Errors of Comedy - Chapter 26
While Billy Hilarious and his army marched across Sprawling Metropolis, and Derek and Lisa prepared for the invasion of the Daily Thompson, Horace Lundy lay in his hospital bed, staring blankly at the television. The virtues of a variety of different brands of orange juice were being extolled by a loud man in an even louder shirt. Horace wasn't listening. He was wondering where his wife had got to. He hadn't seen her since the last episode of 'The Paradoxicals'. If she didn't get back soon she was going to miss the next one. Not that she'd mind.
He turned over and rearranged his pillows. Why didn't Doris like 'The Paradoxicals'? What was wrong with it? More to the point, where was Doris? He shifted in the bed again, unable to get comfortable. This was, in fact, no accident. The beds in Sprawling Metropolis Central Hospital were specifically designed for that very purpose. The designer had heard that people in hospital got bed-sores because they didn't move enough. Therefore he had produced beds that were so uncomfortable that they were impossible to stay still in.
This brilliant concept was lost on Horace. He just knew that he wanted to get out of bed and find his wife. Pulling on his dressing gown, he padded to the end of the ward where a nurse sat reading the Daily Thompson.
'Excuse me,' said Horace.
The nurse looked up.
'What are you doing out of bed, Mr Lundy? You'll never get better if you go wandering about in your pyjamas.'
'I am wearing a dressing gown,' said Horace with dignity.
'And where did you get that from, I'd like to know?' asked the nurse reproachfully. 'Not from us, I'm sure.'
'My wife brought it for me.' The mention of his wife jolted Horace back to the task in hand. 'Have you seen her?'
The nurse thought for a while.
'She was in here yesterday,' he eventually observed.
'I know she was here yesterday. I'd like to know where she is today.'
'I'm sure I don't know.'
'I'm sure I don't know either,' declared Horace, becoming a little agitated, 'but I'd like to know.'
'Well, why don't you go back to bed and I'll ask around,' soothed the nurse.
'I'd rather go and look for her myself.'
'Ooh, we can't be having that. There's going to be a war or something. It says so in the paper.'
'All the more reason for me to find my wife.'
'But no-one's to leave the building. Doctor's orders,' added the nurse with a slight chuckle. Horace started walking away.
'You'll have to stop me.'
The nurse cleared his throat in a rather definite manner. Horace turned back to see a gun pointed in his direction.
'It's only a mild sedative,' the nurse informed him, 'but I will use it.'
Horace considered. He doubted whether he could make a run for it, even if he was fully fit. Having spent time in the Central Hospital, he certainly wasn't. He nodded his head and walked back toward his bed. The nurse smiled sympathetically, replaced the gun in its holster and returned to the newspaper. Horace climbed between the sheets and lay down, more tired than he realised. This wasn't the end of it. He'd find a way out of the hospital to find Doris.
How would Dave Brady go about it? Well, after receiving his orders from his mysterious superior, known only as 'The Man With The Cigar', he'd probably get into his time machine. Well, that was a little out of the question for Horace. Jane would reprogram the computer to let her out. Rich would seduce his way out. That made the time machine the most likely option.
He'd have to try another tactic. If he were a Paradoxical, what would his speciality be? Laundry, he decided. That was what he did for a living, because that was what he did best. Laundry! They were always doing laundry in hospitals. There had to be a way out. They couldn't stop washing the sheets, just because the newspapers said there was going to be a war. Horace sat up and put his right hand on the bedside table. He had a plan.
* * *
In the street outside the Daily Thompson, one man held up his arm and two thousand men came to a halt. Harold cleared his throat gently. Two security guards who had been leaning against the wall, deep in conversation, turned to see what the noise was. They were confronted by a wall of people, many of them with large, pointed implements. Harold took a step forward.
'Good afternoon, gentlemen,' he began, 'I represent "The Comedian". We have an appointment with the management of this establishment. I trust you're not going to delay us.'
The guards looked at each other. One opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by the sound of his colleague's rapidly disappearing feet.
'I'm with him,' he said.
Harold watched them go and then turned his attention to the door. It was locked. He wasn't surprised. Turning to two suitably large men behind him, he nodded in the direction of the entrance. They strode forward and casually ripped the door from its hinges. Harold shook his head.
