Charlie spark villain.., p.28
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       Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire, p.28

           J M S Macfarlane

  "Well, Sir Harry,” said the peer, “at last we can draw breath. I must say, I've been quite exhilarated by it all. But you know, I would have moved heaven and earth to have those stewards dismissed if your horse hadn't lost the race – and as for the cricket match and that rabid dog which cost you the game, I...."

  While the peer had been crowing triumphantly, Sir Harry couldn’t help snorting in amazement, as he stared fixedly into the distance, champagne glass in one hand and cigar in the other.

  "You were quite correct," he quickly cut in, "when you referred to both of us as sportsmen and I believe more than anyone," (with a quick glance in the continentals’ direction) "that the game is to be played for the honour of the sport but....far be it from me to remind anyone that I broke the bank at the roulette table or that my horse did not lose or that the cricket match was a draw due to an act of God."

  At this, the peer gave a series of laughs like a pile-driver pushing through bedrock. His laughter was so rare that it startled the toffs who were chatting vapidly in the marquee. All of them turned to look for its source. Then noticing Lord Loathbery, they all joined in, as if they were laughing with him but were really laughing at him.

  Sir Harry grew vexed and thought they were laughing at him.

  "Ha.. ha.. ah..ha..ha…ah...ha…oh dear me….you can the see the position, old fellow," said Loathbery. "Come now, admit that it's an impossible view of things from any angle. How a mad dog disrupting the game could be called an act of God is beyond me . C'est incroyable," he said, addressing Jean Pierre Bulot who affected a counterfeit smile. "But please, let us forget our differences because today's celebrations have made me an immensely happy man – so happy that I would be prepared to concede almost anything."

  "Most generous, your Lordship," said Sir Harry, as he considered how Loathbery had tried to cheat his way to shabby victories in all events.

  "Let's stroll in the garden and take in the amusements. I want to have a chat with you," he said, as if he'd forgotten all about his earlier gibe. They left Charlie Spark who attempted to explain to the Frenchman and the German, why a country fair should be found at a wedding breakfast.

  "Zese Anglish – it is impossible to understand them with their 'creecket' and red buses and drive on the left – ptah," whispered Schwager in French to Bulot who cackled a sneering "Hyah, hah, ha," but harboured equal disgust for Würstchen, Wirtschaftswunder and oom-pa-pa Bavarian short leather trousers.

  Chapter 75

  Simon Cad Joins the Circus

  As they walked, Sir Harry and Lord Loathbery wandered into a parade of colourful costumes and music. Scores of guests were watching a variety of fairground performers. A Victorian steam organ was booming out a music hall tune on its drums and bells, the mechanical works beating in time.

  Lord Loathbery stopped to admire it.

  "You know, Sir Harry, there was a time when I was in Asia before the war that I would have considered these extravagancies a weakness of mind. But time wears away even the hardest of our sternesht resolutionsh....Hm...You know, this sh...shampagne is rather heady."

  It occurred to Sir Harry that his companion was becoming rather flushed, not only from the way that Loathbery was walking into people but also by his half grin.

  "I shay, ish a capital wine, this, isn't it ? And goes 'stremely well with a drop or two of that excellent cognac, what ? Now, let's have a chat about Obshydian and the Nairobi and Lagos connectionsh....Good Lord, look at that."

  The sight which captured the peer's attention was a juggler and fire eater, blowing waves of fire from his mouth while twirling ten flaming batons in the air. More batons were added to the ones being juggled and were lit as they twirled around and around. Suddenly the performer shot out a burst of fire, caught all the batons at once, extinguished them in one go and took his bows.

  Around him, the guests tittered with delight and broke into applause. Some of the swells thrust twenty and fifty pound notes in the juggler’s hands.

  "Rather clever fellow," said Sir Harry, "but you mentioned Lagos...?"

  "Yesh, thasright, so I was....yes, as I was about to say...Good heavens, what's the fool doing now ?"

  This could have been the same thought in everyone's minds as Simon Cadwaller asked the juggler if he could borrow his props. A few purple banknotes were handed over and the Cad told everyone to pay attention to what he was about to do.

