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Part 4

Chapter 5

Not long after Douglas had gone off to find some drinks and snacks for them both, Mannion came slinking in through Martin’s privacy curtain.

‘Sorry about that,’ he murmured.

‘The phone call, or the chair?’ asked Martin.

‘Both. All of it. Just. Generally, sorry. About everything. From before you were born to… now.’

‘Wow.’ Martin blinked. ‘That’s a lot to ask a chap to forgive you for, in just one breath.’

‘I’m a politician,’ replied Mannion in apologetic tones. ‘I’m used to it.’

Martin smiled, faintly. ‘Well, you’ve lost my vote.’

‘To be honest, Martin, I never imagined you’d vote for the party of somebody you believed abandoned you. I understand I managed to misread or mislay some of the emails you sent me. And I can only apologise – again – for that. I should have made more of an effort. Made sure that you were all right. Your… friend… told me that you’d lost your Dad, and that you’ve struggled to make ends meet while training to be a pilot. I didn’t know about that. I could have helped out…’

‘I’ve never been after your money,’ interrupted Martin. ‘That wasn’t what the emails were about…’

‘No, I’m sure they…’

‘And no, I’ve never voted for your lot, but not because of you, good Lord! I happen to take my right to vote a lot more seriously than that.’

‘Yes, of course. I didn’t mean to…’

‘And Douglas isn’t my “friend”, although I’m sure I know what you were insinuating from the way you said it. Is that a problem? Actually, don’t answer that. It doesn’t matter whether you think it is or not. Not after your affairs - all of your affairs.’

‘It’s not a problem.’

‘Isn’t it? He’s as old as you – he looks like you.’

‘A little,’ conceded Mannion. ‘But, he’s not me.’

‘No. He certainly isn’t.’

There was a pause.

‘Listen. I know you said you didn’t want my money, but you must have debts…’

‘Oh, Mr Mannion, please.’

‘Could you call me Peter…?’

Martin glared at him. ‘Mr Mannion. Don’t you think people will find out if you’ve suddenly donated a lot of money to some mysterious pilot? Don’t you think they’ll wonder why?’

‘But… but there has to be something… I want to put this right.’

‘Compensation.’ Douglas was at the gap in the curtain – Martin had no idea how long for – holding Fanta bottles and Hula Hoops. ‘The young man - who does have debts, by the way, thousands of pounds worth…’

‘Douglas!’ hissed Martin.

‘…slipped on an over-polished floor and was injured,’ continued Douglas unabated, ‘while in an interview with you, at your office. Fearing he could sue, you swiftly made an out-of-court settlement with him – coincidentally to the tune of the exact amount that he was in debt. With your own money, mind, none of us want him caught up in another expenses scandal. You met up with him a few times later – took him for coffee and so on, just to make sure he was doing all right after that horrible fall. He turned out to be utterly delightful, a joy to have met, no matter what the initial circumstances were. You keep in touch. And they all lived happily ever after. The End.’

Mannion blinked a little as Douglas’ plan slotted into place in his mind. ‘And you?’ he asked. ‘If the press ever do go probing into the life of this “friend” I just happened to meet when he hit his head at my surgery and find out that he’s involved with somebody who looks an awful lot like me?’

‘A passing resemblance,’ replied Douglas, ‘that falls apart if you examine it closer, wouldn’t you say? Hardly anything to report on – “Mannion’s casual acquaintance seeing somebody who looks a bit like him” – not considering the sort of stories you appear to be handing the press on a platter every other day at the moment. In any case, Martin in particular is very private about what’s been going on. Even our friends don’t know about it. Who would the press find out about it from, if not him, you or me? Even the chap in the next bed here’s fast asleep.’

Mannion nodded. ‘Well. I do appreciate that, Mr Richardson.’

‘Oh, it’s certainly not out of choice on my part, Mr Mannion,’ Douglas replied. ‘I’d be shouting it from the rooftops if it were up to me.’

‘What, really?’ Martin spluttered, quietly. ‘No. No.’

‘A grizzled old Sky God being seen out and about with a gorgeous young thing who thinks I’m the cat’s pyjamas? You’d better believe I would.’

‘I don’t think you’re “the cat’s pyjamas”, Douglas! I mean, I think you’re… you’re pretty all right…’

‘”Pretty all right”?’ Goodness, such praise!’

‘I mean.’ Martin was a bright shade of pink from the collar up by now. ‘Better than just “all right”. But you know how I feel about exaggerations, Douglas. And I am not “gorgeous”.’

‘You bloody are.’

