The Best-Laid Plans

by Barry Baldwin

Alma and Eunice existed in a one-room apartment in the run-down end of an otherwise prosperous city. The few blocks which separated them from the outer labia of the same area, gentrified over the last few years thanks to Real Estate's manipulation of the words Character and Potential, might as well have been a continent.

It was hardly Mary Tyler Moore fetching up at Minneapolis in the old TV show of which they sometimes watched re-runs, mocking the outfits. More that movie Letter To Brezhnev, without the happy ending. They had met two plausible Canadians on a Caribbean cruise and on deck under the stars had taken at face value their daiquiri-fueled invitations to come on over. Alma and Eunice turned up to find one of their shipboard swains engaged to an indigenous bottle blonde, a trade-off for her impregnation. The other now preferred his own sex and was out of the closet; looking at his clothes they thought he should get back in there fast.

They'd arrived on one-way tickets, which caused raised eyebrows and a complex grilling from the immigration officers, had much less money than they claimed, knew nobody else. They couldn't go home, at least not until the dust had settled, after all their pub boasting about what they were going to have over there. Alma and Eunice were made of sterner stuff. The local newspaper was crammed with job advertisments. They soon landed one, though it wasn't quite as the wording had made it out to be, a major factor being the relaxed attitude of their employer towards lack of work permits and social insurance numbers, which translated into no health or pension benefits.

Finding a place to live was trickier. Prices were high, most beyond what even their pooled resources would run to. But after a period of incarceration in the YWCA, someone in a bar who knew someone who knew someone put them on to this apartment. No rent book, strictly cash in the grubby hand of the manager, an individual never otherwise seen. It would 'do' until they got on their feet, they reassured each other Monday to Friday and twice at the weekend.

Just as well they had been used to 'doing' in the North of England. The toilet, usually only flushable by pouring in a bucket of water, was but a cock-stride away from the tiny kitchen table, the bed head not much further up wind from the third hand or more stove whose grease strata and general eccentricity made anything beyond fry-ups on the reluctant burners an adventure.

Alma and Eunice uneasily shared a bed distinguished by its sagging canopy and deep hollow down the middle which acted as the first line of mutual defence against any untoward carnal connections. Both reckoned they should sleep with a sword between them, as in olden times, but where would one find a sword in this city, except at the civic museum which neither of them had ever visited, indeed hardly knew where it was.

There was no hanky-panky, save perhaps that occasion as they lay lip-reading a communal magazine when Alma placed what might have been a hopeful hand on Eunice's privates, withdrawing it when the latter bridled with "There's no cause to get hot and bothered, I'm only wetting my finger to turn the page." Eunice couldn't ever decide if this was meant to be funny or not. She'd defused the situation by the observation "I hope neither of us dies up here. Those stairs would be very awkward for carrying down a coffin, it wouldn't half scrape the paint."

They had some envy of the two guys next door who separately worked days and nights, thus allowing sole bed occcupancy for eight to ten hours at a stretch. Still, in the absence of proper chairs, they had to share it when eating or watching TV. Like most of the other tenants, they had been up on the roof and hooked themselves on to cable without the company ever having them on its customer list. Alma and Eunice were not up to this technological feat, but a fellow from the bowels of the building had done it for them, stipulating as his price one dinner and two blow-jobs. However, half-way through a second substantial helping of the laxative-laced chocolate mousse which the girls declined on all too justifiable dieting grounds, he had had to blow unblown and never came back to collect this portion of the debt.

This was not the only intrusion of television into their lives. It was watching a summer repeat of Brideshead Revisited that kindled the notion of stopping on at school for A Levels and Oxford, a brief flicker percipiently stamped out by their fathers with "Not for the likes of you, that" and "You don't want to be going there, it's all cunts in punts."

Rent apart, the one other virtue of their apartment was that it took only ten minutes to walk to work, which saved on bus fares and counted as exercise. This daily Via Dolorosa ended at a grimy squat building that suited its location between a Chinese grocery whose window was dominated by huge jars of what looked like thousand-year-old vegetables and an all-night pawnshop; a row of boarded-up buildings, the odd one eternally smouldering, scowled from across the street.

