Authors: James McClure
ALSO BY JAMES McCLURE
The Steam Pig
The Caterpillar Cop
The Gooseberry Fool
The Sunday Hangman
Copyright © 1980 by Sabensa Gakulu Limited
First published in the United States in 1980 by Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.
This edition published in 2011 by
Soho Press, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
McClure, James, 1939-2006.
The blood of an Englishman / James McClure.
1. Kramer, Trompie (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Zondi, Mickey (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 3. Police—South Africa—Fiction. I.Title.
For Arthur Maling
Fee, fi, fo, fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishman.
—The Giant in
Jack and the Beanstalk
been a dirty old man all that long. He was still adjusting. He was weighing up the pros and cons, and trying not to allow it to affect his work.
Which wasn’t easy.
“What’s this I hear, Droopy?” asked Sam Collins, his boss, crouching beside the Land-Rover from which Droopy was removing the sump. “Man, I’m shocked at you!” And off he went with a laugh, slapping his thigh.
Droopy extended a hand for a No. 8 ring spanner, and Joseph, his intuitive Zulu assistant, wiped the grease from its shank and placed it gently in his grasp. Then for a while Droopy just lay there on his back on the crawler board, staring up at the sump’s drain plug.
Three days ago, he had gone into the little fruit shop on the corner, a few yards down the back street from the two-bay garage where he worked, and said to the proprietress, “Another scorcher, hey, Mavis? Okay if I feels your tomatoes?” He liked his tomatoes crisp. And Mavis Koekemoor, who had known Droopy for years, hadn’t even bothered to nod. Instead, she told him that her feet were killing her, and that while the heatwave lasted she had a good mind to get her young niece along to look after the counter side of things. As the shop had only a counter side of things, the idea, had seemed promising to Droopy, and he had said as much. He had also asked politely after Mavis’s
young niece, whom he remembered vaguely as having helped out in the shop during school holidays, and had learned that she was waiting to start a job as a hair stylist. “Ja, she’s a big girl now,” Mavis Koekemoor had observed with satisfaction, giving the bag of tomatoes a quick flip, closing and sealing it all in one operation. Droopy had tried to repeat this neat trick after enjoying two of the tomatoes with his lunch-time sandwiches, and had lost the rest of them down the lubrication pit.
“The boss wants Number Six?” Joseph enquired uneasily, having heard no sounds of activity from beneath the vehicle.
“Ach no, an Eight’s about right.”
After applying the spanner to a couple of bolts, Droopy fell once again into a reverie, going over and over the events leading to his new image of himself.
Two days ago, he had gone into the little fruit shop on the corner to be confronted—there was no other word for it—by a pair of amazing bosoms, and a hair style like an electric shock. “You know Glenda,” Mavis Koekemoor had prompted from a comfortable seat in front of the fan. “And will you just look at her? I ask you! That’s this young madam’s idea of ‘catching a tan, Auntie’!—she’s red all over.” Notwithstanding his normally shy and retiring nature, Droopy was already looking. In fact he was staring fixedly at Glenda, rather less awed by the fiery ravages of the sun than he was by changes of a more permanent order.
“Hi, Droopy,” Glenda had said, with such a sweet, innocent smile. “Well, do you see anything you’d like?”
“Er, okay if I feels your tomatoes?”
And from there it had gone from bad to worse. Much worse. Until Droopy had finally fled, clutching a free cucumber and two oranges, while Mavis Koekemoor had collapsed, helpless with laughter, into the arms of her unscrupulous niece.
“The boss is sick?”
Droopy had emitted an involuntary groan. “Ach never! Isn’t it about time you fetched my tea?”
The next day, of course, which seemed like a million years ago but was only yesterday, Droopy had avoided the little fruit shop like the plague, seeking to augment his landlady’s idea of a packed lunch by a visit to the cake shop. Ordinarily, the three girls in there seemed to take no notice of him whatsoever, but sold him his confectionery without pausing in their conversations together. A tense silence had fallen the moment he reached the counter, the first giggle had come from behind his back, and then the house had come down when he’d asked, rather crossly, if they had any lemon tarts.
,” said the blonde one, as she handed him his change. “Still waters run deep, hey, Droopy?”
It was enough to make anyone feel confused, baffled and bewildered, and soon it brought on a nasty headache. So, on his way back to Sam’s Garage, Droopy had slipped into the chemist shop. The two girl assistants had clung together behind a case of sunglasses, sniggering loudly, and then one, prodded forward by her colleague, had said, “Just hang on a sec, Droopy, and I’ll fetch the manager to serve you!”
“What can he sell me you can’t sell me, hey? All I wants is a thingy of Disprin.”