Mannion cleared his throat, pointedly, wearing an expression of considerable unease.

‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ Douglas cooed, ‘does this upset you?’

‘Don’t, no, now I know what you’re getting at here, and… well, a lot of my friends are gay, in fact, so… it’s just… Er. I should be getting. Here.’ He handed Martin a business card. ‘That’s got my mobile number on it, if you ever want to chat, or… I mean, I can’t promise I won’t be in the middle of some fresh… opportunity. But I won’t ignore you. I’m so sorry. Again. I think you’re a fine young man, and it was an honour to meet you, and I’m sorry.’

He turned to go.

‘Peter,’ called Martin.

Mannion stopped.

‘I don’t blame you,’ Martin told him. ‘I’ve never blamed you. Not really. It just sort-of… happened.’

Mannion smiled freely and openly for the first time since the disastrous meetings. ‘Thank you, Martin.’

Martin waved the card. ‘I’ll call you. Or email, or something.’

‘I’d love that.’

Martin looked up at Douglas once Mannion had gone. ‘Did you really have to wind him up like that?’

‘Yes.’ Douglas perched on the bed, opening up a bag of Hula Hoops. ‘Daddy doesn’t approve of us, does he?’

‘Like in Dirty Dancing.’ Martin caught Douglas’ expression. ‘My sister used to watch the video all the time.’

‘No. No. It’s a fine reference. Mrs Richardson Mark 2 was quite the fan, herself. I mean, I was going to refer to something more along the lines of Romeo and Juliet…’

‘Romeo and Juliet?’ Martin scoffed. ‘Douglas, that’s even sillier and cheesier than Dirty Dancing, and you know it.’

‘Romeo and Jomeo, then.’

Martin laughed far too loud and far too hard for his own good. ‘”Romeo and Jomeo”, yes. Ow, my head…’

A doctor flung open the privacy curtain, suddenly. ‘Right! Mr Crieff. Let’s take a look at you.’

‘I think I’ve decided that I’m actually glad you stuck your nose in,’ Martin told Douglas as the doctor examined his head. ‘I’m glad to have met him, certainly. He really isn’t the slightest bit like you, is he?’

‘No, indeed. More’s the pity for him.’
‘It, er. It simplifies things. A few things. Not everything.’

‘Oh?’

‘Yep,’ said the doctor, briskly, ‘you’re going to need a few sutures there. Let’s get you stitched up, shall we?’

Douglas got up. ‘Did you want me to go?’

‘That’s up to Martin.’ The doctor turned to Martin. ‘Do you want your friend to stay?’

‘Yes.’ Martin held out his hand. ‘Please.’

Douglas took the outstretched hand and sat back down.

‘Oh, I beg your pardon,’ said the doctor. ‘I didn’t realise you were an item.’

‘Neither did we,’ replied Douglas, ‘until very recently.’

-x-

Arthur brought flowers picked from Carolyn’s garden, a large assortment of fruit clearly straight out of Carolyn’s fridge and a card he’d made himself, which was mostly glitter. Carolyn brought withering glares all round, declarations that both pilots were idiots, a massive slab of chocolate, the unfinished paperwork and Hercules Shipwright since she was adamant that Martin was not going to drive his van back to Fitton half concussed and of course Hercules would just so happen to be licenced to drive a van since he’s simply so bloody marvellous, wouldn’t he?

‘It was that,’ said Carolyn, handing over the paperwork, ‘or me driving Martin, you driving Martin’s van and your Lexus being driven back by Arthur.’

Douglas quickly conceded.

‘Cor!’ Arthur was examining Martin’s bandage. ‘That’s a proper Mister Bump bandage, that is! Put a thermometer in your mouth and spots on your face and you’d look like a drawing of somebody in hospital!’

‘How on Earth did you do it, Martin?’ Herc asked.

‘I intervened.’ Martin bit down a mischievous grin. ‘Douglas had a fist fight with another man over me and I got caught in the crossfire.’

‘What?’ said Arthur, delighted, ‘really?’

‘Good grief,’ said Carolyn, over her son. ‘Have we stumbled upon hidden depths of homosexual yearning, here?’

‘Yes,’ said Martin, simply, ‘you have.’ And he leaned across to plant a small kiss on Douglas’ jaw.

Carolyn blinked, then opened up a shark-like smile. ‘Excellent news! I’ll save so much money on hotel rooms.’

‘See?’ Douglas said, putting on his jacket, ‘I told you that’s how she’d take it.’

‘Oh, shut up, Douglas.’

THE END.
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