Errors of Comedy - Chapter 18
Dave Brady of 'The Paradoxicals' leaned forward and placed his right hand on the table.
'We've got a problem,' he said.
'The Paradoxicals' were sat around an upturned crate in the small basement room that was serving as their headquarters.
'Unless we can find a way to get that boat there, the whole course of history will be changed.'
In his hospital bed, Horace Lundy leaned closer to the television set. Of course, he'd seen this episode before. He knew the name of 'That Boat'. He knew just how desperate the situation was. Of course, he also knew exactly how 'The Paradoxicals' were going to rectify the situation. So did his wife, Doris.
'How long did the doctor say you were going to be in here?' she asked wearily.
'Oh, another couple of days,' replied Horace distractedly, adding loudly, 'the bomb's hidden beneath the compass.'
'Don't trust the cook,' shouted another patient.
'Cut the red wire,' shouted yet another.
Doris stood up and left the ward. She walked to the hotel foyer and into a telephone kiosk. Leafing through the directory, she found what she was looking for and dialled the number. A female voice answered.
'Hello, Sprawling Metropolis Television, my name is Sharon, this is an answering machine, how may I help you? Please leave a message after the tone. Thank-you.'
Doris waited until the onslaught finished.
'My name is Doris Lundy. Tell your managing director that I'm coming to see him tomorrow morning, at about ten o'clock. If he's not there, I'll wait. Goodbye.'
She replaced the receiver and walked out of the kiosk. She stood in the foyer, scanning the shops for anything interesting. Greetings cards, flowers, a greengrocer, the obligatory Metroburger restaurant, several gift shops and, tucked away in the corner, an undertakers. Charming. She walked out through the doors and into the city. It was surprisingly peaceful. Then again, it was ten o'clock at night. She sauntered slowly along the sidewalk, staring up at the buildings. What an ugly city this Sprawling Metropolis was. No invention, no creativity, no 'architecture', just identical boxes with windows. The monorail tracks snaked past, high overhead. A monorail car glided along, looking very precarious from where Doris was standing. Still, they had no accidents. At least, if they did, nobody talked about them.
She stopped by a plastic bench. If there was a seat, perhaps there was something to look at. She sat down. The bench faced across at the buildings on the other side of the pavement. No, nothing to look at. She wasn't particularly surprised. The things to look at had been placed in the Eastern and Western Quarters. She had to admit, they were quite pleasant to look at, provided you didn't think about them too much. 'Traditional' cattle ranching with electronic gadgets. Dubious 'Oriental' poetry. This whole city was one big fake. A fake what, though? Was there anything behind the facade or was it all front?
She sat and stared up at the windows of the office block directly opposite. What sort of people lived and worked in Sprawling Metropolis? Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if you were born here and didn't know anything different, but to move here from outside? If there was one benefit from her holiday, it was to make her realise that, wherever she was living, there was always somewhere worse. Obvious really, but Sprawling Metropolis seemed to have a habit of hammering points home. Subtlety seemed to have been eradicated some time ago. Perhaps somebody would hire 'The Paradoxicals' to go back in time and sort that out? She looked at her watch. If she walked slowly enough, she should just miss the ending of the show.
'Which wire should I cut,' shouted Dave, 'red or blue?'
'I don't know,' replied Jane. 'I've never seen a device of this nature before.'
The ship's cook turned to Rich and kissed him.
'I saw this bomb being made,' she said. 'You should cut the blue wire.'
Dave picked up the wire-cutters.
'Stop!' shouted Rich.
Dave turned to face him. Rich looked him straight in the eyes.
'Cut the red wire,' he said.
'What are you saying?' asked the cook, beginning to panic. 'Cut the blue wire.'
Rich stared at Dave and spoke quietly.
'Cut the red wire.'
Dave nodded slowly. He reached out with the cutters and snipped the red wire. Nobody breathed. The counter stopped counting down. The cook turned to run but Rich grabbed hold of her. Dave stood up and turned to the captain.
'Your ship is safe, sir,' he said.
The crew cheered. All the patients on the ward cheered. Jane tapped a few numbers into her computer and then turned to the navigator.
'If you set course two-eight-five you should find what you're looking for,' she said and then added cryptically, 'well, you'll find something.'
'Thank-you, ma'am,' said the Captain, 'and thank-you all.'
'That's all right, sir,' said Dave Brady heroically.
Jane programmed the time-travel device to return them to their own time. Dave grasped the Captain's hand.
'Good luck, Christopher,' he said.
Back at 'Paradoxical HQ', 'The Paradoxicals' sat having a celebratory drink. Jane turned to Rich.
'How did you know it was the red wire?' she asked. Rich grinned.
'The cook talked in her sleep,' he said.
They all laughed as the credits rolled. Horace led the protracted burst of applause, which died away just as Doris opened the door of the ward. She was relieved to see the 'Paradoxicals' logo receding into the distance on the screen. She walked down the ward to Horace's bed, where he had sunk back onto his pillows.
'It's finished then,' she observed. Horace just snored slightly.