Fading red letters above the main entrance proclaimed this to be Sakamoto Enterprises. The owner was indeed Mr Akira Sakamoto, though behind his back he went by other names - Suki Yaki and Admiral Tojo being but two - depending on who was traducing him. His looks if not his physique combined the menace of cinematic villain with a sinister avuncularity, the latter quality achieved by a domed head quite empty apart from sprinklings of gray fluff that bravely struggled for survival around the hinterland of ears and neck, counterpointing the slightly more successful extrusion of whiskers over face and chin. Whenever they saw him, Alma and Eunice itched to get to work with a dust-buster. But, in addition to his weekly dollar dole-outs and tolerance of documentary deficiencies, he had the merit of not requiring his workers to go through a song and dance demonstration of company loyalty every morning like they had to do in Jap-land.

Alma and Eunice were the only two female employees of Sakamoto Enterprises, which meant they were the exclusive objects of his advances. These were sporadic and non-violent, as if he made them when he remembered or had nothing else to do, no less unwelcome for that in fact though not on principle, but their nature allowed the invention of a funny side, which kept things on an even keel. His verbal approach, always prefaced by a quick stiff bow, a drop of spittle on the hirsute matter clinging beneath the lower lip, consisted always and entirely of 'Watashiwa anatao aishiteimasu', apparently Nip-speak for "I love you," a gambit easily refuted by loud repetition of the middle part of the last word in his declaration. Another bow, and he would be gone, into the office that was not much smaller than the main factory floor to shout at his impassive male assistant or down one of the telephones lined up like miniature Samurai on his desk. The rarer brushings-up against breasts or just-tangible pats on the behind were disposed of by "Now, now, been at the sake again, have we? or "And how is MRS Sakamoto these days?" No one had ever seen this personage, presumed by all to be kept in luxurious seclusion at his house in the country. Alma and Eunice would sublimatingly amuse themselves in their own bed by imagining Mr Sakamoto's marital overtures, attaching to them the grossest possible neologisms while recognising, though the word was unknown to them, that they also were victims of the surrounding sexual entropy.

So, too, the rest of the work force. This consisted entirely of middle-aged men from Newfoundland, whose erotic dephlogistification meant that their desultory banter rarely went beyond gruff suggestions that Alma and Eunice retire with them outside in the summer or to the stockrooms in winter, or presumably obscene jokes rendered incomprehensible by accent and seeming lack of punchline. They generally disliked the girls for their snotty English ways, especially the jeering remarks about strange diction. This was pot calling kettle with a vengeance on both sides. Apart from spasms of attention to the play-offs, the Newfies' conversation and interests were restricted to reminiscences about 'The Rock', curious-sounding foodstuffs such as cod tongues and scrunchions and seal flipper pie, and complaints over the local unavailability of a beverage known as Screech and any half-way decent live fiddle music.

On their side, partly as a futile but still up to a point satisfying spite against their faithless Canadian paramours, more immediately as a weapon in the workplace cultural war, Alma and Eunice, though they used its colour at home as an extra tool in the fabrication of chatter to conceal feelings, made a thing out of avoiding all North American idiom and sticking to their native patois, intensifying it to include archaisms they had never used back in Pontefract and indeed never heard save from very old folks or hoary black-and-white films on the telly before they could grab the remote and change the channel, such as Wireless for Radio or Kirby Grip forr Bobby Pin. As one short-lived local suitor had put it, "You should fuckin' come with subtitles, eh?"

As with most of the world, Alma and Eunice knew nothing of Maximilien De Béthune, Duc de Sully (1559-1641), or his observation "Les Anglais s'amusent tristement, selon l'usage de leur pays." Likewise, the Newfies, to whom it would equally apply; they would anyway have confused the Béthune part of his name with that famous Canadian doctor, except that only one of their number knew anything about him either. This was the odd man out, their Semitic representative. Alma and Eunice found it impossible to cope with the name and significance of Maimonides Kelly, so cut the Gordian Knot by thinking and speaking of him as The Jewfie. They were equally at sea with his proclivity for reading out strange headlines from his week-old copies of the Newfoundland Herald, though not the kind they giggled over at supermarket check-out points: the most recent one had been Priest Hurt In Collision With Cart.

