub last night, anything out of the ordinary?” The officer paused, his pen poised over his note book.
Eddie watched the fire fighters trooping to the appliances, removing their breathing apparatus and gauntlets, cuffing away sweat from their faces. Drained and exhausted, they leaned against the engine, and as if by magic, bottles of water and mugs of tea appeared, which the fire fighters accepted with gratitude. Finally pulling his gaze from the misery on the other side of the cordon, Eddie said. “I’m new in town so it’s hard to say, but as far as I could tell it was just another Friday night in a pub, people were drinking; some half-wit tried to start a fight and was thrown out...”
There it was again the pause, a bit of a shift, almost like a gear change “A fight? Who started the fight?”
It didn’t get that far, it was just some arsehole, Kim had already warned him about banging his glass on the bar to get her attention, but when he got pushy and tried to slap her, she grabbed him and bundled him out the door.”
Do you happen to know who this person was?”
Eddie thought for a few moments and looking at Derek for conformation said, “Danny something or other.”
Did anyone else witness this incident?”
Just about every one in that bar I would say.”
And you can both be reached at the Rectory if we need any further information?”
Yes officer.”
Giving them a final once over, the officer directed them round the police cordon.
Time to move on I think, we don’t want to get marked as rubber neckers.”
Putting the car into gear, Derek drove on to the charity shop.

Parking at the rear of the shop, Derek rang the delivery bell for attention. When Trish answered, it was clear she was very upset. She seemed surprised by the bags of clothes, almost as if they were a new feature in the shop. “Oh, right, thank you both.” She sniffed, mopping her eyes and nose with a paper hanky.
Are you alright?” Derek asked as he and Eddie followed her into the store room with the bags. It was a pointless question to ask really, as it was quite obvious that she wasn’t.
Have you heard about the fire?”
Yes, we have just found out, we didn’t get much information from the police officer.”
"Kim’s in hospital, I went in to see her this morning but she was unconscious. I asked how she is doing and the nurse said the smoke inhalation may have caused lung damage. She has some burns on her legs and feet that will probably need skin grafts. She is going to be in hospital for some time…The poor love, she has lost everything, she had sunk her savings and pension into that pub, it was a run down shell when she bought it.” Trish fell silent for a moment then burst into tears, making her eyes and nose redder than they already were. Derek, gently guiding her to a back room where a small kitchen had been organised, sat her down and made her a hot, sweet, tea. Eddie, uncertain as to what he should be doing, took the view that as she was Derek’s ex-girlfriend, there would be a certain amount of familiarity between them, and left him to it, and went to the front of the shop to have a mooch around. Shortly after, Derek followed him through with a little sign which read.
Here, stick this in the window will you, I’ve convinced her that this is the best course of action for today, she is in no fit state to open. All I need to do now is convince her to phone her boyfriend and get him to come and collect her.”
Eddie hunted for sticky tape or something to stick the card in the window with, but before he had a chance to put the card up, there is a sharp rap at the door, “We’re closed.” Eddie shouted, but it was clear the man on the other side wanted to be let in. “I’d better let this numpty in before he breaks the bloody door down.”
Is Trish there?” He asked as he came inside. “I need to speak to her, it’s urgent. It’s about the scavenger hunt to raise funds for the Hospice.”
Can’t this wait?” Derek asked. “She’s in a bad way. She’s upset. It’s the news about Kim.”
Well that’s the reason I’m here. Kim had sponsored a boat to take part in the coast-to-coast scavenger hunt, but now she’s in hospital the skipper and two of the crew have pulled out; they think that now the pub is derelict, and Kim’s in hospital she won’t want to sponsor a boat.”
You know how to pick your moments, hang on I’ll go and talk to her and find out if she is up to talking to you, who are you by way?”
The man fumbled in his jacket pockets, bringing out card. He passed it to Derek. “Oh, sorry I’m Stuart Campbell.”
Derek hurried to the back of the shop Trish was still in the little kitchen, finishing her tea; she looked up as he entered.
I’m sorry to bother you Trish, but Stuart Campbell is outside. He wants to discuss the coast-to-coast scavenger hunt, whatever that is.”
Hugging her teacup Trish followed Derek back into the shop where Stuart was idly poking through ornaments on the shelves.
You wanted to see me?” She sniffed.
Hello Trish, how you doing? I’m sorry to have to harass you like this, I understand how upset you are and if there was any other way of doing this, I would.”
Trish shook her head, “It’s all right. What’s the problem?”
Stan, Gary and George have removed themselves and the Nancy Dear from the race, because of the fire in the pub. They have decided that Kim won’t want to sponsor the boat now and take part in the scavenger hunt. Would you like me to scratch Kim’s sponsorship or would you like me to try and find another skipper, craft, and crew?”
If we scratch the sponsorship, then we will be £500 down, and after all, the scavenger hunt was to raise funds for the hospice. Do you think you can find a new craft and skipper?”
It shouldn’t be too hard. I can go to Cromer and ask the boatmen. I know someone who would be happy to stand in as a crewmember, and then all we would need would be two extra hands.”
Alright Stuart, see what you can do and let me know. Do you think you will have found someone by the end of today?”
I think I could, I’m sure someone will be willing to lend a hand, if I can’t we will have no option but to scratch the entry.”
Alright,” she said. “When you are sure one way or the other phone me. Gentleman, I’m going home.” Trish took the card which Eddie was still holding and hunting under the till, found the sticky tape and put the card in the window.
Do you need a lift to Cromer?” Eddie asked Stuart as Trish closed the door behind them. “We could drop you off if you want.”
Oh, thank you. That really would help.”
It took Derek just over 20 minutes to get to Cromer; they parked in the car park of the supermarket, it was easier than trawling round looking for a space elsewhere. “We will need proof of purchase to validate our parking ticket.” Derek pointed out
That’s all right, there’s no minimum spend is there?” Eddie asked. Derek shook his head, and the three of them navigated their way through the car park to the store. Eddie picked out a bunch of flowers and a bunch of grapes and paid for them. He gave them to Stuart, “the flowers are for Trish to cheer her up and the grapes are for Kim.” He gave the till receipt to Derek, saying, “Parking ticket validated.”
