“My dry cleaner’s been wearing my clothes when she goes on dates,” Laverne announced.
“How do you know?”
“Last night she posted a picture of herself in a dress identical to one I dropped off two days ago.”
“How’d she look in it?” I asked tentatively.
“Want me to cut her?”
“We’ll swing by on the way home. On Saturdays, the old man leaves around noon so she’ll be on her own,” she gave it some thought, “but right now I need something to eat.”
We’d journeyed into central Manchester for lunch due to a lockdown in our own town. Nacho Daddy was a tapas bar in the student quarter where, upon entry, all diners were required to sign in and leave a contact phone number. Reaching for the Bic pen attached to the clipboard Laverne hesitated, her hand hovering over the sign-in sheet. Upon reflection, she dropped a business card and ordered me not to touch anything.
“Him over there,” she gestured towards a table of businessmen as we sat down, “the fat one. He was the last person to touch the pen.”
“How do you know?” I was intrigued.
“Because his food hasn’t arrived yet and the ink was smudged.”
“Are you saying he licked the sign-in sheet?”
“I’m saying fat people sweat more than normal people.”
“Normal people?” I balked.
“Sure. Ever stood behind one waiting to buy an ice cream?”
“Babies are born fat and they’re normal.”
“Some babies are born fat; the greedy ones. The rest of us come out as nature intended. All I’m saying is, he was the last person to touch that pen and there isn’t enough hand sanitizer in the world-”
“-you should have been a spy.”
“How do you know I’m not?” she countered, now scrutinizing the cutlery. “For all you know I might be in the Secret Service.”
“Which would mean that’s not a real watch.”
“Well spotted, my friend. This gizmo’s actually a teeny, tiny voting machine.”
“And the brooch?”
“Emergency filler for Melania.”
“There’s not much of it,” I queried.
“Slovenians are notoriously small-boned.”
“Hey, you said Melania. I thought spies used code names while working in the field.”
“She goes by Lady Penelope because she starts every day with a bowl of Ferrero Roche cereal. Pure class.”
“And what’s his code name?”
“This month he’s Mr Whippy.”
“And last month?”
“The Mean Tangerine. He lets me pick them.”
“I love it. Got any survival tips?”
“Stay low and move fast. Oh, and stop chatting to strangers; it unnerves them,” Laverne chided. “Have you seen a waiter anywhere?”
“Right here,” a young man appeared. “What may I get you to drink?”
“Dark rum and Coke, please,” Laverne ordered. “Excuse me, but are you Portuguese?”
“I’m impressed,” he lit up. “Yes, I’m from Lisbon.”
“I’ve been to Lisbon. It’s beautiful.”
“I grew up there but my parents retired to The Algarve.”
“Can’t blame them. I wouldn’t want Madonna for a neighbour either,” I winced. “Crotchless panties flapping away on a clothes line just over the fence? No thank you.”
“The devil’s bunting,” Laverne’s eyes narrowed. “You weren’t warned about that in Fatima.”
“No, we weren’t,” our waiter laughed. “I did see her coming out of City Hall once. She looked straight at me.”
“Well, you be very careful because you’re just her type,” Laverne warned. “And while we’re on the subject: why are Iberian men so good looking anyway?”
“Because our mothers are all beautiful,” the waiter replied.
“Aww…” Laverne melted. “I’ll bet you go to church as well, don’t you?”
“St Joseph’s. I’ll bring your drinks over in a minute.”
“He seems like a nice guy,” I decided, watching as he made his way over to the bar.
“And that’s exactly what gets an agent killed on his first day. You’re too trusting.”
“What should I do?”
“I’ll taste-test your food before you eat it,” Laverne insisted.
“The last time you did that I hardly had any dessert left.”
“Rice pudding’s tricky. There’s a whole chapter on it.”
“So what are you going to do about your dry cleaner then?” I returned to matters.
“Mess with her head. I’m going to start dropping off dresses which are a size too small for me, but before I do I’ll change the labels.”
“Why bother going to all that trouble with the labels if she won’t be able to fit into them?”
“Because she’ll think she’s putting on weight and she won’t know why.”
“Whoa!” I sucked in my breath at the evil genius of it. “Most guys would just throw a punch and that would be the end of it.”
“Now where’s the fun in that?” Laverne purred. “Wouldn’t you rather watch your enemy slowly go mad?”
“Hey, would you ever mess with my head?”
“You’re not a Size 10.”
“Neither are you but answer the question.”
“What do you think?” she raised an eyebrow.
“I think you’re smart but I’m smart too.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yep,” I was adamant.
“So then, let me put this to you: have you ever ordered a dessert you know I don’t like?”