What provoked Alma and Eunice most about the Newfies was that they actually seemed grateful to Mr Sakamoto for employing them at all. The girls with their in-bred English working-class stroppiness spent hours trying to persuade them how badly paid and treated they were, didn't it ever occur to them to wonder why none of the locals would work there, what they wanted was a decent union. A total waste of time. The Newfies either turned a deaf ear or grumbled that they as outsiders had no idea what life was like back on 'The Rock', the pogey queues two deep on Water Street, the Outports desolate, most or all of this being laid at the door of some devil of a leader from long ago called Joey Smallwood who had screwed everything up by sucking Canada's cock. When Mr Sakamoto called the workforce together to watch a new video warning against the dangers of joining a union, not content with sitting there drinking it all in, they had actually clapped at the end. Alma and Eunice had chafed their way through it in sullen silence, despising themselves for not hecking the voice-over.

At home, Alma said to Eunice, "I can't understand those guys. What my old man would say about them, I don't know. Well, I do. I've told you about the time he was shop steward at the paint factory, haven't I? He'd have them out in the summer for it being too hot, and in the winter for it being too cold and..."

"The paint factory closed down, though," observed Eunice, who was on Alma's side in principle, Alma's old man's too, come to that, but she had heard this saga enough and also on principle thought Alma needed taking down a peg or two, every once in a while, albeit realising that some of her rancour came from the fact that she could claim no such paternal militancy, her own father being self-employed and in no danger of exploiting himself.

They did have some brief hopes of The Jewfie who, bright with the latest Newfoundland Herald headline, Churches At Odds Over Unification, had divulged that he was once by way of being interested in Leon Trotsky. Unfortunately, this entailed no sympathy for that individual's political views, merely the historical footnote of his having once been arrested in St. John's, an obscure event apparently commemorated by a blue plaque at some corner of the city.

Trotsky himself might have been given pause by the practical problems of introducing revolutionary ideology to a sex toy factory, which is what Sakamoto Enterprises amounted to. An X-rated Santa's grotto, with its implausible dildos and vibrators, batteries not included. The pièce-de-résistance was the fully inflatable girl doll, packaged under a variety of trade names such as Sexee Sindee.

These were basically put together by machines. The sort of guys who bought them weren't going to respond well to ripping the box open and finding a slip of paper with the most frightening three words in English - Some Assembly Required. However, Mr Sakamoto thought it desirable to be able to boast of adding a personal touch to his products, hence Alma and Eunice spent their days attaching mini-merkins to the creatures.

Along with an attempt at realistic odors - Mr Sakamoto insisted on American spellings, one eye on the e-bay potential, the boxes they came in promised tactile skin plus vibrating vagina and anus, in a variety of languages, just like Ikea. The French, 'Anus et Vagin Vibrants, avec des Odeurs Vraisemblables', didn't sound any more enticing than the English to a suprised Alma and Eunice who were monoglot to the highest Canadian standards. They couldn't speak for the Arabic and Chinese versions - Japanese was notably absent, nor the fragmented Euro-babble covering much of the box backs, though Maimonides Kelly was somewhat awed by 'Organet Gjenitale Të Lekundëses' Only Mr Sakamoto, he implied, would have the business savvy to include Albanian. Alma and Eunice were more puzzled than impressed: how many plastic doll-fucking Albanians could there be, for Christ's sake?

They were more taken by the newspaper clipping brought in one morning by The Jewfie. A distinct change from his usual religious comicalities, it reported that a shipwrecked cargo boat had two years ago disgorged thousands of Sexee Sindees into the oceans. Having spent a winter stuck near he South Pole, they were now rumoured to be bobbing towards the North American coast; Alma and Eunice had visions of miserly perverts hopefully maintaining round-the-clock shoreline vigils.

"Who buys these things, anyway?" Alma and Eunice asked each other every day as they squinted over their pubic seamstressing, answering their own question with a not entirely sincere "Nobody we'd want to know." Flirting with feminism, Alma once added, "Shouldn't there be boy dolls as well?" "Just think what our job would be like, then," countered Eunice; the subject did not recur.

