Herein enclosed the ninth bit of ‘The Pen is Mightier than the Sword’.
It really is fascinating, throwing these chunks into my blog, because it’s been two years since I did this experiment, and it was such an hysterical blur, no drafts or rewriting, it’s really not stayed in the memory like books and plays I wrote in the normal way.
The practical upshot is, I genuinely don’t remember what some of the little details mean. Does the fact that the ‘Retropolitan’ convention is called the same name as a comic shop mentioned earlier in the story mean anything? Or did I just forget I’d used the name and used it twice? I’m utterly on tenterhooks here.
So that was what happened on Friday.
‘So how was your weekend, Mervyn?’ I hear you ask.
Well I’m just coming to that.
I’d love to tell you I immediately used my considerable detecting powers to find Dermot.
I’d love to tell you I immediately starting scraping bits off the fake Chelsea boots to find out where they came from.
I’d love to tell you I spent the whole of Saturday solving two grisly murders…
But, to turn a well-known phrase inside-out, ‘man cannot live on the dead alone’.
I had a prior engagement in Middlesex. A little convention called ‘Retropolitan 2011’, and I couldn’t afford to say no to the cash.
That’s why I’m sitting in a hotel room, typing this and listening to the music of the motorway, as it sings to me outside my window.
I got up early to type this, because I don’t want to wake the woman in my bed.
But I can see she’s awake. Stacey has her eyes open and she’s staring at me.
I wonder if Gary is still roaming the corridors looking for her, or he’s gone back to his room to sleep on his tyre-on-a-rope.
I think the next murder I have to investigate will be my own.
I’ve gone into the bathroom, and I’m typing this on my phone. I’m hoping she’ll go back to sleep.
Actually, I’m sort of hoping she’ll contract a sudden burst of amnesia which scrubs the last six hours from her memory…
But I think sleep is the best I can hope for.
I’m going to creep out now, and hide in the breakfast lounge.
I have a breakfast appointment with Jennifer McLaird at nine, so I might as well wait there and read the papers.
Here she comes, right on time.
But as usual, she’s been waylaid by fans. She’s going to have to spend at least five minutes being adorable for them.
Behind her shoulder is a sullen-looking young man in a too-tight cheap suit and a tartan tie.
He has a drooping ginger beard that makes him look like he’s being savaged by a tribble.
After the fan’s tummies have been well and truly tickled, she bustles towards me with a cheery wave, and we sit down to a traditional British hotel breakfast of reheated porridge, cold eggs and congealed sausage.
‘It’s lovely to see you again, Mervyn,’ she clucks. ‘So soon after our little signing. It’s so nice to keep bumping into old friends.’
The man has eaten a microwaved croissant, and taken his leave after barely saying a word.
Jennifer has introduced him as ‘Gus’, her nephew/manager.
I’ve waited until he leaves before I bring the subject round to Alistair; thankfully Gus seemed extremely keen to get away.
‘Yes, I enjoyed that signing. I always thought Alistair was a very nice man,’ I lie. ‘By the way, did you hear about Alistair?’
‘Och yes, I did indeed’ she says, assuming a serious expression that looks odd on her face. ‘So shocking.’
‘Tae think that someone could do such a thing tae puir Alistair. A family man who wouldna hurt a soul.’
She shakes her head, as if to erase the dark thoughts from her head like an ‘etch-a-sketch’.
I’m certain she’s already refilling her mind with images of kittens, shortbread and china pots of tea.
‘Did you know him well?’ I press on, peppering my conversation with little white lies. ‘He talked about you all the time, after you left.’
‘He brought out an autograph in a piece of Perspex, and showed it to me. An autograph…signed by ‘Gertie McKnutt’..?’
‘Och, did he bring that old thing out? Such memories. I was a beautiful wee girl in those days, when I was just little Gertie…’
‘But we all had to change our names in those days, and I wasnae going tae get far as a Gertie…’
‘Gertrude Stein..?’ I volunteer.
She twinkles at me, and nudges me in the ribs. ‘Och, away with you and drink your tea!’
