Droopy Stephenson hadn’t been a dirty old man
all that long. He was still adjusting. He was weighing up the
pros and cons, and trying not to allow it to affect his work.
Which wasn’t easy.
“What’s this I hear, Droopy?” asked Sam Collins, his boss,
crouching beside the Land-Rover from which Droopy was
removing the sump. “Man, I’m shocked at you!” And off he
went with a laugh, slapping his thigh.
Droopy extended a hand for a No. 8 ring spanner, and
Joseph, his intuitive Zulu assistant, wiped the grease from its
shank and placed it gently in his grasp. Then for a while Droopy
just lay there on his back on the crawler board, staring up at
the sump’s drain plug.
Three days ago, he had gone into the little fruit shop on the
corner, a few yards down the back street from the two-bay
garage where he worked, and said to the proprietress, “Another
scorcher, hey, Mavis? Okay if I feels your tomatoes?” He liked
his tomatoes crisp. And Mavis Koekemoor, who had known
Droopy for years, hadn’t even bothered to nod. Instead, she told
him that her feet were killing her, and that while the heatwave
lasted she had a good mind to get her young niece along to look
after the counter side of things. As the shop had only a counter
side of things, the idea, had seemed promising to Droopy, and
he had said as much. He had also asked politely after Mavis’s
young niece, whom he remembered vaguely as having helped
out in the shop during school holidays, and had learned that she
was waiting to start a job as a hair stylist. “Ja, she’s a big girl
now,” Mavis Koekemoor had observed with satisfaction, giving
the bag of tomatoes a quick flip, closing and sealing it all in
one operation. Droopy had tried to repeat this neat trick after
enjoying two of the tomatoes with his lunch-time sandwiches,
and had lost the rest of them down the lubrication pit.
“The boss wants Number Six?” Joseph enquired uneasily,
having heard no sounds of activity from beneath the vehicle.
“Ach no, an Eight’s about right.”
After applying the spanner to a couple of bolts, Droopy fell
once again into a reverie, going over and over the events leading
to his new image of himself.
Two days ago, he had gone into the little fruit shop on the
corner to be confronted—there was no other word for it—by a
pair of amazing bosoms, and a hair style like an electric shock.
“You know Glenda,” Mavis Koekemoor had prompted from a
comfortable seat in front of the fan. “And will you just look
at her? I ask you! That’s this young madam’s idea of ‘catching
a tan, Auntie’!—she’s red all over.” Notwithstanding his normally
shy and retiring nature, Droopy was already looking.
In fact he was staring fixedly at Glenda, rather less awed by
the fiery ravages of the sun than he was by changes of a more
“Hi, Droopy,” Glenda had said, with such a sweet, innocent
smile. “Well, do you see anything you’d like?”
“Er, okay if I feels your tomatoes?”
And from there it had gone from bad to worse. Much worse.
Until Droopy had finally fled, clutching a free cucumber and
two oranges, while Mavis Koekemoor had collapsed, helpless
with laughter, into the arms of her unscrupulous niece.
“The boss is sick?”
Droopy had emitted an involuntary groan. “Ach never! Isn’t
it about time you fetched my tea?”
The next day, of course, which seemed like a million years
ago but was only yesterday, Droopy had avoided the little fruit
shop like the plague, seeking to augment his landlady’s idea
of a packed lunch by a visit to the cake shop. Ordinarily, the
three girls in there seemed to take no notice of him whatsoever,
but sold him his confectionery without pausing in their
conversations together. A tense silence had fallen the moment
he reached the counter, the first giggle had come from behind
his back, and then the house had come down when he’d asked,
rather crossly, if they had any lemon tarts.
“We never imagined,” said the blonde one, as she handed him
his change. “Still waters run deep, hey, Droopy?”
It was enough to make anyone feel confused, baffled and
bewildered, and soon it brought on a nasty headache. So, on his
way back to Sam’s Garage, Droopy had slipped into the chemist
shop. The two girl assistants had clung together behind a case
of sunglasses, sniggering loudly, and then one, prodded forward
by her colleague, had said, “Just hang on a sec, Droopy,
and I’ll fetch the manager to serve you!”
“What can he sell me you can’t sell me, hey? All I wants is
a thingy of Disprin.”
Her plucked eyebrows had gone up. “You’re sure? You’ve
not run out or anything?”
