Inconspicuous, his presence noted only by the obscurity and the ever growing number of spent cigarette stubs that littered the ground. It had been a long day and the rain, relentless in its tenacity had little intention of stopping, baleful clouds still hung heavy, dominating the lateness of the afternoon sky, a rain laden skyline broken only by smoke filled chimney pots and the tangled snarl of corroded television aerials.
The once busy street was fast emptying now, the lure of shop windows no longer enticed the casual browser as local traders closed their premises to the oncoming night, solitary lampposts curved hazily into the distance, casting little more than insipid pools mirrored in the gutter below, only the occasional stranger scurrying home on a bleak, rain swept afternoon, the hurried slap of wet leather soles on the pavement, the sightless umbrellas, the infrequent rumble of a half filled bus, hell-bent on its way to oblivion.
In the near distance as the working day ended, a sudden emergence of factory workers told Beamish it was 5-o'clock, most would be hurrying home to a hot meal, while others, for a quick drink perhaps before making the same old sorry excuse... for Jack, the greasy spoon would be closing about now, denying him the comfort of a badly needed cuppa' and stale cheese sandwich. A subtle legacy of lunchtime fish and chips still lingered in the air, Jack's stomach rumbled, there was little chance of a fish supper for Beamish tonight, it protested again... louder.
From beneath the eaves of the building opposite several pigeons broke cover, startled by the rattle as a shopkeeper struggled to close the canvas awning above his shop window. Narrowly missing Beamish they flew anxiously over the rooftops, memories of the blitz sprang to mind as Jack stepped smartly to one side, he stamped his feet... it dashed a little of the weather from his raincoat, just as the rain dashed a little of the pigeons' anxiety from the pavement... the day couldn't get much worse if it tried. Shielding his face, Jack struck the Ronson one more time and cupped the freshly lit cigarette between his hands, it was the only source of heat to be had that day... and still it rained.
'By Appointment to Certain Personages...' the letter heading rang out loudly... 'Jack Beamish ~ Private Investigator...' a throat choking mouthful by any stretch of the imagination, thought Jack and shot every vestige of credulity plummeting straight through the office window and amidst a fanfare of trumpet voluntary, nominate itself for a prodigious award in the New Year Honours list. Having formally served in a professional capacity for a well known purveyor of pickled condiments, who incidentally, brandished the same patronage emblazoned upon their extensive range of relish as the one Jack had more recently purloined from them... a paid commission no less, which by Jack's certain understanding had made him, albeit fleeting in nature, a professional consultant of said company... and consequently, if they could flaunt the auspicious emblem, then according to Jack's infallible logic, so could Jack.
The recently appropriated letterhead possessed certain distinction... in much the same way, Jack reasoned, that a blank piece of paper did not... and whereas correspondence bearing the heading 'By Appointment' may not exactly strike terror into the hearts of man... unlike a really strong pickled onion, it nevertheless made people think twice before playing him for the fool, which sadly, Jack had to concede, they still invariably did... and he would often catch them wagging an accusing finger or two in his direction with such platitudes as... "watch where you put your foot", they'd whisper, "that Jack's a right Shamus...", and when you'd misplaced your footing as many times as Jack had, then he reasoned, that by default the celebrated Shamus must have landed himself in more piles of indiscretion than he would readily care to admit, but that wouldn't be quite accurate either, in Jack's line of work it was the malefactor that actually dropped him in them more often than not.
A cold shiver suddenly ran down his spine, another quickly followed as a spurt of icy water from a broken rain spout spattered across the back of his neck, he grimaced... Jack's expression spoke volumes as he took one final pull from his half soaked cigarette and flicked it, amid an eruption of sparks against the adjacent brick wall. Sinking further into the shadow he tipped his fedora against the oncoming rain, then, digging both hands deep within his pockets, he huddled behind the upturned collar of his gabardine... watching.
It was times such as these when Jack's mind would slip back, in much the same way you might slip back on a discarded banana peel, when a matter of some consequence, or in particular this case the pavement, would suddenly leap up from behind and give the back of Jack's head a resoundingly good slapping and tell him to "stop loafing around in office hours... or else", then drag him, albeit kicking and screaming back into the 20th century. This intellectual assault and battery re-focused Jack's mind wonderfully as he whiled away the long weary hours until his next cigarette; cup of tea, or the last bus home, his capacity to endure such mind boggling tedium called for nothing less than sheer ******-mindedness and very little else... Beamish had long suspected that he possessed all the necessary qualifications.
