Errors of Comedy - Chapter 14
The monorail car carrying Billy Hilarious pulled into the station nearest the central television studios. Billy stood up and walked onto the platform. From here on he had to be on his guard. He was a stranger. An unwanted stranger. A stranger who had to try and blend in. That meant keeping careful control over his accent. He had to try to remember exactly how the people in the South spoke. It shouldn't be too difficult. It just meant removing all traces of character and individuality from his voice. Blandness, that was the key. As the monorail car pulled away from the station on its long ascent to the tracks above the city, Billy practised his Southern accent.
'Good morning, my name is Jeremy Droll. How do you do?' he said and grimaced. It sounded appalling, which probably meant he'd got it more or less right.
Billy squared his shoulders and walked toward the elevator that would carry him up to the reception. All he had to do was bluff his way past the receptionist, meet the manager and borrow a camera. The doors of the elevator began to open and Billy straightened his tie and tidied his suit. He then strode purposefully out of the elevator towards the reception desk.
'Good morning, my name is Jeremy Droll. I'd like to see the managing director, if you please,' he said briskly.
'Do you have an appointment, Mr Droll?' asked the secretary.
'Of course I don't have an appointment. I don't need an appointment. I'm Jeremy Droll, I have a very lucrative proposition to put to your manager and I'd appreciate it if you didn't waste any more of my time.'
The secretary stared at him for a moment and then pressed a button on her intercom.
'Mr Jones, there's a Mr Droll to see you. He says he doesn't need appointment.'
'Doesn't need an appointment?' came back a surprised voice from the intercom. 'You'd better send him in then.'
'Yes, Mr Jones,' replied the secretary and then turned to Billy. 'Mr Jones says you're to go straight in,' she said, indicating the door behind her.
'Thank-you,' said Billy and glided imperiously past her.
He walked into Mr Jones's office and closed the door.
'Good morning,' he said, 'my name's Jeremy Droll.'
'Good morning, Mr Droll. Now, exactly what is so important that you don't need an appointment?''I have a proposition to put to you that could make us both very rich,' said Billy enthusiastically.
'And exactly how are you proposing to do this?' asked the manager sounding rather bored. Billy took a deep breath.
'By making a film about the Northern Quarter,' he said slowly. Before Mr Jones could interrupt, Billy continued. 'It's a unique culture that very few people outside the North have ever seen before. They have a way of life that is totally different to anything found elsewhere. People will want to see it. They'll want to see the lives of Northern people because they're so unlike their own but, most of all, they'll want to see it to remind themselves how lucky they are not to live there.'
Billy came to the end of his sales pitch and looked at Mr Jones. Mr Jones stared back.
'You know, Mr Droll, you might just be onto something,' he said and held out his hand. 'Here's to a profitable partnership.'
Billy smiled and took his hand.
'Profitable indeed,' he said.
'Now then, what do you need from me?' asked Mr Jones.
'Oh, not much,' said Billy putting his arm around his shoulders and leading him out of the room.
Derek Daniels sat cross-legged on the floor of the toilets with a spanner in his hand. Water swirled around his knees, soaking his overalls. His mop stood, leaning against the bucket, in the far corner of the room. The pipe continued to spray water into the air with little consideration for either the nerves of the staff of Personnel or the mood of Derek Daniels. He had considered bursting into tears, but decided against it - he'd only have to mop it up later. Laughing hysterically was an option, but he dreaded to think how Personnel would take it. He had eventually settled on sitting, cradling the spanner and staring at the pipe, daring it to continue leaking. Needless to say, it dared. Needless to say, his bottom was getting wet. He raised the spanner and clouted the pipe. The pipe quivered slightly and treated Derek's futile gesture with the contempt it deserved, sending mocking ripples around his feet. Infuriated, Derek splashed about in the water with the spanner until he realised what he was doing. He wondered if all janitors behaved like this. Presumably that would explain why the residents of Personnel were so wary.
He stopped splashing and resettled his gaze on the pipe. The pipe stared back, sending water playfully into the air. Every now and again a particularly excitable jet of water caught Derek in the face. The first few times Derek had wiped the water from his eyes, but now he was determined to sit it out without showing such signs of weakness. He wasn't sure exactly what he was going to do. Jump on it and wrap it up in tape until it couldn't move. Then he'd have it at his mercy. It wouldn't dare go on leaking. It all seemed a bit violent, really. Derek had always considered himself to be fairly mild-mannered. If only there was a way of resolving this contest without resorting to brute force. Perhaps if he talked to the pipe it would come round to his way of thinking. Derek smiled a wry smile. Splashing around with a spanner in a puddle was bad enough. When he started talking to pipes, that was when he donated his mind to medical science. Talking to pipes was even worse than talking to mops. Derek wasn't sure why talking to pipes should be worse, but he felt that he had to convince himself that it was. He had, after all, already caught himself talking to his mop.
A wave of despair passed through he. He spread his arms.
'Where's Witty Put-Down Man when I need him?' he asked the ceiling. The ceiling didn't reply. Derek did. 'In my pocket. That's where Witty Put-Down Man is,' he told himself.
He pulled out the cigarette holder and looked at it. He decided he had an ethical problem. Witty Put-Down Man was supposed to exist to help people. Would enlisting his help to solve this problem be a misuse of his powers? What would happen if it was? Would the powers be taken away from him? Would he care if they were? Yes, he probably would. He remembered how he felt after his brilliant performance at his birthday party. More importantly, he remembered how Lisa had felt after his brilliant performance at his birthday party. That was settled then, he had to keep hold of Witty Put-Down Man. So, was asking Witty Put-Down Man to fix the plumbing going to cause problems? Derek attempted a logical argument. Witty Put-Down Man was meant to help people. He, Derek Daniels, was a person. He needed help. Therefore...
