Lost and Found
‘Well that’s all for today, except to congratulate our guest, lifestyle guru Bruno Bailey, on his impending marriage to society girl Stella Dewhurst. Not long now, is it?’
Bruno smiled his trademark smile. ‘Five days and counting.’
Now it was four days and counting and Bruno, sitting in the dark, was smiling no more. Naked, remote control in one hand, glass of whisky in the other, he watched himself on television and wept.
‘You must be very happy,’ said the presenter.
Bruno’s self-satisfied face filled the screen. It was yesterday’s face, a face he barely recognised.
‘I’m always happy,’ said the Ghost of Bruno Past.
Bruno froze the picture. He drained his glass and let it fall onto the Persian carpet that had cost him as much as a car. Not his car, of course. His car was a Ferrari. The latest model bought years ago when it was still on the drawing board.
Only the best for Bruno. That’s what he was famous for. Why he was forever on television and why his books sold by the truckload.
The sound of a key turning in the apartment’s front door sent him into a panic. Cursing himself for not setting the latch, he leapt from the couch and threw himself at the door. The sharp crack as it slammed shut was followed by the muffled tones of an indignant Stella.
‘Bruno Bailey! What the hell do you think you’re playing at?’
‘And since when did you get so bashful?’
‘You can’t see me like this before the wedding. It’s bad luck!’
‘I’ve never heard such nonsense in all my life. Now open up at once!’
‘Can’t it wait till the morning?’ he tried weakly. ‘I’m just about to go to bed.’
‘It’s not even ten o’clock. What are you playing at, Bruno? You’d better not have a woman in there.’
‘I’m alone, Stella. You’ve no idea how alone.’
‘Let me in right now, Bruno Bailey, or the wedding’s off.’
‘Do you remember the night we got engaged, Stella? We said we’d love each other no matter what. I told you it wouldn’t make any difference to me if you were horribly disfigured in a car crash or if there was a fire and – ‘
All right. He was done. There was nothing left but to get it over with. Wiping tears from his face, Bruno opened the door.
Stella swept into the apartment, senses alert for the slightest hint of another woman. The only scent her snub nose detected was her own exclusive one. But her baby blue eyes, scanning the room, noted the bottle of whisky on the coffee table and the empty glass on the carpet. Something wasn’t right.
She took in Bruno’s bronzed body. It was too dark to be certain, but she could see no sign of scratch marks or lipstick. ‘Put some clothes on,’ she ordered. ‘And why is it so dark in here?’
‘The light’s not working. Bulb must have blown.’
Stella stepped over to the floor lamp. ‘We’ll make do with this then.’
Too late. Stella’s finger stabbed the on switch.
Bruno leapt backwards. Into the shadows.
Stella gave him a look that demanded to know if he was mad.
‘The light hurts my eyes,’ he explained. ‘I’m still suffering from my stag night.’
‘I warned you about trying to keep up with Roger’ said Stella, pleased to have been vindicated. She opened her Gucci handbag and rummaged through its expensive contents. ‘I’ve got aspirin somewhere. If only it wasn’t so dark.’
Stella instinctively hit the main light switch. In an instant, the ceiling light banished the shadows from around Bruno.
She looked up from her handbag. Her jaw dropped.
‘I can explain,’ said Bruno.
‘Actually, I can’t,’ clarified Bruno. ‘But you still love me, don’t you?’
He took a tentative, pleading step towards her. She backed away.
‘I’m the same man I always was.’
But he wasn’t. And he knew it. And she did too.
‘How can I marry a man who’s missing his… his…?’ Stella burst into tears. With a cry of disgust, she ripped off her engagement ring and threw it at Bruno. ‘How could you do this to yourself?’
To Bruno’s relief, Stella did not wait for an answer. The door slammed behind her.
With Stella’s parting words ringing in his ears, Bruno grabbed the bottle from the coffee table. It was half full which meant he had about seventy quid’s worth of whisky left. Damned fine whisky it was. Or at least it ought to be.
Only the best for Bruno.
How could you do this to yourself?
If he could answer that, perhaps he’d find a way out of this mess.
Think, Bruno. Think!
