Dawn broke like a raw egg on a bald man’s head, and the morning passed like so much oozing yolk. Spring wasn’t so much springing as slumping over London with an asthmatic wheeze. Jedec Sage dragged his unfocused gaze from the window and turned it to the CD remote control. He picked it up and pressed 'play'. The stereo remained silent. Sage stretched out his arm and tried again. The stereo ignored the now insistent pressing of the 'play' button - if Sage couldn't be bothered to move into the 60 degree angle of the machine's remote control receptor, then the stereo couldn't be bothered to start. Man and machine were locked in a battle of wills - and it was a battle that Jedec Sage was determined to win. He leant his chair on to its back two legs and stretched his left arm out as far as he could, pressing the 'play' button with increasing irritation, then frenzy.
"Play, you bugger!" Sage barked. "What's the point of having a remote control if you have to stand up and walk across the room to make it work?"
The stereo stared dumbly, Sage even thought mockingly, back at him. It couldn't take anyone who shouted at inanimate objects seriously, especially when they had a thick Cornish accent like Sage's. As far as the stereo was concerned, Sage should head back to Cornwall and spend his time scaring ramblers and townies instead of hassling high-tech audio equipment. Sage sighed and dropped the chair back on to all four legs. He scratched at the scraggy beard that so inelegantly infested his chin. Suddenly a thought struck him with such ferocity that it knocked him off his chair and left him with a bruise. As he lay sprawled on the floor the idea sank in: he could bounce the remote signal off the sitting room wall and into the angle of reception! He stood up with the arrogance of assured victory, pointed the remote at the wall and pressed 'play'. This time the stereo had to obey the signal, and deep within its black plastic belly, it spun the CD with the ease of a Chinese acrobat twirling a plate on the end of a stick.
"Yes!" Sage hissed, punching the air in victory. "That's why you're just a stereo, and I can make cream teas!" He sneered at the machine.
However, as he slumped into the three-seater sofa that had been squeezed into the space between the sitting room door and the front windows, Sage was unaware that the stereo had not felt the sting of defeat. For despite the brilliance of Sage's idea, the force with which it had struck him had knocked him into the 60-degree sweep of the machine's receptor. When he had executed his clever 'using the wall as remote control reflector' plan, he could have simply turned and pointed straight at the music centre to make it work. Yes, as far as the stereo was concerned the 'victory' was as hollow as the space between Sage's slightly flapping ears.
Sage nestled into the plump new sofa cushions. He'd had to get rid of the old cushions after they'd become too thin to sit on - allowing them to take up jogging had definitely been a mistake. He looked around. He liked the sitting room. He liked anything that involved sitting, but that particular sitting space was special to him. It had a high ceiling and was light and airy despite the deep vermilion walls, which would have been oppressive in a different room. However, a pair of large bay windows flooded the room with light and gave it a depth that allowed for two large sofas and a four-seater dining table without the place seeming cluttered. The insolent stereo lived in an alcove to the left of an imposing black marble Victorian fireplace. In the alcove on the right was a proud - some might even say haughty - widescreen TV. It was an exhibitionist and loved to be watched. As he looked around, Sage smiled. He felt at home there, which was only right, as it was his home. He stared across at the large, gold-rimmed mirror above the fireplace and wondered what it must be like to be tall enough to see one's reflection in it. He could only do it if he jumped and as a consequence the mirror thought he was a bit odd.
Sage watched shards of silver dust drifting through the rays of weak sunlight. Drifting with them were the opening notes of a rather excellent version of 'China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider' from the Grateful Dead’s Europe ‘72 tour. It was a bootleg, not the one off the album, but it was near album quality. However, that morning a strange squeak seemed to have crept into the tune. Sage bent a considerable ear to the music - yes, there it was again, an even, rhythmic squeak, just out of time with the music. The extraneous sound got louder and louder, then stopped. Sage turned towards the door.
"These shoes squeak! I don't remember them squeaking in the shop - do you remember them squeaking in the shop?"
"No." Sage replied to his housemate, then slumped back into the cushions.
