Daddy Bear Daddy Bear Daddy Bear
String

Part Fourteen
Honestly Vicar, I Can Explain Everything

"Och aye!" intoned the curiously kilted gentleman, Scottishly. "It's a broad backed moonlit night, the noo, Jimmy. Och, begorra. I'm the Laird McPutty, so I am, and you're all trespassing on my land, the noo."

Daddy Bear tilted his head and shot him a puzzled glance. "You're not really Scottish at all, are you?"

"Och Jimmy, Robbie Burns, wee laddie, och... No, actually I'm not. I'm from Barnsley."

"Barnsley?" Daddy Bear repeated slowly. "Not very Scottish, is it?"

"Well no, not really," the Laird McPutty admitted. "I won the title in a game of dominoes and I've not really got the hang of it yet. But that's neither here nor there. What are you people doing on my land?"

"Well, speaking for myself," Mummy Bear said icily, "I'm here because you shot my bleeding balloon down."

"Ah," said McPutty bashfully. "Yes, I'm sorry about that," he apologised.

"Sorry! I should bloody well think you are," Mummy Bear shrieked. "You shouldn't be charging round with that bloody great gun anyway. You could have someone's eye out."

McPutty jumped and looked down at the shotgun he was holding, as if he had only just noticed it was there. "I was out hunting," he said defensively, and lowered the gun carefully. "There's no point being a laird if you can't go out hunting once in a while."

"That's abhorrent!" Mummy Bear said, holding his eye sternly. "You're nothing but a callous, murdering swine. What gives you the right to go around shooting fluffy animals?"

"No I - " the Laird tried to interject.

"What possible harm can they have done to you?" Mummy Bear asked him. "Have you ever been beaten up by a squirrel? Has your house ever been burgled by a rabbit? No, I don't think so!"

"I was once mugged by a hedgehog," said the Laird.

"A likely story!" Mummy Bear thundered. "We're talking about taking the life of a small, defenceless creature and all you can do is give me some flannel about a hedgehog! Have you no shame?"

Daddy Bear patted her arm gently. "You're getting far too worked up about this," he said softly, but she growled at him and he backed off.

"If you'd only let me explain," said the Laird, "you'd realise that I'm not quite the monster you think I am. You see, I don't kill fluffy animals - I'm a vegetarian hunter."

"A what?" Mummy Bear asked, as her fury was suddenly deposed by stark bewilderment.

"A vegetarian hunter," the Laird explained. "I only shoot vegetables: carrots, lettuces, tomatoes, that sort of thing."

"A vegetarian hunter?" Mummy Bear said, and she flushed with embarrassment. "Oh I see. Well, I suppose that puts a different complexion on it. It seems I've misjudged you. Please forgive me for jumping to such a terrible conclusion."

"Hang on just one moment," Mary felt inclined to intercede. "What about all those poor vegetables?"

"Oh do be quiet!" Mummy Bear snapped.

"Turnips that will never know the joy of gambolling playfully in the meadows," Mary expounded. "Onions cut off in the prime of life. Potatoes that will never play the mouth organ again."

Mummy Bear frowned at him, then turned to her husband. "Who is this cretin anyway?"

Daddy Bear shrugged. "Never seen him before in my life!" he claimed.

Mummy Bear didn't believe him. "You've been hanging about with some very strange people since I left you Gordon," she said disdainfully.

Mary, meanwhile, continued his botanical litany unabated. "Cauliflowers that will never be able to play table tennis," he appealed to them. "Tomatoes that will never go on a cheap package tour to Tenerife. And has anyone spared a thought for the poor little pomegranates?"

"That's enough," Mummy Bear said, and she picked Mary up and threw him in the loch. Ten seconds later the fish threw him back again.

"Well look, I'm sorry about the balloon, but it doesn't explain why the rest of you are here," said McPutty, persisting in his desire to be as unreasonable as possible.

"It's a long story," Daddy Bear failed to explain.

"I'm all ears," said McPutty.

"Fair enough. To cut it short then, the simple fact is we're here to find the Loch Ness Monster," Daddy Bear told him casually.

"Are we indeed?" said Mummy Bear, to whom this was a complete revelation.

"I'm sorry, did I not mention it before?" Daddy Bear asked her.

"All you told me was that we were heading for Scotland," Mummy Bear replied irritably. "Nobody said anything about a monster."

"Hold on," McPutty interjected. "Can't you at least get your story straight?" He pointed at Longtower, who was quietly peeling a jelly baby with a Stanley knife. "You! What's going on here?"

