Friday, 30 July 2010


To Becky, without you this story would never have been written. A heartfelt thanks for turning my utter boredom that Easter into the outline of something which I hope lives up to the expectations you’ve had since.


A heartfelt thank you goes out to the reader of this, thank you for persevering with the second instalment of this series of tales. You are about to bear witness to more of what the mind can conjure up when it is sufficiently void of sensations, otherwise known as boredom. Hopefully the reader will enjoy this instalment as much as they did the last (Of course you may have hated it and are just reading this because you like inflicting mental torment upon yourself – in which case please seek professional help).
Readers may, however, have gained an inaccurate idea of the character of Hans, our main figure in these tales. He is not, as some of you readers may think, an idiot, rather he is merely special. By that it is meant that he looks at the world and appreciates it in a different manner to what many people are accustomed to. He is a man who whilst playing games with a pack of topless cards would be more interested in the backdrop which the photos of these women were shot against, than the women themselves. He takes delight in odd things and strange details, which may seem rather dull, but it does makes for interesting reading…

The Duck Trade

Sherman Plod sat gazing at the fax he’d just received looking bemused. It just really didn’t make sense to him. At first he’d thought it was some kind of joke, but he’d checked the calendar and April 1st had passed by a few months ago. He even doubled checked the fax to make sure it hadn’t been written on April Fool’s Day and someone had forgotten to send it until today. But he couldn’t think of any other rational explanation for what it was asking him to do apart from it being genuine.
Before he could get any further though, he heard a knock at the door. He just shouted for them to let themselves in. He knew it would be Ronnie stopping off on his way to school as he did every morning.
“I’m alright, thanks for asking,” said Ronnie as he walked in. Sherman always got freaked out by Ronnie’s knack of knowing what he was going to say.
Sherman knew it wasn’t normal to let 10 year old children let themselves into workplaces like his, even as small as the office was in Avysmere. But, for Ronnie he made an exception for several reasons. Firstly, Ronnie really, really wanted to be in the same line of work as Sherman when he was older, secondly he was fairly intelligent and helpful in solving things for him. And finally he felt sorry for Ronnie having to deal with any one of the thirteen different personalities his mother-in-law could manifest. It was hard enough on the poor lad that his father died when he was only five, without that to deal with.
“So what do you think to this,” he asked Ronnie, showing him the fax and feeling slightly pleased that he’d managed to.
“Duck smuggling!” exclaimed Ronnie, “I didn’t think something like that would be worth you spending your time on.” Mind you,” Ronnie added, “isn’t there supposed to be some kind of duck show locally soon?”
“Cheers, laddie,” thanked Sherman, “I guess you better go up to school, I’ll see you here later then.”
“Yeah, of course you will. By the way, Mum said she’d like you to come to her cheese and wine evening tonight,” said Ronnie “Oh before you ask, its okay she’s Susan today. But I could tell that she’d be really upset if you didn’t come.”
“Right then, well I’ll see you later then,” said PC Plod.

Sherman's Luck

PC Plod spent the rest of the morning putting up posters that he’d received in a courier package. He always ended up with the rubbish cases, nothing ever interesting happened for him to investigate. He knew he wasn’t exactly the best investigator until Ronnie had turned up in the village, but apart from that building with the collapsed roof in Dunnuffin a few months back nothing that was even close interesting happened locally. He spent most of his time prosecuting people for attempting to graffiti on walls with invisible ink pens – hardly the cutting edge of crime fighting. They’d made the whole sleepy village thing sound really good when he’d been posted here, but it was just a little boring for his liking.
But he was faced with a bigger problem. The cheese and wine evening which he’d been invited to this evening. It really frustrated him that nobody seemed to do anything different here apart from cheese and wine evenings. He thought that every once in a while someone may want to organise a dinner party. Given the amount of farms around here he thought that someone might have organised a barn dance. But no, it was just his luck that he was lactose intolerant and everyone seemed to organise nothing but cheese and wine evenings. Obviously, he knew it probably had something to do with Avysmere Dairy being one of the biggest employers of local people but surely they could have a little bit of consideration for him.
Normally he’d just refuse to go, and if it had been any other of Ms Baxter’s personalities then he would have been able to. He’d been dating Susan for a month or so now, and she’d banned him from seeing any of her other personalities, which would have given him an excuse. But he couldn’t let Susan down, could he?