Jack had come a long way since the early days, it had been a long haul but he'd finally arrived there in the end... and managed to pick up quite a few ***** looks along the way. Whilst he was with the Police Constabulary... and it was only fair to stress the word 'with', as opposed to the word 'in'... although the more Jack considered, he had been 'with' the arresting officer, held 'in' the local Bridewell... detained at Her Majesties pleasure while assisting the boys in blue with their enquiries over a minor infringement of some local by-law that currently had quite slipped his mind at that moment. Throughout this enforced leisure period he'd managed to read the entire abridged editions of Kilroy and other expansive works of graffiti exhibited in what passed locally as the next best thing to the Tate Gallery, whereupon it hadn't taken Jack very long to realise that it was always a good place to start if you wanted free breakfast, in fact the weeks bill of fare was tastefully displayed in vivid, polychromatic colour on the wall opposite... you just had to be au-fait with braille.
No matter how industrious Beamish laboured to rake the dirt there always appeared to be a dire shortage of gullible clients for Jack to squeeze, what would roughly translate as an honest crust out of, and although his financial retainer was highly competitive he understood that potential clients found it bewildering when grappling with the unplumbed depths of his monthly expense account, which would tend to fluctuate with the same unpredictability as the British weather, the rest of Jack's agenda revolved around a little shady moonlighting... in fact he'd happily consider anything to offset the remotest possibility of financial delinquency... short of extortion... which by the strangest twist was the very word prospective clients would cry while Jack beavered around the office with dust-pan and brush sweeping any concerns they may have had frantically under the carpet regarding all culpability of his extra-curricular monthly stipend... and they should remain assured at all times... as they dug deep and fished for their cheque books, and simply look upon it as kneading dough, which eerily enough was exactly the thick wedge of buttered granary that Jack had every intention of carving.
Were there ever the slightest possibility that a day could be so utterly wretched, then today was that day, Jack felt a certain empathy as he merged with his surroundings... at one with nature as it were. The rain, a timpani on the metal dustbin lids, by the side of which Beamish had taken up vigil, also taking up vigil and in search of a morsel was the stray mongrel, this was the third time now that he'd returned, the same apprehensive wag, yet still the same hopeful look of expectation in his eyes, a brief but friendly companion who paid more attention to Jack's left trouser leg than anything that could be had from nosing around the dustbins that day... some days you're the dog, scowled Beamish as he shook his trouser leg... and some days the lamppost, Jack's foot swung out playfully, keeping his new friend's incontinence at a safe distance, feigning indignance the scruffy mongrel shook himself defiantly from nose to tail, a distinct odour of wet dog filled the air as an abundance of spent rainwater flew in all directions. Pricking one ear he looked accusingly at Jack before turning and snuffled off, his nose resolutely to the pavement and diligently, picking out the few diluted scents still remaining, the poor little stalwart renewed its search for scraps, or making his way perhaps to some dry seclusion known only to itself.
Two hours later and... SPLOSH, a puddle poured itself through the front door of the nearest Public House... SPLOSH, the puddle squelched over to the payphone... SPLOSH, then, fumbling for small change dialled and pressed button 'A'..., then button 'B'... then started all over again amid a flurry of precipitation... SPLASH. The puddle floundered to the bar and ordered itself a drink, then ebbed back to the payphone again... the local taxi company doggedly refused to answer... finally, wallowing over to the window the puddle drifted up against a warm radiator amidst a cloud of humidity and came to rest... flotsam, cast upon the shore of contentment, the puddle sighed contentedly... the Landlady watched this anomaly... suspiciously.
The puddle's finely tuned perception soon got to grips with the unhurried banter and muffled gossip drifting along the bar, having little else to loose, other than what could still be wrung from his clothing... Beamish, working on the principle that a little eavesdropping was his stock-in-trade engaged instinct into overdrive and casually rippled in their general direction... They were clearly regulars by the way one of them belched in a well rehearsed, taken-a-back sort of way as Jack took stock of the situation and was now at some pains to ingratiate himself into their exclusive midst and attempt several friendly, yet relevant questions pertinent to his enquiries... all of which were skillfully deflected with more than friendly, yet totally irrelevant answers pertinent to theirs'... and would Jack care for a game of dominoes', they enquired... if so, would he be good enough to pay the refundable deposit, as by common consent it just so happened to be his turn... Jack graciously declined this generous offer, as the obliging Landlady, just as graciously, cancelled the one shilling returnable deposit from the cash register, such was the flow of light conversation that evening... they didn't call him Lucky Jack for nothing... discouraged, Beamish turned back to the bar and reached for his glass... to which one of his recent companions, and yet again just as graciously, had taken the trouble to drink for him... the Landlady gave Jack a knowing look, Beamish returned the heartfelt sentiment and ordered one more pint.
