By mid-morning the wreaths of clammy fog had been boiled away, but there remained something of a damp, sticky stillness in the air. The train remained undisturbed, resembling a giant snake lying dormant in the mud. Its head, the engine, had been stamped flat as if by the heel of a giant boot. The carriages that formed its body teemed with angry commuters, like the parasites that thrive on carrion.
The train driver was explaining the circumstances of the collision to Sergeant Pinewood. Pinewood nodded at various intervals to give the impression that he was listening.
"...and drove off in the bus," said the driver. "And that's exactly how it happened, Scout's honour."
"Yes," said Pinewood. "Thank you Mr. Train Driver."
"It's been a pleasure," said the driver.
Pinewood saluted him smartly, then turned his back on him. "I would just like to take this opportunity to-"
The train driver craned over his shoulder quizzically. "I beg your pardon?"
"Yes, it's all right sir," Pinewood said, glancing back at him. "I was just talking to the readers... Where was I? Oh yes, hello readers. I would like to take this opportunity to let you know that I'll shortly be giving you the recipe for my delicious home-made tangerine layer cake, so be sure to have a pen and paper ready. Anyway, back to the plot - I think Detective Inspector Crump has discovered something interesting over there."
"Sergeant Pinewood!" the Inspector called. "I've discovered something interesting over here."
Pinewood wandered over to take a look. There was a small mound of a strange brown substance on the ground. "Hmm, most curious," Pinewood observed. He knelt down and rubbed some between his fingers. Then he smelt it cautiously. Finally he tasted it and nodded knowingly.
"What is it?" Crump asked eagerly.
"It's bear shit," said Pinewood.
"Are you sure?" said Crump.
"Oh most definitely," Sergeant Pinewood told him as he tried some more. "We get quite a lot of it back home in Canada."
(Remember to have that pen and paper ready folks. Sergeant Pinewood's delicious recipe is coming up soon.)
"So they definitely came this way," Crump said ponderously. "But what were they doing here?"
"They were doing that," Pinewood said, and he pointed to the small mound.
"But why here?" Crump persisted. "They haven't come all this way just to take a dump. They have a plan, Pinewood. What are they up to?"
Pinewood shrugged. "The criminal mind will forever be a mystery to me sir," he admitted.
The corner of Crump's mouth twitched gently as he smiled softly and nodded. "Ah well, that's the difference between you and I, Sergeant. Oh, you're a very able officer, I'll grant you that, but to reach my position you need to be able to talk, to think and to act like a criminal."
Pinewood nodded. "I see. Is that why there was all that fuss when they transferred you from Manchester?"
"I'll have you know that the enquiry found me innocent of all charges," Crump answered quickly. "I admit that the motivation behind my daring one-man raid on the Nat West bank may have been misunderstood by my immediate superiors, but it's the only way to understand what makes your average criminal tick. At the moment I'm tracking some particularly nasty and callous villains which is why, of late, my behaviour has been - "
"Particularly nasty and callous sir?" Pinewood completed for him.
"Exactly!" said Crump. "Now then - "
"One moment sir," Pinewood interrupted. "I have a small matter to attend to." He crossed over to a kitchen worktop that was standing on its own by the level crossing. Strapping on his apron, he picked up a mixing bowl and took a deep Canadian breath.
(Okay folks, here goes. Ready with that pen and paper?)
"The first ingredient for this traditional Canadian recipe is eight ounces of self-raising flour. Tip the flour into a bowl, then break two eggs and separate the yolks. Throw the yolks away, you're not going to need those. In fact, you won't need the whites either so you may as well get rid of them at the same time.
"Carefully select two ornate table lamps. Skin and bone them, being mindful to extract the long, dangly green bit that runs down the centre as this is extremely poisonous, and is the property of the Church of England. Mix these well with a large lettuce that talks to you when you switch the lights off at night. Then simply decorate with walnuts and put in an oven on programme nine, designated nylon and colourfast materials only. Obviously I don't have time to do that now, so here's one I went out and bought earlier."
"When you've quite finished Sergeant, may I remind you that we have some dangerous fugitives to catch," said Inspector Crump impatiently. "We've no time to lose." He drew himself up to his full height, which was only four foot six, but then size isn't important. "I think I finally know what they're about, Pinewood," he said proudly. "They're heading for Loch Ness, I can feel it in my water. We've got them Pinewood, and this time they're not going to get away!"
Daddy Bear sat on the bottom step of the bus, thinking up unpleasant names to call his son.
"Dickhead," he said sullenly.
"You've already used that one," said Nigel glumly.
