Introducing . . .
“And what exactly is your job, Mr…?”
“Bale. Frank Bale. Private Investigator.”
That’s how I always introduce myself. I never add the ‘and Process Server’ bit, though, at times, that would give a truer representation of the facts.
I held out a hand. She didn’t take it.
“Are you investigating me, Mr Bale?”
JELLYFISH (Chapter 2)
♦ ♦ ♦
Everyone in my line, whether they admit to it or not, harbours something of a Marlowe fantasy. But I have more. I went to school with Raymond Chandler.
He was educated at Dulwich College, an exclusive school for rich kids, whilst three generations and half-a-mile away I attended Kingsdale. The sort of school that if league tables had existed back then would have come bottom in everything. Except fighting. We were good at fighting at Kingsdale. Even me. With a name that makes schoolboy rhymes, I had to be.
JELLYFISH (Chapter 1)
“So, what about you then, Ben? Were you at uni?”
“The university of life – till they kicked me out. Then I went to night school.”
“To do what?”
“Yeah? How far did you take it?”
“All the way.”
“So you are a solicitor?”
“And all the way back again.”
“What do you mean?”
“I slept my way to the bottom.”
It was a slip. I was telling her about Frank, not Ben. The Tradecraft Manual, in its bumptious wisdom, had stated: ‘The careless interleaving of life and legend invariably leads to a fatal outcome.’ But not this time; Shreeti just looked at me and laughed again.
“You know what?” she said. “I’m beginning to sense that I was wrong about you. You are a strange man.”
“That’s what women always say – just before they sleep with me.”
“Or just before they knock your teeth out.”
JELLYFISH (Chapter 12)
Career to date
“Well, dear boy, if there’s no hussy salivating over your bed sheets, I’m forced into the conclusion that the deplorably dilatory approach you’re manifesting today has its roots in that little matter we were discussing yesterday. Would that be correct?”
“If you made an attendance note of that discussion, I would advise you to re-read it. Tout de suite.”
“I didn’t make a note.”
“Then let me try and recall something of its substance. Ah yes, that’s it. If you upset my client again…”
“Your client is a murderer.”
“My poor delusional boy, cherish such an idiocy if you must. But, before you blunder off on a frolic of your own, may I remind you of our little agreement?”
“I know our agreement, Gus.”
“Let me remind you of it anyway. Just so that we are both absolutely clear. I agreed to consider you for any work of a suitable nature that passes onto my desk and you agreed… No, dear boy, you tell me. What did you agree?”
“I agreed to give priority to all work originating from your office.”
“Precisely so. And if you wish work to continue originating from my office, I recommend most strongly that you pick up what’s currently awaiting you there.”
“It’s only going to be another pile of debt and divorce. What’s the rush?”
“My dear dismissive boy, your ingratitude pains me. Let’s not forget that it’s just such piles of debt and divorce – the abject misery and misfortune of others – which have kept you on the jam side of the breadline these past couple of years. If you’d rather eat the melamine plates…”
“You’re a merciless bastard, Gus.”
“I’m a solicitor. As you were yourself once. A rather good one, if my memory’s not at fault.”
He was about to launch into another of his ‘what a waste of potential’ riffs. I couldn’t face it, so told him what he wanted to hear:
“Sod you, Gus. I’m on my way. All right?”
As I said it, I had meant it . . .
JELLYFISH (Chapter 11)
♦ ♦ ♦
“Mr Bale,” she said. “Would you say you’ve made a success of life?”
I put down my glass and considered my response. I wanted to lie again: tell her I’d kept the trophy, that I was the Brazilian national football squad of private investigation, but:
“Depends on your criteria – if what you aspire to is no money, no prospects, no prospect of any prospects, then I’m one of life’s great achievers.”
From the ceiling, from the midst of my brain, Gus Silverman’s voice sounded, ‘in vino veritas, dear boy’. That was all it said. No lecture about keeping away from his client’s wife. No reprimand or threat. Just, ‘in vino veritas’.
I knew what that meant: in wine there is truth.
If I wanted to keep Gus putting work my way, I’d have to keep the veritas of this night buried in sobriety. I could never risk a vino with him. I didn’t foresee much of a struggle. His legs weren’t that great.
“That’s just as I suspected,” said Mrs Knights. “And yet, for all that, I think I like you. Why should that be, do you think?”
“Yes, you’re probably quite right. The world is full of stupid people. Why should we be any different, Mr Bale?”
JELLYFISH (Chapter 38)
♦ ♦ ♦
“I don’t get it.” She shifted on the settee, drew her feet up into a cross-legged position and, from behind curls of rising smoke, said, “Who are you? Really.”
“Bale. Frank Bale. Straight up.”
“I didn’t ask your name. I asked who you are.”
“Don’t get all deep and meaningful on me, love. I’m still eating.”
“I want to know.”
She took a full drag, holding it in as she bent forwards and balanced the cigarette on the edge of her plate. Then she sat back up, exhaled and just looked at me. Penetration was returning to her eyes.
“What can I tell you?” I said. “My name’s Frank Bale. I rent a hole in Stockwell that I share with silverfish and the occasional blowfly. The wallpaper’s damp, the rot’s dry. I listen to Radio 4, Radio 3 and the World Service. When the TV works, I watch documentaries. History. Science. Wildlife. I was a solicitor. I’m not anymore. I scrape by as a private investigator.”
“What is that anyway? A private investigator. The same thing as a private detective?”
“Pretty much. I figure it keeps me on the right side of the Trade Descriptions Act.”
“A detective who doesn’t detect anything has failed his client. I only promise to investigate. That way, detect anything or not, the job’s done.”
“So you mean you’re just a crap detective?”
“Don’t forget your fortune cookie,” I said to avoid having to think about what an honest answer might be.
JELLYFISH (Chapter 19)