Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Final Act

Harold stared at the stage. "What I can't understand," he said, "is why Faust was offered a contract with a loophole in it in the first place. It's all very well for him to get everything he asks for, but to wriggle out of it in the third act is reprehensible."

"Did you ever wonder how I got from a low-born demon to the exalted position of chaperone to the son of His Most High Foulness?"

"You mean Dad? No. How?"

"I had the ear of Marlowe," said Jasfoup. "Do you know how many people have signed contracts with us thinking they can find the loophole before they die?" He polished his nails on his lapel.

"No! Really? This was a all a plan?" Harold sat back. "I'm impressed."

Jasfoup smiled. "The fake Mephistopheles moustache tickled like a dancing girl's whiskers."

Image: Faustus and the Censor: The English Faust Book and Marlowe's

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Watch Repairer

"You think being an assassin is easy?" the old man barely glanced up from the pocket watch he was repairing. "Oh, sure, there are a thousand ways to snuff out a man's life, but that make you a thug, not an assassin."

"So what makes you an assassin?" The young man lowered his gun, electing to spend a moments or two attaching the silencer.

"Finesse, m'boy," said the watchmaker. "Timing. Sophistication. Confidence. Reputation"

"I have all but the rep.." The young man raised the gun. "and killing you will give me that."

"The old man raised a hand. "Did I mention timing? It will be precisely mid-day in fifteen seconds. Can you wait that long?"


The old man nodded, impressed despite himself that the hand remained steady even when the counterweight for the Tower Chime crushed the youth's head into his torso.

Image: The English Assassin

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Last Bus Home

Julie gave a sigh as the 125 hove into view on the northern bend. It was a relief, really, for the bus was a lighthouse beacon among the rain and the dark trees that lined the A64 Offley to Laverstone road.

"See you tomorrow?" Baz, her boyfriend of five weeks and three days, put his arms around her waist from behind and nuzzled into her neck.

"Unless there's a minor miracle and they cancel double geography." Julie reached behind her and touched his smooth cheek with her hand. "Give over. I'll miss the bus and there isn't another one."

"You'd have to stay with me." She could feel his grin against her neck.

"Yeah, right." Julie twisted to give him a peck on the cheek. "Your mum would put me in with your little sister and mine would ground me for a month. I'm not taking the risk, thanks." She pulled out of his grasp enough to put her hand out, relieved to see the bus indicate to pull into the stop.

"Time for me to go. If I'm not in bed by eleven Mum'll go spare."

"I can guarantee you'd be in bed faster than that." Bas grinned.

Julie laughed. "You're a right one, you are. No wonder they warned me about you."

"Who?" Baz held an umbrella over her as the grey bus pulled in. "What did they say?"

"That's for me to know and you to find out." Julie laughed and waved goodbye.

Until tomorrow.

Image: Monochrome by Paula Rice Jackson

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Blog suspended for a week - sorry

Thou Shalt...

The Church of Our Lady of St. Pity was the Catholic church of Laverstone, unusual in its age because it had survived the Reformation relatively intact. Father Williams generally knew his congregation by name and greeted them at the door. His sermons were modern and incisive – often satirical in his condemnation of the evils of society and he his faltering was seldom noticed so if there was a rare Sunday prompt from the direction of the choir (Short Henry, Long Tom and little Peter Pullman) it was not remarked upon.

Today's sermon was upon the evils of theft, since someone had stolen Father William's pushbike and he worked his way through the commandments trying to spot the guilty looks on the congregation's faces. He need not have worried, though. When he got to 'Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery' he remembered where he'd left it.

Image: Adultery for Beginners

Friday, September 18, 2009

Run C: Run

It looked like a lack of security when the amateur hackers – they had to be amateur to even attempt to break into Backdoor Harry's system – got through the absurdly simple password (Hint: Blackberry; Answer: 3POINT142). Oddly, all the folders labelled 'Banking' waer ASCII files of rather tasteless drawings on men's nether regions and the folders labelled 'Porn' were full of pictures and recipes for ham.

It was only when their connection died that they realised a worm was eating through their hard drives, erasing every file until all they were left with was a system screen with a DOS application.