PC Gibbon was pacing backwards and forwards in front of them. "Am I flippin' brilliant, or what?" he was saying. "Forget Sherlock Holmes. Forget Inspector Morse. Miss Marple? Ha! She wouldn't know a car chase if it gave her an egg sandwich on her birthday. When it comes to great detectives, I'm the pacesetter. Just call me Mr. Cluedo."
"Hello Mr. Cluedo," Daddy Bear said, his words dripping with sarcasm.
"There'll be a commendation in this for me," Gibbon continued. "And promotion, probably. Perhaps even a knighthood. Hell, I might even get my own TV game show. You're Nicked, Sonny with PC Gibbon - how does that sound?"
"You don't have to do this, you know," Nigel said. "You could just let us go on a mad impulse." He was about to add something, but his father indicated that he'd like him to remain silent by gently stuffing his fist down his throat.
"I feel you're being a little too harsh on your son," Longtower said. He performed a complex theatrical flourish with his left hand, before delving into the lining of his coat to retrieve a bottle of brandy that he believed was stashed there.
"Son?" Daddy Bear queried. "I no longer have a son." To emphasise his disgust he punctuated his sentence by delivering a series of vicious cuffs to the back of Nigel's head. "I'll have you know that this brain-dead tit in front of me has little more sense than a bucket of sick, and therefore cannot possibly have sprung from my loins."
Longtower was looking very grave. He also looked a little queasy as well, but there was nothing particularly unusual in that. He had successfully identified a large bottle-shaped object in his coat and was eager to disinter his booty from the dark folds. In his haste his hand had become entwined in the lining. He staggered forwards, his arm halfway up his back, and stumbled into PC Gibbon, his sweaty nose pressed against the constable's cheek.
"Dear fellow," Longtower said to him, far too loudly, as he finally pulled the bottle of cheap brandy from his pocket. "Can't you see these people are innocent?"
"No," said Gibbon.
Longtower drew his coat around him. He held his head back, his noble chin jutting forward as a slight breeze swept back his long and unpleasantly greasy hair. "There!" he said, and a wobbling, weathered finger darted out and pointed to a public lavatory some fifty yards back down the road. "Tell me what you see?"
PC Gibbon stared at him, nonplussed. He remained silent as he watched the feverish activity of a small pink grub that lived in a modest clump of dirt beneath one of Longtower's fingernails.
"I'll tell you what I see," Longtower continued. "I see a green and pleasant land. A land of opportunity. A prosperous nation, where the ideals of justice are paramount!"
Gibbon looked round. All he could see was a toilet.
Longtower's voice became dark and secretive; as soft as the purr of a sleeping tiger, and as deadly as its claws. "Do you know what else I see?"
Gibbon shook his head energetically.
"I see a family of innocent, harmless, man-eating grizzly bears," said Longtower. "A family who want nothing more than to get on with their ordinary, everyday lives of killing and dismembering people. Now do you think it's fair that you should be persecuting them in this fashion?"
Before Gibbon had the chance to answer, Daddy Bear stepped up and roughly pushed Longtower aside. "Now look here Porky," he said to Gibbon. "What this inebriated buffoon is trying to tell you is that we are innocent. The trouble is we've never had the chance to prove it. No one's ever listened to our side of the story."
"Well," Gibbon said thoughtfully. "I suppose you might have a point."
"Exactly," Daddy Bear said. "All I'm asking is that we're allowed to prove our innocence. And we can prove it. We're heading for Loch Ness in search of evidence that will settle this matter beyond all reasonable doubt."
Gibbon considered his plea. He had always found it difficult to believe that Daddy Bear was capable of the crimes with which he had been accused. Beneath all that fur and dried blood, he had an honest face. His thoughts were suddenly disturbed by the sound of a car engine. He turned towards the approaching vehicle.
"It's the Inspector," he said, recognising the unmarked police car. "Very well," he said quickly. "You may continue your journey, but I'm coming with you."
"Oh no," said Daddy Bear. "Not a chance."
"You have no choice," said Gibbon. "I'm not going to let you out of my sight."
Nigel tugged at his father's arm. "This isn't really the time for arguments," he said anxiously as Crump's car drew steadily closer. "Agree! Let him come!"
"Okay, okay. Everybody back on the bus," Daddy Bear ordered.
Inspector Crump stopped the car and jumped out. "Well done, Gibbon," he said, beaming. He started to walk towards the bus, and was puzzled when Gibbon ignored him and hastily followed the others onto the bus.
"Gibbon? What are you doing?"
