TSP072: Bad wine

January 21, 2014

“Just take it away.  Get it out of here.  Put it down in the basement with all the others.”  Hadrian covered his face with his hands as he uttered the command, not wishing to get a second glance of the offending bottle.  It wasn’t often that he came across a wine he didn’t like, but tonight was one of those unfortunate occasions.  He’d invited the Simpson-Smythes around for dinner, true, but only out of spite.  And this was their way of getting back at him – clearly they had realised the social summons hadn’t come from the heart, and so in retaliation they had gone out and purchased the cheapest, nastiest, most brutal bottle they could find.  A bottle so foul, so insidious, so deeply desperately vile that it could only have been procured from a terrible, dark corner of the world, like the bowels of a volcano, or the innards of a shark, or the Watford Gap services.

Neil and Patricia Simpson-Smythe sat restless in the grand and spacious conservatory, quietly nervous and loudly flatulent.  Without saying a word, the couple of thirty-five years exchanged thoughts via a psychic connection they’d picked up in Boots for a bargain price.  “He’s been an awful long time,” thought Neil.  “I know,” thought Patricia.  “I wonder what he’s doing,” thought Neil.  “I know,” thought Patricia.  “Um, are you actually listening to what I’m thinking?” thought Neil.  “I know,” thought Patricia.  “OI PATRICIA!” thought Neil.  “Hmmm?” thought Patricia.  “Stay focussed, thought Neil, “We’re here on a mission, remember?”

As the butler left the room, Hadrian dabbed his fingers with a heated towel.  The butler had learned to put up with this bizarre foible of his master’s and bore the warm sensation of the cloth with an incredibly professional fake smile, one he’d learned at Finishing School, in the small Suffolk village of Finishing.  After closing the door behind his manservant, Hadrian strutted over to the bay window and gazed out at the setting sun filtering through the trees, transforming his estate into a Dr Seuss landscape, all pink grass and long shadows.  A cat (no hat) scampered along the patio and into a rosebush.  “Stupid cat,” thought Hadrian.

“Stupid cat,” thought Neil, watching the animal senselessly leap into the thorny shrub.  “He’s not coming out of there without a few scratches.”  “How apt,” thought Patricia…

As aristocratic warlords go, Hadrian was certainly one of the friendlier ones.  But when crossed he became a man who was most definitely dangerous and just a little bit camp.  The slight with the wine was a blatant affront to his dignity, to his empire, and to his pyjamas.  The offenders could not be permitted to get off lightly – they would have to pay.  Financially or psychologically – he didn’t particularly mind which.  He opened the secret drawer in his chaise-longue and extracted his weapon of choice…  A small chunk of Kendal mint cake – which he then ate.

“I still think we should have poisoned the wine,” thought Neil.  “I know you think that, I can think what you’re thinking, remember?” thought Patricia.  “Oh yeah,” thought Neil, “Sorry, I forgot you could do that.”  “Indeed,” thought Patricia, before adding after a short pause, “And who exactly is Henrietta, may I ask?”  Neil reddened, mentally.  “Ah, yes, darling – I’ve been meaning to tell you about that…”

Striding majestically down the stairs, the dinner host mused to himself as to his best plan of action.  The crocodile pit hadn’t been used in a while – it would be great to see all the gang again.  Or there was The Cage – a new acquisition, not yet tested.  Decisions, decisions!

“I think he’s outside in the hallway,” thought Neil.  “How many times – I know you think that, I can think it too, you know!” thought Patricia.  “And besides, stop avoiding the question – why do you need to go to the chiropodist so often.”  “I thought you Patricia – I have terrible feet.”  “But what’s wrong with Mr Arbuthnot, down in the village?  He’s top class, and has excellent ancestry.  Why do you have to pass into town to that… that floozy Henrietta?”  “Careful now Patricia,” thought Neil, “Henrietta is not a floozy – she’s a flautist.  That word doesn’t mean what you think it means.”  Patricia shot him a mental look: “It jolly well does,” she thought.

Hadrian opened the door and waltzed in.  “Well hello again, and may I say once more thank you so much for the wonderful wine.  It will make a most welcome addition to my Chamber of Horrors exhibition downstairs.  And would you look at that!  What a treat you are in store for tonight – such a marvellous sunset.  Step this way please, you can admire the spectacle best from this precise spot here… that’s right, on the big red ‘X’ in the floor.  I marked it out myself with a children’s jumbo chalk so that I would always remember just where the prime viewpoint is for such a marvel of nature.”  Positioning his distracted guests atop the trapdoor, Hadrian pressed the big red button (oh, how he loved the big red button!) and with a satisfying electronic whirr, four tiles slid away and the Simpson-Smythes plunged straight down into the water below.  “Woah!” thought Neil.  “I didn’t bring the right shoes for this!” thought Patricia.

Hadrian’s manic laugh was cut short at the sight of two great reptilian skeletons.  “Sanderson!” he shouted, “When did you last feed the crocodiles?”  Sanderson materialised in the doorway, a trick he was using rather too often since passing his Apparition Test.  “Well, sir, I believe it was when we had the Gordon-Jones’s round for supper last August.”  “They haven’t been fed for nine months?!”  “Well, you haven’t been feeling particularly sociable, sir.”

Hadrian sighed.  He looked down at his guests who looked back at him from a rock in the centre of the pool, cold, wet and shivering.  “Brrrrrrr,” thought Neil.  “I know,” thought Patricia.

“Don’t get too comfortable,” he shouted down to them.  “I’m not done with you yet, traitors.  Sanderson – bring in The Cage.”  “Certainly sir, he’s just having a vermouth.”  Hadrian’s eyes glistened with maniacal glee and a great big tear from a sudden sad thought that he just as quickly packed away in the corner of the brain marked ‘What the heck?’  Neil summoned the courage to speak.  “When you say ‘The Cage’, you don’t mean-”  “Oh yes I do,” sneered Hadrian.  “And what exactly is he going to-”  “Oh, you’ll see soon enough!” snarled Hadrian.  “Yes, I’m aware of that,” said Neil, “but I’d hoped you might make us aware of it now, in advance – you know, just enlighten us a little before the actual event takes place.”

Hadrian sighed again.  “You’re a very boring man,” he said.  “All I will say is that you are about to witness a sterling re-enactment of the entire script from National Treasure.  And then once that is done he’ll move onto National Treasure 2.”  “As in ‘Book of Secrets’?”  “That’s right,” Hadrian grinned, “John Cage will perform both of these in his own inimitable style.”

