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By Dan Kavanagh
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Dan Kavanagh
All rights reserved.
Three months earlier Duffy had been sitting over a drink at the bar in the Alligator, trying to decide which of two alarm systems to recommend to a customer: the one which worked better, but on which he got a smaller cut; or the one which worked less well (that electronic eye could be bypassed by a Scotty dog, let alone the fellows with A- levels who were joining the business nowadays), but on which he got a larger cut. Really, he supposed, there was no conflict: he'd disliked the customer so much – the way the fellow had automatically given him a beer while he had sherry (not that Duffy liked sherry), the hoity way he had put Duffy down about the most likely method a burglar would use to break in. Now what he'd do
'Mine's a virgin on the rocks.'
Duffy looked up. A chubby-faced man with pronounced five o'clock shadow was easing himself on to the next stool. He had a pasty complexion and didn't look very fit. Duffy turned back to his whisky. What he'd do was draw up one of his specially complex-looking wiring plans for the old fart's house, recommend the system on which he got a larger cut, shove in a slightly bigger bill than normal, and then hope for the best. It was all luck with burglary, really: if you landed a smart pair of gloved hands in the night, you couldn't stop him; if you landed a trainee, or a shitter, or someone who was only really doing it to get away from the wife, then all you needed was a big white box with a few wires sticking out and they buggered off to the next house.
'I said, mine's a virgin on the rocks, old chum.'
Duffy didn't look back. He wasn't in the mood to be picked up; he certainly wasn't in the mood to spread the drink around. He'd got his bank statement that morning. So he merely raised his glass in the direction of the barman and said, when he came across,
'I think the gentleman on my right wants to buy himself a drink.'
He heard a chuckle, then:
'Virgin on the rocks, same again for my friend here, whatever it is he's got his fist wrapped around, the name's Leonardo.'
Duffy continued to gaze into his whisky. If chubby-chops wanted to buy him a drink, that was up to chubby-chops. He turned, and caught a look of scurrying anticipation from the next stool.
'Leonardo virgin oh, forget it. Barman, put a vodka in that, will you. Large one.' Then he turned back to Duffy. 'Pity, that would have been an easy round for you. I'm not a cheap date after the first.'
'You're not a date,' said Duffy.
'Eric Leonard,' said the newcomer.
'Duffy,' said Duffy.
'Anything else? Sir Duffy.'
'There's a Nick.'
'There usually is. My dear Nick,' Leonard repeated the name needlessly, in a mildly ingratiating way. Duffy almost didn't recognise himself. At work he was Duffy; to his close friends he was Duffy; the only people who called him Nick were acquaintances who didn't know – or weren't allowed – better. So that was all right for the moment.
'And you shall call me Eric.'
'I'll think it over.' Duffy was always suspicious of people without proper surnames. Two Christian names: it wasn't right; it wasn't neat.
Duffy wondered what Leonard wanted. Apart from going to bed with him of course. Which was a long way from being a certainty. Mostly you went down to the Alligator so as not to go home alone – that stood to reason; but sometimes you just went for the atmosphere, a bit of drinking company, and then, with a 'some other time, perhaps', you were on your way. That was one of the things Duffy liked about the Alligator. It wasn't a hard raunch club; it wasn't a place where people came Concording out of the closet in a splatter of supersonic bangs; it wasn't a place for clones – the lumberjack shirt, the little tache, the logger's jeans; it wasn't a place for leather and chains and 'Hang on, I'll just go to the toilet and grease my fist'. It was a quiet, neat place for quiet, neat people like Duffy. It was even, he supposed, a bit middle-class.
Which was why Eric struck Duffy as a slice of rough. The pushy manner, the double entendres – that was so out of date, all that stuff; as out of date as bottom-pinching. You may be gay, Duffy thought to himself, but that's where you start from, not where you end up. Duffy wasn't a prude, but he might have been a bit of a puritan. He wondered what sort of job Eric did; but he didn't wonder hard enough to ask.
Eric, for his part, had put Duffy in the same category. He hadn't been to the Alligator before, and found it depressingly conventional. You might as well be in a singles bar in midtown Manhattan, he thought. All those blue blazers, and striped shirts, and ties for God's sake. And in the middle of them, this shortish fellow in a blouson with a big plastic zip up the front, and a polo-neck sweater and a longish brushcut. As he slid on to the barstool, Eric had noted the broad, strong face with a slightly small, tight mouth; the hands too were strong, with stubby, square-ended fingers. The first time Duffy turned towards him, Eric noted the gold stud in the left ear lobe. You'll do me, he thought, you'll do me, my nice little slice of rough.
Except that he didn't. When Eric finished what had turned into a bloody Mary he leaned across and said,
'Well, Sir Duffy, shall we mount up?' the fellow had simply put down his glass, shaken his head and replied, 'No.'
And Duffy had wandered home, depressed by the thought of his bank statement, and depressed by the way he'd very nearly not said No.
