Colloquial clarifications: Ha'p'orth = halfpennyworth; Sort (a Sort/ the Sort) = an attractive female; rabbit = in conversation; 'On a promise!' = ... bugger, surely you can work that one out for yourselves!
My appreciation and thanks go to Angelina, for her assistance with preparing this tale of woe for posting.
Sorry, another story that just kinda stops.
You know there are occasions in your life when you arrive at a moment, when your instincts are telling you that something is wrong, out of whack ... definitely not kosher. And you are clearly aware that if you had a ha'p'orth of sense in your head, you would flee, scarper; get the hell out of Dodge a bit sharpish, while the going is still good. Well, I got that instinctive feeling in my gut the instant I stepped through the arrivals gate at Naples airport that afternoon.
But then again, there's another side of human nature that is innately curious. That curiosity -- or maybe naivety, or could it even be stupidity -- is somehow persuading you to hang around, just long enough to figure out ... well, what the chuffin'-'ell is going down.
Odd things had been happening all morning, already that day. At the check-in at Gatwick, I'd spotted Billy Thornton – a fellow student from my college days -- up the front of queue and apparently also booking-in for the flight to Naples. I wasn't sure I wanted to renew our acquaintance, or fall into conversation with the bugger. But I really didn't have much choice; the sod recognised me the instant he turned away from the desk after collecting his boarding pass.
"Bloody hell, Kevin! How's it been going mate? I've been hearing great things about you; didn't you have an exhibition at some flash gallery up in town? Bit on the saucy side, from what I hear!"
"Hi, Bill. Yeah, I've had a few exhibitions. Sold enough of my work to keep the wolf from the door."
"So I've been hearing. Only good things, Kev; only good things! You off to Naples as well?"
"Well, why else would I be in the effing queue, you imbecile?" No, I didn't say that, but I definitely thought it. What I actually said was,
"Yeah, a little research trip down there, for a week or so. Nothing heavy, I've got a commission to do and I'm just going down there to soak up the ambiance for a few days. One has to get in the mood, you know."
"Oh yeah, I understand. You artistic types need to absorb the feel of the place, don't you?" Billy grinned back at me.
I very much doubted Bill Thornton had any idea of what I was talking about, but he made a good job of pretending he did.
"And you, Bill, why are you off to the boot?" I asked, in an attempt to move the philistine's subject of conversation away from me.
Look, I'd known Billy Thornton since college; the only form of art he appreciated was the brewer's.
"The boot? Oh yeah, Naples..." A grin came over Billy's face again; only this time, a very big and lecherous type grin, if you know what I mean? "Well, you see ... Oh god!"
Billy suddenly stopped speaking and inexplicably his expression turned very serious. He was thinking, that I could tell; I'd watched him enter more than one examination room back in our college days.
Then for a few seconds Billy's facial expression became unreadable. Then a few seconds later, a sly smile came over his face.
"Well, I was meeting a Sort down there ... But bugger-it, I can't ... Say, Kevin, exactly what are you going to be doing down in Naples?"
"Just milling around and soaking up the atmosphere, I told you."
"So, no business meetings and all that malarkey?"
"Billy, I'm an artist; I work alone. Why are you so interested?"
"Oh, nothing really, it was just..." Billy faltered; for a moment it looked like I'd stumped him with that question, but then he suddenly went on. "Well, I thought that maybe we might possibly get together for a drink or something down there, but ... But we can't now, I just got a message and I can't go anymore."
"While you were checking-in ... I got a text from the office. Seems the buggers can't do without me back there and I'm needed in a hurry. Look, give me your mobile number Kevin? And if I do get down in the next few days, I'll give you a call?"
All very unconvincing, I thought. I hadn't noticed Billy with a phone in his hand. But then can't say that I'd been watching while I was checking-in. Anyway, I'd always considered Billy Thornton to be a bit of a disorganised scatterbrain back at college, why should I suspect he'd changed. Whatever before I got the chance to ask him any more questions, Billy said that he had to go, and dashed off to retrieve his luggage.