The last thing people who work in candy stores want after hours is more candy. Working amongst this porno bric-à-brac took a corresponding toll on the libidos of the personnel of Sakamoto Enterrprises, judging by the lifeless Newfies, the restricted nature of the owner's forays, and Alma and Eunice, in their case exacerbated by the off-putting contrast in the sizes of their apartment and themselves. The exception was Maimonides Kelly, whose general and roving duties, impecise and clear only to himself and presumably Mr Sakamoto, kept him relatively detached from the deadening influence of Sexee Sindee and the other merchandise.

He began inviting the girls out. Never orally, always through notes in red pen on yellow Post-Its with the Sakamoto Enterprises logo, stuck on their work bench or locker doors, addressed simply to A or E, leaving it clear that he intended there to be no secrets between them. Both accepted, out of curiosity and lacking any other offers, not that they expected or desired much beyond an amused exchange of anecdotes at each evening's end.

Alma was escorted to the Friday Night professional Wrestling where she, not he, joined in with the best of them howling at the villain, a behemoth masked and loin-clothed in spandex designated The Beast, as he executed a variety of over-dramatised illegalities against the crowd favourite Nate The Great (Toast of the Coast), and after that to a spit-and-sawdust saloon where a mighty-armed woman performed similar outrages on a wobbly piano and arias about the plight of lonesome cowhands. Eunice's treats included California designer pizza at a sidewalk cafe and a foreign movie which opened up hitherto unsuspected perspectives on the lives of bi-sexual Spanish truck drivers. Pleased with their own, neither envied the other's brand of entertainment, while wondering how he had pinned down their respective tastes and, with a mixture of relief and disappointment, at the absence of attempts to claim any erotic payment for his social services, unlike the blow-job merchant, the former emotion prevailing thanks to his ill-assembled features and lackadaisical approach to personal hygiene.

"I wonder what he's really after?"

"I wonder what we're really after?"

Both questions were about to be answered. A Post-It note jointly addressed to Alma and Eunice proposed that he, Maimonides Kelly, present himself that night at their apartment. "At least it means he's not expecting his dinner." "It also means we're not to be expecting ours." They told him, separately and together, not to come, but thought he would; both Alma and Eunice made several stitching errors in their merkin manufacture that afternoon.

Hopes were just beginning to rise that they could adjourn to bed with their new magazine when the door was knocked on.

"Do you think that's him?"

"Who else could it be at this hour?"

"The manager come to see to the lav?"

"Not on your life. He's always flat on his back by now."

More knocking, with cheerfully confident sound effects. "Bang on for a mug of cocoa, I don't think. Who's that?"

The voice matched the noise. "Whom else were ye expecting?" Things were done with and to a complex arrangement of keys and bolts.

Maimonides Kelly strode in without a By Your Leave. "Keep a man waiting, don't you? Here, did you see that headline in the evening paper? Virgin Mary Sighted In Shopping Mall. I'm after thinking she must have heard about that once in a lifetime offer on swaddling clothes at Zellers." He plonked down on the bed, which received his extensive buttocks with an unwelcoming creak. Even in their low-wattage room, the darker than oxidised brown paint colour face was as striking and as unappealing as it was in the glare of the factory.
"Well, now that you're here, what was it you were wanting before you go?"

"Jaysus, ye don't beat about the bushes, do youse?" He was laying on the accent more than they'd ever heard him do before. "And sure, whatever's wrong with that? I'm the same, as ye'll have noticed." His fist-thumping provoked their bed to more protests. "As ye both rightly know, I've been seeing the pair of you, turn by turn, and not a complaint from either, at least not to my face. So, now it be time for the three of us together, in here." The bed endured more punishment. "This way, we'll be seeing who's more suited to what and to whom, and no one will say they didn't get fair shares, and consider the saving on everybody's time."

He made "everybody's" sound like two words. Alma and Eunice looked at each other as though tipping the wink who should respond. "Is this the way you usually carry on?"

"Aye, and why not? Didn't I once be diddling a pair of Siamese twins down home on Signal Hill, under the very shadow of Cabot Tower, and they tripped home with a shared twinkle in the eyes. Ah, can't you see I'm joshing you about the Siamese bit? But what's the matter with youse? Mother of God, I've seen those British programmes on the cable. Your sort are up for anything, and so is Maimonides Kelly, at your service."

