The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron – Part Eight by Chris Green
When Picasso said everything you can imagine is real, he was presumably referring to his art. But could this also be the starting point for fiction? How else can we build a believable world out of something that doesn’t exist? How else can we become absorbed in the tale we are telling? Somewhere it is necessary to cross an invisible line, and it needs to be a line that is at least temporarily imperceptible to the reader. Surely more difficult, I hear you say, for the writer of speculative fiction or magical realism. But is it? Surely the same dictum still applies. Everything you can imagine is real.
This is, of course, good news for Wet Blanket Ron, who must have thought that, as he had not appeared in print for nearly two years, he had probably had his final fictional outing. Although at the end of Part Seven, I had set Ron up in Ocho Rios, Jamaica with glamour model, Lara Lascala and a state-of-the-art catamaran at his disposal, I had not revisited him to see how he was getting along. My final words had been, what could possibly go wrong?
As this is Wet Blanket Ron, the answer is plenty. The unexpected earthquake which destroys his ganga plantation in the hills and drew the attention of the Jamaican police is only the beginning of his misfortune. The generous legacy I have left him to establish himself on the island enables him to escape prosecution. Had Ron been better trained in seafaring, he might have been able to save his catamaran when he becomes caught in the unseasonal tropical storm off Pedro Cays. It is difficult to capsize a catamaran, even in the roughest of waters, but Ron manages it with consummate ease. He and Lara have to be rescued by the Haitian coastguard. They had been in the water for nearly an hour, hanging on for dear life to the remains of the vessel. This is the final straw for Lara. She has had enough of Ron’s contretemps. She ups and leaves.
I decide it is time for Ron to leave the good life behind. No more swimming in the warm tropical waters. No more pina coladas on the sun terrace. No more lazy spliffs in his God size bed. It’s time to curtail his Caribbean adventure and bring him back home to Blighty.
We join our hapless ne’er-do-well in the middle of winter in a small bedsit in Toker’s End, a notorious housing project in the West Midlands. He has run out of money and is on the phone chasing up his Universal Credit payment. There is no sign of this and he is becoming desperate.
‘I haven’t eaten for three days,’ Ron says. He has a cupboard full of stolen tins of sweetcorn, but they don’t need to know that.
‘There are food banks, you know, Mr Smoot,’ the benefits advisor says.
‘It’s been two weeks since I filled in the bloody forms,’ Ron says, trying hard to keep his cool. ‘When am I going to get my money?’
He is put on hold for the third time. Your call is important to us, the recorded voice tells him mockingly, in between a scratchy recording of Rick Astley singing Never Gonna Give You Up. Before anyone comes back on the line, the credit on Ron’s PAYG mobile runs out.
Ron has few friends. No, let me rephrase that. Ron has no friends. He has no-one he feels he can try to borrow money from. He needs to get a job, PDQ. This is not going to be easy as his work record is poor. Apart from a handful of casual jobs, his recent CV comprises a spell working for NVision Inc breaking unwelcome news to people, and a few weeks promoting PurplePhones. His role here was to permanently disable users’ iPhones and Samsungs so they would buy a new PurplePhone. Not exactly ethical, but while it lasted, it was well paid. He feels that neither Daniel DeMarco at NVision nor Miles Highman at PurplePhones would be likely to welcome him back with open arms. But of the pair, Miles Highman might be the better bet for a chat about his current situation. With his underworld connections, he might know someone who could offer him a no questions asked, cash-in-hand opportunity.
Ron finds the Toker’s End Community Foodbank is closed until further notice. No reason is given. He returns home in the rain only to discover the door to his apartment has been kicked in. Who would want to burgle a dismal bedsit on a run-down estate like this? But someone has, and they have taken not only his supply of tinned sweetcorn and his tin opener but his bedding and his spare pair of jeans. They have taken his Leonard Cohen CD too and his paperback copy of Jude the Obscure. Even his Merle Haggard poster has gone. What kind of person steals a Merle Haggard poster?
Once he has dried out, Ron walks the three miles into town to PurplePhones’ offices, and in an uncharacteristic spot of good fortune runs into Miles Highman in the car park. Miles is getting into his shiny purple Porsche and does not recognise Ron at first, but then it dawns on him who he is. It is the poor posture that gives it away, along with the hangdog expression. Ron’s spell promoting the new network had been brief and had ended badly with his arrest. At least Ron had had the sense not to implicate him directly. Inspector Crooner had been satisfied that Ron’s behaviour had not in any way reflected PurplePhones’ marketing strategy.
Ron explains that he is looking for work. Anything will do, he says. While Miles does not feel he wants to take another chance with Ron at the moment, it occurs to him that he might be of use to his associate, Darius Bro, who is looking for an admin assistant for his timeshare scam. An off-the-book employee who, if push came to shove, could be the fall guy. Miles arranges for Ron to meet up with Darius Bro at The Goat and Bicycle public house.
