THE TALES OF MISTER CARBON BUSINESS
MISTER CARBON BUSINESS and the PROBLEM with EGGS
Pancakes jostled for position in the long frosty grass as Jamus Two Figs and the Hug strolled pleasantly past in a trousery crackle of cold winter air.
“So you gotta ask yourself, Joe,” said Two Figs, kicking a small rubber egg out of the way, “what with those phony red scientists down at Thursday Hall and that dodgy meeting they had on Red Hall Thursday, and all those little papery things they’re always writing—“
“Papers?” prompted the Hug.
“Yeah, those. What with all that, is it any wonder we’re seeing what we’re seeing?”
They paused to wait as two of the sentient pancakes finished duelling. The victor did a celebratory twirl and exploded all over Jamus Two Figs’ shoes.
“Bloody pancakes,” he said.
"Well, you're really asking two questions there, Jamus," said the Hug.
They started walking again.
"Oh," he said. "Are they twins?"
Erstwhile, Mister Carbon Business was busy climbing out of a rather conspicuous filing cabinet in the middle of his study.
“There you are, Pov. You owe me a ten six four and a stencil.”
Pov plodded off to retreive his losings and tripped over a badly fitted manhole cover.
“Ow,” said Pov as part of his nose came off. “What’s this here manhole cover doing in the middle of your here floor?”
“It’s not a manhole cover, it’s an inspection cover,” said Mister Carbon Business, ablaze, “and it’s for easy inspection of Grandma Downstairs to make sure she isn’t nicking any more of my piano keys.”
Mister Carbon Business produced a long metal hook from his jacket and hooked it round the cover thusly. There was a pop and a funge of heat and the two of them peered down to the looking room where Grandma Downstairs sat cackling and steaming and packing a small briefcase with far too many piano keys. She may have been all fists and head, but she packed a mean briefcase.
“She’s doing it again! Grandma Downstairs is nicking my piano keys!” exclaimed Mister Carbon Business, twice.
“The swine!” chimed in Pov.
“Yes?” said the Swine.
“Come with us. There could be pencil mash in it for you.”
Tedho 3son, GBh., CSi., IcQ., etc., Scientist Extraordinaire, got up from his desk rather sharply and winced as the motion set his myriad metal swingly ornaments a-jangle.
"Flabjay! Flabjay, are you busy?" he yelled across the room.
Flabjay arrived with a grin, a promiscuously bubbling flaskvat in each hand.
"I am!" he declared proudly.
"Oh yes? What are you doing?" asked Tedho.
"I'm carrying these here flaskvats around," he said smugly.
"Well put them down," said Tedho. "I have a job for you."
There was a pause.
"Oh . . . oh, look at me, I'm a . . . a flaskvat," said Flabjay, turning to the flaskvat in his right hand. "Yeah. Chh. Flaskvat. There's a dumb thing to be if ever I saw one. Yeah. I bet . . . I bet you're not very . . . um, tall." Flabjay's features pressed themselves into what he probably thought was a sneer.
"You're not very good at this, are you, Flabjay?" said Tedho.
"No, sir. What am I meant to be doing?"
"You're meant to be powering up the Tran'splat Recoil so's I can teleport this here nun."
"Hi there," said a nun in a glass bottle.
"Hi. Now go and do it."
Flabjay hesitated. "You mean the Experimental Tran'splat Recoil," he said warily.
"Yes, that. Power it up."
Flabjay wandered over to a machine on the other side of the room and kicked it. There was a phut and the distant sound of a power station exploding.
"Oh," said Tedho in the dark.
Close by, in a house, Mister Carbon Business, Pov and the Swine emerged round a doorframe armed with battle-enhanced tuning forks and an assortment of makeshift headwear. Not many rooms away, Grandma Downstairs was nicking piano keys as they spoke.
"Man," said Mister Carbon Business, noticing a mirror. "We look so cool."
Then there was a loud pop and the lights went out.
"Oh crap!" exclaimed Mister Carbon Business (39). "Pov! Did you pay the electricity people?"
"I paid with electricity people," said Pov.
"Oh. Well, that's what I meant. We'll just have to start my emergency face-powered generator. By which I mean, Pov will just have to start my emergency face-powered generator. To the greenhouse! . . . Where are we?"
"I think we're in the eating room," said the Swine. "I can't see, because the lights aren't on."
Pov, however, was not to be fooled. "I thought we were supposed to be stopping Grandma Downstairs from nicking your piano keys," he said.
"No, we're alright at the moment," explained Mister Carbon Business. "She actually turns into a safe when it's dark."
"Oh, okay," said Pov and followed the other two into the greenhouse.
"Alright Pov," said Mister Carbon Business in 12pt Garamond, "Let's see you make some faces."
"Right-o!" said Pov. "Grin! Smirk!" he shouted, doing the faces. "Frown! Wink! Shock! Wince! French! Gurgle! Roundhouse!"
The badly-painted Generator (which was there) started to spin and make spurious noises.
"That's some nice facework there, Pov," said the Swine.
