The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron – Part 4

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The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron – Part 4 by Chris Green

I thought that I had put the character of Wet Blanket Ron to bed. I had written three stories in the Wet Blanket Ron series and I felt that this was probably enough. No writer wants to keep going over old ground. But every now and again one or other of my readers would ask the question, ‘when is there going to be a new Wet Blanket Ron story?’ One particular reader on a site called looksee.com, where I sometimes posted, read my stories on the train to break up her long commute. She had put in regular requests for a reprise. Ron was her favourite fictional character, she said. ‘Please give the hapless loafer another outing.’

It became harder and harder to resist the idea. I suppose this is how J. K. Rowling must have felt with her Harry Potter stories. To persist with such a weak premise for so long, I can only assume she was utterly inundated with requests for yet another episode in the life of the smug boy wizard and found her publishers leaning heavily on her to deliver one.

Every writer bases his characters, at least in part, on someone from real life. Even the most unlikely characters have their origins in the real world. Hanibal Lecter, the serial killer in Silence of the Lambs, for instance, was based on the murderous gay Mexican doctor Alfredo Ballí Treviño. Basil Fawlty, the volatile hotelier in the sitcom was based on Donald Sinclair, proprietor of the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay. Don Draper, the Lothario ad-exec in Mad Men was inspired by Dan Daniels, the creator of the Marlboro Man. The Very Hungry Caterpillar was based on a real life caterpillar that was very hungry, and so on. I originally based the character of Wet Blanket Ron on a ne’er do well I knew called Dale Loveless.

I have found that authenticity pays dividends when plotting a new story. So long as there is a degree of realism present, readers are able to identify with what is happening in the narrative, however fantastical the premise might otherwise be. In order to get some inspiration for the task ahead, I thought I had better bite the bullet and try to find out what he had been up to. I hadn’t heard from Dale in a very long time. What cruel misfortune, I wondered, had befallen Dale since we last met? What grave injustice had he been the victim of recently? There was sure to be something suitably downbeat to use as source material.

When I last heard news of Dale, it was looking as though he might do a stretch in prison for smuggling Swiss watches into the UK. He had, of course, been a mule but with his record, it was unlikely that he would be able to convince the court that this was the case. In the last instalment of the Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron, for which I had required a surreal scenario, I had fictionalised this episode into an unwitting Wet Blanket Ron smuggling packets of time out of Greenwich Observatory. I had left a bit of a cliffhanger but had not gone back to this.

Assuming that Dale had been sent down, it was probable that he was out by now. While I had no contact number or address for him and could find no references to him on social media, I figured that Annette Lard would know. She was one of the very few people that had stood by him through thick and thin. I think they grew up together or saw the same psychotherapist or something. I went in to see Annette in BestBet where she worked.

‘Hi, Annette. You keeping well?’ I said.

She was. I left it at that. I did not want to go into the ins and outs of Annette’s chaotic life.

‘I don’t suppose you’ve seen anything of Dale Loveless,’ I said.

‘Sorry, babes,’ she said. ‘I haven’t seen Dale for a while.’

‘He’s probably still in prison, then,’ I said.

‘No. He’s out, at least he was. He came in and put a ton on Can’t Lose at 10 to 1 in the Wetherspoons Handicap Chase. Let me see, that would have been back in February. Can’t Lose fell at the second to last. It looked as if it was going to romp home as well.’

‘I guess that sums Dale up,’ I said.

‘I guess so. He had his head in his hands all the way through the race. It was as if he never expected it to win,’ she said.

I wondered if Pete Free might know where Dale was hiding out. Pete had known Dale for even longer than I had. I believe they had been in college together. Or perhaps not been at college together. I think this was in the days when being at college was different from actually attending lectures. I called in at Pete’s place on the off-chance he might know where I might find Dale. Pete invited me in and before I knew it he had given me a large spliff to look after. I hadn’t smoked in years and by the time I left, I was completely off my head. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember much of the conversation we had had but I think the gist of it was that he hadn’t seen Dale, had no desire to see Dale and had no idea where I might find him. Oh, and that our universe was a hologram, and we were floating inside of it.

‘Does Dale know you’ve been writing about him?’ asked Misty Silver, the manager of the Emmaus charity shop in the High Street where he had once worked. It was an innocent enquiry on her behalf, but, no, Dale didn’t know.

‘Would he recognise his character anyway?’ I said. ‘Most people don’t recognise themselves. Either that or they think a more favourable character in the story is based on them.’

Did Dale perhaps think of himself as a Dry Blanket Ron? Could I have written his character to be cheerier and less accident prone? I explained to Misty that this would have taken some of the edge out of the plots. There would have been considerably less drama in the first story for instance if Ron had not been knocked down by a hit-and-run driver in Black Dog Way and if Ron’s wife had not run off with his best friend, Frank while he was in hospital or if he had not contracted norovirus while he was in there and had not been evicted by his unscrupulous landlord, Kostas Moros when he was discharged. This is the way popular fiction works. The reader expects things to go wrong. Ups and downs are necessary in drama to create tension. War and Peace would have died a death if it had been called Peace and Peace. No-one would have turned out to see Romeo and Juliet if the Montagues and the Capulets had got along. Where The Wild Things Are wouldn’t have captured a child’s imagination if the things weren’t wild. And so on.

Perhaps this was the answer. In the absence of any new material, I could adapt one of the classic plots from literature. Ron’s farm could be engulfed by a dust cloud and he could struggle to take his starving family across country to California. Ron could traipse around Dublin bars for twenty four hours while his wife was unfaithful. Ron could wake up one morning transformed into a large verminous creature. He could steal a fast car and crash it and get twenty years in prison and escape as a washerwoman to reclaim his family seat from the weasels. Realistically, though, none of the famous novel plots was a contender.

There continued to be no word on Dale Loveless. I wasn’t getting anywhere with inspiration for my story. I needed another example of Dale’s misfortune to rival the classic of his being attacked by a swarm of wasps on his wedding day, Friday 13th May, bitten by a shark on their belated honeymoon and mugged outside the court at their divorce hearing. This tale of woe had fitted perfectly into my second Wet Blanket Ron story. To try to locate Dale, I even managed to get my friend in the police, Sergeant Robyn Constable to look him up on the police computer but he had disappeared from their records. I asked Robyn if this was unusual and she said that it was unheard of. The police computer was very thorough with access to thousands of databases. Perhaps he had changed his name or something, she suggested.

I was on the verge of giving up the idea of a new Wet Blanket Ron story. After all, it wasn’t as if I had committed to the project. I didn’t have a publisher breathing down my neck. I could easily get on and write something else. I wasn’t short of ideas. There was the one that was forming about time standing still and the one about the devastation caused by all the world’s computer systems going down simultaneously. But I suppose, deep down, I was rather fond of my creation, not least because of all the fans Ron seemed to have online. It would have been nice to give Wet Blanket Ron a final outing.

