Prequel Part One: The Boiling of the Ham

With apologies to Blown Periphery and EoL

UnknownPuffin, Going Postal

Portius stepped over the threshold of The Iron Duke, his village pub. Scanning the gentle hubbub of the pub he saw Dave and Quentin in the corner with their girlfriends and waved cheerily. Dave was just setting a round of drinks down on the table.
He was dressed well tonight, close shave, best white shirt on and tight jeans. Smart shoes to top it off. Glancing at the mirrored walls, he hummed “every girl’s crazy bout a sharp dressed man” as he made his way to the bar.
Alain the part time publican already had a pint of Massive awaiting on the bar for him. “Evening, Tips” he smiled.
“Alain, good evening. Busy night in here again I see!” Portius acknowledged, handing over a tenner. “Have one for yourself while you’re there”.
Collecting his change he moved to the table where he saw that Dave’s girl Jackie was frantically texting on her phone.

“Ladies and poofters, it’s Ham-mer time” cried Portius Gammon happily. “Oh fuck off, Tips!” replied Quentin. “It wasn’t funny the first time twenty years ago and it’s still shit now!”
Jackie looked up from her phone “they’re on their way” she announced. Dave mimed putting his head into his hands and being sick. Jackie elbowed him in the ribs “enough, Dave. They are my friends plus also there may be someone Portius would like to meet. Especially as he’s looking like a sharp dressed man tonight”. She winked.
“Bugger” though Portius. “I thought I was just singing that to myself.“
“And a fine evening to you,dear Jackie. Which if your harridans have you foisted upon us tonight? Should I have boned up on celebrity love dance island on ice?”.
“Nope” smiled Jackie. “You’ll see”.
More pints of Massive were consumed, banter was had and Portius was at the bar getting a round in. On return to his table he noted that Jackie’s mates had turned up.
“Ah, welcome back” smiled Jackie. “You missed everyone arriving”.
A dark haired woman was sat in his seat, and she turned to greet him. Green eyes, an aquiline nose and a dress that fitted in all the right places.
Portius gulped. His mouth opened and closed before he recovered his composure.
“Good lady” he said, affecting a sweeping bow. “I am Portius Gammon”. Accepting her proffered hand, he bent again to kiss it gently.
“We call him Tips though” piped up Quentin. “Portius Gammon, PG. PG Tips! Innit!!!”. Gwen stepped on his foot under the table and gave him a dirty look.
“Portius, huh? Unusual. I’m Portia.” The dark haired woman looked Gammon up and down appraisingly. “Mum was a big Shakespeare fan. Although she should have really called me Portia Let-Me-Spell-That-For-You”.

Portius smiled, trying to ignore the internal radio station in his head that was currently playing “Isn’t She Lovely”. Easing himself into the chair next to her the smile stretched into cheeky grin.
“Tell me about it.”
And she did. As the clock ticked by, Gwen and Quentin departed before closing. Dave, Jackie and her friends made their excuses soon after and then it was just Portia and Portius left by themselves in the corner of the pub. Chatting, laughing, happy.
Alain arrived at their table, carrying a pint of Massive and a white wine. He’d been watching carefully from behind the bar all night and was nodding approvingly, his shaved head gleaming in the heat of the pub.
“Compliments of the house” he said, putting the drinks on the table.
“Royalty then eh, Portius?” teased Portia.
“Oh yeah that’s me. Most eligible Prince in the parish” he nodded.
“Unattached then?” came the enquiry.
“For now” was his reply. She raised her eyebrows and allowed herself a small Mona Lisa smile.
Quickly changing the subject he continued “so, everyone here calls me Tips and thinks they’re the first person to come up with it but all night you call me Portius. It is refreshing”.
“Yeah” she agreed “I get sick of being called Porsche, Portialoo and the rest. One thing we have in common I suppose”. She nudged him with her shoulder and he breathed her scent. Unbidden the radio station began playing in his head again; “isn’t sheeee loooovveelyyyyy”.
“Time” called Alain. “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay heeeerrrre!”. He flicked the floodlights on, turning the cosy pub into a detention centre. The soft light was displaced with cold hard halogen illumination and he eyed the crowds with a practised eye. He knew his trade well, a migrant from his native Mauritius when he was a boy. These days, rarely did he have to retrieve “The Stick” from under the bar counter, a two foot long length of wood made from oak. When he’d first taken on The Duke as it was known, it was a different evening out entirely. Bit by bit, he’d turned it into a decent pub. Some of the locals from that time had started calling him “Stick” as his mahogany skin and the colour of the oak were one and the same. While not tall or overtly strong, Alain was built like granite, no fat on him just pure lean solidity.
The underage drinkers in the corner were still mucking about in the public bar and Alain went over to their table. “Time, gentlemen, please!” he grinned. The boys gulped their pints, and even stacked their glasses in their hurry. Alain beamed to their departing backs, another job well done he thought. Even though he was risking his licence, he reckoned that to teach these boys how to behave in a civilised manner in a pub was part of his job. His “call to the bar” as he called it, whistling softly to himself as he picked up the empties and stacked them on the bar. Still so much to do, he mused to himself, but so many plans had moved forward for him tonight.

