Errors of Comedy - Chapter 16
Tucked away down a side-alley, away from the crowds, Derek finished his Metroburger lunch and
sat back in his chair. The plastic creaked ominously and Derek sat forward again.
'Are you sure these chairs are safe?' he asked.
'No, but they're the only ones we've got, squire,' replied Alfred.
Derek tested the strength of the chair and then slowly leant back again. The plastic bent, as if
accommodating the shape of his body, and suddenly became very comfortable. Derek closed his
'So, how long have you been after Lisa then?' asked Alfred suddenly.
Derek opened his eyes again and stared at him.
'You don't mess about, do you?' he said. Alfred shrugged.
'Never saw the point, squire.'
'So, how long have you been chasing Lisa?'
Derek took a deep breath.
'About twenty-one years,' he said honestly. Alfred's eyes widened.
'That's a long time.'
There was a pause as Alfred thought about it.
'Perhaps you should tell her after all,' he said eventually. Derek gave a hollow laugh.
'As if she'd believe that I was Wi...' He stopped, realising what he was about to say.
'Believe that you were what? In love with her? Or something else?' asked Alfred
Derek looked him straight in the eye. He had wanted to tell someone ever since it had happened.
Yes, the ghosts knew, but it wasn't the same. He wanted to share it with someone real. Someone who
might believe him.
'That I'm a hero,' he said eventually. Alfred nodded.
'It makes sense,' he said.
'What makes sense?' asked Derek in surprise. This wasn't quite the response he had been
'You leave the party, the hero appears. He leaves, you reappear. Quite a coincidence,
Derek stared at him, saying nothing. Alfred continued.
'So, Witty Put-Down Man, eh? You caused quite a sensation, especially with Miss Bach.'
Derek smiled wistfully and remained silent.
'You're quite right though, squire,' Alfred went on, 'you can't tell her. She'd never
believe it. She's far too sensible.'
Derek snapped out of his daydream.
'So why do you believe it?'
'Well, squire, I've been called a lot of things over the years, but "sensible" isn't one of them.
And like I said, your timely disappearance at your birthday party was too much of a
'How do you know what happened at my birthday party?' asked Derek suspiciously.
'Calm down,' said Alfred. 'Most of the staff of the Daily Thompson were there. As I've
told you before, I keep my ear to the ground. They're talking about it all over the
'Except Personnel, apparently,' said Derek.
'Even Personnel, when they're not being attacked by mad janitors,' said Alfred with a smile.
'Or mop-wielding super-heroes,' he added.
'Quite,' said Alfred and, after a pause, added. 'So what are you going to do with your
'I don't know. I'm just supposed to defend the city, although I'm not sure what from,' he
said and then remembered something. 'I'm supposed to be expecting "trouble from the
'What sort of trouble?'
'I don't know, they didn't say.'
'Who didn't say,' asked Alfred curiously.
Two ghosts stood behind Alfred's chair shaking their heads.
'Er... two friends of mine?' suggested Derek.
The ghosts looked at each other and the English ghost nodded at him encouragingly.
'Two friends of yours?' said Alfred.
'That's all I can say, I'm afraid,' said Derek apologetically.
The ghosts smiled at him beneficently and slowly vanished.
'Fair enough, squire. You've got to have some secrets I suppose,' said Alfred standing up.
'Come on, it's time we were getting back.'
Derek looked at him, suddenly concerned.
'You won't tell anyone, will you?' he asked. Alfred smiled at him.
'Of course not,' he said. 'Anyway, who's going to believe the bin-man?'
Derek looked pointedly at him.
'Everybody,' he said. Alfred just coughed modestly.
Back in his office, Derek sat with a cup of coffee and contemplated the wall. Had he done the
right thing? Technically, the ghosts hadn't forbidden him to tell anyone about Witty Put-Down Man,
but that didn't mean that it was a good idea. Still, he hadn't revealed their existence, which was
what they seemed most concerned about. Alfred seemed trustworthy. From the way he spoke, it
seemed that everyone took him into their confidence. Perhaps it had been a good idea after all. If
this trouble from the North was going to appear, he was probably going to need all the help he could
get. Exactly what use Alfred could be he wasn't sure, but he had certainly been very helpful since
Derek had met him. Admittedly, up to now he had only needed help with his janitoring duties, but it
was a start. If the experience at Stanbridge Square was anything to go by, Alfred certainly knew
his way around the city. Not to mention his trick for getting served in Metroburger.
Derek raised his mug.
'Here's to you, Kevin!' he said.
'Cheers!' said Alfred, appearing and holding an empty mug aloft. 'Tea, please,' he
Derek leaned over to put the kettle on and was interrupted by the telephone. He picked up the
'Hello, janitor's office,' he said.
'Hello, this is Accounts could you come up immediately, please?'
'I'll be with you in a minute,' replied Derek and hung up. 'Sorry, Alfred, the tea will have
to wait until I get back.'
'No problem, squire,' said Alfred, carefully placing his mug next to the kettle, 'I'm sure I
can find something to do.'
The elevator doors opened and Derek stepped out into the Accounts department. He was greeted
by a cheer and a burst of applause. His father walked over to his side and turned to face the rest of
'Ladies and gentlemen,' he began, 'this is my son.'
There was a second round of applause.
'Welcome to the Accounts department, Derek.'
Derek stood and stared. Everyone in the department was looking at him. He cleared his
'What seems to be the problem?' he said unsteadily.
'Problem?' asked his father.
'Yes, problem. Why did you call me? What do you want me to do?'
His father laughed and the rest of the department joined in. Derek slowly turned red. His father
put his arm around his shoulders and led him forward.
