The Last Newspaper in the World

 

14 August 2014

 

9 EMILY’S PENCIL FACE

 

Diana and I went out through the small lounge on to the back step.  I hadn’t noticed it had begun to rain again.  I just wanted to grab my board from the back of the car and run across the road into the sea.  Throwing my keys to Diana, I got in the passenger’s side.  Diana adjusted the seat and the mirrors, pausing a moment to look at herself.  I smiled at the ritual.  We drove down the shell-covered driveway, the shells glistening in the rain and crackling as the car rolled slowly over them.  In the car, I couldn’t smell the sea but I could sense it, so I dropped the window down a bit.  Some rain came in and wet my face.  I could sense the salt spray in the drops.

 

‘Please put the window up.  It’s getting wet,’ Diana said as we turned into the road.  ‘Is that why you wanted me to drive?  So you could stick your head out the window and get the car wet?’

 

What I had been really thinking was that I’d get Diana to drop me off so I could cop off for a surf.  Let my mind do its own work on what Bernie had told me.  Maybe go for a coffee with Angelique.

 

‘I might just get you to stop up here by the store.’

 

‘What?  Why?’

 

‘Just thought I might go for a quick surf.’

 

Diana looked over at me quickly, her face made up in a way that told me she was sceptical.

 

‘No, forget that.  We have to get back to the office.  There’s a lot to talk about.’

 

I was quiet.

 

‘Besides, you can catch up with Angelique later.’

 

‘It’s just I’ve got a lot to think about and I can’t do that in the office, with all that noise.’

 

‘Sorry Bill, that’s the job.  Let’s see where this story goes first shall we?’

 

She looked over at me and I gave her the upward tilt of my chin that is the local version of ‘affirmative’.

 

We drove past the store and turned up the hill back to town.  I could see Angelique behind the counter.  We had a lot to talk about, or maybe sometimes there are things you can’t talk about.

 

‘So what did you make of Bernie?’ I asked, hoping to swerve the conversation away from Harry and me.

 

‘He does know a lot that he isn’t saying,’ Diana said, changing gear as we wound over a winding stretch of the hill.

 

‘Obviously.’

 

‘And he’s a bit of a drama queen isn’t he.’

 

‘Maybe.  I don’t know.’

 

I looked at Diana as she drove along.  She was totally focused on the story in a way that I was unable to at that moment, picking apart the pieces and put them back together so they made sense. 

 

‘You do know what Bernie told us was on background, so…’

 

‘Oh, of course but it is where we take it that matters.  It’s how we connect Mayor Brand’s murder to whatever it is.  Is it a paedophile ring?  Or is there more?’

 

‘Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll,’ I said.

 

‘What do you mean?’

 

‘It’s something that Glen said.’

 

‘Well we’ve got the sex, so do you think there’re drugs involved?  And what’s the rock ‘n roll?’

 

We decided, well I suggested, we wait until we get back to the office before going any further.  I really just wanted some quiet.  Turning the sounds on instead, I hear Amy Winehouse singing one of her B-side tunes, Best Friend.  Something about her best friend knowing all her faces and being the person she most liked to smoke it up with.  I turned it off.

 

‘You’re not going to stick your head out the window again,’ said Diana, smiling at me.

 

I laughed and told her it was all good and, yeah, I was just thinking about the story.

 

When we arrived back into town we parked the car outside the office behind an old Chrysler, black with fins.

 

‘Look at this monstrosity,’ Diana said. 

 

I’d seen it.  I knew who it belonged to and wondered why it was parked outside The Last Newspaper in the World.

 

As we got out of the car, I saw Emily Lewis coming around the back of the Chrysler.  She was taller than me, dressed totally in black, with a long black, hippy skirt.  She was always slim in that athletic way. She was much slimmer now and her face had grown tighter, her features more pinched.  I hadn’t seen her much since we left school but I had passed her by when walking through the weekly market on The Strand recently.  Emily was with a heavy-set man, hanging on to his arm.  His face was kind of obscured, like somebody had used a pencil to scrawl across his features.  So he didn’t have a blank look, he just didn’t have a look.  Except for his eyes, which peered through the scribble with the kind of blank look I thought you might see on somebody before they cut your throat.  I quickly looked away, but before I did I noticed Emily had a look almost of somebody in ecstasy.  Her thin lips had a fixed smile and she seemed very secure, very protected.  This wasn’t always the case with Emily.  Although I didn’t know too much about her background, most of us knew it wasn’t a happy family equation.  As I said, she was a good athlete but she did tend to lose it during or after events.  Tripping up opponents during races, then fighting them to the ground when they complained afterwards meant the prizes she should have won were snatched from her grasp.  Suspensions from school inevitably followed such incidents and, as her school work suffered, she drifted further and further away to another world.  The Last Newspaper in the World carried a report a while ago that she had been sentenced to two years in jail for defrauding a local retailer.  Emily mustn’t have served the full two years, because her she was, standing in front of me, almost towering over us. 

