Charlie spark villain.., p.18
Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire, p.18J M S Macfarlane
And despite their forebodings, each of them had his own secret thoughts of what might happen and what he would do if the Loathbery millions came his way or how they might buy off Richie Snaggs.
In the meantime, the summer afternoon had produced a pleasant haze and an uninvited guest was lying in the bushes, almost beneath Spark's chair.
It was Monsieur Renard himself, his hazel eyes flashing and his red mane afire. In the warm sunshine, he panted breathlessly in an ironic smile, no doubt thinking how his escape had been aided by the multitude of churls, twerps and well-meaning cranks – of both hunters and saboteurs – who had straggled across the fields that day.
Several hours later, in the evening sky, the full moon glowed as the sun made its descent.
After the hunt had ended, Sir Harry and Charlie Spark had been press-ganged by Schwager to go with him to the opera (which Sir Harry loathed).
This allowed the other villains to take a breather from the Manor House by escaping to the countryside and sampling every pub on the way.
Thus it was, with Griffey at the wheel and on their seventh B road, having clipped a few bollards and other cars at passing points, that quite by chance they stumbled upon The Raven public house, five miles from Weldon and next to some fallow enclosures.
From the road, the pub looked like a deserted barn and offered the perfect cover for the Londoners to unwind. Had it not been for the stray chickens and dogs wandering carelessly in the forecourt and the cow tethered in the garden, no-one would have guessed that the place served beer.
Several motorcycles were parked in the forecourt, of the type favoured by West End dispatch riders and suicidal boy racers.
Bob King hid the Garrard in a nearby shed and then they stalked their way through the tall grass and weeds to the shabby front door. The farm dogs gave a few barks at them and the cow scrutinised them with wide unblinking eyes.
The pub itself was a weatherboard building, converted from a small farmhouse and had probably been used in the past for storing hay and fodder or for sheltering animals when the adjoining land was still being worked.
The thought occurred to Mick Riley as he peered inside the bar that it was still a home for farm animals at night and for other sorts of animals during the day.
The bar itself had thick, oak beams, centuries old and wore a distinct look of dry rot ; wreathes of cobwebs hung from the ceiling. The cracked Victorian plaster on the walls was blackened and mouldy from years of farm work and tobacco smoke. With every step they took, the bare floorboards creaked loudly.
In a corner of the bar was a small earth digger, a seed hopper and a mechanical flail which were still covered in bits of corn, hay, earth and dung ; some rusty old scythes and horse bridles hung on the wall. It was difficult to tell whether these were for decoration or were in storage.
A small keep was framed by the bar-counter. Behind it stood the publican in green overalls, his face all ruddy and fiery red, a mixture of sunburn and rum and examining them in the same inquisitive manner as the cow had done.
As for the villains, while they were taking in the scene around them and deciding whether to stay or go, a voice close by said : "Evenin’, gents."
The speaker was Dick D'Eath and from a distance of ten feet away, the others imagined he'd been working on a muck-spreader that day or more likely, de-gutting a polecat. Bob King swore violently out of the corner of his mouth and Tony Valenti held his nose. All of them unconsciously stepped backwards from the little old man whose head was completely bald, apart from a measure of furry fuzz at the crown.
D’Eath sat at the far end of the bar, propped up on a stool, puffing his pipe and emptying his tankard as quickly as someone would fill it for him again. At his side, a couple of hares waggled their ears out of an old hessian sack and after landing in his snares, were destined for the pot. Riley fancied he saw a family of bugs migrating from the sack to its owner.
Everyone within twenty square miles, including the farmers and landowners, asked D'Eath to do odd jobs for them. He did anything from chimney-sweeping to slopping out the pigs and went any distance for five pounds. His place of business was where he was sitting and anyone could find him there if they needed a pieceworker, roof mender or an ‘anything-doer’.
