I said, “She must be swift and white,
And subtly warm, and half perverse,
And sweet, like sharp soft fruit to bite,
And like a snake’s love lithe and fierce”.
Men have guessed worse.
Algernon Charles Swinburne, “Felise”
… … …
<< POV Jock >>
It’s been several days since that Misteh Charlie-initiated hospital drop-in. Thanks to wisely sticking to the boring bed regime and to some special medicine the croaker’s prescribed, me skull’s been obviously mending well. At least the pain is not as excruciating as previously, and the things don’t blur and haze before me eyes anymore quite as much as they’d got a stubborn habit of doing.
Well, it’s not mine first experience of such kind, actually. Misteh Charlie himself, as you’ll surely recall, had once walked over me actual head in a truly valiant if desperately failed attempt to help me go down a murky Lancashire quagmire and not into the dirty hands of Martland an’ buddies’. It didden’ half hurt, really.
Speaking of Misteh Charlie, the boss has phoned the previous day. Kindly yet hastily informed us that he was basically faring well if a bit tired – I’ve no idea what from. Certainly not from making outrageous sums of money on all those paintings he sells and fences to them rich blokes overseas.
That said, I am currently left in the family townhouse together with the Lady, of all people. Can’t even go anywhere (a pub or a gal, say) on me pride and joy – this lovely old pre-war Ariel 1000 c.c. motorbike with four cylinders and Brooklands fishtail exhausts. Due to me remaining forcibly stuck inside for several days, my services have come down mainly to two things. First, to make sure our feathered friend the little singer canary is in splendid voice as always. Second, to cook Madam’s meals, as it is.
Not actually all that much of a chore for good old Jock, as he happens to find both the cooking and the boss’s wife highly agreeable.
Hey, no dirty thoughts please.
This morning Lady Mortdecai’s breakfast is as follows: me trademark fluffy omelet, a couple cucumber sandwiches, and rich Darjeeling tea she prefers to imbibe in the morning, accompanied with her beloved clotted-cream-n’-raspberry scones.
After, seeing that me general condition’s considerably improved, she announces we are calling in at Harrods, this huge Knightsbridge-located upmarket store, to do a little bit of shopping. Quite a fair number of the upper crust geezers (as well as an equally fair number of black-swathed, swarthy-skinned ladies from eastern ambassadors’ harems) have a nice habit of materializing there now and then. Thus, understandably, you aren’t allowed into the building if the clothes you wear are a bit below their standards, you see. That’s why Lady Mortdecai insists that I wear me best black topcoat and dark-grey suit. I do as she instructs, though I really ain’t all that comfortable in them suits, as you might’ve already guessed. For one thing, a stiff suit is not a very good choice for a guy whose job is to quickly jump to action in case their employer’s in jeopardy (like me own often tends to be).
The store itself is rather unpretentiously-looking on the outside, but inside it’s really something nearing paradise. Shopper’s paradise, if nobody else’s. I for one got little interest in most of the stuff, at least as long as I don’t need a new gun; and I highly doubt they boast quite as nice weapons down here as the ones that my good ol’ acquaintance Ginge the Gunsmith so smoothly trades in.
However, as I stand in the middle of the lavish ground-floor foodhall gaping at the fanciful sculptures adorning the space (stags, boars, mermaids, and things) and intricate stained-glass motifs adorning the ceilings – whilst Lady Mortdecai talks affably to an elderly tea merchant – I notice a couple of pretty tourist girlies gaping at me in what may or mayn’t have been genuine enchantment of sorts, with a dash of respectful admiration them gals are always prone to show towards us brawny, solid guys. Just what I cherish most. It does flatter me immensely, in all certainty – wouldn’t be likewise with you?.. Even though I don’t in me right mind intend to try and go any further with any (or both) of them, I must confess that this little episode really makes me day.
Then Madam and me ride the escalators up an’ down in a leisurely sort of way, occasionally paying a short visit at this little shop and that. It turns out that they actually used to offer the very first customers who dared to use these moving stairs – back in the 1890s or so I guess – an actual complimentary shot of brandy to calm their nerves after such a frightful ride. What a nice little treat; a real pity they don’t practice it anymore.
