Fred's Fifth Favour-Conclusion
Black took another step forwards as the small man cowered. His arm remained lifted, and, as his face came into the light, the other man saw Black was holding his hand, palm-upward, beneath his nose, which was now copiously bleeding.
‘Oh! Sorry!’ laughed the taller man. ‘Did you think I was going to hit you, then!?’. The white-haired man nodded, laughing uneasily.
‘Yeah. Sorry. I was just trying to get my hand to this wretched nosebleed before I bled all over my nice white summer clothes!’. His free hand went into his pocket. He pulled out tissues and wiped his nose then cleaned his bloodied hand.
‘Been the bane of my life, nosebleeds!’ he exclaimed. ‘I’m fairly sure a brain haemhorrage will do for me, when I do go! Anyway, are you ready to go!?’. The other nodded.
‘They’ve got the man who beat that old man to death in town,’ announced the elderly gentleman as they drove. ‘That escaped prisoner who was on the news, the one who was already a killer, just got arrested near here. It’s just broken this morning on the news. I’ll sleep easier now-speaking of which how’s that insomnia of yours?’
‘Funny you should say that. I had one of my restless nights last night. Ended up outside and pacing up and down the street, as I usually do on such evenings. Surprised late-night police have never stopped me.’. They had reached a public house called the Horse and Huntsman by this point and stopped here and went inside, from where they brought drinks to a bench in the front garden.
‘I hope I’m going to know what this is all about soon,’ said the Black’s companion. ‘By the way how did you get that long scar on one side of your face? One of your patients going doolally?’
‘More prosaic, I’m afraid. Slipped with my chainsaw while trimming the hedge!’
The two sipped their drinks in silence.
‘Aha!’ said Black. ‘I think she’s arrived now!’
‘Who!?’ answered the other man. Turning, he looked in the direction Black was looking, and saw a white-haired lady, abou his age and a little taller. He stared for a moment, then full recognition appeared on his face, with a smile.
‘My sainted Lord!’ he exclaimed.
‘Tony Dranning!’ cried the newly-arrived woman.
‘Emma Blackwood!’ answered Tony. ‘Good Heavens! How long has it been, now!?’
‘It’s fifty-seven years, now, since we worked in the bank together.’
‘And fifty-six since I walked you down the local Lovers’ Lane!’ countered Tony. ‘ ‘Course, after you left the bank for that posh lawyer’s office, should’ve known some toff’d pick you up, with your looks and his clients all being rich so-and-sos. Cried for flipping weeks after you ditched me for that Macaulay fellow. Still married to him, are you!?’
‘Gone a year in September,’ said Emma. ‘Heart attack.’
‘Ahh, I’m sorry to hear that, my lovely! I suppose you heard I married.’
‘Sarah Hammond. Yes. I saw the obituary in the Echo. Really sorry for that, too!’
‘Well, don’t just stand there, come and join us. What’re you having?’
‘Nice dry white wine’ll be lovely.’
Tony headed into the pub to oblige as Emma sat down beside Black.
‘Nice set of lucky breaks,’ said Emma. ‘Your aunt tips you off about a house going relatively cheap, you move there and meet Tony then your aunt bumps into me.’
Tony returned, and the conversation became two-way between Tony and Emma and between present reality and past memory. Black sat there, presently replacing his pint, happy to be ignored as an irrelevance. He was taking quite a rosy pleasure in having promoted such patent happiness. It was as if the two old people with him had turned back the decades and returned to their late teens. It seemed as if the stream of reminiscence and catching-up would never end. But nothing lasts forever, and, a couple of drinks later, Emma was setting off her way. Before she did, though, she produced paper and notepad from her handbag. There were some questions and scribbling. Two sheets were torn from the pad. One was given to Tony, the other returned to the bag with pad and paper.
‘If I don’t hear from you soon, I’ll want to know why,’ was Emma’s parting line.
‘So-are you taking up the offer?’ asked Black, as she departed on foot.
‘Is the Pope a Catholic!?’ laughed Tony. ‘Listen, thank you-and give my thanks to that aunt of yours too, when you see her! I can’t tell you, and her, how grateful I am!’. He shook Black’s hand vigorously.
