© Copyright 2004 - Doug S - Used by permission
Storycodes: MF; bodyswap; magic; box act; cons; X
Part 7: Norwegian Wood
Jo put down the phone and came in to the kitchen. I looked up at her and she spoke: "Old Eirik is dead."
"Erich?" I said. "He was at the club on Friday. He was fine. What happened?"
"No, it's not Erich, it's Eirik. Ei-rik." She pronounced each separate syllable distinctly. "Eirik Lumbermann is my, umm, was my grandfather, my mother's father. He was a hundred and two last winter."
"Not a surprise, then, dying at that age, was it!" I replied.
"It was for him." She grinned. "He'd just finished booking his next holiday. Collected a coronary on the steps of the travel agent. Dad says the funeral is Thursday."
"Back home in Reykjavik?"
"No, it's in Oslo. Old Eirik's a Norwegian. All the family will be there, the first time since his hundredth birthday." She sucked her teeth in thought for a second or two. "I'll go tomorrow and give them a hand sorting things out. Can you do without me for four or five days?"
"I'll come with you. I'm owed a week's leave and I've never been to Norway. We can make a holiday of it and come back on Friday morning in time to get to the Club. You go and see your family, and I'll meet my future in-laws."
The only flight from England to Norway the next day – a Sunday – was at about eight in the morning, we discovered. We spent the afternoon getting some bits together and stopped overnight at a friend's house in Feltham, only a couple of miles from London Heathrow. Getting up at six in the morning on a Sunday is no-one's idea of fun, but we managed it and by lunchtime we were in the kitchen of Old Eirik's house in Oslo taking coffee with one of his great-grandchildren. Eirik Svensson was a bit of a Viking, about six and a half feet tall and all of twenty stone in weight. We're all European now – Jo tells me he's two meters high and weighs 125Kg.
We asked Eirik – “Young” Eirik is about forty years old – what he needed us to do. He said that the house would be sold soon, and that it would have to be cleared beforehand. He suggested we just had a look round for the time being to get a feel for the sort of stuff we would have to shift. You would not believe the sheer quantity of stuff Old Eirik had about the place. He'd apparently been born in this house and had lived there all his life.
One bedroom had been converted into an office, with a battered old 386 in one corner and a brand new laptop on the desk, while the opposite wall held shelf upon shelf of old filing. I opened up a file at random and discovered what I took to be orders and invoices from some business or other, all neatly filed. There were white copies of everything in strict date order, and in other files the same documents in a pale blue color filed alphabetically. I walked up to the right hand end of the shelving and took down the most recent file and found a thick legal document fronted with a photo of a large warehouse, and containing a receipt for a sum containing an absurd number of zeros. I called Jo in and showed her what I had found.
Jo looked at the picture and laughed. “Eirik's baby,” she explained. “He ran a wood yard just outside the town. He only sold up about ten years ago. This is the contract of sale.” She turned the page and looked at the receipt, giving a low whistle. “That's about one and a half million pounds he got for the yard. He had three daughters and eight granddaughters, and no-one wanted to be a timber merchant so he sold it. I had no idea it fetched so much. It's been in the family for ever.”
Jo picked out a file at random and dipped in. She looked, grunted, closed it and replaced it on the shelf. She picked out another, and a third, giving them the same treatment. The fourth file she tried, however, solicited a little yelp, which made me look up from the laptop in concern.
“What have you found?” I asked.
She turned round and placed the open file on the table, and flipped forwards a few pages, back a few, and then returned to the page on which she'd started. She turned to look at me. "How old do you think Jim and his mum are?"
Jim, I should explain, is a stage magician. He works at Stavro's club, where Jo and a bunch of other girls work as exotic dancers. I conjured up a mental image of the magician and considered his age. "I suppose he must be thirty-something, maybe forty. His mother would be about sixty, sixty-five, something like that."
Jo looked pale. " I think Jim's mum is older than she lets on."
I asked her what she'd found, and what bearing it had on our friends' ages. She pointed at the file in front of her, and said “Look at this.”
I picked up the file and looked at the elegant cursive handwriting. "It's all in Foreign," I said, "you know I can't read Foreign."
Jo took the file from me and set it back on the desk. "This particular Foreign is Norwegian. Listen." She ran her fingers under the words, translating out loud as she went. "18th August 1876. To Eirik Lumbermann, Norwegian Wood, Oslo. Please supply eighteen pieces of pine, 75x50x3000mm, nine pieces of ply, 500x1000mm, to Jim Degag, Club X, Oslo." She looked up. “Where is file D?” I passed her one of the folders from the other shelf, and she turned to the relevant page. "There's dozens of these. Here's is the first one, but there's one every few months until the start of the war in 1914."
"Is this Jim related to our Jim?" I asked.
"I think that this Jim and our Jim are the same person. Look here," she said, stabbing at parts of the document with her finger to make her point, "the name's the same. Not a common name. It's being delivered to a club. Jim works in a club. These bits of wood are just right for building a magician's cabinet. Jim's a magician. The other orders are all similar."
"And I suppose this is his handwriting?" I asked.
"No it isn't. Who does Stavro's payroll?"
I replied "Jim's Mum."
Jo smiled. "Who orders all the stuff for the bar at the Club?"
I frowned. "Jim's Mum again."
