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3

It was joy, joy happy joy no more.

All across Brentford alarm bells started to ring.

At the cottage hospital. Where the doctors and nurses on duty were joyously playing at doctors and nurses. As doctors and nurses will so often do, if business is slack and there is an R in the month.

At the fire station. Where the lads of Pink watch, Lou Lou, Arnie Magoo, Rupert, Gibble and Chubb, were forming a human pyramid in the station yard. As firemen will so often do when they've run out of things to polish and the weather's sunny enough.

At Brentford nick. Where the boys in blue were sitting in the staff canteen discussing the Hegelian dialectic, that interpretive method whereby the contradiction between a proposition and its antithesis can theoretically be resolved at a higher level of truth. As policemen will so often do when not fighting crime.

And finally at the offices of the Brentford Mercury, where Hildemar Shields sat fiercely scowling. He was told simply to 'hold the front page'. As editors so often are.

These alarm bells had been precipitated into fevered ringings by calls made by Derek on his mobile phone.

He and Kelly had survived the holocaust and struggled all but unscathed from the wreckage of the Plume Cafe. They were now engaged, along with many a plucky Brentonian good Samaritan, in dragging crash victims from the mangled bus and administering what first aid they could.

Miraculously, there appeared to have been no loss of life. The driver was bruised and bloody, but he was still conscious and he now sat on the pavement, holding his head in his hands and being comforted by several caring souls.

The tour guide, who had been thrown into the cab, over the driver's head and out through the windscreen, should surely have been dead. But he wasn't. He'd travelled straight through the old-fashioned flap-up windscreen, which had obligingly flapped up for him, straight through the serving hatch behind the Plume's counter, out of the open rear door and onto a pile of stunt mattresses which had been left in the back yard. As is often the case. He now sat next to the driver, staring into space.

Those on the open top deck of the bus had not been quite so lucky. As the tour bus had torn into the cafe, they had been swept backwards by building debris and now lay in a moaning knotted heap in the rear of the crumpled vehicle, blocking up the top of the stairs.

There appeared to be five of them, all interlaced by arms and legs in an intricate manner. Four students of Japanese extraction and a lady in a battered straw hat.

Untangling them was proving to be a problem of Gordian proportion. And Derek was finally forced to step in and halt the enthusiastic efforts of a plucky Brentonian motor mechanic who was tackling the task with a crowbar.

'Best leave it to the professionals,' was Derek's advice. 'They'll be along shortly.'

And of course they were.

The gathering crowd, which now seemed to include most of the population of Brentford, cheered wildly as the local fire tender, followed by the local ambulance, followed by four local police cars, came tearing up the High Street, sirens banshee-wailing and beacon lights a-flash-flash-flash.

Exciting stuff.

But, sadly, it has to be said that there can sometimes be problems with the emergency services when they find themselves all being called out to the scene of a disaster at the same time. There tends to be a lot of competition and a lot of disputation too. Particularly regarding just who is supposed to be in overall charge and who should be giving the orders to whom. There is often a tendency for the first to arrive on the scene to put themselves in charge, whether they should be putting themselves in charge or not. There can be an awful lot of posturing and pulling rank and being difficult and, well, being male really.

It's a 'man thing' and it has a lot to do with the uniform.

One might have thought that in Brentford, things would have been rather different. But if one might have thought this, one would have been very wrong. Would one.

Men will be men and boys will be boys and so on and suchlike and whatnot.

The race along the High Street was a good'n though. Two of the police cars just managed to overtake the ambulance, but they were held back by the fire tender, which took to violent swerving and then skidded to a halt at an angle effectively blocking both sides of the High Street. This left for a fifty-yard two-legged dash along the pavement. Bookies in the crowd were already taking bets.

First to reach the crash site should have been fire officer Arnie Magoo. He was first out of the tender's cab and very fast on his feet. But faster was constable Cavendish and far more powerful too. Winger for the Metropolitan Police All Blues rugby side, he grounded fireman Magoo with a splendid tackle, which drew much applause from members of the crowd who were laying their bets on the bobbies.

Whilst the first two gallant lads grappled it out on the pavement, it was left to Acting Fireman Howard Chubb and Police Constable Edward Flanders to battle for lead position. These two were old adversaries and well versed in each other's tactics. Whilst Flanders favoured rib-elbowing, Chubb was an eye-gouge merchant.

They had once drawn a joint first place at a road traffic accident in Abaddon Street, back in 2020. A milk float had collided with a jeep containing soldiers home on furlough and brought down a pillar box, setting it ablaze.

This particular accident had led to a most interesting situation due to the number of uniformed personnel all finding themselves in the same place at the same time. The soldiers naturally felt that they should take charge of the situation, but a passing postman declared that he should. The driver of the milk float, who argued that his uniform held as much rank as anybody else's, threw in his twopenny worth and Flanders and Chubb [4] arriving together, as they did, were drawn into a five-way confrontation.

