Eddie tended to drift into whatever jobs were available that would pay the rent. And so it wasn’t unusual for him to drop into the Second Wife in strange attires, at strange times and carrying the strangest stories with him. And me, a struggling writer for your humble local daily, was always glad to have a drink of the landlord’s best with him.
It was on a Monday evening, just when Roman had opened for the night, that Eddie came in. He was dressed in his everyday trousers and carrying a big sack with him.
I waited till we were both seated and he’d had his two glasses.
‘What kind of person would you call a fool, dear boy?’ asked Eddie.
‘Well, I personally believe it’s the ones who go around buying those fancy new talking-things, those telephones. Those things are bound to-’
Eddie waves me off. ‘I’ll tell you which ones are the biggest fools,’ he says ‘It’s the ones who go searching for buried treasure. The ones that find a map, and go all cuckoo ‘coz it has tiny little letters and marks that prove it is all authenti-thingy and then they jump off on ships and go on finding lost treasure!’
‘Well, sure, Eddie, them too, but I tell you, it’s been not twenty years since that fellow has come up with them and people are all-’
‘So last month I met this feller down at the station, and being as how the rent were rising and my money was all tied up in them barrels and stocks…So this guy comes up to me, and asks me if I was Eddie Wikkums.’
‘“I am,” I says, “And who’s asking?”’
‘“A very good evening to you, Mr. Wikkums,” says this fellow. “My name is Toby Anton. Can I interest you in a drink?”’
‘And seeing as how that drink and I always been best buddies, I say yes to Messer Toby, and we steps into this cute little place down the corner.
‘“Mr.Wikkums, I have heard a lot about you. Mostly about how you’re such an industrious fellow, and a competent worker.”’
‘“Yes, that’s me, lover of the industry, sure. Say, tell you what, you’re a pretty complete feller yourself too,” I says.’
‘“Thank you, Mr. Wikkums,” says he. “Your words are kind. But that’s not why I wanted to meet you today, as you must be wondering by now.
‘“Well, actually, words of your experience in handling unusual jobs have reached my employer’s ears. My employer has an…Unusual mission, shall we say? He has an unusual mission to fulfil, and he would be very grateful if you would lend him a hand with your expertise.”’
‘Well, you know me, dear boy. What with the rent rising as it is, and the jobs hard to come by like they are, I weren’t going to say no to a job, was I?
‘So I says yes to Messer Tobee, and he whistles up his big automobeel, and off we go to meet the brain running them boots, so to say.
‘The car stops in front of these big iron gates, and we are in this big house. The plate at the door says “J.P.Radomer” and I says to myself, this ‘ere’s one big fish.’
‘You don’t mean to say you went to Jeremy Radomer’s house?! Not the Jeremy Radomer, founder of the Soap&Soaps, and philanthropist multi-millionaire?!’
‘Aye, aye, that very feller! Messer Tobee takes me to this here sitting room, and it’s full of pictures of the bloke standing holding huge keys, cutting ribbons, and all dressed up and holding up trophies and whatnot. One shelf’s full of all these huge books, half of them in letters I can’t even spell. And while I’m sitting there gaping, in he comes, the Soap Emperor His Majesty himself.’
“‘Aah, Mr. Wikkums! So our mutual friend managed to convince you, did he?,” he says to me.
‘“Well, personally speaking, I didn’t need much convincing now, Messer Radomer, what with rents being the way they are. But he didn’t tell me what it’s all about, now.”
‘The man hands me a glass of some sparkly stuff. I’m really beginning to like this job now.
‘“You see, Mr. Wikkums,” he says “I’m a businessman by trade, but I’m also a traveller. And in my travels I meet many men and women…And see a lot of places. And now, I’ll tell you a story of a certain lady I met on my travels.
‘“I was going to Pasadena by train on one of my trips, when I see seated across me the prettiest lady I’ve ever seen. Oh, but the moon would wane in comparison to the beauty of that face! She smiles at me, and we strike up a conversation. And by the end of that trip, when we both get off at Pasadena, we agree to meet for tea the next day.
