Parodies 'r Us
Just before Christmas 1992, the Information Development department1 newsletter came out with a spoof Chandler item called The little nap. It was (obviously) written by Tony D, and took the mickey (something rotten) out of Merv Q and, to a lesser extent, Pat S (Mrs CICS). The two of them quietly commissioned me to write a rejoinder to appear in the next issue. My brief was "hang him out to dry". My payment was a bottle of Scotch :-)
Some of the references are a little dated, but you'll get the gist.
"The brief hello"
The voice in my ear sounded rather sharp and peremptory, but I didn't hear too well what it said. I was only half awake and I was holding
the phone upside down. I fumbled it around and grunted (you should see me chew gum and walk).
"Did you hear me? I said I was Handy, the CICS man; you're Quick, aren't you?"
"Yeah. I guess so." I glowered at my watch. It was 3.30 a.m., not my favourite happy hour. "What can I do for you?"
"I'm outside the Millbrook office in the Rolls. Tiny Davidson's with me. Get your ass down here right away."
"'Hello my ugly,' to you too" I thought, CICS book titles being much on my mind right then. "I'm on my way." (Why, I wondered, did he want me to bring my pet donkey? How did he know about it?)
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was a Dickens of a time. It was also to be the last time I saw Tiny Davidson. He was drunk in the back of a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow outside the Millbrook offices of the infamous 'Serious' Burn Corporation. Not a pretty sight. I was pretty quick (hell! I am pretty Quick). By the time I got there the security guard was still holding the door of the Rolls open because Tiny's left foot was still dangling outside, as if he had forgotten about it. Odd, that. It was big enough to make an impression, and he generally played badminton well with both left feet.
Handy (one of the Kray sons) had obviously been driving. I could tell by the freshly re-arranged metalwork. With him now sitting there slumped at the wheel in front of his boss, I could see he was years younger than his face, but you could tell by his eyes that he was alcoholically disadvantaged. He was in the wrong State to be driving, so I called him a taxi. Rather grouchily he insisted his name was "Handy" as he trailed unsteadily off in the direction of Redbridge leaving behind clouds of incense, eleven months' worth of cheap whiskey breath, and a miasma of tobacco. I left him to it, threw the miasma on to the sidewalk, and turned back to Tiny. I could smell the possibility of money as well as cheap booze. I wanted some.
Tiny was beside himself, and beside him there was a girl. She had a smooth ivory skin, unusual in humans. Her rather singular eyebrow and
large dark eyes looked as if they might warm up at the right time and in the right place. This was neither. Her hair was a lively shade of
light green in the sodium lights but she didn't have a blue mink over her shoulders. Pity. It would have made a nice match for my
powder-blue suit, with IBM-white shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, red wool socks with dark blue CICS on them.
I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed IBMer ought to be. I was calling on 30,000 licences. I handed her my plain card, the one without the "smoking gun" in the corner, and said a brief "Hello".
"Hello," she said. "Tall, aren't you?"
"I didn't mean to be."
Her eyes squared off for a tussle. She was puzzled. She was thinking. I could see, even on the basis of our fleeting acquaintance, that thinking was always going to be something of a challenging process for her.
The guard still had Tiny on his mind. "Look, mister," he said with an edge to his voice a bit like Lamont explaining the benefits of the
ERM, "would you mind pulling your leg all the way in so I can shut the door? Or should I open it all the way so you can pour yourself
The girl threw him a look that stuck — quivering — at least four inches out of his back. Then she lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her chin and slowly raised them again, like a fire curtain halfway through a play in a theatre. Seeing a low-slung foreign ram-raider with no top screeching sideways into the parking lot apparently gave her an idea, and she turned to Tiny.
"Why don't we just take the cab to your place and get your convertible out? It's such a wonderful night for a run up to Hursley. I know some people there who are throwing a dance around the sunken garden."
Tiny said politely: "Awfully sorry, but I don't have it any more. I was compelled to sell it." From his voice and articulated diction you wouldn't have known he had had anything more than Jack (and the entire Daniels family) round for an extended drink.
"Sold it, darling? How do you mean?" She sidled down from him about a mile along the impressive expanse of leather seat while her voice sidled away a lot farther than that.
"I mean I had to," he said. "For eating money."
"Oh I see."
A sliver of Haagen-Daz wouldn't have defrosted on her now (or on any other part of her, come to think of it).
The guard now reckoned he had Tiny right where he could reach him — in a low income bracket. "Look, buster," he said, "I've got a job to
do." He let the door swing open. Tiny promptly and unfussily slid smoothly off the seat, landing on the blacktop on the seat of his pants.
I got him under the arms and yanked him up on his feet, transatlantic-style.
His face was as green as the girl's hair, but it didn't affect his manners. He was the politest drunk I've ever met. "Thank you so very much," he said. The girl slid under the wheel, then changed her mind and got behind the steering wheel instead. "He gets so goddam English when he's loaded," she said in a brassy, stainless-steel voice. "Thanks for catching him."
"I'll pop him into the back of the car," I said, seeing a chance to unload my burden and still get some sleep.
"I'm terribly sorry. I'm early for an engagement." She let the clutch in and it sat there wagging its tail. "He's just a lost dog," she added with a cool smile. "Perhaps you can give him a home? He's housebroken — more or less."
I had a funny sinking feeling as I watched the Rolls glide away. The sort of feeling you get when you've written a CICS book and it was very good and got all its sign-offs but you've managed to erase it and your editor has spilled indelible black ink on the only camera copy and you just know you'll never remember it again.
I looked down at this latest unwelcome addition to my sea of troubles. He didn't move or speak, jerk, twitch, dribble, or even nod. He
just looked back up at me like the retriever puppy in the Andrex ad. Then he finally dredged his voice up from the bottom of a very deep
borehole and said: "Brandy, Quick. How do you like your brandy, sir?"
"Any way at all," I said. He made several attempts to hand me a well-used hipflask, his eyes following its every move but about two seconds late. Then he spoke again, slowly, husbanding his strength as carefully as an out-of-work conductor uses his last unbroken baton.
"You may smoke, sir. I like the smell of tobacco." I lit a cigarette and blew a lungful at him and he sniffed at it like a weasel at a rabbit-hole. Then again, we were standing outside a warren of offices.
"A nice state of affairs when a chap has to indulge all his vices by proxy," he said dryly. "You are looking at a tired survivor of a gaudy life. Tell me, Quick, do you like CICS?"
"Not particularly," I said.
I helped him gently into my car. "Where to?" I asked.
"East. To the Royal Pier."
"It's closed to the public."
"You think I don't know that? Drive, Quick."
I drove. Quick.
I parked at the entrance, and turned to face my passenger. He wouldn't meet my eyes, but muttered "I'm just going out. I may be gone a little while." I couldn't help thinking "There's a man who knows his Oates, and may be about to lose them". I kept quiet as I watched him fumble with the door handle and let himself out on to the fire-weakened wood. He set off along the pier, undressing Reggie-Perrin-style as he went. There was a faint, distant splash. A ripple or two. Then just a few bubbles. I sighed.
It was still night, but a hint of dawn. I drove home and put my old house clothes on, fed the donkey a carrot, and set the laptop out and
booted it while I mixed a drink. Then I booted up another CICS system. As usual, it lasted fifty-nine seconds. Beautiful, cold, remorseless
CICS, almost creepy in its silent implacability. I got up and listened at the open window for a while, smelling the night. Then I carried
my glass out to the kitchen and rinsed it and filled it with ice water and stood at the sink sipping it and looking at my face in the
"You and CICS," I said.