The wheels on the bus went round and round.
Round and round and round.
The guide on the bus was whistling sadly. The driver of the bus was smiling. The people at the bus stop saw the bus. The people at the bus stop waved.
Periwig Tombs did changing down of gears, bringing professionally to a halt, applying of the handbrake, switching off the engine and climbing down from the cab.
Big Bob Charker did saluting, then he stepped down from that special area where the conductor stands.
Six jolly tourists stood at the bus stop. Well, at least five looked jolly. Four of these were Japanese students, you could tell by the cut of their clothes. The fifth was a lady in a straw hat and she looked jolly too. The sixth was a young man, a pasty-faced youth and he looked far from jolly.
He was dour. Dour and downcast, glum and gloomy and grim. He glowered at his boots and scuffed them on the pavement. At intervals, of increasing frequency, the lady in the straw hat elbowed him in the ribs and told him to perk up.
Big Bob smiled upon all and sundry. 'Greetings all and sundry,' smiled he.
The Japanese students grinned and nodded. One said, 'Hello, goodbye.'
The lady in the straw hat smiled. The dour youth glowered grimly.
'My name is Big Bob Charker,' said Big Bob Charker. 'And I shall be thy tour guide for today.'
The dour youth mumbled grimly. The lady in the straw hat smote him on the head.
'I'm sorry,' said Big Bob, addressing the lady, 'but is there something wrong?'
'It's him,' said the lady, elbowing the youth once more. 'My son, Malkuth. He didn't want to come, but I made him. It's a lovely day, I told him, and I've already booked the tickets and if you think you're going to spend today sitting over your Mute Corp PC like you do every other day, forget it, you're coming on the tour whether you like it or not. That's what I told him and that's the way it's going to be.'
'Quite so,' said Big Bob. 'Well, good day unto you, Malkuth.'
'Poo!' said the youth in a grumbly tone, lowering his head a tad lower.
'You'll enjoy it, I promise thou,' said Big Bob.
The youth looked up and offered him a bitter glance. 'You've got pink stuff on your tie,' he observed.
The lady in the straw hat smote her son once more. 'Don't be so rude to the gentleman,' she told him.
'It's quite all right,' said Big Bob. 'It was unprofessional of me to come on duty with a stained tie. I apologize.'
The lady in the straw hat smiled at Big Bob, one of the Japanese students said, 'Okey dokey.'
'Get on with it,' whispered Periwig. 'Introduce me.'
'Ah yes,' Big Bob continued. 'This is our driver, Mr Periwig Tombs.'
'Morning each,' said Periwig. 'Lovely day for it.'
The youth looked up at Periwig. 'You have a very large head', said he. 'Was that cap made specially?'
Periwig smiled the smile of a professional. The professional who relies on his tips to make up the balance of his wages.
'My wife,' said Periwig Tombs, 'put a gusset in the back. She's very good with her hands. And a remarkably beautiful woman. Do you have a girlfriend?'
The lady in the straw hat laughed rather loudly. The youth grew gloomier still.
'Righty right,' said Big Bob. 'Well, it's all aboard then. I suggest that you go upstairs onto the open deck to enjoy the views more fully. Mind how you go up the stairs.' He stuck out his hand to welcome all aboard and the lady in the straw hat shook it. Periwig Tombs stuck out his hand and the lady shook that too. Then Big Bob and Periwig shook the hands of the Japanese students and then finally the hand of the dour-faced youth. The youth seemed disinclined towards handshaking, but Big Bob took his hand and gave it a friendly squeeze. The squeeze that Periwig Tombs applied was somewhat less than friendly. But as Periwig had puny hands the effect was much the same.
The hand of the dour youth was a cold and clammy, limp, dead thing and both Periwig Tombs and Big Bob Charker found themselves a-wiping their own right hands onto their trousers after the shaking was done.
When all and sundry were safely up the stairs and seated, Periwig returned to the cab and Big Bob rang the bell.
The wheels on the bus went round and round and the tour of Brentford began.
As the Brentford tour bus was a proper tour bus, it boasted a proper public address system. Proper speakers mounted on the decks, above and below and connected to a proper microphone, which hung in the proper area reserved for the conductor. Big Bob took up the proper microphone and did a right and proper one-two, one-two into it, before beginning his proper talk which accompanied the tour proper.
So to speak.
'One-two,' went Big Bob, then just 'One,' due to a momentary distraction. This momentary distraction came in the shapely shape of an attractive young woman •who was walking down the High Street just as the bus was moving up it.
