Friday, 27 November 2009

Chapter 39 - The End? Not Quite...

'How is she today?' asked Andy, arriving home from work. It was two weeks before Christmas and two weeks since Mrs Pumphrey and Mrs Slocombe had gone on tour with 'Boom Penguin.'
'It's difficult to say,' I said. 'She seems okay on the outside, but every now and then I'll catch her standing hunched in the garden, looking about as miserable as a hen can look. I took her Christmas shopping today, and all she could do was sigh about how little she needed to buy this year. She wasn't even bothered about choosing Christmas crackers, and you know how fussy she gets about Christmas crackers.'
'Oh dear,' said Andy. He was worried about Mrs Miggins, as was I, because we both knew that once a hen's mood starts slipping downhill, they could give up on life oh so easily.
'I've brought her a tonic,' said Andy, producing a small bottle from his pocket.
'Something full of vitamins and minerals?' I said.
'Something full of brandy,' said Andy. 'Have Pumphrey and Slocombe phoned today?'
I shook my head. 'No. That's the fourth day in a row she hasn't spoken to them. It's so sad. She's been plotting their tour on a little map pinned to the kitchen wall in Cluckinghen Palace, and saving all the newspaper and magazine clippings in her scrapbook. I can't believe they have forgotten about her so easily.'
'Maybe we should get her some new companions,' said Andy. 'She'll feel happier if she has someone else to organise and boos around.'
'I thought that too,' I said. 'We can but try.'

And so it was decided. I went to fetch Mrs Miggins. She was sitting in her rocking chair in her parlour, swaying back and forth and humming a very blues version of 'When Will I See You Again?', a faraway look in her eyes.
'Come on, you,' I said briskly. 'We're going to get a couple more hens.'
'I don't want other hens,' said Mrs Miggins, sulkily. 'I want Betty and Gloria.'
I sighed, and sat on the armchair opposite.
'Well, you might not want more hens, but Andy and I do,' I said. 'We're missing our Saturday morning boiled egg and soldiers.'

And I chivvied and hassled Mrs Miggins until she got so fed up she put on her duffle coat and bobble hat and climbed reluctantly into the back of the car.
'Don't be getting French Marans,' she said. 'They're bonkers.'

* * * * * * * *

As it was, we came home with a couple of Buff Orpingtons and a Barnvelder. Mrs Miggins seemed pleased with our choice, although she muttered about the mud the Buffs would drag into Cluckinghen Palace on their trousers during the winter months.

'Hello,' I said, as we arrived back at the Manor caravan and went to introduce the new hens to their accommodation, 'did you forget to lock the door on your way out?'
'No,' said Miggins. 'I always lock the door. You know how particular I am about home safety.'
'Indeed,' I said. 'You're not head of the local Neighbourhood Watch Committee for nothing, are you?'

But the door to Cluckinghen Palace was definitely open, swinging gently in the wind, and forming a gaping mouth of a hole into the hallway.

Andy picked up a bean cane and we crept towards the Palace.
'You go first,' I said to Andy.
'Oh, so I get to go in first just because I'm the bloke, do I?' said Andy.
'No,' I said. 'You're the one with the bean cane.'

We snuck up the dark hallway, me and Andy, Miggo, the barnvelder and the Buffs. The new hens were clucking excitedly. This was like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for them, after their previously existence in a nursery barn with three hundred other hens.
'Shush!' hissed Mrs Miggins. 'Beaks sharp and talons at the ready. We may need to attack.'

The sound of glass shattering came suddenly from the formal sitting room.
'In there,' whispered Andy. 'Now on the count of three, we charge, okay?'
'Okay,' we whispered.
'One,' whispered Andy.
'Two,' whispered Andy.
'THREE!!!!' shouted Andy and we all charged, waving our bean cane, arms and wings in a most terrifying, and quite ineffective manner.

'AAAAAAAAAAAARGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!' we shouted, in the style of Braveheart racing through the Scottish hills, the cold North winds whistling up his sporran.

'AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!' shouted back the intruders, for there were two.

'GLORIA!' shouted Mrs Miggins.
'LAETITIA!' shouted Mrs Pumphrey.
'BETTY!' shouted Mrs Miggins.
'I ONLY BROKE A GLASS!' shouted Mrs Slocombe.

And the three hen friends fell into each other wings, reunited and excited, crying and laughing all at the same time until I got fed up with the malarkey and called a halt.

'You came back!' said Mrs Miggins, her previously floppy comb perking up before our eyes.
'Of course we did!' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'We couldn't stand being away from you for a moment longer.'
'But you haven't called for four days,' said Miggins.
'We've been stuck in Norfolk,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'Dreadful phone signals.'
'And transport links,' added Mrs Pumphrey. 'We got as far as Ipswich on the train and had to hitchhike the rest of the way. We're exhausted.'

'What about the band? Couldn't they give you a lift home?' asked Mrs Miggins.
'Oh, well, you know men,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'Once they set their sights on travelling up to Glasgow and the temptations of a deep-fried curly wurly, there's no diverting them.'
'Arrogant cocks,' snorted Mrs Miggins.
'That's not what we called them,' said Mrs Slocombe, 'but don't worry, we've left them a little present.'
'Oh yes?' said Mrs Miggins. 'Do tell.'
'Kipper on the radiator pipe of Dave's limo and prawns in the mobile sound system,' said Mrs Pumphrey.
'The perfect gift,' added Mrs Slocombe.
'No,' said Mrs Miggins. 'The perfect gift is having my two very best friends in the whole wide world home for Christmas.'
'Well,' said Mrs Pumphrey, 'we are Poulet Nous,' aren't we?'
'Us Chickens,' said Mrs Miggins. 'Forever.'

Chapter 38 - A Big Decision

It is surprising how a good night's sleep can focus the mind and rev one up for the possiblity of a bright new future. Mrs Miggins slept well that night, despite the hefty cheese content of her pasty, the charcoal finish to her barbacue wedges and one too many scoops of butterscotch ice-cream. She stirred in her sleep, briefly, when Mrs Pumphrey and Mrs Slocombe returned from their curry fest, giggling and shushing each other, and tripping over the pile of loo roll tubes that were on the stairs waiting to go into the recycling bin. Mrs Miggins was usually very particular about saving the inner tubes of loo rolls because they made excellent root trainers for her runner beans and peas come the spring sowing, but just before she had gone to bed, she'd had a magnificent idea for the future of herself and her friends, and that idea did not include the stock-piling of cardboard tubing.

And so it was that on the day Boom Penguin and his band would vacate her life once more, Laetita Miggins was up with sun, or at least the latest downpour of rain, and getting to grips with the Sunday papers and a goodly pile of toast and marmalade. By her side, spread open on the table, was a notebook and at the top of the first page a heading written in bold black capitals - 'MY LIFE PLAN'. The page was still blank, but the ideas were buzzing in Miggins' head; it was just that she didn't want to get marmalade on the paper.

Mrs Pumphrey appeared in the kitchen, her pink satin eye mask lifted just far enough for her to see where she was going. She paused briefly, to give herself a chance to adjust to the fluorescent lighting, and then shuffled her way to the table, where she slumped in a chair and smiled weakly, but gratefully, at Mrs Miggins who poured her a mug of strong tea with six sugars stirred in briskly.

'Good curry night?' said Mrs Miggins.
'Yes, indeed,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'You should have come. You'd have enjoyed it. Betty climbed a lamp post and couldn't get down, so we had to form a poultry pyramid, and then Boom and Dave got arrested for drawing a moustache on a policeman in green biro, but when the policeman recognised who they were he let them off and said he would never clean off the moustache, ever, ever...'

'I get the gist,' said Mrs Miggins. 'Where's Betty?'
'Asleep on the bannister rail,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'She sort of ground to a halt on the landing when we came in last night, and I draped her over the bannister to sleep it off. When I walked past her just now, she was wearing loo rolls on each leg. I'm not sure how that happened.'

Mrs Miggins sighed. It sounded as though things were getting back to normal already.

'Anyway,' she said, 'I've been thinking about our future.'
'Have you?' said Mrs Pumphrey.
'Well, someone had to,' said Mrs Miggins. 'I mean, we've got to fill our time productively whilst the Manor is being rebuilt. We can't sit around twiddling our wings and watching muscly builders push wheelbarrows of cement around and carry hods of bricks up and down ladders for the next few months, can we?'
'Oh, I don't know,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'Sound quite appealing to me.'
'We need to have a purpose,' said Mrs Miggins firmly. 'And I think I have found that purpose.

When Mrs Pumphrey didn't offer the expected words of encouragement, Mrs Miggins continued.
'We can't do any gardening or veg growing this year,' she said. 'So the 'Organic Hen Cafe' will have to close down for a while, because we'll be short on ingredients. But what I thought we could do was open up Cluckinghen Palace to lodgers. Turn it into a bed and breakfast. We could even offer themed holidays. For example, you could run a ballroom dancing week. We could get Tango Pete and Cha-Cha Lil in as the resident dance profesionals.'
'I see,' said Mrs Pumphrey.
'Of course, we'll have to decide who does what,' siad Mrs Miggins, who, having wiped her sticky wings clean, was now jotting down ideas in her notebook. 'There will be business accounts to keep, that'll be my job, and lots of laundry to do. Cleaning, as well, and getting up early to cook breakfasts. But I think we could do it. I think we three hens could pull together as a team and make this work. And then once the Manor has been rebuilt, we can take over the garden again, open up the 'Organic Hen Cafe' and everything will get back to how it was before.'

She looked hopefully at Mrs Pumphrey, who, for some reason, appeared less than excited about this plan.

'It all sounds,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'But, well, it also sounds a bit, well, dull, too. Don't you think?'
'Dull?' said Mrs Miggins. 'DULL??'We'd be meeting new people all the time, we'd be on the go from six in the morning until ten at night, we won't have time to think about dull.'
'And maybe the fire was meant to be,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'Perhaps it happened to show us that there is a bigger world out there, and sometimes you have to move on and leave the past behind. Perhaps it is our time to grow in a different direction away from the Manor.'

At that point, Mrs Slocombe appeared in the kitchen, looking decidely chipper for a hen that had spent the last few hours asleep on a bannister rail with her legs in loo roll tubes.
'Have you told her?' she said, plonking herself at the table and helping herself to the last slice of toast.
'Ssshhh,' hissed Mrs Pumphrey.
'Told me what?' said Mrs Miggins.
'About us going on tour with 'Boom Penguin',' said Mrs Slocombe, excitedly. 'Cor, it'll be great. All the glamour, the fame, the celebrity, the telly appearances, the free jelly beans in the dressing rooms...'
'You're doing what?' said Mrs Miggins, feeling suddenly faint.
'It's not really been decided properly,' said Mrs Pumphrey, shooting Mrs Slocombe a warning look which Mrs Slocombe studiously ignored because she was beak-deep in butter and marmalade.
'We're leaving later this morning,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'Poulet Nous are going to be famous!'

* * * * * * * * *

'So you're really going?' said Mrs Miggins.

She was standing in the rain under her 'Waterlilies by Monet' umbrella, watching as Dave and Boom loaded cases onto the tourbus. Cases that carried the clothes and personal effects of her two best and closest friends in the whole world.

'It's a golden opportunity,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'And you can come with us. See the world. Spread the tunes of Abba across the globe...'
'I think Abba have already done that quite effectively for themselves,' said Mrs Miggins tersely.
'You know what I mean,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'Please come with us. Please.'