"Pleased!" went Pov as they traipsed back off to the Watching Room.
When they got there Grandma Downstairs wasn't a safe anymore.
"The jig's up, Grandma," said Pov, "Smug Policeman."
"Why'd you do it?" asked Mister Carbon Business, ignoring Pov. "Was it the glamour? The needles? The endless pin-snitch plastercasts?"
"I thought I was being pretty clever," said Grandma Downstairs dejectedly.
"Tell us everything," said Mister Carbon Business.
"Yeah," said the Swine.
"Oh, alright. You see, I was walking through the park earlier, when I saw all these pancakes and rubber eggs moving around in it. And I thought, 'Well! That sure doesn't make any sense!' And then an egg said good morning to me! And it looked so happy! And I thought, maybe if I don't make any sense, I'll be happy too!"
"I . . . see," said Mister Carbon Business, cakewise. "Go on."
"Thanks, I was going to. So anyway, I thought to myself, 'What could I do that doesn't make any sense at all?' And then it hit me! Stealing piano keys from Mister Carbon Business's watching room and turning into a safe at night! And I already turn into a safe at night so I was halfway there without even doing anything!"
"Oh no," said Mister Carbon Business, just normally. "Think of the implications!"
Pov thought of some.
"Shut up, Pov. As I was saying, as long as these cheerfully disposed eggs continue to lurk in our unsuspecting grass, nutcases like this one the world over will end up stealing all their relatives' piano keys! All of them!"
"Even C flat?" ventured the Swine, somewhat apprehensively.
"Especially C flat!"
There was no doubt in the Swine's mind. "Let's roll," he said.
They rolled and rolled until they came upon the Swine's good friends Jamus Two Figs and the Hug, strolling in the senseless grass.
"Hey! Two Figs!" yelled The Swine. "D'you know where all these jolly little eggs are coming from?"
Jamus Two Figs did. "Oh, sure. You know that arctic research lab they have across the road?"
"You mean the one they couldn't afford to build in the Arctic?"
"Yes, that one! Those damn scientists have been breeding all sorts of eggs. It's quite, quite horrible."
The Swine, Pov, Mister Carbon Business and Grandma Downstairs, who had also come with them, sped off like a lamb in an aeroplane.
Before long, they got to the research lab and an egg greeted them on the doorstep.
"Hello!" it said. Mister Carbon Business kicked it aside and opened the door. Grandma Downstairs, who had acquired a tuning fork of her own from somewhere, and also a matching silly hat, possibly by osmosis, sprang into action.
"Alright, fabernacles! Anymore electric light foolery from this sorry little hut and you'll be outing closenings for five come all five six nine!"
The nearest scientist stared blankly back at her.
"Yeah!" said the Swine, threateningly.
"So! Where do you make all these obnoxious little eggs?"
"Who wants to know?" said the largest egg any of them had ever seen. It had no eyes or hair, because it was an egg, and it was at least four storeys tall. There was a small hole in the front and more of the cheery little eggs were dribbling out quite gratuitously.
"Oh," said Mister Carbon Business, crossways. "I'd have expected it to be a bird of some description. "Ah well, I'm not complaining. This is much easier."
Mister Carbon Business very nearly threw his tuning fork at the suddenly cowering egg, but stopped as a large gloved hand appeared on his shoulder. He turned round.
"Dave?" he said, in brackets.
"The very same!" said Dave. "Listen, old chum. Just . . . is it really worth it?" Music started to play. "You know? I mean, what's this egg doing to the world? Brightening up the grass with its offspring, that's what it's doing. Cheering up the little kiddies and the mental patients and our native grass pancakes. And at what price? Some . . . some odd piano keys going missing every now and again, and possibly coercing the odd homeowner to pay a visit to everyone's favourite piano key warehouse for a quick restock? Is that so bad? Well?"
Pov was in tears.
"Oh, now look what you've done, Dave. You've made Pov cry."
"Oh. Sorry," said Dave.
"I'm sure!" said Mister Carbon Business. "Apologize at once! Or I'll do this!"
Mister Carbon Business threw the tuning fork at the egg. "Twang!" it went and fell to the ground. The egg remained relatively unharmed.
"Wasn't that C flat?" said the Swine.
"By the skin on my legs, you're right!" said Mister Carbon Business, with sticks. "To the watching room!"
When eveyone had arrived back in the watching room there was no doubt about it. Mister Carbon Business's tuning fork produced a better C flat than any piano key ever could, including ones that were really good at it.
"Now I just need to find somewhere to buy eighty-seven more tuning forks," said Mister Carbon Business, holding his chin.
"Hmm," said Pov.
"Hmm," said the Swine.
"This is indeed puzzling," said Mister Carbon Business.
"Hmm," said Grandma Downstairs and Robinson Crusoe in unison.
"Nice unison," said Mister Carbon Business.
"Thanks, we've been practicing," they said.
There was something of an awkward pause, and then Dave burst through the door, grinning.
"I sell tuning forks!" he said.
"Hooray!" said everyone and partied their arms off.