The bus continued on its way and she continued on hers. Big Bob managed the second 'Two,' and the tour well and truly began.
The attractive young woman stopped and turned and watched the bus shrink into the sunny distance. Then she glanced into the window of Mr Beefheart the butcher's shop and took stock of her reflection. She looked all in all rather wonderful, a joyous sight to behold.
Her hair was of gold and cut in the pageboy style, with a fringe that lightly brushed the long dark lashes of her denim-blue eyes. Beneath her noble nose was a mouth of the order that most men yearn to kiss, being a perfect Cupid's bow, turned up in a comely smile.
The attractive young woman wore a short and golden figure-hugger of a dress, which hugged the kind, of figure that you rarely see any more. Monroesque, it was. An hourglass figure. Her bare legs were just long enough and tanned enough to be noticed and rarely carried her anywhere without being so. Upon her feet were golden sandals, laced about the ankles.
All in all she was something to see and upon a day such as this and in a setting so fine as the High Street of Brentford, it was hardly surprising that this golden woman had turned the head of Big Bob Charker so. Radiance on radiance beneath the smiley sun.
Now one might have been forgiven for thinking that here was one of those models. One of those models who model their skin, rather than modelling clothes. But within the golden head of this fair maiden lurked a fearsome intellect, which had crushed the egos of many a man who had harboured thoughts such as this.
The golden woman's name was Kelly Anna Sirjan and she was twenty-two years of age. She held three degrees and was studying for the fourth. She spoke four languages, including Runese. She was an expert in most fields of computer technology, a 12th Dan Master in the deadly art of Dimac and the Southern England Owari champion, whatever on earth that was.
She was a force to be reckoned with.
And she was here in Brentford on business.
Kelly ran the manicured fingers of her slender right hand through her golden locks, teased out strands of hair and twisted the ends back and forwards, back and forwards.
It was a nervous habit that she was trying to break.
But she was here on business and she was late, and being late didn't suit her at all. And it didn't seem to be her fault. The directions she'd been given were wrong.
Kelly dug into her shoulder bag and brought out several sheets of paper. She examined these and then looked up and down the High Street. She checked the numbers on the shops and then peered up towards the offices above them. Then she shook her golden head and made a puzzled face.
The shaking of her head was observed by a shadowy figure who peered from a high window in the building opposite.
The shadowy figure lay all crouched down in hiding. He was a male shadowy figure and his name was Hildemar Shields. He was the editor of the Brentford Mercury and he was hiding from Kelly Anna Sirjan.
Hildemar Shields was sniggering. The sounds weren't pretty at all.
Behind Mr Shields stood a young man called Derek. Derek wasn't sniggering. 'This is all very childish,' said Derek. 'All very childish indeed.'
Mr Shields turned his head. 'No it's not,' he snarled fiercely. 'It's tactics.'
'She'll find the office. She's not stupid. Anything but, in fact.'
'I've taken down the sign and changed the number on the door. She won't find us, she's only a woman. She'll get all confused and give up.'
'You don't know much about women, do you? And as to being only a woman, she's better qualified to do your job than you are.'
Mr Shields turned his head and made an extremely fierce face. It was a fierce face anyway, very red. Bucolic, the word for it was. It had fierce black eyebrows, that bristled out like the spears of two advancing miniature medieval regiments. The eyes beneath were all red-rimmed and the pupils were purple for certain.
There was a great deal of fierce face to be had. Some covered by fierce black sideburns. A goodly portion taken up with a fierce and fiery nose. This was a seriously angry face and its owner was seriously angry.
'Lock the damn door,' said Mr Shields. 'Just in case she does find the entrance.'
Derek shook his head and tut-tut-tutted. 'This is quite absurd,' he said. 'Head office has only sent her here for three weeks. Surely you can weather that out.'
'No, no, no.' Mr Shields dragged himself away from the window, rose to his full and most impressive height and shook his fierce and bristly head in a fierce and bristly fashion. 'She'll change things, Derek. She'll report back to head office that we're not doing things the way that things should be done. She'll make us use that stuff.'
Mr Shields made fierce gestures towards several large boxes that stood in the corner of the office. These boxes bore the distinctive logo of the Mute Corp computer company. These boxes had a rather dog-eared quality to them; they had all sorts of coffee-cup rings and cigarette burns on them. They were clearly boxes that had stood unopened in the editor's office for a very very long time.
