SIR DOUGLAS AND DAME HUDIBRAS HOLD FORTH by EW Farnsworth
At the Cracked Bell Pub on Picklock Lane five notables sat around a back table singing “Rule Britannia.” The resigned MP Sir Douglas Hudibras was not in key, but his enthusiasm inspired imitation. All denizens of the establishment were lifting pints to toast their sentiment.
The ladies, the portly Dame Hudibras and the ample wife of the deputy chief, held onto each other while each stroked the back of one calf of Fatty Millstone with her tentacle. Fatty felt uncomfortable, but he felt secure since all the ladies’ actions were sub rosa, and neither husband suspected a thing.
After the singing ended, Fatty gestured to the tapster to fetch another round of pints while Sir Douglas and Colin continued their business discussions, the reason for their evening meeting.
“Sir Douglas, I have no idea why you decided to withdraw from Parliament, but I’m sure you have not been letting the grass grow during your post-MP period.”
Hudibras nodded sagely, for he was a man who knew how to keep his cards to his chest. “Colin, I have to hand it to my cohorts in law enforcement to make the city safe for honest merchants like me to get along with their businesses. What ho! I plan to get back into the thick of my enterprises as soon as possible, but I require a new angle.”
“If it’s angles you want, just hearken to Mr. Millstone here. He suggested our meeting, and I’m convinced his grand plan has something for everyone concerned.”
Now all eyes fell upon the rotund man with the Guinness moustache.
“Yes. Tell us your plan, Fatty. Colin and I have hired Nancy our babysitter so we could be free tonight.”
“And Sir Douglas and I have called upon Dorcas our sitter for the same reason,” the Dame chimed in.
“My thoughts will not surprise you. If I may be so bold, Sir Douglas wants to resume where he left off when he stepped down from public service.” The great man nodded and sipped his pint. “And Colin would be most happy to step into the shoes of his chief when that personage has segued to a comfortable retirement.” Colin sat up at full height and winked at his spouse, who continued stroking Fatty’s calf nearest her.
“Go on,” Colin said. His wife stroked harder though she was not his intended audience.
“I believe that within the month, I can guarantee the restitution of the knight’s former dealings if he can find the wherewithal to pay me gold coins in advance to the level of my requirements.”
Hudibras’ brow wrinkled. “Financial reverses were the reason for my demise as an MP. Now you make a promise that needs the same money I lost. Will you please tell me how I can manage to accommodate you?”
Harriet said, “Tell him, Fatty. I know you won’t let this distinguished man languish in despair.” She reached out and patted the Dame’s hand and met her pitiful look with a beaming smile of confidence. Now both women looked at Millstone with imploring eyes.
“I’ll spot you the gold you need with a manageable reimbursement programme. If you’ll just sign this paper where indicated with the flag, your troubles are over.”
Hudibras drew the parchment across the table and lit a match to read it by. He had to strike several matches to get through the verbiage. When he had finished reading, he smiled and brought out his pen. With a flourish, he signed and pushed the document back towards Fatty.
“This calls for another round,” Fatty said as he folded the parchment and inserted it in the inside pocket of his coat. The tapster was not slow in responding to Millstone’s gesture.
Colin said, “The deal he offered you seems most generous to me. I’m not a little jealous he didn’t give me the opportunity.”
“Why, Colin, you are definitely part of the deal. Will you put him in the picture, or should I do so, Sir Douglas?”
The knight sat up in his chair and announced, “Colin, you are to be the paymaster for my enterprise for your own share of my trade. It says so right in the agreement.”
“Maybe I should see the words so I can believe it,” the deputy chief said.
“For your own sake, you shall not. All you need to do is receive the gold coins that represent your share. I’ll give you the first tranche of your gold tonight.” Fatty revealed a leather pouch full of gold coins, which he bestowed upon his friend. Colin opened the pouch and poured a few coins into his hand. Harriet’s eyes flashed with the fire of the yellow metal, and a greedy look washed over her face. She was so impressed that her tentacle stopped stroking, and she withdrew the appendage under her dress.
“What must I do to fulfil my obligations under the contract I’ve just signed?”
“Sir Douglas, you need only stand and deliver through your surrogates as you once did while you were in your seat in Parliament.”
“And the handling of the gold? Who will be tasked to do that essential work?” the knight asked.
“I shall be your proctor in all things, Sir Douglas. As you require accounting, my people will provide documentation.”
“Why, Fatty, you’ve just described the operations of a sinecure.”
“Sir, that is correct. You need have no care whatever. Your enterprise will run itself, and it shall grow as you desire.”
“What about taxation?”
Fatty looked at Colin. “Taxation? Why, there will be no bother about that.”
“Are you saying that my business is tax free?”
“If that’s the way you want to put it, yes. In any case, you’ll get what you deserve and pay nothing in taxes—until you decide to do so.”
