Friday, 20 November 2009

Chapter 25 - Wouldn't it be Lovely?

'Perhaps we should sell the Manor,' I said. 'Perhaps we've been here too long and now's the time to move on to different things.'

Andy and I were standing in the back garden looking, without a certain amount horror, at Professor Penguinolla's archaelogical dig. Except it was looking less like a dig and more like Wembley Arena. A giant marquee had sprung up where once the Japanese water garden stood; a car park surrounded it on three sides and somewhere, music could be heard booming and beating through the air.
'I went on a dig once,' said Andy. 'I know it was a long time ago but I don't remember there being hot dog stands and giant signs saying 'Section J, Rows 1 to 12 This Way,' dotted around.'
'Times have changed,' I said. 'I suppose even archaelogical digs are more sophisticated these days.'
'It reminds me of something,' said Andy. 'I just can't put my finger on it.'

We stood in companiable silence.

'So what would we do,' said Andy, 'if we did sell the Manor and move away.'
'We've always wanted to go to Peru,' I said. 'Remember the days when we made our 'what if' plans? Travelling to Peru was top of the list.'
'That was before you decided never to get on an aeroplane,' said Andy.
'We could go by boat,' I said.
'It would take forever,' said Andy.
'Well, we could...we could move to a different part of the country,' I said. 'Or to a different country altogether.'
'Yes,' said Andy. 'Like France, you mean?'
'I suppose it depends on how much of this rare marble is found,' I said. 'The wealthier we are, the further we could travel.'
'We'd be marble magnets,' said Andy. 'King and Queen of Quality Kitchen Worktops.'

Another companiable silence.

'I don't think I want to be remembered for having a leading range of kitchen worktops, quality or otherwise,' I said.
'What do you want to be remembered for?' asked Andy.
'For...for living my life in the best way I can, doing right by the planet and everything else in our care. And for writing a darn good novel or two,' I said. 'Or something like that.'
'Well,' said Andy, 'you can do all that here at Much Malarkey Manor.'
'In that case,' I said, 'we'll stay put.'
'Hurrah!' said Andy.
'Ditto,' I said. 'I'll call that Honeybun Slingsby and tell her we aren't interested in selling, no matter how much marble is found.'
'I've suddenly realised what all this reminds me of,' said Andy, waving his arm across the garden.
'What?' I said.
'The Millennium Dome!' said Andy, triumphantly.
'Well,' I said. 'That confirms that this is definitely an archaelogical dig. If there's anything at all that needs consigning to the rubbish bin of history it's that debacle of a building.'

* * * * * * *

'Damn,' said Honeybun, snapping shut her mobile phone.
'What's up?' said Rita, who had dropped by to listen to rehearsals.
'That was the owners of the Manor,' sighed Honeybun. 'They're not interested in selling. What am I going to tell Cleverly Dangled? If I don't secure the Manor for him, he'll have copies of that photograph out to every single gutter press rag quicker than you can say 'Jordan's got new boobs.'

Rita shrugged. 'Here's an idea. You could always beat him to it.'
'You mean, 'fess up?' said Honeybun.
'Yes,' said Rita. 'Why not?'
'Because it would ruin everything,' said Honeybun. 'Boom would have nothing more to do with me. I'd lose everything I have.'
'Is that such a bad thing?' said Rita, who was beginning to wonder when she suddenly took on the role of personal counsellor. 'I mean, now you know other people know about the photo, you're going to be living on a knife edge for the rest of your life. If it doesn't come out now, it will at some point in the future. Do yourself a favour, Honeybun and get it over and done with.'

But Honeybun remained resolved. 'No,' she said. 'I'll think of something. I'll get the planning consent passed for Dangled's housing estate, and then sweeten the pill about the Manor with something else.'

