He looks like a lizard. The skin around his neck is all slack and wrinkly like on one of them iguanas or whatever they are called - them things that sit around on rocks all day swivelling their eyeballs looking for smaller lizards to eat.
The funny thing was there was no sign of Baldie. I mean, whenever I went up there before, he was always there. But this time there was just Frankie Fischer and a maid called Maria who is Italian, I think, or maybe Spanish.
“Put the tea there, Maria,” he said, “Milk and sugar?” he said.
“Milk,” I said, “No sugar.”
“Really?” he said, raising an eyebrow which, if you want my opinion, was dyed black to match his wig, “No wonder you are so exceptionally slim.”
Maria poured the tea and left us alone. And that’s when we got down to business.
To tell you the truth, I hadn’t given any thought to Frankie Fischer for ages. Tell you the truth, I thought he’d lost interest in me. Him and Baldie. And then, last Friday, I got a phone call. From Frankie Fischer himself this time. Said he wanted to see me. I asked him what about but he was vague - “There are one or two things we need to talk about,” he said. He said he’d send a taxi around to pick me up and I thought, what the hell, maybe I’ll finally get to find out why Baldie keeps phoning me, why he keeps following me, why he’s having me watched and stuff.
I asked Frankie about that. He said, “Watched? My dear boy, what on earth makes you think I’m having you watched?”
I told him about the man who stands in the street, watching my window. I told him abut the phone calls, about the people who roughed me up that time, about the laughing man, I told him everything.
He didn’t say much for a while. Just sat there, stirring sugar into his tea. Then he said, “Are you familiar with a man named MacMillan?”
“Name doesn’t ring a bell, I said.”
“Ah. You see, I thought you met him at the...”
“The party? Might have. What’s he look like?”
He smiled a lizardy smile and made a movement with one hand like as if he was dusting some fluff off his trouser leg.
“You’ve heard of Mr King, I suppose?” he said.
“I’ve heard of Mr King,” I said. In the line of business I’m in - or that I used to be in - everyone had heard of Mr King. But it was just a name. Like a sort of code word or something. I don’t think anyone believed he was a real person.
“Well, let’s say that Mike MacMillan is one of Mr King’s employees,” he said, “Not somebody you would really want to get on the wrong side of.”
“I never heard of him,” I said.
“Unfortunately,” said Frankie Fischer, “He seems to have heard of you. Do help yourself to a biscuit. They’re very good. Fortnums.”
“Well I never heard of him,” I said.
The room we were in was all white: white walls, white ceilings, white carpets, white sofa and arm chairs. I thought, “This is to show how rich he is. You’d have to be rich to have everything white and afford to keep it clean all the time.” He was wearing all white too - white jacket, white shirt open at his lizardy neck, white trousers and white shoes. “To show he’s one of the good guys,” I thought.
“Your friend not here today?” I said by way of making conversation.
“My friend?” he said as though he had no idea who I could be talking about, “Ah, no,” he said, “He’s had to go away.”
Maria came in then and Frankie told her to take the tray away, which she did.
“The thing is,” Frankie said when she’d gone, “We had a bit of a problem.”
“Yeah?” I said.
“You remember my party?”
I remembered it and I told him so.
“There was a certain young man... I’m not sure if you... I mean, I think he mentioned that you and he knew... one another.”
“Willy, you mean?” I said, “Welsh Willy. Yeah well, I mean, I knew him. I wouldn’t say we were friends or anything but, yeah, I knew him.”
“Welsh Willy?” Fischer smiled, “Was that his nickname?”
“Nickname, trade name, whatever - it’s what everyone called him.”
“You may have noticed that we had a bit of a disagreement. At the party, I mean.”
Of course I bloody noticed. Welsh Willy fuckin’ gate-crashed the place some time around midnight, spewed all over the place, all over Frankie Fischer’s nice white furnishings and all over his nice white bedroom and then, later on there was some almighty argument - in his bedroom, I think - everybody could hear them but some pretended not to. Frankie was calling Welsh Willy a fucking whore and Welsh Wily was calling Frankie a fucking pervert and there was all kinds of a commotion and Willy screaming like a stuck fucking pig and the n the next thing you know Frankie’s back at the party arm in arm with Shirley who is his so-called ‘glamorous assistant’ on the telly and who, according to popular and amazingly unbelievable legend is also his red-hot passionate fuckpig. Oh well, if people believe that, they’ll believe anything.
“Yeah,” I said, “I sort of gathered that you and Willy weren’t getting along too well.”
“How much did he tell you?”
“About you and him? Not a lot,” I said, “But it’s common knowledge ain’t it?”
“That you and him was an item. Used to be anyway.”
“An item?” - this was obviously a word that was new to Frankie Fischer so I explained what I meant in words that I knew he’d understand.
His face went so white he nearly vanished against the decor. He seemed to be labouring under the delusion that no-one even suspected his ‘proclivities’. Anyway, we had a bit of to-ing and fro-ing over that one and he seemed reassured when I told him that my granny still thought he and Shirley was going to get married one day. And he offered me a whisky, which I declined, so he poured himself a decent glassful of some pretty good stuff and then he said - “Nobody knows where he is. That’s the problem, you see.”
“Where who is?” I said but, of course, I knew who he meant. Willy. He hadn’t been seen since that night at the party. I knew there’d been trouble. But I didn’t know how much trouble. I’d heard some of the boys down the Black Cap saying that Frankie must have done away with Welsh Willy but that was just gossip - nobody took it serious. See, Willy was always in trouble. The fact that nobody’d seen him didn’t surprise anyone. We thought he’d probably just nicked some cash from one of his rich punters and then scarpered off back to Cardiff or Swansea or wherever it is he comes from.
The Frankie looks at me then and he says, “How much do you really know?”
And I say, “Know about what?”
And Frankie says, “Are you being honest with me? Are you saying you don’t know anything about him? You really don’t know what happened to him?”
“Why should I fucking know?” I say.
And he gives me this beady-eyed lizardy look. And I’m thinking to myself, ‘This guy’s nuts. Thus guy’s fucking dangerous’. And I notice his CD player - big fucker - all chrome and silver with big fucking speakers mounted on the wall - and suddenly I get to thinking about the laughing man and I get to wondering who he is and I look at Frankie Fischer and I start to put two and two together, but not really sure if 4 is the right answer if you get my drift...
And he says, “They think you know more. And as long as they think that, they think you are dangerous. And when they think that, it’s bad for both of us. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
And I say, “No, not really.”
And he says, “Then you’d better start giving it some more thought.”
And on the way out he says, “I’d like you to work for me.”
And I say, sorry, I’m busy.
And he says, “You haven’t heard what I’m offering yet. You work for me, that could be the perfect solution.”
Solution, I’m thinking. To what?
He’s a real fucking weirdo, that Frankie Fischer. To tell you the truth, I’m not I know any more now than when I went up there. Apart from the fact that Frankie Fischer is clinically fucking insane. Well, I guess that’s something worth knowing, anyway...