172. The Pink Panther

Friday evening.
Late shift.
While most of my esteemed colleagues are busy getting wankered in the various shambolic hostelries that cling like limpets to the vast, sprawling sink estates of the North of England, I’m wandering around a mostly deserted factory, waiting for nine o’clock so I can peg out.
The reason I’m still here and most people aren’t is because my boss fucking hates me and won’t mark my card to say I can go early and he certainly won’t tip me the wink to come in on a cheeky early shift on a Friday like a lot of the other gaffers do. No, Soulless Boss takes great pleasure in pissing off at four, knowing I’ve got another five hours before I can leave.
Fuck him though. Fuck Soulless Boss deep in his saggy arse.
I like the solitude. Yeah, it’s boring and yeah, I’d rather be knocking back a few pints in my own tatty local, but when the factory is quiet there is a strange peace. The constant soft hiss of compressed air, the low rumble of idling motors, the moaning of extractors. The sounds a monster makes while it sleeps, an idiot dragon guarding a scrap heap.
In the warehouse a sharp smell hits me, instantly familiar.
Like a Bisto kid I sniff and sniff until I find the source of the pungent reek.
A fire escape half open, surrounded by a makeshift fort of bales and pallets. I climb up and look over the top.
Inside, two beady eyes and a hot coal.
I say, “Evening Dave.”
Fucking Amazing Dave grins up at me. “Now then Luci. How did you find me? I thought this was a pretty sweet den!”
“It is a sweet den, mate, but that stuff you’re smoking is stinking up half the warehouse! You got the door open but it’s just blowing in.”
Fucking Amazing Dave shrugs. “No harm. There’s not a gaffer in the place! Who’s gonna bollock me if there’s no-one here to bollock me?”
I say, “There’s no gaffers but there are still grasses. You know what some of these cunts are like, Dave. They’ll dob you in for fun!”
He takes a long pull on the huge joint and holds it, holds it, holds it, then exhales. Another dragon. He offers me a pull but I shake my head.
He says, “You sure? This stuff is sweeeet!”
“I’m sure it is, Dave, but me and weed don’t get on. One drag on that thing and I’ll be puking in a skip. It happens every time.”
“What if there aren’t any skips about, Luci?”
I say, “Believe me, I’ll find one. It’s always the same. Whenever I get belmed off my napper on twift I ALWAYS end up puking in a skip. I can’t stick it. No, booze is my poison, Dave, and I’ll be getting stuck into some as soon as I get out of this place at nine.”
Fucking Amazing Dave winks at me. “You should bring in a sneaky bottle for Friday lates, Luci. We could get fucked up together. Party time!”
I say, “Slippery slope that, Dave. You start bringing in a bottle on a Friday, then it’s a Thursday, then a Wednesday. Before you know it you’re slinging cooking sherry on your Crunchy Nut Cornflakes on a Monday morning. No, I’ll wait till nine, thanks. You be careful though, mate. Seriously. You get caught smoking that thing you’ll get the sack. Your feet won’t touch the tarmac.”
Fucking Amazing Dave grins a carefree grin and takes another toot. “Fuck ‘em, Luci. Let ‘em sack me! I’ll welcome it. This job, man, it’s shit! Worst job I ever had. Doing dirty work for a set of wankers. Fuck ‘em! A sackin’ will be the kick up the arse I need.”
I say, “If they sacked you, Dave, what do you reckon you’d do next? What do you fancy doing?”
He looks dreamily off into the distance. “I reckon I’d get back into show business, Luci. That were me real passion. It’s in me blood.”
I’m flabbergasted. “Show business?? You were in show business? I never knew that!”
Fucking Amazing Dave looks pleased with himself. “Yeah, a born performer, me. I used to entertain thousands of people every day. I were famous, locally. I reckon it were only a matter o’ time before it went national.”
I’m getting suspicious. “What was it you used to do, Dave?”
He becomes evasive. “Character roles, mostly. Some dance. It were all about bringing the the character to life, you know?”
I’m persistent. “What characters, exactly? Who were you bringing to life with your performing arts?”
Fucking Amazing Dave sighs. “Well, alright. You know Ken’s Karpets, over by the ring road, near the prison?”
“I’ve seen it, yes. What about it?”
“Well, they got that big flat roof over the front entrance, yeah?”
“I know the one. It’s where they have this… wait a minute. You’re not telling me…”
Fucking Amazing Dave looks really pleased with himself. He jumps up and starts waving and dancing around. “You got it, Luci! You recognize me now!”
I say, “You were the bloke in the Pink Panther costume who’d stand on the roof and wave at cars, weren’t you?”
