Nigel had never been to the big city before. He stared out of the rear window of the Black Maria with naive fascination as he and his parents were whisked away to the police station. He was enthralled by the lights, the strangely garbed people, the flashing neon advertisements for cat litter; and by the flashing people, and the strange neon lights, and the enthralling neon peopled garbled cat litter. What a wonderfully confusing place this is, he thought poetically. In fact, he said it.
"What a wonderfully confusing place this is."
"I beg your pardon?" said his father.
"Nothing," said Nigel, and lapsed into silence.
"Oh," Daddy Bear replied. He looked at his wife and saw the glistening lines of silent tears that smeared her face. Neither of them had ever been in trouble with the police before - except for the time when Daddy Bear had been cautioned for gobbing on a school-crossing lady. But that had been a long time ago. Now they were about to be charged with murder and arson, and Inspector Crump had said that they'd be lucky if they got off with twenty years in a vat of warm puke. Daddy Bear decided that he had to set the record straight before this went any further, so he turned to the armed guard who sat with them.
"Look," he began, his voice shaking in sympathy with the motion of the van. "We didn't murder those two policemen, you know. We just found them like that when we got home."
Their escort remained impassive. Not a flicker of emotion showed on his face; not a shadow of expression. Then the vehicle swerved abruptly to the left, he flew across the van and cracked his head on the opposite wall. He started to groan, then the van swerved the other way and slammed him back into his seat, the breath knocked from his body.
"There's been some terrible mistake," Daddy Bear continued. "We were out walking at the time."
The van braked suddenly and the policeman was smashed into the bulkhead. He was just coming to his senses as the vehicle pulled off again and rolled him along the floor. He burst through the back doors and clung desperately onto the bumper, his backside banging and scraping along the road at fifty miles at hour. With his strength ebbing he managed to haul his shattered body, taut with pain, back into the van.
Daddy Bear began to get the impression that the policeman wasn't really listening to him. "So you see, it wasn't our fault," he said.
The van went over a hump-backed bridge. The policeman rebounded several times off the floor and ceiling, then...
* * *
By the time they arrived at the police station the unfortunate officer had three broken limbs, severe concussion and had lost the use of one lung. They took him straight to hospital where they pumped all the blood out of his body, boiled it up, then pumped it all back.
The Bears were taken inside where the charge of Grievous Bodily Harm was added to the list of crimes for which they had originally been arrested.
"We're innocent!" Daddy Bear protested as a bustling congregation of officious uniforms tore him from the rest of his family. His tiny voice floated on a blue sea of disregard. Men steered him down corridors, put him in rooms, and presented him to large wooden desks driven by small, balding men with dark eyes.
"Look, what is all this?" he demanded feebly as a policeman guided his paw towards an inkpad and took his prints. "Why are we being held? Why will no one listen to me?"
"All in good time."
"You'll get your chance, sunshine."
"Nothing to worry about. Just come clean and they won't touch you."
They left him in a dark room, thick with dust. There was only one window, a narrow fanlight over the door. Squatting in the corner were two plastic chairs, and a wooden table with bowed legs that looked as if it was about to spring.
A policeman had been left on guard by the door. He was broad and tall, and he had a face like a bulldog. Daddy Bear had heard the others call him Gibbon. There was a stern look on his face, and it was evident that this was a person who could be relied upon to be honest, decent and to kick seven different shades of excreta out of anyone who caused him trouble.
Daddy Bear sat down and realised that he was breathing much too fast. He didn't know what he was doing here; everything was so alien, so unfamiliar. He was only a bear, for heaven's sake. He shouldn't be in a place like this; he should have been where every other bear was right at that moment - down at the launderette.
"You've got it all wrong," he murmured in a low, trembling voice. Gibbon said nothing, but the oppressive grey walls and the musty air itself seemed to answer for him: No one can help you now.
The door opened swiftly and caught Gibbon a sharp crack round the side of the head. Inspector Crump stood in the doorway and regarded Daddy Bear with a malicious sneer, just like the one he had seen demonstrated in a police training video. Then he stepped over the prostrate form of PC Gibbon and slowly pushed the door closed behind him.
