You all know me, gentle readers. I tell it like it is - I call a spade a spade and then make a dash for it. Occasionally, by a predetermined and well-planned exit - more often in a blind panicked whirl of sheer funk. But it appears that this time I've put my size 10s in the brown squishy stuff once too often, and I fear it may lead to my final doom. With my lifestyle, maybe I would never have made old bones, but Gad, I'll leave a handsome corpse. With a face etched in sheer terror.
What am I babbling on about? Well, we're getting to that bit, just be patient - all this waffling is improving your English - just be thankful the lesson is cheap. The one I've just learnt may cost me my life. I'm too young to die, curse you! It just ain't fair! I'm only eight short of my 1000th career mount! And Sir Archie owes me twelve quid! I told him he'd never get his head in that vase. He did, mind. Luckily, he couldn’t get it back out again to double his money.
It all started with the emergence of one of my bitterest foes; a name that tops a list of hundreds of adversaries I've wronged, blackmailed, shot, bribed and cheated down the years. Charles Murtagh: the deadliest sword and most feared mercenary in the whole of England. Save me from this deadly peril, won't you?! I'll be your best pal, and I honestly won't go near your wife! Is she a looker, by the way? Big tits, then?
He had no right turning up unexpectedly at my local den, the Reform Club, unannounced and uninvited. We’re similar in many ways, I suppose – big, brash, and handsome as you like. The key difference is I’m all bluff and one of God’s original cowards. He backs up his talk with action. Usually of the fistic variety. We’ve both got a list of medals and awards as long as your arm. Mine all bought, stolen, or ill-gotten through bluster, bullshit or folly. His earned through courage, backbone and bravery. The three traits I despise most in a man. We’ve shared some of the same campaigns – myself at the rearmost, of course, roaring away and waiting for an opponent with his back turned. Him leading the charge, rallying the troops and instilling fear both sides of the line. One of your comic book, boy’s own heroes. Let’s face it, we were never going to get on.
Well, I’d had one too many gin slings, and immediately started berating him, much to the amusement of my cronies, who all think me a hell of a fellow. Shouts of “Damn his eyes for him, Flashy!” and “Members only!” ringing out. I’m a fairly dauntless chap when I’ve a drink inside me, and a dozen pals for protection, but Murtagh’s steely glare almost froze me to the marrow. His next move almost made my heart pop out of my mouth, which might have been a hell of a trick, but would surely have got me banned for life.
He placed a photograph on the bar: a young lady. Blonde. Bubblegum smile. Familiar. There was a hush at the bar. Somebody hurled a tumbleweed across the background, just for effect.
“Are you buying or selling? ” I heard myself say, to the great amusement of my cohorts. A raised eyebrow from the newcomer silenced the lot of ‘em.
“It is you that are buying, Mr. Flashman. Though, I doubt you can afford the price.”
And with that he placed a playing card - the six of spades - on the bar, then turned and left. A wag at the back shouted “Snap!”, but the rest of us have some experience of the forces, to various degrees of knavery, and knew the significance of the card. It is the Dead Man’s Deal. To be given the 6 of spades is to have your cards well and truly marked. 6 spades means 6 days. Before the dealer dies - or you do. It is to the death.
“Who’ve you been knocking up this time, Flashy?” exclaimed friend Rummage, once we’d all regained a modicum of composure. He scooped up the photograph and gave an admiring smile. “Coo! I wouldn’t mind a crack at that piece myself! Here, she’s well titted out!”
As he passed me the photo, I pretended that my trembling hand was a sign of rage, not fear. I gazed
FLASHMAN STRIKES AGAIN!
Paul Rodgers is not the best thing since fried Fred.