It happened out of the blue. As a compassionate human being, it wasn’t the news that I wanted to hear, but when Marlin Snider phoned me at six in the morning, I knew that something was wrong. I hadn’t seen Marlin since the Cocteau Twins reunion concert. He did not beat around the bush. He came straight out with the details. To re-appropriate the celebrated Oscar Wilde quote, to get knocked down once on Black Dog Way might be regarded as misfortune; to get knocked down twice on Black Dog Way looked like carelessness. Dale Loveless, it appeared, was both unfortunate and careless. It was unfortunate too that the accident occurred on the one day that ambulance drivers were on strike. Because of the delay, Dale died in the back of a cab on his way to hospital. But, it’s an ill wind, and all that. The accident has given me some ideas for my Wet Blanket Ron story.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

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The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron – Part Three

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The Continuing Story Of Wet Blanket Ron – Part Three by Chris Green

In his nineteen years on the force Sergeant Crooner has happened upon many strange scenarios. If he has learnt one thing from police work though, it is when something seems amiss there is usually a rational explanation. Cause and effect, action and reaction and all that. The supernatural does not feature heavily in the life of the plod. He can however see no rational explanation this time. He is flummoxed.

‘That is a dead pig in the back seat, isn’t it, Vaz?’ he says. He feels he needs to make sure. With all the back to back shifts he has been doing lately, he doesn’t know if he is coming or going. Only yesterday, he drove through a red light on the pedestrian crossing outside BronzeTan and narrowly missed a lady walking her Bichon Frise. It certainly looks to him like a dead pig, the kind you used to see hung in butchers’ shops before namby pamby political correctionists took over the western world.

‘Yes Sarge,’ says Vaz. He is not sure how to react. He is a newcomer to police work. He drifted into it when he found no commercial opportunities for street art. ‘I think that describes it perfectly. It is a dead pig.’

‘And it wasn’t there just now, was it Vaz? When we went up to Mrs DeAngelo’s house.’

‘No Sarge,’ says Vaz distractedly. ‘It definitely wasn’t there then.’ Vaz recalls the scene with the horse’s head in the bed in The Godfather. And Marlon Brando saying I’m going to make him an offer he cannot refuse. This worries him a little. He doesn’t mention it. It seems reasonable to assume that Sergeant Crooner will also have referenced this. After all, the iconic film was from his boss’s generation.

‘And you did lock the car, didn’t you?’

‘Yes. I never forget to lock the car, Sarge. You keep telling me that thieves will stop at nothing.’ There again this is 2016 English suburban Home Counties, not Mafioso run 1950s New York. There is no real reason to suppose that whoever deposited the dead pig is delivering the same kind of message as Vito Corleone. Is there?

‘And we definitely didn’t go into Mrs DeAngelo’s house, because no-one answered the door, right?’

‘That’s right, Sarge.’

Sergeant Crooner mops his brow. He feels dizzy. For a moment he thinks that he might be going to faint.

‘Are you all right, Sir?’ says Vaz. ‘You’ve gone a funny colour. Uh, cerise, I think.’ Vaz is good at colours. Art college education.

‘So,’ says Sergeant Crooner, bypassing the enquiry after his welfare. ‘The dead pig must have been put there while we were trying to get someone to answer the door. ….. How long do you think that was, Vaz?’

‘About a minute and a half, I would say, Sarge. Three minutes tops.’

‘The car was in full view as well wasn’t it?’

‘Yes Sarge. When you went round the back I stayed at the front as you recall.’ He does not mention that he used the time to change the ringtone on his iphone to Catfish and the Bottlemen’s new tune.

‘H’mm.’

‘Do you want me to call Division to get someone to come and dispose of the dead animal?’

‘Forensics, Vaz. We need to bring in Forensics.’

‘Remind me why we were calling on Mrs DeAngelo, Sarge. I’m not sure you let me in on this.’

‘Later, Vaz. Later.’

…………………………………………….

Ron Smoot met Daniel DeAngelo in prison. Anxious to rid himself of the moniker, Wet Blanket Ron, which had plagued him for years, Ron took the CBT course on offer at Strangeways, four times. Daniel DeAngelo was on CBT course number four, under the misapprehension that CBT was some king of boxing training. He discovered quickly that it wasn’t, but he found Ron to be amenable and latched on to him for the rest of his stay. He was mysteriously released after two years of his sentence. When taunted with the line everyone in here is innocent DeAngelo had consistently said the difference is I AM innocent. I was fitted up by a bent cop. Ron never discovered if this really was the case or in fact why DeAngelo was released. By and large he kept his head down. When he was himself was released after serving three years of his six year stretch, Daniel DeAngelo offered him a position in his trading firm, this in return for the many favours that Ron had done for him inside. Although it was not a high powered position, and his job description was vague, Ron was grateful. He felt his efforts had paid off.

Ron had been jailed for his part in bringing down the rock star, Johnny Angel’s helicopter. As it happened Ron had had nothing to do with it. He was a victim of circumstance. But then, this was the story of his life. Bad luck had dogged him since kinder-garden. For instance, years ago he suffered multiple injuries when he was was knocked down by a hit and run driver. In hospital he went down with Norovirus. While he was in the isolation ward, his wife, Heather ran off with his best friend, Frank. When he came out of hospital, his landlord, Kostas Moros, who was also seeing Heather when she was not seeing Frank, threw him out of his flat to let it for more money and charged Ron two grand for damages incurred during his tenancy.

Ron acted like a magnet to calamity. Disaster and disappointment were constant companions. His every endeavour went tits up. Time and time again, outrageous misfortune tracked him down. No-one would have bet against him going to prison for a crime he did not commit; there was a strange inevitability about this happening.

On being released from prison, Ron was determined to turn his life around. Feeling positive, he put his Hank Williams CD collection on ebay, ditched his Life is Meaningless and Everything Dies sweatshirt, and joined the InstaDate dating agency. He started seeing someone called Simone. It was unfortunate that Simone turned out to be a transvestite. Simone’s dark brown voice should have given him a clue, as should the fact that her feet were bigger than his, but Ron in his enthusiasm, missed these pointers. It was unfortunate too that it took him nearly a month to discover Simone’s proclivities, but he did not dwell on it. The Wet Blanket Ron of old would have seen the episode as an insurmountable knock-back to his confidence. He would have dined out on the story for weeks, but the post-CBT Ron resolved to quickly put the matter behind him. He told himself there were plenty more fish in the sea. He just had to be more careful, next time.

Although working for Daniel DeAngelo offered no company car, and pay days were a little irregular, Ron was eventually able to buy a Rover 75 from Ted Drinker Quality Second Hand Cars. This way he was able to do pick ups and deliveries for DeAngelo. Although Rovers were notoriously unreliable, for a week or two Ron had no trouble with his purchase. He made no less than seventeen journeys up and down the motorway with important packages. He did not know what the packages contained. He was curious as the packages seemed unnaturally light but he thought that it was not his place to ask. It was enough that Daniel DeAngelo had described them as important and had entrusted him with them.