"It'll be your funeral service if you're not out of here double quick, you Jewfie bastard." The other was thinking that at least the man had made a bit of an effort for the occasion, his shirt was changed from work and the goat for once was on furlough from his armpits. "Yes, or we'll call the manager."

"Managers in this kind of dump never answer calls, as well you know." He heaved himself up, the accent gone. He was a big bugger, and they wondered for a moment what might be going to happen. "I'll be taking myself off, all the same. I'm not one for forced entries. Think it over. You can let me know what you want at the affair tomorrow." He loped over to the door, waited for them to go through the bolt and key rigmarole, and exited with the doff of an imaginary cap.

They had a quick rub-down with washcloth and hand towel, battened down in the Jewfie-less bed, not bothering with the magazine, set the white tin alarm clock that was among their souvenirs from home.

"You weren't tempted, were you?"

"No way. And don't tell me you were. But it has given me an idea for tomorrow." The plan was expounded. "You make it sound like a piece of cake. But will the Jewfie really help us, after tonight?"

"He said to tell him what we want, didn't he? We'll promise him fifty percent of the proceeds. That's corrall him. Not that he'll get it. Now, say a prayer for fine weather and go to sleep. Some people will get more than they've bargained for, tomorrow." Tomorrow was the day the work force was bidden out to Mr Sakamoto's country house for an unprecedented staff picnic.

Either the prayer worked or none was needed. Nevertheless, with English caution, Alma and Eunice still took their matching telescopic roll-up umbrella with them to the factory where, having given themselves the ladies' prerogative of lateness, they arrived to find the Newfies stirred out of lethargy by the transport provided by Mr Sakamoto. All week, there had been morbid speculation and grim jokes about cattle trucks or having to hitchhike. Instead, a big spankingly modern coach was awaiting them, Mr Sakamoto's assistant at the wheel, impassive as ever. "All aboard," shouted out Maimonides Kelly, flourishing his latest copy of the Newfoundland Herald. As they brushed by him to clamber up, Alma and Eunice pushed a piece of paper into his spare hand.

The automatic doors closed behind them with a suggestive hiss, the bus glided away, and their long day's journey into noon began. Mr Sakamoto did not make this demanding trip every day. He lived in a hotel from Monday to Friday as, though not in the same one, did his assistant, by whom he was limousined out for the weekends to his rustic paradise. Alma and Eunice assumed this work week celibacy accounted for his periodic flare-ups though, being honest about the limitations soon reached of their own physical appeal, wondered after each encounter why with his money Mr Sakamoto did not seek easier and more obvious outlets. Perhaps with them he was sublimating a self-admitted weakness for Sumo wrestlers; or was it simply that the unseen Mrs Sakamoto was herself on the ample side?

After a long stretch of four-lane highway, the bus turned off into a meandering course through a patchwork of secondary country roads that eventually degnerated into little more than lanes and cart tracks. As soon as this segment of the pilgrimage began, Alma and Eunice went down the bus pulling down the blinds to shut out the scenery. None of the Newfies objected. They were all too busy each using the lavatory at the back of the bus at least once, exclaiming over the wonder of such a facility. Only Maimonides Kelly did not stir from his seat, ostentatiously reading his Newfoundland Herald, which he continued to do after a screen suddenly rolled down at the front and there began a video entertainment that combined Japanese travelogue with the life and rise of Mr Akira Sakamoto, notable for the comlete absence from it of any family or friends. As far as Alma and Eunice could tell, The Jewfie had not examined their note, but he was quite a few seats behind, the front one by a courtesy both tacit and surprising having been left for them, and he might also have glanced at it back at the factory before getting on.

The bus stopped as smoothly as it had begun, the doors synchronously re-hissing. "All out," bellowed Maimonides Kelly, first on his feet, stuffing his newspaper into the overhead rack. The work force decanted itself into what turned out to be a large field as green and groomed as a baseball diamond, sloping down to some woods, beyond which they presumed Mr Sakamoto's private Xanadu was hiding. They were instantly irritated by the concomitant bird-song. The Newfies' first thought was, what about the food and drink, especially the latter, which Mr Sakamoto had undertaken to provide? Seeing nothing, they turned desperately to demand its whereabouts of his assistant, but he, also the recipient of a note, was already reversing on to the road, looking steadfastly over his shoulder for the unlikely appearance of any rival vehicle.

