Errors of Comedy - Chapter 23
At the Southern edge of the Northern quarter, four armies were beginning to coalesce from the slow trickle of people that came from their homes and places of work.
At Northern Radio transmitter 5B, Arthur Mayhew had dragged himself away from his blankets and was now pacing up and down, frantically trying to record everyone's name in his notebook. At Ramsden's carpets, Ernest Ramsden was sitting with a cup of tea whilst his brother attempted to sell a carpet to anyone who would listen. At the 'Graven Image', Harold Ramsden was thoughtfully watching his army through the window.
At the Northern Quarter's only monorail station, Billy Hilarious stood and watched whilst his camera crew set up their equipment, ready for the morning broadcast. He was refusing to admit it to himself, but he was getting very nervous about this whole affair. He tapped one of the technicians on the shoulder.
'How's it going?'
'Fine, Mr Hilarious. We'll be ready in time for your broadcast, don't you worry.'
'I'm not worried,' snapped Billy, walking away slightly.
He tried to clear his head. He was doing this for a very well-defined reason. Not only that, but it was an entirely justified reason. He could see no cause to doubt the wisdom of his actions. Perhaps he was worried that they would lose the battle? Lose? He had an army of thousands of hardy Northerners against the few inhabitants of the South strong enough to stand up to him. They would be too softened by their years of living in comfort to pose a threat. There was no way he could lose. Unless, of course, his generals made a mess of things. That was entirely possible. He didn't need them, anyway. His part of the army alone would be strong enough to take control of the South. Anything that his generals achieved would be a bonus. He looked at his watch. Five to ten. Nearly time to make his broadcast
Eric and Commissioner Parker walked slowly around the Sprawling Metropolis Television building. They didn't really know what they were looking for, or if there was anything to look for, but they felt they had to be seen to do something. Every so often they would stop and examine a piece of equipment or one of the employees more closely. Commissioner Parker would say something wise and Eric would pretend to write the details down in his notebook. Dick Jones followed behind at a respectful distance, partly because he didn't want to interfere in police work, but mainly because he was worried that he would lose control and try to strangle Eric. He continued walking, lost in his thoughts, and nearly walked straight into Commissioner Parker, who had stopped again. The Commissioner turned around.
'Mr Jones, what is this piece of equipment used for?'
Dick Jones peered around Commissioner to see what he was referring to. He looked up into the faces of Eric and the Commissioner to make sure that they were serious. They stared back at him, completely straight-faced.
'It's a camera.'
'I see,' said the Commissioner, as Eric made vague writing movements with his pencil, 'and what is it used for?'
Dick Jones looked from the Commissioner to Eric and back again. There was no sign of any levity.
'We use it to film television shows.'
'And is this similar to the one that you lent to, what shall I call him, "Mr Droll"?'
'No. The camera I gave to Mr Droll was a smaller, hand-held model.'
'I see,' said the Commissioner, looking meaningfully at Eric.
Eric nodded and made some squiggly marks in his notebook before signing his name underneath them and looking straight at Dick Jones.
'And who,' he began, 'is responsible for operating this...' he peered at his notebook, '"camera" of yours?'
'Any of our camera operators,' said Dick Jones becoming a little frustrated. 'Would you like to meet them?'
'I don't think that will be, how can I put it, "necessary",' Commissioner Parker reassured him.
'Good Lord, no,' confirmed Eric with a patronising smile. He took his pencil and poked at the camera with it before nodding to the Commissioner.
'Everything seems to be in order here, Mr Jones,' he said.
He began to walk away, talking quietly to the Commissioner. Ahead of them, Doris Lundy walked out of a door. Eric turned to Dick Jones.
'Who is this, Mr Jones?' asked Eric sharply.
Seeing a possible way out, Dick Jones walked up to Doris and, taking her arm, guided her gently towards the investigative duo.
'Gentlemen, let me introduce Mrs Doris Lundy. She had come from outside Sprawling Metropolis to view our facility at the time of the unauthorised broadcast. Perhaps you should interview her. She may be able to remember something I've forgotten.'