D’Eath was also a busybody and a gossip and for anyone enjoying a quiet pint, he was a pest. This soon became apparent to the villains, for as soon as their backs were turned, D'Eath left his stool, stood directly in front of the bar and tried to bait them by guessing they were from London. Bob King parried this by moving the others to the opposite side of the bar, glaring at D'Eath without a word and then buying a round of drinks.
The odd jobs man merely ignored this and advanced towards them while the others automatically stepped back even further.
"You chaps aren't partic'lar friendly. Be you from London town perchance ?" But no-one answered him. "Like to buy a rabbit ?" he said, pointing to the hares. No-one took up the offer. "You be fairly far from London. What brings yer here, lads, to our part o' the world ?"
"Butterflies…" said Taffey, taking a cue from earlier, sillier explanations. And then he described how they were all chasing the red-tipped-whatsit-something-or-other, which was being searched out by lots of rich collectors and just by chance, was only found in that area of Wiltshire and at that time of night in summer.
D'Eath scratched his head and rubbed the stubble on his chin as he pondered this and after a short while said : "Zoinds, ha ha – that's a good one. You fellers be from local fair. Ha ha. Butterflies – my eye." And none of them disagreed with him.
Aside from D'Eath, there were seven or eight members of a motorcycle fraternity devoted to nefarious activities who were celebrating a birthday.
"Grab him, Greaser," shouted one of the hairiest of the group whose gut overhung his trousers, held fast by a chain around his waist.
"Now, just where do you think you're going, Alf ?" said another biker. "We've got to drink your health – we know it's your birthday, you…” (We will leave the reader to imagine for themselves the string of compliments which followed.)
The victim looked askance, mumbled something and vainly bolted for the door but was seized, tipped upright and stretched out in mid air by the ankles and wrists as if he was made of rubber. His friends gritted their teeth as they held twenty two stone of gristle and fat and then flung his barrel frame into the air thirty times for each year of his miserable life. As each year was counted off, his back was almost thrown out, as it arched and contorted, causing his paunch to expand upwards and contract downwards as he fell back.
At their side, Dick D'Eath jumped about, shouting and scurrying from side to side like an aggravated ferret.
"Ma Gawdfaythers ," said Bob King whose neck began to develop tennis elbow as they watched the human beer keg fly higher and higher, with the roof beams rushing up to meet his face and then falling away again. For each year, there were thunderous claps, yelps like jackals around carrion, deafening shouts and beer thrown across the birthday boy.
The publican in his overalls (as if he'd just clambered off a tractor) was fairly used to it all, grimacing in a half-smile but at the same time feeling beneath the bar for the iron poker which had danced over several numskulls in its time.
Throughout the entertainment, D'Eath was roaring : "Wa'hey, look at him fly. Throw him, throw him, you dogs. Oh, you mad dogs, higher. Don't drop him, there'll be a crater a mile wide if you do," and jumping and dancing with a flow of insults.
In the middle of the celebrations, the front door was gingerly half-opened ; a middle class gent wearing a tie and blazer, visibly gaped at the spectacle inside then quietly closed the door again and swiftly carried himself off in his sleek, open-top saloon in search of ‘civilised’ surroundings.
When the last year was counted off, the scurvy motorcycle rats (who all looked as if they'd break out in a rash if they came within a mile of soap and water)
At that stage of the performance, Bob King decided he'd invite them all to join him in a drink. The effrontery of the suggestion produced a stunned silence, partly because the bikers had drunk themselves to stupefaction, could only just stand up without falling over and were ready to challenge even the cow outside if it looked at them the wrong way.
As the storm was about to break over Bob King’s head, Dick D'Eath tore out of the pub, jumped into his beaten-up, old van and got away as quickly as he could.
Mr King's invitation didn't fit the bikers’ reputation. And though the Scotchman was twice the size of any of them, they decided he'd have to run the gauntlet.
