Back then Ellen had wavy hair falling on her shoulders. But twenty years on, even with it chopped short I recognized her in the paper right off. Then I saw the headline about the Leopard of Leeds being caught, all credit to Detective Inspector Ellen Flay of the York and North East Yorkshire Police.
She’d told the press it was bollocks to talk about the “Cannibal” of Leeds since the victims weren’t just eaten but first hauled up into trees. Then she’d interviewed every bloody teacher in Leeds to ask did they recall any strong athletic lads who’d shown a “peculiar fascination” with jungle cats. You could read between the lines that the Leeds City Police weren’t pleased when she was detailed from York and North East Yorkshire to go after the Leopard. But she caught the sick bastard, with a chap who’d taught him ten years back supplying the first clue.
I’d met her one afternoon in a pub near the docks in Hull, place called The King’s Arms where no royal had ever taken a drink. I took the only empty stool at the bar and she was on my left, green jumper and red wavy hair.
“That good?” I said because she had The Third Man in front of her. “What you having?”
“Film was better,” she shrugged. “And you can see what I’m having.”
Half a bitter. I got her another and said “Asphalt Jungle’s playing at the Odeon.”
She said “That an invitation?”
The thing she said before I’d sucked down too many pints that sticks in my mind now was that she wasn’t like other birds.
“Not going to do as you command, Georgie,” she said. “They say it’s a man’s world, but that doesn’t apply to Ellen Flay.”
The full story of that day would be pieced together for me later by Ellen and a massive former rugby player named Rod, sat on my right at the bar. Last call came and she said let’s catch the matinee. Rod was needed to prop me up as I staggered there.
I was brutally hung over the next day when, from behind, Rod snatched me off the ground. Shook me like he hoped I’d make a noise that would give away my contents, set me down hard.
“Left the popcorn trick for schoolboys and got right down to business, eh?” he said.
Rod was a solicitor, deprived of the privilege of pleading in court. Seemed to relish the chance to speak in front of the people queued up for a bus not ten feet away.
“Bloody popcorn trick,” he continued. “How do you pull that off and not dribble butter on your trousers? Never mind what else you might dribble.”
Not objectionable to me in those days. But Rod wore suits and aspired to bespoke.
“Both of you with your knickers down, and you with your thumb—or a more suitably configured digit—stuck in the Christmas pie. ‘What a cheeky lad am I!’ And her. . .”
He wrapped a hand around the index finger of his other hand. He left the tip poking out.
“Call the caterer—they’ve stuck foot-long hot dogs into ten-inch buns!”
He was not striving for anatomical accuracy.
“Don’t get the idea I’m like that”—he allowed his wrist to dangle for the benefit of his audience—“but I had a sudden ravenous craving for a sausage roll. Then you start kissing the girl right where it makes them cry, Georgie Porgie.”
I had the flexibility for acrobatics of that sort back then.
Ellen and I would return to the Odeon to see Asphalt Jungle a few days later. I had hair then, combed back like Dix Handley in the film. Just like Dix I’d have a bit of it curling forward, straying loose from the neatly combed part.
I was a true redhead but she colored her hair. Said she was a natural dirty blond. After seeing her in the paper I saw her on the telly talking about the Leopard, and she was dirty blond.
She worked in The King’s Arms and said they needed somebody.
“Frank’s an all right boss,” she said. “A good sport.”
I thought why not? Would be no different from The Plough, where I was already working.
Frank resembled Harold Wilson. He had a moon face and fair hair and a pipe he kept clenched between his teeth. I think he knew I was fiddling the till but let it go.
“Crime what bartenders are paid,” Ellen would say, and I don’t recall him arguing.
Ellen spent what she fiddled on clothes.
“Sodding Hull,” she said one morning. “Fancy a weekend in Edinburgh, Georgie?”
Just like with the Leopard, if Ellen made up her mind the deed was done.
“I can borrow a motor from a customer,” she said.
She nestled her chin in the hollow over my collar bone.
“Not easy on our slaves’ wages, though.”
She knew I kept what I fiddled in the dresser with the drawers that always jammed, tucked into a pair of socks. I got out of bed and showed her the entire lot.
“Been robbing banks on the side?” she said.
Frank gave us a Friday and a weekend and a Monday off. Ellen arranged with a regular to use his Mini. We left before sunup.
“Only a hundred miles now” she said when we stopped for petrol. “Starving. Split a horse with me at that pub up ahead?”
I couldn’t bring myself to answer after searching my pockets for my wallet. She saw my mistake in my eyes.
She said “Got a quid on me, but not spending it on petrol.”
She handed me the note.
“Get a half,” she said. “When I come along you don’t know me.”
She got out.
“Thanks ever so much for the lift,” she said in a loud voice.
The petrol bloke who was helping someone else turned to look at her.
When she came in the busy pub, her green jumper was gone. She had on a thin top. She’d piled her red hair up on her head, off the pale flesh of her neck. She started talking to a fortyish chap, good-looking enough to take for granted being chatted up by a pretty young stranger.