Eric, meanwhile, was regretting the drink he'd had to pay for. He had a rule about drinks: Leonard's Law, he called it to himself. Always buy more drinks than are your due for those richer than yourself; but sponge off those poorer than you. That way, both lots respected you.
The funny thing was, it hadn't worked with this Duffy fellow. He hadn't seemed to need to be sponged off. Some psychological hangup, no doubt. Maybe, Eric thought, he ought to have asked the fellow more questions about himself. They always liked that.
A fortnight later, Leonard called in at the Alligator again. This time, when he spotted Duffy, he altered his act a bit, played it more ordinary, even went so far as to ask him what he did.
'I run a firm.'
'Ah, what line of business?'
'Would I have heard of the firm?'
'You heard of Duffy Security?'
'Then you wouldn't have heard of it.'
Eric was suddenly a bit keener than before to get off with Duffy. He'd fucked a policeman once, but never anyone in the security business. He had a vague, half-formed ambition to sleep with someone from every trade and profession (there were exceptions, of course, like bankers and stockbrokers and barristers; but then you weren't a left-wing journalist for nothing: sometimes you simply couldn't help running up against your principles). Fucking a security man; that was something new. Though of course he didn't tell Duffy.
And in reply, Duffy didn't let on that he was only a one-man firm; that his office was an answerphone; that his van was 'F' registration; that he didn't even have a dog. Not that he ever needed a dog; it was just that some people thought they gave status. But Eric didn't cross-question him on the details; his curiosity was more or less exhausted by now. Instead he asked:
'Can you give me a lift home?'
And Duffy replied,
In the event, they went to Duffy's flat, the bottom half of a semi in Goldsmith Avenue, Acton. At first the flat struck Eric as very neat; then he realised that it was less neat than empty. What there was by way of furniture and decoration was tidily enough arranged; but the effect bordered on the monkish.
'You been burgled or something?' he asked, thinking that this was the sort of remark a security man might be amused by. But Duffy didn't reply. Instead he pointed at the bathroom and said,
'Watch in there.'
'I beg your pardon?' What was he meant to watch?
'Put your watch in there.'
Ah. Well, if that was how he ran things. Eric wandered into the bathroom and saw a square Tupperware box with a label on it. The label said 'Watches'. He unpeeled his strap and dropped the watch in; then, puzzled but feeling distantly indulgent, he unsnapped his silver name-bracelet with the 'EL' almost camouflaged by engraved curlicues, and he dropped that in afterwards. Maybe it was like giving up your valuables to the groundsman. He'd have to ask Duffy about that.
If he had, Duffy might have told him about his ticking phobia. But Eric didn't ask. When he got to the bedroom his host was already between the sheets. Eric vaguely looked around to see where to put his clothes. Duffy's own were nowhere to be seen. Tidy again. Oh well, he thought, it was all part of meeting the people.
The next morning Eric left in a normally ambiguous frame of mind. He'd added a security man to his list, that was something. On the other hand, fucking Duffy was much like fucking someone who wasn't a security man: if you closed your eyes, you wouldn't find yourself thinking, I am clearly in the hands of a man skilled in cash transfers, alarm systems and personnel screening. You wouldn't think that. So, while in one way it made every difference to Eric that Duffy was a security man, it also made none at all. Well, that bit of wrong-footing was nothing new about sex, he thought.
He'd sort of quite liked Duffy – as far as one did on such occasions (and liking was often alloyed with relief that it had all passed off O.K. and hope that there wouldn't be any bacterial after-effects). He'd even gone so far, on leaving, as to say,
'See you around.'
'No,' Duffy had replied politely, and Eric found himself thinking, I didn't know I was that bad. But Duffy's negative had no connection with the night before; it only had connection with Carol, and events of four years ago, and a lot of past history that he certainly wasn't going to spill to one-nighters.
And there were only one-nighters in Duffy's life at the moment. One-nighters of both sexes, as it happened; but however erotically competent they were, or clean, or interesting, or even good old-fashioned nice, they only got to drop their watches into his box once. Carol, ex-colleague from West Central police station, ex-girlfriend (no, still girlfriend, sort of), and also ex-fiancée (no, not quite: she'd asked him, and he'd said No) – she was the only exception; and a bitter, wry exception at that. The one person Duffy wanted to succeed with in bed; the one person with whom he automatically failed – had failed so often now that he no longer tried. Potency with Carol, Duffy had long decided, was an idiot's mirage. You might as well believe in Heaven.
'Mine's still a virgin on the rocks,' a familiar voice whispered in his ear at the Alligator three months later. 'Where've you been, Sir Duffy?' Duffy signed at the waiter, and interpreted.
'Tomato juice, lots of ice.'
'Oh well, old thing, if you're buying ' Eric retained the waiter with a flick of the eyebrow. 'Dunk a couple of vodkas in it while you're about it.'
'No, you're paying,' said Duffy, stubborn about being taken in by that sort of trick.
