Gary was strolling along the coast path by the seaside at Penzance, gazing at the twinkling reflections of the sun on the sea and relishing the whole week ahead at the guest house, just him and his books. What bliss.
As he walked he came across a temporary framework of scaffolding festooned with colourful bunting erected on the path in front of him. An awning suspended at the top boasted ‘Falmouth to Penzance Charity Walk – FINISH’. Beneath it, a small gathering of men stood in happy conversation. Gary could have crossed the path and avoided the group, but he approached the scaffold, curious about the gold regalia one of the men was wearing around his neck.
“Congratulations” said the Mayor to Gary as he reached them, “You are the first one in”and he held out his hand.
Before he really knew what he was doing, Gary accepted the felicitations and a cheap looking plastic medal and shook the mayoral hand. The shake was immediately captured by the snap of an expensive-looking camera held by one of the other men who introduced himself as a reporter for the Penzance Bugle. Both the Mayor and the reporter seemed so pleased to meet him that Gary felt it would be rude to tell them they’d made a mistake and his walk had started not sixty odd miles back as they were presuming, but from Bay View Terrace – no more than 500 yards away.
Gary gave the reporter his name and said he was a vet from Newbury, which was true, and yes, he had found the walk exhausting, which was not. When probed further, he continued to embellish his untruths saying he had raised in the region of £500 for his local Donkey Sanctuary. In truth, Gary was ambivalent towards donkeys, asses and all other beasts of burden, but for some reason this was the first charitable organisation that sprang to his mind.
Gary enjoyed the rest of his week completely unaware that the photo and details of his exploits were to be published in the Bugle, on page three no less.
Reading the article the following week in his shabby static caravan, Tolstoy Bullivant cursed out loud thus providing all the provocation that his dog needed to start barking at him.
“Sod off!” snarled Tolstoy at the vociferous mutt and gave it a less than playful kick. He had roared this oath so many times at the dog over the years that they both now thought that Sod-Off was its actual name, rather than Norman, as Tolstoy’s late mother had originally named him. Sod-Off accepted the kick but refused to stop barking. He was one of those rather horrid short haired dogs, with a piggy little body, slanted eyes and an expression typically seen on raiders of sub-post offices and with a dispensation to match.”Bloody donkey do-gooders” growled Tolstoy inducing Sod-Off to bark louder. “Sod OFF!” he shouted. Sod-Off didn’t, but continued to bark excitedly, wisely out of range of his owner’s size-elevens.
Tolstoy hated donkeys. In fact he loathed them. One had killed his mother on Blackpool beach when it sat on her as she dozed in a deckchair. Then his brother Nabokov had perished in the infamous donkey derby stampede in Minehead, 1982. The grubby walls of Tolstoy’s caravan were stuck with pictures of donkeys: not of mutilated or tortured beasts, as you would expect most psychopathic aggressors to stick, because he remained an animal lover at heart despite his foot-to-ribs relationship with Sod-Off, no, he just wanted so see them humiliated, so his depictions had them wearing preposterous sombreros or effeminate flowers in their bridles.
Tolstoy was the scourge of the donkey sanctuaries of southern England, not that the donkeys were bothered, for they were perfectly safe, it was the staff and benefactors on whom he exacted his revenge. He put Sod-Off, barking, into his cage in the back of his car, and threw the torn-out newspaper article, road map of England and duffle bag containing his Tasar on the passenger seat before roaring off, heading for Newbury to find his next victim.
He parked up at the Kennet Centre and went to the library to find the addresses of local vets, coming back to let Sod-Off out of the cage and punching him in the eye to give him an authentic reason for seeking veterinary assistance.
At the third vets he visited he recognised Gary from the picture and relishing the prospect of imminent violence, carried the still-barking Sod-Off into the treatment room with him. As Gary examined the puffy eye of the surly canine, behind him Tolstoy stealthily reached into the duffle bag and felt for the Tasar’s ‘On’ switch.
At that moment Nurse Willets, Gary’s assistant, came into the treatment room with a box of worming tablets causing Tolstoy, and Sod-Off, to freeze.
She immediately saw Tolstoy, hand in duffle bag with a guilty look on his face and shrieked “GILBERT!” causing her plumpish body to push out against the restrictions of her white coat in an unflattering and in places quite distressing manner. Tolstoy was a little confused by this solid, shrill woman, and his mind not being as quick as his wits, went fuzzy which allowed her to continue ,”Oh Gilbert. I knew you’d come back for me one day, you know, after you ran away to the circus…..” There was real passion in the heavy histrionic helper’s outburst.
