The Strange Little Man in My Phone
Chapter Seventeen: Q is for Quid Pro Quo
Martin Douglas Arthur Carolyn
Douglas, this is getting very repetitive of me, but Arthur and I would very much appreciate you making the trip here for at least a day or so. I haven’t got any jobs coming up this week and Arthur has been desperate to see you. I can’t exactly drop him off onto your doorstep, can I? I know what he’s like and any of your friends would surely become his friends, at least where his overactive imagination is concerned.
I also have a favour to ask of you. Nothing all that taxing either, so never mind that.
I’d be glad to make the trip for the weekend, if you didn’t mind, Carolyn. I also realise it’s been too long since I’ve seen Arthur. I’m sure he’s getting impatient. I have to be home by Monday though, I’m meeting up with someone in Oxford.
The mention of a favour is intriguing though I admit. I didn’t think you had to rely on ‘underling idiots’ for favours.
I never said you were an underling idiot.
Didn’t you? It does seem like something you may have said.
Nevertheless. Can I ask the favour of you?
You’re welcome to ask when I see you. That said, I’m not sure how receptive I’d be without some sort of enticement. I don’t usually pride myself on being a noble and generous spirit.
You forget you’ll be staying under my roof, eating my meals, and mistreating my hospitality like the horrid creature you do usually pride yourself on being.
And you forget that you asked that of me too. So I rather think we should be discussing that incentive, or perhaps two of them if I take you up on this second favour.
I’ll decide if you deserve one for either of these so-called “favours” when I see you in person. Of course, you certainly don’t for just showing up at my home but I’ll pretend to entertain the idea.
I’ll look forward to discussing it on Saturday.
Morning. How’s everything going?
Just fine. I’ve arrived at the Knapp-Shappey house now. Feels very strange being back in Fitton.
Well it would. When are you back?
I’ll be back in time, don’t you worry.
I’d be less worried if you weren’t but anyway. How are they?
Arthur’s excited. Almost disgustingly so.
Carolyn has familiarly taken to acting as though she doesn’t give a toss about whether I’m here or not.
Though of course, she does care because you’re just nauseatingly charming?
As a matter of fact, yes. You’re learning. And how are things in the attic?
Comments like that do seriously make the fact that I live in one all the more depressing.
My sincerest apologies. How are things in the place that you live? The place that just so happens to be a very non-depressing attic.
It’s fine. Fine. I’ve got a job soon.
Ah really. And what are we moving this morning?
And why can’t the cat move itself?
It can move perfectly fine!
I’m moving it to a new house. The woman who owns it is elderly and she can’t take it with her to her nursing home, so I’m delivering it to her sister instead. She wants to take care of it, obviously, apparently it’s very old and they can’t bear to give it up.
Probably not a very mobile cat still. If it couldn’t just walk there, then it at least explains why it couldn’t drive the van, at that age.
Is this really what you’re taking out of this conversation? Because I really can’t believe you’re still going on about it.
I am a curious soul.
No, you’re an idiot. Say hello to Carolyn and Arthur for me.
I will. And do say hello to the cat.
Shut up, Douglas.
Are you talking to Skip, Douglas? Because you’re smiling at your phone like you’ve just won an argument or said something clever and I think Mum might think you’ve gone mad. Of course, she does generally assume that you’ve gone mad. Now that I’ve mentioned it, I’m remembering that I’m not generally supposed to mention that she's mentioned it.
Arthur— not only are you spouting nonsense but I am also directly next to you.
Oh yeah, that’s right. Wow, that’s an amazing feeling. It’s really good to see you, and I mean really good! But I think I should maybe stop this now before it starts to get a tad odd…?
Hey Skip, I was just thinking that it’d be really great if you were here with us all. I mean really here, instead of just in my phone, but I thought I’d just include you anyway so it felt the same.
Thank you Arthur. I’d like that as well.
And although I do truly appreciate the sentiment, this isn’t actually a fantastic time...
Aw, why’s that?
I’m up a tree.
Oh righto. Brilliant. I love climbing trees.
[Incoming Call: Douglas Richardson. 2:14 PM]
“What do you want? Let me guess… Arthur couldn’t keep his mouth shut and now—”
“Martin, if I may just get one thing straight…”
“What? Go right ahead!”