  "This juggling conundrum's a lark – just watch how simple it all is, chaps. And as for fire eating – it's a snack. Now here we go," cried the Cad with a flourish as he took a mouthful of lead-free, lit four sooty batons and to everyone's astonishment, twirled them dexterously in the air. His eyebrows were raised as he looked for encouragement from his audience, as if to say : "Not bad, eh ?"

  The performance was going smashingly well until he tried to send a burst of flame into the air but accidentally spat petrol over his coat tail which later began to smoulder away until the lower half of his coat pocket was on fire.

  He was so enthralled in his juggling act that he didn't see the flame at the side of his morning suit until part of his shirt was burning whereupon he blew all of the petrol out of his mouth with such force, that his carpet of hair exploded off his head in spontaneous combustion. Then all of the batons fell charred to the ground and apart from a deposit of soot, burnt hair and clothes, the Cad was largely unscathed.

  Antoinette and some of his rugger friends ran to his rescue by dousing him with waves of champagne and ice water. As the smoke cleared and his sooty clothes and hair were soaked through, he felt dazed and stunned, as if he'd walked into a tree in the dead of night – an unpleasant experience, especially if the tree is full of bats who hate being disturbed and swoop on the intruder to chase him away.

  Chapter 76

  Lady Birch’s Loss

  As the fairground performances continued simultaneously, the wedding guests passed from one to another and back to the marquee. All of them were becoming more fuddled by the moment and many were laughing like schoolgirls or wanting to join in the performances.

  In the thick of the crowd, Sir Harry and Lord Loathbery strolled onward with the scrutiny and detachment of overseers. Every so often, bankers approached the peer as supplicants but were dismissed with a wave of the hand.

  "I shay, I'm suddenly feeling rather tired," said Lord Loathbery as a few of the guests stumbled about and one or two fell over.

  "Yes, I thought so,” replied Sir Harry, “and by the way, about Nigeria – what exactly do you have in mind ? I'm flattered that you’ve asked me – but I would really like to know more."

  "What did you say ? Oh yes, that – uh, well, it's uh, a massive undertaking – and I need all the help I can get to bail me out of this one because it's a dashed devilish problem. To be frank, you know….oh, why pretend….itsh all going to come out anyway and the whole thing is going to crash spec-tacu-larly....Jusht a moment, look over there – at that. What in the world is going on ?"

  Anyone wandering into the gardens at that moment would have said the same thing and for weeks afterwards, there was untold speculation about it, particularly by some members of the Shaledon bench.

  The event which had captured Lotrd Loathbery’s attention began with a small brown monkey sitting on the arm of one of the performers. The story was that it had jumped onto the ground, landing end first on a smouldering baton which sent the animal into orbit. Everyone stopped dead in their tracks as it leapt from arm to leg to arm of anyone in sight, scratching and biting its way until it landed on the head of Lady Birch who began shrieking for all she was worth.

  Her hair had been styled in a bee-hive bun and when the animal got entangled in the coiffeur, it began jumping up and down to free itself. Before long, the entire hairpiece fell onto the ground, leaving the monkey to run around the gardens with it and the bare-headed magistrate crying hysterically.

  "That blasted animal's gawn and taken my beautiful French wig for his plaything. Where's its keeper ? I'l
l have a blue-boy arrest him, just you see if I don’t."

  But the monkey's owner had already hidden in the fortune-teller's caravan and was nowhere to be found.

  Chapter 77

  The Theatre Producer Is Taken Away

  Gradually the panic subsided and Maxi Spark went over to the injured parties, making apologies and calming shattered nerves. As it turned out, the incident involving the monkey was soon forgotten : everyone was watching some Chinese acrobats doing somersaults and leaps over barrels and drums (although one of them went flying, legs extended outwards and landed on the back of a chair, only to lay on the ground for a time, whining in agony and begging his friends in Cantonese, to give him some powdered rhinoceros horn or pickled sea-slug to get him on his feet again.)