Later, when I go take a leak at the local House of Lords (a Misteh Charlie’s expression, the slang of college kids’), I’m instantly taken in by the sheer range of those gorgeous male perfumes over the sinks. All of them the very scents I always wished, yet never had a mere chance to use before. Me eyes flash joyfully as I pick up the first generously-sized bottle that meets me eye. As I appear back in the main hall, Lady M. instantly smells on me the mix of those colognes, eau de toilettes and whatever else I’ve managed to make a good use of. With a somewhat derogatory smile Madam sternly remarks that it’s only in the fashion of handsy hoi-polloi and occasional Touristins to sprinkle oneself with this free stuff so liberally. I hang me head in shame, yet the fragrance’s already there, nothing to be done about it.
Then I carry Madam’s ample game up to the cabbie, and away we ride. Back home, Lady Mortdecai gets me to make a lunch from some of the goodies she’s purchased – sweet biscuits (lemon pretzel, butterscotch, cherry bakewell, stem ginger and malted milk flavors – all sorts of them), choc chips shortbreads, and a lovely fruit-n’-nut cake for dessert. And all this not just for her; for me as well. She knows that me dearly love ‘em sweets, does the fair Lady – I do, just as much as drinks if not more. Sweet tooth, is Jock bloody Strapp, eh.
There are only two of us in the whole house. At first I feel quite constrained feasting on them godly sweets around the boss’ Madam. I’m fairly sure that she’s missing her husband Misteh Charlie, so the fact I am sitting just across her and gobbling up all those mouthwatering things must feel, shall I say, mildly offensive to her, or else – I dunno for sure, but still. In truth, she isn’t even looking at me at first; just sits there, across from myself, glancing either into her plate or into her teacup; silent and, I daresay, unnervingly moody.
I start to feel like I’m losing a bit of me heart, and besides my glass eye feels like it somehow ain’t been inserted properly. I take it out and deftly thrust back in. Yet Lady Mortdecai doesn’t even turn her head in my direction.
At last she casts a look at me – boy, ‘tis one hell of a powerful look; it hits me right in me very soul almost as badly as that bullet which hit me in the chest a couple years ago. The scar I still bear from that incident is large and rather grisly-looking; I doubt if the other one left on me actual soul will be any smaller. Ah, to hell with it, I think as soon as Madam finishes her lunch, gets up and, without a word, goes away into her bedroom.
For some reason, she won’t take no dinner.
At ten o’clock in the evening, announcing my appearance by a polite cough which almost takes the door off its hinges, I stride into the master bedroom to bring Lady Mortdecai her usual cup of the finest-blend mint tea – she always drinks this kind before going to bed, finding it pleasantly soothing (not as soothing as a swig of good whiskey, I dare remark). As for me, prior to entering the Lady’s quarters I brewed myself the stuff known as the “Sergeant-Major’s” – a sort of the cheapest Indian tea boiled up with sugar and condensed milk, especially nice if you put a little rum inside. It’s great indeed, does one a power of good; but you buddies don’t want none of it.
The Lady’s room is plunged in darkness – only a fancy Tiffany bedside lamp gives off a shaded, dark-amber circle of light. She is lying onto the lavish marriage bed, on her back, her eyes closed, and her face – it seems – slightly pale. Dressed in a white finest-silk blouse over her glorious bosom and a black knee-length skirt with an elegantly-buckled belt. Does look killing like that.
Although there’s Le Nozze De Figaro playing on the turntable (yeah guys, I do recognize this particular one), she doesn’t seem like listening to it. Yet it turns out that she is, and with a melancholic attention.
– Charlie and I, – she says aloud as I approach her to place the tea-tray with her steaming fragrant cuppa onto the bed, – We listened to the bits of this very opera on the night after he got back from his long treatment. You will surely recall – it was mid-February, it snowed heavily in the city, and dear Charlie spent five weeks in hospital with his jawbone gravely shattered in one of his deals…
I know about all this, for sure – His Lordship does seem like he pretty often gets in trouble for no reason whatever like a Drury Lane whore – just havin’ a joke, pardon me Cockney. I honestly have no idea if he would still inhabit the land of the living had me, a former jailbird in the heyday of his career as an actual art-dealer lord’s bodyguard, not been around at most times.