Ron knew he shouldn’t have ignored the oil light, but when you have to get somewhere quickly, you sometimes overlook these things. Daniel DeAngelo did stress that time was of the essence on this particular mission. Il tempo è importante. Le borse contengono tempo, he had said lapsing into his native Italian. Strictly speaking Ron’s judgement was right, as the car did make it the hundred or so miles to his pick up and back. It wasn’t until he was nearly home that the engine started labouring. Pulling off from the traffic lights at the Scott Mackenzie roundabout it started to make unwelcome noises. At first the smoke that emerged from under the bonnet was light in colour, but over half a mile or so of chugging and lurching, the poor Rover began belching out thick grey clouds of the stuff. Ron was never mechanically minded but it was apparent even to him that the engine was now on its way out. By the time he pulled it over on to the kerb, to let the traffic pass, the Rover had all but disappeared in a cloud of acrid black smoke.

Ron of old would have been mortified but his post-CBT voice tells him that the main thing is that he has the package safe and sound. He can still deliver it to DeAngelo.

…………………………………………….

‘I don’t want to bother you, Sarge,’ says PC Vaz. ‘But, look over there! Someone’s just ……. uh, torched a car.’

‘Oh, so they have, Vaz. Lot of it about, I’m afraid,’ says Sergeant Crooner, dismissively. Vaz is beginning to get on his nerves. Why did they keep giving him these hopeless rookies. If he had been promoted to Inspector, he wouldn’t have to break in these fresh-faced kids with no aptitude for police work. He had missed out on promotion five years in a row now. Wasn’t his nineteen years of service enough? Debbie might not have left him for Kirsty Tickler if he’d been promoted. But arguably he might have been promoted if Debbie hadn’t left him for Kirsty Tickler. This sort of thing was still looked down upon in the Constabulary. Or was it all down to that business with DeAngelo that they had not considered him suitable for higher office?

‘Shouldn’t we go and have a look, Sarge?’ says PC Vaz, bringing him out of his reverie.

‘You’re like an excited child, Vaz. Wait until you’ve been on the beat a few years, son. ……… Oh go on then. I suppose we should have a look. I’m guessing it will be a while before forensics get here to go over the pig. We may as well be doing something useful.’

‘There’s someone standing by it, Sarge. He’s on his phone. Seems to be gesticulating a lot.’

‘Oh my God, Vaz! That’s ….. That’s Ron Smoot. Wet Blanket Ron. He can’t be out of the nick already, can he?’

‘Who is Wet. …. Blanket. ….. Ron. Sarge?’

‘He’s notorious, Vaz. He’s the one that brought down Johnny Angel’s helicopter. Before your time I expect, Johnny Angel.’

‘Oh no, Sarge. I remember Johnny Angel. Rocket Man. Crocodile Rock.’

‘No. That was the other fellow, Vaz.’ Why had then given him this plank?

‘This Wet. Blanket. Ron, Sarge. Why is he called that?’

‘You don’t want to know, Vaz.’

…………………………………………….

Ron is relieved to see the two police officers approaching. He was getting nowhere on the phone with Stan Feckwith Salvage. They did not seem to be treating his request seriously. Tomorrow afternoon, indeed. As if you can leave a burned out Rover by the side of a main road until then. And £50 to take it away. They should be paying him. When his Metro had gone to the breakers years ago Andy Carr Breakers had written him a check for £50. Never mind, the officers are sure to be able to help. They probably come across problems like this all the time. They will know what he should do next.

‘Am I pleased that you have come along?’ he calls out. ‘You can’t believe how difficult it is to get a car towed away around here.’

‘Well, well, well! If it isn’t Ron Smoot,’ says Sergeant Crooner. ‘What is it this time, Ron? Oh dear, torching cars. That’s slumming it a bit isn’t it after bringing down helicopters?’

‘Might he have had something to do with the dead pig, Sarge?’ says Vaz.

‘Not now, Vaz.’

‘I haven’t done anything,’ says Ron. ‘I’m trying to be helpful. I’m just trying to get the car taken away.’

‘I think we should take him in, Vaz. We’re bound to find something we can charge him with. Search him will you.’

‘OK Smoot!’ says PC Vaz. ‘Hands up against the wall and no funny business!’

‘I need to call my lawyer.’

‘We’ve caught you red handed setting alight to a car, Smoot.’

‘The engine blew up on me, officer. I want to call my lawyer.’

‘That would be the celebrated, Brent Diaz, would it?’ says Sergeant Crooner ‘In case you don’t know, Vaz, Brent Diaz is the most famous crooked lawyer in these parts. He is popularly known down town as Bent Diaz.’

‘I resent that allegation.’

‘Shut up, Smoot. Cuff him, Vaz! We’ll take him in.’

‘What about Mrs DeAngelo’s house and the dead pig, Sarge?’

Ron may not be the brightest button in the box, but the mention of the name DeAngelo puts him on a higher state of alert. Last time he was in the office he overheard a phone conversation about settling a score with a mention of sending a dead animal as a message. There was an allusion to a scene in The Godfather and although he could not remember the film that well, there was one particular scene that had stayed with him. What was the offer that the victim couldn’t refuse, though? Was it something to do with getting the character that wasn’t meant to be Frank Sinatra a part in a film? More to the point what had DeAngelo been referring to?

…………………………………………….

Brent Diaz is surprised to get the call, and a little horrified. When he said goodbye to Wet Blanket Ron at the trial, he thought he had seen the last of him. ……. Wrongful arrest? Daniel DeAngelo? What is the fellow talking about? He can’t have been out five minutes. Surely he is not in trouble already. You would have thought he would have learned his lesson by now. I mean, he doesn’t come across as a career criminal, just a recurrent loser. Still, there is something about Wet Blanket Ron that against your better judgement elicits sympathy.

‘Slow down, Ron,’ he says. ‘I can’t make out what you are saying. ……. Sergeant Crooner? Yes a regular pain in the ass, that one. …….. I agree there’s nothing worse that a bent cop.’

‘They’ve already taken the packages that I was supposed to deliver to Daniel DeAngelo and opened them.’

‘H’mmm. Out of interest, Ron. What was in the packages?’

‘That’s just it, Mr Diaz. Nothing. The packages seemed to be ……. empty.’

‘Then they have no reason to detain you.’

‘There’s still the business with the car, Mr Diaz. They are still saying that I torched the car. But I didn’t. It just blew up on me.’

‘OK Ron. Hang on in there. I’m on my way. Give me twenty minutes and I’ll be there at the station.’

…………………………………………….