“If Arthur isn’t mistaken, you’re…?”
“You’re up a tree?”
“Nothing really. Nothing out of the ordinary, of course.”
“I can literally feel that you’re about to say something else. I can feel it through my phone. You’re just so…smug. I bet you’ve got that look. I hate that look!”
“Oh Martin. What look?”
“Are you…laughing right now? Douglas, this is serious! The last thing I need is for you to be laughing at me while I try and juggle my phone up here, because God knows my balance is already terrible enough. The a-abnormality of my inner—”
“Alright, no more laughing. You may want to explain the situation though.”
“The cat didn’t take too kindly to the move and it got away and—ugh, branch! And the blasted thing just shot up here! What if it injured itself up here? I couldn’t be responsible for killing the client’s cat!”
“And so instead of killing it, you’ve taken it upon yourself to climb up and join it, have you?”
“I couldn’t ask the sister to climb the tree! It turns out her she’s not actually that much younger than the woman who asked me to move it here in the first place.”
“You might’ve left the tree-climbing to the professionals.”
“I AM professional! I’ve got this under control!”
“If I could just point out one thing: you don’t sound like you’ve got it under control. You actually sound rather hysterical.”
“I’m not! I’m not hysterical at all, I’m just trying to work out how to get out of this mess and—”
“If you called for a firetruck, I’m sure that’d solve a few things.”
“Yes, the lady said she was calling one earlier for me, so it won’t take all that long, but for now there isn’t too much I can do but wait.”
“She’s called a firetruck…for you?”
“Well, yes, I’m stuck, I thought we’d established that.”
“You’ve gotten stuck in a tree whilst climbing a tree to save a stuck cat?”
“The thing is though, Douglas, the cat isn’t actually stuck.”
“It kind of just hopped down on its own as soon as I climbed up near it. I was relieved, before I realised just how high I’d climbed and that there was certainly no way I’d be able to get back down.”
“Well go ahead and say it. Just get whatever comment you’re going to come out with and get it out of the way so I don’t have to actively dread it! I can’t do anything but stay put anyway because I’m really stuck in this bloody tree!”
“No, it’s nothing, Martin. I was just considering the cat.”
“Turns out we were wrong about it, that’s all.”
“What about the cat, Douglas? Stop being so cryptic!”
“It turns out that the cat could move itself. Really outstandingly. A spectacle of mobility.”
“I’m hanging up.”
“If I haven’t heard from you on the ground in half an hour, I’ll call a firetruck from Fitton.”
“Thanks a bunch, Douglas. For just the endless flow of support you’re providing.”
[Call Disconnected: 2:20 PM]
Just following up… I’m officially on the ground. It wasn’t fun, but I’m fine.
Then someone got you down?
I got myself down.
Because it started to rain.
So I was worried the branches would be slippery and I stepped down a branch lower.
I made a misstep and disturbed a beehive. Then got stung by quite a few of the bees.
I suppose my pain-threshold isn’t too impressive because I got a bit lightheaded after that.
And just sort of got myself out of the tree.
Martin. Did you fall out of the tree?
Don’t say anything. Nothing at all. I don’t want to hear the words ‘cat’, or ‘tree’, or ‘bee’ for the rest of my life.
How about the words ‘rat’, or ‘flea’, or ‘key’?
Or…splat went he at three.
I suppose I’m not immune to the pull of Doctor Seuss.
Are you alright, though? As poignantly comedic your life once again proves to be, I hope you aren’t hurt.
I’m fine. My foot’s a bit tender… and my hand, where the bee stings are but I’m alright. And the woman got her cat. She probably got a good laugh too. Oh and the firemen set us both up with a lovely little fine to settle them coming out for no reason, which was just the cherry on top really.
I don’t doubt that it was.
And you’re still perfectly fit for meeting up on Monday?
I was sort of trying not to think about it.
I’m always floored by your enthusiasm. But of course, we made an agreement. I did mean something more along the lines of your funds, because I’m more than willing to step in if you should need the help…
No, I don’t need the help! I mean, I do appreciate you offering but no. I can’t ask that of you.
Could call it another birthday present.
Oh like taxi fare in March? I told you then that my birthday was in July.
Well July isn’t that far away now.
Well you’ve already bought me that very thoughtful taxi fare, it’s too late now.
