16 March 2017

2 - Look-alikes

Monday August 4

The Gazette always arrived together with the national Daily Chronicle in Upper Grumpsfield. The newspaper boy, usually a pensioner earning a few bob for the job, would roll the two newspapers together and push them noisily though letter flaps. If you wanted to get up early, it was convenient. If you wanted to sleep longer, it wasn’t.
The loud clatter woke Chief Inspector Gary Hurley.
“Can’t that stupid boy be a bit quieter?” he protested.
Cleo Hartley, now to everyone’s relief, especially Gary’s, his wife, was still half asleep, but not destined to stay that way.
“Can’t you be a bit quieter, Gary? I fed Tommy and Teddy at four and was hoping to sleep for a bit longer.”
“Sorry, my love, but the papers have come.”
“They come every morning.”
“The Gazette may have a car we can get for your mother, Cleo. She can’t go on driving around in that old jalopy for much longer.”
“Gloria can get her Romeo to buy her one,” said Cleo, now wide awake. “Did she tell you that my old car is ready for the scrapyard?”
“Something like that. I’ll get the papers, shall I?”
“Put something on. It’s cold.”
“It isn’t cold. It’s August.”
“It’s Britain. Can I borrow your kimono?”
“You don’t usually ask. Hurry back. We have at least half an hour’s sleep left.”
“Is that what you call it?”
Gary trotted to the front door croaking one of Frank Sinatra’s oldies. It was meant to be The Lady and the Tramp, but it was barely recognizable. Gary’s love of singing was not matched by his vocal prowess. He did not come back singing. He was furious.
“They’ve got my photo on the first page.”
“In the Chronicle?”
“No. In Bertie Browne’s Gazette. Someone named Joe Butler wants to meet the person who looks like him, but it’s a photo of me.”
Cleo stretched one arm out of her warm duvet and reached for the paper.
“Let me look, Sweetheart.”
“I’m getting back into bed until I’m forced to get up.”
“PeggySue doesn’t force you. I thought you liked those early breakfasts.”
“I do, but not this early. Move over. My feet are cold. Can I share your duvet?”
“Don’t you always?”
“You are warmer blooded than me,” said Gary.
“I beg to differ,” said Cleo, looking at the photo. In the Gazette.
“Since when have you worn a checked shirt?” she said.
“I don’t wear checked shirts. I don’t like checked shirts.”
“This guy is wearing one.”
“Then it can’t be me, can it?”
“So who is it?” said Cleo.
“I don’t know him from Adam,” said Gary. “Joe Butler, it says.”
“You’ll have to talk to that editor about the guy. Surely he hasn’t been doing photo-montages.”
“Photo montage of a living person like me without their permission is illegal and I doubt whether he would want to provoke another tussle with the law, so it can’t be me in a check shirt.”
“You could talk to him, but not yet, Gary! It’s only six fifteen and you have warmed your feet for long enough.”
“You’re right. There’s something else I’d rather do now.”
***
At six forty-five what Cleo’s mother Gloria called ‘the lovin’ had to give way to the morning. PeggySue, Gary and Cleo’s first child together, was crowing away in her bed.
“She has a voice like yours, Gary,” said Cleo. “Or should I call it a croak?”
“Since when have you liked husband and daughter to frogs?”
“If the cap fits…”
Charlie, the daughter Gary had brought into the marriage, was still fast asleep when he went to collect PeggySue. Charlie was used to PeggySue’s early rising and slept on regardless. Gary’s morning ritual included getting PeggySue’s breakfast and his own and making the first espresso of the day. Cleo would tend to the twins, Teddy and Tommy were conceived while Cleo and Gary were still having their affair and born just a few hours after their wedding.
When the twins, now more than four months old, were replete, changed and deposited to gaze at the dangling carved ornaments festooned above their heads in the communal playpen, Cleo would take a quick shower, supervise Charlie getting ready for her day and make breakfast for anyone who had not yet had any. There was not much time for shop talk or any other talk for that matter.
***
On weekdays Charlie left the house soon after eight to catch the school bus unless it was holiday time. Now the school holidays were in full swing she had time to visit friends but still played hockey. Gary usually left for HQ a bit later. If she was going to work in her office, Cleo took PeggySue to the nursery at about nine o’clock, when Grit, Gary’s mother, had arrived to watch over the twins. On days when Cleo did not go to the office, Grit took PeggySue and combined it with a visit to Robert Jones’s family butcher’s shop. Robert was Cleo’s ex and she did not like talking to him as he always tried to make her sorry for preferring Gary. So far, he had not said anything much to Grit. He was wary of her acumen. Robert did not like people to be too clever.