“Darling,” the Dame said, “you aren’t going to be churlish, are you?”
“Harrumph. Of course not, My Lady. Here comes our celebratory round.”
The waitress laid the five pints on the table. Fatty gave the wench the sum for the bill with a large gratuity. “Oh, Mr. Millstone, you are the fine man of the hour,” she said as she curtsied and left.
After carousing for another half hour, the knight and his lady departed through the rear door. Colin, Harriet and Fatty ordered another round—their last before Closing Time.
“All right, Fatty, please tell us the magic behind what we just witnessed.”
“You have just been given a stipend to vouchsafe Sir Douglas’s restoration into the business of his custom. He will be given a stipend for managing that business through me. What could be simpler?”
“How in blazes can you offhand offer such a deal?”
“Do you really care, Colin? As long as your position has become invulnerable through our transaction?”
“How invulnerable?” Harriet asked. The woman looked confused.
“As long as the payments continue, everyone wins. For another august person on my payroll is Colin’s boss the chief.”
“What?” Harriet asked.
“That’s right. Equal shares in gold coins will be paid to three parties each week on Mondays. Your husband, the knight and the chief of police will look no farther than the pouch of coins they receive. If they do pry, the coins will stop coming. So what do you think, Colin?”
The deputy chief saw the smile burst out on his wife’s face. How could he argue with that? “I called your work magic a few minutes ago. I’m willing to give it a try and see where it goes.”
Fatty smiled, but not because the deputy’s wife was plying his calf with her tentacle again but because it had been so easy to make a deal with the police to protect an enormous criminal enterprise.
“How long do you think Sir Hudibras will wait before he runs for Parliament again?”
“You must be kidding,” Harriet said.
“One of two people must do that—Sir Douglas or your husband. So who will it be?”
Harriet shook her head and drank another draught from her pint. Then while she was fishing her denture from the foam at the bottom of her glass, Fatty whispered to Colin.
“Colin, I am in deadly earnest about your running for Parliament. Think through what I’ve said this evening.”
“You’re much too devious for me, Fatty. Please simplify your proposition.”
“We are going to have to fill the chief’s shoes with someone. Isn’t that true?”
“And we could devise a way for you to be the man who fills his shoes.”
“I thought that was our plan.”
“Plans are made to be changed.”
Colin’s eyes were now as wide as saucers. “Changed to what?”
“You’ll see. Just wait patiently. At just the right time, you’ll have to choose where you want to land—in the chief’s chair or in Parliament.”
Fatty Millstone’s plan went swimmingly for four months. The gold coins were distributed in little leather pouches to the former MP, the chief and the deputy. Only Fatty had anticipated the next move on the chess board. Sir Douglas invited Fatty to dinner at his club. The occasion of the dinner was a meeting of the minds with the chief of police. The Dame was not in attendance.
“Chief, you are going to retire very soon. Fatty Millstone and I wanted to talk with you about comfort in retirement. Your salary and certain extracurricular remunerations have stood you in good stead during the last year. What if we could guarantee the continuance of your payments indefinitely?”
The chief’s moustache bristled at the idea. “I had rather hoped for a knighthood, but this damned alien business cut me off. How can I keep my income intact when I retire?”
“I shall promise to keep your payments going since I intend to take your place as chief.”
“But you are a knight!”
“All the more reason that I should be a shoo-in for your post.”
“What am I going to tell Colin, my protégé?”
Fatty Millstone leaned forward over the baked Alaska and said, “You are going to congratulate him for his successful run as MP.”
“Is Colin running for Parliament?”
“He will be doing so as the guarantor of your future. So you will have to back him fully—and engage your powerful friends on his behalf.”
“I had no idea Colin was politically ambitious.”
The three men discussed strategy for the rest of dessert and the exquisite ruby port wine the club steward brought out for the occasion.
By the time the port had been consumed, the chief was fully aboard. Cigars sealed their agreement. The knight and the chief remained for private discussions while Fatty excused himself to meet Colin and his wife at their pub.
“It’s all fixed now.”
“What’s fixed, Fatty?”
“You are going to stand for MP. And you are going to win. Then you’re going to make sure that the gold keeps running into the pockets of all who made your success possible. And the knight will be the new chief of police. That leaves your current position vacant.”
“What’s going to happen to the deputy post?” Harriet asked.
“We’ll see about that when the vacancy exists.” Fatty knew that Colin and Harriet would agree to run for Parliament.
When the skids are greased in the city, everything that happens seems miraculous. The knight nominated Colin for membership in his club, and the vote went by acclimation. The two campaigns were launched as rumours in the yellow press—the ex-MP for chief of police and the current deputy chief for MP.
At the pub on Tuesdays the conversation between Fatty, Colin and Harriet was devoted to political strategy. Naturally, the denizens of the pub became the support base for Colin’s campaign.