  A crowd of bumbling guests had gathered on all sides. Some were clapping and heckling as the acrobats went though their paces. One of the worst offenders was the stage producer who was always highly insulting when drunk.

  From the sidelines he yelled : "Listen, you chaps, fire up the wok and I’ll have two orders of fried rice. Harharhar..."

  The acrobats who could be heard muttering to each other in Cantonese, finished tumbling through flaming hoops and swishing razor sharp knives through the air, running helter skelter in all directions with arms flailing wildly.

  After taking their bow together in a straggling line, their manager, in a bright red silk smock resembling a pyjama top, stepped forward and said : " We now do very dangerous trick. It is called 'dragon tower' – first, we must have volunteer from audience."

  Before anyone could offer a slurred reproof, the manager shouted something in Chinese and two of the acrobats grabbed the theatre producer from the among the sozzled guests, saying : "Thank you sir, thank you, you very brave – very brave," and rushed him or rather dragged him to the centre display.

  As he was about to ask : "Precisely what do you think you’re doing ?" the producer was pushed into a line of four acrobats and shown how to link arms with them. "Quite a show, eh ?" he yelled to the crowd. "Just give the singal, er, signal and the performance shall begin."

  In the wings, a Chinese musical group was booming out a rhythm on a gigantic drum. The head acrobat shouted something and then one by one, each of the remaining acrobats began to climb onto the others' shoulders but took the easiest way up, by treading on the producer's chest, shoulders, face and the top of his head. They’d specially positioned him in the middle to climb over him.

  As they made their way up the tower, he shouted at them : "Hey there, watch your step, you clumsy oafs, you imbeciles, you prancing pinheads," which only made them tread on him all the more.

  All told, there were twenty two acrobats in the troupe and although usually of a patient disposition, the producer was becoming more and more exasperated which could be heard from the threats he was shouting as time wore on.

  "Stop this insanity, you gang of tumbling morons. Let me out of this madness, let go of me at once, you bunch of performing seals. Unhand me, you flea circus."

  Lord Loathbery stared through the haze to try and comprehend what was going on and said : "Bit of a sh… sh… shambles, what ?"

  The producer's face was covered with dirt and grass stains from the shoes of the gymnasts who were slowly scaling their way further and further on top of one another, like some unwieldy spire when the acrobat director who was a good seventeen stone, received a hoist onto the stage producer's shoulders which were already creaking under the strain.

  As the headman made his ascent, he accidentally placed his foot on the producer's glasses which cracked and fell in pieces to the ground.

  "This is absolutely ghastly and inhuman," screamed the conscript and as he whined about his lost vision, the chief acrobat finally heaved himself to the pyramid's pinnacle and eventually stood, quivering like a tightrope walker at the summit, arms extended gingerly to keep his balance as the producer grimaced, feeling the strain of the entire group bearing mercilessly down on his back.

  For good measure, while the group were receiving their applause, the head acrobat decided to jump up and down, only once or twice and without intending to cause any serious imbalance when at that point, the entire pyramid, from top to toe began shaking violently : the cause could be traced to the theatre producer who was kicking his left leg madly after a large black labrador visited a yellow boundary marker on his trouser cuff and shoe.

  The baseline acrobats began to stagger backwards and forwards to keep the upper lines steady who were grimly holding on and then the lot of them completely lost their balance, toppled headlong and fell down on top of each other with the producer underneath all of them until they were a disorganised mound of legs and arms, pushing and kicking madly to extricate themselves.

  After the wreckage of acrobats was cleared away, several of the stage producer's friends dragged him into the marquee where he was doused with water to bring him around. And that was the end of the theatre producer.

  Chapter 78

  Sir Harry Drops A Clanger

  "Your terms, Lord Loathbery ? What are your terms ?" said Sir Harry persistently. "I'll go wherever you want in Africa – if payment can be made in bullion to an offshore account. Now, what's your opening bid ?"

  "Yes…" intoned the peer to himself, staring fixedly at the ground. "I don't quite know what I'm going to do about it all becaushe, you see, it's such a frightful mess..." At that moment, he looked desolate.

