INTERFACE

Ray Anthony
Published by ACE - £7.99
ISBN 0 9526287 59

Interface, In'tor-fas, n. - a surface or plane forming a common boundary between two parts:
a point of communication as between disciples: the surface of seperation between phases.

 

CHAPTER I

"Hello Harry."

Harry lowered the book he was reading onto his chest and wondered for the umpteenth time why he had never taken back the key from his ex-housemate. Then the sharper part of his awareness focussed on the fact that Patrick was looking sheepish.

"Hi man," he replied smiling.

"Just thought I'd drop round." Patrick flopped into the chair that was far too low for someone of his height.

Patrick wanted something and the game would be to find out what it was before he asked. It went without saying that a woman was involved. Not only that, but he was on his way to see her. That could be the only explanation for him being dressed in a Next suit in the middle of a Sunday afternoon.

"That's cool. Thought you'd died, or emigrated, or something." Harry stretched out on the bed and looked him over.

"You're funny, just ain't been moving in the same places," he said defiantly, daring Harry to challenge his explanation.

"There is some Red Stripe or Brew." It wasn't necessary to say where. Patrick got up and strolled out.

Closing his eyes against the afternoon sun. Harry relaxed in his recumbent position and reflected on the relationship with his best friend. They had grown up together, laughed together, cried together and he had nursed Patrick through some very bad times. Despite Patrick's many winning ways, he had a character defect, a gene missing or some chronic psychological disorder that always caused him to suffer pain at the hands of women. Pain that had him writhing like a man set upon by a swarm of wasps.

Patrick was fully cognisant in all areas except one. When the boys had a girlfriend or a woman, he had the woman. He would be madly, passionately, and totally in love with the woman. He would devote all his time, energy and money to the woman. From the time they had discovered that girls could actually be fun to be with, he had been like that. In short, he was what most women called, ‘sweet'. But in the end he always got his ass burnt.

It was always Harry who picked up the pieces, convinced him that there would be another ‘angel' round the corner, and she would be even better than the one lost - eventually making him laugh at himself.

Patrick came running up the stairs and bounced back into the room with two cans. He handed one to Harry then sat, placing his can on the table. Harry sat up, leaned forward, exchanged cans and smiled.

Patrick gave a noncommittal shrug.

Harry pulled the ring and a jet of foaming beer hit him between the eyes, ran down his face, onto his chest and downwards onto his pyjama trousers.

Patrick threw his hands into the air, looked at the ceiling and said, "Dear Lord, sweet Jesus. You see how a man can be so unrighteous, so backsliding and ungodly. So trapped in the wicked ways of the world, that he would think that me, his good friend, would give him a shakeup can of beer. Thank you Lord, thank you for punishing him." He then fell on the floor laughing.

Harry glared at Patrick convulsing on the floor and started to laugh also. Not at his friend's prank, nor at what he was contemplating as retaliation. But in relief that Patrick was getting back on form. After all, it wasn't that clever, you can't expect a body to be really switched on at half past three on a Sunday.

Patrick's little jollity had shed a lot of light on the state of play. He had now recovered from her. She didn't just burn his ass, he was damn near incinerated. Now, four months later he was starting to crack jokes. Obviously the new woman. But this wasn't Patrick's style. His style was to just happen to turn up with a new woman on his arm. One that wore an expensive dress and matching jewellery, that he had bought her. So, where is she? What's the problem?

"You finished examining my plush pile carpet?" Harry tried to sound angry.

"You should've seen your face." He was still rolling around on the floor.

"Witty, very witty. You wanna get me a towel?"

Patrick got up, went to the bathroom, came back with a hand towel. He had stopped laughing but tears were still running down his cheeks. Harry busied himself, changing into a tracksuit bottom, stripping the sheets and wiping beer off the wall. Patrick looked pensive, then forced himself to relax. He sat back and said very casually, "Want to go on a foursome on Thursday?"

"I'm listening."

"Well, look, there is this girl and, well, we're going out for an Italian and she wants to bring her sister... Well, you can make it a foursome."

"What's she like?"

"Her sister? Well, she's..."

"No." Harry expectantly leant over the table.

"Oh! She is brilliant! I mean the biz, man. I tell you she is terrific, wait till you see her. She is beautiful, I don't mean pretty, I mean beautiful, and she's..."

"Let's start with her name." Harry yawned.

"Clare."

Harry had a feeling of deja vu plus. She had only been described as ‘very nice' and ‘great', yet he had only known her for a couple of weeks before he moved out and they set up home. Now in his eyes this Clare was all these things, yet he wasn't flashing her about. What was the problem?

