Errors of Comedy - Chapter 9
Derek Daniels stood in front of the mirror, trying to tie his bow-tie. The idea of a party was bad enough. Having to wear evening dress was even worse. The strip of black material was refusing to behave itself. He snatched it away from his neck and heard a slight 'ping'. He looked at his sleeve. One of his cufflinks had fallen off. Derek swore and knelt down to try and find it. Stupid things. What was wrong with buttons? What was wrong with a T-shirt? Derek felt something cold and hard under his palm. He picked it up. There lay the errant cufflink. Now back to the tie. He placed it around his neck and began to fold one end over the other.
'No, no. Like this,' said a voice with an Irish accent. The tie began to tie itself.
'Thanks very much,' said Derek.
'Pleasure,' said the voice.
Derek thought for a moment.
'Who... and where, are you?' he asked.
'There's no time to explain now,' interrupted another voice, with an English accent this time. 'We'll tell you later.'
'Tell me what later?' asked Derek, but he was talking to himself.
'Are you talking to yourself again?' called his mother.
Derek was about to reply in the negative but, on reflection, that seemed like a silly idea.
'Yes, Mum. Sorry,' he called back.
'Hurry up, we're about to leave.'
'I won't be a minute.'
Derek took one last look around the room and, finding no obvious source for the voices, left.
'That was a very silly thing to do,' said the English ghost, 'you might have ruined everything.'
'But he's twenty-one. I thought we were allowed to talk to him when he was twenty-one,' said the Irish ghost.
'He's not twenty-one yet,' said the English ghost. 'Not until half-past ten tonight.'
'And then what?'
'Then we can tell him everything.'
'So let me get this straight,' said the Irish ghost. 'We're going to casually saunter into this party, without an invitation, wait until half-past ten and then say "Sorry to interrupt your tete-a-tete with Lisa, Mr Daniels, but you've got to save the world"?'
'Oh, no!''Good!''I think after all these years we can call him Derek,' added the English ghost, 'don't you?'
The Irish ghost looked somewhat put out.
'That is not what I meant,' he said.
'And, of course, we don't need an invitation,' said the English ghost, ignoring him. 'Shall we go?' He began walking out of the door.
'You still haven't explained about the aubergine,' said the Irish ghost.
'Oh, do be quiet,' said the English ghost.
'Or the cauliflower,' said the Irish ghost, quietly.
'Now look here, dear boy,' said the English ghost, slightly annoyed, 'if we don't hurry up we're going to be late.'
'If we don't get there by half-past ten, will Derek turn into a pumpkin?'
'Or an aubergine?'
In the Western Quarter, Ted Gerine continued his experiments. Two of his brothers, Ned and Ed, leaned over his shoulder, trying to work out what he was doing. They gave up.
'What are you doing, Ted?' said Ned. Ed nudged him.
'Watch what you say, Ned,' said Ed, 'there might be tourists a-listenin'.'
'Er...' Ned coughed. 'What in tarnation are you adoin', Ted?' he said.
Ted ignored them.
'Ted, you ornery critter. Durn well answer when I'm a-speakin' to you,' said Ed.
Ned was very impressed.
'Where did you learn that?' he whispered.
'I heard Jed say it the other day. Good, isn't it?' replied Ed. Ned cleared his throat.
'Sure thang, pardner,' he replied.
Ted looked up from his work, wishing they'd just take their silly accents and go away.
'I'm trying to improve the range on this twirl-o-matic rope-handling wrist launcher,' he said.
'Now why in tarnation would you a-want to do a thing like that?' asked Ed. Ted sighed.
'Because then Jed wouldn't have to go out on a horse. He could just stand outside the house and rope the steers from there. Now, will you please go away. I'm trying to concentrate.'
Ned and Ed looked at each other and shrugged.
'Let's go teach some tourists how to pan for gold,' said Ned.
'Sure thing, pardner,' replied Ed.
Ted shook his head and returned to his work. It should be simple enough to increase the range. It was merely a case of increasing the power to the electromagnet. That would increase the tension in the spring, propelling the rope further. Easy. He didn't know why people made such a fuss about electronic equipment. It wasn't as if it was going to blow up or anything.
Derek sat in a monorail car with his parents. His father glanced nervously at his watch. Derek grinned. He knew perfectly well that his father didn't want to be at this party any more than he did. Derek flashed a quick sideways glance at his parents. His father looked disappointed. His mother looked relieved. Derek got the feeling that, whereas he and his father didn't want it to happen at all, his mother just wanted it to be all over as quickly as possible. So if they were all dreading the event, what was the point of going through with it? Derek realised that they were all doing it for each other. He didn't want to disappoint his parents and they wanted him to enjoy his birthday. Unfortunately for Derek, his parents idea of enjoying his birthday wasn't identical to his own.