Rita was worried. Since meeting Cleverly Dangled, she'd been researching this character and she didn't like what she'd found. Stupid he might be, but Mr Pleasant 'n' Nice 2009 he wasn't. No, she couldn't let Honeybun walk blindly into his blackmail. She might be the most infuriating employer Rita had ever had, but she didn't deserve being done over by a Neanderthal slime ball like Cleverly Dangled.
'Leave him to me,' said Rita. 'You concentrate on kick-starting Boom Penguin's career with this concert. I think I have a plan.'

* * * * * * *

'They agreed?' said Cleverly Dangled. He was sitting in 'Under Ground,' the coffee shop in the local town, with the lovely Rita Miassov sitting opposite. She was swirling her biscotti in her latte in a manner that Cleverly was finding strangely alluring.
'Yes, Mr Dangled,' said Rita. She put the biscotti slowly to her mouth and gave the end a good suck. The table she shared with Cleverly gave a shudder as Cleverly's knee began an involuntary jiggle. 'But there is one proviso.'
''Ang on,' said Cleverly. 'No provisos. I'm the one wiv the photo remember?'
'Mr Dangled,' said Rita, shifting her chair around the table so she was closer to Cleverley, 'do you trust me?'
'I don't trust no-one,' said Cleverly.
'I don't trust anyone,' said Rita, who was a stickler for correct grammar.
'You neither?' said Cleverly. 'Well, that's good, coz as soon as yer start trusting people, that's were the trouble begins, y'know.'

Rita stifled a sigh and the urge to punch Cleverly Dangled in his stupid doughy face.

'I mean,' she said, 'that if you could manage to trust me a little, then I may have some information that could be to your advantage.'
'Oh?' said Cleverly. 'Really?'
'Yes, really' said Rita, and she sat back and waited, staring at her opposition with her steely grey Russian eyes.

She didn't have to wait long. Patience wasn't one of Cleverly's strong points.
'Okay,' said Cleverly. 'Wot's the proviso and wot's this bit of info that could be to my advantage?'

Rita remained silent. She leant forward until her nose was barely an inch from Cleverly's. He could feel her breathe on his cheek. His knee went into over-jiggle drive.
'The marble that's been found in the grounds of the Manor,' said Rita. 'I've seen a report. It's worth a lot more than the ground it's buried in.'
'You mean, I'd make more money from mining the marble than I would building an extra three hundred houses on the land?' said Cleverly, who could catch on quickly in he wanted to.
'Precisely,' said Rita. 'But the owner's don't know it. They think they are selling a piece of building land that is potentially useless because the ground is riddled with rock that would get in the way of any foundations you need to dig for your estate.'
'So they think they're doing one over on me?' said Cleverly.
'Yes,' said Rita. 'But you'd be worth a fortune, Mr Dangled. Or can I call you Cleverly?'
'You can call me wotever you like, darlin'' smirked Cleverly. 'So, wot do you want out of it? Wot's this proviso?'

Rita leant back and laughed. 'Oh, you're very astute, Cleverly,' she said, and allowed him a moment to bask in the glory of her false compliment.
'What I want,' she said, 'is a cut of the deal. Nothing to do with Honeybun Slingsby. Just you and me, Cleverly. You and me.'

'I buy the land for whatever the owners want for it,' said Cleverly, 'and you get a bonus, Miss Miassov? Is that right? Cut out the middle man.'
'That's right,' said Rita. 'I go direct to the owners, tell them I have a client who will outbid whatever offer Boom Penguin makes, and deal direct with them myself. It's risky,' she finished, 'but I like to take a risk or two, don't you?'

'Yes,' said Cleverly. 'Okay. Go ahead, Miss Miassov. I'll trust you to do the deal.'
'And the contents of that envelope?' said Rita, tentative in her request in case Cleverly smelled a rat, or worse still, a seam of non-existent rare marble.
'The negative'll be in your 'ands as soon as the deeds to the Manor are in mine,' said Cleverly.
'Good,' said Rita. 'I'll be in touch.'

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