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20

There was no-one home at Mrs Gormenghast's.

Derek banged and hammered at the door, but no-one answered. He thought he saw the net curtains move in the upstairs front window and he thought that he saw the face of Mad John peeping out. But Derek dismissed this as only his fevered imagination.

Derek was all in a lather. Kelly's note was a warning. It warned him not to use his mobile phone. Indeed, not to use any telephone. And not to touch his computer, nor indeed anything that might have computerized innards. And it said, 'Come at once, as soon as you read this note,' and it said, 'You are in terrible danger.'

Derek fretted. He didn't know what to do. Go to the Mute Corp headquarters? Surely that was where Kelly was. But would she be there? If she was warning him not to touch any computers and that there was terrible danger, surely she wouldn't be there, amongst all those computers. Derek thought not.

So at least she would be safe if Old Vic and his cronies actually blew up the building.

She would be safe.

Wouldn't she?

But where was she?

Where?

Derek fretted further. If she wasn't at Mute Corp and she wasn't at Mrs Gormenghast's, then where was she? Oh no! Not that? Derek fretted furiously. Not vanished"? Not her too. He'd turned his thoughts away from all that mad stuff. Kelly had to be somewhere, and somewhere safe. She had to be. Surely. He loved the woman, for God's sake. Nothing bad could have happened to her. It couldn't have. No. No. No.

Derek went home.

At six of the evening clock, Derek returned to Mrs Gormenghast's. Mrs Gormenghast opened the door to him.

'No,' she said, when he asked her. 'Kelly has not returned.'

Derek went home again.

At just before eight of the evening clock, Derek returned once more to Mrs Gormenghast's.

'No,' she said once more. 'Kelly has not returned.'

Derek went home again.

He returned to Mrs Gormenghast's at half-hour intervals. And then quarter-of-an-hour intervals and then by eleven of that same evening clock, he -wouldn't go away.

'I know you, don't I?' said the police constable that Mrs Gormenghast called. 'You were in that punch-up at the Arts Centre, weren't you? I'd go home if I were you, sir, or I'll have to run you in. And I don't think you'd like that very much, as all the cells but one are currently being given a makeover by this long-grey-haired designer, who used to be very popular on the tele. And the only one we could put you into is currently occupied by a bearded tattooed poet from Mute Corp Keynes, who turned up at the station claiming that someone had nicked his wristwatch the last time we had him in the cells'

Derek tried to get a word in. But the constable continued.

'And he got really stroppy and we had to bang him up again and he keeps shouting out that he's the daddy now. And he says he wants his bitch.'

'My girlfriend has gone missing,' Derek bawled to the constable. 'Do something. Do something.'

'Move along quietly now, sir,' said the constable. 'Or I'll have to run you in.'

Derek made fists but kept them to himself, and then he went home to bed. Not that he slept very well, he didn't. Strange dreams came to him. He saw Kelly standing in the Butt's Estate and she was talking to this old gentleman and the old gentleman was telling her something, something terrible, that scared her and there was violence and Derek saw Kelly running and running and then being swallowed up by something awful that he couldn't see but could only feel. And it didn't feel good, it felt horrible.

Derek awoke in a bit more of a lather.

And he went without a shower for the second day running and as he hadn't washed, he was rather smelly too.

Derek didn't breakfast either, he just ran out of the house.

'Police, police,' called Mrs Gormenghast down her telephone. 'That madman is back at my front door.'

'Madman?' asked Mad John, looking up from his puce breakfast bowl.


Saturday was Hell for Derek. He went around to the police station to report Kelly missing, but was told to get onto the end of the queue. People were now going missing all over the borough. They were here one minute and gone the next. Several Brentford Poets and poetesses had vanished and some muleskinners and a wandering bishop and a bunch of pimply-faced youths (although no-one seemed too bothered about them). And some nurses and interns from the cottage hospital had vanished too. It was The Rapture, the desk constable told Derek. But not to worry, because it was all going to be heaven on earth in Brentford for all the un-raptured, thanks to Mute Corp. The company that cares. And while Derek was here in the police station, would he care to purchase some extra Suburbia World Plc shares? As the Brentford constabulary had just been issued a licence by Mute Corp to sell them.

Derek left in a terrible fretting frame of mind.

And the day didn't go very well for him at all. Mr Speedy and Mr Shadow were waiting at the offices of the Brentford Mercury.

'That's another hour's pay docked,' said Mr Speedy. 'And you're on an official warning. One more strike and you're out, as our American cousins like to say.'

