I hadn’t bothered to attend Frank’s class while Janice was away, preferring instead to get my head down and really crack on with my writing. This marathon stint over, I was keenly looking forward to seeing her again, doubtless beautifully tanned from her Spanish trip.
She was indeed.
‘Breathless’ was about the best word I could come up with for the effect she had on me when she walked in, looking simply stunning in a clingy multi coloured cotton dress that was something yet nothing at the same time.
‘Hi,’ she said, slipping into the seat next to me, well aware of the impression she was having not just on me, but everybody else as well, particularly Frank. Even Damien registered some interest. ‘Get any work done while I was away?’
I fought down my instinct to ravish her there and then and happily serve any lengthy custodial sentence that might follow. ‘Yes, and you?’
‘None,’ she said, ‘too busy enjoying myself.’
That didn’t sound good at all.
Frank gave her extra attention, as I would have done in his position, and keen to get him to focus his interest elsewhere I raised the question of what we were going to do to mark the half way point in our course. This would be at our next class, the one immediately before we broke up for Christmas. ‘What about us all relaxing and having a bit of a party? I said.
‘Great idea,’ said Janice.
The others were keen too, and several of the ladies offered to bake mince pies.
‘I’ll bring crisps,’ said Damien, taking us all by surprise.
Frank wasn’t sure the college officials would allow us to do that.
‘Nonsense,’ said Janice. ‘They won’t know about it until it happens, will they?’
‘I’ll bring some wine,’ I said.
‘Me too,’ said Janice, and that settled it.
I hadn’t finished with Frank yet. ’As a festive treat,’ I said ‘How about you reading one of your stories to us for a change?’ It was time I found out if he was any good or not.
He was even less sure about that idea. ‘I don’t know…….’ he began, but Janice was quick to back me up.
‘Brilliant idea Jack,’ she said, ‘you will do it won’t you Frank?’
Which question left him nothing else to do but nod his grudging assent.
The rest of the evening passed in a bit of a blur for me, and far too slowly. I couldn’t wait to get her down the pub to find out just what had gone on while she was displaying most of her charms to a director and complete film crew for the best part of a fortnight.
Once safely settled in there in my favourite corner seat, and with our drinks in front of us I enjoyed getting envious looks again from every other bloke in the room, and Janice was amused by the green glares all their womenfolk were giving her.
‘How was it then?’ I asked her.
‘Fantastic weather,’ she said, teasingly.
‘I should hope it was, with you having to take your kit off every day’
‘It was all very up market actually. We were shooting inside the Museum mostly. Our director turned out to be a man with real taste.’
‘Did he indeed.’
She grinned. ‘Remember you said I might meet somebody in the business and suddenly get swept off my feet?’
My heart sank. ‘Of course,’ I said. Visions of some movie mogul creep with oodles of money to spend on her floated into my mind.
‘Well the producer did make a pretty strong pass at me while I was out there.
Wining, dining, flowers, music, moonlight walks on the beach, the lot. He’s seriously rich with it too. Owns an advertising agency and collects paintings himself.’
‘I know the type’ I said ‘Old Masters on the walls, Young Mistresses on the carpets’.
‘So you’re not going to congratulate me?’
‘On doing what, exactly?’
‘Resisting temptation and telling him thanks, but no thanks.’
Relief swept over me. ‘Congratulations are very much in order in that case. Heartfelt ones if you must know’.
She grinned. ‘Actually he had no chance. He was a bit too old for me.’ I winced.
‘Have you got your revealing sex scene for me to read yet?’
‘Nope’ I said. ‘Nothing to report yet on that front.’
‘Pity. I was looking forward to reading that.’
‘How about you?
‘Like I said, no writing done out there, but I have got some photographs for that bedroom of yours.’ and she fished in her handbag and produced a large envelope stuffed with them.
‘I suggest you look at them when you get home.’
If I needed any motivation for writing my next scene, these shots of her more than provided it.
Like she said they were very tasteful, but if anything that made them even more erotic.
For the first time in a long time Janice found she was dining alone, and as the soup course went by and there was still no sign of Ken she wondered where he could be. His absence, and Janice’s reaction to it, had also not escaped the attention of the other diners.
As happens by this time in such proceedings, new social groupings were already forming, reinforced by their participation in the study groups they had been working in all morning.