‘I’m off home. I need time to take all this in,’ Tony stood up. ‘How about you…?’
‘I’m staying to finish my pint,’ said Black. ‘Plus there’s a couple I’m friends with who’ll be dropping in soon.’
‘Well, I’ll see you round-and I’ll have Emma on my arm next time I do, or I’m a monkey’s uncle-and I can’t climb trees and don’t like bananas!’
Tony drove away, suffused in delight and disbelief. As he did so, he paid scant attention to the car and group of people gathered round the house of Mrs Beaufort, who was too far down the street for him to have got to know. He had only gotten to know her next door neighbour, Don Black, by chance when walking his dog, Fido. Poor Fido was in Dog Heaven now, but the friendship with Black had proved as fruitful in another way, he thought, as he glanced casually at the group of people facing Neil, before turning the bend. The expression on Neil’s face was that of a man laughing.
‘I came out looking all serious and sombre, when I came back from the back of the house,’ said Neil to the watching group, sniggering. ‘You were all worried, wondering what I’d found, weren’t you?’
‘Sure was,’ said Neil’s wife, whose earlier irascibilty had yielded good-humoured and was smiling.
‘Then I couldn’t keep up the pretense anymore, and I started laughing-and you just can’t blame me can you!?’. Suddenly, Neil broke into song.
‘Oh dear, what can the mat-ter be!? Three old ladies got locked in the lav-a-tory!’. Neil’s young son and daughter began to giggle uncontrollably.
‘You can shut your rattle, Neil Thompson!’. A grinning Miss Beaufort gave Neil a playful slap on the shoulder.
‘You must see the funny side, though. I mean, we all thought something really bad might have happened-and then we find you’ve got locked in your own outside toilet!’. Neil was sniggering again, tears of mirth in his eyes. The laughter of the family drifted up to Fred, as he sat in his bedroom, his toolset unpacked on the bed before him.
His fear had been right. Before giving the spares to Ibrahim, he had sometimes been careless as to which container he put tools back in. As a result, he had given Mahmoud’s brother the only set with a hammer in. Not to worry. He would get himself back out and nip to that local hardware store which opened on Sundays.
As Fred emerged from his house, he saw Tom, Sally’s cat, on the low wall before the house. So he’d finally come back. Soon, the stocky, greying-haired figure was making his way through the park where he rescued another cat the day before. Once more, the same trio of blond children, two sisters and their younger brother, were sitting in nearly the same place.
‘No cats for me to rescue today?’ Fred asked, with a smile.
‘Noooo!’ the children chorused. Fred carried on. Soon, on the road the other side of the park, he was passing the Horse and Huntsman. Black set there, alone, with a pint. As Fred approached, he stared at Black, then hailed him.
‘Hi! How’s it going, Don!? You still living nearly opposite me? Haven’t seen a you for ages.’
‘Yep, still just across the road from you and Sally still. We must always just miss each other-though I saw you chatting to her yesterday.’
Fred passed on, then turned as a couple, like him, in their late-fifties, approached from inside the pub, holding drinks.
‘Did you see him, then?’ asked Black. ‘The chap I just spoke to?’. Both shook their heads.
‘That’s fine, then. In that case I can tell you about him without infringing client confidentiality. He was one of my clients at the top-security hospital, some years back. One of the most interesting cases I dealt with. Son of a Methodist lay-preacher who was always pushing his family them to be good Christians constantly, telling them they were never doing enough. He became obsessed with helping other. He married a cold, selfish woman who used him and took advantage of his generousity. She bled him dry then left him. This unbalanced him. He began to go to ridiculous extremes to carry out individuals’ wishes, never mind dignity, practicality, safety, legality or morality.’. Black paused and sipped his drink.
‘He ended up stealing cars from a dealership that employed him, at some crooks’ instigation. Got arrested after crashing a stolen car after a police chase. He was committed to the secure hospital I worked at. We did a lot of work with him. His daughter was still small. Her mother, who had custody, sometimes let her visit Daddy, in ‘hospital’ as it was phrased to her. We emphasised how if Fred ended up in more trouble it could be distressing for her when she was older Finally he seemed cured and he was released . Did me a favour, actually, just before he got out. Tipped me off a house in town was going cheap and I’m still there now.’