'We don't really need a janitor,' said David. 'We just wanted to get a look at you in your
new job, didn't we?'
There was yet another cheer and round of applause. Derek turned to his father.
'Well, you've seen me now, so I'll be going.'
He turned to walk out of the office. A door in the far corner opened and David's boss walked
'Daniels, what is going on in here?' he shouted.
David and Derek both turned to face him.
'I was...' began David.
'We were...' began Derek.
'Yes, we were...' continued David.
'No, I was...' continued Derek.
'Stop gibbering Daniels.'
'Sorry, sir,' said Derek and David in unison.
The boss looked at Derek.
'Who are you?'
'I'm the janitor, sir,' stammered Derek.
'Janitor? Well, what are you doing here?'
'Yes, he was fixing the...' added David.
'...the heating which was...'
'...properly,' finished Derek.
'Really?' asked the boss.
'Oh yes,' said David. 'The heating wasn't working properly, so we called Derek up to fix
it. Which he has done. He was just leaving,' he added.
'Yes, I was,' said Derek walking out of the room. His father called after him.
'Thank-you for fixing the heating, Mr. Janitor,' he said.
Out in the corridor, Derek buried his head in his hands. David watched him go with some relief. It
looked like he might have got away with it.
'Daniels,' said his boss.
'Yes, sir?' said David turning around.
'I don't know what you're up to, but if it happens again you're fired. Understand?'
'Good. Now get on with some work.'
David sat back down at his desk. Why did everything always go wrong around Derek? Why
couldn't his son have made a better impression...
Derek stepped out of the elevator. The department cheered. Derek waved casually and stepped
forward, greeting some of the people who he recognised from his birthday party.
'Welcome to the Accounts department, son,' said David.
'Thanks, father,' said Derek. The boss walked out of his office.
'Daniels, who is this?'
'This, sir, is my son Derek, the janitor.'
'Janitor, eh? Well, we don't need a janitor at the moment. What are you up to, Daniels?' As
he said this, a large chunk of ceiling above the boss's head began to come loose...
David considered this. Was it likely to happen? Chunks of ceiling didn't come loose very often.
Derek caught sight of the falling masonry and dived forward. Performing a hand-spring off the
nearest desk, he flew through the air towards the boss. Catching the lump of ceiling, he landed
lightly on his feet and brushed himself down...
No, that wasn't very likely at all. Try again...
Derek caught sight of the falling masonry and dived forward. He made contact with the boss and
they both fell backwards as the lump of ceiling crashed to the floor where the boss had been
standing not half a second before.
'Thank-you, Derek,' said the boss. 'You've saved my life. Why don't you come and work in
the Accounts department for far more money than you're getting at the moment?'
'Daniels!' thundered the real boss. David looked up. Perhaps Derek had managed to save
him from the falling ceiling.
'Are you all right, sir?' he asked. His boss stared at him.
'I'm fine,' he said, puzzled, 'why this sudden concern for my health?'
'You were nearly...' began David. Reality clicked into place. 'Nearly... very angry,' he
improvised, somewhat unconvincingly. 'You should be more careful. Stress can be very dangerous.
You don't want to have a heart attack, do you?'
'No, I don't,' said the boss, confused. 'I'll be more careful,' and he walked away,
trying to work out how the conversation had got to where it had.
Back in Derek's office, Alfred had finally got his cup of tea.
'Did you get everything sorted out, squire?'
'There wasn't anything to sort out. It was just my Dad exhibiting me to the rest of the
'Don't be too hard on him, squire,' said Alfred gently, 'he's just proud of you.'
'Proud?' exclaimed Derek. 'Proud of what? That I'm a janitor?''Proud that you're his son,' said Alfred. 'Nothing more.'
Derek grunted and finished his tea before changing the subject.
'There's not much to do around here, is there?'
'That's only because they haven't had a janitor for a while. They'll soon get the hang of it. Then
you'll have plenty to do.'
'Admit it, squire, you'd get bored very quickly if every day was like today.'
'Yes, I suppose so.'
'Of course you would. Well, don't worry. There'll soon be plenty to do. Especially if your
Trouble from the North turns up.'
'What do you think it could be?'
'I've no idea, squire. I'm sure you'll be able to handle it, though.'
'Thanks!' said Derek, not convinced.
'Of course you'll be able to handle it. You wouldn't have been made a super-hero if you couldn't.
Super-heroes don't lose. Not very often, anyway.'
'Thanks!' said Derek, even less convinced.
'Worrying about it now won't do any good. Just relax. When it happens, it happens. End of
'End of story?'
'I suppose you're right.'
'Of course I am, squire. Well, thanks for the tea, but I've got work to do.'
'Alfred?' said Derek carefully.
'I've been wondering, and I hope you don't mind me asking, but what exactly do you
'I told you, I empty the bins.'
'Yes, but that can't possibly take all day.'
'Oh, you'd be surprised what you find in the rubbish. It takes very careful handling.'
'Oh yes. Anyway, I've got to go. See you later, squire.'
'I'll have the kettle on,' said Derek to Alfred's retreating back.
What could there possibly be in the garbage that took all day to dispose of. And didn't garbage
collectors usually work for a collection company, not for the clients? What did Alfred get up to?
Apart from drinking tea and coffee, of course. He did plenty of that. Not that Derek minded. A bit
of company in that hole of an office was very welcome, especially as Alfred was the only person he
could talk about Witty Put-Down Man to. Apart from the ghosts. Whoever they were.
The ghosts in question stood and watched Alfred go about his job.
'It is remarkable what people throw away,' said the English ghost.
'There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick
them up,' said the Irish ghost.