'I think she'll probably make us change that stuff,' said Derek. 'It's five years out of date now and computer technology speeds right along.'
'I should have thrown it all out,' declared Mr Shields. 'Car-booted the lot of it! Perhaps I could drop one on her if she comes in this direction. We could say it was an accident. You could back me up.'
'Not me,' said Derek and crossing to the window he peered out. 'She's a very attractive young woman,' he said.
'They're the worst kind,' said Mr Shields, sinking into his chair. 'Attractive women with brains. Whatever was God thinking of when he came up with that idea? Women should be obscene and not heard, that's my view on the matter.'
'So you constantly let it be known.'
'Is she still there?' asked Mr Shields.
'No, she's moving off.'
'Thank the Lord Most High for that. So what's on the calendar for today?'
'Not much,' Derek shrugged. 'It's another bank holiday, as well you know. Another bank holiday that I could have had off.'
'The news never sleeps,' said Mr Shields. 'A story could break any moment.'
'A story hasn't broken here for nearly a quarter of a century. Not since Brentford got to officially celebrate the millennium two years before the rest of the world. And that was before I was born.'
'Today might be the day then. Something really exciting might happen.'
'Yeah, right,' said Derek.
'Ah but it might,' said Mr Shields. 'Something unexpected. Something really big.'
Knock, knock, knock came a knocking at the door and then it swung right open.
Framed in the portal stood Kelly Anna Sirjan. 'Good day Mr Shields,' she said.
And it was a good day. Such a very good day. Such a very good and joyous and sunny kind of day. Good day.
Five tourists on the top deck smiled and chitchatted, the tour guide went through his spiel.
'If thou lookest to the right,' came the voice of Big Bob through the proper public address system. 'Thou wilt see the Waterman's Arts Centre and beyond that in the middle of the River Thames, Griffin Island. Haunt, so legend has it, of the Brentford Griffin. Many claim to have seen the beast. Mostly after the pubs close, of course.'
Periwig Tombs changed down a gear, but his brain was now in overdrive. Your week in Suburbia World Plcwould not be complete without a boat trip to Brentford's ownFantasy Island, went the thoughts of Periwig Tombs, translating themselves into the World Wide Web page that he was planning to set up to advertise his money-spinning venture. See the creature of myth (you could knock those up out of polisynthafibreglass) that onceinhabited this enchanted realm in the dream world days of the magic distant past. (Brentford's take on Jurassic Park. That was done and dusted!)
Oho! went the thoughts of Periwig Tombs. And then Aha! And oh yes! You really could add some wonderful attractions to this historical theme park. It didn't have to be all conservation and leaving things as they were. That had been the way Big Bob saw it. But he, Periwig Tombs OBE, could do it better than that. Much better. There was all that holographic technology about today. The stuff they used in all those Disney Worlds that dotted the continents. You could employ that. It might be getting away from the original spirit of the thing, but used in the right way…
The wheels on the bus went round and round and Periwig Tombs smiled on.
Kelly Anna Sirjan wasn't smiling, although with the natural curve of her mouth it might have appeared that she was.
'Some joker', she said, 'has removed the sign from your door and changed the number.'
Mr Shields blew out his cheeks. 'I wonder who might have done that,' he said. 'So how can I help you, young woman?'
'I am Kelly Anna Sirjan and I have been sent by head office. You were expecting me, I believe.'
'Somewhat earlier, but yes. Would you care for a cup of tea?'
'Splendid. Well Derek here will show you where the tea things are and you can make us all one.'
Kelly Anna shook her head. 'I don't make tea,' she said.
'Well, never mind. We have coffee.'
'Nor coffee.' Kelly Anna shook her head. It was a definite bit of head-shaking. It signified that she definitely didn't make either tea or coffee. Definitely, absolutely, not.
'Ah,' said the editor. 'Ah, well indeed.'
Kelly Anna gave the office a thorough looking-over. It was not a thing of great beauty to behold and she beheld it with distaste.
Beside the window stood the editor's desk, with.the editor behind it. The editor and the editor's desk both looked most untidy. The editor was shabbily dressed in the ruins of a once tweed suit. The desk was a mayhem of papers and books and paper cups and ashtrays and old-fashioned telephones, mostly off the hook. There were pictures on the walls, group shots, framed front pages, yellow with age. And these hung at angles just untrue enough to annoy the fastidious. The carpet "was grey and bare of thread. Filing cabinets were open and most looked empty within.