After a half she switched to lemonade while he drank pints. I nursed my half stingily. By closing time we might have been the only two people in there not pissed out of our minds. That’s counting the barmen.
Pulling him toward the exit, she caught my eye and held her thumb and index finger an inch apart. He didn’t live far.
I followed, but not too close. They went into a little semi-detached.
I pictured him removing her thin top.
I circled back to the Mini. Couldn’t relax. I wanted fags, but thought I should hang on to the few bob I had.
Finally, Ellen came walking toward me. I rolled down my window.
“Need a lift?” I called out in a voice like she’d used at the petrol station.
No one was around to hear.
“Don’t play the fool,” she said climbing in.
“In there a long time,” I said quietly.
“Half-hour? For”—she patted her bag—“few hundred quid.”
She extracted a wad of notes.
“Was going to buy a motor for his old mum tomorrow,” she said.
“Car for his mum? Maybe you shouldn’t have taken it all.”
“Old mum can take the bus.”
She could see I was unhappy.
“Not going back now,” she said. “But what we don’t spend in Scotland we’ll give to widows and orphans back in Hull.”
“Taking the piss,” she said.
I started to drive. She rummaged about in her bag for a smoke.
“It’s a loan, Georgie. I took the lot to be safe, but we’ll spend a fraction of it.”
I looked straight ahead.
“His address is up here,” she said.
I turned toward her as she tapped her forehead.
“What we spend we can replace with what’s in your socks, then we’ll send it to him by post. So old mum waits a week to get her car.”
She was staring at me.
“Got nothing to do with old mum, does it?”
“Just wondering what you got up to in there,” I said.
She closed her bag.
“No,” she said. “You wonder what he got up to. Didn’t shag, if you must know.”
“You were there long enough,” I said. “He did something.”
She brought her mouth up to my ear.
“Sucked my tits,” she whispered.
She pulled her face away.
“What was your plan to save our trip, Georgie? Or to buy petrol to get home with? And how was I supposed to occupy him till he nodded off? It’s what he expected.”
Her voice had risen.
“What else did he expect?”
“What else?” she said. “Squeezed his cock, which he expected. Squirted on his sofa. Cleaned it with a cloth after he’d fallen asleep: another thing we’re expected to do.”
“We?” I said.
“Playing the fool again. You know what I mean. Birds.”
I was silent.
“Only used your hand?” I finally said.
“Sure you want details? Even if his was bigger than yours?”
I tried to focus on the road.
“You asking did I suck his cock? And what if I had? Shall I tell you about his cock? Like every other sodding cock I’ve ever seen or squeezed or sucked or licked or had stuck inside me, one orifice or other. You blokes are hilarious, the attention you give your cocks and your fantasies about them. ‘Rock-hard,’ blokes say. ‘Hard’ is relative, hope you know. Try to smash your old gran’s porcelain teapot with it. And worrying about comparisons. . . ‘Mine long as Tom’s?’ ‘Thick as Harry’s?’ Fucking hell, the differences between cocks aren’t worth mentioning. Cocks are—don’t Americans say this?—a dime a dozen. Could be mass-bloody-produced in some dreary factory in bloody Leeds. Rolling toward you on an assembly line, one every few seconds—cock cock cock cock cock—only your job isn’t to. . . I don’t know—insert a widget—but to do something to make it get hard and blow its top. And you blokes are all so obsessed with your cocks that you might as well be mass-produced too. If I ever meet a bloke who gives half as much thought to his brain as he does to his cock. . .”
“Finished?” I said.
“Yeah,” she said. “Turn around. You’re out of the flat by Sunday, Georgie. Don’t ever want another word out of you except ‘Hand me a pint mug, would you?’ or the like. Sodding twat.”
I was out of the flat the next day. Hell hath no fury. I know that’s about a woman scorned, but I say it’s a woman, period.
Twenty years on now. But in the paper and on the telly she still looks good. Be easy to get in touch, say “Remember when. . . Sodding twat I was, but we can laugh about it now, Ellen.”
But not sure Ellen’s the forgiving-and-forgetting type. Wasn’t back then. Once a sodding twat always a sodding twat, she might say.
Don Stoll’s fiction is forthcoming in THE BROADKILL REVIEW, XAVIER REVIEW, THE MAIN STREET RAG, WILD VIOLET, COFFIN BELL, BETWEEN THESE SHORES (twice), PULP MODERN, and YELLOW MAMA (twice), and recently appeared in THE GALWAY REVIEW (tinyurl.com/y6nxt9nv), CLOSE TO THE BONE (tinyurl.com/y38ac6jv), HORLA (tinyurl.com/y3k6eewx), and YELLOW MAMA (tinyurl.com/y5zt5loj). In 2008, Don and his wife founded their nonprofit (karimufoundation.org) to bring new schools, clean water, and clinics emphasizing women’s and children’s health to three Tanzanian villages.