‘I feel really bad about what happened to young Vaz, Inspector,’ says Sergeant Crooner. My heart goes out to his family. I know he was a bit naive, and could be a pain in the ass with his arty farty stuff, but he didn’t deserve that. I can’t stop from thinking that the explosion was meant for me. DeAngelo seems to have felt that there was an old score to settle. To be honest I would have thought that stuff about framing him would have blown over. But maybe it hadn’t. It seems he was driven by revenge. That must have been what the dead pig was about. He was sending a warning. Do you know, Vaz said something about a scene in The Godfather. But never having seen the film I did not understand what he was talking about. I’m probably the only person in the county that hasn’t watched the film. Never was one for watching films. But now I wish I had watched it. It might not have come to this.’

‘Perhaps give it a miss now, eh, Crooner? …… The film, I mean.’

‘Right there in broad daylight too.’

‘Vaz walked right into it, didn’t he,’ says Inspector Otis. ‘Poor sod. Probably never be able to walk again though, they are saying.’

‘Don’t make me feel even worse, sir.’

‘Well. I guess as officers of the law we have to learn to expect these things.’

‘Any word on DeAneglo yet?’

‘No. The bastard seems to have disappeared without trace.’

‘How long do you think we can hold Smoot?’

‘Indefinitely, I should think, now that Brent Diaz has backed off. Even if we can’t pin the bomb on him, arson is a pretty serious offence in these days of terrorism.’

‘Bit of a mystery why Diaz didn’t want to stay on the case. He seemed to give up too easily.’

‘Probably two hours of listening to Wet Blanket Ron was as much as he could take.’

‘I wonder what happened to the stuff that he was carrying when we brought him in. ‘

‘I expect it’s downstairs with Evidence.’

‘Anyway, what’s done is done I suppose. What have you got?’

‘This is a weird one, that’s just come in, Crooner. Someone has been smuggling what they describe as small packages of time out of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. This it says has happened now on seventeen occasions in all.’

‘What would these packages look like, Inspector? These packages of ….. time?’

‘That’s just it, Crooner. Nobody seems to be able to describe what a package of time would look like. Time doesn’t have mass, as such. Whatever shape or size it was when you opened the package up it would just look like it was empty.’

‘There must be a market for it, wouldn’t you say, sir? A market for time. I mean everybody needs time.’

‘You mean as in buy some time or buy more time.’

‘Exactly.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

The Continuing Story Of Wet Blanket Ron – Part Two

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The Continuing Story Of Wet Blanket Ron – Part Two by Chris Green

I can hear a phone, one of the emergency ones I keep in my office drawer. Each has an individual ring tone, but I’ve lost track of which ring tone is for which client. It seemed a good idea, at first, when there were just a few. I selected Hey Joe for hitman, Joe Luga, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking for cocaine dealer, Charlie Snow, and Ace Of Spades for card sharp, Vince Shuffler. But now there are twenty three phones in there, it doesn’t seem so clever.

What is that tune? Oh no! It’s Leonard Cohen, Bird On A Wire. That’s Ron Smoot. Wet Blanket Ron! Why the fuck is he calling?

I debate whether to leave it. Leonard Cohen’s cracked voice persists. Halfway through the second verse of the song, the one about the stillborn baby, I give in and answer it.

Ron is speaking fast. Something about being stuck in California and a plane crash. It is hard to make sense of what he is saying. I get him to slow down. He repeats what he has said.

‘What do you mean, your friends are on a flight to Chicago that is going to crash?’ I say. ‘I didn’t think you had any friends.’

Ron misses the put-down. ‘You might remember, Mr Diaz, that I got a job with a company called N Vision Inc,’ he says.

I don’t remember. I tend to choose to forget conversations with Ron. Life seems better that way.

‘And my job is to tell people in advance that bad things are destined to happen to them to give them chance to avoid them.’

What on earth is he talking about?

‘Sounds a bit far out,’ I say. ‘You haven’t been taking those mushrooms again, have you, Ron?’

‘Look! Tom and Tom are on a plane that is going to go down,’ he continues. ‘I tried to tell them, Mr Diaz, but they got on the flight anyway.’

‘I’m finding it quite difficult to follow you, Ron,’ I say, looking for an opportunity to end the conversation.

I suddenly remember that I have a client called Tom Carlevero. He is a computer technician. I had to cover up some hacking that he had been doing a while back on a Government computer system. Tom Carlevaro is gay and he has a partner called Tom Soft. Tom and Tom. Surely it couldn’t be this pair of Toms that Ron was talking about. That would be far too much of a coincidence. In these days of rainbow communities and gay marriage, there must be dozens of Tom and Toms.

‘Who are Tom and Tom?’ I say.

‘They are friends of mine,’ he says. ‘Look Mr Diaz …’

‘Their surnames, Ron. What are their surnames?’

‘Tom Carlevaro and …..’

‘I’ll get back to you,’ Ron,’ I say. I end the call and switch the phone off. He is bound to try to phone me back.

Now which is Tom Carlevaro’s phone, I wonder, looking in the drawer. I call in Shelley, my secretary. She is the one who keeps all the phones charged for me.

‘What is it Mr D?’ she says, blowing on her fingers to dry the nail varnish.

‘Tom Carlevaro,’ I say. Which phone?’

‘This one,’ she says. ‘The one with Go West ringtone.’

I do a redial. There is just a chance that Tom has ignored the cabin crew’s instructions and kept his phone switched on during the flight. I am in luck. He has. I explain to him what Ron has told me. He starts to tell me about the close shave he has had with Ron in Los Angeles.

‘No time for that now, Tom,’ I tell him. ‘Your plane is going to crash, buddy.’

I have to hand it to Tom Carlevero; he is a very resourceful man. On the basis of my phonecall which must have sounded like I was loony tunes, he somehow manages to persuade the captain of the 737 to turn back and land at Los Angeles. Can you imagine convincing a major airline to do something like that without arousing suspicion. I mean, what on earth could he have said? I do hope there’s no comeback on me. I feel I have done a good turn. I may be many things, but I am not a terrorist.

But as soon as I put the phone back on and return it to the desk drawer, Ron is back on, saying that this was not what was supposed to happen. He says the plane was supposed to come down in Kansas, with many casualties, but Tom and Tom were not supposed to be aboard when it did. Now he says he is in trouble with someone called Kojo or Mojo or something at N Vision Inc for interfering with the course of fate. Who the fuck are N Vision Inc? What is the guy on, for God’s sake?

Perhaps I should tell you a little about myself. My name is Brent Diaz and I’m what’s known as a fixer. I get people out of a hole in any way that I can, for which they pay me a lot of money. While I try to operate legally, this is not always possible. Now, one of the issues that I have here is that the last time I encountered Ron Smoot he was broke. The chance of a paycheck here is a small one.