'Soft,' he murmured in disgust before turning to the front row of his army. 'After you I think, gentlemen.'
* * *
Buried in the basement, deep in conversation or lost in thought, Derek, Lisa and Alfred nearly missed the sound of two thousand men tramping through the building above them. It was Alfred who first noticed something amiss. He stopped in mid-sentence and looked up.
'Who are?' asked Derek before it dawned on him.
Lisa stood up.
'In that case, I've got a story to write.'
'Be careful, Miss Lisa.'
'Thanks, Alfred. I'll be OK.'
'Perhaps Derek ought to go with you?'
Currently trying to decide the best way to change into Witty Put-Down Man, Derek was disturbed by the sound of his name.
'Safety in numbers, squire.'
'Oh. Right. Yes. Of course.'
With a couple of thousand Northerners milling around, it wasn't going to be easy to find somewhere quiet to change. Being assigned to Lisa as her bodyguard wasn't going to make things any easier. He stood up, grabbed his mop, just in case, and followed Lisa out of the office.
'Lock up after you, Alfred,' he called over his shoulder.
Alfred nodded. If a detachment of the invading force decided to come down here, it would take more than a lock to stop them. Not that they'd find much when they got through the door. Derek had been working here for a while now and still couldn't find anything. The chances of a group of newcomers being able to was somewhat remote. Shelf 'H' for hostages, perhaps.
* * *
Upstairs in the newsroom, things were a little different to normal. The head of security had come bursting out of the elevator to announce the arrival of the army before rushing back to his office to try and arrange two thousand 'day visitor' security passes.
Anywhere else, an invasion of this sort would result in an immediate state of frantic activity. People barricading doors, people calling for help, people trying to leave. As this was the normal state of affairs in the newsroom, the effect of the announcement was to send the whole room into subdued silence and hushed anticipation. Nobody moved. People who normally sat at desks typing on computers now just sat at desks. People who normally ran around waving their arms about now perched on the edges of people's desks. No-one spoke.
Andy Moore stood outside his office staring grimly at the newsroom's main door, partly wishing that the old editor was still in the job. There was silence for two minutes. Then, the door opened and Harold Simpson strode in, followed by four of his most intimidating henchmen.
Before anyone could say anything, the door to the staircase opened and six men rushed in carrying pitchforks. They stopped and looked around in confusion. Rushing through doors was well within their capabilities, but evidently no-one had explained what was supposed to happen next. They stood in an embarrassed huddle until they caught sight of Harold and immediately snapped to attention.
'We have secured this room, sir,' said one of them.
'That's very kind of you,' said Harold quietly. 'Stand at ease.'
He turned his attention to the solitary figure standing in the doorway at the other side of the room.
'I presume that you are in charge here?'
Andy Moore drew himself up to his full height.
'That is correct.''Then it is my duty to inform you that I, Harold Simpson, am claiming this establishment on behalf of "The Comedian". I advise you not to resist. My men are stationed on all floors of this building. They have been ordered to kill if there is any protest.'
The knot of men on that particular floor looked at Harold as if no such thing had ever been mentioned. One of them opened his mouth to inform Harold of this. Harold opened his mouth to continue. Andy Moore opened his mouth to tell Harold exactly what he thought of his threat. None of them managed to say anything.
The stairway door opened once more, hitting the man at the back of the group. He fell forwards, sending the rest of the bunch flying. Harold choked. Andy Moore laughed. Lisa stormed into the room, closely followed by Derek and his mop.
'What are you doing?' she said to Harold.
'I beg your pardon, Miss?' replied Harold somewhat taken aback.
'I said, "What are you doing?"'
'I am claiming this establishment on behalf of "The Comedian",' repeated Harold, with a little less certainty.
'Oh are you?' said Lisa indignantly. 'You think you can come in here with your two-thousand men and just tell us what to do?'
'Er... Lisa?' put in Derek. Lisa didn't hear him.
'Well?' she shouted at Harold, who continued to stand his ground.
'I advise you not to continue with this feeble protest, Miss. My men are trained to kill. The fact that you're a woman will be no object to them.'
'Lisa?' said Derek, a little more urgently, plucking at her sleeve and feeling like a five year-old.