The engine suddenly roared into life, the wheels span and the bus started to move off.
"Gibbon! No! Wait!" Crump shouted. He turned and ran back to the squad car. "Quick Pinewood," he barked. "Arrest that bus!"
"Right away sir!" said Pinewood obediently, and he galloped off after the departing double-decker, entirely forgetting that he had mislaid his horse some time ago.
"In the car! I meant in the car!" Crump screamed after him. "Oh to hell with it!" he muttered, then got back into the car and gunned the engine.
It was not the most sedate bus ride that Nigel had ever taken. As they reached the outskirts of a small town, they were forced to dodge and weave dangerously through the traffic. They screeched around a corner. Nigel's knuckles turned white as he clung onto the handrail for dear life. Eventually he could bear it no more so he stuck his head under the back seat, where Gibbon and Longtower were carrying out a detailed survey of the chewing gum that had collected there.
"I can't take any more of this," Nigel whimpered.
"Man was not meant to travel at such speeds," Longtower intoned. "It has been scientifically proven that travelling for prolonged periods at speeds in excess of twenty miles per hour can cause permanent damage to human physiology."
"You don't say?"
Longtower nodded twice, and in doing so he twice cracked his head on the underside of the seat. "The matter has been researched most thoroughly," he said in a fragile voice. "It scrambles the internal organs and turns the larynx inside out. People end up talking backwards."
Nigel sighed. The floor was shaking itself to pieces and he could feel himself breaking out in bruises. "You know, normally I would be one hundred per cent certain that you are talking utter shite," he said. "But the way my stomach feels right now I can almost believe you."
"I know," Daddy Bear said as he came to join them. "I feel exactly the same."
"Shouldn't you be up at the front?" Nigel asked, displaying understandable concern. "I thought you were driving?"
"What! Are you kidding?" Daddy Bear remarked. "Have you seen how fast this thing is moving? I'm staying back here with you." He squeezed himself tighter under the seat and watched Longtower carbon dating a dusty lump of petrified Wrigley's.
"Anyway, I've always felt I should spend more time with my family."
Crump's squad car raced the wrong way around a roundabout in hot pursuit. Two wheels left the ground as it careered wildly around the next corner. Crump slammed it into fourth and wrenched the wheel hard to the left. The car mounted the pavement and ploughed through a vegetable stall, scattering mangoes and pomegranates everywhere.
"Phew, that was close," Inspector Crump muttered to himself. "I nearly missed that."
Suddenly the car skidded on a stray paw-paw and went into a spin. Crump clung desperately to the wheel, fighting to stay in control. Eventually he bought the car to a sudden halt. He leaned back breathlessly in his seat and closed his eyes, his heart thumping wildly.
When he opened his eyes again he was surprised to see a tall Canadian Mountie sauntering lazily across the road in front of him, a girl on each arm. Crump quickly wound down the window.
"Pinewood! What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Pinewood looked up, startled, and turned a guilty shade of scarlet. He hastily bid farewell to his newfound friends and shuffled over to the car.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Sergeant," Crump said.
"Sorry sir," said Pinewood as he got into the car. "I don't know what came over me."
"This dereliction of duty is most out of character," Crump said, exaggerating the disappointment in his voice. "You of all people, Pinewood. It's most distressing to find you wandering about town with two young strumpets on your arm. I thought a Mountie was always supposed to get his man?"
Pinewood shrugged. "They were the best I could do in the circumstances," he said apologetically.
"We shall have a serious talk about this later, Pinewood," the Inspector warned. "Meanwhile, we've got a bus to catch."
He put the car in gear and pulled away.
Water held perfunctory court without that steeped effervescent variable that marks the kind of steely bait with which it would be possible to stake out a single rectangle. Never, be it neither chalk nor podule, could ever that occasion arise whereby such topological adventures would be either warranted, or indeed desirable.
One only has to listen. Step after step; echo after echo. Persons such as these would never submit to that kind of volumetric bombasticity that pervades the very mettle of some such thing or another, or indeed whatever it was that I was talking about in the first place.
The ancient Chinese had a proverb, which went something like this: the peanut, be it small and puny, need roll no faster than the turnip in order to stay in the same place. The Chinese often used to say stupid things like that.
And so it came to pass that Daddy Bear, who begat Nigel, and Longtower, son of Elijah, together with Gibbon, the upholder of the sacred laws, came to a place where the river Jordan met the Tigris and the land was muchly rich and fertile. This place Daddy Bear named Loch Ness, which was just as well, as that was what the locals called it too.
"Now what?" asked Nigel.