"So this Clare is a bit nice is she?"

"Nice?! Nice?! What's'matter with you?! Did I say she was nice? She is..."

"Ya, but why do you want me to be with you, surely her sister..."

"Look, Clare's sister doesn't like me."

Harry gave him a cutting glance. "Why not? You are a likeable chap. Pour beer over people, mess up a man's bed, lucky to be alive, but still likeable."

"Clare is white."

"So?"

"Clare's sister doesn't like her going out with a black guy and ..."

"Hasn't she met you yet?"

"No."

"And she won't 'til Thursday?"

"Right."

Harry sat on the bed opposite his friend; leaning forwards he placed both of his elbows on his knees then folded his arms.

"Look mate," he said. "We went through this crap when we were at school. If white people don't like black people going out with other white people, that's tough! You are going out with Clare, not the sister. If the sister don't like it, tell her to fuck off."

"It's not that simple."

"It's quite simple, watch me. Fuck Off! You can practise if you like, just say ‘Fuck Off'."

"Look. this is serious..."

"I agree. Telling someone to fuck off is serious."

"Will you stop fucking about!"

"Right emphasis, wrong words," Harry beamed.

"Will you listen to me," Patrick screamed. "It's not that simple, because we're getting married!"

So this is what it feels like to be told that your mother has been run over by a speeding train. Or that a Jumbo has crashed into your house. I should have seen it coming. Just like the beer, I should have seen it coming; ‘the biz', ‘terrific', ‘beautiful'. The writing was on the wall.

"Excuse me Patrick, while I get my chin off the floor... why don't we start at the beginning, the very beginning."

"In the beginning, God created Heaven and Earth..."

"Now will you stop fucking about?"

Patrick sat back in his chair, his face taking on a wistful expression. "Well, I hired out one of our latest photocopiers to this estate agent in Chelsea and a couple of days later they phoned up saying they couldn't use it. Nothing wrong with it, the instructions were too complicated, but this model is a sophisticated bit of kit, it can..."

"Never mind the bleedin' machine, get on with it!"

Patrick now hugged his knees and smiled off into space. "Well, when I got there Clare was all by herself and all the phones were going. So I sat down and answered some of the calls, taking messages - good customer relations. I didn't get a chance to show her how to use it, we were that busy." Patrick smiled at the memory.

"Anyway, one of the partners and some of the staff came in. There had been some kind of emergency and they were really pleased that I helped out. So this partner said that after I got the copier going he would buy me lunch."

Despite the years they had known each other. Harry still found some of Patrick's habits extremely irritating; like his fixation on drawing out and generally getting maximum mileage from any tale he had to relate.

Patrick continued. "Clare hadn't been to lunch so the partner - a nice guy - said to buy us lunch and put it on her expenses. We just went to this little bistro and... I don't know, we talked... we made a date, it kinda went on from there."

"How long ago was this?"

"'Bout four weeks."

God give me strength! "You're having a laugh, ain't ya?!"

"No." Patrick looked sombre. "We went to see Starlight Express," he explained.

"You're kidding? I heard that if you started queuing for tickets when you were born, you would get to the box office when you were about fifty."

"Yeah, but she's got contacts."

"Good?"

"Turbo terrific, you've got to check it out."

True to form Patrick had done things as he always did them. He didn't ‘chat up' girls. He met them, spoke to them, then fell in love. Still, zero to marriage in four weeks was going some, even for him.

"She's a secretary?" He might as well get all the relevant details.

"What? No man! She is a negotiator, that's a cool job. I tell you man, when you meet her, you're gonna like her."

They had different tastes in women. Harry pulled a face.

"Look Harry, I know you think this is on the rebound and that we are moving too fast, but when you see her you'll know that it isn't and that we aren't. I mean, she has got pure, unadulterated style."

Harry knew from numerous experiences not to try to dissuade Patrick from any venture. Doing that simply strengthened his resolve. He also knew that Patrick tended to be somewhat overgenerous in his description of women. One thing was now clear. Patrick didn't want him to run interference. He wanted him to ride shotgun. The plan of action was now simple: go along to this meal, check out the lay of the land, then slowly but surely shut down this amour. It was simply a matter of making him see sense. It needed to be handled very carefully - Patrick wasn't dumb.

"So you've met this beautiful woman. Given her a serious seeing-to and now you are going to get married?" Harry said as naturally as he could.

