Mrs Derwent's niece was the second prettiest lady I had ever seen in my whole wide life. That included real life, books, television, and even at the pictures.
This evaluation had taken me 1/8 of a second from the moment that Jane had walked into the office saying:
"Paulie this is Sophie Derwent"
She looked like she could launch, mmm lets try two thousand ships to Troy this time, at the same time as singing 'Moon River' on a New York fire escape and avenging her hunch back Father in Provence.
"Just what the hell do you think you're doing!? My Grandma came home the other night full of joy! Apparently safe in the knowledge that 'Saul and Saul' investigators were going to find her book. Do you even know how much this book means to her?!
Who are you anyway?"
Meeting Sophie Derwent was definitely on my slightly still creased itinerary. I had naturally hoped it would start in a far friendlier fashion. Avoiding confrontation until it was absolutely necessary was something I mainly strived to do.
Strangely enough, even in the face of such annoyed prettiness I felt quite composed. Honesty is a powerful thing.
"Hello Sophie, my name is Paulie and Yes actually."
"Yes actually what?"
"Yes I do know how much the book means to your Grandmother, she came into our office desperate for help. We knew she thought we were 'Saul and Saul' yes, and I was going to tell her until she told us about her lost book.
Listen Sophie we've had lot's of people thinking this place was still 'Saul and Saul', but your Grandma was different. She walked straight into John P's office and sat down. I think it was the office of Saul senior, the person she trusted, who had helped her before, and who she was asking for help from now.
Before I could explain though, she had already said those words:
The book has gone, the Special book has gone, you're my last hope now.
Then John P was asking about the book, Its title, author, where? When? He was genuinely interested, concerned, we both were; although something seemed to click with John and your Grandma, they seemed to get on a level, an understanding. She didn't seem to hear me.
I even took him into my office to ask what the hell he was doing! Do you know what he said?
I'm not having anyone steal that old ladies book, end of.
If you know him like I do, you'll know that he, we, won't rest until the book's returned to your Grandma. It's for you Sophie, she wants you to have the book. You do know that?"
"I know she does, and I'm partly to blame."
"Do you know what's happened to the book?"
"No not that blame, I went through a terrible divorce towards the end of last year, I had a terrible time dealing with what was happening emotionally, Grandma came to stay with me. She felt every emotion I went through, I know she did, we are so very close."
"And you think that the book went missing while your Grandma was staying with you?"
"Possibly, but more importantly the emotional breakdown I went through, that Grandma went through with me must have severed her emotional/spiritual connection to the book. I know it sounds mad but the book is somehow linked to her, it's as much a part of her life as I am. So now she feels guilty because she lost that connection. I feel guilty because I feel my situation was responsible, it's so painful for her and this time I feel her pain. I've moved back Into her house to be with her."
"Thought you might want a nice cuppa tea."
Jane placed the tray down and cast me a 'be understanding' glance.
The second prettiest lady I'd ever seen in my whole wide life. that included real life, books, Television, and even at the pictures sipped her tea with an equally pretty tear appearing and setting off on its journey down an equally pretty cheek.
"Sophie are you going to let us help you?"
"But how? What can you do?"
"Find your Grandma's book." I said.
Sophie stayed for another half an hour, and by the time she'd left I was able to cross three items off my creased itinerary.
1/ Sophie was all that her Grandma had described and more.
2/ Friends and boyfriends, Sophie's ex husband had moved to France and the book was definitely accounted for after this fact.
Sophie couldn't remember any of her friends ever visiting her Grandma's house.
3/ Ok, I was able to cross two items off my itinerary but they were good ones!
"I'm off home, she was so lovely wasn't she."
"Oh I nearly forgot Paulie, I had a reply about the book."
She turned urgently towards her domain and I followed her with matched urgency from my domain.
"Here we are, Peter Harrington rare books London."
"What about them?"
"They have a copy of the book, the special book, you know, the one your looking for, and it came in within your itinerary timescale ..."
Joy! So at least we can return the book, my head was light at the thought of telling Mrs Derwent, Sophie, John P!
"It's not your special book though, it hasn't got the inscription on the inside page, the wonderful birthday message. See you tomorrow Paulie. Take some coffee home would you, we've all been up till all hours."
My head went from light to lead.
"Night Jane, and thanks."