Mrs Miggins looked back at the space where Much Malarkey Manor had once stood. If she squinted, she could just see the blurry outline of the Manor's phantom spirit, for the essence of the building had been strong, its character built from years of tradition and love and family, and not even the raging flames of an intense inferno could destroy that essence. Or perhaps it was a combination of Mrs Miggins' imagination and the tears that were stinging her eyes as she prepared to say farewell to her friends.

Turning back to Betty and Gloria, she shook her head, slowly.

'I'm sorry, 'she said. 'I can't leave my home. This is where I belong.'

The tour bus was loaded and ready to go, the equipment lorry impatiently revving its engine, keen to make tracks to Margate. Dave was standing by his limousine, holding open the back door. Boom was already inside. He can't even come and say 'goodbye', thought Mrs Miggins. Once again, that bloody kakapo has broken my heart.
'Go, go,' she said, shooing Mrs Pumphrey and Mrs Slocombe briskly with her wings. 'Have fun. Knock 'em dead. Break a leg.'

'We'll phone. Every day!' called Mrs Pumphrey over her shoulder as she and Mrs Slocombe ran to the limousine, their best 'Poulet Nous' high heels schlepping through the mud.
'Of course you will,' said Mrs Miggins, softly. 'Of course you will.'

She stood and waited, waving until the last vehicle in the convoy disappeared from view, and then slowly she turned and faced Cluckinghen Palace. Already it seemed forbidding, full of the ghosts and echoes of a friendship now gone, of the memories of laughter and madness and a busy, happy life. Perhaps Mrs Pumphrey was right. Perhaps things were never going to be the same and it was useless to try and make it so. Perhaps the best thing to do is to move on to new things, and to leave the past where it lay - in a smoky, blackened, charred mess of a muddy field.

A hand rested gently on the place where a hen's shoulder would be if hens had shoulders. It was Andy.

'Denise says come and join us in the caravan,' he said. 'For a cuppa and a muffin.'
'What flavour muffin?' asked Mrs Miggins, her eyes still misty and fixed on the Manor gateway.
'Triple chocolate chip,' said Andy.
'My favourite,' said Mrs Miggins.
'We know,' said Andy.

Chapter 37 - Home Is Where the Hen Is

Mrs Miggins sat alone in the back parlour of the North Wing of Much Malarkey Manor. Outside, it was raining. It had been raining non-stop for a couple of days now, which had stimmied her plans to get the over-wintering onions into the vegetable plot by the beginning of December.

'Probably for the best,' she muttered to herself. 'What with the planned rebuilding of the Manor, I doubt much veg growing will get done this season, and what I do try to do will probably end up getting squished by builders and their equipment.' And not one to waste precious time, she had, instead, begun her annual home-made Christmas card production line.

'I wonder where Betty and Gloria are,' she said. The North Wing had been ominously quiet all morning, save for the beating of rain on the window panes, and her companions hadn't even bothered turning up half an hour before lunch to pester her about what they were going to have for lunch.

Eating a tuna mayo on granary sandwich on one's own is a lonesome task.

By mid-afternoon, Mrs Miggins could bear the silence and the inability to peel the backing off her double-sided sticky tape no longer. She donned her rain cape, souwester and wellies (a rather delicious green froggy print combo set trimmed with blue raindrops) and set off into the rain to seek her companions.

She found them in the marquee arena, now looking decidedly saggy from the beating it had taken by the recent rainstorms. Much hilarity was being had, as Mrs Pumphrey and Mrs Slocombe larked around with Bob and Stix, whilst Dave tried to concentrate on dismantling the sound system.

'Miggo!' shouted Mrs Slocombe, as she spied Mrs Miggins standing in the entrance of the arena. 'Stix is teaching us how to head-bang!' And she did a demonstration, managing only six violent forward thrusts before coming over all dizzy and falling over in the sawdust, where she lay, laughing like a loon.

'You sound like you're having fun,' said Mrs Miggins, hoping she wasn't coming across too bitterly that she had spent all morning and half the afternoon cutting out stars from silver card and trying to draw reindeer that didn't look like obese Great Danes.
'Oh, we have been having fun,' agreed Mrs Pumphrey. 'The boys have been telling us all about the plans for their world tour. It all sounds very exciting and glamorous.'
'Really?' said Mrs Miggins. 'So you'll be on your way soon?'

Dave stood up and stretched his long flamingo neck.
'Gotta ride the surf when the waves are high, babe,' he said.
'What did he say?' said Mrs Miggins.
'I think he means that as 'Boom Penguin' are so popular at the moment, it would be stupid not to jump on the band wagon fo popularity, what with the celebrity world being so fickle these days.' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'I've been organising their booking diary for them now that Honeybun has gone and they are without a manager.'
'Oh,' said Mrs Miggins.
'They've got seventeen dates booked up already,' said Mrs Pumphrey.
'So when are you moving on?' asked Mrs Miggins.
'Tomorrow, babe,' said Dave. 'We hit the raod first thing. We're playing Margate in the evening.'
Mrs Miggins brightened a little. 'I could cook dinner for everyone this evening,' she said. 'A sort of farewell and good luck do. I could do a nice roast, and a trifle. Everyone liked a trifle.'
'Boom's already booked a table at the local curry house,' said Dave. 'Of course, you're invited too. Gloria and Betty are up for a jalfrezi, aren't you girls?'

'Ooooh, yes,' said Mrs Slocombe, picking herself up from the floor. 'The hotter the better, eh Stix?' and she nudged the drummer in the ribs, sending him flying across the arena.
'Thanks,' said Mrs Miggins, 'but I think I'll pass, if you don't mind. Curries have never agreed with me.'

And she turned and trailed back to Cluckinghen Palace, feeling useless and glum. Boom knew she didn't like curry. Had he booked the curry house as a deliberate act to spite her?

* * * * * * * * * * *

The skyline at Much Malarkey Manor seemed stark and bare when Mrs Miggins next looked out of her window at twilight. The marquee arena and been dismantled and packed away ready for the tour. All that remained was the car-park and a lone hot-dog stand which Denise had asked to keep to use for her planned bedding plant stall at the village fayre next spring. Half an hour previously, Mrs Pumphrey and Mrs Slocombe had returned to the Palace to get ready for their evening out. They had tried one more time to persuade Mrs Miggins to go with them.

'It'll be fun,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'And you don't have to have curry. I'm sure there will be stuff on the menu you can have that means you won't spend the next three days on the loo.'
'Yes,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'Everyone else is coming. And we need a good night out, don't we? It's been a pretty hectic few weeks, hasn't it?'

Mrs Miggins had to agree that it had, indeed, been hectic. And she'd loved every minute of it. The planning, the rehearsals, the arguments, the frisson of excitement as the crowds had begun to arrive on the night of the concert, the thrill of the thought that that stupid chihuahua, Pepe, might at last have met his doom as she watched him fly from the mouth of the cannon and into to firework display area. But now it was all over. What was left for her? What would she do?

She almost capitulated. She almost said 'yes' and went with the others to get ready for a night out on the town. But something was stopping her. Somehow, she just knew that if she went along with the rest of the gang, she would prove to be the damp squib in the party box of fireworks. And when Mrs Miggins made a decision, then Gloria and Betty knew better than to try and change her mind. Well, Gloria did, because she was more sensitive to the emotions of others. Betty Slocombe never knew when to stop and would persist until someone punched her or put a bag over her head so she thought it was night-time.

'You'll be okay, here on your own?' said Mrs Pumphrey as she stood by the back door, glammed up to the nines in a Dame Shirley Bassey type sequinned dress and matching feather boa.

'Yes,' said Mrs Miggins. 'I've got a cheese and onion pasty and some barbacue wedges in the oven. And the quarter final of Strictly Come Prancing is on the telly. Tango Pete and Cha-Cha Lil said they might pop in to watch it with me. I got in extra ice-cream , in case they do.'

Mrs Pumphrey fidgeted in embarrassment. 'Tango Pete and Cha-Cha Lil are coming to the curry house with us,' she said.
'Oh,' said Mrs Miggins. 'Ah well, all the more butterscotch and nut for me, then.'
'Please come with us,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'No one will mind that you're in your pyjamas and your comb looks a bit flyaway.'
'Shut up, Betty, and go, will you?' said Mrs Miggins, forcing a smile. 'Before I get the paper bag from the drawer.'

And Laetitia Miggins stood by the doorway and waved her friends off into the night. She stepped back inside and sniffed the air.

'My wedges are burning,' she said. 'Story of my life.'

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Chapter 36 - Plans a-foot

'Pepe?' said Honeybun. 'I don't believe it? Why would Pepe have taken that photo? He's my pet. I've taken care of him all his life and yet he still chose to betray me.'

Boom patted her knee, which was no mean feat given the stumpy-legged, ample featherage nature of the kakapo anatomy. 'They're devious creatures, chihuahuas,' he said. 'Tendency towards derangement, too, so I understand. I think it's something to do with their weird eyes and big flappy ears. And too much chilli con carne.'

This was going to be difficult, thought Boom, as they continued their journey in silence, save the occasional sob from Honeybun, and the occasional squeal and giggle from Mrs Dangled who was riding shotgun up front with Dave. He'd fully intended to break up with Honeybun as soon as this Cleverly Dangled malarkey had been tied up with a bow and placed under the Christmas tree of unwanted gifts. And now, here he was, trying to comfort his distraught girlfriend slash manager, as they travelled in Dave's limousine to a police station in Droitwich where Pepe was currently ensconced and awaiting collection, having been picked up on the motorway some two hours previously for jay-walking.

'If you don't come and get him soon,' warned the custody sergeant who spoke to Honeybun, 'we'll start charging storage fees. He's eating us out of house and home here. I don't know how such a small creature can pack away so much food.'
'He always did have a healthy appetite,' sighed Honeybun.
'He's not dead,' said Boom, bemused by Honeybun's use of the past tense. 'He's just been a very, very naughty chihuahua.'

They arrived in Droitwich and Boom went into the station, returning in minutes with a defiant looking Pepe. As he clambered into the car, Honeybun could barely bring herself to look at him.
'How could you, Pepe?' she said, as they set off back to Much Malarkey Manor. 'And why? Haven't I always treated you well? Brought you everything you've ever wanted? Taken you on holidays to exotic places?'

Pepe turned his back and looked out of the window. Sighing, he placed his chin on the arm rest and hoped he'd be able to make it home without throwing up. That last jam doughnut dipped in peanut butter had been a bad idea.

* * * * * * * *

The caravan at the site of the Manor was a-buzz with excited chatter.

'We need to make plans for the future,' said Bob. 'As soon as Dave, Boom and Honeybun get back with Pepe, we must decide where we go from here.'
'I'm up for a world tour,' said Stix, who really didn't want to go back to running his hardware store in South Wales. 'Hey,' he continued, 'you girls could come with us. 'Boom Penguin' and 'Poulet Nous' on tour, together. What an act we'd make!'

Mrs Miggins coughed. 'Oh, I don't think so,' she said, ignoring the look of disappointment in the eyes of Mrs Pumphrey and Mrs Slocombe who had become very attached to Bob and Stix. 'Our place is here, at the Manor, with Andy and Denise.'
'If you want to go on tour with the guys,' I said, 'you should go. It would be the opportunity of a life time. Don't let us stand in your way. A good dose of chicken pop and rock is well overdue in the world, I reckon.'
'What are you planning to do?' asked Mrs Miggins.