These groups had their leaders and led, there were ‘in’ people and there were ‘out’ people. Janice, without the need for any words to be spoken on either side, was clearly in the process of being labelled an ‘out’, someone who didn’t share the values and practices of the rest of them. By these standards even Sam Brophy, with all his faults, was perfectly acceptable to the others, while the more they saw of Janice the further beyond the network they placed her. They sensed what they considered most important, loyalty to the system, was not sufficiently high on her agenda.
They also knew Ken was not of their kind either, but as academics he and Zimmerman moved in such different circles they could not be measured and found wanting in anything like the same way.
Part of the antipathy towards Janice was based on jealousy, of course, both because of her appearance and the realisation she would probably be able to succeed in other fields not open to them. The Media for instance, maybe reading the weather forecast on T.V. or, heaven forbid, the evening news. They were right, Anna Ford, another teacher, was to do it soon enough.
They were all enjoying her being stood up by Ken and the main topic of conversation at the other tables was the reason for it. But the vacant chair opposite her didn’t stay empty for long. When the Professor strode in for his lunch and saw how the land lay he moved in immediately to see if there was now any chance Janice could be laid as well.
‘May I join you? he said, sitting down anyway. ‘
‘No,’ she said, but with a smile. She couldn’t help liking him for his total disregard of any rule or regulation not working for his own benefit.
‘Where’s Arnstruther?’ he asked, helping himself to all the bread rolls as Smoggin went past too slowly with the basket.
‘I have no idea. I thought he might be with you.’
‘No. Haven’t seen him for hours, he’s nowhere in the hotel that’s for sure. I’ve been looking for him myself.’
‘You don’t think something could have happened to him do you?’
Zimmerman noticed everything, including the anxiety in her voice.
‘Getting keen on him are you?’ It was more a statement than a question.
‘Yes,’ said Janice, surprised at the frankness of her response.
Further discussion of this, or any other topic, was then cut short by Smoggin who, on a signal from his employer, gave the dinner gong an unexpected clout.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” said the Major as soon as the reverberations had stopped jiggling every set of loose dentures in the room. ‘I have an important announcement to make.’ And here he paused pompously so as to give his words maximum impact.
‘We have here in our town an annual historic event we celebrate, and which most of you will already be aware of.
But for those who are not, may I be permitted a few moments of your time to tell you about it. I refer, of course, to the switching on of our internationally famous Northpool lights.’
He was on safe ground using the word ‘international’ here, Gangs of Welsh and Scots and Irishmen regularly turned the occasion into a bloodbath.
‘It is my singular honour to be Mayor of Northpool this year,’ he said, beaming with self satisfaction and waiting for a ripple of applause or at least some sign of appreciation from his audience. But none was forthcoming, so he had to plough resolutely on. ‘And in that capacity I wish to extend to you all, as a small gesture of our town’s goodwill, an invitation to share this year’s ceremony with us. This will take place in tomorrow night in our Town Hall, where a very well known television and stage musical personality will be throwing the switch, then performing a live concert on stage for us afterwards.
For the very first time the whole thing is to be televised, so we are all looking forward to a very exciting evening indeed. My staff will now distribute complimentary tickets for the best seats in the auditorium to you, and I hope you will round off your weekend stay in Northpool by staying on after your course ends to join with us in our festivities.’
The Major’s speech, touched off an excited hum of conversation amongst everybody in the room, as he had expected it would. He had carefully timed it for when attachments between them had formed so as to make it that bit more likely some of them would use it as a convenient excuse to extend their illicit pairings for a few extra hours before having to return home to the dullness of normal family life again.
On the face of it the Major’s generosity in offering them these free tickets might seem out of character, but there was a good reason for his actions.
It was fear.
This annual ceremony, though nowhere near as famous as the one at Blackpool, was of significant benefit to the little seaside community in bringing in additional spending to the town, and a very great deal of municipal effort was put into it each season to try to make it as big a success as possible. Faced with declining attendances in recent times as its ageing devotees died off, the Northpool Illuminations sub committee had this year taken the local equivalent of Mao Tse Tung’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ by breaking with the tradition that the ‘switching on’ ceremony be performed by the wife of the chairman of that sub committee.
