Plankton is the publishing “company” owned by Alfons, Peony’s sexual partner (not boyfriend). I’ve looked up the web site and there appear to be seven books already published by them. I won’t lie. They’re not my kind of read. I don’t really belong on their list. But Peony has been telling Alfons that he has to expand and that humour is the way forward.

I was drawn to a thriller called Absorbed. Its blurb read: British agent Mike Pamflett is captured by terrorists in remote Malahkstan and re-educated in their cause before being shipped back home. Can he stop himself reeking havoc on the streets of Totnes?

“It’s spelt ‘wreaking’,” I told Peony.

“I’ll let him know,” she said. “He’s foreign, remember. His English is patchy. It’s a one-man band. He has to do the editing, cover design, everything.”

“He edits the books himself?”

“I just said so.”

“You also just said his English was patchy.”

“He’s enterprising.”

“Do you know what enterprising means?”

“No idea.”

“Oh and one more thing, the picture he uses for his logo is of krill not plankton.”

“Oh it’s all small marine life. What does it matter?”

*

And so she dragged me in to meet Alfons at his work place, which is a smallish room above a DIY shop on the high street. (I really thought he might be based in town and got a little dressed up.)

“I’ll hang about if you don’t mind, Alfons,” said Peony. “Me being the agent.”

He nodded his approval and his fine, transparent hair fluttered about his temples.

“I have read your books,” he set off. “They are very funny and charming, are they?”

(Don’t be put off, as I was at first, by the way he ends his sentences. He can’t seem to help himself and no one appears to have put him right so it’s probably too late for me to try.)

“Thank you,” I said. “And I’ve had a look at your list and I’m not sure…”

“You’ve read some of our books? No wonder our sales figures showed that unexpected leap, are you?”

“Always happy to help a local business,” I said. “I found myself absorbed by Absorbed.”

“You liked what you read, are you?”

“It was a unique piece of writing. You can’t help but wonder what the author, Julius Pettigrain, will come up with next.”

Alfons showed some pleasure at long last and actually I wished he hadn’t. It was rather revolting and involved him snorting. Which emboldened me to add:

“You know the book is riddled with spelling mistakes and there’s barely a nod to proper grammar. Who edited it?”

“Well I did,” he said.

“What about the author, though? He must be illiterate. Although a perfectly competent story-teller, I suppose.”

At this he slapped his hand on his desk top and, still apparently jovial, declared: “I am the author. And I have chosen a very manly English name, isn’t he!”

*

And so I have come away with a commission in the form of some paid work. Peony, my agent, sniffing out a new line of business, got me to commit to re-editing the books, all of which appear to have been written by Alfons under a series of ludicrous pseudonyms. He will pay me – and Peony seems to think that she secured something remarkable here – a fee of £122 to re-edit the lot. It will cost the fool thousands to get them reprinted but his vanity should cushion that particular fall. I might ask John to redesign the covers while I’m at it. He’ll almost certainly come up with something more interesting than the knives, blood and breasts that are the current theme.

When we got home I very sweetly asked my daughter:

“Peony, is it alright if I sack you now or should we let your imaginary contract run to the end of the month?”

“Tuh,” she said, dismissing the very idea. “It’s a job for life, Mum, don’t worry about that. Oh and don’t forget that I get a cut of that £122.”

Mother emerged from the living room and met us in the hall. She had a look of triumph about her.

“You’ll never guess what,” she trilled. “That cadaverous half-wit of a doctor, Lorenz, appeared on our doorstep while you were out, no doubt coming to seek forgiveness. I sent him off with a whole colony of fleas in each ear. I told him he’d never be welcome in this house.”

“Oh,” I said and only I heard the tear of exasperation in my voice. “But it’s my house,” I protested weakly.

“Yes!” she proclaimed. “And I told him you felt exactly the same way and would throw a shoe at him if he ever dared come back.”

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