They wandered down to the seafront where Stuart led them to a little pub called the lobster. “This place is popular with a lot of the local boat owners. I’m sure we can pick up a craft here.” He told them.
The lobster was fairly busy and Eddie thought they would have problems finding table, but Stuart obviously knew his way round, and after stopping to have a quick word with the barman, he led Eddie and Derek through to the snug. Eddie gave the room the once over, it looked like a scene from any comedy or crime series he had ever watched on television. There were the ubiquitous elderly chaps at the table in the window playing dominoes, and the loner and his dog, seated by the fireplace lost in his own reminiscences. Was there a set dresser who went round setting up seaside and country pubs he wondered? Absently, he parked himself at the table with Derek and Stuart. “I’ve ordered us all coffee,” Stuart said. “When the barman brings them in, we can order lunch, I’ll pay. They make a pretty good sandwich here.”
So tell me what’s the deal with the coast-to-coast scavenger hunt. I know it’s the aid of the hospice. What is it about how is supposed to work?” Derek asked.
The old house is a beautiful building, but at the moment all the kids can see from their beds are walls and pictures. We want to build single story facilities for the children and give them a nice garden to look at, even if they can’t go outside. The charity has finally been given permission to build.
A couple of local building companies have agreed to donate five hundred quid each, a local race course has been persuaded to host a charity horse race event which should raise a decent amount, we have been promised twenty grand from the lottery fund, we get that in four months, and you donated your stage gear, once we auction that we will have a few more pennies in the kitty but we need to raise ten grand now just for the ground breaking. We were hoping to make that from the scavenger hunt.” Stuart paused as the barman brought in the coffee and after a quick look through the menu, the three men ordered sandwiches.
Stuart continued. “The usual raffles and dinner dances would not have raised the money quick enough, so we hit upon the idea of the scavenger hunt. We approached various businesses in the North Norfolk area and asked if they would be willing to sponsor a boat, and then we put sponsor sheets in all the news agents, pubs, estate agents etc, with times on them and people pick a crew, and the time it will take for them to complete the scavenger hunt, sign their name against it and pop their pound in the collection box.
The boats start at Great Yarmouth and sail back up the coast to Sheringham, stopping at various points along the way to collect various pre-arranged items. The one which gets back to Sheringham the quickest will win a nice silver charity shield, which has been donated by a local silversmith, and who ever picked the winning line on the sponsor sheet, gets a prize.”
Won’t the quickest boat collect all the items first?” Eddie asked, he thought he had found a catch in this scavenger hunt deal, all a person had to do, he reasoned, is find out which craft were taking part and find out which one had the most powerful engine.
Stuart shook his head, “There are ten different envelopes, each with a list of the items the crew has to find onshore, so each crew will have to navigate their way through town to the designated place. Each crew will pick an envelope on the morning of the race. And to prevent any thought of cheating, each team will have to take a selfie on their phone with their item and the person named on the list. I think every loophole has been closed because no one, except the C.E.O of the charity knows what is on the lists or where the items are, and I can’t be bribed.” He grinned.
There was a soft choking noise as Eddie’s coffee went down the wrong way, so the ‘numpty’ was the C.E.O of the charity, in all his previous experiences with charities, the C.E.Os only turned up for photo shoots and black tie affairs featuring members of Royalty. Eddie made a note to check out Stuart Campbell, or at least get Derek to do it, this man was a refreshing unknown quantity.
I wish there was something more I could do, four years ago I would have held a charity concert, but I think I’ve been out of circulation for too long to be of any use.” Eddie said mopping his chin.
Ah, don’t worry lad, I’m sure we’ll think of something. Oh lunch.” Stuart moved the cups to one side to make way for the tray the barman was carrying, and shared out the plates. “After I’ve eaten I’m of to harass the boating community. Don’t hang around for me I could be all afternoon.” He informed them.
Are you sure about that?” Derek asked. Even though he had no intention of waiting, it did not hurt to be polite.
Stuart nodded, “You’ve been a great help giving me a lift here, saved me having to get the car, I can get the bus back, thanks gents.”
Further down the sea front, in a quiet corner of the Primrose café, Charlie Holloway sat deep in thought, oblivious to the background drone of the other customers. The past 18 months had been a bit shite when all things were taken into consideration. His wife, Mirelle, had had buggered off back to France, and was unofficially living with her old flame, Gerard Deremoult, who was now the Mayor of Boulogne. On what would have been their 5th wedding anniversary, he had gone on a bender and had sailed to Boulogne to have it out with dear Gerry, (who funnily enough Mirelle had not thought that interesting when he was just a Conseiller Municipal) and bring her home; but she was less than enthusiastic about the prospect. Being the mistress of the Mayor of Boulogne, was more exciting than being the wife of the owner of a British coastal excursion company, the stock of which consisted of one boat: his.
That little adventure had resulted in the authorities, who took a dim view of anyone sailing tooled up into France, pulling his skippers ticket, so after a nifty bit of work by his barrister; he had spent the last year cooling his heels in the chandler’s yard, instead of one of Her Majesties facilities.
But now his licence had been reinstated and the open seas beckoned, well that portion around the British coast at least. His boat, the sweet Mirelle had been renamed, rejecting his first choice the French whore; he settled instead for Mistress Mirelle, all he needed now were clients. Sea fishing would be lucrative, especially as he knew what some of the other skippers were charging. He could afford to knock 20 quid off the hire price and slip it back on as bait charge. Things would be a bit tight this year as business built up once word got around, he would be fine. Struck with inspiration, he went to the counter and taking the pen and a couple of paper serviettes, he began to work out his new business plan, making a note to find out the cost of adverts in fishing magazines.
The bell on the cafe door jangled, Charlie looked up as Lee Phillips, the Seal Island tour guide lumbered in, walking stick in one hand and leaning heavily on the tables as he progressed through the room. Carefully he plonked himself opposite Charlie who could not help but notice that old Lee looked a tad grim. “You all right boy?”
Lee nodded. “It’s bloody labyrinthitis; I’m stuck on dry land until it clears up. The doctor reckons it were that flu I had caused it, it gave me an ear infection.”
You want a cuppa?” Charlie motioned to Phil behind the counter. “Two more teas please Phil and a large sausage roll, thanks.”
You working?” Lee asked.