'God, you don't guard cash transfers for nothing, do you?' Eric gave a theatrical groan. 'Anyway, I'll come straight to the point.'
'No,' said Duffy. 'I said not again, didn't I?' Why did people always think No meant Yes, soon?
'Wait. Waity-wait. Job. Want a job?'
'That's why I've been looking for you.'
'I'm in the book.'
'Yes, but it's much more fun sitting here being bought a drink than talking to your secretary down the phone, isn't it?'
Duffy let one of the two remarks pass, but picked up on the other.
'You're still buying.'
'A friend of a friend is having a little trouble.'
'That doesn't surprise me.' There was something about the pallid face and the buoyant manner which irritated Duffy. Be one or the other, he thought.
'Always a little tart, eh?' (Duffy let that one pass too.) 'A little thieving seems to be going on at his establishment.'
'There's this quite useful branch of the civil service they've set up, you know. It's called the police.'
'Well, obviously he has his reasons.'
'What are they?'
'It's a small establishment – half a dozen or so employees. Good relationship all round, just happens to be one rotten apple. Now if he went to the police they'd come clumping in with their great boots, stir everything up, put everyone under suspicion, wouldn't they?'
'They might stop the stealing.'
'So he thought, get someone private in, let him sniff around. Can't do any harm, can it?'
'No. It can only cost money. Why did you suggest me?'
'Well, you run a security firm, don't you?'
'That's not how you know me.'
'No, but we must stick together, mustn't we?'
Ah, thought Duffy: gays as the new masons – is that what's happening? Would he have to learn a new handshake soon? He was irritated. Once you didn't need solidarity, you resented its offer.
'Tell me more.'
'His name's Hendrick. He runs a transport and storage business out of Heathrow. He's been losing rather more stuff than he cares for lately.'
'How would he explain me? I'm not much good leaning on a mop.'
'One of his men just had a car crash. He'll be off for some time.'
'Convenient. What do I do?'
'He'll tell you.'
'I charge '
'Duffy,' Eric cut in, 'I'm not a fucking broker. You fix that up with him. I don't care what you earn. You want the job, go and see him.' Eric was annoyed. First Duffy acted as if he expected to be raped; then he got all uppity. Eric scribbled on the top of a newspaper. 'This is his London office. Ring up, say you've called about the papaws.'
'The papaws. As in fruit. Tropical. It's a code, Duffy. It's not a good idea, we thought, for you to ring up and say you're calling about sorting out the thefts.'
'I hope so.' Eric began to slide off his barstool. He felt he'd been misjudged. He certainly hadn't taken Duffy's No to mean Yes, soon. He'd only taken it to mean Perhaps, in a bit.
'Oh, two things.'
'Who's your friend?'
'The friend who's the friend in "a friend of a friend".'
'Oh, it's not relevant.'
'How do you know?'
'Because he hasn't been stealing from his friend's firm, that's why. And what's the second thing?'
'Oh – don't go without paying for the drinks.'
Duffy sat opposite Roy Hendrick in an office the size of a bus shelter just off the Euston Road. His secretary had a room the size of a large refrigerator. Hendrick didn't seem very comfortable. Perhaps he wasn't that familiar with his office – perhaps it was only here for tax reasons, or to impress customers by appearing to show a London end to the business. Or perhaps Hendrick was uncomfortable for some other reason; maybe he was lying to Duffy. Clients often did.
Hendrick, a fleshy, saturnine man with dirty blond hair and a flapping suit which might just have been handed on from someone else, explained the problem.
'I'm not an angel, Mr Duffy, and I don't expect other people to behave like angels. It's just that there are limits.'
'If you get the removers in, when you shift house, you expect to lose a bit, don't you? I mean, if you're sensible, you pack up the stuff you really care for and take it yourself, and then don't get too surprised if you suffer a small attack of removers' perks in the course of the job. That's the way it is, isn't it?'
'If you say so.' The only removers Duffy had ever come across had been burglars. At his last flat he'd been burgled twice: the second time, they'd taken everything, his pile of sixpences and his electric kettle included; they'd even taken his pot plant. He'd been left with a few ashtrays, a bed and a carpet. That scarcely warranted hiring a pantechnicon when he moved flats.
'Well, the freight business is rather the same. You expect to lose a bit if you ship by air. It goes through so many hands, has to be opened by customs – well, there are more temptations than Adam ever had, if you follow the expression.' (Duffy didn't look a bookish fellow to Hendrick.) 'And you know what they say about Heathrow?' Hendrick paused. It was clear from Duffy's expression that he didn't know what they said about Heathrow. 'No one who works there ever needs to buy fresh fruit and veg. They tell me there's scarcely a greengrocer within miles. Anyone around there who catches his wife trying to buy a pound of apples or whatever practically has her committed on the spot.'
Excerpted from Fiddle City by Dan Kavanagh. Copyright © 1981 Dan Kavanagh. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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