Authors: Robert Rankin
Tags: #sf_humor, #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction
A sequel to "The Antipope", this is the second novel in "The Brentford Trilogy". All over Brentford electrical appliances were beginning to fail, could it be that it had been chosen as the first base in an alien onslaught on planet Earth?
The second book in the Brentford series, 1982
The solitary figure in the saffron robes shielded his eyes from the glare and squinted down the glacier to where the enormous black vessel lay, one-third submerged, in the floor of the valley. Allowing for the portion lost below the icy surface of the frozen lake it was easily some three hundred cubits long, at least fifty wide and another thirty high. It had, overall, the appearance of some fantastic barge with a kind of gabled house mounted upon its deck. Its gopherwood timbers were blackened by a heavy coating of pitch and hardened by the petrification of the glacier which had kept it virtually intact throughout the countless centuries. A great opening yawned in one side; several hundred yards away lay the door which had once filled it, resting upon two huge rocks like some kind of altarpiece.
The solitary figure dropped the butt of his Wild Woodbine, ground it into the snow with the heel of his naked left foot and raised his field glasses. His guides had long since deserted him, fearing in their superstition to set foot upon the ice pastures of the sacred mountain. Now he stood alone, the first man to breast the glacier and view a spectacle which many would gladly have given all to witness.
He whistled shrilly between closed teeth and a faint smile played about his lips. He slapped his hands together, and with his orange robes swirling about him in the bitter winds of the mountain peak, he girded up his loins and strode down the frozen escarpment to survey the ancient wreck at closer quarters.
Neville the part-time barman drew back the polished brass bolts and swung open the saloon-bar door of the Flying Swan. Framed in the famous portal, he stood yawning and scratching, a gaunt figure clad in Japanese silk dressing-gown, polka-dot cravat and soiled carpet-slippers. The sun was rising behind the gasometers, and in the distance, along the Ealing Road, the part-time barman could make out the diminutive form of Small Dave the postman beginning his morning rounds. No mail as usual for the Four Horsemen, more bills for Bob the bookie, a small brown parcel for Norman’s corner shop, something suspicious in a large plain envelope for Uncle Ted at the greengrocer’s, and, could it be-? Neville strained his good eye as Small Dave approached – tunelessly whistling the air to “Orange Claw Hammer” – a postcard?
The wee postman trod nearer, grinning broadly. As he drew level with the part-time barman he winked lewdly and said, “Another!” Neville extended a slim white hand to receive the card, but Small Dave held it below his reach. “It’s from Archroy,” announced the malicious postman, who greatly delighted in reading people’s mail, “and bears an Ararat postmark. It says that our lad has discovered…” Neville leant hurriedly forward and tore the card from his hand “… has discovered the remains of Noah’s Ark upon the mountain’s peak and is arranging to have it dismantled and brought back to England.”
Neville fixed the little postman with a bitter eye. “And you could tell all that simply by reading the address?” he snarled.
Small Dave tapped at his nose and winked anew. “I took the liberty of giving it the once-over,” he explained, “in case it was bad news. One can never be too careful.”
“One certainly can’t!” The part-time barman took a step backwards and slammed the Swan’s door with deafening finality upon the dwarfish scrutineer of the Queen’s mail. Neville took a deep breath to steady his nerves and turned away from the door. His long strides took him with haste across the threadbare carpet of the saloon-bar.
His first drew him past the pitted dartboard, the chalked scores of the previous night’s play faintly aglow in the early light. His second brought him level with the aged shove-halfpenny table, and a third took him past the first of the Swan’s eight polished Britannia pub tables. Two more soundless strides and Neville halted involuntarily in his tracks. Before him stood an object so detestable, so loathsome and so mind-stunningly vile that the postman’s irritating habits paled into insignificance.
The Captain Laser Alien Attack Machine!
Its lights blinked eternally and a low and sinister hum arose from it, setting the part-time barman’s ill-treated teeth on edge. Installed by one of the brewery’s cringing catspaws the thing stood, occupying valuable drinking space, and as hated by the Swan’s patrons as it was possible for any piece of microchipped circuitry to be hated.
Neville caught sight of his face reflected in the screen and surprised even himself with the ferocity of his expression. He addressed the machine with his regular morning curse, but the monster hummed on regardless, indifferent to the barman’s invocation of the dark forces. Neville turned away in disgust and slouched off up the stairs to his rooms. Here in privacy he poured milk upon his cornflakes and perused Archroy’s postcard, propped against the marmalade pot.
A rooftop view of Brentford.
It was a great pity that Archroy, in the interests of economy, as he put it, had chosen to take a bundle of local postcards with him when he set off upon his globetrotting. Rooftop views of Brentford were all very pleasant of course, but they did tend to become a little samey. After all, when one received a card postmarked “The Potala, Lhasa”, or “The East Pier, Sri Lanka”, it wouldn’t hurt to see a bit of pictorial representation on the front once in a while. It did tend to take the edge off, having read the exotic details of a Singhalese temple dance, to turn over the card and view the splendours of two gasometers and a water tower.
Neville sighed deeply as he squinted over to the row of identical postcards which now lined his mantelpiece. Certainly, the one view was so commonplace as to be practically invisible, but each of these little cards had been despatched from some far-flung portion of the great globe. Each had travelled through strange lands, across foreign borders, over continents, finally to return, like little pictorial homing pigeons, to the town of their birth. Certainly there was romance here.
Neville plucked up the card and turned it between his fingers. “Noah’s Ark, eh?” That one took a bit of believing. Each of the postcards had boasted some fabulous deed or another, but this outdid them all.
