Saturday, November 20, 2004

Day 18

Got a bit behind again with being out Thursday and didn't get much done Friday with the result I'm about 1000 down. NaNoWriMo is a hard taskmistress!

I managed to tempt Shuggsy out for a pint on the Friday night, after mum had arrived and we’d had a bit of supper. Mum was complaining of feeling even more tired than usual and said she was going to have an early night. Marlene said she’d stay behind to look after her and said she was tired as well, after getting up early for work three days running. I didn’t make any comment about staying out or late nights with Maarten, but she knew I was thinking it. We were behaving civilly towards each other, she’d not mentioned our argument since but I’m sure that mum would have noticed the cool atmosphere which was a marked contrast to the normal easy-going chat that went on around the dinner table. So I think Shuggs was glad of the excuse to get out of the house for a couple of hours, I know I was.

The Beehive was busy, there was some promotion on for a new vodka alcopop, in addition to it being karaoke night, with the result that we struggled to find a table, settling in the end for a couple of chairs near the bog, which meant there was a steady stream of traffic weaving past as we tried to chat. The noise levels weren’t helped by two girls murdering Eternal Flame on the stage. After a bit of small talk, I braced myself and mentioned the upcoming court case. Shuggsy told me that Pardew had been optimistic about his chances of walking free, and had explained that the hearing would be in front of a judge, the clerk and the prosecution at the local magistrates court, which meant there would be no jury, unless the case was remanded to the Crown Court. Poor old Shuggsy was at his earnest best explaining this, anything official and he got all serious as he made sure he explained it all properly. He was fairly upbeat though, even though Pardew had advised him to plead guilty to being in possession of the stolen van, that was all they could pin on him with the ‘drugs’ being worthless. The money was being dealt with as a separate matter apparently, although Shuggs wasn’t too sure of the finer details. Basically it amounted to the cash being confiscated as ‘proceeds of crime’ or something and seeing as it had nothing to do with Shuggsy he wasn’t bothered. The order would be against his name and there was some business about it being more difficult for him to open a bank account in the future but as long as it didn’t mean him going to prison, he wasn’t arsed. Pardew had told him that by pleading guilty to being in possession of the stolen van he was looking at a suspended sentence, with a fine at worst and possibly community service, it being his first adult conviction. After he’d got through that lot (which took most of a pair of pints), I got a fresh round in and explained everything about my dealings with Ted Churchill and what he’d turned up. Again, Shuggsy seemed quite unconcerned and was positive about it. I had to make sure that he’d understood all the implications.
“But there’s nothing to say that I know, I mean knew him is there? If any questions get asked in the Primrose they’ll say nowt and anyway he drank in a few different boozers,” he said, taking the top two inches of his new pint.
“Aye, just bear in mind that Churchill has all the gen, but I didn’t give him your name. I reckon he’s alright bearing in mind I’ve paid him but you never know, he used to be a cop. I’m hoping that it never comes to it though.” I filled Shuggs in on the investigation into O’Neill’s murder, or at least the scant details I had gathered from the detective. Shuggs looked a little more worried at that but I assured him that it was very doubtful that anything else would come back to him and even if it did there was no evidence that tied Shuggsy in to Tony’s demise. We toasted that as two pissed up girls staggered past us on route to the toilet, all blonde hair and St Tropez tans. One of them made some comment, probably about Shuggsy’s bulk and they sniggered their way into the bogs.
“Shall we move nearer the bar mate?” I suggested.
“Aye, it’s doin’ me head in this.”
“Don’t fancy going back home yet, even if the entertainment in here’s not much better than back there.” The resident crooner launched into his version of ‘Mack the Knife,” it must be the law that every karaoke night must include a bloke who fancies himself as Sinatra belting out the standard.
“What do you reckon about Marlene and this Dutch feller then?” I asked, as we leaned against the bar, trying to gain Amanda’s attention.
“Dunno mate, he seems like a bit of a tool to me, God knows why she’s started with him all of a sudden.”
“I know, seems a bit of a weird thing to me, she always cracked on that he was a right dick, then all of us a sudden she’s round his house.” I shook my head, “You can’t legislate for taste mate.” Amanda spotted us and came over to take the order.
“Have you had a bit of a fall out or summat?” Shuggs asked.
“Not really, you know what she’s like, we just had a few words last night when she came in pissed or stoned. There’s no doing with her sometimes but she got really touchy which isn’t like her. I just hope she doesn’t get more serious with him.”
“Aye, you can’t say anything though can you.” I was just about to say something about Astrid, but then the karaoke organiser shouted my name up. Shuggsy had a daft smirk on his face.
“Go on son, your audience wants you!”
“Bastard,” I observed, he must have gone up when I was in the toilet last. He’d volunteered me to give a rendition of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” which I was normally happy to give a go, but I didn’t feel drunk enough. Still, I gave it my best shot and I got a smattering of applause from the regulars. As long as I wasn’t an abject failure I didn’t care really I’d do anything for a laugh. It was one of the more incongruous aspects of my personality that I was quite shy but could get up on stage and entertain a pub mostly full of strangers. After that, I did my best attempt at getting the alcohol level in my blood up to a high rating which resulted in me and Shuggs doing a duet on the Small Faces’ Lazy Sunday with me taking the cockney bits, amused us anyway.

