After a very long and leisurely lunch and a walk in a nearby park, Ying and Cherry Lin sauntered hand in hand back towards town. As they once again approached the road leading to the IittIe Bistro, Ying’s attention was drawn to a middle-aged geezer who suddenly raised his left arm, as though in greeting. Ying raised his own arm in automatic response, wondering who on earth the man was, and was surprised to receive a snarl for his pains. The man tugged at his elevated arm with his other hand, jumped into a Rover (latest model, automatic transmission, Ying’ s mechanic’s mind noted) and screamed off down the road with raised arm poking through the open sun roof.
“Who was that?” Cherry asked.
“Search me,” Ying replied.
Inside Miss Lilian’s Massage Parlour, that was precisely what Slipper was doing to Melsham’s mobile phone. In Melsham’ s struggle to don his jacket with angular arms to which the fit had not been tailored, it had fallen out unnoticed and had scudded into the corridor as he hobbled away down the stairs. The contents were uninspiring, but Slipper’s interest was confined to only one thing. Now that he was indulging in espionage and sabotage his mind was becoming attuned to the finer points of the exercise. What he was looking for were addresses. Brandlsey addresses. Particular Brandlsey addresses. Unless he missed his guess, Slipper thought, Melsham would have a few choice establishments listed. If he could persuade Lil to help with a few discreet phone calls over the professional grapevine, he wanted more information about Melsham’s extra-curricular activities back in the satanic mills of the north which, given today’ s little episode were likely to have been colourful, to say the least.
The search was short-lived. The phone record contained another file separate from the obvious business contacts. He would bet his savings account that those were the numbers he was after, Slipper thought gleefully. When Lil was free he would get her to make the calls. Meanwhile, he would finish his nap and maybe later on - now that his self-appointed task had been made so much easier by Melsham’s indiscretion - just maybe, he might grant himself an extra Bank Holiday this year, in celebration.
Telephone calls were still occupying Father Lin when Cherry and Ying arrived back at the ‘Spring Roll’. “Your old man’s busy today” said Ying, as he prepared to leave for his shift.
“Yes. Some business partner called this morning, I think. Something to do with family honour …you know how it is. Best not to ask.”
Ying did know how it was. He knew just how touchy his people could be on the subject of family honour and had no desire to rock the boat so far as he and Cherry were concerned. Their own conduct, on occasion, would not stand close scrutiny. He kissed her on the cheek and waved goodbye, grimacing as he crept past Father Lin in imitation of the old man’s expression, which made Cherry giggle. She blew Ying a kiss and went upstairs to change for her stint in the Take-away.
Tony Kwan sat back in his motel bedroom well satisfied, but surprised, if not downright suspicious. Lin had just rung to report that the entire south-west brotherhood was on the look-out for a white Porsche. Freddy Lappit was as good as in the bag. Such co-operation by the Lin family boded well for future relations, but he must be sure not to upset things. At least he could ease off a little, now. There were worse places to be confined to. He and his brothers may just as well relax and enjoy the surroundings until Lappit was finally bagged.
Melsham drove back to Staddon Hall completely oblivious to his surroundings. His back hurt, his legs ached, and his hand was getting cold. Try as he might, he couldn’t straighten his arm without automatically extending his right leg, which played havoc with the acceleration of the vehicle, causing many a motorist to toot sharply at him as his car alternately roared up close behind the one in front then dropped back abruptly, obliging the following vehicle to slam on the brakes. Melsham responded to the admonitions in the only manner available to him. And, having a hand conveniently free and exposed to the elements through the sun-roof, the depth of feeling in the gesture was only too clearly evident.
A heavy shower halfway up the Houndsmoor turn-off did nothing to dampen Melsham’ s rising temper. By the time he drew up in the Courtyard of Staddon Hall, the water running freely down his sleeve had collected in a puddle in his lap. Any earlier comparison to the diapered infant who had followed Miss Lilian down the corridors of the massage parlour, now bore full recognition to the splay-legged Melsham as he picked his way uncomfortably over the cobbles, pulling at the seat of his sodden trousers with his good hand. He shook the rain off his head and slammed the hall door behind him. Melsham was not a happy man.
With the assistance of a Moose’s head hanging on the wall, he struggled out of his jacket, his elevated arm still refusing to co-operate, and left the clothing crumpled on the floor in a pool of water. He caught sight of his reflection in a hatstand mirror and ground his teeth. How the devil was he going to explain an arm that would have stood service as a clothes prop? Dripping puddles from a sodden shirt and trouser leg, he stamped his way up to the bathroom and, for the second time that day, took off his clothes, this time with a deal more difficulty than on the previous occasion. A hot bath might relax his muscles, he thought.
