Big Merv puts The Pan of Hamgee in charge of a team.
The Pan, meanwhile, said nothing and tried to pretend he didn’t exist. Please Arnold let Big Merv decide not to do anything about tonight’s time and place. There was another one in a week or so in Lower Right, after all. If he was going to have a show-down surely that was the one to go for, after he’d put in some prep. Then again, no. Marcella might not know her letter was missing yet, but she would and then she’d change her plans.
‘That’s handy,’ said Big Merv. ‘That means a couple of you can go down to Tarbut Square and have a shufty.’
The Pan breathed out slowly, with any luck he wouldn’t be involved. He caught Deaf Marlon’s eye and realised he was clearly thinking along similar lines. The Pan raised a very subtle eyebrow and almost imperceptibly, Deaf Marlon nodded. Meanwhile Big Merv’s antennae waved to and fro, a sure sign that he was thinking.
‘Boss, it sounds like Marcella’s getting above her station,’ said Frank. ‘How about we go down this Bistrot place with a bunch of lads and bash her?’
‘Not yet, Frank.’
‘Why not, boss?’ asked Harry.
‘Yeh,’ said Fists McDermot. ‘She’s stepping on your toes boss, you should bash her.’
‘And Marlon said she was talking about how Waterfront Road was going to be on her manor!’ said Johnno. ‘Gary the Razor would have a thing or two to say about that.’
‘Yer, we should tell im,’ said Fists McDermot.
‘Lads, lads,’ said Big Merv. ‘You know me, I prefer the subtle approach. I could go down there, tonight, with a bunch of you fellas and discuss a few points of etiquette with Marcella the Pirate. But she’s new to this level of operation. There’s stuff she don’t know, and other things she’s gotta learn. I’m gonna give her that chance coz I like to see a woman getting ahead in business. There ain’t enough of ’em, and if she’s got what it takes, fair play to her.’
He what? Big Merv never came over as particularly inclusive, and the fact he called The Pan a girl, and clearly meant it as an insult, reinforced an image of someone who was, frankly, a bit of a dinosaur. Then again, while none of the enforcers present were female, The Pan knew that many of Big Merv’s henchmen were, in fact, henchwomen … especially the Blurpons and Swamp Things. On top of that, The Pan knew, for a fact, that Big Merv was the only boss who’d think of employing someone like Deaf Marlon. And now his mind had been wondering, and Big Merv had carried on talking, and The Pan didn’t know what he’d said. No, no, no.
‘But what matters,’ Big Merv was now saying, ‘is that I’ve invited her to a meeting and she ain’t had no time to reply. So if I go down there and get heavy on her, that ain’t honourable.’
‘S’pose so,’ said Harry.
‘There ain’t no suppose about it and you know that, boys,’ said Big Merv. ‘I ain’t gonna go in heavy-handed until all diplomatic avenues have been exhausted.’
‘OK, boss,’ said Harry and Fists McDermot nodded.
‘Sweet,’ Big Merv rubbed his hands together. ‘Now lads, honour is alright, but just coz it says I gotta start polite, it don’t mean I gotta start in the dark. If I give her a bit of slack, I’m gonna find out if she’s running this thing. And if she ain’t I’ll find out who’s running it for her,’ he turned to The Pan. ‘Since you was involved with them birds I want you down that Bistrot at 2.30 a.m. to see what happens.’
‘Are you sure, boss?’ said The Pan’s mouth before his brain could tell it to shut up. Big Merv rounded on him.
‘Are you questioning my judgement, son?’ he asked, his tone suddenly sinister.
‘No,’ squeaked The Pan. ‘It’s just that she’s banned me from going to Tarbut.’
‘’S right. But you work for me and since you’ve delivered my letter, she’s going to know that now, and if she knows what’s good for her, she ain’t going to touch you.’
‘What if she does?’
‘I’ll be insulted, won’t I boys?’
‘Are you actually … hoping she’ll bash me?’ asked The Pan.
‘Nah, I’m sending her a message and if she reads it right, and she knows what’s good for her she’ll meet me, at the time and place I’ve suggested, for a chat. And while she’s doing that, depending on what you find out tonight, some of the boys are gonna go down Tarbut and talk to some of the locals and see what they think she’s up to.’
‘Is that a good idea?’
‘You still questioning my judgement son?’
‘No. Absolutely not!’
