Errors of Comedy - Chapter 3
A few days after his birth, Derek Daniels lay asleep in his cot. Two ghosts stood over him.
'Now what?' asked the Irish ghost.
'We wait,' replied the English ghost. 'We can't do anything until he's twenty-one.'
'That's a long wait.'
'You've been dead over one hundred years,' observed the English ghost, 'surely another twenty-one won't hurt.'
'So what are we going to do while we wait?'
'Why don't we take in a show?'
In a dressing room at the Sprawling Metropolis Presidential Theatre sat the comedian, William Randall. He stared into the mirror. He was only twenty-two but he felt a lot older. For the last five months he had gone on the same stage at the same time every night to tell the same jokes to the same people. Well, they weren't physically the same people, but they might as well have been. The only people who could afford to see him were the inhabitants of the South and a handful of tourists. They all had comfortable homes, comfortable jobs, comfortable spouses, comfortable children and comfortable senses of humour.
He hated his act:
- 'How many Northerners does it take to change a lightbulb?'
- 'What's a lightbulb? Ha ha!'
Very funny. The majority of the audience had never been north of their office. Well, from now on they'd have to find somebody else to tell them their 'jokes'. William Randall was leaving and he was going where nobody would find him. William Randall was going to die. He put on his jacket, grabbed his umbrella and left the dressing room. Eric, the theatre's eighteen year-old doorman, called after him.
'Mr Randall, sir. Where are you going?'
'Er... I'm just going for a bite to eat. I'll get the monorail to Stanbridge Square. I'll only be about ten minutes.'
'Sure thing, Mr. Randall.'
William left the theatre and strolled along the street towards the monorail track. He stopped at the foot of one of the tall monorail pillars. He gazed up at the narrow tracks and then down at his umbrella. A thought struck him. Whilst he was contemplating how to reach the track, a man in overalls approached him.
'Excuse me, but aren't you William Randall?' he said.
'Yes, that's right.'
'I saw your show the other week. It was brilliant. 'What's a lightbulb?' Brilliant!' The man dissolved into helpless laughter as William looked on in disgust. As the man began to recover, William forced his face into a look of general bonhomie.
'Can I have your autograph, Mr. Randall?' asked the man, with tears streaming down his face.
'Certainly,' replied William, taking out his pen and dropping it on the floor. 'Oh dear, how careless of me.'
'It's all right, Mr. Randall. I'll get it,' said the man, bending down.
'Very kind of you,' said William, hitting him on the back of his head with his umbrella.
During the long elevator ride to the track, William contemplated his course of action. Once the accident had taken place, all he had to do was obtain some form of disguise and make his way out of the central region. There was only really one place he could go: The North.
The elevator reached the top and the door slid open. Above him were the monorail tracks. Below them was the maintenance walkway. William stepped out, reached up and hooked his umbrella onto the southbound track. He waited a moment to make sure that it had balanced sufficiently and then re-entered the elevator. By the time he reached the bottom, the maintenance man was beginning to recover. William bent down over him, deftly slipping the man's pass back into his pocket.
'Are you all right?' he inquired, 'You must have fainted.'
'I suppose so,' replied the man, 'but I've got a terrible headache.'
'I'm not surprised,' said William, quite truthfully. 'You hit your head as you fell,' he added, not quite so truthfully. He helped the man to his feet. 'You should see a doctor.'
'I think I'll be all right, thanks,' said the man.
'Well, I must be off,' said William, 'I'm just popping to Stanbridge Square and then I've got to get back to the theatre. Goodbye.'
He turned and continued down street B3, towards the monorail station. Before he got to the station, he turned into side-street B3f and made his way to the small theatrical supplies shop.
'Good evening, Mr Randall,' said the owner, 'what can I do for you today.'
'I need a hat, a moustache and a pair of glasses,' said William, 'I'm... preparing a new routine for the show.'
'Sounds very interesting,' said the owner, 'I'll have to come and see it again. I've already seen it twice, you know. 'What's a lightbulb?' That was the funniest thing I've ever heard.'
'Really? That's very nice for you,' said William, 'but I'm in a bit of a hurry. I'm just popping to Stanbridge Square and then I've got to get back to the theatre.'
'Of course, Mr. Randall. Anything else?'
'No, that'll be all. Put it on the theatre's bill.'
'I will. Goodbye, Mr. Randall.'
William left the shop and ducked into alleyway B3f(ii). He put on the moustache, glasses and hat and then proceeded towards the monorail station.
Back at the theatre, a state of mild panic had begun to settle on Geoff Andrews, the manager. As usual, Eric was on the receiving end.
'Where's he gone?'
'He said he was going to Stanbridge Square, sir,' said Eric, waiting for the inevitable outburst. He didn't have to wait long.
'Stanbridge Square! What the hell has he gone to Stanbridge Square for? What could he possibly want from Stanbridge Square?' shouted Geoff. Eric remained silent.
'Are you listening to me? I said what could he possibly want from Stanbridge Square?'
'He said he was going for some food, sir,' said Eric.
'Food! What does he want with food? I am trying to run a theatre here and my 'star' goes waltzing off for 'food'. I don't know why I bother. I'm holding you personally responsible for this. Why didn't you stop him?'
'Sorry, sir,' said Eric.