“You mean Nicholas Cage?” suggested Patricia.  “No, no – John Cage.”  The Simpson-Smythes exchanged looks.  Neil shouted up what they were both thinking: “I think you’re going to be a little disappointed…”


TSP064: Tokyo Oh-No

March 13, 2013

“But I’ve been to Tokyo, like, three times already.”  “And you’ll be going a fourth; now button up and eat your crab sticks.”

Japan had been on Sigurd’s radar for months now and every time he’d made plans to go, something had come up.  Back in May, that volcanic eruption had destroyed his secret lair and he’d had to call off a trip to Kyoto to oversee the renovation work.  The re-scheduled visit – arranged for the August bank holiday – had gone the same way when Sigurd’s father got himself trapped in the freezer section at Tesco in Abingdon.  And the less said about the failed outing to Osaka in November, the better (one thing was for sure – Agnetha would think twice before shopping at a WHSmith store again…).

The city break in Tokyo had been planned in a hurry and Sigurd’s visa had only just come back from the dry cleaners in time.  Now he and Agnetha were at the airport awaiting their flight.  He had managed to keep their destination secret right up until reaching the departures lounge, and even then Agnetha had needed more than just the subtle hints provided by the hordes of Japanese passengers, the troupe of geishas, the trio of sumo wrestlers in ‘full’ garb, and the name of the destination on the wall in four-foot high neon letters.  “What do you mean we’re going to Tokyo?!” she’d said after Sigurd had revealed a tattoo across his chest that said ‘We’re going to Tokyo’.  “But I’ve been to Tokyo, like, three times already.”

Sigurd sighed, explained that this would make it a nice square four and politely requested she hushed a little and finished consuming her overpriced sashimi.  Out of his pocket he produced the maps he’d been poring over for months, the best tourist attractions circled in red fineliner and little stick-pirates drawn in where space permitted.  Donning his spectacles and casually tweaking the next man’s moustache, Sigurd traced a path from the airport to the hotel where they had a reservation for the next two weeks.  Thoughts of the activities lined up over the fortnight brought an evil chuckle forth from his lips – he was especially looking forward to the satellite-mounted death laser workshop on Tuesday, and the seminar on biological warfare at the University was sure to give him some new ideas for world domination.  But although he’d been salivating in expectation of the military robotics exhibition, the highlight of the vacation was definitely going to be the day out at Miniature Goat World – he would have to buy an ice cream, for sure.

“What am I going to do in Tokyo?!” Agnetha blathered, crossing her arms, legs and eyes in an attempt to look put out and mildly deranged.  “The same as everyone,” Sigurd replied, “Go to the shops, sit in on a couple of catwalks, eat lots of fish and play hide-and-seek with self-employed locals dressed as Pokémon.  Anyway, I don’t know why you’re moaning so much – you always say Tokyo’s your favourite city of them all.”  “I was impersonating Michael Mcintyre – it was a joke.”  Sigurd ignored her.  “Well at the very least I thought you’d be happy that I was finally managing to attend the Symposium of Ultra-Evil after all these years.  I mean, come on – I’ve chaired the Committee since the turn of the century and not once have I been able to get to the annual conference.  Finally, this year, all of the arrangements fall into place, I whisk you off for a surprise break in a foreign country which you’ve expressed a fondness for in the past, we’re sitting in the airport with 10 minutes ‘til boarding, I’ve got a chocolate egg in my pocket that I found on the floor and am saving for later, and you decide that now is the perfect time to pour burning oil on my dreams and kick up a fuss?!”  Hurriedly he pulled out his notepad and jotted down ‘Burning oil’ under the heading ‘Home security’.

Agnetha unfolded her arms and smirked.  “Sigurd, you fool – do you really think I’m going to allow you to go to Japan this time, after all the other times I’ve thrown the spanner into the works?”  Sigurd stopped chewing on his calamari and looked into her eyes, confused.  “Sorry, run that by me again?”  Agnetha had a look of pure mastery shining out from her purple irises, and her crooked smile had become more feline without the need for a cat-mouth transplant this time – she was getting good at this.  “You think that all the times you’ve been prevented from going to Japan in the past year you’ve been a victim of accident?  It takes forethought Sigurd – months of scheming and preparation, all carefully calculated and then executed with precision.”

Sigurd blinked awkwardly (and I mean really awkwardly).  “But… it was a volcano!” he stammered.  “How could you possibly mastermind a volcanic eruption?”  “I studied Geography at school, don’t forget,” Agnetha shot back, “and there’s, like, a whole module on natural disasters when you get to GCSE level.  I chose to do my end-of-year project on Montserrat.”  “I don’t know what that is, but I’m guessing it’s a type of rice dish,” hazarded Sigurd.  Agnetha just stared.  “Didn’t you ever wonder what I was doing that time in WHSmith?  Didn’t you think I’d purchased rather more stationery than is healthy for a happy marriage?  Oh, and Sigurd…”  She paused for effect; the sumo wrestler in the seat behind her very visibly scratched his behind, which temporarily distracted her husband just at the critical moment for maximum impact, which was rather a shame as she’d been preparing this speech for ages.  “Sigurd dear,” she leaned in closer…  “I shut your dad in the pizza freezer.”

Suddenly it all became clear.  The books on plate tectonics casually strewn around the apartment they shared, the constant cutting out of WHSmith vouchers from the newspapers, the trail of frozen peas and baby carrots that led from Tesco back to her abandoned burnt-out car.  A master of evil Sigurd may well have been, but his attention to detail up to now had been somewhat lacking.  “And now,” Agnetha rallied, her enthusiasm rising in a crescendo, “I think you’ll find that the 1535 flight to Tokyo is cancelled.”  Sigurd had just enough time to glimpse Agnetha depressing a button on the side of her wristwatch before the room turned white and the buzzing filled his ears…

Too many people ask too many questions.  It follows naturally – think about it: if people ask questions, then too many people ask too many questions.  QED.

Similarly, if you had exactly the right amount of people, you’d have exactly the right amount of questions.  Perfect.  Everyone’s happy – you’re on to a winner.

It’s the same with cress.

Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked.  As established at the beginning of this eulogy, too many people ask too many questions.  Jacob was a good man – generally – when he felt like it – but boy was he one of those people who ask too many questions.  “Why is my tofu on the roof?  Who shaved the hamster?  Can I borrow your lawnmower?  Do you know a good place to repair a broken lawnmower?  You don’t really want me to pay you for it, do you?  What do you mean ‘Yes’?  What are you doing with that toasting fork?  Can I pay you in currencies superseded by the Euro?  Can you give me a week to find the money then?  Will you at least tell my family I’m being kept in your cellar?  When will you bring me some food?  Do you mind if I use one of these boxes as a lavatory?  Did you mean the one marked up as ‘CDs’ or the one that’s actually got CDs in?  Do you mind if the Ziggy Stardust booklet is a little on the soggy side?  Why are you looking at me like that?  Can you loosen these cords a bit?  But you’ll release me soon, yes?  Well, will you at least do my eulogy?”  Questions, questions, questions!  All the blinking time!  I know Maureen’s always thought the same – they say that it’s the wife that talks your ears off, but goodness me if Jacob didn’t know how to talk for Hampshire!  Probably that last week of Jacob’s life, wherever he may have been before they found his DNA in that beef-processing plant, must have been one of the most peaceful of your life Maureen…  She’s nodding.  Those of you at the back who can’t see – she’s nodding.  Yes, and she’s smiling now; there’s a little smile going on – she knows it’s true!

Now, of course, Maureen has a lifetime of peace stretching out before her.  The life insurance will pay out in a month or two, and then she’ll be able to marry again.  Of course, she doesn’t want to be thinking about that now, at her husband’s funeral – which is why I proposed to her on the day the police broke the news to her; leaves the burial day kind of special really doesn’t it?  No, today is a day for Maureen and for Jacob’s family and friends and for anyone who used to count Jacob as a friend but really found that lately he’d begun to grate on him… or her… and so felt that the time had come to take matters into his – or her – own hands and dispose of him in that mincer… today is a day for all these people to share their precious memories of Jacob, as he was… before he ended up in that supermarket own-brand lasagne.  People often said that there was a little bit of Jacob in all of us – well, after the barbecue that follows this service there very well may be!

But what would Jacob say if he was here today, looking out at all these people, here to give him a warm send-off or make sure he’s definitely gone and out of their lives for good?  Well, I’m pretty sure that if he’d had some last words in life, they’d have probably been along the lines of “You’ve been such a good friend to me – where did it all go wrong?”  Because lots of people were good friends to Jacob, close to him – yet for some reason he’s not here with us, sharing this occasion today.  Well, obviously he’s with us, but he’s not ‘with us’ with us, in the sense of standing at the back after arriving inconveniently late – as usual – looking on at his body in a casket.  Like I say, something must have gone wrong – and that something was death.  For some reason that nobody can possibly know, something went wrong with Jacob’s body and it gave up the fight for life.  Maybe it was stress, maybe it was a mental illness, or maybe it was a toasting fork…  I mean, a toes… infection.  I understand that the medical reports produced by my good friend Jimmy up at the lab – hello Jimmy, good to see you – proved utterly inconclusive, so Jacob’s official cause of death of ‘A mystery’ looks likely to stay that way.

It’s a sad day, but it’s also a happy day.  Jacob wouldn’t want us all to be sad – he’d want us to smile, and to laugh manically…  I mean, happily.  He’d want us all to remember him very rarely, and to move on and not tell the police about anything suspicious we saw at someone’s house when we came to call unexpectedly and might have peeked through a basement window and been pretty appalled at the scene.  He’d want us to keep our mouths tightly shut and not ask questions – because Jacob asked enough questions for everybody, and that’s the way he liked it to be.

Thank you all for coming.  Now excuse me, Maureen and I have a plane to catch.  Very quickly.

‘Beware!’ read the sign on the cliff top.  John approached it with caution, prepared to leap away at the first sign of real danger.  Kestrels had been spotted in the area recently – great big ones, covered in hooks – and John wasn’t keen to fall foul of a hungry giant bird of prey; it certainly wasn’t on his bucket list.

The rain had been beating down since four in the morning, and now that the sun had set the wet conditions were adding yet further peril to the situation.  John peered through the darkness, wiping the water from his glasses only for it to be replenished by a fresh squall an instant later.  Frustrated by not being able to see clearly, John reasoned that he might as well just close his eyes and hope for the best, trusting his path across the cliffs to fate…

Eight days later, friends and family of the late John Agincourt shared their memories of him across the buffet of salmon sandwiches, celery sticks and marinated chicken legs.  “I just can’t understand it,” exclaimed his widow Busby.  “I mean, what was he even doing out there, on the cliffs, late at night, in a storm, wearing my pyjamas and holding the Bayeux tapestry??  It just doesn’t make any sense!”

“Bus, listen – John wasn’t the kind of man to do things irrationally,” reassured her milkman, Derek.  “Believe me – in all my years of knowing John through the amateur butterfly collectors’ society there wasn’t a single occasion where he took an action without first sitting down, pondering it over and writing about it to the Observer.”

“Even his proposal?”

“Even that.  Hundreds of thousands of newspaper readers up and down the country knew he was going to ask for your hand in marriage before you did.  Several of them wrote back to congratulate him; one man offered to marry you himself so that John wouldn’t have to ruin the rest of his life.  He touched so many people’s hearts.”

“Thanks…  I guess…” Busby mused.  “But I keep asking myself: why?  Why wasn’t he asleep in bed?  Why couldn’t he find his own pyjamas?  Why was a relic of the Norman conquest found wet and sopping on a cliff top in West Sussex”

“That’s because it was raining.  Things left out in the rain get wet.”

“That’s not what I meant…”

Two weeks after John’s demise, Derek found himself pacing through the knee-high grass overlooking the Channel, re-enacting the events of that fateful night.  This was the spot where John fell to the ground; this was the place where the escaped crocodile stared him in the face; this was the point that the angry fisherman leapt up out of the blackthorn bush and speared the hungry lynx; this was where Sir Alex Ferguson turned up and then immediately went home after realising he hadn’t flushed the loo – all of the events were falling into place.  It was only a matter of time before it all became completely clear.  Spotting a glint in the grass, Derek bent down to retrieve what could prove to be the missing link in this scattered sequence of events.

A Star Bar wrapper…  The evil was screaming out.  But how did it connect with the heron, the two tonnes of raw silicon ore and that maternity dress that Derek had already linked to his friend’s departure from this life?  The dairy employee scratched his beard and then that of his accompanying police escort, who seemed to like it.  Although his day job generally involved merely the delivery of moo juice, bread and a limited variety of poor quality local cheeses, in his spare time Derek was also a very capable criminologist, able to infiltrate the mind of the average bottle thief, and – therefore – the perpetrators of most felonies (except ballet sabotage).  This personal puzzle was testing his investigative powers to the max.