He looked at his watch. He was currently missing the rerun of The Paradoxicals on the television. What was tonight's episode about? Something to do with 'John F Kennedy'. So what could be so interesting about an airport? Probably not much, but it had to be better than going to a party that he wanted nothing to do with. At least Lisa would be there. He had rethought his approach and decided on something a little more appropriate to his outfit. Something smooth, suave and sophisticated...
'Good evening, Ms Bach,' said Derek, sophisticatedly, and kissed her lightly on the hand.
The opening gambit had reverted to the 'good evening' that he had rejected before but this time he felt it was more fitting.
'Why, good evening, Mr Daniels,' replied Lisa.
'Call me Derek,' said Derek, suavely.
'Well, Derek, shall we dance?' asked Lisa.
'I would be honoured, Ms Bach,' replied Derek, smoothly, taking her by the hand.
'Please, call me Lisa,' said Lisa.
Derek held her close to him and they began to glide across the dance floor. Derek couldn't recall ever dancing before but that didn't seem to matter. He felt a nudge in his side.
'I don't think this is an excuse me,' he said.
'No, it's a monorail car and we've arrived,' replied his mother.
Derek stood up hurriedly and walked out onto the platform. Deborah walked along behind him. She was beginning to worry about this party. Ever since they told Derek about it he had been in a very strange mood. Well, stranger than usual, anyway. Perhaps he didn't want to go to the party. Well, it was too late now. They were all going to have to put up with it. Deborah felt a sudden pang of jealousy - she knew that she would be the only one who would have to put up with all of it. Her husband and son could vanish off into their dream-worlds when they got bored. She didn't have that option.
Two ghosts walked along behind the family. The Irish ghost seemed to have a problem with this.
'I still don't see why we have to walk.'
'Real gentlemen arrive at parties properly,' replied the English ghost. 'They do not just materialise in the middle of the dance floor.''What's wrong with the dance floor?''We might be asked to dance.'
The Irish ghost gave up on that subject.
'So when are we going to talk to Derek?'
'When the opportunity presents itself.'
'What if it doesn't present itself?' asked the Irish ghost, becoming suspicious.
'It will,' said the English ghost, sounding far too confident for the Irish ghost's liking.
'This has got something to do with the aubergine, hasn't it?' he said sulkily.
The English ghost did not deign to reply.
It was finished. Ted Gerine eased himself upright and stood back from the table. The completed twirl-o-matic rope-handling wrist-launcher (Mark II) lay in a pile of discarded components. Ted studied it critically. It didn't have much to offer in the way of aesthetics but that could wait. The important thing was that it was finished and it worked. Probably. All it needed was a test run. Now, where had Jed got to?
Jed was, quite understandably, in hiding. Jed was fond of Ted, but not fond enough to volunteer to test his new invention. If he stayed hidden for long enough, one of his other brothers would offer to test it, whatever it was. Red had a bit of a wild streak; he'd be the ideal person to try it out. Jed relaxed. Problem solved
The rest of the family stood outside the house, watching Ted set up his gadget. To Ted's surprise, his mother had volunteered to test the Mark II. He had protested at first but his mother was adamant.
'I was the first person to use the original twirl-o-matic rope-handling wrist launcher and I'll be the first person to use the Mark II,' she'd said, 'so hurry up and get it sorted out.'
Ted had just shrugged his shoulders and hurried up. Now, he was making the final adjustments to the Mark II. He turned to his mother.
'It's almost exactly the same as before. All I've done is increased the power. The controls are the same, although the increased range will take some getting used to. Don't be surprised if you overshoot your target on your first few attempts.'
There was a voice from the back of the crowd.
'It is sure nice to be seeing a mother who is standing by next to her son,' said a Scandinavian voice, 'and, hey, that reminds me of a song.'
Red Gerine moved rapidly through the crowd.
'Some of the times it is hard to be being a woman,' sang Sven until Red hit him.
Ted turned the power to the Mark II on. His mother pressed a button. Something happened.
The Daniels family walked into the party room at the Presidential theatre. It was dark. Derek breathed a sigh of relief. There was nobody here. Perhaps his parents had booked the wrong day. Never mind, eh? He turned to walk back out. Suddenly, the lights came on.
'Happy birthday!' shouted a room full of people.
'Happy birthday, Derek!' said his parents.
Derek didn't say anything. He just stood and rubbed his head where it had hit the doorframe during the temporary blindness when the lights came on..
'Derek, are you all right?' asked his mother anxiously.
'I think so,' he replied.
He touched his forehead. There was only a small trickle of blood.
'Speech!' shouted a voice from the back.
'Maybe later,' said Deborah.
She led Derek over to a chair and he dropped into it. He closed his eyes. Deborah turned to her husband.
'Go and tell the DJ to play some music,' she told him.
David pushed his way through the throng to reach a small man standing behind a hastily improvised stereo system.
'Could you start the music, please?' he asked.
The DJ pushed a button and the speakers sprang to life. Too much life for Derek, who groaned and held his head.
'I think it could be just a little quieter,' suggested David.
The DJ looked mortally offended but turned the volume down slightly. It made no difference to Derek. He still had a headache. His father had made his way back and began talking to a woman who looked familiar. Derek tried to concentrate on what was being said.
'Teresa, it's wonderful to see you,' said David.
'Yes, it is,' said Teresa Quinn.
'You're looking well,' said David, slightly taken aback.
'Yes, I am' said Teresa, 'it's a pity about Deborah, though.'
'I beg your pardon?' asked David.
'Well, she's gone so much to seed. She used to be slightly attractive but now she's positively ugly. Will you excuse me, I have to mingle.'
David stood and watched her walk away, too stunned to say anything. Derek was furious.
'How do you know her?' he asked in disgust.
'She was at school with your mother,' his father replied in similar tones. 'Look, don't say anything to your mother. Maybe we can keep them apart.'
Derek nodded. If only there was something he could say to this Teresa woman. He remembered reading about her in the Daily Thompson. So she was technically the most beautiful woman in the Southern Quarter. Derek looked up. Standing on the other side of the room was Lisa, bathed in the glow of a spotlight. Derek looked back at Teresa Quinn, currently patronising one of his father's friends, and shook his head. No competition. He stood up unsteadily and walked over to where Lisa had been standing. Unfortunately for Derek she had moved to the buffet and he found himself talking to the head of the accounts department at the Daily Thompson.
'Ah, you must be young Derek,' he said, pumping Derek's hand up and down. 'Happy birthday.'
'Thank-you,' replied Derek vacantly, gazing round the room in search of Lisa.
'I'm afraid I haven't been able to find you a place in the accounts department at the moment.'
'We're full up at the moment.'
'There is, however, a vacancy as janitor at the Daily Thompson. Would you be interested?'
'Yes, yes,' said David, wishing that this boring man would go away.
'Wonderful!' said the man. 'I'll tell the appropriate people and you can start work next week.'
The word 'work' attracted Derek's attention.
'Pardon?' he asked.
'Welcome to the team, Janitor Daniels,' said the man, shaking his hand again.
He walked off to tell David the good news leaving Derek very confused. A little while later, Andy Moore wandered over.
'Hi, Derek. Happy birthday and congratulations,' he said. 'I've just heard the news.'
Derek looked at him.
'What news would that be?' he asked cautiously.
'That you're our new janitor,' replied Andy.
'Oh, that news. Right. Thanks,' said Derek.
Andy was about to add something when his mobile phone rang.
'Hello. Andy Moore. Yes. Yes. Really? Yes. No. Yes. A what? Who? Right,' he said.'What's happened,' asked Derek.
'There's been an explosion at the Gerine ranch in the Western Quarter. Apparently, old Ma Gerine was thrown two hundred feet into the air.'
Something clicked in Derek's brain.
'Trouble from the North,' he said to himself.
He started to ask Andy something but he had dashed off to cover the story. He turned round to see his mother talking to someone with a French accent.
'Ah, Deborah my petite chou-fleur,' said the French person.
Derek turned away again.
'My mother is a cauliflower,' he said to himself.
'Well, I woudn't go quite that far' said a cultivated English voice, 'but it's near enough.'
Derek looked up in surprise to see the two oddly dressed men standing there. Oddly dressed ghosts, Derek corrected himself and then wondered how he knew.
'Can we go somewhere and talk?' asked the English ghost.
'There's a cloakroom at the back,' replied Derek.
He thought he heard an Irish voice mutter something about a missing aubergine, but he must have been mistaken. He looked at the two men.
'Aren't you a little over-dressed?' he asked.
'The only way to atone for being occasionally a little over-dressed is by being always absolutely over-educated,' said the Irish ghost.