Charlie shook his head. “Just got my ticket back. I was roughing out my new business plan when you came in.”
I might be able to put something your way mate; did you hear about the coast-to-coast scavenger hunt to raise funds for the kiddie’s hospice?”
Yeah, I tried to get in on that. But they said they had their full complement of boats.”
They are now one boat down. The Fiddler's Pit sponsored the Nancy Dear, but Stan pulled her because of the fire. Between you and me he wasn’t that keen on doing in the first place, it was his missus made him. Stuart Campbell is looking for a replacement; I bumped into him just now, literally, with this labyrinthitis. Anyway, he has given me his number.”
Won’t he have found someone by now, though? He’s sure to have done. The race will be worth a fortune in free advertising.”
No, everyone is booked up with excursions; look here is his number, give him a call. It might be just what you need to get you back on your feet.” Lee slid the card across the table to Charlie.
Thanks mate, I might just do that. It could be helpful.” Charlie picked up the card and slipped it into his coat pocket. Phil brought their order over, Charlie sliced the extra long sausage roll in half, offering one portion to Lee, and they sat munching in silence.
Back in Holt later that afternoon, there was a bit of a domestic crisis. Derek’s niece, Sophie, had developed a temperature and headache, There was only enough pain relief for one dose so Eddie offered to nip into town and get a fresh bottle. “Who develops flu in the middle of summer?” Her mother had queried as she handed him the money. Sophie apparently, he decided.
Don’t bother about the named brand the generic one is just as good. We need the one suitable for 8 year olds.”
Grabbing Derek in passing, they drove into Holt, fetching up at the rear of the small supermarket. It was as good a place as any to look for the medication, but it quickly became obvious that the supermarket did not stock it. “Let’s try the chemist, they must have it.” Eddie suggested, and the two men moved on.
As they hurried up the High Street, Eddie became aware of a certain amount of interest from passers by, he didn’t really pay that much attention, his face had been in the paper quite a lot recently. In the chemist however the interest became more condensed; they had just picked up the medication and were waiting in the queue to pay, when of all people, Trish turned up, she hurried toward them, beaming broadly and obviously happier than they had seen her earlier.
Eddie Whelan, you are an angel, it must have been fate which brought you to Holt.” While not exactly shouting, everyone nearby heard her, and turned to see what the excitement was, just as Trish pulled Eddie into a hug and began kissing him fervently, to the amusement of Derek. And without any further word of explanation, other than “Thank you.” She hurried off, leaving Eddie surrounded by applauding staff and customers, totally stunned.
Derek paid for the medication, and they hurried back to the supermarket. “She never kissed me like that.” He complained.
I’m still trying to work out what I’ve done, and why did she thank me? For what? Kissing her? Not that I had much option really.” Eddie said.
Eddie Whelan?” A total stranger stepped into Eddie’s path and held out his hand causing Eddie to flinch. “Well done mate.”
Eddie was just about to ask what for, but the man had gone. “Now what was that for, Kissing Trish?”
They had not gone much further before Eddie was accosted once more, it was another woman and she had her husband in tow. “Eddie Whelan you are a wonderful human being, I could kiss you.” And without further ado, she did.
Let the man breath Margaret.” The husband laughed, as his wife released Eddie from her clutches he held out his hand. “Well done son, you are a star.” And with that, they walked away, with Eddie, dumbfounded, staring after them. “Breath,” Derek slapped him smartly on the back causing him to cough.
Take me home,” Eddie demanded, “this day has suddenly become very strange.”
Derek laughed. “What’s the problem? I thought you’d be used to this sort of treatment, it didn’t worry you in the pub last night.”
Yeah, I’d just finished singing; in that situation it goes with the territory. 20 or 30 years ago getting stopped and kissed was the norm, and being kissed by a woman with her husband in tow, would have resulted in a lot of excitement for all bystanders, so why didn’t that husband try to lump me one?”
I have to admit it is a puzzler, the whole thing since Trish grabbed you in the chemist, not just the man and wife incident.”
The whole deal is off if you ask me; if I was to go around accosting strange females and kissing them, I’d be arrested for sexual harassment, it’s so unfair.”
Stop complaining, at least you’re getting some action, sort of. If nothing else, it proves you’re not spent.”
Oh, ha ha, very funny.”
Come on you sexy thing, let’s see if we can get you through the supermarket without any further excitement.”
Oh I do wish you hadn’t said that so loud, I’m sure people heard.” Eddie gave Derek a £10 note, “right you get the children some ice cream, I’m going to hide in the car.” Taking the keys Eddie rushed out to the car park.
As they pulled up outside the Rectory, Eddie said. “Right, I’ve had enough of today, so when we get in, I’m going to lock myself in my bedroom and I’m not coming out until the police phone to tell me they have found Susan, or that trouser-stained, panty wasted, frog licking bastard accountant.”
Ok, that was one rare curse; remind me never to upset you.”
But Eddie’s plans for diving under the duvet never came to fruition, as he handed over the medication to Helen, she said. The Bishop is here, he has come over from Norwich especially to speak to you.”
What, why?”
He didn’t say, he is the study, go through.” She said and went to check on Sophie.
Do you think the Bishop has discovered the link between you and his wife?” Derek asked brightly.
Oohh I hope not, as I have a nasty suspicion she’s the backing artist on climbing the walls. I hope that as a Bishop, he truly believes in the teachings of the scriptures and doesn’t haul off and slap me one. A man of the cloth is highly unlikely to lose his temper right?”
Well it’s hard to say really, there once was a man of the cloth who lost it, hauled off and threw everyone out of the Temple.”
Yeah thanks, that positive outlook of yours is what got you the job.”
Anytime I can help.” Derek said, heading for the stairs.
Where are you going? Come back and support your employer.”
You’re on your own mate, I’m having a shower.”
Just as Eddie was contemplating disappearing to his bedroom and pretending to be asleep the Bishop came out of the study making a beeline straight for him saying. “Mr Whelan, your secret is out. I’ve heard everything.”
“Oh, really? I, I’m not sure how we should handle this. It was a spur of the moment thing; I know that doesn’t make it any more acceptable but please believe me, it isn’t something I’ve been boasting about to my friends.”
