After a disturbed night’s rest, Ying pulled up outside the ‘Spring Roll’ restaurant just as Kwan drew away after making his arrangements with Lin. There was something familiar about the flashy limousine he saw disappearing around the corner that Ying just couldn’t place, which irritated him. He was not one to forget a car. Anyway, he had a more pressing problem on his mind at the moment. Cherry Lin’s curry. The events of the past night must have had a lot to do with it but, this morning, he had a gut like a stretched inner tube. He let himself in through the side door. Cherry’s father stood gabbling rapid Cantonese into a telephone and acknowledged Ying’ s semaphored greeting with a raised hand. Although he was not of the ‘brotherhood’, Ying was guardedly tolerated by the family as a worthy suitor for their youngest daughter. Cherry was very much the modern young woman. The Lins recognised that their ways were not hers, so gave her her head. All the same, Ying was always conscious of a sense of ‘not belonging’ in the closed community that made up the Chinese enclave in the south-west. Still, Cherry made up for that. Except for her bleedin’ curries. He pressed a hand to his midriff as yet another eructation made its presence audible.
Cherry was swabbing down the work surfaces in the kitchen \¥hen he made his way through the double swing doors. ‘” Ere,” he said after embracing her, “that curry you cooked last night’s playin’ merry ‘ell with my stomach.” Cherry’s sloe eyes registered concern as Ying recounted his misfortunes of the previous evening. “I dunno” he concluded, “if anyone had said this job was goin’ to be so bleedin’ dangerous, I’d ’ave joined the army.”
“Come on” he continued, giving the girl an affectionate hug, “Get the O.K. from your Old man and I’ll take you out for lunch.”
Old Father Lin was too engrossed in his arrangements to raise any objection to Cherry’s request, and the pair disappeared without any inkling of the events building up around them. As they walked out of the restaurant door, they passed a distinguished-looking gent in a bowler and pin-stripes, striding purposefully out in the direction of the red-light district.
As he neared Fat Lil’s, Slipper’s purposeful air slackened visibly. It didn’t feel right. Bank Holidays and his birthday were what he allowed and although, he told himself, the purpose of the visit was something other than the usual, it didn’t make much difference to the feeling of guilt that now crept over him. He knocked at the door with diffidence.
Fat Lil answered his knock with astonishment. “Why, Mr. Slipper, whatever brings you here? It isn’t Bank Holiday already, is it?” she shot a glance at the calendar hanging in the hall.
Slipper took off his bowler hat and followed Lil into the Reception area of ’Miss Lilian’s: Sun Beds, Saunas and Masseuses Extraordinaires.” The sun beds and saunas were for real, the masseuses not for the fainthearted, and the extraordinaires were something else again. It was the extraordinaires that had first introduced Slipper to the enticing world of Fat Lil and her friends. “No, Miss Lilian. It’s not, I’m afraid,” said Slipper, panting slightly, not so much from the exertion of the walk as from the heady mixture of aromatic oils that permeated the establishment and the overwhelming scent of ‘Ravissement’ issuing from the well of Fat Lil’s cleavage. He hesitated. “No, it’s not Bank Holiday yet, but there is something…”
“Well, you’d better come on through then, Mr. Slipper,” Lil interrupted,” I’m afraid we’re fully booked, but I’ll see what we can do. Usual was it?
Slipper looked alarmed. “No I shan’t be troubling you today, Miss Lilian.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble, dear. An old friend like you? It’d be a poor show if we couldn’t fit you in somewhere. You’ll have to take pot luck, though,” Lil said, consulting a diary.
Slipper squirmed uncomfortably on the sitting room settee. His non-conformist background, already under pressure from his periodic lapses, was having difficulty in adjusting to this unexpected change in circumstances. Bank Holidays and his birthday he could just about cope with. Anything outside those narrow confines, it seemed, had him at a loss.
“Why, Mr. Slipper,” Li1 exclaimed, observing Slipper’s strangulated expression, “Don’t you go all coy on me now, not after all I’ve done for you. Remember May Bank Holiday Monday last year?”
Slipper ran a finger around his collar. He didn’t want to remember any Bank Holiday Monday at that moment, particularly that Bank Holiday Monday - the memory of Fat Lil wearing a cowboy hat and spurs and nothing else brought a quiver to his knees that he could well do without.
Lil looked at him with concern. “Are you all right, Mr. Slipper?” she asked, solicitously, moving over to him. She bent down to feel his forehead, giving him the full benefit of the ‘Ravissement’.
Fat Lil’s nickname was a misnomer. It was not her girth that had earned her the soubriquet. Her diminutive frame (five feet nothing in her stockinged feet, making it necessary sometimes for her to stand on a box when tending to her clients’ needs) sported a set of mammaries that was heroic. Although her particular physical attributes ensured that her attentions on the massage table were much sought after by the business-men in the area, their proximity to Slipper’s face were not. Not just then.
