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Dan Brown Parody, Part 2

May 15, 2013

The Fawlty Code

Chapter Two

Roger swivelled in surprise and with a serendipitous illuminating lightning flash his gaze met the dramatic silhouette of a young woman, standing atop and astride of the highest remaining section of rubble.  She waved slowly and rhythmically and then hopped down to meet him, shaking his limp hand politely.

“It’s definitely a clue.  You got the same text didn’t you?  You were told to find your way here?  And you saw the sign.  I saw it too.  I got here half an hour earlier, saw the sign, photographed it and replaced it.  You can photograph it yourself if you like… or not.  But I think you should replace it.  There may be other researchers around and we should treat this place as an archaeological site.  Or a crime scene.  Leave everything as we found it.”

Dutifully, Roger took a slimline digital camera from his jacket pocket and photographed the sign, front and back, and even its edges.  Then he set the sign neatly back in the yellow indented turf where he’d found it.  Then he took some more pictures of the sign in situ just to re-establish context.

“You’re thorough.” judged the woman jumping from her dramatic elevation in single bound.  “You’re careful and you’re not easily distracted.  I like the way you operate.  I’m now thinking you’re Roger Mysterium, from B.I.G. university.  Yes, now I know who you are.  I’ve heard you speak.  I’ve read your books.  Most of them anyway – I dare say nobody’s read all of them – not even you.”

Roger blushed  (especially as several of his books had been written too rapidly for him to have “read” himself in any conscious or meaningful sense), not that the dark and stormy night was capable of betraying that fact.

“You have me at a disadvantage….”  (what with this being England and all, Roger found himself becoming rather stately in his speech.)  “You’re name would be…”

“Not important.”  The woman looked fidgety and evasive.  Then embarrassed by her own evasions, she compromised.

“Call me “Indy”.  Yes.  “Indy” will do for now.  Look – you were invited here and so was I.  Whoever summoned us already knows about the sign, I bet.  They may have even left it in a prominent position for one or both of us to trip over.  The most pressing mystery is who that person was… is… and if that person is going to suddenly show up here, and whether we want to be here when they do show… or whether the whole point was for you and I to meet, and whether or not we want to defeat or support that purpose.”

There was something strange and inappropriate about Indy.  Something that marked her out as different from most other people.  He couldn’t put his finger on exactly what that thing was but it would come to him in time.

“Young lady…  “Indy”…. I fear we have very little to go on right now.”

Indy’s nodded her head like the mute victim of a puppeteer in training.

“I agree.  I do however have a car.  And the rain is getting worse.”

Roger hadn’t in fact noticed the rain for a while.  His astonishing fat brain was beavering away so hard and with such rapidity that he was unable to free up conceptual space to acknowledge the mere physical elements around him, but he had to acknowledge the justice of Indy’s observation and nodded mechanically as she started to walk briskly towards the far side of the debris field.  He followed, his socks by now squelching audibly in his shoes, and discovered another track on the far side on what had once been the hotel that led to a gravelled space that had once been a car park and which now had a car in it.

Her “car”, like all vehicles in England, turned out to be amusingly small, rusty, and quite old, rather older than she was, by the looks of things.  It was something called an Austin 1100 (from the 1970s as he later discovered), a make and model that Roger had never before heard of and would be unlikely to ever hear of again.  Peering inside, its cruelly adhesive faux leather seats gave off an unusual odour of stale milk and marmite.  He squeezed in beside her and felt somewhat disconcertingly intimate with her immediately.  He couldn’t remember the last time he’d invaded so much of a young woman’s personal space.  Sex itself seemed less intimate and invasive than this peculiar and implausible mode of transport.  After a few attempts with the ignition, the car spluttered into life and chugged back down the hill.  When it reached the coast road, instead of turning left into the town, she took a right (Roger chuckled to himself – of course – over here, the right turns are the tricky ones – ha ha ha, I’m through the looking glass here in this crazy opposite land).  Only after two or three such hilarious manoeuvres did Roger think to ask…

“Where are we going?”  “Indy” sighed, seemingly forced to make a painful admission.

“My father’s place.  It’s our only option right now.  I hate to do it.  You have absolutely no idea how much I hate to do it, but he does have a roof and he will let us in, and he’ll have an opinion about all of this.”

Fair enough – considered Roger, abandoning himself to his immediate fate.  However, a few hundred yards outside of the town, on a stretch of tiny road that bespoke utter desolation, the engine suddenly stalled and refused to restart.  Unflummoxed, Indy leapt from the car out into the rain.

