Errors of Comedy - Chapter 17
Commissioner Parker sat at his desk, a bottle of whiskey perched by his right elbow. Soon. Soon he could retire. Soon the cats and hedges would be all Eric's. Not his. He picked up the bottle and took a quick swig. A thought struck him. Soon there'd be no more whiskey. Was it too high a price to pay for peace and quiet. He looked at the day's report in front of him. Three lost cats, a stray dog and a stray hedge. He picked up the bottle and put it in the drawer. Who needed it?
As he was shutting the drawer, there was a commotion in the hallway and Eric came bursting through the door.
'Chief, there's been a murder!' he shouted.
Commissioner Parker leapt to his feet.
'A murder? Who? Where?'
'No, only joking,' said Eric sitting down.
The Commissioner glared at him.
'That wasn't very, how can I put it, "funny",' he said, sitting down heavily.
'Sorry, Chief,' said Eric, 'but you've got to admit it livened things up a bit. A bit of excitement never hurt anyone.'
'Your bit of excitement nearly gave me a heart attack.'
'Do you know how long it's been since a murder was last reported?'
'Wasn't there an incident with the janitor at the Daily Thompson not so long ago?' asked Eric.
Commissioner Parker brightened.
'That wasn't a murder exactly, but it was, how shall I put it, "interesting".'
'Not a murder? But wasn't somebody impaled with a broom handle?'
'A mop handle, actually, and yes, they were impaled with it. Somehow it missed all the major organs.'
'So how did you find the attacker?'
'When I arrived, the janitor was standing over the victim with a blood-stained mop head. The handle of the mop was protruding from the victim's body. There were fourteen witnesses and the janitor confessed. It wasn't particularly, how can I put it, "difficult".'
'Not your most challenging case then?'
'Not quite, but it's the most interesting thing that's happened here for a very long time. I can't understand why you want the job.'
'It's easy, it's not too energetic and you get paid a damn sight more than you do as the doorman at the Presidential Theatre.'
'More to the point, you also get a desk with a drawer.'
'Very true,' said Commissioner Parker, looking at his watch. 'You know, I think it's about time we did some, how shall I put it, "stock-taking".'
'Good idea, Chief,' said Eric. 'Desk drawer, one bottle of whiskey, about half full.'
'It's a lot more than half full,' observed the Commissioner.
'Not for long,' said Eric.
The afternoon passed very slowly for Derek. He spent most of his time becoming better acquainted with the rather esoteric filing system present in the storeroom, interrupted every now and again by Alfred. Now he stood and stared at shelf 'T'. He wondered if it was worth sorting through the box of 'Things' and classifying them sensibly. Probably not. Most of the 'Things' were fairly unidentifiable anyway. A couple of broken springs, a door handle, half a microscope and a dead spider were amongst the more recognisable of the objects. Derek decided not to bother. How would he reclassify a dead spider? 'A' for 'Arachnids'? 'B' for 'Bodies'? 'C' for 'Creepy-Crawlies'? He picked it up by one of its legs and it dangled limply from his hand. Derek carried it into his office. 'D' for 'Dustbin' seemed the most sensible option, so he took it out into the corridor and deposited it into one of Alfred's trash cans. He couldn't help wondering if dead spiders were one of the things that took Alfred so long to dispose of.
Perhaps he was being unfair. Alfred probably had very important things to do. He walked slowly back to his office. Very important things. He wished he had very important things to do. He looked at his watch. Twenty-to-five. Just enough time for another coffee before everybody left and he could check the building. He wondered how long it would take. A couple of hours probably. Maybe less. All he had to do was poke his head around each door, make sure all the lights were out, tidy up a bit where necessary and then lock the doors. No problem. An hour-and-a-half at the most. He put the kettle on and sat back to wait.
Draining the last dregs of coffee, Derek placed his cup in the sink and stood up. There shouldn't be anybody left in the building now. He walked out of his office and up to the elevator doors. He was about to press the call button when it occurred to him that 'shouldn't be anybody left' also applied to the elevator attendant, which meant that the elevators were shut down. He'd just have to climb the stairs. No, first he'd have to find the stairs. Then he could climb them. Fortunately the Thompson Building only had four floors above the ground. Admittedly it was four more than Derek would have liked, but at least it would get him fit. Perhaps after a few weeks he would be able to impress Lisa with his new physique. Or perhaps not. Especially not if he couldn't find the stairs.
He looked around. Surely there should be a staircase next to the elevator. There wasn't, unless it was behind that door of course. Derek pushed the door open to reveal a narrow, rather dusty, staircase. Brushing aside a cobweb, Derek began to climb.
After dealing with the archive, Personnel, Accounts and a number of other faceless offices, Derek reached the third floor. He paused before opening the door. He had never been here before. This was the newsroom. The place where it all happened. The fierce, competitive, cut-and-thrust world of journalism was right here. Well, not at the moment, obviously, but during the day this was the place to be. He pushed the door open slowly and reverentially and peered into the room. To Derek's disappointment, it was remarkably similar to the Accounts department. For a brief moment he wondered if he had forgotten to climb the stairs and was still on the second floor. He peered back into the stairwell. There was definitely a faded number three above the door. So that was it then. The newsdesk of the Daily Thompson was just a room after all so he went back into it. He wondered exactly what he had been expecting. News stories happening there and then? Photographers pushing telescopic lenses into his face? Andy Moore? Lisa?
He slapped himself in the face. Lisa wasn't here. Nobody was here. Everybody had gone home. If he stopped wasting time, he might be able to go home tonight as well. He wandered over to the other side of the room, towards the door of the editor's office. He pulled it open, revealing a room that was dark and silent. He was about to leave when he heard a stifled sob.