He shied away from Lil’s touch, ducking under the obstructions, and stood up. “I’m just a bit hot from the walk,” he explained, averting his eyes from the jiggling mass that his movement had set in motion. “Look, Miss Lilian, I really think it would be better if we talked elsewhere. Can I take you to lunch?”
Lil looked puzzled. “Well, if you really want to, Mr. Slipper. There’s no need, you know. Just a minute, I’ll get my coat.” She disappeared into another room and re-emerged wearing a jacket that did its level best to disguise the pulchritude jolloping about inside. “I shall have to be back by half-past, mind. I’ve a client arriving who’s on a very tight schedule.”
Once outside, Slipper’s agitation subsided. With temptation removed he could once again concentrate his mind on the business in hand. He relaxed. In fact, he found it very pleasant to be walking down the street with a lady hanging from his arm, albeit that it was a business relationship. Lil had always been a demonstrative and attentive woman, and Slipper found himself regretting, just slightly, his prolonged abstinence from association with the opposite sex. He found that he could, in fact, enunciate the word quite without shame, lately - although not quite without a nagging tinge of guilt. He had a puritan streak in him that would not let go.
“Oh! That one over there’s quite nice, Mr. Slipper.” Lil pointed to a small French Bistro located on the corner of the main road and the entrance to the business district through which they were then passing. Crossing the road, they entered.
Ying and Cheery Lin dawdled on their way through town. The fine Spring weather had brought the trippers out and a leisurely air prevailed, which was contagious. Even the locals doing the weekend shopping seemed to be taking some pleasure in the task. The girl’s company, and the general air of euphoria, gradually made the events of last night recede further and further to the back of Ying’s mind. The lack of urgency did have its penalties. With the influx of Trippers, all the town centre restaurants were crammed to capacity.
“Right, that’ s it then,” said Ying decisively. “Blow this for a lark. Let’s go further out. There’s this little place I know right on the edge of town.” Cherry acquiesced and, stepping out, they soon outpaced the crowds as the busy hum of the shops gave way to the quieter aspect of the business district.
The tiny Bistro was surprisingly busy with tables crammed together in Gallic conviviality. There were only two available when they arrived and they gratefully occupied one, ordering at once.
Shortly afterwards Slipper and Lil arrived, Slipper doffing his bowler and opening the door for Lil in a quaintly old-fashioned manner. The incongruity of Slipper’s gesture, and the obvious status of his companion, stirred the interest of Ying and Cherry. “Eh, isn’t that the geezer we passed earlier on?” Ying asked, “You don’t see many bowlers, nowadays, do you?” Cherry nudged him, curbing his naturally inquisitive nature, and their meal then arrived, curtailing any further speculation.
Slipper edged his way through the crowded Bistro and Lil followed with some difficulty, leaving a few of the male diners pleasantly surprised. They took the only other table available, close up against that occupied by Ying. Slipper looked uncomfortable. In a hushed voice he said, hoarsely “I would have preferred to speak somewhere a little more private than this, Miss Lilian.”
Lil shrugged her shoulders, the ripple of flesh causing Ying to choke on a mouthful of pate. “Can’t be helped, Mr. Slipper. I don’t have the time to go gallivanting all over town. Now, what was it you wanted to see me about?” She leaned forward across the table.
Ying’ s inquisitive nature got the better of him. Despite Cherry Lin’s presence, he couldn’t help being intrigued by the odd couple at the next table. With half an ear he strove to catch the gist of their conversation. The old guy certainly seemed very intense about something. Something to do with sausage factories staffed by tarts while builders walked in and threw people out of their homes. It was all too difficult to follow so Ying dismissed it to the back of his mind and turned his full attention on Cherry who was rattling on about her father’s prowess at Kung Fu in his younger days. Ying had tried that once, and put his foot in plaster for a month. After that, any desire he had to conform to his racial stereotype went out of the window, together with his nun-chuks, which kept trapping his fingers. Of Oriental origin he may be, but the martial arts held as much fascination for Ying as a foggy night spent cruising the M5. He changed the subject. “’Ere. Cherry, I’ve got some leave coming up in a couple of months. Fancy a walking holiday? I thought we could go tramping the Moors.” Cherry agreed enthusiastically. Anywhere Ying wanted to go was O.K. by her. Slipper and his companion forgotten, Ying and Cherry set about planning their holiday.
The plans that Slipper was just outlining to Fat Lil were not quite so ingenuous. Li1 had tut-tutted, with many a ‘Shame’ and ‘Well, I never’, while Slipper recounted recent events at Staddon Hall. Lord Melsham had been castigated and reviled, Slipper’s predicament had received every sympathy and Carmen had been noted down in Fat Lil’s mind as a possible operator for a new ‘home massage’ project she had long been thinking about. When Slipper got to the nub of his request, she was more than ready to lend a sympathetic ear.