He turned to the constable.  “I give up,” he said.  “I just can’t work this one out.”

“But Mr Fossil,” the officer implored, “You have real insight not just into the crime scene here but also into the personal life of the deceased.  If anybody’s perfectly placed to solve this case, it’s Michael Parkinson – but he’s not available, so you’re the next best thing.”

Derek breathed in deeply, his chest swelling with confidence.  “You’re right,” he exuded, “Michael Parkinson would be the ideal person to investigate, but I’m happy to give it a shot.”  The policeman beamed.  Derek continued, “This perplexing riddle has to have a solution – that’s part of the essence of a riddle, right?”  The policeman didn’t know so he just nodded like a dog trapped in a lift.  “Every problem has a solution – you just need to lace it all together with an enormous metaphorical crochet hook and turn it into a formidable doily.  And I’m the man who can do it.”

The policeman pretty much clapped.  “Well sir, what do you need from me to be able to solve this?”

Derek thought for a moment.  “Hmmm…  Get me a Lamborghini, six million dollars in cash and two weeks in Hawaii and I think I’ll be onto something…”

TSP047: Law and disorder

February 15, 2012

“Number 3.”

“You’re sure that’s the man who attacked you?”

“Yes, I’d recognise that smirk anywhere.”

“Number 3 is a cactus, dear.  The boys put that one in for a laugh.”

The prosecution paused the footage and addressed the tribunal.  “As you have all seen, Police Chief Gundursson – who today stands before you accused of running a loose ship at the Lower Fitston officers’ post – was not only party to the misdemeanours of his unruly squad of detective inspectors but wholeheartedly endorsed them, on some occasions even instigating the pranks in the first place.  Exhibit E – photographic evidence of Chief Gundursson lacing the coffee of an arson victim with an unspecified white powder, possible narcotic.”

“Objection your honour; this picture clearly shows my client adding sugar to the drink upon request.  The recently homeless lady liked her hot drinks sweet and my client was merely complying with her tastes in heated beverages.”

“Objection overruled,” announced the judge, “Nobody puts sugar in coffee – at least not in my house.  It must be drugs.  Mr Prosecution, please proceed.”

The prosecution shot a smug wink at the defence, who in return etched a rude piece of graffiti on the tabletop accompanied with the name of his law court nemesis, certain that it would one day aid his slow but sure revenge.  “Furthermore, I hold here in my hand Exhibit G – a tattoo given by Chief Gundursson to a drunkard spending the night in the cells.”

“Objection your honour – the prosecution has skipped Exhibit F, which as we all know is a federal offence in its own right.”

“Objection overruled,” growled the judge, “The prosecution is clearly dyslexic, and besides, that rule is only in active use in Chelmsford.”

The prosecution flashed a smarmy grin at the defence, who in return googled ‘How to frame a fellow lawyer for treason’ and began collecting hairs from the courtroom floor, hoping that one of them might contain the DNA required to put his new plan into action.  “And if you all cast your eyes at the ceiling you will see an old cinema reel of Charlie Chaplin as a police officer who locks up a herd of goats in a recently recovered stolen vehicle in order to shock the owner upon its collection.  Admittedly, this is not something that Chief Gundursson has carried out up until this moment in time, but I can see in his eyes that he’s now seriously thinking about it.”

“Objection your honour – as any qualified general practitioner or carpenter can profess, my client’s eyes were replaced in 1990 in a piece of pioneering surgery and therefore the eyes in which the prosecution can see said intent are not technically his own.”

“Objection sustained.”

“Fine,” grumbled the prosecution, “but you can’t deny that he is very fat.”

“Objection your honour.”

“Objection overruled – Chief Gundursson is clearly bordering on the morbidly obese.  I mean, just look at that belly.”

“Your honour, I must protest-”

“NO YOU MUSTN’T, MR DEFENCE.  You could very easily not protest – no one is holding you to do so.  Now sit down and finish your colouring-in while Mr Defence sums up.”

This was the moment when events took a very unexpected turn.  First of all, Mr Prosecution held his colouring-in aloft and tore it in two, straight down the middle.  The shocked and appalled audience (those that hadn’t fainted with fright, at least) were then even further shocked and appalled as Hulk Hogan ran into the room shouting ‘Sanctuary!’  At this the magistrate stood up and rent his robes in despair.  “I CANNOT WORK LIKE THIS!  Every day, this one-time champion of the American wrestling world runs in here at a crucial moment, and every day I ensure that the men responsible for security are retrained to cope with the situation, AND YET IT STILL HAPPENS!!  Mister Hogan…” – at this he stared straight at the moustachioed muscleman, who gazed back at him with a look of love in his pretty little eyes – “Please explain to me once and for all – how do you keep getting in here?!”

The Hulk moseyed over to the judge’s desk and plonked a hefty-looking document onto the heavily polished (and twice recycled) surface.  “This here is a manual outlining all of my best infiltration plans.  Have a read some time.”

“Fine, I will,” retorted the judge, and so he did.  After a couple of hours everybody was starting to get a little tired of waiting for the case to resume.  The prosecution cleared his throat hopefully, “Erm, your honour – can we continue with the case yet?”

“Hush please, I’m busy.”

“But your honour – we’re in the middle of the case against Chief Gundursson…”

“Oh yes, of course” – BANG – “Case dismissed.”

“Objection your honour!”

“Objection overruled, and don’t interrupt my reading again because I’m having to concentrate really jolly hard here and you’re putting me off.  Who knew that Hulk Hogan wrote in flipping shorthand…”

TSP038: The empty flat

October 18, 2011

Burglars.  While Steve had slept (unusually soundly and with dreams of Eric Morecambe actually in Morecambe – even vividly portraying the streets of the Lancashire town in amazingly accurate detail despite never having seen, visited or particularly cared about it) burglars had crept into his flat unannounced and pilfered all of his possessions.  Not just the big ones, like the TV, the writing desk and the nuclear submarine, but also the small ones like cleaning products, lost plectrums and Hendrix-autographed Sylvanian Families toysets.  Oh, and his wife.

A loud buffeting snore from beside him suddenly reassured him that his spouse had in fact survived the night-time raid.  This was some consolation at least.  Steve sat upright in the bed for a while, surveying the bare and empty room around him.  Until a short time ago this had been the master bedroom; now, however, minus its usual furnishings it seemed somewhat undeserving of the title, Steve felt – even though the two main components that lent their names to these quarters (namely the bed and the master) were both still present.