"Me?" Longtower looked up in surprise. "Oh, I'm only here for the fish."

"Honestly," Daddy Bear said, "we're here to find the monster."

Laird McPutty looked him up and down with a beady eye, which he kept in his top pocket expressly for such purposes. "Very well," he said uncertainly. "I accept what you say. But I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed."

"Well of course we are," Mummy Bear agreed. "It was a ludicrous idea all along. Excuse my husband, he's a gullible idiot. A monster indeed!"

"Gullible? Oh I wouldn't say that," said the Laird. "You've just come at a bad time, that's all. You see, Nessie's not here at the moment."

"Oh, now come on!" Mummy Bear said, with a slightly nervous laugh. "You don't seriously believe that there really is a monster? You poor demented fool. I suppose you're going to tell us that you've seen it skulking by the edge of the loch, smoking cigars?"

"Don't be ridiculous," McPutty replied. "Nessie gave up smoking years ago. No, around about this time of day she goes down to the Bell and Compass in the village for a swift half and a ploughman's lunch. That's where she'll be right now."

"Oh really?" Mummy Bear humoured him. "And how do you know all this?"

"Ben McQuarrie told me," responded the Laird. "He's a ploughman. Round about this time of day he goes down to the Bell and Compass in the village and gets his lunch stolen by a forty foot plesiosaur."

The Bell and Compass was a pub very much in the traditional mould. The ceiling was low and the exposed beams were adorned with horse brasses. An open fire licked hungrily at the original seventeenth century brickwork, whilst some of the original seventeenth century customers clinked glasses and chatted about how much better it had been in the old days, when they'd had cheaper ale, highwaymen and the black death.

A few curious heads looked up as Daddy Bear and company entered.

"So how are we going to recognise this Nessie person?" Nigel asked.

Daddy Bear pointed to a large lady with flippers and a ridiculously long neck, who was occupying three tables in the corner. "I think it's safe to assume we've found her," he said. He instructed Nigel to get the drinks in, then invited himself to join Nessie, trailing his little band of sad people behind him.

"I'm sorry to bother you like this," Daddy Bear began, pulling up a chair, "but are you the Loch Ness Monster?"

"Me?" said Nessie in surprise. Her voice was curiously high pitched for such a large lady. She shook her head and inadvertently demolished two fruit machines and a partition wall. "I think you're mistaken, I'm a chinchilla."

"Ha!" Mummy Bear declared triumphantly to her husband. "I told you there was no such thing as the Loch Ness Monster."

Daddy Bear gave his wife a scowl, then turned back to Nessie. "Are you absolutely sure?" he asked earnestly.

"Positive," said Nessie. "It's in my book." She produced a pocket encyclopaedia and flicked through the pages with a clumsy flipper. "Ah, here we are. Chinchilla: large amphibious creature that smells of fish and skulks about Loch Ness, scaring the fertiliser out of people. Well that's me down to a T, isn't it?"

"Let me see that!" Daddy Bear snapped, and he snatched the book from her. "It must be a printing error."

Mummy Bear gently took the book out of his hands and gave it back to Nessie. "If she says she's a chinchilla, then you'll just have to take her word for it. You've heard it straight from the chinchilla's mouth, so to speak."

"Oh all right," Daddy Bear conceded. "It doesn't really matter what you think you are," he said to Nessie. "The point is that I believe we're in a position to help each other. Have you ever thought that there was more to life than just swimming about and munching fish?"

"I beg your pardon?" Nessie replied, a little indignantly. She leaned back and crossed her flippers. "I'll have you know that I lead a very rich and full life. I'm really into embroidery, and some of my floral designs have won prizes."

"But are you really fulfilling your potential?" Daddy Bear pressed her. There was a sudden sense of urgency in his voice and a strange gleam came to his eye. "You could be up there with the best of them, you know. Ask yourself, why should you settle for this drab and slightly damp existence? You could really achieve something with your life. You could be a contender!"

"A contender?" Nessie asked.

"That's right," said Daddy Bear. "In the Grand National, to be precise."

Nessie looked unsure. "I always thought you had to be a horse to enter the Grand National?"

Daddy Bear leaned a little closer and tried, unsuccessfully, to put his arm around her huge shoulders. "Well, strictly speaking, you do," he said confidentially. "But it so happens that in a certain light the chinchilla is practically indistinguishable from the horse."

