“I count myself privileged to have introduced my best mate Phil and his new bride Stephanie nearly three years ago. Steph and I actually met while working together at IBM. I was there briefly as a lawnmowing consultant, and she had just been promoted to Chief Coroner in the laptops department. She was a real go-getter, impressing the board with her no nonsense approach (except on Tuesdays when she insisted on coming to work dressed as a Batman villain). It happened to be a Tuesday when Steph, in character as the Penguin, informed me she was having car trouble. Apparently her car wouldn’t start, and blanketing the engine in a cloud of sleeping gas dispensed from a purple umbrella hadn’t solved the problem. She was about to call a mechanic but I urged otherwise. ‘You don’t want some two-bit hack pulling your F40 to pieces,’ I said. ‘Let me call my amigo—he’s the best in the biz and he owes me one.’
“I patched a call through to Berlin. Phil was freelancing with a Mossad unit stationed there, doing odd jobs for them, pick up their dry cleaning, et cetera, but when he heard I needed a favour he boarded the next plane out of there. I admired his zeal if not his grasp of geography, as that plane happened to be a direct flight to Nairobi—quite a ways from Heathrow where I was waiting for him. Eventually he did make his way to London and I brought him to Steph’s comatose Ferrari. I left Phil, Steph and the car together while I went over to the cafeteria for my afternoon daiquiri and scones.
“I soon noticed a change from my cosy vantage point. Watching Phil and Steph, it seemed their discussion of mechanical conundrums had evolved into friendly chit chat, and then from friendly chit chat into outright flirting! First there was some batting of eyelids, then a gentle touch on the arm, then a playful tickle. Steph flicked Phil with an oily rag, and he replied with a splash of radiator coolant in her face. Phil pulled Steph’s ponytail, and she whipped the back of his leg with a broken fan belt. It was then I knew Phil was in love. I am ashamed to say this revelation did not fill me with the joy it deserved, for, like the ancient prophet, the thing I greatly feared had come upon me. You see, several years earlier while setting fire to a lighthouse in Norway, Phil had seen a mermaid. He swore an oath then and there that he would not marry until he captured the creature. After he shared this information with me one morning over a round of whiskeys, I gave him my word I would help him in his quest. But how I regretted that rash avowal, for I had not yet heard his terrifying description of the beast. This was not some gentle, Disney movie mermaid. No, according to Phil, the creature he saw was a two metre flounder with a perm, and human arms instead of pectoral fins. It scared me—involuntary bowel movement kind of scared. So as I sat and watched Phil chivalrously refrain from his more offensive obscenities as he tinkered under the hood of Steph’s car, I steeled myself for the frightful adventure I would soon be obliged to undertake.
“Phil summoned me at three o’clock the next morning with the sound of a dropped harpoon smashing my floor tiles, and the sensation of a fully laden backpack smashing into my testicles. ‘Get up, slap head!’ he said. ‘It’s go time.’
“An hour later we boarded a small but sturdy old fishing vessel and set course for the frigid Norse seas. For fourteen hours I sat below deck, stewing in fear of the hideous fish-lady. Eventually, as we neared my Scandinavian nightmare, there came a chime from Phil’s computer. He rushed over and stared at the screen. ‘I’ve got you now, you scaly witch,’ he muttered in a gruff, Jason Statham-esque voice which I suspect he had been practicing.
‘You’ve spotted it?’ I asked, in trepidation.
‘No,’ he said, ‘I bought it.’
Phil gave me a curious look and then burst out laughing. He videoed my reaction on his phone as he explained the situation to me. The chime on his computer was not (as I had assumed) a clue to the underwater location of the mermaid, but rather a notification from eBay letting him know his $75 buy-it-now bid on the beast had been accepted. That’s right, the freakish monster of the deep had been caught six months earlier and recently put up for auction online. Dragging me out to sea in terror had just been an elaborate prank by Phil to get even with me for the time I convinced him he was part of the Samoan royal family.
“Well, I learned that day that nothing is ever as bad as fear makes it out to be, and I can say with much joy that the mermaid’s stuffed head now sits proudly mounted to the hood of Phil and Steph’s new Ferrari F50.”
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