It was because of the need to attract a new generation of visitors to the show and generate more publicity for the town, they had engaged, at vast expense, the chart topping pop idol of the nation’s teenagers, Wally Wittgenstein, to do it instead. The credit for this innovatory move to get more youngsters involved, ‘the mums and dads of nine months hence’ as he forcefully put it, was claimed by Mayor Thwaite himself. But if truth were told, the idea actually came from his daughter.
Angela was one of Wittgenstein’s most ardent admirers. From the first time she first almost heard him perform, his voice completely drowned out by the screams of his teeny-bopper audience, she became his devoted fan. No one had wetter knickers when he sang, or threw them at him with more accuracy in their dampened state than her. As the self elected President and practically only member of his local fan club it had been her brainwave to write and tell him she might be able to use her family connection with the Mayor to get him invited to perform the ceremony this year. It was really just an excuse to get in touch with him, and she wasn’t expecting any response, let alone a favourable one, but the suggestion came at just the right time for Wally.
The life of a pop star is but a brief and passing thing, and already he was in danger of being supplanted by other rockers even less able to produce a tuneful note than he was. His manager appreciated this new publicity angle offered by Angela, and accepted on Wally’s behalf immediately. The Illuminations’ sub committee then found themselves with the added bonus that the local T.V. station would now cover the proceedings, something that would not have been the case had Alderman Rushton’s wife Doreen been doing it.
With the event only 24 hours away the Major was getting slightly cold feet in case it all went as pear shaped as that Chinese Great Leap Forward did. It was the high spot of any Mayor’s year of office, and there had been quite a lot of opposition to the idea, particularly from Alderman and Mrs Doreen Rushton, who were not without influence in local circles. They and some other councillors thought bringing someone like Wally in would simply alienate the regular attenders and replace them with just a few kids, with disastrous effects on the town’s beer takings. Not to mention encouraging any manner of extra un-pleasantries.
.By giving out these free tickets to prime seats at the ceremony the Major hoped to cover himself to some extent, and ensure there were at least some suitable people in the front rows for the TV cameras to focus on.
‘Sounds an interesting idea,’ said Janice ‘I’ve never been to anything like that.’
Zimmerman snorted. ’Boring rubbish, not even worth thinking about. Give me your hand.’
‘What for?’ She was understandably suspicious of his motives.
‘I will tell you your future.’
Janice laughed, ‘I would have thought a professor was above fortune telling.’
He smiled. ‘Some universities have a department for it. They call it parapsychology.’
‘I call it ‘hocus pocus’ myself.’
‘But I tell very good hocus pocuses,’ said Zimmerman.
’Most of my staff consult me, discreetly of course. Here, let me show you.’ Not to be denied he took her hand and held it lightly but firmly in his grasp so she could do nothing about it.
‘Well?’ she said finally, as he tantalisingly stared long and hard at it.
‘Arnstruther will be good for you,’ he said.
‘Thanks,’ she said mockingly. ‘He’s my tall dark stranger is he?’
‘I see something else as well,’ said Zimmerman. ’An older man, there was something wrong with his leg, no, his foot, but it is fine now. He tells you to always wear the chain he gave you.’
Janice stiffened and her other hand went up involuntarily to the gold necklace she had round her neck. ‘He says if I say ‘Bohunk’, you will know what I mean.’
Janice took her hand away from his. There were tears I her eyes.
‘Someone you know?’
‘My father. He died last year.’
‘I am sorry. I did not mean to upset you. These things happen sometimes.’
‘Bohunk was the name of a puppy he gave me when I was a child. I haven’t thought of it in years.’
Before they could pursue the matter any further Ken made his entrance and came across to join them. ‘Sorry I’m late,’ he said,’ I had to pop into town for a few things.’
Smoggin slid by. ‘Lunch is finished,’ he said.
‘Don’t worry about that,’ said Zimmerman, rising to go. He could see he had upset Janice. ‘I will be able to fix you up with something later.’
‘Everything alright?’ Ken asked as soon as he was gone, and noticing her manner. ‘Was he propositioning you again?’
‘No, nothing like that. It was just something he said. It unsettled me. It wasn’t his fault.’
‘I bet it was. I’ll tell him to keep well away from you in future if he doesn’t want a punch on his fat nose.’
