“Oh good,” she panted, “Could you two lend me a hand? I’ve an urgent job to do for Master Dorje.”
“Why not?” Together they rushed past a cluster of laughing urchins toasting marshmallows in the radiant heat from the fire raging aboard the iconic tea clipper. A tramp wearing an Air Raid Warden’s armband was sidling up to the children with the intention of administering Health and Safety advice whilst cadging one of the confections.
“We’ve got to find Professor Flosso’s Punch and Judy,” said Zelda, breaking into a run and heading for the covered market.
Displaying little regard for the conflict that had been raging up the hill the market stalls were doing steady business. Those traders willing to move with the times were all but sold out of gas masks, tin hats and primus stoves. Knitwear was selling well but there was little interest in the Rhassoul Clay and Argan Oil spa treatments or themed mouse-mats so prevalent in the town’s trendier past. The artisan bakery had abandoned Malthouse Sourdough, Ciabatta, and Dampfnudel; going over instead to the dispensing of easily stored and transported tinned or dry comestibles.
“Punch and Judy?” a wheezing Ginsbergbear enquired of one of the costermongers.
“Far corner, mate. You’ve missed the best bits, show’s nearly over.”
An optimistic profusion of benches had been arranged in rows before the red and white striped booth. They were all but deserted. Two infants huddled, wailing on the front row and a hunched crone in a Pakamac sat at the back eating a sandwich.
“That’s the way to do it.” A motley clad Punch was beating a crimson devil with his slapstick. Ginsbergbear bent over clutching his knees while he got his breath back.
“Wow, man,” exclaimed Beryl, “This is soo profound!”
“Really?” replied Zelda. “Child abuse, domestic violence, police brutality; it’s a socio-feminist nightmare.” The old lady clapped enthusiastically as the drama closed and croaked, “encore,” when Toby leapt up onto the stage. Punch and his wife took a bow and the weeping children departed.
“Quick, round the back while he’s packing up,” said Zelda.
“Hello!” They pulled back the curtain at the rear of the booth. The professor cringed.
“I told your boss I’d pay up as soon as I had the money.” The plaintive plea was rendered even more pathetic by the swazzle that he had omitted to remove from his mouth.
“We’re not here about that. We would like to engage you for a private performance.”
Professor Flosso was still shaking, “Well I’m pretty booked up. When and where?”
“Here. And now. I am authorised to offer you a blank IOU. You can fill in any amount you feel to be appropriate. You do have a crocodile don’t you?”