 

‘Bill, hiya, howyagoin, whatchadoin, workin for the old man now, eh?’ Emily’s eyes darting back and forth between me and Diana.  ‘Why don’t ya introduce me to your girlfriend?’

 

‘She’s not my girlfriend,’ I said, possibly a little too quickly.  ‘This is Diana, we work together.  Diana, this is Emily.  We were at school.’

 

Diana nodded watchfully, saying nothing.  Emily looked excited or amused.

 

‘You should grab him while you can.  Do you know our Bill was a real star at school,’ Emily said.  At least she didn’t use the simpering complaining voice that used to be the prelude to a blow up.

 

‘A shooting star?’ Diana asked, laughing lightly.

 

Emily blinked quietly then turned to me.

 

‘I’ve got some news for you,’ she said and jerked her head away. 

 

Turning to Diana, I nodded.  When I turned back, Emily was already striding towards her car.  I climbed in and closed the heavy black door.  She gunned it and we lurched away from the curb.  We didn’t go far, just down to The Strand and turned into wash and wank alley, before going into the tar sealed car park behind The Captain’s Cabin.  I shouldn’t have been surprised to see she worked at the brothel, but I was.  When I said so, she laughed.

 

‘Nah, not really.  Guys don’t really go in for the scrawny type.  They come here to follow their dreams not to visit somebody who looks like their missus.  I do fill in some times when we are caught short or have a rush on.  But mostly I help James.  I think you’ve seen him.’

 

Oh, so ‘Pencil face’ was a brothel owner, I thought.

 

‘So yeah and I am the duty manager when he’s not here.’

 

That made sense also.  Not too many people would give Emily trouble.

 

We climbed the stairs and entered through the back door, going down a hallway into a foyer through which I could see the street front.  ‘Pencil face’ was sitting at a large table, staring at a laptop. 

 

‘Welcome to The Captain’s Table.  What is your desire?’ he said in a monotone without looking up.

 

‘Sweetie, this is the guy I was telling you about,’ Emily said, her voice going up a pitch into a kind of coo.

 

He looked up at me and I swear I could see the pencil lines moving as his face sketched itself into an expression of slight interest, indicated by the line of his right eyebrow lifting slightly.

 

‘Bill, this is James.  James, this is Bill, you know my friend from school.’

 

Friend was going too far but it was a delicate moment, so I let it slip by.

 

‘B.b? Does that make you the smallest gun then?’

 

‘Something like that.’

 

‘So why are you here?  What can I do you for newspaper guy?’ James said, picking up and putting on a captain’s cap.

 

‘James, you know I’ve told you, you know about this business with the mayor.  Please honey, maybe Bill can help,’ Emily said, as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pushed her body close into his back.

 

Out of nowhere, I had become that guy, the newspaper guy, somebody who would be expected to listen with avid interest to people’s stories.  Suddenly, I wanted to say ‘don’t tell me your story; I don’t want to hear about your sordid world or your crummy life, must go, time for a surf’.

 

‘What’s the story?’ I heard myself say, thinking now of Harry back at the office, Glen and the crew.

 

The pencil ran over James’s face and sketched what could either have been a wry smile or a grimace.

 

‘I hear you’re a live and let live kind of guy,’ James said, pushing himself back from the table and shrugging off Emily.  ‘Now’s as good a time as any, before we get busy.’

 

He wrapped a hand around Emily’s waist, told her to bring some tea.

 

‘Not what you expected?  The tea I mean.  You need your head in this business and with these girls.  Well, I say girls but it’s a long time since any of them has been that.  Twots on legs is what I’d call them.’

 

He looked directly at me, his face scribbled I almost saw the artist’s pencil move side-to-side.

 

‘Mayor Bland.  What’s that all about?’ he leaned forward to me as I sat opposite.

 

‘Sex, drugs and…’

 

‘Rock ‘n roll.  Yeah I’ve heard all that before.  You’re right about the first two, but there is no rock ‘n roll here just a bunch of crap. Bad crap.’

 

Emily brought in a tray with a pot of tea, cups and saucers and milk and biscuits.

 

‘I’ll be mother,’ she said, which caused both James and me to smile.

 

A cup almost disappeared in one of James’s hands.

 

‘You’ll scribble whatever you fucking want but no quoting me, right?’ James said, the pencil sketching its way over his face again.

 

I blinked at him and took a sip of strong tea.

 

‘Sure, sure.  Not a bad brew Em.’

BOOK DETAILS

 

 

The Last Newspaper in the World

By Mick Stone

 

 

Published by BMS Books

An imprint of Business Media Services Ltd

 

 

Publication Details:

The Last Newspaper in the World

Copyright © 2012 Mick Stone

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-473-23249-8

ISBN-13:978-0-473-232250-4

 

 

Published in Kindle by:

BMS Books an imprint of

Business Media Services Ltd

www.bms.co.nz

 

 

For further information on rights, contact:

ms@bms.co.nz

5 High Street

Rotorua 3010

New Zealand

Tel: (07) 349 4107

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