The phone rang.
I leant back on the beach, swept up the nearest crab and moaned ‘Yeargh’ into it like a cellar door in need of liquid refreshment. A thin and insufferably cheerful voice chimed back “Your early morning call, Sir”. I asked for extra chilli on my kebab, replaced the crab and rubbed some more intoxicatingly aromatic oil into Nastassja’s thigh. Waves of fluorescent azure licked contentedly at the starfish shaded sand.
The crab rang again. “You told me to ring twice, Sir”, the voice piped cheerily. “Now why would I do a stupid thing like that?” I replied, instantly pleased with the logic. “I don’t know, Sir, but you were very insistent”. Mmmm. Sounded like me alright. I asked Nastassja to roll over so I could work the oil… “I am sorry, Sir” the creature twittered insincerely “but you know no house guests are permitted”. I told the crab to scuttle off somewhere moist or I’d pull it’s legs off, but it seemed to be attached to the beach by a length of coiled plastic flex…
Reality slid slowly sideways, capsised and sank, it’s iridescent colours and exotic smells vaporising in flame like a burning photograph, leaving me with a stiffness in the groin and a puzzled hotelier. I told him I’d be down for coffee. “I’ll make it strong, Sir” he intoned flatly. There were some days when it would be better to stay in bed. This was one of them, so I got up.
Fighting my way to the window with a hangover so big you could camp under it when it rains, I was greeted by Burton Latimer . The town has ostensibly been laid out by someone who longed to build Arndale Centres, but didn’t have the imagination. It smelt of casual slacks, Volvo estates and Sainsbury’s carrier bags.
The room was furnished with what appeared to be the result of a five minute frenzy in an MFI Closing Down Sale, and assembled by someone who didn’t know if he was going to live through the day. The colour scheme had evidently been chosen by someone who didn’t care either way. There had, I reckoned, better be a bloody good reason for my being here. _________________
Burton Latimer is very near to the Weetabix factory. Car drivers going from Northampton to Burton Latimer often get stuck behind it’s big yellow lorries. On their way home, they often get stuck behind Carlsberg lorries. Contrary to popular belief, Carlsberg is probably the best lager in Northampton. It’s an exciting place to live, Burton Latimer…
The hotelier’s expression came straight out of a Dario Argento flick. He was looking at a face worse than death, so I smiled back. I figured that his idea of living in the fast lane was probably the six items or less checkout at Sainsbury’s. With a voice like stormtroopers tap-dancing on a honeyed gravel drive, I ordered my coffee black as a moonless night and sweeter than a stolen kiss. He replied that it would be made by Dawn, which I hoped was a lady rather than a sunrise deadline. She approached my table like an extra in a Kylie Minogue promo, and I am not suggesting that Kylie is either particularly pretty or graceful.
The coffee leaked away through the table without wetting my knees, and a second cup performed the same trick. I toyed with the idea of keeping some in a sample bottle in case I ever needed a positive pregnancy test, but too much thinking like that would get you a long stay in a room with soft walls. I reckoned that I belonged here about as much as the Skin Two matchbook belonged in my pocket. The address on the flap was opulent, expansive and exquisite and that was just the handwriting, so I made a move.
The taxi driver decided I needed to see both town halls, so I decided to keep the tip. I expected someday to hear intelligent conversation from a cabbie, but I sure wasn’t dumb enough to hold my breath. The shop windows were blacked out, which was fine enough, but the nameboard was Japanese,which wasn’t. Knowing as much abiut the Bushido code as a geranium, I crossed the desert of cracked paving slabs, nostrils assailed with black bean sauce, and entered the oriental emporium.
The unscrupulous Oriental behind the counter smiled like someone who had a Magnum pointed at my balls, so I figured that my name wasn’t Robert Robinson. There was enough hardware in the place to make any gun collector/Mercenary magazine reader wet himself with delight, but none of it was projectile. It was like standing in the Shogun Assassin props room. “I have been expecting you, Detective Sahn”, he breathed, and unwrapped a shining shuriken from an oiled paper sheet as if it were made of ice and not hammered steel, never breaking eye contact like a gunfighter in a Sergio Leone movie.
“A woman”, he whispered.