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Dinner Party Guests

English Historical Fiction Authors is a closed Facebook group for – well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Although the members don’t have to be English, and I’d guess that more than half of them aren’t; the group is for people who are interested in historical fiction with an English setting. A question that came up today was that old favourite: you have the chance to throw a dinner party where you may invite three monarchs/rulers/leaders from any period of history, whether they’re Hatshepsut or King George III. Who do you invite and why?

This was my reply:

First, Barabbas, because he wasn’t simply a bandit; he was Bar Abbas, the Son of God, and people in the early years of the church would have understood what he represented: that the Jewish people were offered a choice between two sons of God, one of whom taught freedom through peace while the other said you had to take it by violence and they made the wrong choice. I’d like to know how he feels about things two thousand years on.
Second, the Empress Makeda, who – well: “King Solomon violated the Empress Makeda, whom the ignorant call the Queen of Sheba. She was searching for his wisdom, but he was what he was and he jumped her. His own people were so disgusted by the way he treated her, the way he broke faith and his promise that they escorted her back to Abyssinia and they took the Ark of the Covenant with them. It sits where they left it, on the beach in the Ethiopian province of Eritrea.” It’s a good story, but I’d like to know how true it is, and who better than her to tell me?
And, finally, Thomas More. There are two completely opposing ideas of who and what he was and I’d like to look him in the eye while I heard his side of the argument.

It occurred to me afterwards that I’d better make sure I had plenty of booze available. No English wine, though – the dinner is meant to be enjoyable.

That bit about Solomon and the Empress Makeda, btw, is from my wip, When the Darkness Comes, which probably won’t be finished this year and couldn’t feature in English Historical Fiction Authors anyway because it’s set in the 21st century. Barabbas is there, too; he punches poor John Betjeman and knocks his teeth out. Not a nice man.

What is Heaven like?

When you get to my age it’s inevitable that you sometimes wonder: If I get there, what will Heaven be like? Well, now I know. Heaven will be like Sunday lunch at Punchinello’s at The Southern Sun Montecasino in Johannesburg.

And, if it isn’t, I think I don’t want to go there.

Between Women

I was in that place I knew so well that I’d always thought of as Between Women. And then I realised that I wasn’t.

I’d been between women several times in the past, and always with a combination of sadness and hope. Sadness that a love affair was over, because I was completely invested in a relationship while it lasted. Or I thought I was; the woman often disagreed, which was sometimes the reason it was coming to an end. And hope at the idea of being able to put myself out there once more in the hunt for someone new. Someone somehow indefinably better. Someone with whom, this time, the train of love would not slam into the buffers.

That was the nature of the experience of being between women.

And, this time, it didn’t apply.

About six years earlier I’d talked to the doctor about sleep difficulties I was having. I don’t mean going to sleep, I could still do that, but staying that way instead of waking at two in the morning. The doc suggested testosterone therapy and I said, ‘You have to be joking. Almost all the trouble I’ve had in my life, all the stupid things I’ve done, were caused by too much testosterone. And now, when it’s finally receding, you want to top it up. No thank you.’

And it was the right decision because, after a while, I started sleeping through the night again.

I’d been glad that the hormonal flood was reducing, the tide of aggressive maleness ebbing, the risk of behaving like a damn fool diminishing. What I didn’t do was to think through the likely consequences. I didn’t need to at the time, because I wasn’t going to see them for another six years, but now here they were.

I’m not talking about impotence; I could still do the lady justice if I wanted to, no Viagra needed, thanks very much. I just didn’t want to.

I didn’t suddenly wake up and find I’d gone off the whole idea. What happened was that I met a new woman, a very agreeable woman, just turned fifty, a nice age difference, and I took her to dinner. It was a good dinner. Nice restaurant, attentive service, food better than normal. The conversation was good, too. Easy. Agreeable. Unstressed. You don’t always get that on a first date. We had a lot in common. Including, as we found out towards the end, a mutual love of cheese. Cheese is usually more a man’s thing than a woman’s. A lot of women see it as fat they don’t need to ingest. But the restaurant had an excellent British cheese board, and she got into them as much as I did and we found we were talking about cheese: Cheddar; Perl Wen; Sage Derby; Shropshire Blue, and then I said, ‘What a friend we have in cheeses,’ and she laughed.