Noah’s Ark? To the pagan Neville it did seem a trifle unlikely. Even if it had existed at all, which Neville considered a matter of grave doubt, the chances of it surviving, even partially intact, down through the long centuries on the peak of Mount Ararat did seem pretty slight. Such things were just silly-season space-fillers for the popular press. The barman recalled reading about that chap up north who claimed to have discovered the bottomless pit in his back garden. He would probably have come clean that it was all a hoax had he not stepped backwards down it while posing for the press photographer.
Noah’s Ark indeed! Neville took the card and placed it with its eight identical brothers upon the mantelshelf. Noah’s Ark indeed! It couldn’t be true. Could it?
That same sun, having now risen from behind the gasometers, stretched down a tentative ray towards a rarely washed bedroom window at Number Six Abaddon Street. Passing with some difficulty through the murky pane, it displayed itself upon an inner wall as a pale lozenge of light surrounding a noseless statuette of Our Lady.
This mantelpiece beatification of the blessed Virgin was as usual lost upon the room’s tenant. John Vincent Omally was what the textbooks are wont to describe as “a late riser”. Usually the lozenge of light would move noiselessly across the mantelpiece wall until it reached the cracked mirror, and then reflect itself on to the face of the sleeper, thus awakening him from his restful slumbers. But today, as for some days past, it was to be denied its ritual.
Today it would find but an empty pillow, showing naught of a recumbent head but a slight indentation and a Brylcreem stain. The coverlet was tossed aside and a pair of ragged pyjama strides lay in an athletic splits posture upon the linoleum. A timeworn tweed jacket was missing from its appointed hook behind the door. It was not yet eight of the clock and John Omally was no longer at home to callers. For John Omally had important business elsewhere.
John Omally was gone a-golfing.
“Fore!” The cry echoed across the allotment, struck the wall of the Seamen’s Mission and passed back over the head of a curly-headed son of Eire, clad in soiled Fair Isle slipover and rolled-up tweeds. “Fore and have a care!” Omally swung the aged club, the relic of a former and more refined age, with a vengeance and struck the little white pill a mighty blow. The ball soared some four feet into the clear morning air and fell to earth in the midst of Jim Pooley’s radish patch.
Jim stifled a titter and read from a dog-eared exercise book entitled
The Now Official Handbook of Allotment Golf
: “Unless rendered totally inextricable, by nature of being unreachable, i.e. under more than four feet of water or beyond climbing capability, the player will play the stroke. Should the player, however, endanger the growth of his opponent’s radishes he will forfeit the hole.”
Omally scratched his head with a wooden tee and eyed Pooley with some suspicion. “I don’t recall that bit at the end, Jim,” said he. “May I venture to ask whether the rule applies to runner beans, possibly of the variety which you uprooted from my plot yesterday whilst attempting that trick shot of yours on to the fourth?”
Pooley made a thoughtful face. “Beans are not specifically mentioned,” he said, carefully examining the note he had so hastily scribbled. “But if you are making an official request to have them included in the handbook then I think we might stretch a point and pencil them in.”
At this moment the two golfers suddenly threw themselves down commando-fashion into a clump of long grass. An explanation for this extraordinary behaviour was almost immediately forthcoming as the distinctive tuneless whistling of Small Dave signalled the approach of that midget as he took his regular morning short cut through to the Butts Estate.
Allotment Golf had not yet caught the eye either of the allotment holders or the general public, and both Pooley and Omally wished to keep it that way. They would have greatly preferred to golf upon one of the municipal courses but circumstances had decreed that their photographs now appeared upon every persona-non-grata board throughout the county.
It had all appeared so trivial at the time, the small disagreements, the occasional bout of fisticuffs; hardly police matters one would have thought. Golfers, however, are a clannish bunch with rather a conservative attitude towards sport. The two Brentonians’ extraordinary conception of the game had not been appreciated. Their constant rule-bending and wild club-swinging, their numerous bogus claims to the course record, achieved for the most part by omitting to play the more difficult holes, their total disregard for other players’ safety, refusing to shout “Fore”, before what Omally described as “heavy putting”, had been too much to bear. The secretary of one course had shown moments of rare tolerance: he had respected Pooley’s request to play the holes in reverse order, he had suffered Omally playing in cycling cape and fisherman’s waders one particularly wet day, but when Pooley relocated all the tee markers (in order to make the game more interesting) and Omally had dug a second hole upon the third green in order to sink a birdy four, stern measures had been taken. The two potential Ryder Cup winners had been given what the French refer to as “La Rush de la Bum”.
Thus in a moment of rare inspiration, necessity being, like Frank Zappa, the mother of invention and Jim Pooley being a man of infinite resource when cornered, Allotment Golf had been born.
It had much to recommend it. There was no queuing up to be done, no green fees to pay, no teeing off in front of cynical observers to be suffered; above all, they could invent their own rules as the fancy took them. As originator, Jim took sole charge of the exercise book until every detail was clarified. This, he told Omally, was what is called “a divine right”. A certain amount of subterfuge was called for, of course; they had no wish to alert any of the other allotment holders to the sport for fear that it might catch on. It had been a moment of rare inspiration indeed on Pooley’s part, but one which was to play its part in changing the face of Brentford as we know it for good and all.
“Fore!” Small Dave had departed upon his round and John Omally set to it once more to shift his ball from Pooley’s radish patch and belt it heartily towards the fourth hole, which lay cunningly concealed between Old Pete’s wheelbarrow and his battered watering-can.