‘“The next day, when I get to the Café la Hex this pretty lady, whose name is Elizabeth May Bruner is waiting for me. And it is then that she tells me she’s an archaeologist, searching for a lost Egyptian treasure. She hands me her map, and shows me how she means to find it. She tells me of how she has been searching for that statuette for so many years.
‘“And it is right then that I decide to find the Egyptian treasure for her! I tell myself, I shan’t rest until I’ve found it. We part that day, and she hands me her gloves…How I wish I’d not parted from her that day!
‘“And so now it is that after exactly eight months, I sit with you, Mr. Wikkums, with all my affairs sorted out, and my soapbox packed in my suitcase, and this map in my hand, seeking adventure, and the heart of the prettiest lady I’ve ever seen!”‘
‘Well now, dear boy, ye’ve known this old boy for years now, and you know how I’ve never said no to a man lost in love. So I has a look at this ‘ere map that the Soap Emperor has got lain out in front of him, and I’ll be bless’d if I can make any sense out of all those squigglin’ and scribblin’. But it must have made sense to His Majesty, ‘coz the next thing I know, I’m standing in front of the station the next day with me bag on me back and me toothbrush in hand, waiting for His Majesty to get there.
‘Well, so he gets there with all his soaps bundled up and his sleeping bag rolled up, and that scrap of squiggles pinned to his shirt. We gets onto the train and off we are.
‘Now, mind you, I look at that map again, and all I see are a bunch of lines and whatnot. But His Majesty says there’s mountains in it, and there’s one mountain shaped like a pair o’ boots, and at the bottom of that there mountain, you find them buried Egyptian hullabaloo. Now, all I seen of what I seen, and all I known of what I known, what I thinks is this Bruner dame is playing His Majesty like a streeet bum plays a violin, but so long as I can hear the greens roll, and so long as I don’t have to do no funny stuff, I’m as mum as a dead log.
‘So I looks at the map again, and I agree to all he says. We gets down at this place, and all I can see are miles of stone and cactus and mosquito. But His Majesty says we are at the right place, and off he steps to have a chat with the station-master. Now, I say station-master, but it’s just this feller in a tin house. And then he comes out with the map in hand, and says we have to walk down to some house in the middle of the desert.
‘And so we walk down, and there’s this black feller waiting for us there with shovels and picks and jars of beans and knives and plates, and we get onto his cart and whinny the horse off.
‘We reach the mountains and set up camp. The Soap Emperor has a tent to himself, and the black feller sleeps with me. His Majesty shows him the map, and the feller shakes his head, and mumbles something and keeps shaking his head. But His Majesty just says the poor feller is too dumb to understand the hyroogliphs or sommat and he sends us to bed. Mind you, I think the dumb fellow got more sense than the Majesty and ten of his hyroogliphs put together, but I says nothing, and off I go to a quiet drink of some sparkly stuff I nicked from the station-master.
‘So we wake up next morn to look for them stone models. The Majesty sets us both off in directions and tells us Keats and Wordsworth will guide us in our quest. I asks him where them guys are, and why aren’t they down in the camp with us, but he laughs at me and points to his breast pocket and says they’re up there. Well, I tell you, dear boy, I got no idea what they’re doing up in his coat and I think he’s just spewing a load of mumbo but as long as I can hear the greens rolling, I can take all the mumbo he’s spewing at me.
‘So I walks off with the black feller and off we go, hooting and hollering to scare off them hyenas and mosquitoes, looking for a hill that looks like a footing accessory. We spend all day, and then some more, and other than getting bit, scratched, muddied up, chased off by angry mama rabbits and sun-burnt, we have nothing to show for it.
‘And again we go out next morn, with a load of “Fortune favours the brave” and “Will creates a way for all” baloney spewing in our ears. Mind you, I’m getting a bit tired of hearing all about Will, Keats and Wordsworth knowing stuff and not telling us.
