Merry Christmas, Mr. Doyle


Story #9 in the Emma universe

Out of the corner of one eye -- if I rolled it upwards and out to its limit -- I could see the party continuing unabated in the wee small hours of . . . eight-thirty? That's what the watch said anyway. It wasn't mine. Christ, I must have had too much to drink if I'd started lifting things again.

That last observation was confirmed by the fact that I found myself on my back under the buffet table with Bodie and Susan vying for my favours. Unfortunately, the alcohol which had dimmed my moral sense (who, I wondered, wore such an expensive watch? Patek Philippe, I thought. Looked French, anyway.), the alcohol, as I said, had made me supremely indifferent to the sort of stimulation they were offering. Besides, Ray Doyle does not fuck under the trays of cold cuts. Squalid, I call it.

"Gi' us a roll then, dear," I called to a pair of feet that strode up to the table, and giggled madly.

"He 'as plenty to eat down here already." Bodie. All the same, a slice of rye bread sailed down from above, bouncing off Susan as she crawled out from under the table. Bodie pinched her.

"Can't bloody back it up, can you?" she grumbled, and I remembered it was me interrupted them earlier in the evening. Oh, dear.

I rolled onto my side to watch the party from where I was. Felt like a kid again. Dead exciting to watch the grown-ups play from where you thought they couldn't see you.

Murph was seated at the piano, singing Noel Coward songs. 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen' was his greatest hit so far with everyone joining in all boozy and jolly and off-key, but loving it. Then Murph swung into 'Time and Again' which was his theme song if I ever heard one that suited him. "When I meet some sly dish, who looks like my dish . . . " he sang, grinning at Molly. Bet 'e 'adn't 'ad too much to drink. Sly bugger is always capable and usually scores several times at Christmas parties. Known for a good song and a good lay, is our Murphy.

I looked over at Bodie who seemed to have dropped off. A poor thing, but mine own, I thought with a sigh. Truth, though, when he's sober, he's the best lay I've ever had, and I don't say that because I love him . . . or maybe just a bit.

"I'll be damned if I'll sacrifice sugar and spice, to be precise, nothing as nice as sex is . . ."

Ah, Murphy, me lad, you've the right attitude. I crawled to the end of the table and nicked a glass of beer standing beside an overstuffed chair. Nobody'd ever miss it, I decided . . . and why the hell did I have a watch on each wrist?

Oh, yeah, Patek Whatever. Who was squirreling away a bit on the side, I wondered. Those things cost a bomb.

Bodie was gone when I crawled back. Either he'd not been asleep as I'd thought, or the fairies had got him.

"My partner is missing! The fairies 'ave kidnapped him," I cried.

"Christ, well, that's an improvement, innit?" The voice was distinctively Macklin. He squatted down and lifted the table cloth. "And 'ere I'd thought the fairies already had him."

"Oh, sod you," I said, which was the snappiest comeback I was capable of at that moment.

"Promises, promises." He laughed and I shoved him backwards, knocking him on his arse. Then I hauled him under the table. If I'm not near the one I love and all that . . . 'sides, I'd learned last Christmas orgy that Brian was one hell of a good kisser. Maybe this year he'd really come across instead of just teasing.

But then, in the middle of a really fantastic kiss, the idea hit me with the force of the eggnog being so freely imbibed. (It was more caramel-coloured than strictly eggy, due, I imagined, to the whisky that was added each time the level in the bowl dipped.) I was going to kiss everyone at the party.

I crawled over Macklin who was laughing -- never did find out why -- and into the storm. I'd done Bodie, I reasoned, and Susan and Brian who was still under the table and still laughing; I'd just have to start in one corner of the room and hope that they wouldn't move around too much.