'My girlfriend has gone missing!' shouted Derek. 'Don't you understand?'

Mr Speedy scratched at his little head. 'Not entirely,' he said. 'I didn't know you had a girlfriend. I thought you were just one of those sad and lonely lads who spend all their time playing computer games.'

'Well, she's not exactly my girlfriend yet,' said Derek. 'But she will be. I love her. And she's gone missing. She's vanished. It's terrible. Don't you understand?'

'Raptured, probably,' said Mr Shadow. 'We'll have to add her name to those of the blessed on the memorial.'

'Memorial?' said Derek. 'What is this?'

'It's being erected in the memorial park,' said Mr Speedy. 'Did you know that Brentford was the only town to have a memorial park without a memorial in it?'

'Yes,' said Derek. 'Actually I did.'

'Well, that's all remedied now. Mute Corp has generously donated a memorial. To those who have been Raptured in Brentford. It's very tasteful. One hundred and fifty metres high, black glass.'

'An homage to the nineteen-eighties Lateinos and Romlith building,' said Mr Shadow. 'The names of the blessed running up and down in liquid quartz lettering. And it will have constantly moving scenic lifts and a burger franchise at the base. Selling sprout burgers for vegetarians. Was your girlfriend vegetarian, by the way?'

'Aaaaaagh!' went Derek.

'Oh and there's a message for you,' said Mr Speedy. 'From your business associate Mr Leo Felix.'

Derek ended his Aaaaaagh! with a groan.

'He said, and I quote, "Tell Babylon to get his ass down to me showrooms, I an' I got de crad barges in."'

'Chop chop then,' said Mr Shadow. 'Pacey pacey. The devil makes work for idle hands. And things of that nature, generally.'

'But Kelly. But Oh God.'

'Have you reported her missing to the police?'

'Yes but"

'Yes but then that's all you can do. Off to work with you now.'

'I'll need some more money,' said Derek. The words just came out of his mouth. 'Quite a lot more money.'

'Would that be for the holographic Griffin?' asked Mr Speedy. 'The one that failed to appear at three p.m. yesterday?'

'Yes, that's it,' lied Derek. 'And the electric cable for the perimeter fence and the giant feral tomcat and'

Mr Speedy took out a wad of money notes. 'Ten thousand,' he said. 'Your last. If you foul up, Derek, it will be prison for you.'

'My bitch,' sniggered Mr Shadow.

'What?' went Derek.

'CCTV,' said Mr Shadow. 'Mute Corp run all the police-station circuits. Now get on your way and make things happen.'

Derek got off on his way.

As to actually making things happen

Well


'What are those!' asked Derek.

'Crad barges,' said Leo.

'Houseboats,' said Derek.

'Crad barges,' said Leo.

'Houseboats,' said Derek.

'House barges?' said Leo. 'Where de travellin' crad men lived.'

'No,' said Derek. 'No.'

'Listen, Babylon,' said Leo. 'You ever seen a crad barge?'

Derek scratched at his fretful head. 'Well, no,' he said. 'Not as such.'

'An' yo know anyone who ever seen a crad barge?'

'Possibly Old Pete,' said Derek.

'Old Pete an old friend of I an' I,' said Leo. 'Old Pete tell you Babylon, dese are crad barges. Yo have a problem wid dis?'

Derek shook his fretful head. 'No,' he said. 'Stuff it. They look like crad barges to me.'

'Dere,' said Leo. 'Dat not too painful. Yo want to see the steam train?'

Derek shrugged. 'Why not?' he said. 'It can't be any worse than the crad barges.'

Leo drew Derek's attention to the low-loader parked before the showrooms. The low-loader hadn't failed to draw Derek's attention when he had entered Leo's forecourt. It was not the kind of thing you could miss, it being so huge and all.

On the low-loader was something rather big and something all covered by tarpaulins.

Leo began to tug at ropes and unfasten hawsers and unclip those springy things that nearly have your eye out every time you use them to fasten the hatchback of your car to the bumper, because you've just bought something far too big from the DIY store and it's the only way of getting it home without paying the delivery charge.

'Damn,' said Leo, dodging his dreads about. 'Damn ting nearly had I an' I's eye out.'

Leo tugged upon the tarpaulin and Derek joined him in the tugging. Tug tug tug went Leo and Derek.

Fall away and expose to the world, went the tarpaulin and.

'Oh,' went Derek. 'Oh my God!'

'Pretty damn good, eh?' said Leo.

Derek, all flappy jaw, made his head go nod nod nod.

'It's a'

'Steam train,' said Leo.