It was whilst ruminating on these thoughts that Steve suddenly arrived at a shocking realisation – there had never been any burglars.  No thieves could possibly have pulled off such a heist – from where he sat, Steve’s eyes (usually razor-sharp to the point that blinking would cause his eyelids to bleed) could make out no fingerprints on the walls, no disturbances in the soft layer of leg hair that adorned every floor in his apartment, and no DNA upon the carpet that did not belong to him, his wife or their friend Boris.

Of course – Boris!  Astounded at the stupidity he’d shown when leaping to such an erroneous and unlikely conclusion, Steve now realised that the disappearance of all his belongings (Boeing 747 and all) must of course be the work of his close personal friend (and advisor) who had recently mastered the Force and was now able to levitate objects from where they stood and out of the window to another location.  All he had to do was get up from the bed, look out of the window and who would he see out in the street?  Why, Boris of course – and with all of Steve’s worldly goods too.  Chuckling to himself at his previous gullibility, Steve reached for his mobile phone to send his amigo a red-faced text.

But his phone wasn’t there.  Of course it wasn’t, there was nothing in the entire property (apart from Steve, the bed and ‘her indoors and fast asleep’).  But everybody knew that mobile phones were exempt from the Force – Nokia had made sure of that when they’d developed all of their models – so it couldn’t have been Boris after all… unless he’d used the Force on everything else and then just put a fishing rod through the open window to fetch the final item… but that was also impossible because Boris was allergic to fish or anything with the word ‘fish’ in its name (like selfishness).  So what could it have been?

Termites!  Killer termites from the future with jaws of steel and appetites to rival the Cookie Monster had somehow found a hole in the space-time continuum that just happened to bring them out into this particular dimension and this particular building, and they had taken advantage of their luscious surroundings and devoured everything in sight (well, you would, wouldn’t you?)  A low probability of occurrence admittedly, but still not necessarily impossible.

Hang on – those nuns!  Yes, those nuns had been looking quite shifty when they’d been out in town collecting for some orphanage or weapons factory or something.  Maybe they weren’t really nuns.  Maybe they were aliens from a distant planet that could bend the very rules of our reality to move objects in ways that only a really perverted mind could imagine.

Or the rapture!  That famous furniture rapture spoken of in the Bible.  What did it say?  “One shall be standing still, storing T-shirts and odd socks in its drawers and another shall be taken up…”  It had come to pass!

Oh hang on, Steve thought.  We’re moving house – we packed everything up and took it all to our new place in Oxford yesterday – remember?  We had fish and chips down by the canal, and threw rocks at old people?  Of course… so that’s why there’s nothing left here any more!  A perfectly innocent explanation and nothing to worry about…

When Steve’s slumbering wife eventually came to the pair of them had one quick final sweep around the flat, closing each door one by one, sealing off each compartment that had played host to so many stories in the past two years.  Parties and meal-times, visitors and laughter; recuperation from injuries, days sick off work; smiles and happiness and sunsets and bird feeders; film evenings, crochet and Friday night TV; and, of course, a green woolly dinosaur named Nicholas.

Crossing the threshold one final time they closed the door, turned the key and drew a line underneath a chapter in their lives together.  Then they got into the car, closed the door, turned the key and began writing the first page of the next…

The flea circus was a hit.  Insects of all kinds had come from miles around to pack out the amphitheatre (i.e. the upturned Quality Streets tin languishing on a public tip in the outskirts of Warminster) night after night for the whole of its 18-day run.  And tonight, the final performance of the current tour, was no exception – all around the empty chocolate vessel houseflies sat side-by-side with their larvae, red ants sat hand-in-hand-in-hand-in-hand-in-hand-in-hand with their loved ones, and a party of rowdy bugs jostled one soon-to-be-wed generously-mandibled beetle (yes, it was a stag).  All around the octagon were crane flies and dragonflies, woodlice and head lice, ladybirds and blackbirds…

Wait a minute – blackbirds?!?!

Pandemonium broke out as the huge wingéd beast trilled loudly and began a devastating assault on the assembled crowd.  Pecking wildly here and there, there and here, left a bit, left a bit more, up a bit, a bit more, that’s right just there, that’s the spot… it ran amok among this veritable feast.  With one fell swoop a locust was decapitated, with another a stick insect lost a leg, with a third an earthworm was splattered against the wall, the sight of the gore causing a whirligig beetle to scream like it had never screamed before, running round and around in panicked circles until it too was floored by a thrust of the beak.  Not quite dead it stared upward at its assailant and choked out the question that all bugs present wanted to ask: “How did you get in here?”  The blackbird sneered in a way that betrayed an unhappy childhood, “Simple.  A friend of mine snuck me in on a guest ticket.  That’s right,” he added, as the whirligig raised his antennae in surprise, “It was an inside job.  Didn’t see that one coming, did ya?  There’s a mole in your circus and you never had a clue… and now it’s too late.  Prepare to get pecked clumsily to something almost resembling death…”

“Wait!” shouted the whirligig in the nick of time; the blackbird pulled up mid-peck to listen.  “There’s a mole in the circus?!  Like a great big mole?!  With claws and a nose and blindness and…”  “No, you idiot,” roared the bird, “Not a literal mole – like espionage: a mole.”  The whirligig shook his head.  “I don’t understand,” he said, “Why would a mole be involved in espionage?”

The blackbird rolled his eyes.  “Look,” he sighed, “’Mole’ is just a technical term used in espionage to mean somebody on the inside of a group or organisation who brings it down from within.  It doesn’t have to be an actual mole with velvety fur and a stubby little tail and bad breath…”  “It doesn’t have to be a mole, but it could be a mole…” interrupted the beetle, starting to regain feeling in his thorax after the violence and hoping to buy enough time for the venue to clear of innocent bystanders.  Out of the corner of his eye he spotted a slug speeding as fast as she could towards the exit with tears in her eyes, the teardrops moving more quickly than her body – she was going to be a while; the whirligig reckoned he’d probably settle for getting everyone else out at least – hey, he thought, you have to make some sacrifices in this situation.  The blackbird was in full flow.

“Well yes, it could be a proper mole, but they’d be under suspicion right from the start because of their unfortunate name so you’d have to be a pretty rubbish spymaster to employ a genuine mole to be your mole – I mean, just think about it – they’d be the first person everyone would point the wing at wouldn’t they?  No, you’d be much better off going for someone much less actually-named-‘mole’ like a gnat, or a mosquito.  Anyway, you’ve distracted me long enough.  Prepare to-“  “A mosquito you say?”  The whirligig stared at his attacker with a look that positively bordered on accusation.  “That’s a funny example to come up with off the top of your head.  Not got any reason for saying… ‘mosquito’… have we?”