Murph was singing what sounded like a Noel Coward version of The Purple Cow. He'd affected an upper-class-aesthete lisp, and he sounded authentic. "In stylish West End drawing rooms," he sang, fey as anything, "Purple cows are rare. They never stand for Parliament," His pronunciation was positively lascivious. "Or take tea in Mayfair." There was a ripple of laughter and applause. "But!" he said, hitting a thunderous chord. His audience fell respectfully silent. "I'll sing no sad songs, for the Purple Cow." He paused to great effect. "And violet being declasse . . . I'd not be one anyhow. Ha-ha!" he finished with a pear-shaped laugh to wild applause. Had the knack, did Murph.

My turn.

I began with the crowd nearest the piano -- McCabe, Murphy, Susan, Molly and Tessa. Each of them received a heart-felt greeting of the season. Tessa and Murphy made the most of it, Susan laughed in my face, Molly frowned and McCabe, while he wasn't consumed with passion for me, made up for his lack of enthusiasm by pinching me arse.

Murph went on playing and singing, and some people began to dance. This was going to be impossible, I realized after bestowing half a dozen more kisses, three to Bodie, two to Tessa and one to someone from records whose name I'd forgotten. I revised my plan of attack. I pulled down one of the innumerable sprigs of mistletoe that decorated the flat (mygod, I wondered, where are we?) and anchored it in my hair, curls being good for something after all. Then I waited for business to come to me.

A very drunken lot stood in the middle of the floor, surrounded by dancing couples, trying to remember how the Purple Cow poem really went. "I never saw a purple cow!" one of them boomed. Everyone in the room giggled.

Cowley was sitting in the overstuffed chair, not quite scowling. Was it his beer I'd nicked? How long had he been there and what had he seen? How the hell had he come in without us noticing?

Was he really there or was I having Cowley hallucinations? If he was an hallucination, he'd be purple, wouldn't he? I began to giggle.

Then I heard the commotion. Bodie had climbed on top of the piano. "The Purple Cow," he proclaimed. "By Mr. A. Swinburne. He cleared his throat and a hush fell on the audience. He spoke:

"Only in dim, drowsy depths of a dream do I dare to delight in deliciously dreaming," he declaimed. "Cows there may be of a passionate purple -- cows of a violent violet hue." He was looking straight at Cowley who was purpling pleasantly. "Ne'er have I seen such a sight, I am certain it is but a demi-delirious dreaming -- Ne'er may I happily harbour a hesitant hope in my heart that my dream may come true. Sad is my soul, and my senses are sobbing so strong is my strenuous spirit to see one." This was Victorian melodrama at its height. "Dolefully, drearily doomed to despair as warily wearily watching I wait." He pressed the back of his hand to his forehead. This was real dramatic stuff. "Thoughts thickly thronging are thrilling and throbbing; to see is a glorious gain -- but to be one! That were a darker and direfuller destiny, that were a fearfuller, frightfuller fate!"

A stunned silence fell on the room. No one breathed for a moment, hardly believing that anyone so drunk as Bodie could have recited that poem without a single mistake or even hesitation.

Then there was the sound of applause -- one hand . . . well, set of hands, really. The apparition of Cowley, having turned pale lilac, was applauding the poem. Bodie smiled, bowed to him, and still smiling, tumbled forward off the piano into the arms of Macklin and McCabe who slung him onto the sofa. He was profoundly and blissfully unconscious.

The apparition stood. "I knew there was a reason I hired the bugger," it said. It turned to me. "Thank you for your hospitality, and make sure the damage is seen to before you move house again."

My God, it was my flat!

Cowley strode towards the front door, exuding waves of violet. "Oh, and I'll have my watch back, Doyle."

Merry Christmas, Mr. Doyle, I thought as Cowley's aura blossomed like tha Aurora Borealis in red and green.

"You look damned silly in mistletoe," he told me. Didn't kiss me either.

-- THE END --


Credit where credit is due:

The Purple Cow by Mr. A. Swinburne, by Carolyn Wells
The Purple Cow Revue by Noel Coward, by F.A. and A.C.

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