Eric looked at the Commissioner, who shrugged.
'Why not,' he murmured before turning to Dick Jones. 'Mr Jones, do you have a suitable room where we can carry out the interview?'
'You can use my office. I trust you won't be needing me for a while?'
'No, but we must ask you not to leave the country,' said Eric, completely deadpan.
'And could you supply us with some coffee and biscuits?' asked the Commissioner.
'I'll send Sharon in with some.'
Dick Jones turned and walked away down the corridor. He felt a bit guilty for leaving poor Doris with those inane policemen, but he had no choice. It was his sanity or hers. There was no competition.
Eric and Commissioner Parker led Doris to Dick Jones's office and sat down.
'Good morning, ma'am,' began the Commissioner, 'I'm Commissioner Parker and I'm the chief of police for the city. This is my assistant Eric.'
'Ma'am,' said Eric, shaking her hand.
'Now then,' began the Commissioner, 'may I ask the reason for your visit to Sprawling Metropolis Television.'
'Well, I'm on holiday here...'
'At Sprawling Metropolis Television?' interrupted Eric.
'No, I'm on the Sprawling Metropolis tour. My husband has been taken ill and is currently in the Central Hospital. I thought that, as I had some time to spare, I'd come here and meet the creators of "The Paradoxicals".'
'Oh, fantastic programme,' said Eric.
'Absolutely,' agreed the Commissioner. 'Do you remember that episode where they had to break into that building to frame the President with corruption?'
'What a story!'
'Excuse me,' said Doris. 'The reason I wanted to meet the creators of "The Paradoxicals" was to tell them that it is quite possibly the worst television programme created anywhere in the world. Except perhaps the one where they show the clips of people falling over.'
'Oh, fantastic programme,' said Eric.
'Absolutely,' agreed the Commissioner. 'Do you remember that clip where the guy's skiing along and...'
He was interrupted by a loud burst of music from the televisions in the room. The face of Billy Hilarious appeared once more in Dick Jones's office.
'It's him again,' said Doris.
'Do you know this man?' asked Eric before being nudged by the Commissioner.
Dick Jones stormed into the office and picked up the telephone.
'Why hasn't this signal been jammed? What do you mean it's changed? Stop that broadcast!'
'People of the South,' began Billy, 'this is The "Comedian" speaking. I hope you're sitting comfortably, because you won't be much longer. Take a look at this.'
The picture swung around to reveal hundreds of men, many with sticks and other makeshift weapons, standing in and around the monorail station. Billy's voice continued.
'These men represent only one quarter of my army. As you can see, I wasn't joking.'
His face appeared on the screen again.
'You have had sixteen hours to accede to my demands. There has been no reply. People of the South, prepare yourselves to be conquered.'
The screen dissolved into static as the telephone rang. Dick Jones picked it up.
'Mr Jones,' said a proud voice, 'we've found the frequency. The signal should be completely jammed in a couple of minutes.'
Alfred's defensive strategy had been very straight-forward. He had reasoned, quite sensibly, that the Daily Thompson would be one of the main targets of the Comedian. Therefore, all Derek had to do was stay there, cleverly using his janitor cover to blend in, until a suitable opportunity arose. He would then defeat that part of the army, persuade them to reveal the details of their master plan and then defeat the rest of the army.
It had all seemed that simple until Alfred had left the office and Derek had started thinking about it. What if the Daily Thompson wasn't a target? He could be hanging around there for ever. What if he didn't defeat the first set of attackers? That didn't bear thinking about. What if he did defeat them but they wouldn't talk? Then they'd be back to guesswork. There suddenly seemed to be a lot of variables that Alfred hadn't taken into account. Or maybe he had and just wasn't telling. Derek had almost given up trying to work Alfred out. As long as he continued to be on his side, not to mention good company over a cup of coffee, Derek wasn't complaining. Still, it would be interesting to know a little more about him. Perhaps, when all this was over, he could try some leading questions to see where they led. Probably no further than the trash cans that Alfred spent so long emptying, but anything he could get out of him would no doubt be fascinating. And, no doubt, create more questions than it answered. Or maybe Alfred would surprise him.
