Nigel had nightmares that night. He dreamed of his parents rotting in a damp and filthy prison. He dreamed of their torture. Then he dreamed that they were being visited by a walrus wearing water skis, which was trying to sell them double-glazing. He tried to shoo the animal away with a rolled up newspaper. "Go away!" he cried, "Go away!" But when he opened his mouth no sound emerged. The walrus just laughed and started to tell him a joke about a haddock.
Then that dream became a little too weird for him, so his mind turned to more pleasant thoughts. He fantasised that he was in a sauna with a busload of cheerleaders. Great billows of steam swirled around the room. One of the cheerleaders slowly stood up and began to peel the towel from around her wet thighs. Nigel peered through the mist as she slowly advanced towards him. Then the steam cleared, revealing a walrus in a mackintosh and fedora. It was carrying a suitcase under its flipper, which it opened with a deft movement, then gestured to the bangles and baubles inside.
"Pretty necklace for the missus?" it asked. "Genuine nine carat gold, no rubbish. Matching bracelet and earrings?"
Nigel jumped out of the sauna and ran, and ran, and ran. He hurtled down a bright corridor that seemed to stretch into forever. Walruses on either side reached out to him, offering to sell him sets of encyclopaedias, revolutionary new vacuum cleaners and things for shaving jumpers. Nigel screamed: a long, dreadful howl. And he ran. And he ran. And he ran.
He was woken by someone shaking his shoulder. "Leave me alone," he mumbled. "I don't want to buy a bloody time-share apartment in the Algarve."
"Come on, wake up!" Scabby urged him. "This is important, probably."
"Go away," Nigel said, still half asleep. "I'm a lettuce and I want to talk to the Queen."
"Listen, arse-wipe, when I say wake up," said Scabby as he slapped him about the face, "I mean wake up!"
Nigel yelped and sat upright. Scabby was still slapping his face, so Nigel reached out and stayed his hands. "I had a terrible dream."
"Oh yeah?" said Scabby as he delivered a final punch in the mouth, just to ensure that Nigel was fully conscious.
"Yes," said Nigel, spitting teeth. "There were all these walruses trying to sell me things. I wonder if it means anything?"
Scabby sat back against the wall and thought about it. "I should think it probably does," he said with half a shrug. "Dreams are an important tool in understanding the psyche. Take my Uncle Barry: for years he had the recurring nightmare that he was hacking someone to pieces with an axe. When we took him to a psychiatrist we found out he was a latent psychopath."
"No kidding!" said Nigel, agog. "The psychiatrist was able to tell you that, just from a dream?"
"Not exactly," Scabby admitted. "We sort of deduced it for ourselves after he hacked the psychiatrist to pieces with an axe."
"So what do you think my dream means?" Nigel asked.
"Well I should think that's obvious," Scabby said.
"It means you're a screaming lunatic," said Scabby. "As mad as a bucket." He leaned over and head-butted Nigel in the face. "Are you fully awake yet?"
"Yes," Nigel said, wiping the blood off his chin. "Thanks, I'm wide awake - you can stop hitting me now. What's the urgency anyway?"
Scabby seemed confused for a moment, then he remembered he had been hitting Nigel for a reason, rather than just for fun. "Oh yes. Your mum and dad - what do they look like?"
Nigel had the shredded memories of his nightmare still floating through his clouded mind. He had to stop and think for a moment. "Well, Dad's quite tall, sort of distinguished looking, rather than old. Mum has a medium build, wears glasses, sort of fidgety."
"Sort of big and hairy and smelly?" Scabby said.
"That's them," said Nigel. "Why do you ask?"
"I've just seen them being loaded into a van outside the police station," Scabby told him.
Nigel jumped to his feet, rushed down the alleyway and skidded to a halt at the junction with the main street. There was a police van parked opposite, its engine running. A chill wind cut through Nigel's damp clothing and shocked him into an unpleasant state of wakefulness. Even the puffballs of smoke from the van's exhaust seemed to shiver as they emerged.
A jostling crowd of reporters was gathered around a police spokesman, their cameras clicking, their pencils scratching and their cassette recorders making whatever noise it is that cassette recorders usually make in these circumstances.
"Well, face-ache, looks like your folks have made the headlines," Scabby said as he joined Nigel. "Probably be on the breakfast news. You must be very proud."
"What's happening?" Nigel asked. "Where's my mum and dad?"
"I told you," said Scabby. "They've just put them in the van."
"Right, I'm going to go and get them," Nigel said determinedly, and he suddenly lunged forward.