"Right, Mr. Bear," he said. "Let's make a start, shall we?" He was carrying something under his arm. Daddy Bear watched him as he approached and set the apparatus down on the table. "This is a cassette recorder," he explained with unnecessary sarcasm. "I mention that in case you were under the impression it was an ironing board or something."
He giggled to himself, obviously enjoying this demonstration of his considerable wit. Daddy Bear shot him a glance of pure malice, but Crump had a hide like reinforced concrete.
"This isn't so that we can listen to Madonna all afternoon, as perhaps you might prefer," he continued to explain. "It's to record our little interview. We both get a copy of the tape, you see. It's just to make sure that nothing naughty goes on." Crump held up a bare wire. "Unfortunately it rather interferes with my interview technique, so I've taken the plug off it."
"Oh you're good," Daddy Bear said, trying to sound laid back. "You're very good. Who writes your scripts for you?"
Inspector Crump flushed a little. Much of what he'd said so far had, in fact, been written in advance. "All right, Bear," he said angrily. "Cut the crap and tell me what happened."
"Perhaps you'd like to tell me where my wife and son are?" Daddy Bear returned sharply.
"In the cells," Crump replied. "We'll be interviewing them next, so your story had better match theirs." He paused to let Daddy Bear simmer, then tried a more conciliatory approach. "I'm a reasonable man, Mr. Bear. I like to keep an open mind. I don't make sweeping assumptions before I've heard both sides of the story. So just tell me precisely what happened from the time you got up this morning to the time you viciously and brutally murdered those two innocent young policemen."
"I'm not stupid!" retorted Daddy Bear. "I'm not saying anything until I get a solicitor."
"Oh you don't want to be bothered with a solicitor," Crump said.
"I want a solicitor now!" Daddy Bear repeated emphatically.
"Fair enough," Inspector Crump conceded. He looked over his shoulder. "Gibbon!" he barked. "Go to the pub and get hold of a solicitor for Mr. Bear."
PC Gibbon remained on the floor. Parts of him gurgled, but otherwise he made no effort to move.
Daddy Bear glared back at him murderously.
"Try to understand," Crump said. "We know you did it, the evidence is incontrovertible. Once news of this incident gets out - and it will - the public will be calling for blood. There will be moral outrage and the whole thing will have to be rushed through court just to quell the hysteria. Now make it easy for yourself and admit it, and the law will be lenient. It's a lot easier than sleeping with the judge."
Daddy Bear sighed wearily. "Listen," he said. "I've tried to explain all this before. We didn't kill them."
"Oh come off it! Do you really expect me to believe that you just found them like that?" Inspector Crump had suddenly turned very ugly - a pretty gruesome sight, as he was no oil painting to start with. "Stop wasting my time, Mr. Bear!"
"We'd just gone for a walk," Daddy Bear explained, trying to remain calm. "When we got back we - "
"Murdered two innocent and cuddly policemen," said Crump. "Let me spell it out for you, shall I? There are two facts that we know for certain. Firstly, two expired members of Her Majesty's constabulary were discovered in an abode belonging to you. I use the word 'abode' because the expression 'house' seems somewhat inappropriate for a collection of rocks held together with Plasticine. Secondly, you murdered them. These facts invite only one conclusion, namely... that you murdered them."
Daddy Bear sat with his mouth agape. "But wha - ?"
"Go on," Crump urged him, "spit it out."
"But - "
"How many words? Is it a film or a book?"
"But this is... It's just circumstantial evidence," Daddy Bear finally managed to splutter.
"Circumstantial!" Crump exclaimed. "Circumstantial!" he exclaimed a second time. "Don't come all that legal jargon with me, sonny. I've had enough of that in court."
"I know my rights!" piped up Daddy Bear with a certain degree of panic.
"Well we may as well go home if you're not going to let us bully and coerce you," the Inspector replied. He paced slowly around the room, giving Daddy Bear time to stew. "You're not going to get away with this," he sneered, and when he neared the door it opened swiftly and delivered a sharp crack to the side of his head.
