Charlie spark villain.., p.20
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       Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire, p.20

           J M S Macfarlane
 

  Chapter 50

  Maxi Spark

  As they approached the Jockey Club gate, Griffey, King and Valenti made their way to the stabling area to meet the others who were transporting the Bolter from the Manor House. At the same time, Sir Harry and Charlie Spark realised that the car park was at the opposite end from the Royal Enclosure and that the quickest way there was through the crowd at the Grandstand entrance.

  Equipped with course programmes, binoculars, members passes and form guides, they squeezed through the turnstiles and went in the direction of the pavilion enclosure. They waded through the crowd coming from both directions. On the ground, were betting slips ripped into confetti while the course speakers blared out the starters for the next race.

  Around them, there was an expectancy as if something momentous was going to happen and everyone would be rushing to see it.

  Sir Harry knew from experience, the pleasures of strolling through the Members' Grandstand in morning dress. The crowds of suits and old school ties obliged him with a few whistles and stares but he brushed them aside like so many gnats as he moved onward through the crowd.

  Out of nowhere, Charlie Spark saw his father ahead of him and realised that the travelling fairground run by Spark senior was somewhere near the racecourse. To avoid explanations, he walked with his head down so as not to be noticed.

  "Well, bless me," said Maxi Spark, spotting his son at last. "Hello, son – fancy seeing you here," and the old man's eyes wandered over Charles’ top hat, black coat, grey vest, silk tie and striped trousers, finally coming to rest on the rolled umbrella which still wore a price-tag.

  "Oh, er, hullo Dad…er, this is Sir Harry Hoppitt…”

  The introduction was unnecessary as both the elder Spark and Sir Harry knew of each other and had heard of each other’s exploits. Spark senior had retired from villainy after holiday breaks inside prison and the odd profitable scheme which came to fruition. These days he was interested in affairs of the heart.

  “Er…I won’t be a moment, Sir Harry, I’ll catch you up.." and with Harry thinking that parental guidance would do the world of good, he left them to it.

  "Well, well," said the father, examining his son's apparel more closely between thumb and forefinger. "You are going up in the world, aren’t you ? But mind you be careful," he said (with a nod in Sir Harry’s direction.)

  "Don’t worry, Dad – it’s all under control. By the way – third race – Bolton's Revenge – he's a dead certainty."

  Maxi Spark raised his eyebrows and looked at his newspaper through half moon glasses. "Bolton's Revenge, you say ? Now then...here it is....Bolton's Revenge. Well, the odds aren't bad, are they ? Two hundred to one…The bookies have got it all wrong, have they ?”

  Charlie smiled inanely to himself. "I hear you've been chasing that old girl from Brighton. What's her name again ?"

  His father looked meekly at the ground and pretended he hadn't heard the question but his son persisted.

  "They say she's already worked her way through three husbands – are you sure you can keep pace with her ?"

  Maxi Spark examined the sky for the prospect of rain. He held out the palm of his hand as if he'd felt a drop or two on his head although the sun was blazing warmly above them.

  It was as well that Charlie didn’t pursue the matter further : the devil they were speaking of, suddenly appeared.

  "Ah, here she is," crowed his father. "Tell us, my dear – which particular sprinter took your fancy ?" he asked, at the same time admiring her hair which was an unearthly shade of platinum peroxide, upstaged by black eye-liner. From what Charlie had heard, she could run rings around men half her age on the ballroom dancefloor.

  As his father wanted to be alone with his lady friend, Charlie quietly made his exit. On the way to the Royal Enclosure, he met with the same guffawing and when he tried to gain entry, a suspicious gate-keeper eyed him from head to toe.

  "Whose party are you with, sir ?" asked the security man, emphasising the word 'sir' ironically. In other settings, Charlie’s answer would have been decidedly impolite but instead, he flourished his invitation which the surly gatekeeper fingered and bent as if it was blotting paper.

  Smiling sweetly, Spark pointed to Lord Loathbery's guests ranged on the far side of the enclosure fence like so many sheep grazing at pasture. But the gate-keeper, a former constable, was proud of his ability to scent a villain from a hundred paces.

  "Been on holiday, have we, sir ?" he asked as he returned the ticket.

