Errors of Comedy - Chapter 33
Without his cigarette holder, Witty Put-Down Man was powerless to resist as Billy Hilarious advanced on him, heaping insult upon insult. Eventually Witty Put-Down Man was backed against a wall. There was nowhere to go.
Lisa, however, had other ideas. She looked up to Horace desperately.
'Can you see it from up there?'
'It's over there, by the curtain,' he called. Lisa ran over to the other side of the room, her eyes fervently scanning the floor for the missing black tube.
Billy stood back, allowing Witty Put-Down Man to slump to the floor. He picked up a pitchfork, discarded by one of his retreating army.
'You're pathetic. If you're the best that the South has to offer then I almost feel sorry for you.' His laughter started again. 'But only "almost"...'
He raised the pitchfork and was about to bring it violently downwards when there was a shout from Lisa.
'Catch!' She drew back her arm and sent the cigarette holder winging its way across the room. Witty Put-Down Man struggled to his knees and caught it in his mouth, instantly blowing a cloud of smoke into Billy's face. He staggered back and dropped the pitchfork.
Witty Put-Down Man rose majestically to his feet and stared at Billy contemptuously.
'My dear boy, you should be more careful. All that excitement can't be good for a man of your build. Dear me, you've gone quite red in the face.'
Billy said nothing, just coughed and spluttered.
'And now you're looking a little bilious too. Red and green.' He stopped and looked at Billy with concern. 'You're not colour-blind are you?''No, I'm not?' coughed Billy, 'and I'm not finished with you either.'
Witty Put-Down Man deftly side-stepped Billy's desperate lunge and turned to face him.
'You know, I've finally worked out what it is you remind me of.'
'And what's that?'
'You look like a nice ripe apple.'
'But I'm afraid you're a little premature. It's still some months until the Autumn and your already well and truly out of your tree.'
Billy stepped back, wheezing, as Witty Put-Down Man continued.
'You really should look after yourself more. If you get any further above yourself you'll require breathing apparatus.'
Billy sank to his knees.
'But, sadly, even your delusions lack grandeur.'
Billy rolled over onto the floor. Witty Put-Down Man held out his cigarette holder and tapped a little ash onto his head.
'You are not a comedian. Just a joke.'
Billy moaned softly and curled up into a ball. Witty Put-Down Man knelt beside him and prodded him with the end of his cigarette holder.
'Just a joke,' he repeated quietly, getting to his feet.
There was an enormous cheer. From Lisa. From Horace. From the four hostages. From David and Deborah Daniels. From Eric and Commissioner Parker. From the whole of Sprawling Metropolis. Witty Put-Down Man turned to the camera and bowed gently. He then walked toward the door. Lisa ran to bar his way.
'I was wondering,' she began hesitantly, 'could I possibly, er... interview you for the Daily Thompson?' She took a deep breath. 'And would you like to, maybe, have dinner or something. With me?'
Witty Put-Down looked into her eyes. Having dealt with 'The Comedian', it was time for the tricky bit.
'My dear Lisa,' he said, 'firstly let me thank you for saving me. I am eternally grateful.' Now, he had a problem. There was no way he could carry out his duty to the city if he was having a relationship with Lisa. He would have to stay faithful to Sprawling Metropolis. 'It's a tricky decision. To wit? To woo?'
Lisa gazed at him apprehensively as he put his hands on her shoulders.
'I can't, Lisa. I'm terribly sorry.'
He kissed her on the forehead and walked out of the room. She stood and watched him go. This wasn't the end of it. He had kissed her. That must mean something. They would meet again and she would work on him. She turned round to see Horace untying the hostages and embracing his wife. Mayor Burdon and Dick Jones were congratulating each other on their superb handling of the whole affair. Lisa pulled out her notepad and began to write.
* * *
A few streets away, the last stragglers of Billy's army had finally reached their destination.
'There it is,' said Arthur Mayhew, 'the Presidential Theatre.' He pointed to the building in question.
'So what do we do now?' called one of his men. Arthur looked at him. He opened his mouth to answer and then realised that he hadn't got a clue what happened next. He flicked through his notebook, but it didn't yield any clues.
'Well,' he suggested, 'I suppose we go inside.'
He stepped through the door of the theatre and into the foyer. Geoff Andrews emerged from his office.
'Can I help you, sir?' he asked. His eyes were red and puffy from the sheer emotion of watching Witty Put-Down Man defeat 'The Comedian'.
'We have come to...' began Arthur, before being distracted by a box in the corner. 'Is that a television?' he asked.
'Yes,' replied Geoff Andrews.
'I've never seen television before,' said Arthur wistfully.