Derek Daniels passed a somewhat less comfortable night than Horace Lundy. He was in a garden that was strangely familiar, although Derek couldn't work out why. He was standing beside a fountain that was merrily gushing away, creating delicate patterns in the air. The patterns were further enhanced by the artfully placed coloured lights that were trained onto them. Derek gazed into the water, entranced. This seemed to be a very pleasant dream so far. There was, however, a definite nagging feeling that something wasn't right.
He became aware of the music that drifted gently around the garden. It was being played by the four immaculately dressed musicians who sat some way behind him. No, that couldn't be right. How could a string quartet be playing the tinny, synthesised tune that he could hear? He listened more carefully. The melody was cleverly constructed to be both haunting and dramatic. It was also familiar. Very familiar. What was it? An electric guitar crashed out a brief power chord, jolting Derek's memory. It was the theme to 'The Paradoxicals'. What was that doing in his dream? What was any of this doing in his dream?
He turned and swept his gaze around the garden. It was, he had to admit, a very impressive garden. There were probably more flowers in this garden than there were in the whole of Estate 253. And trees. And swing chairs. Well, swing chair, anyway. He walked toward it. There was somebody sitting in it with another person leaning over the back. He moved closer. The person sitting in the chair was Lisa. He stopped. Lisa with another man. What did he mean 'another' man? Lisa with a man, then.
He edged forward, trying to keep out of their sight. Who was he? Studying the man's face carefully, Derek decided that there was something familiar about him. He looked down at the man's clothing. He was wearing a smoking jacket. Derek looked back at his face. Familiar was hardly the right word. So, Lisa was having an affair with Witty Put-Down Man.
Hang on. Firstly, Lisa wasn't married, engaged or, to the best of Derek's knowledge, seeing anybody specific, therefore she could hardly be accused of having an affair. Secondly, Lisa couldn't be having an affair with Witty Put-Down Man without Derek knowing about it. This was just a dream. It was important to remember that.
Lisa turned her head and kissed Witty Put-Down Man. Derek looked away, seething with jealousy. Why? He had no right to be jealous. In twenty-one years he had barely spoken a complete sentence to Lisa. That hardly entitled him to feel possessive. He decided that he didn't care whether he was entitled to or not. He was going to be jealous and there was nothing anyone could do about it. He turned back. Lisa and Witty Put-Down Man had gone.
Derek sat heavily on the grass. What was this all about? And did he want to know? He decided that he probably did. He felt a light tap on his shoulder and turned around. Alfred stood behind him grinning. Derek scrambled to his feet.
'Alfred,' he said, 'what are you doing here?'
'Search me, squire. It's your dream.'
'I mean, in a purely literal sense, I'm here to empty the bins. However, in a metaphoric sense, your guess is as good as mine. In fact, as this is your dream, your guess should be better then mine.'
'Look, squire, perhaps you should ask me about it in the morning.'
'Will you be able to tell me anything?'
'I don't know, squire, but this is your dream, right?'
'Right,' said Derek not fully believing it.
'Therefore, I can't know anything that you don't and can't make any guesses that you couldn't make, right?'
'However, the real me might have some better ideas.'
'Anyway, I've got to go, squire. Something's making one hell of a mess and somebody's got to clear it up.'
Alfred walked away and slowly faded from Derek's dream, along with the garden and all its contents. He was now standing in a street. It wasn't a street that he recognised, but it had to be in Sprawling Metropolis. The distinctive buildings stared down at him as a light drizzle fell. What part of Sprawling Metropolis was this? He heard a noise behind him and turned to see a beam of light heading straight for him. He dived out of the way as some sort of vehicle whizzed past. He stood up and brushed himself down, peering at the rapidly receding vehicle and the rider perched upon it. So it was a vehicle that was pedalled. He hadn't realised that they still existed. Not in Sprawling Metropolis, anyway. Unless they had them in the North...
He was in the North. He shivered as the rain continued to roll down his face. What was he doing here?
'Looking for trouble?' asked a Northern accent.
'Trouble from the North,' said Derek flatly.
'Who are you?'
'You don't know.'
'What do you want?'
'You don't know that either. In fact, you don't know a lot, do you?'
'I'll find out,' said Derek defiantly.
'Oh yes, you most certainly will,' said the voice menacingly, 'and you won't be the only one. See you soon.'
Derek spun round but the owner of the voice had vanished, if in fact he had been there in the first place. Derek stood staring into space as the rain continued to form puddles around his feet. A thick mist had now descended and began to obscure his vision. He felt himself becoming very tired. About time too. This dream had been going on far too long. By now the mist had turned everything grey. The greyness gave way to blackness and Derek entered a period of peaceful, dreamless sleep.
Two ghosts stood at the foot of his bed.
'Was that anything to do with us?' asked the Irish ghost.
'No,' replied the English ghost thoughtfully, 'that was entirely the product of Derek's imagination.'
'Still no aubergines,' observed the Irish ghost quietly.
The English ghost looked at him.
'I am prepared to admit that I may have been wrong about the aubergine.'
'Nobody's perfect,' said the Irish ghost, putting his hand on the shoulder of the English ghost. 'Let me get you another sherry, you look like you could do with one.'
'Are you implying that I have a drink problem?'
'I am not a heavy drinker. I can sometimes go for hours without touching a drop,' said the English ghost.