It was a lovely laugh, whole-hearted and not tinkly or forced, and I think she knew it wasn’t originally my gag, that it had been around a while, and maybe she was just encouraging my willingness to make an evening of it, showing hers too for that matter, and maybe she was someone who laughs easily. I like people like that, men or women, especially when I’ve just met them because then you get a chance to rework all your old material. Good salespeople have their material, you know, just as professional comics do.

So I ran off a couple of the classics. Like the one about being expelled from school because of that unfortunate incident in drama club when I misinterpreted the stage direction, Enter Ophelia From Behind.

Her laughter was completely in the moment. Unforced. And all the time I was thinking, ‘Oh, God, I hope she doesn’t want to go to bed.’

I don’t think I’d ever thought that before. Not since I was eighteen and I’d gone for a curry with my first girlfriend, can’t even remember her name now, curries being the new thing for most English people when I was eighteen, and not with all the girls and then women since; not once have I ever hoped the one I was with wouldn’t want to go to bed with me. Mostly they didn’t, of course, especially in the early days because girls played by different rules in the Sixties, whatever you may read. And that first one certainly hadn’t. But that was not what I wanted.

And now it was.

Don’t ask me to explain it. I’ve never been good at the great existential questions. I’m a salesman, a good one, and when I’m working and I meet someone for the first time I think, ‘Is there a sale here?’ and if the answer’s ‘No,’ I’m out of there as soon as politeness allows but if it’s ‘Yes,’ or even ‘Quite possibly’ I know I’m not leaving till I’ve got it. But to explain other things, like why I’d suddenly stopped wanting something I’d always wanted in the past, well, I can’t do that.

I think she did, actually. Want to go to bed, that is. Or I think she was willing to, at the very least. I say that because she didn’t look happy when I did my thing with the iPhone. I’d paid the bill, left a tip, walked her home and the look on her face said she was about to suggest coffee, which as we all know may be an offer of a cup of coffee and may mean something else entirely, and I took the iPhone out of my pocket. I said, ‘I hate it when these things vibrate like that. It’s why I never carry it in my shirt pocket. I’m afraid it’ll have my nipple off.’ She smiled, but I wondered if she realised that every word I’d just spoken was untrue and I’d said it to let her think my iPhone had vibrated, which it hadn’t, and that someone had contacted me, which was not so. Then I pretended to read a text message which didn’t actually exist, and then I said what a great evening I’d had and how I hoped we’d do it again but right now I had to run because someone needed my help. I couldn’t read her facial expression but she wasn’t happy. But she agreed we’d had a good time and I should call her and maybe we could do it again. Then she turned away, put her key in the lock and went inside without a backward glance.

* * *

Of course I wasn’t going to call her, whatever we may have said, and I suppose I thought I’d never see her again. But she rang me. She was throwing a party, just a little thing for old friends, nothing elaborate but it would be fun and she hoped I’d want to go.

You don’t have much time to think of a response to something like that; any hesitation sends its own message; we’d had a good evening and I’d enjoyed her company so I said yes, I’d like to go to her party. She gave me date and time, we exchanged pleasantries and hung up. It wasn’t all pleasantries because she said, ‘Leave your iPhone at home.’ So she had known I was lying, but she was prepared to give me a second chance.

* * *

One of the difficulties with parties is: flowers or wine? I decided to play safe and do both. I had the flowers delivered the morning of the party so she’d have a chance to put them in a vase and straighten them out, fluff them up or whatever it is that women do with flowers. I took the wine with me. My wine rack has the really good bottles on the lowest level and the stuff I’d give to people I didn’t really like on the top. It isn’t bad because what would be the point of buying bad wine? It just isn’t memorable. Or pricey. For the party, I took out a bottle from one of the middle shelves. Then I put it back and went lower down. All the way down. Don’t ask why because I don’t know.

When I put it in her hands she looked at the label and said, ‘I’m going to hide this. It’d be a shame to waste it on people who won’t know what they’re drinking.’ So she knew wine as well as cheese. My kind of woman. Would have been once, anyway.