‘You’ll do no such thing. He was trying to do me a favour in his way. It was a bit weird that’s all. Anyway, what kept you? You’ve had all morning to do your shopping.’
‘Yes I know, things got a bit involved. By the way I borrowed your car to get down there. I hope that was O.K.?’
‘Did you indeed,’ she said. ‘I don’t remember giving you any keys.’
‘Where there’s a will there’s a way as they say. I hot wired it.’
‘Bit of a monster for you to be driving isn’t it?’
‘It’s my brother’s. He’s lent it to me while he fixes mine. It is still in one piece I hope?’
‘Yes,’ said Ken. ’Can’t quite say the same thing for myself. Has he got some sort of ‘death wish?’
She laughed. ‘Always been a bit of a ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ fan has Neil.’
Smoggin made another appearance, smiling toothlessly again at Janice before giving her one of the Major’s invitation cards, and ignoring Ken.
‘What’s all that about?’ asked Ken’.
As she examined it, Janice told him.
‘Are you thinking of going?’
‘Why not? I’ve never been to a pop concert, it might be fun.’
‘Right,’ said Ken, ‘ I’ll join you if that’s alright.’
‘Fine,’ she said, and when Smoggin wandered within range again Ken made sure he got a ticket too.
Elsewhere, Zimmerman sought refuge in the toilet, a place where he usually came up with his best ideas.
Sitting himself down and leaning his head back against the pipes he took stock of his situation. His immediate need was to find some way of filling the afternoon lecturing session without too much energy being expended on his part, and he cursed again the sudden disappearance of his colleagues for leaving him in the lurch like this. There was also the little matter of the future of his Department and his own career prospects to sort out.
Not a man for half measures, the Professor decided to make things trickier for himself by trying to come up with a solution for both difficulties at the same time. It was a technique he had used successfully before. The very act of considering the seemingly impossible forced him into thinking laterally, and that was something he really was good at.
Whiling away the time until a suitable inspiration struck, he picked up a leaflet left on the floor by a previous occupant of the cubicle. It was for the Major’s ‘lights’ ceremony and it detailed the history of the event and its continuing popularity, attracting as it did people from all over the North West year after year. The most striking thing about it though, was that it featured a large photograph of Wally Wittgenstein, the star of the forthcoming show, and despite Wally’s blue rinsed Afro hair style, glitter encrusted ears, false eyelashes and red clown spots on each cheek, there was absolutely no doubt in Zimmerman’s mind about the identity of the man he was looking at.
It was not simply your average moronic, pot smoking, musically illiterate, gravel throated, iron lunged pop singer.
It was also Dr Wallace Trescothic Martindale D.Phil. M.A. (Econ) M.Sc., one of his pair of missing colleagues.
Zimmerman’s first reaction was wondering what on earth a middle-aged university senior lecturer was doing dressed up like that. His second was it had to be for money. Success in Show Biz does tend to generate serious pay packets after all. This led on to the realisation Wallace must have been doing this sort of thing behind his back for some time to achieve the sort of stardom sufficient for him to be asked to turn on these lights.
Academics do get a lot of free time for research, and all that ‘study leave’ Dr Martindale had been claiming without producing any results useful to the department made sense now, as did his sudden absence from this Sea View training course. He couldn’t be in two places at once and whatever the Town Hall people were paying had to be more than Arnstruther was offering.
The shock of discovering Wally’s duplicity was pretty profound really, and if anything could trigger off a quick burst of the lateral thinking this would have to be it. And so it did.
Why couldn’t this whole ‘lights’ shenanigan serve as a pilot study for funding from the Stallybrass Foundation? Knowledge is power, and what better way to spend Sir Cecil’s cash than finding out more about why his workers enjoyed this particular this leisure activity year after year. Maybe there were things to be learned which could be used to transform them into just the sort of docile super productive employees the old boy would have liked. Northport would be full of them the following day, providing perfect fodder for the Professor’s purpose.
The trick then would be to pad the proposal out with the statistical gobbledegook of bar charts, graphs, histograms, regression analysis and such like, and provide plenty of appendices. That always impressed Trustees. It suggested the applicant had already done plenty of work and the Trustees had no qualms in not bothering to read them themselves. Dr Wallace Martindale was a past master at this sort of thing and he could give him the choice of doing it, or being fired for unauthorised ‘moonlighting’, when he caught up with him at the Town Hall the following day.