Your modesty does you credit Mr Whelan. You have made me reassess my own views on performers, and I have to confess, I find I have been a little judgemental. You see, I have always believed pop singers to be self absorbed and only interested in activities which would garner them publicity; but you have proven me wrong by entering the scavenger hunt so discretely, without any demands for public acclaim.”
What? How?” Eddie was confused, desperately trying to make sense of a conversation in which it appeared that he and the Bishop were reading from two different scripts.
The Bishop smiled. “Oh, your wondering how I found out so quickly? You see, I sit on the board of trustees for the charity and Stuart Campbell called and told me.”
Oh, Stuart Campbell. Echos of the conversation in the Lobster earlier that day replayed, in which Eddie had, purely out of politeness, expressed that he wished that there was more he could do to help the charity, good old Stu had obviously taken him at his word. It would have been nice if Stu had discussed it with him first though, it was a touch awkward to be the last in line when the relevant information had been handed out.
Oh by the way, I have something for you.” The Bishop hunted through his jacket pocket and brought out a plastic coin bag, and gave it to Eddie. Opening the bag, Eddie emptied it onto his hand, it was a rose quartz ball encased in a silver filigree holder strung on a silver chain.
Remember me telling you the other day about my wife? Well when I told her I was calling here today to speak to you, she told me that she had taken this from your dressing room the time she got in, she has asked me to return it to you with her apologies.”
So, it wasn’t the Bishops wife on climbing the walls after all, almost melting with relief, Eddie handed it back. “If you have no objection, your Grace, please tell her she can keep it with my kind regards, I haven’t missed it all these years.”
This surely is a day for surprises, thank you Mr Whelan. I have no problem accepting this on behalf of my wife; she admitted to me this necklace is a fond reminder of her slightly wild youth. Well goodbye Mr Whelan, and thank you once more, I hope all goes well with the scavenger race.”
Taking that as his cue to leave, Eddie scarpered upstairs. He had been involved in some weird interviews in the last thirty years, but that one had to take the star prize. He collapsed face down on his bed, and didn’t move until Derek came to enquire what the Bishop had wanted.
Unngh, you are not going to believe it. Remember the conversation we had with Stuart in the Lobster earlier today?” Eddie rolled into a sitting position.
Yeah what of it?”
It would appear that Stuart has entered me as a crew member in the bloody race. That’s what the Bishop wanted to speak to me about.”
Derek exploded with laughter “Oh that is priceless, that explains all the attention in town today, it wasn’t your animal magnetism going into overdrive.” When he could finally speak properly, he said. “And there you were, sweating cobs that he wanted to discuss his wife.” And burst into fresh laughter.
Well we discussed that as well, it turns out that when she got into my dressing room at the Rainbow, she took one of my pendants and wanted to return it. I was so damned relieved that was the only link between us I said she could keep it. Quit laughing will you.”
There was a knock on the bedroom door and Chris said, “Can I come in?”
Come in, join the party.” Eddie called, mirthlessly.
Derek, the Bishop wanted a word with you but has been called away. He wanted to extend his thanks to you for taking part in the scavenger race. Stuart will be contacting you both at some point to go over the details. Thank you for offering to take part; it will make a big difference.” He said and went back downstairs.
Derek had gone quiet, his face a mask of frozen horror. “That’s wiped the smile from your face.” Eddie laughed.
Eddie and Derek were looking forward to going over the details of the race with Stuart; there was one which they believed needed further exploration, namely when it was they had actually offered to take part. But perhaps it was because Stuart realised a conversation with them could prove uncomfortable that made him send the details in a letter, which arrived three days later.
They were to meet their skipper, Charlie Holloway, at Sheringham, by the Henry Ramey-Upcher Lifeboat museum at the west slipway, Wednesday morning at 10 am, they would be taken out to his craft, the Mistress Mirelle, by motor boat, and they would sale down to Great Yarmouth, ready for the start of the race at first tide, Thursday morning.
What time is first tide at Great Yarmouth? Only I have a nasty suspicion we will be getting up at stupid-o’clock of a morning.” Eddie moaned.
I don’t know. Here have a look at this list.” Derek passed a second piece of paper to Eddie for his perusal. “Comfortable trousers, not tight fitting, warm jumper, Aran or Fair Isle, boots or shoes with a good grip, and a hooded water proof coat. Life jackets will be provided and MUST BE WORN AT ALL TIMES. It’s like planning a school trip.”
Exactly like planning a school trip, as we own none of this gear, so it’s going to be last minute panic shopping.”
Come on then, we’d better hit the shops. Can we get all of this here in Holt?”
More than likely, if not we can drive over to Cromer or Norwich.”
Bugger it, lets just go straight to Norwich, it’ll save shop hopping, and I can go into the police station and explain the situation and ask if I can fulfil my bail obligations today.”
The next morning Chris gave them a lift into Sheringham, dropping them as near the promenade as he could. They walked down onto the shingle beach and headed for the museum. To kill time while they waited for Charlie to arrive, they sat on a wall by the slipway eating ice creams.
Good morning gentlemen, I’m Charlie. Would you be the boys taking part in the scavenger race?” He called.
We are, I’m Eddie and this is Derek.”
Nice to meet you both; now have either of you been on a boat, and I don’t mean a peddle boat in 4 foot of water.”
Nope, sorry,” Eddie said, and Derek shook his head.
Good job I didn’t assume you had. Right, when we go out to the Mirelle, we can spend the rest of the day sailing round here, to get you used to being on a boat, and perhaps do a spot of fishing, catch our supper, before we sail on down to Great Yarmouth ready for the off tomorrow. There’s a health and safety talk I have to give, but I’ll wait until the last member of our crew arrives; now I know he’s been on a boat before, ‘cos I spoke to him yesterday. Why did you two get involved if neither of you have been on a boat before, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Charlie grinned, “Oh right, co-opted you, yep, he does things like that so I’ve been told. Where you from?”
What was with the twenty questions? “I’m from Oxwich in Hertfordshire.” Eddie said.
And I’m from Surrey.” Derek replied. “What about you, that’s not a local accent, I’d make you more of a West-Midlands man.”
Yep, you got me. Been in love with the sea since I was a nipper, and when I got my redundancy pay, I sold up and moved down here. I’ve just set up my own sea fishing company; y’know, taking fishermen out for a day's sea fishing. We don’t have anything exciting like, sharks or marlin here, but there’s some pretty good fishing hereabouts.”
