Aberystwyth Mon Amour

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  • Aberystwyth Mon Amour

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  • Aberystwyth Mon Amour

    Malcolm Pryce

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  • For Mum and Dad, Andy and Pepys

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  • L about it then: Aberystwyth in the Eightieswas no Babylon. Even when the flood came there wasnothing Biblical about the matter, despite what some foolsare saying now. I spent the years before the deluge operating outof an office on Canticle Street, above the Orthopaedic Boot shop.And you know what that means: take two lefts outside the doorand you were on the Old Prom. That was where it all happened:the bars, the dives, the gambling dens, the 24-hour Whelk Stall,and Sospans ice-cream kiosk. Thats where the tea-cosy shopswere, the ones that never sold tea cosies; and the toffee-appledens, the ones that never sold toffee. And that was where thoselatter day Canutes, the ladies from the Sweet Jesus League, hadtheir stall. I saw a lot of things along that part of the Prom, butI dont remember seeing any hanging gardens. Just those roundconcrete tubs of hydrangeas the Council put out so the drunkswould have something to throw up in. I also spent a lot of mytime at the Druid-run Moulin Club in Patriarch Street and Imwell aware of what the girls got up to there. Sure, you can callit harlotry if it makes you feel better, but I was there the nightBianca died and Im just as happy with the word prostitution. Andas for idolatry, well, if you ask me, the only thing men worshippedon a regular basis in the days before the flood was money. That,and the singer down at the Moulin, Myfanwy Montez. And I knowthat for certain, because although I never had any money in myoffice in those days, I did once have Myfanwy Montez . . .

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  • Chapter 1

    I cant afford friends in this town, I lose too many workingdays attending the funerals

    Sospan, the ice-cream seller

    T remember most about it was walking theentire length of the Prom that morning and not seeing aDruid. Normally when I made my stroll shortly before9am I would see a few hanging around at Sospans ice-creamstall, preening themselves in their sharp Swansea suits and teardropaviator shades. Or they would be standing outside Dai the CustardPies joke shop, waiting for him to open so they could buy somemore of that soap that makes a persons face go black. But on thatday in June there wasnt a bard in sight. It was as if nature hadforgotten one of the ingredients of the day and was carrying onin the hope that no one would notice. Looking back, its hard forpeople who werent there to appreciate how strange it felt. In thosedays, everything in town was controlled by the Druids. Sure, theBronzinis controlled the ice cream, the tailoring and the haircuts;and the Llewellyns controlled the crazy golf, the toffee apples andthe bingo. But we all know who controlled the Bronzinis and theLlewellyns. And, of course, the police got to push a few poetsaround now and again; but that was just for show. Like thoselittle fish that are allowed to swim around inside the sharks jawto clean his teeth.

    When I arrived at Canticle Street Mrs Llantrisant was already thereswabbing the step. She did this every morning as well as tidying

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  • up in my office and doing a number of other things, all of whichI had forbidden her to do. But she took no notice. Her mother hadswabbed this step and so had her mother and her mother beforethat. There had probably been a Mrs Llantrisant covered in woadsoaping the menhirs in the iron-age hill fort south of the town.You just had to accept the fact that she came with the premiseslike the electricity supply.

    Bore da, Mr Knight!Bore da, Mrs Llantrisant! Lovely day?Oh isnt it just!At this point the usual formula was for us to spend a few

    minutes pinning down exactly how lovely a day it was. We didthis by cross-referencing it with its counterparts in previous years,the records of which Mrs Llantrisant kept in her head like thosepeople who know all the FA Cup goal-scorers since 1909. But onthis occasion she was distracted by an impatient excitement whichmade her bob up and down on the spot like a toddler aching todivulge a secret. She placed a white bony finger on my forearm.

    Youll never guess what! she said excitedly.What? I said.Youve got a customer!Though rare, this wasnt quite the novelty that her excitement

    suggested.Youll never guess in a million years who it is!Well, Id better go and see then, hadnt I?I stepped over the gleaming slate doorstep, but Mrs Llantrisant

    held on to my arm, her finger digging in like a talon. Sheglanced furtively up and down the street and then lowered hervoice, as if there was a danger someone would steal the clientif word got out.