  Spark gave him a potted description of Norway, as Sir Harry strode up to the gate on the other side of the fence.

  "What's the hold up, old fellow ? Haven't lost your passport, have you ? He's always doing this. Come along now. Don't want to miss the first race."

  The gatekeeper was silent as he opened the barrier and Spark was allowed to pass. As they wandered off to join the others, Sir Harry whispered to him : "Vieux Guillaume, as thick as flies on an apple tart."

  Charlie followed him to the corner of the Enclosure dominated by the Loathbery family and their guests. For a moment, he felt unsure of himself, just as he’d felt that first evening at the Manor House. But he remembered what Harry had said – that the Loathberys were only fakes themselves and pretended to be gentry. Whatever they were, he and Sir Harry had to play along. A few swift drinks would set him straight or so he thought. Yet, he was going to need more than champagne ; what lay ahead, would land on him like a mountain of guano.

  Chapter 51

  Inside the Royal Enclosure

  Sir Harry was dragged off by some old battle-axe. At the same moment, a tray of drinks sailed through the crowd. Spark helped himself to a glass of bubbly. Ignoring the ire of the waiter, he strolled through the Royal Enclosure, amused by the weasels and flatterers, nouveau riche and moneybags, each with stories of their cash mountains and offshore tax dodges. Unlike him, they’d never been caught and if they had, they would’ve somehow wriggled out of it.

  From what he could hear, they were debating who had the biggest ego, the fattest wad, the biggest estates, limousines, tax shelters, holiday islands, political connections and – the list went on and on. But all of it involved money, influence, power and prestige.

  The fashion on display was a mixture of coloured cloth and bobbing and flapping hats and finery, all blown about by the wind. To Spark, it was a parade of snobs with the conceitedness which was fodder for the Sunday newspapers.

  There were interesting interpretations of the dress code, of what was acceptable for the men and the type of hats and matching accessories expected of the women. A short woman was somewhere beneath a wide brimmed hat in which wildflowers were sprouting from the top and bees were buzzing about in the buds. From a distance, Piers Loathbery and his friends were splitting their sides at the parade.

  "Good Lord, just look at that chap over there in the red and blue tartan trousers – my God, doesn't he look a sight."

  "And his hat. That stupid feather hanging out of it must be three feet long. Haw, haw it's enough to make your eyes water."

  "Oh, but do you see the girl next to Hawkins – with that ridiculous hat – with those pink things on top ?"

  "What – the flamingos ? Har har har."

  These frequenters of the society pages were themselves being laughed at by the blazer brigade in the Members Stand who were observing them through binoculars.

  Slurping his champagne and stifling a hoot, Spark shuffled through the array of ostentation, with his suit strangling him. Several groups including the Loathberys were striking poses. Through half-closed eyes, they could have been magpies and South American parrots strutting on the lawn together.

  By this time, he'd spilled his champagne over a number of waistcoats and satin frocks and had pushed his way through the top hats and designer wear, to get nearer to the Manor House set and Sir Harry.

  Commanding the proceedings was Lord Loathbery, half-listening to a Cheapside banker about staging a show in
the West End. His clothes had seen better times : aside from being a tightwad, he disdained fashion and dressed to his own conventions.

  The opposite was true of Piers Loathbery and Amanda Teece who were juggling form guides, champagne glasses and binoculars as they debated form and prices in between ringing their bookmakers on a portable telephone, the size of a small shoebox. Amanda was holding the phone for Piers as both of his hands were bandaged, following his encounter with the badger the day before.

  "Hello ? Stevey lad ? Yes, yes, I know…..there's a cheque in the post to you....listen Stevey, fourth race at Blunderwood – Architrave – twenty five hundred to win .... What ?... What do you mean I haven't settled up since last November ? Well, how much do I owe ?.....What ? You can't be serious ? Listen, I know you, you're trying to cheat me...I don't believe you. It could never be as much as that ....Well, how ?....Hello ? Hello ?.....Damn him, he's hung up on me. How dare he ?" and throwing his arms in the air in disgust, he dug into his coat pocket for a small black book and began hunting out other bookmakers' numbers and telephoning each one, only to receive the same reply.

