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Chapter 24

In the room above, Freddy all but fainted. The fact that the waiters had all turned out to be Chinese was bad enough but, lurking at the back of the Hall, he could have sworn he had spotted Tony Kwan! The soup turned to vinegar in his mouth. Then, his bowl was clumsily cleared and a fanfare of trumpets heralded the service of the main course as a huge pie was wheeled in by a triumphant chef.

The P.M. rubbed his podgy little hands. “That’s a true British Pie, Lady Melsham, a true British Pie!” and he led a polite scattering of appreciative applause as the chef bowed and handed Freddy a huge carving knife. It was at this point that Lord Melsham was to have given a short speech but, in his absence, the lot had now fallen on Freddy. In all conscience he had heard Melsham rehearse it enough over the past few days and had known it off by heart, until a few moments ago when the Kwan nightmare had reared its ugly little yellow head again. An expectant silence fell over the gathering, waiting for Freddy to speak, and the TV cameras panned in to capture the ceremonial cutting of the Melsham Pie. All they caught was a dumbstruck Freddy staring at the knife in his hand as though it were something obscene as, indeed, in his mind’s eye it was, imagined in the hands of a vengeful Tony Kwan. His chest heaved, his mouth worked, but nothing emerged save a feeble “Gaaaahh!”

Carmen looked at him curiously, Lady Melsham looked fit to murder, and the P.M. just looked on in astonishment. “Gaaahh!” Freddy said again, dropped the knife and sat down, ashen. The T. V. cameras panned away again while the producer hopped in agitation in the Minstrel’s gallery.

Livid at this additional hiccup to her big Society Debut, Lady Melsham glared at Freddy, snatched up the knife and, with a forced smile, waited until the cameras had panned back around to her before declaring “the inaugural Melsham Pie well and truly cut” - and drove the knife deep into the crust as though it had done her actual physical harm.

Again, a polite if embarrassed scattering of applause rippled around the table, soon hidden in the clattering of dishes as the novice waiters, goaded into action by a furious chef and a bewildered Slipper, commenced throwing vegetables onto the waiting plates. Slipper and Lady Melsham exchanged glances, Lady Melsham furious and frantic, Slipper rather less so - the more things that went wrong with this banquet the better, so far as he was concerned, but he had to admit that the ineptitude of the catering firm was rather surprising since they had come highly recommended. Ruminating on ill winds Slipper excused himself from the Great Hall and went in search of the contract waiters’ boss - a rather grim and forbidding individual - to seek an explanation.

Tony, who had slipped out of the Great Hall as soon as he suspected that Freddy might spot him, watched Slipper approach with undisguised venom. And that was when things started to go wrong with a will. There was a confused medley of shouting from the entrance hall and two security guards burst into the kitchen led by a dishevelled and panting Oriental followed by several, even more, dishevelled and miserable Chinese shivering in their underclothes.

At their approach an alarmed Tony Kwan ducked past Slipper, neatly dodged around the milling scrummage and made a dash for the Great Hall.

“That’s him!” Arthur gasped, as Kwan dashed past and stuck out a leg to trip him.

“You’re a dead man, Ying!” yelled Tony skipping neatly over the outstretched leg, which was more than the closely pursuing security man could manage. With a clatter he measured his length on the kitchen floor, bowling the Chinese like nine-pins and discharging his revolver into the quarry tiles as he did so. The bullet ricocheted up, clanging and whining from pan to pan and sending the occupants of the kitchen diving to the floor to join the melee of Chinese enmeshed with the struggling guard. With a final fading ‘whirrrr’, the spent slug struck Ying a solid blow between the eyes and threw him against the second security guard whose own gun, then half-drawn from his shoulder holster, went off with a muffled roar, tearing the side from his jacket and drilling past Slipper with a vicious burr. It demolished a catering-sized jar of tomato ketchup and exploded sauce across a good portion of the kitchen, liberally coating Slipper, who stood frozen in the middle of the floor, and Ying as he lay supine and dazed on the floor.

Kwan glanced quickly at the mayhem behind him as he shouldered the kitchen doors open. As Tony ran out, Cherry Lin ran in, alarmed at the noise and let go a piercing shriek as she saw Ying sprawled on the floor with the reek of cordite on the air and gore apparently spread all over him and the walls. She fell fainting to the floor as if someone had suddenly removed her spine.

Kwan flattened himself against the wall as the Great Hall doors burst open, hiding him. Against a background murmur of alarm within, several more security men rushed out with revolvers drawn making for the kitchens. In the general confusion, Kwan slipped inside the Great Hall and, drawing out his knife crawled unnoticed underneath the table, making for Freddy still sitting shocked and whitefaced at the far end.

