Having at last solved the hire car assistant puzzle, I suddenly found myself confronted instead by several more mysteries of a somewhat more pressing nature. For example, if our smoky bandit wasn’t dropping off a hire car, then what was he doing? Why did he think Damian and I were part of his dastardly plan? How come that the plan involved the ransacking of the very premises that we had already planned to visit? All obvious questions that might not have convincing answers (robust evidence, highly likely). So it was no wonder that I would still be deep in puzzlement when our uninvited accomplice spoke once more.
“Forget the puzzlement. Where’s Damian, and who’s got the gun?”
I had to think quickly.
“He’s upstairs in the penthouse,” I blurted.
Look, I know you are all thinking that I just dobbed my boss in, but think about it. If I’d admitted that we were just generator salesmen saving the world from certain catastrophe, we could both end up strapped to canteen chairs, if only to make a denialist point. This way, we still had a chance of escape. I could go back upstairs, appraise Damian of the situation, and then we could both join the gang, pretending to search the foyer, before casually escaping through the front door when their guard was down. Then we call the police (or coastguard, depending upon which climate model one is using) and sit back to watch the show from the safety of the security cordon. All of this worked out in a flash. Not bad, I thought, for a humble salesman just doing his bit for Mother Earth.
“So you were upstairs when we arrived then?” probed the gang’s leader. “But doing what, exactly? He never mentioned you,” he added pointedly, whilst pointing at Jack.
“Well that will be because he thought we were here to sell him generators. He genuinely thought we were negotiating a sales deal that would help him comply with the David Attenborough Climate Change The Facts at Work Act, 2020. But just as we would be getting down to sign the contract we were going to whip the gun out and reveal our real game. Then you arrived and beat us to it.”
By this stage I was well impressed with myself.
“Christ, Harry,” that’s a bit far-fetched don’t you think?” interrupted one of the ransackers.
Smokey bloke quickly turned on his partner in crime. “I said no names you idiot.”
I, on the other hand, was quite thankful for this slip. Now, and for the remainder of the story, I could refer to the gang’s leader by name.
Harry turned back towards me and purred menacingly, “Yeh, I agree, that is a bit far-fetched. Why on earth would you go to those lengths?”
Again, I would have to think quickly.
“Look, it wasn’t my idea, it was Damian’s. I’ll go and bring him down and he can explain it to you.”
I couldn’t get back in the lift fast enough.
As I stepped out of the lift back into the penthouse, I wasted no time in getting to the point.
“Damian, I think it is time to hear your plan C.”
Damian didn’t respond immediately. He was too busy on his laptop, furtively replaying the dramatic YouTube footage of Jeremy Clarkson being arrested for crimes against humanity. Sure, Jezza had repented, but it was all too little too late – his Top Gear legacy was still available on the dark web. As Damian suddenly became aware of my presence, he slapped the laptop shut and squirmed uncomfortably. But it wasn’t too long before he had regained his composure. Damian loved being a leader. Or rather, he loved the idea that others would think him a leader. So I repeated the warning.
“Damian, I think it is time to hear your plan C. Your leadership is required.”
“Okay, that’s understandable,” he opened confidently, “but first tell me what’s going on down there. Have they all gone?”
I tried to break the news gently.
“Not exactly. The good news is that the foyer is still above sea level. However, they’re still down there, ransacking the premises, and here’s the funny thing, they think you are a master criminal who is leading the whole shebang. But they are a bit puzzled why you are trying to pass yourself off as a generator salesman.”
“Executive,” corrected Damian. “Surely they meant ‘sales executive’. And what do you mean by ‘passing myself off’?”
“Look, that’s not really important right now,” I insisted. “They are downstairs waiting for your grand appearance, eager for you to explain yourself.”
Damian raised his hand as if to force a pause to all proceedings.
“Just a minute. You assured me that there was no way we were going to get embroiled in criminal skulduggery. What was it you said? ‘No, that would be far too clichéd’. Now, I find I couldn’t possibly get more embroiled. What have you done?”
