Dobson and Marigold Chew were up in the mountains. Dobson was wearing an ill-advised cravat, while Marigold Chew sported a leopardskin pillbox hat. They were in pursuit of a murderer, reported to have taken refuge in the mountains. Their purpose was to persuade the murderer to repent his killing spree. They had no interest in bundling him back down from the mountains to face earthly justice. They simply wanted him to repent.
The murderer was Babinsky. Heavy of moustache and lumbering of gait, he had prowled the streets of Pointy Town in darkness before a botched slaying panicked him and he took to the mountains. The mountains were teeming with bears. Many, many, many of the bears were afflicted with lupus, a particular form of ursine lupus common in that mountainous region. You might think that lupine animals like wolves would be more prone to lupus than ursine animals like bears, but as I just pointed out, this was a strain of ursine lupus, not lupine lupus. There were few wolves in the mountains, but they were for the most part tremendously hale and healthy wolves.
Lupus, neither ursine nor lupine but human, is an unaccountably popular disease in the television medical drama House M.D. Intriguingly, Dobson and Marigold Chew had arranged their trip to the mountains by buying tickets from a travel agency named Foreman, Cameron & Chase. These are the names of Dr House’s young assistants. In a further twist so improbable that it could almost be fictional, the conductor on the train that brought them to the station at the mountain foothills was a man called Cuddy Wilson. Cuddy and Wilson are, as it happens, the other two main characters in House M.D. Not only that, but with his huge lugubrious moustache and lumbering gait, the train conductor’s resemblance to the killer Babinsky was startling. There had been an unfortunate incident on the train, in the dining car, when a gung ho Dobson had removed his ill-advised cravat and tried to shove it into the conductor’s mouth to incapacitate him and place him under arrest, thinking he was Babinsky. This was despite the warning words of Marigold Chew, alert to one or two subtle features of Cuddy Wilson’s physiognomy which differed from that of the fugitive maniac. Dobson was lucky not to be thrown off the train, for it so happened that the conductor was an adept of Goon Fang, and he had no trouble at all disarming Dobson of the ill-advised cravat and crumpling him into the helpless posture known as Pong Gak Hoon, in which he spent the remainder of the journey. Thus, upon arrival at the mountain foothills, the pamphleteer was unable to think straight because he had missed his breakfast, and valuable hours were lost as he insisted on stopping at a snackbar where he stuffed himself with bloaters and Special K and sausages.
Let us treat ourselves to a bird’s eye view of the terrific mountains. If we imagine we are hovering directly above them, hundreds of feet in the air, at cloud level perhaps, we can draw a triangle between three points. Call them A, B and C. At A, we have the snackbar in the foothills, wherein we find Dobson and Marigold Chew. At B, we have an encampment of mountain bears, many stricken with ursine lupus. And at C, the killer Babinsky, taking shelter in a declivity that might be a crevasse, high in the mountains, examining the contents of his knapsack, packed in a panic as he made his getaway from Pointy Town. Had Babinsky read Dobson’s uncharacteristically useful pamphlet Never Pack A Knapsack In A Panic (out of print), he would not have been in the pickle in which he now found himself. Dobson did not write the pamphlet specifically to advise homicidal fugitives from earthly justice who had fled into the mountains, and the majority of tips in its twenty pages have a more general application. Indeed, one of the few positive reviews the pamphleteer ever received in his lifetime came from a notice in Big Sturdy Boots, the journal of the Bodger’s Spinney Hiking Club, whose anonymous critic praised the pamphlet for its “judicious good sense and greaseproof paper wrapping”. The writer’s only caveat was Dobson’s exclusive use of the word knapsack, which it was felt could cause offence to those who preferred the terms haversack and rucksack. Younger readers should note that in those days the barbaric backpack had not yet sullied the language.
