This is a traditional opening in all really good stories: Once upon a time the researchers of H2G2 sat behind flickering monitors all across the Globe and began telling a story. A collaborative story, that was built upon the successive postings of different researchers. It was called H2G2 Storytime Some called us fools and mad. Others cried:
'Man was not supposed to meddle in such affairs as these!!'
They may have been right. But here for your delectation the result of that endeavour: committed to memory and then transcribed onto page by an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of keyboards and too much free time.
For a full list of characters and previous chapters go to the h2g2 Storytime
Jill violently pulled out of her swooning state and was hesitating as to what to tell him.
Bob groaned and fell unconscious again.
Just then, two red Royal Mail pillar-boxes came surreptitiously strolling across the lawn towards the motley group of people.
The drunken actors, slowly one by one, stood up and stared mouths agape. A few began shaking their beer cans and peering down the necks of bottles; checking to see how drunk they actually had managed to get.
Hugh stopped in mid-hop with a fish dangling limply from his left hand, his mouth, too, wide open in amazement at the sight of what he was witnessing.
Jill ran and hid behind a bush.
Bob came to for the second time just as....
Arthur Robinson produced a snub nosed automatic from his pocket and pointed it a Hugh Grant's head
'Drop the disguise,', barked X, - 'We know who you really are Hugh, or should I say Richard!'
There were gasps of astonishment as the wig fell to the floor and the actor who had previously been known as Hugh unfurled from his assumed stoop (gaining several feet in height in the process) and was revealed as Richard E Grant - Evil half-brother of Hugh and star of films such as Withnail and I.
'Curses, Arthur!' He cried bitterly. 'How did you know?'
'Before I tell you perhaps we should all sit down in a civilised manner' Arthur gestured to Agent X (who had also shed his pillar box disguise.)
'X, tie everyone up.'
'Bother it Arthur' interjected Agent X as he finished securing everyone and checking them for weapons. Bob, had he been awake and not lying supine and comatose behind the treadmill, would probably have that Jill quite enjoyed this bit. 'You said you weren't going to use my real name' then realising his mistake he shut up and hoped no one had noticed.
Arthur quickly leapt to X's defence (this ought to be worth a pint later, he calculated) continued talking to distract everyone from his partners gaffe.
'Well Richard it was really very simple...'
'We work for Boutros-Boutros Ghali and we have been monitoring you and your group's activities for some time now, Mr Grant.
We arrived here by taxi from Leamington Spa airport. Following leads we have held on our files.
As an international thief, confidence trickster and Master of Disguise, you were relatively easy to trace although we couldn't detect you in this crowd.
Instead we had to lure you out. We had another one of our operatives drop an identical dead, blue fish as the one that the UPS Guy had to contact earlier.
Your reaction gave you away immediately.' finished Arthur smugly.
'Who did this', spat Grant, 'which one of you betrayed me?'
'Agent XXX will you please come forward.' Said Arthur plainly.
Jill stood up and let her bonds slip from her shoulders with a shrug and fall to the ground in an way, that elicited groans from the bound Guild of British Stage and Screen acting talent.
Bob, happily meandering in and out of consciousness grimaced inwardly. He had suspected something like this. He knew only secret agents learnt how to speak German.
'Oh Richard, you big silly, why did you do it, why did you become so evil?' said Jill (AKA Agent XXX) stroking his cheek affectionately.
'If only you knew the power of the dark side...' whispered Grant hoarsely.
'You'll have to come with us,' said Arthur 'the rest of you are free to go. X collect up all of their weapons.'
He inclined his head back at Grant. 'But first Mr Grant, who do you work for? Which shadowy criminal mastermind is behind all of this? Tell me!'
Grant turned. 'I work for...arrrgh!'
Richard E Grant pitched forward into Arthur's arms.
'tOo LaTe, he choked. It hak! HaK! wAs..."
Unseen, some way off and still dazed from the incident with the treadmill, Bob looked on. So, she'd been an agent all along he thought. Typical.
Suddenly, from behind him, came a deafening crack and he saw that bloke from 'How to Get Ahead in Advertising' collapse.
Bob rolled over and crouched on his haunches. He saw a large brown van nose its way out of the park gates. He ran in pursuit but was too late. In the leaf-litter he found a long, heavy rifle with an impressive telescopic sight on it.
