The return of Private HMI;Comment
"No. It's about this big freeze we're having. We want you to check up on teachers, see that they're busy making up extra homework sheets for the kids who have been sent home." It was then that I recognised the voice. I whistled a few bars of "I Should Be So Lucky" and said: "Fancy a macaroon bar, Bub?" "That was a long time ago!" snapped the regional official who had been involved in the scandal with the Australian soap star and the bag of desiccated coconut.
"Sure it was," I cooed, neglecting to coo that my failure to be bought off over the incident had cost me my job at the DEO's office. I should have hung up there and then but I had other ideas. "I'll take the job . . . for old times' sake," I said, gesturing at the handset. "It'll cost you 60 a day plus expenses and for that I go in undercover."
"Undercover" was perhaps an inappropriate tag for my plumber's disguise left uncovered parts of me normally well hidden by a trenchcoat and a pair of good-fitting slacks. As a ruse it worked and I had a good look round a few joints. There were no surprises. Teachers were crouched over Macs that had survived the floods because most of them had been taken home over the holidays. New material was in preparation. Paperwork and marking were being dealt with. But that was not what I told Mr Macaroon when I called him back.
"We got a big problem at Ravenstruther Academy," I informed him gravely. "One of their buildings has extensive flood damage. The entire ground floor is awash and they've got emergency heating in."
"Oh dear," he said. "But the teachers aren't skiving? I must be able to assure parents that the teachers aren't skiving."
"They sure as hell are!" I told him, synthesising indignation. "They've banked up builders' sand around the classrooms, strung up spotlights from the art rooms and turned the place into an indoor lido. They're all lounging around in swimwear getting tans from the physics department's UV lamps. It's Baywatch City and it's in your backyard."
It was time to twist the knife. "If the press get to hear of this . . . Well, I don't need to tell you about newspapers and schools. Something bad happens and it's all over the front pages before you can say 'Budgie the Helicopter'.
"I can see it now: 'Life's a Beach at Sodden Secondary', with some Plastic Pam look-alike in a mortar board on page three."
"What can I do?" he wailed. "I only employed you because it's not enough for us to mistrust teachers. We've got to be seen to mistrust teachers. I never expected you to uncover something like this."
"Is my cash in the post?" "Except for the expenses. Why?" "Keep the expenses. There is no Ravenstruther Academy, as you should know. It's a one-street village with a good scrapyard on the way to the state pen. Now go find something useful to do, Bub, like finding some cash to get a few more kids off the supply list and into jobs."
I hung up and tossed a piece of pakora in the air, catching it neatly in my teeth. Sometimes, just sometimes, you get your own back.