"Actually, I haven't given her a seeing-to as you call it. I love her! Do you know what love is?" Patrick snapped.

Harry adopted a calm impassive expression. "Let me get this straight. So as to clarify the situation - leaving me in no doubt of what you have implied... You haven't fucked her yet?!"

"This is no quick blagging, wham bam type of woman. That's not my style anyway, I'm not you."

"Nice crocks." Harry said looking down at Patrick's shoes.

"What? Oh yeah..."

"How much?"

"Hundred and sixty."

"Expensive! Did you try them on before you bought them?"

"Don't be stupid, nobody buys a pair of shoes without trying them on."

"Don't they?" Harry asked, grinning.

"Funny! Clare isn't a pair of shoes, so stop taking the piss. Don't judge me by your standards."

Harry leaned sideways onto the sideboard and draped an arm over it. He then crossed his legs and concentrated on the floor. He was trying unsuccessfully to suppress a smile. "Why haven't you slept with Clare yet?"

"We decided to wait till after we were married," Patrick answered as if that was a half-way reasonable explanation.

"How old is Clare?" Harry was still trying not to laugh.

"Twenty-seven."

"Twenty-seven and still a virgin. World record, ain't it?"

"She's not a fucking virgin!" Patrick spat out.

Harry now rested his head on the headboard and fixed his gaze on the ceiling. "Not a virgin, you say. Now I can fully appreciate a woman who has hung on till Mr Right and marriage comes along, saying no. However, someone who isn't a virgin can't pull a stunt like that. That's what I call taking the piss."

"She isn't taking the piss! I said we decided to wait."

Harry began to giggle. "You should remember who the fuck you're talking to. I read that as meaning you tried it on, she said wait! That to me is more than a little bit iffy. I mean, if you're getting married anyway and she isn't a virgin, what's there to wait for?"

"Look, it's very difficult to explain, she's..."

"Got a dose?" Harry helpfully suggested.

Patrick had Harry pinned to the bed with one hand around his throat and the other a clenched fist waving in his face. He had dived from his chair. All six-foot odd of him cleared the coffee table and landed on Harry, before Harry realised he had moved.

"You're supposed to be my friend and all you can do is take the piss!" Patrick said through clenched teeth.

Patrick was always sensitive about his women - more so now, apparently. "Would you be so kind as to get off me - please?" Harry gasped.

Patrick stood up but remained menacingly over Harry. "You don't take anything or anyone seriously, all you do is make jokes. I was going to ask you to be Best Man but now you can get stuffed!"

"I accept. Now where were we before you turned into Tarzan?"

"The offer is withdrawn. All you do is take the piss! Do you know why you do that? Because you don't have any feelings." Patrick was still enraged.

Harry sat up massaging this neck. "I think that I read somewhere that people in love get really touchy and have tantrums. But my mother told me never to let men jump on me in bed. So let this be the first and the last time you try to force your affections on me."

They both started to laugh.

Harry became serious. "What's the complication in you taking Clare to bed?"

"There isn't any complication."

"Let me put it this way; what's stopping you getting into her knickers?"

Patrick shook his head, sighed then turned and walked around the table and sat down. "I'm not being sensitive. Don't say things like I'm trying to get into her knickers, because it's not like that. Sure I wouldn't mind but she says she wants to wait. For her I would wait a long time."

"I've got that so far but what I'm asking is why does she want to wait?"

"As I said it's a bit complex and she hasn't fully explained it to me. But from what I can make out, her sister has been telling her lots of shit about black men and..."

"Big willies or woman beating?"

Patrick gave Harry a long hard stare then said slowly. "I am trying to explain something that is very difficult to explain and also very important to me, and you're still joking. Please Harry, will you be serious? This is really important!"

"Obviously it's ‘big willies', and I can see why you are going along with this no sex bit - putting off the day of disappointment."

"Fuck it! I am going! You are some friend, you know that?"

In a consoling tone Harry said. "Look man, don't worry about it. Size doesn't matter."

Patrick fixed him with another threatening stare.

Harry relented. "All right, all right, I'll listen."

Patrick looked unconvinced.

"I will... really." Harry said solemnly.

"Her sister sort of said that black guys only check white women 'cos it raises our self-esteem and then we dump them."

"And Clare believes this?!" Harry asked incredulously.

"Of course not!"

"But still she wants to wait till you're married so that you don't dump her?"

"I wouldn't exactly put it like that."

"How would you put it, exactly?"

Patrick shrugged. "Not like that."