"Oy, come back!" Scabby shouted after him. "Who do you think you are - Batman?"
His words fell on deaf ears. Nigel was already charging headlong into the massed media. "Stop!" he shouted. "Let them go, they're my parents."
It was a convincing argument, but surprisingly the forces of law and order failed to see his reasoning. He thrust himself deeper into the crowd, clawing his way towards the van. Then two policemen stepped into his path: two big, brawny policemen, as hard as concrete and twice as thick. The kind that even buildings are afraid of.
"Let them go!" Nigel demanded fearsomely. He lowered his head and charged at them full pelt, but the policemen stood their ground.
What happened next was purely a matter of physics. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction - so Nigel did what every other self-respecting projectile did when it met an immovable object: he bounced straight off the policemen and was thrown back into the road.
"This is bloody Newton's fault!" he said as his arse skidded across the tarmac for the second time in as many days. He rolled over three or four times, and finally came to rest at Scabby's feet.
"I'm very impressed," Scabby said. "I'm not quite sure what you were trying to achieve, but it looked pretty damn spectacular from where I was standing."
Nigel rolled around on his back, groaning. "Am I still conscious," he muttered feebly. "Everything's still moving."
"I could kick your teeth in, if it would help," Scabby suggested.
Nigel climbed shakily to his feet. "How would that help?" he asked, puzzled.
Scabby shrugged. "Dunno," he said. "But we could give it a go."
Nigel turned as he heard the van begin to pull away. Mournfully he watched it through narrowed eyes as it slouched down the street.
"Now we'll never find out where they're being taken," he said.
"Well, there is a way we might find out where they are," Scabby said. "Follow me."
Nigel brightened up. "You mean you're going to help me?" he said. "You're actually going to help me find my parents?"
Scabby pouted thoughtfully. "Well, to be completely honest, I don't have a totally unblemished record when it comes to helping my fellows in need but, on this occasion, yes - I will help you."
"Thank you," Nigel breathed. "You know, you're the first person that's shown any sort of civility to me since I came to this city. I shall be eternally grateful."
Scabby nodded, then kicked Nigel as hard as he could in the bollocks. He turned and began to saunter away.
Nigel screamed and doubled up in pain. Choking back the tears, he gasped, "What was that for?"
"Karma," Scabby called over his shoulder. "Now, are you coming, or what?"
Mr. and Mrs. Bear knew nothing of their son's whereabouts as they were unceremoniously thrown into the van. The doors were slammed and they were cut off from the outside world. They heard voices outside, spectral voices hanging thinly in the chilly morning air. Even those sank without trace once the engine had been started.
No one had told them where they were being taken at such an ungodly hour. They sat in silence, still shaking with a mix of fear and fury. The policeman who guarded them hardly even acknowledged their presence. He was wearing a helmet, shin-pads and a cricket box - after what had happened to his colleague he was taking no chances.
A mood of morose apprehension settled over them as the van bumped along, pitching them from side to side with every pothole in the road. Daddy Bear trained his eye on the small square of daylight that had been sliced into strips by the bars of the rear window. The grey clouds of morning were dispersing to some unknown place, to wait there until dusk. The sun was just beginning to peek over their departing backs.
It was a forbidden world. Daddy Bear drew his wife closer to him and such was his mood that he wondered if he would ever see that world again.
Inside the station, Detective Inspector Crump watched from the window as the van drove away. Crump would be glad to get this matter over with as soon as possible. He didn't like bears, never had done. He knew they were entitled to their rights just like anyone else, but in his view they were a menace to the public.
He sat down at his desk. Sergeant Pinewood was sitting opposite him, and together they were catching up on some important police work.
"Your go sir," said Pinewood.
"Actually Pinewood, I think you tiddled then instead of winked," Crump said. "What's the matter, don't you have tiddlywinks in Canada?"
Sergeant Pinewood took off his head and scratched his hat. "Indeed not," he said. "I must admit that I am moderately confused by this game."
"Look Sergeant, it's perfectly simple," said Crump. "You've got to tiddle your wink into the pot. That's all there is to it."
Sergeant Pinewood frowned. "Yes, but why sir? What is the point?"
"It's a game!" Crump snapped. "It would hardly be much of a contest if the object were to leave them where they are, now would it? It's a test of skill, a test of initiative."
"Oh I see," Pinewood said, unperturbed by his superior's outburst. "Wouldn't it show much more initiative to simply pick them up and place them in the pot, rather than all this widdling and tinking? It would be much quicker, and we could get on with something else."