“What have I done?” I protested. “I’m not the one who flagged down the wrong bloody car. Don’t you go blaming this on me. So I misjudged the situation. It turns out that clichés are not that easy to avoid. That doesn’t mean that I am to blame.”
Damian didn’t appear to be all that impressed with my analysis, but he did at least then turn to somewhat more constructive questions.
“But if he wasn’t dropping off a hire car, then what was he doing? Why did he think I was part of his dastardly plan? How come that the plan involved the ransacking of the very premises that I had already planned to visit? These are all obvious questions that might not have convincing answers.”
I could only agree, but none of this changed the fact that we were expected downstairs in our new guise as hard-bitten criminals. Saving the world is a mighty fine thing, but just saving one’s own skin also has its merits. So I reminded Damian once more of the question:
“So what is your plan C?”
Damian clasped his hands behind his back, strolled to the window, and stared out at the local windfarm. He stroked his chin and then wagged his finger in the air as if silently outlining a masterplan in his head. I don’t think I had ever seen Damian concentrate quite so hard before. It was like when I tried to explain to him why the increased incidence of countryside arson was purely down to heat waves and wasn’t in any way a crime wave. He just couldn’t see it. I’m not sure that Damian ever understood how climate change statistics work. Be that as it may, Damian’s finger-wagging finally ceased and he turned to speak.
“Right, this is what we do. We join the gang, pretending to search the foyer, before casually escaping through the front door when their guard is down. Then we call the police and sit back to watch the show from the safety of the security cordon.”
Okay, I admit it. This might have been Damian’s idea after all. But let’s not get hung up on matters of intellectual property. Either way, it was still our best chance.
Back in the foyer, Damian’s would-be competition was still busily abusing Groper’s hospitality. Furniture was being upended, and office plants were being uprooted with no consideration for their environmental importance. As Damian and I made our eagerly awaited entrance, our presence was quickly registered.
“Ah-ah! So now the great Damian ‘Mad Dog’ McAllister finally rocks up,” announced Harry with a sarcastic tone that was, quite frankly, beginning to annoy.
“But I thought we said no names,” squeaked a voice in the background. Harry chose to ignore it.
“How’s the nose, Mad Dog?”
Meanwhile, Jack Groper’s eyes widened and his jaw slackened in response to Harry’s revelation. “Damian, I thought you were a green energy salesman. But now that I know you’re just a common crook, I must say my respect for you has gone right up.”
It hadn’t. Jack just wanted to lighten the mood with a bit of social satire – but Damian wasn’t laughing. Barely able to hide his dismay at Jack’s put-down, he nevertheless launched himself into the performance of a lifetime.
“Harry, if you know what’s good for you, you’d better change the subject. Have you found the safe yet? Thought not, you muppets! Do I have to do everyfink ‘rarnd here myself?” Damian strode across to Jack, still cocooned in his executive visitor’s chair. “As for you, you’re havin’ a larf. Just remember they don’t call me Mad Dog for nufink.”
“Damian,” I mused, “they don’t call you Mad Dog at all. They call you Dipstick Digby, the plonker from Sales.” But his secret was safe with me; that much was in our mutual best interest.
“Just one thing,” insisted Harry, “why all this shite about selling generators? Why not just burst in brandishing your gun in the time-honoured fashion? That’s what we did, and it worked a treat.”
Damian was still doing his best to maintain the subterfuge.
“Worked a treat, you say? Worked a treat? So says the loser who hasn’t found the safe yet. By pretending to be superb salesmen, we would get to a point where Groper would have to go to his secret safe to get dosh to buy the generators. Then we would start flashing the gun – only after the safe’s location had been revealed. And we would have done so if you hadn’t burst in when you did.”
There was genius of sorts in Damian’s explanation. Not because it was so believable, but because he could appreciate that Harry would be too stupid to realise that business executives don’t pay for wind-powered generators with ready cash out of a safe. There was, for example, the small matter of first applying for the government’s massive subsidy. Fortunately for us both, Damian’s judgement was spot on.
