Home > Slade House(10)

Slade House(10)
David Mitchell

· · ·
I set off down Westwood Road, eyes peeled. I asked a woman in a miniskirt and ratty fake fur coat—on the game, I’d bet a tenner—if she’d heard of Slade Alley, but she shook her head and strode by without stopping. A jogger ran past in a blur of orange and black but joggers are tossers. Three Asian kids went trundling past on skateboards, but I’d had enough of our curry-munching cousins for one day so I didn’t ask them. The multi-culty brigade bleat on about racism in the force, but I’d like to see them keep order in a town full of Everywherestanis whose only two words of English are “police” and “harassment,” and whose alleged women walk about in tall black tents. There’s more to public order than holding hands and singing “Ebony and Ivory.”

The streetlights came on and it was looking like it might rain: the sort of weather that used to give Julie her mysterious headaches. I was tired after a long and stressful day and at the “sod this for a game of soldiers” stage, and if our chief super was anyone but Trevor Doolan I’d have buggered off home to the remains of last night’s tandoori takeaway, had a laugh at the Sharons and Waynes on Blind Date, then seen if Gonzo and a few of the lads were up for a pint. Unfortunately Trevor Doolan is our chief super and a walking bloody lie detector to boot, and come Monday he’d be asking me some rectal probe of a question that I’d only be able to answer if I’d really followed up Famous Fred Pink’s “lead.” It’d be “Describe this alley to me, then, Edmonds…” or some such. With my appraisal in November and the Malik Inquiry due to report in two weeks, my tongue has to stay firmly up Doolan’s arse. So down Westwood Road I trogged, looking left, looking right, searching high and low for Slade Alley. Could it have been blocked off since Fred Pink’s day, I wondered, and the land given to the house-owners? The Council sometimes do that, with our blessing; alleyways are trouble spots. I got to the end of the road where the A2 skims past a park and dropped my fag down a gutter. A guy with a busted nose was sat behind the wheel of a St. John ambulance and I nearly asked him if he knew Slade Alley, but then I thought, Bugger it, and headed back towards my car. Maybe a swift beer at The Fox and Hounds, I thought. Exorcise Julie’s ghost.

· · ·
About halfway back down Westwood Road I happened upon an altercation between a five-foot-nothing traffic warden and two brick shithouses at least eighteen inches taller, wearing fluorescent yellow jackets and with their backs to me. Builders, I could just bloody tell. None of the trio noticed me strolling up behind them. “Then your little notebook’s wrong.” Builder One was prodding the traffic warden on the knot of his tie. “We weren’t here until after four, gettit?”

“I was ’ere,” wheezed the traffic warden, who was the spit of that Lech Wałęsa, that Polish leader, but with an even droopier mustache. “My watch—”

“Your little watch is telling you porkies,” said Builder Two.

The traffic warden was turning pink. “My watch is accurate.”

“I hope you’re a good performer in court,” said Builder One, “ ’cause if there’s one thing juries hate more than traffic wardens, it’s short, little Napoleon, privatized traffic wardens.”

“My height’s nothing to do with illegal flamin’ parking!”

“Ooh, the F-word!” said Builder Two. “Verbal abuse, that is. And he didn’t call me ‘sir’ once. You’re a disgrace to your clip-on tie.”

The traffic warden scribbled on his ticket book, tore off the page and clipped it under the wiper of a dirty white van they were standing next to. “You’ve got fourteen days to pay or face prosecution.”

Builder One snatched the parking ticket off the windscreen, wiped it on his arse and scrumpled it up.

“Very tough,” said Lech Wałęsa, “but you’ll still have to pay.”

“Will we? ’Cause we both heard you ask for a bribe. Didn’t we?”

Builder Two folded his arms. “He asked for fifty quid. I could hardly believe my ears. Could you believe your ears?”

The traffic warden’s jaw worked up and down: “I did not!”

“Two against one. Mud sticks, my faggoty friend. Think about your little pension. Do the clever thing, turn round, and go—”

“What I just heard was conspiracy to bear false witness,” I said, and both builders swiveled round, “and to pervert the course of justice.” The older of the two had a broken nose and a shaved head. The younger one was a freckled carrottop with raisin eyes too close together. He spat out some chewing gum onto the pavement between us. “Plus litter offenses,” I added.

The Broken Nose stepped up and peered down. “And you are?”

Now I’m not one to boast, but I cut my teeth in the Brixton riots and earned a commendation for bravery at the Battle of Orgreave. It takes more than a hairy plasterer to put the shits up me. “Detective Inspector Gordon Edmonds, CID, Thames Valley Police.” I flashed my ID. “Here’s a suggestion. Pick up that ticket and that gum; climb into your pile-of-shit van; go; and pay that fine on Monday. That way I might not bring a tax audit down on you on Tuesday. What’s that face for? Don’t you like my fucking language? Sir?”

· · ·
Me and the traffic warden watched them drive off. I lit up a smoke and offered one to Lech Wałęsa, but he shook his head. “No, thanks all the same. My wife would murder me. I’ve given up. Apparently.”

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