'No,' said Derek. 'It's the'

'Steam train,' said Leo.

'Yes but

'Listen,' said Leo. 'Dis a goddam steam train. Don't go tellin' I an' I it ain't.'

'It is,' said Derek. 'It is. But it's the Flying Scotsman.'

'Don't talk silly,' said Leo. 'Dere ain't no Flying Scotchmen. I seen a housefly. I seen a horsefly. But I tink I see'd about everythin' when I see a Scotchman fly.'

'Stop singing,' said Derek. 'That isn't funny. Where did you get this from?'

'Yo said, no questions asked.'

'The Science Museum?' said Derek. 'Or the National Railway Museum? Or'

'It de property now of de Brentford Folk Museum,' said Leo. 'And it won't be the Flyin' Scotchman tomorrow. It be de Brentford Flyer. I an' I had me mate Cecil knock up a couple of new nameplates.'

'Doomed,' said Derek. 'I'm doomed.'

'We all doomed, Babylon,' said Leo. 'It just dat some of us more doomed than others.'

Derek didn't stay around to view any more of Leo's acquisitions. And Leo told him that he wouldn't be able to acquire the five miles of perimeter fence until the following evening, so if Derek wanted it putting up 'all around de goddam borough, yo can't fool me, Babylon', Derek was going to have to have his whistling Mute Corp employees working all through the night to get it up before Monday morning. So if Derek was leaving anyway, he'd best get on his way and make things happen.


Derek returned to the police station. The police station was closed for renovations. A sign upon the door instructed callers to post details of missing persons through the letter box, but to mind the wet paint.

Derek didn't mind the wet paint and got some on his sleeve.


Derek wandered off across Brentford. He was in a real state now. He'd quit the job. He would. He'd run. He would, he'd run. He had ten thousand pounds in his pocket. But Derek ached, inside and out. He wouldn't run. He might quit, but he wouldn't run. He couldn't run. He had to find Kelly. He had to find her, but he didn't know how.

He didn't know what to do.

'I know what to do,' said Derek, suddenly knowing what to do. 'No I don't,' said Derek, realizing that in fact, he didn't.

It was very busy busy, all around the streets of Brentford. Very busy busy, with a lot of whistling.


Derek went back to Mrs Gormenghast's.

Mrs Gormenghast drove him away with a big stout stick she had lately acquired, 'in case'.

Derek returned to the offices of the Brentford Mercury. He brought Mr Speedy and Mr Shadow good news regarding crad barges and a steam, train called the Brentford Flyer and of five miles of perimeter fence that would be arriving after midnight of the following day, in one big roll which, according to Leo, could then be picked up from his forecourt. The thought of just how big a five-mile roll of perimeter fence might be was far too much for Derek, who had enough things on his mind to be going on with anyway.

'Brentford Griffin?' asked Mr Speedy. 'Don't forget that.'

'It's all under control,' said Derek, in a manner that suggested that it was.

'Well, keep us informed,' said Mr Speedy. 'You don't have to keep coming back here, just call us on your mobile.'

Derek chewed upon his lip, remembering Kelly's note. 'I'd prefer to speak to you in person,' he said. 'But I will be very busy for the rest of today and most of tomorrow. So I won't be in, so don't dock me any more pay, please.'

'Any news of your missing girlfriend?' asked Mr Speedy.

'No,' said Derek. 'None.'

'You didn't tell us her name.'

'It's Kelly Anna Sirjan,' said Derek. 'But please don't put her name up on your memorial yet. I'm sure she'll be back. I'm sure.'

'Kelly Anna Sirjan,' said Mr Speedy. And he exchanged glances with Mr Shadow.

'Why are you exchanging glances?' Derek asked.

'Oh, no reason,' said Mr Speedy. 'You just go off about the company's business. We'll see you when we see you.'

Derek clutched at his stomach. All the worry was making him feel very sick. 'Goodbye,' said Derek. 'I'll see you when I see you.'

'Nine o'clock on Monday, at the very latest,' said Mr Speedy. 'That's when Suburbia World Plc will open to the public.'


Sunday came and Sunday went.

It really shouldn't have gone quite so quickly, but it did. Derek spent it attending to company business. And wandering the streets shouting, 'Kelly, Kelly, where are you?'

Many upstairs windows raised to Derek's shoutings.

And many chamber pots were hurled down on his head.

But Sunday came and Sunday went and Derek, now in a state of high anxiety, raved about the streets and raved into pubs and was thrown out of pubs and raved about the streets some more. On any normal day he would no doubt have been arrested. But there was nothing normal whatsoever about this particular Sunday. There were no policemen to be seen, only whistling workers. And there seemed to be fewer and fewer Brentonians about. The streets were virtually deserted.