The only thing that surprised him at that moment, however, was the ringing of the telephone, disturbing his contemplation. He picked up the receiver.
'This is the new editor speaking. Could you come up to my office straight away?'
There was a click as the person on the other end hung up. Whoever this new editor was, he didn't mess about. Derek was sure there was something familiar about the voice, though.
The elevator doors opened and Derek stepped into the newsroom. It was back to its old self; people rushing backwards and forwards, people typing frantically, people gesturing wildly at each other. Derek strolled calmly through the chaos, a direct contrast to the last time he walked through a busy newsroom. He knocked on the door to the editor's office, noting that a new name-plate hadn't been put up yet.
'Come in,' said a voice from within.
Derek opened the door and slowly entered the room.
'Morning, Derek,' said Andy Moore.
'Hello, Andy,' replied Derek. 'So where's this new editor, then?'
Andy smiled back at him, saying nothing. Derek's brain slowly caught up with events.
'You?' he said, and quickly added, 'congratulations!''Thanks. Do you like my new office?'
Derek looked around.
'It looks remarkably similar to the old one,' he commented.
'With one important difference.'
'It's got me in it instead of the old editor.'
'I'd say that's a significant improvement.'
'And it's all thanks to Witty Put-Down Man.'
'Yes,' said Derek carefully. 'I missed him again.'
He immediately regretted that remark. The more attention he drew to the fact that he and Witty Put-Down Man had never been seen together, the more chance there was of someone working it out. Like Alfred had. How had Alfred made that deduction? He hadn't even been at the party.
'Never mind,' said Andy Moore, 'I'm sure he'll show up again.'
'Yes, I'm sure he will,' observed Derek quietly.
'Well, there you are then. You're bound to meet him next time. No-one could miss him three times in a row.' Derek nodded.
'No, of course not.'
Andy stood up.
'I'm afraid I'm going to have to get on with some work, Derek. The editor left things in a bit of a mess. Thanks for coming up for a chat.' Derek shook his hand.
'Congratulations again, and I'm sure I'll see you around.' He turned to leave when Andy called him back.
'Oh, Derek. On your way out, could you fix my name on the door?'
Derek picked up the strip of plastic and left the room. He closed the door behind him and stuck the sign firmly to it.
'I'll have to get one of those for my door,' he said.
'Talking to yourself, Derek?' asked a familiar female voice behind him.
He turned round in alarm. Yet again he had managed to embarrass himself in front of Lisa. He thought quickly.
'No, no. I was talking to the door.' Wrong answer. Lisa shrugged.
'It doesn't talk back or anything,' said Derek desperately.
'Don't panic. I'm not going to call the psychiatrist. We all talk to inanimate objects occasionally.'
'Oh, I do it all the time,' said Derek conversationally before realising what he was saying. 'Well, not all the time, obviously. I mean, I'm talking to you now and you're not an inanimate object.' He laughed nervously. 'At least, if you are an inanimate object then I'm going mad because you are talking to me. Or maybe I just think you are.'
'Derek, I think you should go and have a cup of tea with Alfred.'
'Why, what has he been telling you?' he asked suspiciously.
'He says that the two of you spend a lot of time drinking tea and coffee, and chatting.'
'No. Why, is there something he should have told me?'
'No.' There was a pause.
'Well, that's a good idea of yours. I could do with a coffee. Bye, Lisa.'
He walked quickly towards the elevator and stood in mounting embarrassment as he waited for it to arrive. Finally the doors opened and he stepped in. Lisa watched him go, wondering if she should call the psychiatrist after all.
Two ghosts watched her watching Derek.
'Perhaps he should tell her the truth after all,' said the English ghost.
'If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out,' said the Irish ghost.