Who’s the fourth member of our team then?”
A reporter chap from the North Norfolk Herald, he was interested in taking part, he’s doing a big write up about the charity for Stuart…” He paused as someone called him. “Oh, this looks like him now. Come on boy, hurry up, we’re waiting on you.”
Sorry, the editor wanted a last minute word. Hello I’m John, you must be Derek and Eddie.” He did a double take, “oh yes, Eddie Whelan, nice to meet you at last.” He held out his hand to shake Eddie’s.
Likewise I’m sure.” Eddie tried to sound as enthusiastic as John, but the prospect of a reporter on board, was irksome. “I’m hungry, anyone else hungry? Who fancies a sandwich or something?” He asked, but neither Charlie nor John wanted anything, so he allowed Derek to lead him up the high street to buy food.
The lunch box does really tasty sausage rolls; come on it’s a bit of a trek, but well worth the walk.” Guided by Derek’s expertise, Eddie followed in silence.
You don’t look happy, what’s the problem, is it the reporter?” Derek asked on their return journey to the beach.
Yes it bloody well is. Stuart never said anything in his letter about a damn reporter. I am seriously considering giving the whole thing a miss.”
The whole thing is a bust if you ask me, the way Stuart signed us up, without asking first, and leaving us no time to say no without pulling the plug on the whole fundraiser.”
You know what this is going to look like don’t you? It’s going to look as if I have courted this damn charity gig to make myself look good. If I’d known Stuart was going to invite the bloody press, I’d have refused to do it.”
They lapsed into silence, each man silently fuming at being manipulated by Stuart. They were almost at the museum when Derek said to Eddie.
How’re you going to handle this?”
If he starts trying to interview me I will point out that the charity is the important issue, nothing I could say.”
Down on the beach Charlie and John had loaded the baggage into a small boat moored at the end of the groin. “Come along boys, your transport awaits. Just follow the groin, John’s already in the boat.” Charlie seemed oblivious to the notice which said, ‘No climbing on the groin.’ Leading Derek to ask, “Charlie, is this allowed?”
Charlie climbed up and began sauntering along the groin like a Vicuna, high in the Andes, then turned and shrugged, “It’s a bit of a grey area, no one’s stopped me yet. They may if they catch me though.”
I have a really bad feeling about this, is it too late to back out.” Eddie asked, studying the groin with concern.
I think so, look you go ahead so if you slip I can catch you, or at the very least send my condolences to your relatives.” Derek moved to one side as Eddie, with a little difficulty climbed along the stone outcrop.
Thanks, you’re all heart.”
The walk along the groin was precarious; the constant slap of the sea, and the weed and algae had rendered it a slalom. Charlie almost vaulted into the waiting craft and handed Derek and Eddie a life jacket each. “Here, put these on, there’s not much elbow room in here. Just a reminder folks, these have to be worn at all times.”
At least if I go in now, I’ll float.” Eddie pulled the life jacket over his head, and with Derek’s help and a few contortions, managed to secure it. Wearing it did not make him feel any better about climbing into the waiting boat though, which appeared to be performing movements he had last seen on the cake walk at the charter fair; finally though he managed to slither into the boat and was followed by Derek.
Right off we go then.” Charlie was far too jolly for a man in a dinghy on deep water.
Just out of interest, how deep do you reckon it is here?” Eddie whispered to Derek, as the dingy bobbed along.
Not that deep, look it only comes half way up that gull.” He suggested which earned him a swift clip from Eddie. John seemed to be having the time of his life, and appeared to be oblivious to the amount of water which was appearing as if like magic in the dinghy. “What would I have to do to get a skipper's ticket?” He asked.
The important thing is to study, and remember when you’re filling in the exam paper to put the answers they want to see, and not the short cuts you know will save time.” Charlie said. Eddie and Derek shared a look of dread.
Slowing the dinghy he brought it alongside the Mistress Mirelle. “You first John,” he said hitching the dinghy to the side of his boat, which Eddie was happy to see had a lot more substance and structure. Eddie went next with Derek behind; Charlie handed up the luggage from the dingy, and climbed the ladder.
I’ll haul her aboard before we set off. I’ve got some provisions in and we can catch our supper later, so we’ll be fine. Right I’ll show you where to stow your gear, then give you the health and safety talk.” He led them below deck to a compact four birth cabin. “Right, pick a bed; this is the galley, the head’s there.” He registered their vacant expressions and offered an explanation. “The bog. Now the wheelhouse, this is where you pay attention and if there is anything you don’t fully understand ask, it could save your life. This is the ship to shore radio, it must always be left on this frequency, it’s not for searching out the latest hits or play for today, on radio four. Right you pick up the receiver and pressing this button say mayday, mayday, this is the Mistress Mirelle, then you give our position, that’s the info on this read out here on this screen, then you tell the coast guard what our problem is. I have written out three sheets of information, one for each of you, read it. No running on deck, if you slip you could crack your head open, break a rib or even go overboard. The front of the boat is the bow, and the back is the stern, the left hand side of the boat, as you look at the bow, is port, and the right hand side is starboard, and a cleat is the metal fitting on which ropes are tied. Shall we have coffee then set off gentlemen? Oh I need to haul in the dinghy.” Charlie went to sort out the dinghy, closely followed by John.
In spite of all previous evidence, he seems to be really safety conscious; perhaps all that business about mooring at the groin and putting the right answers on the exam paper was his attempt at irony.” Derek suggested as they studied their crib sheets.
I bloody hope so, I notice though you didn’t seem too convinced by your own explanation.”
I hoped it would sound more convincing if I said it out loud rather than thought it.”
Ah that’s what I like to see, people who pay attention to what I tell them.” Charlie had come back. “So who would like coffee? We’ll have it on deck.”
It was quite pleasant sitting on deck in the sunshine, and the gentle movement of the boat was, Eddie found, quite soothing once he had become used to it. The only thing spoiling the moment was John sitting there with a note pad and pen, keen to get going. “So Charlie, why did you decide to get involved in the scavenger race?”
Well, Stuart had to find a replacement when he lost a boat, so I agreed to pitch in and lend a hand.”
