What I could not work out in my mind was why I was here, drugged and deprived of both trousers and credit cards. It had only been pneumonia after all. I knew that my mother had made the phone calls that had ensured my admittance and I knew that the better half could have got me out at any time, simply by writing a chitty. When I had asked her she had simply replied that she was very busy. Did they think, the two of them, that this was for my own good? Indeed, was it for my own good? It was a mystery, and one that nagged painfully, especially in the last half hour before the medication was renewed.
I had however worked out why the Edwardian washerwoman struck a chord with me. It was the disguise adopted by the Toad in Wind in the Willows, and in turn, by way of homage, by Aubergine Small when on the run from HMRC after he had cut the tax inspector in half. The man had been bisected from head to crotch, which had convinced the authorities that, simply in order to apply the necessary force, there must have been an accomplice. For a while things had looked bad for the son, in whose piratical enterprise Aubergine Small often worked, but he had a solid alibi, pursuing treasure ships off the coast of Muslim North Africa.
Perhaps Augustus Sly had contacted Aubergine Small and asked him to cause mayhem at Shallow Assets for some purpose beneficial to me. I resolved to wait and see.
Possibly as a result of my mentioning the story of the ghost to the receptionists, it had spread among the staff and the clients (as we are called). In the Community Space you would hear of little else.
“Oh, Mr Alablague, do you think that that wronged woman will return and walk again? I don’t think that I could bear it.”
“There is nothing more likely to encourage a ghost to walk again,” I said, “than to speculate that it is going to do so. Mum’s the best policy, in my book. Mind you, you can never tell.”
I received a text, unnecessarily arch I thought, from Augustus Sly:
The ‘ghost’ will ‘walk’ tonight. Do exactly as Small says. Unable to be with you as last train will already have departed and as a student I have no car. Bonne chance and regards, Augustus Sly.
A possible problem, I thought, was that Aubergine Small, having had his tongue torn out, during a passage served as a slave along with my good friend Amy in the South China Sea and before being rescued by my son, was unable to ‘say’ anything. He used to resort to pre-printed cards which he kept about his person, but that might take too long if there were a crisis.
At about 2 am there was a knock on the door. An Edwardian washerwoman came in. Even in the half-light I could see that it was not Aubergine Small. It was however male, as evidenced the fact that he held his dress around his waist with one hand and was manhandling an erection with the other. I recognised the face, whilst unable to recall the name.
“Weren’t you on Top of the Pops?”
“And the rest, sonny. And the rest. And no, I ‘m not a ghost, it’s really Me! I’m in disguise! Now Daddy’s coming over to the bed and we’re going to give Daddy’s willy a lovely little kiss, because this week Daddy loves the mentally frail.”
He lurched towards me, but tripped over his dress and landed heavily on his erection. So far as I was concerned his pain was neither here nor there: all grist to the mill, I thought. I flung open the door and shouted into the darkness the words that have become the catchphrase of our depraved age:
“Help! I am mentally frail and I have been inappropriately touched by a television presenter.”
Pandemonium broke out. This might or might not be a problem for Aubergine Small, who next appeared, also dressed as an Edwardian washerwoman. I had worried about his ability to convey the aural qualities of a ghost and clearly so had he as he carried a sign, which read:
He put that away and substituted:
I WILL CARRY YOU ON MY SHOULDERS TO FREEDOM
“Thank you very much,” I said. “I am a little weak. Can you hoist me up?”
Some of the pre-printed cards were made in America.
Just then the tiniest tug could be felt on my leg.
“Hang on a second, Aubergine Small…”
It was a third ghost. This time it was not an Edwardian washerwoman.
“Who the hell are you?” I said.
The voice was so tiny as almost to be inaudible.
“It’s Belkin. I’m Belkin. Belkin the under-footman. She got me in the end, the creature. And now I too am condemned for eternity to wander…”
“I’m terribly sorry to cut you off, but I have a pressing engagement with the real world. I can recommend it, if it isn’t too late.”
Off Aubergine Small plunged, with me on his shoulders. Everyone was shouting, police cars were arriving and no one gave any attention to us. Soon we were out of the grounds. I clung on with one hand, parting the occasional shrubbery with the other. We reached the road. There was the family Mini, with the better half at the wheel and Bella in the back.
“Hurrah,” said the better half.
“Hurrah,” I said.
“Thank you, Aubergine Small, you’re the best,” she said.
He fiddled in his bag.
ALL IN A DAY’S WORK, MA’AM
I shook his hand without a word. He knew that I knew that he was the best. Suddenly he was no more to be seen. I got into the car.
“Trousers,” said the better half, “in the back. Get off, Bella. And now,” turning the wheel in that general direction, “Scotland.”