When they got to the house there was a crowd outside and a police van, but the window was empty of any suggestion of the mermaid. The front door was open and P.C. Figgis was standing outside.
Lionel rushed up as if to go inside but Figgis stopped him with an outstretched hand.
“Where do you think you’re going?” said the officer.
“If I might enter my own house?” responded Lionel.
“You may, but she’s gone.”
Lionel rushed upstairs and burst into the bathroom. There was a man with a press camera photographing the bath, but no mermaid. Of the oysters only the shells were left, but the haddock and crispy seaweed remained uneaten. Grabbing the haddock he rushed downstairs again only to see the police van disappear up Harbour Lane.
Without a word Lionel flung the haddock onto the back seat of the Morris Minor (with the rust in the front wings just behind the headlights) and he and the Captain took off after the van.
When they reached the police station Lionel was just in time to catch a glimpse of the mermaid being hauled out of the back of the van trapped in a large fishing net, although Captain Kipper could not see clearly as his view was blocked by the van. The mermaid caught sight of Lionel and the pleading expression on her face was unmistakeable. There was bleeding from some of her scales. Then she was lost to view.
“What be going on?” Captain Kipper frowned.
Lionel had no hesitation. He bounded up to the police station door and on entering, stood at the glass window and rang the bell. A police officer strolled slowly over.
“And what can we do for you?” It was P.C. Figgis looking slightly out of breath and with damp patches on his uniform.
“What have you done with my mermaid?” Lionel demanded loudly.
“Your mermaid is it? And you would be?”
“Lionel Fortescue-Fishface of 7 Marine Parade, Pengoggly, as you well know.”
“Ah. Do you have a mermaid licence?”
“No, do I need one?”
“Do you need one? I think it is your business to know the law before embarking on keeping mermaids, sir.” Sergeant Spriggan had entered the room behind P.C. Figgis and they exchanged knowing smirks.
“Now then,” continued Figgis, “this has been very entertaining so I shan’t charge you on this occasion, but it doesn’t do to waste police time with made-up stories about imaginary creatures, or as you might say, fishy tales.” His shoulders shook with mirth at his own joke. “I suggest you run along now and sleep it off. Mermaids! Very droll I’m sure.”
By now Captain Kipper had caught up with Lionel and was standing behind him holding the haddock.
“I don’t know what be going on here,” he said, “but whoever it is you got in custody there, we should like to see her.”
“You too?” said P.C. Figgis. “I seem to recall your boat licence is up for renewal. It wouldn’t do for a person prone to hallucinations taking a boat on the high seas and being a potential danger to shipping, now would it? Run along, both of you, and go easy on the cider.”
“But we both saw you at my house!” protested Lionel. “What was that all about, then?”
“A routine matter I assure you. We had complaints about a young lady disporting herself in an unseemly manner, which I warned you about as you recall. I am happy to inform you that the young lady in question has removed herself to a more appropriate premises. Of course we have on record your request for assistance of two days ago and I am happy to have been of service on this occasion. Your problem is thus resolved in a satisfactory manner. Good day to you both.”
Captain Kipper stood his ground. “Well I don’t know what be going on but it be you that smells o’ bad fish. Give this haddock to your prisoner, whomsoever she be, as it do belong to her as I believe.”
He pushed the haddock through the gap under the glass window. Figgis and Spriggan did not move, but stood there, arms folded in silence. After a long pause Lionel turned hopelessly to go, and Captain Kipper followed him out.
As Lionel started up the Morris Minor, Captain Kipper noticed a figure in an oversized raincoat entering where they had just left. Lionel paused, handbrake on, the engine still in neutral, his hands tense on the wheel.
“Leave it for now,” Captain Kipper advised, “we’ll come back later. There be something amiss here, and be of no doubt I’ll stick by ye till we sort it out, me salty lad.”
As they left Lionel thought he heard, faintly above the engine noise and the sound of seagulls, the sound of singing, beautiful as a girls’ cathedral choir and mournful enough that it squeezed the heart like a sponge.
A note from the author
Dear Salty Sea Anemones,
As to Myfanwy's little outburst, I think she should confine herself to typing the manuscripts and making the tea, rather than taking on herself the role of literary critic. I do know what I am doing, at least some of the time.
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A mermaid in the bathHumor
A mermaid, the transformation of a boring accountant, an atomic submarine and a lot of jokes. Now available as a paperback, with mermaid illustrations. See the last section for a special offer! www.miltonmarmalade.uk The first several updated chap...