"Right. I'll bet Jim's mum does all the admin for Jim's magic show, too. Now, let me find a pay slip."
She rooted round in her handbag for a moment to produce a narrow strip of green paper, and laid it down alongside the purchase order. The two sets of writing were identical.
I looked at Jo. Jo looked at me.
We both looked at the paperwork on the table.
Jo spoke again. "A hundred and twenty-five years ago, Mrs. D was writing out purchase orders to one of my ancestors on Jim's behalf. That makes Jim about a hundred and fifty, and Mrs. D about twenty years older still. Do you believe that? I don't."
“I think we'll ask Young Eirik if we can borrow some of these,” I said, “and when we get back we'll have a chat to Jim.”
Over the ensuing week, I assisted Eirik and Jo to gradually clear the house. New relatives arrived every day, so by Wednesday we had an army of about a dozen of Jo's cousins and so on helping out. I was the only person in the building less than six foot tall, and the only male less than six foot four. Everyone made me feel very welcome – eight Norwegians and four Icelandics all speaking perfect English on account of my presence. I decided that I liked Jo's family.
That evening, we were all stood around in the front room drinking coffee when Jo called for hush. We listened and I could hear a distant roar in the night air. Young Eirik raised his cup to Jo and said “Sounds like Big Uncle Olaf is here.” A few moments later, a vast motorbike drew into the drive and its driver loomed towards the front door. Jo leapt up and opened the door to let the giant in, and he hugged her on the doorstep like an old friend. Jo's unusually tall form was dwarfed by the leather-clad mountain into whose arms she had disappeared. She emerged from the embrace, whispered something to the man and pointed through the door of the lounge at me. He stooped to enter, walked over to me and extended a mighty hand to clasp my own.
“Olaf?” I enquired, watching my hand disappear within his. Jo had described her father to me, and he fitted the description perfectly.
“Doug?” he replied. I nodded. His face was stern. “Jo says she intends to marry you, yes ?”. I nodded once more. Suddenly his face crinkled up into a perfect smile. “Well, I'm sure she's made as wise a choice as her mother made choosing me. Welcome to the family.”
The funeral the following day was a cheerful affair. It was as if the whole family thought of death as the start of something, rather than the end of something. A good attitude. There was a sort of running joke about names, since Olaf, Jo and I were the only people whose names weren't duplicated elsewhere in the family. Everyone was named after a parent, an uncle or aunt, or some other relative. Periodically, during a lull in the conversation, someone would call out a name and maybe two or three people would answer, and the whole family would fall about laughing. Including the one in the box, there were four Eiriks there that day. Jo's late mother had been called Jo too, as had her grandmother, Old Eirik's third wife.
On the Friday morning, suffering a little from a late night partying with Old Eirik's surviving family, I drove back to Exeter from Heathrow and parked up in our drive. We dumped the bags in our hallway, retrieved the folder from the case and walked round the corner to Jim's house and up the broad steps to the front door. Mrs. D answered the bell and motioned us in.
"Is Jim about, Mrs. D? Doug and I want to talk to the two of you about something."
“Jim's out just now dear. Come into the drawing-room and I'll make some tea."
Jim's mum showed us into the lounge and withdrew. We sat and waited for a moment or two, and then she came in with a tray of tea and joined us.
Jo started. "Mrs. D, did Jim ever work at a Club X in Oslo?"
She made an effort to look absent-minded. "Oh, he's worked in all sorts of places. I don't recall. When you're my age you start to forget things."
I chipped in. "How old are you, Mrs. D?"
“Now you know,” she said, “a lady doesn't have to answer a question like that.”
“How old is Jim, then?”
She paused for a moment. “I think he's about thirty-eight."
Jo looked up sharply, saying "I started at Stavro's club just over four years ago.? He said he was thirty-eight then."
Jim's mum smiled. “He's as old as he wants to be.”
Jo threw a stream of Norwegian at her, and I caught the words "Eirik Lumbermann" and "Oslo".
Mrs. D looked mournfully at the floor, and then back at Jo. "You know, don't you."
I spoke up once again. “We know you and Jim were working in Oslo about a hundred and twenty years ago. So just how old are you both?”
She looked over at the two of us, and back at the tray. "Someone finds out at least once every couple of hundred years. I should be used to it by now." She turned to the tray and started to pour the tea. "We've been doing this job as long as we can both remember. It must be at least three thousand years now. How did you find out?"
Jo wordlessly took the top sheet out of the folder and passed it over. Mrs. D took it, looked at her very distinctive script, and nodded. "Of course," she said, "You know you can't tell anyone.”
Jo held the folder up. "We have proof," she said, "forty years of orders and invoices."
"Have you, dear?" asked the old woman, handing us back a clean, blank sheet of paper. "Have you ?"
Jo looked at the unblemished surface of the page. She opened her folder and riffled through the blank sheets therein. She placed the blank form back in the folder with its fellows, carefully closed the flap and dropped it on the table. She grinned. "Looks like it's our little secret, then."
"That's right, dear. You know that you never reveal a magician's secrets." She picked up a small plate from the tray in front of us. "We just have to pretend we're normal. Biscuit or cake?"
So we spent a normal afternoon, taking tea and cake with Mrs. D, the obsessively polite mother of a slightly unhinged stage magician.
A perfectly normal person.