Eddie, what about you, you’ve been in the news a lot recently due to the unfortunate break down of your marriage, do you think that this charity race will give you some positive publicity?”
No, sorry John, we got involved by accident, that’s the top and the bottom of it.”
But this must surely help you. After all, your break up was a very public affair; your wife sent you the news by post card that she was leaving you to set up home with your accountant didn’t she? I can’t even begin to understand how that must have felt, how you must still be feeling, hurt perhaps, humiliated?”
Look John, sorry I’m not here to be interviewed; the charity is the main focus, in fact it’s the only reason for this scavenger hunt. Nothing I say or could say is of any importance. Perhaps you should be interviewing the parents of the terminally ill children and asking them how the new facilities will help. Their views are far more important than mine.” Taking his coffee, Eddie went back to the bunk room; John switched his focus to Derek. “So Derek, you are what, Eddie’s friend, confidant, so how come you got involved?”
I’m Eddie’s personal assistant, and it’s like the man said, we got involved by accident.”
But it must have been heart breaking for Eddie to get that card, you were there, you saw it first hand, how has it affected him and has it had any influence on his decision to take part in the race, if so how?”
John, I suggest you leave it, Eddie isn’t here to be interviewed, you should focus on what the scavenger hunt and the other events will mean to the hospice.”
John tried to interject, Derek stopped him “leave it.” He said and followed Eddie to the bunk room.
What was all that about?” Charlie was nonplussed.
Oh I thought our celebrity would spill the beans, give me a scoop, perhaps he’s playing hard to get, I’ll try again later.”
What celebrity who you on about?”
Eddie Whelan the ex-rock star,” John pointed in the direction of the cabin. “Don’t you keep up with the news Charlie?”
Charlie shook his head, “if it ain't fishing or boats I’m not interested. What happened then? Why’s he in the news?”
So John sat down and explained the whole story to Charlie. His response of, “The poor bugger, perhaps you had better leave him alone then,” was not one John was expecting, he wanted to pursue Charlie’s thoughts on the matter, but found his plan thwarted when Charlie also got up and left.
They hauled anchor and began their slow journey to Great Yarmouth, Eddie and Derek were given the job of making sandwiches for everyone and Charlie kept John out of their way by giving him navigation lessons and letting him pilot the boat for short periods. Derek took Charlie and John their lunch, when he returned to the galley, he said. “Something’s eating our skipper; he seems less ebullient than he was. I wonder if having three landlubbers on board is denting his esteem.”
Perhaps I should have brought my guitar; we could have rocked some sea shanties. Here, put these away, thanks.” He passed Derek some plates and cutlery, and said, “Right, what’s next, fancy a game of cards?”
You must have read my mind, lead on.”
Checking first with Charlie that there was nothing he wanted them to do, Derek and Eddie settled down on deck to play poker, and managed to get two hands in before John arrived. “Oh, you're playing cards, what are you playing?”
Fish,” Eddie was not in the mood for small talk, but John was not going to be put off. “Our skipper seems to be unhappy about something, any idea what?”
Not an inkling sorry, why don’t you ask him.”
He says it’s nothing.”
Perhaps he just wants five minutes on his own.” Derek hinted, but it was lost on John.
Derek and Eddie played another couple of hands before deciding to pack it in and return to the bunk room. Paying a call on Charlie in the wheel room they enquired if he wanted a drink. “No thanks I’m good lads.” He flashed a tin of beer.
I was thinking more of tea or coffee.” Eddie said as they made themselves tea. “We better make one for John I suppose.” He added as an after thought. “We can’t avoid him, so lets see if we can handle the conversation, you know, keep it away from my divorce, interviews etc.” So, trailing back to the deck with cups on a tray, they were ready to try and make friends, but in their absence, John had fallen asleep, so they quietly crept away.
They arrived in Great Yarmouth just before sunset. Fishing for their supper had proven pointless, they had caught nothing. Just how they managed that in a sea full of fish was a mystery to Eddie, but he didn’t let it bother him too much, this was the coast, there would be fish and chip shops. Charlie decided to stay on board while they went in search of their supper; initially he said he didn’t want anything, but agreed after quite a bit of prompting to have a portion of chips.
As you know the area quite well, you can lead the way.” Eddie said stripping off the life jacket. “Where’s John? John you coming? We’re off to hunt for food.”
Thanks, but I have to make a start on the article, what I’m going to say I have no idea, things have been a bit uneventful so far. Just bring back a cod and chips, thanks.” He handed Eddie the money and disappeared back to the bunk room.
Did you ever come to Great Yarmouth as a kid?” Derek asked.
Good grief no, it wasn’t posh enough for my parents, I had to endure educational holidays, tours of the homes of the greats from history, which involved showing us where Van Gogh, Haydn, or where the Bloomsbury set had lived, accompanied by lectures on their contribution to society. The only time I got to do any thing fun was when I went away on trips with the school. I remember one year, I think it was the last year of junior school, we went to Charmouth in Dorset, we were all in tents in a farmer’s field, and there was a little stream, which we all discovered and played around in, it was just deep enough to wet the soles of our wellies. We went fossil hunting in Lyme Regis and mackerel fishing, we visited a lighthouse, it was great, I had freedom to be a kid.” Aware that he had let his perfectly honed front slip, Eddie looked a bit embarrassed.
We used to come to Norfolk all the time when I was a kid; we stayed at various places all along the coast, when dad retired they bought a place in Sea-Palling. Mum was gutted when he died and she had to move nearer my brother, Gary, he insisted, I was in the army, and he said it was a long way to drive if she was ill. Helen and Chris offered to have her living with them, but she wanted her independence. So with the money she got from the sale of the bungalow at Palling, she bought a place near Gary, but she wasn’t really happy.”
This conversation had taken them from the quay side to the first parade of shops, they picked the first chip shop they found and placed their order. It was as they were walking back to the boat that Eddie admitted. “You know, in spite of everything, being conscripted as it were, and having the reporter around, I’m actually starting to enjoy myself.”
That’s good, I know what you mean though, it’s just a case of making the best of a bad situation.”
Ahoy,” John hailed them from the semi-darkness of the quay, “I heard your voices, shall we eat on deck?”
Why not it’s a warm night, let’s find the plates and cutlery.” Eddie began sharing out the dinner. “Where’s Charlie?”