When Ron arrives at the pub, there is no sign of Darius Bro. Having no money to buy himself a drink, he sits himself down at a quiet table in the corner and waits. The bartender is about to come over to check him out, but in the nick of time, Bro arrives and joins him. In contrast to Ron’s ripped jeans and grey zip jacket, he is wearing a fitted Thom Sweeney Prince of Wales check three-piece suit.
‘You will be Ron, I take it,’ he says, looking him up and down. ‘We’ll have to get you kitted out in something more presentable if we’re to do business. But, first things first. What are you drinking?’
No-one has asked Ron this for a long time. He takes advantage of the offer and asks for a large single malt.
Bro returns with the drinks and explains the details of his scheme. Prestige Timeshares aims to sell fifty monthly shares in a villa he has on rental on the Isle of Wight. He is to sell the allocations at competitive prices, but not that competitive, giving buyers the impression that they are part owners of the luxury property. He tells Ron that it is a tried and tested scheme. Although it is new to the UK, it has worked a treat in locations around the Mediterranean and the Canaries, once Prestige has reached its target, or if there are any signs of their being rumbled, they will close the operation down and disappear without trace. Then later on, they can take the idea somewhere else and set up a similar scheme.
‘But won’t someone’s name be there as a signatory to the deals?’ Ron says, his mind conjuring up things that are likely to go wrong. ‘Mine perhaps?’
‘We’re not going to use real names now, are we, son?’ Bro says. ‘That would be dumb. You will be John Smith or something. And there will be no actual face-to-face meetings. You can do it all online or over the internet and phone, and I have a bottomless supply of burners for you to use. You just have to remember which phone matches which client. And don’t worry, I have the legal side of things taken care of. Now! Are you in?’
Although he has reservations, because in his experience things have a tendency to go wrong, Ron feels he has few options. He agrees.
‘By the look of you, I imagine you will be needing some cash upfront,’ Bro says. No-one has made this kind of offer for a long time. Ron expresses his thanks.
‘Not that it’s a question of being cool, you understand,’ Bro says. ‘Who can be cool these days? Unless you are in a transgender relationship with a beached whale, you are no longer cool in these barmy woke times. But you do look a bit scruffy, mate.’
Having the burner phones is all very well, but Ron doesn’t actually have a PC to conduct the online business, and by the time he has kitted out the flat a little, he has nothing left from Darius Bro’s advance. The public library seems to offer the answer. They have a dozen machines that you can use for free. The problem is that on public machines, Ron cannot download the Tor browser that Bro has told him will be necessary to protect his anonymity. As a result, each transaction Ron makes leaves a paper trail that is easily traceable back to the ip address of the library. For instance, his timeshare sales to George and Louise Cross. Captain Newport-Black and Reverend Harry Webb. The librarian, May Wynn, is only too willing to assist Inspector Rommel of the Cyber Fraud Squad with his investigation. Several times she has caught Ron using his mobile phone in the library and gone over to ask him to stop, but as soon as her back was turned, he has carried on with his call. He is a bad one for sure.
The mobile phone in Bent Diaz’s office drawer rings. The one with the Leonard Cohen ringtone that he assigned to calls from Ron Smoot, Wet Blanket Ron. He thought this one was dead. His legal secretary must have re-charged it. He will eed to have words with her. Of all his clients, Ron is by far the most exasperating. He is one of life’s victims. What can it possibly be about this time?
Diaz answers it with a sense of foreboding. He has dreaded this moment. He listens while Ron explains in his dull monotone the details of his arrest and asks how he can come up with a defence against the charges he now faces of fraud and embezzlement. Fraud and embezzlement? Fake timeshares? How does Ron get himself into these predicaments? He’s not a seasoned criminal. How does he manage to get involved with these underworld characters? Daniel DeAngelo, Miles Highman and now Darius Bro. And his lifestyle choices? The women he gets mixed up with, Tracey Minger, Kirsty Tickler. Isn’t it time he took some responsibility for his own wellbeing?
His initial instinct is to tell Ron he cannot take the case. But it dawns on him that if he can get Ron put away for a long stretch, then it will get him off his back. Furthermore, by sparing others Ron’s wet blanket negativity, he would be doing everyone a favour. Perhaps he can come up with a reverse plea bargain, whereby Ron pleads guilty to a more serious charge. But there again……..
The new plan comes to him in a flash. He can use the occasion to make a name for himself. When the case comes to court, he can argue that Wet Blanket Ron is fictional. No-one to the best of his knowledge has used this line of defence before. If he can prove beyond doubt that Ron is a fictional creation, then he cannot be tried. The case will be thrown out of court. He will make headlines. All he needs to do is order a few copies of The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron on Amazon to give out to the judge and jury. You should buy a copy too. Good book!
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