Errors of Comedy - Chapter 25
Commissioner Parker, his assistant Eric, Dick Jones and Doris Lundy sat around the desk, each contemplating a cup of coffee and a biscuit. Dick Jones suddenly sat up straight but before he could say anything, Doris spoke.
'If you lean forward and put your right hand on the desk, I'm leaving.'
Dick Jones slumped in his seat once more, deflated.
'Did you have anything useful to say?' asked the Commissioner.
'No,' admitted Dick Jones, 'I just thought I might lighten the tension a bit. I'd forgotten Mrs Lundy's aversion to "The Paradoxicals". Sorry.'
They sat in silence for a few moments more when there was a buzz from the intercom. Eric, who was nearest, flicked the switch.
'Sorry to bother you,' said Sharon, 'but Mayor Burdon has just arrived.'
'Send him in,' said Eric, adding quietly, 'we could do with a good laugh.'
The door opened and Mayor Burdon walked into the room.
'Ah, gentlemen,' he announced, 'I'm glad I've found you.'
'Yes, Mr Mayor,' said Commissioner Parker.
The Mayor stood and surveyed the small company sitting around Dick Jones's desk.
'Have we stopped this "Joker" chap yet then?'
'Comedian,' corrected the Commissioner.
'Oh, do you think so?' asked the Mayor. 'I wasn't trying to be particularly funny, but people do tell me that I have a gift for this sort of thing. It all started about twenty years ago when...'
'No, Mr Mayor. The name of the, how can I put it, "perpetrator", is "The Comedian".'
'Ah, yes, I see,' said the Mayor, disappointed. 'So what are you doing about him?'
'My people have traced the signal and jammed future broadcasts,' declared Dick Jones proudly.
'Oh, that will be helpful,' said Eric, unable to keep quiet. 'When we're all being bludgeoned to death by psychotic Northerners, we'll have the consolation of knowing they won't be able to make a television series out of it.'
'When you say "bludgeoned"...' asked the Mayor uncertainly.
'"'Bludgeoned" as in "beaten with a short stick with a heavy striking end".'
'I see. And is this likely, do you think? Were the men on the television armed with short sticks with a heavy striking end? Do we have a recording of the broadcast?'
'I think we can furnish you with one, Mr Mayor,' said Dick Jones, leaping out of his seat. He opened the door and led the Mayor out of the room.
Commissioner Parker turned to his assistant.
'Eric, did you have to do that?'
'Look, it's got him off our back for now. We might be able to come up with something sensible to do without him hanging around.'
'I don't think that's particularly, how shall I put it, "likely", is it?'
Eric slumped back in his chair.
There was a pause and Doris Lundy spoke up.
'I don't think you can do much good sitting here, can you?'
'Have you got any suggestions, Mrs Lundy?' asked Eric hopefully.
'You could try and raise an army of your own to meet them. Surely there are plenty of people who would fight to defend the city.'
Eric shook his head.
'Even assuming they could be persuaded to fight, which I find very unlikely, they wouldn't have a clue how to. We'd just get slaughtered.'
'Well, perhaps you should just go out into the city and see if you can come up with some form of defence.'
Eric looked at Commissioner Parker, who shrugged.
'Let's do it,' said Eric standing up. 'Will you be all right here on your own?'
'I won't be on my own. I'll have Mr Jones and your Mayor to look after me.'
Eric and the Commissioner looked at each other uncertainly and left the building in search of the ultimate defensive strategy.
* * *
Billy Hilarious strode purposefully forward, his army in his wake. He fixed his gaze ahead. In the distance, the skyscrapers of the central region loomed out of the mist. The drizzle was beginning to abate. The temperature had risen noticeably. If they weren't yet entering the South, they were most definitely leaving the North.
Billy allowed himself a quick glimpse to his rear. A multitude of faces gazed back at him, each bearing the slightly vacant expression of the brainwashed. The throng stretched back into the fog, each step taking them out of the gloom, away from their homes, from their factories, towards their goal. Towards Billy's goal, anyway. The ambitions of the army didn't extend much further than doing what Billy Hilarious himself told them to do. All they sought was recognition by their illustrious leader and perhaps a small word of praise.
Billy turned back to the front just as the sun appeared from behind a cloud. He permitted himself a small smile. The omens were good. Taken with his progress, he allowed his mind to wander until it ran into something unpleasant. The names Arthur, Ernest and Harold sat in his brain, mocking him. He closed his eyes. They were still there, those three names, not doing anything particularly sinister. In fact, not doing anything at all. That was the problem. They just sat there. He, Billy Hilarious, was trying to lead a revolution and his comrades-in-arms were doing nothing to help him. Admittedly, they were doing nothing to hinder him either. They just weren't doing anything.
He opened his eyes and blinked in the ever brightening sun. A sun that was strong enough to burn away all his doubts. It was all in his head. Whatever his incompetent generals were doing in reality, he didn't need them. If necessary he would reduce the South to rubble with his own bare hands.