“Of course I’ve bloody run out!” Droopy had snapped, adding
immeasurably to their merriment. The last straw had come
when, on his return to the garage, the scatty receptionist had
looked on him with twinkling eyes and said, “Oh, Droopy—
where have you been all lunch-time? What have you been up to?”
Joseph’s gape-toed shoes scraped to a halt beside the Land-
Rover. “Excuse, boss. Boss Sam he say does the boss want Boss
Sam to put stuff in his tea?”
“Ungasi, boss. I go ask him?”
“No, just bring me my bloody tea and stop fooling around,
man! I’ve got work to do!”
But still the No. 8 ring spanner lay inactive in his hand.
Enlightenment had come on his way home, when little Miss
Brooks, who ran the Dolls’ Hospital round the corner, had
beckoned him into her shop and said, “I just want you to know,
Mr. Stephenson, that no matter what that hussy is telling
everyone, I shall never be persuaded you’re a—you’re a dirty
old man.” Droopy had thanked her humbly, and returned to
his lodgings, where he’d tossed and turned on the small divan
all night, trying to think of ways of killing Glenda Koekemoor
stone dead. By the morning, he had admitted to himself
that all he could do was brazen this whole thing out, and so,
before arriving at the garage, he had called at the cake shop,
the chemist shop, the travel agency, the film rental place, and
several other businesses, including the little fruit shop. Glenda,
Mavis Koekemoor had told him, would be coming in later that
morning, and he left a message saying he’d like to see her.
Actually, although he had dreaded the idea of doing the rounds,
Droopy found that he had enjoyed himself.
In the cake shop, the usual crowd of apprentices and virile
young office workers, buying their sticky buns for eleven, had
gone ignored the moment he walked in. The girls there had
hung on his every word, and he had no need to say anything
more than half-funny for them to shriek with laughter, and
flaunt their charms at him. Much the same had happened in the
chemist shop until the manager had intervened, and Droopy
had marched out with the first packet of sheaths he had owned
in forty years. As for the red-head in the travel agency, she
had titillated him beyond words by insisting that, for a man
of his reputation, there was nowhere in the world he should
sooner go than Gay Paree—and she would, given half a chance,
accompany him. Even walking back down the street had been
excitingly different; whereas Droopy had been accustomed to
pass by, shabby and unseen, now his progress was the focus of
almost limitless attention.
A pair of grease-soaked moccasins came up to the Land-
Rover. “Morning, Droopy!”
It was his fellow mechanic, Boet Swart.
“Morning, Boet. How goes it?”
“So-so, hey? But tell me, how do you do it?”
“Ach, come on, Droopy—don’t play games with me, hey?
The word is out—let me tell you that, the word is out!”
“I know,” said Droopy, and surprised himself by quite liking
the idea; some of the titillation he’d received this morning
was still having a residual effect. “I heard it off Miss Brooks
The misgivings in Boet’s voice pressed a needle point against
the bubble of Droopy’s elation. “Why say ‘Oh ja?’ in that
fashion? Surely you would be glad if all the popsies—”
“But Miss Brooks, hey?”
“She calls me into her shop, and she—”
“She was doing it out of kindness, and what’s so wrong
Droopy crabbed his way out from under the Land-Rover,
and got up off the crawler board. “That’s a funny expression,
Boet—best tell me what’s on your mind.”
“Well, maybe you haven’t heard about Miss Brooks, Droopy
old friend. There could be another reason she’s suddenly so
interested in you. . . .”
Droopy cocked his head to one side, waiting. “What could
an old woman like that want with me?” he said.
“Man, it’s a question of what kind of old woman,” said Boet
dolefully, “and she won’t be the only one after you, now the
word is out. You’ll have them coming for you from every direction.”
Then he spun on his heel and walked very quickly away,
while the scatty brunette grinned at them from Reception.
Panic rooted Droopy to the spot. Fantasies with nubile
young popsies had been one thing, but not for a moment had
he considered the possibility of dirty old women getting the
hots for him. His brother had been a policeman, and he’d often
said he would rather face nine kaffirs armed with cane knives
than one determined woman—especially the posh sort, like
Miss Brooks, when they were hysterical. Given another second
or two, Droopy might have been able to laugh the whole thing
off, but he didn’t get the chance.
A high, cultured voice rang out from the open workshop
door. “I don’t see what the difficulty is! Why can’t I have that
one? He doesn’t appear to be doing anything at the moment.”
And when he turned round, Droopy saw a tall, skinny woman,
with white hair and very red lips, pointing her finger at him.
