Sunday, 15 November 2009

Chapter 18 - A Blot On the Landscape

Her bloody phone never bloody stopped. She changed the ring-tone every two days, to try and detract from the constant feeling that she was on call twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Why did she take this bloody job, that's what she wanted to know. It wasn't as if it was well paid or anything. And there it goes again, thought Rita, as the phone, flung carelessly on her dashboard along with a lipstick, a spare pair of tights, a half-finished bottle of Sprite and a copy of Carper's Bizarre, started flashing and playing the can-can for about the seventh time that hour. Can't even have a chicken salsa wrap in peace in quiet.

'Hello?' she said. 'Yes. I'm sorry. Running a bit late I'm afraid. Traffic on the motorway is hellish.' Rita glanced out of her car window, at the squirrel climbing the tree in the deserted country lay-by in which she'd pulled over to eat her lunch. 'I don't know, I'm afraid. I'm at a standstill at the moment. Nothing's moving. Please tell Mr Cleverly I'll be with him as soon as possible. Yes. Thank you.' And she hung up.

Pausing for a brief second, she opened the window and flung the phone as far she could into the woody undergrowth. And even then, as it sailed through the air, glinting and flashing in the watery autumn sunshine, it began jingle-jangling once more.

'I don't care!' yelled Rita, after the flying phone. 'Ring all you like. I am going to have my lunch break. I am entitled to a lunch break, it says so in my contract, or at least it would if I had a contract. Just shut up. Shut, up, shut up, SHUT UP!'

Rita, dear reader, was a woman on the edge.

It was nearly four o'clock by the time Rita pulled up at Cleverly Dangled's offices. It had taken her a good hour or so to find her phone, and she'd been distracted in her search by coming across several species of fungi, which were a particular fascination of hers. She always carried a basket and knife in the back of her car, to collect samples, should she ever find herself out in the countryside, and this afternoon Rita was feeling rather pleased with the ones she'd found.

'You're very late,' said Cleverly's secretary, as Rita appeared at her Reception desk.
'Yes,' said Rita. 'Is Mr Dangled still here?'
The secretary eyed her.
'Luckily for you, he is,' she said.
'Luckily for him I eventually turned up, isn't it?' said Rita. 'Straight through, is it?' And without waiting for a reply, she marched past the enraged secretary and into Cleverly's office.
'Miss Miassov,' said Cleverly. He'd been whiling away the time practising his putting for the annual Property Developers and Associated Building Trades golf tournament, the last major local event of the season. The office floor was littered with around two hundred balls, only a handful of which seemed to have gone anywhere near the vicinity of the raised hole.
'Mr Dangled,' said Rita, who could see immediately that Cleverly's lack of success with his golfing practice was because he was using completely the wrong putter. 'I understand you have a problem.'
'Yes,' said Cleverly. 'I do, as it 'appens. Come and take a butchers at this.'

Rita followed as Cleverly led the way to his desk where the miniature scale model of his new housing estate stood.
'What do you see, Miss Miassov?' he said.
'I see a tiny model housing estate,' said Rita, thinking that if Cleverly Dangled wanted to play a game, couldn't he at least have chosen something more cerebral, like Scrabble or Cranium.
'Indeed,' said Cleverly. 'And what do you see there?'he continued, jabbing his finger at a green space to the right of the model. It seemed odd, this part of the model, like it had been added on as an after-thought. It was a strange confection in lumpy green tissue paper and brown papier mache, and in the middle was stuck a large matchbox, painted in a child-like fashion to look like a house.
'I' said Rita. 'Hills, maybe. With a caravan in the middle.'
'Not a caravan,' said Cleverly. 'A manor house.'
'Right,' said Rita. 'And this has got what to do with anything?'

Cleverly leaned across the table at Rita. He smelled of stale cigars and garlic. Even more so when he let out a watery belch.
'Oops, up she comes,' he said, punching the centre of his chest with a clenched hand. 'Now, she says, what has this got to do wiv anything?'
Rita stared at him. Sometimes it was best to answer a question with silence and this was one such occasion. This little man was annoying her, and he'd better not have dragged her all the way here to play silly games of twenty questions.

'I'll tell you what it's got to do wiv anything,' said Cleverly, mistaking Rita's silence for stunned awe at being in his genius presence. 'That piece of land has got three 'undred more 'ouses writ all over it.'
And sure enough, when Rita took a closer look, it did indeed have 'three 'undred more 'ouses' scrawled across the green paint in purple crayon.
'And what's more, Miss Miassov, I intend to build those three 'undred extra 'ouses on that bit of land. And your Miss Slingsby is going to 'elp me.'
'Oh really?' said Rita. 'But I think you'll find, Mr Dangled, that the land is privately owned and not for sale. Look, it has a matchbox, I mean, a house on it.'

Cleverly looked at the matchbox, and then flicked it with his thumb and forefinger so it ricocheted across the table and landed, ironically, in the golf hole.
'Not any more it don't,' he said. 'And I'll tell you why.'
'I thought you would,' sighed Rita.
'That 'ouse is called Much Malarkey Manor,' began Cleverly, 'and it is where your boss, Honeybun Slingsby, is currently shacked up on some kind ov jolly 'oliday wiv 'er squeeze. Some geezer called Bang Penguin, or something stupid like that.'
'Boom Penguin,' corrected Rita, thinking pot, kettle and black.
'Bang, Boom, it's all the same to me, love,' said Cleverly. 'Now, I've been doing some research on the Interweb. And this Penguin bloke was a bit of a rocker in 'is time. A very wealthy rocker. Which means 'e's got cash and influence.'
'I'm afraid you've lost me,' said Rita.
'That's coz you're a bird, innit?' said Cleverly. 'Light brain, that's your trouble. Anyway, if this Boom is staying at the Manor, 'e must know the people what live there.'
'Not necessarily,' said Rita, wondering if it would be politic to hit him now, or save it for later, when she was really angry.
'Very necessarily,' said Cleverly. 'Either way, I want your Miss Slingsby to get her bloke to buy the Manor and then sell it on to me. At a reduced profit, of course.'

Rita laughed. 'Why on earth would she do that?' she said. 'She's already doing you a favour by arranging to fix your planning application for you.'
'That ain't no favour,' said Cleverly. 'I'm payin' 'er good money to do that. This is something different.' And he leant over to open the right-hand top drawer in his desk, all the while fixing Rita with a steely gaze. 'Give 'er this,' he said, holding his hand aloft.
'A rubber corset and suspender belt set?' said Rita.
Cleverly looked at the article that was dangling from his hand. 'Oops, ' he said, looking a little sheepish. 'Wrong drawer.'

He quickly shoved the corset back in the drawer and opened its counterpart on the other side of the desk. 'Give 'er this,' he said, and handed Rita an envelope.
Rita made to look inside.

'Ah,ah,ah,' said Cleverly, slamming his hand down on Rita's. 'No peeping now. For Miss Slingsby's eyes only, you 'ear? Once she's seen what's in that envelope, she'll get that land for me quicker 'n' you can say 'John Ribbleton.'
'Jack Robinson,' said Rita.
'Never mind,' she sighed. 'Is that all, Mr Dangled?'
'No,' said Cleverly, who felt he was on a roll now, in for a penny in for a gratuitous grope and all that. 'You don't fancy coming out for dinner wiv me, do ya? Down to the 'Thai Palace. They've got amazing cabaret there. There's this woman see, and she...'
'You're quite right,' said Rita. 'I don't.'

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