Authors: Alexander McCall Smith
Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, the 44 Scotland Street series, and the Corduroy Mansions series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served with many national and international organizations concerned with bioethics.
IN THE 44 SCOTLAND
44 Scotland Street
Love over Scotland
The World According to Bertie
The Unbearable Lightness of Scones
The Importance of Being Seven
Bertie Plays the Blues
Sunshine on Scotland Street
IN THE NO. 1 LADIES'
DETECTIVE AGENCY SERIES
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Tears of the Giraffe
Morality for Beautiful Girls
The Kalahari Typing School for Men
The Full Cupboard of Life
In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
Blue Shoes and Happiness
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
The Miracle at Speedy Motors
Tea Time for the Traditionally Built
The Double Comfort Safari Club
The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party
The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection
The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon
The Handsome Man's Deluxe CafÃ©
FOR YOUNG READERS
The Great Cake Mystery
The Mystery of Meerkat Hill
The Mystery of the Missing Lion
IN THE ISABEL
The Sunday Philosophy Club
Friends, Lovers, Chocolate
The Right Attitude to Rain
The Careful Use of Compliments
The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday
The Lost Art of Gratitude
The Charming Quirks of Others
The Forgotten Affairs of Youth
The Perils of Morning Coffee
The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds
IN THE CORDUROY
The Dog Who Came in from the Cold
A Conspiracy of Friends
IN THE PORTUGUESE
IRREGULAR VERBS SERIES
Portuguese Irregular Verbs
The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs
At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances
Unusual Uses for Olive Oil
La's Orchestra Saves the World
The Girl Who Married a Lion and Other Tales from Africa
Trains and Lovers
The Forever Girl
ALEXANDER McCALL SMITH
A Vintage Short
A Division of Random House LLC
A VINTAGE BOOKS EBOOK ORIGINAL, AUGUST 2014
Copyright Â© 2014 by Alexander McCall Smith
Illustrations copyright Â© 2014 by Iain McIntosh
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House company. Simultaneously published in hardcover in Great Britain by Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn Ltd., Edinburgh, in 2014.
Vintage Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Vintage Books eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-87301-4
Author photograph Â© Michael Lionstar
Cover design by Joan Wong
Cover illustration by Ian McIntosh
This book is for Hugh Andrew, at last
EARY HAD BEEN
known as Fatty O'Leary from the time he was twelve, which was in the early 1950s. People were less sensitive then to the feelings of people around them, and many of the nicknames they gave to others were thoughtlessly unkind. Yet in those more robust, not to say careless days, those to whom disparaging nicknames were given sometimes appeared to accept the situation. Or so it seemed on the surface: people suffered in silence then, enduring things that today people simply would not bear, while all the time they smarted under the casual cruelty of a derogatory nickname. Cornelius O'Leary, though, was not like this: he never objected to being called Fatty, and even signed himself as such.
He was a good man, and a kind one. If those who first called him Fatty â those childhood friends, the boys in the boy scouts, the slightly simple man who served sodas in the drug store who delighted in inventing a nickname for every customer â had done so with the intent to belittle or provoke him, then he forgave them; forgiveness came easily to Fatty â it was easier, he thought, to like people than to dislike them, however they behaved toward you.
Dislike required energy and a good memory for slights; geniality was so much less demanding, and at the end of the day felt better too.
He was indifferent to the embarrassed surprise that people sometimes showed when he used the name of himself. “It's simpler than signing Cornelius,” he said with a disarming smile. “Two syllables rather than four. It saves time.” And then he added, “And I could do to lose a bit round the middle, I suppose â but who couldn't?”
Fatty lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a pleasant college town on the edge of the Ozarks. He was the son of a comfortably-off local businessman who owned a small furniture factory, a warehouse, a motel, and a bar that was popular with students from the university. Those were the profitable parts of the family business, but not the interesting bit. That was an antique store that Fatty ran personally, leaving the other concerns in the hands of a manager. Fatty knew a great deal about antique furniture; he had a good eye for it and had even written the occasional article in a furniture magazine published in Boston. He was particularly proud of those articles, which were framed and hung in prominent places round the house.
Fatty's wife was called Betty; she was the former Miss Elizabeth Shaugnessy, of Mobile, Alabama. They had met
when they were both at the University of Notre Dame. Betty had fallen in love with Fatty the first time she saw him â and he with her. They were ideally suited, and while most married couples cannot say with complete honesty that they had never fought with one another over anything, Fatty and Betty could do just that.
Fatty's two closest old friends in Fayetteville were Tubby O'Rourke and Porky Flanagan. Tubby was an accountant with an interest in model railways; Porky was a dentist who ran a dental practice set up by his father and his uncle. He did not really enjoy dentistry and had complained to Fatty on more than one occasion that it was his uncle, in particular, who had leant on him to go to dental school.
“All he thinks about is teeth, Fatty. Mention a name and he says,
I know that guy's teeth
. He went to Washington once and came back and complained that there were no statues of dentists.”
“He's got a point,” said Fatty. “Dentists deserve a few statues. Maybe a few statues to dentists who fell in foreign wars.”
Tubby looked thoughtful. “They probably weren't right up there on the front line,” he said. “They were fixing teeth back in the field hospitals.”