It is an essential requirement of such a proposal though, that it is based on a properly conducted survey, by means of a questionnaire aimed at a representative sample of the people in question. What the Professor now realised was that the people gathering in the basement formed another ideal group. One he could use to go out and do this work for him. Even if the survey just finished up proving the blindingly obvious, it wouldn’t matter. It would just give every non-sociologist the immense satisfaction of being able to say ‘I told you so’.
Zimmerman knew it was in the warm glow of that feeling that the most munificent grant cheques are signed.
Devising a questionnaire for the people on the course to take out with them tomorrow could also be the afternoon’s job for them, so saving him doing any lecturing over the weekend whatsoever. He might even get a book out of it, and a title for this putative masterpiece sprang easily into his mind as:
’A study of the Behavioural Characteristics of British Workers and their Nuclear Families as a First Step Towards Positively Re-Orientating the Organisational Modes of such Labour Inputs into the Late 20th Century Patterns of Productivity Achieved by Asiatic Work Forces.’
Couldn’t be snappier, or more succinct he thought, and he scribbled it down quickly on a sheet of toilet paper before he forgot it.
The really good news, though he didn’t know it yet, was this idea would be falling on more receptive ground than he realised. Sir Cecil’s relatives were still smarting at not inheriting any of the old skinflint’s loot and continually looked for ways of contesting his Trust deed. They had been expensively advised that a prolonged lack of any distributions by the Trustees might show it could be construed as ‘impossible of fulfilment’, which could lead to it being declared legally invalid. The normal rules of inheritance would then apply to their benefit, and all the Trustees would lose their well paid jobs.
The whole thing fitted together so perfectly it was uncanny. Pleased at his creative burst he squeezed out a satisfying ‘big jobbie’, wiped his bottom on the leaflet, completed his ablutions, and set off for the conference room.
By the time he got there he had all the finer details of his plan sorted out, so when he actually strode on to the platform to address them it was with the assurance of a man who had devoted half a lifetime considering what he was about to say rather than the few minutes Zimmerman had just spent on the loo.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he said. ‘This morning I was able, at least with some of the more advanced groups, to outline some of the scope and meaning of my subject and suggest ways in which it might usefully be applied to work in your own field of expertise.’ What work they actually did escaped him for the moment, as did whatever it was he’d said to them as he wandered round earlier commending them on their efforts. He hadn’t said anything of that sort to any of them, but as not a man or woman there would admit to not being in one of the ‘advanced groups’ he was on safe enough ground. His next bit of gamesmanship was an equally certain winner.
‘What particularly impressed me was the high quality of all your discussions. Some of your comments showed real sociological insight, percipience even.’
Sam Brophy, who had made more comments than anyone, felt particularly proud, and thought the Professor should really have singled him out for a special commendation. Zimmerman continued ‘I have therefore decided to give you all an opportunity, if you are so willing, to assist me with a Research Project of mine that is as yet embryonic, but may well develop into a significant expansion of the frontiers of knowledge.’
The effect of these words on that audience can only be described as spellbinding. After just hearing his earlier praise they would have been prepared to do almost anything he asked, but actually to be allowed to assist in professorial level research was almost too much for them. Even Janice found herself swept along by the general air of euphoria and leaned forward excitedly to hear what it was Zimmerman was going to be so generous as to allow them to do for him. ‘Before I go into details, which will of course be strictly classified as highly confidential’, he said, playing on their nerve strings like the experienced fiddler he was. ‘Have I the assurance of your co-operation?’
Their communal response left him in no doubt of that and brought Ken, who had been avoiding the lecture in case he got involved in it again, rushing into the room thinking a revolt had broken out down there .’If there is anyone here who does not wish to take part then I would be glad if he or she left the room now,’ said Zimmerman, enjoying his total ascendancy over them all.
Ken made the mistake of trying to ask the man nearest to him what was going on. The ‘shssssssss’ he got left him no wiser, and as the excited atmosphere crackled through the room like static electricity he only gradually learned with all the others, the full extent of the Professor’s masterly plan.
Zimmerman gave them just sufficient details for them to grasp their first part in the exercise. This was to help him by preparing the vital questionnaire which was to establish, on a sound scientific basis, proof of the habitual nature of blue collar workers’ activities.