'"The Paradoxicals" is on, I believe.''What's that?''It's a sort of adventure, time-travel thing. It's very good.''Can I watch it?''I don't see why not,' said Geoff after a moment. 'Come in.'
They walked into the Geoff's office and sat down.
'You wouldn't believe what you've just missed,' said Geoff conversationally. '"The Comedian" has just been defeated by our very own Witty Put-Down Man.''What?' shouted Arthur.
* * *
On the platform of the monorail station above the theatre, where William Randall had caused such chaos all those years ago, stood Commissioner Parker and Eric. They hadn't spoken to each other since the broadcast. It was Eric who broke the silence.
'I think our plan worked,' he said.
'Yes,' replied the Commissioner. He suddenly brightened. 'I can retire now.'
'Congratulations, chief. Now, how about we go down there, arrest those two thousand men, catch the monorail back to the office in time to watch "The Paradoxicals"?'
'That sounds like a, how shall I put it, "splendid idea".'
'Worthy of the new Commissioner of Police?''I haven't retired just yet.'
They were about to step into the elevator down to street level when Eric looked back. There had been something famililar about Billy Hilarious, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.
* * *
'OK, here's the plan,' said Dave Brady He leaned forward and put his right hand on the table.
* * *
Horace Lundy leaned forward, picked up the remote control and switched the television off. Doris looked at him in surprise.
'What are you doing?'
'I've seen it before. They get there in the end. Now,' he put his arm round her shoulders, 'where shall we go for our holiday.'
'This is our holiday.'
'I think we need another holiday to get over this one. How about you?'
'I agree,' said Doris with a smile. 'Where did you have in mind?'
'Well, I was thinking maybe we could do another tour, a bit like this one.' Doris's face dropped slightly.
'Go on,' she said suspiciously.
'You know. We could start in London. Then move on to Paris. Maybe Rome, Vienna, Copenhagen...' They sat back on the sofa in each other's arms. After a while, Doris switched the television back on. Horace kissed her.
* * *
Rich kissed the waitress after she had deposited the coffees on the table. She giggled and walked away, looking over her shoulder.
'Pay attention, Rich,' said Jane, half-amused, half-annoyed.
'Hey, I'm only human,' protested Rich.
'I sometimes wonder,' Jane countered.
'OK people, listen up,' said Dave. 'We've got a long way to go.'
'Yeah,' said Rich without enthusiasm. 'What year is this again?'
'1969,' said Jane.
* * *
'If...' began Arthur. 'If they've gone back to 1969, what happens if they meet their own great-great-something grandparents?' Geoff Andrews thought for a moment.
'I don't think they're going to.'
'Well, judging from their accents, Dave is from New York, Jane sounds like she's from New England and Rich is definitely West Coast.'
'They're in Florida. Their ancestors aren't going to be around.'
'What if their ancestors are on holiday in Florida?''Then they'll be on the beach,' said Geoff, becoming slightly exasperated.
'What if they forgot their swim-suits?'
* * *
'These suits are ridiculous,' said Rich, holding one up with some effort. 'What if someone sees me?'
'Millions of people are going to see you, Rich,' said Dave bluntly. 'You'll just have live with that.'
'Do we really have to wear these? Couldn't we have brought something better with us?'
'We have to fit in. Don't forget, it's 1969. Clothes were very different back then. If we wear something from the future, we're going to get noticed.'
'Yeah but surely they didn't all wear these. They're just so clumsy.'
'These are all they had, Rich, and it was a long time before the design improved. We don't have any choice.'
'Don't worry, Rich. They won't be able to see your face,' said Jane. 'Lucky them,' she added mischievously.
'OK,' said Dave, taking control, 'As far as I can see it should be fairly simple. We just have to get there and back in one piece.'
'Is that all?' asked Rich, not without a hint of sarcasm.
'Cheer up, Rich,' said Jane. 'All we need is nice weather, split second timing and a little bit of luck.'
'What I need,' said Rich, 'is a drink.'
* * *
'Excellent idea, Mr...' began Eric, taking the whiskey out of the desk drawer. He turned to Commissioner Parker. 'I don't think we ever do find out what Rich's surname is, do we?'
'I don't really care,' said the Commissioner, 'just get that whiskey poured.'
'You can't order me around any more. You've retired.'
'Not until five o'clock tonight. Then I'm, how shall I put it, "out of here".'
Eric sloshed the whiskey into the glasses, dropped a couple of ice cubes into each drink and passed one to the Commissioner.
'Cheers, chief.' The Commissioner downed his drink and replaced the empty glass on the desk. Eric stared at it.
'By five o'clock tonight.' Eric looked at the empty glass and did a swift calculation.
'At that rate I doubt you'll last five minutes, let alone until five o'clock, and I'm not carrying you home.'