C: Run
C: C: Run
Run C: Run

Image: Gray Hat Hacking, Second Edition: The Ethical Hacker's Handbook

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wearisome Volubility

"Is that the 1797 edition of Infantile Malloreum or the 1846" asked the man who had spent the last fifteen minutes peering into Harold's locked book cabinet. "Oh, I see it's the later one. I shan't bother with that, then, it has a engraved plate at the beginning which I find disagreeable, printed as it is the wrong way round for a Carpathian Harpy. He should have checked his sources, you see. As it was he copied it from the original but only once, thus engraving a mirror image of the original."

He peered up at Harold. "You do understand the engraving process, yes? But why would you? You're just a man in a bookshop. One can't be expected to know about these things if you work in a shop."

"We are closing..." Harold pointed to the door.

"What? Closing, eh? Well. I suppose I'll have to come back tomorrow and see if you've anything half way decent in the classics, what?"

"You were uncharacteristically patient," said Julie when Harold had locked the door and pulled the blinds down.

"He was wrong," said Harold. "It's the 1797 that has the reversed graving, since it was copied from the 1684 Malefic Malloreum." He paused, frowning. "What do you mean, ' uncharacteristically'?"

Image: Malefic [2003]

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mint Choc-Chip

"Is this the box you got as a job lot from the house clearance?" Jasfoup poked about in the box.

"Yes," said Harold, consulting the catalogue. "'Contents of Library shelf number three.' It looked the most interesting. There are a couple of old bibles and, I believe, a bound manuscript of 'Desperately Seeking Darcy'. Later renamed, of course."

"Of course." Jasfoup pulled out an old tin with a hinged lid. "What's this?"

"No idea." Harold frowned. "It's not in the picture. It must have been hidden by the wing-back chair. Open it and have a look"

"Biscuits!" Jasfoup sniffed one "McVities' Fudge Cookies, but they're very stale and slightly mouldy."

"I'm not surprised," said Harold. "They stopped making them in 1934. Still, the packet is in perfect condition. I'll list them on e-bay as a collector's item."

"As what? Stale Fudge Cookies?"

"No." Harold smiled. "Mint Fudge Cookies."

Image: Cookie Magic: Biscuits and Cookies with Big Attitude

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Little Star

Who's that poor sod?" asked Harold when Jasfoup led him Downstairs one day. "And what's he doing in my back passage? And what are all those boxes?"

"He's working," said the demon. "He was sat outside the careers office last week with a sign that said 'Will work for food'. It gave me an idea, I made a few phone calls and one visit in person and employed him an hour later."

"But he's so thin," Harold said, "And yet he seems to do nothing but eat."

"That's the beauty of it," said Jasfoup. "I made a deal with a well known American company. They send us all of their out-of-date cake bars and a large wad of cash, and we dispose of them. It's his job to eat them, but since they contain no nutritional value he's slowly starving to death."

Image: Twinky [DVD]

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Case of the Antique Forgery

Harold inspected the 1796 edition of Die Fliedermaus with white cotton gloves and a wooden page-turner of a similar period (it was 1812 but who was counting?). He noted the gilt edging to the paper, the hand drawn initial caps coloured with powdered lapis lazuli and gold leaf. He closed the book with a sigh.

"I'm sorry," he said with a sigh. "It's a fake. A good one, but a fake nevertheless."

The old man frowned. "I paid £14,000 for that last year," he said. "How can you tell?"

Harold tapped his nose. "We like to keep these things quiet, sir, but just for you..." He opened the covers. "See this cardstock? It's darkened because of the industrial revolution threw so much smoke into the Drakwald Forest. The revolution didn't start until 1780, and to make this cardstock the trees would have been cut and seasoned before that."

"Well I never." The old man sagged. "How much is it worth then?"

Harold shrugged. "Twenty thousand to anyone you can convince it's genuine. A hundred quid to me."

"Thank you. You've been most kind." The old man wrapped the book back up in acid-free tissue paper, put it in his briefcase and shuffled out.

Jasfoup watched him go. "That was impressive," he said. "I've no idea you had so much knowledge of papermaking."

"I don't" Harold grinned. "I saw John's signature on the flyleaf. It was one of ours."

