Ball regarded the mess on the warehouse floor. Felt slightly sick. Wished he was back home watching Blazing Saddles, which he had been until his henchmen called him out. Annoying, that. It had just got to the farting – his favourite bit. He felt his face twitch into a grin, had to smooth it back down again. Especially with what he was looking at. Not a good reason to smile. “Bradley. I’m assuming you can explain the meaning of this?”
Bradley shuffled his size thirteen feet. “Well, it’s Mr Lazonby, boss.”
“I can see that.” Actually, he couldn’t see that at all. Looking again at the mess, he could barely see it was a man. Or had been, once. “But what have you done to him?”
“Only what you told me to, boss.” Bradley’s throat bounced, twice, like a childhood game of bobbing for apples in a very confined space.
“I. Told. You. To. Do. This?”
“Yes, boss. That is… I’m sure I heard you right.”
“Go on.” He’d only hired Bradley recently, and was already having second thoughts. Not the brightest sixpence in the collection plate, that was for sure. Had a distressing habit of taking things literally. Had a distressing habit of… Oh God.
“The other day, boss. When you told me about Mr Lazonby owing all that money to you.”
Well, that bit was all right. Lazonby had got into gambling debt at one of Ball’s clubs, to the tune of several hundred thousand pounds. There was no letting him get away with that. Even so, it was a long way from that to… this. Whatever this was. Something was oozing, dangerously close to his shoe. He took a step back, reached for his handkerchief. “Go on,” he said again.
“Well, boss, you said, erm…” Bradley scratched what was left of his hair, and scrunched up his face with the effort to remember the words. “You said go do that voodoo that you do. So I did. I had to look it up, mind you, but I went to the library while Mrs Ball was at the hairdresser, and I found a dictionary and then a big book about magic spells and it was all in there. The little wax doll and the pins and–”
Ball lowered the handkerchief. “Are you telling me this is a doll? A life-sized doll?” However aggravating Lazonby had been, that would be a relief. At least he would only be paddling in molten wax. He took another step back.
“Oh no, boss. No, no.” What passed for Bradley’s neck wobbled from side to side, taking his head along too. “I tried that. It didn’t work.”
“Tried what?” Ball worked to un-grit his teeth. Getting information out of Bradley was worse than getting money out of Lazonby. His blood pressure couldn’t cope.
“The wax doll, boss. I made one myself. It didn’t look much like Mr Lazonby but it was man-shaped and I painted on a little face and everything.”
He tried not to imagine what everything might have been. “Go on.” This was getting ridiculous – a needle stuck in a record groove.
“I sent one of the other lads out to buy a pack of pins from the local dressmaking shop. I stuck a load of them in the Mr Lazonby doll and said all the right spells, but nothing happened. He was supposed to get injured in the same places I jabbed the pins, but he just went on sitting there. So then I had a brainwave.”
Given the size of Bradley’s brain, Ball had a bad feeling about that. So bad he couldn’t even say go on, just managed a grunt.
“Yes, boss. I kept with the voodoo, but I cut out the middle man.”
For a moment, Ball’s own brain couldn’t keep up. He had brief visions of a line of paper dolls, fluttering in the breeze as Bradley cut them out. But that was ridiculous, too. “What?”
“It’s simple, boss. Instead of using a wax doll, I just stuck pins in Mr Lazonby. Well, not pins exactly. We tried that but it was going to take too long. So I sent the lad back to the dressmaking shop for a load of knitting needles and we stuck those in him instead. It’s all right, isn’t it, boss? I did what you said. And Mr Lazonby won’t be bothering you any more.”
No, Lazonby wouldn’t be bothering him, or anyone else, any time soon, so he supposed he’d got what he wanted in that respect. Even so, this mess was going to bother him for some time to come. The sight, the smell, the pooling liquids that drip-drip-dripped into the spreading puddle on the floor. He grunted again. “Just mop that thing up, will you, Bradley? And–” as the literal meaning of that occurred to him – “I don’t mean using a real mop and bucket. I think it’s a little too big for that. Don’t you?”
He left Bradley nodding like a toy dog on a parcel shelf and stalked back to his car. The clock on the walnut dash said eleven ten. There was still time to catch the end of the film, before Cynthia started bothering him to come to bed. The farting, the ducky in the bath… something to cheer him up. Then he remembered the ooze, and groaned. That voodoo, indeed. Bradley had certainly put the hex on him. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to watch the film again.