Candyfloss and Pickles – Chapter Five: A Deep-Rooted Problem
Vernon Calthorpe couldn’t have imagined a cleverer escape from both root canal treatment and gum-numbing tedium as his dentist recounted his most recent quest for a hotel room of a sufficiently high standard for him stay in for an entire night without complaint on one of his regular getaways to the concrete and satellite sports TV holiday hotspots in the sun.
The sleazy jazz ringtone of his mobile phone, quivering in his breast pocket, startled both patient and dentist, the dentist more so, as the patient retrieved the device from inside his jacket, sat up and dribbled into the microphone hole.
“Yeth,” mouthed Vernon, struggling to control his lower jaw, which flopped unfelt under the power of the anaesthetic.
“Vernon, I insist you end that call so that I can carry on your treatment,” urged the tooth torturer.
“Whath?” spat Vernon over phone and hand.
“The old girl’s had it,” mumbled a voice from the speaker.
“Whath olth girl? Hath whath?” puzzled Vernon.
“Mrs Peabody. She’s kicked the bucket. The hotel’s closed.”
Unanaesthetised, Vernon’s mouth would have dropped naturally, but, with a good dose of deadening chemical pumped into it, now the dead jaw dropped heavily on its hinge, knocking the phone out of his hand with a clunk.
You’re lucky you didn’t knock the rest of your teeth out,” chastised the dentist. “Now hop back into the chair and let me finish.”
“No thtime,” said Vernon, reaching down to pick up his phone and making a run for the door.
“But the nerve is open to the air: you could pick up an infection.”
“You’ll have to finith it thome other thime,” shouted Vernon over his shoulder.
“You’ll be in agony when the feeling returns,” muttered the dentist.
Vernon ran. He didn’t know where. He stopped. He dribbled. A group of youths looked at him. He realised how odd he must have appeared: like when he looked at people and thought they were weirdos.
“Bugger appearwances!” he spluttered, turning and heading back in the direction of his office.
So Mrs Peabody had died at last. She had no relatives that anyone knew of, so what would become of the hotel? If there was no will, they could . . . he could now get his hands on it and put his redevelopment plans into action. If he hadn’t been dribbling already, he would’ve drooled at the thought of such easy profit. Anaesthetic or not, Vernon always lacked feeling.
As he jogged and puffed his way back to his office, thoughts began to knock about his skull. First thing to do was locate the will, so which of the town’s coterie of trusted solicitors held the document? Peabody was a canny old bird and would probably have wanted an old-school professional without the overheads of a big firm. Vernon ran a mental finger down the short list of practitioners before settling on Halfacre, a creaking, unadventurous, uninspiring man, who excelled at drafting the letter of the law followed by a timely but modest invoice. With a lifetime of minimal achievement, his safe appeared the likeliest haven for the last will and testament of the late lady hotelier.
And making another 180° spin as his greed-calibrated GPS redirected him towards the sombre offices of old Halfacre, Vernon trod the same stretch of pavement a third time, passing the same youths, who this time called him foul names and gestured obscenely in his direction.
As thick-skinned as a lost yoghurt in a neglected fridge, he shouted back at them: “Get a chjob ithh you hathent anythink bethher thoo do!”
This produced only more taunts along with the first hint of feeling to touch his jaw accompanied by the prick of pain promising more to follow.
“Gott thoo get thoo Haalthaker,” he mouthed and stepped up his speed.
Halfacre’s office was fronted by a door wearing an anaemic coat of paint thinned over many years by its regular weekly wipe. Pressed by a launderette on one side and a baker’s on the other, Halfacre had started his practice a thin man, but had expanded so much through trips to the baker’s that he could now barely squeeze between the two party walls up the staircase to his office.
Vernon forced the door open with his shoulder and scaled the stairs two at a time to reach the summit in dizziness that whirled the room around him and drained his knees of support so that he quivered on the sticks of his legs.
“What are you up to, Calthorpe? Can’t you see I’m in a confidential client meeting?” complained Halfacre, more upset than angry.
“Mitheth Peabodeeth’s thwill. Hath you goth it?”
“Mrs Peabody? Dead? I didn’t . . . you want to see the . . . ? No, I haven’t and I wouldn’t even if I had it. Get out, man. Have you lost your senses?”