It was a good party. If these were the kind of people she liked, I liked them, too. There was none of that competitiveness you often get at social gatherings—the “I’ve been to this place/read that book/met some power broker you haven’t” stuff that has so often made me leave a party early and I didn’t want to leave this one—I was having too good a time. In fact, I was still there at the end and when the last guests were preparing to leave I stood with them to thank Catherine—that was her name; Catherine—and go, too. As she was kissing the others goodbye she put a hand on my chest and said, ‘Stay a moment, will you? I have something you might be interested in.’ Then the door was closed and we were alone.

She turned to me. She was smiling and I thought there was an inquiry in her raised eyebrows but whatever the question was she didn’t ask it. Not right then, at any rate. She said, ‘I have to go to the bathroom. I won’t be long.’

When she came back, she’d got rid of the party dress and wrapped herself in a towelling dressing gown. There was a pleasing smell of soap. She said, ‘I’ve just washed my bits. Bidets are wonderful, aren’t they?’ She put her hands on my chest and kissed me on the cheek. ‘If you’d rather go, you can. I won’t be cross. We’d probably better not see each other again, though.’

That doctor must have been crazy. I didn’t need testosterone replacement; I had the stuff in plenty. I said, ‘I’d like to stay.’

‘Right answer. Would you mind washing your bits too, then?’

* * *

While you’re doing what we did that night, you don’t think about why you’re doing it. That came later and I found it intriguing. The doctor had been right in a way; I did need something to boost my hormones. The something wasn’t chemical, though. What I’d lacked was desire, and I hadn’t had that because there had been no-one in my life I liked enough to want to take my clothes off. And now there was. When a young man says, ‘I love you,’ what he really means is, “I want to be inside you.” And he does. He wants to be inside her every day. He thinks that desire will be with him for ever, and when it dies—because it does die—he may make the best of what he has or he may look elsewhere in the hope of finding the same level of lust with someone else. But I’m an old man, or at least my father’s generation would have called me old, and what I need now is different. If I could talk to the young man I once was, when he looked at a new girl I’d say, “Hang on a minute. What are you going to talk about, when the sex is done?”

It would be pointless, though. He wouldn’t have listened, the randy sod. What he needed was what that bottle of wine I’d taken Catherine had. Time in the bottle. Age. Maturity.

I’ve got those things now. Catherine and I are happy together. I’ve looked all my life for contentment. You have to wait for that. I wish I’d known earlier.

Author’s Note

I’ve put this here as an example of how I write. If you don’t like my writing, that’s okay, we won’t fight about it. If you do, and you’d like to know what else I write, you’ll find the information here.

Skinny Belly Dancers

Belly dancers in the Middle East were usually Egyptian or Lebanese and they were big. Not fat, necessarily–though some were–but there was plenty of them. For several years now, the ones you see in hotels and restaurants in the UAE have been from Brazil and they’re skinny. I’m sorry but I just don’t see the point of a belly dancer without a belly. When they get going you want to feel that if they let go just a little more, spin just a little faster, they’ll have a chandelier off the wall. Something has gone out of the world and I, for one, don’t like it.

Wolf Hall at the RSC

Wolf Hall

It’s out of this world. Sublime. Possibly the best thing I’ve seen at Stratford in nearly 50 years of going there. The Swan Theatre is smaller than the new RSC main theatre and more intimate; we had seats in the very front row at the corner of the apron stage and while I’m not sure I’d want to sit there every time it gave us an excellent feel for the production. Cromwell and Henry VIII are brilliantly played but there wasn’t a single dud performance and the adaptation is wonderful. Don’t know how it will play out on a cinema screen but it’s beautifully tailored for that theatre. Good meal in the RoofTop Restaurant before curtain up, too.

http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/wolf-hall/

I’m the new Thomas Hardy :-)

A Just and Upright Man cover R J Lynch

Well, maybe that’s a bit OTT. But this is a very good review of A Just and Upright Man from Francine in Romance Reviews Magazine:

It’s the North of England (1763) and the Enclosures Act has yet to be passed by Parliament (1773). Even so, small plots and common land are enclosed without application to Parliament, which occurred right through from the time of Charles II’s restoration. And this is where the author’s hero, James Blakiston, rides forth and affords insight to his position as overseer (land agent/steward). He is the very man who mediates in disputes and or negotiates terms between a landowner and his tenant cottagers, smallholders and farmers. Subsequently, Blakiston comes to know of the shady secrets of all the parishioners, the rector, and his lusty bible spouting curate.
 As if Blakiston doesn’t have enough to contend with in his duties to his master, (his lordship), a rape and murder occurs in one of his lordship’s villages, which James must initially investigate as part of his working remit. But rumour abounds of hidden treasure spirited away, and what at first seems a simple case of murderous revenge, becomes a far more complicated puzzle to solve. Undaunted, Blakiston sets out to unravel the mystery of a man everyone despised: including the deceased’s own children. Such is no mean task for Blakiston hails from the lesser landed gentry, being that of a squire’s son. While subjected to sideways mistrusting glances from many, others benefit from his fair-minded policies. One young lady, below his rank, sees him for what he is, a lonely young man at heart. Little does Kate Greener know that Blakiston has a past he’s ashamed of, and although she stirs lust from within, he is what he has made of himself: A Just and Upright Man.
 Blakiston treats Kate with respect, and while beating his heart into retreat, she too knows her place in the overall scheme of what is socially acceptable. But can social divide keep them apart, or can love overcome all obstacles set by society? J. R. Lynch has brought to life the country folk from up north, and that of the era in which they exist. This novel is on a par with Thomas Hardy’s meaty offerings of country life and the hardships of the less well off: those beholding to the super-rich of their day. The men who could make or break a family with one word: eviction. Although there’s a large cast of characters, the author introduces each with clarity through the eyes of Blakiston. A Just And Upright Man is nothing short of a very enjoyable and worthwhile read. As this is Book 1 of a series, I can honestly say I’m looking forward to reading book 2.

All women expect to change their men and all women fail

Working on the edit of When the Darkness Comes I came across this passage that I’d forgotten writing:

Alex had had a list of ways in which Ted irritated her. The way he could not get into a lift to go down without saying, “Dive dive dive.” How he pretended to believe the French for a sponge bag was “sac d’éponge”. The way he would suddenly say, “By Jove, Carruthers” about nothing at all, and how amusing he and his male friends seemed to find it when one of them would offer a hot drink to another with the words, “You for coffee?” It wasn’t a long list and they weren’t big things, but they were there. She had intended to change him when they were married. Her mother had died when Alex was eight; her father had not married again and kept any women he might have had away from his daughter; at ten she had been sent to school in Switzerland and came home only during the holidays; there had been no-one to tell her that all women expect to change their men after marriage and all women fail.

It’s one of the things that have long puzzled me about women. What is it that makes them believe we’ll change? Alex says, “It wasn’t a long list and they weren’t big things” but we’ve all known cases where they were big things—the man was a drunk; he hit women (the big, final, inexcusable act); he lied, spent money he didn’t have or two-timed her—and still she tells herself she’ll change him. Why?

I look at my daughter’s generation and think that today’s women aren’t so gullible and won’t stand for what their mothers tolerated. I hope I’m right.

Not many men get to my age without accumulating a history they’re ashamed of

Not many men get to my age without accumulating a history they’re ashamed of. Things they wish they hadn’t done. People they wish they hadn’t hurt.

What made me think of this was the final revision I’m doing on When the Darkness Comes, which I have been working on for seven years and still haven’t finished. I’ve published four books since I started on that one; when (whether) it will see the light of day I simply can’t say. It isn’t about me and people I’ve known because I don’t write about me and people I’ve known, but some things ring a bell. I’m not going to talk about all of them. There’s this passage, for example, when the protagonist, Ted Bailey, was fourteen years old:

Arthur must be six feet four inches tall and weigh twenty stone, every ounce of it muscle. Half his face is hidden by an untrimmed black beard but there’s no avoiding the eyes that stare at Ted, as crazed as the eyes of the dogs outside. He doesn’t introduce his friend, a skinny man who can’t stop smiling.

‘So this is Teddie,’ says Arthur. ‘He’s as pretty as you said he was.’

Twenty-five pages later, Arthur returns to the story:

The Lizard leans back against the wall, his face a picture of contentment. King Tut rustles his robes. What’s happening on the midway brings back the memory I believed I had buried so deep it could never return. I imagine that’s why I’m being shown it now. Arthur told me to take my clothes off, and I refused. “No” was not an answer acceptable to Arthur. Might was right, and the strong shall conquer the weak, because that is their due.

