trouble in threes

I told the better half that I had met our dear friend P’s double, except that she was black.

Horse potty, said the better half. She sometimes says this. I don’t know what it means but it usually suggests that she feels under attack in some way, which on this occasion she needn’t have felt, so I told her again slower.

Is the double a paranoid half-wit too?

Our dear friend P is a very sensitive woman, I said admonishingly. Don’t you remember when you were on the phone with her half the night when her father fell down a manhole and she was terribly and caringly concerned that it would reflect badly on her own reputation for reliability in the pavement space?

Having got that far I had to tell her about P2 and her message, which was not easy. The better half looks askance on my zombie-hunting in the 1930s. She hopes that if she ignores it it might go away

Who did win the 1934 Derby, she said, going straight to the point.

Windsor Lad. Can’t you read?

And what are you going to do about it?

What I did was to write ‘Windsor Lad‘ in soap on my shaving mirror and await events.

And so after a day or two I went to Amy’s, partly to check on the availability of Aubergine Small if the call were to come. Aubergine Small apparently was at sea with my son on The Jolly Thought. Skype is sometimes possible out there, but the more reliable mobile connection is no good of course since he cannot speak. I decided to leave it. If he was needed a way could be found.

Amy is having trouble again. Her supplier of kefir has decided to go into competition with her. This is absurd as no one could reproduce the atmosphere of Amy’s place, but that’s accountants for you. The supplier is being particularly aggressive. First a delivery was missed; the next was borderline off. Amy has typically taken things into her own control. She has made a deal with a sheep-farmer in Cumbria for the supply of his sheep’s unwanted intestinal flora and she has converted a couple of the back rooms. They are now hung with sheepskins full of the makings of the kefir. It’s like nothing so much as the climactic scenes of The Long Good Friday. Diminutive Chinese girls thump the skins regularly to assist the fomentation process.

I wondered idly how their job description would have been described in the girls’ work permit applications – had such been made.

More trouble: as we sat there a power cut occurred. The lights went off, but there are plentiful candles. The CD player also abruptly ceased its all-purpose oriental musak: a relief for some. Amy, however, who prides herself on offering her clients a total experience, sighed – and began to sing. She has a high clear voice, the music was profoundly alien and beautiful and everyone else in the room fell silent. I was very much moved. Then the power came back on, the CD player resumed its warbling and the moment passed.

I decided to finish my tea and be on my way. The bottom of the bowl was covered with fine leaves. They seemed to be moving in a way undirected by me. As I watched, they formed themselves into words:


Amy discourages the use of mobiles on the premises so I went into the street. The Inbox indicated an unread email from ‘P2’. I clicked on it. It wasn’t an email, it was a summoning. With a flash, there I was in 1934, next to my uncle. This time he was battling not one but a hundred zombies.

Aaargh, I shouted.

Aaargh, shouted the zombies, who still had a healthy respect for ghosts.

We were hopelessly outnumbered, but at least this time Uncle Edgerton has his trouser-leg firmly secured and both hands free to fight with. I sallied into the melée.

Then with a flash, Aubergine Small also arrived, so we won.

My son later told me that this was fortunate, as when the summoning came Aubergine Small had been about to be shot at point blank by a Somali with a musket. The latter did not take the disappearance in his stride and was still shouting ‘Aaargh!’ when my son cut him down with his sabre. My son used to take sabre classes in the evenings at St Paul’s School and this has stood him in good stead as a privateer.

Uncle Edgerton eyed Aubergine Small.

You’re a big lad, he said. I don’t I have the psychic energy to keep you here long.

Aubergine Small thrust one hand into his satchel. As he disappeared, a card remained for a moment, suspended in empty air like the Cheshire Cat’s grin:


Uncle Edgerton and I surveyed the noisome scene.

Cleaned up on Windsor Lad, he said.

I had nothing to say on that front.


I have something for you.

It was an afterthought from the Jibjab Woman, which I had been carrying around with me. I handed it to my uncle.

It’s meant for keeping your sleeves free while fighting, but it’ll do just as well on your trousering.

It was of course a set of the Islamic bicycle clips.

My uncle considered the decoration.

Powerful magic, he said.

Allah. The best.

I realised that I’d have to leave in a moment. Something was bothering me.

Here you are in 1934, I said, cleaning up zombies everywhere. In 2012, not a sign of them.

There you are, said my uncle, not without quiet pride.

And there I suddenly wasn’t. I found myself on Amy’s divan, dishevelled and smelling unmistakably of ex-zombies.

May I have more green tea, please, Amy?

This once, she said, not pleased.

I could tell that, for her, trouble was coming in threes and I was the third.

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