'Has there been a robbery?' asked Kelly Anna Sirjan.
'Sorry? What?' The editor glanced all around.
'A robbery,' said Kelly. 'Perhaps someone broke in to steal those unpacked boxes of Mute Corp computer parts. Perhaps they were disturbed during the process and only managed to ransack the office.'
'You are a very rude young woman,' said the editor. 'Dismiss all thoughts of having sex with me.'
The only tidy thing resident to the office made a ghastly swallowing sound and said, 'Please forgive Mr Shields. He's been under a lot of pressure recently. My name is Derek and I am the Mercury's features editor. Can / get you a cup of tea?'
Kelly Anna looked at Derek and nodded her golden head. Derek wore a neat grey suit with a pressed white collarless shirt. He was young and tall and slim and handsome with short black hair and emerald eyes. And those eyes looked her full in the face and never once strayed to her breasts.
'Thank you Derek,' said Kelly Anna Sirjan. 'Lady Grey, without sugar.'
'Lady Grey, right.' Derek chewed his bottom lip. 'I might have to send out for that.'
'Well, whatever you have will be fine.'
'Fine. Then if you'll follow me, I'll show you around the building on the way.'
Derek led Kelly Anna from the office and closed the door behind him. The editor sat and fumed at his desk and made a very fierce face.
The face of Periwig Tombs was smiling sweetly. The tour bus was passing the allotments now and Big Bob Charker was singing the praises of Brentford's horti-culturalists.
'Twenty-three different varieties of tomato,' Big Bob said into the microphone. 'Twenty-three different varieties of sprout. And the mighty oak trees at the riverside end are the natural habitat of the lesser spotted grebe and the piebald finch chuck-chuck fiddledum bird.'
'Eh?' went Periwig as he swung the wheel. But his brain was roaring forward. Take a safari through the wildlifesanctuary and rare bird reserve of Allotment World. Enjoy a sprout and grebe burger at Periwigs, the exclusive allotmenteatery.
'Big bare-bottomed bumbly bees,' said the voice of Big Bob Charker. 'Busy busy bumble bees and Walter the Wasp as well.'
'Waspish,' said Kelly Anna Sirjan. 'Waspish, ill-mannered and clearly a misogynist.'
She sat opposite Derek at a window table in the Plume Cafe. The Plume Cafe sat at the top end of the High Street. The Plume Cafe boasted twenty-two different varieties of tea. None of which contained any sprout.
'I thought you'd like it better here than in the staff canteen,' said Derek.
'You mean that cupboard.'
'The staff canteen cupboard, yes. How's the tea?'
Kelly Anna Sirjan sipped her Lady Grey. 'Remarkably good, actually. The filtered water makes all the difference.'
'There's not much you can't get in Brentford if you know where to look.'
'I was talking about your boss, Mr Shields,' said Kelly Anna Sirjan.
'Yes, I know you were.' Derek sipped at his Typhoo. 'He's not a bad man. He's rather fierce and I agree he's something of a misogynist. But I'm afraid that he fears what you might do to the paper.'
'He should fear for his job,' said Kelly. 'Speaking to a complete stranger in the way that he did.'
'He has the job for life. It's written into his contract.'
'Only in Brentford,' said Kelly.
'Yes, you're right about that.'
'But he has nothing to fear from me anyway. I'm not here to change anything. I'm just here to study.'
'You want to learn how the paper's run? There's really not much to it.'
Kelly Anna plucked at her hair and turned smooth strands between her fingers. Backwards, forwards, backwards. 'It's not the paper,' she said. 'It's the town itself. I'm writing a thesis on it for my doctorate. I'm doing an MA in socio-economics. I approached the newspaper publisher at their head office. Told them about the project I had in mind. They put up the finance and arranged for me to come and work at the Brentford Mercury for three weeks. Mostly I just want to study the archives, learn about the history of the borough. I'm fascinated by the way that it appears to co-exist with the other boroughs surrounding it, yet remains curiously isolated and insular. I'm seeking to build up a general framework on which to hang my thesis.'
'Oh,' said Derek. 'Then Mr Shields has got it all wrong. He thought that you were some kind of troubleshooter from head office sent to shake up the place.'
'That's what head office would like me to do, but I don't want to cause any trouble. You can tell Mr Shields that I won't cause him any trouble.’
Derek smiled, exposing a set of perfect pearly-white teeth. 'Would you mind terribly if I didn't?' he said. 'I've worked at the Mercury for nearly two years now and he's shouted at me on every single day of them. It's been a real pleasure to watch him squirm, I'd like to enjoy it for just a little longer.'