Ron’s life has been a catalogue of misfortune. This wouldn’t be so bad if he kept it to himself but he insists on sharing it with everyone. How about this? He was attacked by a swarm of wasps on his wedding day, Friday 13th May, bitten by a shark on their belated honeymoon and mugged outside the court at their divorce hearing. He has been struck by lightning, not once but three times. After one of his many road accidents, the ambulance taking him to hospital crashed. You do have to wonder if his ill luck isn’t connected to his negativity. He isn’t just half empty, his cup is bottomless. He’s the living embodiment of a minus sign, a powerhouse of negative energy.

All is not lost on this occasion, however. Remarkably, Ron has not lost his job over the plane mix up. That must be a first. Perhaps it has become difficult to recruit people prepared to deliver bad news.

After I hang up, I ask Frankie what he knows about N Vision Inc. Frankie is my right-hand man, my facts at your fingertips man. He’s like google without broadband. He knows everything. He tells me he thinks that N Vision Inc is an affiliate of The God Corporation.

‘And they know that things are going to happen before they do?’ I say.

‘Apparently so,’ Frankie says.

‘Couldn’t we find some way to take advantage of that,’ I say.

‘Just what I was thinking,’ he says. ‘Next time you get a call from Ron, we’ll analyse the situation before recommending any action.’

‘Better still, I could keep in touch Ron. I could phone him every now and then to see what is in the pipeline,’ I say. ‘I’m sure he will be happy to have a friend.’

‘Good plan.’

‘And if anything goes wrong.’

‘Which it probably will do.’

‘We can take advantage of that too.’

I leave it for a few days and then Give Ron a call.

‘How are you, Ron?’ I ask.

‘Not good,’ he says, with the air of a prisoner who has just been shown the noose. He goes on to tell me that the head gasket on his Rover blew. He had to push it about half a mile, uphill, to the nearest breakers, as they wouldn’t collect. They gave him a cheque for £50 but when he got home he realised that they hadn’t signed it, so he had to go back there on the bus and then they were closed.

‘I thought you had a Citröen Saxo,’ I say. I have been doing my homework. In my line of work, I find it pays dividends to get inside the head of your clients.

‘The Saxo was impounded at Heathrow while I was in California,’ he says.

‘Oh dear,’ I say. ‘Things still OK at N Vision Inc are they?’ I am nervous I am about to hear the word, ‘sacked’, but surprisingly things are still OK at N Vision Inc.

Later that day Ron phones me back with a surprise request. ‘Can I borrow your car, Mr Diaz?’

What a cheek, the guy has. Has my offer of friendship backfired already?

‘I think I’m probably going to be using my car, Ron,’ I say. As it happens I have two cars, a BMW, and an Audi, but I’m hardly going to let Wet Blanket Ron in on this.

N Vision Inc have given me this new assignment,’ he continues. ‘The rock star, Johnny Angel is playing a concert at Kingsholm stadium in Gloucester tomorrow and he’s going to be shot. I have to stop it happening.’

‘Gloucester! That’s a hundred miles away,’ I say.

‘That’s right. That’s why I need a car. I’ve bought an old Skoda Fabia, but it’s not going to be ready until the weekend.’

‘You could rent a car.’

‘I’ve just cleaned out my bank account to pay for the Skoda.’

‘Second hand Skoda’s aren’t that expensive are they? They must have stopped making the Fabia over ten years ago.’

‘It was quite cheap but there wasn’t much in my bank account, Mr Diaz. I’ve had a lot of bills lately.’

‘Now, have I got this right?’ I say. ‘N Vision Inc called to tell you that Johnny Angel is going to be shot tomorrow in Gloucester and your assignment if I’ve understood you correctly is to prevent this from happening. The only way that you can do it is get a car to get there, you can’t afford Hertz and you don’t have any friends that will lend you theirs, in fact, you don’t have any friends, so you are asking me to lend you mine without much hope of being able to pay me.’

‘That’s about it, I suppose, yes.’

‘And meanwhile, I have to swallow this mumbo jumbo about some weirdos being able to see into the future.’

‘I’m still not sure how this works, Mr Diaz,’ he says. ‘But Kojo says that most people think that time is linear, but it isn’t. Kojo showed me the day after tomorrow’s papers. It’s on the front page in all the dailies. Headlines like Angel Falls, The Day The Music Died and Gay Rocker Shocker’

‘Not very imaginative,’ I say. How about Goodbye Norma Jean?’

‘I think that was the other fellow,’ says Ron.

‘Aha, so it was,’ I say.

‘So what do you say, Mr Diaz. Can I borrow your car? I’m desperate. …….. And I’m sure Johnny Angel would thank you.’

I used to be a fan of Johnny Angel, back in the day. I remember buying some of his early albums. I loved the song about him standing by the wall and the one about the spaceman. I’d never seen him play live, though.

‘It’s a mad idea, but I haven’t been to a rock concert in years and this one sounds as if it might be to be quite theatrical,’ I say. ‘How about I take you?’

What on earth made me say that, I wonder, after I’ve said it. Was it to do with what Frankie said about being able to take advantage of precognition? Or, have I been taken over by dark forces?

During the journey, I try to get some sense out of Ron about N Vision Inc. Frankie has researched them and come across very little. Even GCHQ have a more visible web presence. Ron tells me about Amir, Kojo, and Kazumi, the team of exotic personnel who run the show and about the constantly morphing office interior with random wildlife wandering about. He says that the reason people don’t know about the offices is that the building is invisible from the street. Apparently there is some scientific explanation for this.

He goes on to tell me about his ill-fated field missions to date. He starts with the tale of not saving research scientist, Maxwell Loveless from a gas explosion.

‘You mean to say that you were given the assignment, but didn’t manage to save him,’ I say.

‘Kind of, but that was not the objective,’ says Ron. ‘My job was to let his mother, Eileen Loveless know that her son was going to die.’

‘And she didn’t think to save him?’

‘Apparently not.’

‘I still don’t get it,’ I say.

‘I just do what they ask me to do,’ says Ron. ‘Next, I had to warn entrepreneur, Garret Wing that he was going to be shot. But he didn’t take any notice.’

‘So, another failure really,’ I say, already having visions of Johnny Angel’s bloodstained body slumped over the piano. ‘Why exactly are we doing all this?’

‘Amir says we cannot intervene directly, we can only take measures to alert the victim that something is going to happen. If the victim takes notice for instance, then the newspaper headlines that I talked about will change, but if he doesn’t, then the page will never have existed. A different page will have replaced it. Amir says that reality isn’t a straightforward business.’

‘So I’m beginning to find out,’ I say. ‘So what about Tom Carlevero? How do you know Tom, anyway?’

‘After my breakup with Heather, I rented a room in his house,’ he says.

‘Ah yes. I remember your breakup with Heather,’ I say. ‘She ran off with your best friend while you were in hospital, didn’t she? And you called me, and like a fool, I sympathised and said I would, uh ….. help. That was how you came to be on my list wasn’t it?’

‘And then you didn’t answer any of my calls until yesterday.’

‘I’ve been out of he office a lot.’