"Is that a fact?" said Nessie, intrigued.

"Oh yes," Daddy Bear assured her. "The two species are quite amazingly similar."

"Tell me more," said Nessie. "Please, tell me more..."

It took six double brandies to finally convince Nessie that this staggeringly implausible scheme was a good idea. Nigel ended up paying for every single one. As they wobbled out into the sunlight, he counted what was left of his pocket money.

"Hey, I've been done!" he said. "That barmaid gave me the wrong change."

"And since when have you been able to count?" muttered his mother.

But on this occasion Nigel was right for, unbeknown to him, Big Brenda the buxom barmaid was none other than... Granny Malone!

Yes, Granny Malone, the scourge of the seven seas! Shriek in terror as she puts your eye out with her umbrella! Howl in pain as she farts and blames it on the dog! Cry in anguish as she -

Oh to hell with it. I don't know about you, but I'm pig sick of Granny Malone.

Detective Inspector Crump and Sergeant Pinewood arrived at the loch about twenty minutes after the Bears had left. It was with particular glee that Crump discovered the tyre marks in the mud.

"They've been here, Pinewood," he said. "We're still hot on their trail. We'll search the area."

Crump decided that the best tactic would be to divide the area in two so that they could search half each. To this end he provided Sergeant Pinewood with a snorkel and a book on skin-diving so that he could search the loch, whilst he himself took care of the dry land. Accompanied by the lilting strains of Pinewood splashing about and screaming that he couldn't swim, Crump followed the tyre marks inland.

Not far from the shore Inspector Crump stopped, listening to a curious noise coming from a nearby bush: it was a shrill, shrieking melody. He stepped up and moved the branches aside to find a small potato with gunshot wounds, playing a mouth organ.

"Hello potato," said Crump.

"Hello policeman," said the potato.

"I wonder if you can help me, potato," said Crump.

"I'll do my best, policeman," said the potato.

"Well tell me, have you seen three bears come this way, potato?" said Crump.

"Erm, I don't think so," said the potato.

"You might have seen them in a big red bus," said Crump.

"Oh I remember now, policeman," said the potato. "They said they were going to the Bell and Compass in the village."

"Thank you very much, potato," said Crump.

"Glad I could help, policeman," said the potato, and as Crump turned to go the potato nicked his wallet.

A soggy, barnacle-encrusted Sergeant Pinewood was rising from the water as Crump returned to the shoreline. "Any luck?" Crump asked.

"Well I've found a number of things sir," Pinewood told him. "Most of it's junk. There's a bike frame, an old tyre, and some broken bottles and stuff."

"But are there any clues, Pinewood?"

"Not exactly sir," Pinewood replied. "But I did find this - it's a man who can do farmyard impressions."

A man dressed in a kilt and sporting a long grey beard stepped out from behind him. "Chug, chug, chug, chug," said the man.

"That's a tractor," said Pinewood.

"Whirr, whirr, whirr, whirr," said the man.

"That's a combine harvester," said Pinewood.

"Furdly, gurdly, fishel, poop," said the man.

"That's a computer monitored multiple mechanical milking machine," said Pinewood.

"In other words Sergeant, you've discovered precisely nothing." Crump shook his head sorrowfully. "It's a good job that my own keen senses and infallible instincts have not deserted me. I happen to know that our quarry left here just over twenty minutes ago, bound for a local drinking establishment."

"Extraordinary sir," Pinewood said, trying to sound like he was impressed. "How did you find out?"

"A potato told me," Crump was forced to admit. "Come on, let's go."

Several hundred miles away, in a little clearing in the Enchanted Forest, the three Bears' house stood empty and neglected. The front door hung open lazily. The windows flapped and banged in the breeze. There was no one around for miles - no one, that is, save for a group of scampering things on the front lawn and an impressively muscular Canadian police horse on the roof.

Marmaduke had never really liked being a horse. He was rather good at whinnying and neighing, and he was an old hand at trotting. Nevertheless, he couldn't help feeling he would be better suited to some other vocation - a swimming instructor, perhaps, or a market researcher. The problem was that there were very few openings for market researchers with four legs and a weakness for sugar lumps.

Still, he could always dream. If nothing else it passed the time while he was stuck on this roof. Life was pretty boring at this altitude. A little while ago a Scottish paragraph had come hurtling out of the sky and narrowly missed him, but that aside his stint of roof-sitting had been astoundingly uneventful.

"Excuse me!" he heard a voice call from down below.

