‘No one gets out of life without dirtying their hands,’ said Jeff ‘Smudge’ May, watching the steam rise from his muddy coffee. Fitz just nodded and started digging into his bacon and eggs with all the enthusiasm of an ex-con in a bordello.
The Star Coffee Bar was stiflingly hot and cluttered with the usual hodge podge of waifs and strays that seemed to congregate at greasy spoons during the early evening. Behind the counter, Madge, a midget with a withered arm, was serving tea in half pint glasses to a couple of ageing Teddy Boys with fading tattoos. A sound system that was twice as big as Madge, blasted out a Stone Roses song.
Fitz’s head was pounding and he was starting to wish he’d gone to Smudge’s office now, but he really couldn’t risk being seen going in. He wanted to keep his problem as secret as possible and Smudge had a…reputation.
‘I’ve gone arse over tit many a time, metaphorically and literally,’ continued Smudge. ‘Especially when I’ve been imbibing.’
He picked up a napkin and shined his pearl Yin and Yang cuff links. Sitting back in his chair, he flicked lint from his black Hugo Boss suit, surveyed the room disinterestedly and then looked at his potential client.
Trevor Fitzroy was an overweight man in his late forties, wearing a safari suit and with an expression so hangdog as to make a basset hound jealous. Smudge could imagine him collecting comics and talcum powdering his palms before shaking hands. He was right on both counts.
Fitz absently scratched his arm with a fork. Without looking up, he said. ‘So, do you believe me?’
‘I’m a…facilitator,’ said Smudge, squirming as Fitz pulled a string of bacon rind from his mouth. ‘I’m impartial. It matters not a jot if I believe you or not. My responsibility is to listen to your story. And to act.’
Fitz stared out of the window at the High Street, bustling with Christmas shoppers and glistening with fairy lights. A group of schoolkids raced past, chased by a wheezing Santa Claus.
‘So. Take it away. One more time,’ said Smudge with a grin.
‘Well, you see, I put it down to stress,’ said Fitz, shuffling in his seat. ‘Things went pear-shaped about a year ago. This recession. You know?’
‘I lost my job. I’ve always had a bit of a weight problem and I’d tried my best to keep it under control but you know, as an insurance salesman…well, the company said I was bad for their image. I’d been with the firm all my life. I couldn’t face telling the wife and kids so I just continued leaving the house at the same time.’
He let out a wheezy sigh.
‘I returned home at the same time. I spent my days like a…a ghost. In the park. Library. Here. And, of course, I took out all sorts of loans to keep up the lifestyle. Rolling interest. You know?’
‘Unfortunately, I do,’ said Smudge.
‘And then I kept getting this urge. This compulsion. It came during the night. In the street. I’d never felt that way before. I’d always been a clean-living kinda guy.’
He downed his coffee in one.
‘I was in Harrods when the urge reached a…a crescendo. I was in the food hall. And I saw them. A massive bunch of Cumberland sausages. Juicy. Succulent. I just had to have them. Before I knew it, I’d whipped them off the shelf and stuffed them down the front of my trousers.’
‘Ahem,’ said Smudge.
‘And then I just wandered off, in some sort of a trance.’
‘And you ended up where?’ said Smudge.
‘In the lingerie section.’
‘Aha,’ said Smudge, licking his lips.
‘I don’t remember getting there. Like I say, I was in a…sort of…’
‘Trance. Yes, you did say.’
‘I came to when this vinegary-looking woman started screaming at me. Calling me a pervert.’
‘What had happened?’ said Smudge.
‘I looked down and realized that my fly was half open and one of the sausages was sticking out. The security guards came and then the police and then I was charged. With…with…’
‘With indecent exposure?’ said Smudge.
Fitz nodded. Madge plonked a plate of apple pie and custard in front of him. He started to breathe heavily.
‘But I’m not a perv. If this gets out, well… You believe me, don’t you? I need you to believe me, Mr. May.’
‘Strangely, I do,’ said Smudge. ’But the most important question, of course, is what I need to do to eradicate your problem and, more importantly for me, if you can afford to pay.’
‘I can, I can,’ said Fitz. ‘Are you sure you can help?’
Smudge nodded. ‘Give me the information, the name of the shop, the description of the woman and I’m sure I’ll be able to…renegotiate with her.’
Trembling, Fitz pushed a stuffed brown envelope over to Smudge.
‘It’s all there,’ he said. ‘Can you honestly do what you say?’
Smudge stood up, his suit impeccable, stretched his long arms and yawned.
‘I am – and have been – many things,’ said Smudge. ‘But I’m always honest. Hence the nickname.’
‘Eh?’ said Fitz.
‘Like in the Spandau Ballet song,’ said Smudge, picking up his briefcase.
‘I don’t follow,’ said Fitz.
‘True?’ said Smudge. ‘You must know it?’
Fitz looked bewildered.
‘Baa ba ba baa ba daa/I know this…’ sang Smudge as he walked out of the cafe, trying not to laugh.