The Party

Hans and Chloe had seen the posters on their way to Ms Baxter’s house for the party. They weren’t exactly sure what to make of them, under bright red, bold lettering saying ‘Don’t Do Ducks’ was a picture of a Mallard sporting a very surprised expression on its face. Chloe thought it was a little tasteless, whereas Hans spent more time wondering what on Earth had motivated PC Plod to put these up.
Thus when they got to the party, they headed straight in his direction. Well, they would have done if Crazy Dave hadn’t stopped them in their tracks.
Although the name tended to give it away to most people, Hans had to have it explained to him that Dave was the village nut case and conspiracy theorist extraordinaire.
“Hi guys, I’ve got a case I think you might be interested in,” said Dave silently to they wouldn’t be overheard.
“Go on,” said Hans reluctantly, he’d learnt since moving here that it was best to let Dave rattle of whatever nonsense he was going to tell them.
“Shapeshifters!” exclaimed Dave, “My secret source tells me there’s some on the way up to Avysmere.”
“Shapeshifters?” questioned Chloe, “And what makes you think that’s true?”
“Oh, I trust my source,” Dave replied defensively, “he said one of their leaders was coming, Mao or something like that.”
“Dave, Mao was a Chinese Communist not a shapeshifter!” exclaimed Chloe, “this wasn’t the same source who told you the Queen and all the royal family are trans-dimensional lizards who are on Earth for the sole reason of eating your feet?”
“Ssh, they might be listening, I don’t want them to know that I know that,” said Dave quietly, “So will you look into it?”
“Okay Dave, we’ll look into it, see you later,” said Hans, anxious to get away from him.
They made a b-line for PC Plod and this time got their unmolested.
“Hello,” said PC Plod cheerfully.
“Hi,” replied Hans. “It might just be me but aren’t you guys supposed to say that three times?”
“Well, we only reserve that for when we are about to arrest someone,” Sherman replied, “Why have you done something I should know about?”
Hans decided to move the conversation on. After all in course of his investigative activities he had broken into several houses amongst other things.
“So what’s with the new poster campaign then Sherman?” asked Chloe
“Oh I got sent them via courier post, part of our latest campaign,” explained Sherman, “We’re having a crackdown on the illegal duck smuggling traffic. I mean I know its hardly the most glamorous initiative ever, but its so deadly. Because of it tens of thousands die each year from consuming illegal ducks. It seems into run down communities and before you know it have duck dealers everywhere, outside pubs and in school playgrounds. It’s a multi-billion dollar illegal trade, they grow the ducks as far away as Columbia and Afghanistan to smuggle all the way over here, can you believe it?”
Hans was about to answer no, but a loud crash from behind him stopped him in his tracks.
“Oh God, she’s changing,” exclaimed Chloe. Chloe wondered who Susan would be changing into. She’s known Ms Baxter quite a while, after all they had escaped together from the asylum that Chloe had been consigned to when she’d told the police she’d been bitten by a vampire.
When she heard a scream coming from where Susan’s prone body lay, she quickly worked out which personality had asserted itself. It was Tina, who was mortally afraid of the colour yellow, which Ms Baxter had avoided putting anything in her house that colour for the very same reason. It was just her luck that Tina’s personality had to surface when there was a load of cheese in the house.
“Okay, party’s over,” shouted Chloe as the rushed over to calm Tina down.
“You know Susan will go mad if she knows you stayed after she changed,” said Ronnie, urging Sherman to go. As ever Ronnie would have to sort it out, he knew PC Plod meant well, but his Mum would blame it on him if when she changed back to Susan she found him here. At least Chloe was here to help him out, his Mum trusted her for some reason he didn’t know. It was like they were old friends but they’d never go out during the daytime like any of his friends Mums did with their friends.