I looked at Andy and he looked at me. 'We've decided to stay where our hearts lie,' I said. 'Here, at the Manor. What with the insurance money, the generous 'donation' from Cleverly Dangled, and the ticket sales from the concert, we can afford to re-build the Manor and start up a new business.'
'We haven't decided yet exactly what that business will be,' said Andy. 'But it will probably involve pigs.'
'And alpacas,' I added quickly, because it had taken me a long time to get Andy to agree to alpacas.
'And a cider press,' said Andy, which had been his side of the bargaining tool vis a vis the acquisition of alpacas.
'It sounds good,' said Mrs Miggins. 'And, if you'll forgive me for causing this disaster in the first place, I'd very much like to stay on with you here.'

'There is nothing to forgive,' I smiled, picking up Mrs Miggins and giving her a squeeze. An egg plopped to the ground. 'You are very precious to us, you daft old hen. You have a home here for as long as you wish. All of you.'
'Less of the 'old',' reprimanded Mrs Miggins, with more than a little smile on her beak.

A car horn heralded the arrival of Boom and Honeybun, Pepe and Dave.

'Well?' said Mrs Miggins, as they went to greet the home comers. 'Has that little ratbag excuse for a dog explained himself yet?'
'He can't talk,' said Honeybun. 'Remember?'
'Oh yeah,' said Mrs Miggins. 'Talking animals, eh? What was I thinking of?'
'But he looks sorry for what he's done,' said Honeybun, and everyone looked at Pepe who didn't look sorry at all.
'What are you going to do with him?' asked Boom. 'I'm not having him come on tour with us. Once a traitor, always a traitor.'
'I could take his camera equipment away,' said Honeybun, who realised the traitor label stuch just as fast to her as it did to Pepe. 'And his mobile phone.'
Pepe pulled a face.
'I'm afraid that's not good enough,' said Boom, sensing a potential letting-off-the-hook opportunity. 'I'm afraid, Honeybun, that it's either him. Or me.'

Everyone held their breath. Boom had never issued an ultimatum to Honeybun before. Theirs was the kind of relationship where she wore the trousers and carried the credit card.

Honeybun looked from Boom to Pepe and from Pepe to Boom.

'Then I'm sorry, Boom,' she said, softly, which disappointed the crowd who were hoping for a bit of bloodshed. 'But I choose Pepe.'

It was for the best. Honeybun had come into Boom's life with Pepe tucked under her arm, and thus was the way she would be leaving.

'I'll go and pack our cases,' said Honeybun. 'I know what Pepe did was wrong, but in the end, it all turned out for the best. Didn't it?' And she looked closely at everyone to see if they saw the truth as clearly as she.

Once she had turned her back and was heading towards the tour bus, Boom let out a sigh of relief. That was easier than he'd anticipated. And now, with Dave apparently getting down and canoodly with Mrs Dangled, the path was clear for him to resume his relationship with Laetitia Miggins.

'So,' he said, clapping his wings together in a business-like fashion. 'What's the plan?'

Chapter 35 - Building Up A Head of Steam

There is a Japanese proverb, or possible Chinese, that says, 'Fall down seven times, stand up eight,' which in bog standard English means, I think, keep on trying and never give up.

I say this only because the benefit concert wasn't the first time Boom had tried to re-ignite his rock career. Oh no, this was the fourth or possibly fifth attempt, and Honeybun had been quite impressed with his tenacity in the face of persistent deferred success, aka 'failure', given he was so quick to give up other projects like new exercise regimes, for example, or making his nest every morning.

But his persistence had paid off. Despite the dismal 'New Age Revival and Nuts' concert in '95, and the even more dismal (if that was at all possible) appearance on 'Chickens in Need' in 2002, the phone had not stopped ringing since the success of the 'Race to Save Much Malarkey Manor Benefit Concert 2009.'

Now, you might think that a rock concert that ended halfway though its set with an out of control firework display, the destruction by blazing inferno of a Manor house and the near-death experience of a chihuahua/magician could not, strictly speaking, be classed as a success. But the rock music community are a strange breed and the fans who had come to see David Bowie were very happy that their intial disappointment had been far outweighed by the entertainment they'd been offered instead.

'What a night!' began one review. 'Excitement from start to finish. And the music was okay, too. 'Boom Penguin' are truly back in town. Better stock up on your fire extinguishers!'

The praise poured forth from a variety of magazines and newspapers with the exception of a couple of animal charity rags who raged about the inhumane treatment of a small and helpless dog being shot from a cannon. Suddenly, everyone wanted a piece of the band. Honeybun was inundated with request for television and radio interviews and product endorsements. Several tribute web sites had sprung up; 'Boom Penguin' were being blogged and twittered and social networked until the FaceBook page that Steve 'Stix' Stubbins set up for a laugh reached over two million members.

'This is great,' said Boom. It was the morning of the great Cleverly Dangled scam, but what Boom really wanted to do was spend every hour basking in the glory of his new found fame, even if that was a bit cliche.
'Don't get too carried away,' Honeybun warned. 'Not for a couple of days at least. We've got a job to finish, remember?'

Boom tried not to sulk. Which was a challenge in itself, because if there is one expression that comes naturally to a kakapo, it's sulking. Also, he was feeling slightly aggrieved that, being the innocent stolen-hat victim in all this, he was having to help make amends for a problem that he didn't actually cause.

'Can't you and Dave deal with this Cleverly Dangled thing?' he said. 'Only I've been asked to appear on 'Good Morning Sofa Huggers with Phil 'n' Holly.'
'Of course Dave and I can deal with it,' said Honeybun. 'But it would be rather nice if everyone pulled together in a big team effort, don't you think?'

No, Boom didn't think. But the look in Honeybun's eyes told him he'd have to grit his teeth and get on with it and that Phil 'n' Holly would have to wait. Besides, Boom had to keep on Honeybun's good side because he'd made a decision. He and Honeybun were over. Finished. Kaput. Seeing that photograph, that evidence of betrayal, had made Boom realise he could no longer trust Honeybun. Besides, they'd been together too long. They could finish each other's sentences. And the sweeter mood she was in when he told her, the more chance he had of getting away with his toupee intact.

'All right,' said Boom. 'Tell me what I've got to do again.'

* * * * * * * * *

Cleverly Dangled set off just after lunch for what remained of Much Malarkey Manor. He'd seen photos of the damage in the morning papers and felt more than slightly smug that it was he who had been responsible for the blaze with his bomb cunningly disguised as a Christmas pudding. But it wasn't the Manor he cared about. It was the seam of rare Italian marble that ran beneath the ground that lit the dollar signs in his eyes. And now he had a partner to share the cost of the excavations with, he was even happier.
'Mining all that marble will be a long job,' he muttered to himself, as his car left the jams of the city and the countryside opened up before him, 'which means I'll 'ave plenty of time to come up wiv a way of shaftin' this Tangoed geezer good an' proper an' keep all the spoils for meself.'

Honestly, some people never learn.

At the Manor, everyone was ready for 'Operation Make Cleverly Dangled Look Like a Prize Turnip.' Honeybun had arranged for the Chief Executive Officer of the local planning council to be in attendance and was currently keeping him happy with a pot of very strong coffee and a banoffee muffin. Tango Pete and Cha-Cha Lil were dressed to the nines as rich Texan business tycoons. Dave and Boom were ready with sound and recording equipment, and Mrs Miggins, Mrs Pumphrey, Stix and Bob were hiding out, up, in and behind various trees and bushes in case Cleverly tried to escape again. Mrs Slocombe had been charged with look-out duties and was ensconced up the biggest oak with binoculars, walkie talkie and a flask of tea. Rita patted her shoulder bag, where the fake mining report was safely stashed.

'Has anyone seen Pepe?' said Honeybun. 'I've just had walkie-talkie contact from Mrs Slocombe up her tree saying that Dangled's car has turned into the lane leading to the Manor. I don't want Pepe anywhere near that...that...chihuahuacidal maniac.'
'He's still in bed,' said Mrs Pumphrey, who had earlier taken Pepe a bowl of hot chocolate and some crumpets, but didn't like to disturb him because he was sleeping so soundly, so she'd eaten them herself.
'Good,' said Honeybun. 'Poor thing. He's been through such a trauma. Now, are we sure the money that Cleverly Dangled sent into our account has cleared?'
'Yes,' said Mrs Miggins, who had been in charge of checking all financial transactions. 'My broker dealt with it and has transferred the money to another account in Switzerland, or Jersey, or somewhere. The money is now officially 'lost.'

(The author would like to point out that, along with her poor knowledge vis a vis airports and wine, she has very little sophisticated fiscal awareness beyond the fact she in not over drawn, has no outstanding loans apart from the mortgage which
is nearly half equity, pays her credit card bill off every month and has some savings. Oh, and a pension. But shares? Portfolios? Off shore accounts? No idea. But will try to sound as if she knows what she is talking about for the sake of the integrity of this novel...haha!!)

'Excellent,' said Honeybun.
'Isn't that fraud?' said Andy, who was waiting on the periphery of the conversation with Denise.
'Didn't I tell you to stay in the caravan until it was all over?' said Honeybun, who really didn't need people going all ethical and moral on her right now. 'Or go into town. Go to 'Under Ground' and get a cup of tea and a bun.' And she handed over a twenty pound note.

'Come on,' I said. 'Let's get away for the afternoon. We could go into Puddlepebbles and find a book about self-build Manors.'

'Here he comes!' came a cry from Mrs Slocombe, who was still up her tree with her binoculars, walkie talkie and a buster collar she'd cunningly fashioned into a megaphone.
'Right,' said Honeybun. 'Everyone ready?'
'Ready!' agreed everyone.

Cleverly got out of his car. Tango Pete and Cha-Cha Lil were standing by Dave's limousine, looking as if they, too, had just arrived. Cha-Cha Lil was toying with what looked like a huge diamond pendant on the end of a chunky gold chain. It glinted enticingly in the sun and caught Cleverly's greedy little eye.
'Mr Dangled!' called Tango Pete. 'G'day, sir. How are you this fine and sunny morning?'
'Good, Peter, good,' said Cleverly. 'I've brought the contract ready for you to sign, to get our partnership under way.'
'Fantastic,' said Peter. 'I'll just get my advisor to check it over, if that's okay with you, Mr Dangled sir.'

The back door of the limousine swung open, and Honeybun Slingsby stepped out.

'You!' stuttered Cleverly Dangled. 'Wot are you doin' 'ere? I didn't fink you'd dare show your face round 'ere, not after wot you did.'
'Are you threatening me, Mr Dangled?' said Honeybun, smoothly.
'Course I am,' said Cleverly. 'You set me up. You broke our contract.'
'This contract, you mean, Mr Dangled?' said the Chief Executive Officer of the planning committee, emerging from the car behind Honeybun. 'Because if it is, then I think you should know that the county council does not take very kindly to acts of bribery and corruption.'