“Wait here” she called.  A couple of disconcerting minutes went by and Indy returned carrying a medium sized branch roughly the size that she was.  Grasping it firmly by the thicker end, she proceeded to beat the car with some force on the ceiling, doors, trunk (boot) and finally and decisively the hood (bonnet) while screaming threats and creatively hybridized obscenities at the top of her voice.  Then she returned to the car, buckled herself in, rearranged her hair in the mirror, turned the key and the car immediately and cheerfully revived.  They continued on its way without any further difficulty.

Roger ventured a comment.
“How could that possibly work?  How can hitting a car with an uprooted tree possibly restart an internal combustion engine?”

Indi shrugged, kept her eyes firmly on the tiny dangerous road ahead and replied in a tired monotone.

“It’s standard practice in these parts.  We do it all the time.  Call it a bit of local knowledge.  And it seems to work particularly well with this make and model. The Austin 1100 can withstand a lot of punishment, thankfully.  Not more than it deserves, unfortunately.”

Roger yawned, not tired, but bored already by all twentieth and twenty-first century mechanical discussions.

“Who’s your father?”  he asked.

Indy’s teeth clenched and her knuckles whitened on the steering wheel as though she resented the fact that Roger was bound to find out who her father was no matter how long she procrastinated.

“You’ll have heard of him.” She conceded.  “He’s Lord Strangelore.”

Roger gasped, audibly.

“Lord Strangelore!  The Lord Strangelore!  Why he’s the most remarkable amateur scholar of Indirection that England has ever produced!”

The young woman breathed in, sharply and audibly,  and kept her eyes doggedly on the road ahead.

“I know.  As I say, he’s my father.”

“Why, he’s almost a friend of mine.  I’ve never actually met him in the flesh but I’ve been corresponding with him for years.  Old fashioned pen and ink correspondence, would you believe.  Watermarked crested paper no less.  He’s always picking apart my books and pointing me towards something new.  I couldn’t tell you how much I owe to him.”

“He’s an arse.”

Roger paused to meditate on the possibility.

“He might not be an academic in a strict accredited sense, but he’s spent more time studying indirection than anyone else in Europe, even if Europe is about twelve decades behind what we’ve been doing at BIG.  Still, Aristotle’s Masterpiece, Hermes Trismegistus, Jakob Boehme, Swedenborg, Blake, Blatavski, Crowley, Brown… he has them all at his finger’s end.”

“He’s an educated arse.”

“I can’t wait to meet him.”

A barely suppressed “humph” greeted Roger’s excitement and the rest of the drive took place in silence.  The sociopathic rain had abated somewhat and actual stars started to peek out between the clouds.  It was a full moon.  Eventually, the little car veered sharply to the left and proceeded down a long tree lined drive set in what seemed to be very extensive if very neglected grounds.  The black gothic hulk of Strangelore Hall loomed ever closer, its asymmetrical wings embracing oncoming vehicles like the claws of some ungodly exoskeletal mutation.

Indy leaped and Roger squeezed out of the car, his long legs numb with unfamiliar bending.  The wind and rain continued to lash and torment them as the young woman tugged on a mighty chain which connected somewhere, somehow, with an ancient, melancholy, yet potent bell.  After an almighty wait, the sound of steps greeted them, then a rattle of keys, a yawning creak, and the main door was opened by a small neat man in a servile black uniform.  He wore a small moustache not quite small enough to be authoritarian and not quite long enough to be revolutionary.  He was, without doubt, the single most inscrutable individual that Roger had ever encountered.

“Good to see you Mario”  announced Indy with very little enthusiasm.

“My Lady In…”

“This is Professor Mysterium.  He is known to my father.  Announce him and I’m sure he’ll get a warm welcome.”

“Very good my lady.  Please follow me.”

Mario spoke the kind of deliberate and perfectly cadenced English that those who know it as a first language find almost impossible.  Like most non-Anglophones, he could probably spell.  If he, the sinister butler, was the author of the message that had brought him to England, then the mis-spellings must be a deliberate attempt at indirection.  In any case, judging by his gait and complexion (and Roger was good at such instant judgements) he was clearly a Mediterreanean type, Greek, Spanish or Italian.  What had brought him here, Roger wondered?  As though answering his thoughts, Indy commented.

“Mario’s been with the family since before I was born.  Thirty years or more.”

“Isn’t it more common to have an English butler?  ‘My Lady’?  In England?”

“Hmmph.   There are no English butlers.  Mythological beings.  Only on US sitcoms do such things exist.  For domestic service you need to look abroad.  Look south.  Just like you guys do.  And cut out the “My Lady”.  Mario only says it to annoy, don’t you Mario?”

“Whatever you say, My Lady.”