***
Cleo had started to spend two hours working in her Hartley Investigation Agency office most mornings before going home. Crime was not a major part of agency business at the moment, though Gary was reconciled to the brain-storming and other devices that helped the agency to help the police when the need arose. However, divorce cases were ongoing events, lucrative thanks to the diverse side-lines partners tended to pursue. Only diehard partners went on holiday first and divorced later. Divorces were good for business, especially if settlements were being pursued by the innocent party or the partner with the lesser cash flow. Tracking wayward spouses was an integral part of any private investigation agency. That, lost pets and lost pensioners, vetting schools, homes and nurseries took up quite a lot of detecting time, but it was normally not police business.
PeggySue, a very lively toddler, was usually collected from her nursery later by Grit, who now lived next door after moving into her cottage almost overnight when the owner, an elderly lady who had had no one in the world, died and left the property to Cleo for being a wonderfully kind and thoughtful neighbour.
Life was good. The twins were thriving. Gary was steeped happily in the reality of finding the love of his life and being the head of a large household. Cleo was stressed from loving the big family she had always dreamt of having, managing her investigation agency and spending several hours a week at HQ counselling criminals and cops, the latter of whom tended to resent her advice, especially if they needed it. Criminals usually ignored any attempt at reform.
***
On this particular Monday morning, Gary was obliged to ring the Gazette, an action he normally preferred to avoid. He arranged with the receptionist, a young woman named Doreen, to meet Joe Butler at the Gazette office at eleven o’clock that morning. Could she please order the man in the identity photo to be there? She could.
Gary was genuinely curious about this guy named Joe who was his spitting image. Of course, Bertie Browne knew who Joe Butler’s double was. Gary was surprised that the gazette editor had not tried to avoid seeing Gary at the office. He could easily have put the doubles in contact with one another. All the more reason to go there, said Cleo.
“Ah, Chief Inspector,” said Bertie Browne by way of a greeting as Gary breezed in to the Gazette office. “Come through. I’ve been expecting you.”
“Does that mean that you left Joe Butler in the dark?”
“Press privilege,” said Bertie.
“Balls,” replied Gary. “You could have saved yourself the trouble of splashing my likeness across half the first page.”
“Oh that,” said Bertie.
“Yes that. As you well know, that is why I’m here. Your other assistant also seems to be in the dark.”
“She’s usually in the dark. Does what I tell her, though.”
“You should know that Chiefs of Police don’t like being displayed on first pages of Gazettes on every street corner. It cramps our style.”
“Sorry, but it will help my business.”
“But not mine, Bertie. Is my double coming or not?”
Bertie Browne looked at the receptionist and she nodded. If Bertie thought Doreen was not aware of what was going on, he was up a gum tree.
“Mr Butler should be here by now,” improvised Bertie. “And don’t call me Bertie! I’m trying to increase respect among my associates.”
“I don’t suppose you want to tell me who they are,” said Gary.
“Secretaries and things,” said Bertie with a nod in the direction of the receptionist.
“Why did you not tell Joe about me?” said Gary.
“I couldn’t very well tell him anything, could I? It’s for you to tell him.”
“Tell him I look like him?”
Further discussion was not necessary. Joe Butler entered the reception area and stopped short when he saw Gary.
“Good God!” they said simultaneously. “We are alike.”
“Amazing,” said Bertie.
“It was a good idea, wasn’t it, Mr Browne?” said Joe.
“I hope you’ll still think so when I introduce you to Chief Inspector Gary Hurley, Mr Butler.”
“So you did know who my double is, didn’t you? I thought as much.”
“Well…”
“Anyone who spoke to me thought I was a cop, didn’t they?”
“Well…”
Had Bertie Browne been less brazen, you might have thought he was embarrassed.
“Console yourself! Knowing the Gazette, I expect it has already got round that we are like two peas in a pod and you have been sent in as an undercover agent, Mr Butler,” said Gary.
“Call me Joe and I’m not an undercover agent.”
“Call me Gary. This individual who insists on standing on ceremony is Bertie, isn’t it, Bertie?”