"OK, never mind, let's just say that due to some of the things her sister has said, Clare is a little concerned about premarital sex with you, OK?" Patrick nodded. "And you don't mind waiting to prove her sister wrong?"

"Something like that."

"How long do you have to wait?"

"We're getting married the end of May."

"We are talking of May next year, of course?"

"No, this May."

Harry slowly shook his head then said. "Correct me if I'm wrong Patrick. But I do believe that we are in April, the middle of April to be precise. And my 200 IQ computer-like brain concludes that we are talking of you being married in six weeks time. Am I accurate in this analysis?"

"Be serious."

"I am fucking serious. Are you getting married in six weeks' time?"

"I know it sounds too soon, but we love each other."

"Sounds too soon? It is too soon!"

"We want to get married now, why wait?"

Harry knew that it was pointless pursuing this any further; Patrick's mind was made up and it would stay that way until something unpleasant happened. "Tell me about this big sister."

"She isn't her big sister. She's twenty-four and a right bitch from what I hear. From the moment Clare told her about me she has been bending her ear."

"This garrulous little sister got a name?"

"Emma. She hasn't met me yet, but she sounds as if she hates me."

"Tell me more."

"I could tell she had started because Clare started asking, in a roundabout way, some really dumb questions. Like: did I ever get so angry that I hit a girl and did I have any children or ever gotten a girl pregnant and lots of stupidness like that."

"You mean you felt the force of this unseen, unmet sister... I am being serious."

"Yeah."

"Are there any more like her?"

Patrick looked very uncomfortable. "She's got an elder sister but she is married and lives abroad."

Patrick was hiding something. "Where?"

"South Africa."

"Married to a white South African by any chance?"

"I think so."

Harry clasped his hands behind his head and lay on the bed. "This story gets better by the minute. Clare has a little sister who ain't happy about her being with you because you're black. She also has a big sister who is married to a South African and actually lives there. Can the situation get any worse? Can we discover any more intrigue? Let us find out, shall we, children? What've her parents got to say for themselves?"

"I haven't met them yet."

"Are you fucking drunk?!" Harry sat bolt upright "You can't get married to someone in six weeks time when you haven't met her parents. If I had a daughter and some guy just turned up and said he wanted to marry her in six weeks, I'd tell him to go jump! Do they know that you are black?"

"Clare hasn't told them yet." Patrick said timidly.

"Hasn't she? Well they are in for one hell of a shock, aren't they? And an even bigger one when she tells them it's in six weeks' time. That's why she is doing it, isn't it? Not giving them time to react and protest. If I were getting married I would be fucking annoyed, I mean, ultra irate, if the girl was ashamed to introduce me to her parents."

"Calm down will you. It's not like that. I said it was complicated, didn't I? True, Clare isn't sure how her parents are going to take it but we are going to see them on Saturday. They know about me but they don't know I am black. That's why I'll meet Emma on Thursday."

"Do they know that Clare is getting married to somebody?"

"No, we will tell them on Saturday."

"Patrick, you won't like this but it's got to be said. I think Clare is sneaky. What she is doing is this: on Thursday, Emma will meet you. You have to show her that you may be black but you don't bite the heads off babies. Hopefully she will like you, then on Saturday when you meet the parents, Clare will have Emma as an ally instead of an enemy. Is that right?"

"So?"

"So, asshole, why do you have to prove that you are all right?"

"All future sons-in-law have to prove they are OK."

"Don't be obtuse, you know what I mean. And I know what you want me to do. You want me to help impress her. Show her that we know how to eat with knives and forks. Which wine to order with which dishes and generally entertain her with witty and stimulating conversation. That's what you want me to do, isn't it?... Isn't it?!"

"That's what they call friendship."

"No, that's what they call prostitution!"

"Harry, Harry, you are taking this too seriously, it's not like that. You've been out with white girls. Their families always get a bit tense. It takes time for them to check you out."

"Yeah, but that was when I was in my teens. I remember I always had to try so hard to show that I wasn't really that different. I remember I always felt a right prat!"

"It's not the parents that are the problem, it's the sister. She don't know me from Adam, yet she don't like me. All I am gonna say is: ‘This is me.' If she don't like me, she don't like me. We're still getting married!"

"OK, I'll buy that, but why haven't you met her parents before? That's the most important part, isn't it?"

"Yes, but it's Emma I've to sort out, she is the hassle. I am sure Clare hasn't told me the full story, but this Emma must have some weird ideas about black people."

