The story so far, Jules Jewell has been inveigled by his business partner Damian Bones into running a failed back street boozer for Roland Bamber, the man who runs everything in Hackney. It was his only option, but he didn’t expect it to come with a resident giant with aspirations called Monty.
Marquis of Queensbury, Imperial Gardens, Hackney, London
“Swine before pearls,” said Monty, pushing open the door of the Gents.
Jules was convinced he didn’t need to look inside the dark, echoing chamber, and his breath clouded in the cold blast from the broken window at the top of the white-tiled walls. Water lapped over his boots, and a fluorescent strip flickered overhead. There was quadraphonic dripping, a tangy smell, and pools of water on the red quarry tiles made him gag. He grabbed a rusting pipe to stop sliding, and heard a grunt from behind a door in the wall. There was a fruity whiff of sweat and leather, and the grunt hung in the air like the bad smell, vying for Jules’s attention.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“There it is again,” said Damian, rolling his magazine.
A door in the wall opened, and a tattooed arm extended from behind it, and then a grey eye peered round. A man emerged wiping his hands on jeans held together by engine oil. He scratched his backside, and ran his hand under a leaking tap.
“Resident toilet attendant,” he said, pulling his hair back into a pony-tail, “and personal hygiene specialist. The name’s Gripper.”
Jules peered into the dark cupboard Gripper had emerged from, and scratched his head.
“Did you know about this, Damain?” Jules asked.
“I know it could let an acceptable establishment right down,” replied Damian.
“It could,” Jules added. “Right down the pan.”
Back in the bar, Damian’s mobile phone rang.
“Friday night,” he said, cancelling the call and grinding his finger in his ear. “Shake Yer Bones.”
Jules stood alongside his business partner leaving puddles on the threadbare carpet.
“And?” he asked, knowing that Friday night was disco night, and Damian Bones’s Shake Yer Bones 80s disco was supposed to be the main attraction.
Damian pulled his ear lobe.
“Well, it’s like this, Jules,” he replied, sliding off the stool. “An unavoidable situation arises.”
“I’ll never find a replacement by Friday,” said Jules, Damian’s squelching words wriggling on the wet carpet and drowning him.
Damian side-stepped Jules like one of the tunic-wearing boxers on the wall.
“You’ll think of something,” said Damian, pressing his temples.
“No, you’ll think of something,” Jules shouted.
“Bamber wants his laundry doing,” said Damian, “and I do Bamber’s laundry. Simple.”
“It’s not simple,” Jules added, his throat locked, and his eyes burning.
“Don’t let yourself down, Julesy,” said Damian, making hand binoculars in front of his eyes. “Look at yourself. Think of your anger as a clock running down, a monkey tapping your shoulder, sand slipping through the fingers of reality.”
Jules turned round, and Monty and Gripper were standing behind him, arms folded.
“To be fair,” said Gripper, “it’s not Shake Yer Bones every Friday.”
Monty nodded in agreement.
“So there’s no point ranting,” he said, catching his glasses. “We’ll find a replacement.”
“So what’s the big idea, guys?” asked Jules, flopping onto a bar stool. “What plans have you got?”
“Me and Gripper,” Monty replied. “Our bare hands, and this.”
He held up a giant lump hammer.
Moments later, inside the Gents, Gripper dropped his toolbox on the tiled floor, got down on all fours, and pressed his nose to the quarry tiles like a bloodhound.
“We need to locate the main drain,” he said, sloshing water away.
He lined up a chisel, and gave it an almighty wallop with the hammer so shards of tile flew past Jules who screwed his eyes shut. He opened them to see a wide glistening culvert beneath the floor, the water in the Gents draining away into the culvert. Gripper stood, and squeezed his immense frame into the cubicle, putting his ear to the cistern, and pulling the chain.
“Music to my ears,” he said, staring into the bowl. “Who’s going to cut the ribbon?”
“How do you mean?” Jules asked.
“Slice the cake?” he replied, his jeans landing round his ankles, his immense backside plonking on the WC.
“Jesus Christ,” said Jules, backing away.