    Its Myfanwy Montez, she hissed. The famous singer!Bonfires of excitement burned in her eyes; youd never guess

    that Mrs Llantrisant spent three nights a week outside the night

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  • club where Myfanwy Montez worked, handing out pamphlets andcalling the singer a strumpet.

    My office was divided into an outer waiting area and the inneroffice. But Mrs Llantrisant usually let clients straight into the mainroom even though I had told her not to. Miss Montez was alreadysitting in the clients chair with her back to the door; she jumpedwhen I entered then half stood up and half turned round.

    I hope you dont mind, the cleaning lady told me to come in.I know, she does that.She looked across to the coat stand in the corner of the room;

    there was a wide-brimmed straw hat hanging from it.I used your hat stand.Did you take a ticket?No.Always insist on a ticket, Miss Montez it could get confusing

    if another client turns up.She peered at me for a second puzzled, and then giggled.Mrs Llantrisant said you would tease me!I sat down in the chair opposite her. What else did she say

    when she should have been swabbing my step?Are you angry with her?Who?Mrs Llantrisant.I shook my head. No point. It doesnt work.How did you know my name?You know as well as I do its fly-posted on every spare wall

    between here and the station.

    She smiled at the compliment, if indeed it was one, and leanedforward with her hands placed palms down underneath her thighs.Her luxuriant hair cascaded forward and had the colour and sheenof conkers fresh out of the shell. Yes, I would have recognised her

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  • anywhere. Her features were a lot softer than the harsh black andwhite advertising images that were pasted around town, but therewas one thing which marked her out instantly as Aberystwythscelebrated night-club singer: the mole which sat at the exact pointwhere her lip ended and the cheek began. She was facing thewindow and squinting so I walked over and closed the blinds. Theview looked out across the slate roofs of downtown Aberystwythtowards the iron-age hill fort on Pen Dinas; and beyond that to thefour chimneys of the rock factory, now belching out pink smoke.

    It didnt usually take long for a client to lay the goods on thetable, but Myfanwy seemed in no hurry. She sat in the seat likea child and looked wonderingly around the room. There wasnot much to look at: a battered chesterfield sofa, a mono recordplayer, and a nineteenth-century sea chest. The connecting doorto the outer office had a top half of frosted glass upon which werestencilled the words Knight Errant Investigations and the nameLouie Knight in smaller letters. When I set up the practice a fewyears ago the name had struck me as a clever conceit, but nowit made me wince every time I saw it. On the desk there was apre-war fan with Bakelite knobs; a desk lamp from the Fifties;a modern phone and an answering machine . . . people thoughtthe styling was deliberate and ironic but actually the whole officehad been rented from the library and the furniture came as partof the deal; along with Mrs Llantrisant. The bathroom door stillhad the lock on the outside from the days when the room hadbeen used to house sensitive items like the anatomy books andthe Colour Atlas of Eye Surgery. There were two photos on thedesk, in cheap stand-up frames. A black and white snap of mymother and father on a windswept promenade in 1950s Llandudno.My father, fresh-faced and Brylcreemed, leaning into the wind andshielding his new wife; and my mother the eternal bride with asmile that held no inkling that shed be dead in a year. The other

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  • picture was a blurred Kodakolor image of Marty, my school friendwho was sent on a cross-country run in a blizzard and never cameback. The only other photo in the room hung next to the door:great-great-uncle Noel Bartholomew the Victorian eccentric andromantic whose rogue gene for undertaking daft crusades had beenpassed on to me. On the walls either side of the door, facing eachother and flanking uncle Noel, were two maps: one of Aberystwythand environs; one of Borneo.

    Ive never been in a private detectives office before.Dont expect too much.Whats in the trunk?Some charts of the South China Sea, a Burmese tribal headdress

    and a shrunken head.She gasped. Really?Really.Is that Caldy Island? she asked pointing at the map of

    Borneo.No, its Borneo.She paused, bit her lip and said, I expect youre wondering

    why Im here.It had crossed my mind.They say youre the best private detective in town.Did they tell you about the others?What about them?There arent any.She smiled. That must make you the best then. Anyway, I want

    to hire you.Have you got any job in mind, or do you just want to take

    me for a walk?I want you to find a missing person.I nodded thoughtfully. Anyone I know?Evans the Boot.

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  • I didnt say anything, just raised my eyebrows. Very high. Icould have whistled as well, but I decided to stick with theeyebrows.