Kelly raised an eyebrow. 'You're a naughty boy,' she said.
'Naughty bus,' said Periwig Tombs, struggling with the handbrake. 'I oiled you this morning, don't you get stuck on me now.'
The tour bus was parked at the western tip of the baseline of the Great Brentford Triangle.
'It is popularly believed', came the voice of Big Bob through the speaker system, 'that the city of Manchester has more canals in it than does Venice. This is.not altogether true, although we do have the world's most famous football team. Man U.'
'Eh?' went Periwig Tombs and he turned his head and slid back the little glass panel behind the driver's seat. 'Oi, Bob,' he called, along the deserted lower deck of the bus. 'Have you gone stone bonkers or something? What's all this toot about Man U?'
Big Bob's big head popped out from that special place where the bus conductors stand. 'Eee-up, bonny lad,' said he. And 'Eee-up, bonny lad' came out of the speakers.
'Eee-up, bonny lad?' shouted Periwig Tombs. 'That's not Manchester, that's Geordie, isn't it? Have you been drinking, or what?'
'Ding, ding,' went Big Bob. 'Hold very tight please.'
'You have been drinking!' shouted Periwig. 'You've been at the giggly pops.'
'Pardon I?' said Big Bob Charker. 'Giggly pops? What are those?'
'Piggly pops. Bimbo bubbly pops, damn me, I've forgotten how to speak.'
'Who are you?' asked Big Bob, suddenly. 'What are you doing in my front room?'
'He's lost it!' Periwig Tombs slammed shut the glass shutter and got into a bit of a sweat. 'He's gone mad. He's lost his lollipops, fan belts, no not those. What's happening? I'm getting out of here.'
Periwig did revvings of the engine and then stared out of the windscreen. 'Where am I?' he said. 'I don't recognize this place. I'm lost. The bus is lost.'
There came a dreadful rattling and banging at the shut glass shutter. Periwig ducked his head.
'Where are we?' shouted Big Bob Charker. He didn't have the mic any more. 'Get us back to Bren…' he paused. 'To Brentham, no to Brentside, no to Brenda, no to help! I'm lost! We're all lost. The bus is lost, help, help, help!'
Periwig Tombs stuck his foot down. He didn't know what was going on. What was happening to him or what was happening to Big Bob. But he suddenly felt very very afraid. Outside all the world was strange. The shops and houses, the lorries and cars. All were suddenly alien. Suddenly strange and unknown. His powers of recognition were blanking off. A car was a car and then it was not. Then it was just an odd-coloured shape. The road ahead was tarmac no more, now it was only grey matter.
'Aggh!' Periwig Tombs took his foot off the clutch. The bus was parked in second gear. The handbrake stretched and snapped and the old bus rumbled forward.
'What's this?' went Periwig, regarding the steering wheel in his hands. 'Black thing, coiled round? Spade? Spode? Snail? Snake? Snake'? Aaagh! Snake\'
Periwig covered his face with his hands. The bus began to gather speed.
The tourists on the top deck were unaware that anything untoward was occurring, other than that the rather odd commentary had ceased. They cheered as the bus scattered several pedestrians and had a passing parson off his pushbike.
'Look at that parsnip,' said the lady in the straw hat. 'No, I don't mean parsnip. Paspatoo. No, pasta. No, parrot. No, not parrot.'
'Where am I?' wailed Big Bob. 'What am I doing here?'
'Get it off me,' wailed Periwig Tombs. 'No get what off me? Wssss gggging nnnnnnn?'
Up the High Street went the wayward bus, gathering speed all the time. Motorists hooted and swerved to either side. Cars mounted pavements, scattering further pedestrians. The bus now mounted a pavement too, bringing down a lamppost.
In the Plume Cafe, Derek said, 'You really won't find much to interest you here, Ms Sirjan. If you want to know the secret of Brentford, I'll tell it to you. It's inertia. There's nothing more powerful than inertia. Things that are standing still are the hardest things to get moving.'
And then Derek glanced out of the window.
And then Derek flung the table aside and flung himself upon the body of Kelly Anna Sirjan.
It wasn't a sudden rush of lust.
It was something else.
Kelly toppled backwards from her chair. Derek grabbed her and dragged her aside.
The tour bus, engine screaming, and tourists screaming too, ploughed into the front window of the Plume Cafe, demolishing all that lay before it.