The blackbird visibly began to sweat.  “Look guv, you’re not in a position to be asking the questions here.  As far as I’m concerned, regardless of my methods my mission here tonight has been a success.  This is a great day for the Blackbird Brotherhood; we have struck fear and awareness into the hearts of our many insect foes…”  “With a little help from a mozzie…”  The whirligig’s well-timed jibe had the desired effect.  The bird showed very definite signs of breaking down – his collapse was inevitable now…  “Now, see here!” it screeched.  “That mosquito played a part, yes – a very small part, mind – but it’s me that’s the big nacho here.  I’m the criminal mastermind; I’m the master terrorist.  Marco’s involvement was trivial and once I was inside-“  “Marco?” interrupted the whirligig, “How very interesting…”

The blackbird almost exploded with rage.  “Shut up!  Just… shut up!  You… you… beetle-thing, you.  I  have outsmarted you and all those other bugs.  My brain is about… four times bigger than yours-“  “Probably larger than that, to be honest.”  “Silence!”  A strange stillness punctuated the exchange.  The entire tin was empty now, except for the two opponents and the hysterical slug, still chugging along in the general direction of the egress after a minor foray back to her seat to collect a forgotten purse.  “You have spoken your last.  Prepare to-“

What happened next happened so fast that nobody present could accurately describe the exact sequence of events, especially not the slug, for whom the pace of it was something that could only be dreamed of.  Seemingly out of nowhere the whirligig produced a cat that leapt upon the blackbird, killed it outright and carted it off to a nearby house to deposit the broken body on the brand new cream carpet in its owner’s lounge.  The welcome sound of wings met the beetle’s antennae as he rose to his feet in time to see the buzz arrive – three wasp officers and their detective insector.  Re-holstering his sting, the chief made his way over to the whirligig with an outstretched hand.  “Good work Wirral.  Looks like your smart actions prevented this massacre from being really quite bad.  I mean, seriously – it could have been really, really naff.  The force owes you on this one.”

Wirral dusted himself off and waved away the plaudits with humility.  “If I’d been truly successful, nobody would have died.”  With these words he cast a poetic eye over the corpses of the locust, the stick insect, the earthworm and the slug, which had by now died of dehydration after the salted circus snacks eaten during the interval caught up with her.  “I hate it when bugs have to die – good honest bugs.”  His voice cracked.  “It just isn’t fair…”

The wasps stayed still a moment to allow the epic deepness of his words to resonate around the confectionery canister.  At last (after an awkwardly long amount of time) the whirligig snapped straight back into action.  “Okay chief, we need to clean this up; we need pathologists, we need forensics.  We need to write letters to the families of the victims and then we need to gorge ourselves upon their rotting corpses.  Oh, and while we’re at it – I think I got a lead.  A name – Marco.  A mozzie.”  The chief openly whistled, “That’s a very useful piece of information.  I mean, really quite usable – it could come rather in handy…”

The whirligig smiled mysteriously.  “I dare say it could, chief.  Hopefully, together, we can wipe out this fundamentalist behaviour once and for all.  Next stop – the mosquito!”

“Because the jelly bean was poisoned!”  The jury gasped in astonishment at this revelation escaping the lips of the lawyer for the prosecution, Mr Harvard Curryhouse.  Curryhouse gazed smugly around the courtroom, knowing that this case was as good as won and that he had now thoroughly cemented his name as being that of the top lawman in Western Coventry.  The babble of voices excitedly devouring this bolt from the blue showed no signs of abating, the journalists in attendance busily scribbled down the lawsuit’s finer details at a quite unnecessary pen-on-paper decibel level, and the loud plastic clinks emanating from the seventeen coincidentally simultaneous games of Connect 4 that had broken out added yet more noise to the hubbub.  “Order, please,” yelled the judge as he banged his face repeatedly on the table.  “We must have order for this case to continue.”  Appalled by the magistrate’s now bloodied visage, the crowd gradually fell silent as one by one their attention returned to the matter in hand – the disgraceful embezzlement of £14 million by an employee of the Happy Shopper in Dudley.

“Mr Prosecution-” the judge began.  “No, your honour, it’s ‘Curryhouse’.”  The bewigged arbiter frowned as he replied: “I am very aware of your correct surname, just as I am aware that the Earth goes round the sun, mice are rather partial to a good hunk of gorgonzola, and mint imperials make excellent false eyes for blinded cats.  However, within the confines of my courtroom I will use the correct term as outlined in The Magistrate’s Book of Rules, Volume 80, Now That’s What I Call Penury.  And you, good sir, will like it or lump it.”  Curryhouse actually rather liked it but was afraid to reveal his true feelings for fear of seeming too forward.  “Now Mr Prosecution – that’s you Mr Curryhouse – please sum up your case.”

Curryhouse leapt up with unadulterated joy and faced the audience, half of whom were now gathered around a Scalextric track and placing bets on when the next crash would occur at the cross-over.  “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness the bringing to justice of Mr Barker, the defendant” – he motioned towards the box wherein Barker sat hoping that this whole spectacle would soon end so that he could grab a bite to eat – “The evidence presented to you today is almost impossible to refute.  As has been noted already, Mr Barker was the only member of staff at the Dudley Happy Shopper with the means to remove the money bags from their storage space, due to his extreme shortness and the fact that no other member of staff could bend down to reach the low cabinet on account of their susceptibility to sudden debilitating back pain.  Let it be told also that Mr Barker had not just the means to do so, but the opportunity as well, since between the hours of 6 and 7pm he would station himself in the money storage room, alone, with the door firmly locked.  What’s more, it cannot have escaped your attention that Mr Barker here had the motive, being horrendously underpaid for his work as the store’s pest controller… which all culminates in one solid case against the defendant, proving his crime, and which – I am sure you will agree – deserves nothing less than the most extreme punishment permitted for theft… death by lethal injection and a ban from any form of afterlife.  Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls – you’ve been wonderful and I’ve been Harvard Curryhouse.  Goodnight!”