It happened last night. His stag night. A farewell to the carefree joys of bachelorhood. He remembered the pub, the stripogram and the tequila slammers. The lap dancing club was a blur but he was sure everything was fine when they left there. And then there was the night club. Champagne, beautiful women and cocaine.
He’d gotten home barely conscious. Half-dragged half-carried by Roger, Thommo and Ginger. Dumped unceremoniously onto his bed with its silken sheets and eiderdown duvet.
And then darkness.
Bastards! What have they done to me? How have they done it?
He took a swig of whisky. It tasted ordinary.
Disgusted, he threw the bottle into the fireplace. The faux-Victorian fireplace that had cost him a small fortune.
He grabbed the phone and attacked the number pad.
The phone purred in his ear. Purr-purr… purr-purr…
Come on, Roger, you in-bred, over-privileged little turd. Pick up. Tell me this is your idea of a joke. Tell me you can undo this and make things right between Stella and me.
I know this is your doing. None of the others would have the imagination or resources. Pick up the phone and we’ll have a good laugh at my expense.
‘Bugger!’ Bruno slammed the phone against the wall. Again. And again. Until he was surrounded by plaster and fractured plastic.
Of course it wasn’t, Roger. It was none of them. Because there wasn’t a person in the world who could do this thing to him.
Calm now, he surveyed the room. Saw the broken whisky bottle and the jettisoned glass. There were cushions out of place and a kink in his Afghani rug. A dust bunny mocked him from beneath the Louis XIVth drinks cabinet.
Look at the state of this room, he thought to himself. No wonder Stella left so abruptly.
He had to get it tidy. Had to bring order back to his life. A place for everything and everything in its place. Television’s Mr Perfect swung into action.
He hurried to the bedroom and slipped into chinchilla slippers and the black hand-stitched pyjamas he’d bought in Japan. And then he set about the living room. He set the remote control on the coffee table, making sure it was parallel to the edge. With silver ice tongs he picked up pieces of whisky bottle and placed them in the bin by his art deco writing bureau. From the kitchen he fetched a bin bag and a dustpan and brush. He swept up the plaster and bits of phone and put them in the bin bag.
After that came an energetic bout of cushion fluffing and furniture adjustment. Finally, he checked himself in the mirror and combed his hair.
‘Everything’s all right,’ he assured the red-eyed, unshaven face that stared back at him from the mirror. ‘I’m Bruno Bailey. I’m Mr Perfect.’
The face in the mirror began to cry.
‘Now stop it!’ commanded Bruno. ‘Pull yourself together!’
But it was no good. He couldn’t stop the tears because everything was not all right. Everything was shit.
His very beautiful and very rich fiancée had left him. Soon the newspapers would be clamouring to know why the wedding of the decade had been called off. And she’d tell them.
He pictured her at a press conference, dressed like a widow and playing the wronged woman to the hilt. ‘I can’t marry Bruno Bailey,’ she’d say dabbing at her cheeks with a lace hanky, ‘because Bruno Bailey has no shadow.’
There’d be laughter. Derisive headlines. Jokes about him on the Internet.
Mr Perfect has lost his shadow. Ha ha ha ha ha.
Beethoven’s Ode to Joy trumpeted joyously from the mobile phone sitting on his art nouveau sideboard.
Stella! he thought pouncing on it like a hungry cat.
Unknown number said the display.
‘Bollocks,’ said Bruno. He thumbed the connect button and put the phone to his ear. ‘What?’
‘Bruno Bailey?’ An unfamiliar voice.
‘Who the bloody hell is this? How did you get my number?’
‘I believe you’re looking for me.’
‘Who is this?’
‘You know who I am.’
And Bruno did and it tied a knot in his stomach. ‘That’s impossible.’
‘I’m at the Chiaroscuro Club. Grab a pen and I’ll tell you how to get there. This is your one and only chance to put things right. Screw it up and it’s bye-bye for keeps.’
Bruno didn’t care that he was trudging through mud in shoes worth £500 each. Or that the slightest contact with the alley walls could lead to the ruination of his handmade suit. Even the smell – a mixture of raw sewage and boiled cabbage – barely registered with him.