They were, however, outnumbered by the military on this occasion, who effectively demonstrated that guns held rank over truncheons and fire axes.

So.

While Cavendish struggled with Magoo and Chubb held Flanders in a headlock and poked him in the eye. And fire officer Gavin Rupert sat upon the chest of Police Constable Meredith Wainwright. And fire chief Lou Lou had Chief Constable Eric Mortimer Ronan-Bagshaw up against the window of Mr Beefheart's butcher's shop. It was left to the enterprising and nimble Police Constable Ferdinand Gonzales, five times winner of the Metropolitan Police 'You're it' championships, to break away from the pack and claim the disaster for his own.

Before sinking slowly to his knees and passing from consciousness.

'Now will everyone back away please!' ordered ambulance driver Lesley Jane Grime, loading up a hypodermic with a potent anaesthetic, whilst at the same time discarding the one she had just used on the backside of Constable Gonzales. 'I am in charge here and now…'

But she really didn't stand much of a chance and she soon went down beneath the flailing fists of bobby and fire bloke alike.

‘I’ll have to break this up,' said Kelly, squaring up to employ her Dimac. 'I can't allow this to continue.'

'Best to keep out of it,' Derek advised. 'These things eventually resolve themselves and as there's been no loss of life…'

'There's injured people upstairs on the bus.'

'Ah look,' said Derek. 'Here comes Mr Shields.'

The editor of the Brentford Mercury jostled his way through the crowd, pushing a small and worried-looking man before him.

'This is Gary,' said Derek to Kelly. 'Gary's our press photographer.'

'I don't like the look of this,' said Gary. 'This bus might explode at any minute.'

'It's quite safe,' said Kelly. 'But there's injured people upstairs.' She stepped aside as a fireman blundered by with a constable clinging to his throat.

'Go up and photograph them, Gary,' said Mr Shields. 'Have you brought the doll?'

Gary nodded. Kelly said, 'Doll?'

'The discarded child's doll,' Mr Shields explained. 'It makes for a great front-page picture. Adds that touch of pathos. Often there isn't one at a crash site, so press photographers always bring their own.'

'Mine's called Chalky,' said Gary, producing Chalky from out of his pocket. 'She's quite a little star, aren't you Chalky?'

Kelly's jaw fell open. 'Don't you understand?' she said. 'There are injured people. Real people. Suffering.'

'Any dead?' the editor asked.

'Thankfully not.'

'Shame. But one or two might always die on the way to hospital.'

'What?' Kelly looked appalled. She was appalled.

'Ah,' said Mr Shields. 'Well, I know that might sound callous, but actually it isn't.'

'Isn't it?' asked Kelly, as two confused constables rolled by, wildly swinging at each other.

'It's a cathartic thing,' the editor explained, stepping aside to avoid being hit by an ambulance man. 'Vast public outpourings of grief. It started back in the 1990s. People began placing bunches of flowers at the sites of road accidents or murders. Then there was the Hillsborough disaster and of course the death of Princess Di. Conspiracy theorists suggest that it was a cabal of florists who came up with the original idea. But I tend to the belief that the public need that kind of thing. It makes them feel caring and takes their mind off their own problems for a while. And thousands and thousands of bunches of flowers all laid out do make for a very colourful and poignant front page…'

Mr Shields never saw the punch coming. Kelly laid him out with a single blow.


Order was finally restored with the arrival of FART. The Fire Arms Response Team. They had been called in when Mr Pendragon, the proprietor of the Plume Cafe, who had just popped around the corner to the cheese shop shortly before the demolition occurred, and had tarried rather longer than he should have done in the pub next door to the cheese shop, returned to find a bus sticking out of the front of his now defunct caf'e and a whole lot of uniformed men beating eight bells of bejasus out of each other all around and about.

Somewhat upset by this downturn in his fortunes, he had managed to locate his old service revolver from amongst the wreckage of his business premises and started taking potshots at the crowd. As one would.

It was all well and truly over, however, by three in the afternoon.

Derek and Kelly sat in the waiting room of casualty at the cottage hospital. There had been no fatalities through either crash or conflict. Mr Pendragon lay in a private ward, straitjacketed and suffering the after-effects of nerve gas. Mr Shields had recovered consciousness and returned to his office, where he sat composing headlines of the bus crash plume boom doom persuasion. The uniformed walking-wounded had licked their wounds and walked and only those who had been aboard the bus remained tucked up in hospital beds.

Derek was making notes in his reporter's notebook.

Kelly sat and teased strands of her golden hair. Twisting them between her fingers, slowly backwards and forwards. Back and forwards and back.

Dr Sebastian Druid, son of Ted and brother to Conan Barbarossa Firesword Druid (who lived in a world that was very much of his own), breezed through the double doors that led from the general ward and smiled a warm and friendly smile at Kelly Anna Sirjan.

