oh, well, whatever . . .

the masked man at the gate

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About mid morning one of Debs’ favourite clients, Mandy Potts, called at the office. She had in tow her two young children, Apple, who’s almost three, and her half-sibling Sparky. He’s six or so. Debs went out to see her, assuming she’d be seeking financial help, as usual.

‘Can I have a word?’ Debs said, when she came back along a few minutes later.

‘Sure,’ I said. ‘How much does she want?’

‘It’s not money she wants,’ Debs replied. ‘She’s got a new partner and wants to know if it’s okay with us if he moves in – which means he has already, of course.’

I expressed some surprise at this as it is not three weeks since Mandy told the review meeting of her enduring love for Tommy Flintoff – Flinty, as he’s called – and asked us to give them the chance to play happy families together again as soon as he is released from Durham Prison in July. Flinty is currently serving five years for drug dealing and for offences of violence, one of these being a serious assault on Mandy during which he tried to cut off her ears with secateurs. Fortunately he was so off his face on crack cocaine at the time that his coordination rather let him down and he amputated one of his own fingers instead, an error which brought the assault to a rather abrupt end and led to his arrest later at Wansbeck A & E.  Sparky, who had been present throughout most of Flinty’s onslaught, had the presence of mind to pick up the severed digit and put it in a Kinder Egg shell. Mandy took it to the hospital. The surgeons were able to re-attach it, although full functionality will probably never return. At the review Mandy said Flinty had grown up while he was in prison (he was sentenced on what was only  his thirty-eighth birthday), and that the kids really loved him and he had really changed. The review felt her analysis was perhaps a little optimistic. 

‘So who’s the new man?’ I enquired.

‘He calls himself Mr Zorro,’ Debs said.

‘Mr Zorro?’

‘Yes. And he doesn’t see any reason why he should tell us his previous name.’

‘His previous name being his real name, I suppose?’

Debs nodded. ‘He knows about Mandy’s circumstances,’ she said, ‘and he accepts that we should know he’s become part of the children’s lives. I said we would need to do police checks, but he says that in his case it shouldn’t be necessary as he doesn’t have any criminal record.’

‘No, and I’m sure that’s exactly what the police will say too if they run “Mr Zorro” through their computer. You need to tell him and Mandy that without his real name we’re going to have a big problem with this arrangement.’

‘There’s something else,’ Debs said. ‘He’s a wee bit of an oddball.’

‘Odder than Flinty?’

‘Maybe not. But he’s not really Mandy’s usual type.’  Debs looked a little perplexed. She was like De Kooning: her muteness was eloquent.

‘You want me to have a word with him?’

‘Yes, I think so.’

Mandy was in the interview room, biting down the nails on her right hand.  Apple and Sparky were behind her playing with the toys, and beside her stood Mr Zorro. He extended his hand and I shook it.

‘Mr Zorro, I presume,’ I said.

‘The very same,’ he replied.

‘I see now why you changed your name,’ I said.

Mr Zorro was as tall as me – about 6’2″ – and dressed in a dark brown Zorro outfit: dark brown tight trousers and knee-high Cuban-heeled cowboy boots, dark brown shirt fastened at the collar, dark brown waistcoat, dark brown flat-brimmed Spanish hat, broad brown leather belt with a silver buckle. And a dark brown cape.  The only real interruption to his brown as cocoa theme was his black as soot mask.

‘So have you actually moved in with Mandy?’ I asked him, looking to Mandy for the correct answer.

‘Yes, I have,’ he replied, after a short pause. ‘Mandy and I hope to marry one day.’

Mandy nodded her assent to Mr Zorro’s proposal.

‘And I assume Mr Zorro knows about your past, Mandy, and why we are involved with you?’

‘Yes, I’ve told him everything.’

‘Including Flinty?’

‘Yes, I know all about him too,’ Mr Zorro interjected. ‘I think we can safely say now that so far as Mandy is concerned Flinty is well and truly history.’

Mandy smiled a little nervously but again nodded her assent to Mr Zorro’s assertion.

‘How long have you known one another?’ I asked ‘Where did you meet?’

‘We met about a month ago at The Gate in Newcastle,’ Mandy explained. ‘I was there with the girls on a night out.’ She and Zorro glanced at one another in a way that lovers the world over do.

‘Where are you from, Mr Zorro?’ I asked, hardly believing that these were sentences I would ever have occasion to utter.

‘Does it matter?’ he asked.

‘I’m afraid it does,’ I said. ‘We have a statutory responsibility to ensure the safety of Apple and Sparky, a duty we can only fulfil properly if we know what we need to about the people who are involved in their lives. You are now one of those people, and we need to know about you if we are to give permission for your cohabitation to continue.’

He looked at Mandy. Her eyes seemed to say: ‘I told you so; we don’t have any choice; do it for our love.’

‘All right,’ he said, ‘I’ll let you in on my past.  But only if you assure me that my personal details will remain strictly confidential and that I will be referred to by my current name in all face to face transactions with you, your staff and other professionals.’