  Nearby, Spark continued blithering and stumbling until he noticed Simon Cadwaller staring straight at him.

  The Cad was surrounded by rugger goons and their womenfolk. His face looked unusual – one of his eyes was bulging and the other one was twitching. He pushed his way through the crowd, striding in a sideways motion like an aggravated crab until he was face to face with the wearer of the gold sovereign ring, blue India ink tattoos and white socks.

  "So – at long last. Our return engagement has been extremely overdue, my friend," he said, blowing cigar smoke directly into Spark's face and poking his finger in the Londoner's chest. "We'll be waiting for you outside after the final race and you have my solemn promise of an absolute thrashing. Haha....ahahaha hahahahaha...And if you miss the appointment, we'll hunt you down like a dog and double the measure. Hahahaha." He was laughing so much that Spark could see his expensive bridgework.

  While ignoring the insults hurled at him, still there came the insistent questions from Cadwaller which translated as : "We already know that you and your fat friend are impostors," although Spark was too dim to have recognised this.

  Instead, he laughed at the Cad pincering his way back into the crowd ; he would escape from them early in the afternoon, well before the final race and search out a bolt hole where they would never find him.

  Nearby, the Cad's friends signalled to him with upraised fists. This made him ponder why he should continue, rigged out as he was, in a silly costume, in the midst of these posers, sycophants and bores, who had no conception of reality – his reality – of slopping out in prison in the morning, of fending off the police pursuing him for theft, of living on stodge and chips and cadging spare change to buy a pint – it was a world away from these fops and parasites and all because he refused to work for a living. Was there no justice in the world ?

  There was no question of him fearing them – rather, he only feared losing the chance of robbing them. He could easily have got Bob King to fix them. But that might ruin Sir Harry’s plan which they had to follow to the bitter end.

  Above all, he wanted to avoid Antoinette Loathbery who had caused all the trouble. While stumbling along in a semi daze, thinking of how to dispose of his enemies, he took another glass of champagne which at that moment was coasting past and felt tempted to drink himself silly – but not so silly that he couldn't plant one or two cracking blows on the Cad’s over-sized snozzle, later that afternoon.

  No sooner had Cadwaller gone than the crab's wife saw him through the crowd from thirty metres away. She was intent on reaching him like a killer whale heading for a seal.

  "Starve the squirrels," he thought as he watched her saunter across the Paddock in a flowing vermilion dress, her hair waving frantically in the wind. "I just can't get rid of her. What does she want ?"

  He looked around but there was nowhere to hide, only to go about-face : some nobs and show-jumping types were startled ; the chatter suddenly stopped as they stared at him suspiciously What did he want and why was he intruding ?

  As he looked at them, from one to another, he recognized Lord Loathbery’s youngest daughter who had swooped on Sir Harry and him in the forest the day before : she was now standing in front of him, in the middle of the group.

  "Aahhh, it's you," he said while smugly thinking : "Well, well, well, I wonder if her friends know that’s she’s a hunt-saboteur. ‘Runs with the fox and hunts with the hounds’ or is that the other way around ?"

  Just as quickly, she made some excuse to the others and pushed Spark out of the way, whispering to him : "Yes – it’s me," and told him to remain silent until they'd walked a fair distance away from her friends.

  The diamond stud was no longer in her nose and there were no earrings in her left ear. Her hair had been washed and combed with none of the plaits she'd worn in the forest.

  "Are you against all of this too ?" he asked, pointing to everyone in the Royal Enclosure, as his eye caught the glitter of her jewels.

  "I only do this to please my father…anyway, what are you doing here ? Peasants aren’t allowed in here," she said. Her diamond drop earrings were the size of small grapes.

  "Oh, I have a special invitation," came the reply while thinking how much he could get for the earrings from a fence in the West End.

  Rather than pursue the subject, she said, "What do you think of my fiancé ?" and pointed to a toff who was six feet three, repulsively dashing and surrounded by female admirers. All of them knew he was stacked with money – but he was really a wastrel whose father was cutting him adrift. The father thought Loathbery was perfect to replace him. But the peer was expecting a large inheritance. And there were bets within his inner circle of how long the profligate would last once Loathbery discovered the truth.