“You really don’t have to walk me home” protested Portia. “I’m a strong, independent woman you know!” she mimed the air quotes.
“How about you indulge me a little with twenty more minutes of your company though? It’s not all about you-oou-ou!” he bobbed his head sideways comically and waving his hands.
She seized his arm in hers and they walked up the street in a less than straight line. Portius was feeling a little nervous, this was crunch time he felt, coffee, or no coffee?
He was still mulling this over when she stopped and pointed at a front door. “This is me.” She said simply.
“Thanks for the company. Nice meeting you.”
“Could we do it again do you think?” he blurted out awkwardly.
She leaned in. “I’d like that. Same place, high noon tomorrow? Jackie keeps going on about their Sunday roast.” She giggled a little, then gripped him by the shirt and kissed him fully on the lips. And then skittered to her door.
She lowered her head to fix him with her gaze and watched him shuffle his feet uncomfortably.
“High noon. For sure” he smiled, his head reeling from the kiss. Watching her wave as the front door closed behind her, he began walking down the street back to his home. After a few beers and Portia’s company all night, his internal radio station started up again. With a conscious effort, he switched from “Happy” from the Minion film he’d watched with his nieces to “Walking on Sunshine”. Shaking his head slowly he carried on walking back to his house, desperately trying not to skip as he moved. Putting his head on the pillow, he set the alarm for the morning. There was no way on God’s earth he’d be late for “high noon”. Chuckling to himself he turned and slept.

Portia looked at herself in the mirror as she removed her makeup, or “warpaint” as her mother used to say. Pulling another wipe from the box, she expertly swabbed the eyeshadow and foundation away. She’d enjoyed Portius’ company more than she’d expected; Jackie’s friends were usually dull. But Portius – handsome “really?” came her thought straight back at her.
“Yes” she said to the mirror, as if challenging herself to say otherwise. “Handsome. Funny. Clever.” And before she knew it, unbidden: “looked good in tight jeans”.
Settling down into her bed, she thought “and he’s got a weird name just like me. Fucking weirdo!” A smile creased her face as she drifted off.
Alain had finished tidying the pub, the dishwashers were on, the ashtrays emptied, the dogs set out in the gardens to do their business, whether that was chasing the stragglers or keeping the place free of the Roma that were now becoming a regular problem in his well tended beer garden.
Pouring himself a generous scotch from the row of bottles under the optics for the amateurs, he slowly descended the staircase. Then turned back to retrieve a cigar and matches from the “poshbox” as his clientele termed it.

Sat at his table, Alain leaned back on his chair, clipped the Cohiba and smiled.

He began the yogic postures to keep him supple, then began lifting the heavy weights to keep his reputation as the “Stick”. Multiple repetitions. With a sigh, he continued.
An hour later he returned to his table, the Cohiba and whisky waiting for him. He wondered – “is Portius strong enough for this?”.
The second match lit the Cohiba and Alain truly relaxed. Sipping his whisky, he exhaled a long drawn out breath. How many plans denied? How many operatives gone native or just plain useless?
“This one is different.“ he thought as he ascended the stairs.
“You said that last time” said his wife at the top of the stair. “B.E.D.”.
“You know me too well.” acknowledged Alain. He took her hand and they walked up the stairs.
Afterwards, they lay replete on the mattress.
“You could be right” said Cassandra, flicking her blonde hair over Alain’s chest.
“And if I am?” he countered.
“There’s a first time for everything” said Cassandra, snuggling up close to him.
“Even for you”.
Alain scowled, but went to sleep dreaming.

© UnknownPuffin 2018

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