I glanced at Debs. She shrugged and nodded to tell me this was okay by her.

‘We are bound by the Data Protection Act, the Human Rights Act and the common law regarding confidentiality,’ I said. ‘We need your name and date of birth, and we’ll need to run a police check on you. Are you okay with that?’

‘My name is Malcolm Ross. My date of birth is 23rd March 1980. I was born Scremerston, near Berwick, but for the past 4 years I have been living in High Heaton. You’ll find I have no criminal record.’

Debs wrote his details down as he gave them.

‘Thanks, Malcolm – sorry, I mean, Mr Zorro. That’s very helpful. We’ll get you checked out by the police. Debs will need to do a visit within the next couple of days to see how things are and she’ll need to do an updated assessment to see how things are now that you’re part of the family.’

‘That’s fine,’ Mr Zorro said. Mandy smiled.

‘Mammy, does that mean Mr Zee is going to be our new daddy,’ Sparky asked, excitedly.

‘It might, Sparky,’ Mandy said. ‘You’ll just have to wait and see.’ Sparky was briefly seized by a rigid tremble of delight and then gave Apple a big hug. For children like these waiting to find out who your new daddy is going to be must be a bit like waiting for your Christmas present, I thought: all you know is that you get a different one every year.

‘Thanks, Zee,’ Mandy said, touching him on one of his folded arms. Mr Zorro, browner than peat, legs astride and black velvet mask across his nose, nodded silently, in the way that heroes often do.

‘It’s nice to meet you,’ I said. ‘Debs will need to sort out her visit with you. I’ll leave you to it. Just one last thing: why do you dress like Zorro?’

‘Mr Zee’s a Zorr,’ Sparky chipped in. ‘Zorrs are cool!’

Mr Zorro smiled.

‘Oh, you’re a Zorr,’ I said, as if this was a lifestyle choice I was familiar already with. ‘Now I understand. Like a Goth or an EMO or a chav, eh? Like a New Romantic or a punk? Oh, I see.’

Debs glanced at me for a nanosecond and then began talking to Apple about her lovely new brown dress with the little white daisies all down the bib.

‘Zorr’s are new around these parts,’ I said. ‘We’re not as cutting edge as the folks in High Heaton. Any way, thanks again. I hope things work out for you both.’

I went back to my office and left Debs to it. Mr Zorro seemed like a decent enough guy. He’ll certainly need all the heroic qualities he can muster to deal with Mandy and her meanderings. I wondered what the philosophy of the Zorrs was. Judging by the one example I’d met, I’d say their core values – the crucial elements in the Zorr self-construct – were perhaps a sense of duty, earnestness and the noble defence of the needy, although I accept that there is not as yet a robust evidence base for this assessment.

Debs came back into the office, laughing out loud.

‘So what do you make of Mr Zorro?!’ she said. ‘Is he a nutter?  Is he a risk to the kids? What should we do about him?!’

‘If someone wants to be a Zorr, I guess he has every right to do so. To discriminate against him for doing so would be a breach of his human rights under Article 8 of the Act, I suspect.  Zorrs might be new to us, Debs, but is being one any more evidence of mental health problems than being a Goth or a Jehovah’s Witness? And there are lots of both of those around these days.’

I suggested we had no evidence to justify an intervention at this stage. ‘But I’m really looking forward to reading your assessment, of course,’ I added. ‘And God knows what we’re going to do when Flinty gets out.’

When I got home Margaret told me Brenda had just received a late birthday present from a man who lives in America with whom she corresponds by email, a man she has never met. He sent her a pair of leather cowgirl western boots.

‘They’re exactly what she wanted,’ Margaret said, from which I assumed that the American must be a clairvoyant.

‘What does Tristan think about her getting a present from a strange man she’s met on the internet?’ I asked.

‘He won’t know. She’s just going to tell him she bought them for herself.’

Sometimes I think, despite the evidence of Mr Zee, that people never change.

I ate my tea in sun in the conservatory and listened to the Radio 4 news.  In the evening it became grey and cooler. I went out for a walk down Plessey Road, along Coomassie Road, through the town centre and along Regent Street to Cowpen Quay. I saw no Zorrs, although it wasn’t for the want of looking. However, I did see innumerable clumps of chavs, straggled and strewn around corners and bus shelters and backstreets, a hundred and more shiny polyester suitlets.  A couple of years ago I had a dream that the world came to an end and that the only survivors were me and a tribe of faceless chavs in polyester suitlets, stripes down every arm and leg. I woke up in sweat. Perhaps tonight I’ll dream an apocalypse of brown Zorros.

When I got home De Kooning was in the front garden rummaging around in the catmint. I scooped him up and took him inside.  Hugo was staring at the alligator’s tail, preparing himself to do whatever it is he is doing. I laid a blank two foot square canvas on the table. I squeezed a glob of acrylic vermillion out on to a paper palette.  I stared at the white canvas for a while and then loaded my number 14 filbert. I made the mark with three swift strokes as De Kooning cleaned his face.


Written by yammering

May 10, 2008 at 8:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

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