When my clothes were on the floor, his friend picked them up and took them away. Arthur handed me a pair of girl’s cotton knickers. I said I didn’t want to wear girl’s knickers and Arthur said that was all right, I wouldn’t have them on long enough to worry about.

I’m not going into where all that comes from; I’m only mentioning it here because after publication people are going to be asking me: Do you have a secret? If I do, a secret is how it’s going to stay.

There are other things, though, that have left traces in When the Darkness Comes and when I think about them I’m sad that I behaved that way. I’d like to seek out some of those women and say I’m sorry I treated them like that. Let me make it clear that we’re not talking about rape here—I have never made love with any woman against her will—what I’d make my apologies for is treating women unkindly. There aren’t any excuses. Here’s another extract from the book:

‘… you have a decision to make. About Arthur.’

‘Arthur?’

‘Are you going to use what he did to you as a defence for what you did to Carole and Ramina?’ She held up her hand. ‘Don’t answer yet. You need to think it through.’

‘No I don’t. Shit happens. To everyone. We’re all responsible for what we do. Arthur does not excuse me, because there are no excuses’

P J O’Rourke said that there is only one fundamental human right, which is the right to do as you damn well please. He also said there is only one fundamental human responsibility, which is the responsibility to damn well take the consequences. As I get older, I focus less on the one fundamental human right—and more on the consequences. As I said, not many men get to my age without accumulating a history they’re ashamed of.

I certainly haven’t.

It is not (quite) “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All Men”

I was brought up hearing, learning and believing the same words as everyone else. “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All Men”. It wasn’t till I read Hans Kung, On Being a Christian, that I learned that scholars believe they have a better understanding now of the Aramaic of 2,000 years ago, and that present scholarship says this is a mistranslation. What the original says, apparently, is, “Peace on Earth to All Men of Goodwill.” Which, as Kung says, is a somewhat different proposition.

Kevin Daly Talks to the Police

I wrote this story based on Regus Hunt, a character in my novel Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper and five others who also appear there: Billy McErlane (the Zappa of the novel’s title); Antony Baker; Mister Henry, the lawyer who will one day defend Billy McErlane in a murder trial; the Detective Sergeant; and the Detective Inspector who reminds Mister Henry of a vulture. It stands on its own and I hope you’ll enjoy it for its own sake. For those who don’t know, the DSS is the British Government’s Department of Social Security.

Kevin Daly had never done an honest day’s work in his twenty-two years of life. If you asked why, he’d say he’d never got the taste for it. His father hadn’t, either. Neither of them saw any reason to be a wage slave for somebody with more brains, more education or just more luck when the DSS was prepared to keep them in bread and butter and a little dishonesty would put all the jam you could want on top. But, then, his father hadn’t offended Regus Hunt, which was why – unlike Kevin – his father had never even thought about giving himself up to the police.
Regus was known for many things, but forgiveness and charity were not among them. He had once broken all the fingers of a man who stole the handbag of a woman he was interested in. Kevin Daly knew that. When Antony Baker had helped himself to the drugs money Billy MacErlane was holding for Regus, Regus had beaten him to death with his bare hands and left under-age Billy to take the rap. Kevin Daly knew that, too.
So, when Kevin learned that the Beemer he had broken into and driven away belonged not, as he had thought, to some middle class tosser but to Regus Hunt, he did not shrug it off. He experienced a terror that left him for a moment unable to speak or move, and then sent him howling down the street, wailing as he had not since he was nine years old and his teenage sister had caught him trying on her underwear and beaten him so savagely he was left with only fifty percent hearing in one ear.
It was three-thirty on the afternoon of Sunday, the twenty-fourth of May, 2009 when Kevin stepped into the police station. The date was significant. Sunday afternoons would normally have been quiet, or at least as quiet as big city police stations ever get, with villains, deadbeats and honest citizens alike sleeping off the big meal of the week.
This, though, was not just any Sunday. At three on the dot, Newcastle United had kicked off against Aston Villa in the last game of the season and, if they didn’t get at least a draw, Newcastle United were going to be relegated from English football’s top flight. Even with a draw, other results might still send them down, but without the bare minimum of a single point they were gone no matter what happened elsewhere.
Desk Sergeant Toni Straker was listening to the match on a little radio. Newcastle’s fate would not much trouble Straker, and for two reasons. One was that the sergeant thought that only men obsessed about sport, and inadequate men at that. The other was that Toni came from Sunderland, and no Mackem of either sex can ever be completely unamused by the travails of the Toon Army. Nevertheless, however happy she might be on civic grounds to see Newcastle relegated, Sergeant Straker knew it would bring the police nothing but trouble. Pub and shop windows would be going in from North Shields to Fenham. Wives and children across the region would take a battering as distraught drunks lashed out at the softest targets available. The cells would overflow with drink-filled wife-beaters. Police would be so stretched responding to domestics that muggers, rapists, burglars and murderers would have a free run.
And all for nothing because, a few days later, every charge by every wife would be dropped.
Shortly after three-thirty and to Toni Straker’s relief, Villa’s Gareth Barry completely mis-hit a shot at Newcastle’s goal. Reprieve was short-lived. Any decent full back would have cleared the threat with hardly a moment’s thought, but Newcastle didn’t have a full back. What they had where a full back might have been was Damien Duff. As an attacking winger, Duff was international class with more than sixty Irish caps to his name, but he was no defender. Back-pedalling furiously, he met Barry’s shot and, instead of steering it safely out of the danger zone as a real full back would have done, he knocked it away from goalie Steve Harper’s waiting arms and into the back of his own net.
Straker laid her head on her arms. Armageddon had just moved a whole lot closer.