"I just did that!" said PC Gibbon, just coming to his senses, so Inspector Crump smacked him in the mouth and laid him out cold again.
"A package for you sir," said a young policeman striding confidently into the story.
Crump stared at him, realised his mistake and apologised to the comatose form of PC Gibbon. Then he rounded on the newcomer. "What do you think you're playing at?" he hissed, and the young constable wilted. "Here I am trying to be menacing and intimidating, and you charge in like the bloody Keystone Cops."
"Sorry sir," he mumbled. He handed over a piece of paper and a large brown envelope, then vacated the room pretty sharpish.
Detective Inspector Crump took a minute to read through the message, and as he did so a smug grin slowly spread across his face. "Well, well, well," he said at length to an increasingly worried looking Daddy Bear. "Well, that is interesting."
"What?" Daddy Bear asked anxiously.
"The forensic boys have been round your place with a fine tooth comb."
"And they need a new comb," said Crump. "But they also say they've discovered your fingerprints all over the house."
"Yes, so what?"
"You admit it?"
"I admit my fingerprints are all over my house," conceded Daddy Bear. "But then, as it's my house it's hardly surprising."
"Ah, I was forgetting that," said Crump. "All right then, how do you explain this?" From the envelope he pulled an illustrated hardback book on the anatomy of the human body.
"It's an illustrated hardback book on the anatomy of the human body," explained Daddy Bear. "What's wrong with that?"
"It's a cook book," said Crump.
"Rubbish, I'm vegetarian," said Daddy Bear.
"Oh, do me a favour! Who ever heard of a vegetarian bear? If you didn't eat people what would you do in your spare time?"
"I watch television," said Daddy Bear. "And I cycle and do crossword puzzles."
"And I suppose you play golf at the weekends?" suggested Crump.
"Don't be bloody stupid!" said Daddy Bear. "Who ever heard of a grizzly bear playing golf?"
"All right, that's enough of this!" Crump roared. "You think you're clever, but you won't get out of this one. We have a tree outside in the car park who saw everything and is prepared to testify in court."
"A tree?" Daddy Bear inquired.
"Yes, a tree," Inspector Crump confirmed. "One of those big wooden things with leaves at the top, you must have seen them? Anyway, we arrested it for loitering, but now it's turned into a grass."
"A tree's turned into a grass?" Daddy Bear repeated cautiously.
"That's right," said Crump with a self-satisfied grin.
Daddy Bear sat back in his chair, smiled, and said, "I don't think I've got anything to worry about really, have I?"
"I think I've got this all sewn up," said Crump to Sergeant Barrington Pinewood in the canteen. "He's cleverer than he looks, but he knows I've got the measure of him."
"Nothing can stand against the forces of law, decency and moral righteousness," said Sergeant Pinewood. "That's why we always get our man."
Sergeant Pinewood was a Canadian Mountie, in Britain as part of an exchange scheme. His special duties included tree felling, always getting his man, clamping horses for parking offences, and upholding the values of decency and moral righteousness.
In return the Metropolitan Police had sent a man to Canada to look into car theft.
"Oh yes, this Bear chap has been quite cunning," continued Crump. "Every time I accuse him of committing the murder he says he didn't do it. Now that's what I call clever."
"Perhaps he really didn't do it?" suggested Sergeant Pinewood as he fed a Metropolitan Police sandwich to his horse. He took his horse everywhere with him. He had a very large bathroom at home in Toronto.
"Of course he did it!" snapped Crump. "When we went into the house there were bits of policeman everywhere, and apart from the Bears there was no one else there. Now, I know our officers are chosen for their aptitude and initiative, but even if we make the assumption that they had some kind of death wish, I don't think even they could have spread themselves over such a large area."
Inspector Crump took a large bite out of a Metropolitan Police jam bun. The bun squealed and jumped off the Metropolitan Police table, and made off through the Metropolitan Police doorway.
"The food in here's not fit for pigs," he muttered. Cases like this always made him miserable. In fact anything to do with the Enchanted Forest put him in a bad mood. The place was full of nutters and weirdoes. "The sooner I get these Bears put behind bars the better."