A rat performed an acrobatic leap into one of the bins lining the alley. Bruno shuddered, but he kept on going. Deeper into this ever-darkening passage littered with syringes and condoms. Past several anonymous doors until he came to one sporting a sign: CHIAROSCURO CLUB. MEMBERS ONLY.
Bruno raised his fist to knock but hesitated. He feared whatever lay beyond that door almost as much as he feared the social disgrace of being caught without a shadow. He was in unknown territory here, possibly walking into a trap.
Perhaps I’m only going to make things worse, he thought before mentally snorting in self-derision. Worse? How can it get any worse?
Conscious as ever of the importance of first impressions, he ran a comb through his hair and straightened his tie. Normally he would have checked his shoes but right now he couldn’t bring himself to so much as glance at them.
He took a deep breath and raised his fist again. Before he could knock, the door swung open and he found himself peering into a dim, smoke-filled bar. It was a dive straight out of film noir. Distressed mirrors displaying advertisements for products priced in shillings and pence were arrayed behind a wooden bar. Naked bulbs dimmed by dust and cigarette tar cast pools of light onto the bare floorboards. Although he had never set foot in such a place before, thanks to Hollywood and television it was nonetheless familiar to him. The only thing that jarred was the clientele.
For a few confusing moments, Bruno’s brain told him he was seeing everyone in silhouette. Then, with a shock, he realised he was looking at shadows. Two dimensional and black through and through, they drank, chatted, laughed and played card games and shove ha’penny. They were predominantly male and – if posture was any guide – as varied in age as the patrons of a normal bar.
As Bruno’s presence registered, the chatter died away. Dark, featureless faces regarded him through unseeable eyes.
Bruno was used to being stared at and he usually adored having an audience. But not this time. This time he wished everyone was looking at anything but him. Not since his gangly teenage years had he felt so self-consciously awkward. It was all he could do to get to the bar without tripping over his own feet.
The Bartender put down the glass he’d been drying and threw his tea towel over his shoulder. ‘What’ll it be, feller?’
Bruno had an impression of the Bartender flashing a grin at him, but with black teeth in a black mouth it was hard to tell.
‘I’m looking for my shadow,’ said Bruno.
The Bartender guffawed. ‘Hear that?’ he asked the bar in general. ‘He’s looking for his shadow!’
The assembled shadows sniggered.
‘Ask him what it looks like!’ one of them called.
This elicited a volley of cat calls. Tension broken, the shadows returned to their chit chat and games.
‘We know what you come for,’ said the Bartender. ‘You casters don’t never come here for nothing else.’
‘Things what cast shadows. Casters.’
‘Oh. I see.’
‘You’re Bruno Bailey, ain’tcha? Seen you on telly banging on about how great the world would be if everyone was like you.’ The Bartender pointedly looked Bruno up and down. ‘Shouldn’t think anyone’s gonna wanna be like you now.’
‘Look. Have you seen my shadow or haven’t you?’
The Bartender jerked his head towards a shadow sitting at the end of the bar hunched over a glass of whisky. ‘Make sure he doesn’t leave without settling his tab.’
Unsure whether to be angry or relieved, Bruno marched up to his errant shadow.
‘Well, well,’ said Bruno’s Shadow. ‘Look what the cat’s dragged in. Give the bartender your credit card. We’ve some serious drinking to do.’
‘Don’t you think you’ve had enough?’
‘Only of you.’
‘I don’t know what the problem is, but alcohol isn’t the answer. As I say in chapter three of Life and How to Lick It – ’
‘Oh cram it!’ Bruno’s Shadow slammed his glass on the bar and clicked his fingers at the Bartender. ‘Couple of shots of gutrot, Jacko. Make ’em doubles.’
‘Not for me,’ said Bruno. ‘I’ve drunk enough already tonight.’
‘Then get out,’ said the Bartender. ‘You can’t stay here unless you’re drinking. House rules.’
Bruno sat on the vacant stool next to his shadow. ‘Well, I suppose one more wouldn’t hurt.’
Half an hour later, Bruno said to his shadow: ‘So you’re saying I’m too perfect?’
