The Mortdecai Trilogy

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The Mortdecai Trilogy
1
So old a story, and tell it no better?
    Pippa Passes
    When you burn an old carved and gilt picture frame it makes a muted hissing noise in the grate – a sort of genteel
fooh
– and the gold leaf tints the flames a wonderful peacock blue-green. I was watching this effect smugly on Wednesday evening when Martland came to see me. He rang the bell three times very fast, an imperious man in a hurry. I was more or less expecting him, so when my thug Jock put his head around the door, eyebrows elaborately raised, I was able to put a certain aplomb into my ‘Wheel him in.’
    Somewhere in the trash he reads Martland has read that heavy men walk with surprising lightness and grace; as a result he trips about like a portly elf hoping to be picked up by a leprechaun. In he pranced, all silent and catlike and absurd, buttocks swaying noiselessly.
    ‘Don’t get up,’ he sneered, when he saw that I had no intention of doing so. ‘I’ll help myself, shall I?’
    Ignoring the more inviting bottles on the drinks tray, he unerringly snared the great Rodney decanter from underneath and poured himself a gross amount of what he thought would be my Taylor ’31. A score to me already, for I had filled it with Invalid Port of an unbelievable nastiness. He didn’t notice: score two to me. Of course, he is only a policeman. Perhaps ‘was’ by now.
    He lowered his massive bum into my little
Régence fauteuil
and smacked his lips courteously over the crimson garbage in his glass. I could almost hear him scrabbling about in his brain for a deft, light opening. His Oscar Wilde touch. Martland has only two personalities – Wilde and Eeyore. Nevertheless, he is a very cruel and dangerous policeman. Or perhaps ‘was’ – or have I said that?
    ‘My dear boy,’ he said finally, ‘such ostentation. Even your firewood is gilded now.’
    ‘An old frame,’ I said, playing it straight. ‘Thought I’d burn it.’
    ‘But such a waste. A nice Louis Seize carved frame …’
    ‘You know bloody well it isn’t a nice Louis anything frame,’ I snarled. ‘It’s a repro Chippendale trailing-vine pattern made about last week by one of those firms in the Greyhound Road. Came off a picture I bought the other day.’
    You never know what Martland knows or doesn’t know, but I felt fairly safe on the subject of antique frames: even Martland couldn’t have taken a course on them, I thought.
    ‘Would have been interesting if it had been a Louis Seize one though, you must admit; say about 50 by 110 centimetres,’ he mumbled, gazing meditatively at the last of it glowing in the grate.
    At that point my thug came in and deposited about twenty pounds of coal onto it and retired after giving Martland a civil smile. Jock’s idea of a civil smile is rolling back part of his upper lip from a long, yellow dogtooth. It frightens
me
.
    ‘Listen, Martland,’ I said evenly. ‘If I had lifted that Goya, or fenced it, you can’t really think that I’d bring it here in its

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