‘Anyway, to continue my story. Tom Soft moved in with Tom Carlevero and later they went off to California to get married and asked me to look after the house while they were on honeymoon.’

‘OK. Enough of that. Let’s get down to the job in hand,’ I say. ‘How are we going to get in to the gig. You’ve got tickets I take it.’

‘Well, no I haven’t.’

‘And you also have no money.’

‘No.’

‘So I’m expected to pay. Is that it?’

‘If you wouldn’t mind. They’re only £50 each. Oh and another £50 for backstage access. I’ll recompense you.’

‘When you get paid by N Vision Inc I suppose. And when will that be? Have you been paid at all yet?’

‘Well, now you come to mention it, no.’

‘They didn’t think of phoning Johnny Angel’s management and doing it the sensible way, I suppose.’

‘Might that not come across as a threat, Mr D?’

‘But it would have simplified the situation.’

I can’t help noticing that there are more hold-ups on the route west than usual. Every light we come to is red. Roundabouts which are normally clear have long tailbacks. I find myself behind a succession of slow moving tractors and learner drivers. There seem to be an unusual amount of lane closures and temporary traffic lights. I’m not superstitious or anything like that but it feels like something is in the air. Meanwhile, Ron tells me about his skin complaint, his anti-depressants, and the viruses on his computer. He throws in a few stories about Heather’s infidelity for good measure. I recall seeing a television programme about magnetic force and energy where people could project their thoughts beyond the limits of the brain into the atmosphere. The programme was concerned primarily with projecting the power of positive thought. Surely Ron’s sphere of negative influence could not extend to the environment around him, could it?

We approach the last section of dual carriageway. Traffic is at a standstill. Not what we need at this stage. Time is moving on. A diversion is in place, in the distance an army of police vehicles, fire engines, and ambulances. We make our way through the slow moving traffic. Unconcerned with what may have taken place, Ron uses the time to regale me with further tales of woe. The time he lost his passport on the way to the airport, how his numbers came up the week after he stopped doing the lottery, that his home insurance lapsed the day before the house fire. The reports may have gone on indefinitely but for us finally arriving in Kingsholm.

‘How are we going to do this,’ I say. ‘Have you got a plan of action, or do you want my input?’

‘I thought we would go backstage, ask his manager if we could speak to Johnny and then just tell him that he can’t play tonight because he’s going to be shot,’ Ron says. ‘Kojo says to deliver bad news you need to be assertive. No point in beating around the bush.’

‘So after I’ve driven all this way and paid out good money, I don’t even get to see him play Crocodile Rock.’

‘That’s not one of his,’ Ron says. ‘That’s the other guy again. ……. What were you thinking would be best then, Mr Diaz?’

‘Your methods don’t seem to have had much success so far, do they?’ I say. ‘I’ll let you know when we get inside.’

As we approach the stadium we see a huge crowd has gathered outside. Surely with such a big event they should have opened the gates by now. The concert is due to start in a few minutes. As we get up close, we can see a large illuminated message board reading ‘JOHNNY ANGEL CONCERT CANCELLED’

Why is the concert cancelled? No further information is given. There is mass confusion on the street. No one seems to know what to do. These people are all psyched up. They were ready to party. You can almost smell the disappointment in the air. No, perhaps it’s skunk you can smell. And alcohol. A couple of minor scuffles break out. I manage to catch the attention of a steward with a walkie talkie.

‘What is going on,’ I ask.

‘Haven’t you heard?’ he says, as if its common knowledge. ‘Johnny Angel’s helicopter was shot down over the ring road. The helicopter burst into flames. Everyone aboard was killed instantly.’

Although he should be used to things going wrong by now, Ron is inconsolable. He has his head in his hands. Having messed up his previous missions, he probably saw this as his last chance to get a result. Now he will almost certainly lose his job. But things are set to become a whole lot worse. As I guide him slowly along Kingsholm Road back towards the car, through the open window of a white transit van we catch the end of a news bulletin on the radio. It is turned up loud.

.. Police are treating the bringing down of the rock star’s helicopter as a terrorist act. They have released the names of two men they are anxious to apprehend in connection with the incident, Ron Smoot and Brent Diaz and have launched a search for the pair. The men are believed to be heavily armed and travelling in a black BMW …..…

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

 

The Continuing Story Of Wet Blanket Ron

wetblanket2

The Continuing Story Of Wet Blanket Ron – Part 1 by Chris Green

Fortune has not favoured Ron Smoot recently. He has suffered one setback after another. He was just coming to terms with losing his job in the drawing office when he was knocked down by a hit and run driver on Black Dog Way. Hospitalised with a catalogue of injuries, he went down with Norovirus. While he was in the isolation ward, his wife, Heather ran off with his best friend, Frank who had been giving her lifts to work. How long had they been having the affair, Ron wondered. On release from hospital, he was given notice on the flat by their unscrupulous landlord, Kostas Moros, who saw Heather’s absconsion as an excuse to subdivide the deceptively spacious two bedroomed apartment and make more money. Perhaps he too had been having an affair with Heather. To cap it all Kostas Moros ordered Ron to pay £2000 for damage incurred to the flat during the tenancy. This had cleaned him out.

Ron is looking after his friends’ house in Queen’s Road while they are away. Tom and Tom are honeymooning in California. They are due to return in two weeks, after which Ron has nowhere to go. He has been looking for a flat, or even a bedsitter, but the letting agencies all want formidably large deposits these days. Unlike his friends, he has no money. His Jobseeker’s Allowance barely covers the storage for his furniture.

Ron is beginning to notice that when things are going badly, friends tend to distance themselves. He has had such a bad run now that he has no friends left, apart from Tom and Tom and he has no credit on his phone to speak to them. He feels he does need to speak to someone. He finds he does not have a wide choice of 0800 numbers on his network.

‘Is that the Samaritans?’ he says. He has been trying to get through for an hour. The line has been engaged.

‘Sorry, but office is closed now,’ says Magda, the office cleaner. ‘Can you try please tomorrow?’

As a temporary measure, he decides to double the dose of the anti-depressants that Dr Bone has prescribed.

Cheered a little, he reasons that Tom and Tom might not actually throw him out on the street. But does he want to impose further on their hospitality? A newly married couple need privacy to bond, without having to feel inhibited about there being a person in the next room. While Tom Carlevaro, a computer technician does go out to work, Tom Soft, an interior designer works mostly from home. He is not going to want Ron under his feet all day long.

Ron is at his wits’ end. He is desperate for a job. Although his CAD is up to speed and he is well qualified in both engineering and architectural drawing, he has had no luck here. With labour so plentiful and openings so scarce, employers no longer see the need to reply to applications. The few that have replied have all said the same thing. Perhaps there is a regret to inform template in Microsoft Word.

