Priscilla Pagnel Versus Clark
Priscilla Pagnel, Ning Dang Po’s premier maker of Goojan Spiced Sausage looked up at him. She was sitting at a table, a mortar and pestle, a set of knives and various other accoutrements of her trade lay on its surface, untouched. Priscilla, herself, wore the apron she’d had on when Clark had last seen her, at breakfast time, but now, along with the apron she wore a somewhat hatchet-faced expression.
‘Good-’ Clark consulted his watch, it was still before noon, ‘morning, Madam,’ he said putting the box on the table in front of her and starting to remove the contents. He was pretty sure that these weren’t all sourced from the correct parts of the country to make a genuine sausage, but he was also willing to bet there were more of the correct ingredients in this consignment than there had been in the others. They’d cost less, too. He just hoped the presence of some slightly more legitimate ingredients would spur her into action. Marcella wanted her to make some more sausage and—on pain of being thumped—Clark wanted whatever Marcella did.
‘Good morning young man.’ Priscilla was in her fifties, Clark reckoned, but she referred to everyone in Marcella’s gang as ‘young man’ or ‘young lady’ regardless of species. She reminded him of his old school headmistress back in Driesch. The only adult in his young life who’d treated him as if he was worth something. The one who gave him chance after chance and whose good faith and trust he’d repaid by— yeh well, probably best not going there. He had failed utterly to live up to her expectations, merely meeting everyone else’s, instead. He still saw her face in his mind’s eye sometimes, the disappointment and the hurt after he’d let her down and betrayed her trust for the last time.
‘You’ll do the right thing in the end, Clark,’ was all she’d said and then she’d turned and walked away. He’d been on the run after that and had never seen her again. Priscilla Pagnel the best—the only—fully accredited sausage wright in Ning Dang Po fixed him with a gimlet glare and spoke.
‘What is this?’ she demanded gesturing to the box of herbs and spices he’d placed in front of her.
‘Herbs to make sausage,’ he said. ‘I got these myself, the saffron’s the real deal this time and the rosemary is from the right part of the country because it’s the same stuff that goes into durian stew. Also, there’s some prime mountain yak meat in the freezer next door. I can bring that through for you to work with if you’re ready to start. It’s not what you’re used to, it’s not what you need, I know that, but the quality of these is better than the others we’ve been using.
‘Really?’ she said flatly. Still not happy then. Not surprising, but at the same time, there was a change in her demeanour, a tiny increase in her alertness. The spices had piqued her interest.
‘Also,’ Clark carried on. ‘What do you want for lunch? They’ve got slow-cooked, spiced goat with aromatic noodles or lamb shish kebabs with fizzing pepper rice.’
‘There’s other stuff but those two are the best. Unless you want the durian stew, which is some of the best you can get outside the mountains. I thought it’d be too strong though. I can get some if you like.’
‘No young man, that won’t be necessary. What I what is to go home. I’m not here to make sausage. We agreed on eight and I have made those.’
‘Uh, you are here to make sausage, Madam,’ said Clark.
‘Not until Marcella and I have renegotiated my contract. The agreement, young man, was that I made eight. I have actually made sixteen. Ergo no, I am not here to make sausage and I believe my work here is very much done. I demand that you release me forthwith and allow me to go home.’
‘I can’t let you go now, you know that. Soon I can but not now,’ lied Clark.
Arnold’s toe jam! Knowing Marcella, Priscilla would be stuck in this room making Goojan Spiced Sausage—or at least, the nearest possible approximation with the ingredients Marcella’s funds could procure—until hell froze over. But Clark sensed it might be tactless to mention that at this point. Anyway, Priscilla appeared to have worked it out for herself.
‘Your boss,’ she said the word boss with some disdain, ‘told me sixteen sausages and then I could leave. Those were her precise words.’
‘Uh, yeh. About that, you see words apart, Marcella, herself, she’s not so precise—’
‘There’s really nothing to discuss here young gentleman! A deal is a deal!’
‘She has paid you for your work.’
‘Yes, she has. For which I am most grateful but the cash is of little use to me while forced to stay here against my will. My husband will be wondering where I am.
‘Uh, yeh,’ said Clark again. ‘I’ll speak to Marcella and get back to you.’
‘No. You’ll let me go and then you’ll tell Marcella that if she wants any more sausages I would be happy to make her some, for my usual fee minus the bulk purchase reduction we agreed upon—which I apply to any orders greater than six by the way—should she wish to know, for future reference.’
‘You know I can’t let you go.’
It wouldn’t achieve anything anyway; first because Marcella would beat Clark to a pulp for releasing their asset and second because she’d simply go round to Priscilla’s house and kidnap her again. Back to square one for both of them, the only difference being some severe bruising and the odd broken rib for Clark.
‘I really don’t understand the need to kidnap me—’
Clark cut her off, ‘It’s not a kidnap, Mrs Pagnel, ma’am it’s—’
‘Am I here voluntarily?’
‘Not especially? Pah! No, young man, the answer you’re looking for is no. Therefore, it most assuredly is a kidnap.’
‘Not technically ma’am. Nobody has sent anyone a ransom note.’
