Nigel pushed open the heavy front door and stood looking at the bits of boiled furniture that were strewn about the kitchen. The window was open and the breeze being drawn through made the net curtains flutter and flap. In the corner, by the dresser, the television was still switched on. With relentless fervour it continued to pump its flickering miasma of tantalising trivia into the room. Intermittent words and incomplete phrases rippled through the air. They spoke of fantastic new worlds of washing powder and baby products; worlds in which people had nothing better to do all day than stand in the street and talk to market researchers.
There had been a police cordon around the house but Nigel had slipped past them by cunningly telling them that he wasn't who they were looking for. He set his bag of crocodiles down: the drugs were wearing off and they were beginning to move about, making them more difficult to carry. He softly closed the door behind him and crossed to the television to switch it off, crunching broken crockery underfoot. He couldn't feel at home amongst this disorder. His house was unclean.
He heard the tramp of heavy boots outside. Then a short staccato cough snapped across the room like a whip crack. Nigel held his breath, listening for further movement, then the front door began to swing open. He looked around for somewhere to hide, sighting the cupboard beneath the sink. It was cramped and uncomfortable, but as Nigel was a naturally cramped and uncomfortable person anyway he didn't find the confinement too distressing.
He drew the door closed just as the stranger entered, and waited in the darkness listening to the gentle drip, drip, drip of water from the pipes. Footsteps! He heard them clearly as they moved across the room, tap, tap, tapping on the tiled floor: left, right, left, right, left, left, left, right, right, left, left, left. Whoever it was either had a very strange walk, or eight legs.
Nigel opened the cupboard door just a little. Through the narrow crack he could see about two thirds of the room. A quarter of the room was obscured by shadow, and two eighths were behind the table. Three fifths were beneath a large purple mat and a further two ninths were filled with a horribly stinking orange foam that pulsated with a life of its own. That left twelve fifty-ninths of the room which was hiding in the pantry, two seventeenths which was on a bird watching holiday in Torquay, and a remaining third which Nigel couldn't see from where he was hiding. It was from this part that the footsteps seemed to be coming.
He was patient, and a moment later a pair of legs came into view: horrible, blotchy, pink and swollen legs that led all the way up to a horrible, blotchy, pink and swollen little girl. It was her: Woolfe's niece. Nigel realised only too well why she was here - she was looking for him.
She appeared to be searching for clues to his whereabouts: opening drawers and cupboards at random, spilling their contents across the room. Then she spied Nigel's little cupboard beneath the sink and she approached. Nigel was just rating his chances of being able to hide behind the overflow pipe when the girl, alerted by something, suddenly darted across the kitchen and hid in the pantry.
A man entered; a man whom Nigel recognised as Inspector Lionel Crump - somebody else he'd like to shake by the throat.
"All right," he said. "It's perfectly safe." He was followed by Sergeant Pinewood.
"I'm sure I heard someone in here," said Pinewood.
"You have an overactive imagination," Crump told him. "It doesn't look like the Bears have been here yet. Still, we'd better search the place thoroughly. We might find some clue as to where they might be heading."
"Unlikely," muttered Pinewood.
"But not impossible," said Crump. "So you have a scout round outside while I search the rest of the house."
Inspector Crump disappeared upstairs. Pinewood poked his nose outside, satisfied himself that he would find nothing of note, then switched on the television set so as not to miss his favourite programme. A bland comedian in a shiny suit danced before him on the screen.
"Hello and welcome to Spot The Cheese! Our first contestant is a professor of applied mathematics at Swansea University. You have three minutes to Spot The Cheese, starting from... Now!"
"It's over there on the table," said the professor of applied mathematics from Swansea University.
"Stop the clock! You've played this game before, haven't you?"
"Pinewood, is that you?" Crump shouted.
Sergeant Pinewood promptly switched off the TV and hid behind the fridge. Crump appeared at the bottom of the stairs. "Hello? Pinewood? I'm sure I heard voices in here." He scratched his head and went out through the front door.
Goldilocks emerged from the pantry, looked around keenly, then resumed her search. She was about to start sifting through the cat litter when she heard a knock at the door. She ran upstairs just as Pinewood's horse entered.
"Hello?" it whinnied in its own inimitable horsy fashion. "Is there anybody here?" It sniffed about a bit, then went upstairs.
