Oblivious to anything, Helga continued to gyrate on top of Melsham as their sliding progress along the Hall floor came to a confused stop. After the events of the past few minutes, the performance came as a fitting finale, and the picture that the Great Hall presented to the TV cameras at that moment made anything ever dreamed up by Hieronymous Bosche pale into transparent insignificance.
As Melsham clutched at Helga’s hips in sheer self-defence, the cameras zoomed in, and the last shot the viewing public saw of the much heralded Grand Banquet before someone finally pulled the plug, was of Lord Melsham himself, mouthing far from silent obscenities to the watching crowd and, apparently, trying the screw the poor bloody woman on top of him even further onto his equipment.
Tending on her knees to a writhing Slipper, Lady Melsham had watched with amazement as Kwan disappeared with a yell through the floor on top of the sideboard, and had seen with disbelief the apparition that had taken its place, skidding in front of her like a pink polar bear on a toboggan. When the toboggan opened its eyes to see a ring of others looking back, in varying degrees of incredulity, and exclaimed “Fuck me!” it was difficult for the watching crowd to refute the statement: that was, indubitably, what was going on.
The words, however, had an amazing effect on Helga. With eyes still tight closed in concentration, her entire body shuddered and, with a husky “Oh, mein liebling noddy, noddy liddle boy,” renewed her assault on Melsham’ s lower quarters with a rhythmic pounding that threw his body from side to side like a rag doll.
“Archie!” Lady Melsham’ s scandalised shout turned all heads in her direction, including Helga’s. Her eyes shot open and her body ceased its bucking, her breasts following in their own time. Slowly she raised her hands to her mouth, pursed in a silent “Oohh” and took in the ring of watching faces. Then, in a welter of embarrassment, she expelled Melsham from her body and rose clutching the corner of the table-cloth to her bosom and, absurdly, curtsying at the same time.
Released from its imprisonment, Melsham’s member collapsed, while all heads turned this time in his and Helga’s direction. Then, a simple-minded JP suffering from shock began a hesitant hand-clap, under the impression that the performance was part of the cabaret. It petered nervously out as all heads swivelled silently in his direction and he brayed self-consciously, then went into hysterics.
It was the key to a general release. Soon, everyone in the room capable of giving speech was, and the Great Hall rang to imprecations not heard since the fifth Earl had buggered his way through the Gentlemen of the Bed Chamber at the Harvest Festival Supper in 1198. “Disgusting!” “Disgraceful behaviour!” “Fella should be horsewhipped!” Someone, looking tentatively through the hole in the floor, remarked in an awed voice “He has. And the rest.” A crowd of interested onlookers affirmed to this last observation, trying not to look too closely at Kwan’s flattened body staring blindly and malevolently up at them from the swirling clouds of dust. Then, they all started back in alarm as the pressure to which the chains and sharp implements had subjected the grotesque blow-up dolls proved too much for their rubber skins … and they variously exploded or deflated noisesomely amongst the rubble.
Nestling his head in Lady Melsham’s lap, Slipper heard the comments through his haze of pain with immense satisfaction. Events had not turned out quite the way he had planned, and there had been no need to conduct the tour of the dungeons he had laid on, but judging by the expressions of disgust and disaffection on everyone’s face as Melsham scurried away followed by a still curtsying Helga, the game was already won.
Now that the danger had passed, the P.M. emerged from behind his hedge of protectors and, under the mistaken belief that the TV cameras were still recording, jumped onto the table to take charge. “Ladies and Gentlemen. There is absolutely no need to panic. Everything is under control. Please resume your seats until the police arrive.”
Frantically picking pieces of Willy’s remains out of her teeth, the Bishop’s wife shrieked that she had absolutely no intention of resuming her seat, pointing out rather superfluously that it was already occupied by an expired security guard who was bleeding copiously into her handbag. She hysterically expressed a desire to be taken home. The Bishop, thinking over his wife’s newly acquired propinquity with the male organ, was doubtful about the wisdom of acceding to the request - the damage her teeth had wreaked on Willy’s deceased member was far too fresh in his mind yet to contemplate any prompting of an early renewal of the acquaintance. Sweating, he persuaded her to take an empty seat further up the table. She collapsed into the chair in a fit of the vapours. “For God’s sake, will someone please get rid of that!” she cried, pointing at Willy’s head wallowing amongst the leavings of the Melsham Pie.
“No!” a hoarse cry came from the other end of the table as the Chief Constable raised a grey face from the table cloth, “That ’s evidence, that is. Thank God we didn’t eat it all.” It was, in fact, entirely due to the disturbance that the Chief Constable had eaten as little as he had, and even then he had eaten more than anyone else for his appetite was as gluttonous as his reputation for policing with an iron hand was prodigious. That hand now seemed to be gripping his stomach with steel fingers, as fresh eructations of fermenting Willy threatened to turn him inside out, and he subsided, groaning, to the table.
