The Ten Thousand Pound Banana (featuring Candle)
Me and Nige were in the shop talking about potassium when Cy told us we had to break a bloke's legs.
That's code for rough him up. If you break a man's legs he can't work. He can't work he can't pay. Which works cross purposes to the whole point of smacking him around.
I'm good at that and not much else. Cy don't let me drive no more on account of losing the battery on a bank job.
Codgers. Don't trust them.
It's a long story.
Nigel sat on the counter eating a banana. He's a wee bastard, but he's not a dwarf. He carries a cosh for fellas who joke about his height.
So don't do it, if you know what's good for your kneecaps.
"You ought to eat more fruit, Candle," he says. "Nothing better for you. You need your vitamins, you know."
I prefer to get mine from a porterhouse and a pint. Two of the former and a dozen of the latter, but I don't say so. Nigel usually holds a conversation better by himself, but he's looking at me to say my piece, start an argument over it, break the afternoon monotony.
Thank heaven Cy roars in and saves me the trouble.
Cyrus is a whiskey barrel with legs, and a mouth like a train whistle. He rushes in the door, slapping his newspaper on the dusty shelves.
He sells novelties. Of an adult nature. But no one comes here, they get it all on the Internet now. It's all cover for his less than legal activities, and I like it better without the perverts wandering the aisles. We had to sell them the odd item to look legitimate, and I didn't like taking the bills from their grubby hands. I kept a pair of tweezers for it.
"Candle, get your pet monkey off the countertop, he's scaring off customers."
If someone else said that, Nigel would cosh him for certain, but not the boss.
"Cyrus, I was telling Candle here he ought to eat more fruit."
"What, you think it will stunt his growth? Look at him. He barely fits in the door as it is."
Cy swats the banana out his hand with the newspapers.
Nigel looks down at the severed bit of banana. "That's a waste of good food."
"You're a waste of food, you idjit. Take the bananas out of your ears and listen. You're going to break this fella's legs. He's two weeks behind, and Calloway tells me he just spotted him at the dog track."
The fellow's name is Ellis and he's a haberdasher. When he wanted to expand, he approached Cy for a loan. Which is all fine and good. When he's late on a payment we all get new hats.
On the drive, Nigel crunches away at an apple he found under his seat. "They keep the doctor away, you know."
The dog track's across from the zoo. I wonder if sniffing the lions makes them run faster. I haven't been to a zoo since my father took me. Good man, he was. He liked the apes. Said they reminded him of people.
Nigel takes a harsh turn into the car park and his apples careen off my ankles like billiards. He picks a fedora from the pile in the boot, a green one with a purple feather, and we shoulder our way in.
It's between races. Some are buying for the next, rest are cashing in.
"I'll take the seats, you look by the ticket counter," Nigel says.
I'm a head above the crowd. But I don't see nothing but a positively rotund child cracking candies between his teeth. His piggy eyes follow Nigel's hat.
I know what he's thinking. Nige looks like a leprechaun. A leprechaun eating a banana at the dog races. That's pretty funny, but I've got other things to worry about.
I remember Ellis when he measured me for my suit. You don't find my size on the rack. He reminded me of a squirrel, how he darted around the shop. With stubby little fingers. Wondered how he held onto the pins.
It was those fingers I saw first, shuffling notes at the payment window. Then I noticed the whole squirrel. Bouncing on the toes of his shoes, the fancy kind with tassels on.
I've have trouble hiding behind a giraffe, but Ellis was all caught up in his winnings. He bounced right past. I followed him toward the exit and figured I'd pick him up by his little neck until he passed out, and deliver the goods to Cyrus. Get on his good side. Maybe get to drive again.
Then Nigel goes and ruins it. When he spots Ellis, he drops his banana peel. Then he slips on it. Right on his arse. Knocks his hat off, which rolls on its brim in a circle.
The fat kid runs up and grabs his cuff. "Give me your pot of gold!"
The crowd laughs and points, and my father's right. They do look like monkeys.
Then Ellis spots me, leaps three feet straight up, and bolts for the car park.
The crowd slows me but I manage to spot him fumbling with his keys. I shout a few choice words and charge. He drops his keys and runs cross the road, dodging traffic. Right for the Zoo. He hops the turnstile, and I nearly get flattened by a bus.
Nigel catches up to me, his little legs pumping. We meet at the turnstile. The ticket lady is out of her booth, having none of it.
Nigel pays for us both with a tenner. "Don't tell Cy about the banana."
The place is near empty but Ellis has a head start. I find myself looking up the trees, like he's a real squirrel. Then Nigel sees a family pointing, and we run over.
It's by the monkey house.
The apes have a pit, real nice down there. Lots of grass and a playground to climb and swing around on. The gorillas are all riled up. Pounding on their chests, like two blokes over a bird.
And Ellis, squatting in the middle of them. His suit's all torn up, and he's clutching his winnings like his favorite acorn.
Me and Nige look down, then at each other. What was our boy thinking?
"Job well done then?" Nigel says.
"What if they tear him limb from limb, what do we tell Cyrus then?"
"Well, you go in. They're practically relations."
Right then, I get an idea. Not often that happens. I pat Nigel's pocket. "Hand it over."
"It's my last one, Candle."
"Don't be a prat."
I climb over the meager fence and hang down, waving the banana at our little squirrel among the apes. "Nice fat envelope you have, Ellis. Care to trade?"
And that's why I drive the car, now. Still smells like a fruit stand, though.