When the others found him, he was sat on a tree-stump holding the rifle.
'Bob?' Said Jill.
'Agent X, X... erm, I mean Jill or whatever, look... this isn't what you think.' stammered Bob hurriedly.
Arthur and Agent X approached alongside Jill.
'You killed Richard E Grant!' exclaimed Agent X.
'Me?' said Bob, 'No there was this van... but it was too fast. I found THIS on the ground.'
'An assassin?' said Arthur. 'We must be getting close now. Whoever sent to have Mr Grant killed, must be getting desperate. I'll radio base and ask for more instructions.'
Arthur came back.
'What happens now?' asked Bob.
'We are taking him back to base. Boutros wants to see him personally.'
Meanwhile at the old, abandoned amusement arcade at the edge of town...
A small, hunchbacked clown was slurring his words...
'But Whatsh thad got to do with meesh... I don't care about shome actor guysh pretendin' to bee ovver actor guysh...'
'You don't understand Mr Gonzaroolio,' said a 4 1/2 foot man in a leather trench-coat, 'this is all part of a plan to stop Boutros-Boutros Ghali from destroying our illegal cheese smuggling ring. He has threatened to expose us to the French authorities and we will be ruined forever! I managed to bribe Richard E. Grant with some stupidly expensive wine to try, the others are just extras.'
'Sho, all I have to do ish...'
'- CONFESS!' said Agent X, (using an editing technique utilised to great effect in high-drama episodes of Quincy.)
'Jealous of his growing relationship with Jill and irritated by his unnecessary middle initial, you killed him with a high powered rifle.'
'Don't be ridiculous!' Cried Bob. 'I did no such thing.'
X decided to try and different approach. 'Cigarette?' He suggested.
Bob drummed his fingers on the desk. 'But I don't smoke.'
'Look, I offer you a cigarette and if you sign this confession you get one - that's the 'good cop' thing, in a nutshell.'
'Oh.' Said Bob, more than a little confused. 'No Thanks!' He added cheerfully.
'Nuh-uh.' Said Bob shaking his head.
'What about a Bacon sandwich?' Pleaded Agent X.
'My body is a temple.' Replied Bob with aloof finality.
Exhausted, Agent X stepped out of the interview room where Bob was being urged to admit to the murder of Richard E. Grant, and gestured to Arthur Robinson that he should go in and try the 'bad cop' approach.
Meanwhile, Agent X padded off towards the briefing stage where the UPS guy was at the podium. He took a seat at the back, behind his fellow secret agents.
'Alfredo Matthias Gonzaroolio, other known aliases include Bumpy the Clown. '
The UPS guy was speaking sternly occasionally smacking his pointy stick against the screen behind him. Projected onto that screen was a mug shot of a man in heavy make-up and a huge, curly green wig holding a prisoner number board.
'The word is he's a close surveillance specialist of the old school - A real pro in his day, one of the best. But in recent years he's fallen on hard times and succumbed to alcoholism. Someone is keeping him stocked and getting him to do their dirty work.'
'Why him though, Sir? ' asked Agent Jill XXX from the front row.
'Well he was also a crack sniper in his youth. There were two bullets in that gun. He only fired off one of them. It is possible he was meant to take out Grant and another target as well but was disturbed before he could do so.
Our job is to work out who his other intended victim was before Alfredo attempts another assassination.'
There was now another figure moving onto the podium. A hush fell among the students gathered in The Great Hall.
It was the cryogenically frozen head of Boutros-Boutros Ghali. A white-coated lab official placed the tray, on which the head rested, next to the microphone on the podium so that the Dr. Ghali could address the assembled agents.
'Yes, my students. It is of utmost importance that we resolve this matter quickly.
Do your duty. You have my utmost confidence. Good day to you all... Pick me up please... Thank You...'
As the conference hall began to empty Agent X located Agent XXX at the front.
'Eurrrgh, that never stops freaking me out! - I mean how does a man end up as just a head?' he said to her.
'I don't know. His job as Secretary General of the U.N was merely a front for this operation. What happened after his tenure ended no one really knows. Maybe it has something to do with this Matthias fellow, the clown?', she suggested.
'Come on, lets go back and see how Arthur's doing.', he said.
