So it’s nine in the morning and I’m on my first call, a pickup from The Admiral Derek in Castlehorn, driving to Lincoln. I pull up outside. No sign of anyone. I get out of the taxi and enter the hallowed doors of the hotel. Claude, the doorman greets me. “Good morning, John, here for a pickup?”
“Yes, a Mr. Evans-Smith.”
Claude rolls his eyes. “I’ll just call him.” The long gold-braided red coat and smart cap disappear down a corridor.
Shortly, a young man appears. He wears a black suit, white shirt and red tie. His hair is light brown and is swept back and brylcreemed. He sports a thin pencil moustache. “Oh, I say, you must be the taxi fellah!”
Taken aback, I nod. “Yes, that’s right. Thalham cabs. Should we go?”
He smiles an odd smile. “Oh, it’s not for me. I want you to take something to Lincoln museum. They’re expecting it, don’t you know.”
“Oh, they didn’t tell me. It’ll still be full price, £45, including my return journey.”
“By Jove, that’s a bit steep! Still, needs must.”
So here I am, driving into Lincoln, a garden gnome sporting a blue tunic and tall conical red hat sitting on the passenger seat beside me. Mr. Evans-Smith had been very particular about that. “Don’t put him in the boot. I’m paying a passenger fare and he must be treated as such. He’s to sit in the front passenger seat at all times!”
I pull up, self-consciously, at a pedestrian crossing in the old town. Two teenaged girls cross. Suddenly one spies the gnome. She points it out to her friend.
“Oi, haven’t you got no gnome to go to?” her friend shouts and they both roar with laughter.
As I drive off the first one jiggles her large breasts together and pouts her red-lipsticked lips at me. Silly tart! And she only looks about fifteen!
Suddenly I see a man waving frantically at me, stepping into the road ahead. He is middle-aged and well dressed in a smart grey suit. For once there is no car behind so I pull up and wind the window down.
He gives me an odd look when he sees the gnome but carries on. “Can you take me to Riverside Road, it’s, um, urgent. I called a taxi and it hasn’t turned up!”
Well, I manage to keep a straight face. “Riverside Road?” I say, all innocent-like. “Sure, hop in. I’ll just put my little friend on the back seat!”
I’m not actually licenced to pick anyone up out of my area but what the hell? It’s clear he’s not short of a few bob. I’m assuming he’s off to ‘Elsie’s,’ the town’s best known ‘house of ill repute.’
I pick up the gnome. He has a grey beard and a curiously pale face. I notice a small chip in his hat. His little black eyes gaze vacantly at me as I dump him unceremoniously on the back seat.
I’m sitting by the river at The Old Barge, drinking a pint of shandy and wondering what the hell to do. I still can’t believe it. I dropped my gent at Elsie’s, it was indeed where he was headed – and where he was no doubt relishing the pleasures of the flesh at this very moment – and pocketed a tenner for a ten minute drive, including a handsome tip. Easy money!
Then I thought I should put my little passenger back in his rightful place. Who knows, maybe a member of the museum staff might observe me arriving and report back to Mr. Evans-Smith, who might phone my boss. You never know.
Well, blow me, the back seat was empty! I searched frantically but nada, the gnome had disappeared, gone, vanished – seemingly into thin air!
Well, I’m back on the rank at Castlehorn, feeling happier. I couldn’t understand what had happened to the gnome. It seemed impossible that my passenger could have somehow taken it off the back seat without me noticing. Anyway, I did the only thing I could think of. Drove out to the nearest garden centre and bought another gnome! As similar to the missing one as I could find.
I thought I’d be rumbled at the museum but a young man with a spotty face and huge thick-lensed glasses took it without showing any interest. Fortunately!
Apparently it was just to brighten up a display, celebrating the discovery of a hoard of gold coins, unearthed during a catastrophic flood fifty years ago this month. There were several gnomes there, in varying colours and stances, standing around on a model riverbank in a huge glass case, with the coins displayed on a blue velvet panel behind them.
I couldn’t understand the logic of me bringing one twenty-five miles but I had been well paid for it, so why worry?
I’m watching the telly with a glass of cold Pilsner Urquell to hand. Fortunately there’d been no repercussions over the ‘replacement gnome,’ from either the museum or Mr. Evans-Smith, so far anyway, touch wood. I’d been kept busy with fares all afternoon so I’m tired and ready for my bed. I’m hoping my dreams will be ‘gnome-free’ !
Well, I’m on the point of leaving for work when there’s a knock at the door. A bit early for the postman in these parts, I think, but open the door to see – no one! Kids messing about probably. Then I look down and jump. There is a little blue-vested, red-hatted figure.
I pick it up and gasp with astonishment. I recognise the chip in the hat. But above his now-ruddy cheeks, the black eyes twinkle mischievously.
Well, there’s only one thing to do. I march into the back garden and give him pride of place at the little pond there. I’d never realised how much it needed a garden gnome!
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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