The Carmen Miranda look-a-likey walks into the bar shouting, “Okay, where’s my friggin’ pet iguana.”
No joke. That’s how this sorry tale starts.
Saturday night. The Winchester was sweaty and heaving. I figured Carmen for another karaoke punter. Drunk and heading for a beating as Frank, the owner cum bouncer, cursed loudly. Six foot six tall and hands like coal shovels. The only thing short about Frank was his temper. Roars erupt as Frank began frogmarching the pissed-up drag queen out, minus iguana.
I felt a paw on my shoulder. A gorilla towered over me; a threatening bulge under his jacket where a bulge shouldn’t be. The gorilla leaned in. I smelt bad breath and cheap aftershave. Heard, “Backroom. Now!”
Cigar smoke floated in the back room like an omen of menace to come. Under it Pork Pie was immaculate in a black, three button single breasted suit.
Puffing on a fat Cuban, Pork Pie twirled a leather flat topped hat in his hand. “Sit,” he commanded.
Pork Pie’s moniker came from his fondness for Ska music, not the staple British meat pie. My reckless dalliance with his young wife had resulted in a fierce shoeing. Several cracked ribs were testament to Pork Pie’s ruthlessness. You’ve got to be to cut it as a gangster in these parts.
“You owe me, Valentine,” Pork Pie’s voice was full of gravel. “This is payback.”
“Sure, Mr P.”
Reptilian eyes locked onto mine. “I need you to find a man for me.”
“Suppose a dating agency is out of question.”
If Pork Pie gave a signal I missed it. Maybe the gorilla, stepping forward and throwing a ferocious punch, used his initiative. I fell off the chair, my guts on fire; puking beer and whiskey.
Pork Pie sighed and tut-tutted. Hunching down and giving me a close up of highly polished brogues and a face full of smoke.
“That smartarse mouth of yours…” Pork Pie grabbed hold of my balls and squeezed. “And your dick will be the death of you.” A set of brass knuckles on his other hand was cold against my cheek. “Shut the fuck up or that wisecrack will be your last.”
So Pork Pie talked and I listened.
Albie Perkins was a bean counter; the magician who laundered Pork Pie’s ill-gotten gains. He’d disappeared ten days ago, along with a tidy nest egg.
Pork Pie wanted the loot found, intact.
“The jury’s still out,” barked Pork Pie. “Just do as you’re told gumshoe.”
I took Albie’s laptop to a computer whiz-kid, oiling him with a roll of greasy banknotes. Footprints on the hard drive put me onto Albie’s trail like a hound baying for blood.
A week later I watched Albie enter a dodgy health club called ‘The Erogenous Zone’, a spit away from Waterloo railway station. Three hours later he left hand in hand with a twenty something, dark haired Lothario.
I guessed they’d found each other’s zones.
Snapping pictures I followed them to a dingy Bayswater hotel.
Twenty four hours later Pork Pie had the lothario’s name; Aaron Grant. For good measure I threw in Aaron’s address, bank account, star sign and mother’s maiden name.
Sober and with the right incentive I’m good at my job.
I did the decent thing before I made the final call and knocked on Albie’s hotel door.
“Why, Albie?” I asked.
Albie was dishevelled and haunted. Tired eyes, sunken cheeks and salt n pepper stubble. “I did it for love,” his tone thick with melancholy.
Frank had closed up. I was alone with a guilty conscience and a bottle of malt for company. I’d already drunk down to the label.
The South London Press lay on the bar top. I’d read the article umpteen times. Aaron Grant’s body had been found in his Vauxhall bedsit; the smell finally becoming too much for the neighbours. They’d dialled three nines.
Another unsolved murder in the South London badlands.
Albie was counting beans again and making them disappear. Safe until his usefulness waned. A harsh lesson learned that love played no part in Pork Pie’s villainous empire.
The precariousness of my own position struck me like a cold hearted mugger’s cosh. Pouring two fingers of whiskey I contemplated a change of scene and profession.
I dropped a pocketful of shrapnel into the jukebox. After a few beats I drunkenly sang along.
“Working for the rat race. You know you’re wasting your time. Working for the rat race. Your no friend of mine”.
I turned quickly at the sound of scratching. A large green, spiky backed lizard flashed a long tongue at me. A black striped, whip-like tail snaking behind as it scuttled into the cellar.
“Well I’ll be fucked,” I said.
Albie Perkins certainly was. Maybe we both were.
© 2011 Alan Griffiths
Alan Griffiths hails from the badlands of South London, England. In 2010 ‘My Father’s Son’ was nominated for the 2010 Spinetingler Best Short Story on the Web award. ‘Concrete Jungle’ features in the e-book anthology Discount Noir published by Untreed Reads. ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ is published in the Byker Books anthology: Radgepacket – Tales from the Inner Cities Volume 5. When the mood takes him he blogs at: http://britgrit.blogspot.com/