Sergeant Pinewood came out of hiding and was about to switch on television again when he heard a voice outside, so he jumped out of the window.
"Hello?" said a stranger's voice. "Is there anyone home?" A moment later the Vicar came in. He sat down at the table to wait, then suddenly he spied a familiar face, and ran and hid in the cooker. It was the Bishop of Durham, who had been hiding under the table all the time.
Events were being keenly observed outside the house. On the edge of the clearing, concealed by thick vegetation, Mummy and Daddy Bear watched every movement. Crump came out and walked around the house. Sergeant Pinewood climbed out of the window, and Crump went back in through the front door. The vicar slipped out through the front door and ran away. Sergeant Pinewood climbed back in through the window. His horse appeared on the roof. Sergeant Pinewood climbed out of the window and back in again. The Bishop of Durham let himself out through the bathroom window and slid down the drainpipe. He gathered up his dress and legged it. Crump tunnelled his way out of the house and appeared from a hole in the front lawn. He pulled himself out and gave chase to the Bishop of Durham. Pinewood climbed out of the window and followed them.
"They're heading this way!" hissed Daddy Bear. "Stay down."
They stomped through the grass, just yards from where the Bears lay. Firstly the Bishop of Durham, puffing and panting like a... well, like a Bishop. Then Crump and Pinewood following close behind.
"Did you see who that was?" they heard Crump ask.
"He looked a bit like a Bishop to me sir," said Pinewood.
"Don't be absurd," said Crump.
"Someone's left a lorry full of condoms there," Pinewood was heard to say. "Wouldn't it be ironic if it got a flat tyre?"
The Bears waited a minute or two as the voices faded, then Mummy Bear raised herself. "We can go into the house now," she said. "They've all gone." She was about to go, but Daddy Bear stopped her and pointed to the roof.
"Look at that," he said. Mummy Bear looked. Pinewood's horse was still on the roof, neighing and whinnying and generally expressing much concern over its inability to get back down again.
"They could be back for that horse any moment," Daddy Bear warned her. "We'd better go, it's far too dangerous to stay here any longer." He took Mummy Bear's paw and led her away, keeping his head low and glancing warily about him. Suddenly he felt himself tread in something soft and squashy. He stopped and an expression of revulsion crossed his face.
"What is it?" Mummy Bear asked.
Daddy Bear lifted his foot. Sitting beneath it - battered, a little bruised and considerably shocked - was a gnome. It wore a tall, bright red cap that flopped over at the top, a pretty green tunic and shiny black shoes with spangly buckles.
"Oh dear, I am sorry little man," said Daddy Bear in a gentle voice as he crouched down to the little imp-like creature.
"The name's Norman," said the gnome, massaging his crushed shoulder.
"And what a pretty name it is too, little man," Daddy Bear said. "Well I do hope you're all right, Norman. I'm awfully sorry, I'm afraid I didn't see you down there."
"Don't patronise me, you hairy arse!" said Norman the Gnome as he nutted him on the nose. Daddy Bear reeled, clutching his proboscis - which is another name for 'nose' and comes in jolly handy when you've used the word 'nose' once already.
"You've given me a proboscis bleed!" Daddy Bear roared, and he tried to jump on Norman. Norman saw him coming and moved out of the way, and Daddy Bear landed on a couple of sticks and a few leaves, which didn't seem to mind being jumped on at all.
"Just because I'm shorter than you it doesn't mean you have to talk down to me," Norman the Gnome said, and he stood back and clenched his fists. "I can have you any day."
"You little - "
"And don't call me little!" said Norman. "Or I'll rip your ruddy spleen out."
"You'll have to find it first," said Daddy Bear. "It's probably halfway to Morocco by now. Besides, by the time I've finished with you, you'll be too concerned with the whereabouts of your own organs to worry about mine."
"Aww, fuck off!" replied Norman the Gnome wittily.
"That's quite enough!" Mummy Bear said. "Gordon, we don't have time for this. The police are still wandering about here somewhere."
Norman the Gnome froze solid. "Police? Did I hear you say police? I'm off!" A moment later he was gone.
Daddy Bear took a handkerchief from his pocket and tried to stem the flow of blood from his snout - which is yet another name for 'nose'. (You're certainly getting your money's worth here. In the next chapter we're going to do ears.)
"Come on," he said painfully, and led the way back to the truck.
