Errors of Comedy - The Story So Far
Derek Daniels is a superhero. During his birth, an 'accident' - engineered by two ghostly figures - endowed him with a special power. The nature of this power was revealed by the ghosts on his twenty-first birthday. Derek is the latest in a long line of practitioners of wit, an artform that has all but died out in the strange and unique city of Sprawling Metropolis. In a moment of panic during his first hero outing, Derek managed to christen his alter ego 'Witty Put-Down Man'. Not that the name matters to Lisa, the daughter of friends of Derek's parents and Derek's first, last and only love. Sadly, Derek has yet to pluck up the courage to tell her this, and is rapidly losing ground to WPDM in the battle for Lisa's heart. Earlier today, Lisa was rescued by WPDM from the vile advances of the Daily Thompson's now ex-editor. Lisa loves WPDM, Derek loves Lisa, WPDM has other things to think about...
As prophesied by the ghosts in a dream, 'Trouble from the North' is rapidly approaching Sprawling Metropolis, and WPDM is the only man who can stop it. 'Trouble' in this case is Billy Hilarious, formerly known as William Randall, a psychotic comedian with a grudge against the city that drove him to the north and a new identity. He and his bumbling generals plan to gather the people of the industrial north and lay waste to the more prosperous south.
Other than the ghosts, the only person to know Derek's secret is Alfred, the cheerfully mysterious 'bin-man' who works in the basement of the 'Daily Thompson' - the city's sole newspaper. These days, Derek also finds himself working in the basement, as the newspaper's janitor.
One of Billy's main targets in the centre of the city is the hospital, where tourist Horace Lundy lies in a hospital bed watching repeats of the science fiction series 'The Paradoxicals'. Horace's wife, meanwhile, is talking to TV producer Dick Jones about how such a godawful programme ever got made in the first place. Unknown to them, the TV station is also one of Billy's targets...
Errors of Comedy - Chapter 21
Coming to the end of his evening rounds, Derek pushed open the door to the newsroom and peered in. It seemed to be empty. He walked across to the editor's office and knocked on the door. There was no answer. He tried the handle. It was locked. Pulling out his bunch of keys, he began trying them in the lock. There were a lot of keys on Derek's key-ring. Derek was convinced that there were more keys on the key-ring than there were actually doors in the building, but he had never got round to counting them. Perhaps that could be his next job when he had got the filing system sorted out. Of course, he might have retired before that happened.
Eventually, he came across the correct key and the door swung open. The room was empty. Derek wasn't really sure what he expected to find in there. There was no editor any more. And no editor meant no sobbing Lisa. Derek felt a twinge of disappointment. No sobbing Lisa meant no Lisa collapsing in his arms. On the brighter side, no sobbing Lisa meant Lisa staying with the Daily Thompson and the chance that she might collapse in his arms at some point in the future. He walked out of the office and locked the door. So where was everybody? It was only a quarter-past five. Evidently no editor meant no staff either. Wasn't there a saying? When the cat's been wittily put down, the mice go home? Something like that anyway.
He walked slowly down the stairs. There didn't seem much point his staying there. Everybody had gone home. The place had been locked up. He passed Alfred on his way back to his office.
'Evening, squire. Are you off home?'
'I suppose so. There doesn't seem to be a lot happening around here.'
'I'll see you in the morning then.'
'You will. Good night, Alfred.'
'Night, squire. Sweet dreams. You've earned them.'
'After your performance today.'
'Oh, that,' said Derek. 'Thanks, I suppose.' Alfred smiled.
'You suppose right. Good night, Derek.'
Derek arrived home at ten minutes to six that evening. His mother was sitting watching the television as he walked into the house.
'Hello, Derek.' she said. 'Did you have a good day at work?'
There was a very detailed answer to that question, but Derek was unable to give it.
'It was all right,' he replied instead, slumping onto the sofa.
He debated whether or not to add a few more details. It was all a matter of presentation.
'The editor resigned today,' he said conversationally.
'Resigned?' said his mother in surprise. 'Why?'
'Apparently, Witty Put-Down Man turned up and...' he searched for a suitable word, 'vanquished him.'
'Gosh,' said Deborah, 'I wonder who's going to take his place?'
'I've no idea,' replied Derek truthfully and added, 'nobody tells the janitor anything.' His mother smiled.
'Speaking of janitors, I've brought you a present for your office.'
She reached into her bag and produced the strange bluish candle she had picked up at work that day. Derek stared at it, the tingling from his wit-sense making his head throb.
'My room has an aubergine for a light-bulb,' he said quietly.
'Oh, it's an aubergine is it?' said Deborah. 'I did wonder.'