"Follow me," came the predictable command of Maimonides Kelly, "It will surely be down at the other end, in the shade of the trees. Let the feeding of the five thousand commence." They all straggled after him, Alma and Eunice at the rear, glancing alternately at the watches and each other, saying nothing of what might have been said.

As predicted, an array of comestibles and potables awaited them, set out on a parade of trestle tables at the entrance to the woods. When they saw the nature of the food, the Newfies groaned with dismay. They'd been expecting steaks and burgers and similar barbecue-ables, grilled and served by oriental waiters in white jackets. What did they want with all these vegetable platters and Sushi raw fish rubbish, colourful though it might be? Mother of God, even the humblest cafe on Water Street would have done better. However, the phalanx of beer cans did much to appease them, this was more like it; Screech had never been realistically hoped for.

A first round of cans were quickly opened and emptied, postluded by a second to make sure their tastebuds had not been deceived. The offending foodstuffs sat ignored. A dejected-looking frisbee was produced, and a handful of the Newfies listlessly tossed it among themselves, rarely catching it, in a doomed bid for some sort of gala atmosphere. As spirits rose, energies sank, and soon all were on the ground in various postures. There was an inconclusive muttering over the likelihood of Mr Sakamoto appearing at any stage, a debate not entered by Maimonides Kelly, already in a real or simulated doze, nor Alma and Eunice who sat a little apart, still silent and watch-checking.

Providentially, the Newfies were all effectively out of things by more or less the right time. Alma and Eunice rose with unnecessary quiet, and disappeared into the woods, hand in hand. The bird-song had died down. A few leaves and branches stirred. So did Maimonides Kelly. He was in the same spot, though, some two hours later, when Alma and Eunice came out of the trees, dragging something they could easily have carried.

By now, the Newfies were astir, competing for the remaining cans. They had grumblingly consumed all the food, allowing that it maybe hadn't been so bad as it looked. Maimonides Kelly had had more than his fair share, helping to ensure there was nothing left for Alma and Eunice. They were perturbed, but not by this, having never intended to soil their lips with that muck.

Mr Sakamoto had after all come to the picnic. He lay there on the ground where Alma and Eunice had dumped him. The Newfies' speculations had turned into a betting contest for and against his epiphany. Did a corpse count? If so, to the advantage of which faction? Maimonides Kelly called them to order, posing a more serious issue. Pointing to the lolling head of their late employer, he graphically described how a body in that condition and a group of inebriates would be interpreted by the RCMP, this country estate being outside the jurisdiction of the city police.

Alma and Eunice had been conferring, and one of them stepped forward to curtail The Jewfie's flow. "There's only one thing for it. Get a fire started, some of you. There's plenty of windfall wood about and it's all as dry as tinder. We'll cook him and eat him. Bang goes the evidence, and we have our barbecue to boot. They say it's like horse meat, delicious, just don't think about what it is."

After the initial shock of this proposal had subsided, the Newfies set to work with something of a will, gathering and piling and without much difficulty igniting an adequate bonfire. They had no love for Mr Sakamoto, sharing the common emotion of disliking the person to whom they were indebted, assumed his Enterprises would be carried on, no doubt by the assistant until some senior man was sent over from Tokyo, were drawn to the idea by the drink which also protected them from it, and were already hungry again, it being true what they say about oriental food.

There was no call for them to know that Mr Sakamoto had actually put in an appearance in the woods, by pre-arrangement with Alma and Eunice, via the assistant, the impression having been given that his factory persistence and the picnic were going to be physically rewarded by the pair of them. This was genuine, up to a point. The balance of the plan was that, also be pre-arrangement, The Jewfie would emerge from his hiding place at the apogee or nadir of their congress as witness and, if needs be, frightener, to ensure that Mr Sakamoto would agree to their none too lenient terms for the monies that would guarantee ignorance of this event on the part of Mrs Sakamoto.