– The poor man, – Lady Mortdecai continues, unabashed, – could take no food whatever; they had to hold his mouth shut the whole time, naturally, feeding him only through the nose with some stuff they use in such cases… So when Charlie was finally released and sent back home and stepped over the threshold I swear I nearly fainted at the sight of him, so very thin, attenuated he’d become… And his voice had gone hoarse after many days of total silence, and when he took his first normal meal, he was barely able to chew. And then I took him here to the bedroom, where Charlie and me were lying in bed side by side, in darkness, holding each other’s hand firmly and listening to this very Mozart on the player. Ah, and we both got fairly drunk, to push everything out of our minds. Then, as soon as the opera neared an especially sad point, I got up and changed the record to some jazz album, it was way livelier. I used to listen to quite a lot of jazz back in the States, you see.
I stare down at her with rough compassion. The Lady falls silent and absently reaches for the tray, grabbing a Harrods shortbread biscuit, decadently hand-dipped and enrobed with couverture milk chocolate. These little things, as is stated on the tin box, are sweet, buttery, complemented with a hint of spices; me poor mouth waters at the thought of one of ‘em slowly melting onto me tongue – I’ve had abso-bloody-lutely no chance to be allowed to get a bite of such a luscious little treat as of yet. Involuntary, I grin down at Lady Mortdecai, flashing her the civilest smile I’m capable of, with me large lower dogtooth baring jovially.
She only sulks back at me, not really appreciating me honest efforts at being friendly. Then again, the Lady must be really angry with me in fact, for not having accompanied Misteh Charlie onto his current trip, even taking me head’s pitiable condition into account. Well, she has every right to do so. The Lady seems to admire her hubby very much, she truly does. Not entirely surprising if you care to remember she was initially forced by her gold-digger mommy to marry a Texan oil-fields proprietor (utterly spoilt, utterly repulsive, stinking-rich bloke) long before meeting me honorable boss. Meeting him, as luck would have it, on the very day of her first hubby’s undoing (which did happen at her own hands, I strongly believe). How deliciously serendipitous, no?
So well, yeah, it’s only natural that she’s pretty much worried about Misteh Charlie’s safety. She probably thinks I’m literally indefatigable.
As a matter of fact I’m afraid to say that I actually ain’t, though with time I did have to learn how to mend myself. It all started back at the jails where I done Her Majesty’s nice wholesome porridge a solid few times. You see, the wardens had a nasty habit of beating us inmates senseless out of boredom; they broke me collarbone once, not to mention a large number of other equally ghastly things.
All in all, it was always a matter of either you struggle and pull through and keep on living, hoping to enjoy freedom with all its pleasures once more, or you just don’t.
Well, me did. Many times.
Yet this is not to say that I’m some sort of immortal, certainly. Nobody is.
Yet I’m pretty ready to take half again as many bullets as me already got, for the sake of my gracious boss.
And should a day (or night, blimey) arrive when I must die for Misteh Charlie, I will without hesitation.
For apart from him, I have no one.
All of a sudden, Lady Mortdecai beckons me to come closer.
Before I realize what’s this all about, I feel a Harrods biscuit being pressed at my lips. Turns out it’s Lady Mortdecai’s gracious hand that gently yet firmly guides it into my mouth. Not having a pretty decent idea of what I’m actually doing, I take a hungry bite.
It looks like heaven; it does taste respectively. Without knowing it, I close my eyes with pure bliss, the bittersweet chocolate slowly melting onto my tongue.
Gawblimey, what does she think she’s doing?! I’m bleeding dumbstruck; I feel like she’s really got me under her spell. But then, I’m pretty sure you would feel the same, were a dashingly pretty woman like this particular Lady M. feeding you a luxurious handmade treat from her very hand.
I take a second bite, then Madam takes another, and then we look at each other, chocolate cream and filling smearing our lips, and chuckle.
Lonely and frustrated as she certainly is, I think I discern a mischievous glimmer in the depths of her eyes.
Yet the greater surprise is to arrive a moment later.