He stood up and put the cigarette holder in his mouth. The ends of the belt from his smoking jacket dangled in the water. Witty Put-Down Man casually pulled the smoking jacket around himself and tied the belt. Awed by the hero's sheer presence, the water lacked the courage to stay on the belt and dripped shyly onto the floor. Witty Put-Down Man stared sternly at the pipe.
'I do wish you'd pipe down,' he said, and blew smoke toward it. The pipe stopped leaking. He tapped it with his foot. It remained resolutely leak-less.
With a satisfied smile, Witty Put-Down Man replaced the cigarette holder in its case. Derek picked up his mop, bucket and spanner and left the room to clear up the mess in the Personnel office. Two ghosts watched him go.
'I didn't think that was particularly witty,' said the English ghost, 'but then, he is new to the job.''He does seem to be plumbing the depths somewhat,' said the Irish ghost. The English ghost did not deign to reply.
Derek walked into Personnel again. The door swung shut behind him. A man in the corner stopped tapping away at a computer keyboard and looked up at him. A metaphorical piano stopped playing. The coffee machine halted in mid pour. A woman dropped an armful of papers on the floor. Nobody moved to pick them up. Nobody moved. They just stared at Derek. Derek glanced downwards in case he was still dressed as Witty Put-Down Man. He was only half relieved to find that he wasn't. If he was, it would at least have given them something to stare at. He raised his mop. As one, the occupants of the office flinched.
'I'm just going to mop up the... with the... and the... and then I'll...' he said uncertainly.
It didn't provoke much response. Derek had half expected the man by the coffee machine to inform him that his sort wasn't welcome in these parts. At least it would be a start. With the silence beginning to make his head throb, he walked over to the wall and mopped up the water that had seeped through since his last visit. Making his way to the door he turned back.
'If you have any more problems, don't hesitate to call,' he suggested and then left, hurriedly.
What was their problem? Janitorphobia? Mopophobia? He hoped that the other inhabitants of the building didn't suffer from a similar condition. Alfred certainly didn't and the lift attendant didn't appear to, so that was a start. There was always Lisa, of course. On the other hand, Lisa had never seen him as a janitor. Maybe she would run away screaming when she saw his overalls. At least it would mean he had succeeded in provoking an emotional response from her, which was more than he had achieved in the last twenty-one years. He stepped out of the elevator, wondering how he had managed to press the call button, get in and tell the attendant which floor he required without realising it. Damn you, Lisa Bach!
On his way back to his office, he passed Alfred.
'Alfred,' he called, 'do the people in Personnel have some sort of problem with janitors?'
'Ah, Personnel,' said Alfred wisely.
'What?' asked Derek, becoming worried.
'It's quite a long story,' said Alfred. 'Stick the kettle on, squire, and I'll join you shortly.'
Derek nodded and wandered back to his office. He replaced the spanner on shelf 'T' ('Tools') and put the kettle on. Alfred walked in.
'Another cup of tea, I think, squire.'
Derek dropped a teabag into each of two cups and poured on the water. After a convoluted series of movements that allowed him to deposit the teabags in the dustbin, they sat back with their drinks.
'So what have Personnel got against janitors?' asked Derek.
'Ah yes,' said Alfred. 'It all started when there was a leak in the toilets next to the office.'
'Burst pipe?' asked Derek, innocently.
'I think it was, as it happens,' replied Alfred. 'Have you heard this story before?'
'No, no. Just a good guess.'
'Right. Well, there was this leak in Personnel and Psycho went to have a look.'
'That's what we used to call the last janitor.'
'What was his real name?'
'I don't know, squire. Everybody called him Psycho.'
'Any particular reason?' asked Derek carefully.
'Just a good guess, I suppose. Anyway, Psycho went up to Personnel with his mop.'
'With or without its head?'
'With. For the moment. So Psycho walks into Personnel and says, "What's up?". Personnel manager says, "We've got a leak," so Psycho shouts back at her, "I can see you've got a leak, you stupid bitch."'
'I think I'm beginning to see how he got his nickname.'
'Yes. So, anyway, Personnel Manager says, "So what are you going to do about it, you incompetent moron."'
'Let me guess - Psycho didn't take too kindly to that?'
'That's right. What he does is, he rips the head off the mop and throws it at the Personnel Manager.'
'Well, the Personnel Manager backs into the coffee machine, which starts spraying coffee into the air. The coffee sprays one of the office juniors in the eye. He screams. Now, one of the staff from Accounts is walking down the corridor and hears the scream. He opens the door and smacks Psycho in the face.'
'That was a silly thing to do.'
'It certainly was. Psycho impaled him with the handle of the mop.'
'When you say impaled...'
'I mean impaled. Right through him.'
Derek looked at his mop.
'And I've been using the same mop?'
'No, no. That's a different one.'
'But I had to glue the head back on.'
'That's because it had fallen off.'
'Not because Psycho ripped it off to throw at the Personnel manager, shortly before impaling a member of Accounts with the handle?'
'No. It just fell off.'
'It just fell off?'
'Just fell off.'
'And it's not the same mop?'
'Not the same mop.'
'Are you sure?'
'I've got to be going. Thanks for the tea, squire,' said Alfred and walked out of the office, whistling.
Derek sat and stared at the mop. The handle was a dull, metallic red, but it didn't look blood-stained. He gave a shiver and drank the remainder of his tea. It was cold, but at least it wasn't being sprayed in his face.
Two ghosts were hanging around outside the office.
'I think I could do with a cup myself,' said the Irish ghost.
'Wouldn't it be dreadful to live in a country where they didn't have tea?' said the English ghost.