Carmen, the Hon. Lady Lappit and bane of her father’s life, watched the sun sink behind the distant hills of Houndsmoor, and hitched her skirt down over dimpling thighs as she pushed herself up against the hay bales. She picked pieces of straw from her hair and turned a jaundiced eye on the heaving figure beside her, wheezing face down in the straw like an Olympic marathon runner in final extremis. She liked her men young, strong, healthy - and often. Her partner of the moment fulfilled the first three criteria, at least. On a rating of 1-10 she ranked his score at four and-a-half, with ‘E’ for Effort - not a bad score to Carmen’s exacting standards.
She also liked them with unblemished posteriors. The vision at the moment mooning up at her from amongst the straw put her in mind of a hitherto unknown and virulent strain of measles. “’Ere,” she said, elbowing the dying whale “Cover it up. It’s disgusting, that!”
The figure responded with a grunt and a feeble flap of a limp arm. Carmen sniffed and scooped her bosom together, harnessing it back into the tight blouse, from which it immediately fought to escape once more. She pulled herself to her feet and smoothed her clothes, nudging the now sleeping figure with her foot. Bits of straw stuck out at odd angles from the interstices of her clothing, making her lumpy body seem like some badly stuffed doll - which, she reflected, was precisely how she felt.
Precocious at ten, a coquette at twelve, at the age of fifteen Carmen had been proficient at things most girls twice her age had only dreamed about. At the ripe old age of eighteen she had now turned in to a hard- bitten cynic who regarded men as no more than mobile pleasure factories, flaccid and uninspired for the most part but, at rare intervals, fired with the odd flash of thunder that sparked a similar response in her satiated libido which her bruised psyche refused to acknowledge. Consequently, she had established no lasting relationship. The present one, flopping about on the floor of the barn, looked like going the way of the rest of them.
Carmen nudged him again, more viciously now. “Eh! It’s time to go. Are you coming?”
The figure groaned. “Oh, God, no. Not again!”
“Suit yourself” she said and, plucking straw from her cleavage, flounced out of the barn.
Harris raised his head to watch her go just long enough to register a gaze of stupefied admiration before it was suffused by a look of anguish that felt to him as though it was etched there permanently.
Lately, Freddy Lappit had taken to looking askance at any oriental face he encountered. The mystique of Eastern womanhood had finally been his undoing. Ever since playing the Lee Kwan sisters off against each other and, in the process carelessly impregnating both, Freddy was understandably reticent about forming even a passing relationship with any Chinaman who looked intent upon upholding the family honour. The trouble was, you could never tell. Which was why he was southward-bound along the M5 en-route for Cousin Archie’s where, by all accounts, Chinese in the heart of Houndsmoor were few and far between.
The notion had come to him quite suddenly when Sally and Lisa Kwan’s brothers had called at his flat the day before. Mercifully, he had been out and arrived back home just in time to see the Kwan brothers pulling away in their Limousine. If, Freddy thought, they could make only half as much mess of a person’s face as they had of the flat, he would never be so grateful for the puncture that had delayed him that night. Hastily gathering together what few belongings had been spared the knife, he threw them into the back of the Porsche and shot off to Dimpset like a noodle from a greasy wok.
Another puncture picked up in the middle of the Somerset section of the Motorway, with no spare in the boot, was not helping Freddy’s nerves either. The wait on the hard shoulder for the repair wagon to arrive seemed interminable, with headlights snaking down on him from behind like the baleful eyes of dragons bent on revenge, rocking the car spitefully as they roared past. He fell into a fitful sleep, punctuated by dreams where Lisa and Sally Kwan, lying bloated on sheets of black silk, pulled at his body and argued shrilly over which parts should next be consigned to the chopping block. They were attended by endless shifts of the Kwan family, each wielding meat cleavers of obscene proportions who, in turn, prodded his body with inquisitive fingers, testing the quality of the flesh.
With a start, he awoke to a hand on his shoulder through the open window. Following the arm up he found himself, to his horror, face to face with the gimlet-eyed countenance of an Oriental, made demonic by the passing headlights. The scream of terror which leaped from Freddy’s lips was second only to that which echoed a split moment later from the lips of Arthur Ying, the only Chinese motorway patrolman this side of Wapping and who was, just then, only with difficulty avoiding the evacuation of his bowels at this entirely unexpected encounter with what appeared to be a madman screaming into his face. This was something his training had not prepared him for.