There was instant rapport between Gary and Joe.
Bertie scowled. Something about the look-alikes’ instant alliance made him nervous. He had quite obviously used Joe’s dilemma for personal gain. As if to confirm Bertie’s intention, the phone was ringing nonstop with people either advertising their cast-off cars or claiming to know the guy in the photo but not wanting their own identity to be revealed.
“Are you happy now you know your double, Mr Butler?” said Bertie. “After all, he is a cop.”
“I’m relieved, Bertie. I was really puzzled and I’m not a criminal.”
Bertie winced at hearing his first name again and looked daggers at Doreen, who was finding it all amusing.
“Let’s go to my office at HQ and drink espresso,” said Gary to Joe, demonstratively not looking at Bertie. “I’d really like to know why we look so alike. There were no details in the Gazette, and you can meet my assistant. He’s dying for news.”
“Mr Butler did not tell me anything printable,” said Bertie, implying that Joe had said something he, Bertie, had been sworn not to reveal. “The article on Mr Butler’s mother won’t be out till Thursday.”
“Article, Bertie?” said Joe.
“Well, short note, then.”
“Dragging a story out again, Bertie?” said Gary as Joe protested that it was not what they had arranged. “Do you have a photo of your mother, Joe?”
“No. I don’t know her.”
“Can I have photo of you two?” said Bertie.
“I can’t see why not,” said Gary. “People who know me will have recognized me from the photo and everyone likes a happy end.”
Bertie Browne was relieved. He could not have printed a photo of the two men without getting permission first unless he wanted to be questioned about other activities he cultivated for when he wasn’t taking photos.
“People will want to know that the mystery is solved, and if you could find your mother yourself, Mr Butler…”
“I’ll let you know, Bertie,” said Joe with a nod and a wink to Gary.
***
The two look-alikes left Bertie Browne wincing at Joe’s familiarity. Joe was surprised that Bertie had not printed his request to find his mother. It occurred to Gary that he hadn’t read any of the Monday article.  Looking at that photo had sufficed.
Nigel, Gary’s assiduous assistant, who had been wide-eyed at the idea of there being someone who looked like his boss but wasn’t, was delighted to see Gary and Joe together.
“Wow!” he said, “two peas in a pod, but get rid of that tatty shirt, Joe.”
“This is Nigel, my assistant, and this is Joe Butler. Don’t take any notice of Nigel. He’s rather impulsive and critical about what people wear.”
“My shirt is not tatty, Nigel,” said Joe in a voice that sounded like Gary’s except for the S.A. lilt.
“Gary doesn’t wear checks,” said Nigel, as if Gary were not present.
“At least we have different sartorial tastes,” said Gary.
“Do you play tennis, Nigel?” Joe asked, for something neutral to say.
“No, but I think Gary does, don’t you Gary?” said Nigel.
“I used to. I’m rusty now. Why tennis?”
“If you had read the text in Bertie’s rag, you would know that I’ve been coaching at the tennis club in Middlethumpton,” said Joe. “They’re an awful bunch there. I wondered if Nigel could tell me something about them.”
“Sorry. I saw the photo and thought it must be trickery or even destiny,” said Gary.
“It might be the second. I assure you that it isn’t the first,” said Joe.
“I can tell you a lot about that tennis club,” said Gary. “It’s a den of thieves. All the gangsters send their kids there for a bit of upbringing.”
“Money-washing, too, I expect,” said Nigel.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” said Gary.
“How long have you been here, Joe?” Nigel asked.
“About two weeks, Nigel.”
“Will you teach me tennis?”
“Are you fit?”
“As a fiddle,” said Nigel, flexing his fingers.
“Not violin; tennis, Nigel,” said Gary.
“I’m fit for both,” said Nigel.
“Let’s drink an espresso and talk about why you came here of all places, Joe,” said Gary. “It’s really uncanny how alike we look.”
“It is, isn’t it?” said Nigel, chipping in. “You could have fooled me if you’d come in here on your own Joe – except for that shirt.”

Nigel went into Gary’s cubby-hole cum kitchen to make the espressos. Joe picked up a police gazette and studied the wanted photos. Gary made a few phone calls including one to Cleo to say he was coming home soon and bringing Joe. There was nothing particularly urgent to be dealt with at HQ. He would take the rest of the day off.