By Parson Thru
Danny and Arthur sat under the awning of the old store-boat, listening to the rain. Dennis had crawled off to sleep in his cruiser. Low voices could be heard from the houseboat down on the pontoon.
The two men stared into the darkness.
“So, come on, Arthur. Mr. Mystery Man. What's your story?”
“I could ask you the same.”
“Aw, mate. That’s too easy. I just move around, that’s all. But I can tell you where I’ve been and how I got there. I was down in Totnes last. Before that, some friends up in Hebden Bridge. I’m gonna try to get to Italy at some point.”
“Yeah. How did you know?”
“There’s always a girl. Well, nearly always.”
“No shit, King of the Britons.”
“Give me some more of that.”
“Man! It’s time you learned to skin-up.”
Danny retrieved the makings from a pouch.
“I was wondering... like, how old are you, Arthur?”
Arthur smiled a mischievous twinkle and picked up the demijohn of Old Leery.
Danny rolled a new stick and lit it. The end flared for a moment, lighting up the space under the awning. He took a toke to test it, then passed it to Arthur.
“I'm not sure it's a good idea to mix this with all that cider. It could have repercussions.”
Arthur took a decent pull, admired the handiwork, then handed it back.
“This is good. Very good.”
“I know. And you’ve been bogarting the lot.”
They listened to the voices in the houseboat. A coot called somewhere in the darkness.
"Ok, then." Danny persisted, "Where are you from?"
“It’s not so much where, as when.”
“Well where were you before you came here?”
Arthur thought for a while.
“I’ll tell you, Danny. Because I don’t think anyone will believe a word of it.”
Danny slapped him on the leg.
“Come on then, fella. Tell me where you’ve been.”
Danny passed the smoke back to Arthur, who stared into the smouldering end.
“I come whenever the nation is in peril. The Germans had defeated our army in France. They were choking off supplies from across the sea. Britain stood alone.”
“Mmmmm. Second World War? Dunkirk? Were you there, Arthur? My great-granddad was there. Aren't you a bit young?"
Water ran from the tarpaulin. Danny sniffed.
“Fookin ell. Straight up?”
Arthur was looking at Danny.
“Sorry, mate. I mean, really? You were in the war?”
“Around it. At different points.”
“Then you won it and came here? Just like that?"
“It’s not that simple.”
“What did you call that? Hanging on to it?”
“Bogarting. Here. Tell me what you did.”
“I got someone to convince Churchill to sit on a piece of information.”
“Come on! Winnie? You talked to Winnie?”
“No. To some sailors, but important ones.”
“No shit. Hurry up with that.”
Arthur passed the depleted boonie back.
“What did they say?”
“That it was in the national interest to look the other way.”
“You’ve lost me.”
“The Japanese attack on the US Pacific Fleet.”
“Pearl Fucking Harbor?”
“Get outta here! That’s fucking mad.”
“See? Our secret is safe.”
“So why did you come here?”
“Here in this boatyard, or here now?”
“Both, but here now first.”
Arthur wagged his fingers and Danny passed the roach back.
“Kill it, mate. Why now?”
“Because I heard millions of Britons in anguish. They were under foreign control.”
“Aw, mate. I’m really sorry but, fuck me, you might have got it wrong this time. Good shout, though.”
“There is no invasion, is there?”
“No, mate. Look upon it as a holiday. A chance to get blatted with a few mates.”
“I’m off to hit the sack, fella. I wanna be on the road when it gets light. Just need this rain to ease up.”
“Me, too. I’m not needed here.” Arthur squinted at Danny. “It’s been nice. A real pleasure.”
Danny put his arm around Arthur and slapped him vigorously. “Same.”
“Anyway,” Arthur tossed the roach behind him, “don’t let the rain hold you back.”
He stood up and shook himself. Danny offered his hand.
“Look after yourself, man.”
Arthur turned and disappeared between the shadowy hulls. Danny spat into the grass.
“Your secret’s safe with me, Art. King of the fucking Britons. Come on.”
The rain hissed softly. The houseboat had fallen silent. Still no sign of light from the east.