I was ten minutes late. Chunky Baines stood in the crisp factory doorway with his hands on his hips or at least where his hips used to be. He was wearing a grubby string vest, stained tracksuit bottoms and a pair of worn tartan slippers, despite the fact that it was pissing down with rain. He chomped on a bar of chocolate.
I jogged up to him, sweating like a pig.
‘You’re late,’ said Chunky, grinning.
‘No shit Sherlock,’ I said.
‘Yes, I know Sherlock’s shit,’ said Chunky. ‘But Wilson’s been looking for you. He knows you’re late.’
Chunky went into the factory and I followed. I took off my raincoat. Wiped my brow.
‘I’m sweating like a nun in a sausage factory,’ I said.
Chunky snorted and plonked himself down in a leather armchair.
‘Catch your breath and then let’s get a move on,’ he said.
The disused crisp factory was almost empty. In one corner there was Chunky and his chair. In another there was a table that had a kettle and two chipped mugs on it. There was a crate of diet coke and a box of Lion Bars. All were well past their sell-by dates.
In another corner there were three wooden crates that contained a collection of rare pornography. And in the middle of the room was Sir Edward or The Antiquarian as he was sometimes known.
He was almost sixty and wore a tweed three-piece suit and riding boots like some lord of the manor, which was probably fair enough since he actually was one. He held a riding crop in one hand and smoked a cigar with the other.
Wilson marched into the room puffing on his inhaler. He was casually dressed in expensive clothes. His real name was Pierce but many years ago someone had commented that he looked and sounded like Sergeant Wilson from Dad’s Army and the nickname had stuck.
‘About bloody time,’ he said to me.
He took a video camera from one of the crates.
I stripped to my boxer shorts and walked over to Sir Edward.
‘Action,’ said Wilson and Sir Edward slapped me on the chest with the riding crop. He smirked.
‘Can I do it again?’ he said to Wilson.
‘You’re paying, Sir Edward,’ said Wilson. ‘But remember we’re on the clock.’
Sir Edward licked his lips and slapped me across the face.
I daubed myself with TCP and ointment. Cleaned up my wounds. Sir Edward had certainly got his money’s worth. Wilson had gone off to convert the video he’d recorded to DVD. The business was becoming a nice little earner
‘Have you heard about the Mandela Effect?’ I said.
‘What’s that, then? Some sort of progressive-rock band?’ said Chunky. .
‘Naw,’ I said watching Chunky opening a Lion Bar.
‘It’s like a collective illusion. When loads of people believe something’s true even though it isn’t.’
‘Like an urban legend?’
‘Yep, a bit like that,’ I said.
Chunky bit into the Lion bar and grimaced.
‘Not exactly five star cuisine then?’ I said.
‘Naw, it’s way past it’s sell-by date. Tastes a bit … fishy.’
I dressed. Picked up my raincoat.
‘So, what were you saying about the Mandela band or whatever?’ he said.
‘The Mandela Effect,’ I said. ‘Well, it’s just that there are people in the pub who believe they’ve seen you get a round in but we all know that’s never actually happened.’
‘Could say the same about you,’ said Chunky. ‘You never even go out these days.’
‘I told you. I’m saving up.’
‘How close are you to your financial target then?’
‘Three hundred quid and my precious will be all mine.’
‘Best make sure all that cash is safe, then. Stanley’s been hanging on to that car for you for six months now. The Aston Martin DB6 is a well sought after car, You know. He’ll be well peeved if you don’t buy it. And you wouldn’t like him when he’s peeved.’
‘It looks like an amateur job although it could be a professional job made to look like an amateur job,’ said DS Ronnie Burke.
He popped a Nicorette into his mouth.
My flat had been trashed and, of course, my savings were gone.
‘Are you sure nothing was taken?’ said DS Burke.
‘Nothing,’ I said.
‘Could well have been a smack-head. Probably looking for cash or something valuable to sell.’
‘There’s nothing valuable here that’s for sure. It was a shithole even before they trashed it.’
DS Burke gave me his card.
‘Call me if you spot that something is missing or if you have any ideas of who could have done it,’ he said.
Of course I had a pretty clear idea of who had done it but I wasn’t going to share my suspicions with the law. I’d sort things out my own way.
‘The thing with stupid people is that they are too stupid to know how stupid they are,’ I said. ‘They believe all they know is all there is. Know what I mean?’
Chunky was sobbing, hanging from a girder in the crisp factory. It had been a pain getting him up there but Wilson and I managed in the end.
Sir Edward was chuckling as he slapped Chunky with the riding crop.
‘Stop, stop …’ he moaned.
‘Have you got enough footage?’ I said.
‘Pretty much,’ said Wilson.
He moved closer to Chunky. Pointed the camera at his face.
‘Just time for the last shot,’ said Wilson.
Which, of course, was when I pulled out the gun.