You’re truly even more stubborn than Carolyn, and I don’t give out compliments very often.
Again, is that a compliment?
It ought to be. Don’t think for one second I’m exaggerating when I say that Carolyn isn’t accustomed to being beaten by anyone.
I suppose I’ll learn that, but God she really was terrifying. It really makes you take a long look at Arthur and wonder ‘how?’
She isn’t entirely evil.
That’s actually very sweet of you. But anyway, what are you all getting up to for the rest of your trip?
Nothing too dramatic. Arthur’s headed off to his work to have a go at their printer. His latest ‘thing’ is fancying himself a budding children’s book writer, so he’s gone to make some copies of that to show me. Then I’ll be headed home tomorrow around midday. I think I have something or other to take care of Monday and I wouldn’t want to be late..?
A children’s book? He’s actually written one?
Well that’s what he’s calling it, I’ll have to let you know.
Good luck with that.
I’ll need all your good luck and more. Though we all know you don’t have very much of it to give.
Oh Douglas, I really REALLY owe you one.
I mean, really. I would have definitely lost my job if it weren’t for you.
You certainly would’ve. Where have you gotten to anyway?
I’ve just popped down to the shop, Douglas. It’s surprisingly still open and I really couldn’t think of much else to get you as a thank you but some alcohol because Mum says that’s about all you like.
Shops do open sometimes, it's very perplexing. But completely unnecessary to buy me anything in return. Also completely unnecessary to give me Carolyn’s opinion.
But I’m probably going to buy you something whether you think it is or not, so you might as well tell me what sort of drink you like or I might just pick anything with a funny-sounding name.
Something like…Bruichladdich or Hakushu.
Sounds like an old lady accusing me of something. Oh no, Mrs Bruichladdich, I would never Hak ush you, that would be terrible of me.
Arthur, please stop. I wouldn’t be entirely against a bottle of Talisker whiskey, but where your mother is concerned, I didn’t ask for it.
Alright, Douglas! I’ll see you back at home soon with a bottle of Talisker you didn’t ask for, and I’ll maybe say thank you again… just to be safe.
So did you read the book Arthur wrote? And more importantly was it actually a book?
Also hope I’m not waking you.
No, I’m awake. You can stop saying that too, just to be polite. You know, I think we’re past it.
Also yes—I saw the book. In fact, I did a great deal more than see it and I’m alive to tell the tale.
That sounds ominous.
It was, I imagine, for Arthur. I actually saved his job.
You did!? What did he do?
Arthur tried to print two copies of his new book.
Do you want to fathom a guess how many he actually printed?
Arthur printed two hundred copies. So not only did I see his charming picture book, but the entire crazy golf staff saw it too, along with all their customers. By the time I got there, no one was even bothering to catch the papers as they came out of the printer, and they were just clouding the room like a sort of paper waterfall.
And what did you do?
We waited until the printer had finished. The staff couldn’t turn it off because it’s primarily for business purposes and they didn’t want to miss any incoming information from management, you know apparently people still use fax machines, and I highly doubt that Arthur’s boss had the sense to keep it switched off and cancel the job regardless, so we just waited.
Once it was over, Arthur was getting quite emotional and the manager looked like he might literally blow up, so I stepped in and said that Arthur didn’t mind covering however many pounds it would cost the company in paper, and I also added that he very generously wrote a book for the patients in the local children’s hospital where he volunteers. It looks very good for their company having an employee who’s that kind-hearted and generous with his time. Especially when I told them he’d included their business name in the acknowledgements.
He included them in the acknowledgements? And just a follow-up: he seriously wrote an acknowledgements page?
Martin, even you are on the acknowledgements page. Hope you don’t expect a cut of the profits because there certainly won’t be a profit to cut.
Isn’t it a little…I don’t know, offensive to lie about Arthur volunteering though? Surely that can’t be good karma-wise, which doesn’t exist, but you know…?
Not that I’m worried because of karmic energy, but Arthur truly does volunteer at a children’s hospital.
Of course he does.
How was your day, post-firetruck?
Well…not completely without firetrucks. I’d left my van running during the entire cat… tree debacle. So my van might have run out of petrol, then I may have had to get driven home by said firetruck.