He trotted carefully to the edge of the roof and peered over the guttering. "Hello?" he neighed.

A slender, piebald mare squinted up at him. "I'm sorry to bother you," she said as she swished her tail about lazily. "I'm carrying out a survey, and I was wondering if you might answer a few questions for me?"

"Well, I, err... " Marmaduke began.

"Oh, it won't take long," promised the pretty mare. "I just want to ask you a few questions about New Biological Smunk."

"The thing is I'm a bit busy at the moment," whinnied Marmaduke. "What with having to stand on this roof and everything."

"Surely you can answer just a couple of questions?" the mare asked, fluttering her eyelashes.

Marmaduke sighed. "I'd love to," he said. "Honestly I would. The problem is it's just not as simple as that. Roof-balancing requires a lot of concentration. In fact, it's a very precise art. You have to take account of wind speed, centre of gravity, that sort of thing. There's a lot of maths involved. One lapse of concentration and before you know it your arse is heading for the ground at ten metres per second squared."

Marmaduke carefully began to sidle along the roof so that he could get a better view. Suddenly he missed his footing and pitched over the edge. It was an eloquent, albeit unwitting demonstration of his previous assertion. He found himself spread-eagled on the lawn and although he was grateful for a soft landing, it was nevertheless an acutely embarrassing position for any horse to find itself in. He blushed as the scampering things burst into fits of hysterical giggling.

A shadow fell across him and Marmaduke looked up, shielding his eyes with one hoof.

"I guess you're free now," said the mare. "You know, that was quite an impressive fall. With talent like that you ought to be on the telly."

"Why thank you," Marmaduke said charmingly.

"Do you want to be in our new advert?" the mare asked.

Suddenly Marmaduke found himself surrounded by a camera crew. Make-up people hauled him to his feet and caked him in powder. Wardrobe people dressed him up in a spangly suit and bow tie. Then someone shouted Action!

"We washed half this horse in ordinary washing powder," said an alcoholic old thespian who had once been in an episode of Minder. "The other half we washed in New Biological Smunk. And blow me, there was no difference. It's a rip off!"

"And cut!" bawled the director. "Lovely, lovely. You were wonderful darlings!" He strode over to Marmaduke. "You were simply fantastic lovey," he shouted through a megaphone. "You just ooze star quality. Buckets and buckets of it darling. Stick with me kid and I'll make you a star."

At last! thought Marmaduke. His moment of glory had arrived. Fame! Fortune! And as many sugar lumps as he could eat!

"Police work is all about observation," said Crump as they drove along.

"Woofy woofy, plumpsy floot," said the man who did farmyard impressions. They had decided to bring him with them, as he was more interesting than listening to the radio.

"A keen eye, Pinewood, that's the best tool that any detective can have," Crump continued, as a double-decker bus towing a large sea monster went past them in the opposite direction. "That's why the criminal fraternity have never stood a chance against the forces of law and order."

"Sir," Pinewood interrupted, but the Inspector was in full flow.

"It's like my old dad used to say. 'Lionel, my boy,' he used to say to me, 'always remember, there's many a stitch between a bird up the creek without a paddle.' Yes, he always used to say that... Mind you, they had to shoot him in the end."

"Sir, we've just passed the Bears going in the opposite direction," Pinewood told him. "Did you not see them? They were towing the Loch Ness Monster behind them on roller skates."

"What? No, I didn't see them," Crump snapped, as if it was somehow Pinewood's fault. "Honestly Sergeant, I can't be expected to notice everything. Why didn't you say something?"

"I did sir," Pinewood said in his defence, "but you were too busy not listening to me."

"Never mind," Crump said impatiently. "Which way did they go?"

"Furble, wurble, poop poop poop," said the man who did farmyard impressions.

"Right!" said Crump, and he yanked the steering wheel hard to the left. The car spun around three hundred and sixty degrees, and ended up heading in the same direction as before.

"Right again!" said Crump, and he repeated the manoeuvre, only this time he managed to end up with the car pointing the opposite way.

"Get on the radio Pinewood," Inspector Crump ordered him as he slammed his foot down. "I want a full description of the fugitives to be issued to every squad car in the area. I want plain-clothed detectives watching the airports. I want roadblocks set up between here and the ferry ports. I want armed officers with orders to shoot to kill."

"Yes sir," said Pinewood. "Anything else sir?"