Derek saw Mad John, but he didn't bid him hello.

Mad John was in the doorway of the charity shop, rooting out shoes from the black bin liners. He looked up briefly as Derek raved by, but feeling assured that this wasn't some upstart out to get his job, continued with his rooting and his shouting at shoes.

Eventually Derek went home.

He had no other choice. He was all raved out. And he had done all that he could for the Company. Leo had told him that everything was under control and that he should go and rave somewhere else or he really would have the dogs set on him. So Derek finally went home. There was really nothing else he could do.

And Derek, now with three days' stubble on his face, threw himself onto his bed and wept. She had gone. She had vanished. Raptured away. Suddenly it seemed all so possible. He could no longer ignore all the vanishing Brentonians. Pretend it wasn't happening. It was. It really was. Never a religious man, nor even a religious boy, Derek now questioned his faith. It didn't stand a lot of questioning. He didn't have one. It wasn't that he didn't believe in God. It was just that, well, he was young, and God was for old people. Old people coming close to death and beginning to worry. What if there was a God? Perhaps he should believe. He didn't want to end up in hellfire and damnation for eternity. Perhaps now would be the time to do a bit of praying. Best to stay on the safe side. And things of that nature.

But that was for old people. Yes, sure there were young Christians and young Runies, plenty of them. Runeianity was the fastest-growing religion of the day. The Prime Minister, Mr Doveston, was passing a bill to declare Runeianity the official religion of Great Britain.

And Runeianity did have the edge on Christianity when it came to having a good time. Hugo Rune had declared in his autohagiography, The Gospel according to Hugo Rune, that the only way to conquer the sins of the flesh was to try them out first. 'You have to know your enemy' Rune explained, and who was there alive to argue with such wisdom?

But Derek wasn't a Runie, nor was he a Christian. Nor was he anything else. But now, in his hour of need and his hour of loss, he really truly wished that he was.

Derek rose from his bed and locked his bedroom door, then he cleared a space on the carpet and knelt down in that space.

'Dear God,' prayed Derek. 'I expect you're a bit surprised to hear from me. Although if you know everything, then I suppose you're not. But I do want to ask you a favour. I know that people only pray to you when they want something. So that's why I'm praying to you. But you know that anyway. And it's not for me. Well, it is, sort of. But mostly it's for someone else. It's for Kelly. Kelly Anna Sirjan. One of your flock. I love her, God, and I miss her so much. Being away from her breaks my heart and I'm so afraid that something terrible has happened to her. And you'd know if it has. And if it has, will you please do something about it? Will you please bring her back to me, God? If you do, I promise that I'll try not to be such a prat in future. And not greedy. In fact I've got ten thousand pounds here and I'll give it all to charity. To the society for small and shoeless boys in need of a good hiding, or something. Anything you want, just you name it. I know it's not really my money, but you can have it. Please bring Kelly back to me unharmed. Please God, I beg you. Please. Amen. Love, Derek.'


And having prayed, Derek felt a lot better. No less fretful and no less worried, but a lot better in himself that he had prayed and so was, beneath all the greed and prattishness, ultimately a good person.

And, he noticed now, he was also a very hungry person, having not eaten a single thing all day. And a very thirsty person too.

So Derek went out again. Finally found a pub that he hadn't been thrown out of for raving, and as it was now too late in the evening to order a surf and turf, ordered ten packets of crisps instead and drank a great deal of Scotch.

And finally, crisp-filled and drunken, Derek staggered home, set his alarm clock, with inebriated care, for seven o'clock the following morning and dropped down, fully clothed and smelling bad and very stubbly now indeed, upon his single bed.


He did not sleep the sleep of the blessedly drunk. Derek slept the tossing terrible sleep of the sweating tossing troubled. Horrible dreams tormented him.

Kelly under attack from something monstrous. Something that was all-consuming, everywhere. A black spiralling, tangling network of worms and snakes and evil curly things. And Derek was powerless to help her. He was on the outside of something and she was deep within. It was all too terribly terrible. And rather awful as well.

Alarm bells rang and rang and rang.

And Derek awoke to find his alarm clock ringing.

It was Monday morning.

Seven of the clock.

And Derek knew, just knew, that this was going to be the worst day of his life.

'Kelly,' he whispered. 'Kelly, where are you? Please come back to me, Kelly. Please God, send her back to me. Kelly, oh Kelly, where are you?'


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