In the wheelhouse, he’s been there the whole time. Don’t know why, we’re not going anywhere.” John said.
Eddie went to tell Charlie his dinner was ready.
Bring it here boy, thanks. And could you take this?” He said handing Eddie a carrier bag with eight empty beer tins. Reaching into a carrier bag on the floor, he pulled out another tin and cracked it open.”
I’m making coffee, would you like a cup?” Eddie asked as tactfully as he could. First rule of dealing with a drinker, who, if the contents of the carrier bag were any indication, took his hobby seriously, was, you never suggested that the drinker had possibly had enough, you just offered an alternative.
Na, I’m fine thanks.”
So, what’s the plan for tomorrow?” Rule number two, never ask if the drinker will be able to get up the next morning.
Oh, we sail out to a row of buoys and Stuart will fire the flare gun to start us off at 13:00. But there’s a storm heading this way tomorrow morning, so it might not happen.”
Oh, right, so I could perhaps have a bit of a lie in, in the morning. You know, sleep off the excitement of today…sort of thing.” Eddie emphasised the ‘sleeping off’ part of the sentence, hoping that Charlie would pick up the hint.
Yeah if you want,” Charlie scrunched up the now empty tin and pitched it into the bag, and took another.
Well, if you want to join us we’re on deck.”
We’ve got a lot in common you’n’me. Your wife ran out on you for another man, so did mine. She’s in Boulogne, shacking up with the poxy mayor. Only someone who’s been through that can understand the pain, and no matter what that reporter thinks, that experience isn’t tabloid fodder, broadcasting it to the world, well it just cheapens it. It’s how we get through it that counts, how we survive. And you will, you’ll come through this, and then you can say fuck em all.” Charlie made an expansive gesture, which was spoiled somewhat by the fact that he had his open tin of beer in his hand.
Yeah, thanks Charlie.” Mopping himself off as best he could with his hand, Eddie went to the deck to find Derek, but unwilling to say anything in front of the reporter, he simply said. “John, could you do me a biggy, could you go to the brig and get the kitchen towel please? Thanks.”
Yes certainly, would you like a coffee? I fancy one, I can make one while I’m there.”
Oh thanks John, could you make me a tea though, thanks.” Eddie waited until John was out of site before saying. “We are going to have to keep an eye on Charlie; he’s in the wheel house and he’s getting a mite tight. If reporter boy gets wind of him, he will certainly have something to put in his bloody article.”
Tight? How bad is he?”
Well during our two minute conversation, he handed me a polly bag with eight empty beer tins, opened a ninth, gave a maudlin monologue, killed number nine and started on ten.”
Ah, that bad, ok here’s what we do. You keep John company, and I’ll go up front and keep an eye on Charlie, with any luck he will fall asleep and then I can pour him into his bunk.”
Let me know and I’ll come and give you a hand.”
No that’s ok, I can manage alone, I’ve had plenty of experience, I’ve been looking after you for long enough.”
Every ones a critic, finish your dinner, then go baby-sit. Ah John, my tea, thanks.” John was back which marked the end of the conversation. Derek had finished his dinner, picking up his plate and coffee; he went off to the wheel house.
I’m sorry if I was a bit grumpy earlier, it’s just that Derek and me, sort of got co-opted into this race without being asked, and when I discovered you were on company strength, I just assumed Stuart had asked you along to use me for publicity; so, sorry once again.”
Oh damn, Eddie, no it wasn’t like that at all. And I’m sorry, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what you said, and I agree the important thing is the charity and what the improved facilities will mean to the parents. And please don’t be too harsh on Stuart he means well, y’see, his daughter Natalie had leukaemia as a kid. It was touch and go for a while, but she was one of the guinea pigs for what was, a new form of treatment, which thankfully worked, she went into remission, and has been ok ever since.”
Oh, I didn’t know that. I understand he must have worked really hard for this charity. Apart from this scavenger hunt, he has a charity race meet organised, though how he has managed that I will never know.” Eddie finished his tea. “I know he was upset about losing the Nancy Dear, as was Trish, the charity would have lost five hundred quid.”
Well the race meet was easy for him; he has all sorts of connections because of his background.” John told him.
What’s his background? I don’t know anything about him; I only met him the other day.”
You don’t know about him? Don’t you follow the gee-gees?”
Eddie shook his head. “Off the record I will admit to having many vices, but gambling isn’t one of them, what’s his story?” Eddie was keen to keep the conversation going as it seemed to be distracting John.
You mean you’d never heard of Stuart Campbell, the multi-millionaire race horse breeder? Owner of the five time grand national winner Tudor Queen. Jester, twice winner of Prix de l’Arc de TriompheNot to mention Student Prince, Fairy Queen, Green King and Infanta, winners at Royal Ascot, Dubai, Melbourne and Kentucky.” John sounded surprised.
Eddie shrugged; the gesture was lost in the semi-darkness. “No I hadn’t. Stuart never mentioned it. Ah, here’s Derek, I thought he had gone over board. Where have you been?”
Derek sat back down, “I’ve been talking to Charlie, he’s been telling me about his new business plan. Y’know, I may just hire him at some point and come and try out a bit of sea fishing. Any way, he’s gone to bed now, he wants to be up bright and early, ready for the race. Finish your dinner Eddie and then we can clear up and perhaps get an early night also.”
Good idea.”
Do you need any help clearing up?” John asked finishing the last of his coffee.
Eddie shook his head, “That’s ok John, we’ve got it sorted, get some rest or you won’t be able to concentrate tomorrow, there’s going to be a lot to cover.”
Ok, thanks guys, night.” He said, and sauntered off to the cabin, leaving Eddie and Derek clearing away the dinner things.”
Did you know our dear Stuart is a multi-millionaire horse breeder? John’s been telling me all about him.” Eddie said.
Well that certainly explains his attitude. Any way, you were right about our Charlie, he certainly knows how to put them away, he fell asleep after his twelfth tin, he’s now sleeping soundly on his bed. I just dumped him on top and put his quilt over him.”
Good, we’ll get the painkillers ready for the morning. Come on, let’s get this sorted, I want my bed, I’m going to have a drunk with a hangover to contend with in the morning, and I know how bad that can be, I have experienced it from the other side.”