‘And we keep goin’ out every morn (on a darn Sunday too) and go on coming back to camp full of empty hands and mosquito bites and beetles joyriding on our pants. This goes for two weeks straight, before the black feller wakes up one morn and flat refuses to take another bite of the Will-and-Keats biscuit. His Majesty says for him to go on his way, and gives him off his beans, and I says to myself, Eddie, old boy, you need to get off this wagon too.
‘That day, Messer Radomer says for us to go out together. So we put out the fire, and head out down the valley. And all this time I’m thinking to myself how I is gonna get off the wagon, when suddenly His Majesty starts talking.
‘“Mister Wikkums, do you think we’re on a fool’s quest?”’
‘Now, when yer employer drops a bomb like that on yer, all you can do is say he must be a fool to think things like that, and remind him how Will is looking over us.
‘So I says that to him, and he gives me a sad smile and says, “Aah, Mr.Wikkums, you seek to not hurt my feelings. But you are only being polite…You understand, these thoughts have crossed my mind quite a few times in the past few days. But every time I think of giving up, her face dawns onto my memory, and I am reminded of my promise. Ah, Eliza, if only were you but so far away! It seems like only yesterday that you held my arm,and we talked so long and so beautifully of soap! Of love!
‘“Worry not, Mr. Wikkums, it seems our quest is soon to be at an end, and unless I find some vindication today, we shall board our homewards bound train tomorrow!”’
‘Well, news of that sort cheers me up, and I says to myself, that was easy.
‘Now, if this were a story I was telling you out of a book, that very day we’d ‘ave seen in the distance a hill that looked like a pair of boots, but it ain’t a story, and we didn’t see no boots nor no hills that looked like ’em. It were the same as any other day. So that night we packs everything up and I set up a big fire to show ’em mosquitoes I mean business and then come the morning, off we go.
‘I wait at the station while His Majesty converses with the tin-house master, and soon as I’ve nicked another bottle of the sparkly stuff off him, we get on a train and back we come to my own, dirty city.
‘His Majesty takes me to his house and says to me, “Mr. Wikkums, you’ve been a wonderful help to me. Even though I wish we could have enjoyed further success in our endeavour I stand firm in the belief that Fate will bring us together again for further adventures!”
‘“And now as a token of my gratitude, you shall have with you that which I hold closest to my heart,” and then he puts in me hams this ‘ere bag.
‘I thank him, and Messer Tobee sees me out of the house. I get out and I look inside the bag, certain for a big haul this time. And you know what I sees inside the bag,dear boy? His Majesty’s “most precious?”’
‘What did you see, Eddie?’ I ask him.
‘Well, why don’t yer take a look yourself,’ and with that, he empties the big bag that he’s carrying onto the table.
And out of the bag spills soaps. Varieties and different sizes and shapes, I spot lavender, jasmine, stone, rose and a mishmash of a hundred other flowers.
And I look up at Eddie and he looks back at me and says, ‘That’s why I tell you, dear boy. Those darn fools that go hunting for buried treasure are the biggest darn tooting fools of all.’
I return home that evening, and my wife kisses me and she smells so sweetly of lavender bloom.
I refrain from asking anything until we’re both in bed and lying down, and then as I’m turning off the lamp, I ask her.
‘Eliza, did you ever know a man named J.P Rodamer?’
‘Yes, darling…Isn’t he the man who makes all those soaps?’
‘Yes…Yes he is…And honey…Did you ever attend any archaeology lectures?’
And my wife turns around to look at me, and smelling so sweetly of lavender, she says to me, ‘You’ve done some pretty foolish things in your life, Austin. But one thing you did right was not try to sell me soap on a train, or go looking for Egyptian buried treasure. And that’s why, darling, tomorrow you are going to the office, and getting me a telephone connection.’
How sweet is the hand that turns the keys of Fate!