One afternoon, after he has thoroughly scanned the vacancies column in The Gazette, he spots an unusual ad in MidweekMag sandwiched between an article on origami and an advert for hair remover. The ad says simply N Vision Inc. is recruiting and gives a mobile phone number. He phones the number and without interrogation or ceremony, a man with a Farsi accent gives him an address and asks him if he can come along right away. He doesn’t even ask Ron for his name. Although this seems highly irregular, Ron feels he has nothing to lose. After all, it is the first interview he has been offered.

N Vision Inc. offices are situated in La Traviata Heights, a prosperous part of town. Ron is encouraged by this. It suggests they are not fly by nights. Ron presses the buzzer and is admitted by entryphone. He finds himself in large quirky office space. It is open plan with an outdoor theme featuring an abundance of greenery. A tall olive skinned man with a neat balbo beard wearing a shiny white suit appears. He has a peregrine falcon on his arm. He introduces himself as Amir.

‘Have a seat,’ he says. There is no formal arrangement of office furniture to suggest where he should sit, but Ron senses it would be prudent to put distance between himself and the tiger that has just walked in.

‘Don’t worry about Felix,’ laughs Amir. ‘He’s quite domesticated.’

Ron feels a little overawed by the plush surroundings. It is a far cry from the sterile drawing offices he is used to. He nervously brushes his grey Burton’s suit which he forgot to iron while Amir talks cryptically about balance and power and balance of power. He talks about courage and destiny and death. His colleague, Majid duly arrives in a flowing djellaba with a cup of sweet mint tea.

‘The post requires you to deliver bad news to victims before the event actually happens,’ continues Amir. ‘Timing is the key.’

While Ron does not believe in fate, he feels too intimidated by the situation to ask the obvious questions, how do you know that something is going to happen and what is the purpose of letting the victim know. Instead, he nods politely. After all, he does need a job, no matter what it entails. On the plus side, he is an old hand at delivering bad news, in fact, he has something of a reputation for being a wet blanket. Someone once described listening to him as being like reading Hank Williams’ diary. Hank Williams he discovered was a country singer. For years he had not realised that he gave off that impression, but since he found out that people cross the street to avoid him and actually hide when he calls round, he has begun to accept that he is not the cheeriest of mortals. The position might have been made for him.

‘Now, Majid will take your details and then we can get you started,’ continues Amir.

‘You mean, I’ve got the job,’ says Ron. He wonders whether he should really be stroking the tiger.

‘Yes, you have the job.’ says Amir. He does not tell Ron that he has been the only applicant. ‘Welcome aboard. You start tomorrow. 9am.’

I wonder what kind of snake that is, Ron thinks when he arrives for work the following morning. It is yellow and black. It is skulking in the corner, behind the coconut palm. Aren’t the yellow and black type the ones that wrap themselves around you? Fortunately for Ron, the snake is either very tired or seems to have already eaten. He takes in his surroundings. The ornamental ginger is flowering and, is that brightly coloured one a paradise plant? There is no sign of Amir, but Majid looks debonair in his fitted white Islamic thobe. He is clean shaven and has on an expensive fragrance, a little like the woody eau de toilette that Tom Soft favours.

However, Majid is not as chatty as his colleague. There is no mint tea today. It is straight down to business. After typing vigorously into his laptop, the wireless printer purrs into life and he hands Ron the printout which has the instructions for his assignment.

‘Phone this number when you’re done so that I can process it,’ Majid says.

Before setting off for the West Midlands in his ageing Saxo, Ron reads the brief over and over. He is perplexed by the instructions. Who could benefit from Eileen Grimwald knowing that her son Maxwell will die in a gas explosion at their house in Conduit Street early tomorrow morning? Perhaps the warning will mean that Eileen Grimwald and Maxwell will take heed and stay somewhere else. But what if they take no action? Much could depend how he delivers the news, on whether Eileen Grimwald regards him as a reliable source of information or whether she sees him as a crank. He has to tread a fine line. After all, the last thing he wants is for Eileen Grimwald to report him to the police. He draws on his experience of telling Tania that her friend Speedy had died of a heart attack a couple of years ago. The key is not to beat about the bush or engage in preamble, but to come right out with it.

Although she seems a little vacant, Eileen Grimwald seems to take the news very well. She seems unphased that her son might be going to die. Perhaps she is on very strong anti-depressants that make her indifferent to everything. Mrs Grimwald seems so disinterested, Ron wonders if her GP actually has a licence to practice. However, he is just the messenger. It is not his job to reason why He phones N Vision Inc. to report back as instructed. The answering machine comes on. In this cloak and dagger world, is it indiscreet to leave a message about his errand? He settles by saying ‘Spoke to Mrs G. All OK.’ No-one returns the call.

When he goes in to NVI the next day, Amir shows him the headline on the news website. Gas Explosion Kills Budding Young Research Scientist. He scans the report. It appears that Maxwell Grimwald was the only casualty. The report says that British Gas were unavailable for comment and Chief Inspector Truss could not confirm whether or not they were treating the death as suspicious.

‘So it goes,’ Amir says. ‘Kazumi will be here shortly then we will find out what she has for you today. Do have a seat.’

Ron is about to ask where was Eileen Grimwald when the explosion took place, and why she didn’t get her son out of the house if she knew this was going to happen, but he does not feel that Amir will give him the answers. Anyway, he had done what he was asked to do and he does want to keep his job. There is no sense in rocking the boat. He sits down and a marmoset jumps onto his lap and starts playing with his paisley kipper tie.

Kazumi breezes in wearing a bright red full-length floral kimono and wooden geta sandals. She places a tea tray on a low wooden table. She bows, to which Ron stands and makes a similar if less graceful gesture. She offers him a cup of Japanese green tea.

‘You are enjoying your new job, yes?’ she says.

Ron is not sure what to say. Does enjoyment feature much in the job that he does? It is a far cry from the drawing office, from the world of straight lines and precise measurements. He replies politely that he is finding it very interesting.

‘Good,’ she says. ‘Let us see what we have for you today.’ She sits down at her laptop.

‘Today you are to tell the entrepreneur, Garret Wing that he will be shot twice in the head outside Stockport Masonic Guildhall tomorrow morning. Can you make it to Manchester by midday today? He will be in his office until then. Here is Mr Wing’s address.’

It is now 9:30. Manchester is about a hundred miles. He has no satnav, the Saxo has 110,000 miles on the clock and struggles to get up to seventy. ‘It will be touch and go,’ he says.

Kazumi is not familiar with English idioms. ‘That is good,’ she says. ‘Let me know please when you have informed Mr Wing.’

While Ron appreciates that the phone is not a subtle form of communication, as he is driving up the M6 he begins to question why it is so important for him to deliver the news face to face. Who exactly are N Vision Inc? He could find no reference to the company on the Internet. What are they up to? How can they be getting this information? Perhaps they are arch villains. This raises another concern. Is he actually going to get paid? They have not yet spoken about salary. He must mention it next time he goes in to the office. He should be getting a substantial amount for what he is doing; he is one step away from a being a hit man.