Three pints later in the Borlaise Warren where I'd met Frank, an old friend of my uncle Keith from the Police Force you remember Frank; by a slip of the tongue some good advice comes?
"Whose to say that they didn't rip the page with the dedication on out, before they sold the book. How stupid would you be to leave such an identifying inscription in?
And you still haven't established any opportunity! You've eliminated the impossible, her Granddaughter, her Granddaughter's husband, friends, but you haven't got anyone left that might have done it! However improbable!
"Same again Frank" I said, finally understanding the meaning behind Emperor Hirohito's famous exclamation -
"We have awakened a sleeping policeman (tiger)"
Please Leave A Message after the tone:
"John it's Paulie, I know who definitely didn't do it, but I haven't found anyone that might have done it, however improbable. But me and Frank are going to London tomorrow to look at a book, might not be the same one, but we have to eliminate it from our enquiries, I know you'll understand."
When I got home I found the energy to make a cuppa tea and light a fire in my room. It crackled it's life against 'Chelsea Girls' on my Duel turntable, then through the gap in the open sash window came cat for cuddles. Not just any cat, this cat lived upstairs and belonged to the prettiest lady I had ever seen in my whole wide life. That included real life, books, television, and even at the pictures.
Cat woke me up exiting the same way he had arrived at around half past four in the too early morning. No doubt heading for warmer cuddles I could only dream of, because the fire was now embers of its former flames and Goose Fair weather was working its way through the fore mentioned 'cat gap' in the sash window. Oh the irony.
I lay awake for a while thinking about all the goldfish in all the bags less than a quarter of a mile from me on the forest. The forest field now covered in fair. How lonely is that, being in a bag of water on your own? I wondered, pondered, hoped, wished, that all the gold fish that weren't won or bought during the night, might be reunited in a nice big clear pond to meet up with family, friends for one last touch of affection.
Probably not that practical or cost affective, I realised it might not happen. Was being in a bag of water on your own the most lonely thing ever in the whole wide world? Although if they were hanging in bags next to other goldfish, well, did that qualify as company? I hung on to this last ditch of hope, and still do.
My sister Vanetta and me begged Mum & Dad to take us to Goose fair every year. My soul objective was to get a bow and arrow, hold on tight to my Dad's hand and get a bow & arrow.
Whenever I saw something I wanted to go on, Dad would say : "Their's a better one up here."
My ultimate ambition was to get a bow & arrow set. This had an 'Arrow Carrier', you wore this over your shoulder.
Robin Hood had started this off, but here I didn't really need one my Mum said. I soon learnt that striving to be more like Robin Hood apparently came at a price.
"They're a lot more money, get one of these."
Needless to say I always ended up walking back to the car with one hand in Dad's, and the other holding my arrows.
Sometimes Vanetta would be walking back to the car with a goldfish in a bag. In the morning it would be dead, Mum would flush it down the toilet while Vanetta cried and I carried on licking the sucker part of my arrows trying to stick them with Robin Hood accuracy onto my Plywood council bedroom door.
Soon after the goldfish send off I would be ordered into the garden to shoot with deadly accuracy, outside things , but not windows! When after ten minutes I'd lost all three arrows and my trusty bow had broken, I would go back into my bedroom to play Lego.
To stop thinking about goldfish in bags, actually, who the fuck thought that was a good idea anyway? Some simple man no doubt, eager to profit from suffering and as stupid as the day is long. I'm sorry, to continue to not think about poor goldfish in bags, broken bows and lost arrows I'll tell you what I did.
I got up and sprinkled the last of my coal onto the just salvageable fire. The dust at the bottom of the bag always did the trick so when I returned from the kitchen with a nice cuppa tea, there was flames in the old fire yet.
I knew there was a 50% chance of getting a knock at the door at this point, because Ronnie one room had seen me.
There it was, a light early morning knock. I opened the door and Ronnie was agitated putting first all his weight on his left leg, then his right. Another manuscript refused I thought judging by the tightness of his grip on the Writers and Artists Yearbook he was swinging. This was when he was at his most dangerous, I had to think fast.
"For God sake be careful!" He said, in reply to my question followed quickly/cleverly by a statement of my intent :
"What do you think about all the goldfish in all the bags less than a quarter of a mile from here? Something has to be done! Anyway, I really need to sleep Ronnie. Night."