Mervin Tells All

The next evening Chloe and Hans started quizzing Mervin about what they’d found out at the party. Hans had often thought that having a wizard who could attempt to explain the mysterious goings on in the village was pretty handy. Okay, so he was pretty grumpy, but he’d always had the feeling that most of his girlfriend’s fathers had wanted to kill him. It was as if there was an inbuilt thing with men to intimidate as much as possible anyone who dared to go out with their daughters. On balance, Mervin was fairly good, but that may have been due to the fact Hans employed him as the caretaker for the castle they all lived in too.
“Duck smuggling,” mused Mervin, “well I guess there’s supposed to be the Avysmere Duck Show next week, maybe something fishy is going on there. The main exhibitor would probably be Transformation Inc, they do have a new person as chairman of their board, someone called Meow.”
In the next split second something incredible happened. Whereas he was usually the man to come out with the most pointless piece of information at any given time, Hans actually remembered something useful. “This Meow person, he’s not a shapeshifter by any chance?” he asked.
“Of course, everyone in Tranformation Inc. is a shapeshifter,” answered Mervin. “They are one of the companies tha’s registered with the Wizarding Council as having magic related activities, I always thought it’d pay to keep up with these things.”
“Can they turn into lots of things or just one,” asked Hans
“Just one, it’s fairly obvious what Meow turns into,” explained Mervin
“What, a dog?” asked Hans genuinely.
Silence swept the room, if there had been any tumbleweed in the vicinity at that moment it would have rolled past at least once.
“Hans, I love you, but you are so thick sometimes. He’s a bloody cat,” said Chloe, the turning to her father continued, “Crazy Dave mentioned something about that at the party.”
“Well, yeh see tha’s the thing wi’ these conspiracy nut types, sooner or later they gotta stumble across something tha’s actually true,” Mervin pointed out.
“What like that thing they say about if you got a hundred typewriters and sat a hundred Shakespeare’s at them they’d type out the complete works of monkeys,” blurted out Hans before he realised he’d got it the wrong way round.
Mervin thought he should look befuddled by this statement of Hans’. However, there was one slight flaw in that plan, he had know idea how a befuddled person should look, so he had to settle for puzzled instead.
“So how come Sherman’s got all this information telling him to crackdown on ducks?” asked Hans breaking the silence, “I mean I’ve never seen him be that close to being onto something magical before.”
“Could residual magic from tha’ bugging yeh had me do,” answered Mervin.
A few weeks before they had ‘bugged’ the police station when they were trying to find a missing wizard. Mervin had cast a spell that made all the bugs that inhabited the building act as listening devices for them so they could snoop on the details of who PC Plod had been interviewing.
“Yeh know,” continued Mervin, “yeh use so much of the stuff it tends to linger, just like in the Magic Moose Room. It can do all kinds of weird things.”
Hans pondered this for a while, despite the Magic Moose Room being the only place where he could really practice magic safely, it was saturated with so much magic it freaked him out every time he went into. So much so that he’d been put off trying to learn all that much magic. Lately he’d noticed that the floor had been vibrating whenever he went into the room, but it had always been the eyes of the moose portraits on the walls that had really freaked him out.
“Like change the content of anything he’d receive?” asked Chloe, “Cos it sounded like he should have got anti-drug stuff instead.”
“Well potentially, it could do anything – just be glad tha’ it hasn’t turned him into a duck-billed platypus like it did to Jimmy McGregor tha’ time,” replied Mervin. He remembered it well; he’d had to call up the local wizarding union for back-up to put everything right again.
“Maybe we should go around to Ted’s so we can find out more about this Transformation Inc.?” suggested Chloe.