"You definitely think they perpetrated this dastardly crime?" Sergeant Pinewood quizzed him.
"The mother and father, certainly," said Crump. "The kid I'm not so sure about. But whatever the truth of this matter is, I'll soon winkle it out of them."
Following and hour or two at the Duck's Arse public house, where he had been interviewing several pints of Bradshaw's Owd Throat Pummeller, Detective Inspector Crump returned to the interview room. Here he spent a further hour asleep on the table before Mummy Bear was brought to him.
She sat down without taking her eyes off him, anxiously kneading the hem of her cardigan in one sweaty paw. Her glasses slipped down the bridge of her nose and she pushed them back into place with a trembling forefinger.
"Okay!" Crump said suddenly. Mummy Bear was startled enough to jump about six inches off her seat. Her glasses left her face in something of a hurry and landed in front of her on the table, where they remained for the duration of the interview.
"Mrs. Bear," Crump began. "I want you to go through the events of this morning in detail. Please take your time. Just start at the beginning and we'll take it from there."
"Okay," said Mummy Bear, drawing a breath and trying to remain calm. "I got up at about eight o'clock. My husband was still in bed. He doesn't have to be at work until four o'clock, you see. He works the evening shift at a twenty-four hour chiropodist."
Inspector Crump nodded patiently. He could see that Mummy Bear was nervous and he didn't want to push her. "Go on."
"Well I got up," Mummy Bear reiterated, "and I had a cup of coffee, and I started to make breakfast. We had porridge. We always have porridge, it's my husband's favourite. Well, it used to be but I think he's beginning to tire of it. I've often thought we should eat it differently, you know. Maybe put something in it to spice it up a little?"
"Excuse me," Crump interrupted sweetly as he laid a gentle hand on Mrs. Bear's forearm. "But is this important?"
"Of course it's important. People need to try something different every once in a while."
"Yes, yes," said Crump. "Okay, but can't we just skip breakfast?"
"You can't just skip breakfast," said Mummy Bear, beginning to sound a little more sure of herself. "It's the most important meal of the day."
"Let's just cut the crap!" Crump suddenly shouted, seriously losing his cool.
"It's not crap!" Mummy Bear retorted. "It's true - breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And that's not just some old wives' tale - it's the opinion of some of the world's top nutritionists. I read it in a magazine."
Inspector Crump turned away from her and struck the wall behind him. PC Gibbon, who was standing in the corner with a broken nose and his arm in a sling, cowered away like a frightened puppy.
"All right," said Crump. "I don't want to know about your bloody breakfast, okay?" He placed his hand palm down on the table and leaned towards her. "It's not a subject that really interests me. To put it bluntly, I couldn't give a damn. I couldn't care if you had dinosaur steaks in white wine sauce for breakfast, is that clear?"
Mummy Bear was silent.
"Well? Do you understand?"
"You told me to go through the events of this morning in detail. Those were your exact words. Take a look back at page thirty-nine if you don't believe me."
"Yes, but I didn't want you to tell me about your ruddy breakfast, did I?" snapped Crump.
"Well how am I supposed to know that?" Mummy Bear shouted back at him. "I'm not telepathic you know. You said I was to tell you in every detail, which is what I did, starting with breakfast. Now you can hardly expect me - "
They glared at each other for a moment, then Mummy Bear finally said, "Well there's no need to take that attitude."
"All right, I'm sorry," said Crump. "Can we please proceed with the interview now?"
Mummy Bear watched him warily, though without her glasses he was nothing more than a quivering blur before her cloudy eyes. "Will you promise not to get angry?"
"Because there's absolutely no cause to be unreasonable about this, is there?"
"Look, I've said I'm sorry, haven't I?" said Crump.
"Very well," said Mummy Bear. "You may continue."
Ten minutes later Inspector Crump emerged from the interview room, as pale as a wraith and still shaking. He couldn't have looked worse if he'd just gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. Mummy Bear was being taken away, still talking about the way in which different varieties of oats can affect the consistency of a bowl of porridge.
