(posted by Saltation)
So why do I have to make things so damn difficult for myself? There I was, dangling from a cliff on a burning rope over a pit of radioactive tigers, when suddenly my phone rang.
I was so embarrassed.
I’m always forgetting to switch the damn thing off when I go to the library.
This, of course, was no ordinary library.
I’d started the day at home, Chez Sal (sea shalls), as is my wont, with my feet up on a steaming cup of tea, perusing the Sunday papers hungover in my usual Wednesday morning attempt to come up to speed with the week. I gave it up as a bad job halfway through page one. Too many words. I essayed “Hello!” magazine and gave it up halfway through page one. Too many turds. “Front”, too many birds. “Ornithology Today”, too– hey, there’s a coincidence.
I rapidly came to the conclusion there was too much of everything.
Well, when I say “rapidly,” I mean more in the sense of the third cup of tea and second eye-opener.
I looked at my watch. Good lord. I was wearing a verb. Pants? Same. Jacket? Ick. Pass the tissues. Coat? Quite. I swiftly di-vested myself of my shirt to maintain grammatical consistency and sprang to my feet with a spring in my in-step. I paced the floor. 20 feet by 15.
Not good enough.
I needed reading matter of even lighter weight than “Hello!” and “Front.”
Not an easy task.
With me, as you know, or at least you do now, the thought is the deed.
I couldn’t think of anything.
Thus I stood there for a bit.
The phone rang. This put me in a difficult position. It was quite loud and right behind me, you see, and I was still feeling rather delicate, so when it rang the second time, I observed it wide-eyed from the light fitting I now clung to on the ceiling. As I mournfully debated my options at this height, traditional British workmanship saved the day and on the third ring, I stood up from the pile of rubble and dust next to the phone and answered it debonairly.
“Say that three times fast.”
“That that that.”
“Hang on, there’s someone knocking at the door, I’ll ring you back.”
“No, you fool, that was me.”
“What?! Well, stop mucking around and come in, then. There’s no time to waste.”
I opened the door and sauntered into his office.
“You probably should have put the phone down first, you know.”
We gazed briefly but pensively at the cord running out his door and down the street in the direction of my house.
“You really should get a mobile phone, Sal.”
“I have one of those too. But anyway, ALL phones are mobile.”
“Not public phones. They’re fixed in place.”
“They must be mobile, otherwise: how would they have got there in the first place?”
“That puts me up 180 points to 17, doesn’t it?”
“I’m biding my time for my comeback.”
“You have one?”
“So, why am I here? What urgent matter requires the presence of Sal?” I struck a pose, which got angry and gave chase. Now, I don’t really like chase, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I thanked it and put the chase in my pocket, where it started to run. Which explained all those pants. I hoped they stayed pants and not stains.
“I need a book.”
“There’s a coincidence.”
“So it is.”
We gazed briefly and pensively at the coincidence in the corner.
“You don’t see many of those nowadays.”
“Funny, I was saying the exact same thing just this morning.”
“Well, anyway, back to the book. As you know, the Dr Fu Manchu Philanthropic and Totally Not Evil Association’s Christmas-In-July Party is coming up and they want to reserve Wembley Stadium for the pre-dinner drinks session. Something about preferring a grassy surface to save on the cleaning up. But… well… we fear nefarious prior booking may have occurred. I have heard rumours, Sal, dark rumours. And the name whispered in hushed and frightened tones is always the same.
“Mrs. Elspeth Groatington-Smythe.”
Each syllable fell like lead, yet the name hung in the air.
My arch enemy.
We’d been mortal foes ever since the Gastric le-Frux Town Fête’s WI Spiced Cake Stall Crisis of 1974. I hadn’t been there nor been involved in any way –I’ve never even heard of it before I mentioned it just now, to be honest– but I, Sal Tation, stand for Justice in all its forms. It makes my life damn difficult from time to time, but I can not stand by and see injustice dealt to the helpless and weak, the forgotten downtrodden, the volunteer groups’ spiced cake bakers of this world. But Groatington-Smythe was no pushover. A merciless, implacable enemy of all that was good and right, she. We battled not just the once, but again, and again. Each time, she escaped justice with her animal cunning, genius intellect, powerful frame, and supernaturally strong ginger biscuits. Fiendish plots, frenzied baking, and barely-escapable deathtraps were her stock in trade. Why, I can remember when…
But this is not the time.