"Now we wait," said Daddy Bear.
They waited, and Longtower took the opportunity to let them know that his feet were hurting.
"Imagine, if you will, two smoked haddock," was how he began his rather confused metaphor. "If you were to place them in a large mangley crunching machine - one that is also particularly good at scraping and rubbing - I feel that you would then have a close approximation of the damage these cruel boots have done to my feet. If God had intended man to walk, He would have given him legs."
It suddenly occurred to Longtower that mankind was indeed blessed with the gift of legs - two of them, in fact - and he lapsed into silence as he contemplated God's possible motives for doing this.
"All right, so here we are at Loch Ness," Nigel said impatiently. "What do we do now, just stand and admire the view? What exactly are we supposed to be waiting for?"
"Shush!" Daddy Bear hissed. "Look," he said, and pointed to something up ahead. Nigel peered through the trees and bushes, squinting to catch a glimpse of whatever it was his father had seen…
"There's nothing there," said Nigel. "It's just a blank empty space."
"That blank empty space is where the stray paragraph came from," his father explained as he scratched his backside dramatically. "Get down, it's coming back!"
The trees shook violently and a flurry of leaves twisted through the air in response to the sudden, unexpected breeze. They watched awe-struck as the paragraph swooped low over their heads, and gently settled back into its rightful place.
The mist tumbled down the valley slopes but dared not touch the water. Ripple followed ripple to the shore and burst there upon the bank, but dared not make a sound. Some ancient mystery remained at this place: something unseen, undetected. Only a slight eddy on the surface of the water marked its passage. Something was moving beneath the loch.
A piece of driftwood by the shore stirred groggily, stood upright and revealed itself to be a sad double glazing salesman called Mary. Weary and confused, he waded towards the bank, pulled himself out, then lay on his back on the moss.
Daddy Bear looked down at the pathetic, sorrowful creature and sighed. "You can't say I didn't warn you," he said unsympathetically, then stepped over him towards the loch.
The wind slipped lithely through the trees without a sound, the only noise being the gentle slopping of the waves. For a moment the sky cleared and the golden disc of the sun was briefly reflected on the surface of the loch, before being shattered into a million glittering shards, bobbing on the water.
"So," Nigel began, "are you ready to tell us what we're doing here?"
"Do you remember the court scene in Chapter Four?" Daddy Bear asked. "Do you remember what the judge said?"
Nigel suddenly felt very light-headed. The world seemed to shimmer and wobble around him as he felt a flashback coming on. A face solidified from the mist and the buzzing sound it made resolved into human speech. He found himself back in the courtroom.
"The day you are found innocent," Justice Frog's voice echoed, "is the day the Loch Ness Monster wins the Grand National."
Then Nigel was suddenly back in the real world: standing on the misty shoreline of Loch Ness as the sun made feeble sorties through the clouds. "You're going to persuade the Loch Ness Monster to enter the Grand National?"
"You're dead right," said Daddy Bear proudly.
"Well that settles it," Nigel said. "Now I know for certain that you're a stark raving nutter. Honestly I've never heard anything so - "
Suddenly Nigel was interrupted by a sound from the nearby woodland.
"What was that?" asked Daddy Bear.
"Well, it wasn't me," Nigel replied.
BANG. BANG. BANG.
A nearby bush shook and erupted in a shower of foliage, like an exploding chicken.
A LOT MORE BANGING.
Well, not really like an exploding chicken.
SOME VERY LOUD BANGING THIS TIME.
Chickens don't usually explode like that. There's usually a lot more squawking.
"Splash?" said Nigel.
They all looked out into the loch, and were perplexed to see a rapidly deflating hot air balloon frothing and bubbling as it sank beneath the water. Two soggy survivors swam ashore, one of whom Daddy Bear was delighted to recognise.
"Glenda!" he cried. "You've come back to me."
Mummy Bear staggered up to him and slapped him hard across the face.
"What was that for?" protested Daddy Bear.
"That," said Mummy Bear as she shook herself dry, "is for shooting our balloon down." She introduced her companion, a portly man in a tweed suit, sporting a heavily waxed moustache. "This is Bertie the Belgian Balloonist. He was kind enough to give me a lift when you abandoned me."
"Excuse me," Daddy Bear said, "but if I remember correctly, it was you who walked off and left me. And as for shooting your wretched balloon down, how am I supposed to have done that? I haven't got a gun, have I?"
Mummy Bear was staring past him. "No, but he has," she said quietly. Standing just a few feet away from them was a strange man in a kilt, pointing the business end of a shotgun at them.