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.

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