This task was to occupy them for the afternoon session. They would then be allowed the privilege of going out themselves the following morning and afternoon to conduct interviews with the day- trippers, who would by then be flooding into Northpool for the illuminations and the Town Hall pop concert. The Professor’s final bright idea was to suggest they conduct the survey in pairs, one person to ask the questions, the other to record the answers.
The choice of partners Zimmerman left to them, as a further sociological insight into ‘the formation of leaderless groupings’ as he put it, but really because he couldn’t be bothered doing it himself.
The results were predictable. Gordon Hargraves sought to keep his end up, so to speak, with Mrs Wolstenholme, and Ken, not risking relinquishing what he hoped was becoming his accepted place by Janice’s side, volunteered to join in the exercise and go out and about with her. Sam Brophy was a problem of course, but he was finally paired with Eunice Bracegirdle by default, as she was unaccountably found to be absent from the session and was so was not able to raise any objections. Her absence also left Howard Willshaw at a loose end but he was soon snapped up by Miss Ogle, who found she quite liked the idea of not being a virgin anymore and was eager to see if, as in flower arranging, one improved with practice.
The mastermind of the plan decided, as masterminds do, that he would remain behind in the hotel on Sunday to
co ordinate the efforts of everyone else.
Once left as a committee to decide the actual questions to be asked they soon found they couldn’t agree amongst themselves on any two words in the wording. Sam Brophy elected himself as chairman to help sort things out. His idea of using the formal rules of procedure to govern their deliberations rapidly broke down in a spate of un-seconded proposals, amendments to amendments, points of order, censure motions and then inevitably into a vote of ‘No Confidence in the Chair.’
All this took some time and might have gone on even longer but Zimmerman, having completed his nap, rejoined the session and simply wrote on a wall the questions he had already decided he wanted to use. The Professor then ended the session on a high note by thanking them in advance for their services in getting the forms completed the following day, and hinting that those proving most helpful to the project would receive printed credit for their contribution when the results of these important labours were publicised
The thought of being able to claim some element of joint authorship or joint anything else with a Professor of a leading British University was enough to quicken the professional pulse of practically everyone there, and as they streamed out of the room the excited chatter was all about this fascinating exercise that now lay enticingly before them.
The day’s formal proceedings now being over, Janice went off to get herself ready for her date with Ken, leaving him to take stock of the very different way his weekend course was developing.
The conference content had changed out of all recognition from what it was supposed to be, and now bore no relation whatsoever to the detailed programme set out in his brochure. Equally obviously there was nothing he could do about it. With Zimmerman determined not to do any lecturing and everyone else clearly preferring him doing what he was doing, it didn’t seem to matter a damn anyway. They were enjoying this weekend course as they had never enjoyed any other, the whole thing was going like a bomb, and here he was already past the halfway point in the proceedings, with money in his pocket and an evening out on the town with Janice in prospect before him.
Once back home this lot would tell all their colleagues about what had happened which, with any luck, would in turn put ‘Arnstruther Enterprises’ well and truly on the educational map. Really, at that moment, there seemed to Ken to be no end to the possibilities opening up to him. From this modest beginning he could go National, European, world wide even. Maybe franchise the whole thing, and just sit back and let other people do the work while he creamed off a slice of their profits.
As a first step he decided he could lay on the next one in Majorca. He could take a similar small hotel there, probably at a cheaper rate that the Major was charging him, fly everyone out on a cut price jet deal and maybe get a rake off on the duty free stuff flogged to them as well.
It seemed he might have stumbled on an even better business idea than Billy Butlin’s first Hoopla stall, or Charlie Forte’s original ice cream parlour.
These delightful thoughts were then interrupted by the star of his show coming across to have a word with him. ‘Can you spare me a moment?’
‘Of course,’ said Ken.
‘It’s about tomorrow,’ said Zimmerman as soon as they found themselves a quiet corner. ‘This is quite an important project I am setting up here and I need your professional help Dr Arnstruther.’
‘Oh?’ said Ken, warily aware he hadn’t got any professional help to give.
‘The data from these questionnaires will need considerable in depth evaluation to help to remove biases caused by the use of perhaps too small a sample, and the lack of a control group,’ said Zimmerman. ‘As a social scientist you will be familiar with the seminal work of Richards and Mercer on whole population sampling techniques, and Piggott and Wragg’s book on non randomised numbers?’