Lisa turned around but instead of looking at Derek, she cast her eyes down to the so-called killers trying to untangle themselves from their pitchforks and pick themselves up off the floor. She raised her eyebrows and slowly turned back to Harold, who was also watching his army's rather pathetic performance. He motioned to the four men who had arrived in the elevator with him. They moved forward and interposed themselves between Harold and Lisa. She looked at them with contempt.
'Why are you working for him?'
They thought about this for a moment.
'Mr Hilarious himself said we had to,' said one. The others mumbled their agreement.
'And why isn't Mr Hilarious himself here?' continued Lisa.
'Because he's going to the TV studios.'
Harold winced at the inadvertent disclosure of Billy's plans. Things were getting out of hand. The sooner he got this irritating girl out of the way the better.
'Take them away. Lock them in the basement or something.'
Harold's bodyguards moved toward Lisa. Derek stepped in front of her and held his mop out protectively. If his predecessor could use a mop as an offensive weapon, Derek didn't see why he couldn't.
Whilst all this was happening, Andy Moore, realising what Derek was trying to do, had moved slowly over to the coffee machine. He took out a pencil and inserted it carefully into the mechanism. He then dropped a coin into the slot and waited. The machine whirred slightly and a stream of hot coffee jetted out into the face of one of the rear group. He screamed and dropped to his knees. Hearing the noise, Derek swung around. Lisa ducked wildly and the mop took out the lead bodyguard and two more of the other group. From her kneeling position, Lisa did a quick head-count. That just left three bodyguards, three others and Harold.
'Derek,' called Andy.
The mop swung again. In their haste to get out of the way, the remains of the army tripped over their pitchforks and joined their comrades on the floor. The head of the mop caught one of the bodyguards in the groin and he rolled away, sobbing loudly. The drinks machine, carefully repositioned by Andy and two sub-editors sent another jet of hot liquid, chicken soup this time, across the faces of the remaining bodyguards. This was followed up by Lisa wielding a large ceramic pot which had once contained a rubber plant.
Having recently worked out what was going on, Derek advanced on Harold, mop menacingly outstretched. Harold backed up against a wall and found a wet, stringy, bleach-soaked mass pressed into his throat. Lisa and Andy stepped into formation behind Derek.
'Now then, Mr Simpson,' began Andy.
'Perhaps you'd like to renegotiate terms?' finished Lisa.
'I have two-thousand men in the building,' managed Harold in a slightly strangled voice.
Andy looked round at the men in various forms of pain.
'One thousand nine-hundred and ninety, surely?' he observed.
'How ever many it is, that won't help you if Derek impales you with his...' Lisa searched for a better word but, in the end, only one was suitable. '... mop,' she finished.
Derek glanced nervously at her and, just in case she was serious, pressed the mop a little harder. To his, and Harold's, relief, the main door opened and two men stepped out.
'I think you can put the, what shall I call it, "mop" down now, sir,' said Commissioner Parker.
'You seem to have cleaned up quite nicely,' added Eric before anyone could stop him.
Derek stepped away from Harold who slumped to the floor.
'I suggest you call your men off,' added Commissioner Parker.
Harold just nodded. Eric hauled him to his feet and led him into the elevator.
'Come on let's go and tell your army the good news. "Unconditional surrender" has a nice ring to it, don't you think?'
The elevator doors closed and Derek, Lisa and Andy were left standing in a large puddle of coffee and chicken soup, looking at each other. Lisa turned to Commissioner Parker.
'You took your time.'
'We took the, how shall I put it, "scenic route".'
Derek stared down at the foul-smelling liquid around his feet and then looked at his mop.
'I suppose we'd better clean this up then,' he said.
'Talking to inanimate objects again?''Yes,' said Derek, too tired to be nervous. He looked briefly into her eyes, returned her smile and then walked out of the room and down the stairs.
Two ghosts were waiting in his office.
'Congratulations on your first victory,' said the Irish ghost.
'And where were you when I needed some help?' asked Derek, picking up a bucket and filling it from the tap. 'Why aren't you prepared to fight?'
Not waiting for an answer, he walked out of the office. The ghosts watched him go.
'He's got a point,' said the Irish ghost. 'Why aren't we prepared to fight?'
'We are quite prepared to fight for our principles, though none of us know so far what they really are,' said the English ghost.