“Can you come over for a minute?” Sam asked, waiting until
Droopy had shuffled over before going on. “It seems that this
lady has a problem you can help her with.”
“Yes, lady?” said Droopy, ignoring Sam’s wink and the snorts
coming from behind him at Reception.
“My boot’s stuck—it’s absolutely infuriating. I’d just bought
a mountain of things to put in it, but I simply can’t get the key
to work. It won’t even go in.”
“I’ll leave you to it,” said Sam, turning away to his office.
“Here,” the woman said, handing over her key-ring. “I’ve
left it over there, and now I must dash, or I’ll be late for my
Droopy wandered out and down the road a short way. The
first thing that struck him about the car was that dogs had been
peeing all over the back tires and the back bumper. This was
a bit strange, but shouldn’t have affected the lock. Then he
crouched down and inspected the keyhole.
He jumped. It was Glenda, bursting forth out of a thin
blouse and quite unrepentant. His grip tightened on the shaft
of the No. 8 ring spanner, which he still had with him.
“You wanted to talk to me, Auntie says. I hope it’s not going
to be so embarrassing like the last time!”
“Look!” said Droopy, before words failed him.
It was no good, his common sense insisted. There was
nothing he could say that would change what she’d done. All
he could pray was that something else would come along to
take people’s minds off it, although that was the trouble with
a back street, nothing ever happened.
“Forget it,” mumbled Droopy.
Glenda crouched beside him, nudging his left shoulder with
her right. “What’s the problem?”
“You’ve got eyes, haven’t you?”
“Ja. There’s a bit of matchstick stuck in there.”
Droopy hadn’t noticed that. He squinted, put down his
spanner and felt in his pockets.
“Hairpin,” said Glenda, handing him one of her own.
“That’s no bloody good.”
“You haven’t tried it.”
He tried it. The matchstick only became wedged more
firmly. “Bloody kids!” he grunted. “Trust them to. . . .”
“Oh ja, it’s always kids—blame the kids! How do you know?”
“Let me try, Droopy.”
“You can push off, as far as I’m concerned!”
Glenda stayed right where she was. She sniffed. She wrinkled
her nose and made a face. “Hell, there’s a horrible smell
around here,” she said, disgustedly. “Where does this car come
from—a farm? Must be stuck to the wheels.”
“I said, push off!”
“Ach, Droopy man, you mustn’t be like that, hey?” She laid
her soft hand on his gnarled fist, and a tingle shot right through
him. “You must learn to take a joke!”
“What joke?” he scoffed. “Since when is what you did a joke?”
“You mean me telling everyone about the tomatoes?”
Her audacity took his breath away. “You need your panties
pulled down and your bottom spanked, young lady!”
“Are you offering?”
“But naturally it was a joke,” she went on blithely, taking the
hairpin from his nerveless fingers and trying her luck with the
lock. “It wouldn’t have been funny if you was really a dirty old
man, would it? But you’re not—in fact, you’re probably the
most unsexy man in the whole of Trekkersburg.”
“Do you think anyone would dare to play up to you if you
weren’t—you know, sort of a nice nothing? They’d run a
“My boyfriend could open this easy—he just gives it a boot,
and the thing flies up.”
“Mind you, it’s got him in trouble with the cops before!”
“God Almighty,” gasped Droopy, hurt as he’d never been
hurt before, “who are you calling a ‘nice nothing,’ hey? Who
are you to judge a man—?”
“Ah!” Glenda laughed delightedly. “So you’re admitting now
that there was some guilty feeling in the way you blushed red
as a beetroot?”
That did it. Droopy found the No. 8 ring spanner back in his
grasp, and all he wanted to do was hit her and hit her, to hurt
her just as she was hurting him with every lash of her wicked
tongue. More than that, he wanted to smash her whole head
to pieces, splattering the brain that could think such things,
penetrate so deeply into him, all over the road.
“Droopy!” cried Glenda, jumping up in alarm.
And he struck, delivering a terrible blow to the lock. The
boot of the car sprang open, a frightful smell choked the air,
and there before them lay what was undoubtedly the dirtiest
old man either of them had ever seen. He was covered in mud,
excrement and blood, and he had his hands tied behind him in
a knot tightened by some hideous strength, for the bones were
broken. Lastly, he was dead.
Glenda screamed and screamed and the whole street rushed
to her rescue.
Excerpted from The Blood of an Englishman by James McClure. Copyright © 2012 by James McClure. Excerpted by permission of Soho Crime, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.