'You ain't got a fing on me,' snapped Cleverly. 'You pompous windbag. You council types fink you know it all, don't ya? Well, let me tell you, one of your planners would 'ave bin more than 'appy to accept my bribe from Miss Parrot-face Slingsby 'ere, if she'd kept to 'er part ov the bargain.'
'Rubbish!' said the Chief Executive Officer, who admittedly had a very rose coloured view of the intergrity of his staff. 'The point is, Mr Dangled, that you attempted to gain planning permission for a major development by going through some very shonky channels. And it is now my job to see that you never gain planning permission to build in this county ever again!'

'HURRAH!' came a cheer from up and behind and beneath the various shrubs, trees and bushes in the vicinity.
'Well, I've done wiv 'ouse buildin',' said Cleverly. 'So I don't care about your plannin' embargo. I've got bigger fings up me sleeve. Sign that business contract, Tangoed. Don't listen to these losers. You won't regret it.'
'I'm not sure,' said Tango Pete. 'I mean, how do I know for certain that this place is full of rare Italian marble?'
'Because of this mining report!' said Cleverly, pulling the document triumphantly from his briefcase. He thrust the papers at Tango Pete who let his eyes slide across them in the manner of someone who really cared about what he was reading.

'Mr Dangled, sir,' he began. 'This isn't a mining report. This is a list entitled 'The Top One Hundred Shonky Business Dealings of Cleverly Dangled, Evil Property Developer.' Look, it says so at the top.' And he handed the papers back to Cleverley.

Well, you've never seen a pair of eyes pop so far from their sockets without actually falling out and landing on the ground in a pile of sheep droppings.

'What???' spluttered Cleverly, as he scanned the document, which did indeed list every single illegal transaction he'd ever made through his various business dealings. 'Ow did you git 'old of this information?'

'Quite simply,' said Mrs Dangled, who'd been biding her time behind a holly bush and felt now was a good time to reveal herself. 'I told them. I'm fed up with you, Cleverly. I am fed up with the way you treat people, and I am fed up with the way you treat me. You're nothing more than a red-faced, pigeon-fancing, arrogant bully. And you smell. I want a divorce. I am leaving you forever, and don't expect me to come and visit you in prison either. Trying to kill a chihuahua indeed. That is the lowest of the low. Oh, and the rare Italian marble doesn't exist. It's never existed. It was all a dead herring.'
'Red herring,' whispered Rita.
'That too,' said Mrs Dangled.

'Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!' laughed Cleverly, somewhat hysterically. 'And what exactly do you fink you're goin' to do wiv your life? You're nuffink wivout me, do you 'ear, nuffink.'

'I'm going to be a groupie,' declared Mrs Dangled, standing tall and proud. 'I was here at the concert and saw everything that happened. I've always been a fan of 'Boom Penguin' and I've always wanted to travel, so I'm going to follow them on tour.'

'You're bleedin' mental, you are,' said Cleverly. 'Oose ever 'eard ov a middle-aged tatty-arsed bird like you bein' a groupie? You're 'ardly 'ot tottie stuff, are ya?'

'She's good enough for me,' said Dave 'Shiplap' Chalet, appearing from behind the same holly bush behind which Mrs Dangled had been hiding (but I don't think we'll go into detail about what they'd been up to, do you? Some things are best left unsaid.)
'You?' laughed Cleverly. 'You're a flamingo!'
'Very well observed,' said Dave.
'He might be pink, he might be feathery, and he might have knees that bend in a peculiar way, but he loves me,' said Mrs Dangled. 'And I intend to follow him to the ends of the earth, if need be.'
'I think Japan is the furthest venue we've got planned,' said Dave. 'But thanks for the sentiment.'

At that point, Cleverly Dangled knew he was scuppered. In the distance, a police siren wailed across the countryside. Desperation had been building up inside him, and now it was spilling over.
'It was Dave wot split up 'Boom Penguin' in the first place,' he shouted. ''Im and 'Uneybun. They stole the 'at.'
'We know,' said everyone in chorus.
'I bet ya don't know 'oo really betrayed you all,' Cleverly shouted again. 'Oo is the real traitor in your midst, eh? Oo took the photo and put it in my 'ands in the first place? Bet ya don't know that, do ya? Do ya?? DO YA???'

'Shut up, Cleverly,' snapped Mrs Dangled and slapped him smartly across his face. 'Just tell them, will you?'

'It woz 'im!' said Cleverly. And he pointed to the horizon where a small chihuahua shaped chihuahua could be seen running for all his little legs were worth into the distance.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Chapter 34 - Tango Pete and Cha-Cha Lil

Tango Pete was delighted to know the profile of his character was about to be raised in 'Poulet Nous.' He hadn't liked to say anything, because ultimately he was a really nice cock, but he'd made quite a contribution to the plot so far, what with setting up fireworks and camera and sound equipment, and helping to build the arena and picking errant rock stars up from airports in the middle of the night, and he'd been thinking it would be nice to more than a bit part performer.

And now his chance had come.
'What do you think?' said his girlfriend, Cha-Cha Lil. She swirled before him in a dress and fur stole (not real fur, the author hastens to add; but one of those very realistic faux numbers).
'Very nice, darling,' said Tango Pete. He himself was wearing a smart suit, quite a change from his usual casual disco wear. He adjusted his lapels in the mirror and smoothed back an eyebrow with the dampened tip of his wing. 'Shall we?' he said, offering his wing to Lil.
'Let's,' siad Lil, taking him arm and giggling.

This was going to be such fun.

* * * * * * * * * *

'A Mr and Mrs Tangoed to see you, Mr Dangled,' said Cleverly's secretary through the intercom.
'I ain't got any appoitment wiv any Tangoed's,' said Cleverly.
'You haven't got an appointment,' corrected the secretary.
'That's what I said,' said Cleverly.
'You didn't,' said the secretary, glancing at her watch. It was nearly lunchtime. Did she really have the time, nay energy, to argue points of correct grammar with her boss? No, a prawn cocktail sandwich was waiting for her.
'Look,' she said. 'Do you want to see these people or not? I can send them away if you like.'
During the exchange, Cleverly had wandered to the window. Down in the car park, he could see a large, shiny, black limosine parked up. A pink flamingo in full chauffeur livery leant against the driver's door, yawning.
'Nah, it's okay. Send 'em in,' said Cleverly. He was always willing to see people who were loaded enough to be able to afford to be driven aroond in cars like that.

He turned to face the door.

'Mr and Mrs Tangoed?' he said, as Tango Pete and Cha-Cha Lil swanned into the room with all the swanky pretention of supreme and vulgar wealth.
'Mr Dangled,' said Tango Pete, in a bizarre approximation of a Texan accent. 'So glad you could see us. I'm Peter and this is my wife, Lilian.'
'You're not from these parts, are you?' said Cleverly Dangled as he shook their wings.
'No sir,' said Tango Pete. 'We're from a little old place in America called Texas. You might have heard of it.'
'Where the oil comes from,' said Cleverly.
''S'right,' said Tango Pete. He took the ten gallon hat from his five gallon head and threw it casually onto Cleverly's desk. 'And we're here to make a proposition.'
'Really?' said Cleverly.
'Yes sirree,' said Tango Pete, who was really getting into his character now. 'We've had a tip off from our little old agent her in little old England. Miss Rita Miassov.'
'I know Rita,' said Cleverly.
'She said that you were about to do business on a field of rare Italian marble,' said Tango Pete. 'And that you might be interested in taking on a business partner. A wealthy business partner.'

Cleverly shook his head. 'Oh, well, I'm afraid you've been misled,' he said. 'I don't do business with no-one but meself. You've 'ad a wasted journey, Tangoed, me old son.'

At that moment, Cleverly's mobile rang out.
''Scuse me,' he said, and stepped to the back of the office to take the call.
'It's Rita,' said Rita. 'I've got some news about the Manor.'
'What news?' said Cleverly.
'It's not good, I'm afraid,' said Rita. 'Andy and Denise won't sell. At least not for the money you're offering. It would appear they are more attached to the place than I gave htem credit for.'
'Bugger!' said Cleverly. And then, 'Am I allowed to say that?'
'For the moment,' said the author. 'It seems an appropriate reaction. I'll give it further considertaion when I start editing.'

'Okay,' said Cleverly. 'Ow much do they want, exactly?'

Rita told him. He paled, but managed to keep his knees braced so he didn't crumble to the floor.
'Right,' he said. 'Offer that to them. I may have found a schmuck, I mean, extra funds, just in time.'

He closed the phone call and turned to see Tango Pete and Cha-Cha Lil about to leave the office.
'Wait!' he called. 'Mr and Mrs Tangoed. Now, let's not be too 'asty, eh? I mean, it might be good to have a partnership wiv you. Strengthen bonds across the Atlantic and all that,eh?'
'Well, only if y'all think,' said Tango Pete, and Lil did a bit of eyelash batting, just to seal the deal.

Leaving the office, Tango Pete and Cha-Cha Lil maintained their character charade until they were safely in the back of Dave 'Shiplap' Chalet's limousine.
'So how did it go?' said Dave, turning and raising his chauffeur's cap.
'Like a dream,' said Tango Pete. 'He's agreed to double his offer for the land at the Manor if we do the same. He's transfering the funds to our 'off-shore oil refinery' account right now. And then we're meeting him at the Manor to 'sign contracts' tomorrow afternoon, as soon as we've checked the money has cleared.'

'And did you get the fake mining report?' asked Rita, who was also sitting in the back of the limo.
'No problems,' said Cha-Cha Lil, removing the document from where it was concealed down the front of her dress. 'They don;t call me 'Cheeky Cha-Cha, the Lock Picker Dream Boat,' for nothing.'

Chapter 33 - All Is Revealed (Well, Almost All)

Rita's revelations paled in comparison at the sight of the photograph she placed on the table, once Boom had wrestled the envelope from a frantic Honeybun and torn it open for its sordid contents to be seen by all.

'So,' said Boom. 'It was you all along.'
'And you let me take the blame,' spat Mrs Miggins. 'Hold me back, Gloria, hold me back, before I get her.'
'Yes,' said Honeybun, and watched nervously as Mrs Pumphrey wrestled Mrs Miggins into submission.

Well, she could hardly deny it, could she? It was there, in glorious techni-colour, for all to see. Pictorial evidence that it was she, Honeybun Slingsby, who had stolen Boom's precious lucky hat from him, that dark and fateful night, and passed it to Dave. Someone had caught them in the act, someone had snapped the hand-over, committed in a dark corner of some pub whose name even Honeybun couldn't remember. Her shimmery green kakapo wing, despite the gloom, contrasted clearly with the vibrant pink of Dave's flamingo appendage. And in the middle, the lucky hat hovered like a phantom.

'Dave!' said Mrs Miggins, turning and stopping in his tracks a shame-faced Dave, who was sneaking from the caravan. 'How could you? How could you betray Boom like that?'

