A Peter Ord Investigation
The last time Billy Kirby hit his wife, he’d picked up a kitchen bench and slammed it against the back of her head. Dusty had immediately reacted by slashing at Billy with a knife she’d been using to gut the fish that he’d brought back from the docks. She must have hit an artery, it seems, because blood spurted out like a geyser. So much so, that Billy panicked and ran a quarter of a mile to the General Hospital, they said, just in time.
When Billy got back home two days later, Dusty was gone, along with their five-year-old son Nick. This time he didn’t go looking for them.
As the years trundled on, Billy Kirby, alone in his two bedroom Housing Association flat, like so many other lost souls, turned to Mecca. Come rain or come shine, come hell or high water, every Monday and Friday afternoon Billy was in the Mecca Bingo. And on Wednesdays he was in The King Johns.
‘Poundland’s next to Poundworld, across the road from All 4 A Pound’, I said to Billy. He was examining my business card. I’d got my niece, an art student, to do it on the cheap. The loop of the P had been made into a deerstalker hat and the O was drawn to look like the lens of a magnifying glass. I’d thought it was pretty impressive. Until I sobered up.
It was just after opening time. I was having a break from my store detective’s job at Poundland and I was meeting a prospective client. Billy.
‘Near Greggs, then?’ he said. He stretched his arms out wide and yawned. He was over sixty but still an oak of a man.
‘There are more Greggs’ in this town than there are cockneys at a Man United game, Billy. Everywhere’s near Greggs’ I said.
Patsy, the pasty faced barmaid brought over a Full English Breakfast for Billy and the vegetarian version from me. I was on a bit of a health kick. I’d even been on the waggon for two weeks.
‘It’s still a heart attack on a plate,’ said Billy looking down at my food.
‘From little acorns,’ I said.
I looked out of the window as snowflakes started to fall like confetti. A motorcade of buggies stuffed with chubby kids rolled past the pub and up the ramp toward the granite shopping centre.
‘YTS shoplifters,’ said Billy with a grin. I nodded and smiled.
‘So, when did you last hear from them?’ I said, as I cut into my Tofuburger.
Billy shrugged his shoulders and stuffed a burned black sausage into his mouth.
‘Donkeys,’ he said, his mouth full .‘Sometime in the last century, to be a bit more precise.’
‘Are they in the town?’
‘I heard she’d buggered off to her cousin’s in Hull.’
‘Hull hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ I said, smirking a little.
Billy didn’t laugh.
When I decided to become a Private Investigator, although I certainly didn’t have any romantic illusions that the job would bear any resemblance to the lives of Messrs Marlowe and Spade, I had, a least, a smattering of hope that there may be a little silver screen glamour to the job. Over the years, however, that hope and I had barely been on nodding terms.
So, it wasn’t a great shock to find out that I’d have to take on sideline jobs here and there. Store detective, for example. And a Santa Clause. In Poundland.
The beard was itching and the suit stank of fish. I assumed that Richie Sharp, manager of Poundland, had got it from his Uncle Glenn. Glenn used to work on the fish quay and, for many years, was Santa at the kids’ Xmas parties at the Boilermaker’s Club – until he’d got hammered one year and started telling the kids which of their mothers he’d shagged. And how.
‘Yo. Ho ho,’ I hollered , with all the dignity of a Tibetan Monk awaiting execution. ‘Who has been a good boy or girl? Who wants to see Santa?’ I had to shout because a dance mix of Wombling Merry Christmas was being played at full volume for the one hundredth time.
A little girl with a snotty noses came up, jumped on my knee and nearly winded me. She was just ten. Stone.
‘And what’s your name?’ I wheezed.
‘Hannah- Lee,’ she said, picking her nose.
‘And what do you want for Christmas, Hannah -Lee’ I said
‘A Litre Bottle of Diamond Star. Me mam won’t share hers with me anymore,’ she said, wiping snot all over my Santa suit.
A disheveled figure stuck his head into the converted cupboard that acted as ‘Santa’s Ghetto’ and nodded at me. I pushed Hannah-Lee away and give her a bag of cheap, Made In Taiwan tat. ‘Merry New Year,’ I growled.
I looked at the line of kids starting to head towards me and was instantly reminded of Children Of The Corn.
‘I’ll see you in King Johns in five minutes. What are you gargling?’ said Bryn Wetherall aka Bryn Laden, a journalist and booze hound of my acquaintance.
‘A pint of wife beater,’ I said
‘I thought you were on the wagon, Ordy?’ said Bryn.
‘I’ll be throwing myself under a wagon soon enough, if I don’t get a drink,’ I said.
Oscar Wilde once said that only a fool doesn’t judge by appearances. And I was sure that I didn’t look a lot like most people’s idea of a private eye. Just an average looking bespectacled man in a suit and tie. More like an cheap accountant or cut-price solicitor, maybe. Which was good for the job, I’m sure.
But if you asked anyone to describe their idea of a sleazy hack then Bryn Laden would surely fit the bill perfectly. Lank hair, hanging down like rats tails. Red nose. Waxy raincoat and, of course, permanently pissed.