Derek didn't hear her. He was sitting with his head in his hands, trying to halt the sensations in his head. His mother looked at him in concern.
'Are you feeling all right?'
'I'm probably just a bit tired,' said Derek.
'I'll go and make you a cup of tea. You just sit and watch television for a while.'
'So, Mrs Lundy, "The Paradoxicals",' began Dick Jones. 'It all started twenty-four years ago. Mayor Burdon decided that the city needed a television station.'
The bank of televisions in the corner of the room continued to flicker away, covering all of the television channels that Mayor Burdon considered suitable for the city.
'The station was given a reasonable budget and we were told to go away and make television programmes.'
A small but visible amount of interference had crept into each of the television pictures.
'However, the new manager decided, in his wisdom, that we would spend the whole budget on a single, blockbuster programme.'
The screens were by now filled with static.
'That programme was "The Paradoxicals".'
'People of the South,' boomed Billy Hilarious's voice from the television speakers, 'the time has come.'
Dick Jones leapt to his feet and grabbed a telephone from the desk. Billy continued.
'The people of the North are sick and tired of being treated as an underclass and they're not going to stand for it any longer.'
'I want that signal traced,' shouted Dick Jones into the telephone.
'My army is ready to march and march we will; into the central region and on to the Southern Quarter.'
'What do you mean it's coming from the Northern Quarter? They don't have the equipment to...' Dick Jones stared at the screens. Six copies of Billy Hilarious grinned back at him.
'That's Jeremy Droll. What does he think he's doing?'
'All we demand is the complete surrender of the South, replacement of Northern factory workers by Southerners on a one to one basis and the immediate execution of the Manager of the Presidential Theatre. You have sixteen hours to reply. Ask Dick Jones at your precious television station how to get hold of me. He'll know. Just ask for "The Comedian". You'll be hearing from me again.'
The screens dissolved into static once more until the regular programmes reappeared and carried on as if nothing had happened.
'Did you get a fix? Why not?' shouted Dick Jones. 'We gave him the equipment so why can't you override his signal? Well, get working on it. I want some way of tracing his signal and blocking it.' He replaced the receiver and sat down again. Doris Lundy stared at him.
'Do you think he was serious?' she said.
'I hope not,' replied Dick Jones.
Police Commissioner Parker and his assistant Eric sat for several minutes in stunned silence. Eric reached out a hand and opened the drawer of the Commissioner's desk.
'That is a very good idea,' said Commissioner Parker, holding out his glass.
Eric poured a generous measure into his own glass and then filled the Commissioner's. They each regarded their drink for a few seconds before taking a mouthful and swallowing it. The drink had a reviving effect on Eric who replaced his glass on his desk and turned to the Commissioner.
'What did you make of that then, Chief?'
Commissioner Parker didn't reply immediately, but first took another drink of his whiskey.
'I don't know. It was certainly a, how can I put it, "shock".'
'So what are we going to do about it?'
'I don't know yet. Have you got any ideas?'
'I suppose we should get hold of Dick Jones and ask him what he knows about this.'
'Perhaps he's managed to trace the signal.'
Eric thought for a moment.
'We could try alerting the National Guard?' he suggested.
'Good idea. What?'
'Just a thought.'
There was a pause.
'Is that it then?' asked the Commissioner.
'Fine. Get hold of Dick Jones and...'
The Commissioner was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. Eric answered it.
'Police Commissioner's office. Eric speaking.'
He covered the mouthpiece and handed the receiver to Commissioner Parker.
'It's for you.'
'Now there's a, how shall I put it, "surprise",' said the Commissioner taking the telephone.
'Commissioner Parker speaking,' he said wearily and then sat up straight. 'Hello, Mr Mayor.'
Eric leaned over and flicked on the loudspeaker. He had no intention of missing this conversation.
'Good morning, Commissioner,' said Mayor Burdon.
The Commissioner looked at his watch. Twenty-past six. He shrugged.
'What can I do for you, Mr Mayor?'
'There was something odd on the television a few moments ago. What was it about?'
'Well,' began Eric, unheard by the mayor, 'there's this group of three people and they have to go back in time and...'
'As far as I can tell,' said the Commissioner, waving at Eric to be quiet, 'it was some sort of, how shall I put it, "lunatic" from the North making ridiculous demands.'
'Yes, yes. I see.''I doubt that very much,' muttered Eric.
'So, Commissioner, what do you suggest we do?'
'Well, Mr Mayor, we can't give in to his demands...'
'Oh yes we can,' pointed out Eric. 'There are plenty of people in the South I'd be quite happy to pack off to the factories in the North.'