Dave stepped back into the caravan.
'It's all bit embarrassing, really,' he said. 'I did it for you, Laetitia. For you. And for love.'
'Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah,' went the rest of the assembled crowd.
'No, not 'aaahhhhhhhhh',' snapped Mrs Miggins. 'The band split up because of you thieves.'
'But can't you see?' said Dave, dropping onto his knees before Mrs Miggins and then leaping up again immediately because he had knelt in something sticky. 'You were getting too involved with Boom. And he was no good for you.'
'Oi,' said Boom. 'I am here you know.'
'Shut up, Boom,' hissed Honeybun, who was happy to have the spotlight turned away from her. 'You'll only make things worse.'
'I think it's up to me to make decisions about my love life, don't you?' said Mrs Miggins. 'Besides, if it hadn't been for HER,' and she pointed a wing at Honeybun, 'then Boom and I would still be together, the band would still be playing and conquering the world with their own unique brand of rock 'n' roll, and Much Malarkey Manor would still be standing.'
'But what about me?' wailed Dave, who, for a flamingo who generally emanated an air of 'cool', was beginning to lose it big time. 'What about me, Laetitia?'
'What do you mean?' said Mrs Miggins. 'What about you?'
'I love you!' said Dave. 'I have always loved you, ever since the day I first clapped eyes on your glossy ginger feathers.'
'They're not ginger, they are auburn,' sniffed Mrs Miggins. 'Besides, it would never have worked. Not a chicken and a flamingo. I mean, think of the colour of the chicks.'
'Oh, and a chicken and a kakapo would have worked, would they?' said Dave.
'At least we're the same height,' interrupted Boom, who could hold his beak no longer.
'Shut up, Boom,' said Dave.

Boom was getting a bit fed up of being told to shut up.
'No,' he said. 'I will not shut up. It was my lucky hat that was stolen, and you were the one who stole it, Dave. You and Honeybun. And if you hadn't stolen my lucky hat, I wouldn't have to be wearing a toupee now.'
'You're wearing a toupee?' said Bob, studying Boom's head closely. 'You'd never notice. It's very good.'
'Isn't it?' said Boom, momentarily distracted from his outrage. 'I have them hand-woven especially, in New Zealand. They've got a good supply of the right feathers there, you see, because of the breeding programme.'
'Yes,' said Bob. 'Can it?'
'Go ahead,' said Boom. 'You won't find a join.'
'When you've quite finished,' said Rita Miassov, who'd been wholly disinterested in the unfolding malarkey, as she had known about it for weeks now, 'we need to decide what we're going to do about Cleverly Dangled.'
'Yes,' I said. 'And you still haven't told us why you helped him escape last night, either. Jail's the only place for him. Not only for arson, but for the attempted murder of an innocent chihuahua, too.'

'Don't you see?' said Rita, who was beginning to think that a depletion of oxygen levels in the caravan must be responsible for the growing insanity. 'I had to let him go, so I could trap him again. He thinks I'm on his side. I want to see him hoist by his own petard. And we don't have time to get caught up in something that happened years ago, and can't be changed.'
'I nearly went to Rio with you,' said Mrs Miggins, and she slapped Dave around the beak.
'STOP!' commanded Rita. 'Don't start up again. Forget you and Dave. Forget you and Boom. Forget Boom and Honeybun. In fact, forget any other romantic pairings that might have gone on, because I really don't want to know about them. And I especially do not want to know about the one involving Stix and that porcupine backing singer,' she added, before Stix decided to chip in with his tuppeny-worth. 'Focus on the here and now, folks. Focus on getting one over, and then some, on the evil property developer, Cleverly Dangled.'

'Right!'chorused the crowd.
'So are you behind me?' said Rita, thinking how nice it was to be really in charge of something after all these years of being told by others what to do.
'YES!' everyone shouted.
'THEN LET'S GO!' shouted Rita, and they all spilled outside where they stood in the black and charred remains of the Manor, staring at each other blankly.
'Now what?' said Dave.

And they all crowded back into the van and gathered around the tiny table to listen intently to each other's ideas,and then do exactly as Rita told them anyway.

Chapter 32 - Not so Cleverly, Dangling

Being tied to a barrel of Chateau Lafitte '68 all night had done nothing to improve Cleverly Dangled's temper. Everything had gone so well up to that point, and then some stupid bird had pooped in his eye and in a temporary moment of blindness, he'd been captured and then held hostage by a bunch of assorted fowl.

'D'ya mean to say I've bin dealin' wiv a bunch ov chickens all this time?' he said to his rescuer, who, it turned out, was one Rita Miassov and not who the author envisaged during her panic planning stage, but there you go, such is the nature of 'going with the flow' in creative writing; you just never know what twisty turny step the narrative is going to take next.

'Not wholly,' said Rita. She was pacing Cleverly's office, and hoping to high heaven that no-one had seen her sneaking in and out of Cluckinghen Palace early that morning. 'Denise and Andy aren't birds. Neither am I.'

'Wot about this Honeybun Slingsby?' said Cleverly.
'Kakapo,' said Rita.
'Bleedin' 'ell,' said Cleverly. 'I've 'ad a parrot trying to do me bribery for me.'
'She is a very engaging parrot,' said Rita. 'She is also a very successful negotiator. I can't understand why she didn't stick to her part of the bargain.'
'It weren't just a bargain,' said Cleverly, slamming his hand down hard on his desk. 'She's broke a contract, that's wot she done.'
'Yes,' sighed Rita. 'I suppose you could look at it like that. Although I'm not sure how water-tight such a contract would be in a court of law, should you decide to sue her for breach. You're not planning on suing Miss Slingsby, are you?'
'Course I ain't,' snorted Cleverly. 'Wot d'ya fink I set fire to the Manor for? I gotta git me revenge some how, ain't I?'

He slumped in his chair and pushed his hand through what remained of his hair.

'Right,' he said. 'Wot about this 'ere agreement we got wiv your clients? I got to salvage sumfink from this mess.'
'Well, I suppose now their home has been burned to a cinder, there's more of an incentive for Andy and Denise to sell up the land,' said Rita.
'And that rich seam of rare Italian marble,' said Cleverly, suddenly perking up with at the thought of more riches on the horizon. He clapped his hands, then rubbed them together lasciviously.

Rita bit her tongue. Did this man have no sense of shame, no compassion for the suffering of others? Of course he didn't - that's why he was who he was - a git.

'I'll go and see them,' said Rita. 'Today. Before they start getting ideas about a re-build. It might help, 'she continued tentatively, 'if I can offer them a bit more money. Sweeten the pill so to speak.'
Cleverly frowned.
'You got that mining valuation report yet?' he said.
'Yes,' said Rita. She lifted her briefcase onto the desk and made a great show of finding the paperwork and checking it through before handing it over to Cleverly.
'I trust you'll keep this information strictly confidential,' said Rita. 'If this document should get into the wrong hands...'
'Yeah, yeah,' said Cleverly, scanning the document briefly.

Behind her back, Rita's fingers were crossed tightly. She knew forgery was a fine art these days, but trying to con a conner was always a risky business. But her friend, Wally 'The Detail' Denning had done a good job on this report. If anyone was capable of pulling wool over Cleverly Dangled's eyes, it was Wally. And possible a granny knitting a very thick balaclava.

'Looks okay,' said Cleverly. He placed the report in the top drawer of his desk and turned the key in the lock. 'Go and see your people. Offer 'em this,' and he wrote a figure on a piece of paper and handed it to Rita, 'and tell 'em I want the deal done by the end ov next week, or no go.'

The sum wasn't quite the magnificent amount Rita had been hoping for, but as it was going to be money for old rope, to use a cliche, she felt disinclined to argue.

'Yes, Mr Dangled,' she said. She closed her briefcase and turned to leave the office.
'Oh, and Miss Miassov,' said Cleverly.
'Yes?' said Rita.
'I'll be watchin' you...okay?'
'Yes, Mr Dangled,' said Rita.

* * * * * * * * * *

We looked at the piece of paper Rita had set before us.
'What do you think?' said Andy. 'We could take the money and move away. Fresh start and everything.'
'Yes,' I said. 'It's tempting. And we'd get the insurance money, too. Why does your client want to buy this land?'
'He wants to turn it into a wildlife reserve,' said Rita. 'And when he heard what had happened at the concert, he thought he'd step in quickly, help you move on if you wanted to.'
'I see,' I said. 'I suppose it's better than having some vulture like Cleverly Dangled hanging around, wanting to buy up the land to build more houses on.'
'Absolutely,' said Rita.
'Did you see,' said Andy, 'that he's been denied permission to build his estate over the other side of town?'
'Really?' I said. 'Well, that's one piece of good news, at least. We should tell the chickens. So they don't feel their efforts have been wasted.'
'Tell us what?' said Miggins, who had taken a deep breath and come to the caravan we'd been lent as temporary accommodation.
'That Cleverly Dangled's plan to build over more of the countryside has been scuppered,' said Andy. 'Although we thought the planning was as good as granted.'
'It was,' said Honeybun, pushing her way into the caravan behind Mrs Miggins. 'All it needed was a gentle push from the hand of bribery, and it would have gone through.'
I tutted. 'Bribery? Ha! I think it's appalling that councils are still open to such despicable behaviour.'
'I think it's despicable that there are people out there who will conduct acts of bribery on behalf of clients,' said Andy. 'I wonder who Cleverly Dangled had to do his dirty work for him.'
'It was me,' said Honeybun. 'I was supposed to bribe the planning council for Cleverly Dangled. But I didn't. And that's why the Manor got burned to the ground.'

By now the caravan, which was only a two-berth, (it also had a small awning, but Andy and Denise hadn't got around to putting it up yet), was feeling rather cramped, filled as it was with three humans, four chickens, a silky, a flamingo and two kakapos. Oh, and Tango Pete who was still recording events on his handy cam for prosperity, and now, potentially, evidence. Thank heavens Pepe was still in bed, recovering from his previous night's exploits; a chihuahua in the caravan mix would have been a chihuahua too many.

At the news of Honeybun's betrayal, all fidgeting and shuffling and mutterings of 'Oi, get your beak out of my ear,' stopped.

'You what?' said Boom.
'You heard,' said Honeybun. 'I was employed by Cleverley Dangled to bribe the council to get planning permission for his housing estate. But in the end I couldn't go through with it.'
'Why not?' said Boom.
'Because,' began Honeybun, 'because he didn't want to stop at the original plans. He wanted to build more houses. Here. At the Manor. I was supposed to persuade Andy and Denise to sell the Manor to Boom as a rare archaelogical digging site, so he could then sell it onto Cleverly Dangled, so he could expand his building project.'
'Oh, that's nice,' I said. 'Honeybun has saved us from being dragged into a case of curruption.'
'My right foot she has,' snapped Rita. 'The reason she didn't go through with it was because of this,' and she slammed an envelope down on the small caravan table.
'NO!' yelled Honeybun.
'FESS UP!' yelled back Rita.
'WELL,' yelled Honeybun, 'if you want to know who released your firework man, there's your girl.' And she pointed a wing at Rita.
'Is this true?' said Andy.
'Yes,' said Rita. 'But I had reasons. Very good reasons.'
'They'd better be,' I said. 'And I think you'd better start telling us. NOW.'

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Chaper 31 - Smoke and Mirrors

Slowly, we shuffled our way through the smoking remains of Much Malarkey Manor, poking the ashey remains tentatively with our toes, hopeful to find a vestige, an undamaged remnant of our life before the fire.
'Photos, books, knick-knacks, everything gone,' I whispered. A blue-print, thatwas all that remained. Blackened outlines showing where walls had once stood, where furniture had been placed, where our life was once lived.
Andy squeezed my hand. 'It's only bricks and mortar,' he said, his own voice shaky with emotion. 'We've still got each other. Everyone is safe.'
I nodded. 'Yes,' I said. 'You're right. At least no-one was hurt.'