You know, I said something to Arthur about you as the printing paper was falling all over the ground around us.
Here we go…
Arthur was fairly convinced that his day couldn’t get any worse. I promptly reminded him that it could. Martin, you're the master. I think it might have even cheered him up to hear about your day.
You’re both awful.
And I suppose you’re taking the longest bath of your life and then getting into bed?
…I’m about to get out the vacuum.
It is the same time in Wokingham as it is here, unless I'm mistaken?
I’m not actually vacuuming. I did that already. I sometimes clean when I’m stressed, when I have the time. I was doing the vacuuming once I got home today, up in my room, and realised my Dad’s ring was missing. I was using the Gansos vacuum—and it’s fairly heavy-duty since it has to clean the entire student housing… so after a while of not being able to find it in my room, I’m just trying to get the vacuum open, and you know… take a gander, just in case it's caught inside it.
Let me get this straight. So far you’ve managed to follow a cat up a tree, get stuck in a tree, get attacked by bees in a tree, order a firetruck in order to be rescued from a tree, then fall from said tree? After doing all of this your van ran out of petrol, so you were delivered home in a firetruck that you paid an enormous fine for… in order to have a Gansos vacuum cleaner eat your father’s ring?
Are you in fact…done now? Because surely there is nothing left for you to attempt that could make you a better target for teasing and/or taunting at this point.
When I find the ring, I’ll be done.
Martin, you are very much the master. Really commendable. No one could possibly be better.
Thank you for visiting, Douglas. It wasn’t entirely unbearable having you around, and you certainly do make friendship with my son seem like an effortless affair. I do also hope you consider the favour. I really have no way around things and can’t afford to miss important business.
It was my pleasure, and consider the favour done. Not for free, of course, but you already knew that.
I fear that I did, but fine. She’s yours—but only for the one trip.
Have a safe drive back. Arthur wants me to say to enjoy the Talisker, but we’re about to discuss what in the hell he actually means. Talk tomorrow evening.
Hope you're remembering what's on tomorrow, Martin.
Is it tomorrow? I’d forgotten actually.
I don’t believe that for a second, but let’s move past it. Did you manage to get the van back then?
Yeah, it’s fine. I had it moved and filled it back up with fuel. I never expected money to be such a rare bloody commodity when I moved out of home.
Didn’t you? And you realise you’re training to be a pilot?
Sarcasm aside, the van is fine.
Yes but the pub is in Oxford. I am able to drive to Wokingham, though I try to avoid it.
Not only are you frustrating beyond belief, but you’re not driving to Wokingham. I’d rather drive to Oxford. You know…for the sake of security.
Oh, so I don’t start visiting you? Of course there are only twelve people in Wokingham, so if I met you there, it would a very simple next step to find you and start regularly stalking you.
This is hard for me, you know. I say it a lot, but truly.
I know that. It doesn’t have to be, because my opinion won’t change, but whatever makes you happy.
I’ll do it. I’ll be fine. I mean, I’ll just drive there, and I can’t exactly run away. I’ll be fine. It’ll all be very good and this will just be forgotten.
Are you convincing yourself, or me?
Bit of both, really, but I can see it isn’t working.
Not working in the slightest but I’ll see you tomorrow night at seven.
In the meantime, try not to get into any life-threatening accidents. It would be very much appreciated.
I don’t think I can make guarantees after yesterday.
You’d better make them. I’m busy the night after meeting another friend, and then tennis the night after that. I think there’s a party or something two days from then, or was it a painting class? I suppose I should study at some point.
You can play tennis? And paint?
I can do anything.
Today’s the day, isn’t it Douglas? I can’t believe it. You’re finally going to meet, Skip. You should take that bottle of Talisker to have with him, because he gets quite nervy. I mean—I met him ages ago so I’m sure it wouldn’t be that big of a deal for him to meet you know, but it really is exciting. Then after this, we can all start meeting as a group because it’s just kind of out of the way.
First is the worst. You know the saying. It wasn’t about first meetings but it sure does makes a lot of sense.
I’m not the one to worry about. It’s Martin. But yes, today is the day.
I’m really excited, Douglas. Maybe even as excited as you. He’s our best friend and now you’re getting to meet him!
I’m meeting him at seven, though the meeting part is very much an area of doubt.
