Dirtection Inc: episode 5
Huge, juicy things dangled from the vines growing beneath the glass roof of the Tomato House: some of these were tomatoes, others were Golden Orb spiders. So similar did they appear that, from a distance, it was impossible to tell which might be tastier if sliced into a bacon sandwich. Fortunately, this was not a decision which I was required to make. In any case, since discovering the fly-covered corpse of Professor August Goodbody the previous day, I confess that my mind was preoccupied with thoughts
of a darker complexion...
“Completely insane, of course!” exclaimed Doctor Darius Graticule.
I was at that moment tweaking detritus from the Doctor’s computer keyboard (a rather snazzy waterproof model with an interesting collection of mouldy fairy cake crumbs between the F6 and F7 keys).
“Been warning them for years,” he blathered on, “Man wasn’t right in the head. What with his poisonous damn’ flies and his pathological fondness for the songs of Val Doonican …”
My curiosity was piqued – “What did you say?”
“Val Doonican,” he repeated, “Irish fellah. Guitar, chunky-knit sweaters, Paddy McGinty’s Goat, possibly before your time…?”
“Did you say his flies were poisonous?”
“Oh, yes. Professor Goodbody’s, that is. Of Val Doonican’s flies I admit ignorance. Just between you and me, the chap was conducting a Top Secret programme into the breeding of genetically modified toxic horseflies. I suspect that was what got him in the end. Bitten by one of his own monstrous creations. That’s why I keep the spiders, don’t you know. If you value your life, I’d recommend that you do the same. A couple of Golden Orbs in your bedroom should do the trick.”
I thanked him for his advice, gathered up my mouldy fairy cake samples and left for cooler climes. Heat is something which I prefer to take in moderation. A bracing spring afternoon in Eastbourne is more to my taste than the sweltering jungles of equatorial Borneo. Not, I should say, that I have ever been to Borneo, though I have read my Biggles so I have a pretty good idea of what it must be like. The sweltering heat of the Tomato House had taken its toll on me. Indeed, I am ashamed to admit that there came a point when I had even considered the possibility of removing my jacket and loosening my tie.
By the time I arrived at Building C I had worked up a thirst and was prepared to slake it with the best the vending machine had to offer. This turned out to be tea, tea with whitener, coffee, coffee with whitener or, for the more adventurous drinker, either of the above with sugar. I pressed a button at random and watched a beaker being filled with a thin brown liquid. I took a sip and tried to guess what it was.
“Liquefied elephant dung,” a voice beside me said.
The possibility, though remote, could not be entirely dismissed. I was about to say as much when Ethel from Admin (for it was she) continued her peroration along quite different lines.
“That’s what they use to grow their tomatoes. Seen it with my own eyes. Big green plastic barrels of the stuff. I only mention it because I happened to notice you coming out of the Tomato House just now and what with you being in the filth business, so to speak, I thought elephant dung would be right up your street.”
I mumbled noncommittally. Explaining that the cleaning of computer keyboards is an occupation which rarely brings one into contact with the excreta of large pachyderms would only have encouraged Ethel to explore other varieties of dung with which I might be acquainted.
“Actually, it struck me as a bit funny,” she went on, “You going in there today when it was only yesterday that the other cleaning chap was there.”
“Other cleaning chap!” I exclaimed, momentarily departing from my noncommittal mumbling stratagem, “What other cleaning chap?”
“Oh, didn’t you know about him? I thought he was with you.”
I would have liked to have explored that topic further but, happening to glance at the clock on the wall, I noted that the time was eleven thirty-two precisely, which was two minutes later than an appointment which I had with Fenella Marbury-Heighton (MBE), director of the base.
When I arrived, I found her pacing her office and chewing the pink rubber off the end of a pencil.
“Sit!” she said.
I glanced guiltily at her computer screen. The last time I’d seen it was after I had entered her office, without authority, and modified an entry on a database with even less authority.
“Someone,” she snapped, “Has been using my computer to tamper with the database!”
I gulped, stared, blinked, coughed, twitched, scratched my head, bit my fingernails, blinked again, shifted in my seat and generally tried not to look guilty.
“You!” she said.
The game is up, I thought, preparing to admit everything and throw myself on her mercy.
“You!” she said again, presumably for dramatic effect, “Are the only person who can find the culprit!”
Next time: the unknown keyboard cleaning operative makes an appearance and a piece
of fluff deepens the mystery.