To supplement his income from bank jobs, Bob King appeared each week as 'Horrible Haggis' in matching tartan mask and shorts at the Nineways Bingo Club where over a hundred old ladies screamed abuse at him for ripping, gouging and tearing his opponent in the wrestling ring. Instead of the chicanery and fake falls, there was nothing he liked better than to let his full weight fall on some unfortunate's back.
"Not in here, you don't," said the landlord whacking the iron poker down on the counter. "Outside."
Tony Valenti and the others moved across to join him but 'the Haggis' told them he'd long ago left off wearing short trousers. Then the surly combatants left their pints sitting on the bar and lumbered out of the pub, one by one.
"Ah will nay bide ye a wee moment, lads," said Bob King with the broadest of grins, rubbing the knuckles of his sledgehammer-sized fist. "Heh heh...This will nae take long atall."
When the door was closed, they saw a biker's back being slammed against a stone pillar near the front window. Griffey peeped outside to view the contest.
"Aaaaww...Five of them have dived onto him.....Ha. He's thrown them off like sacks of spuds….He's grabbed one…. Gawd. He’s twirling him around by his hair and knocking the rest of them down....They're all flat on the ground except one…..oooh..Bob's given him a Liverpool kiss on the front of his nut."
After a short time, the Scotsman wandered inside, adjusted his jacket, swept back his slick, black hair and downed his pint and whisky chaser in one. Then he wiped his mouth, looked at the others and laughed off a solid belly-shaker.
"Ah havnae had such a good time since the bailiff arrived last November and ah held the geezer by his laygs, head fairst over the balcony from the fiftth floor. Haw haw haw...."
Meanwhile, Sir Harry and Charlie Spark in their role of cultured, wealthy sophisticates, had been invited to an opera performance. But all was not well.
“You know, ever since my childhood,” Sir Harry complained to Spark, “I have absolutely detested opera and all of its inane warbling. I could never understand any of the foreign lingo or the circuitous plots or all of the fancified orchestral accompaniments. To me, it’s just three and a half hours of bellowing and gibbering with people running about carrying things or waving swords or flags, jumping here and there like mountain goats, with only two or three minutes of passable music.”
The evening of amateur operatics was all the more galling as the cast included some of the Loathberys who aside from looking absurd at the best of times, could barely screech a note.
“Most likely, it will be full of prancing juggins and galoots, screeching, hee-hawing and gadding about in costumes and make-up,” said Sir Harry.
When Helmut Schwager said that they would especially like to see him at the performance, Sir Harry had almost fallen over in a faint. Realising there was no way he could get out of going, he resigned himself to several hours of hair-tearing tedium. Then he and Charlie Spark (who was much amused by it all), got into their evening wear, only to be ambushed in the west wing of the Manor House by the heiresses and their cronies. From that point, the evening went progressively downhill until it reached the first circle of purgatory.
The performance was at Little Strippington, the estate of Sir Staynesford Loathbery. Close to his orangerie, an open air theatre had been set up, using some Norman ruins as a natural backdrop with seating for over a hundred. The acoustics were abysmal, as was the venue itself if the weather changed only slightly but none of the guests were to know that – at least, not at that point.
As the Garrard drew closer to the Strippington mansion house, the road into the estate snaked this way and that, through brown lawns, past a neglected eighteenth century garden. Charlie noticed a number of statues striking odd poses amongst the hedgerows. In front of the mansion were dried-up fountains : the water nymphs and playful dolphins were bone-dry and dying of thirst.
After waiting on the steps, Sir Harry and Charlie Spark were taken inside and led through room after room stuffed full of antiques and curiosities until they emerged at the rear of the building in an orchard grove and bower.
Sir Staynesford received them, by suddenly turning in their direction and shouting to Sir Harry : "Aaahh, how wonderful to see you again," and immediately rushed over to greet them but just as Sir Harry extended his hand, their host walked straight past him and said a warm hello to a chauffeur who had never set eyes on him before. Sir Harry, his arm outstretched in mid air, rolled his eyes, quietly cursed and stormed off.