Nigel's legs were growing numb and he tried to stretch them as best he could in the tiny space beneath the sink. He had watched everybody leave and as far as he could work out there was only himself, the little fat girl and Pinewood's horse left in the house. Suddenly a pack of Welsh rugby supporters appeared from behind the dresser and marched out of the front door, complaining that they didn't reckon much to the service in this hotel.
Oh. Well he hadn't accounted for them. Now that they'd gone it left only himself, the fat girl and the horse... didn't it?
He waited a while longer, then pushed open the cupboard door - just as the fat girl came downstairs. He pulled the door closed quickly, and she passed by and left through the front door. Nigel waited a few minutes more then slipped from his hiding place.
He sat down on the edge of the table and thought out his predicament. So, his parents were at liberty. That was a bit inconsiderate, considering the lengths he had gone to in order to forestall their execution. His problem now was how to find them? He gazed abstractly out of the window and noticed Crump's car left unattended outside.
It seemed to him that if the Inspector had any idea at all of where his parents might be, Nigel would do well to stick with him. He slid off the table and crept cautiously outside.
Through the wood panelled rooms of the Snivlington Club, down musty corridors, marched a stiffly sombre steward carrying a covered silver salver. He walked slowly, like a pallbearer, his footsteps snapping loudly against the oak block floor. From some other part of the building came low, mumbled voices, providing an aural backdrop for his stately procession.
The steward sneezed and a light fall of dust from the ceiling landed on his shoulder. He paused, looked at it disdainfully then carefully brushed it off with one white-gloved hand before proceeding.
Many pictures hung along these walls: dusty old masters, forgotten portraits. A starched general looked down from the confines of his frame as the steward passed by - an old hero of the Burma campaign. The next painting showed a thin faced man in a tall hat and a frock coat. He sported a moustache that curled upwards at the ends, threatening to put his eyes out, and he looked down with the smug, aristocratic air of someone who was completely divorced from reality.
The steward spared him a brief glance. The portrait was that of a man called Philip Fogg, and it was from this very club that he had set out in 1906 on his historic attempt to travel around the world in eighty days. He had fallen short of his target by some three years, six months and twenty days because of a baggage handlers' dispute at Gatwick airport.
Prime Ministers, famous economists, newspaper publishers, bishops - all had, at some time, enjoyed the benefits and privileges that went with membership of such an esteemed establishment. Twenty-five per cent off a season ticket for Tottenham Hotspur, to name but one.
The steward entered the billiard room where two large media executives were working out how to play snooker without their respective paunches spilling onto the baize. The steward excused himself as he passed them and left through the other door - through more rooms, more corridors, until he reached the reading room.
This was the nerve centre of the club. It was here that members would meet, chat and take a drink or two. If they were really pushed for something to do they might even read one of the freshly ironed newspapers that had been laid out for them that morning.
The steward crossed to a hirsute gentleman with a large nose, who sat behind a copy of the Financial Times. "Lord Woolfe," the steward addressed him. "There is a telephonic communication for you sir."
"A telephone call?" said B.B. Woolfe. "Very well."
The steward offered him the salver and removed the cover. It was empty. The steward didn't seem to notice for a few moments. When he finally did, he registered only the faintest surprise.
"Oh dear," he said at length. "It appears I have neglected to bring the telephone with me. If you would wait one moment sir I shall endeavour to retrieve it." He turned slowly and went off to fetch it.
'Lord' Woolfe raised his paper again. His title, it must be said, was entirely of his own invention. He found that passing himself off as a Lord made his journey through life that much more comfortable.
He broke the leg off a nearby chair and began to gnaw the meat from it hungrily. Then the steward returned with the phone and Woolfe took the receiver.
"About time too!" the tinny voice blasted out. "I've used fifteen quid's worth of twenty pence pieces in this phone already!"
"Ah Goldilocks, my dear," Woolfe crooned. "I'd recognise those dulcet tones anywhere. Have you done that little job I asked you to?"
"Not as such," Goldilocks replied.
"Not as such?" Woolfe repeated. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means not at all," said Goldilocks. "I've been to the house but the young bear's not there."
"Goldy, my dear," Woolfe said. "I don't want to hear excuses. I want you to tell me that the job's been done. Find him, Goldy. Find the young grizzly bear. I want him dead."