Crump brushed the tiddlywinks off his desk with one sweep of his arm. "You have no understanding of culture," he said spitefully. "What do you people do at home when you're not felling trees or making documentaries about beavers?"
Pinewood shrugged. He couldn't think of anything, which seemed to prove the Inspector's point. There was a knock at the door and a young constable entered.
"Ah, PC Bulge," Inspector Crump said. "I don't suppose you fancy a game of tiddlywinks?"
"Sorry sir," said Bulge. "There's a woman here who'd like to see you concerning a rather delicate matter."
The woman barged in. She was thin and scrawny, and her clothes hung limply from her shoulders. You could have picked her up by the ankles and used her as a toothpick, if you didn't mind getting a gobful of dandruff and a smack in the face. She stepped forward, carrying a brown paper bag, which she placed on the desk. She looked at the bag pointedly, and then at Detective Inspector Crump.
Crump leaned over and peered into the bag. Inside were the remains of a deep fried budgerigar. "No thank you," the Inspector said. "I've just eaten."
"My name is Mrs. Barrel, you may remember me," the woman announced. "I came in last Tuesday to report that my budgie had been stolen. This morning I had a phone call from someone at this station saying that it had been recovered. Now obviously I was delighted, but when I came here to collect it, this is what I was given." She picked up the bag and rustled it in front of Crump's face.
"We aim to please," said Crump, wearing his customer-friendly smile.
"But look at the state of it!" Mrs. Barrel cried.
Inspector Crump adopted his most condescending tone. "Well you must remember, Mrs. Barrel, your poor budgerigar has been through something of an ordeal. He's bound to feel a bit under the weather."
"Under the weather! He's been cooked. I could try giving him a couple of Beechams Powders and tucking him up in bed for the afternoon but, to be perfectly honest, I don't think it would do him a great deal of good."
"Has he been off his food at all?"
"Well you could say that," she answered sarcastically.
"Perhaps he needs a friend? A little budgie companion to share his life with."
"One thing he doesn't need right now is a little budgie companion to share his life with. He doesn't need anything, except maybe salt and pepper. My budgie has been roasted, and I want to know who's responsible!" She thumped the desk, splitting the glass top and causing all of Crump's pens to leap into the air.
Inspector Crump swallowed hard. "Please Mrs. Barrel, calm down," he implored her. "I know this must be distressing for you, but the fact of the matter is that there's a particularly vicious budgie burglar on the prowl who kidnaps budgies, deep fries them and - "
"Bullshit!" said Mrs. Barrel. "When they phoned they said my budgie was in perfect working order. I can only assume, therefore, that someone here did it."
"In that case, Mrs. Barrel," Crump said, "there is only one explanation for the unfortunate condition of your bird. Obviously it has been subjected to a series of strenuous tests carried out in our forensic laboratories. Tests, I must stress, which are highly scientific and therefore difficult for you to understand. I do assure you that your budgie has been cooked in accordance with standard police procedure."
"But it's been half eaten!" Mrs. Barrel protested.
"I personally guarantee, Mrs. Barrel, that this is all part of the routine business of detecting crime. Our lab boys are all highly trained men, and I for one would not presume to question their reasons for nibbling your beloved bird."
"But surely," Mrs. Barrel spluttered, "this can't be right? Doesn't cooking a budgie constitute a criminal offence?"
Crump gave the matter some thought. "I think it's only actually illegal on bank holidays. Pinewood, pass me that book, will you."
Sergeant Pinewood snapped to attention. "I didn't think I was supposed to say anything in this part of the scene," he said.
"You don't, you just pass me the book," Crump told him.
"Oh I see," said Pinewood as he scanned the bookshelf. "Which book is it?"
Crump pointed ambiguously. "That big book of laws."
"Oh yes: The Big Boys' Bumper Book Of British Justice." Pinewood passed it down and Crump leafed through it quickly.
"Hmm, now what have we here? Parking on double yellow lines... Third degree murder... Vomiting in a public place... Gobbing on a lollipop lady... No, nothing about cooking budgies."
Her argument stifled, Mrs. Barrel left the police station, still happy that she had at least had her say and made her feelings known. Two minutes later she fell into a refuse lorry and was crushed to a pulp.
"Tragic," said Crump as he watched from his office window.
The High Street was coming to life, prodded awake by the weak rays of the sun. Mr. Geranium, the florist, was busy opening his shop. He placed buckets full of glorious daffodils on the pavement and lovingly arranged them to catch the eye.