These revenues were intended to achieve abandonment of job and apartment, and a very leisurely cruise home, though any Canadians glimpsed under tropical skies would be discounted. The Jewfie was to be invited to their domain to collect his share, with a hint of fulfillment of his coveted threesome as extra jam, and there be disposed of. He can go in the basement furnace, they calculated, one remarking that maybe they could get the chocolate mousse man to help them, the other that they mustn't let the body scrape the paint on the stairs.

Maimonides Kelly was duly behind the bushes, but had not moved, unlike Mr Sakamoto's assistant, also there by pre-arrangment since Mr Sakamoto did not trust Alma and Eunice - he knew the reputation of foreign women, wisdom that footnoted more than elimnated his hankerings after them, though delaying his intervention to his own advantage, not moving until after Alma and Eunice had responded to his overlord's disappointing disclosure that in point of fact there was no Mrs Sakamoto by crushing the breath out of him one each side, the neck fracture being an accident occasioned by their both falling on him as he suucucmbed to combined weight and resultant apnoea. The assistant would be taking charge of the factory, there being no superiors in Tokyo or anywhere else, with the bonus that the reversed blackmail potential would guarantee him the sexual compliance of these Gaijin, something both pleasurable in itself and beneficial to his status in the city's Japanese community.

This thinking had not, could not have, taken into account the presence of Maimonides Kelly who, after the girls had set off back to the picnic with Mr Sakamoto in tow, stepped out, strangled the assistant with ease, and concealed the body in a clump of especially prickly bushes, reflecting on the time when he'd dropped someone into Deadman's Pond back home. It was clear that the woods were left by policy in their natural state, and if the local youth used the area for weekend revelries, they were unlikely to stray beyond the inviting field and its accessible abandoned out-building. At a time of his own choosing, he would acquaint Alma and Eunice with what he'd seen and what he'd do if they didn't do what they didn't do last night.

This thinking had not, could not have, taken into account the fact that he would have been superfluous to requirements in any case, thanks to the wifelessness of Mr Sakamoto, of which he had been equally unaware, or that the impending bankruptcy of Sakamoto Enterprises, adroitly concealed from the assistant, had led him to plan the avoidance of redundancy payments or any fiscal compensations for the looted pension fund by plentifully endowing the vegetable platters with the toxic field fungus known scientifically as Enteloma Sinuatum - in France, more romantically as one might expect, they know it as 'Le Grand Empoissoneur de la Côte d'Or'. Whatever one calls it, the result is the same: fatal hepatic collapse, after three asymptomatic days. To deflect suspicion, the Sushi and everything else had been bought from and brought out by a city caterer. The lethal toadstools he'd had discreetly flown over from a Tokyo yakusa who owed him many favours of old. This action was also intended as an honour-redeeming 'Sayonara', since he put much blame on the workforce for its laziness, shoddy workmanship, and all-round lack of loyalty to Sakamoto Enterprises.

Thought not big and juicy enough to permit second helpings, Mr Sakamoto did not turn out badly. Alma and Eunice thought the Newfies were quite impressed. Only Maimonides Kelly sat aloof from the feast. If anything about this should ever come out, he could honestly say he had had no part of it. Also, despite having long ago abandoned his religion, a severance emphasised by his collecting and recitation of those headlines, he could not quite rid himself of an image of being detected and denounced by the fearsome old rabbi of his boyhood days back in Quidi Vidi.

The Newfies were indeed impressed. Their appetites sharpened rather than assuaged by Mr Sakamoto, they were contemplating the more succulent Alma and Eunice for dessert.


Barry Baldwin was born in 1937 and educated in England. He emigrated to Australia in 1962, re-moving to Canada in 1965, where he is Emeritus Professor of Classics, University of Calgary, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He has published around 30 short stories in print (magazines and book anthologies), and has a novella, "Not Cricket", imminent in Chapbook form (Rembrandt & Company Press, USA), also in e-zines. He has been a Finalist in the Arthur Ellis Awards (Canada 1999) and the Anthony Awards (Bouchercon, 2000, USA) in the mystery short story category.

The Best-Laid Plans
© 2005 by Barry Baldwin
All rights reserved.






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