Eddie woke up; he didn’t know what had awoken him and lay for a moment in a hypnopompic stupor waiting for his senses to kick in. Something wasn’t right, the movement of the craft had changed, and judging by the noise outside, the storm Charlie had mentioned the previous night had hit early, the boat was now pitching; thank God they were safe in the harbour. He had never seen a storm at sea, and took a look through the porthole to watch, but by the dim lights on the boat he could see they were no longer moored at the quay side, perhaps they had slipped their mooring and drifted out to sea. Not wanting to wake the others unless it was necessary, he quietly slipped his trainers on and carefully wandered out on deck. Then he registered the sound of the boats motor in full throttle, and gripping tight to the hand rail, he hurried as best he could, to investigate, and found Charlie at the wheel, with four empty beer cans at his feet and half a bottle of vodka on the console. “Hey evening Charlie, what’s happening, are we getting a head start over the others?” He tried to sound casual.
No, I’ve decided I’m going to France to have it out with that bastard Deremoult once and for all. I don’t give a shite if he’s the Mayor of Boulogne, that don’t give him the right to steal my wife. They stopped me last time, but not this time, he doesn’t know I’m coming this time.” Charlie was in his own private world, and Eddie suspected that things were going to get a bit cramped for them all, something had to be done. “Ok Charlie, I’ll just leave you to it, you seem to have everything under control.” He hurried back to the bunk room, and turned on the lights, banging on the wall he shouted. “Wake up quick, we’ve got an emergency.”
There was a variation on the theme of, “What, what’s happened?”
We’ve been press ganged by Captain Rehab.”
What, where are we?” Derek asked finally coming to his full senses.
About half way to an international incident,” Eddie told them what Charlie had said, adding, “We have to think of something quick.”
It was Derek who took charge. “John, get me a bottle of water and a roll of gaffer tape, I saw one in the galley, it’s in the cupboard by the sink. Eddie, you go back to Charlie and tell him there’s an emergency in the bunk room, while I deal with him here, you call the coast guard and tell them what’s happened.”
John came back with the water and the roll of tape, and handed them to Derek. Eddie watched as Derek opened the bottle of water and began pouring it on the wall beneath the port hole and onto the carpet below until the area was quite soaked. “Right, tell him there’s a leak.”
Eddie carefully went back to the wheel room, Charlie didn’t even register his presence until Eddie shook his arm, “John and Derek have asked me to come and get you, there’s a problem.” He made box shapes with his hands, “at the blunt end.”
It took a few moments for this information to permeate the alcoholic haze, but when it finally did Charlie said. “Here take over, blunt end, bloody idiot.” He staggered from the wheel room, Eddie nervously waited for a splash, but it didn’t happen. He picked up the mike and pressing the button said, “Mayday, mayday, this is the Mistress Mirelle…”
In the cabin, Charlie demanded to know what the emergency was, Derek pointed to the wet floor and wall, “I think we have a leak.” John, who had been hurriedly schooled by Derek in the art of restraining someone by using gaffer tape, waited for Derek’s signal. Charlie felt the wall and bending unsteadily, began to examine the floor, Derek gave a quick nod to John and as one man they pounced.
When the Coast Guards turned up and boarded the Mirelle, they found an unconscious Charlie, bound securely with gaffer tape. Taking control of the boat, they gathered Eddie, Derek and John together and in the cabin room, and took the details once again. “Well Charlie old man,” said the Coxswain addressing the unconscious figure, “you’ve lost your ticket for certain this time, and you’ve only just got it back as well.”
How did he lose it last time?” John in full reporter mode, sat poised with pad and pencil.
Exactly the same way, got loaded and sailed off to France with the express intention of rearranging the facial features of the Mayor of Boulogne with a mallet and a tyre iron. He believes the Mayor stole his wife, Mirelle.”
John’s pencil danced across the paper as he wrote down the information. Putting his hand on John’s to stop him Eddie said. “Hold up a mo’ if this gets into the news, it will spell disaster for the hospice, especially as Stuart personally gave Charlie the slot at the last minute. Now think John, do you really want that?”
Well the story will get out eventually when Charlie goes to trial?”
Look, this is terminally ill children we are talking about; can we cut a deal here? I personally know exactly what affect negative publicity can have.”
Are you expecting me to lie to a hearing, apart from anything else, he has been drinking heavily?”
Eddie looked at John; he was eagerly taking notes once more, the Coxswain glared at Eddie in disbelief. Eddie thought he should give it one more try. “Look, the only people who know what his real intention was are here in this room, and I for one will deny I heard him say anything, what about you Derek?”
Well as I didn’t personally hear what he said I was told by you, I can’t swear to anything its all hearsay.”
What if the boat slipped its mooring during the night, and Charlie was trying to get us back to the harbour when the boat pitched and knocked him unconscious.” Turning to John he said, “That has to be a better story than drunken sailor goes on the rampage, banner headlines in the nationals if I’m not mistaken. And the RNLI, called out in the early hours to rescue the craft, which was in danger of drifting into a major shipping lane, and her passengers.”
And what if the next time there is no one to stop him?” The Coxswain demanded. “He got his ticket back this time and will get it back again.”
Eddie grinned. “Not if we persuade him to sell the damn boat he won’t.”
And how do you intend to do that?”
We’ll accuse him of abducting us, but then tell him we are willing to drop all charges if he sells the damn boat and stops trying to put a bigger dent in Anglo French relations. And if you both agree.” Eddie sighed, his next statement was going to cost him, not financially, just a bit more of his soul, but this time it was for a good cause. “If you both agree, then John, I’ll give you that interview, and you Cox, I will appear at any fund raiser you ask me to attend. What do you say? The hospice is five hundred quid down already with the loss of this boat, when the sponsors get wind of what happened here tonight they will pull their support.”
I’m going to check on the crew.”
Do you think he will go for it?” Eddie asked, as the Coxswain left the bunk room.
Not a hope in hell.” Derek said. He got up to check on Charlie, and began removing the strips of tape.
One of the life boat crew members came in, “Five minutes till we dock gents. Oh and the Cox has told me to tell you that the boat we are using is due to be Decommissioned within the next eighteen months, and we are holding fundraising events if any of you would like to take part.”