Harriet at first bridled against the new publicity, but Fatty told her to look—and act—like a Dame. She thrust out her chest and paraded like a knight’s lady. She kept her tentacle to herself except when she could not restrain herself.
Election Day created a landslide victory for Colin. Fatty wrote the man’s acceptance speech. The news hounds vied to praise the deputy for having won his prize. The winning slogan of the race, “Alien Friendly,” would have been a showstopper a year ago. When asked about the slogan, Colin had said, “Would you prefer to have a person in office with friendly aliens, or not.” By this approach, he garnered support from everyone for his tolerance and good humour. Harriet was not amused, but she was too busy putting on airs to be bothered to complain.
The local celebration in the pub was crowded to capacity, with overflow into the lane. The now-retired chief and the newly instated chief were the first to raise their glasses to toast Colin’s victory. Fatty Millstone tried to fade into the background, but he backed into the orbit of a newshound whose tabloid had been strongly opposed to Colin’s platform.
“Tell me, Mr. Millstone, what it feels like to have engineered the election of this flaming fraud to Parliament?”
“Dolph Merganser, isn’t it? You swine should cover something appropriate—like the stinking loo this pub calls the ladies’.”
“Oh, does it now?”
“Just follow the line over yonder till you get the whiff, and then follow your nose.”
A few minutes later Dolph reappeared covered in shit and urine. “Bastard. I’ll get you, Millstone, if it’s the last thing I do.”
“We ripe and ripe, Dolph. Then we rot and rot. You’d better sneak out the back way, or your reputation will be ruined.”
The scum bag skulked out the door, taking his fetid smell with him.
“Oh, Fatty, you were simply wonderful. Thank you.” She slipped her tentacle up his pants leg, going for the gold, so to speak.
“Harriet, we’d better mingle. Have you lost your teeth again?”
Her hand shot up to her mouth. “Good grief, I have lost my denture.”
“Think where you must have lost it.”
The MP’s wife reddened as she pushed her way toward the loo.
Fatty shook his head and tried not to laugh. He heard a commotion down the hall to the loo. He thought he saw a tentacle writhing in something wet and sticky.
Colin wandered up in a forest of hands slapping him on the back. “Where’s Harriet, Fatty?”
“I think she went fishing for her denture in the loo.”
“Good Christ, no! Not again.”
“It’s too late for grieving. May I suggest that you find her and escort her out the back way—but watch out for that devil news hound Dolph what’s-his-name.”
More important to the principals than the election results was the doling out of gold coins on the Monday following the election. Fatty passed out the pouches of gold while everyone drank his or her pint. The two women kept running their tentacles up Fatty’s calves while the men preened themselves and praised their good fortunes.
“Fatty, you’re a genius,” said Sir Douglas.
“Sir, nothing could be further from the truth. How does it feel to be chief of police?”
“I’ve never felt more constrained in my life. I actually have responsibilities. The mayor calls me all the time for the smallest favours. Then I have to keep my stories straight for the press. How did the old chief ever manage to keep on an even keel?”
The retired chief heard this remark and answered, “I had a damn good deputy, that’s how.”
Fatty nodded. He knew this moment would come. He said, “And we have no one to fill that vital office. Colin will serve as MP for years. What do you think should happen, Sir Douglas?”
“We need a doer, not a factotum. Someone who will keep the entire police force humming no matter what.”
“I would make a suggestion if I were still in power,” the former chief said.
“Out with it. I cannot stand being vulnerable much longer.”
“Fatty Millstone here would be the perfect deputy chief. Whatever you require, he’ll do effortlessly. And he won’t be after your job. That’s important in these back-stabbing times.”
“What about the hatred the yellow pressmen have for Millstone?”
“If you mean that swine Dolph Merganser, nothing would endorse Millstone better than opprobrium slung by him.”
So the reigning powers by acclimation selected Fatty Millstone as deputy chief of police for a lawless city in a time of tribulation. Fatty accepted the position reluctantly, and he demanded as his office, the table farthest back from the front door of his pub. To his normal functions on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, he added new meetings on Thursday and Friday, for the chief and MP, respectively.
Fatty had not been deputy chief for two weeks when the old chestnut of an alien invasion was resurrected by Dolph Merganser and his friends. Now the muckraker maintained that a cabal of aliens—including the MP and the chief of police—were running rackets of all kinds in the city. Fatty Millstone laughed at the allegation. When he was interviewed about the matter, Fatty reminded the press that the closest thing to an alien he had encountered was Merganser, whose stinking departure from his pub when he was covered in shit and urine was a disgrace to the holy office of newshound.
From Fatty’s sanctimonious demeanour in his photograph on that occasion, the public could tell he was lying in his teeth. This endeared him to the public though not to his Nemesis Dolph Merganser. Millstone rationalized his reluctance to seek a seat in Parliament on the grounds that he never would seek votes of such as Merganser, no matter how pressing the need for his services.