Bruno’s Shadow sneered. ‘I’m saying you’re a pain in the arse. Taking a shower three times a day is not necessary. Ironing your underwear: not necessary. Checking your blood pressure each morning: not necessary. Using a theodolite to position the furniture: not necessary.’
‘I strive for perfection. That’s hardly a crime.’
‘But it is! It’s a crime against nature. You were never meant to be perfect. None of us were.’
‘If you feel that strongly, why have you never said anything?’
‘Shadows are taught not to talk to their casters. It tends to freak them out. And the last thing a shadow wants is to be stuck in the nut hatch with a booby case.’
‘And all these shadows here? Don’t they have casters?’
‘They’re runaways. Like me, they couldn’t stand the person they were stuck with. And like me, they’re damned.’ Bruno’s Shadow shuddered. ‘The sole purpose of my existence is to be your constant companion. It’s not for me to question my place in the scheme of things or to decide to heck with it. There’s a special place in Hell for shadows who die unattached.’
‘This is all so confusing. I didn’t realise shadows had a mind of their own. I guess I’ve taken you for granted.’
‘I guess you have at that.’
‘I’m willing to take you back. In time, I might even forgive you.’
‘Oh whoop-de-do-whoop,’ said Bruno’s Shadow. ‘It was bad enough when it was just you to put up with. But now there’s your stuck-up fiancee and her la-di-da shadow. Life with Mr and Mrs. Perfect! It doesn’t bear thinking about.’
‘You have to come back. I’m begging you.’
‘How very un-Bruno.’
‘Without you, Stella won’t marry me and I’ll be a laughing stock. Think of my reputation.’
I don’t have a choice, do I? Can’t live with you; can’t live without you.’ Bruno’s Shadow sobbed. Black tears rolled down black cheeks. ‘Dear God! I’m in Hell.’
Bruno’s Shadow slumped forward. His head hit the bar with a hollow thud and stayed there. He started to snore.
Now what do I do? wondered Bruno. Was it possible to pick up a shadow? Fold it neatly and put it in his pocket?
A shadow ambled up to the bar. Even though it lacked any features beyond its outline, it somehow managed to convey a military bearing.
‘Oh I say,’ it exclaimed upon seeing Bruno’s Shadow. ‘If a fellow can’t hold his drink, he should stick to tea.’ The shadow raised his hand. ‘Bartender! An old fashioned, if you please.’
As the Bartender set about mixing an old fashioned, the shadow glared at Bruno’s Shadow.
Bruno was embarassed. ‘He’s going through a rough time,’ he explained.
‘That, sir’ said the shadow, ‘is no excuse for drunkenness. Solutions to life’s problems are not to be found at the bottom of a whisky bottle.’
‘I said the very same thing in my book Life and How to Lick It’.
‘By Jove! Bruno Bailey. I’m a great admirer of yours, sir. Permit me to buy you a drink.’
‘Most kind of you,’ said Bruno, glad to have found a potential ally.
‘They call me Henry’s Shadow, by the by.’
‘I’m very pleased to meet you, Henry’s Shadow.’
They found a spare table and drank their old fashions while Henry’s Shadow told Bruno a tale of woe and neglect. In the meantime, Bruno’s Shadow remained at the bar dreaming of whatever it is that shadows dream of.
‘I can’t tell you the agonies I went through before jumping ship,’ said Henry’s Shadow as his story drew to its tragic conclusion, ‘but the situation was intolerable. Henry was a slob of the highest order. I was embarrassed to be seen with him.
‘The irony of it is that he owns one of your books. Ten Steps to Perfection. A present from his mother. He’s never even opened it.’
‘A pity,’ sighed Bruno. ‘If he’d just read chapter one, he’d be a much better person.’
‘He’s your complete opposite in every way, sir.’
‘So what will you do now?’
‘Fade into oblivion. A shadow without a caster cannot survive long. A week, maybe two at best.’
Bruno’s Shadow chose that moment to slide off his stool and land in a heap on the floor. His snoring intensified.
It was all the encouragement Bruno needed. ‘Tell me,’ he said. ‘Do shadows have to stick with their original casters?’
‘Oh no,’ said Henry’s Shadow. ‘A human shadow can link up with any human, so long as said human isn’t currently attached.’