It had taken the fire brigade all night to tame the fire, and dampen it down far enough that it had been safe to leave just a single tender behind, in case a hot spot should flare up without warning. The concert arena had been safely evacuated, and stood now, undamaged, like a semi-deflated balloon on the horizon. Cluckinghen Palace had suffered minor smoke damage, but was at least habitable. We had yet to see the hens appear that morning.
'Do you think they're okay?' I said. 'Should I take them some breakfast?'
'I suspect they might be feeling guilty about facing us,' said Andy.
'Why?' I said. 'The fire wasn't their fault, was it?'
'You and I know that,' sighed Andy. He bent and retrieved a blackened object from the ground. 'But they're probably thinking if they hadn't organised the concert in the first place, the Manor would still be standing.'
'That's daft,' I said. 'They organised the concert for the best of reasons.'
'Hens are daft,' said Andy. 'But it was a bit ironic, wasn't it? Them organising the concert because they thought the Manor needed saving.'

I gave a little laugh. 'It's certainly beyond saving now,' I said. 'What's that you've got?'
'Our egg timer,' said Andy. 'The one in the shape of a Dalek.'

* * * * * * * *

'I can't face them,' said Mrs Miggins, when Mrs Pumphrey informed her that Andy and Denise were wandering about in the remains of the Manor. 'I've burned their house down.'
'Now that's not the case, is it?' said Mrs Pumphrey, briskly. 'Come on, now. They'll understand. And I expect they're insured. It might take a while, but there will be a house built back on that spot quicker than you can say 'pass me a brick hod.'
'But it won't be the same, will it?' said Mrs Miggins. 'It won't be Much Malarkey Manor.'
'That's true,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'All those memories, all that history. Gone, forever, never to be seen again...'
'Shut up, Betty,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'You aren't helping.'
'She's right, though,' said Mrs Miggins. 'That fire has destroyed things that can never be replaced. And it's all my fault.'
'We helped organise the concert, too,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'We're as much to blame as you.'
'Yeah, but Mrs Miggins is usually in charge, so she's the most responsible,' said Mrs Slocombe.
'Go and make some breakfast,' glared Mrs Pumphrey.
'I'll have to leave,' said Mrs Miggins. 'That's what I'll have to do. And never show my shameful face around here again.'

By now Mrs Pumphrey had had enough. 'Now that's it,' she said. 'Enough of this self-pity, Laetitia Miggins. You are going to have a shower and get dressed. And then, after breakfast, we are going to see Andy and Denise, all of us, and we are going to ask them how we can help them rebuild their life. Okay?'
'All right,' sighed Mrs Miggins. 'But I don't see that we will be any help at all.'

* * * * * * *

'Where have you put him?' asked Boom. The four members of Boom Penguin were gathered in the billiards room in the North Wing of Cluckinghen Palace.
'In the cellar,' said Bob. 'He's shackled to a barrel of Chateau Lafitte '68.'

(The author would like to point out at this juncture that she has no knowledge of wine whatsoever, because due to her hypersensitive taste buds, all alcohol tastes like vinegar to her, and if she wanted to drink vinegar she'd buy in a gallon or two of Sainsbug's basic malt and pour it straight down the drain, thus saving herself a small fortune and a lot of time. So any mention of wine is based on pure circumspection and has been highlighted as a point to address once the editing process begins. If it ever begins. As has the dodgy use of the word 'circumspection.')

'What are we going to do with him?' asked Dave.
'Well,' said Stix, 'bags I be the one to do the unveiling of the villain by unmasking him with a flick of my wing.'
'You always liked that bit in Scooby-Doo, didn't you?' said Bob.
'But what are we going to do with him after that?' said Dave.
'Hand him over to the police, of course,' said Boom. 'After all, he did try to murder a chihuahua.'
'Can't we give him a bit of a kicking first?' said Dave, who'd been hoping someone else would mention an act of violence before him.
'No,' said Bob. 'Violence never got anyone anywhere.'
'Oh, I don't know.' said Dave, remembering a particularly persistent stalker he'd thrown off a balcony in Stuttgard back in '89.
'It was a good job it was a ground floor balcony,' reprimanded Bob, who had the uncanny ability to know exactly what Dave was thinking at any given moment.
'Okay,' said Dave. 'Let's go and reveal the villain. That might be a bit of fun, at least.'

They trooped from the billiard room and down the stone steps into the cool, dry air of the cellar.
'Chateau Lafitte '68?' said Boom, perusing the row upon row of barrels that lined the walls. 'Are you sure?'
'Positive,' said Bob, who was never wrong about anything.
'Well, he's not here now,' said Boom. And he held up a length of garden twine, that had been obviously severed.
'Someone's cut through the bindings,' said Bob.
'Who would free him?' said Boom.

And in the shadows of the cellar, a slight figure paused, then fled up the stone stairs to freedom.

* * * * * * * * * *

'What do you mean, he's gone?' said Mrs Miggins.
'Someone set him free,' said Boom. 'We went to fetch him up from the cellar, ready to hand over to the police, and he'd vanished.'

Mrs Miggins paced the kitchen. 'Oh great,' she said. 'Our only piece of solid evidence for the cause of the fire has disappeared.'
'We'll find him, Tish,' said Dave, trying to put a pink flamingo wing around Mrs Miggins' shoulder, which was quite difficult actually, what with him being four feet taller than her, and her having no shoulders to speak of.
'How?' said Mrs Miggins. 'How will you find him?'
'We found a clue,' said Stix.
'Why are you talking in that stupid voice?' asked Mrs Miggins.
'He's being Shaggy from Scooby-Doo,' sighed Bob.
'I'm living in a den of fools!' wailed Mrs Miggins.
'Where's this clue?' said Mrs Pumphrey, deciding to take charge of the situation before it all descended into hysterics.

Bob stepped forward and held up the clue.
'Before I touch it,' said Mrs Pumphrey, 'what is it?'
'It's a piece of skin,' said Bob.
'Eeugh,' said Mrs Pumphrey.
'And once I set up the 'My Little Forensic Scientist' kit I got last Christmas, I shall be able to run some tests and we'll find the person who let our villian go free,' said Bob, triumphantly.

'There won't be any need for that,' said Honeybun, who'd been standing in the doorway, listening to the unfolding of a potential tenuous plot point.
'Blimey,' said Boom, with a start. 'How long have you been standing there?'
'Long enough,' said Honeybun, because that's what people usually say in these situations. 'Save your chemistry experiments, Bob,' she continued. 'For I know who set your villain free. And come to that, I think I know who the villain is, too.'
'Who?' chorused the assembled crowd.
'Follow me,' said Honeybun Slingsby.

Chapter 30 - Calamity!


'Pepe!!' shrieked Honeybun, watching in horror as her beloved dog shot through the air, his black and red magician's cape flapping wildly behind him like the tail of a comet.
'Flippin' heck!' said Mrs Miggins, as the rest of the gang came running onto the stage. 'That was some Christmas pudding.'
'It wasn't a Christmas pudding, you idiot chicken,' wailed Honeybun. 'It was a bomb! He tried to blow up my Pepe!!' And she turned to point an accusing finger at the figure of the firework man who was making a hasty withdrawal into the wings on the opposite side of the stage.
'Well, don't just stand there!' yelled Honeybun. 'GET HIM!!!'

From then on chaos reigned like the time when Dougal from the Magic Roundabout was accidentally declared Prime Minister back in '72 and caused a world-wide sugar shortage by rebuilding the Houses of Parliament out of Tate and Lyle's finest. Boom, Stix and Dave shot across the stage after the mysterious firework man whilst Honeybun led the mad scramble down the steps to follow the trajectory made by Pepe.
'CROWD SURF!!' she yelled, flinging herself into the audience, who were still trying to work out if this was still all part of the act.
'WHOO-HOOOO!' yelled Mrs Slocombe. flinging herself after Honeybun.
'I'm taking the more conventional route,' said Mrs Pumphrey, who wasn't showing her pants to anyone, let alone an arena full of weirdo 'Boom Penguin' fans and she ran down the steps with Mrs Miggins.

From the distance came the sinister 'POUFF!'of a muffled explosion.

'He's done for!' sobbed Honeybun, coming into land from her crowd surf. 'Poor, poor Pepe.'
'Oh, blimey,' said Mrs Miggins, as a plume of fire and smoke rose into the air. 'You know where he's landed, don't you?'
'I don't care, I just want him to be safe,' sniffed Honeybun.
'He's landed right in the middle of the firework display,' said Mrs Miggins. And she stood next to Honeybun and watched as fireworks crackled and flashed into the crisp night sky.
'Pretty,' said Mrs Slocombe, who was running on an adrenaline high from her maiden crowd surfing experience.
'Wasn't there a safety fence put up to shield the Manor from any stray sparks?' said Mrs Pumphrey, who, try as she might, couldn't locate the temporary barrier that had been erected, thought that might have been because she wasn't wearing her glasses.

'Oh, double flip,' said Mrs Miggins. 'Quick, call the fire brigade. This could go horribly wrong.'

* * * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, Boom, Dave and Stix were hot-footing it after the firework man. Being a long-legged flamingo, Dave was making better headway than the stumpy legged Boom who was lagging behind despite hijacking a skateboard from someone in the audience. It didn't help that Stix was hitching a ride, too.
'Get him, Dave!' yelled Boom, when it became clear the firework man was getting away. 'Get him and pound him into submission with your weirdo, knobbly pink legs.'

Dave skidded to a halt.
'Oh, that's right,' he said, turning suddenly and ramming a foot down on the front of the skateboard so Stix shot forward and imbedded his beak into the back of Boom's neck. 'Get in an insult, just as I'm about to become a hero.'
'Well, they are,' said Boom. 'You've got to admit it. Flamingo legs are about the weirdest legs in the whole of bird-dom. (Look, if Shakespeare got away with making up words, so can I.)
'You're jealous,' said Dave. 'You always have been. You'd give anything to have an elegant length to your legs, you shorty, fat feathered dumpling.'
'Shouldn't we be chasing after that bloke?' asked Stix. 'Only he's getting away.'
'Shut up, Stix,' said Boom. 'This is important. Dave clearly has issues.'
'I have issues??' said Dave. 'You're the one who can't get over the fact you lost Latitia Miggins and she's with me now.'

There. It had been said. The awful truth that had been surpressed for all these years, had been voiced.
'Laetitia Miggins has, and will always be mine!' said Boom, stiffly.
'Yeah, right,' said Dave. 'She almost came to Rio with me, you know. And now I've got a seond chance with her and you can't bear it.'
'Yeah?' said Boom. 'You reckon, do you?'
'Yeah,' said Dave. 'As a matter of fact, I do.'
'Shut it,' said Boom, and kicked Dave in the ankle.
'Will not,' said Dave, whacking Boom on the back of the head. Meanwhile, Tango Pete stood close by, recording the fracas on his handy cam that was connected to the giant screen back at the arena.
'This is better than 'Die Hard,' said a fan, as the audience sat on the edges of their seats, absorbed by the growing drama.

'She loves me!' shouted Boom. 'I was her first. I am special.'
'She can't stand the sight of you,' retorted Dave. 'As long as you're with Honeybun, you'll always be scum to Laetitia.'
'She's mine!'