This untimely reminder brought on another bout of nausea around the table and, preserving dignity even in adversity, the Mayor honked delicately away into the pocket of his ermine fringed robe, falling back into his chair hollow-eyed and gasping. Soon, there was nothing to be heard. The wells had run dry.
When Cherry Lin came to, there was an eerie silence, broken only by a quiet chorus of whimpering from beneath the kitchen work surface. She picked herself up and peered around the end panel. Kitchen staff and her father’s outside catering crew were entwined in one another’s arms, shaking and moaning in fright. “Missee Lin! Missee Lin!” they cried, fearing the terrible retribution of her father. They crawled over to her as a man, “It not our fault. Mr. Kwan take our clothes and tie us up. It was Mr. Ying who save us.”
At mention of Arthur’s name Cherry gasped and scrabbled around to the front of the unit. Ying still lay where he had fallen, looking as though the grim reaper had taken half his face off leaving him to bleed to death and, with a cry of anguish; Cherry threw herself onto his body digging her fingernails into his collarbone. Ying came to with a jerk, stiffening and pulling away with a resounding “BLEEDIN’ ’ELL!” Cherry screamed, burst into tears, and threw herself into Arthur’s arms, smothering his face with her own.
In the Great Hall a rather similar scene was being enacted, much to the surprise of the assembled guests, as Lady Melsham fondly wiped the tomato sauce from Slipper’s head, hysterically whispering endearments amidst a flood of tears of remorse and humiliation.
And it was this tranquil if odiferous scene that greeted the police and the ambulance service when they stormed into the building, alerted to the crisis by the remarkably explicit television pictures being transmitted throughout the County.
Inspector Rope knew that he had a job on his hands after only a cursory questioning of the participants. Riot, assault and battery, kidnap, theft, unlawful detention, impersonation, wilful damage, manslaughter, murder and - for all he knew - to judge by the disgusting state of the table, attempted mass poisoning. Not to mention, of course, the little matter of Chinamen en croute! The state of the dungeons below also hinted strongly at licentious behaviour calculated to cause offence if not grievous bodily harm (and if the instruments in the room below the hole were not actually illegal, they ought to be).
Confiscating the VT tapes as evidence, he quickly packed the TV crew out of the way, sent the dinner guests home and concentrated on the main suspects. Since the undoubted suspects were severally shot, squashed, dismembered or otherwise permanently incapacitated, that left him with the main protagonists. Slipper was squeaky clean of course, Arthur and Cherry had been earmarked for further questioning on their part in it all and allowed to leave, Helga had been shown to be a blameless dupe (particularly after she showed Rope the note from Melsham. instructing her to come to the dungeon), which left Melsham, Freddy and the cooking staff to accompany him to the station to assist the Police with their enquiries.
Rope left Staddon Hall, if not a satisfied man, at least relieved to be out of the blood-bath that the Great Hall had become. Thankfully, he left the paramedics to sort out the body bags and, in the small hours, ringed by a watchful constabulary, the household returned to a semblance of normality and the staff retired to a sleepless - or exhausted - night, depending upon their level of involvement in the recent events.
Resting in bed late the next morning, Slipper looked up as Lady Melsham backed through the door carrying a tray laden with his breakfast. She had insisted the previous night, when the police had finally released the dinner guests and hauled Melsham and Freddy away, that this was the least she could do. It was an entirely new experience to Slipper, and one that he thought he could well get used to.
She sat on the edge of the bed, gushing, as Slipper struggled up and adjusted the tray around his lap. He flipped open the folded newspaper with his free hand:
“LORD SNUBS PM FOR NIGHT-TIME NOOKIE!” the headlines screamed at him “NAKED FROLICS AT CANNIBAL BANQUET - LORD MELSHAM HELD IN CUSTODY”
“And serve him right, too” said Lady Melsham scathingly. “When I think of how he lured that poor, defenceless young girl down into those disgusting dungeons …And as for that Pie … ” She retched.
Slipper made consoling noises around his mouthful of boiled egg. It had been quite remarkable how Helga had come through the nonsense unscathed, but gratifying none the less, he thought. The note had been sheer inspiration, in hindsight, given the unusual turn of events. Doubtless she would be heartbroken for a day or two, but he would make sure that Lil looked after her. He had seen the lingering looks a few of the more noteworthy guests had thrown down the hole in the floor and the sudden catching of breath as they followed her naked progress after Melsham: a few addresses thrown Lil’s way might make up for the precipitate removal of Melsham from Helga’s affections. There would still be some questioning, no doubt, but the beauty of it was that Helga knew nothing. As far as she was concerned the whole thing had been one unhappy coincidence.
