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The Return of Private HMI

The job had started with a telephone call from one of my new bosses, Donald the Lemonsucker. He was a sharp operator but he had a face that looked like it had just bitten into a piece of particularly bitter fruit. "We are very anti-sleaze in the new management," he told me. "That's why I want you to do a little vetting."

"Vetting? You got a sleazy pooch that keeps trying to make whoopee with the poodle next door?" "You know very well what I mean," the Lemonsucker spoke in clipped, "no-nonsense" tones. "I want you to see if you can dig up anything on Brian Wilson. With his full permission, of course." Then he made a mistake. In an attempt to be chummy, he said: "I'm sure it must be a relief not to be working for the Ferret any more."

"Listen, Bub," I hissed. "There was a time I'd have missed working for Mickey the Braveheart like Prometheus would have missed his vulture. But let me tell you, if there was one of that lot I wanted to see back on his turf it was him. He sure as hell would have put up a fight the first time you tried anything dumb."

"Yes, yes, I'm sure he had his good points," said the Lemonsucker, ruining a speech I'd been working on for weeks. "Now, how much was Mickey paying you? We'll match it, of course."

It was time for some ground work. I grabbed my hat to go see the Wednesday Lottery Show, pausing only to drop the loose change in my pants pocket into the jar I was using to save for the gas. It said a lot about my feelings for Carol Vorderman that I would sit through so much hysterical adulation of money just to see her in person.

Out on the street I was confronted by another great change in my life. My ageing but much loved Rapid was gone, on semi-permanent loan as a museum exhibit on the role of transport in education. My latest wheels sat by the kerb; a '71 plate Triumph Herald 1360 in damson red. I fired her up, hit the streets and went to dig up some dirt.

The new management had seemed reasonable up until now, though the Man With the Dog had been a bit more heavy-handed south of the border. But the rumour was they were considering a protection racket scam where you had to pay to get your quack to come and see you. I didn't like that so I decided to squeeze the Lemonsucker a little. I called him the next day. "I expect you found Mr Wilson as clean as a whistle," he said. "Not exactly. He doesn't have any direct experience of the thing he's supposed to know most about. What's more, history will record him as failing to deliver everything he could have."

I grinned as I heard an ill-suppressed gasp at the other end of the line. "Where did you get all this?" the Lemonsucker asked.

"From the insert in a cassette tape in the record store," I replied. "The Very Best of the Beach Boys. Brian Wilson wrote all their songs." I could hear the Lemonsucker trying to interrupt but I kept going. "Their proposed Smile album promised so much. It might have been more significant than Sgt Pepper's. Only it never got made. A few tracks got out, but that's it."

"Are you trying to take the . . ." he suddenly realised he didn't want to say "Mickey" but found the alternative too coarse. "No, I'm hitting you with a smartmouth metaphor. A lot of people out there on the territory expect a lot from your mob. Don't let them down. Tell them the truth. Brian Wilson never surfed."

I hung up. There would be plenty more chances to alienate myself in the future.

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