Two people clapped; one of them was Curryhouse himself, the other was on day release from a local secure psychiatric ward.  Everybody else was immersed in a game of human Battleships, sitting in rows and falling dramatically to the floor if part of a successfully hit ship section.  One newspaper journo made an extra note on his pad: “Broccoli – remember to get broccoli.”  The judge turned his attention to the defence lawyer and invited him to take the floor…

“Your honour, my lords and ladies, Barry Chuckle” – he winked towards the shorter of the two comedic brothers – “and… Paul Chuckle…” – narrowing his eyes, he shot the elder sibling a look of pure hatred, which was returned in modified form with an additional hand gesture.  The feeling was clearly mutual.  “You have heard a right load of rubbish this afternoon.  My job here is to implore you not to condemn poor Mr Barker here to his death, because Mr Barker cannot possibly have embezzled £14 million from the Dudley Happy Shopper… because Mr Barker is a dog.

“Yes, Mr Barker is the right height to carry out a raid at ground level, but any human can stoop to the floor to purloin a purse, enduring a fleeting moment’s back pain for the promise of financial gain.  Yes, Mr Barker is regularly alone in the cash room for an hour each evening, but that’s because he is locked in the room by Mr Ahmed, his owner, so that Mrs Ahmed can enjoy the Antiques Roadshow on Yesterday in peace.  Yes, Mr Barker is horrendously underpaid for his pest control work – each day he receives but one walk and a single Bonio – but in all honesty he doesn’t realise this.  I mean, just look at him – he’s oblivious to everything going on around him…”

At this the thirteen jurors (two were conjoined twins) turned to see Mr Barker sitting quietly, tongue lolloping out of his panting mouth and tail wagging away with glee.  Such an adorable sight brought a unanimous ‘Aaahh’ from the assembly.  Curryhouse broke out into a sweat, fearing that this case was crawling out of his grasp.

“Look at his eyes!” Curryhouse shouted.  “They look like Satan’s eyes!”  All eyes (including Satan’s) turned to Harvard Curryhouse and frowned.  The hotshot lawyer quailed under their glances, tried to look away and eventually just ran over to a window and jumped right through it with a crash of glass and an unearthly scream, hoping to end it all.  However, as the courtroom was on the ground floor, all that happened to Curryhouse were a few grass stains from the verge on which he landed.

In his absence the judge spoke out.  “Well I for one think it’s pretty clear that Mr Barker is just a dog and can’t possibly have done this.  Jury, do you need any time to consider?”  Twelve heads shook from side-to-side and the one that didn’t tried to start a fight with the nearest naysayer, only to find out that punching them squarely in the chest caused himself a lot of pain too.  One member of the panel rose.  “We find the cute little puppy… erm, I mean, the defendant… not guilty.  And soooo cuddly!  Come here boy; come here Mr Barker you lovely little doggy, you.  Come here to your mummy.  A-whoozhy-woo.  A-whoozhy-whoozhy-woo.  Lovey lovey love love…”

Silencing the cooing juror by throttling her (which met with great cheers) the judge granted Mr Barker his freedom.  “Let it be known that this court hereby finds Mr Barker not guilty of embezzlement and orders the lawyer for the prosecution to pay costs towards Mr Barker’s legal bill, a peace-offering crate of Pedigree Chum and the broken window, and also to serve my time in jail for strangling that really annoying woman.  Court dismissed.”

One-by-one the crowd dispersed, happy that the tiny weeny puppy had been spared a horrid execution – none more happy, of course, than Mr Barker himself, who lingered until he was alone in the room, before breaking out into a cackling laugh that grew and grew in volume, and reverberated off the high walls until the sound rose to a crescendo and filled the courtroom with an evil guffaw worthy of Timmy Mallet himself.  He was free, cleared of all charges, and what’s more he had £14 million to burn and a devious plot to overthrow the Queen to put into action at last…


May 3, 2011

The clock struck midnight and a heavily-built man fell through the roof and into the cavernous room wherein Leon and his penguin posse were sitting.  With a cruel sneer and a slightly camp stroke of his favourite’s beak the criminal mastermind peered into the eyes of his intruder and carefully enunciated, “Ah, Mr Shropshire – I wasn’t expecting you… until quarter past.”  He laughed an evil laugh, which appeared to confuse the recently-plummeted man who was now dusting off his hat, coat and kazoo.

“I’m not sure what the evil laugh’s for boss…” replied Leon’s henchman Cushelle, unavoidably showing his frustration at having to purchase yet another new kazoo as a result of a clumsy entrance – this one (which he had christened ‘Barry’) was most definitely beyond saving.  He resumed: “and especially after I bought you flowers yesterday.”  A huge bouquet of roses and dandelions dominated the mahogany desk in Leon’s otherwise dark and dingy lair, adding a sense of light and a dash of chic to what would normally be a rather overpowering – but undoubtedly evil – black and chrome colour scheme.  Although the gift had originally been quite a nice surprise the evil genius was getting a bit tired of having to extract his seven penguins from within their bounteous depths (for some reason they loved nothing better than eating the Oasis block at the centre).

“For your information,” intoned the crooked felon, “the evil laugh was a practice one – you know as well as I do that the Bath Laugh Marathon is coming up next Saturday and I am woefully – and I mean woefully – underprepared.  I need to squeeze in every ounce of training that I can get.”

“Be that as it may,” his plaster and cobweb-covered minion responded, “I think you could have picked a better moment to direct a guffaw in my direction – that,” Cushelle asserted, pointing at the now perforated ceiling, “really smarted, I’m quite embarrassed and you know how sensitive I am,” before quickly adding: “Please don’t tell my sister – she’ll be ever so mean to me.”

“Focus!” Leon cried.  “You are aware I suppose that everything depends on next Saturday, aren’t you?  All of our plans for world domination depend on my romping to success in this evil laughathon and anything that might stand in my way must be eliminated.”

“Does that go for the other entrants, my liege?” asked Cushelle, with a curtsey.

“Of course not, don’t be a fool!” shouted Leon, throwing the nearest object (which happened to be a penguin) at his loyal apostle.  “This is a contest that must be won fair and square!  Nothing says ‘evil genius’ like winning a tournament by playing by the rules.”

Cushelle scratched his potato of a head in a way that said ‘I’m not sure I understand.’  “I’m not sure I understand,” he said.  “Surely that’s the opposite of evil?”

“No you blundering oaf!” bawled the wicked crook, flinging another penguin at his second-in-command.  “The opposite of evil is fish.  Everybody knows that!”  Leon shook his head in despair, his hands over his eyes and his feet over his navel.  “Anyway,” he resumed, “did you find what we were looking for in the roof?”

“Right here.”  Cushelle held aloft a dog-eared scrap of paper, impaled upon his hook (he’d lost a hand in a swimming accident when trying to get his 10m badge – he didn’t like to talk about it).