"Yes Pinewood," Crump said fervently. "I want lots of whirly helicopters with thermal imaging cameras. I want three squadrons of RAF Tornadoes on standby. I want a nicer cleaner world to live in. I want peace in our time. I want different cultures and nations to exist side by side in harmony. And I want a new DVD player."

"Multi-region?"

"Of course, Pinewood," said Inspector Crump.

"I'll see what I can do sir," Pinewood said, and he got on the radio.

Crump gripped the wheel firmly. "This is it Pinewood!" he said. "Whatever happens, I am determined that we're not going to lose them this time!"

Eight miles down the road, Crump and Pinewood stood by the roadside, poring over the map spread out on the bonnet.

"I think we should have turned left at that last junction," said Pinewood.

"Oh shut up," Crump said sulkily. "If you hadn't made me stop so that you could take a leak, we wouldn't have lost them."

"Well they can't have got far," Pinewood reasoned. "We'll ask around, somebody must have seen them."

"I suppose so," Crump sighed. "After all, a double-decker bus towing a sea monster is conspicuous enough. Come on Sergeant." He folded up the map and they got back in the car.

The afternoon sun beat down strongly on the diners at the Happy Break Motorway Service Station, chiefly because the building had no roof. The Happy Break Motorway Service Station was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a thriving concern. There were a number of reasons for this, but by far the largest contributing factor to its lack of success was that it was fifteen miles from the nearest motorway. Its proprietor, Ken Lungs, had bought the land ten years ago. He had hit upon the novel notion that if he built a cafe here and called it a motorway service station, someone would eventually build a motorway through it. It is with foresight like this that business empires are forged! Sadly the strategy had not yet paid off, but Ken had never given up hope.

Presently, he was slumped dejectedly behind the counter, staring over his gut at a portable TV. So engrossed was he that he barely even noticed when two policemen and a farmyard impressionist entered. Inspector Crump tried to attract his attention by slapping the counter, but by mistake he brought his hand down on a plastic ketchup container and a fountain of tomato ketchup streamed up his nostrils.

Ken Lungs brushed the dust from his apron and turned to face them. "You've got ketchup up your nose," he said helpfully.

"I know," said Crump as he blew his nose on his sleeve.

"Most people just put it on their chips," Ken observed. "Still, each to his own. Now what can I do for you gentlemen?"

"Chuffy chuffy, glibber, spong," said the man who did farmyard impressions.

"Have you seen three bears in a double-decker bus towing the Loch Ness Monster behind them on roller skates?" asked Inspector Crump.

Ken Lungs scratched the Inspector's chin thoughtfully. "Oh, I'm not sure," he said. "We get so many people through here, it's difficult to recall."

"Please try to remember," Crump said as he helped himself to a large wad of banknotes from the cash till.

"Was there anything distinctive about them?" asked Ken.

"The female bear may have been wearing glasses," Sergeant Pinewood said helpfully.

"Well why didn't you say so before?" Ken said. "Of course, I remember now! They were in here not half an hour ago. There was a tall, smelly man with them who talked a lot about cement."

"That sounds like them!" Crump said. "Do you know where they were heading?"

"They said they were going to Aintree for the Grand National," Ken told them in Morse code.

"Did you hear that Pinewood?" Crump asked. "Of course, it's so obvious. They've got the Loch Ness Monster and they're going to enter the Grand National." Crump suddenly realised that Sergeant Pinewood wasn't paying him the slightest bit of attention. He was staring at Ken's television set behind the counter.

Inspector Crump waved a hand in front of his face. "Sergeant Pinewood, I'm talking to you," he said.

"My horse is on TV," Pinewood said without taking his eyes off the screen.

"What on earth are you talking about?" Crump demanded.

"I've just seen my horse on a chat show talking about its latest film," Pinewood said in a stupefied voice.

Crump grabbed hold of him by the shoulders and shook him. "Sergeant Pinewood!" he said, and he slapped him hard across the face. "We've no time for this. We're fast approaching the dramatic and unexpected climax of this story! Do you understand? We've got to get to Aintree and stop the Loch Ness Monster from winning the Grand National, otherwise the Bears will get off on a legal technicality."

"Good grief, sir!" said Pinewood, pulling himself together. "You mean there's a plot."

"There certainly is, Pinewood," said Crump. "And it's rapidly drawing to a close." He clenched and pointed theatrically in some random direction. "Come - to Aintree!" he proclaimed.

"Yes!" said Pinewood, adopting a similar pose. "What you said!"

And with that, the two of them dashed out dramatically and unexpectedly.

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