Each screamed steadily at the other for some seconds before Freddy noticed the peaked cap with its emblazoned symbol falling over the mechanic’s eyes. Freddy’s screams cut off abruptly as the reality of the situation dawned. The startled mechanic’s tailed off uncertainly in response, and a sense of normality returned. Freddy closed his eyes and leaned back on the seat. “God, you gave me a fright!” he said, and added “Sorry. I was dreaming and you …” He tailed off as his heart slowly resumed its normal rhythm.
Arthur leaned against the car and took control of his larynx - and sphincter - with some effort. “Gor blimey, guv’nor” he gasped in a broad Cockney accent “Do us a favour. Don’t do that again. Fair gave me a heart attack, you did.”
The two men recovered their composure and Ying set about the business of getting Freddy’s car back on the road. He was a garrulous man, but even he could extract nothing but monosyllabic responses from Freddy, who was anxious to be away. In the end he gave up any attempt to engage Freddy in conversation and worked on in silence, while Freddy looked about him anxiously, giving Ying a hand when requested.
Shielded as it was by Ying’s van parked immediately behind, and a sudden convoy of heavy lorries blocking the slow lane, the Porsche was hidden to oncoming traffic, and Freddy was so intent on superintending the recovery of his vehicle that the sleek lines of the limousine gliding past in the dark went unnoticed.
Ying took his leave of Freddy with some relief and drove off. The Motorway Service Area and a hot, sweet mug of tea beckoned some miles further on.
Freddy roared on ahead, soon leaving Ying and the slower traffic behind until a series of lane closures slowed him to a crawl and caused the late-night lorries to bunch. Once through the hold-up he again assumed the fast lane, leaving the lorries to fight it out amongst themselves. In the process he again missed sight of the Limousine prowling along in the slow lane as the heavy vehicles bunched up around it, hiding it from view. He glimpsed the Motorway Service signs in the distance with a sense of gratification. “Food” his stomach said. It had been a good eight hours since he had last eaten. In the rush to get away from Brandsley, food had been the last thing on his mind, but it was now uppermost, terror having put an unexpectedly keen edge on his appetite. He pulled into the approach and parked the Porsche between two heavy lorries in the Transport Car Park, handy for a quick getaway - just in case.
He chose a corner booth in the shadows, and sat down to a plateful of sausage, egg and chips with relief. He felt the tension drain away as the mundane process of eating focussed his mind on the more normal aspects of life. “Women,” he thought morosely “are trouble.” He seriously considered - just for a fleeting moment - the benefits of celibacy. The voluntary kind. Not that which a vengeful Tony Kwan would doubtless wish to inflict upon him. But he considered it only for a moment. Women were too ingrained in Freddy’s nature for him to countenance any such espousal for long.
It was hardly surprising. A man would have had to have the constitution and composure of a saint to resist the attentions of the women attracted by Freddy’s Adonis-like appearance; and despite his ever-so-brief reflections on the monastic life, Freddy could never be accused of sanctimonious behaviour as far as matters of sexual favour were concerned. Ever since the age of eighteen and the disappearance of his pubescent acne, Freddy had been irresistible to the fair sex, and the adulation was reciprocated with relish. As Freddy matured, his sparkling eyes had taken on a glint of more things seen and done in a few years than most men ever experienced in a life-time, and his attraction assumed the animal-like quality of a rutting stag - without the aggression. For Freddy was a man of the boudoir, preferring his conquests between the sheets, rather than at the blow of a fist, so to speak. Which was a pity: the one rather invited the other.
Finishing his meal rapidly he pushed his plate away and stood to leave. Just as quickly he sat down again, drawing himself further into the shadows as Tony Kwan, followed by his three brothers and others whom Freddy recognised as cousins, walked in the entrance to the restaurant. Outside the plate glass windows he saw the ominous lines of the Kwan’s limousine parked in the ‘Reserved’ spaces, a prerogative that the Kwans generally assumed for themselves and no-one in their right mind disputed, having once seen the spark in Tony’s eyes.
Kwan despatched a younger cousin to fetch their orders whilst the party occupied seats directly in line with the doorway, cutting off Freddy’s only line of retreat. He quaked in his seat. It would take only an inquisitive glance around the almost deserted restaurant to detect the half-hidden figure skulking in the corner booth. The party seemed relaxed. But then, Freddy reflected, so does a hunter who anticipates a good kill at the end of the trail.