Only in jdaw. Detitht. Wooth canal.”
“Well, take your jaw away with you and close the door behind you!”
And Vernon subsided, down the stairs, down in the mouth, in pain and disappointment.
Out in the sharp air, jabbing his slowly feeling gums, he picked up.
They seemed a likely choice for the old lady. And, as if injected with a sudden rush of adrenalin, he notched up speed back up to a trot, turning into alleyways and twisting out again into narrow, cobbled streets until he arrived at the double bay frontage of Coving Solicitors, established 1907.
Unconscious of the damp patch of dribble spreading across his tie and lapels, Vernon grasped the brass handle and flung open the door, alerting the battle-hardened receptionist to the arrival of an enemy caller.
“Good afternoon. Can I help you?” she asked, signalling unhelpfulness through an aggressive flash of teeth.
“Yes, Coving is the name of the firm,” she confirmed, as if a threat.
The door, which had meandered back to fit into its hole, swung open again to admit an “oh!’ before swinging back shut, shaken and confused.
Vernon turned too, glimpsing the utterer of the “oh!” sneaking off at speed.
“Coving!” insisted the receptionist, but with a “gwah” Vernon had grabbed the brass handle and once more lugged the door open and himself through it.
Off, round the corner, down an alleyway, through a gate, out into a street, past a bus stop he hobbled, feeling not at all well, but the thought of profit powered his legs. On, across a cobbled street, round a tub of flowers, past a sprawling bush, until his collar yanked him back.
Attached to the collar was an unseen hand, while tongue and teeth almost attached to his ear hissed: “Don’t ever come to the office again, Calthorpe. Now what do you want?”
“Peabodthy. Hothell. Dedth. Wanth the thwill.”
“The old woman? Dead? Too bad I’m not her solicitor, you idiot. Now get out of my sight.”
And the hand released Vernon’s collar and departed along with the attached lawyer.
The painful sensation in his neck almost matched that in his jaw as he felt his teeth start jumping up and down in his gums, but still Vernon persisted.
The small town had few solicitors and he was fast exhausting the likely candidates. Surely she wouldn’t have paid the fees asked by . . . . ? He had nothing to lose and adjusted course once more to seek a third law firm.
Once more sneaking round the maze of angled streets and pathways, like a rodent in search of reward, Vernon turned and twisted through the town on his way to the largest solicitors, a regional multi-office firm with metropolitan pretensions.
Just before he entered the smartest street in town the jazzy tones of his phone played out of his inside pocket again.
“Yeth,” he spat into the phone.
“Don’t say anything, Calthorpe. Just listen!”
Contact was immediate, the stiff tone of the woman’s voice as delicate as a rounders bat clouting his ear.
“Every law firm in town knows what you’re up to, so just turn round and go home.”
And as the line dropped so did the notion that his scheme had been broadcast across town. Confirmation arrived with two burly young men in dark pinstripe suits rounding a corner and locking eye contact on to Vernon. Realising that rounders was just the game these fellow wanted to play play and that his head was precisely the right shape for the ball, Vernon turned to sprint to first base, then ducked into a passageway, weaving and winding in and out of shoppers and office workers out for their lattes and cappuccinos. His criss-crossing of town between solicitors had exhausted Vernon and he felt his legs wobble as he turned each corner, trotting as fast as he could to escape his pursuers. The effects of the anaesthetic were now almost exhausted and full strength of feeling had returned to his jaw in sharp, stabbing throbs.
No longer caring whether or not he was caught, Vernon flopped into the recess of a doorway in a quiet sidestreet. He panted as he waited, but the two burly solicitors had been held up by their laughter after seeing him turn and run from them and had long since returned to the warmth of their office to tell the story and spread it across the town.
In the chill air of the afternoon, in the queasiness from instantly cooling clammy sweat, in pain too excruciating to bear a second longer, Vernon dialled his dentist.
“The dental surgery is now closed for seven days while Mr Hawkins takes a short holiday.
Vernon missed the end of the recording as his phone dropped, pressing down his hand, dragging down his arm and crumpling his body into a slumped huddle. Nothing could wrench his senses away from pain, fused to his jaw, burning the bone, turning saliva to steam. Through this warm mist loomed the large face of a smartly dressed lady bent forward to address him: “Are you the magician?”
© Robert Zarywacz 2008-2009