Harry became thoughtful. "Talking of black people, have you told your mother and sister yet?"

"Well, not yet. Not till we have sorted out this Emma business. They won't be a problem."

"Sometimes I think you walk around with your head up your ass. Where are you getting married?"

Patrick looked wounded by the criticism. "That's all sorted out, a registry office near where she lives."

"Where is that?"

"Well, it's near where her parents live in Berkshire. She's got a flat in Dulwich."

Harry couldn't believe his ears. "All sorted out, is it? I don't see how anything can be sorted out till both sets of parents are involved."

"Look man, it's all sussed. We've worked out everything: hall, booze, money, catering, everything! They won't have to do a thing."

"From my twenty-five years on this planet, I might not have learned much, but the one thing I know is this: parents love to get involved in their kids' weddings. You remember Linus's, the two mothers fighting over who was going to do the curry goat?"

"Yeah." They both laughed.

"Now that we have mentioned it, may I be so bold as to ask, who is doing your curry goat?"

Patrick looked at the picture on the left wall, then found something compelling to examine six inches above Harry's head. Then he turned his attention to a microscopic dot on the dresser three feet to his right. "Wasn't planning on having any goat," he mumbled.

Harry leaned across the table. "What I am about to say is serious, it is not a joke... If you don't have goat, ribs and some fried chicken at your wedding, not only will I not be your Best Man, I won't be there."

"You're joking!"

"Dead serious. I've never heard of a Jamaican wedding where there isn't goat. Your mother would die of shame. Come to think of it, she probably wouldn't go either."

"Stop being silly. It's just that Clare said that her family don't like spicy foods. I thought we wouldn't bother with goat and stuff."

"They don't like spicy food? Shame ain't it, they don't have to fucking eat it, do they? It's simple, no curry goat and rice at Patrick Murphy's wedding - no Harry Wilson, get it?"

"You're not joking are you?"

"Too fucking right."

"I know it's traditional, but I didn't think anyone would mind. After all, there will be plenty of other food. Do you really think people will mind?"

"I think you are turning into a right porkhead. They won't mind - they'll cross the street when they see you coming, won't ever talk to you again, treat you like you don't exist. Your name will be dirt, but they won't mind."

"Come on, you're exaggerating."

"Has this bird erased your memory of black people? No system, they might forgive. No jump up, they might forgive. No punch, they..."

"We'll have punch."

"Real Jamaican Rum Punch or English orange water punch?"

"I don't know how to make real rum punch."

"Your mother does. As I was saying, no real rum punch they might, just might forgive. No goat, and your name will be lower than a dog's arse."

"You are winding me up."

"No, just pointing out a few facts."

"I see. I'll think about it."

Harry now realised that somewhere along the line he had become pro this marriage. This was silly, all things considered, plus he hadn't even met Clare. This shift must have come about when he learned that Emma had implied that his friend wasn't good enough for her sister. He really had to distance himself and put a definite stop to this wedding.

"OK, what do you want me to do on Thursday?"

"I don't want you to do anything, I don't want you to impress her. It's just that I'll find it difficult to handle both of them. Just turn up and simply chat, that will be all right."

"Bullshit! You want me there to slap down Emma if she gets out of order!"

"I don't want you to antagonise her, just be your normal self."

"That's what I mean, give her a hard time if she gets naughty."

"Harry, she is gonna be my sister-in-law. Please don't start anything, all right?"

"All right, I will be the model of politeness and civility. What's the dress?"

"Casual - you know a sports jacket and tie."

"You don't want to impress, just dress in a sports jacket and tie," Harry laughed.

"It's a classy place we are going to, OK?"

"How many pounds classy?"

"Sixty should be enough."

"Sixty notes for spaghetti bolognese?! I could live for a year on sixty pounds."

"Harry you are starting to fuck about again. We'll pick them up in your car, then go for a pleasant evening, OK?"

"We will go in my car, will we? My twelve miles per gallon Jaguar?"

"We can't go in my company van!" Patrick barked indignantly.

"It's not a van, is it? It's an Estate car." Harry pointed out the obvious. "But we won't argue, we'll go in my car."

"Clare will be glad to hear that."

"You have told her about this?"

"It was kinda like her idea, I've told her about you."

"Have you now? All good, I hope?"

"Good things? About you? You must be kidding?! I'm going to see her now and tell her you'll come."

"The things I do for friends. Don't worry mate, give me a bell later and arrange the time. I'll be dressed smartly casual, and ready to ride shotgun."

"See you later."

"Laters."

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