By the time we staggered home, the house was in darkness downstairs, and I half expected the chain to be on the door, precipitating a disastrous drunken attempt to break and enter. We fell in through the front door and I went to make a brew and some toast while Shuggsy clumped upstairs to relieve himself, something he hadn’t done all night. I swear the big man must have been a camel in a previous life or something, his capacity for food and drink was inhuman. I made the brews, brought them back into the living room, then went to check that mum was OK. Her bedroom door was closed and there was no light on so I didn’t go in, but as I moved back down the hallway I could have sworn that I heard a sound like a kitten mewling, followed by a sniff coming from behind the door. I stopped and listened hard again, but couldn’t hear anything further, but then Shuggsy came downstairs so I went back into the living room to join him.

I didn’t feel exactly right about sneaking out on Saturday evening to go and meet Astrid so I told mum that I’d been called in to do an extra shift at the Sub Stop because of illness. She didn’t make any comment but looked a bit drawn and said that she’d probably just read in her room. Marlene was going to the pictures, presumably with Maarten and Shuggsy was doing a foreigner in Lancaster, then was going out in Blackpool with his workmates so she would be alone. I probably should have cancelled the date, and I was torn for a while but it was too late to do it now as Astrid was at an event her firm was arranging and had her mobile switched off, so I couldn’t call her to cancel. I made sure that mum had everything she needed to hand so she wouldn’t have to wheel herself around and told her not to go reaching for anything.
“Don’t fuss so much George,” she said, “I’ll be fine, don’t be worrying.” She looked like she wanted to say something else, and I wondered if it was about Marlene. I’m sure that Marlene had said something about us and I knew that mum worried about us. I was just glad she didn’t know about Shuggsy. I hated not being open with her but sometimes it was better to protect her feelings. In the end, I just kissed her forehead and told her I’d be back by 10.30. When I smiled at her and left, she suddenly looked very old.

The bus was late and I ended up walking two stop’s distance in a light drizzle. I’d arranged to meet Astrid at the café bar round the corner from the trattoria. She’d liked it so much that she wanted to back and I was happy enough to oblige her. I was out of practice at dating and it was hard enough without coming up with different places to go. We arrived at the bar at almost the same time, me slightly after and we sat at a table near the window. I ordered a coke for myself, after last night at the Beehive I was feeling a bit strange and thought more alcohol would make me go strange. Astrid looked absolutely gorgeous and that was making me feel strange enough. She wasn’t wearing much make up but she seemed to have a glow about her, despite the cold weather. I had an overwhelming urge to cuddle her, but checked myself, that would probably almost definitely be strange, we weren’t at that stage quite yet.


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