It was into this scene of resignation and despair that Kevin Daly brought the carefully prepared but transparent set of lies he thought of as his statement.
Straker raised her head and examined her visitor. ‘I know you,’ she said. ‘Don’t I know you?’
‘Kevin Daly, Missus Straker.’
Straker sighed. ‘Of course. What do you want?’
Daly placed a car key on the counter. Straker looked at it without touching. ‘What’s that?’
Daly’s face expressed puzzlement. ‘It’s a car key.’
Straker’s eyes came up to meet Daly’s. She allowed herself a moment of silence. Then she said, ‘I can see it’s a car key, Daly. Can you manage a little more? Starting with whose car it fits?’
‘I don’t know, Missus Straker.’
‘You don’t know. Do you know how you came to be in possession of it?’
‘Eh?’
‘How did you get the key, you little cretin?’
‘Oh. Well, that’s the thing. See, I was standing there and somebody gave it to me.’
‘Standing there.’
‘Yes.’
‘Minding your own business.’
‘I was, Missus Straker.’
‘And somebody gave you a car key. Handed it to you and said, “This is for you.” Is that what happened? Christmas came early for the Daly family?’
‘No, no.’ Daly laughed. ‘I wouldn’t have taken it, would I?’
‘So?’
‘This BMW comes racing up to the kerb and this guy jumps out and throws us the key and runs away.’ He peered at the sergeant. ‘What’s funny, Missus Straker?’
‘This BMW comes racing up to the kerb and this guy jumps out and throws you the key and runs away. That right?’
Daly nodded.
‘I bet you can’t describe this guy?’
‘He was going too fast.’
‘Of course he was. But I’ll also bet you did write down the car’s registration number.’
Daly pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, but Straker held up a hand to stop him. ‘No, Daly. I’ll tell you.’ She read a series of letters and numbers from a pad on her desk. ‘Is that right?’
Daly nodded. ‘That’s amazing. How did you know?’
‘Of course, you’ve no idea who the car belongs to.’
‘Umm…no. I don’t. Haven’t.’
‘Well, never mind. You’ve done your civic duty, Daly. I’m sure the owner will be delighted when we tell him. Might even come round yours to thank you personally, I shouldn’t wonder.’
‘You won’t give him my name?’
‘Why on earth not? There might be a reward in it for you.’
‘Please, Missus Straker. Don’t give him my name.’
‘Wipe all your fingerprints off the wheel, did you? When you found out whose car it was you’d nicked?’
‘This isn’t funny, Missus Straker.’
‘Not to you, I can see that. Hunt reported the car stolen an hour ago and he is steaming.’ The sergeant leaned across the counter. ‘Do you think you’d better speak to CID?’
‘CID? What for?’‘To try again? With a new story?’
Daly stared at this woman who smiled as she tormented him. Then he stepped back from the counter, turned and made for the door. As he left he broke into a run, but the two approaching constables had seen Straker’s signal and had no difficulty in seizing Daly’s arms, turning him round and frogmarching him back into the police station.
‘Well done, lads,’ said Straker. ‘Kevin Daly, I’m arresting you on suspicion of taking a conveyance without the owner’s consent. You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in Court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Get him printed and stick him in a cell till someone from the top floor has time to talk to him.’
On her radio, the half time whistle blew. One of the constables nodded his head towards it. ‘How are they doing?’
‘They’re losing. Like Mister Daly here.’