‘Good. So I know you ain’t going to complain about going down Tarbut Square now to find out what’s going down. What’s more, you little numpty, I’m putting you in charge—’
‘You heard me. Take Johnno and Marlon with you. I want all three of you back here to report the moment you got a handle on it. Right?’
‘Yes, boss,’ said The Pan. He stood up and realised that Johno and Marlon were staring at him, clearly they were waiting for orders. If it was possible, Frank, Harry and Fists McDermot were staring at him even harder, presumably in utter disbelief. By The Prophet’s nostrils! Oh well. Johnno was scary but he was slightly more approachable than some of the others and Marlon was alright.
‘Big Merv, sir, if we’re going to a Bistrot, I need cash.’
Big Merv glared at him, the bright green eyes missing nothing.‘Skint again?’
The Pan felt the heat in his cheeks as he blushed.
‘Normally, when I deliver something, I come and see Bob and she pays me,’ he said. It had taken most of his courage to point it out so his voice sounded quieter than he wanted it to. On the up side, at least he hadn’t sounded too squeaky.
Big Merv’s eyes narrowed and complete silence fell. The Pan had never had to actually ask for payment before and it made him very, very uncomfortable. Now, as the silence lengthened and Big Merv continued to stare at him, The Pan was even more scared. So scared he started worrying about whether his body was going to begin, ‘preparing for flight’ and he would throw up … or worse. The room was still, the others waiting, and Big Merv’s piercing, felt-tip green eyes met The Pan’s dark blue ones. Though he wanted to look away The Pan was too afraid to move. Arnold’s socks this wasn’t good.
‘The job didn’t go down the usual way though, did it, son?’ said Big Merv.
‘I know, but I did the deliver the letter, like you asked, and … found another one.’
Big Merv breathed in and then out, slowly. His antennae waved backwards and forward. That was thought, again: better than anger. Marginally. In the silence, The Pan waited. Arnold’s arm pits! Had he just overstepped the mark? The tension increased, the cold sweat pricked at his temples and he could feel his beats per minute starting to pick up. Then, just as the atmosphere became almost unbearable, his stomach made a noise like water glooping from one end of a plastic bottle to the other.
Oh smecking marvellous.
‘Sorry,’ said The Pan but it came out half-speech, half-burp. ‘I mean, pardon me,’ he added in much smaller and more timid voice than he’d intended.
Arnold’s smecking socks! Why did his body do these things to him?
Big Merv put one hand inside his jacket, and even though The Pan had never seen his boss carrying a weapon of any description, it was still incredibly difficult not to flinch. Arse! No. This was not the time to be an obvious coward. This was the time to look grown up and manly even if he was screaming inside. Then again, that was as much about his embarrassment at the whole watery-sloshy-burpy moment as his fear.
‘Like I said, pal. You done the delivery but it didn’t go the way I planned,’ Big Merv’s tone was stern but, thank The Prophet, not one hundred percent ominous. ‘Then again,’ Big Merv continued, ‘nothing you done has ever gone the way I planned, has it? You spotty little spigot.’
‘I know. I’m sorry I’ll—’
‘Will you shut it! You Hamgeean ponce!’
The Pan began to apologise for apologising but he caught Big Merv’s expression and stopped.
‘That’s better,’ said Big Merv. ‘Thing is pal, you ain’t finished this job. But …’ he took the enormous wad of banknotes he carried from his pocket. ‘I wouldn’t want the lads to go hungry on your account.’ He glanced at Johnno and Marlon. What did he mean by that? That he wouldn’t mind if The Pan did? No, no, no. Don’t over think this! Accept the money and say thank you to your big scary boss.
‘Thank you, Big Merv, sir,’ said The Pan.
‘Yer, it’s a pleasure,’ said Big Merv darkly.
The Pan allowed himself the briefest moment to compose himself before stepping forward to take the money but even so, when he reached out for the notes, his hand was trembling. He took a deep breath.
‘Right. We’d better go.’ He turned to Johnno and Marlon, ‘Come on, lads no peace for the wicked,’ he said, hoping it was, more or less the right thing. Then he turned and left the room. To his relief, Marlon and Johnno followed him. As he left the room, through the eyes in the back of his head, The Pan could see Big Merv shaking his head and muttering, ‘No peace for the wicked? Arnold’s effin socks!’