"I couldn't stand any more of that," said Crump to PC Gibbon. "The woman is evil, totally evil!"
"Did you get anything out of her sir?" asked Gibbon.
Crump shook his head. "Just he few recipes," he said. "But we'll find out happened from the kid. He must have seen everything."
"I saw everything!" said Nigel Bear.
"Right!" said Crump, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. "Go on, spill the beans son."
"Here goes!" Nigel began happily. "The Russian army were advancing en masse from our left." He stood up and pointed to the corner of the room. "There were four thousand of them, riding yaks because they'd eaten all the horses. Well, I don't know if you've ever seen four thousand Russians on yak-back but it certainly put the wind up us, I can tell you. We were hopelessly outnumbered. There were only five of us, in fact, which is about as hopelessly outnumbered as you can get. We started out with six hundred and ten thousand, but the frost got 'em.
"Anyway, I decided that our best chance was to distract them and make our getaway. Not as easy as it might appear. One of my men had a catapult, but I knew that wouldn't work. Well I wasn't Emperor of France for sixteen years without good reason, you know. So drawing upon all my initiative I stood up on a handy rock."
At this point Nigel climbed onto the table and pointed to some imaginary place beyond the interview room walls.
"Look behind you! I cried, but in French. There's a giant hamster about to eat you all! Well, a cunning ruse like that was bound to work, but to my astonishment nothing happened. They continued to charge relentlessly. They weren't approaching all that speedily, you understand, as the yak is not a particularly speedy animal, but they were approaching nonetheless.
"It was then that I realised my mistake: I should have shouted my cunning giant hamster ruse in Russian! Quickly I dug out my Russian phrase book found what I was looking for next to 'can you tell me where the nearest tourist information office is please?' I shouted my 'hamster' phrase again, in Russian, and it did the trick! While they were all looking over their shoulders for the giant rodent, we beat a hasty retreat."
The Emperor Nigel Bonaparte climbed down from the table, slightly embarrassed by his over enthusiastic performance. "And that's how it happened," he concluded bashfully.
Inspector Crump was frankly gob smacked. Two tiny, startled eyes stared out over his gaping mouth, his jaw hung somewhere about his knees.
"Get him out of here," he murmured slowly, but PC Gibbon was unable to comply. He'd just taken his brain out to make sure it had been put in the right way round.
The sun was bored, and sinking listlessly through a broad blanket of wet smog as Nigel was kicked out into the street. He rolled across the road, ricocheted from a wall, then skidded down an alley assisted by something that a large Alsatian had thoughtfully left on the pavement for just such an eventuality. Ultimately, he came to rest amongst a pile of cardboard boxes sitting by the back door of a kebab shop.
"What's all this about then?" said a young lad who appeared from inside a detergent box. "This is my home that you've just landed in. It may not be much, but it's all that I've got."
"I'm sorry," said Nigel in a shaking voice. He was still in shock from his somewhat hectic journey. "Believe me, I'm not altogether happy with the situation myself. My fate was in other hands: big, hairy hands with fingers like meat hooks."
The young man looked at him suspiciously. He was only about nineteen, wearing tatty black jeans, a pair of trainers and two jumpers to stave off the cold. "Okay then," he said, still sounding unsure. "We'll overlook it this time."
As he spoke the door behind them opened and a bucket full of kebab slops was poured on top of them.
"You're just in time for dinner," the youth said. "Come through into the dining room. My name's Michael Albatross, but my friends call me Scabby, because of an unusual habit I have."
"Okay Scabby," said Nigel.
The youth smacked him hard in the mouth. "It's Mr. Albatross to you, bum face."
"Ouch," said Nigel, spitting teeth. "All right. My name's Nigel. I'm a grizzly bear, I don't know whether you'd noticed?"
And so they ate. Nigel told Scabby of his sad story, and his fears for his parents. Scabby told him to stop whining, and contemplated skinning him to make him into an overcoat. But gradually their friendship grew and as night fell they stopped hitting each other and settled down to sleep.