Tolstoy remained silent, wondering what on earth this mad woman was talking about and stared incredulously, his mind still fuzzy. Sod-Off barked.
The stout nurse continued, “you said you couldn’t keep up with my sexual demands….”
At this, Gary’s mind went fuzzy too – he had really never considered his ample assistant in anything remotely resembling a corporeal manner. However this unexpected salacious talk cleared Tolstoy’s primal brain in an instant.She continued “…..and that just a week before Aunt Agatha died and left me her entire fortune”.
Gary’s mind was still fuzzed by her previous prurient outburst, Sod-Off barked whilst something snapped in Tolstoy’s head. When this happened it usually meant someone was going to get hurt, but this time it was love. Nurse Willet’s corpulent curves lit up something deep inside him and fuelled it to combustion point with its prospects of reciprocal lust and potential riches. Sharp enough to spot an opportunity when it presented itself, all he had to do, he reckoned, was to pass himself off as this Gilbert, whoever he was. Having now regained the art of speech, Tolstoy confirmed “Yes, it is I, Gilbert, returned to claim my darling, darling…..” he peered at her badge to learn her name “….Nurse, – Nurse Willets“.
Nurse Willets thought this was charming and positively squealed. By this time Gary’s mind had also cleared and her mention of the circus triggered an old long-forgotten memory to surface and he smelled a rat. As he removed the discarded dead pet rodent from under the examination table, he felt uneasy about the validity of this roguish churl of a man who had induced such a reaction from his spinsterish aide. He thought of an excuse to move his respected yet, he suspected, gullible colleague from the room: “Take this rambunctious dog out to the recovery room and apply some canine cosmetics to its offending eye please, Nurse Williets”.
She left reluctantly and would have given her newly-rediscovered beau a cutesy three-fingered wave had she not been concerned that Sod-Off might bite them off.
“Gilbert you say? – pah!” said Gary to the concerned and slightly hurt Tolstoy. “I know who you really are”.
“You do?” Tolstoy swallowed hard and wondered how Tasering her employer might affect the chances of a relationship with Nurse.
Gary paced round the room and detailed the freshly restored memory. “1978, Johnny Mathis is at Number One and the Stalingrad State Circus perform outside the Newbury Leisure Centre. A twelve year old boy is heart broken when his hero, Vladimir Vostock, the finest trapeze artiste to have visited Berkshire in fifty years refuses to take to the air, announcing an instant and complete retirement from the big top to pursue a career developing barrier creams to protect the hands of manual workers. I was that boy, and YOU ARE THAT MAN…VLADIMIR VOSTOCK! I’d recognise that hair parting anywhere” and he pointed dramatically at Tolstoy who felt at his hairline and was starting to feel confused again.
“But, but” said Tolstoy trying to gain some traction on this most eel-like of situations. “I’m not Baldermal Bostock or whoever you said – look” and gaining confidence he offered out his hands for examination. Gary was repulsed by the hard callouses and grime and had to admit they were not the hands of a barrier cream mogul. “I am also as earthbound as the Large Hadron Collider and in 1978 I would have been, err, 4, and my name is Gabriel, I mean Gilbert Poncastle”.
“Poncastle?” puzzled Gary “You mean like Mayor Poncastle of Penzance?”
Tolstoy flinched a little when he remembered it was the newspaper article he got that name from. “Yes…” he replied feebly, trying to gain a few valuable seconds thinking time “He’s my….my twin brother”, He immediately regretted saying this the moment he heard these words leave his mouth. “…Not identical though” he added as a sapless token of justification.
Gary looked at Tolstoy for a moment, “Fabulous!” he declared. “I liked the Mayor”.
At Tolstoy (or should that be Gilbert) and Nurse’s wedding, the service was presided over by Mayor Poncastle’s nephew, Father Arbuthnot. The Mayor had unashamedly accepted Tolstoy’s (Gilbert’s) bribe from Aunt Agatha’s bountiful legacy to accept him as a twin brother (albeit non-identical twin brother, and he was at least 20 years older than this felonious vulgarian). Much of this generous sum went to the replacement of lead on Arbuthnot’s church roof, which Tolstoy had previously stolen, bringing a satisfying sense of closure to the tawdry arrangement. God certainly moved in mysterious ways when Tolstoy was involved. Gary never knew he had been spared a Tasering and was made best man. The re-named Sir Doff was chosen to be dog-of-honour. Vladmir Vostock, now exiled in the province of Swarfega in Kyrgyzstan chose not to attend, but through his benevolent gift, none of the wedding party ever suffered chapped hands again.
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