'Like I put it, at five o'clock I shall be "out of here". Now pour me another.'
'Only if you promise to drink it slowly.'
'Why this sudden concern for my health?'
'It's got nothing to do with your health and everything to do with my whiskey supply.'
'So,' said Eric, changing the subject, 'what are you going to do with yourself in your old-age then?'
'Less of the old.'
'Sorry chief. But what are you going to do with all that spare time?'
'Well,' said the Commissioner with a sly smile, 'I'll probably do a bit of gardening. There's a hedge in my garden which I think could do with a bit of, how shall I put it, "sculpting".' Eric froze with his glass to his lips. The Commissioner continued regardless. 'I shall probably keep cats, of course. Seven or eight, I imagine. I don't know where I'll keep them all, though. They'll probably just end up roaming round the estate...' Eric gave in and poured another glass of whiskey. Commissioner Parker took it thoughtfully. 'Of course, I could keep gerbils instead.'
* * *
'I wouldn't keep a gerbil in this cage,' whined Rich, 'let alone three human beings.''Two human beings, surely,' Jane corrected him. 'I thought we'd decided that you were something else.' Whilst Rich searched for a suitable response, Dave Brady looked at his watch.
'Time to go. Are you sure you can fly this thing?''Of course I can,' said Jane confidently. 'There's a simulator back home. I programmed it to behave like one of these before we left.''Good work.' He turned round. 'Are you ready, Rich?''Ready as I'll ever be.''Good. Let's go.' Jane worked the controls, sending them on their way.
'How long is it until we get there?''Oh, a while,' said Jane vaguely. 'Just sit back and relax.''How can I relax when I'm dressed like an idiot and I'm sitting in something the size of a shoebox?'
* * *
If there had been a television in his cell, Billy Hilarious would no doubt have shared Rich's sentiments. He sat and watched the wall instead. It wasn't up to much, but it was certainly better than talking to his cell mates.
'So who's running the clubs now, then?' asked Harold.
'My brother's taken over,' said Ernest. 'He said something about putting new carpets in. I think he got some ideas from down South. You know, new designs and that. What about the pubs?'
'Brewery'll find someone else,' said Harold bitterly. 'They won't let the pubs close.'
'Good job too,' said Ernest, 'there'd be a riot.'
Billy put his head in his hands. He didn't know how much more of them he could take. As he despaired, Eric entered the cell block and wandered up to the door.
'Stand away from the door please, Mr Hilarious,' he said. 'Or do you prefer "William"?' Billy glared at him, then got to his feet and pressed himself against the back wall. Eric pointed at the other two. 'The Chief says you two can go home.' They didn't move. 'Go on. Out. Move it.'
Harold and Ernest shuffled uncertainly out of the cell. Eric locked the door behind them and Billy returned to his seat. The two generals peered through the bars into the cell. Harold cleared his throat.
'Can I just say, Mr Hilarious, on behalf of all of us er... that it's been a pleasure working with you.' Billy didn't move. Harold continued uncomfortably. 'So, I suppose that's it then. Goodbye, Mr Hilarious.'
'Goodbye, Mr Hilarious,' mumbled Ernest. They waited for some sort of response, but Billy did not move a muscle. Eventually they wandered away, leaving Billy with Eric.
'I got bored watching "The Paradoxicals",' said Eric conversationally. A pause. 'It is you, isn't it?' Billy said nothing.
'I was eighteen when you "died". It's stayed with me all my life. I always wondered why. And I think I finally understand.' He turned to go and Billy raised his head.
'What do you "understand"?'
'Why the Northerner crossed the road,' said Eric, leaving William Randall alone.
* * *
'I don't see why I have to stay here on my own,' whined Rich.
'There's only room for two people on the next part of the trip,' explained Dave patiently.
'There's only room for one person on this stage, but we still managed to get three in,' Rich argued.
'On top of which,' continued Dave, 'we have to do it the right way to preserve history. That's what we're here for. That's why we're "The Paradoxicals".'
'Yeah, yeah,' said Rich. 'So you and Jane get all the fun and I get to sit here on my own.'
'Look on the bright side,' said Jane cheerfully, 'at least there'll be plenty of room when we've gone.'
'There could never be plenty of room in here.'
'Oh, stop moaning. We'll be back soon.'
'If I ever get home, I'm going to retire.'
* * *
'Mr Jones, I have been the Mayor now for forty-one years. I think it's time I handed over to a younger man. I think you'd be perfect for the job.''I couldn't possibly,' said Dick Jones modestly.
'Nonsense,' said the Mayor, 'there's nothing to it. You just sort of sit in an office and tell people to do things and make decisions. It's easy.''Well, I suppose I could give it a go.''Splendid. I'll tell the council.'