Spark made directly for the drinks bar and ordered two jugs of effervescent fruit punch ; laid out on a table nearby, were mounds of smoked salmon and caviar which were going off in the heat ; Spark was so hungry that he shovelled up platefuls of food into serviettes, balanced one jug on top of another and waddled off after his leader.
As they strolled through the grove and onto the lawn, they saw groups of opera fanciers in evening dress sitting on blankets with picnic baskets. Some were sprawled out and searching the evening sky for Venus. Others were watching the passenger jets stacked high above them : the pilots were giving West Drayton an earful for not letting them down into Heathrow.
Sir Harry noticed Lord Ruffer and his girlfriend with the continentals, Bulot and Schwager. They were all half drunk, gesticulating and ranting wildly in a mixture of French, German and English, intoxicated in the evening air.
“Ma fraynds, ’zere is nothing like ze ‘season’ in Angleterre, you know – and what does it matter, if ‘zere are straykes and ‘ze unemployment queues and ‘ze country is going to ‘ze dogs ? Where else is so parfait, so…enchanting…at zis time of year ?” said Jean Pierre Bulot to the others.
Nearby, the trilling of the nightingales in the orange grove, competed with the opera singers practising their scales and coughing and spluttering in readiness for the performance. Sir Staynesford Loathbery wandered absently about the lawns and was shooing his guests like sheep into a pen, urging them to take their seats.
A pink dusk suffused the horizon with the approach of nightfall. All the guests began streaming across a lighted pathway to an area bathed in pastel arc lights, the seating arranged on a low slope. The stage itself was a make-shift affair, set in front of a York stone wall which had once been part of a priory closed by Henry VIII.
At last, the orchestra ceased prattling and tootling to itself and struck into the opening passages of 'Il Bastardo Distinguo', a short opera over four hours by the contemporary Italian composer, Pizzatini.
After the first half hour when Sir Harry's snoring kept time with the wind section, a group of ‘rent-a-crowd’ performers burst onto the stage. Some of the audience thought it was symbolic. Others thought it was allegorical. Still others said it was post-modern. The rest couldn’t work out what it was from the mixture of costumes and characters.
Piers Loathbery was dressed in a suit of armour ; Amanda Teece was a lady-in-waiting ; Simon Cadwaller was a pharaoh ; an assortment of bankers were Russian revolutionaries, Sicilian gangsters, Italian fascists, cavemen, pirates, walking tomatoes and a juggling tightrope walker.
After an hour, Sir Harry was abruptly woken by some fierce caterwauling by the cast. One o
For the next half hour, Sir Harry looked at his watch almost every minute until he could bear it no longer : if he'd been wearing a hat, he would have pulled it down over his ears and face to drown out the clamour as the younger Loathbery tried to squeeze the upper notes of an aria through the steel visor of his helmet, at the same time fending off the tomatoes and arguing with the cavemen as the tightrope walker was about to fall on top of him.
Charlie Spark's face was scarlet as he tried to control a fit of hysterics by sniggering through his nose but at last, he couldn't stand it any longer and let out a loud, braying hee-haw which was so remarkable that it momentarily startled the musical ensemble. However, they soon managed to get themselves back on track. Some of the audience angrily hissed at him and told him to be quiet but snorts and giggles could also be heard from others across the rows of seats.
Finally, when Cadwaller was waltzing with a pirate on one hand and a caveman on the other and serenading their tune, one of them tripped over and fell face-first, flat onto the stage.
At this, Spark collapsed out of his seat and sprawled into the aisle in a fit of hysteria bellowing : "Oh, gawd. Hyee hee hee. Stop it, for the life of me. Hee hee hee. You’re going to do me in. I swear it...Ahar har har...."
And slapping the ground with every insane cackling roar of merriment, he was forced to make a run for it when the Cad leapt down from the stage in a fit of pique and chased him into the garden.
Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire by J M S Macfarlane / Humor / Thrillers & Crime have rating 2.4 out of 5 / Based on39 votes