Before I have a chance to open my eyes, I feel Lady Mortdecai’s full, sensuous lips come into contact with mine. I startle and draw back a little, the sensation pretty much unexpected.
Me breath quickens, but she doesn’t break the kiss. Her mouth tastes of the same little biscuits, chocolate and marzipan. I dunno how to best describe what I feel at this moment; all words sort of escape me – I ain’t no bloody man o’ letters, you understand.
Yet it surely is like nothink that I, a hard-case whorehound at body and at heart forever condemned to go round hunting ‘em big dames, have yet experienced. Ya see, these reach-me-down pleasurehouse hotsies go about their business dispersing equal doses of ministrations to anyone who happens to stroll into their filthy domain; there’s no senses in that, only desire that of money. I do have vast experience in the ways of their load; in fact, after doing me last (and longest) stretch me and one of me ol’ mates had a lot of fun at one of such establishments – I’ll tell me curious friends about it a bit later, I promise.
At last I myself take the work of breaking this kiss, and then make sure I look at her nonchalantly, non-committaly.
– Would ya care for some jazz, Madam? – I inquire in as courteous a voice as I can muster.
– Why not, Jock, why not… – She replies in what I take to be a careful tone of voice.
I go to the turntable and put a jazz record on. The music sets the right mood in the room. It’s a nice record, something by him Johnny Hartman chap – “Lush Life” and such, if you please.
– Jock, – The Lady says suddenly.
– Yeah, Ma’am?
– Jock, do come here. Yes, here. There’s a good man. How are you feeling, Jock? Your eye is much clearer now. Pray do lie down here. Yes, onto the bed.
I give Lady Mortdecai one of me best befuddled looks, the one which includes rolling back part of me upper lip in a nasty grin, hoping to probably frighten ‘er sort of, and thus quit making me feel uneasy. It does frighten Misteh Charlie, you know. Not terrifies, thankfully. In actual fact, boss is the only man who I myself am slightly afraid of (but I didn’t tell ya nothing).
Though ‘tis ain’t working with her, it seems. Madam’s not scared of me in the least. Why, she even smiles a little – a coy, inviting smile. Not at all one smile of a married chick, if a guy like me understands anything about married chicks.
Ah well, she’s the lady of the house after all; it seems like I better obey, or else.
I leer back at her – equally coyly, I hope – then creep over to the bed and lie down, stretching me tired body onto the soft tartan bedspread. I cast a tentative look onto Lady Mortdecai: she doesn’t make no move to look at me, her gaze still directed at the high coffered ceiling lost in the near-darkness.
I must admit that her lush golden hair looks ever more stunning in the dim close lamplight. Outright gorgeous. So much so that before long – some kind of instinct, eh – I find myself reaching out to her and fleetingly yet bravely apply me own bunch o’ fives onto its soft, glorious locks. Oh yeah, is it a treat, dead-honest. Her hair feels just as wonderful as it looks. Heavenly, guys. Simply heavenly.
I expect the Lady to start or tremble or whatever they gals do when you touch their hair like this. Yet she does no such thing.
What she does do is she turns onto her side to face my bulky form.
Takes one long look at me face, does Lady M., her radiant eyes going over this ugly mug of mine slowly, unhurriedly, seemingly taking in every last scar and shallow cut, before sliding lower to rest on my firm chest under a dark-grey shirt. I for me part do nothing but stare benignly into her strikingly beautiful face.
She seems to enjoy it, all of it. Dead right she does.
And then – and then she smiles at me once more.
In quite another fashion this time.
I instantly recall Misteh Charlie fleetingly mention me the fact about his wife’s being a bloody nympho or something.
It makes me shudder all over.
I have to stop and ponder it.
To think that a genuine (and ravishing one, at that) nympho Lady would do a thing like this to an ex-con thug of her hubby’s, who not once in his fucked-up lifetime dared so much as hope to court any good, decent woman outside the hookshop walls…I feel like I may lose my temper, pretty soon.
To think that she, the Lady, –
Smiles. Predatorily. At me.
Ah well. Jolly good.
What I do in return is give her a knowing, juicy, lewd grin.
… … …