Dr Druid was a man of moderate height and immoderate sexual appetite. He had much of the tawny owl to his looks, but a little of the okapi. He knew his stuff when it came to first aid, but was totally lost beneath the bonnet of a Ford Fiesta. Dr Druid had a clipboard and a pair of brown suede shoes.

'Don't get up,' he said to Kelly, who already had.

'How are the patients?' Kelly asked.

'Odd,' said Dr Druid. 'Somewhat odd.'

'How so, odd?' asked Derek. 'Odd to look at, do you mean? That driver is certainly a strange-looking chap. Reminds me a bit of the Mekon.'

'No.' The doctor sat himself down and then stood up again. 'It's not the looks of them that are odd. Although I've never been overly attracted to the Oriental physiognomy. Not that the women of Thailand are anything other than fair.'

'Aren't they dark?' asked Derek.

'Fair to look upon,' said Dr Druid, looking fairly upon Kelly Anna. 'Fair to behold. But I don't mean odd in looks. The four Japanese students have all recovered their senses and I'll keep them in tonight for observation and turn them loose tomorrow. It's the other three that trouble me.' Dr Druid consulted his clipboard. 'There's this lady in the straw hat, whose name I wouldn't dare to pronounce. The driver, a Mr Periwig Tombs, and the tour guide Robert Charker, known as Big Bob, I believe.'

'So what's odd?' asked Derek.

Dr Druid heard him ask, but addressed his answer to Kelly. 'Blank out,' he said. 'They are completely unable to communicate. It seems as if they are suffering from total amnesia.'

'It's shock surely?' Derek said. 'After all, they've just been in a bus crash.'

Dr Druid shook his tawny head and raised an un-okapi-like eyebrow. 'It isn't shock,' he said. 'Trust me, I know these things, I'm a doctor. And have you had a check-up lately, Ms Sirjan, I think you really should, I can fit you in now, if you're free.'

'I'm fine,' said Kelly, noting how firmly the doctor's gaze had attached itself to her breasts. 'These people weren't unconscious when we found them. How do you explain the amnesia?'

'I don't,' said Dr Druid. 'I have run all the usual tests. The Gugenheimer Cheese Recognition Test. The McNaulty Handkerchief Scan, knotted and unknotted. I've tried rattling change in my trouser pockets and even whistling in a very low and mournful manner, which quite put the wind up one of my interns.'

'Did you try moving a pencil back and forward across an ashtray?' Derek asked.

'Naturally.'

'And what about reciting the alphabet into a paper cup?'

'I also tried it into a bedpan.'

Derek now shook his head, but didn't raise an eyebrow. 'You're very thorough indeed,' he observed.

'Well, I am a doctor,' said Dr Druid. 'Your shoulders look very stiff, Ms Sirjan, perhaps I could massage them for you?'

'Would it be possible for me to speak to any of the patients?' Kelly asked.

'Possibly later. They're currently being interviewed by a policeman and a fireman. Not that they'll get anything from them. They seem to have lost the power of speech and hearing as well, as far as I can make out. I could give your back a quick rub, if you like, my dear. Or perhaps take you to dinner?'

Kelly's fingers twisted at strands of her golden hair. 'Thanks, but no thanks,' she said. 'Derek is taking me out to dinner tonight.'

'Am I?' said Derek.

'Yes,' said Kelly. 'You are.'


There are many splendid eateries in Brentford. There is Archie Karachi's Star of Bombay Curry Garden in the Baling Road. Wang Yu's Chinese Chuckaway in Albany Crescent. The Wife's Legs Cafe down at the end of Half Acre. And the Laughing Sprout, Brentford's only vegetarian restaurant, which tucks itself away at the bottom of Horseferry Lane, near to the river, where no-one has to look at it much. It's a very romantic little venue, but it doesn't serve any meat.

Derek was a young man who very much liked his meat. His father, a man made wise with many years, had told him the value of protein. 'Eat meat and keep your bowels open and trust in the Lord, if the need should arise,' were the words his father spoke on the subject, and words Derek never forgot. He ate up his meat and kept his bowels open and would no doubt one day trust in the Lord, if the need ever arose.

A little after eight of the evening clock, he led Kelly Anna Sirjan through the door of the Laughing Sprout and was directed by the waiter to the table for two that overlooked the river.

'I believe this to be safe,' said Derek, as he pulled out a chair for Kelly. 'The chances of being hit by a river-boat are, in my opinion, quite remote.'

'It's very nice here,' said Kelly. 'Do you come here often?'

The lie that might have sprung from his lips did not even enter his head. 'No,' said Derek. 'I've never been here before. But I'm right assuming you're a vegetarian?'

'How did you get on after I left the hospital? You said you were going to the bus depot.'