  Marie didn’t care either way and her father hadn’t had an easy time with her : in her mid teens, she’d been a social 'delinquent', a Trotskyist and most recently an anarchist, having scared off the rakes who had tried to woo her. Once, she'd chased one of them around the garden, wielding a carving knife ; there was the financier she’d taken to a string of nightclubs and had kidnapped ; at a party in the country, she'd spiked her escort's drink and he was later found wandering on the hard shoulder of the M1 motorway, mesmerised by the flashing lights ; she'd dared her latest victim to play strip poker on London Bridge at four in the morning and after winning with marked cards, threw all his clothes into the Thames and ran off leaving the fellow stranded, stark naked. Each of her suitors grew exhausted with her and thanked their stars they'd escaped unscathed.

  As for her fiancé and his father, they little knew that she was worse than her father. The prize she pursuing was their family trust, to siphon off the money to her revolutionary causes and then dump them before they knew what had happened.

  Before Spark could say anything, her elder sister appeared out of nowhere and wrenched him away, dragging him into the crowd. When she’d judged they were away from her family, she halted. In the same instant, a gust of wind blew her hat off her head and across the crowd.

  She turned to him and cried : "My hat's blown away.”

  He looked unconcerned and said, "Has it ? That’s terrible," and thought to himself, “Your sister thinks I’m a peasant – well, get someone else to fetch it for you.”

  Luckily, the hat blew straight in someone's face and was returned with the demand to strap it firmly on her scone.

  For reasons he couldn’t fathom, she was apologetic to him. After the previous day's hunt, she’d regained her concrete composure and was plastered with hair lacquer, lip gloss and freakish eye shadow.

  Unknown to Spark and Sir Harry, Antoinette was the hydra guarding the Loathbery golden fleece. She competed with her brother, sister and father to protect her inheritance – the lion’s share of the family loot. In this, she saw herself as a thrusting woman of enterprise, in the same mould as h
er father, haggling over every penny that came out of her purse.

  If anything was amiss at the Manor House, she would scrutinise them, with Cadwaller in tow. The previous evening had aroused her suspicions : now, her mission was to find out everything about Sir Harry and his entourage. She’d charm the truth out of Spark and her husband would beat it out of him.

  "I'm so awfully sorry about the other night,” she said coyly, “there was nothing I could do. I do hope you believe me….and I did so want to see you…"

  "Sorry – you're a little late. I'm set to go jousting with your husband and his five mates. He doesn't want me to get within a mile of you. In fact, I don't think he even likes us talking to each other – look."

  "Oh, forget about him. I want to see you. Let's leave all of this and go out into the countryside togethah."

  "Yeah....well...er," mumbled Charlie Spark, while considering how to off-load her. "Er, I'm on my way to the stables – let's have a drink in the Members Bar and we can talk more easily there ? Alright ?"

  They arranged to meet in half an hour to avoid her husband pursuing them and went in opposite directions. Pondering the turn of events as he walked, Charlie laughed out loud to himself, drawing stares from passers-by. He could see right through her little scheme and wasn’t going to disappoint her.

  Professional villains live on their wits. Some have a sixth sense : Spark could sometimes feel what detectives, prosecutors, judges, juries, warders, fellow convicts and co-conspirators were going to do. He’d play along with her game and spring his own surprise. Her husband and his rugger mugs would never find him.

  Meanwhile, further in the crowd, in the shade of a plane tree near the Royal Enclosure, a ‘person of interest’ had emerged from a marquee, conscious of his presence and with good reason – his morning coat hung on him like a sack and his half-mast trousers revealed a pair of white socks ; his tie was knotted as though he'd given up on it and his hat looked as if he’d sat on it ; his red hair and beard needed a good wash and those who stared at him experienced a shudder. Occasionally, he would stop, leer at anyone near him then grin dementedly and continue arching with strides through the crowd, his legs stretching mantis-style, five feet at a time. Everyone was taken aback as he bowed and scraped to my lords, earls and their guests, remarking : "Bleedin' weva's a curse, innit ?' as he spat and rolled a cigarette between yellow fingers.

 
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