Dave and Boom looked at each other. Stix looked at them both with a face that said 'See, I told you so.'
'Well, where's he gone?' said Boom. 'See, you and your stupid pride. You let him get away.'
'Me?' said Dave. 'You're the one who started it all.'
'It's okay,' said a voice, and Bob Frapples emerged from the darkness, pushing THE firework man before him with a sharp and pointy stick. The firework man, for added mystery, was still wearing a mask, and tied with some plastic coated garden twine Bob had found in the greenhouse at the back of the Manor.
'You caught him,' said Boom. 'How did you do that?'
Bob sighed. It was so tiresome sometimes, being the brains of the outfit.

'See these,' he said, flapping his lovely silky wings. 'If you flap them, you fly.'
'Do you?' said Boom, who never flew without the aid of an airplane, or helicopter.
'So I flew ahead of the firework man. And then I pooped in his eye from above and whilst he was temporarily blinded, I strung him up with this twine and marched him back here with the aid of my trusty pointy stick.'
'That sounds easy,' said Boom.
'It was,' sighed Bob. 'How's Pepe?'

Pepe was alive. Winded, but alive. Luckily, when ordering his magician's cape from 'Magic Kit 4 U', he'd spent an extra £4.99 for the flame proof model. As he'd been flung through the air, he'd managed to wrap the cloak tightly around his entire body, offering himself full protection from the flames. Also, he'd landed on the Manor compost heap, so when Honeybun had finally located him, with fireworks bursting and banging around them, the worst that Pepe had suffered was a slight singe to his tail and half a mouldy aubergine in his ear.

'Oh, Pepe!' sighed Honeybun, hugging her chihuahua tightly to her. 'I was so scared you'd be dead.'
That's nice, thought Pepe, who'd rather enjoyed the ride.
'Look!' said Honeybun, holding Pepe up for Mrs Miggins and the others to see. 'He's safe.'
'Which is more than can be said for the Manor,' said Mrs Miggins, pointing grimly at the blazing building in front of them.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Chapter 29 - Off With A Bang!

'Boom Penguin' rocked! From the moment their lead singer stepped onto that stage from his lunar module, wearing his silver space suit and brandishing his Martian Light Sabre (other light sabres are available), the crowd, devotees of the original Major Tom, was his.
'I could be Major Boom,' thought Boom as he moonwalked to centre stage, the crowd roaring and whooping their appreciation. 'Or better still, Field Marshall Penguin. I wonder if Field Marshall is the highest military rank there is. Must remember to look it up on Trickipedia tomorrow.'

The band rocked their way through four numbers, and then 'Poulet Nous' hit the stage.Sequins flashing, hairdos bouffed to the peak of bouffancy, Misses Miggins, Pumphrey and Slocombe would give even the biggest of disco divas a run for their money. By the interval, everyone was certain the evening would be a success. Tango Pete was busily recording clips to put on You-Tube, and his current squeeze, Cha-Cha Lil had been taking phone bookings for the next concert.

Dripping with sweat, Boom ran into the wings.
'This is GREAT1' he said, as Honeybun wrapped his lucky Liberace smoking jacket around his shoulders.
'I must say I thought we were all toast when the crowd realised they weren't going to see David Bowie,' said Honeybun.
'It just goes to show,' said Boom, 'that talent will always triumph over funny hair and abstract make-up.'

Honeybun looked to the opposite wing. Pepe was performing his warm-up tai chi whilst a couple of stage hands dragged the pirahna tank onto the stage.
I wonder what he's going to do instead of his 'Cut a Kakapo in Two' trick, she thought.
'Ready?' she shouted to Pepe, as he opened his eyes and flexed his toes. Pepe had webbed toes; a useful tool for a chihuahua who enjoys scuba diving.
Pepe gave her a thumbs up, and Honeybun took the microphone from Mrs Slocombe who was using it to do comedy shaving with on Stix. She marched onto the stage (Honeybun, not Mrs Slocombe; sorry, inaccurate use of pronouns there), and announced that during the interval the crowd would be entertained by a magic act, and that refreshments were available at the various tents placed around the arena. The crowd hushed enough for Honeybun to be satisfied they had heard her, so she left the stage in the capable paws of Pepe.

Honeybun had never wanted a dog. She was more of a cat person, really, or guinea pig at a push. But one evening, on a particularly drunken post-concert pub crawl with Boom and Dave (Bob had gone home to watch a recording of Mastermind, and Stix was still lying comatose on the stage having caught his head on a high hat cymbol during an overly-energetic drum solo), she'd found herself on the receiving end of some sales patter via a rather shifty looking character at 'The Mole's End.'
'You're a lady who looks like she enjpys something small and furry,' said the man.
Honeybun giggled. She was on her fifth Archer's and lemonade. With a day off gigging tomorrow, she was determined to enjoy herself this evening.
'Have a look in my box,' said the man.
'Sssshir,' said Honeybun. 'I'm not assssh drunk as shum thinkle peep I am. I don't look in any old sssstrangerssssss boxes, you know.'
'Course you don't,' said the man. 'And if I can't tempt you, I'll be on my way...'
'WAIT! Honeybun yelled, placing a hand firmly on the man's arm. 'However, I reverse the right to have a neaky speep.'
The man smiled. He reached beneath the table and lifted up a cardboard box. The box gave out a tiny squeak.
'Ooooooh,' said Honeybun. 'What's in the box?'
'Take a look, little lady,' said the man.

So Honeybun did, and inside was a small, skinny, pink and bare of fur...thing.
'Ittsssssss a slug!' said Honeybun. 'Eeurgghhh.'
'It's not a slug,' said Boom, peering into the box himself. 'It's got legs.'
Honeybun squinted more closely. 'Oh yes,' she said. 'Four little stink and pumpy legs.'
'It's a guinea pig,' said the man.
'OOOOOOOOOOH!' squealed Honeybun. 'I love pinny gigs. Buy me the pinny gig, Boom. Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeze.'

And Boom had pulled out his wallet and paid a huge amount of money for the guinea pig, especially when the man reassured him that, yes, it would fur, and that it was a very rare type of guinea pig.

And a very drunk Honeybun took the guinea pig home.

Over the next couple of weeks, the guinea pig began to grow at an alarming rate. Its ears grew beyond what one would normally expected from a guinea pig, and eventually, when the guinea pig started begging for meat, Honeybun took it to the vet.

'I thought guinea pigs were vegetarian,' said Honeybun.
'They are,' said the vet, whose name was Andy. 'Unless it's been crossed with a hampire.'
'What's a hampire?' asked Honeybun.
'It's a cross between a hamster and a vampire,' said Andy. 'Hamsters are very like guinea pigs in that neither of them are blessed in the brain department. Your guinea pig could have be the result of an error in the dark.'
'Oh,' said Honeybun, who hadn't a clue what Andy the Vet was going on about; she assumed it was some technical veterinary malarkey.
'But I think the reason your guinea is begging for meat and growing beyond your standard guinea pig size,' said Andy, 'is because it is, in fact, a chihuahua.'

Honeybun looked at Andy.

'It's a miracle,' she breathed, because she was one of those women who always get a bit over-awed and breathy in the company of vets. And firemen. 'A guinea pig that has transmogrified into a dog.'
'It was always a dog,' said Andy. 'No-where in its genetic make-up has a guinea pig been involved with this animal.'
'Are you sure?' said Honeybun, slightly disappointed that the miracle was evaporating before her eyes before she could sell her story to the tabloids.
'About as sure as I can be,' said Andy.
'You are a proper vet, aren't you?' said Honeybun.
'Yes,' said Andy. 'Look, my certificate is on the wall.'
'Just checking,' said Honeybun, and she picked up her guinea-huahua and left the surgery.

As it turned out, Pepe proved to be better as a talented dog rather than an untalented guinea pig, so Honeybun decided to keep him. It was a bit like having a guinea pig anyway. A big, bald, webbed-foot guinea pig.

And now, here he was, her Pepe, performing magic on stage before a crowd of thousands. If he had been her child Honeybun might have burst with pride. But she always maintained it wasn't a good idea to treat your pets like they were human. That way, she always told people, lies madness and getting caught up in things like writing a novel in a month.

'How's it going?' asked Mrs Miggins, appearing behind Honeybun. She had changed from her sequin cat suit into her boho chic combination swirly skirt, frilly blouse and faux leather purple waistcoat.
'Fine,' said Honeybun. 'He's already escaped from the tank of pirhanas, and produced a hat from a rabbit.'
'Shouldn't it be the other way around?' asked Miggins.
'Not the way Pepe does it,' said Honeybun, causing Mrs Miggins to wince.
'Poor rabbit,' said Mrs Miggins.
'Indeed,' said Honeybun. 'But don't worry; it's all to do with slight of paw.'

They stood and watched as Pepe did a spot of mind-reading and then a couple of card tricks.
'What's he doing for his finale?' asked Miggins. 'Now he can't do his cut-a-kakapo-in-two trick?'
'I don't know,' said Honeybun. 'He refused to let me see his rehearsals.'
'Mrs Slocombe offered to help him with a hack-a-hen-in-half version,' said Mrs Miggins. 'But I always think Mrs Slocombe and sharp objects are a bad combination.'
'Look,' said Honeybun. 'He's preparing for his finale.'

Pepe stepped into the centre of the stage. The crowd, who had become entranced by this enigmatic performer, watched as the stage hands dragged on a cannon.
'Brilliant!' said Mrs Miggins. 'I like a good cannon trick.'
Pepe swept his cloak back and forth, like a matador teasing a bull. To one side, a stage hand held a flaming torch. And next to him stood a familiar figure, holding what looked like a Christmas pudding.
'I know that person,' said Honeybun. 'It's the firework guy. The one who came to sort out the display.'
'Why's he holding a Christmas pudding?' said Mrs Miggins. 'It's not Stir-up Sunday for another three and a half weeks yet. It'll go off, you mark my words.'

But oh,never were there more fatal words uttered by a chicken in jest.

('It's not jest,' said Mrs Miggins. 'It's true. I know about puddings. Make 'em too soon, and it'll be mould or mice before mid-December, no matter how much brandy you feed it.')

For as soon as Pepe raised his hand, the firework man stepped mid-stage and placed the pudding into the mouth of the cannon. And then he picked up Pepe and placed him in the cannon atop the pudding. Before Mrs Miggins could say 'that pudding looks very black, he must have made it months ago, it'll definitely go off now,' and before Honeybun to shriek 'BOMB!!!!', the stage hand passed the flaming torch to
the firework man, who lit the fuse and the whole thing went...

Chapter 28 - Where's David Bowie (and do we really care?)

The band had decided to open their set with an old 'Boom Penguin' favourite, 'Boom Meringue', which had been Number One for twelve weeks in 1981, knocked off the top spot by Adam and the Ants, which Boom didn't mind because he rather admired Mr Ant's style and big frilly blouses.

'Are you sure?' said Honeybun, when they had spent a testy evening thrashing out the playing order. 'It's a bit ballady to be kicking off a concert with.'
'It's perfect for the atmosphere I want to create,' said Boom. 'I want to go in quietly, build up the tension. Make the audience concentrate on what's happening right from the very start.'
'Yeah,' said Dave, who hadn't said much up to this point as he'd been making googly eyes at Mrs Miggins. 'I mean, the return of 'Boom Penguin' has got to be on a par with the great historical events of the century, hasn't it? Like the fall of the Berlin Wall.'
'I don't think so,' said Honeybun.
'It will be though,' said Dave, determindly. 'Everyone will remember where they were when they heard that 'Boom Penguin' was back in business.'
'I remember where I was when Elvis died,' sighed Mrs Slocombe.
'You weren't anywhere,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'You weren't even an egg.'
'Okay,' said Mrs Slocombe, 'I remember where I was when my grannie told me where she was when she heard that Elvis had died.'
'And where was she?' asked Mrs Miggins, who felt it better to get it out of the way now, or they'd never hear the last of it.
'In Woolworths, buying a tea cosy,' said Mrs Slocombe.

