Errors of Comedy - Chapter 29
Horace Lundy, having taken the desperate step of escaping from the Central Hospital via a fourth-floor window, sat where he had landed on the floor of the hospital laundry. Eventually, he lifted himself to his feet and tested his weight. His legs seemed to have recovered sufficiently to carry him on to the next stage of his grand scheme.
While sitting on the floor he had spent the time scrutinising the room he was in. It didn't really offer him much help. All it contained were the usual stocks found in any laundry. Washing powder, starch, not much else. Still, he had to work with the tools he had available; to blend in. He picked up a box and tucked it under his arm. It was time to stop playing at being 'Paradoxicals' leader Dave Brady. This job was more suited to the con-man talents of Rich... Horace realised that he didn't know his surname. Which probably meant that he didn't have one. Anything that Horace didn't know about 'The Paradoxicals' probably didn't exist to be known about. The box was beginning to feel heavy. It was about time he was moving again.
He nudged the door open with his foot and cautiously peered around the door. There were a few people dotted here and there attending to their laundry duties. A man emptying a washing machine. Two women folding sheets. Another man with his head inside a tumble drier who Horace assumed was repairing it, but he could have been trying to dry his hair. None of the people were paying much attention to anything. They all wore the slightly vacant expression of people who had spent too much of their life around other people's underwear. It was an expression that Horace knew well. Two weeks ago his own face would have been a comfortable home for a similar expression. Not now though. His trip to Sprawling Metropolis and everything that had happened to him had turned him into a different man. Harder, tougher, mentally and physically at his peak. The box began to weigh more heavily and he winced. Perhaps not quite at his peak, then.
He shuffled through the door, reasonably confident that no-one working in the laundry would pay any attention to him. The only question was which way to go. Where did they store the clean laundry before it was returned to where it belonged? A door on the far side of the room looked a likely candidate and Horace and his box made their way towards it. They had just ducked through the door when the box decided that it was time for them to part company. It slid from Horace's grip and onto the floor, where Horace joined it.
Looking up, Horace was pleased to see that both his hunches had paid off. No-one had followed him into the room, or noticed his existence at all, and the room did indeed contain racks of clean linen. Most importantly, along one wall was a clothes rail with a number of white coats hanging from it. He stood up and walked over to them. Would there be one in his size? If his run of luck so far was anything to go by there would be at least one that fitted him perfectly. He picked one off the rack and tried it on. Not a perfect fit, but good enough for his purposes. Doctors never wore white coats that fitted anyway. They always seemed to choose one either slightly too big or too small to give them that 'I'm so rushed off my feet I didn't even have time to find a white coat that fitted properly' look. He rummaged through the other items in the room. However, not even his luck extended to allowing him to find a stethoscope. Anyway, at his age he would be masquerading as a professor, which meant that he didn't need one. He probably didn't need the white coat either, but that was too big a risk to take. He inspected his clothing. Shirt, trousers, shoes, white coat. He was ready to go.
He walked out of the laundry and was immediately faced with another problem. When he had been brought into the hospital he had been unconscious. Careful observation and a little bit of instinct had led him to the laundry. Now he needed something to lead him to the hospital exit. Or at least as far as one of the main corridors, from where everything should be signposted. He had a quick look around the walls to make sure that there were no signs there, but evidently nobody expected the public to make it this far into the bowels of the hospital.
He set off in a random direction. The important thing was that he was dressed as a doctor and therefore had to look the part. If he had been young enough to pass himself off as a student there wouldn't have been a problem with his wandering around looking lost. As it was, he had to have that air of professional detachment, as if he was far too important to care where he was going. Up ahead, a couple of nurses were chatting. That was a good sign. If there were nurses, they must be getting near the wards. Which meant members of the public. Which meant signposts.
He ambled along, a little way behind them. One of them was casually fingering the trigger of her tranquilliser gun. Horace swallowed harder than was seemly for the part he was playing and the nurses turned around.
'What are you doing down here?' said one.
'Lost?' asked the other. 'What are you looking for.'
Horace considered his answer and decided to go for broke.
'I'm looking for the exit, actually,' he said with a light laugh. The nurses looked at each other and shook their heads.
'Along this corridor, turn left then right and you'll see the entrance,' said the second one.
Horace thanked her and set off. As he outpaced them, he heard the first nurse's parting shot.
'If some of these doctors spent a bit less time on the golf course and in the hospital, they wouldn't get lost so often.'
* * *
Still struggling to find their way to the hospital, Ernest and his followers reached another cross-roads. He would have given up and gone home but for the fact that there was very little chance of his finding the way back. He was about to collapse on the ground in tears when a man in a white coat ran out of a nearby building. Ernest grabbed him as he ran past and spun him around.
'Excuse me,' he said, 'but we're looking for the Central Hospital. Have you seen it?'
Horace looked from Ernest to the two thousand armed men behind him and then back to Ernest. He didn't know who they were, but if somebody was at war, this lot were likely candidates. Therefore, he should withhold information. What was it they wanted to know? Where the hospital was? Horace risked a quick glance behind him. There it was, in all its glory. However, he would have to deny all knowledge of it. His white coat flapped in the gentle breeze. That was going to make things a little difficult. Oh well, he had to try.
'I've no idea where the hospital is. Sorry,' he tried.
'We've walked for miles, you know,' said Ernest unexpectedly.
Horace wasn't sure what response was expected from him.
'Really,' he eventually managed. There was a voice from near the back of the crowd.
'He looks like a doctor. If he doesn't tell us where the hospital is, we'll beat him up.'
'Will we?' asked Ernest in alarm. He hadn't expected there to be any beating up. Although they were headed for the hospital, so any casualties could be treated fairly promptly. If they ever found the place.