"Don't do anything I wouldn't ... If I got the chance?" Were his last words.
I doubt he heard me reply. "Some hopes!"
More than a little confused, I watched the bugger for a few seconds as he ... well argued with the woman on check-in and I suppose he eventually got his bags back from her. Then I ... er, got lost in the crowd.
But then, very strangely ... well, I'm not too sure ... but for a moment, I thought I caught sight of the bugger as I went through the departure gate. Well, the guy did have his back to me, and was talking on a mobile phone at the time. But for life of me, I would have sworn that it was Billy Thornton; so much for his need to hurry back to his office.
I'll admit that I was just a little concerned. Billy Thornton hadn't run with the best of crowds back in our college days. Nothing serious that I was aware of; but you never know in this day and age. By that time Billy could have been into anything ... drug or cigarette smuggling, or anything. And ... if he was being watched by the authorities? Well, they might have seen us talking together on the concourse.
Yeah, maybe that was the reason for Billy's sudden and confusing change of plans. Perhaps he'd spotted someone tailing him. I think my mind was running riot as I took my seat on the plane.
Whatever, the flight itself was uneventful.
I must have been one of the last passengers on my flight to exit the gate that day. Chiefly because -- as is its usual wont -- my luggage had gone AWOL. I have no idea why, but my bags have acquired the somewhat frustrating habit of going the long way round. But for some reason they are always the last ones to arrive at baggage claim.
It's always same when I fly, and I suppose it always will be. By that time in my life, I'd got to the point that I wouldn't go near an airport baggage carousel until nearly everyone else had collected their bags and gone.
I know, I know, frequent travellers will ask me what I'm complaining about, at least my bags do turn up at the same airport as myself ... eventually. Some poor buggers arrive in one country and find that their luggage is not just in another country, but often on a different continent; that's of course assuming that the airline ever finds their bags again. At least my luggage gets lonely and it has always arrived on the right carousel – but as I said -- eventually.
Anyway, it is my habit -- when I arrive in the baggage claim hall -- to I find a quiet corner where I stand and read for a while until the frantic mob has dispersed. Well, why struggle in the expectant crush by the carousel, when you know that your suitcase will still be enjoying its own little private tour of the airports luggage handling facilities, to ensure that it will be the very last one to come up the elevator, down the bleeding chute, or whatever.
Then, having at last retrieved my bag, I go to the immigration and customs desks etcetera, and then head for the exit; expecting soon to be basking in the warm Italian sunshine.
That day the crowd of people who are always milling around waiting to meet friends and loved ones outside the arrivals gate had almost completely dispersed by the time I stepped out onto the airport's main concourse, all-but alone.
I must have glanced around the expanse to get my bearings -- it had been sometime since I'd visited Naples -- and that was the moment that I got my first inkling that everything weren't as I'd expected, or would have wished.
I don't know what drew my attention the far side of the expansive area; but there she was, talking with a group of other people.
I suppose I did a quick double take, as one tends to do in the circumstances, but I pretty soon convinced myself that standing, talking with a group of other people on the far side of the arrivals hall was a female who I more than vaguely recognised.
I'm still not completely sure why I noticed her. Maybe it was the fact that, on spying me, she'd instantly detached herself from the party she was with and headed in my direction; with a big -- and dangerous looking -- smile on her face.
I think I must have stopped in my tracks. I know that I took a quick glance behind me to check that it was actually me she was walking towards, and not some other late arrival.
But sod-it, no! There was no handsome bugger following me through the gate.
Almost instantly -- it took a few moments to get over the shock of seeing her -- three questions jumped into my mind.
The first, "What the chuffing-'ell is Melanie Frobisher doing here?"
The second, "Why the chuffing-'ell is she heading my way?"
And thirdly, and probably more confusing -- and worrying -- than the other two, "Why the fuck is she walking towards me with a bleeding great smile on her face?"
.... There is more of this story ...