* * *
Eric and Commissioner Parker stood at the corner of street D3 and side-street D3a, pondering their mission. As the opening titles of 'The Paradoxicals' went, 'Your mission, if you want it...' is to defend the central region and Southern Quarter against 'The Comedian'. Eric and the Commissioner didn't want the mission, but they didn't have a choice in the matter.
The 'Paradoxicals' had a choice, but they never seemed to exercise it. Regardless of what the mission was, or how dangerous it was going to be, they always accepted their orders without complaint. In fact, they accepted them with relish. Each new mission was a new challenge, new adventures to be had, new enemies to face, new tables for Dave Brady to put his right hand on, new women for Rich to seduce, new computers for Jane to hack into. They never seemed to end up standing on street corners contemplating their future, or lack of it.
Eric pondered that thought. The term 'future' was perhaps a bad one to use in relation to the 'Paradoxicals'. Their future was the past and their present was also the past and their past was other people's futures. Or something. Well, whatever they were contemplating, they never stood on miserable street corners whilst they were doing it.
He turned to Commissioner Parker.
'Why are we standing here?'
'Can't we go somewhere else and think?'
'You're right. There's nothing here.'
'I could have told you that ten minutes ago. What are you looking for?'
'I don't know.'
'There's a very obvious question that I could ask at this point...'
'The only way I'll find out what we're looking for is to find it. The only way to find it is to keep looking for it.'
There was a pause.
'So where do we go from here?'
The Commissioner pointed randomly down side-street D3a.
'Fine,' said Eric walking off.
The Commissioner followed him. Maybe this whole 'Comedian' thing would blow over by the time they got back to the office. After all, there were a lot of streets in this city.
'How many roads must a man walk down?' said the Commissioner to himself.
'Did you say something?' called Eric from up ahead.
'No, not really. I was just, how can I put it, "rambling".'
Eric was about to continue walking when the Commissioner called him back.
'Eric. How far are we from the Daily Thompson?'
'About five miles.'
'How long will it take us to walk there?'
'At our present average speed, about a week-and-a-half.'
'And at our best walking speed?' said the Commissioner, ignoring the sarcasm.
'You're planning to walk five miles?' asked Eric in panic.
'I certainly am.'
Eric did a swift calculation.
'About an hour and a half.'
'Well that should give us plenty of time to, how shall I put it, "come up with something".'
'Probably. Now start walking.'
'Why the Daily Thompson, anyway?'
'They're bound to attack it. They always go for the media in these cases.'
'And you've had a lot of these cases have you?'
'Don't be silly. I saw it in a film once.'
They walked for a short distance until Eric stopped again.
'Surely Sprawling Metropolis Television counts as 'media' as well? We could have stayed there.'
The Commissioner said nothing. Eric nodded in agreement.
'The Daily Thompson it is then,' he said.'
* * *
Hemmed in his office, pressed disturbingly close to Lisa, Derek finally made it to the end of his cup of coffee. Seeing a means of escape, he began to stand up.
'Stay there, squire,' interrupted Alfred. 'I'll take your cup.'
'Thanks,' said Derek bitterly and then wondered why. Here he was, closer to Lisa than he had ever been and, he reflected, closer then he was likely to get ever again.
He risked a quick glance in her direction. She was chatting away to Alfred, seemingly oblivious to the quivering wreck sitting next to her. Derek listened to their conversation for a while. Something about journalistic style, apparently. Having joined it half-way through, he was having difficulty following it. How come Alfred knew so much about it? But then, Alfred knew so much about everything. If Lisa had been a particle physicist, Alfred would be sitting there talking knowledgeably about baryons and bosons. As it was, he sat there discoursing on the art of the reporter, with Lisa hanging on his every word. She laughed at one of his more irreverent comments and Derek felt her movement next to him. Its closeness sent a shiver up his spine and set Derek considering his situation once again.
He had spent most of his life waiting to be in this position and now he was trying his best to get out of it. He didn't seem to be making any sense. Probably not a good thing, really. What chance did he have of defeating 'The Comedian' and saving the city if he wasn't making sense even to himself? Not much, he decided, but then, he had pretty much come to that conclusion a while ago. Until Alfred had managed to convince him otherwise, of course. How had he managed that? Derek still hadn't worked it out. He began to wonder if he would ever get the chance to. Not with an invasion imminent.
He looked at his watch. Two o'clock. The army would have been marching for about four hours. Surely that was enough time for them to get from the Northern Quarter? Derek felt himself getting impatient, another thing that didn't make sense. Or maybe it did. Perhaps he just wanted it to be all over. Alfred had said that he would win because he was the good guy. Perhaps some sort of guiding force would make sure he did the right thing. Control his actions, so to speak. That would make things a bit easier. Some sort of guardian angel to watch over him. Something nagged away in the back of his mind. What was it? Then he remembered. He already had someone watching over him. Two someones, to be precise. It looked like he was on his own after all.
Two ghosts floated in the hallway outside the office, sipping at glasses of sherry.
'Poor Derek,' said the Irish ghost. 'I don't know which he finds the most terrifying; the "Comedian", or Lisa.'
'The life you lead sets all your nerves a jangle.
Your love affairs are in a hopeless tangle,' said the English ghost.