As far as Melsham was concerned he couldn’t open his mouth without making coincidence seem a well-planned stratagem. He had been without sleep ever since he had been dragged away from the Hall in the early hours and so far it had been no use at all his protesting to Inspector Rope that he “didn’t know what he was raving on about anyway!” and “hadn’t chopped any fucking Chinaman up!”
As Rope had pointedly told him, whether the Chinaman had been fornicating or not before being baked in the pie was of little consequence now, particularly since the Bishop’s wife had disposed of what little evidence there may have been to prove or disprove the theory. In further condemnation, Rope had heatedly expressed himself of the opinion that, in any case, any man who was capable of fucking what Melsham had, apparently, been fucking last night - and in public - was fucking capable of anything! It was a clear pointer to the instability of the man and, as for serving the corpse up for dinner … Inspector Rope had come across some cases in his time, but the book hadn’t been written on this one yet.
Freddy’s story about the Kwan sisters had more the ring of authenticity about it, although as Rope had shouted: “If anybody else says another word about Chinam...women, the shit is going to hit the fucking fan!” and had gone home to sleep the bad-tempered sleep of the frustrated policeman, leaving his charges to let the whole thing ferment in their minds.
In fact, it fermented so much in Melsham’s mind that, by the time Rope returned the next day, he was insisting vehemently that he was a light fitting and demanded to be strung up to the ceiling immediately. Then he stuck his thumb in his mouth, sat in the corner of his cell and switched himself off.
That left the limelight to Freddy, and it was only by dint of the confused testimony of Kim Lee, discovered nursing a huge head-ache in the middle of Houndsmoor, that he was exonerated from all legal - if not moral - blame for the affair. Inspector Rope was later to find that the Lin family had also been proved to be innocent of affairs at the Hall, no matter what their original involvement may have been. The outside catering arm of the organisation was, genuinely, on the level and had, on many occasions, tendered successfully to cater for the annual Police Ball. Kim Lee also confirmed Ying’s account of the events, which let him off the hook.
From Rope’s point of view it was a highly unsatisfactory affair. Melsham remained comatose throughout the Coroner’s Hearing, was adjudged unfit to plead and committed to the local asylum where he took every opportunity, in his rare lucid moments, to suspend himself from the ceiling screaming “who won the fucking war anyway!” until he had to be forcibly restrained.
Muttering vilely that “he would have someone’s balls for this” Rope was forced to close the case “Unsolved” and returned to chivvying the local football supporters, who were surprised at the unusual vehemence with which summary justice was meted out.
The sudden notoriety into which Staddon Hall had been thrust lasted only briefly, quickly eclipsed by tabloid disclosures that the Prime Minister had confided to a close colleague in an unguarded moment that he had found the Melsham Pie “quite tasty really.” The political repercussions which followed opened the flood gates to a dirty tricks campaign which had the Government on its knees and quite lost sight of the incident that had first set it off.
Thus, Staddon Hall sank thankfully once more to humdrum everyday life and trundled along at its former stately pace.
Freddy, as soon as he had been released from custody, had wisely disappeared, taking Carmen with him, much to Harris’ disgust. Helga, after suffering the pangs of unrequited love for a few weeks, recovered by venting her spleen on Fat Lil’s ‘special’ customers, thereby increasing the establishment’s reputation in leaps and bounds and earning her a partnership in the business.
Cherry and Ying married, of course. Even Father Lin could not be expected to object in the face of Arthur’s heroic actions and Lin needed very badly to keep a low profile until the last ripples of the Lin/Kwan conspiracy had faded. As befitted a family of the Lins’ status, the ceremony was performed at the Cathedral under the offices of no less a person than the Bishop himself whose entire personality it was said - had undergone a subtle transformation since the banquet, although it was also said - the Bishop’s wife had a permanently sour set to her lips nowadays.
Lady Melsham visited her husband on the odd occasion, for forms’ sake, but was eventually dissuaded on the grounds that the expense of continually replacing lighting fitments in the cells far outweighed the dubious therapeutic benefits of the visits. It was a blessed relief to her, and left her free to devote all her time to Slipper.
Slipper strolled out of the front door of Staddon Hall with a self-satisfied, proprietorial air. A veil of secrecy had once again been drawn across the face of the Hall and it slumbered in its accustomed anonymity. Bank Holidays now came and went and he never had to venture beyond his own front door - relief was always at hand, so to speak, night and day. He had a lot of time to make up … and a lot of time to make it up in.
He turned and looked at the Hall. It glowed in the evening Houndsmoor sun as it had done for hundreds of years. Lady Melsham waved at him from the bedroom window and Slipper felt a warm glow in the pit of his stomach. All was right with Slipper’s world.
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