BHD writes (mostly) short fiction. He published the novella A Penny Spitfire (Pewter Rose, 2011), and That's What Ya Get! Kowalski's Assertions (Unbound Press, 2010). A collection of stories is due out from Pewter Rose, and one of critical essays (writing as Mike Smith), in preparation. He has published poetry, plays, prose fiction and essays, including in The New Writer, Acumen, Stand, Markings, and Earlyworks Press. His stories have been performed by Liars League, and critical essays appear on Thresholds Postgraduate Short Story Forum. He has won several prizes and awards. He is an Honorary Member of Crichton Writers, Dumfries.
To Be Honest, It's Criminal
Bay Trees is a delightful Victorian end of terrace offering accommodation in four double and one single bedroom, all en-suite. Your hostess, Mrs. Violet Davies serves dinner every evening in the bay windowed dining room that fronts onto the secluded street in which you will find convenient unrestricted parking available within a few minutes walk. This petite, friendly, and beautifully appointed privately run Hotel can cater, with advanced notice, for vegetarian and other specialist diets. Mrs. Davies respectfully requests that guests do not smoke in the bedrooms, nor in the dining room. The Hotel is fully licensed and boasts a cosy lounge bar well stocked with beers, wines and spirits. Dogs and children are not received.
He was such a gentleman, Joan. Here, let me top you up. Not a bad sherry this. Not too dry.
Oh I know you can’t tell just by the way they speak. It wasn’t just that. He was so well turned out. Respectable. Comfortable. Nothing flashy. A bit run down to tell the truth, his jacket had leather elbow patches. You don’t see that very often these days. You must get them at your place too.
He might have been a retired officer. He had one of those little moustaches, trimmed nice and neat.
He was always so polite. More than polite. Solicitous. That’s what he was. Solicitous.
I could tell he liked me. He liked my new blouse. He wasn’t like some of them, you know, staring down your cleavage as if they were looking for something they’d dropped. But he was appreciative, responsive.
“You have a lovely place here Mrs. Davies” He said.
“Call me Vi.” I said, but he called me Violet instead. Nobody’s called me Violet for years. It was as if he was offering me them, the flowers I’m named after, dark, beautiful heads, petals soft as skin, unfolding.
That sounds silly doesn’t it? Ah well. Let’s have another shall we? Drink to past mistakes. That’s it.
He sat at the bar, right there, where you are, drinking a small whisky with water. To release the flavours he said. There was none of that knocking it back neat in one go to show how tough he was. He was savouring it, his long fingers curled round the crystal, rolling it back and forth in his hand, gently, almost as if he were massaging it.
“It can’t be easy,” He said, “running a place like this all on your own.”
Not easy. That was an understatement. I told him What with the EEC and VAT and all the petty rules and regulations, and the long hours, and getting staff, good staff that is, you can always find someone to fill a place but whether they’ll do the job or not is another matter. I told him. And there’s so much competition these days, bars and bistros and little hotels all up and down the prom. Present company excepted, Joan. Cheers.
“You need an edge.” He said.
An edge I told him, and laughed. Sometimes I think I need a cliff edge.
He liked that. It was rather good. It just came to me. I don’t usually think of things like that, but he made you feel so much at ease, and yet switched on too. Wait a minute. I’ll open a new one. Come on you beggar. That’s it. There you go.
“No.” he said. “I mean a competitive edge. Something that picks you out.”
That’s when he said he wished he could help. He told me about his work. He was so good. It all seemed perfectly reasonable. He must have done his homework. He must have spent hours reading Hugh Johnson. I bet he had that little book that comes out every year. He was reeling off the names of French wines. He had a lovely accent when he spoke French. They were all the famous ones. Chateau LaFitte. Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Margaux, Fooly Poos, no wait a minute, Pooly Foos. You know what I mean. You’re empty again dear. Here, let me.
“I couldn’t sell wines like that.” I said. “They wouldn’t be right for my little restaurant. Same with you dear. You couldn’t serve Pooly Foos in that little front room of yours now could you? Let’s be honest, I said. Nobody would come here to drink fine wines.
“But they would Violet. People would flock to eat here. You’d be the toast of the town.”
It seems silly now, when I tell it to you, but at the time he made it all so plausible.
“What about the prices though?” I asked.
He looked crestfallen then, and those dark sad eyes of his were like, what is it you get in space, black holes.
“What a pity you can’t get some through me.” He said. Then he went quiet, and sat there, just where you are, playing with his whisky tumbler and looking into space.
What a fool I was. That was when I asked him. What do you mean? I asked. And he told me. Out it came, like a thread off a loose hem.
He was going to Glasgow to some big wine show, buying for a chain of “famous” Hotels. He tapped his finger on his nose and said “No names no pack drill my dear.” The prices were so low, and he actually said this, “To be Honest it’s criminal.” I can’t believe I swallowed it.
He could buy some for himself too, he said, but only if he paid in cash. Well of course its obvious now, isn’t it, in the cool light of day. I wonder how many times he’d spun that line? How many silly old fools like me had said the same thing to him.
“Well, couldn’t I give you some cash?” Can you believe it? I actually said “Couldn’t I give you some cash?” And the bastard had the cheek to look surprised. As if he’d never heard it before.
“Give me some cash?”
“Then you could buy some for me too”
“What a good idea!”
Wasn’t it a bloody good idea too, you silly old fool Vi. And that’s what I did. I gave him five hundred pounds bloody cash, and I never saw the bugger again.
You’re looking pale Joan. What’s the matter? Joan, where are you going? Joan! You haven't touched your drink, dear. Ah, well. Waste not.....