Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Chapter 21 - Past Caring

It was with some trepidation that Honeybun Slingsby went to meet Rita Miassov following Rita's phone call earlier that day. With Pepe installed on the parcel shelf of her Mini (one of the old, original,retro kind, not the new style mini that has no more right to call itself 'mini' than a Sherman tank), she set off to the rendez-vous point aka 'Under Ground' the local coffee shop.

'Under Ground' was an independent coffee shop, a rare commodity on the High Street these days. Honeybun had come across it accidentally when Boom had sent her into the local town to buy him a fresh stock of M & S underpants. She'd been caught in a stair-rod rain storm, and ducked under the stripey canopy that shielded the front window,to get some shelter. The owner of the coffee-shop, Tony, who was always keen to develop a customer opportunity, had grabbed her by the arm and pulled her inside, and before she knew it, Honeybun had ordered two coffees, a hot chocolate and a cheese, onion and garlic panini. Oh, and a double choc'n'toffee muffin.

Rita was already inside 'Under Ground' when Honeybun arrived.
'So where's this envelope?' said Honeybun, installing Pepe under the table so the other customers wouldn't complain about hair in their drinks.
Rita pushed the large, stiff envelope across the table, and through a puddle of espresso that Tony had failed to mop up from a previous customer. 'Here,' she said.

Honeybun stared at the envelope. Without opening it, she knew instinctively what was inside.
'Thank you,' she said, tucking it into her bag.
'Aren't you going to open it?' asked Rita.
'No,' said Honeybun. 'What exactly did Dangled say when he handed it over?'

Rita took a sip from her hot chocolate. 'He said that he hoped it would persuade you to persuade Boom to buy the Manor,' she said.
'But Boom doesn't want to buy a Manor,' said Honeybun. 'Why would he want to buy a Manor? I mean, it's huge, for a start. It was the Devil's own job to get him to keep his nest tidy back in New Zealand. He'd never keep on top of fifteen rooms and massive grounds.'
'Mr Dangled seemed to think you'd be up to the task of persuasion. He really wants that extra land, you know.'
'I can't see why,' grumbled Honeybun. 'I mean, a six hundred house housing estate should be enough for anyone.'
'Well, he's prepared to risk a dose of blackmail to get his own way,' said Rita. 'Please show me what's in the envelope. I've been bursting with curiosity ever since Dangled handed it over.'

Honeybun studied Rita's eager face. She did,indeed,look fit to burst. Rita was, she supposed, the closest that Honeybun would ever get to having a best friend. They'd worked together for years and years now, ever since Boom's old record company had deemed that the kakapo manager of 'Boom Penguin' needed a more, er, human face, to front things like press conferences and publicity tours and to deal with lumps of human detritus like Cleverly Dangled.
'A human manager is more believeable and more acceptable to the public than some stumpy, dumpy talking parrot in a power suit,' were their exact words, words that had burned themselves into Honeybun's heart forever. But she had no choice, back then in the Eighties, when 'Boom Penguin' was a young fledgling band. If they were to succeed, and more importantly, earn huge wodges of cash, against which Honeybun planned to charge a 15% management fee, she had to go along with what the record company wanted.

So she had wandered out onto Oxford Street, the morning of the afternoon when contracts for a six album deal were to be signed, to ponder the dilemma, and do a bit of window shopping. Honeybun remembered it well because it was approaching Christmas - something like August 28th - and Harris's, the big department store, was setting up its seasonal window displays. The theme seemed to be 'Rocking Chairs and Big, Knitted Jumpers in Bizarre Patterns and Colours'. Honeybun stopped and stared. She always steered clear of jumpers herself, especially roll necks as they made her bosom look like some kind of matronly stuffed bolster. Her attention was caught by a young woman, reaching up to hang a knitted bauble on a knitted Christmas tree. As the girl turned to take a knitted candy cane from the box on the chair beside her, Honeybun knew instinctively that here was the public face of 'Boom Penguin.'

She'd scuttled into the shop, located the window the young woman was dressing and somehow found herself atop a Christmas tree.
'Excuse me,' said Honeybun. She daren't look down; she wasn't good with heights.
'Vladimir Nabakov!' said the girl, in the kind of startled way that suggested to Honeybun that this was some kind of Russian expletive. 'What is this? A talking Christmas decoration?'
'No,' said Honeybun. 'I'm real. I'm a kakapo, and I'd really appreciate it if you'd lift me down from the top of this tree.' She gave a little wobble and stifled a small shriek.
The girl laughed and lifted Honeybun safely to the chair.
'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I thought you were one of the Christmas tree fairy.'

Being mistaken for a knitted Christmas parrot brough Honeybun's spirits to a new low. But she did not cry, she was made of sterner stuff, she wasn't a Mandarin duck or anything girly like that.
'Don't worry,' she said, cheerily. 'It happens all the time.' And she went on to explain the proposition she had for the girl, and would she be at all interested, even though window dressing a Christmas display in August must hold fascinating career prospects.
'So what do you think, Miss Miassov?' Honeybun finished.

Rita pondered the offer.'And this 'Boom Penguin' band is going to be the next biggest thing in rock?' she said.
Honeybun nodded. 'Most certainly. And you would be my personal assistant, my 'public face' so to speak.'
'This is because you are a parrot and no-one will take you seriously?' said Rita.
'Good Lord, no,' said Honeybun. 'AHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHA! No, no, I shall be far too busy with other very important stuff, to get bogged down with meetings and press conferences. No, you'll be like...like my right hand kakapo.'
'Do I have to wear feathers?' asked Rita. 'Only they make me itch.'

So once they'd established the details of the post, and that no feather wearing would be involved, wing shook hand and Rita Miassov became part of the 'Boom Penguin' phenomenon.

'Okay,' said Honeybun, who'd managed to down a cappuccino and a Millionaire's shortbread in the time it took for the author to fill in a bit of back story, 'you can have a look in the envelope. But the contents go no further, do you understand? You must promise me, Rita, that what you are about to see will remain unto you only, and if I ever find out you've betrayed me, you'll be back in shop windows decorating Christmas trees quicker than you can say 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.'
'I promise,' said Rita, solemnly, because if there was one thing Rita was very good at,it was keeping a secret, the more sordid the better.

Honeybun took the envelope from her bag and passed it back to Rita, all the while watching her face for any re-action.
Rita unsealed the envelope and took a deep breath. She slid out a photograph, taking a second or two to register its contents.
'Vladimir Nabakov,' she swore beneath her breath. 'Honeybun, this is awful.'
'I know,' said Honeybun. 'But I thought I was doing the right thing at the time.'

She took the photograph from Rita, and squinted at the painful memories it brought rushing back. 'I still don't know how this was taken, or who took it,' she said. 'And how Cleverly Dangled got a copy is even more of a mystery. But,' she said, looking up at Rita, her eyes glinting with diamond acid tears, 'when I do find out, someone's life will not be worth living.'

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