I don’t expect he’s going to show up, Arthur.
What!? No way! Martin wouldn’t just not show up. He really does care about you, Douglas! You have to meet.
You misunderstand, Arthur. I’m actually rather banking on him not showing up. Not out of the hidden cruelty in his heart, of course, Martin has the best intentions. I’m just fairly certain he’ll get anxious and won’t turn up.
Oh Douglas… That’s no good. I mean, it’s not his fault for getting nervous… but doesn’t that upset you?
Not particularly. I mean, I obviously want to meet him and intend to. If he shows up…fantastic! But if not, there’s no favour like a favour being owed to me.
Well that’s not so good, but if you say so. I hope he does show up though. Just because it would be better.
I’ll have to let you know, Arthur, but I’m not usually wrong.
Table’s under Richardson if you’re early. It sounds like a high-class affair but I should remind you it will be pub food so… I suppose it’s still a high-class affair after all. I’m on my way now.
And I’m guessing you aren’t early. Can’t see any vans in the area, or did it break down somewhere?
Well I’m headed inside.
Really making me chase you.
[Incoming Call: Douglas Richardson. 7:10 PM]
“I’m… Look, I’m sorry.”
“You drove all the way here.”
“Uh, yes. I did.”
“And what went wrong?”
“I couldn’t—I told you on the note—”
“Yes I got the note, it said ‘sorry’. I also got the beer, and the fully paid steak meal. Granted they weren’t expensive, but I am still finding it incredibly confusing. I’m asking you what happened?”
“I couldn’t do it. I’m sorry. I drove all that way, found the place and sat down at the table you reserved. Then I got to thinking a bit and just… I just—”
“Yes. I panicked. And I wrote you a ruddy note on a napkin and paid for your meal because I couldn’t let you think I had no intention of showing up at all. I did, Douglas. I did show up and I was looking forward to it, I just…couldn’t.”
“It’s quite alright. I’m not mad at you. I actually expected all of this to happen, and I don’t mind.”
“Ha, well you have to say that because you keep reminding me we’re close, and things like this don’t matter between close friends—but the truth is, we haven’t met, and it probably does matter to you.”
“No, Martin, it really doesn’t. We are close. I don’t mind. We can reschedule. The only thing that really matters to me is that you thought you’d be alright to pay for my meal. You’re not really in a position to do that.”
“Wait—really? It really doesn’t matter?”
“Not at all. Did you expect me to be mad? I’m not usually the sort to do ‘mad’. There’s always next time.”
“You’re not joking.”
“Why would I be? It’s also hard to be mad when I've found the photo you folded into the serviette.”
“Oh, that. I just…”
“No, no, Martin. Don’t get flustered. You know, it’s actually rather interesting. I’m usually incredibly right all the time, but I never expected my mental image of you would also be so dead-on. Even down to the details like the height and red-hair. It's nice to have confirmation in a concrete form. Really, rather interesting.”
“Look—it’s very embarrassing to leave it there, but you’re always saying that we don’t know what the other looks like and I thought I’d just place it there, as an apology?”
“You look very smart, Martin. Incredibly smart. And what an aeroplane!”
“I wanted a more recent photo, so I asked my instructor to take a picture with me in front of it before the lesson—and I just…”
“And you wore your cadet medals, I see? Now that is impressive stuff. Really, truly impressive.”
“Alright Douglas, you can stop now! I get it. I stood you up, and now I’ve done more than apologise with whatever teasing you have left for me, there’s actually nothing you can say you haven’t said before so just get it—hold on a minute!”
“What ever is the matter?”
“What did you mean earlier when you said you expected this to happen? You don’t mind!? No, I know you better than that. Of course you mind. You never get stood up. It would be a blow to your ego if it took you by surprise, and yet it didn’t, so I know what that means.”
“I don’t know what that means at all.”
“Of course you do. What’s your agenda? What have you planned?”
“I was only thinking that it looked like you might owe me one.”
”Not so loud, Martin, I think you might’ve scared the bartender over there.”
“I knew it! You always have a back-up plan! Always have an agenda. So what is it then? What have you got up your sleeve? Bet you’re waiting to drop it on me at the opportune moment so I can tell you how clever you are.”
“I still haven’t got any idea what you mean.”
