Errors of Comedy - Chapter 32
Witty Put-Down Man turned the corner and came face to face with thousands of men, each bearing an expression of grim determination. As with the armies before them, they weren't really sure what they were determined about, but it didn't matter. They were determined. At the moment, the limit of their determination was to stand there looking grim. This they achieved with unqualified success.
Into this morass of grimness strode Witty Put-Down Man. All the doubts of Derek Daniels had evaporated as soon as the cigarette holder had touched his lips. Witty Put-Down Man had no such qualms about the task ahead. In fact, he couldn't understand why Derek did so much faffing about. There was nothing difficult about it. 'The Comedian' didn't have a chance. He, Witty Put-Down Man, would reduce him to a quivering heap, begging to be allowed to return to the North in one piece.
By this time, he had reached the tail end of the army. Now all he had to do was negotiate his way to the door of the television building. He tapped the rear member of the group on the shoulder with his cigarette holder; so much for their vigilance then. The man turned around, only to have smoke blown into his face.
'I'm terribly sorry, old man,' said Witty Put-Down Man, 'but I'm trying to get to the front door. Would you mind stepping aside a little?'
An involuntary wave passed through the crowd, creating a path to the door.
'Awfully kind of you,' murmured Witty Put-Down Man, as he made his way through the crowd. No-one said anything. No-one moved. Certainly no-one tried to stop him. As he reached the door he turned back to the crowd.
'Gentlemen, I thank you,' he said with a theatrical flourish and disappeared inside. By the time they realised what had happened, it would all be over.
In the elevator, he considered his next move. Presumably any of 'The Comedian's' men he encountered from now on would have a bit more about them than the rank and file he had left outside. They might require a little effort to overcome, but not too much.
The elevator doors opened and he stepped into the room. Billy had left two men there. One sat in Sharon's chair behind the desk. The other was examining the trophy cabinet, wondering exactly what 'The Paradoxicals' was. Witty Put-Down Man surveyed the room as the man behind the desk leapt to his feet and moved around to face him. The other man observed from the back of the room, ready to join in if things got exciting.
'Where do you think you're going?' asked the first guard.
'Past you,' replied Witty Put-Down Man.
The man backed away uncertainly. People weren't supposed to say things like that to a member of Mr Hilarious's army. His partner stepped forward menacingly. Witty Put-Down Man put his arm around his shoulder.
'Now, look here old chap, I don't want to hurt you, but I should warn you that my wit is razor sharp and extremely cutting.'
A look of terror crawled onto the man's face.
'Razor sharp?' he whispered. He didn't know what a 'wit' was, but it sounded very dangerous. He looked to his companion for help, but he stood and stared into space, confused. He looked back at Witty Put-Down Man, who smiled down at him, cigarette holder held lightly but firmly in his right hand.
'Er.. I'll just go and get some fresh air,' mumbled the man, breaking free of Witty Put-Down Man's embrace and dashing into the elevator. The other man finally snapped out of his trance and joined him.
Witty Put-Down Man watched them go and then turned his attention back to the job in hand. Whereabouts in this interminable building would he find 'The Comedian'? He was about to try one of the doors when he felt a slight tingle at the base of his skull. Wit-sense. He turned around slowly. When he faced the door leading towards the studio, the tingle became a throb. He opened the door and walked down the corridor. He tapped the side of his head lightly.
'Thank-you kindly,' he said pointedly. The throbbing stopped.
'Our pleasure,' said the ghosts, after making sure that they couldn't be heard.
* * *
In the studio itself, the four hostages sat motionless. No-one was paying much attention to them. Not even the men assigned to stand behind them and look threatening. They still stood, weapons poised over the heads of their charges. Every now and again, tiredness would creep into the arm of one of them causing their weapon to drop slightly. This would elicit an involuntary shriek from one or other of the captives, usually Mayor Burdon, which woke everyone up and reminded them of what they were supposed to be doing.
'Do you have to do that?' whispered Doris after the most recent incident.
'Sorry,' the Mayor whispered back. 'I can't help it. He looks like he's going to stab me with that... stabby thing.'
'He looks like he's going to stab all of us. Screaming about it won't help.'
The Mayor shuffled uncomfortably, causing the weapons to lower by a few inches.
'Sit still before you get us all killed,' said Dick Jones frantically, attracting Billy's attention. He walked over and stood there glaring down at them.
'You, shut up,' he shouted, 'you're ruining my concentration.' He turned to the guards. 'If he opens his mouth again, you can kill him.'
The guards grinned and flexed their muscles. The hostages huddled together in silence. Technically, 'The Comedian' had only given them permission to kill Dick Jones, but the others didn't want to take any chances.
High above them, Lisa and Horace watched the proceedings with a mounting sense of impotence. 'The Comedian' continued to pace around the room, occasionally barking orders to his men, but mostly keeping his thoughts to himself.
Lisa turned away from the scene below and leaned with her back against the balcony. There had to be something she could do. Although, armed with a pencil and a notebook, she didn't rate her chances in a stand-up fight. And where was Witty Put-Down Man? Surely this was the perfect situation for him to step in and save the day? Perhaps he wasn't coming. She felt her heart sink. Twice he had saved her. Perhaps it was third time unlucky?
A heavy sigh came from beside her and she craned her neck to look at Horace, reminding her that she wasn't the only one who needed saving. Perhaps there was something they could do. She slipped the notepad and pencil into her pocket. There had to be something she could do. She stood up slowly.
'Where are you going?' asked Horace.
'I'm not entirely sure, but we've got to try something.'
'Why not?' he said, getting to his feet. 'So where do we start?' Lisa looked around.
