chapter 3 - a policeman calls

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Solving the barnacle problem had put Lionel in an altogether lighter mood. Somehow the problem of the mermaid seemed less urgent. He even whistled a little on his way home.

"She might be hungry," he thought. There was nothing to eat in the bathroom, and he doubted the mermaid would be able to get into the kitchen as there was no way of swimming there. Mind you, you never know.

Indeed you never know anything, or hardly anything. You have an intractably difficult accounting problem, and then the answer just pops into your head when you're least expecting it. And again, you can be an ordinary fellow and even perhaps rather dull (Lionel, whatever his other shortcomings, was at any rate not conceited) and then for no reason at all you find a mermaid in your bath.

Why, Lionel wondered, do strange things happen to some people, yet other people can pass their whole lives and nothing out of the ordinary ever happens to them? It seemed on the face of it a little unfair.

Anyway, his way passed the fish and chip shop and Lionel went in and ordered two large portions of cod and chips. "Wrapped, please," he specified. He left one of them without vinegar in case the mermaid didn't like it.

On entering the house there was indeed no sign of the mermaid in the kitchen and no evidence of rummaging in the fridge. He tapped on the bathroom door and gently opened it. The mermaid was now back in the bath watching the sea out of the window. She turned as Lionel came in, a question in her eyes on seeing the newspaper parcels, from which a very promising smell of cooked cod was emerging.

Lionel sat on the little bath stool and opened up one of the packages (the one without the vinegar) and handed it to her. She was clearly puzzled but the smell convinced her to bite into the fish, which she then finished as fast as its temperature would allow. The chips she handed back with the sweetest smile Lionel had ever seen. Her chest heaved as she took in a deep breath and let it out again with a sigh, gazing at him. Droplets wobbled on the ends of her nipples, which Lionel could not help seeing but pretended not to.

He met her eyes for but a moment and almost immediately dropped his gaze to the floor, not knowing what to do next and feeling acutely uncomfortable. He sat there in silence studying the grain pattern in the polished wooden floor for what seemed like an hour but was probably about a minute. Suddenly there was a loud knock at the door.

Relieved, Lionel rushed out of the room and downstairs and opened the front door. Standing there was a small policeman.

"Constable Figgis of Pengoggly Police. I have come to investigate a complaint." The policeman wasted no time in coming to the point.


"A person or persons has or have complained that you are running a disorderly establishment."

Lionel looked blank.

"To whit, a lady of negotiable affections disporting her mammaries to the general public from your upstairs window while dressed as a mermaid. Might I come in?"

Lionel stood there for a moment taking this in. The presence of the police the previous day would have been welcome, at a time when Lionel merely wished his ordinary existence not to be interrupted by mythical creatures. However the police had proved most unhelpful and now the damage was done and Lionel had been irrevocably changed into someone to whom unusual things happen. The moment had passed.

Lionel did not move. "Do you have a warrant?" he asked.

"Not as such," replied the officer, "but I was hoping that as a respectable citizen you would comply with my request, coming as it does from one whose remit is to protect decent people from unwarranted intrusions into their quotidian existence."

"Well yesterday when I rang, you said that it wasn't your department," said Lionel huffily.

"Well it is now."

"What's more, she isn't a lady of negotiable affections and I resent that remark," said Lionel stoutly. "I merely gave her fish and chips out of the goodness of my heart and I can assure you that at no time did she solicit these from me nor did I extract any recompense in kind or otherwise, so there, with all due respect, officer."

"Fish and chips, is that what you call it!" said the officer with a sneer.

"A piece of cod, if you must know."

"I wouldn't mention your codpiece too much if I were you. Don't think you have heard the last of this," said the officer, "and I'd advise you if she does want to sit in public view pretending to be a mermaid you should at least make her wear a cockle shell bra, like on Disney." With that the officer turned to go.

"Cockle shell bra!" Lionel felt an unfamiliar warmth of passion arising within his chest as he shouted after the retreating policeman. "If you were a mermaid glorying in your carefree nakedness would you wear a cockle shell bra? I doubt you've even tried to wear cockle shell underpants!" Lionel heard himself say these things with some surprise as he had never heard himself say anything like it before. The officer looked back over his shoulder and hesitated before getting into the police car, a grim expression on his face.

A note from Myfanwy

Hello Corruscating Cockles,

Cockle shell bra? You won't find that in Marks and Spencer. You've only got to think about it for two seconds to realise it's a non-starter.

"I think there's a real gap in the market for cockle shell bras, Lord Sugar."

"You're fired."

A kiss,



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