by Jago Furnas
It is far later than I would like it to be and Fred the Freezer is talking to me again.
‘C’mon, kid. You like R.E.M.? I know you like R.E.M. I got a signed copy of their entire disco-graphy in here.’
Fred speaks with a strong New York accent, like an old-school Brooklyn accent from a film. I don’t know why. On his back, it says he’s from Hertfordshire.
‘C’mon, buddy. Signed mint condition vinyls. And a lock of Micheal Stipe’s hair. Y’know how it all fell out. Just have a look. No obligation to buy.’
Fred is an arsehole. I ignore him, as usual. We haven’t had a real conversation in months, not since he’s become obsessed with luring me inside him. I think it started as a joke but now I know he’s planning to trap me and freeze me to death. He’s one of those big freezers that look like they’re on their sides and where you open the lid upwards. Plenty of room, and no-one would ever find my body.
Mandy the microwave greets me and asks about my day as I load her with an M&S chicken jalfrezi. She’s much more my kind of appliance.
‘Crazy, Mandy. Someone called in today, wants to source a civet.’
‘A civet. You’ve heard of civet coffee?’
No reply. She’s concentrating on heating the curry.
‘Civet coffee. They feed the beans to a civet, which is a jungle cat of some sort, and then it shits them out, and then they, hopefully, sterilise them or whatever, and then they make coffee with them.’
‘Yeah. So some guy, no longer content with buying tons of what is, quite literally, overpriced crap, now wants a civet so he can make his own. In London.’
I work at J.P. deSpullman & Sons. You may have read about us, or one of the handful of companies like us, in a newspaper’s weekend supplement or something similar. Basically, if you want something, or something done, which is difficult or impossible, we do it. For a lot of money.
It’s a well-paid but time-consuming job, and it often leaves me too stressed to enjoy the little free time I have. To make matters worse, my appliances started talking to me when I moved into my current flat. I think there’s something dodgy about the electricity in my building: it used to be a power station. It is a very nice building in a very nice area of London but I think maybe a worker was electrocuted a hundred years ago and now haunts the electricity or something. Or it could be the stress of my job.
But I’m good at it. A convincing tenacity I never knew I had emerged during my first few months at deSpullman. It has seen me promoted several times in my year there and trusted with important clients.
A fucking civet, though.
After eating my dinner out of the packaging I take Phillipa out of my pocket and call a friend who’s doing a PhD in something zoological at Imperial College.
‘Fucking impossible,’ he says.
‘I’m not even sure we could get hold of a civet for legit purposes. What idiot asked for a civet?’
A very famous menswear designer. Obviously I can’t tell him who.
‘Someone in fashion. You would recognise the name.’
‘Really. Fucking hell.’
‘Yeah. Very, very famous.’
‘Well, for a private citizen, in London, it’s impossible. Legally. So at least you’re off the hook, assuming your weird company is telling the truth about only acting within the realms of the law. I still think you’re basically a cocaine delivery service.’
He’s wrong, surprisingly. Any brush with the law, deSpullman’s name in the papers in that light, would be disastrous.
‘Well, okay,’ I say, disappointment in my voice.
‘You wanted to spend months chasing a civet around the rainforest by phone?’
‘I wanted a big fat bonus.’
‘What you’d get is a big fat court case.’
I thank him and say goodbye and hang up.
‘That’s a relief,’ Phillipa says.
‘Suppose so. I was already mentally spending that bonus though.’
‘Hey, can you put me on charge?’
This again. ‘No. You’ve got seventy per cent. You know it wears down your battery life.’
‘Come on. I know what you were looking at last night. We all need some alone time, don’t we?’
‘Do you want me to turn you off?’ That shuts her up. I fire off an email telling my supervisor that getting a civet is impossible, and go to bed. Larry the lamp is in a chatty mood and I have to unplug him. He’s going to hold that against me for a while.
I wake up the next morning feeling like I haven’t slept. I dress and shave on autopilot and drag myself into the kitchen, where I pop two slices of bread into Tabby (who’s flirty this morning) and get the butter and jam out of Felicity.
My stove starts giving me shit.
‘Come on mate. That’s not a proper breakfast. You’re going to work on that?’
I do not have time for this.
‘When was the last time you even used me?’
I give him the silent treatment.
‘The girls like a man who can cook. You make a young lady toast and jam the morning after the night before, you think that’s going to impress her?’
‘Shut up, Steve.’
‘Actually I notice you haven’t had any young ladies round in a while.’
He’s right, of course, but low blow. This job takes up all my fucking time.
‘Go on, mate. Poach yourself a nice egg. Come the weekend, I’ll teach you how to make a hollandaise and everything. Eggs fucking Benedict. If that don’t impress ’em, nothing short of a face transplant will.’
I grab the oven cleaner from the shelf, wrench open the oven door and let him have it.
‘You bastard!’ he screams as I butter my toast. ‘You fucking coward! If we had a fair fight…’
‘Leave him alone,’ Tabby tells him. ‘You were asking for it.’
‘Shut it, slag,’ Steve growls.
‘Don’t talk to Tabby like that,’ Felicity chimes in.
‘Steve, you’re horrible.’ Philli’s muffled voice from my pocket.
‘Hey, kid,’ Fred says. ‘Come and take a break from all this. I got some nice cool lemonade in here for you.’
I walk out and slam the door behind me, my appliances’ argument filling the kitchen, half a slice of toast still in one hand. I realize I’ve left the butter out, but there’s no way I’m going back in there.