“First things first,” Gripper added, rubbing his fingers together.
“Take your money out of the till,” said Damian, backing away.
“Till’s empty,” added Gripper, puffing his cheeks out. “Remember?”
Damian headed out of the gents, and Jules followed him to the bar where he struck the till on its side so the tray shot open. Jules looked inside. The drawer was full of money.
“Holy shit,” he said.
“Now pay the boys,” snapped Damian.
Jules rubbed his eyes, stretching the folds of skin, because he couldn’t believe the amount of money on display. He leaned on the bar.
“Fix me a drink, Damian,” he said.
“You’re going to need it,” Damian added.
“We’re all going to need it,” said Jules, hearing a gurgling noise.
He looked round and saw Monty, cap in hand, at the door of the gents.
“All done,” said Monty, tapping his temple, “but he won’t come out. Hand washing routine. Can’t stop.”
Jules looked up at Damian, and clapped his hands over his eyes.
“Jesus Christ!” he said.
But Damian seemed unconcerned. He lined up four glasses on the bar, and poured four huge tumblers of gin.
“To the first improvement in the Marquis,” he said, lifting a glass, “in half a century.”
Monty headed back into the Gents, and reappeared pushing Gripper, who was wiping his hands.
“That’s better,” said Gripper, sniffing his palms. “Worked a treat.”
“Very glad to hear that,” Damian added, blowing his cheeks out and knocking back the gin. “To the new facilities.”
“To the new drain,” Monty said.
“To the Marquis of Queensbury,” Damian continued, writing in the air. “Now with a draining WC.”
Gripper swirled his glass, and groaned, “No tonic?”
“Better with ice,” added Monty, sniffing.
“And a slice wouldn’t have gone amiss,” said Damian, sucking his cheeks in.
“Well, now,” Jules asked, leaning on the bar and taking a huge gulp of aromatic gin. “What the fuck are we going to do about Friday?”
Damian refolded his magazine.
“It’s unavoidable,” he said.
But Monty was hopping from foot to foot.
“Got an idea,” he said, finger in the air.
He turned and sprinted upstairs, and Jules looked up, hearing the immense Monty thump across the floor overhead, and then clatter back down. He reappeared at the door wearing a long, red dressing gown, and sucking a slender cigarette holder. He wore his usual denims and Marillion T-shirt, but he’d added a wide-brimmed, black, bull fighter’s hat on top of a wig of long, black hair.
“What the fuck?” said Jules.
Monty pulled the dressing gown back.
“Voila,” he said. “What do you think?”
Gripper and Damian coughed and put their hands over their eyes, but Jules blinked hard because he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Monty stood behind the Marquis piano, and propped up some pages from an exercise book. He tried to sit on the piano stool, but bounced up like a spring, pushing something down in his pocket.
“Must find somewhere for these keys,” he said.
“Or go up a jean size,” added Gripper.
Monty kicked the stool aside, sniffed, and yanked open the piano lid. He rolled up his sleeves, and addressed the piano like a giant Rick Wakeman, scraping his head on the tasselled light shade.
“Gripper,” he snapped, clicking his fingers. “Over here.”
Gripper put his glass down, and lumbered towards Monty. He stood alongside the piano, and removed his leather vest and T-shirt, revealing a hairless flabby chest with bright red blotches all over.
“Waxed it like you told me,” he growled, scratching the sore patches, “and to be honest, it really hurt.”
“Right you are,” added Monty. “When you’re ready.”
He made his leg move to an imaginary rhythm, “1-2-3 and—”
They launched into a Jerry Lee Lewis number, the Marquis of Queensbury upright well out-of-tune, and Monty following the notes with his tongue sticking out. Gripper’s vocal accompaniment was in the US rock-god-cum-Buster-Bloodvessel style, and Monty’s stand-up style of playing was just an un-rhythmic hammering.
“Arpeggio!” he shouted.
“Eh?” snapped Gripper, missing his cue.
The lid clattered down on Monty’s fingers.
“Damian,” Jules gasped, his mouth wide open. “It’s never too late to change your mind.”
(More to come soon – stick around – tell me what you think please)