The P.M. was discretely surrounded by bodyguards by this time and had abandoned his pie. Lady Melsham, however, completely unable to comprehend the turn of events, was still striving to keep up appearances and continued to toy with hers, turning the crust over nervously and making inconsequential conversation to the P.M., who was rather more concerned with keeping his skin intact than social convention.

She succeeded, at last, in removing the crust from the enormous wedge of pie that almost covered her plate and, as the unfortunate Willy’s hand flopped free amongst the gravy, Kwan’s searching hand groped in her lap underneath the table. Following almost immediately on the severe and stomach churning turn that Willy’s shrivelled claw had given her, Tony’s questing hand launched Lady Melsham from her chair like one of the space rockets that were so exercising her husband’s mind in the dungeons below. Down the length of the table, guests already confused by the disturbance were finding the odd bit of cloth and bone in their own pies, and the rising hubbub of complaint was adding to the air of unreality.

Lady Melsham topped it all by combining a strangulated scream with a stream of vomit of such perfect aim, as she shot from her chair, that it neatly filled an empty vegetable dish sitting pristine on the immaculate table cloth. The P.M.′ s P.P.S. turned immediately green and, without thought of aim, threw up over his plate.

When the Bishop’s wife, five seats along from Lady Melsham, speared a sausage-like morsel on her plate and recognised it for what it really was only as she delicately nipped the end off with her teeth, pandemonium was complete. As alarmed at his wife’s gruesome discovery as he might have been, the Bishop was, perhaps, incensed more. The juxtaposition between lip and organ, deceased and mangled and someone else’s though it may have been, was closer than he had been able to achieve in 30 years of marriage and he fumed, both at the enormity and the iniquity of it all.

Throughout, Freddy had sat immobile and speechless in his chair but, as Kwan’s hand emerged from beneath the table clasping his murderous knife, followed by his evil, grinning, face, he leapt back from the table with a yell. Kwan followed, ignoring the uproar around him. “Lappit” he hissed “I want your balls.”

Carmen screamed. A bewildered security man, suddenly alive to the situation, planted an enormous handgun to Kwan’s head but Tony, with a contemptuous flick of his hand, knocked the gun away, grasped the man’s hand and with a perfectly executed back-heel kicked him sprawling across the table, scattering dishes and hitherto undiscovered pieces of Willy across the floor.

He came to rest with his head in the Bishop’s lap. The Bishop, jerked rudely from his wistful contemplation, thought that of all times and places, his moment had now come, and half rose from his seat. Then he temporarily thought no more as a chair, thrown by one of Kwan’s cronies, bounced off his head and deposited him face down on the table in a pile of vomit and miscellaneous bits of Willy.

The action polarised the situation and, suddenly, the Great Hall was full of karate-kicking Chinamen, hefty security people waving huge guns, and dinner guests diving for cover. The P.M. was led away, cowering amongst a hedge of bodyguards while Slipper, who had just arrived at the gallop from the kitchen scraping tomato ketchup from his eyes, watched the whole proceedings aghast as Freddy hared past him, chased by the waiters’ boss whose face was twisted in a mask of insane rage. In fact, the whole affair was so Dali-esque that Slipper wondered if the slug that had rebounded around the kitchen had not, somehow, clipped him around the ear and concussed him.

In the minstrel gallery, the TV producer was almost beside himself trying to keep cameras on the action. A stray shot had taken his wig off and smashed its way through a bank of monitors so that he no longer knew whether transmission was going out or not. He need not have worried. The whole of the West Country was agog with this unexpected fillip to their Saturday evening’s viewing.

Slipper seethed. His carefully laid plans had been - literally - shot to pieces. There was now no hope that he could take the assembled guests on a tour of the secret passage to the dungeons and reveal Melsham in all his revolting glory.

The marksmanship of the security men was taking its toll of the Kwan boys, who were falling like mown hay. But they had taken a few with them, and broken bodies lay angular and disjointed across the table and the floor. The scene, thought Slipper wildly, was reminiscent of what one of the first Earl’s more civilised banquets might have looked like.

Kwan, alone of all his gang, was still on his feet and still pursuing Freddy with murder on his face. With a desperate dive, Freddy threw himself underneath the table, clawing his way through the dinner-guests cowering there. Suddenly Kwan realised that he was on his own and stood at bay as a battery of revolvers pointed their barrels at him. Then, with the speed of the snake he was, he grasped Lady Melsham round the waist, plucking her from the floor where she had been hiding, and put the knife to her throat.