When they returned to the interview rooms they were surprised to find Arthur waiting patiently outside in the corridor.
'What are doing here?' said Agent X
'They brought him in to see how the interrogation was going.' Said Arthur.
'Who?' said Jill.
'HIM. The... you know.... The Head.' whispered Arthur, 'He said he wanted to ask the prisoner a few questions himself.'
Instinctively all three of them looked at the door.
Meanwhile on the other side of the interview room door....
Boutros Boutros Ghali was asking Bob what he thought of his new sunglasses. 'You don't think they're too wide do you?' he said. 'It's just that I think the staff here just tell me what I want to hear. One of my agents thinks I look like Courtney love in them. I mean have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? What do you think? Be honest.' He looked up at Arthur imploringly.
'Oh no, they... er... look very... er... good on you.' Bob said, hoping he was saying what the very cold looking head on the table in front of him wanted to hear.
'Good that's what I thought.' Said Boutros. 'Now to business. Frankly Bob I don't think you shot Mr Grant but we need to find out who did, and whomever that other bullet was meant for!
Bumpy and who ever he's working with must be stopped!'
'Will you help us Bob? You're the only man we know who can.'
SOME TIME LATER...
From the lofted peak of a disused roller coaster, something moved with a purpose. A variously coloured, Lycra clad figure descended on a silken polymer thread. His garish Red and Blue costume was oddly at home in these surroundings. He crouched on all fours silently and checked all around. His 'spider sense' was no longer tingling.
'Well that's another fine mess you've got me into Stan Lee' he muttered to nobody in particular...
And it is this narrator's humble opinion; that attempting to access the verisimilitude of this statement is actually no-where near as interesting, in almost every important respect, as instead attending to the blasé and cavalier manner in which the thought was uttered. Because, you see, there was somebody.
And their intent was anything but benign.
In fact to describe it as just 'another fine mess' really doesn't do justice to the problem at all...
For indeed, had Spidey's legendary sixth sense been up to speed it would have been flashing green and purple behind his eyelids, cranking up the mental-klaxons and screaming: 'For God's sake, RUN!!!'
In a metaphorical sense.
Agent XXQ (obscure Roman numeral) shed himself of his disguise, and snuck into the shadows of the 'Den of Clownz' smuggling ring.
He stuck close to the wall, ducked under the trucks, moved silently across shadows and between the raindrops. Boutros had selected him personally for this mission. Surveillance, record and report.
Bob had just finished feeding the Fibre-Optic Cable into The Big Tent and fixed it with a small transmitter, when someone struck him from behind with something that was from Agent XXQ's point of view, blunt and briefly very heavy.
As he lay in mud, rain falling onto his face, fading in and out of consciousness. A squat man in a leather coat leered over him and grinned revealing a truly hideous maw bad yellow teeth.
'Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh.', it crooned as Bob's eyes rolled into the back of his head.
Things had just got A LOT worse...
Bob came to slowly. He was in what appeared to be a darkened room and lay on a bed with red satin sheets, lit by a dim red light.
The walls were hung with the same red satin and this was all about, interspersed with mirrors.
Nearby he heard one of those indoor fountains splashing, he quickly decided, in a very monotonous fashion.
A girl appeared suddenly beside him: talk, dark and predatory - perhaps she had been there all the time - She took a glass of brandy in her long red-nailed fingers and lifted his head so he could drink.
Relishing the moment Bob thought, 'Well, this could have been a lot worse'.
'Bob.' The girl whispered his name in a seductive Cuban accent. 'Please believe me. You are safe. I have a message for you.'
'The dying pilchard bleeds under a turquoise moon.'
'This is all I have time to say, I must go now.' she whispered before appearing to melt back through the curtains.
Bob was left alone to his own thoughts. As his faculties returned to him (he had no idea, what on Earth the lady in red had given to him but he reasoned it had done him the world of good and quickly made a mental note to try and find out. Meanwhile he distinguished now a looped playback of the Celine Dion's greatest hits in the background
'This must be an allusion to the dead blue fish from Leamington Spa we found.' He thought to himself.
'Stop!' he called 'Come back!'
But Célines heart was going on and on and on and no-one could have heard him over the din.
He walked over to the water fountain and washed his face in its clear, cool waters and then he quickly unplugged the damn thing because that infernal plunking was worse than Chinese Water Torture.
