I had no idea what time it was. Frank had left me in the snooker club and there I’d stayed. After several more cafe Cognac’s (sans cafe) I’d remembered Earnest saying he had a Glenfiddich 21 in his secret stash, the barman didn’t blink when I asked for a large with a single cube. I lifted it to my nose for a few minutes, it was heavenly the first taste living up to the smell. I’d been watching the club professional 'Cyclone Singh practicing by himself as I was drinking...
“Fancy a game?” He said.
“Serious? Yeah ok.”
“Have you played before? Here try this cue I’ll use my match Cue.”
“I’ve played yes, I’m a pool player really but I’ll give you a game.”
“What’s your highest break remember?”
“28 I think, playing my Dad.”
“Terry right, his brother was a good player.”
“Prob my Uncle Ken, whose break?”
“You break if you like.”
I walked back to the bar finished my Single Malt just as Frank and Earnest walked in.
“I hope you’re drinking my Glenfiddich 21." Said by who I assumed (correctly) was Earnest.
He walked up shook my hand putting his other on my shoulder in familiar fashion.
“Yes I am, it’s heaven” I said lifting my empty glass. “I’m ready for another!”
“You cheeky Bogger, glad you’re still here Paulie Frank's going to tell you everything he knows I’ve told him!”
Frank's turn next, got my first hug from him.
“Hope we’re still partners Paulie, and mates! have you spoken to John P?" Frank looked up and saw Singh waiting by a set up snooker table saw the cue I'd leant against the bar and his detective powers took over.
"Are you playing snooker?”
"First game, I was watching him practice he just asked me must be boring on your own. I just wish I’d been kept in the picture Frank, course we’re mates."
I reached into my jeans pocket and put my message pager on the bar.
"I haven't spoken to John P but he's spoken to me, thing goes off every half an hour."
"You know about tomorrow then?" he said.
I nodded walked to the table then hit the pack of reds where I’d seen them hit from brake a hundred times before on the Tele. The white came back up the table just passing the green ball covering a long red I’d left.
“Good break.” said Frank and Earnest together. There was a slight difference in the voices which I’d picked up on but it was said in unison. Singh had to play off the cushion which he did hitting the pack but leaving me the loose red into the corner. It was a nightmare shot. I’d have to get the spider deluxe to reach it…
I could hear Frank and Earnest behind me..
“Play safe back up the table…”
“He’ll leave the red Frank!”
I got the spider out then asked Singh if I could borrow his cue extension, I wasn’t after any position just hit it dead weight then watched it drop into the pocket. I put the spider away chuffed to bits not noticing the white had finished perfect on the black. I took the credit for that yes, I did.
Earnest insisted that the white was cleaned at this point, just enough time for a large 21 year old Single Malt Scotch. There was a red just below right of the blue I was hoping to get on after the black which I potted, just a touch too much right hand side the white finished in between blue and the left middle pocket. It didn’t matter I had a straight red to the bottom right corner. I liked that corner. I potted that red with a black, one more red with a blue, then tried to put the white safe on the top cushion.
It was and still is the best game of snooker I’ve ever played even if I did lose.
“Your Uncle Ken used to play 7 or 8 frames at a time with Singh when he could hardly reach over the table. Saw something in him when no one else would take the time Paulie. Was a good game you’ve just got no patients have you?”
“I can tell when it’s you now Earnest.”
I saw a deep warmness in Earnest’s eyes as he replied.
“I’m glad. Not many can, but I knew you’d be able to."
After thanks to Singh for the game, I sat down opposite Frank who was sitting at a table with a tale to tell.
“I’ll be downstairs Frank” Said Earnest casting me a parting wink.
“I could kick seven shades of shit out a you Earnest if it wasn’t for my asthma eh Paulie!
“You think I don’t know that ya big puff!”
I saw the brothers smile at some secret joke or meaning but it paled in comparison to the incredible sense of affection I felt between them. ... ...
“Paulie the main buyer for the special books is Sophie’s other Grandad the ‘Duke of MacAlpine’. The rest is a series of coincidences that I just couldn’t believe. The plumber me and John went to see in prison was apparently going straight after his first release. He fell into petty crime at a young age but was the son of a very respected plumber. Remember what I said about the big pond? He was all in on the job for Mrs Derwent, remember her talking about him, saying he could convert the old steam ‘rads’. Poor sod was tempted from the straight and narrow when he happened to see the ’Special Book’ pride of place in Mrs Derwent’s front room as he was working. He contacted his former cell mate who as you know was the broker, told him all about it prob took sent Polaroids the whole 9 yards.
Well you can imagine what the Duke thought when he saw the pictures and description of ‘The Special Book’ with that inscription! Knowing it was owned by the family of his arch enemy ‘Herbert of Derwent Water’! He wanted it at all cost!”
I was more or less up to date with the mystery of the 'Old Ladies Book' trying to process everything when Frank suddenly stopped talking looked straight past me and stood up.
“Hello Susan” he said as I felt that incredible sense of affection for the second time not too soon.
I turned behind awkwardly in my chair and saw the 'Prettiest Girl' I’d ever seen in the whole wide world ever. That included real life, books, television and even at the pictures. I didn't have time to think about beyond and into space, just knew it included all of the wonders in all of the depths in all of the deep blue seas.
“Paulie this is Susan who we went to see in Skegness. Susan this is Paulie my partner in Investigation.”
Susan had sat down opposite me next to her Dad. She was so.. well I had it really bad. Why did I still react like this?! I was just about to say something stupid when oh no. I heard the most gorgeous voice I'd ever heard in the whole wide world ever etc etc. This was new, I was blind.
"You're blind paulie you're blind!"
“Frank told me about waking you up that morning Paulie oh my God I was laughing so much about your shoes on the wrong feet Is that true?”
Susan giggled at the memory so naturally that when she giggled her prettiest face I’d ever seen in the whole wide world that included the standard extras with (I had easily decided toinclude up into space and far beyond the known universe 'Milky Way' further than the Cosmos as well as the recently included all of the wonders in all of the depths in all of the deep blue seas.) But this was more. With this giggle her prettiest face became enhanced to the point whereshe became almost a super hero prettiest girl ever able to solve …
“Sorry Frank, Susan it’s such a pleasure to meet you. I was so on your side in Skegness!”
“Did he really put your shoes on the wrong feet though?”
“Yes he did! He took me home the previous night, well fair enough I was in a state but he plonked me on my bedtook off my shoes which were on the right feet! Then 5 hours later he returned put them back on the wrong feet and kidnapped me!”
“It was dark I didn’t want to wake you.”
We were interrupted by Earnest who'd arrived to give Susan the prettiest girl in the .... a lift to one of his flats where she’d be staying.
“Come on Paulie Earnest can drop you back after Susan then me. Can he borrow the beast you ok with that?”
“Yes Frank just leave my shoes alone!”
Susan laughed, when she laughed….
"Like it Earnest? Left here, nice drive int it, just here on the right!"
Ever get the feeling that Earnest had something on his mind?
I walked around the front of the Bristol then tapped at the drivers side window.
"Paulie if I go to Scotland with Frank tomorrow instead of you would you be ok about it? If you could pick Susan up as well, you can trust her. What do you think?"
"Are you going in this?"
"No, hire car. I'll get Frank to drop it off, if not I'll leave it in my parking place for you."
"Pick Susan up?"
"Yeah she's going to be staying in Notts for a bit, she knows about the case you'll like her. Favour? For me and Frank Paulie?"
"Ah right oh then Earnest, I've got stuff to do anyway. Call with any news though, night mate."
Inside Tom tom cat was fast asleep on my bed. He had a way of putting all his legs forward almost touching four paws as he slept. He looked snug but my room was freezing.
“Get a nice fire going paulie...”
First job close Tom’s sash window cat gap, then using my last firefighter all my Boy Scout skills (well Mum was the best fire lighter) I lit the fire put Nashville Skyline on my Duel turntable then placed the poker in front of the fireplace covering the whole thing with a double page of Evening Post. The draw roared visibly behind the fourth and eighteenth page of news paper. What's the most important thing about lighting a - Timing! Just before Jalopy Corner & Miscellaneous ad's burst into flames I snatched it away putting pieces of coal in the red hot asking gaps I faced behind the broadsheet reveal. Satisfied I smiled & sat up the chimney with a half quart bottle of vodka. In the hearth was a crumpled sat on packet of Marlborough which I opened taking out the matches I habitually put inside packs of 20. I loved match books, definitely the coolest way to light a fag they fitted perfectly after you’d smoked your way down to about 15. I had a selection of places to get match books from as follows. In at number 4 Cafe Royal on the corner of Market & Parliament Street. White with a lovely ‘Cafe’ design always available if you're that side of town. Number 3 ‘The Old Angel’ just off Hockley on Stoney St. Not the most attractive book of matches but availability was strong when drinking ‘a good pint’ (bottle of Special Brew topped up with Bitter in a pint glass) playing pool with Roxy Rob. Number 2 up GooseGate down King Street the news agent under the Council building. Again not the most attractive but daytime availability along with a convenient central location scored heavily. However, the undisputed place for getting books of matches was - Number 1 ‘Brownes Cafe du Vin’ GooseGate. ‘Unmatched’ (get it..) design with availability day or night has kept them at the top spot for years now. The struck match that lit the last Marlborough in the sat on pack left in the fire hearth was from number 5 0r 6. The cover had ‘La Grenouille’ printed on the outside, a heart drawn by Sarah on the inside. It all came flooding back. I remembered throwing the pack from a laid down pissed position towards the fire but hitting the post. I didn’t remember any heart. I don’t recall any hand drawn heart in a match book which was making me ache with sad.
Fireguard in place I set out to the beer off with turned up coat collar realising I didn’t have enough cigarettes avec vodka to deal with such ‘une Affaire de Coeur’!
A far too familiar reoccurring dream reoccurred in the early hours of the following morning of the day after the one I finally let go of when I fell asleep. Read it again then... The dream was slightly different in that it involved a small furry hand touching my face sounding very much like an ex Policeman:
“Paulie wake up! The Beast is outside I’ve put the address for Susan on the dash. Paulie! Pick her up at half 12.”
“Ok I'm awake! my consciousness had deliberately shelved my dream and signed me up for another day! Have you ever thought of waking people up for a living Frank?"
After all that I just got up, making a mental note to get my spare key from Frank, but thankful that the small furry hand in my reoccurring dream turned out to be the paw of Tom, nothing to do with any weird small hairy handed dream crasher.
“You’re really thinking of moving here Susan? Won’t you miss the brown sea?”
I'd picked the lovely Susan up from Earnest's penthouse flat on the embankment. Lovely place, overlooked The City Ground, amazing for any Forest fan but a sore subject pour moi being Nott's County fan from birth. My Dad hadn't insisted I support Nott's, let's just say he hinted.
In 1979 I was a 14 year old Nott's County supporter. I had a season ticket and went to all the home games with my mates from school Ritchie Brown and also Graham Burton. I say 'also' Graham Burton' because although we got the bus into town together we hardly ever saw Graham during the match. Almost never after the match!
Me and Ritchie always stood in the same place to watch the game. We got a pie and a cup a tea from the same stall on the Cop at half time, walked back to Broad-marsh Centre the same way every time the game ended. Didn't matter, because when we saw Graham the following Monday morning, (Because we were all in Mr Malloy's class for registration) his:
"Where Were You!" - stories of football violence were legendary.
I should remind you that violence surrounded football at this time. Nott's County were not in the same violent fan league as Millwall, or any other team in the 2nd division for that matter. But the team still had a violent core, Graham Burton.
Graham would always know how many away fans were expected, he knew how violent they were, the nickname used by really nasty supporters who might kill us. Usually Ritchie would be looking out of the top deck window during this briefing, it was left to me to nod and humour Graham who didn't seem to understand we were on our way to watch a football match.
In typical fashion things escalated dramatically one afternoon on the way to watch Nott's vs QPR. After the usual pre violence build up Graham Burton looked over his shoulder in the manor of Private 'Walker' from 'Dad's Army' and reached inside the torn lining of his match scarred NCB donkey jacket...
-- . -- . --
“I won’t miss anything Paulie I want to start a new. Getting to know Dad, who he really is has opened a door for me that Mum kept shut for so long. Paulie do you want to know what I’ll miss the least about Skegness?”
“Of course I want to know what you’ll miss the least about Skegness Susan are you crazy?”
“You’re funny Paulie, well it's everything being so flat! It’s flat everywhere! I hate flat!”
Car Phones reunited interrupted the loveliest girl from Skegness ever, so politely as possible I put my finger to my lips.
“We’re ready for catch up mate have you been getting my messages?”
“Where are you?”
“Just on my way to the airport you ok? Where are you? Paulie this investigation business you’re pulling the strings you know that? I’ve registered ‘Saul and Saul Investigations’ with company house you’re licensed but not to kill or buy another watch!”
“John it’s all good, Frank and Earnest are heading up to meet Sophie In Scotland, get their hands on the book.”
“Ok brilliant, so much happening Paulie, need you to think big. Oh Paulie! Franks daughter is in Nottingham, Frank was asking if we needed help because Jane’s too busy with my side. Let me know, can you remember the questions on the trivial pursuit card we found in Soho Square? We asked them coppers?”
“Flippin ek, was It was about a film? One of them said : "I know this one Bill...?"
“That’s it! De’Nero or Pacino was the answer? Got to go Paulie, in Italy for a couple of days. Pick me up I’ve got to go to London when I get back going to need you. I’ll call you mate.”
--- . ---
“You two are close.”
"So you don't like flat? Do you want to go and see one of the most un flattest things in the whole wide world ever today?”
“I’m glad so do I. Yes we are very close, me and John. Very different but we just have a connection. Are you serious about work?”
“A new start costs Paulie.”
Me and Sarah small talked through Matlock, stopped at Chatsworth House for a cuppa tea before small talking over Calver cross road past the cricket ground up the hill left into Grindleford.