Derek seated himself and toyed with his serviette. 'I did. I checked the bookings for the bus tour. There was one other tourist aboard. The son of the lady with the unpronounceable name.'

'So whatever happened to him?'

'Search me,' said Derek. 'He wasn't on the bus when we helped the others. Perhaps he just got off and walked away.'

'And left his mother? That's very strange.'

'Everything is strange about that crash. I talked to some of the eyewitnesses. They say the driver wasn't steering the bus, that he was flapping his hands about and going crazy.'

'Had he been drinking, or something?'

'Not according to Dr Druid. I took the liberty of asking him to call me if there were any developments. If the patients got their memories back or anything.'

'And do you think he will?'

'I also took the liberty of mentioning money. There might be a story here. A big story. I wouldn't want the nationals to get to it first.'

'You'd like the exclusive all for yourself

Derek made a sour face. 'I spent two hours typing it all up, simply to be told by Mr Shields that he was covering the story and I should just clear off home.'

'Will we be seeing a picture of Chalky the doll on tomorrow's front page?'

'I shouldn't be at all surprised.'

The waiter, an eastern European type, dressed in gypsy trappings, was hovering near with the wine list and now made polite coughings.

'Ah yes,' said Derek. 'What would you like to drink, Kelly?'

'A glass of red wine please.'

'A glass of red wine then,' Derek said to the waiter. 'And do you have any beers?'

'We do Sprout Lager, sir. It has to be tasted to be believed.'

'Two red wines it is then.'

The waiter nodded and turned to leave and then he turned back again. 'Excuse me please, sir,' he said. 'But I couldn't help overhearing your conversation.'

'Ah,' said Derek, thoughtfully.

'It's just that, well, you see, my sister, she saw the crash happen.'

'Really,' said Derek. 'How interesting.'

'I don't think you really meant that,' whispered Kelly.

'I think he overheard me speak of money,' whispered Derek.

'Oh no, sir,' said the waiter. 'It isn't that. I don't ask for money. It's only that my sister was greatly troubled by the thing she saw.'

'Seeing an accident is never pleasant,' said Derek. 'But your sister will get over it in time.'

'Oh no, sir. I don't think she will. Not with the thing she saw.'

'Go on,' said Derek.

'Well, sir, I overhear you say about the lady's son, missing from the crash. My sister see him come down from the top deck of the bus. She say he looked very frightened and lost as if he don't know where he is. His eyes all staring and scared. Then he turn around and walk into the wall of the shop next door to the Plume Cafe.'

'Did he injure himself?' Derek asked.

'No, sir, you misunderstand me. He walk into the wall. Into it. Like a ghost. He walk into the wall and he vanish.'

Derek looked at Kelly.

And Kelly looked at Derek.

'Most amusing,' said Derek. 'You had us going there. Two red wines it is then, thank you.'

'No, sir.' The waiter looked most agitated. 'I'm not pulling at your plonker nor anything. This is what she see with her own two eyes. In the broad daylight. He come down from the bus and he walk into the wall and he vanish. She see it and it trouble her greatly. She honest and church-going. She say it a very bad omen. She say the Devil walk amongst us in Brentford.'

'I don't think things have got quite that bad yet,' said Derek. 'But you are serious, aren't you?'

'You can see that he is,' said Kelly.

'Serious,' said the waiter. 'I not like to tell people of this. But I hear you say that everything seem strange about the bus that is crashing. Everything more than strange, I tell you. Everything evil. Best beware.'

The waiter now speedily took his leave and went to fetch the wine.

'Things are never dull around you, are they?' said Kelly.

'They were until you arrived today. But what did you make of all that?'

Kelly shrugged and smiled a bit. But her fingers were once more twisting at her hair.

'It's got to be a wind-up,' said Derek. 'Having one over on the gullible newspaper man.'

Derek's mobile phone began to purr away in his pocket. He took it out, pressed buttons and put it to his ear.

'What's that?' he said. 'Sorry I can't hear you very well. Excuse me Kelly, I'll take this outside and try to get a better signal.'

The waiter returned with two red wines and left again, avoiding Kelly's gaze. Kelly watched Derek through the window. He was a good-looking young man. And for a newspaper reporter, he seemed to be honest enough. She saw him thrust his mobile phone back into his pocket and then rush back into the Laughing Sprout.

'Forget the wine,' he said. 'We have to go.'

'You look a little rattled,' Kelly said.

'I'm more than rattled.' Derek took a deep and steadying breath. 'That was Dr Druid on the phone. Something has happened at the cottage hospital.'

'Don't tell me someone has died.'

'Worse than that.'

'How can anything be worse?'

'The three patients with amnesia. They've vanished.’

‘What, you mean they've walked out of the hospital?'

'No,' said Derek. 'I mean they just vanished. Right in front of Dr Druid's eyes.'


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