Salokin Dredly stood full-square in the doorway, his white-blonde hair shining against the black of his tailcoat.
"Hmmm..." He hummed, before leaning forward onto the balls of his feet. The leather of his new black brogues made no sound. He relaxed back onto his heels. The shoes squeaked simultaneously as his weight pressed down on them.
"There you are! Every time I lean back on the heels..."
He demonstrated and the shoes squeaked three times.
"And they seem to have got tighter. I've never had this much trouble breaking in a pair of brogues." Said Dredly, with a hint of indignance colouring his plummy tones.
"You should wear clogs. Fifteen million Dutch people and Brian May of Queen can’t be wrong." Sage suggested.
“Yes, it starts with clogs, but the next thing you know I’ll be vaulting canals, building a windmill and getting myself a bubble perm. Is that what you really want?”
“No. I’m sorry, I hadn’t thought it through.” Sage was chastened.
"Anyway..." Dredly continued, "They'd ruin the line of my trousers."
And trousers were something of deep significance to Salokin Dredly. For many years he had thought nothing about wearing trousers all day, every day, until one fateful morning in the winter of '97. He had arisen and discovered that thieves had taken all his trousers during the night. It was only when he considered going outside that he had realised he had a trouser dependence problem. How could he go into town without them? People would stare; laugh; mock his trouserless form. He had broken out in goose pimples. The terrible cold turkey of the trouser addict had gripped him. If only he could get to his tailor! But that was impossible - it was a five-hour train journey and he knew he'd never last that long without the extended legwear. Could he trust any of the menswear retailers he'd seen hanging around the high street? How could he be sure of the quality of the gear? What if he got a pair of polyester cottons - or worse still, a pair cut with… nylon! It would be fashion death for sure.
Over the next five days he had been unable to leave the house. He had tried, but it had been no use. His Yves Saint Laurent cotton trunks had only got him as far as the end of the driveway. Then came the worst stage. He began using anything as a trouser substitute - sheets wrapped round him; pillow cases cut and worn like a pair of pantaloons; towels - he could pretend, if questioned about his attire, that he had got lost on the way back from the bath; he had even considered ripping up the carpet and turning it into culottes. But they were all pale substitutes, and he had felt that if he didn't get some trousers it would be the end of him. No one had ever warned him of the psychological – nay, physical - addiction that trousers could cause. And they'd always been so easy to buy. His smiling tailor had been pushing them on him for years.
"And I can do you a spare pair for half price - they'll go lovely with that jacket." He'd said.
Dredly had cursed his tailor; he'd wept; he'd screamed; he'd begged God to send him anything - a pair of beige bry-nylon bell-bottoms would have sufficed. He had sunk as low as he could go. Then the upswing had come. He had realised that he could potter around the garden without trousers - in fact he had even felt better for it. After a month the need for trousers had been cleansed and he had been able to stroll through central London in nothing but his sturdy brogues and cotton trunks. He had got himself arrested a few times for his lack of clothing, but the important thing had been that the destructive pattern of constant trouser use had been broken.
Now, as Dredly looked down at his tight, squeaky brogues, he noted the fine weave of his Cerruti superissimo 120's. He had many pairs of the virgin wool trousers - all in black. He smiled. He knew he could take them or leave them and besides, he always made a point of going one whole month a year 'clean' - trouserless. But when he did wear them, he respected them and wouldn't dream of sullying them with any footwear that went above the ankle or was made of wood.
"The problem's definitely in the heels, not the uppers." Dredly mused.
"Take them back to the shop." Sage suggested, only half paying attention to his friend - The Grateful Dead were playing hot and he wanted to hear it.
"I tried that yesterday, but it's the strangest thing - the place had gone."
"What d'you mean 'gone'?"
"Disappeared. The whole building. All that was left was a gap in the row of shops."
Sage sat forward on the sofa and turned the music off - yes, the stereo was always happy to stop playing music! Sage inwardly cursed the machine's laziness.
"I've never heard of shops disappearing without trace before... Ships yes, but not shops." Sage gently twisted some of his chin fungus between thumb and forefinger as he considered the mystery.