“Where are we?”
Sarah looked so lovely, I reached for her hand without thinking, she held it, it was like holding the loveliest hand I had ever held. That included .... The old station now a rugged cafe was right at the bottom of Padley Gorge.
“One of my favourite places Sarah."
“Oh I love it!”
Then over two gigantic filled Yorkshire puddings, with 2 pints of tea next to a roaring fire, Susan asked me about the first time I met her Dad.
--- . ---
Fully fed with our final destination only a few miles away. I'd held her Susan's hand and we’d dropped the small from talk. I was glad.
“I always get this wrong, no here, it’s up here!”
5 minutes later I stood next to Susan as we looked at one of the most un flattest things ever in the whole wide world.
"Oh My God!" Exclaimed Susan
The natural comfortable silence of one of the loveliest moments ever in the whole wide world suddenly became the loveliest. Susan moved close to me putting her arm inside mine as she tip toed to kiss me on the cheek.
“Oh Paulie it’s perfect.”
At that moment I felt so incredibly close to Susan, but this it what I do! My stomach was in knots but tingled slightly with guilt for feeling these feelings because of Sarah. In the back of my mind I'd been thinking about ‘une Affaire de Coeur’ all day, trying to remember when she drew the heart in that book of matches. The drive back to Nottingham felt awkward, this is what I do. If I’m feeling down everyone has to feel down. Confused anxious, the same.
“Thanks for today Paulie are you ok?”
“No Susan I’m not. I’ve got one too many Women on my mind and they’re (I’d made a decision to exclude Sophie Derwent) and both of them are the prettiest girls I've ever seen!Not just in the whole wide world, books, television and even at the pictures. Now up into space, on into and through the Milky Way to the next universe. Where no prettiest girl as ever smiled before!” (After I saw the heart I had included Sarah in all of the wonders in all of the depths in all of the deep blue seas.)
“Sorry Susan I’m just tired. I’m really glad you enjoyed today It’s done me good to get out and about as well.”
I dropped Susan off at Riverside Flats arranged to meet at the office in the morning. It was 7.30pm I’d had no word from Frank. Nothing I could do apart from wait by a phone for news. I was past the cattle market heading for Jaceys before my thinking out loud started. I’m told it’s healthy if you had something on your mind, that box was well and truly! In black marker pen!
“So hang on! Just when I’m discovering feelings for a girl who went straight to the top of my “Oh my God it’s the Prettiest Girl in The Whole Wide World Meter” which I admit has been happening a lot recently. Well 3 times this year (not counting the traffic warden who flashed me a stocking top. That’s for - ‘The Most lust I’ve Felt in The Whole Wide World’, another story entirely...) Back to my point, Just when I discover feelings for Susan, a heart turns up in my fireplace undoubtably drawn by Sarah? And it’s not fair! And don’t you just know I’m going to get these names mixed up at some poignant point in the future!”
I’d parked locked walked away when I heard ‘Car Phones Reunited Ringing’. Well you can picture me dashing back fumbling for keys I'm sure.
“Paulie it’s Frank I’ve been trying you all afternoon listen. We’ve met up with Sophie and her Brother in the hotel.”
“Have you got the Book?”
“Not yet listen Paulie, I’ve seen the book but Sophie’s Brother must be getting pressure from his middle man to complete the deal with their Dad. He’s a devious bastard if you ask me.”
“What about Sophie?”
“She’s just enchanted by her Brother Paulie, this was all him he’s a monster.”
“Frank listen. Fuck the brother just get the book and bring it back. No if’s but’s or Sophie. Are they staying in the hotel?”
“Yes, me and Earnest have booked a room didn’t know what to do?”
“Get the book by hook or by crook and bring it back Frank! It’s not their’s! It’s Mrs Derwent’s!” “Ok Paulie, Earnest has been threatening that all day. Call you later, can you hear me?”
“Yes just get the book Frank. Speak later.”
My heart was racing I was relieved though. We thought Sophie and her Brother had concocted the plan together, now it seems to be all his plan at Sophie and her Grandmother’s expense.
15 minutes later I was still in the car, deep in thinking. When Susan took my arm and kissed me today it felt the most natural thing in the whole wide world. That included real life, yes just real life? The meal with Sarah at ‘Le Grenouilles’ was perfect, but what happened? I thought that was it? We were finally an item? Yes I probably did! Well the signs were there, she knew how I felt. Should I have thought that when I didn’t feel it? I did feel it at first though! From the bottom of the stairs in the car all through the meal. Why were we so awkward after the meal? It’s always the drive home that ruins everything! The next girl I fall in love with can make her own way home for the first few dates. Although Susan would have been annoyed today.
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