Errors of Comedy - Chapter 27
Derek stood in the centre of the newsroom, swilling his mop forlornly in its bucket. Apart from himself, the room was empty. Andy, Lisa and Commissioner Parker had gone into the editor's office to decide what to do with the two-thousand Northerners who were currently milling around the monorail station under the watchful eye of Eric and any staff who could be rounded up.
Once the army had been informed of Harold's defeat, they suddenly became rather confused. The fight went out of them. In fact, many of them couldn't remember exactly what they were fighting for. Now they hung their heads and wanted to go home.
Eric sat on the platform next to Harold, chatting away cheerfully.
'So what happened then?' he asked brightly. 'Army let you down? I hate it when that happens, don't you?'
Harold said nothing.
'If you want a city invading properly, do it yourself, that's what I say. Come to think of it, so does 'The Comedian'. Probably. What do you think?'
Harold said nothing.
'Yeah, I agree,' continued Eric, 'he probably hasn't heard yet. Still, he can read all about it in tomorrow's Daily Thompson. Do you get the Thompson in the North?'
Harold said nothing.
'Although, having said that, this "Comedian" is probably somewhere in the central region as we speak. Well, as I speak, anyway.'
* * *
Back in the newsroom, Derek slapped the head of the mop onto the floor and moved it around. It didn't seem to be achieving a lot. Derek stared into space, not paying much attention to what he was doing. The mop-head hit a table leg, causing the handle to poke him in the midriff. His gaze returned from the distance and he looked down at the mop. It looked back at him.
'Typical,' he said, 'I save the day and while they're all in there congratulating each other, I get to stand here on my own, ankle deep in a pool of coffee-flavoured chicken soup.'
The mop said nothing so Derek plunged it into the bucket once more.
'I bet,' he continued, 'that if I'd been Witty Put-Down Man at the time I'd have been invited to the party.'
'It's hardly a party, squire,' said Alfred, having appeared from the elevator. He held out a mug. 'Here, have some chicken soup.'
Derek stared at the offering, then at the puddle on the floor and then back at Alfred, who grinned.
Derek took the cup and sat on the edge of a desk.
Alfred pulled up a chair and sat down. 'You want to be careful what you tell that mop, squire.'
'I don't think it'll repeat anything to anyone.'
'No,' agreed Alfred, 'but you might be overheard.'
'No-one pays any attention to the janitor,' observed Derek with a wry smile.
'You wouldn't be referring to certain journalists, would you, squire?' Derek looked a little sheepish. 'Give it time.'
Derek was about to reply when the door of the office opened and the occupants emerged.
'Derek,' began Commissioner Parker, 'we're going downstairs to, how shall I put it, "have a chat" with Mr Simpson. Would you care to come along?'
Derek looked at Alfred who nodded carefully and mouthed the words 'battle plan'.
'Bring the mop, Derek. If Harold gets carried away, we might need you to keep him under control.'
The group walked into the elevator, leaving Alfred to finish his tea. He waited until the door had closed and then pulled out a coin. A movement of his thumb sent it spinning into the air, to be caught as it fell and slapped onto his left wrist. He uncovered it slowly.
'Heads,' he grunted. 'That'll be the TV studios then.'
* * *
At the studios of Sprawling Metropolis Television, Dick Jones, Doris Lundy and Mayor Burdon sat around a table and waited. They didn't quite know what they were waiting for, but there was a definite air of expectation. They had chatted amiably for a while but, as the topics of conversation had become exhausted, so had the participants. Even Mayor Burdon's naive optimism and relentless cheeriness had only lasted so long. They couldn't go anywhere. Especially as it was the Mayor himself who had issued the order that no-one should go out.
There were probably worse places in Sprawling Metropolis to be trapped, but they couldn't think of any at that particular moment. Dick Jones had shown Doris and the Mayor around the studios three times now. The first because it seemed like a sensible thing to do. The second, just in case he had omitted some vital detail or fascinating anecdote on the previous occasion. The third because they were all getting a bit desperate.
Mayor Burdon suddenly sat up.
'Why don't we watch some of that excellent programme of yours?'
'What excellent programme?' asked Dick Jones before he realised what he had just said. 'I mean, which of our many excellent programmes?'
'Oh, you know,' said the Mayor, 'that exciting hand-held camera, documentary, running about, fighting, programming computers, flying around in time machines one.'
Realisation dawned on Dick Jones face and he was about to reply when he caught sight of Doris, who had a rather mean look in her eye. He changed tack immediately.
'I'm afraid I don't know which programme you're referring to,' he lied with a remarkably straight face.
'Oh, what a terrible shame,' said the Mayor, his newly refreshed optimism undaunted. 'Still, never mind, eh? Perhaps we could take another spin around your magnificent studios?'
Dick risked another sidelong glance at Doris, who shrugged. Easing his chair away from the table, he climbed to his feet, racking his brains for some new snippet of information or amusing story to relate to his guests.
'If you'd like to follow me,' he said for the fourth time, 'we'll start off in the main studio itself.'