Two hours later, Newcastle had been relegated and the mayhem foreseen by Sergeant Straker was indeed breaking out, but a Detective Inspector still found time to visit Regus Hunt’s lawyer and say they’d like him to arrange for Hunt to come in for questioning.
‘About…?’
‘Mister Hunt reported his BMW stolen. We’ve charged a young waster called Kevin Daly with TDA. It’s not called that any more, but that’s what it is.’
‘I’m sure Mister Daly will be pleased to have his car back, Inspector. But why does he need to be questioned?’
‘We’d like him to explain the presence of a quantity of drugs we found in the car.’
Mister Henry stared at the Inspector. A smile played around the edges of his full mouth. ‘Is it really likely,’ he asked, ‘that Mister Hunt would have reported his car stolen as quickly as he did if he knew there were drugs in it?’
‘Well, the drugs exist. I’ve seen them.’
‘Yes. I see. Were you actually there when they were discovered?’
‘Not at the time, no.’
‘They were shown to you afterwards.’
‘They were.’
Mister Henry picked up a cigar and pushed the box across the coffee table in front of him. ‘Cohiba Esplendidos,’ he said, snipping the end with a cutter. ‘They’ll set you back more than seven hundred pounds for a box of twenty-five. Possibly the best cigar there is. Try one?’
The Inspector took a cigar and pushed it into his inside pocket. ‘I’ll keep it for later.’
‘One of your colleagues,’ said Mister Henry, ‘always reminds me of a vulture. Keeps his head tucked under his wing. Except when he wants to ask a personal question. Is he the one running this case?’
‘If you mean who I think you mean, then yes, he is.’
‘He’s never been a friend of Mister Hunt’s. I suppose he refused police bail?’
‘He wanted to. The Super said he couldn’t.’
‘So Daly’s at home?’
‘Right at this moment, I believe he’s on a bus to Middlesbrough. He has a sister there. He has to return at ten on Tuesday.’
‘But of course you haven’t told me that.’
‘I’m not even here. The official invitation will come by phone.’
‘Well, thank you for the courtesy visit, Inspector. I’ll wait for the phone call and I’ll bring Mister Hunt in immediately after lunch tomorrow.’

Four years is a long time, and a great deal can change. In October 2013, Newcastle United were back in the Premiership and now it was Sunderland who sat on the bottom rung, fearing the drop. Toon Army tempers were as sweet as they are ever likely to get. With no witness to confirm that the drugs belonged to Regus Hunt (which in fact they did not, having been placed in his car by the policeman who looked like a vulture), the case against him was abandoned. The Inspector who called on Mister Henry had received a box of Cohibas together with ten thousand pounds in cash. Police regulations required him to return the gift and report it to his superiors, but the donor was anonymous and he preferred to follow an alternative set of rules which, though unofficial, were more generally recognised: he smoked the cigars and used the money to clear his credit card debts. Another box of cigars reached the Superintendent, who dealt with them in the same way.


And Kevin Daly was never seen again. Somewhere on the mile walk from Newport Road in Middlesbrough, where the bus dropped him, to his sister’s home, he vanished. His sister thought about reporting his disappearance, but why? She didn’t care where he was, and she was pretty sure the Police wouldn’t.
In any case, their father had drummed a simple rule into them both from earliest childhood. Never tell the Police anything. It can lead to nothing but pain.

Zappa’ Mam’s a Slapper is available here in paperback (the price includes postage and packing, no matter where in the world you may be.