A thought struck Dick Jones.
'Don't I have to get elected or something?''Oh, technically, I suppose so, but we can get round it. I am the Mayor, remember. Now, we'll have to write some sort of speech for your inauguration and for goodness sake make sure you learn it properly. There's nothing worse than forgetting your lines.'
* * *
'Are you sure you know what you've got to say?' asked Jane.
'Of course I know.'
'OK. I'm opening the door.' Dave Brady climbed down the ladder and placed his foot on the floor.
'That's one small step for man...'
* * *
'Oh well, that's the good bit over,' said Derek, 'I suppose I'd better reconnect the telephone.'
'You're too conscientious, squire,' said Alfred.
'If I was too conscientious I'd have left it plugged in all the way through the episode. Plugging it in now is conscientious enough for me.'
He sat back and looked at the aubergine.
'I did all right, didn't I?'
'I'd say you did fairly well, squire. I thought you'd lost it when the ciga-thingy went flying.'
'So did I. I mean, so did Witty Put-Down Man.' He corrected himself, but not fast enough.
'Face it, squire. There's no difference. Even you don't believe it any more.'
'Oh yes I do. If I were Witty Put-Down Man, I wouldn't have turned Lisa down. I can't believe I did that.'
'I can. Like I said, you're too conscientious.'
'Fair enough. Speaking of which, I suppose I ought to call my parents. As far as they know I was lost in the invasion of the Daily Thompson.'
He picked up the telephone and dialled his home number.
'Hello?' answered Deborah.
'Hi, mom,' said Derek.
'Derek, you're all right!'
'Yes mom.' Deborah turned to her husband.
'It's Derek. He's all right.'
'I told you he would be,' said David proudly. 'Did he fight off 'The Comedian's' army single handed?'
'Not quite single-handed,' replied Derek when Deborah had relayed the message, 'I had a bit of help...' He caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye. '... and a mop.'
'As long as everything's all right now,' said Deborah sounding relieved.
'Everything's fine, mom.'
'Good. See you later.'
'Bye.' He put the phone down.
'Everything OK at home, squire?''No problem.'
* * *
'Houston, we have a problem,' said Rich.
'That's another job,' said Jane.
* * *
There was a knock on the door of Derek's office and Andy Moore peered round.
'Hello, Alfred. Derek, can I have a word?'
'Of course. I would invite you in, but it's a bit cramped.' He stood up and walked out of the office.
'Derek,' began Andy, 'following your performance this morning, we've decided to offer you a new job.'
'You're not retiring are you, Alfred?' asked Derek, suddenly concerned.
'Course not, squire. I think they've got something better lined up for you.' Alfred turned away to hide the grin that had appeared on his face.
'Well, what is it then?' asked Derek impatiently.
'We'd like you to go and work in Personnel.'
* * *
'The Paradoxicals' stood in their boss's office, lined up in front of his desk.
'Gentlemen,' their boss was saying, 'I want to thank you for your sterling service today. History has been saved once again thanks to the excellent personnel who make up "The Paradoxicals".'
The theme music started underneath the traditional, deep, heroic voice-over.
'"The Paradoxicals" will return tomorrow, when today will be yesterday. But for "The Paradoxicals", every day is yesterday...' The theme music swelled and the credits rolled.
* * *
'Better get back to work,' said Alfred. He rinsed his mug and left the office. Derek turned the television off and sat down next to his mop. He was just about to say something to it when Lisa walked into the office.
'Lisa! Er... hello.'
'I'm just going for some lunch. Do you want to come?'
Derek swallowed hard. Perhaps Witty Put-Down Man had rejected her for a reason. Perhaps he did know what he was doing after all.
'I'd love to.' He removed his overalls and put his jacket on.
'Where did you have in mind?' he asked as they walked down the corridor.
'Well, I know this secret entrance to the Metroburger in Stanbridge Square...'
Two ghosts watched them go.
'They make a lovely couple,' said the Irish ghost.
'Maybe,' said the English ghost.
'You old pessimist.'
'Maybe,' he repeated. 'How about a sherry?'
'Now that's more like it.'
They faded but, before leaving Sprawling Metropolis altogether, they reappeared on top of the Daily Thompson building, surveying the city.
'What are it's chances?' asked the English ghost.
'It's chances of what?'
'It's chances of becoming a pleasant place to live.'
'Almost nil,' decided the Irish ghost after a little contemplation.
'I quite agree. Such a shame. Still, we've done our bit.'
'We have indeed.'
They started to fade from Sprawling Metropolis for the last time.
'A happy ending?' asked the English ghost.
'The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means,' said the Irish ghost.