‘If you must split hairs we will call it an abduction. However we decide to describe this situation the facts remain the same; I do not wish to stay here and your boss is making me. Apart from the fact I believe that sort of behaviour was illegal last time I checked, it makes zero business sense to hold me here when I can produce a far higher standard of product in my own premises. I have better equipment, my own suppliers source me better meats and I have access to the actual herbs required rather than the ridiculous rubbish you are expecting me to bodge with here.’
‘No can do. I’m sorry Mrs Pagnel, ma’am and about the herbs, I’m going to try some different suppliers.’
‘You need to. Or why not let me do it?’
‘You know I can’t. I can’t let you leave this room. That’s my orders.’
‘Well it’s very boring in here. And my husband needs me. He is on his own and,’ her voice cracked, ‘he has a very artistic temperament,’ Clark assumed ‘artistic temperament’ was a euphemism for ‘is batshit crazy’ or something similar. ‘He requires a practical being to keep him organised and a friend to keep him grounded,’ Priscilla was saying. ‘I am those things. If I’m not there to remind him he becomes so engrossed in his work that he forgets to eat meals or sleep. At the least …’ she heaved a sigh and pulled something from her apron pocket. ‘Could you not see your way to delivering him this letter for me?’ She held out a folded sheet of paper. Clark took it from her and read it.
I’m sorry for my prolonged absence. It’s work as I am certain you will have guessed. Sausages. I am sworn to secrecy which is most inconvenient but is the reason why I haven’t been able to contact you before now. I believe I should be done soon and return to you directly. It’s a bit like that time you were delayed at the Criterion, all those years ago. You know how work gets.
Yours, as ever,
What was the Criterion, Clark wondered.
‘It’s not very personal,’ he blurted before he could stop himself.
‘I’m hardly going to pour my heart out in a letter you and every gangland thug from here to Glardy is going to read “for security purposes” am I?’ she said waspishly.
‘Uh, yeh, of course,’ said Clark. He hated this. Marcella always said he was too sympathetic for their victims and she was right. Clark felt bad and worse, Priscilla was sharp witted enough to know it and use it.
‘Why can’t you just grow a pair, young man,’ she countered, ‘and let me go. You know it’s the right thing to do. It’s patently obvious you aren’t cut out for this.’
Right again. Almost. Clark was cut out for this, he was pretty certain of that, just not the way Marcella did it. Why couldn’t he let Priscilla go then, he wondered. As if in answer a door banged downstairs.
‘I think you know why, Madam,’ Clark said. ‘I’m glad you are OK though.’
‘I am fine, although judging by the sounds of smashing furniture and laser fire I heard earlier, someone downstairs is not.’
‘Please be assured, all is well,’ said Clark smoothly. It didn’t convince her but then it didn’t convince him either. All was very much not ‘well’ and he wanted out but that was going to take some doing, especially as he wanted to be alive as well as out when he finally escaped. We are all prisoners here, he thought.
Voices drifted up from below; Marcella shouting the odds at full volume.
‘It doesn’t sound like it,’ said Priscilla.
‘That’s just Marcella’s management style,’ said Clark. Arnold’s trousers! Had he actually said that out loud? By The Prophet and all His acolytes, yes he had. Even for him that was cobblers and Priscilla would see straight through it. She raised her eyebrows at him. Yes. Clearly. They paused for a moment to listen as the shouting continued.
‘Whoever is down there, with your boss, I think you’d better go and rescue them, don’t you?’ said Priscilla.
Yes. She had a point.
‘Right,’ said Clark.
‘The letter … will you deliver it? I assume you know where I live.’
‘I do but since you’re—’
‘Here? Indubitably but my husband is at home.’
‘Yes of course,’ said Clark quickly. ‘I’ll ask.’
He wouldn’t ask because Marcella would say no and be angry with him for even entertaining the idea. He might deliver the letter anyway though. He’d have to think. In a day or two, when he got time, Clark needed to think about a lot of things.
‘Do you need approval from that harridan boss of yours about something this simple?’ she asked.
‘Uh, yeh, Mrs Pagnel, I do.’
He should probably give her a good telling off for referring to Marcella as a harridan but it was a fair assessment. He felt no pangs of loyalty and no urge to spring to her defence. Oh dear. That was a bad sign. He should say something to defend Marcella though.
‘She’s too young to be a harridan,’ he said. No. Not that! Something like that she wasn’t a harridan because he was her faithful second in command and wouldn’t countenance anyone talking about his boss like that. Priscilla out-and-out guffawed.
‘I think that’s ageism on your part young fellow.’
‘No, harridans are older.’
‘Marcella might be on the young side, for a harridan,’ she conceded, ‘but if she isn’t one now, she is definitely a harridan in the making.’
‘Um …’ said Clark and he stopped. It was probably best to stop digging. Priscilla was running rings round him, he was aware. He tried not to smile. She was so like his old headmistress. ‘Harridan’ was exactly the kind of word she’d have used, too. Against his better judgement Clark was beginning like Priscilla. It was a pity because if she didn’t start cooperating again soon Marcella would probably murder her. He would have to find a way to stop that happening.
‘Off you go then,’ said Priscilla. Clark turned to leave. ‘Oh and young man …?’
He stopped and looked back at her. ‘Yeh?’
‘Lunch? I’ll have the goat, if you please.’