I check my email on the way to the tube station. My supervisor wants me to meet personally with Civet Man. She thinks he would appreciate a face-to-face explanation of why the poor guy can’t have his civet. At a very nice restaurant. At least I’ll get a free dinner out of it.
The day at work rushes past frantically as usual, and at five thirty my supervisor calls me to her office. She pours me a drink (I think she thinks she’s in Mad Men) and briefs me for the dinner with Most Esteemed Lord Civet.
My supervisor is coming up on fifty and is always very flirtatious with me. She is still very attractive but the age difference just makes her advances seem predatory. The five drinks she mixes me over the course of an hour and a half are very strong and I escape into the taxi sexually unscathed but well past tipsy and into drunk. I also find myself carrying an expensive leather satchel containing several bags of civet coffee.
The designer is waiting with half a cocktail when I get to the restaurant on the western edge of Shoreditch. He looks pissed off but does his best to smile at me when I approach the table. He shakes my hand firmly and for too long.
‘I’m afraid I don’t have good news,’ I say, sitting down.
‘Yes,’ he says, scanning the wine list.
‘Of course we will go to any lengths to provide our clients, especially one so valued as yourself, with what they require. But of course only within the realms of the law.’ I repeat my supervisor’s lines like a crap actor.
‘Well, what can be done.’ Champagne appears. ‘Of course DeSpullman can’t risk their name being in the press with wildlife smugglery.’ He spits out the word ‘press’ and seems pleased with himself for coining ‘smugglery’.
‘You understand our situation.’
‘Honey, I own… I am an international brand. Of course I understand. You remember the Laos thing.’
I do. Sweatshops, deaths, The Guardian, boycotts. I smile at him and sip at the champagne flute which magically stays full and he tops me up again. I like champagne.
Starters come; it seems at some point he has stealthily ordered. I try not to eat red meat but tuck into the tiny mound of steak tartare before me. It is delicious. Red wine has materialised, naturally. We make small talk. He is almost as drunk as I am.
‘You’re very good at getting people what they want, aren’t you?’ the designer says suddenly as we start on the mains, which seem to have once been roast lamb and mint sauce but have exploded into sleek shards and bright smears on miles and miles of perfect white plate. ‘I suppose if you weren’t limited by the law you could get me a civet.’ He sips at his glass.
I look at him warily. He laughs.
‘A joke. A joke, of course.’
I smile and take a gulp of wine.
‘You should have seen the look on your face, honey.’
I smile and sip at my glass. When I put it down again it is not on the white tablecloth but on the beautiful carpet of a nice hotel suite. I catch a glimpse of the BT tower, or maybe the Shard, out of a window. It’s been a long time since I slept with a man. Of course, it’s been a long time since I slept with a woman. Phillipa is protesting in my pocket from the floor. I wish she would trust me with my own decisions. I know I’m drunk. I know what I’m doing.
Philli rings loudly. The room is bright with natural light. I look at my watch on the bedside table and panic before realising it’s Saturday. The designer is nowhere.
Philli seems to be somewhere in the pile of clothing on the floor. I drag myself out from under the covers and fumble through trousers, shirt and blazer, until I find her and answer the call: my taxi is here.
On a tray on the desk is a silver dome, which deflects glaring light straight into my eyes. Underneath it are Eggs Benedict, still warm. Next to it, coffee. I tell the taxi to wait twenty minutes. The food settles the stomach a little but does nothing for my headache and the coffee just makes me thirstier.
In the taxi Philli keeps begging me to cut more lines on her (I have no memory of cutting any lines on anything) and my brain keeps trying to crawl out of an ear or nostril and die in peace in the gutter of the Pentonville Road.
‘We were worried about you,’ Felicity says when I get in. The flat is a mess – at least one thing in my life is constant.
‘Oi oi! Someone got some at last!’ Steve yells. He seems genuinely pleased for me, which I suppose is nice.
‘Leave him alone,’ Tabby says, jealousy poisoning her voice.
‘Hey, buddy. Looks like you’ve had a rough one. Come chill out with me.’
Fucking Fred. ‘You need a bag of some frozen stuff on that head of yours. I can feel that headache, kid. An ice-cold Bloody Mary maybe. Hair of the dog, you been bitten bad.’
Philli shakes. It’s a text from the civet designer. It begins lewdly and ends I hope you’re making some calls about my civet like a good boy x. There’s also a voicemail from my supervisor, apparently left around three in the morning. It begins lewdly and quickly gets worse and worse.
‘C’mon kid. Have a break from this shit. Chill, hahaha, chill out’
I scour Felicity’s shelves for something to eat. ‘Cook something, you pathetic git!’ Steve yells. For some reason I’m still holding Philli to my ear, still listening to the voicemail, which has descended below the verbal and well into the pay-per-minute realm.
‘Who was she?’ sobs my toaster. The gasps and whines of the voicemail become the sound of civets mating. I am crouched in the jungle flora, hiding among jurassic ferns, clutching an oversized butterfly net. In their post-coital, comedown lethargy, I will strike.
‘C’mon, buddy. Cool the fevered brow, y’know?’
I look over at Fred. A clean, perfect white. The civets are really going at it.
‘C’mon, kid. I got what you need for that hangover.’
I reach out and put one shaking finger on the edge of the freezer door. The civets climax with a horrible screeching. My hands tighten around the handle of the butterfly net and open Fred’s mouth.
One foot over the edge, in the cool circulating air, I wonder why I didn’t think of this before.
This will make it all so easy.
Jago Furnas is a writer and musician from London. He currently lives in Manchester, where he is involved with jazz, noise rock, film and multimedia performance projects. In his spare time he loses to his flatmate at chess.