Tempters and teasers

Tempters

Obviously not as tempting as the once were is all I can say. 1.5 days into the 5 day free offer on Polly picked the pistol up and the download total worldwide stands at 85. The last time I had a free download on Kittie Cracks Case at the end of the 3 day period there had been 854 downloads. Oh well there’s time yet.

For somebody else’s perspective on free downloads read this article by Nick Stephenson. Nick does a lot more marketing than I do and some of his figures make interesting if sobering reading. As I said in my comment on his blog, JK Rowling writing under a pen name managed to sell 1500 books in a couple of months. Hardly encouraging, assuming that the writing was up to her usual standard and I’ve not read that it wasn’t. It looks like that my gut feeling that pure dumb luck has more to do with literary success than slick marketing is correct. That and telling a good story of course.

Teaser

I’ve got off to a racing start on the new Karno. At Larry Jeram-Croft’s suggestion I’ve decided to concentrate more on the humour and a bit less on constructing an intricate ‘whodunnit’ plot. Less Agatha Christie and more Robert Rankin. The first couple of chapters below but tell me what you think. I can’t guarantee that the chapters won’t change of course, but these have been revised several times already and I’m fairly certain that at least the prologue and first chapter will be ‘as is’. Chapter two may need a bit of polishing or indeed deleting but you’ll get the idea.

Karno PI (working title)

Prologue

 

  Karno hoisted his glass and took a reflective swallow.

 “Not bad I suppose but you can’t beat a pint of Scrumpilicious. You know, the old girl’s got a remarkably steady hand, considering her age.”

“It’s cider Sir Freddy Boy but not as we know it. Pray tell, what gracious words were vouchsafed to you during your ennoblement?”

“I don’t really remember to be quite honest Bill. Something about how the country would be grateful if only it knew about it but it didn’t and never would and how she wished me a long, quiet retirement. Then it was a smack on either shoulder with a very long sword, ‘arise Sir Leon’ and that was it.”

“Ah, no invitation to sit at the round table then? Not made a companion of the suspender belt and sent off as an erring knight on a noble but ultimately futile if not doomed quest? ”

“No.  Just a thank you and enjoy your retirement. One of the hangers-on, probably the Keeper of the Official Secrets did suggest that I not write my memoirs. I think you meant knight errant, incidentally”

“Not in your case. So what now Chemical Sabey?”

“No idea chum. A slow decline into pipe and slippers I suppose.”

“You don’t smoke and your slippers are falling to pieces.”

“Right, right. What are your plans Bill?”

“Well now that I’ve finished being Florence Nightingale to your Cornishire Patient I thought I’d take up full-time nursing.”

“Really?”

“Absolutely. I’ll arrange for you to have a nasty but non fatal accident then out of the kindness of my heart and at great personal sacrifice, giving up my future carefree existence, I’ll allow myself to be persuaded to stay on at your place until you make another full recovery.”

“Right. No luck getting any social housing then?”

“Yes but it was awful. I’d rather be in a hedge. To add insult to injury I was refused permission to sell The Big Issue. I did think of re-enlisting so I went up to Hereford. My how we all laughed when I told them I was available on a full-time basis. Then they told me to fuck off.”

“The Regiment wouldn’t do anything for you then?”

“There was some sort of janitor’s job going but I could tell it wasn’t a real job. I’ve got some pride.”

“Can you afford it?”

“Afford what, retired caped-crusader?”

“Pride.”

Bill mournfully shook his head.

“No. Not as such.” He said.

“Right, right. Look this can’t be open-ended Bill you know that but for the time being well, bugger it I’m going to regret this but you did watch my back. You know what I’m saying? Why the bloody hell do they have to have a bloody television in a pub, dammit!”

They both turned in their seats as the theme music of a re-run of an American detective show blared out of the surround and take no prisoners sound system. Half deafened they watched the scarlet Ferrari roar up to a rather grand house. It came to a slightly skiddy halt on the gravel drive and a very smug looking moustachioed actor climbed out of it. Bill gave Karno an appraising look.

“No.” Said Karno.

“But it’s positively you.” Said Bill.

“Not a chance.” Said Karno.

“Karno PI.”

“Bollocks.”

“But you’d look good with a mustache Hercule.”

“It would be grey and anyway a ten year old rusting Cornishire Motor Company Siesta is hardly the same as a Ferrari.”

“More your style though, I would say.”

“Right. Right well thanks for that, I think.”

“Well what else are you going to do?”

“Apart from being irritated by you, you mean? I told you, go into a gentle decline. Hardly Mother Ivy’s, is it?” Karno nodded at the screen where the hero PI was now perched on a bar stool at a beach bar, gazing into a long glass which contained a lurid coloured liquid. A cocktail umbrella stuck out of the top of the glass at a jaunty angle.

“Indeed not brave bullfinch! For a start it isn’t raining and you wouldn’t get a limp-wristed drink like that at any establishment at Mother Ivy’s Beach. You’d get tea that you could stand a spoon up in, coffee that would remove the enamel from what teeth you’ve got left or a warm fizzy drink that comes in various colours but actually tastes the same.”

“Bullfinch? No you’ve lost me there Bill. Doesn’t often happen but this time you’ve got me.”

“Bulldogs have teeth…”

“I’ve got teeth dammit!”

Bill squinted at Karno’s mouth.

“Are they real?” He inquired.

Karno spluttered. Bill held out a grubby handkerchief.

“That’s your best shirt. Come on, dab it off quickly or it’ll stain.”

The moustachioed PI was chatting-up a bikini-clad lovely and appeared to be doing well.

“Not much of that on Mother Ivy’s either. A wet-suit yes but bikini? Maybe on a couple of days in the summer.”

“You need to get out more Freddie Boy. Some beautiful young ladies hang out at Mother Ivy’s and most of ‘em wear bikinis. Under their wet suits I grant you but they do wear bikinis.”

“Right, right.”

“So, what do you think?”

“I think I’m going to have a spot of lunch. I see they have Penhaligon’s Original Cornishire Pasties here. Want one?”

“Ah, is it time for luncheon already? Should we not wait for the lunch gong?”

“I don’t think they have a lunch gong here Bill. I rather think you just order at the bar when you feel like it.”

“No gong? Gadzooks have they no standards in this heaving metropolis?”

“Yes but they’re very low standards and mostly people don’t meet them anyway. Too busy heaving I dare say. You want one or not?”

“Penhaligon’s you say?”

“That’s what they say and I don’t think they’d lie about it. It’s against the law.”

“So, you could arrest them if these turn out to be fake Penhaligons then?”

“I’m retired so no, I couldn’t.”

“Aha. But if you were Karno PI you could investigate.”

“Investigate what?”

“I see it now. Wait and hold hard Horatio, a vision emergeth from the mist-shrouded glass. Yes, yes a full exposé in the Sunday Watch as revealed by the Intuition Team. The case of the counterfeit pasties finally solved by Bullfinch Hannay and his faithful companion Tinto.”

“Tonto.”

“Yes?”

“Yes what?”

“You said Tonto.”

“I did but you said Tinto.”

“I said Tinto? “

“You said Tinto but I think you meant Tonto. That’s why I said Tonto, I was presuming to correct you.”

“Ah, I understand now. I said Tinto but you said Tonto because you thought I meant to say Tonto not Tinto.”

“Got it in one Bill.”

“Does that mean the whole thing’s off then?”

“What whole thing ….never mind, I’ll order.”

They sat in companionable but mutually puzzled silence and lunch arrived. Karno cut into his pastie.

“Excuse me.” He said to the tattooed server.

“Yeah mate?” She said.

“It’s a bit green.”

“Vegetables mate.”

“No mate. There’s meat and potatoes in Penhaligons but no vegetables.”

“I’ll tell the chef.”

The  culinary operations manager arrived.

“Oh dear, not another one. How’s yours, er sir?” He asked Bill.

“Green-free.” Was the reply.

“I’m sorry. We’ve had this happen a couple of times. Would you like something else or would you like to try another pastie?”

“The steak pie Penhaligons is it?”

“We make those here.”

“I’ll have one of those then.”

The culinary operations manager picked up Karno’s plate and scurried back into the depths of his domain. He reappeared in a couple of minutes bearing a steak pie.

“On the house gentlemen. Very sorry and all that.”

“A bad batch?” Asked Karno.

“Not really. A couple of times this last week one or two pasties in each delivery have been a bit off. We’ve told Penhaligons of course. They don’t understand it either.”


 

Chapter One

Tea for two?

 

“There you go Hercule. It’s official, you’re a real dick.”

Bill stepped back and admired his handiwork. The framed certificate from the British Institute of Private Investigators proudly informed all and sundry that Leon Karno was a full member of the institute and would abide by their code of conduct. A framed copy of the code of conduct hung next to it, neatly hiding a damp spot on the wall.

Karno sniffed.

“I really don’t think it was necessary to hang the certificates on the wall Bill. A bit ostentatious if you ask me.”

“I didn’t ask you. As your practice manager I must remind you that appearances are important. Speaking of which have you had your business cards printed yet?”

“No I bloody haven’t. I’m sorry but I really think that as advertising slogans go ‘have pastie will travel’ is a really bad one.”

“But we’d agreed.”

“No we didn’t. I said I didn’t like ‘send ticket will travel’ and you dreamed up that other bit of nonsense. I think ‘Karno PI’ is just fine. I don’t want any mention of knights. No chess pieces, no knight errant, no ‘Sir Leon’. Right?”

“I think you’re making a mistake.”

“I think I’m not. What’s this practice manager business?”

“Somebody has to run the business side of things whilst you’re off sleuthing. It said so in your course notes on how to organise your new business”

“Did it?”

“Yes it did. Unless of course I’m going to be too busy being your faithful right-hand man.”

“Right, right. Difficult but given the choice between having you attempt to run the office or having you tag along on a case….just possibly you’d cause less havoc stringing along. At least I’ll be able to keep an eye on you. Could you see if that bloody woman can manage to make us a cup of tea without a lengthy discussion on the weather, the neighbours or how overworked she is please?”

That bloody woman was Carenza O’Shaughnessy. Whilst recovering from his gunshot wound Karno had come to the conclusion that with two men now in the house, neither particularly house trained, he needed a woman who does. Missus O’Shaughnessy did for several houses in the road but somehow or other she now seemed to be in almost permanent residence and had been heard at the corner shop to style herself a housekeeper. Karno was fairly certain that he’d told Bill to hire her to come in three mornings a week but somehow or other the message got garbled. He wasn’t altogether surprised and Missus O’Shaughnessy was now in attendance from eight thirty until five thirty Monday to Fridays. She pitched up most Saturday mornings and dropped broad hints about being available on Sundays and some evenings if required. None of her other employers had lodged any complaints about her non-attendance at their houses and Mister O’Shaughnessy was mysteriously silent on the matter. She and Bill could apparently manage to communicate successfully whilst Karno had equal difficulty communicating with either of them.

“Missus ‘O’.” Bill shouted.

The door opened. Bill gestured towards the framed certificates on the wall.

“I think those add the finishing touches to a private detective’s home office. Informal, non-intimidating but nevertheless professional. What do you think?”

“Ah they do so, moi luvver, they do so.”

Karno cleared his throat.

“Tea, Missus ‘O’.”

“Ah now, tea for two would that be Sir Karno. Or would it be tea for one and something else for the other one perhaps?”

“Right, right. Bill.”

“Yes Sir Karno?”

“Deal with this will you.”

“Certainly. We have tea do we not Missus ‘O’?”

“We do indeed. Yes, we have tea in the tea containers, in the kitchen on the shelf above the chopping board, that we do. We have Earl Grey, English breakfast and a special blend.”

“Ah, a special blend?”

“We do, yes we have a special blend Mister Bill. A special blend, so we do.”

“I wasn’t aware of that. May one inquire the composition of the special blend Missus ‘O’?”

“Yes. Yes one may, indeed one may.”

Bill waited but no further information was forthcoming.

“Having been granted permission to do so one is now inquiring Missus ‘O’. What is the composition of the special blend?”

“Earl Grey and English Breakfast, so it is.”

Karno groaned quietly.

“Is Sir Karno not feeling well Mister Bill?”

“He’s been a bit grumpy today.”

“He should have a nice cup of tea, so he should. That will put him right in no time at all, so it will.”

“Splendid! I’m sure you’re right so in my capacity as practice manager that will be tea for two please Missus ‘O’.”

“Would that be the Earl Grey, the English Breakfast or the special mix now moi luvver?”

“A pertinent question Missus ‘O’ and one which indeed gets straight to the heart of the matter. I think on balance, as neither myself nor the successful  but grumpy graduate of the private investigators course drink Earl Grey we’ll have the English Breakfast if you please.”

“You wouldn’t be wanting the special mix then?”

“I think not but why do you ask, are you on a commission perchance?”

“It’s three in the afternoon and the English Breakfast is to drink at breakfast, so it is. That’s why it’s called Breakfast. It’s to be drunk at breakfast. It says so on the packet, so it does.”

“It’ll be bloody breakfast before we get it at this rate.” Karno muttered.

“Ah Sir Karno is grumpy this afternoon, so he is.”

“Show me the bloody packet woman. I want to see where it says it should only be drunk at breakfast.”

“Ah I would now Sir Karno so I would but I threw the packet away after I put the tea into the tea container, so I did.”

“I suppose we could say we’re having a late breakfast Missus ‘O’.” Bill said.

“Ah you could. You could moi luvver, yes you could. You won’t be wanting the special mix then?”

“No I think not. A pot of the English Breakfast if you would Missus ‘O’.”

“For two?”

“Indeed. I am curious though. How exactly did we acquire the special mix?”

“Sure a mystery it was. I put the Earl Grey mix into the tin container on the left and the English Breakfast into the tin container on the right, so I did. When I turned around, there was the special mix on the chopping board.”

“Perhaps you forgot to put the lids on the tea tins?”

“No, no. I’m certain I put them on tightly because I’m very careful about things like that, so I am. Mind, somehow the lids to the tins were on the chopping board as well.”

“So how would you explain the strange phenomenon, pray tell?”

“Sure t’was the Little People, moi luvver. It must have been the wee rascals themselves, there’s simply no other explanation for it. Now would you be wanting something to go with the pot of tea?”

“Cups, milk and sugar would be useful Missus ‘O’.”

“Ah to be sure moi luvver now I wouldn’t be serving the tea with no means of drinking it and no accoutrements, now would I. Would you be wanting some sandwiches with your tea? Sure I’ll be forgetting my head next, I’ve baked some scones so I have. Would you be wanting those now? Scones, jam and a dollop of clotted cream now there’s just the thing to cheer up Sir Grumpy here.”

“Missus ‘O’. Tea, now.” Said Karno firmly.

******

 

“Stap me vittals Sir Freddie Boy. Verily I say unto you that these be first cousins to the five stones which Young David took from the brook in the valley of Elah and used to do for Goliath. Scones such as these could change the nature of warfare as we know it. Dropped from a great height I’m certain they could rival any bunker buster and if you could fit them with a miniaturised rocket engine and a GPS guidance system then they would make cruise missiles obsolete overnight. I must contact the Regiment, they could put these to good use.”

“Right, right. Well obviously scones aren’t Missus ‘O’s signature dish, or if they are then God preserves us from supper. Look, could you explain to me again exactly how it is she seems to be in semi-permanent residence here? I’m sure she was supposed to come in three mornings a week.”

“I’ve already done that but you went to sleep during the explanation.”

“Right but what about Mister ‘O’? Doesn’t he miss the woman…no I think I know the answer to that.”

“Aha, now there’s a mystery for you Hercule. Mister ‘O’ is no longer with us but whether he’s shuffled off his mortal coil and gone to a better place or just shuffled off back to Cork for an extended Guinness is not known. It is just possibly that Missus ‘O’ was born Missus ‘O’ and there is no mister. I suppose I should have conducted a more thorough background security search. Yes, the whereabouts or indeed the very existence of a Mister ‘O’ is indeed a veritable mystery.”

Karno tapped a scone on his plate. The plate broke.

“I don’t think there’s much of a mystery about it Bill.”


Chapter Two

Does chewing gum lose its flavour on the sole of a shoe overnight?

 

Light streaming in through the undrawn curtains woke him and after a visit to the bathroom Karno cautiously made his way downstairs. Due to a minor over-indulgence of Scrumpilicious the previous evening at the Slurry and Shovel whilst reminiscing with Marv the landlord, he was experiencing some difficulty focusing his right eye. The fact that his left leg appeared to have a mind of it’s own as well made progress down the stairs a trifle unpredictable. He gripped the banister with the determination of a drowning man clinging to a bit of floating debris and safely arriving downstairs made for his new office, previously known as the dining room. Passing the kitchen he heard the clatter of dishes and wondered what Bill was up to this early in the day.

“Good morning Scourge of the Criminal Class and how are we this morning?”

Karno squinted at Bill. At least he squinted with his left eye, his right still refused to function properly and seemed to be permanently out of focus. After a moments thought he settled for squinting with the left eye and raising his right eyebrow.

“What?” He asked incisively, articulating the various questions which were racing through his mind with the speed of a terminally tired sloth.

“What what?” Replied Bill.

“What the hell are you wearing?” Karno’s right eye decided it was time to face up to the day and he made out that Bill was wearing a pair of blue corduroy trousers, white shirt, red paisley waistcoat and a yellow bow tie with black spots. Karno himself had carefully dressed in his morning rig of off-green pajamas, his favourite dressing gown with the egg stains on the right cuff and slippers which held together more by habit than sound construction.

“I thought I’d bring a bit of panache and colour into the drab and oh so discrete world of private detection. Like it?”

“No.” Then something occurred to him but before he could say anything else Bill gestured to the open laptop on Karno’s desk.

“Your emails await Sir Freddie Boy. Perhaps there’ll be a case.”

“Right, right. No hang on a minute. If you’re in here then who was mucking about in the kitchen…?”

The door opened with an unoiled squeak of enthusiasm and Missus ‘O’ entered, wheeling a trolley.

“Top of the morning to you moi luvvers and sure a lovely morning it is too. Now I have a nice pot of breakfast tea for you because it’s breakfast even though it’s a little late in the day. Some might call this elevenses but they’d be wrong because it’s half past seven, so it is. I’ve made scrambled eggs, toast, grilled tomatoes and sausages, so I have. Do you normally have breakfast this late or would you be wanting it at a more usual hour in future?”

“What the hell is she doing here?” Karno demanded.

“Ah, well I can explain. Er, Thank you Missus ‘O’ just leave the trolley if you would.”

“Sure there’s trays on the bottom shelf. Would you be wanting me to put the plates and things on the trays or could you be managing that yourselves?”

“Yes I see them, thank you. Er, I believe we can manage, thank you.”

“Sure I would have laid the dining room table but you don’t have a dining room now, so you don’t. I thought about serving it in the sitting room so I did but I wasn’t sure if that would be where you wanted to have breakfast. I know you like your afternoon tea in there but I wasn’t sure about breakfast.”

“No, quite. Well….”

“And where would you be wanting your lunch?”

“Ah. I dare say we’ll be out to lunch. Working on a case you know.”

“Sure well that’ll be fine. Dinner?”

“Dinner?”

“Where would you be wanting your dinner served?”

Karno collapsed into the desk chair.

“Er, I should think in the sitting room Missus ‘O’.”

“On trays would that be Mister Bill?”

“Er. Perhaps on the coffee table?”

“I see. So you want dinner served on the coffee table. We can hardly refer to it as the coffee table then. Would it be alright if I referred to it as the dining table?”

“Ah, but what about if we have coffee in the afternoon Missus ‘O’. Won’t it get confused if we call it a dining table and serve coffee on it?”

“You’d be wanting coffee in the afternoons then? Now here was me thinking that you’d be wanting tea. Sure I thought that perhaps you’d be having coffee in the mornings but I had you down for tea in the afternoons, so I did.”

“Oh God.” Karno muttered to himself and slumped further down in the chair.

“Ah well I can see the problem Missus ‘O’ but the table hasn’t previously complained about being a coffee table and having tea served on it so it may not be overly concerned if dinner is served on it either.”

“Sure you might be right but then again you might not. Perhaps I should have a word with it, just to set it straight.”

“Move the bloody dining table and chairs into the sitting room. I’m quite sure the coffee table won’t object.” Karno said irritably.