“Read it to me!”  The order was barked.

“Sir!” the faithful follower saluted and obeyed, taking a sly sip of his lemon and bilberry infusion (caffeine-free).  “‘Sponsor form for the Bath Laugh Marathon.  Sponsor: Cushelle.  Amount: £2-’”

“Two pounds?!  Is that all you were willing to sponsor me for?” the mad outlaw exclaimed.

“In fairness that’s a month’s salary, your holiness.”

“Goodness, you’re still getting time and a half?  That needs amending.  Carry on.”

“‘Sponsor: Cushelle.  Amount: £2-’”

“Again?!  You sponsored me again?!  You idiot…”

“Er, no sir…  You interrupted me while I was recapping the previous line before I went on.”

“Oh you fool,” Leon sighed, “I don’t need a recap – just read the next line.”

“Right you are, your most lugubriousness.  ‘Sponsor: Cushelle.  Amount: £2-’”

“I said don’t bother with the recap!”

“I’m not sir – it’s a different Cushelle.”  Cushelle waited for the confusion on his master’s face to subside – which it soon did after two more penguins were lobbed, one at a poster of Edd the Duck, the other out of the window and into the moat – before continuing.  “‘Sponsor: Leon.  Amount: £1…’  One pound?!  You were only willing to contribute one pound to your own sponsorship?!”

“We live in a small village Cushelle,” Leon answered, not making much sense if truth be told…  “Okay, go on.”

Cushelle paused, flummoxed.  “Um, that’s it.”  Another penguin flew through the air (a miracle!)

“What do you mean, ‘that’s it’?!”  Leon looked furious.  “Are you seriously telling me that we’ve only managed to raise a measly fiver in sponsorship for this event?  This event, on which all my hopes of a place in the Annals of Evil (trademarked) rest?  This event for which I have emphasised time and time again that absolutely nothing must go wrong beforehand as it is such a mighty and stupendous and sleazy opportunity for an immoral amount of infamy?  This event which is coming round next Saturdayon my Auntie Glenda’s birthday?!”  Leon panted heavily with rage.  His two remaining penguins slowly waddled backwards and hid inside a cereal box where they fought to the death over the free toy.  Cushelle looked at his chief in fear, cowering under his particularly malevolent and somewhat unhomely gaze.

“Um…  Yes?” he squeaked nervously.

“Right…  Well, let’s go along the street – Edna at number 4 will probably give us something.  And we’d best wrap up warm – it’s a bit nippy today.”

TSP017: Pavement wars

April 12, 2011

“Excuse me, miss, but your dog appears to be juggling…”

The woman glowered back, needled by the stranger’s impertinence.  “Of course he’s juggling,” she retorted in a prickly manner, “He’s a juggling dog – that’s what he does.”

The man’s original look of mere inquisitiveness was instantly replaced with a stern frown.  “I think you’ll find, miss” – he began, reaching into his pocket for his notebook – “that as a member of Her Majesty’s constabulary I am obliged to report this” – he reached back into his pocket again, replacing the travel-size game of Battleships and searching once more for his elusive pad – “as an incidence of illegal street performance by an unlicensed canine.”  A satisfied grin broke out on the policeman’s face as he pronounced this last phrase with a flourish whilst successfully extricating his papers from the folds of his uniform, still careful in his glee not to reveal the Little Miss Naughty motif emblazoned on the jotter’s cover.

The woman paid little notice to the officer’s clearly rehearsed patter.  “Well, Inspector Clouseau,” she seethed (although that wasn’t actually his name – she was most likely mistaking him for a completely different member of the Force whom he happened to resemble rather sharply but – in actual fact – wasn’t; scholars remain divided on this point), “I think you’ll find that – technically speaking – since we’re on Wimsdon Avenue he’s not really conducting a street performance at all.”  She was rather satisfied with this biting rejoinder and her thin mouth broke out into a self-satisfied smirk, whilst her pores oozed a scent not too dissimilar to ‘Smug’ (Calvin Klein).

The young sergeant was unmoved.  “Be that as it may, though there may be some discrepancy as regards the precise nature of the thoroughfare in question, there is no doubt at all that your pet pooch possesses no documentation to permit the endeavour in which he is currently engaged.”  He high-fived himself in his mind, inwardly sad that his father was no longer here to witness this moment and praise his quick-thinking and level-headedness (he’d moved to Preston).

The defensive dog-breeder raised her finger (a polite one) as she figuratively smashed back her opponent’s verbal serve.  “Aha!  Well, I believe that a closer examination of your rule-book would reveal to you, Hercule Poirot,” (that wasn’t his name either – I really don’t know why she called him that.  Sorry not to be of more help.) “that for a dog to juggle is not against the laws of this country or the bye-laws and local regulations of this particular district.”  She raised her hands metaphorically to the cheering crowd (again metaphorical), happy to be the people’s representative in this fight against authority.

The uniformed gentleman couldn’t believe she’d walked into this one – she must have been conversationally blind, he thought to himself.  “And that is a fact I am quite aware of, Miss Moneypenny,” (epic fail – what was he doing?!  It wasn’t even a relevant choice of fictional character…) “however, to do so in order to solicit financial favours from the populace – a.k.a. busk-juggle – is indeed a felony in these parts, and the coffee cup of coppers beside him rather betrays his intentions as leaning towards the pecuniary instead of simply to impart pleasure to the rapt audience of passers-by.”  This was what he’d gone to college for – moments like this one; moments of pride at a job done well – nay, exceptionally well.  He pictured himself with a trophy: ‘Best illegal-mutt-juggle-buster’.  It would take pride of place in the hallway cabinet…

The aging madam practically laughed in the face of the law-keeper.  “What, this coffee cup here?  You think this is his?”  (At this she threw her head back and guffawed.  A little bit of spit flew out.  All parties resolved to ignore it and resume conflict unabashed.)  “Why, this was here before we arrived – he just happens to be juggling next to it.  Whether or not some misguided bystanders wish to add to the contents is completely down to their own judgment and impacts not one jot on our own proceedings.  In fact, if you hadn’t have raised the issue I don’t think we’d have even noticed it.”  If she’d been young enough to do the splits she’d have performed that action in joy at her nimble mental agility and wit; however, she wasn’t, so she just let off a miniature party popper that she’d had in her coat pocket for some reason.

The officer’s expression became instantly friendly once more.  “Oh, well that’s fine then,” he said, and went into HMV.