“Lappit has a penchant for large ladies, Miss Lilian. Now, I know that you can’t spare any of your own girls but, if you can recommend some others, I want to take them on as Domestics at the Hall. They will be well paid.” That much, at least, Slipper could be certain of. His frugality had amassed a sizeable account at the Post Office, and he was not averse to spending every penny of it if it would ensure that the man Lappit got his just desserts.
Lil thought that she could probably oblige Slipper there, and promised to sound out likely ladies who had now passed their prime for masseuse work but who, from Slipper’s description of the Earl’s predilections, might fit the bill nicely.
Slipper explained that the girls’ duties would be domestic only in the looser definition of the term. The looser the better, as far as he was concerned. All he hoped for was to entrap the Earl in some scandal that would have Lady Melsham down on him like a ton of bricks and would publicly ridicule him in such a way as to doom his grand plans to failure before they even got off the ground.
Slipper had, however, underestimated the speed at which Melsham caused things to happen. Speed was of the essence to Melsham and speed was precisely what he was pursuing in the Rover. As he drove, he reflected bitterly on his position. Shut up in a mouldering old pile with a wife who couldn’t stand the sight of him and a daughter who was a drain on his wallet, was hardly his idea of the high life. Why his late cousin couldn’t have lived in a more accessible spot, Melsham couldn’t imagine. The seedier parts of Brandsley seemed a million miles away now. All Melsham hoped was that Rossiter’s sportier ladies were every bit as adventurous as the Yorkshire lasses he was used to cavorting with. Anyway, he would soon find out. It wouldn’t take long. After 35 years he had developed a nose for this sort of thing. He pulled up outside a telephone box and consulted the business cards tucked behind the information board.
Slipper and Lil finished their meal. The wine that Lil had insisted on had gone straight to Slipper’s head. He felt replete, relaxed and slightly woozy and Lil’ s ‘Ravissement’ added to the general feeling of torpor. The late night of the previous evening was beginning to catch up on him - he was not as young as he once was.
“You look tired, Mr. Slipper,” Lil said. “Why don’t you come back for a bit of rest?”
Slipper had to agree. “Just for a couple of hours, if I may Miss Lillian. I still have some business to attend to yet and then I have to find somewhere to stay the night.”
Lil would hear none of it. “What nonsense. Stay the night somewhere? What’s wrong with my place? You’ve stayed many a night before. Come on. Let’s get you back and get some rest or you’ll be fit for nothing, whatever it is you’ve got to do.”
Slipper made a token objection, but he was really too tired to argue and he put his scruples on temporary hold. He paid the bill and Lil, taking a firm hold on his arm, escorted him back to the Massage Parlour and showed him to a bedroom. As soon as his head hit the pillow, he fell into an exhausted sleep while Lil went downstairs to tend to her half-past appointment. However, it transpired that the Court was still in session and a tetchy voice telephoned to cancel, which left a vacant slot until 3.00 p.m. Lil decided to go to bed herself. She was not used to eating quite so much at lunchtime and the meal was lying a little heavily on her stomach. “Oh, Helga!” she called to a white-coated figure passing the sitting-room doorway.
Helga poked her head around the door.
“That was the Judge,” Lil said. “He’s cancelled. Are you free for a while, dear. I simply have to have a rest. Can you mind the shop?”
The complexities of the English language never failed to amaze Helga, but she thought she understood. “Ja, I mind” she replied in a heavy accent. “I call at 3 o’clock. Iss my next client, too.”
Lil thanked her and went off gratefully to her room while Helga eased her bulk behind the small reception desk.
Helga was a little experiment of Lil’s. Actually, she was rather a large experiment - six feet nothing, naked, with a girth to match and biceps like iron bands. Although complaints from the Massage Parlour’s clients were few, Lil was always trying to improve the service she offered. She believed in always keeping one step ahead of the opposition. To have someone directly descended from an infamous Gestapo officer, with lots of delicious surprises up her sleeve, was a considerable one up for Lil. She had come across her when on holiday in Bavaria a few months ago and, although Helga’s English left a lot to be desired, her obvious enthusiasm for the job far outweighed the difficulties of communication.
Helga had already built up quite a respectable clientele, who invariably arrived fit, hale and hearty and left pleasantly the worse for wear. It was said that Helga could take the kinks out of a sheet of corrugated iron, and one look at her beefy hands went a long way to confirming the supposition. Her last client that morning had left a short while ago, happily confined to a wheelchair until his right leg assumed its natural position again. “Zese Englanders!” Helga thought. “Zey are zo demanding, und yet zo frail!”
As she settled herself behind the desk, prepared for a quiet time until her next client arrived, Lord Melsham pulled up outside the front door, checking the address with the card liberated from the telephone booth.