He comforts himself that Amir had referred to it as a job, so perhaps he doesn’t need to worry unnecessarily. Tom and Tom will be back in less than two weeks and even if he hasn’t been able to find somewhere to live by then, at least, he will be able to offer to pay for his keep. Perhaps he might be able to put the deposit down on a new car, he thinks as the Saxo coughs and splutters in a tailback at the Stoke on Trent junction.

Having in his haste driven down at least two one way streets the wrong way, Ron arrives at Garret Wing’s offices just before 12. Garret’s secretary, Chloe finishes doing her nails and asks if he has an appointment, knowing full well that he doesn’t.

‘No,’ Ron says. ‘But it is incredibly important.’

‘I’m afraid he’s about to go into a meeting,’ says Chloe.

‘I think he would want to see me,’ says Ron.

‘Can I ask what it is about?’ says Chloe.

At that moment, Garret emerges from his office.

‘This gentleman is here to see you, Mr Garret,’ says Chloe, sliding her black skirt up an inch or two. ‘Mr ….’

‘Smoot,’ says Ron. ‘Ron Smoot.’

Garret Wing looks Ron up and down disapprovingly. He is not used to seeing square toed brown slip ons with a grey suit. ‘Yes, what is it?’ he says. ‘It had better be good. I’m late for a meeting,’

‘Do you think we could go somewhere quiet for a moment?’ says Ron.

Garret is anxious to avoid a scene. He asks Chloe to take go and polish her face or whatever it is she does on her breaks.

‘I’m afraid it is not good,’ says Ron. ‘You are going to be shot outside Stockport Masonic Guildhall tomorrow morning. Twice. In the head. You are going to die.

‘Is this some kind of threat?’ says Garret.

‘Not a threat, Mr Wing. I’m just passing on a message from …… from people who know that this is going to happen. Might I make the suggestion that you avoid the venue tomorrow, then it cannot happen.’

‘Get out of my office,’ yells Garret. ‘Before I call the police.’

Where did it all go wrong with Heather, he wonders in the tailback near the Keele service area? He remembers last Christmas at the works Christmas party his colleagues were ribbing him about how downbeat he was. Here he comes over the hill, dragging his wet blanket behind him. And has Christopher Robin forgotten to give you your haycorns today, they were saying. He remembers becoming very upset about it and leaving the party early. When he got home, their friend, Frank was in the shower. Heather had explained that Frank had got dirty helping her in with the Christmas tree. While he didn’t put two and two together there and then, he had the feeling something was wrong. Only latterly did he remember that Heather had greeted him in her dressing gown and there were two wine glasses on the dressing table alongside with the empty bottle of Blue Nun.

‘Thank you for reporting back yesterday,’ says Amir. ‘I see from WebNews that Mr Wing ignored your advice. His death is causing quite a stir. I see also that the marksman seems to have avoided capture.’

Amir shows no emotion as he reads the report, so Ron cannot tell what his preferred outcome might have been or whether he was completely indifferent either way. In which case, what exactly is the point in NVI sending him to tell these people about the peril they face? Are they just testing out the old question if you tell someone about something, do they take heed?

‘Can I introduce you to Kojo,’ says Amir. The newcomer is resplendent in an African print grand boubou and a brightly coloured kufi hat.

Kojo stops feeding the pygmy goat and shakes Ron’s hand firmly.

‘You have struck lucky this time, my friend. You must have the djinn,’ he says, offering a Cheshire cat grin. ‘You’re off to sunny California.’

‘California?’

‘Yes, Cal-eef-or-ni-ay, the land of orange groves, The Golden Gate Bridge, and The Beach Boys. But of course you will not be seeing much of that. You have a job to do. In three days time, Tom Carlevaro and sixteen other passengers will die when a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago comes down in Kansas.’

Ron’s heart skips a beat.

‘Oh my God!’ he says. ‘Where are you getting that from? Let me have a look’

He pushes the sturdy African out of the way and goes over to the computer. On the screen is the front page of the Daily Telegraph dated June 13th, three days time.

N Vision Inc. look at tomorrow’s news stories,’ says Amir. ‘Or in this case, the newspaper from three days time and, although we cannot intervene directly, we can take measures to alert the victims that something is going to happen. If the victim takes notice then the page will never have existed. A different page will be there instead. That’s just the way it is. Reality isn’t a straightforward business.’

‘You mean this is actually the newspaper that will appear on June 13th, says Ron.’

‘Unless you manage to change it, yes it is,’ says Amir. ‘As you will see if you read down the actual crash happens the previous day, June 12th. Time isn’t linear, you know.’

‘But I know this ….. person, this Tom Carlevaro,’ says Ron hysterically. ‘And another of the passengers, Tom Soft. They are friends of mine.’

‘Then you had better get your ass out to California, how do you say, PDQ,’ laughs Kojo.

In the departure lounge at Heathrow, Ron speculates at what point an outcome is decided. On the plane that is apparently destined to plunge into Lake Michigan, perhaps two hundred outcomes are dependent on a chance happening. It is possible that the whole course of events could be changed by persuading his friends not to travel, but it is more probable that it will not. It is more probable that the actual crash is not dependent on the movements of Tom and Tom. In which case the Daily Telegraph report will merely need minor changes to its passenger list. On the seat opposite Ron, a man dressed in a Drizabone overcoat and a Bute hat is reading a book entitled In Search of the Multiverse. Perhaps he is planning to catch all of the planes simultaneously. Perhaps there is always more than one answer to a question.

‘Oh my God! It’s Wet Blanket Ron,’ says Tom C taking a peek through the chinz curtains of their Hermosa Beach bungalow. ‘What the fuck is he doing here?’

‘Christ on a bicycle! You’re right,’ says Tom S.

‘Get down! He may see you,’ says Tom C.

‘I thought we’d seen the last of that loser,’ says Tom S. ‘Didn’t you say he’d be gone by the time we got home?’

‘Why did we ever let him stay with us?’ says Tom C.

‘We? It was your idea,’ says Tom S. ‘You felt sorry for him because Heather left him for your freaky friend, Frank.’

‘OK. I realise it was a mistake,’ says Tom C. ‘God knows what state the house is in.’

‘He’s probably let it burn down and has come over here to tell us,’ says Tom S.’

There is a brief lull, before the battering on the door continues with renewed intensity. Ron is hollering out loud for them to open up. A crowd begins to gather as curious residents from adjacent bungalows try to find out what manner of disturbance has shattered their tranquillity.

‘The whole world and its neighbour is out there,’ says Tom C. ‘Perhaps we ought to just see what he wants.’

‘No way! He’s bound to give up eventually.’

‘Yeah, like when. He must have come all this way for a reason. He’s hardly likely to just leave it and get back on a plane.’

‘We are not going to answer the door and that’s final.’

‘It’s three o’clock now. We will miss our flight to Chicago if we are not careful.’

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved