Errors of Comedy - Chapter 13
Billy Hilarious stood on the platform of the Northern Quarter's sole monorail station. He gazed down the track. Gazed at the object of his hatred. Gazed south. Everything was falling into place. His generals were ready. OK, so they were just one pub landlord, one club owner and one reporter, but it was still more than anyone in the South was expecting. However, before he could call his armies together, there were still a few things to attend to. There was no point in attacking completely out of the blue. Surprise was essential, but the people of the South had to know who was attacking them. As Billy well knew, there were only two means of communication in the South; the Daily Thompson and the television. In theory, the Daily Thompson was the more respectable method of communicating with the masses, but television was more immediate, more invasive, more manipulative. If he could somehow produce pictures of the massed ranks of Northerners preparing to invade and beam them to the occupants of the South, it would bring the city to its knees without much of a fight. Not that it would make any difference to the battle plan, but he would enjoy their pathetic pleading after they saw the pictures. So, all he had to do was obtain a television camera and transport it up north. Most of it should be fairly easy. It was the idea of leaving things with his generals and trusting them to get the army ready that worried him. They'd get it right, wouldn't they?
He was about to turn around, go home and redraw the battle plan completely when the monorail car arrived at the station. He waited politely as two men wearing khaki shorts and carrying rucksacks got out. They consulted a map, pointed in several directions, not one of which led anywhere useful, placed gasmasks over their faces and set off northwards. Billy grinned. The people of the South would need more than gasmasks when he was finished with them. He stepped into the monorail car and sat in one of the plush leather seats.
He didn't enjoy the journey. As the city sped past by, the distantly familiar images reminded him of his past. Billy didn't want to be reminded of his past. For a start, much of it was unpleasant in the extreme. The endless stream of anti-Northern invective that he had spewed at the audiences. The audiences themselves, made up of accountants and lawyers and doctors and their bland families and their sycophantic friends with their comfortable jobs and their monorail system and their Daily Thompson and their wallpaper and their...
Billy took a deep breath. He had to stay calm. He was disappointed with himself, allowing the past to impinge on his thoughts. It wasn't even as if the past was better then the present. Of course, he wasn't as bitter and twisted back then and he had a very comfortable apartment and it only rained every now and again and it didn't smell of smoke everywhere and he didn't have to drink bitter all the time. Not that he ever really liked gin and tonic that much, but it was just somehow more civilised....
Civilised! What was he thinking of? He was out to destroy civilisation, not reminisce about it. It was just that, sometimes, he remembered what civilisation was like, and it wasn't all that bad, really. Wallpaper and carpets and television and...
Right! That was it. No more of this wistful looking backwards. He had to look forward. Forward to the glorious future of Sprawling Metropolis, with him as its leader. Mayor Burdon had been in office for far too long. It was time for someone else. Someone like Billy Hilarious. That was a far better train of thought. He was going to bring the South to its knees. He had the manpower and the willpower to do it. All this was obviously just last minute nerves.
Perhaps there was some way to get himself psyched-up for the assault. What did he really hate about the South? He thought for a moment and came up with a suitable candidate: Geoff Andrews, manager of the Presidential Theatre. Now, there was something worth hating. Geoff Andrews, still the manager of a pitiful little theatre after all these years. Geoff Andrews, with his histrionics and his precious artistes and his carpets and his wallpaper. When the invasion was underway, the Presidential Theatre was going to be one of the first places to be razed to the ground, along with Geoff Andrews if possible. And that little chap who used to hang around the door. What was his name? Eric? It seemed a bit unlikely that he'd still be there after all this time but, then again, Billy couldn't imagine him amounting to much else. So, the Presidential theatre, that would go.
What else? Oh yes, the Daily Thompson. There would be no more of its bland reporting and its anti-North propaganda in the future. All the stories would be about him, with perhaps a football report every weekend. Not the Magpies, obviously. Proper football. His football team. And, on the subject of the Magpies, there was something else that could be wiped off the face of the Earth: Burdon Stadium. He had nearly managed it last time he was there. This time he would finish the job. After his armies had taken the central region, they could bring the bulldozers in. Or perhaps it would be more fun just to set fire to the stadium and watch it burn. He could set fire to the team at the same time. It might even put a bit of life into their performance. Until they were extinguished by the fire helicopters, anyway. Yes, burning things was a much better idea.
* * *
Derek sat alone in his 'office'. Alfred had finished his tea, given Derek one final, reassuring pat on the shoulder and then gone back to his trash cans. Derek continued to sit, alone. It felt very lonely, hidden away down here in the basement. Even Alfred had gone up to the ground floor. So Derek sat, alone. He shook himself. How could he possibly be alone? Two-hundred and fifty-seven people worked in the building. Only one of them had an office in the basement, though. Office! Derek looked around. Who was he kidding? This wasn't an office. It was barely a cupboard. Whatever it was, though, it was now his home-from-home. His place of work. His office.
He picked up a mop. To be precise, he picked up the handle of a mop. The head lay on the floor. It looked fairly dead, but Derek poked it with the handle to make sure. It didn't move. He picked it up and it sat, lifeless, in his hand. All he needed now was some way to reattach it to the handle. There must be something in here he could use. He was meant to be the janitor, after all. If he couldn't fix his own mop he was in trouble. He began searching around the room when he remembered the door on the right-hand wall. He fished his bunch of keys out of his pocket and opened the cupboard-within-a-cupboard. On the inside of the door hung a set of overalls. Derek shrugged his shoulders and put them on. Right, he was now ready for anything. No, he wasn't. He still didn't have a functional mop.
He peered into the cupboard. Inside was another room, almost twice as big as the office, filled with all manner of tools, decorating equipment, pots of paint, rolls of carpet and innumerable objects that Derek could only guess at a use for. How was he supposed to find a small pot of glue in here? Come to think of it, how was he supposed to find anything in here? He looked up at the edge of the nearest shelf. Underneath a layer of dust was a faded letter 'A'. That was how he found things. He walked over to shelf 'G'. 'Gadgets'. How very useful. 'G' for 'gadgets'. Well, any time Derek needed a gadget, he knew where to find one. What else was there under 'G'? Gaskets, gauges, glass, gravel, grease. No glue. How was he supposed to be a janitor without glue? People were always breaking things. He looked down at the hairy thing in his hand. Mops, for example. Where else could the glue be? Adhesives? He walked back to shelf 'A'. Not adhesives. He stood in the storeroom, looking around in despair.
There was a knock at his office door
'It's only me, squire,' said Alfred. 'I just came to see how you were getting on.'
'Where can I find some glue?' asked Derek.
'Glue?' Alfred thought for a moment. 'Try under "S".'
'I'm serious. Shelf "S". "Sticky stuff".'
Derek walked over to the other side of the room. Shelf 'S' was at the top. Alfred brought over a step-ladder.
'You might need this, squire.'
'Thanks,' said Derek, climbing up it.
He looked at the contents of the shelf. Glue. Wood glue, metal glue, plastic glue, quick-drying glue, slow-drying glue, contact adhesive, epoxy resin and cyanoacrylate. No 'mop glue', then? He grabbed the tube of quick-drying glue - he could need the mop at any moment - and climbed back down the ladder.
'Thanks, Alfred,' he said. 'Did you want anything in particular?'
'Not really. Just making sure you're all right.'
'That's very kind of you. I should be OK, providing this filing system doesn't give me too many problems.'
'You'll soon get used to it. Good luck with the mop,' said Alfred as he walked out of the office.
Derek sat on his bench and glued the head of the mop back onto the handle. There. One serviceable mop. His mop. Nobody else's. It might have belonged to someone else once, but he had fixed it. It was his. He was contemplating his mop when the telephone rang. He picked up the receiver.
'Is that the janitor?' said a voice.
Derek thought for a moment.
'Yes,' he said, eventually.
'Good. We've got a leak in Personnel. Could you come and fix it right away?'
'Yes,' said Derek, 'if you could tell me where Personnel...' He was talking to a dialling tone.
Oh well. He finally had a job to do. If there was a leak, there would probably be water. If there was water, he would need his mop. He stood up and grasped it by the handle, taking a bucket in his other hand. He was a man with a mission. And a mop.
He left the office and locked the door. All he had to do now was find Personnel, clean up the mess and fix the leak. Right, step one; find Personnel. He climbed the stairs and wandered back along the corridor toward the elevators. Presumably the attendant would be able to tell him how to get to Personnel. He pushed the call button and waited for the elevator to arrive. The doors slid open and he stepped in.
'Personnel, is it?' asked the attendant.
'Yes,' replied Derek in surprise. 'How did you know?'
'It's all over the building.'
'What, the water?' asked Derek, anxiously. If there was that much water it was going to take more than a mop to clean it up.
'No, not the water. Just the news that there's a leak in Personnel.'
'Thank goodness for that,' said Derek, leaning against the elevator wall and breathing heavily.
The elevator stopped and the doors opened.
'Fourth floor. Personnel is along the corridor, second door on the left.'
'Thanks,' said Derek and left the elevator.
'I see you've fixed the mop, then,' the attendant called after him.
'It's an improvement on your predecessor.'
The elevator doors closed and Derek was left standing in the corridor. He turned to the mop.
'You hear that? I've only been here a couple of hours and I'm already an improvement,' he said and then stopped.
He wondered if his predecessor ever talked to his mop. He glanced up the corridor. Fortunately, no-one had heard him. Now then, was it the second on the left or right? As there was water seeping out from underneath the door on the left, Derek didn't have too much difficulty deciding. He debated whether to knock on the door. Presumably, as janitor, he could go wherever he wanted, or needed, to go. He opened the door. In the office, people were sitting or standing on desks clutching armfuls of paper. Derek looked down at the floor. There was a small pool of water by the wall, which trickled towards the door. There didn't seem to be too much danger of it getting anywhere near the desks, let alone the people standing on them. Derek began to mop up the water. He probably ought to find the source of the leak first, but he felt that, now he had entered the room, he should appear to be doing something. He chased the final drops of water along the wall and wrung out the mop. The occupants of the room watched him in silence. Derek turned to them.
'I'll go and fix the leak and then come back in case there's any more water,' he said. The people in the office nodded dumbly.
'I think it's safe for you to come down now,' added Derek.
One by one, they began to climb down from their desks and replace their papers in the correct drawers and filing cabinets. Derek smiled, uncertainly, and left the room. Perhaps Personnel had had a bad experience with the previous janitor. Perhaps they just didn't like janitors in general. Anyway, he could worry about that later. What he needed now was a plan of the building to try and work out where the leak was coming from. He walked back down the corridor, past the toilets, toward the elevators. Past the toilets. Derek stopped, pushed the door open and went in. A pipe on the right-hand wall was merrily spraying water into the air. He carefully deposited his mop and bucket in one corner and set off back to his office to fetch the necessary equipment. Two ghosts watched him go.
'It's a bit of a mess,' commented the Irish ghost, looking at the water swirling through his feet, 'but I'm sure young Derek will be able to sort it out.''Tho' the pipes that supply the bathroom burst, and the lavat'ry makes you fear the worst,' said the English ghost.