Image: Illuminated Letters: A Treasury of Decorative Calligraphy

Friday, September 11, 2009

Pass the Butter, Darling

Harold looked down at the hastily-drawn grid on the patio, and the seeped-in oil stain which had been the focus of a whole chorus line of cats the precious night. He had already disposed of the empty foil wrapper Lucy had left marking her place.

He jigged the child on his knee and took two things out of his pocket. A small boiled sweet and a lump of gold the size of Lucy's fist. "Here," he said, handing her the sweet. "Butterscotch is a flavour, not a game. Hopscotch is played with a stone like this one --" he gave Lucy the lump of gold – "not with packets of butter from the kitchen."

Jasfoup watched as Lucy skipped away. "How much was that lump of gold worth?" he asked.

Harold shrugged. "Fourpence?" he said. "It was only gold paint. If she wants real gold she'll have to earn it. I was running a profitable Lego business by her age."

Image: Great Big Book of Children's Games: Over 450 Indoor and Outdoor Games for Kids

Thursday, September 10, 2009

When the 'Old Block' you're a chip off isn't your dad.

It wasn't Lucy who was prone to lollygag although she would more than likely be blamed. "Come on, Father," she said, toiling up the short but steep hill that joined Low Street with High. "The shops will still be there tomorrow."

"But their stock might not be," said Harold, picking up his pace and gathering up her tiny hand in his own. "One has to take note of the latest stock in the high street, else how can one keep abreast of fashion?"

"How indeed?" Lucy asked. "You've worn the same suit since before I was born."

"Quality never goes out of fashion, my love," said Harold.

"So when did dry-cleaning?"

Image: Suit Yourself: A Practical Guide to Men's Attire.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Soliciting for beginners

Isaacs,Isaacs,Isaacs and du Point, the solicitor's office on Market Street, has a family tradition of caring for all the needs of their clients from their first investments to their last will and testament. Old man Isaacs, it seems, has been around for more years than anyone can remember. "He's always been there," people will say, as if the old lawyer were a permanent fixture of the town, and with the passing of the title to successive blood relatives, it's almost as if he has. Each successive Isaacs has been so well tutored in the family business it could almost be the same person, only younger.

Until Ms du Point, of course, who took a partnership without so much as knowing how to draft a probate and had to learn the whole business at night school. Even if she wasn't born into the Isaacs family, she's a blood relative now.

Image: The Solicitor's Handbook 2009

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Dental Appt: Two-thirty

Every town has one, that building of refulgent splendour and aroma of mentholated spirits and antiseptic;* the scene of horrors and the nightmares of adults and children alike. The dental surgery on Applegate is open by appointment only and has a 30/70 ratio of private and NHS patients. Dr David Pullem** FRCDS shares his caseload with the junior dental surgeon, Dr. Punjit Rehani, FRCDS, FRCVS who works after hours for those clients who can't attend the surgery during the day.

Dr. Rehani also maintains a separate client list Dr. Pullem knows nothing about. These are all private clients, since their NHS records are generally marked 'DECEASED'.

*as opposed to antisceptic, the aroma of most churches
**I kid you not

Image: Language Habits in Human Affairs

Monday, September 07, 2009

A Taste of the Old Country

Joe was a trusted soul in the small community, and had served as a postman for over twelve years. He was never once bitten by a dog, threatened by the recipient of red bill or propositioned by a bored housewife. There was just something slightly... off... about him that caused people – even his co-workers – to leave him be.

Until a Tuesday morning in September when he delivered a small package to Paper Street. It was too big to go through the letterbox, forcing him to knock on the old oak door of number 3; a door that was opened by a coffee-skinned woman who made his heart race.

"Yes?" If the brunette, who was of indeterminable age, had any idea of the effect she had on Joe she didn't show it.

"I have a package for Ms A Hewitt," said Joe. "It was too big for the letterbox."

"Thank you." The woman went to take the package but Joe didn't let go. She tugged twice before looking into Joe's face for the first time. Her breath caught in her throat.

"From the old country?" asked Joe, nodding to the package. "I saw the stamps."

"Yes," she said. "Locusts wrapped in melokiyah and deep fried." Her accent was perfect, with hardly a trace of her true nature behind the veneer of normality. "Would you like to try one?"

