Punch and Judy Man

Zelda the Geek was emerging from the pier entrance as Ginsbergbear and Beryl arrived, and she was in a hurry.

“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?”

 

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Les Chats’ True Colours

The long, forbidding shadow of the Queen Anne’s Bounty sidled over the pair as they walked back to the corsairs’ compound.

“We have lost Boz,” said Ginsbergbear solemnly.

“Lost as in…?” asked the horrified aviatrix.

“Lost as in we don’t know where he is. No more than that at the moment, but we are extremely worried about him.” Ginsbergbear recounted the events leading up to the destruction of Jersey Zoo. By the time they had reached the stockade gates the pirate flagship was moored close by, beyond the palisade. Rotskagg and the gang had disembarked and as a group they went into the blockhouse. Lady Augusta and Dorje, Mother Superior and Zelda, Consuella with the Kittens were already seated at the roughly hewn communal dining table. McGoogs leaned nonchalantly against an African Blackwood mantelpiece.

“The foo fighter’s back,” announced Polly. “Les Chats Souterrains have switched sides and we were totally routed at the aerodrome.”

“Not switched sides,” interjected Slasher McGoogs. “They have formed an unholy alliance with the CIA and constitute a Third Force. They are on nobody’s side but their own.”

Thucka thucka thuck thuck thuck thuck thuck.

Something passed low over the pirate camp. There was a moment of silence then a loud Crump followed by a grinding and graunching of metal and a springy sort of Twang. Everyone rushed outside.

Parked neatly next to the Queen Anne was a twisted pile of wreckage, haemorrhaging oil and cracking sparks from exposed electrics. Sitting, rigid, in a pilot seat near to what had once been the cockpit of Mr Fluffy’s shiny black Chinook was a tiny Hit-Girl, still tightly clutching the helicopter’s joystick.

“Anna-Vasil’yevna! Hwhat have hyou done thees time?” called Consuella Starcluster. Anna-Vasil’yevna, AKA Thérèse Defarge, last encountered working undercover as Mr Fluffy’s personal secretary, shook herself out of her shocked trance, tossed the redundant joystick away and scampered over to her mentor.

“Oh miss, I don’t think I’ve quite got the hang of big choppers. Did I crash it?”

“Technically, dearr, eef hyou can walk away frrom hyourr helicopterr eet ees not ay crrash eet ees ay harrd landing. But why arre hyou heerre?”

“It’s Les Chats Souterrains, miss, they’ve switched sides…”

“Well that’s an important bit of news,” muttered Phoebles.

“…They’ve taken Mr Fluffy and King Charles hostage. I only just managed to get off Sark before I was captured too. Is Mad Jack still controlling the counterrevolution from St Hellier? If he’s as thick as he looks he’ll not have a clue what’s going on.”

“He is, and he won’t, child, but don’t concern yourself with Mad Jack. For the moment he is irrelevant.” Slasher spoke quietly, “Les Chats are on the move and they are confident. We must formulate a response.”

“The answer will be trapped in my Analytical Engine,” said Augusta, “and Les Chats are barring our access to it.”

“Hang on. What about Boz?” There came a desperate cry from Phoebles. “We have to find Boz before anything else.”

“He’s right,” said Ginsbergbear. “No one’s going to think straight till we know what’s happened to Boz.”

There was a Whump! And flames began to lick around the wreckage of Mr Fluffy’s Chinook. One of the Queen Anne’s mooring lines caught light.

“Smother that! Quickly! Before my airship gets damaged,” ordered Rotskagg.

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The Horror! The Horror!

Boz and Slasher were crouched behind a clutch of dustbins looking into the cool, wide eyes of an all but invisible ninja.

“I’ve got the others to safety in the woods. Now all we have to do is join them and not get caught on the way. Follow me.” And with that she disappeared.

“Er, Flo. We can’t see you.”

“Hang on.” Dark Flo rummaged around in the nearest dustbin and returned triumphantly clutching a crumpled front page of the Beano, No 2275 from February 22nd 1986, depicting Dennis the Menace and Gnasher. She produced a large safety pin from the folds of her Shinobi shozoko. “Pin this to my backside. Carefully.”

“You’d better do it, Slasher. I’m too petrified.” Boz was indeed quaking. “She’s more terrifying than that Captain Tierrasmedias.”

“Shush. Now, come along. And keep low.”

After an age in pursuit of the waggling comic, crawling and pausing and melting into the shadows, the trio reached a hole cut neatly in the chain link boundary fence. Beyond it small paper flags of all nations, on wooden sticks, marked the location of various booby traps.

“Boz, pick up the flags as we pass them. And for Cod’s sake look where you’re putting your feet. Both of you.”

Having reached the edge of the woods they could breath again. Dark Flo led them through the undergrowth and followed a muddy ditch deep into the forest. Until…

“Boz! Slasher? We’re all here.” Ginsbergbear popped up in front of them and Phoebles pushed past him to rush at his comrades. There was whispered jubilation and hugs all round. Flo had an arm each around Phoebles and Ferdy, but Boz stood alone, quivering.

“What’s the matter, Boz?” enquired Ferdy.

The ginger cat turned. His hands were shaking and staring eyes glistened.

“This obscenity has to be ended. It stops here and it stops now. Flo, get them to safety. I’m going to finish him tonight. Just me. I can’t ask anyone else to do it.”

“But Bozzy, we don’t do that…” began Phoebles.

“Now, Flo!”

The ninja began ushering the protesting chums away. She glanced back, an anxious look in her tearful eyes, but she obeyed the command.