Snatches of conversation drifted over but, so far as he could make out, they were speaking in the Cantonese dialect that Sally and Lisa had sometimes used on him in playful mood. He debated the wisdom of making a break for the door, trusting to luck to give him the edge, but their car was closer than his and the thought evaporated almost as quickly as it had arisen. The cousin came back with the orders and Freddy was relieved to see that it was only tea all round. With any luck, he reasoned, they would consume the lukewarm mixture and be out of the restaurant in double-quick time.
Then, Arthur Ying walked through the entrance. He nodded toTony Kwan’s group, surprised to encounter such a large party of his compatriots so late at night. A gregarious and voluble chap by nature, when he had obtained his cuppa, he sauntered over to the Kwans’ table, exchanging pleasantries on the way with one or two of the regulars whom he recognised.
“Evenin’” He established himself at the table opposite theirs. The Kwan clan looked bleakly at him and Tony curtly acknowledged the mechanic, turning away abruptly to continue his muttered conversation with his brothers.
“Well! Excuse me,” said Ying to himself with typical Cockney irony “Sorry I spoke, I’m sure.”
Tony rounded on him with a glare and a hissed imprecation in Cantonese. From the intonation it needed little translation, which was all to the good since Ying had not one word of his native tongue. However, he took the hint and, gathering up his mug of tea, moved to join a regular late-night diner with whom he had shared a cup of tea on occasion. He tossed his head in the Kwans’ direction and complained to his companion, in a Cockney whine that carried in the quiet restaurant, “I dunno what fings are comin’ to when you can’t exchange a civil word nowadays. What with unsociable folk and mad Yorkshire geezers in Porsches frightenin’ the bleedin’ life out of you it makes you wonder if the world’s goin’ to ‘ell in a bleedin’ basket.”
That prospect rapidly became an odds-on probability when, at the mention of a Yorkshire lad in a Porsche, the snappy-suited figures at the table were galvanised into action. As a man, they rose and Tony Kwan grabbed at Ying’s elbow, jarring his arm and slopping tea all down his uniform.
“’Ere, what’s your game?” Ying yelped, and struggled to his feet in alarm. The few late-night diners scattered around the restaurant roused themselves in interest, while Ying’s companion wondered what the mechanic had let him in for. The cashier, dozing at his till, despatched himself off in search of the Duty manager.
“No game, my friend, I assure you,” hissed Tony in faultless English. “Your man in a Porsche. Where was this?”
Ying was many things, one of which was foolhardy. “None of your bleedin’ business mate, what’s it to you? Look at my trousers. Bleedin’ soaked they are!” He flapped ineffectually at his sodden clothing, slopping the remains of his tea out of the mug and over Tony’s immaculate jacket.
Tony stepped back out of range and gestured to his cronies. Two of them pinioned Ying’s arms against his body while a third forcibly removed the mug from his immobile hand. Eyes spitting venom, Tony stepped up to face Ying once more, pulling out a knife and waving it under the mechanic’s nose. “Now, I ask you again. Where was this Porsche?”
Ying’s internal plumbing suffered a severe jolt for the second time that night. “Gawd Almighty” he breathed, as his knees turned to jelly. “Hold up, mate. Only jokin’. It was just up the road, what, half-an-hour ago. A good lookin’ lad. Yorkshire, by the sounds of him. Went past me like a bat out of ’ell as soon as I fixed his tyre. Eh, do us a favour, leave it out! I don’t want no trouble.”
Tony let go of Ying’ s lapel and glared a t his cronies, breaking into a babel of high-pitched Cantonese and goading them into immediate action as they ran from the restaurant. Released from the restraint of the Kwan brothers Ying collapsed into his seat, wondering whether the job was really worth it.
Freddy had watched the drama unfolding from his precarious half-hidden position. While the Kwans’ attention was focussed on the hapless motor mechanic, he surreptitiously took his opportunity to join the exodus of diners who had suddenly remembered urgent business elsewhere. He had time to gain the relative safety of the darkened forecourt before, from the corner of his eye, he glimpsed the gang break into a run. He sidestepped into the toilets, out of sight, and the Kwan family thundered by to their limousine.
Resolutely, Freddy locked himself into a cubicle and waited until he heard the squeal of tyres as their car swished out of the Service Area before he emerged.
Ying, meanwhile, had recovered his composure sufficiently to make his own way to the toilets. The shocks he was receiving to his system that night were having a terrible effect on his stomach. As he rounded the corner, he bumped into Freddy, who was edging his way out. Nerves in tatters, both men shied away and briefly resumed their previous screaming match before Freddy broke into a run for his car - and Ying finally lost his fight with his bowels.