From the licenced premises opposite, a myriad of jostling customers plied through the door, business was picking up... the sudden influx of punters rapidly persuaded Beamish to retire from the bar and find a vacant table. Sitting, he removed several discarded crisp packets from the centre of the table only to discover a freshly vacated ashtray below... by sleight of hand Jack's Ronson appeared... as he lit the cigarette the fragile smoke curled blue as it rose... influenced by subtle caprice, it joined others and formed a horizontal curtain dividing the room, a delicate, undulating layer held between two conflicting forces.
The possibility of a free drink soon attracted the attention of a local bar fly, who, hovering in the near vicinity promptly landed in Jack's beer, Beamish declined this generous offer as being far too nutritious and with the corner of yesterdays beer mat, flipped the offending organism from the top of his glass, carefully inspecting his drink for debris as he did so.
A sudden draught and clip of stiletto heels as the side door opened caused Beamish to turn as a double shadow slipped discreetly into the friendly Snug... a little adulterous intimacy on an otherwise cheerless evening. The faceless man, concealed beneath a fedora and the upturned collar of his overcoat, the surreptitious lady friend, decked out in damp cony, cheap perfume and a surfeit of bling proclaimed a not too infrequent assignation, he'd seen it all before... the over attentive manner and the band of white, Sun-starved skin recently hidden behind a now absent wedding token, ordinarily it was the sort of assignment Jack didn't much care for... the discreet tail, the candid snapshot through half drawn curtains... and the all too familiar steak tartare... for the all too familiar black eye.
To the untrained eye, the prospect of Jack's long anticipated supper was rapidly dwindling, when it suddenly focused with renewed vigour upon the contents of a pickled egg jar he'd observed earlier that evening, lurking on the back counter, his enthusiasm swiftly diminished however as the belching customer procured the final two specimens from the jar and proceeded to demolish them. Who, Jack reflected, after being stood out in the rain all day, had egg all over his face now... and who, he reflected deeper, still had an empty stomach. Disillusioned, Jack tipped back his glass and considered a further sortie with the taxicab company.
"FIVE-BOB"!!! Jack screamed... you could have shredded the air with a cheese grater... hurtling into the kerb like a fairground attraction came flying past the chequered flag at a record breaking 99 in Jack's top 100 most not wanted list of things to do that day... and that the cabby should think himself fortunate they weren't both stretched flat on a marble slab, "exploding tyres" Jack spluttered, dribbling down his chin, were enough to give anyone a coronary... further broadsides of neurotic ambiance filled the cab as the driver, miffed at the prospect of missing snooker night out with the lads, considered charging extra for the additional space Jack's profanity was taking...
And what part of 'Drive-Carefully', fumed Beamish, did the cabby simply not understand, that pavements were there to be bypassed, 'Nay Circumvented', preferably on the left... and not veered into, wildly on the front axle... an eerie premonition of 'jemais-vu' perched and ready to strike like a disembodied Jiminy Cricket on Jack's left shoulder, looking to stick its own two-penny worth in at the 'Standing-Room-Only' arrangements in the overcrowded cab... and at what further point, Jack shrieked, eyes leaping from his head as he lurched forward, shaking his fist through the sliding glass partition, had the cabbie failed to grasp the importance of the word 'Steering-Wheel...' someone wanted horse whipping, and as far as Beamish was concerned the sole contender was the cab driver...
In having a somewhat sedate and unruffled disposition it had fallen to Beamish... as befalls all great leaders in times of adversity, to single handedly take the bull by the horns, so to speak and at great personal cost, alert the unwary passing motorist... Waving his arms about like a man possessed whilst performing acrobatic evolutions in the centre of the road as the cabby changed the wheel came whizzing around the corner at a back breaking 98 on Jack's ever growing list... and why, Jack puzzled, why had they all lowered their side windows and gestured back at him in semaphore..? Rallying to its aid, Jack's head and shoulders now joined his shaking fist through the sliding glass partition and into the cabby's face, "Who" Beamish screeched with renewed vigour ,"Who Was The Man", Jack wanted to know... *"a