We were sat at a red Formica table at Keith & Babs Key-Babs. Bryn was taking sips from a miniature bottle of Grouse and sweating like Gary Glitter in an orphanage.
‘Computers, Ordy,’ he said as he threw the red cabbage into a waste paper bin that was overflowing with the stuff. ‘Big Daddy is watching you.’ He pointed to the CCTV above the door. ‘Piece of piss to find anyone these days.’
‘Well, he’s certainly up with the readies. Best paying job I’ve had for donks ‘
‘Won the pools, has he?’
‘Naw, he used to work on Seaport Docks.’
‘Aye. And a tidy piece of compensation it is, too. He’s got cancer on his lungs. Isn’t sure of how long he’s got to live so …’
‘He wants to make amends.’ said Bryn.
‘Indeed.‘ I said.
Bryn threw the rest of his kebab in the bin and we headed out into a cold December night. The High Street was pretty much deserted and I noticed that ,once again ,someone had stolen the ‘U’ from the Poundland sign. I resisted the temptation to buy a tin of spray paint and write ‘Pondland – Shops for Pondlife’ across its metal shutters but it was a struggle.
Hull was once named one of the crappest towns in Britain on the grounds that it ‘smelled of death’. But whoever compiled that list had obviously never been to Swanland Village. Whether Swanland was actually a part of Hull was a matter for estate agents to argue over but a very nice place it was indeed.
And the palatial home of Dusty Kirby, now Mrs Lillian Hope, and her offspring , didn’t look a lot like a tenement block. It was a massive mock-Tudor detached house decorated in a style so chintzy that Stevie Wonder would consider it tasteless.
Nick Hope had grown into a less ugly version of his father. He was leaning over a full size snooker table and concentrating on potting a pink. I’d watched him play for the last half hour and he was good. His opponent was Vernon Reeves, a balding old booze hound who I remember being a snooker superstar when I was a kid. Nick was trouncing him.
It wasn’t long before Nick cleared the table. He shook hands with Reeves and handed him a wad of cash. Reeves lit up like the Oxford Street Christmas Lights and was out of the door in a flash.
Nick walked over to a small bar in the corner of the room.
‘Right, now he’s gone we can have a drink. And talk shop,’ said Nick. He poured out two large whiskies and brought them over to the round card table where I sat.
‘I assumed that you drank whisky. What with you being a private eye, and all,’ he said, handing me a glass. The assumptions that people make!
‘Oh yes, ‘ I said, a little too enthusiastically. The best thing about stopping drinking was always starting up again.
Nick glanced at my business card, smiled and put it in the top pocket of his Ralph Loren shirt.
‘So, business is going well then,’ I said, looking around the room.
‘You could said that,’ said Nick. ‘Recession or not, there’s always a place for snooker halls. And a few amusement arcades, too ,eh?’
‘I’m sure,’ I said. The whisky was good. A lot better than the stuff that I usually bought. I could get a taste for it if I made the right money.
‘Oh, yes. The scaffolder’s lap tops are always popular with people who have no dosh!’
‘Yeah, I saw a lot of them around the town. Stardust Lil’s.’
‘Yeah, our mum runs them. Keeps her busy and up to date with the gossip.’
‘Is your mother around?’ I said. ‘I think we should discuss this with her here.’
Nick looked at a watch that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Michael Douglas in Wall Street.
‘Give her about five minutes. I sent her a text to tell her that you’re here. She’s a bit surprised. More than a bit, to be honest.’
‘Surprised, I’m friggin dum-friggin- founded!’ said a husky voice from behind me.
I looked around and saw what was possibly the shortest and definitely the most suntanned woman that I’d ever seen.
‘Cocktail!’ she barked and Nick leapt to his feet and headed over to the bar.
Lily Hope threw off her high heels and almost disappeared as she sank into a red leather armchair.
‘So, what’s the story Jackanory?’ she said.
Another difference between the world inhabited by the silver screen private eyes and mine is the murky area of ethics and loyalty to your client. After I got back from Hull I met Billy and gave him Dusty and Nick’s address. And I took my payment with no feelings of guilt. I’d done what he’d paid me for, after all.
If I did have a twinge of remorse, however, it would have been over the fact that Lily and Nick had paid me not to tell Billy that they’d be waiting for him when he turned up in Hull. With a kitchen bench. Or two.
Ethics? Somewhere nears Suthics, I think.
(c) Paul D Brazill 2010
Bio: Paul D. Brazill was born in Hartlepool, England and lives in Bydgoszcz, Poland. His writing has appeared in all sorts of print and electronic magazines and anthologies, such as Beat To A Pulp and Radgepacket Volume Four. His story The Tut was nominated for a 2010 Spinetingler Award and his story Guns of Brixton will be included in the 2011 Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime, which is smashing,eh? His blog is YOU WOULD SAY THAT WOULDN’T YOU? And his column, I DIDN”T SAY THAT, DID I? Is here at Pulp Metal Magazine.