The Mayor stood up and rubbed his hands together in anticipation. Doris also stood, a little less eagerly than Mayor Burdon. She wondered if the reason for his keenness was because he had already forgotten everything about the first three tours. After spending much of the day in his company, she had come to the conclusion that this was entirely possible. As Dick Jones and the Mayor left the room, she followed a little way behind. Dick was spouting the same old story about the foundation of Sprawling Metropolis Television shortly after the city was built. Of course, the name of Mayor Burdon appeared in almost every sentence. Well, there was one explanation for the Mayor's excitement: perhaps he just liked hearing his own name.
* * *
The doors of the elevator opened onto the ground floor and Commissioner Parker stepped out.
'After you, Derek.'
He stood aside as Derek walked past, mop held out like a spear. Commissioner Parker turned to Andy.
'I will follow Derek, I suggest that you and Miss Bach remain a little way behind.'
'No way,' said Lisa indignantly, 'I've got a story to write. Come on, Derek.'
Derek inched forward, expecting an ambush at any moment. Behind him came Lisa, writing furiously in her notebook, and Commissioner Parker, desperately hoping that Eric hadn't driven Harold to do anything silly. They stepped out onto the platform and Derek hefted the mop to ward off any surprise attack. None came. The group moved further forward to see what was happening. A few yards away sat Eric and Harold.
'So you see,' rambled Eric, 'I got a bit sick of throwing underage kids out of the cinema, so I became... Commissioner!'
'Good work, Eric.'
'Now then, Mr Simpson...'
'Mr Simpson,' interrupted Lisa, 'I'm Lisa Bach of the Daily Thompson. Could I ask you a few questions?'
'I've got a mop,' put in Derek, just for the sake of it.
'Ooh, decisions, decisions,' said Eric. 'You could talk to the chief, but anything you say may be used in evidence against you. You could talk to Lisa, but anything you say will be printed in tomorrow's Daily Thompson. You could talk to me, but anything you say will be ignored. Failing that, you could talk to the mop. Your choice.'
Harold stood up.
'If,' he said, rather weakly, 'I come quietly and tell you what you want to know, will you lock me up somewhere away from him?'
'Well there's gratitude for you,' said Eric in a hurt tone of voice. 'I sit here and keep you company and try and cheer you up after your failed coup-de-journal and this is all the thanks I get?'
'Eric, just this once, shut up,' said Commissioner Parker wearily.
'Mr Simpson...' began Lisa.
'The same applies to you, Miss Bach. This is an official police matter.'
From the back, Andy Moore had his say.
'Does that mean you're imposing reporting restrictions? If you are, we'll need a clear statement as to what we can and can't print. And it goes without saying that we will appeal against any restrictions that you do impose.''I'm not imposing any restrictions,' replied Commissioner Parker desperately, 'I just want to question the, how can I put it, "prisoner" in peace. Then... we'll have a press conference or something.'
Andy wasn't entirely satisfied.
'The Daily Thompson demand priority access to all those involved before other press agencies are brought in.'
'Fine,' sighed the Commissioner. 'Why don't you go and sort it out with Dick Jones at the television studios?'
'Not if "The Comedian" gets there first,' said Harold, a little spark of defiance creeping back into him in the face of the incompetence around him.
Standing a little way off, with his mop now shouldered, this was the first piece of the conversation that Derek paid a great deal of attention to. So 'The Comedian' was heading for the television studios. Presumably, that was where Witty Put-Down Man ought to be heading as well. The problem was going to be getting away from the Daily Thompson. Alfred had always promised to cover for him. Now was a chance to see exactly how he was going to do it. He turned his attention back to the events going on around him.
'Now then, Mr Simpson,' Commissioner Parker was saying, 'I suggest you round up your, how can I put it, "mob" and we'll escort them back to the Northern Quarter.'
'They're not my "mob",' Harold informed him smugly. 'They only take orders from "The Comedian".'
Eric stepped forward as a monorail car pulled into the station.
'Could I have your attention, gentlemen,' he called. 'We have decided that we are going to return you to your homes in the Northern Quarter. We will travel in the luxury and comfort of the monorail system and we will even pay your fare. Are you with us?'
There was a subdued and slightly grateful nodding and mumbling of assent from the crowd. Eric turned to Harold.
'What do you think? Do I have a future as "The Comedian"? Or "A Comedian" at least?'
Harold hung his head and allowed Commissioner Parker to escort him onto the monorail. Andy Moore turned to Derek.
'I think we can finish off here. Why don't you go and clear up the newsroom and then take the rest of the day off?'
Derek nodded. Surely it couldn't be that easy? Still, he didn't really have time to argue. He wandered down to his office and found Alfred washing the cups in the sink.
'Are you sure it's hygienic to wash the cups in that sink?' he asked with some concern. 'I clean my mop and empty the bucket in there.' Alfred looked up.
'I don't think that's the most important thing you've got to worry about at the moment, is it Squire? You'd better get a move on if you're going to catch "The Comedian" at the television studios.'
Derek nodded and dropped his mop into its place in the corner.
'The bucket's still in the newsroom. Do you think you could finish off the cleaning and bring it down here?'
'Sure thing, Squire.' Derek turned to leave and then paused.
'How did you know "The Comedian" was going to the television studios?'
'Oh, just a lucky guess, I suppose. Now, stop wasting time.' Derek walked out of the office as Alfred quietly added, 'good luck.'
Two ghosts watched Derek set off.
'I hope he doesn't have to walk too far,' said the Irish ghost.
'I adore long walks, especially when they're taken by someone who annoys me,' said the English ghost.