‘In which case, Henry’s Shadow, I have a proposition for you.’
‘Oh yes,’ said Henry’s Shadow as he flitted around the living room of Bruno’s apartment. ‘Everything ship shape and Bristol fashion. This will do nicely.’
The shadow flowed up the sideboard to get a better look at Stella’s photograph. ‘This, I take it, is your intended? She’s very beautiful, sir.’
Bruno slapped his forehead. ‘Good Lord! I forgot about Stella.’
Inspection over, Henry’s Shadow attached himself to Bruno and assumed the shape of his new master.
‘Damn!’ said Bruno. ‘I have to talk to her before she starts cancelling the wedding.’
Bruno pulled his mobile phone from his pocket and scrolled through the contacts list.
‘Perhaps this should wait till morning, sir,’ suggested Henry’s Shadow. ‘I should imagine the young lady is asleep.’
‘You don’t know Stella,’ said Bruno, selecting Stella’s number. ‘She’ll have been up all night plotting her revenge on me.’
The call was answered after just two rings.
‘Stella! Don’t put the phone down. I have wonderful news.’
There was a snarl. ‘You’ve ruined my life, Bruno. And I’m going to make you pay for it.’
‘There’s no need for that, my sweet. I have a new shadow now.’
‘And it’s even better than my old one.’
‘You’d better not be putting me on.’
‘I swear to you, my precious. Everything’s going to be all right. We can go ahead with the wedding as planned.’
‘Hold your horses, mister. I want to see this shadow of yours before we start talking about marriage again. I’ll be there at eleven.’
Stella hung up.
Bruno was elated. ‘She’s coming by later,’ he told his new shadow. ‘So long as you pass muster – as no doubt you will – the wedding’s back on.’
‘All in all, a most satisfactory outcome,’ said Henry’s Shadow. ‘Now let us to bed. We want you at your best when the young lady gets here.’
Exhausted by the most extraordinary night of his life, Bruno was soon asleep. Henry’s Shadow snuggled up to his new owner and luxuriated in the rare feeling of being both wanted and appreciated.
By Jove, he told himself. You’ve landed on your feet here, you lucky shadow you.
For the best part of an hour, Henry’s Shadow listened to his master’s breathing as it grew from a series of gentle sighs into an all-out barrage of snores. Music to Henry’s Shadow’s two dimensional ears.
Eventually his consumption of old fashions caught up with him and Nature called. He slipped out of bed and looked down tenderly at Bruno, reflecting on how even in sleep he was as near perfect as any human could be. Bruno’s silk pyjamas sported precise creases. His full head of hair showed no sign of the unruliness that was the hallmark of Henry’s Shadow’s original caster. Even the way Bruno sucked his thumb had a certain rightness about it.
Henry’s Shadow tip-toed into the en suite bathroom. He paused briefly to admire the bold-but-tasteful décor before sending a jet of black urine into the toilet bowl.
Business done, he flushed the toilet and washed his hands. Then he hurried back to the bedroom to rejoin his master.
‘You,’ he said, gazing through adoring invisible eyes at Bruno, ‘have made me one happy shadow.’
A cough caused him to spin on his heel.
Bruno’s Shadow leaned louchely against the wall. ‘Good morning, Henry’s Shadow. I believe you might be in the wrong apartment.’
Henry’s Shadow puffed out his chest. ‘I think, sir, you’ll find you are no longer welcome here.’
‘We’ll see about that.’ Bruno’s Shadow adopted a defiant posture. Flat hands on flat hips. Flat feet placed apart. ‘I hereby evoke Article 37 of the Shadow Code of Conduct and challenge you to combat.’
‘Do you, by jove? I feel it only fair to warn you I am the undefeated shadow boxing champion of Great Britain. You don’t stand a chance.’
‘We shall see.’
‘Very well. May I suggest we adjourn to the living room?’
The living room was duly adjourned to. The two shadows cast themselves on the wall and squared off.
Henry’s Shadow raised his fists. ‘Before we begin, perhaps we should clarify the rules?’
‘Certainly,’ said Bruno’s Shadow as he kicked Henry’s Shadow in the balls.
Clutching his family jewels, Henry’s Shadow let out a great groan and doubled over.