Mr. Rump-Steak, the butcher, placed a large, ham-shaped notice board outside his shop, detailing all the wonderful bargains he had on offer for the day.
Mr. Condom, who owned the sex shop, put a giant tit and a cardboard cut-out of a naked woman on the pavement. Not many people would walk past without noticing Mr. Condom's shop, that much was certain.
A handful of early morning office workers clumped down the street, on the way to their early morning offices. None of them seemed to notice the two figures walking in the opposite direction. They seemed to blend in so well with their surroundings, in spite of the fact that one of them was a grizzly bear with a dead parrot on his shoulder. The two of them walked on past the florist's, ignorant of his magnificent display of daffodils. They went straight past the butcher's, uninterested in his bargains. They even walked right past the sex shop, not pausing to wonder at the possible purposes of the curiously shaped rubber objects in the window.
They finally stopped outside an electrical shop and peered into its dark display window, being entertained by their own reflections. After a moment a man stepped into the window. He was short and bony, with a patchy moustache that still had some of his breakfast nestling in its bristles. His hair, thin and tufted, was raked over to one side, and he wore one of the most hysterical suits that Nigel had ever seen. It was a dull brown check, the trousers being far too large for him, and the jacket too small.
He fixed Scabby and Nigel with an indignant stare, held it for a moment, then forgot all about them and reached down to a socket on the floor. At the flick of a switch all the television sets in the window popped into life, and the salesman slipped back into the gloomy recesses of the shop.
Nigel turned to Scabby. "Why are we here?" he asked.
"Ah, now," Scabby began. "These things in the window here, these boxes with the magic moving pictures on them - these are what we call tel-e-vi-shun sets." He pronounced the word slowly and deliberately, emphasising each syllable.
"I know what a television is!" Nigel snapped angrily. "I've read about them in books. But I still don't know why we're here?"
"We're here because the news will be on in a minute," Scabby said.
"And there might be something on about my parents!" Nigel suddenly said, the penny having finally dropped.
"Ten out of ten, Sherlock," Scabby said. "Give yourself a badge."
Nigel pressed his nose against the window, staring at the nearest TV set. It showed a petite woman with a smile that was somehow bigger than her head. She was sitting on a sofa and appeared to be interviewing two large cushions.
"I do foresee one problem," he said. Scabby groaned. "We can't actually hear what's being said."
"We don't actually need to hear," Scabby replied. "I can lip-read."
"Go on!" said Nigel with a grin. "Can you really?"
"I can if you stop wittering and let me concentrate," Scabby replied testily.
"What's she saying now then?" asked Nigel.
Scabby shrugged. "Oh something about car maintenance, I think."
Nigel raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Oh," he said. "So why is she holding that grapefruit?"
"Well I don't know!" snapped Scabby.
"A friend probably gave it to her," Nigel suggested wickedly. "It's a keepsake. It probably holds fond memories for her."
Scabby wheeled to face him. "I don't have to be here, you know!" he said angrily. "All I'm trying to do is help you out, you ungrateful little prick. If all you're going to do is make facetious comments then I won't bother."
"All right, all right, I'm sorry," Nigel appeased him, then the flickering light of the TV suddenly beckoned to him. "Look, they're on!"
A picture of Nigel's parents hung above a newsreader's left shoulder. The picture suddenly changed to show a reporter standing outside the three Bears' house.
"That's our house!" cried Nigel excitedly. "Look, my house is on the telly! So, what's he saying?"
Scabby moved his mouth in mute sympathy with the reporter's, but his face was fogged with doubt. Suddenly the reporter held up a grapefruit and the steely blue light of revelation shone on Scabby's face.
"He's talking about car maintenance!"
"Oh do me a favour!" Nigel said. "I thought you could lip read?"
"I can," said Scabby hesitantly, "but he's only got one lip."
"Look!" Scabby pointed to the screen, and sure enough he was right. "He hasn't got a bottom lip. And the top one's all loose and flappy, how do you expect me to read that?"
"Right, let's stop pratting about, shall we?" Nigel said, and in a sudden burst of uncharacteristic decisiveness he dragged his companion into the shop. "We'd like to buy a television set please!" he announced to an empty showroom.
"What are you doing?" Scabby hissed in an urgent whisper.
"Using my initiative," Nigel replied. "Here he comes."
The man with the moustache and the comical suit appeared from on his hands and knees behind the counter.
"We'd like to buy a television set please," Nigel repeated.
"Well sir, you've come to the right place," the odd salesman replied. "This is a television shop."
