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  • Simon Truckle

As dry as Stephen Fry

Scott had the sort of face you would love to play at poker. It was not hard to read his expression at the best of times and right now he had the forlorn, slightly woebegone look of a young man who is about to lift something heavy.

Dragging Teabag, as they called their rather porous pedal boat, down the beach to the water’s edge was the thing Scott least enjoyed about their morning routine. With his friend and unlikely business partner Oliver at the other end, they managed to grunt and swear it into place, ready for any plucky tourists prepared to risk hiring it.

This task accomplished, they staggered back up the beach. Oliver eased himself into his customary deckchair, while Scott disappeared into the shed that housed their equipment and small fridge to rustle up a couple of iced coffees. The shed was leaning at an alarming angle, caused by the nightly presence of five windsurf boards, which, had there been any justice in the world, would have seen them raking in cash. Sadly, justice had disappeared into the distance with its arse on fire, and the boards had recently been christened Chablis, Stephen Fry, Gobi, and Rot, because they were all very, very dry. They’d run out of things to call the fifth so Oliver just called it Wanker.

There they stood, in mute but defiant testimony to the triumph of mindless optimism over sound business sense.

Scott had just reappeared when their friend Vanessa arrived.

‘Nessie, you’re up early,’ said Scott, raising his coffee. ‘Want one?’

‘Just had one, thank you,’ she said, dropping into the spare deckchair and kicking off her flip-flops. ‘Airport pick-up and the plane’s delayed, so I thought I’d come and see what you chaps are up to.’

‘Not much,’ said Scott, waving at the assorted paraphernalia dotted around their shed. ‘Business is still a bit slack.’

‘Could that possibly be linked to you offering windsurf lessons when neither of you can actually stand up on the things?’

Scott shuffled his feet and looked down. ‘There is that.’

‘Plus, there’s bugger-all wind,’ added Oliver, who had a natural talent for finding the crux of the situation and firmly planting his thumb on it. ‘We can’t even hire the bloody things out.’

‘Well, goodness knows why you both look so glum,’ said Vanessa. ‘If you’re going to be a bit broke, then a lovely warm Greek beach seems as good a place as any.’

‘I’m alright, Nessie, this is just my morning face. Having the time of my life, me.’ Oliver paused before adding, ‘Although, granted, the rest of it hasn’t been up to all that. It’s your man Scotty there who’s less than chipper. What with all the old Hercules stuff and that.’

‘I thought you’d be loving it, a break from teaching kids irregular verbs – hold on, what did you say? What Hercules stuff?’

‘Oh. I thought you knew.’

‘Knew what?’

They both looked at Scott, Oliver a little sheepishly.

Grinding his deckchair more firmly into the sand, Scott assumed a confessional look. ‘Well, it’s not exactly a secret and I’ve been meaning to tell you, Nessie. There’s a bit more riding on this Greek adventure than just a few extra drachmas. I’ve got to make enough dosh to buy a sailboat and sail it home.’

‘A sailboat!’ Vanessa’s face left no doubt as to how much confidence she placed in Scott’s ability to travel the 2,800 nautical miles back to England under his own steam. ‘You’d be better off in a pedalo. Why on earth have you got to sail home?’

‘My uncle Ted died last year and in his will left me his house and record collection. It’s a nice house, too – worth a bit. Only it came with a few strings. You see, he had quite the sense of humour. That’s where Hercules comes in.’

‘This I have to hear,’ said Vanessa.

Oliver leant forward, nodding happily. ‘This is the really good bit,’ he told her.

‘Before he died, he wrote out a list of the labours of Hercules,’ Scott went on. ‘I’ve got to complete seven of them before I can meet the conditions of the will. And God only knows how I’ll manage that,’ he added. ‘Anyway, I got a one-way ticket here and I’ve got two years to complete the labours, buy a sailing boat and sail it home. Only then will my dad stump up the cash.’

‘Blimey,’ said Vanessa. ‘How exciting is that! Sounds like great fun – all that to look forward to and you get to do your Baywatch impression here all summer.’

‘True … but.’

‘Ah, I recognise that look. It’s her, isn’t it? Your ex back home?’

Oliver nodded. ‘Can’t do a thing with him, Nessie. He can’t sleep, can’t eat, can only down endless cans of cold lager.’

‘That’s a lot of cans, mate,’ said Scott, who was keen to move on from the subject that haunted far too much of his waking moments.

‘And all that drinking is eating into our profits,’ continued Oliver.

This drew an appreciative nod from Scott despite himself. ‘Which means no sailboat,’ he said glumly, ‘and no going back home just yet.’

‘Don’t suppose you could add us to your entertainment schedule?’ Oliver asked Vanessa. ‘We could give you a group rate for windsurfing and pedalos.’

Vanessa worked as a tour rep, a job that entailed keeping groups of tourists just the right side of having their stomachs pumped. At twenty-eight she was four years older than Scott and Oliver, and kept thinking of herself as thirty, which annoyed the hell out of her.

She was five foot seven, with lots of naturally curly hair of an indeterminate colour. It looked like it could be blonde if it could be arsed but was quite happy being what it was, sort of not-very-blonde. She had a very small nose and very big eyes and was unimpressed by most things, particularly boys. As a great deal of her professional life was spent fending off the unwanted attentions of either local Greek men or drunken tourists, she was highly adept at looking after herself. Having elevated sarcasm to an art form, she found most people only bothered her once.

‘Send my lovely punters over to you boys? Not a chance. I shudder to think of the risk assessment that would involve. Nothing personal, you understand.’

Oliver nodded. ‘Fair enough.’

‘Well, I’d love to hang about to hear all about it but I should probably get moving. Just popped by to see if you two fancied going to Moe’s tonight? If you’re not too busy slaying bulls and the like.’

‘Sounds great,’ said Scott, mustering a smile.

‘See you chaps later, then.’ She jumped up from her chair and headed off down the beach.

The beach she was walking down was a beautiful strip of white sand about five miles outside the city of Volos. The road ran parallel to the beach until it hit an olive grove and turned up towards the mountain villages. The stretch of road nearest the beach sported an assortment of bars, restaurants and clubs and fed a number of smaller lanes that ran away from the sea, lined with tourist apartments. It was the busy part, easiest to reach from the apartments and with handy places to grab lunch or snacks.

The windsurfing shack’s end was a lot quieter, due to the lack of amenities and the strong possibility of seeing naked Germans. Just past Scott and Oliver’s spot, the beach turned a corner and had become the accepted place for those naturists that liked to let it all hang out. To Scott’s enduring enjoyment, Oliver had convinced himself the correct term was ‘naturalists’, and Scott had no intention of disabusing him of this notion. He enjoyed the look of mild confusion each time it came up in conversation and he asked if David Attenborough had been past that morning.

Extract from Love's Labours by Simon Truckle, out now

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