“Okay, smart arse. Don’t rub it in,” pleaded Harry, for once without the sarcastic overtones. Damian’s challenge had momentarily put Harry on the back foot, but Harry didn’t look like the kind of psychopath who could accept criticism lightly. So nobody in the room was in the least bit surprised when he chose to take his embarrassment out on Jack and Mandy.
“Right, you old bastard. I’m going to give you one more chance to tell us where the safe is, or she gets it.” An impromptu pantomime ensued for the benefit of those present who lacked the required imagination. The shotgun barrel was pressed against Mandy’s forehead as Harry cried, “Bang!”
Jack was unimpressed. “Look,” he said, “there’s a very good reason why I won’t tell you were the safe is, and it’s because we haven’t got one.”
Harry fixed Jack with his best ‘Disapproving Greta’ expression, but Jack remained unmoved. Pantomime and mardy menace were not going to be enough to break down Jack.
“I can’t get this geezer to spill the beans,” Harry finally admitted, before gesturing towards Damian. “Perhaps you could make the old sod an offer he can’t refuse.”
Rising to the challenge, Damian leant over and thrust his face forcefully into Jack’s. “Look, we at Powergate UK can offer you exciting discounts on all of our top-of-the-range, eco-friendly generators, with a money-back guarantee if the Earth still burns to shit.”
The room fell silent, and a sweaty bead of disappointment dripped down Damian’s forehead as he realised that he had just slipped out of character.
“Hang on a minute. What was all that about?” posed Harry. “Are you taking the piss, or what?” Harry was beginning to see through Damian’s ruse. He raised his shotgun towards Damian before adding, “And another thing, where’s your gun?”
Damian tried to look casually criminal. “Erm, in the glove compartment?”
Once again, I had to think very quickly.
“Damian, you bastard. You told me you were a villain.”
But Harry was having none of it. He shook the shotgun in Damian’s face. “I think you’d better go and stand over there. And take your monkey with you.”
Monkey is it? Well I thought that was a bit unnecessary, but I swallowed my pride in the interests of self-preservation and loped across the room to join Damian.
Harry continued, “So, if you’re not Mad Dog, then who are you? And what have you done with him?” There was a lot more shaking of the shotgun.
“I haven’t a clue about Mad Dog,” I interjected, “but if I had to guess, I’d say he is still standing in the climate tears, waiting outside the Jolly Eater and getting mightily pissed off.”
Damian shot me a glance that loosely translated as, ‘I can deal with this. After all, when have I ever let you down?’ I just sighed.
“My name,” proclaimed Damian, “is Damian Donald Dreyfus Digby, and I am a senior sales executive for one of the UK’s most prestigious suppliers of green energy solutions. And I should warn you that I’ve already called the police from the penthouse.”
Damian and I steadily turned towards each other as the reality slowly dawned. That was something we could actually have done, if only we had thought of it. Also, unless the rising seas were to come to our rescue, plan C was going to need some rethinking.
Would you buy a generator from this man?
Beth, would you hire a car from the other one [Harry]?
Little sign of it yet, but I bet this all ends up as “chick-lit”. A young vulnerable Director of First Impressions securely tied up with ever-so hurtful ropes to a canteen chair is a very good start.
Alan, I do not think it will end up as chick lit but what do I know.? )
You might also ask whether the Damian character is based upon a real person. The truth is that over the years I have worked for several such people.
You had already sussed me out when you said I was making this up as I go along. At this stage in the writing I had absolutely no idea where I was going with it. So anyone out there who thinks they know where the story is leading would seem to know me better than I know myself. That said, Beth is right to rule out chick lit; I just don’t have it in me. Think Viz Comic rather than Bronte.
Characters you have met…
‘The first point to which attention should be called is that the comic does not exist outside of what is strictly HUMAN. You may laugh at an animal, but only because you have detected in it some human attitude or expression. You may laugh at a hat, but what you are making fun of, in this case, is not the piece of felt or straw, but the shape that men have given it – the human caprice whose mould it has assumed.’
Henry Bergson on comedy.
I’d love to come back to you with something equally profound, but the only things I can think of all came from a fridge magnet.