So there at point C, the disconsolate Babinsky rummaged among the items he had packed panic-stricken into his knapsack. Instead of useful things like a compass and pemmican and string, he found that he had a paperback Gazetteer Of Basoonclotshire, a tattered pincushion innocent of pins from which half the stuffing had fallen out, a photograph of a pig, two corks, an unpaid gas bill, a badge from Richard Milhous Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign when he ran against Hubert Humphrey, several small and purposeless cloth pods, a rusty whisk, a paper bag full of bent or otherwise damaged fountain pen nibs, the packaging from a black pudding he had eaten just before he killed the toothless vagrant of Pointy Town, hair dye, a plasticine starling, much dust, a cardboard tag or tab or label on which some unknown functionary had scribbled the word pointless, a beaker caked with mould, another beaker with a gash in its base, a sleeveless and warped 12” picture disc of Vienna, It Means Nothing To Me by Ultravox, whittled twigs, scrunched-up dishcloths, the gnawed bones of a weasel, or possibly a squirrel, feathers, a pictorial guide to cephalopods, someone else’s illegible address book, an empty carton of No Egg, more dust, more feathers, more bones, and a syringe containing a goodly amount of ursine lupus antidote. Having neatly laid out all this rubbish on a ledge in the declivity or crevasse where he squatted, Babinsky stuffed it all back into his knapsack, made the knapsack a pillow, lay splayed out on his back, and fell asleep.
Meanwhile, over at point B on our triangle, the many, many, many bears, both those with ursine lupus and those without, were also fast asleep, and had been for some hours. It was as if they had been engulfed by some sort of narcoleptic gas, but those with knowledge of the mountains, and of the mountain bears, would tell you that there was nothing to worry about. It was simply a case of an encampment of sleeping bears, high in the mountains, who would eventually wake up. Down in the foothills, village folk might tell stories about the mysterious experiments going on in the Pneumatic Institution for Inhalation Gas Therapy, but they knew not whereof they spoke, for they were peasants rather than scientists, and thus their expertise was in such matters as slurry and pigswill and barnyard maintenance rather than in exciting gas activity. In any case, by skipping along to point A, one would find Dobson and Marigold Chew in the snackbar, wide awake and intently planning their next steps in tracking down the killer Babinsky and making him repent.
Ever resourceful, Marigold Chew had brought her Ogsby Steering Panel to facilitate the search. Neither she nor Dobson could be said to be natural mountaineers, both of them more at home on flat surfaces such as ice rinks and tidal plains. Yet they had a sense of overwhelming duty to make the killer repent, preferably on his knees, or sprawled on the ground in a posture of abject grovelling, not unlike Pong Gak Hoon, from which Dobson was only just recovering with the help of the tremendous snackbar breakfast menu. So enthusiastically was he stuffing his gob that Marigold Chew began to wonder if her paramour would be too bloated to clamber in sprightly fashion up into the mountains before nightfall. She was well aware, even if Dobson was not, that at night-time these mountains were both eerie and perilous, for all those years ago she had paid attention in the prefabricated schoolroom when Miss Hudibras taught the important Key Stage 4 Sprightly Clambering In Mountains At Night learning module.
And it will be night, star-splattered and moonstruck, before the three corners of our triangle are each set in motion, and begin, ever so slowly but implacably, to converge upon each other, the triangle twisting, warping like Babinsky’s Ultravox record, shrinking. Dobson and Marigold Chew, the killer Babinsky, and many, many, many bears, including those stricken with ursine lupus, will meet, in the most desolate hour of the night, up in the mountains, at a spot we can call point D. And here at point D, as if awaiting them, bashed firmly into the hard compacted snow, stands an upright cylinder of reinforced plexiglass, sealed with a rubber cork. It is one of a number of cylinders placed here and there in the mountains by boffins from the Pneumatic Institution for Inhalation Gas Therapy. And as the peasants down in the foothills could tell you, as they pause in their doings with slurry and pigswill and barnyard maintenance, only the devil knows what some of those boffins are up to. And as I can tell you, even though I am no devil, there were rogue elements among the boffins, bad boffins, and one such boffin had, just yesterday, filled the cylinder at point D with a new and terrible and loathsome gas which, when uncorked, would fell all living things within a twenty yard radius, crumple them as if they had been placed in the Pong Gak Hoon posture beloved of Goon Fang adepts like the Babinsky-double train conductor, and their brains would be modified in gruesome and unseemly ways. And then, as the gas dispersed into the clear mountain air, as dawn broke, each of them would awaken, Dobson and Marigold Chew, the killer Babinsky, and many, many, many bears, including those stricken with ursine lupus, and to each of them the world would seem raw, different, alive with new tangs and hues and vapours, and the three points of the triangle would slowly move apart, relentlessly, forever, as if they had never, ever converged.