"I would, thank you." Joe smiled, just the hint of his forked tongue tasting the pheromones of this beautiful female lamia.

Image: Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of St.Agnes and Other Poems

Friday, September 04, 2009

Better Off

Winston sniffed and reached for the airbrush. The painting of Bob Marley against a backdrop of cannabis leaves was ill advised but who was he to argue with a customer? Business was business and if a man wanted to be pulled over every time he drove his Mercedes, who was he to judge?

"So it's just you and your sister living here?" Meinwen settled herself in what she judged the cleanest seat in the garage. To be fair, the paint area of Winston's shop was cleaner than the mechanical side.

"An' her husband Sam, yeah." Winston stopped spraying to take a drag from his cigarette. "It used to be Mom an' Dad's place, you know."

Meinwen took a sip of tea. "You inherited it? There were no other family members?"

"No. Me Mother's brothers used to live here, but they moved back to the homeland."



Image: Old School Customs: Top Traditional Custom Car Builders

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Retirement Plan

When the Cromwell Street* sub-Post office closed it was as sudden as a memo. Alfred Peacock and his wife Maureen were left, after twenty-seven years of serving the one hundred and forty odd** residents who preferred not to use the main post office in town, without so much as accrued holiday pay*** or pension.

"I thought I'd be working there my whole life," Alfred told the tall, black gentleman who bought him a pint of Mild in the 'Lion and Unicorn' on Wingate Road. "I never made a plan for retirement."

"There's always time for that," said the gentleman, draining his mojito.**** "I sell them myself, in fact, on a 'money for old soul' basis." He laughed.

Alfred laughed with him. "You're the most honest investment banker I've ever met," he said.

Jasfoup smiled. "Honest is my middle name," he lied.

*A different Cromwell Street. There were no patios.
**some of them, like Mrs. Harris who still dressed like a prostitute at the grand age of 74, very odd indeed.
***Twenty-six years worth. The year after they married and opened the shop they bought a dog and never went away again. The shop was only ever shut on Weekends and bank Holidays, Wednesday afternoons and alternate Tuesdays.
****despite them not being served at the establishment.

Image: The Cromwell Street Murders: The Detective's Story

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Head Over Heels

The brideswear shop on Slipgate, 'Head over Heels' draws customers from as far as Cambridge and Norfolk with its one-off creations and exclusives. It also has a healthy web presence and is a fine example of a business blooming in spite of the recession.

Happily, they also provide a 'layaway' service where for as little as £5 per week you can save up for that wedding dress (and matching accessories) of your dreams. Indeed, several mothers from the 'Tots and Toes' playgroup on Station Road have started their daughter's wedding funds already, hoping that twenty years will build enough of a balance to get that Fabrique or Juliana dress they wish their cheapskate fathers could have bought for them.

Image: Bridal Gowns: How to Make the Wedding Dress of Your Dreams

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Faery Prince

Jack Wierdstone flitted through the corridors of the hotel, taking a shirt from this room, trousers from that, a pair of polished shoes from outside another. He strode through the foyer as if he had shares and crossed the street into Wetherby Park, ducking down to the culvert at the canal's edge.

Once out of sight he let the glamour fade, his stylish, if dated, clothes turning to rags on his bony frame. He dressed in the spoils, finishing with a Windsor knot in his new silk tie and sliding his feet into warm brogues. "Socks," he said, feeling the leather press into his calloused soles. "and a razor."

He picked up a piece of glass from the floor and angled it to catch his reflection. "And food."

He cast about on the floor, picking up the remains of a long-dead crow, a crisp packet, a scrap of cloth from his old rags; leaves, a piece of string, a bent nail. A handful of the long fronds of dry grass outside provided the means to tie these together into the semblance of a grotesque doll. Mud from the canal fleshed out the crow bones and heat from his foul breath dried it into flesh and sinew. "Uth var-a-nicht," he hissed as the figure squirmed in his hands. "Nas va penthe os ul veratu."

The fetterling dropped from his hands onto the ground, its plastic shirt crackling with each movement its beak opening and closing. "Go," said Jack. "Bring me food."