He wasn't ready to face the world just yet and certainly not that character that had breathed on him so putridly just before he was knocked out. He rummaged around and found the brandy bottle.
He took a slug and straightened his shoulders. Time to go and find the dying pilchard, or whatever waited for him on the other side of those curtains the girl had so seductively slipped through....
On the other side it was dark.
'Hellooo?' Bob called out.
The echo sounded large and empty. He wanted some more of that brandy. He reached inside his pocket, but the bottle was gone. Instead his hand closed around a mobile phone.
'Hello?' said Bob.
'Who's this?' said the voice on the other end.
'Erm... I'm Bob.' Said Bob a little unnerved. 'I think something very strange is happening. I was looking for this woman with red nails and she said:
'The dying pilchard bleeds under the turquoise moon.'
I'm feeling a little giddy to be honest. I don't even own a mobile phone, what is going on?'
The phone was silent. Except that now it wasn't a phone either it was a small blue dead fish.
'Arrgh!' cried Bob dropping it on the floor.
Panic-striken he ran on into the darkness.
'Help me! Please. Somebody help me!!' he shouted.
This time there was no returning echo. Bob thought he heard voices somewhere off in the distance. Yes they were getting closer now.
There was a light...
He opened his eyes and immediately regretted it.
'Ah! Our subject is awake at last.' exclaimed the 4 1/2 foot man in the leather trenchcoat.
Bob could feel his arms tied tightly behind his back. So it had all been a dream.
His face ached all over. That little sneak. He must have caught him a right viscous blow to the temples.
'Where am I? What's going on?' He managed rather hoarsely.
'Your are our prisoner. Bob. Oh yes I know all about you - Boutros's new toy.' said the man.
He leaned over to talk to another man, though leaned is hardly descriptive.
This new character towered over the former like a horribly be-muscled colossus.
Bob could see that he had a face like a cliff: Sheer, deadly and given over to moss.
The man shot a glance at Bob that could have withered spanners.
'You may begin when you are ready Doc-a-tor.' said the Trenchcoat as he walked out of the room, mispronouncing the word with an extra syllable that carried meaning.
'This man is large and violent and well versed in causing grievous and protracted periods of pain for people like YOU and he will start to do unimaginable things if you don't talk NOW!' Is what that extra syllable did.
The doctor walked across the room and brought back a small tray lined with 'instruments', happily just out of sight from Bob. The man, turned around brandishing something awful- he advanced towards Bob holding in his hand something that Bob recognised to be a rather small haddock.
The Doctor brought raised his arm high in the air....
Meanwhile, outside and a short distance away all of The Agents from Boutros's Agency were lined behind the ridge of a hill.
Several had some rather nifty looking night-vision goggles and were busy sweeping the compound. Suddenly one of them threw their arm into the air. They'd spotted some movement inside one of the forward caravans. Someone was definitely in there.
News of Bob's disappearance had been relayed back to Boutros who had ordered his safe return at all costs, so here they all were.
A concentrated hush swept across the body of assembled agents. The order was given and the Agents charged the abandoned amusement park.
At the front of the advancing hoard were Arthur, Agent X, Jill and Bruce (AKA Agent XXXX-he won't give a Castlemaine for anything else.) They sprinted ahead of the main group and broke down the door with an almighty boot to the hinges!
On the other side was a... rather worryingly large... panting... man in a Pink fluffy elephant suit.
It bore around it's neck a sign that clearly indicated that this elephant's name was Herbert and, quite to the astonishment of the assembled agents, Herbert was singing in sweet Irish tones:
went up the all-ey
All the spies behind him
Drinking tots of neat gin
They climbed the roof
They hung from the rafter
Bob got shot
and home did trot
And Jill came tumbling after'
This was clearly far too silly for Arthur and X who arrested him and quickly handed him over to the others for interrogation.
Bob meanwhile was really starting to panic.
After the doctor had slapped him about the chin a couple of times with a slab of cold dead fish, he had placed the haddock back onto the rack and selected instead an old descant recorder and he was attempting to play three blind mice inches away from Bill-Bob's ear.
Bob was secretly mystified why this particular method of torture was being employed when he speculated there were surely many more effective procedures that probably involved being poked or prodded and stretching or worse still fractions.
To be continued...