‘Of course,’ said Ken. As lies went it was one of the smallest he’d told for some time.
‘Good, that’s what I thought you would say,’ said Zimmerman. ‘All the gentlemen I have just named are jockeys.
There are no such books of course.’
There was an awkward pause. Ken realised this was something he wouldn’t be able to talk his way out of so didn’t try. ‘Now you mention it,’ he said ‘I’ve lost a few quid on all of them in my time.’
Zimmerman laughed. ‘I was looking up some notes of mine this lunch time in case I had to give some sort of a lecture, and I came across material I used in a book of mine I wrote many years ago. It was the book you were quoting from so freely in our debate last night young man.’
‘Right,’ said Ken ‘and I must say I thought you put up two very good cases.’
Zimmerman beamed at the praise, then a thought struck him. ‘You don’t happen to recall just what form my refutation took, do you?’
‘No,’ said Ken ‘It was all too much for me to keep up with.’
‘Pity,’ said the Professor. ‘My short term memory for trivia is getting terrible. If I could remember enough of what I said, I would maybe be able to use it on a television programme I have to do next week.’
‘So what happens now?’ said Ken
‘About what?’ said Zimmerman, still busy trying to think what it was he’d said the previous evening.
‘About my not knowing the first thing about sociology and me supposed to have a degree in it.’
‘Oh that,’ said the Professor carelessly. ‘As long as I get paid why should I be bothered? Live and let lie is my motto. I am going to get all three fees I take it?’
‘Oh yes,’ said Ken mightily relieved at not having to face being exposed. ‘You most certainly are.’
‘With perhaps just a small bonus for my becoming your accomplice, eh?’
‘No problem,’ said Ken.
Zimmerman smiled. ‘Good. Actually I wouldn’t even have mentioned it but I do need a small favour of you myself. Would you mind helping me out?’
This was a ‘Godfather’ style invitation. Either accept it or it he could get the academic equivalent of a horse’s head in his bed.
‘Well as long as it isn’t too illegal.’
‘Slightly perhaps, but not anything that should cause you any alarm. All I want you to do is allow me to put you down as the author of the report on this survey the others are doing tomorrow, using your title of doctor of course.’
‘But I haven’t actually got a title. It’s only one of those joke American things.’
‘Maybe, but apparently they are quite legal.’
‘What about yours. Are they legit? Or have you bought yours as well?’
Zimmerman laughed. ‘No. Mine are quite genuine I can assure you. But using them to substantiate my own case? What I need is an independent verification of my findings.’
Ken knew he really had no choice, and had to admire the way Zimmerman avoided any appearance of forcing him into agreeing to the proposition, whilst at the same time making sure he would.
’O.K,’ he said. ‘I’d be glad to.’
‘What’s that you British say about a volunteer being worth ten pressed men?’ said the Professor, smiling and reading his thoughts as they shook hands on their newly formed alliance. ‘By the way, not a word about this to anyone, even the delightful Miss Lindstrom right?’
‘Right,’ said Ken. Janice was the last one he would have told about anything at this stage anyway. Some time he was going to have to explain he’d spent the entire weekend pretending to be what he wasn’t, and that was a speech he’d have to prepare very carefully if it wasn’t to shatter the fast maturing plans he had to stay with her as long as possible.
‘Good,’ said the Professor. ‘See you later then.’
It was at about this time that Angela noticed her father was missing when it was time for drinks to be served, an unheard of occurrence. But before either she or Letitia could take any action to find him, Doris, the town ‘know all’ and Letitia’s best friend, rang her to ask if she’d heard about some disaster at sea where they’d had to call the lifeboat out.
‘What disaster?’ said Letitia
‘Not much of a one really, some couple were out in the bay having it off on one of Tom Thornton’s death traps and it sank. Harold Chesters went out with them so it’ll all be in tonight’s ‘Bugle.’
‘Might get us some publicity for the Lights ceremony,’ said Letitia, ‘especially if the Manchester Evening News does something on it.’
‘No chance,’ said Angela. ‘It’s probably just a couple of teenagers. Nobody interesting is going to be hiring one of Tom’s boats are they?’