“Sure now why didn’t I think of that Sir Karno. Now you’ve moved your desk into the dining room there’s room in the sitting room for the dining table so there is. Ah the man’s a genius so he is and the coffee table might be glad of the company, so it might. It’s a privilege to be living in the same house as yourself Sir Karno, a true privilege so it is. I’ll do it now, so I will.” She bustled out and the door closed with an unoiled squeak of what sounded like relief.

“Tea?”

“Bugger tea I want to have words with you, you…” Karno was interrupted by the phone.

“No, I’ll get it. As practice manager it’s my job. Somebody’s keen this early in the morning; we’d better charge band A expenses. Oh, I hadn’t mentioned that had I? Leave this to me.” He picked up the phone with something of a flourish.

“Sir Leon Karno’s residence.”

He listened intently.

“It is indeed my dear sir. Sleuths R 1, one might say. Have gum will travel and all that. Cash or cheques backed by a bank card only although if you are a corporate entity rather than a private one a bank transfer would do nicely.”

Karno stirred in his seat but Bill held up a hand.

“Quite. Very discreet, I assure you. No case too large although frankly some are too insignificant to pique Sir Leon’s interest. Before disturbing his breakfast might one inquire what the investigation might pertain to?”

The voice got louder and more excited.

“High handed? My dear sir you might not be aware of the fact but for many years Sir Leon was the veritable backbone of the Cornishire CID. He save the force embarrassment on many occasions and his record of detection was exemplary…I? I am his practice manager sir. I think of myself as Falstaff to his King Hal…I see, I see. Yes your pasties are a subject dear to Sir Leon’s heart as well as his stomach. .. As is Sir Leon my dear sir, very proud of Cornishire heritage and I am certain he would wish to protect it in any way that he could…certainly, in fact I think that might be preferable for reasons of discretion. Shall we say half an hour? Forty five minutes? Very well Sir Leon will be expecting you.”

“Who was that?”

“Some cove from Penhaligons original Cornishire pasties. They have a case of industrial sabotage they’d like you to investigate.”

“Some cove, some cove? Listen you lame-brained hedge-bound hobo didn’t you get his name? And what’s this sleuths R 1 nonsense?”

“Nonsense? Rather good for the spur of the moment I thought Sir Freddy Boy. Of course I got his name, I’m not a complete buffoon.”

“And it is?”

“I forget now.”

“Pah! You are a complete buffoon. Now then, don’t tell me that bloody woman is living here now.”

“Ah, well I could not tell you that she is living here but you seeing as you’re Sir Grumpy this morning you’d doubtless accuse me of being economical with the truth.”

“The truth being?”

“She moved in the day before yesterday.”

“I wasn’t aware of that.”

“She’s very quiet.”

“No she isn’t.”

“She’s very quite sometimes.”

“I want her out.”

“She’s homeless.”

“Where did she live before?”

“Before what?”

“Before she darkened my front door.”

“Ah, well she comes in the back door you see.”

“Don’t split hairs Bill.”

“She stayed at the Dinham’s, down the road at number nineteen.”

“What happened?”

“They discovered that she had moved in.”

“And now she’s moved in here?”

“It would appear so, yes.”

“I want her out.”

“Can’t. She’s got the law on her side.”

“What are you talking about, the law on her side.”

“Squatter’s rights.”

“Squatter’s rights! Bollocks I live here so how can she have squatter’s rights dammit?”

“You don’t occupy the pantry. That’s where she’s staying.”

“I know the law, it’s a load of old tosh. I want her out.”

“She’ll take it to the European Court of Human Rights, I’m warning you. And if she does she probably won’t cook or clean the house. We’d never get anybody else to come in whilst she’s here, I’m telling you.”

“And if we did they’d probably form some sort of coven. This is ridiculous. In the pantry?”

“She’s got it decked out quite nicely actually although I fear her clothes may eventually take on the faint aroma of onions.”

“I have the feeling I’ve been beaten.”

“I would say so.”

“And Mister O’Shaughnessy?”

“Doesn’t exist. Technically she’s Miss O’Shaughnessy, or should that be Miz? Anyway there is no Mister ‘O’.”

“Bugger! Might as well have breakfast before it gets cold then. I would say the day can only get better but long experience tells me that when it starts this badly it won’t.”

 

 

 

 

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