2. The Agent

The agent representing Prestons was called Brian Miller. He was a portly unassuming man, well to be brutally honest, he was short, fat and balding whose clothes never seemed to fit him properly. His trousers were always too tight and at half mast exposing short grey socks and too much hairless white calf flesh. He had taken to wearing a powder blue suit, lemon shirt with a pink tie. He’d seen the local Conservative MP wear that combination once in the town hall, getting booed and having rotten fruit and beer bottles thrown at him. Even so, he liked the way he dressed.

Everyone laughed at him at first, his appalling dress sense became an office joke but as usual, people became accustomed to it and put it down as just another colour blind eccentric with poor taste. Today was his big day, he was hundreds of miles from home so for a change, a quite dramatic one actually, he went for all black except for a white shirt with a single faded coffee stain three buttons down and a black and gold polka dotted bow tie which unfortunately drew attention to the coffee stain.

He’d heard that wearing black made people look slim and intimidating. It would give him that little extra confidence he was lacking, hopefully. He was going to wear a bowler hat but then on the way up, at the motorway services he read in a women’s magazine that bald men were sexy and attractive to certain types of women, so he left his bowler on the back seat and hoped in the mean time he would meet that certain type of woman. He didn’t.

He’d driven up from the West Midlands to Holyhead via Telford, Shrewsbury, Llangollen where he got lost then after a pleasant excursion through Snowdonia, finally arrived 2 hours late for the ferry. The ferry was strangely named The Dover. After an uncomfortable night on the back seat, he awoke to a knock on the window. He wiped a hole in the condensation and saw a big bloke with a cap on shouting something. He wound the window down only to be told he’d got 2 minutes to get on the ferry or he’d be waiting another 12 hours. It was midnight when the ship set sail and around 5.30am when he arrived in a fresh Dún Laoghaire.

He had a seven year old Ford Anglia company car, standard issue for anyone below director level. It had a top speed of over 70 mph according to the manual but Brian had never got more than 55 out of it. The trip from Dún Laoghaire to Donegal took 7 hours. The journey was largely uneventful except for a lengthy delay for a tractor with a cart load of burning hay parked at the side of the road near Horseleap. By the time it had burned out nobody could see anything for a 2 mile radius. He stopped at Athlone for a breakfast and a nap down by the Shannon.

Yet again he was awoken by tapping on the window. He wound the window down only to be informed in a matter of fact way by a young Irish lad that he had a two seater bed-settee strapped to his roof-rack and his dog was lying on it. His wife had promised the settee to a relative in Telford, a mere 25 miles from home, he was supposed to have dropped it off but forgot. He wondered what the customs meant when they asked him if he had the kitchen sink in the boot and now he knew. He cursed at his own forgetfulness and considered throwing it in the river but his thrifty side took over and he decided to try and sell it in Westport or Sligo.

There were no roads on the island so before he embarked as a foot passenger on the ferry, he needed to park the car up and get out everything he needed for a couple of days on the island. He also had two paintings in the boot that he’d brought with him simply so his wife wouldn’t find them. He fancied himself as an artist and over a period of months had covertly cobbled together two paintings of some oddly Picasso shaped nudes from memory without actually using models.

He’d never seen a woman nude except his wife and even that was just her silhouette on their honeymoon in Sidmouth so he had to use his imagination, of which he had little. Consequently, the rounded and pointy body parts were loosely based on his remembrances of his wife’s and a dodgy calendar he’d stared at whilst having a tyre changed in a garage in Bilston. He’d hidden the paintings in the garage behind an old sideboard but his wife was on one of her cleaning purges so he took the opportunity to secrete them in the boot of his car behind his suitcase before she saw them.

On his arrival at Bluebell End, he’d parked the car beside a high wall out of the wind. As he got out, he had to hang onto the door as a huge gust of wind caught it and threatened to rip it off. There was a bit of a nip in the air so he rubbed his hands together, simultaneously blowing his cheeks up like he was playing a trumpet expelling his breath in short sharp gasps like a smoker struggling to blow smoke rings. He was a couple of hours early for the scheduled departure time of the ferry and he was a bit peckish so he went for a walk to try and find a café or a pub.

He’d only been walking a few minutes and realised there was sod all at Bluebell End except a harbour and an Indian restaurant that looked as if it had been closed for some time. He’d barely left the car 5 minutes but when he got back to it the door was open and a window was smashed. Gits, he thought. The settee and the paintings were still there, but the bowler hat, the car radio and a packet of Polo mints had gone. In exchange, whoever had broken into the car left a green and white hooped football sock with a red snooker ball in it.

Con Brady, the ferryman was neither use nor ornament, he’d been asleep, he said, and never heard a thing even though it was right outside his cabin window and merely suggested if he didn’t want the settee to get wet with spray when the tide came in, it could go in his hut. To his surprise, Brian agreed, happy to get rid of the damn thing, stuff Marnock Bay, stuff her relatives, keep it, sell it, do what you want with it he told him.

The two of them lifted it from the roof of the car with ease but it took several attempts to get it through the hut door, the final push resulting in one of the legs breaking off exposing three long screws and a long tear in one arm. The greasy old armchair which had graced the ferryman’s hut for a decade now and stank of stale tobacco, was thrown out in the back yard and perched it on top of a pile of smouldering fish pallets which had been set on fire a few hours ago. They stood around the fire rubbing their hands, happy with a bit of warmth. The ferryman offered Brian a Woodbine but it was politely declined. He was trying to give up, especially throat chokers like Woodbines.

After a few minutes they went into the cabin to look at the tide times and other nautical things Brian didn’t really understand. The sea breeze had got up a bit as the tide came in and fanned the flames of the pallet fire whilst they were talking and as they talked and laughed, the flames licked against the tiny lifeguard’s hut, eventually they caught hold properly and the hut was burnt to the ground and looked like spreading to Khan’s Kebab Emporium over the road but a huge wave broke on the harbour wall and extinguished the fire albeit twenty minutes too late. Brian looked on in horror but Brady didn’t seem bothered one bit.

All that remained after the fire burnt itself out were eight springs, three unidentifiable coins, two matching halves of a blackened mug, a twisted teaspoon and a pine cone shaped cuckoo clock weight. The car escaped but not unscathed, all one side was rusty as all the paint had been burnt off and another window had broken this time from the heat and not by virtue of a sock with a snooker ball in it. As Brian salvaged what he could from the smoke damaged car, a crowd had built up, well 7 people and three sheep to be precise.

Emily Griffiths was one of them and had taken a liking to the two paintings albeit a bit blackened around the edges and asked Brian if they were for sale. He gave them to her, gratis, with his blessing. Take them, he thought, take bloody everything. There was a time when he’d have got angry, stressed and manic about the sort of incidents that had just taken place but he didn’t really care any more. His wife’s nagging had beaten all resistance out of him, almost to the point of total subjugation.

Prestons pools were in the process of, how did they call it, “restructuring” and he didn’t fit in. He hadn’t been told as much, but he knew. Everybody else knew as well. He had long since passed the point of caring, either about his marital issues or his work situation.

Emily was a strange girl, into the occult, shifting time and all that sort of stuff, she thought there was something of herself in the paintings obviously seeing herself in a completely different light to everybody else. She laid them gently on the dog blanket in the boot of her Ford Cortina. Nobody else saw her take them. As a matter of fact, one of them, the one where the eyes were different sizes, the huge left ear and the three pyramidal breasts of differing dimensions, bore a remarkable likeness if truth were known. One boob too many but very similar in other respects.