“Tell me more.”
And the story unfolded. The only way to determine whether Wembley Stadium was booked for the 5-7pm first sitting on Friday was to track Groatington-Smythe (Mrs.) down to her lair, penetrate it as no one had ever penetrated Groatington-Smythe (Mrs.) before, find her heavily defended secret underground library, and inspect the book’s page for Friday to see what Wembley’s Maitre d’ had written.
I sprang into action. “Action” is the name of my shower. I’m no good at all until I’ve had my shower.
Refreshed, I put a spot of Sal-talcion, then I got into my Sal-suit, donned my Sal-utility belt, climbed into the Sal-mobile, and tore off in a cloud of Sal-rubber. With my Sal-sexlife, you see, there are always so many used rubbers that lots escape even the most fastidious of cleaners. And, to be frank, the most fastidious of cleaners resign pretty bloody quickly after starting at Chez Sal, so I’m left with the dregs, not just in terms of cleaners but also in terms of random refuse lying about the place.
But all that was behind me now as I set off on my Quest to Save the Dr Fu Manchu Philanthropic and Totally Not Evil Association’s Christmas-In-July Party’s Friday Early Booking!
The story’s for another time, I’m not being paid for this. It is one of wonder, of high adventure and high risks, of nail-biting hair’s-breadth escapes from certain doom as I sped about the globe, of crossing the Andes (which I regret to this day– if you think it’s a light matter to be trailed ever since by the world’s longest and highest (in terms of distance from the centre of the earth) mountain range screaming red revenge in its volcanic basalt heart, I can only shake my head and pray you never need learn better), of endless false leads and endlessly renewed detective work, of shady contacts in shady bars, of old connections and old favours, of deals struck and deals broken, before finally tracking down the arch-fiend later that afternoon to her new lair in the deepest darkest most god-forsaken reaches of the Chiltern Hills, unknown to man nor beast, apart from the local Ramblers Association and the Number 15 bus.
From a gentle cruising speed of 280mph (damn school zones), I slewed the Sal-mobile to a broadside halt in a convenient parking space outside at the end of a 100-yard four-wheel locked-brake skid and a shower of tortured rubber. Surprisingly sticky, those things. Tenacious. Like me. Groatington-Smythe (Mrs.) had met her match. But not at Wembley. Not if I had anything to do with it!
I consulted the Secret Lair Plans I’d purchased surreptitiously from a little stereotypeman in the stereotype quarter of a far away stereotype.
And entered the Lair.
I won’t bore you with the details. I’m sure you all have lots to do.
In what seemed like no time, but in fact took about 40 years off my life and added several years to my sentence, I’d overpowered the guards, scaled the walls, cracked the safe to discover the secret combination written down inside to let me open it to find the key inside to the front door to let me in, cured cancer and all known diseases, sneaked past a contingent of 12,000 heavily armed soldiers, run away from 12,000 heavily legged soldiers, eaten my lunch, caught cancer, delved the upper cave system, penetrated the lair via the usual succession of deathtraps, and found and entered the library.
At last, the library. A large silent cavern, stalactites and stalagmites twinkling overhead in the harsh halogen lights as they argued about which had to get down. And behind the stern, forbidding Enquiries Desk was my goal. I laughed when I saw the final deathtrap, the last obstacle between me and triumph. How tedious. The old Keep It At The Bottom of A Bottomless Pit Of Radioactive Tigers With Only A Burning Rope Leading Down trick. This was last year’s black.
I sprang into action. And by god, I needed it. I stank.
Refreshed, I bounded over the lip of the pit and swarmed hand-over-hand down the burning rope towards the ravening jaws of the radioactive tigers prowling around the book –the Book!– lying open to Friday’s page on the plinth in the middle.
And then it happened.
My phone rang.
I’d forgotten to switch it off when I went into the library.
I was so embarrassed.