“Back off or the lady’s head joins that!” he shouted, pointing in revulsion to Willy’s bald and broiled head that had just rolled out of the remains of the Melsham Pie and lay rocking in the centre of the table. All eyes turned to the less than illuminating spectacle, while Willy’s eyes fell out, wetly.

Those who had partaken of the Pie and, so far, retained possession, immediately relinquished it with a chorus of groans as a prolongued bout of retching echoed down the Hall. Picking his way delicately to the door, Kwan backed away hauling a helpless Lady Melsham with him.

Slipper, who had found it hard to believe his eyes as he watched the indignities being heaped on the fabric of his beloved Great Hall, also found it difficult to move a muscle. It was as nothing, though, to the indignities being heaped upon his Mistress - in all senses of the word - at the moment. In one well-spring of emotion, all the love that he had been suppressing for Lady Melsham, after their sweaty and furtive fumblings, leapt to the surface and aroused the beast within that Slipper hardly knew existed. With a roar, he grabbed Kwan’s wrist and twisted out and up, at the same time yanking Lady Melsham free from Tony’s grasp. Something gave with a ‘pop’ - and, as Slipper fell to the floor he realised that it was his shoulder.

After that, Slipper lost interest in the proceedings for a few moments, during which Kwan took his opportunity to evade the encircling ring of gunmen and leapt onto the gigantic sideboard in one last act of defiance.

As Slipper lost consciousness, Melsham regained his. He was still trussed, and hung from the ceiling gently swaying to and fro. But, far from playing billiards with his balls, Helga was busily occupied in the corner of the dungeons removing her clothes. Watching her with a bilious eye, Melsham could hardly credit that so much could be contained in so little. If it had all been fat then it would have been easier to handle - in a manner of speaking. But, this was all solid muscle and, while Melsham had been known to wallow quite happily in layers of adipose tissue before now, the prospect of allowing Helga to apply any tissue to him but a paper one was still something that filled him with alarm. And there could be no doubt that that was what she had in mind, for Melsham had seen women in the throes of connubial preparation before - there was something about the way that the clothes peeled off with indecent haste that was a dead give-away. Not that Melsham wanted any, free or not. Not from Helga at any rate.

Helga, on the other hand, did. If her attempts to arouse Melsham’s astonishingly torpid sexuality had failed, she had succeeded in raising her own almost to bursting point. She bent down to pick up a whip she had earlier discarded and Melsham, confronted suddenly with a yawning chasm, felt vertiginous to the point of disorientation and inadvertently yelped.

“Ach!” said Helga, wheeling round “Mein liebling is avake. Gut. His Helga has somezing vich vill vake him even more. Zee!” The pose she struck, and the battle-cry she uttered, might not only have awoken the dead, it would also have driven them to cling onto their casket lids for fear of what might be after them. Melsham had not the same option. Short of swinging gently on his rope he could either close his eyes or not - and since they were frozen in disbelief at the disgusting spectacle taking place before them, he had no option at all.

Unfortunately for him, however, Helga’s antics were beginning to have the desired effect and, seeing this, she strode triumphantly to the table, unhitched the rope and caught him with one beefy arm before he smashed his nose - and, more importantly from Helga’s point of view, his member - on the table below. Quickly, she flipped him over, released his bonds and before he realised quite what was happening, had straddled him. Looking up at her, she appeared to Melsham like the pillar of Hercules holding up the ceiling and, judging by the strength with which she was bearing down on him, probably was. In the next instant, however, he knew that last incoherent thought to be untrue, for the ceiling came crashing down in a rumble of falling masonry as a dark and impossibly heavy shape screamed down, striking the edge of the table behind Helga an anvil blow, collapsing the sturdy legs and catapulting the coupling pair upwards through the gaping hole made by its descent.

Below, Tony Kwan already believed himself in Hell as a grotesque parody of the human procreative act flashed in front of his eyes, before he ceased to have any interest at all in the events of the night or for evermore, and expired quietly, if messily, beneath the remains of the exploded sideboard which had fallen through the floor of the Great Hall.

As she shot upwards, Helga believed herself to be in the other place. She had always known that she could persuade her ‘noddy liddle boy’ to perform and, if present indications were any criterion, Melsham had a kick like a mule - the earth moving had absolutely nothing on it. Screaming exultantly she rode her bucking bronco like some apocalyptic horsewoman, erupting through the floor of the Great Hall as though from the Underworld, like the Goddess Hel coupling with an exceedingly foul-mouthed Lucifer, if the appalling language proceeding from the Satyr’s mouth was anything at all to go by.

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