”…But as it just so happens, there was this one thing…”
“Of course. Of course!”
“Carolyn proposed something to me while I was visiting this weekend. She hasn’t got any work on this week, but as it so happens, next week is going to be incredibly busy for her. She has back-to-back trips. One trip is with a very important yacht-seller, but the other is a slightly high maintenance client who needs to get delivered to the airport prior to her trip. Of course… Carolyn doesn’t have time to pick her up, coming off of the other trip, but the second client can’t be told that the trips are back-to-back. Protocol and all that, with the airline’s two pilots.”
“Right. That's just...an awful breach of some very vital rules, but right.”
“Well I’m not generally a kind and giving spirit, but it turns out that tomorrow is the Rugby Grand Final and Carolyn has no work on. She asked me if I’d pick up the second client and deliver her to the airport, but I can’t be expected to do a favour without something in return. A quid pro quo, if you like.”
“Unbelievable. Go on.”
“So I agreed to drop off that particular client for her, under the guise of being MJN’s chauffeur, if she’d deliver me, with a friend of mine, to the Six Nations Final in Edinburgh tomorrow. It’s not too much to ask.”
“Not at all. Just a free plane trip to Scotland for twenty minutes of your time taking some poor woman to the airport.”
“Martin, Martin, Martin… I’m not finished yet. This friend of mine, who likes the Rugby, is actually a retired gentleman named Mr. Birling. We met by chance in a pub last year, on final night. I treated him to a drink, because he was great company, and he treated me to five thousand dollars. ”
“Why on Earth did he do that!?”
“Because, Martin, I was great company.”
“I can’t believe this.”
”Doesn’t make much difference to me if you believe it or not. Last year I discovered that Mr. Birling’s drink of choice is Talisker whiskey. It’s fairly expensive, so it helps if you can call in a favour and have someone else buy it for you. You may remember yesterday I saved Arthur’s career…”
“So I called in a favour. I now have on my side: one bottle of Talisker, one rich retiree named Birling, and a free trip to Edinburgh. I don’t usually like to give the alcohol away but you can see where this is going…?”
“I’m still not entirely there yet.”
“Mr. Birling likes to get heroically sloshed on Rugby day. With an entire bottle of Talisker to himself, I just want the old boy to have a fantastic day he won’t even remember. Imagine how generous he’ll be with this free flight, favourite whiskey, and his rugby right in front of him? Of course, I’ll propose a bet on the winner.”
“On the winner!? Not even you can guarantee that!”
“That I can’t, Martin, but Birling always bets on Wales and I’m feeling especially lucky. The best part of this entire thing is the tidy profit. I’ll end up with whatever he agrees to bet, with the added bonus of not having to pay an airline or liquor store. The best part is that I won’t have to do a lick of work for it. Except…oh.”
“Oh? Oh what?”
“I suppose I’ll still have to pick up that client for Carolyn, won’t I?”
”But now that I’ve mentioned it… I can’t help but remember that you owe me a favour.”
“I know what you’re doing, Douglas…”
“You said it yourself. You bruised my ego by standing me up here tonight. The least you could do is drop some woman off at the airport, it's only twenty minutes of your time. Might call it a quid pro quo. Something in return. An exchange for how hurt I feel…”
“Except it’s not twenty minutes because I live in Wokingham! Douglas—you are unbelievable!”
“Sorry, Martin, but fair’s fair. I’m terribly upset about you not showing up.”
“I will pick this woman up next week—but I swear this is the last time! I’m never falling for your schemes again. I’m not doing this anymore.”
“There’s no scheme, Martin. Just a series of fortunate events. Much like yours’ yesterday, but also the polar opposite.”
“I hate you.”
“You really should show up to dinner next time, Martin.”
[Call Disconnected: 7:21 PM]
Don’t let anyone ever try and convince you those cadet medals aren’t a spectacle to behold. Not even me.
I’ll get you back one day.
We should reschedule.
Enjoy the Rugby you colossal idiot.
The plan is actually very detailed and clever but I hope it brings you absolutely no satisfaction to hear me admit it.
Thank you very much. And thanks for kindly agreeing to pick up Carolyn's client for me. You know, next time we organise something, I can probably spare enough of my winnings to buy you a steak dinner, but we'll see if fortune favours me.
It usually does.
That it does.