Her plucked eyebrows had gone up. “You’re sure? You’ve not run out or anything?”
“Of course I’ve bloody run out!” Droopy had snapped, adding immeasurably to their merriment. The last straw had come when, on his return to the garage, the scatty receptionist had looked on him with twinkling eyes and said, “Oh, Droopy—where
you been all lunch-time? What have you been up to?”
Joseph’s gape-toed shoes scraped to a halt beside the Land-Rover. “Excuse, boss. Boss Sam he say does the boss want Boss Sam to put stuff in his tea?”
“Ungasi, boss. I go ask him?”
“No, just bring me my bloody tea and stop fooling around, man! I’ve got work to do!”
But still the No. 8 ring spanner lay inactive in his hand. Enlightenment had come on his way home, when little Miss Brooks, who ran the Dolls’ Hospital round the corner, had beckoned him into her shop and said, “I just want you to know, Mr. Stephenson, that no matter what that hussy is telling everyone,
shall never be persuaded you’re a—you’re a dirty old man.” Droopy had thanked her humbly, and returned to his lodgings, where he’d tossed and turned on the small divan all night, trying to think of ways of killing Glenda Koekemoor stone dead. By the morning, he had admitted to himself that all he could do was brazen this whole thing out, and so, before arriving at the garage, he had called at the cake shop, the chemist shop, the travel agency, the film rental place, and several other businesses, including the little fruit shop. Glenda, Mavis Koekemoor had told him, would be coming in later that morning, and he left a message saying he’d like to see her. Actually, although he had dreaded the idea of doing the rounds, Droopy found that he had enjoyed himself.
In the cake shop, the usual crowd of apprentices and virile young office workers, buying their sticky buns for eleven, had gone ignored the moment he walked in. The girls there had hung on his every word, and he had no need to say anything more than half-funny for them to shriek with laughter, and flaunt their charms at him. Much the same had happened in the chemist shop until the manager had intervened, and Droopy had marched out with the first packet of sheaths he had owned in forty years. As for the red-head in the travel agency, she had titillated him beyond words by insisting that, for a man
of his reputation, there was nowhere in the world he should sooner go than Gay Paree—and she would, given half a chance, accompany him. Even walking back down the street had been excitingly different; whereas Droopy had been accustomed to pass by, shabby and unseen, now his progress was the focus of almost limitless attention.
A pair of grease-soaked moccasins came up to the Land-Rover. “Morning, Droopy!”
It was his fellow mechanic, Boet Swart.
“Morning, Boet. How goes it?”
“So-so, hey? But tell me, how do you do it?”
“Ach, come on, Droopy—don’t play games with me, hey? The word is out—let me tell you that, the word is out!”
“I know,” said Droopy, and surprised himself by quite liking the idea; some of the titillation he’d received this morning was still having a residual effect. “I heard it off Miss Brooks last night.”
The misgivings in Boet’s voice pressed a needle point against the bubble of Droopy’s elation. “Why say ‘Oh ja?’ in that fashion? Surely you would be glad if all the popsies—”
“But Miss Brooks, hey?”
“She calls me into her shop, and she—”
“She was doing it out of kindness, and what’s so wrong with that?”
Droopy crabbed his way out from under the Land-Rover, and got up off the crawler board. “That’s a funny expression, Boet—best tell me what’s on your mind.”
“Well, maybe you haven’t heard about Miss Brooks, Droopy old friend. There could be another reason she’s suddenly so interested in you.…”
Droopy cocked his head to one side, waiting. “What could an old woman like that want with me?” he said.
“Man, it’s a question of what
of old woman,” said Boet dolefully, “and she won’t be the only one after you, now the word is out. You’ll have them coming for you from every direction.” Then he spun on his heel and walked very quickly away, while the scatty brunette grinned at them from Reception.
Panic rooted Droopy to the spot. Fantasies with nubile young popsies had been one thing, but not for a moment had he considered the possibility of dirty old women getting the hots for him. His brother had been a policeman, and he’d often said he would rather face nine kaffirs armed with cane knives than one determined woman—especially the posh sort, like Miss Brooks, when they were hysterical. Given another second or two, Droopy might have been able to laugh the whole thing off, but he didn’t get the chance.
A high, cultured voice rang out from the open workshop door. “
don’t see what the difficulty is! Why can’t I have that one? He doesn’t appear to be doing anything at the moment.”
And when he turned round, Droopy saw a tall, skinny woman, with white hair and very red lips, pointing her finger at him.
“Can you come over for a minute?” Sam asked, waiting until Droopy had shuffled over before going on. “It seems that this lady has a problem you can help her with.”
“Yes, lady?” said Droopy, ignoring Sam’s wink and the snorts coming from behind him at Reception.