"You see my problem?" Dredly asked.
"I've had a thought!" Dredly spoke with sudden excitement.
“Well whoop-dee-doo, mister ‘I have loads of thoughts’, because I had one myself this morning.” Sage was tired of the fact that nearly all the thoughts they had popped into Dredly’s mind, not his.
“You had a thought?” Shock and surprise mingled in equal measure on Dredly’s face.
“Yes, but I’ve recovered now, so you’d may as well tell me what your one is.” Said Sage with some smugness.
“My thought is that this shoe problem isn't an isolated incident.”
"Think about it. Our life was more or less trouble free until six months ago, but since then what have we had? Blocked guttering; the video recording over things; random shortages of toilet paper..."
"Of course..." Sage stood up. "My favourite jumper shrank in the wash... Somebody stopped our paper deliveries... I stubbed my toe because my bed got moved two centimetres to the left... And then there was that assassination attempt..."
"There's no way of telling that tree was meant for us."
"Who but a trained assassin would go felling trees in the upper circle of the Odeon Leicester Square?"
"So we are being targeted!" Dredly's brows knitted - they always did when he was worried and Sage had got a scarf and a nice bobble hat out of them in the past.
"And it all seems to have started two weeks after we won the Lottery." Sage mused.
"Of course!" Dredly snapped his fingers. The milk had been stopped two weeks after their win. They had thought it would change their lives for the better, but now, in the clear light of that Spring lunchtime, the honey of their win turned to wormwood in their mouths.
They had only ever bought two lottery tickets in their lives, and only then because it had been a quadruple roll-over week. As professional gamblers and billiard sharks, they had always steered well clear of the Lottery as a bad bet for suckers. But the lure of a possible fifty million pounds had led them into the local off-licence where the tickets could be purchased. They had bought one ticket each and chosen exactly the same numbers - 3, 13, 23, 33, 43 and 17. They had reckoned that those were the ugliest looking numbers and that few other people would go for them. The reason they had bought two identical tickets? Simple. That way, if they won, they would have to share the money, instead of wrangling over the win from one ticket. It had been unlikely that they would wrangle, but money is a dangerous toy, so they had decided to play it safe. As it turned out, their numbers came up. Their joy had been unconfined. Even the fact that there was one other winning ticket didn't dent their happiness. And as they had posed for the cameras outside the Lottery offices, they had grinned the grins of victory. It was quite a day, even though the third winner never turned up and kept his anonymity. But Sage and Dredly cared little about their co-winner. As far as they were concerned they had not only flirted with lady luck, but even taken her back home for a threesome. Yes, for a two pound bet they'd won a cool £16.66 million each. And just to add to it, they had picked up another half million because before the draw they'd placed hefty bets with the bookies that they'd bought winning tickets.
"Someone seems to be getting at us for winning that money." Dredly's words were terse. "And it's all culminated in this pair of squeaky brogues." He pointed down at the shoes. They squeaked obligingly.
"So what's our next move? Whoever's after us knows where we are. We could make a run for it..."
"No!" Dredly threw the suggestion aside.
"The shoes are too tight to run in... But I think we should take the tube over to Regent Street."
"Of course!" Sage was tuned in, "A quick trip to Hamley's and a play in their basement video arcade will take our minds off it."
"No, I was thinking we could talk to the old shoe-shine man. You know the one - sets up near the cut-through to Carnaby Street. Looks like he knows shoes."
"Oh yeah - always smoking a roll-up..." Sage sighed, "Okay, we'll go and see the shoe-shine guy. But first..." Sage slumped back into the sofa and clicked the remote control. If he was about to get caught up in a footwear-orientated adventure, then he'd listen to the Grateful Dead first. Of course, the stereo had its own plan for entertainment.
“Oh not again!” Sage hammered on the ‘Play’ button. The stereo chuckled to itself and settled back to watch Sage’s increasingly desperate antics as he tried to play some music.
Can Dredly sort out his shoes? Will Sage ever outwit the stereo? Find out in the next shoe-tastic chapter...
"WHAT'S BROWN AND STICKY? A STICK."
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