He could have argued or tried to defend himself, but it just wasn't worth it. Mr. Andrews never listened to him. He was only the doorman, after all. He would have liked to ask Mr. Andrews exactly how he was supposed to stop the performers from leaving the theatre. They never listened to the doorman either, and wrestling them to the ground wouldn't look particularly good. Eric could envisage the potential headlines in the Daily Thompson: 'Crazed Doorman Attacks Star', ''No Food,' Says Draconian Doorman', or even 'Star Killed By Overzealous Doorman'.
His meditations were interrupted by the sound of a large explosion, which seemed to have come from the direction of the Burdon Stadium. Eric stepped out into the street and was horrified to see a plume of smoke rising from the centre of the arena. A fire helicopter flew overhead and hovered above the explosion, spraying foam over anything that was on fire or looked as if it might catch fire. The fire helicopters were computer controlled and programmed with several advanced fire-fighting techniques. The central tenet of the program, however, was that 'People Are Flammable'. This meant that after any incident involving fire, no matter how minor, more people were treated for the shock of being covered in foam than for any fire-related condition. Seconds after seeing the helicopter Eric dived back into the theatre, his natural curiosity suppressed by the greater desire to avoid a mouthful of foam.
Eventually, the fire began to die down. This was partly due to the efforts of the fire helicopter, but mainly due to the heavy rain that had started to fall on the city. Daily Thompson journalist Andy Moore stood and waited inside the stadium gift shop until the helicopter had finally given up and gone home. He then walked out to the edge of the crater, passing several large piles of foam. He considered the possibilities: it could be a missile attack by a hostile foreign power. This was somewhat unlikely. If anybody was launching missiles at Sprawling Metropolis it was more likely to be the American government than anybody else. The city had cost billions of dollars to build but had achieved very little in its twenty years of existence. It was only now that tourists had started to visit in any numbers that the city was worth something and not even the current President was stupid enough to order an attack on one of his own cities. Missile attack was probably out of the question.
Terrorists, then. This was possible, as Sprawling Metropolis had its fair share of malcontents, but why attack the stadium? Everybody knew that the Magpies were hopeless, but blowing up their home ground wouldn't help. So, if it's not a missile attack and it's not a bomb, what is it? Andy peered into the crater. Lying in the centre was a large quantity of twisted metal which, on careful inspection, he decided was the remains of a monorail car. He looked up. Two monorail tracks passed directly over the stadium. He took out his notepad and pencil and began to write:
'MONORAIL DISASTER: Today saw the first monorail accident in the history of Sprawling Metropolis. A...'
His train of thought was interrupted by a medical helicopter landing near the crater. Out of it came two stretcher bearers, a doctor and Police Commissioner Parker, who walked over to Andy. The doctor brought out the foam remover and began spraying it around with only slightly more control than the fire helicopter. Andy and Commissioner Parker ran for cover in a Metroburger fast-food restaurant.
'What were you doing in the helicopter?' asked Andy.
'I would have come by monorail but it seemed a little, how shall I put it, 'unreliable',' replied the Commissioner.
'Good point,' agreed Andy, 'but couldn't you have sent a deputy or something?'
'Mayor Burdon, in his infinite wisdom, has decided that there is no crime in his city so he has, how can I put it, 'reduced' the size of the police force.'
'When you say reduced...?' asked Andy, scenting another story.
'''Slashed' might be a better way of putting it,' admitted the Commissioner.
'Exactly how big is the police force now?'
'You're looking at it. Ridiculous, isn't it?' Andy's eyes lit up.
'Can I quote you in my article?'
'Sure, why not? He can't sack me. They'll never find anybody else, how shall I put it, 'stupid' enough to do this job.'
'Well, I wouldn't put it quite like that,' said Andy tactfully, turning over a new page in his notebook and writing:
''RIDICULOUS': Commissioner Parker attacks Mayor's new law and order proposals.'
Before Andy could continue his exposé, the door of the burger joint flew open and in staggered the monorail mechanic, soaking wet.
'It's still raining then,' observed the Commissioner.
'No, it stopped about ten minutes ago. The doctor got me with his foam remover,' explained the mechanic.
'What do you make of the wreckage?' asked Andy.
'It's definitely a monorail car,' replied the mechanic, 'but there's not much else there.'
'What about passengers?'
'If there was anybody on board they'd probably have been...' he paused and then quietly added, '...vaporised.'
'What's wrong?' asked the Commissioner.
'William Randall,' said the mechanic.
'William Randall was in the monorail car.'
'How can you be so sure?'
'I saw him earlier. He said he was going to Stanbridge Square.'
The Commissioner pulled out his mobile phone and called the theatre. Eric answered.
'Presidential Theatre, Eric speaking.'
'This is Commissioner Parker. Is William Randall there?'
'No, sir,' replied Eric, becoming worried. 'He left earlier to go to Stanbridge Square and we haven't seen him since.'
'I'm afraid I've got some bad news, Eric...' began the Commissioner.
William Randall opened his notebook and continued writing:
'A southbound monorail car was derailed at the Burdon stadium this afternoon causing an explosion and major damage to the stadium. It is not known how many people were on board at the time, but it appears that noted comedian William Randall may have been among them.'
Outside, two ghosts stood at the rim of the crater.
'What a terrible day. We've lost the chance to see the show and we've also lost the chance to see the Magpies play,' said the English ghost.
'To lose both looks like carelessness,' said the Irish ghost.