Once he was alone Boz slid down into the foul dyke. He stripped off his shirt and wallowed in the mud until his fur was caked and umber. Only his bloodshot eyes were visible against the growing darkness. He returned to the gap in the wire fence. Inside the stench of putrefaction seemed stronger than ever. The demonic amber glow from braziers and blazing torches danced intense shadows about the compound. Clashing gongs and booming drums drowned out all other sounds in a satanic cacophony. Capitáno Tierrasmedias’ drug crazed horde was working itself up into a frenzy before descending on the hapless defenders of liberty and freedom. Boz slithered unseen towards Les Augrès Manor.

After a while he was inching towards something indescribable that blocked his path, something with a Dayak Parang sticking in it. Boz pulled out the machete, wiped the blade on his trouser leg and tested its weight. Perfect. He crawled on.

A spectral figure rose slowly behind one of the dodo statues, eyes glinting gold in the flickering firelight, matted fur blending into the darkness. Boz strode up the steps to the mansion and sought out the Capitáno’s lair. The sofa was unoccupied. An empty Tennents lager can rolled noisily across the floor, coming to rest at his feet. The prostrate Napoleon lay in front of him on a moth-eaten kilim. A skeletal matchstick body, luminous skin stretched taught over bone, appended the globular head it no longer strove to support. Face to the ceiling, wide sightless eyes sunk deep into the skull, the deranged, hyperactive brain had finally drained all but the last vestige of vitality from its wasted host. The lips moved imperceptibly, were they trying to form words? Boz leaned towards the toothless mouth and suddenly a claw like hand grasped his shoulder, dragged him close.

“Crows’ blood!” it cried in anguish. Then, a rattle in the hollow throat, and Capitáno Tierrasmedias was gone.

Boz heard the padding splayed footfalls, the swish of a tail, the clicking of claws on bare floorboards, approaching at speed. He dropped the parang and legged it.

 

The Routemaster was still where they’d left it, partially burned out, but the radio and battery had escaped the fire.

“Versailles this is Bald Eagle!”

“What? Who?”

“Smee, is that you? It’s Boz here. Dump everything you’ve got on the Jersey Zoo. I want that abomination flattened, wiped off the face of the earth.”

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Slasher’s Plan

Corsair Destroyer of WorldsA thick, aromatic fug obscured much of the interior, a fug almost dense enough to muffle the jangling, stannic notes of Sam playing Jelly Roll Blues on an open fronted upright. Entering deeper into Bozzy’s Bohemian Babel and adjusting slowly to the atmosphere Larry discovered Phoebles doing duty behind the bar.

“You’re not the regular bar staff. Where is Dark Flo?” Larry coughed as a swirl of sweet smelling smoke diverted from its random meandering to insinuate his left nostril. A feeling of unaccustomed light heartedness came over him, “Is Mr Boz in?”

Phoebles wiped a tumbler with a corner of his apron, “Flo’s on her hols I suppose. And…”

“…Boz is over there,” announced Barrymore as she strode towards the front bar. Sam’s playing rose to a crescendo.

Boz was sitting at his favourite table in the bay window, affording a comprehensive view of activity within the den and the pavement outside. He was with Ginsbergbear who’s Peterson appeared to be responsible for most of the surrounding smog and, as it seeped out through a fanlight above the door, for a hint of gothic noir in gaslit Narrow Street. Barrymore pulled out a chair for Larry and then seated herself opposite Boz, elbows on the table and glaring uncomfortably closely into his face.

“OK, let’s have it. Dark Flo doesn’t take holidays. And you and your gang aren’t the sort to sit around doing nothing while an adventure is unfolding.”

Boz gazed innocently back at her. “We’ve been a bit worried about Ferdy and the Kittens. They would appear to be lost in the thick of all that mayhem in the Channel Islands. Have you heard about the invasion then?” One eyebrow raised as he tilted his head inquisitively.

“C’mon. Give me more.”

“Oh… OK… Slasher wanted you two kept out of the loop for as long as possible. He and Flo have gone up north to talk to the pirate king, Rotskagg Blenkinsopp. Alongside the Kronstadt Coastal Patrol he sees the Corsairs as our only hope of successfully fighting back. Cod knows how he finds things out, but he says the Corsairs are upgrading The Destroyer of Worlds. They’re fitting banks of von Ohain HeS1 turbojets in the hope of getting her back up as a GEV, that’s a ground effect vehicle,” he added helpfully, “and replacing the missile tubes with six sawn off Japanese Type 94 naval guns. Big bangs, not too much accuracy.”

Larry slid down in his chair. “So we do have a plan. Can we go home now?”

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Domestic Noir

Morte de Ginsbergbear SSo… Whilst we are desperately trying to rearrange the scattered pages of Bozzy’s ‘The British Empire Strikes Back’ into some sort of coherent order and/or discover any form of viable plot line in Rich’s ‘Axel Shrouds Merchant Seaman’, a rousing tale of sea, sex and Cephalopoda, here is another of Ginsbergbear’s poems:

“I’m home, Snookums!”

He hangs his deadman topper on the hallstand

And lays his all too brief case by the chiffonier.

“Is that you, darling?” from the kitchen.

“No I’m someone else.”

“Howdy stranger,”

She appears in the doorway

Packing a Smith & Jones six-shooter.

“You are such an alias,” she snaps,

(Emphasising the last syllable and pronouncing it ‘arse’).

Aiming her rod at her nugatory spouse,

She plugs him square between the ears.