'Well, I suppose we have to try and get down to their level.'
'Seems like a good bet.'
They were about to set off when they were interrupted by the sound of one of the studio doors opening.
'I thought I told you to stay and guard the entrance,' shouted Billy without turning round.
'Oh I know, but it was so frightfully tedious that I thought I'd take a quick turn around the building,' said Witty Put-Down Man conversationally.
'Witty Put-Down Man!' shouted Lisa from the balcony.
'Who?' asked Horace and Billy simultaneously.
Lisa didn't answer. She was too busy dashing for the stairs. Horace shook his head, unable to keep up with either Lisa or the turn of events. He peered over the balcony. At least Doris was still all right. The newcomer seemed to have distracted everyone's attention. He decided that the best place to watch events unfold was exactly where he stood.
On the floor below, Billy was furious.
'How did you get in here?' Witty Put-Down Man looked behind him, a confused expression on his face.
'Why, through the door, dear boy,' he replied. 'A little clichéd perhaps, but I've always been a stickler for tradition.''Just shut it,' shouted Billy. Witty Put-Down Man turned and closed the door.
'Anything to oblige.'
Billy was speechless. The idea that someone seemingly so ineffectual could get in here infuriated him. On top of that, this newcomer was showing neither respect nor fear of him. This had to stop. Eventually he found his voice.
'Don't just stand there,' he shouted to his men, 'get rid of him.'
There was a pause while Billy's men looked at each other, trying to work out whose job it was to deal with this strange person. He didn't look dangerous, but you could never tell. The two men guarding the hostages didn't move. They had a specific job to do and weren't going to move until they received a direct order from Billy. The technicians huddled behind the camera. They had no intention of getting involved in anything more dangerous than making television programmes. That left four men who had, up to now, been standing around not doing much. They picked up their weapons and advanced toward the stranger.
Witty Put-Down Man stood his ground and watched them approach.
'Good Lord,' he said, 'the peasants really are revolting.' The men stopped. 'Well, moderately unpleasant anyway.'
The group of four looked at each other. This wasn't right.
'You two, help them,' shouted Billy to the two men guarding the hostages, 'and get on with it.'
They moved around to join their comrades. Witty Put-Down Man watched the six of them with interest.
'So, rotten eggs come in half-dozens as well,' he observed. 'Rather appropriate really. If my memory serves me correctly - and it usually does - eggs are generally beaten...' The look of fear in the men's eyes became one of sheer terror. '...before being scrambled.'
Having no intention of being either beaten or scrambled, the men fled, leaving Witty Put-Down Man smiling to himself, inhaling gently from his cigarette holder. Billy Hilarious watched his men disappear, his rage intensifying. He stormed over and faced Witty Put-Down Man, hatred in his eyes.
'Ah, Mr Amusing, we meet at last,' said Witty Put-Down Man amicably.
'That's Mr Hilarious,' screamed Billy.
'Calm yourself, Mr Hysterical. No need to get agitated.'
During this exchange, Lisa had reached the studio and was making her way over to the camera. The already nervous technicians hiding behind it took one look at her and abandoned their equipment. She spun the camera round until it pointed at Billy and Witty Put-Down Man and switched it on. All over Sprawling Metropolis, the opening credits of 'The Paradoxicals' were interrupted. Everyone knew 'The Comedian', of course, but he was face to face with someone that most people had only read about in the Daily Thompson. They all knew exactly who he was, though. Lisa's descriptions had been meticulous in their attention to detail.
Witty Put-Down Man continued to face Billy Hilarious, who was almost incoherent with rage.
'Who the bloody hell are you?' shouted Billy.
'My friends call me Witty Put-Down Man.'
'Well, I'm not your friend, so what do your enemies call you?'
'I'm afraid I don't know,' said Witty Put-Down Man sadly, 'they've never survived long enough for me to find out.'
'And you think you're going to defeat me, do you?'
Witty Put-Down Man drew thoughtfully on his cigarette.
'Is this a trick question? I've never been very good at riddles.''Nor at dressing yourself,' said Billy looking at the smoking jacket with a mixture of amusement and disgust. 'What the hell d'you think you look like?''Well, I'd rather hoped I resembled your nemesis, Mr Hilarity.''Nemesis? Dressed like that?''My dear Mr Harmless,' said Witty Put-Down Man seriously, 'I would be your nemesis were I dressed in a tutu and a pair of water-skis. Unlike you, your joke has worn a little thin.'
Starting to feel slightly foolish in front of his men and the television cameras, and tired of the interruption to his plans, Billy resorted to the most devastating weapon in his armoury.
'You know what? You remind me of my mother-in-law.'
'Really?' asked Witty Put-Down Man politely, 'and may I ask why?' He removed the cigarette holder from his mouth. 'Perhaps you think me stupid enough to allow you to marry my daughter?'
Enraged at the simple parrying of his attack, Billy took a step backwards.
'No I do not,' he shouted furiously. He raised his arm and dashed the cigarette holder out of Witty Put-Down Man's hand. It hit the floor and rolled away to the other side of the room.
For the first time, Witty Put-Down Man began to falter. The ghosts had said that his power resided in the holder. Now that he no longer had it, what was he to do? Billy pressed home his attack.
'You remind me of my mother-in-law...' His face was now inches away from Witty Put-Down Man's. '... because you're an interfering busybody who's poking his nose in where it's not wanted. Because, despite all your pansying about with your cigarette and your la-de-da jacket, you're still a loser.'
Witty Put-Down Man backed up against the wall. There was nothing he could do. He just hoped that 'The Comedian' would end it quickly.
Two ghosts stood and watched in horror, too scared to speak.