Ted's Place

Now when Chloe said let’s go round to Ted’s place, she didn’t mean where Ted actually lived. Ted had been offered a place to stay at the castle when Hans had first met him, but he felt he was imposing himself on Hans, so he moved out of the castle fairly soon after and into a small flat on the village high street. The thing was that there wasn’t all that much to go round there for. The only furniture that was in the house was a cardboard box that Ted slept in at night, he’d never recovered enough from all those years of sleeping rough to dare sleep in a bed. The one time he’d tried it he’d kept having nightmares of it falling into the sea, despite Avysmere being almost 100 miles from the coast.
Hans had taken to checking up on Ted every few weeks as he usually seemed to be a bit down. He’d found it really difficult to make any friends in Avysmere. Any men he’d talked to seemed to all be very homophobic and as soon as he mentioned he was gay they would avoid him like the plague. And any women he talked to would think he was trying to chat them up, even when he told them he was gay they thought it was just a line he was telling so that he could later say that they were turning him straight as a chat-up line.
In fact many a person would have thought of Ted as suicidal, except that Ted had no intention of committing suicide. This wasn’t because he felt he had anything in particular to live for, but more because he didn’t believe in any kind of afterlife and simply ceasing to exist would have been a bit of a waste really.
Moreover, he was actually afraid of most things that you have to do to yourself to kill yourself. He hid behind a cushion when watching people being stabbed and covered in gore and blood in horror films, so he was hardly going to stab himself or slit his wrists. Likewise he couldn’t even look over the edge of a tall building let alone jump off it. In fact the only thing he wasn’t afraid of was hanging, but that was no good as he couldn’t tie a noose to save his life, which ironically saved his life on a few occasions. Instead he had vowed to try and make his like as useful as possible to other people and kept himself occupied with various projects of varying merit from fairly useful to completely and utterly pointless.
Thus there was a further reason they shouldn’t go to Ted’s flat, which was the somewhat more relevant reason that Ted wouldn’t be there. He’d been virtually living at the village library in recent weeks. He’d discovered a taste for website design, at the moment he was working on developing a search engine that helped you narrow down your search when you’d searched for something and it had come back with 7 million hits. His idea was to allow you to exclude things that definitely weren’t relevant. Thus say you were looking for a pizza takeaway in Avysmere, you could filter out anywhere else in the world called Avysmere so you wouldn’t end up with a load of addresses of pizza takeaways in somewhere random like Peru. He thought he was onto a winner for a change.
Hans and Chloe (Jane would have come too, but as they were about to get in the car she embarrassingly realised that she was still wearing her pyjamas) found him sat at one of the public computers in the library and asked him to dig out what information he could on Transformation Inc.
The screen lit up with the company’s homepage, a glossy coloured thing with a corporate video introducing them as the finest wholesalers of quality ducks, with a worldwide distribution network which allowed them to purloin the rare ducks from the furthest corners of the Earth. The company logo sat in the top corner of the page, with a list of the upcoming events where their wares would be exhibited and finally across the bottom of the screen ran the words “Quality produce, where and when you want it. We won’t duck the task.”
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” asked Ted as he turned around to look at Hans and Chloe.
“Yeah,” replied Hans, “I thought that was a crap slogan too!”
Ted held his head in his hands for a moment, then answered, “No, look closer at the screen. See the events, they’re exhibiting in Avysmere tomorrow at the duck festival with the majority of their sales team there.”
“Okay, so we can go investigate and check them all out tomorrow then, agreed?” asked Hans.
“No,” Ted felt like screaming, instead he remained calm, especially given that he agreed with Hans but it pained him to have to explain the somewhat obvious reason why they should investigate them. “Look just below it, the world duck show in Milan is happening at almost the same time. Now it might just be me, but surely that is more of an important event than a small duck show in some Scottish village, something fishy is going on here, maybe we should check out this duck show?”
“Okay then,” said Chloe, “Can you find out where about in the village its held?”
After tinkering with the computer for a while, then losing his temper and whacking the monitor for good measure he turned back to Hans and Chloe. “I guess it doesn’t have a website then,” said Ted, “and if it doesn’t have a website I can’t tell you that much of anything about it.” Then added, “I’d imagine the Professor would know.”
Now when you think of a professor, you’re probably thinking of a fairly old man, whose quite thin and frail, sprouting little clumps of grey hair from his head around his ears, wearing spectacles and a lab coat who sits muttering to himself a lot. And in this case you’d be exactly wrong.
Sophie had been nicknamed the Professor because she knew pretty much everything. She was like a walking encyclopedia. But she looked nothing like you’d expect a professor to look like. She was instead 16, petite with long blonde hair. When she’d finished school two months ago she’d immediately taken over running the library. Almost everyone had told her that she should have gone to college and university to make the most of her talents. But she much preferred being here where she could guard over the books she adored.
“Did one of you say my name, or something?” asked the Professor.
“Yeah,” answered Ted, “You know there’s supposed to be this duck festival starting tomorrow in Avysmere?”
“You mean the 5th bi-annual Avysmere Duck Show, founded by the late Roderick S. McCormack as a way of celebrating fine cuisine and the art of duck grooming. Initially it was held on the McCormack pasture fields to the north of the village. However, two years ago after Roderick McCormack’s death his son got planning permission for a theme park on McCormack fields and the show instead moved to McGregor’s farm where it will take place this year with a range of internationally renowned exhibitors.”
“Ah okay, what happened to the theme park, I don’t recall seeing it?” asked Hans
“Of course you wouldn’t, he wanted to build a theme park dedicated to Gone With The Wind – who’d want to fund that let alone actually go to it! Now did you have any other questions or have you asked me enough trivial nonsense for the day.”