  "Well," said Sir Harry, "you could at least start by offering me something in the region of seven figures..."

  The peer continued to stare at the ground, mumbling to himself and looking as if he'd lost his train fare home. But then he raised his head with a start and with some of his old venom, said : "Itsh a complete crock – all thish you shee around you, it'sh all make-believe, it'sh my final geshture but…well, it'sh gone beyond me now."

  At the same moment one of the toffs went flying off a unicorn on the merry-go-round then laughed at the pavement.

  "It'sh a disaster – there was no way out, sho, it's theirs. But before I go, theresh a little shurprishe for them – ha… ha…ah….ha, they don't know about it yet but they soon will."

  "What do you mean, there's a 'surprise' for ‘them’ ? For whom ?"

  Unable to make head or tail of the peer’s ramblings, the old villain was growing impatient and knew that it was now or never to make his move, so he decided to play his trump card : he would tell Loathbery about the robbery and blame it all on Snaggs.

  By doing this, Spark and the others would be rescued from the cells at Cartemorf Street ; he would tell all of them that Loathbery had been tipped off by the Flying Squad ; Snaggs would be removed and Loathbery would be indebted to him for saving the family fortune. The entire mess would be cleverly stitched up with Loathbery none the wiser. So went Sir Harry’s theory.

  But the oppressive heat of the afternoon had provoked the peer’s concern for his guests and he ordered the lackeys to direct everyone to cooler surroundings in the west wing dining hall and its floral swamp. (Inside the hall, the scent was overpowering and wasps were buzzing around the flowers and the icing sugar on the wedding cake.)

  As he tried to get his host’s attention, the floundering Sir Harry knew it was boots and all and on an impulse, he said: "Lord Loathbery, your vault will be..."

  But the incriminating words seemed lost in the clamour with no perceptible reaction from the peer who was looking in the opposite direction. At the same moment, Sir Harry realised he'd made a monumental error by opening his mouth but decided to bluff it out. He was expecting a swift about-turn and for Loathbery to start interrogating him but instead, his host wandered off to see about the wedding breakfast.

  Did he really hear what Sir Harry had said ? Even if he did, he might have thought himself so blotto that he was imagining things. Whatever the position was, the hour of reckoning was near when all would be revealed one way or the other.

  Left on his own, Sir Harry conclude
d that no harm had been done and that given no alternative, in a few hours time, his long-awaited scheme would bring them either untold riches or a set of silver bracelets and porridge for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Such were the fortunes of villainy. And although he seemed to have been given his answer, the cards could fall a number of ways, especially if he, Spark and the others were arrested.

  Meanwhile, in the dining hall, the seating was arranged in Tudor banqueting style with space in the centre for the performers to continue their acts on a minor scale.

  Sir Harry was joined by Charlie Spark and they discovered they had been seated next to each other on one side and Chief Obobo on the other. "Is everything cock-a-doodle-do, old boy ?" he whispered to Spark.

  "All we're waiting for is the green flag," came the reply.

  The scene in which they found themselves, was noisy and crowded. The silver cutlery sat temptingly in front of the younger villain who thought that at any other time, he would have been shoving it into his pockets by the handful.

  Around them, the guests were hazed and many sat untidily in their evening wear. The ladies looked like Christmas trees, only in place of coloured lights, there were clusters of gems which dazzled their admirers.

  Sir Harry picked out his favourites like a child in a sweetshop ; Spark was hypnotised and marvelled at the selection.

  At last all of the guests were finally seated with many rolling around in their seats beneath the glitter of the chandelier which seemed to swing in the breeze.

  "I am extremely fortunate to witness this grahnd English celebration. Are we not indeed fortunate, Sir Harry ? Mr Spark ?"

  Chief Obobo gave the broadest of grins and said that if his wife had seen all the diamonds, she would have hounded him forever for such trinketry.

  “You know, I would be happy to buy her whatever diamonds she wanted – so long as they were all made of paste,” and laughing at this, the Chief asked Sir Harry whether he thought that some of the jewels on show, were false.

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