Ross Tamerlane was what they call a big old-fashioned centre forward. Good in the air. Heavy in the tackle. And with a right foot that could put a wrecking ball through a tenement. But he wasn’t scoring goals. No sir. Nineteen games he hadn’t scored. A confidence thing? Maybe. He certainly looked distracted. The manager barely had a fingernail to chew on and the chairman was the colour of a motel bedsheet. That’s when I came off the bench… My name is Raymond Parnello and I’m a private eye.
The East Neuk of Fife in early February isn’t a place for the faint-hearted. The wind cuts in off the sea like a jacknife. It sure as hell isn’t LA – and the cheap seersucker suit I was wearing had about as much chance of keeping the wind out as the Rattray FC goalkeeper had of keeping the ball out. I’d seen their first home game and they were a mess. An 8-0 defeat to Strathmorvern Academicals meant they were firmly rooted to the foot of the table. Rooted like a sequoia.
What I was doing in Bonnie Scotland in winter is hard to explain. It probably had something to do with a dame and it’s probably none of your business. It could have been the whisky. It may have had something to do with watching Brigadoon a hundred times too many. But then I have a weakness for sappy musicals and redheads with a killer overbite. Anyhow, we ended up at a football game. If I’m honest it’s not my thing. Baseball, yes. That I understand. But this? Twenty-two guys sweating in a quagmire isn’t my idea of quality entertainment. So we went to the game and, yes, the centre forward did look out of sorts. Looked really uninterested, really distracted. Distracted in a way I’d last seen in the bear enclosure at the San Diego Zoo. After the game the killer overbite introduced me to the manager and the chairman. They were wrapped tight. Tighter than a neckbrace on a chihuahua. The chairman took me aside, a wide man with fat fingers and teeth like a Nantucket graveyard. He breathed whisky fumes in my direction and put a fat hand on my thin shoulder.
“Raymond… may I call you Raymond?” he croaked but didn’t wait for an answer. “Raymond… it’s big Ross. He’s not doing it for us.” He glanced over his left shoulder as far as his thick neck would let him. “You see… big Ross has a wee problem…” Here we go, I thought. It’s going to be a woman or a man or gambling or perhaps he likes dressing up as Carmen Miranda on weekends. “Ross cannot ‘perform’ without… how can I put this?” He started to perspire like Niagara. “He cannot perform without his… Little Julian.” I gave him the quizzical look. “I’ll cut to the chase. Somebody has stolen his woolly aardvark… his Little Julian. His mother knitted it for him and the boy is terribly sentimental. Can barely kick a ball without it. Find it, Parnello. Find it and you will be richly rewarded.” I watched him pour enough single malt into my glass so you could float a cruise liner.
So I asked around town. And I quickly learned that in Scotland, asking questions about unusual items of knitwear isn’t something that a grown man should be doing. I ended up, as I often do, in a bar. The Clachan exuded all the charm of the last days in Hitler’s bunker. But less jovial. A thickset man with a tattoo on his forearm that said ‘Moniaca’ poured me a double. I should have known better but I asked him anyway.
He leant across the bar and got close. His nose was blistered like a whelk stall.
“The tattooist was pissed – it’s ‘Monica’.”
I drank my double, ordered another and then hit him with it. “What do you know about knitted aardvarks?” He stopped pouring and his shoulders hunched up in an unpleasant kind of way. Then he reached for something under the counter. I didn’t wait around. I was over the bar and had him pinned against the optics before you could say “Hoots mon”.
“Tell me,” I snarled, wrenching his arm up his back. Then something hit me from behind and my world spun into an inky blackness.
When I came to I was trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey and something was oozing warmly into my left ear. A pair of red stilettoes approached, dropped a cigarette butt and ground it out on the concrete.
“So you’re the guy who’s been asking about knitted aardvarks?” cooed a voice with more shimmer than a satin horse blanket.
I craned my neck and looked up at some pretty good gams.
The stilettoes were joined by suede brogues in a fetching shade of taupe and plaid socks that didn’t hold back on the garish.
“Velma, darling, why don’t you go and pour us both a nice drink while Daddy speaks to the unfortunate man lying in his own sweat on the floor of our garage”. The voice was golf club suave. The stilettoes departed at a hop.
The suede brogues started talking. “Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Douglas Anstruther. I am the owner of Rattray FC and you are becoming a fly in my thick and creamy ointment, Mr Parnello.” I pulled myself up against a wall so I could get a better look at the guy. Combover. Yacht club tan. Beady eyes and a little pouty mouth that worked away under a lounge lizard moustache. An altogether delightful fellow. He reached into his tweeds and pulled out a knitted aardvark.
“I believe you’re looking for this,” he said, waggling the small woollen mammal. At this point Velma re-entered.
“Dougie, what are you doing with Little Julian? Where did you get him?” Her tone shifted from cooing turtle dove to ratchety crow.
“Don’t you worry your pretty little stockings, Velma. Daddy, is making us both very rich.”
“But that’s Ross’s Little Julian. You give it back to him! Give it back right now!” That’s when the arguing began and it got heated. I managed to work the ropes free. At the same time I started to piece together what was going on here. Finally, I got the ropes off but Velma made a grab for Little Julian and Anstruther slapped her. It wasn’t pretty. I don’t like that, women getting hurt. So I jumped him but he’s built and won’t come quietly. Then the door opened and Ross Tamerlane filled it like the last big fat piece of the jigsaw. He walked across and floored Anstruther with a head butt right out of the guide book on dirty street fighting. The taupe brogues went down whining and Velma fell into Tamerlane’s arms.
Later, over a hot toddy, I explained it all to the killer overbite. Velma was having an affair with Ross. What she didn’t know was that Anstruther had cut a deal to sell off the football ground. He wanted Rattray to fail and the best way to do that was for Tamerlane to fail. No Little Julian, no goals, no crowds, no club. Goodbye Rattray FC, hello ‘Anstruther’s Giant Animal Emporium – Scotland’s Largest Pet Store!’ And his plan would have worked if it hadn’t been for that cheap seersucker suit. Now whatever happened to ‘Moniaca’?