'Yeah, that's right,' he heard himself saying, 'so tell us where it is.'
Horace thought. He had been Dave Brady. He had been Rich. That left Jane. Which meant computers. How could he defeat an army with computers? Maybe not computers themselves, but things controlled by computers. Helicopters, for example... There was a telephone booth on the corner.
'I'll take you to the hospital myself, if you like. I'll just give them a call to let them know we're on our way.'
He walked over to the telephone, expecting to be felled by a blow from behind at any minute. He wasn't.
'Hello, fire department? There's a large crowd outside the central hospital in immediate danger of bursting into flames. Please help.' He wondered what the response time of the fire helicopters in Sprawling Metropolis was. Back home it was about a couple of minutes, which would give him enough time to walk back to Ernest, say something placating... and then run like hell.
* * *
Back at Sprawling Metropolis television, Mayor Burdon and Doris Lundy stood side by side in front of a mixing desk.
'This is a mixing desk,' Dick Jones informed them, despite the fact that they knew all there was to know about it. The look on Doris's face made this perfectly clear. It was a look of boredom. Of stoic endurance through mental anguish. The Mayor's face, however, gave the impression that this was the first time that he had ever seen a mixing desk, or indeed a desk of any description, and that he was entirely thrilled to be witnessing this miracle of modern technology.
'So what does this mixing desk of yours do?' he asked eagerly.
Dick Jones analysed the Mayor's tone of voice and facial expression for any hint of sarcasm, but none was to be found. He took a deep breath and played along.
'This is where we "mix" the various pictures and sounds that we receive from our studio and outside broadcasts.'
'Remarkable,' interrupted the Mayor, as he had done on the three previous occasions.
Before Dick could continue, Sharon burst into the editing suite, looking rather worried.
'Mr Jones, there's a man to see you downstairs. He doesn't have an appointment, but...'
'Well, if he doesn't have an appointment, get rid of him,' said Dick impatiently.
Sharon took a deep breath.
'He doesn't have an appointment, but he does have about three-thousand large, angry-looking men with pitchforks and axes and things. I think you should have a word with him.' Dick Jones turned slightly pale.
'Er... Mr Mayor, this sounds like something that you should handle,' he suggested. The Mayor put up his hands protectively.
'I couldn't possibly,' he stammered, 'I'm an important public figure. I can't risk my life in an action of this nature. I must be protected so that the process of government can continue.' Sharon leant over to Doris.
'For someone who's senile, that's not a bad argument,' she whispered. Doris grinned briefly and then took on a more serious expression.
'Someone's got to talk to this man,' she said sternly. 'Come along, Sharon.'
The two women walked out of the room leaving the Mayor and Dick Jones arguing about who's responsibility it was to protect whom.
'So, you're "The Comedian", then,' said Doris when they found Billy and a handful of his men standing in the reception.
'At your service, madam,' said Billy sarcastically. 'My men and I will do everything in our power to ensure that your stay as a hostage will be as comfortable as possible.'
At the mention of the word 'hostage', Doris started to get a little uncomfortable. That hadn't been part of the plan. Such as she had a plan. She was getting the feeling that simply telling 'The Comedian' that he was a naughty boy and that he should go home to bed without any supper wasn't going to work. Billy motioned to two of his men, who bound Doris and Sharon securely and sat them in a corner of the room.
'Right,' Billy said, 'you two stay here and guard them, you go outside and tell the rest of them to stay calm and wait for the signal. The rest of you, come with me.' They left the room, leaving Doris and Sharon to ponder their somewhat disastrous strategy.
* * *
In the other room, Dick Jones faced 'The Comedian' from behind the mixing desk with a quivering Mayor Burdon clinging to his shoulder.
'You'll never get away with this, you know,' attempted the Mayor in a rather pathetic show of defiance.
'Won't I?' asked Billy. 'Oh, what a terrible shame. I suppose I'll have to go home then.'
'Would you?' asked the Mayor, brightening up slightly. Billy walked over and looked him straight in the eye.
'No,' he shouted. 'We're not going home. We're going to do some more filming.' He turned to Dick Jones with a serious expression. 'That's if it's all right with you Mr Jones. Or would you rather let Jeremy Droll do it.' His accent changed to an exaggerated Southern one. 'I thought you'd like to know, Mr Jones, the documentary is going simply splendidly.' He laughed and turned away from the helpless duo.
'Let's make some television,' he shouted to his men and led the way to the studio, locking the door behind him.
* * *
Not too far away, Derek walked along, staring at his feet. He realised that he wasn't approaching the television studios quite as rapidly as perhaps he should have been, but he had a few things to sort out in his mind before he got there. Was he Witty Put-Down Man? Really Witty Put-Down Man? Or was Witty Put-Down Man someone else? He hoped it was the latter. Then when Witty Put-Down Man arrived, everything would be someone else's problem. But, if Witty Put-Down Man and Derek Daniels were really the same person then, when it came down to it, it would most definitely be his problem. Derek didn't know whether he could cope with that sort of problem. He took the cigarette holder out of its case and looked at it. It all had the potential to be so simple. Put the holder in his mouth, become Witty Put-Down Man, meet 'The Comedian', say something devastatingly witty, save the day, tell Lisa everything, live happily ever after. On the other hand, it all had the potential to be very complicated. Fatally so. Using his wit powers against broken pipes was one thing, but psychopathic criminals were a different matter entirely. They had a tendency to fight back. Hard.
A little way behind Derek, two ghosts stolled casually along.
'Are you sure we're not just getting Derek into trouble?' asked the Irish ghost.
'I hope you're not criticising my plan,' said the English ghost.
'Why? Can't you take a little criticism?' asked the Irish ghost.
'I love criticism, just so long as it's unqualified praise,' said the English ghost.