"Hell's teeth, there's a stroke of luck!" said Scabby.
The salesman tried to laugh nervously, but he was already painfully aware that he had lost all hope of creating a good impression.
"Which particular set were you interested in?" he said, dribbling down his shirtfront. The strange salesman walked around the counter towards them, and his knees made a curious creaking noise as he did so.
"Oh any," said Nigel with a shrug.
"Any?" the creepy salesman asked, and at this point he paused, like a dog sniffing the air. Nigel noticed a long, curly hair protruding from his left nostril, which kept coiling and uncoiling to the rhythm of his breathing.
"Any," Nigel repeated.
"Well this is the model we're trying to shift at the moment," said the wacky salesperson, and he gestured to the set like some demented air hostess. "It's the Hitsuki Laser 4000. It has dual programme memory search, stereophonic Dolby noise reduction facilities and a contrast randomiser chip. It goes from nought to sixty in under five seconds, it's fully air conditioned and it has a microprocessor that automatically switches the set off if it thinks that you're watching trash."
"Mmm, yummy," said Scabby.
"Has it got an 'on' switch?" asked Nigel.
The hysterically comical salesthing looked thoughtfully at the set and scratched his head. His fingers made a loud scraping noise across his scalp and great wads of hair became lodged under his nails. After a moment of careful consideration he reached forward and pressed a button. The air was thick with suspense... They waited... Then the television crackled and - kicking and screaming - a picture was born!
The salesperson took a pace back. "Superb definition," he said admiringly.
"Great," Nigel agreed, not finding it too difficult to contain his excitement. "Can you put the other channel on?"
"The other channel?" the gut-wrenchingly laughable salesman inquired.
"My friend never watches this channel," Scabby explained.
The salesman obliged, just in time for them to catch the end of the news. A smart girl with a crooked smile and dead eyes was summing up:
"...with a large selection of fresh fruit. Mr. and Mrs. Bear are to appear at the Old Bailey today on a charge of third degree murder. Detective Inspector Lionel Crump, who led the investigation, said that he deplores the wave of 'anti-bear' hysteria that is currently sweeping the country, but he hopes that the Bears are sentenced to be eaten alive by a very large crocodile. Those were the headlines, now back to Sue."
"Thank you Julie," said the woman with the cushions. "Well I hope we don't get murdered by any grizzly bears today," she added wittily. "Now, for those of you who missed it ten minutes earlier, here's Russell Hobs with your stars for today."
A man in a horrid, florid jumper appeared. "Well my lovelies," he said, "it's a bad day for all you Sagittarians out there. You're going to be struck down by a debilitating disease, die an agonising death and be buried in a pauper's grave."
"Oh dear, that's bad news," Scabby said. "And I thought it was going to be my lucky day today."
"Excuse me," the zany salesman started to say, but he wasn't allowed to continue.
"Never mind about your horoscope," Nigel said. "My parents are on trial for their lives."
"Yes, um - " Once again the brain-haemorrhagingly farcical salesman tried to interrupt, but was defeated.
"I have the utmost faith in British Justice," said Scabby. "If they are innocent then they've got nothing to worry about. They are innocent, aren't they? The evidence does seem pretty substantial."
"Evidence?" snapped Nigel. "What evidence?"
"Well, being discovered with two dead policemen at their feet, for one thing," Scabby pointed out. "Some people might consider that pretty substantial."
"Rubbish!" said Nigel. "The whole thing's a fix. What else can it be when the main witness hasn't even been called to give evidence?"
"Who's that?" Scabby asked.
"Well me, obviously," said Nigel. "My parents have been made the scapegoats to quell this wave of anti-bear hysteria that's been sweeping the country."
Scabby shook his head. "You've lost me now. What wave of anti-bear hysteria is this?"
"Excuse me," interrupted the vomit-inducingly ludicrous salesman. He turned to Nigel and fixed him with one piercing eye, while the other was busy reading a book. "Forgive me for asking," he said, "but are you a grizzly bear?"
"I am," said Nigel proudly.
Nigel landed on the pavement outside with a painful crack. Scabby casually walked out of the shop and stood over him. "Oh, that wave of anti-bear hysteria!" he said.
Nigel picked himself up and brushed himself down, in that order. "I've made up my mind," he said. "I shall go to the trial and appeal to the jury."
"You'll appeal to no one dressed like that," Scabby said. "They won't let you in. You'll need a disguise."
"A disguise," Nigel repeated thoughtfully, and a hundred crazy plots began to tumble through his head.