A Gentleman of Note

(A short story)

Bob Chocolate stretched. He was sat in his favourite chair, a weathered Captain’s chair, and struggling with consciousness. He needed to think, not sleep, but sleep was proving a demanding mistress. Until a movement caught his eye, and a large bluebottle drifted into view. Landing on the desk in front of him.

He regarded the fly. Shooed it. But the fly didn’t move. In fact it appeared to be regarding him. And not in a good way. This would not do. His hand clattered down, occupying the space recently filled with insect. Carefully retrieving his hand, he checked for the bluebottle. Or it’s remains.

Nothing.

‘Damn it! Next time, next time.’

He scanned the room for the fly. Maybe he’d caught it a glancing blow. Maybe the little fella was, even now, on his back, legs in the air, awaiting the coup-de-grace?

It proved a barren search.

He surveyed his hand, now red mottled, and five fat fingers, and one plump palm, returned his gaze. He brought up his right hand to join its brother. And admiringly took them in. Hands that would build an empire.

He looked at the table, and the contract of sale. And smiled. Signed and sealed, his future was set.

Leaning back, he placed a hand either side of his stomach. His lucky paunch. He stroked it. Where would he be without his lucky paunch? Not here. Not today. Not now. That’s for certain. In the gutters dusty mouth, that’s where. Derelict and paunchless.

Reaching to his left he opened his desk drawer. Removed a sheaf of letter-headed paper and placed it in front of him.

Bob Chocolate ARS(E) — Impresario

Lancelot’s Leg

Sovereign Harbour South

Eastbourne BN23 5BJ

‘Mmmm’

The gilt embossing, he liked. But it wasn’t quite right. Wasn’t sitting comfortably with him. He didn’t want people to get the wrong idea, after all, this was a new town, a new start.

Maybe remove ‘Impresario’. He didn’t want to appear to full of himself. Too inflated. He would speak to the printer. But later.

Pulling a pen from his pocket, he uncorked it. And quickly wrote;

Veni — Vidi — Vici

The page remained blank. He looked at his pen. Then shook it. A gout of ink deposited itself on the paper. The desk, and his shirt. He chose to ignore it. There was work to be done.

He divided the page into two. Heading one column ADVANTAGES and the other DISADVANTAGES.

Under ADVANTAGES he wrote:

1. Ownership of venue (Lancelot’s Leg)

A smile filled his face. He owned a mobile venue. His own showboat. Though minus engine, and still technically a houseboat. But this would shortly be remedied. Continuing, he added,

2. My contacts

3. My reputation

4. New kid on the block

5. My acts

6. Myself

7. No competition (water based)

8. Heavenly Welcome

Since riding into town, number 8 had been his greatest stroke of luck. That, and Lancelot’s Leg. Heavenly Welcome was the perfect receptionist. The most able Gatekeeper he had ever employed.

Tall, and raw boned, she was invariably clad in stout tweeds and men’s brogues. She also sported a smile that would cause a bull to loose it bowels.

He shuddered, and his deliberations on the finer points of Heavenly’s character were interrupted by a buzzing. Heavenly wanted him. He answered. Cautiously.

‘Y-yess?’

A clipped nasal voice of indeterminate sex replied.

‘Do you want anything. It’s 10am?’

It was more threat than offer. Thankfully, her bark was worse than her bite. Which was saying something. Her bite was brutal.

‘Errr….tea? Please.’

He heard her clicking disapproval, before buzzing off. Leaving him uncertain as to whether anything would arrive.

No unwanted visitors would get through Heavenly. Of that he was sure. Although there was a nagging doubt whether anyone, full stop, would make it past reception. Invited or otherwise. He might struggle for access himself.

He stared at DISADVANTAGES. Then wrote:

1. Lancelot’s Leg (conversion costs)

2. No-one knows me

3. Heavenly Welcome

4. Me

5. My contacts

6.

This wasn’t proving to be a very satisfying exercise. He suddenly felt under attack from his list. Who were they to tell him there were any disadvantages? Who do they think they are? He was Bob Chocolate ARS(E). Newly elected Secretary of The Association of Ringmasters & Showmen, Eastbourne branch. Who had triumphed in Tenby? Conquered Keighley? Was a legend in Littleborough? And now it was Eastbourne’s hour.

There will be no lists. No knockers. Only doers. He screwed up the paper, and dropped it in the bin. Taking up the phone, he placed it next to his pen, on the fresh sheet of paper.

Opening his right hand drawer, he carefully withdrew an ancient artifact. Held together with gaffer tape, rubber bands, and possibly a well-chosen prayer or two. The Bob Chocolate contact list. The key to his success.

There was a terse knock at the door, and Heavenly entered. Carrying tea. And a bun?

The sun was indeed shining on Bob’s world.

‘Larry Mustard called. Said they’d be in to start the work at 1pm sharp, Monday.’

She placed the tea and bun on the desk.

‘Mother was making Eccles cakes, and burnt a few. Thought you might want one?’

‘Very much so, Heavenly. You must thank her from me. How is Bathsheba?’

‘Alive and baking.’

Turning about, she returned to the wheelhouse. The room sighed. In relief.

Bob wanted to stroke his paunch. Everything was coming up roses. But decided a pleasure deferred would be a pleasure doubled. He placed his palms face down, either side of the tools of his trade.

‘Now, where will Serendipity lead me?’

He delicately opened the contacts book, causing the cover to fall off.

‘Damn!’

He thumbed a few pages. Decided to stop. And looked at his first act. The tone setter, and Lancelot’s Leg inaugural performer.

Clarence Trump — The Mute Ventriloquist. Perfect. The deft interplay between Clarence, and Little Ken, signing one gag after another was something to behold.

Even if a rudimentary grasp of British Sign Language generally helped. He wasn’t one to rebuff Serendipity’s advances.

He prepared to call.

Just a quick stroke first. He leant back and indulged.

‘Watch out Eastbourne, Bob’s a comin’……’

(First published in the book, Strangers In Paradise — 45 Eastbourne Stories)