Together they trudged up an enormous and filthy staircase lit by a perilous looking chandelier, most of whose bulbs had burned out, that swayed in response to multiple draughts issuing from multiple broken windows.  They were then led along a formal gallery with gothic lead-lined windows on one side and heavy framed portraits on the other.  There were no lights on in this section of the  house and Mario’s battery torch provided the only source of illuminations.  Roger was unable therefore to indulge his professional habit of looking for clues, anagrams, runes and riddles among the line of family portraits whose medieval, tudor, stuart, Hanoverian, and Victorian outlines he could just about make out.  Roger attempted to detect Indi’s family features in each of them but could see nothing.  At the end of the corridor he could see a large chamber through an open door, a chamber illuminated primarily by means of a roaring (and very welcome) fire which silhouetted a table with a bottle and two glasses set in front of a large armchair inhabited by a corpulent figure wrapped in overlapping and confused layers of velvet and tweed that Roger immediately assumed to be His Lordship.

As they entered, the fat man made a pathetic attempt to raise himself out of his chair, feigned a twinge of some kind and collapsed back into the well worn indentations of the upholstery.  He waved Roger into a nearby chair of almost equal magnificence and mimed a drink offering.

Roger lowered himself cautiously into place, always less than comfortable with extreme comfort.

“Lord Strangelove.  It’s a pleasure and a privilege.”

“Yes.  I thought it might be.  Drink… drink.”

Lord Strangelore’s entire wobbly body shook while attempting to mime a “drinkie drinkie” gesture.

Roger glanced at Indy.

“Oh my daughter doesn’t drink.  Never mind her.”

“I drink like a fish, you arse.  What do you know?”

Lord Strangelove beamed

“She calls me “arse”.  It’s a term of endearment in these parts.”

“No it isn’t.  Arse.”

Roger picked up his drink, or rather a drink unexpectedly present on the card table beside his chair, a drink which turned out to be vintage port, nearly half a pint of it.  He said something complementary about its taste and texture, hoping to change the subject.  Strangelore waved his hand dismissively.

“Enough.  You haven’t travelled thousands of miles just to complement me on my fourth best port.  What brings you here.  Across the pond.”

“Indy told me you’d be interested in what’s been happened to me in the past few hours.”

“Who told you?”  The fat man sounded quizzical and amused.

“Indy.”  Roger gestured.  Indy sighed.

“Indy”  The fat man looked puzzled.  And then beamed with amusement.

“Is that what she told you her name was?”

The ill-concealed loathing on Indi’s face soured the very port in Roger’s glass.

“Arse, what was I supposed to tell him?  What am I supposed to tell anyone?”

She turned to Roger, appealingly.

“I’m called Indy, for short.”

A riddle.  Roger couldn’t resist.

“Short for… Indiana?”

That seemed a real possibility.  The old duffer with a penchant for mysteries had a child in the nineteen eighties and named her after those Harrison Ford movies.   Stranger things have happened.  Or else, he instantly recalled, there was that eighteenth century Frances Burney novel, Camila,  with a character called Indiana, the most stately daughter of a large rural family.

The old man chuckled, his many chins rippling in elegantly choreographed merriment.

“No, not Indiana… you don’t think I’d allow any offspring of the ancient house of Strangelore to be christened after anything so vulgar and popular as a Frances Burney character.”

Roger stroked his chin and nodded.

“No… I suppose not.”

“I’m leaving.”   Indy turned on her heels and marched off down the gallery rather than hear her own true name spoken.  Her heels were rather noisy and it took a while for conversational quiet to be restored.

Lord Strangelore smiled and took another sip of port, postponing the revelation for melodramatic effect.  He leaned forward, achieving the most impressive physical exertion Roger had yet witnessed.

“Her name is ‘Innuenda.’

“Innuenda”

“Yes, do you like it?  I thought of it myself.”

Roger gulped.  “And her mother…?”

Strangelore snapped back abruptly, clearly rattled by any reference to Indi’s maternity.

“The decision was mine.  Mine alone.  And I stand by it.  Having devoted my life to the study of Indirection, what better name than one that denotes more than one meaning.  It describes knowledge that may not be knowledge and innocence that may not be innocence.  The quintessence of doubleness.  It is perfect.”

The name seemed less than perfect to Roger for a number of practical reasons, and he registered some puzzlement.

“Why didn’t just call her “Indirection”?

Strangelore snorted.

“Nonsense.  Indirection is a boy’s name.”

“You might have called her “Suggestia”?”

“That’s her middle name.”

“I see.   And you wonder why she hates you?”

Lord Strangelore laughed out loud.

“Oh bless you, she doesn’t hate me.  It’s just her way.  You’re still fixated by all the “arses”?  No, that’s just a bit of banter for whenever we meet up.”

“And how often do you meet up?”

“Oh… every few years or so.   Whenever I least expect it, she swans in and we’ll catchy up.  Chew the far.  Put the world to rights.  All that sort of thing.  But I believe you have something to tell me.  Or rather, show me.”

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