So 'Boom Meringue' it was. Honeybun didn't object to the song itself; she rather liked it with its soulful strings and building crescendo, but she felt that something more lively, more raunchy would have been a better idea to put an audience in the mood. Something like 'Sonic Boom,' maybe.

The arena was full, the crowd was high. Someone had started off a Mexican Wave with Salsa Dip, and a chant was developing, increasing in volume with every voice that joined. (I guess it would, though, wouldn't it, that being the nature of how noise works. There's a bit that'll hit the delete button when I start editing.)

'What are they chanting?' asked Bob, as he, Stix and Dave loitered in the wings, waiting for Boom to take his position on the opposite side of the stage.
'I'm not sure,' said Mrs Pumphrey, hoiking up her bustier and wishing she'd used a tad more toupee tape to keep it in place.
'Sounds like 'BOWIE!BOWIE!'to me,' said Mrs Miggins. 'That's rather odd, don't you think?'
Mrs Pumphrey glanced at Mrs Slocombe. Unfortunately, Mrs Miggins noticed the glance, because she was an astute old bird and things like suspicious glances laced with a ribbon of guilt rarely got past her.
'Oi!' said Mrs Miggins. 'Less of the 'old' if you don't mind.'
'Sorry,' said the author.
'Now, you two,' said Mrs Miggins, 'what have you been up to? Why are the crowd chanting 'BOWIE!BOWIE!?'
'Er,it might have something to do with the fact they are expecting David Bowie to appear,' said Mrs Pumphrey.
'And why would they be doing that?' asked Mrs Miggins, folding her wings across her chest and tapping her foot impatiently on the floor.
'I may have inadvertently typed the letters 'D.A.V.I.D.B.O.W.I and E, rather than B.O.O.M.P.E.N.G.U.I and N when I was using 'Ticket Wizard' to create the tickets,' said Mrs Pumphrey.
'That was rather long-winded,' said Mrs Miggins, who'd caught on to the gist of the dilemma pretty early on in the explanation.
'We need all the words we can get,' said the author.
'And what do you mean 'inadvertently'?' said Mrs Miggins, choosing to ignore the author as she felt she was raising her head a little too high today. 'It sounds like a deliberate act of sabotage to me.'

Mrs Pumphrey hung her head in shame, because sabotage hadn't been her intent at all. She was a chicken with a good heart; all she ever wanted was to do her best.
'I'm sorry,' she said, in a tiny, tiny voice. 'I thought it might help, well, encourage people to buy tickets. For the fund.'

Mrs Miggins sighed. She peeped around the flats at the side of the stage. The audience was growing restless.
'Well, you've certainly achieved good ticket sales,' she said. 'I suppose I'd better make an announcement and hope I get off the stage alive.'

And she strode onto the stage with all the confidence a chicken with an over-whelming sense of impending doom could muster.

'Thank you!' she called, tapping the microphone so it made that squealy, whistling noise. The sound engineer winced. He wished people wouldn't do that. Microphone tapping was a particular irritation of his.

'Thank you, ladies and gentlemen,' she said again, and the audience began to hush in anticipation of the introduction of their hero, who appeared to be David Bowie and not 'Boom Penguin.'
'Thank you all for coming to this benefit concert, which as you know is to raise funds to save Much Malarkey Manor from being demolished by housing developers,' she continued. Not that it is going to be razed to the ground now, thought Miggins, but she didn't think it a good idea at this point to reveal the audience were victims of two deceits and not one.
'Never mind that,' shouted someone from the front of the audience,'bring on Bowie!'
'Yeah!' shouted someone else. 'Bring on Bowie!'
'Shut up, Mrs Slocombe,' hissed Mrs Pumphrey. 'There is no Davie Bowie, remember?'
'Isn't there?' said Mrs Slocombe. 'Who've we come to see then?'
'Boom Penguin,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'And Pepe the Magician and us.'
'But I see us every day,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'And I don't like 'Boom Penguin.' Didn't like them when they were around for the first time, so I'm hardly going to like them now they're old and raddled, am I?'
'But you've been canoodling with Steve 'Stix' Stubbins for the last three weeks,' said Mrs Pumphrey.
'Have I?' said Mrs Slocombe. 'How exciting!'
'Betty, did you take your pills this morning?' said Mrs Pumphrey.
'What pills?' said Mrs Slocombe.
'Oh Lord,' sighed Mrs Pumphrey.

'Bring on Bowie! We want Bowie!' the audience began to chant. Mrs Miggins was losing control. How was she going to break this news to them? She took a deep breath.

'THERE IS NO DAVID BOWIE - IT'S BOOM PENGUIN!' she yelled at the top of her miked up voice.

The audience fell into a sudden and eerie silence.

'WHAT?' shouted the troublemaker down the front.
'BOOM PENGUIN?' shouted someone else. 'THEY'RE CRAP, THEY ARE.'
'Mrs Slocombe!' hissed Mrs Pumphrey. 'Don't make me get out the beak muzzle.'

'Booooooooooooo!!' went the audience.
'Oh tiddle,' said Mrs Miggins, or words to that effect. 'We're dead.'

But then something quite wonderful, nay quite beautiful happened. From deep in the orchestra pit, the sound of a lone string lifted into the crisp November night sky. It was joined by another, and another, and on the stage a puff of dry ice began to swirl its way around the base of the lunar module. And then, ever so slowly, (mostly because the stage hand winding the crank handle was a weedy type and it took him a few turns to get the mechanism going), the door to the lunar module dropped forwards to form a runway onto the stage. Blinding lights emitted forth form the back of the module, highlighting a lone, shadowy figure. The mist grew, twisting and turning into the air, filling the wings with smoke and making Mrs Miggins cough a bit.

Bob, Stix, Mrs Pumphrey and Mrs Slocombe all held their breath. Mrs Miggins coughed a bit more. Pepe looked up to the skies in vague irritation because his pirhanas were growing edgy with the wait and if there's one thing you don't want when you're performing a dangerous escapology trick from a tank of water, it's edgy pirhanas.

Before he'd uttered a single lyric from 'Boom Meringue,' Boom Penguin, Rock Star Extraordinaire, had entranced the audience.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Chapter 27 - Boom Will Rock You

At 6 pm, barely an hour and a half before the concert was due to begin, the drive leading up to the arena was ominously quiet. I glanced out of the bedroom window which afforded excellent views of the empty roads and lanes leading up to the Manor.

'Oh, I do hope they won't be disappointed,' I said. 'They've put an awful lot of work into this concert. It would be awful if no-one turned up.'
'We'll still go,' said Andy. He adjusted his bow tie in the mirror and turned to face me. 'Too much, do you think?' he said. 'Too formal? Too grand?'
'It depends,' I said, 'on whether you are going to wear anything else.'
Andy looked down. 'I thought I felt a breeze,' he said.

In the dressing rooms behind the arena, Boom Penguin were holding a team-building session.
'Who are we?' said Boom.
'Boom Penguin,' said the rest of the band.
'And what do we do?' said Boom.
'We boom,' said the band.
'And what happens when we boom?' said Boom Penguin.
'The who world rocks,' said the band.

Boom looked from Bob to Srtix to Dave and back again. 'Okay,' he said. 'No can we try that with a little more conviction?'
'I'm afraid I'm finding it hard to be convinced of anything, ' said Bob morosely, 'when the arena is echoing to the heady sound of silence.'
'Oh, don't you worry,' said Boom, cheerfully. 'The fans won't let us down. Trust me.'
'I tried that once,' said Dave, 'and look what happened.'
'The past is the past,' said Boom. 'You watch. That arena wil start filling and soon you won't be able to move for the smell of rock and roll.'
'Someone's coming!' shouted Mrs Slocombe, bursting into the dressing-room as fast as her skin tight cat suit would allow. Her head was half-filled with curlers, amd Mrs Pumphrey was in hot pursuit.
'Will you come back this instant,' shrieked Mrs Pumphrey. 'How can I do your feathers when you won't sit still??'
'See!' said Boom triumphantly. 'I told you they'd be here. Our fans,' he sighed, dreamily.
'Don't get too excited,' said Honeybun, appearing behind Mrs Pumphrey. 'It's only something to do with the firework display.'
'The fireworks?' said Mrs Pumphrey, frowning so hard her false eyelashes came unstuck and landed in Bob's pre-concert gin and it snifter. 'I thought Tango Pete and his cousin had set everything up already.'
'Apparently not,' said Honeybun. 'This guy says they forgot to put in some kind of detonator device. He says that without it, the evening is going to end as a damb squib rather than a triumphant bang.'
'Well, we don't want a damp squib, do we?' said Boom. 'The bigger the bang, the better, eh darling?' and he gave Honeybun a dig in the ribs.
'I wouldn't know,' said Honeybun. 'Now if you'll excuse me, I'll take this firework chappie up to the display area so he can do whatever it is he has to do to the fireworks.'
'Fine,' said Boom. 'Me and the guys have important prep to do, anyway.'

'And so do we,' said Mrs Pumphrey, ushering Mrs Slocombe from the room.

The firework man followed Honeybun through the arena and out the back to where a small, gentle slope had been punctuated by a selection of various firework structures.
'Leave me to it, love,' said the firework man. 'You get on. You look like you're busy.'
'You have no idea,' said Honeybun. 'There's all these rock fans to start shepherding about for a start,' and she swept her hand across the rows and rows of empty seats.
'Was that sarcasm?' asked the firework man.
'No,' said Honeybun and left him too it before the sharpness of her wit caused her to lacerate her tongue.

Once she was out of sight, the firework man got to work.
'An extra fuse here,' he muttered, 'and a bigger fuse there. And I fink that 'oneybun Slingsby and 'er gang might just regret messin' wiv me.'
Reaching into his pocket, the firework man, or should I say 'firework' man, pulled out a piece of official looking paper. Unfolding it, he scanned the contents for the hundredth time that day.
Across the centre of the paper, in deep red letters, was written the words 'APPLICATION REJECTED.'
Letting out a stifled growl, which could have been due to his pent up anger, or the fact his faLse beard was excessively bushy, the 'firework' man screwed up the paper and flung it into a box of Roman candles.

* * * * * * * * *

Three quarters of an hour to go. Then thirty minutes. Stix was performing an agitated rap on his dressing table with his drumsticks, Bob was sitting against the wall looking morose. Out in the corridor, Poulet Nous could be heard rehearsing the tricky harmonies for Mamma Mia. And then...then the cars started appearing and filling up the car park. Cars, and more cars, and then a coach. A couple of motorbikes, followed by more cars.

Boom, who had been standing outside the arena staring across the countryside, breathed out a depp and thankful sigh.
'They're here,' he whispered. 'My fans. My devoted fans. They've come. They haven't let me down.'

And turning, he ran back into the arena towards the dressing-room, letting out a giant and excited scream that was most unbecoming of a cool and happening rock star...'THEY'RE HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERE!!!!!!!'