‘And did he stay out of trouble?’ asked the male half of the couple.
‘Yes. Been out six years now, and not a thing gone wrong. A real success story.’
Fred reached the hardware store, where a pot-bellied man with wild hair but a friendly manner bagged the hammer he brought to the counter. As Fred paid,, a loud noise from outside made both look out of the big display window. The trio of blond kids were walking by-all three of them, girls and boy, engaged in a shouted discourse.
‘Those three are next door’s kids,’ the shopkeeper remarked. ‘We live on Smithy Street-next to their parents. I’ve never known such noisy brats. Every day it’s shouting and noise.’
‘Well, kids will be kids,’ said Fred, with an indulgent grin. ‘We were all young once, remember?’
‘Yeah, young-but not that flippin’ noisy. You know, I tell you something….’
As the shopkeeper spoke, a door just behind him stood ajar. It led into a small room in which an thin lady with greying long hair sat doing stocktaking and accounts a very old and battered desktop computer. She frowned, as her husband suddenly emitted a very odd laugh. A moment later she heard the customer depart and ten minutes later her husband shut up shop. They exited via side door to the adjoining garage, with old Volkswagen van.
Meanwhile, Fred walked back to the park via a different route back that did not take him past the pub. Entering the park he joined the footpath that led past the row of trees along one side, towards the point where the three children could still be seen sitting at a distance.
Rescuing the cat; giving Ibrahim the tools; house-and-cat-sitting for Sally; gardening for old John: four of his five favour for the week: “Five favours a week for man or beast keep you sound with God and secure from Satan”, as Dad always said. He now knew with total and utter certainty what his fifth favour would be filled him with excitement and zest. His pace quickened and his nostrils flared as he began to breath more heavily.
The two girls and boys were once again in a quiet phase. All three sat in silence and near-stillness, building energy for more noise. The youngest glanced lazily up and saw Fred in the distance.
‘There’s that man who saved the cat,’ he observed. His elder sister remained preoccupied with a ladybird walking along a grass blade. The middle sibling sat, fingers interlocking, distantly humming some tune as she stared into space. Neither acknowledge their brother.
‘Look how quickly he’s walking.’. Still no response.
‘He’s sort of marching, like a soldier,’. Nothing.
‘Look-he’s thrown the bag on the ground! That’s litter! We get told off for doing that!’. The younger of the two sisters looked for a second then looked away.
‘Look what he’s carrying, though. He took it out of the bag. Looks like a....’. The sentence went unfinished, as the boy gave up, bored by lack of response. He began to dig at a small patch of exposed earth with his thumb. Even when the pounding of someone breaking into a run along the turf near the footpath was heard, none of the three looked up. The running drew nearer, and with it the sound of hoarse panting breaths-and, it was at this moment that the Volkswagen van of Clare and her husband drove past the park. Clare, looking out of the passenger window, made out a figure clutching something in each hand. The figure seemed to have broken into a sprint. A little ahead of him were three children seated on the grass. From the fair heads she recognised their neighbours’ children.
‘Guy,’ said Clare, suddenly, ‘when I was in the back office, why did you laugh in that weird way, when that last customer was in there?’
‘Oh, just having a little joke. Not that he seemed to find it too funny though. He just woodenly repeated it, as if he couldn’t believe I’d said it. Bit humourless, he seemed. Still, it wasn’t really that funny: bit sick actually!’. He gave an uneasy laugh at the thought.
‘So what did you actually say?’
‘Well, next-door’s brats were just passing in the street, as noisy as ever. I told the customer that if he felt like slaughtering the three of ‘em as bloodily and painfully as possible with the hammer I sold him, then I’d be very glad! Yeah, a bit of a nasty thing to say,’ he acknowledged. ‘But there’s no way on earth I’d really wish that on them.’. He paused.
‘And really it’s not as if he’s going to actually run off and do it now, is he?’ he concluded, with certainty.