The only relaxed muscle in Harris’ body was the very one that Carmen wished were otherwise, but any such thoughts were far removed from Harris’ mind as every sinew stretched and groaned under the weight of Slipper’s iron chest. Objects clunked and shifted heavily inside as Harris heaved and hauled it through the corridors of the North Wing, Carmen helping with hearty cries of encouragement. It had taken him all afternoon to work up the enthusiasm to attempt to move it and now he wished he hadn’t. He dropped it with a heavy thump and draped himself across the top. “What has the man got in here?” he gasped, panting for air.
With a final heave he dragged it through a store room door and shoved it clear of the threshold. As it went in, his back went out, and he screamed in agony.
Lord Melsham heard the scream from the bathroom, but he had heard enough screaming that afternoon for it not to register. He wallowed in the steaming bath, with his arm entwined in the shower taps, reflecting grimly on his day. What had started out with so much promise had ended in near catastrophe. His arm looked like being stuck in the air forever; he doubted whether he could look another leather thong in the groin again; and the bath was doing little more than wrinkle his toes. On just such days had many of his more remorseless coups been staged. Had it not been a Saturday and he stuck in Dimpset away from his business empire, heads would have rolled.
Downstairs, Harris rolled around the floor, doubled up and howling, while Carmen bobbed about ineffectually. Gradually the pain subsided, but left him bent over like one of the gargoyles that ornamented the eaves of the Hall. In his anger and frustration, he kicked the chest and bruised his foot and, hobbling, limping and swearing, groaned his way out of the North Wing, supported by a sympathetic Carmen. She led him to a downstairs sitting room off the main hall and left him groaning while she called a doctor.
The groans and shuffling gait dragging through the hallway reminded Melsham only too horribly of the events of the afternoon, and Carmen’s urgings made him wonder what the girl had in tow now. He climbed out of the bath, threw on a dressing gown as best he could, and went downstairs to investigate the fuss.
Lil, on the other hand, was climbing into a bath at that precise moment. A good, long soak was precisely what she needed. A heart to heart with Helga, followed by a sweaty session with a notable civic dignitary wearing dark glasses, and the re-arranging of the Parlour’s diary as a consequence of Helga’s umbrage and temporary withdrawal of services, had left her in a decidedly tense mood.
She relaxed in the tub, letting the hot water soothe away her tension. She was glad that Mr. Slipper had decided to stay the night. She felt sorry for the little man. When she had learned, to her amazement, who the unexpected client had actually been and heard Slipper’s story again, she felt she could do no other than ring around the Brandlsey numbers. He had anticipated that they belonged to what he had called ‘houses of ill repute’ to which she had taken exception (preferring to append the label ‘house of ease’ to her own establishment) but, after speaking to the proprietresses of some of the establishments, Lil found that she had to agree with Slipper in his definition. Lord Melsham had obviously been used to a rougher sort of treatment. Quite why he had complained about Helga’s attentions, she really couldn’t imagine.
Slipper had been grateful to glean that Melsham’ s visit had been a staggering coincidence which, in view of the Earl’s misfortune, both in terms of his physical abuse at Helga’s hands and the loss of his phone, he regarded as Divine retribution and solemn affirmation of his plans.
Lil had certainly expressed approval to them. There had been something about Melsham’s piggy little eyes that she hadn’t trusted, and anyone who couldn’t withstand Helga’s special attentions was less than a man in her opinion. Although, her fair-minded other self argued, taken by surprise anyone might be expected to display a tinge of pique that the German girl’s ministrations were more robust than the usual. Each of Miss Lilian’s girls had her own specialty: she must see to it that Helga’s was on call only by special request in future.
There had been a few extraneous telephone numbers on the list. At least two of these had cuckolded Yorkshire husbands understandably aggrieved and puzzled at having had their TV sports viewing interrupted by cryptic telephone conversations with a woman who refused to identify herself, but who kept referring in an oblique way to spankings and fetishes. The information yielded by the rest had been revealing. They put Melsham in the light of a depraved Lothario with sexual predilections that would have been the envy of many a man of Government. Slipper couldn’t have been more pleased. It was just the sort of information he had hoped for. With names, places and incidents memorised (and telephone conversations safely stored away on tape in Lil’s desk) Slipper faced the future with more equanimity than he had earlier in the day.
She had gone for her bath, leaving Slipper simultaneously gloating over his new-found information and wrestling with his conscience over his decision to stay overnight. She would have to ensure that Slipper’s conscience had no cause to trouble him. If he left the following day with any qualms, then her reputation didn’t deserve the acclaim accorded it by the cognoscenti.