'We can't possibly have Geoff Andrews executed.''Perhaps just a little bit?' suggested Eric.
Commissioner Parker reached over and switched off the loudspeaker.
'Yes, Mr Mayor. Yes, Eric and I are quite capable of, how shall I put it, "handling" this,' he said, causing Eric to choke on the mouthful of whiskey he had just taken.
'Handle it? Us? We can barely handle the dogs and the bushes. Psychopathic criminals from the North might just be a bit beyond us.'
'Absolutely, Mr Mayor. There's nothing to worry about. It's probably all a, how can I put it, "hoax" anyway. Yes, that's right. Goodbye, Mr Mayor.'
He replaced the receiver and looked at Eric.
'You're going to have to learn that what you tell the Mayor always differs somewhat from the, how shall I put it, "truth".'
Eric topped us his glass.
'The truth in this case being that we don't know what's going on, we don't know what's going to happen and we don't know what we're going to do about it. If anything.'
'That sounds about right.'
'But you tell the Mayor that everything will be fine and that we can handle it. Whatever it might, or might not, be.'
'Right.' He sipped thoughtfully at his whiskey. 'Chief?'
'What are we going to do?'
'That is a very good question. I think you were about to call Dick Jones.'
Eric picked up the receiver, dialled the number and waited for the inevitable response.
'Hello, Sprawling Metropolis Television, my name is Sharon, how may I help you?'
'Are you real or are you an answering machine?' asked Eric.
'Well, I'm speaking to you now, but given that I'm employed to answer the telephone and very little else then, metaphorically speaking, I am an answering machine.'
'That wasn't quite the answer I was expecting.'
'I'm sorry. I'll start again. Hello, Sprawling Metropolis Television, my name is Sharon, how may I help you?'
'This is the assistant to the Police Commissioner here, could I speak to Dick Jones.'
'I'm putting you through now.'
Eric passed the receiver to the Commissioner and switched the loudspeaker on. There was a series of clicks followed by the voice of Dick Jones.
'Hello, what can I do for you? We're a little busy here right now.'
'I appreciate that, Mr Jones,' said Commissioner Parker. 'I'm just doing my duty. We'd like to know if you have any idea what that, how can I put it, "unscheduled broadcast" was.'
'I have my best people working on it right now, Commissioner. As soon as we find out, you'll be the first to know.'
'That's very kind of you, Mr Jones. Good luck.'
Commissioner Parker replaced the receiver and turned to Eric.
'That's what we do now. We wait until Dick Jones calls us back.'
'How much whiskey is there left.'
Derek lay on his bed, cradling the wax aubergine. The throbbing of his wit-sense had now stopped and left him with a headache. All the prophecies had come true and the broadcast left no doubt as to the existence of the 'Trouble from the North'. Presumably, this meant that Witty Put-Down Man was destined to sort it all out and there was no way he could get out of it. OK, so he had resigned himself to the fact that he was the city's only possible saviour. Therefore, he ought to put his mind to the problem of exactly how he was going to carry out his task. What had the Comedian said? His army was ready to march into the central region and Southern Quarter? Well, that wouldn't take them very long if they started from the southern edge of the Northern Region. There was a considerable buffer of 'no-man's-land' between the North and the rest of the city but it would only take a couple of hours to cross it. The broadcast had also said that the South had sixteen hours to agree to his demands. The broadcast had been at six o'clock, which meant that they wouldn't start marching until ten o'clock tomorrow morning at the earliest. That gave him thirteen hours to prepare, although precisely what he was going to prepare was a little unclear at this point.
Derek sat up and placed the aubergine beside his bed. Perhaps if he set off now he could be ready to meet them. Ready to meet a whole army. Armed only with a cigarette holder and a smoking jacket. Perhaps that wasn't such a good idea. It was highly unlikely that he could be witty to every single one of them in turn before he was overwhelmed. It was possible that a single witticism could take out an entire army but he was unwilling to test the theory in the heat of battle. He'd have to do it more subtly. Perhaps he would have to go straight to the Comedian himself. If he could be defeated then perhaps his army would crumble. Or perhaps not. Whatever happened, this wasn't going to be easy.
Maybe the ghosts could give him some advice although, having said that, they hadn't been much use so far.
'Where are you when I need you?' he said out loud.
'Right here, dear boy,' said the English ghost, sitting on the end of his bed.
'What can we do for you?' asked the Irish ghost.
'What am I going to do about the Comedian?'
'Who?' asked the ghosts in unison.
'The Comedian. You must have seen him on the television.'
'Certainly not,' said the Irish ghost.
'Television is for appearing on, not looking at,' said the English ghost.