Dave is laughing like a loon. “Yeah! That was me! Best job I ever had, man. It were Fuckin’ amazin’! Stood up there all day, wavin’ an’ dancin’! Brought a bit o’ sunshine into the lives o’ thousands of people…”
I say, “Thousands of people stuck in traffic on Leeds inner ring road, Dave. That’s a tough crowd.”
“Yeah, they weren’t the easiest, but I got ‘em laughin’. Sold a lot o’ carpets too, Luci. Everyone knew Ken’s Karpets because o’ the dancin’ Pink Panther! We really got ‘em noticed!”
I say, “Look, if you were such a big hit, how come you’re here? Why aren’t you up on the roof now, performing for your adoring public?”
Fucking Amazing Dave sighs. “Thing is, one o’ the perks o’ the job were that the costume had a fucking massive head. A great big Pink Panther head, y’know? And that head stunk. God knows how many sweaty, unwashed, bad breathed tramps had worn that filthy costume over the years. So I came up wi’ a genius way of making it smell great again!”
“What did you do? Hang one of those pine tree air fresheners up in it?”
He shakes his head. “Nah man! Better than that! I’d fire up a big fat blunt! If I held it in my gob I could reach through the Pink Panther gob, get it lit and puff away to me heart’s content! It were genius! Dancin’ around, high as a kite, havin’ a great time! It turned that Pink Panther head into a fuckin’ massive bong! Yeah, best job ever!”
I say, “Please don’t tell me you fell off the roof, Dave. It must be, what, thirty feet up? You’d have killed yourself!”
Fucking Amazing Dave looks offended. “Fell off? What the fuck kind of amateur do you take me for, Luci? I’d never ‘ave fallen off. I were a professional!”
“Well tell me what the fuck happened then!”
“Okay then! I decided to double up one time. Make a really big joint. I were forever smokin’ one an’ rollin’ another an’ it were very time consumin’ y’know? I weren’t been efficient, y’get me? So I reckoned if I rolled a whopper, real tight, then it’d burn real slow an’ long an’ that way I wouldn’t be forever skinnin’ up, yeah? So that’s what I did! It were a beauty! Five inch long an’ smoked like a dream! I were dancin’ , I were smokin’, people were buyin’ carpets, I were wavin’ an’ folk on the ring road were drivin’, everythin’ were magic!”
Fucking Amazing Dave takes another drag. He inspects the coal, presses it carefully with a dampened finger.
“That’s when me mojo really kicked in. I were off on one, man! Breakin’ out some monster moves, groovin’ around, doin’ the moonwalk an’ doin’ robotics, the lot! A crowd gathered, an’ they were all shoutin’ an’ carryin’ on. I couldn’t really see ‘em, mind, what wi’ the old Pink Panther head been full o’ smoke an’ that, but I could hear ‘em an’ that were all I needed! The more they shouted the wilder I got! Tootin’ on me fat one an’ shakin’ me sweet Pink Panther booty! I reckoned I were in for a promotion, a bonus, summat like that, but that’s when it happened.”
I say, “What happened? It sounds like you were on a winner, Dave!”
“He says, “I did too, until a thousand gallons of water hit me straight in the face! Knocked me flyin’! Turns out a member o’ the public had seen me staggerin’ around on the roof, flappin’ me arms wi’ smoke pourin’ out me ears an’ eyes an’ nose an’ thought me entire fuckin’ head were on fire, so they called the fuckin’ fire brigade! The poor fuckers in front o’ Ken’s Karpets thought they were seein’ a fuckin’ tragedy unfoldin’! Two engines an’ an ambulance rock up an’ they’re all screamin’ at me to roll on the ground an’ there were me thinkin’ they wanted to see me dance the funky chicken. The firemen turn on their hoses an that were the end of the Pink Panther. Blew the head to bits it did. The kids who saw it were traumatized, needed counseling, they say. Ken’s Karpets were landed wi’ a hefty fine for wastin’ the time o’ the emergency services an’ the Pink Panther costume were a write off. I’d danced meself out of a fuckin’ job. That’s when I came here.”
Fucking Amazing Dave stubs out his joint. I start to feel really weird.
He says, “You ok, Luci? You look a bit weird.”
I push past Dave and stagger into the cold night air. My eyes are swimming and my head feels like it’s going to float away. I make it to the waste paper skip just in time and heave my guts up.
I’ve accidentally got wasted off Fucking Amazing Dave’s second hand smoke.
Fucking Amazing Dave stands next to me and pats my back as I moan and retch.
He stares up at the stars. “Don’t worry, Luci,” he says. “Not everyone is cut out for show business. I’d stick to the writing if I were you.”
Somewhere in the factory, the bell rings for nine o’clock.


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