chapter 5 - a mysterious stranger

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The next morning Lionel got up early and ran down to the supermarket to buy some fresh oysters for the mermaid's breakfast, some haddock for her lunch and some sole for their supper. The Chinese takeaway was open early today for the fisher folk, so he bought a box of crispy seaweed as well. 

The sun shone brightly through a sea mist and Lionel felt unaccountably happy. Only the sight of the police patrol car parked near the harbour cast a cloud over his mood. P.C. Figgis was in it, and wound down the window.

"I'm on to you," said P.C. Figgis menacingly. Lionel ignored him and walked on. "You watch your step," the constable called out to Lionel's retreating back.

Once Lionel was out of sight, Figgis drove off. A stranger dressed in what looked like a tattered naval uniform tried to flag him down.

"What do you want?" Figgis called out.

"A lift to Kasteldrog, if you're going that way," the stranger requested. 

"No, you may not have a lift. I am in a hurry."

"I should be indebted to you for a lift part-way, as I am weary and a stranger in these parts," the stranger persisted. "Will you not help an old naval officer fallen on hard times? Perhaps I may be of assistance to you, who knows?"

"Do you imagine I am a taxi service? You can walk there for all I care!" Figgis exclaimed, and with that he sped off.

When Lionel got back the mermaid did not answer his knock. Quietly opening the bathroom door he saw that she was asleep, her head resting on the bath sponge and her breasts rising and falling gently with her slow breathing, her tail twitching occasionally. Her face was impossibly beautiful. He set down the oysters, the haddock and the crispy seaweed on the bath stool and went back out again.

It was time for work. It was not a busy time of year so he decided he would take the completed accounts and draft tax return to Captain Kipper of the Saucy Jellyfish. Lionel was very proud of these accounts because he had solved the barnacle problem, and a chat with Captain Kipper was always a pleasure.

The Saucy Jellyfish was moored near The Frothy Coffee With a Bit of Coffee and Quite a Lot of Milk Café. Lionel sat down at his usual table outside, ordered two coffees, macchiato so that they wouldn't be too milky, and waited. He noticed a man in an oversized raincoat sitting at the next table reading a newspaper, but thought nothing of it.

Captain Kipper was every bit the archetypal fisherman, with his ruddy face, large trousers and navy blue polo-neck sweater. "Ahoy there, Leo!" he addressed Lionel loudly before plonking himself down on one of the thin metal chairs, which creaked slightly. The man in the oversized raincoat looked over the top of his newspaper and then continued reading. The front page headline read, "Marina development approved."

They went over the accounts together, but this did not take long because Captain Kipper frankly did not understand accounts and he trusted Lionel to do a proper job. The barnacle issue he understood was a good thing, but he would not have been able to explain it to anyone five minutes later. The man in the oversized raincoat ordered another coffee.

"Well now, me lad, how are things with 'ee these days?" Captain Kipper enquired.

"Well," began Lionel, lowering his voice, "there's a small problem I'd like your advice on, strictly between you and me."

Captain Kipper smiled knowingly. "Ah harr!" he said, "you have finally fallen in love." 

Lionel was startled. "What makes you say that?"

"You have a twinkle in your eye that I h'ain't see before, and you have a problem, which is a rare thing with 'ee. So tell me all about it!"

"Well," began Lionel, not quite knowing how to begin, "thinking back it might have been when I ticked the box on the form."

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