She sips her own. ‘It’s amazing a piece of tatty old paper with my wee signature is so highly prized…The money he spent on it!’
‘Gus was all for demanding he give it back to me.’
‘Really?’ I say, my ears pricking up.
‘Oh yes. But he doesn’t know how these things work, not like us.’ She starts attacking a mountain of offal on her plate.
‘You do a fan autograph, it’s theirs. Even if they’re cheeky enough to nab a free one out the back of a theatre, well, fair play to them.’
‘Okay Gertie,’ I grin, and push a napkin towards her. ‘Can I have your autograph, then?’
She laughs, and like the loose flesh under her neck wobbles like a panicked turkey. ‘Why certainly, young man!’
She takes out a pen and writes ‘LOT’S OF LOVE, GERTIE XXX’ on it.
I hold it up, admire it, and I raise my eyebrows politely. ‘Thank you.’
‘Now before you say anything, Mr Writer,’ she says. ‘I do know my ABCs, Mervyn. That stray apostrophe is my own wee private joke.’
‘When I signed that piece of paper many years ago, a wee fruit fly landed on the newspaper and I squashed it with my thumb.’
‘I laughed when I saw it, and apologised to the man for my appalling punctuation error, but I don’t think the puir wee boy even understood what I was talking about. I don’t think he would have noticed a stray apostrophe if one landed in his soup!’
‘Ever since then, I’ve put a stray apostrophe in my signature and do you know what? Not one single person has pointed it out!’
‘Ah, the power of fame! It does go to my head!’
I laugh, and I join in. Of all the stars of ‘Vixens’, the most self-effacing and grounded amongst them was Jennifer.
To Jennifer, ‘star power’ meant the battery in her bike light.
‘Yes, you certainly were a diva, Jennifer, with those unreasonable demands of yours – biscuits in your dressing room, your own kettle…’
We both have a good laugh. She really is a nice lady.
I go back to my room. Stacey is getting dressed.
‘Make sure you’re not seen when you leave,’ I say, a little too brutally.
But I’m terrified of Gary. There’s no telling what he might do. I must be insane.
‘I’m sorry, but you were the only person I could think of. Well, the only person with their own room, anyway.’
She’s finished getting dressed. It hardly seemed worth the effort, as the t-shirt she slept in (my t-shirt) covered more of her body.
‘Thanks for letting me stay,’ she says. ‘When Gary gets mad, he gets a bit…Carried away.’
I feel my stomach, which is still tender from the punch. I believe her.
‘What was the row about?’ I ask. ‘You weren’t very coherent when you barged in last night.’
‘Oh, nothing. Everything. It started about him covering up that note from dad, and I kinda accused him of doing it deliberately…’
‘Then it went on to all sorts of stuff. Mainly about my dad. Gary didn’t like him. He doesn’t like anyone much.’
‘Then I accused him of chatting up my mum, right after we came back. He said he was just being nice and thoughtful to a bereaved person.’
‘But he doesn’t do nice and thoughtful. He was chatting her up. I bloody know it, because I heard the same shit when he picked me up.’
‘Anyway, I’ve taken up enough of your time. Thanks for letting me stay.’
She throws her bag over her shoulder, and heads for the door.
‘Can I just ask…’ I say, as her hand rests on the door. ‘Your new look. The dark hair. The make up. It’s very striking…’
‘Thanks,’ she says, taking my weasel words as a compliment.
‘Does Gary approve?’ My voice is as innocent as it can possibly be.
‘Oh yeah, he’s got no complaints about this. He likes the grungy goth stuff.’ Stacey opens the door. ‘In fact, he suggested it.’
The door clicks shut behind her, and I’m already adding Gary into my mental file of suspects.
Something tells me Gary is only with Stacey because he likes her mum. I wonder at what lengths this violent hothead would go to to get her?
Mikegbell: @mervynstone So who are our suspects? Gary, Jennifer, Gus and Dermot who’s made a well timed exit…
@mikegbell all those, and maybe Stacey too?
Mikegbell: @mervynstone if Gary likes Mary, are we sure it wasnt HER name he was calling out last week?
@mikegbell good thought!