In Competition No. 2398 you were invited to write an entertaining piece of prose incorporating a dozen given cricketing terms, but using them in a non-cricketing sense.
One competitor added a postscript: ‘I have not used the term “Chinaman” to refer to a native of that country as, according to Collins, that usage is now considered offensive.’ Accordingly, he appeared as a person in charge of the porcelain department in a shop. Can political correctness be more exquisitely expressed? The given words tended to elicit thoughts of crime and violence in you, but perhaps any dozen words would have the same effect, such is human nature. The prizewinners, printed below, get £25 each, and Peter Smalley has the extra fiver.
A nightwatchman found the body at 6 a.m., up by the dam at Encino. It was the Chinaman. He’d been there a while, maybe 48 hours. His left leg was a bloody stump, and something had chewed at his face, a vampire bat or one of those coyotes that slip in from the hills at night. Brennan took the call from Archimedes, the watch commander: ‘Hook up with the local patrolman on scene.’ Brennan took a cold shower, a quick in-and-out duck, then drove in a long sweep on Mulholland, with the sun glinting behind him, over to the 405.
The victim had worked as a bouncer at one of those new joints on the Strip, the Pudenda. What was the appeal of those places? wondered Brennan. But then he was no longer a swinger, riding his hormones. He was a middle-aged badge with a hangover, and no maiden anywhere in his life. He parked by the wire fence, and walked towards the tape.
‘Out on the stump together, I was the one with the real voter appeal. Poor Boris lacks the common touch, y’see. Too plummy by half. Whereas I can talk to anyone — bank manager, bouncer, chimney-sweep, Master of Hounds, nightwatchman — and never bat an eyelid.’
Johnson père, holding forth in the Dog and Duck, chortled into his single malt. ‘Chip off the old block, though. Bit of a swinger in my time, I can tell you.’ He leant forward conspiratorially, ‘It’s the hair, y’know. Many a maiden has capitulated before the Johnson quiff. Goldilocks major and minor — we should work in tandem.’
His mood eventually became more sombre. ‘These grandees ...determined to destroy the party by hook or by crook. Not giving me Heseltine’s slot — major slip-up, that. And now Boris being touted as future leader. Hah! If my boy is PM material, I’m a ruddy Chinaman.’
It was moonless, the seas mountainous, and the boy’s maiden voyage was rapidly losing its appeal. ‘The mizzen’s about to be reduced to a stump!’ he yelled into Silver’s face, ‘and you sit like a nightwatchman at his brazier!’ Long John ignored him and continued to spoon up his duck stew, the parrot watching every movement. Only when the last drop had gone did he sweep rheumy eyes up to the boy’s panic-stricken face. ‘This vessel is of English oak,’ he said calmly, just audible above the weather, ‘built in an English yard. She is not some flimsy Chinaman out of Hangzhou. She will ride this bouncer of a sea without a slip, young sir, you’ll see. Now get into your swinger and hang like a bat until this squall passes.’ Silver snatched his crutch from its hook to steady the boy’s untouched stewpot. ‘’Tis an ill wind,’ he chuckled.
M’s secretary hung her phone on the hook as he walked in. ‘Morning, James. M wants to see you at once.’ The Side-Swinger missile business, Bond supposed. He’d thought that was finished. ‘What about our lunch date?’
‘Have to duck out, I’m afraid. Meeting a maiden aunt at Fortnums.’
‘That’s a shame,’ said Bond, and meant it. George, the nightwatchman, an ex-Commando and former night-club bouncer, was convinced the girls in the Service were chosen for their sex appeal. Bond liked the theory. ‘No chance you could slip off early?’ She didn’t bat an eyelid. ‘No.’
M was at his office window, staring out at the sweep of roofs beyond Regent’s Park. ‘Ah. Come in, 007. Take a seat.’ He dug at his pipe with a stump of pencil. ‘007,’ he said, ‘what do you know about Chang Lee?’ Bond frowned. The name meant nothing. ‘Sounds like a Chinaman, sir.’
‘This is an appeal by Mr William Fox, a bouncer and Quaker ...’
‘Like a mover and shaker?’
‘Not entirely, your Honour. On the relevant night, Mr Egerton, a nocturnal security operative, and Mr Astley ...’
‘Nightwatchman ... attempted, ticketless, to enter Swindon Rockodrome, where Iron Maiden were performing. Your Honour may not…’
‘Pioneers of heavy metal. You can’t stump me, Mr Winstanley. I used to be quite a swinger.’
‘And I’m a Chinaman. Mr Fox told Mr Egerton, politely, to sling his hook, intimating that otherwise, while opposed to violence, he would sweep the floor with him. Mr Astley, unwilling to let slip the dogs of war, fled instantly, like a bat out of hell. Mr Egerton stood his ground, whereupon Mr Fox explained that his fist and Mr Egerton’s face were about to occupy the same space. Unwisely, Mr Egerton imitated Mr Ronald Reagan. He forgot to duck.’
‘Meet me at Wang’s,’ Holmes had said. ‘My disguise may stump you.’
‘Holmes?’ I challenged the nightwatchman.
‘’Wish I ’ad one,’ he grumbled. Wrong.
Wrong again over the bouncer outside the dive that advertised Peking duck; and over the Chinaman who welcomed me; and over the maiden of delicate appeal who seated me.
I made a visual sweep of the customers: a sailor with a wooden leg and a hook for a hand, a young tart, and an old bat just moving into the seat behind me. I suddenly realised my wallet had gone. Wheeling, I found the old lady stowing it in her bag. Her eyes met mine, and panicked. ‘No, guv!’ she whined. ‘Call it just a slip. If they nail me again, I’m a swinger.’
I sighed. ‘You’d better join me, Holmes,’ I said.
No. 2401: Split personality
You are invited to provide a dialogue in verse (maximum 16 lines) or prose (maximum 150 words) between two parts of yourself at odds with each other. Entries to ‘Competition No. 2401’ by 14 July.