'Hello?' he said cautiously.
There was another sob. He walked further into the room.
'Is anything the matter?' he asked. Silly question.
His hand fumbled for the light switch but before he could turn it on, someone brushed past him and went into the main room. He turned around to see Lisa wiping her eyes. Derek stared at her.
'Lisa,' he stammered, 'what's wrong?''Nothing,' she said, beginning to walk away.
Derek placed his hand gently on her shoulder.
'Nothing?' he said quietly.
Lisa looked at him for a moment and then began crying again. Derek stood, holding her in his arms. When she had recovered, they walked over to her desk and sat down. Derek listened with increasing disgust as Lisa poured out the full story of her frequent 'interviews' with the editor. When she had finished, Derek remained silent.
'What can I do, Derek?' asked Lisa with desperation in her voice. 'I would resign but I need the job and I don't know what excuse I could give.' Her voice trailed off.
'You can't resign, Lisa,' said Derek. 'You can't let him win.'
He looked into her eyes.
'Lisa, I promise that everything will be all right,' he said. Lisa smiled.
'Thanks, Derek, but I've made up my mind. I'm going to hand in my notice tomorrow.'
'Just give it one more day,' pleaded Derek.
He wished he could tell her exactly how he was going to save her but it was out of the question.
'Just one more day.'
Lisa looked at the floor for a moment.
'One more day,' she said with a humourless laugh. 'Why not?'
'Trust me,' said Derek.
Lisa looked into his face and nodded slowly.
'Come on,' he said, 'I'd better walk you home.'
'That's all right, Derek,' said Lisa, 'I can manage, thanks.'
She walked out of the room and Derek watched her go.
'This sounds like a job for Witty Put-Down Man,' he said.
Billy Hilarious sat in a monorail car once more, heading north this time, nursing a television camera. A large box of recording equipment lay on the floor. He had to admit, the whole process had been a lot easier than he was expecting. Mr Jones, 'Dick' to his friends, had been more than happy to let Billy borrow what he needed. Actually, that wasn't true. Mr Jones had been more than happy to let Jeremy Droll borrow what he needed. Fortunately, Jeremy had agreed to let Billy use it as well. Now he had to hope that his engineers could work out how to adjust the equipment to jam the regular broadcasts and transmit his face to the whole city. He wasn't expecting much of a problem on that front. He also had to hope that his generals had got their armies together. That was more of a problem. He flicked on his portable radio and settled back to listen...
'Attention all citizens of the Northern Quarter,' said the voice of Arthur Mayhew. 'This is an urgent message for all citizens of the Northern Quarter.'
'You said that twice,' said the voice of Ernest Ramsden.
'Has he?' asked the voice of Harold Simpson.
'Be quiet,' said Arthur, and cleared his throat. 'On behalf of Billy Hilarious, manager of Sprawling Metropolis United and saviour of the Northern Quarter...'
'Is he?' asked Harold.
'Is he what?'
'Saviour of the Northern Quarter?'
'He will be,' replied Arthur. 'Now can I continue?'
'Go for it, Arthur,' said Ernest.
'On behalf of Billy Hilarious...'
'On behalf of Billy Hilarious,' said Arthur slowly, 'all able-bodied men are invited to assemble at the Southern border to march on the central region and Southern Quarter.'
'You could ask all the women to make some sandwiches,' suggested Ernest, 'if they all made about half-a-dozen then we'd probably have enough.'
'And,' put in Harold, 'if you get all the kiddies to bake a small cake then we'd have some pudding as well.'
Arthur continued manfully.
'All able-bodied men are to assemble tomorrow at four points along the Southern border; the monorail station, Ramsden's carpet warehouse, Northern Radio Transmitter 25B or the Graven Image public house. Each group will be commanded by a general who will lead the attack. Good luck.'
'And don't forget the sandwiches, 'cos it's quite a long way,' said Ernest.
There was a pause.
'Shouldn't you switch it off?' asked Harold.
'Ah, yes, er, message ends,' said Arthur, and the radio went dead.
Later that evening, Derek sat on his bed staring at the wall. He was haunted by Lisa's face. Lisa's face when she told him about the editor. Lisa's face when she saw Witty Put-Down Man. Here was a chance for Witty Put-Down Man to help somebody really important to him. But was Lisa really important to Witty Put-Down Man, or just to Derek Daniels. Was there a difference? Of course there was. If Witty Put-Down Man rescued Lisa from the editor, Lisa would probably fall in love with him. With Witty Put-Down Man. Not Derek Daniels. But Lisa couldn't have Witty Put-Down Man. And she didn't want Derek Daniels. Why did it have to be so ridiculously complicated. Even the 'Paradoxicals' couldn't sort this one out.
Oh well, he probably ought to get some sleep. Witty Put-Down Man was going to have a big day tomorrow. He was about to get undressed when he was interrupted by a dignified cough. He looked up.
'Good evening, Derek,' said the English ghost.
'Hello,' said Derek without much enthusiasm.
'What's wrong?' asked the Irish ghost.
'You'll have a chance to impress her tomorrow, no doubt,' said the English ghost.
'No, Witty Put-Down Man will have a chance to impress her. Not me.'
'But my dear boy, it's the same thing,' said the English ghost, surprised.
Derek just stared at him until, feeling a little uncomfortable, the English ghost turned to his comrade.
'Well, I suppose we ought to be leaving,' he said. 'Goodnight, Derek.'
The two ghosts walked out through the door and then stopped.
'What do you think,' asked the English ghost.
'He'll be all right,' replied the Irish ghost. 'He just needs to get out there and be witty at everyone.'
'Wit ought to be a glorious treat, like caviar; never spread it around like marmalade,' said the English ghost.