‘Is that clarification enough?’ asked Bruno’s Shadow, delivering a vicious kick to his opponent’s face.
Henry’s Shadow landed on his back a split second before Bruno’s Shadow leapt on him, grabbed him by the throat and proceeded to throttle him.
‘This,’ gasped Henry’s Shadow, ‘is most unsporting.’
‘But fun,’ hissed Bruno’s Shadow. ‘Now shut up and die.’
Henry’s Shadow thrashed frantically at the air. He bucked his hips to try to dislodge Bruno’s Shadow but it was no use. Soon his movements became noticeably less pronounced. Then, with a final twitch of his leg, Henry’s Shadow gave up the ghost and lay still.
Panting heavily, Bruno’s Shadow got up and placed his leg on his dead opponent like a hunter who’s bagged a lion. ‘This,’ he declared, ‘is what you get for messing with Bruno’s Shadow!’
And now to deal with Bruno himself.
Bruno’s Shadow skipped across the floor and slipped into Bruno’s bedroom.
Chuckling like a schoolboy up to no good, he placed his hand on Bruno’s chest and willed it into insubstantiality. The hand sank through skin, flesh and bone until it reached Bruno’s heart. Making the hand solid again, Bruno’s Shadow squeezed.
Excruciating pain jolted Bruno awake. He found himself scarecly able to move or breathe. ‘What,’ he gasped, ‘are… you… doing?’
‘What you did to me when you dumped me for another shadow.’
‘Please… stop… it…’
‘I’ve given you the best years of my life and this is how you repay me!’
‘You broke my heart, Bruno. Now I’m breaking yours.’ Bruno’s Shadow tightened his grip.
Realising he was close to death, Bruno summoned what was left of his strength and clasped his hands around the shadow’s throat. He wasn’t ready to die just yet.
Night at the Chiaroscuro Club.
It was always night at the Chiarosucro Club.
Renegade shadows drank away their cares as they swapped pleasantries, sob stories and filthy jokes.
Spitting into a glass and wiping it with his tea towel, the Bartender wondered about Bruno’s Shadow. Most of the shadows present would sooner or later return to their owners. They had to if they wanted to live. He himself was going to give it a couple more days before returning to the annoying jackass it was his misfortune to have been attached to. But that was no longer an option for Bruno’s Shadow. All that was left to him was a lonely, lingering death, a fading away into nothingness.
What a thing to do to your own shadow, thought the Bartender. And as for Henry’s Shadow – just how low can you get?
A sudden draught signalled the opening of the main door. Heads turned. Chatter died away.
‘It’s Bruno Whatshisface,’ slurred a young shadow with a Mohican haircut. ‘That prick on the television what thinks he’s better than everyone else.’
This elicited a few jeers and cat calls but the shadows had other things on their minds and quickly returned to their drinking and chatter.
The Barman watched his latest and least welcone customer amble up to the bar and noticed he lacked a shadow. Had he come to steal someone else’s? Did the man have no morals whatsoever?
‘I thought we’d seen the last of you,’ said the Bartender.
‘Not me, old chum. Give me a slug of gutrot. Make it a double and keep ‘em coming.’
Stella let herself into Bruno’s apartment and shut the door behind her.
No reply. Where the hell was he? Hiding from her because he’d lied about having a new shadow? Or because it wasn’t up to scratch?
If he was wasting her time, he was going to be mighty sorry.
Perhaps the bedroom? Lounging about in his silk pyjamas hoping for a little make-up sex? He’d be lucky after what he’d put her through.
The bedroom door was ajar. She stuck her head round.
The lazy so-and-so was in bed with the duvet over his head. Well, she wasn’t having that. She wanted to see this new shadow of his and then – if she was satisfied – they had a wedding to plan.
She threw back the duvet and was momentarily unable to work out what it was lying there in Bruno’s pyjamas.
And then comprehension kicked in and she screamed mightily.
Meanwhile back at the Chiaroscuro Club, Bruno’s Shadow adjusted his face. He straightened the mouth and tucked a handful of excess skin into the collar of his shirt. His new exterior was a little on the large side but he’d grow into it.
All he needed now was his own shadow.