I was the first to discover that punk who calls himself 'Captain Canary' and stands around the pitch on match days, high-fiving and hugging everybody, is not even a real canary. He's just some middle-aged phoney in a costume. The other fellas didn't believe me when I told them, said I had to get some hard proof for a wild accusation like that. So, the next chance I got, when I was warming-up by the corner flag and he was shaking hands with some lady in a wheelchair, I rugby-tackled the charlatan and pulled off his head. Well, my friends, there were a lot of red faces that day, especially on the kids in the City Stand. They looked at me like I was some sort of superhero. I'm no superhero, kids, I'm just a regular guy with a penchant for solving crime.
Since then I've unearthed many a mystery, like why Keith O'Neill never lets anyone borrow his hair products, but I couldn't possibly reveal that kind of classified information. Nope, all that sensitive data is locked away in a safe place, fastened securely in a file that's marked: 'Top Secret- Keith O'Neill's wig shame and other solved mysteries.'
So when I got the call from the big cheese himself, Michael Wynn-Jones, asking me to report to his office, I was only marginally surprised, and more because I didn't know he had his own office.
"Adrian, come in," he said standing up and stubbing out the remains of a cigar in the 1985 Milk Cup trophy on his desk.
I closed the door behind me and watched as he turned his back and walked over to the little fridge in the corner of the room. He returned carrying two bottles of Panda Pop. He unscrewed the lids and held one out to me. I declined, telling him that I never drank on the job, but really it's because the bubbles go up my nose and make my eyes water. Besides they were both cherry flavour. Who did this guy think he was dealing with?
"Adrian, I'll come straight to the point," he said, downing both bottles and tossing the empty carcasses over his shoulder with a tumultuous belch. "I'm concerned about Delia. I think she may be having an affair."
"A what?" I replied.
"Seeing somebody else, behind my back. You're shocked I can tell."
"It's not that, I just never knew that that's what 'affair' meant," I said. "I don't speak French."
"Me neither," he said, a wry smile creeping across his mouth like a dying mollusc.
So the old she-devil had been sending herself out on loan, eh? I thought to myself with a shudder. Wait till the newshounds down at the Norwich Fleet Street get a whiff of this.
"Well, I'm sorry to hear that, sir," I said coolly. "But I'm not sure I can help-"
"Oh, come come, Mr Forbes, don't be so modest. I hear you're quite the P.I. around Colney." He licked his lips and looked me up and down like I was a 25 litre bottle of soda. "Don't worry, no-one need know about any agreement you and I come to, and everything will be quid pro quo."
"I don't understand."
"All I'm asking is that you follow her a bit."
"No, I don't understand, what does 'quid pro quo' mean?"
"Ah," he said, taking off his fake beard and blowing on it, before returning it to his primary chin. "I'm not entirely sure myself, but they say it in the movies."
Damn French, I thought to myself.
"Let's talk about money," I said, crossing my arms like it told me to in that book.
"Very well, it's an item used in exchange for goods and services, often coming in the form of notes and coins..."
"I'll need some," I said, uncrossing my arms, like it told me to in that different book. "Lots of it. For a job this big."
"How much are we talking?" he asked, a bead of sweat creeping across his brow and preparing to bob-sleigh all the way to his neck.
"Fifty," I said, seizing the upper-hand. "Maybe even a hundred pounds."
"A hundred pounds," he choked, sending streams of red Panda Pop squirting from his nostrils. "Adrian, that's nearly double your weekly wage."
"It's 3 times as much and you know it!" Arms crossed.
He cleared his throat, withdrew a grubby handkerchief from his blazer pocket and proceeded to dab at his fizzing philtrum. I could almost hear the cogs in his head ticking like the second-hand on the clock directly behind him.
"It's not that big a job," he said, all of a sudden as casual as if he had just sold Chris Llewellyn for 3 bags of grain. "I've done all the hard work already. She's meeting someone at the Bell Hotel, at 1pm today. All you have to do is join them on their little rendezvous."
"Listen in, see what it's about, report back."
"No, what does 'rendezvous' mean?" I asked.
"Oh," he said, unscrewing the lid off another Panda Pop and sniffing in the sugary contents exultantly. "It's another word for meeting or engagement."
"I thought you said you didn't speak French," I said pointedly, fixing him in an unwavering stare. Checkmate.
He paused, the bottle halfway to his lips, his eyes locked onto mine. A butterfly of respect flitted from his iris and dived into the white pool of his pupil.
"You're a clever man, Mr Forbes," he said, before exhaling the fluid from the bottle in one glug. "Alright, you'll get your hundred pounds. Just find out what she's up to."
The bar at the Bell Hotel was a cesspit for all of the sewage-al detritus of the city. Murderers, hoodlums, drug-ravaged hobos, estate agents; yeah, this place attracted scumbags like my butt-cheeks attracted Gary Pennington's compass point in secondary school. That said, on the day in question they had a surprisingly good deal on lasagnes and dry white wines, so I arrived early and helped myself to lunch. I kept the receipt.
It wasn't long before the lady in question materialised, dressed in her trademark gingham dungarees and fedora hat. I couldn't fault her style.
The cat she was with, however, was unfamiliar. Scruffy, young, blonde, and short, real short; the kinda guy you'd expect to see outside a drugstore accosting adults and asking them to go in and buy him some booze. He ordered the drinks in a thick accent that I couldn't place but knew I didn't care for, then they took their seats a few tables from mine.
Being a PI means that I am a master of disguise and an expert at blending in with crowds to avoid detection. The moment they had entered, I cut off two squares of lasagne and, using a toothpick, pricked an eye-hole in each. To the casual observer I was just a normal man in a raincoat giving myself the first step of a facial with luke-warm pasta-goggles, but in reality I was watching their every move like a hawk. A hawk with pasta on it's face.
The two of them chatted cordially for a short while, before an agreement seemed to be reached and they shook hands across the table. Then, an announcement came over the loudspeakers, informing the bar that Karaoke had commenced and, to my surprise, the two of them got up from their seats and walked to the designated area. 5 minutes and one awkward rendition of 'Islands in the Stream' later and they were on their way back to their table, when:
I lifted a newspaper up to my lasagne-covered visage, but it did no good.
"Adrian," Delia said again, less of a question and more of an order this time. "What are you doing here?"
36 minutes later I was back in Mike WJ's office, my feet swamped by mountains of empty bottles of Panda Pop, which now covered the entire floor's surface.
"So you see, sir, she's not been having an..." I hesitated.
"-An affair," he finished, wading through the sea of plastic in the direction of the fridge.
"Right. She's been meeting this guy, trying to convince him to join the club on loan."
He let out an amused squawk, then returned to his desk with a fresh beverage. "Cedric Anselin, you say? A midfielder?" he said and began chuckling to himself.
"That's right, sir," I said, then coughed to clear the nasty taste from my mouth. "French."
That set him off; the laughter exploded from his belly like carbonated gas. "So here I was worrying that she was going to replace me," he panted, wiping away a tear from beneath a slug eye-brows. "When all along she was planning on replacing you!"
*Disclaimer. This is probably in no way true.