It must have been during my sixth birthday party when I was first arrested by the local constabulary. I don't remember all the details - just a vague impression of those masked men abseiling gracefully through our mock Georgian patio doors and planting their size-11 boots elegantly in a variety of cakes and Mr Kipling caramel slices, which presumably had been placed there beforehand for comedic effect. I know it wasn't too long afterwards that my unconscious body was dragged from the tear gas-filled wreckage and brought before the beak. It was, of course, just after my release a few days later (along with my family and rest of my ill-fortuned and decidedly ex-friends) that a London embassy was stormed by the SAS. I have learned to live my life without drawing retrospective paranoid inferences, otherwise I would have gone mad long ago.
All of which had little to do with my current predicament, but it wasn't long after my somewhat abrupt appearance in a fashionable toy store somewhere in the Home Counties that I was arrested for the second time in my short, nonsensical existence. This probably had less to do with the fact that I had just materialised out of thin air as with the more immediately apparent fact that my clothes hadn't.
I stared blankly at the cell wall and dared it to do something I wasn't expecting. To my surprise, it did absolutely nothing out of the ordinary - exactly what common sense would dictate under general circumstances, except that, in my own spatio-temporal framework at least, common sense was clearly not a well animal. I shivered beneath the rough, early medieval sacking-cloth I had had thrust upon me, and wondered whether the talking vegetables I had left behind in the secret room behind the hospital broom cupboard had discovered my clothes inside their rather suspicious teleport machine. If so, perhaps they might send an emissary to spring me from my current predicament. Somewhere inside me a small voice said that it wished the League of Left- handed Bottle openers would go and find someone else to do their dangerous, and frankly quite obscure, dirty work. But I had pledged myself to their cause long long ago, ever since they had freed my family from a gang of freemarketers in the coathanger racket.
Suddenly, I heard the sound of an over-used key in a weary lock, and a relentlessly pragmatic Bramley-upon-Nargle bobby heaved his under-sized uniform and over-sized body into most of the room.
"'Ello, 'ello," he said with the kind of smile that people wear in a sweetshop full of insane alligators. He removed a notebook and pencil from his pocket and, with almost uncanny stereotypicality, ponderously licked the end of the pencil and poised it above the paper.
"Would you perhaps like to make a statement, sir?"
I stared at his blank face blankly. How could I explain the situation in which I had been apprehended? The woman in the green and yellow catsuit, the pole-vaulting doctor and the seven dwarf miners he might believe, but the talking vegetables with teleport capabilities might strain even the highest levels of police credulity. I gave the man a hard stare; he stared back with the look of a trained professional who's worn bicycle clips long enough to know when someone's trying to crochet up a plausible explanation.
"Umm..." I mumbled with the skill of the professional procrastinator I wasn't. "Blackout," I garbled.
"I beg your pardon..." (he paused ever so slightly) "sir?"
My wits gathered themselves like sand running backwards through a pan-dimensional egg- timer. "Blackout," I repeated. "I have these blackouts... sometimes," I smiled a weak smile weakly, "and I wake up somewhere, usually without any money, and sometimes without any clothes either."
The constable raised a ludicrous eyebrow. "I see." He waddled away, and came back shortly with some surplus clothing. I enveloped myself in them eagerly, without stopping to inquire just from where they were surplus, and why. To tell the truth, I simply didn't want to know - I had enough on my back as it was. They were large, rather baggy and the sleeves had straps on the end.
The policeman then lead me out of the cell and out into some kind of waiting room. The inevitable coffee table was covered in the inevitable magazines on fish pruning and rose carpentry. I tried not to notice the barred windows and turned my attention to the room's only other occupant. It seemed that today was not one of those everyday days that every private investigator longs for - oh to be wandering in a desert of boredom, drowing a sea of non- stimulation or even locked in a cage with Richard and Judy. I sighed and extended some ungloved syllables towards my companion.
The man wearing the Mickey Mouse ears regarded me with the surprise one normally reserves for things that leap out from behind doors and go "boo!". I grinned nervously as he tapped his knee with the cucumber in his left hand, producing a hollow sound that echoed round the room then settled down in a corner.
"Hello," he said in the kind of voice that is strictly reserved for movies with Christopher Lee topping the bill. He continued to stare at me, and I began to wish he was wearing my long- sleeved sweater. All in all, I was quite relieved when two well-polished men in white coats burst into the room, even if it was me that they dragged with over-zealous alacrity from it.
I grinned, haddock-like, at the two balloon-headed gentlemen lounging opposite me in the ambulance, shortly after they had bundled me into it like a sack of out-dated cauliflours. I grinned not because I took pleasure in the way events were unfolding, but rather because the nurses evidently expected me to, and they didn't look like the sort of fellows who would take kindly to having their world views shattered. I grinned for all I was worth as the rational part of my brain attempted to co-ordinate my digits into undoing the straps that held me in a perpetual self- bearhug.
"Hehehe," I proffered. The nurses seemed a little more satisfied at this incisive comment, and their hypodermic arms became less trigger-happy. I dribbled a bit for dramatic effect.
Suddenly the ambulance swung a sharp left, projecting me towards an intimate contact with the side door. Then, suddenly, it went dark; presumably, we had entered a tunnel. Almost as suddenly, it became light again; presumably, we had exited said tunnel again. There was a thud, a click and a muffled hissing roar; presumably, someone with large boots had jumped onto the roof and ignited an oxyacetyline blowtorch.
The nurses stared at the sparks that were slowly carving up the roof of the van as if it were some unusual variety of soft cheese, then they looked at each other, just in time to miss the roof caving in. In the split second for which the ambulance was not on fire, both myself and the cloaked figure who cartwheeled into the ambulance from above realized that he had been crouching on the wrong side of the blowtorch's final incision. The air thickened as the ambulance furnishings resolved themselves to a thick black smoke. I leapt up, having freed a total of zero arms, tripped over the cloaked figure, and bounced off one of the shiny-headed orderlies who had been frantically trying to extinguish the blowtorch. In so doing, I fell against the door, only to discover that by an almost unimaginable coincidence the rogue blowtorch had been cutting through the restraining bolt, and thus the door swung open upon inducing some elementary laws of motion. Consequently, I was launched outside the moving vehicle, only to have the sleeves of my unusual jersey entangle themselves around the handle. It was only the fact that the tarmac with which my feet had just made contact was moving at 50 miles an hour in the opposite direction that allowed me to break free.
Seconds later, while I was still rotating enthusiastically along the ground, I noticed a burning cloaked figure dive clear of the inferno that once was a fully-operational emergency services vehicle. In retrospect, this was perhaps not a perspicacious move, since the ambulance almost immediately plunged into a conveniently situated lake, extinguishing the fire and allowing the driver and nurses to make a soggy escape. Ignoring the cries of pain emitting from my bruises, I crawled over to the almost certainly more bruised figure who lay on the ground smoking, which was almost certainly damaging his health.
"Are you okay?" I asked the prone figure, prodding it slightly. It stirred. I looked around; the nurses seemed to be concentrating to trying to raise someone on a rather damp cellphone. Then the figure groaned, raised its left hand in the air and made a vague twisting motion.
"Water?" I queried. "Do you need a tap?"
The figure burbled a negative. I racked my brains.
"You want me to wind your watch?"
The figure hauled itself up on weak arms, fragments of charred cloak wisping away in the wind. Laboriously, it removed its rather fetching dark cowl, and suddenly, I realized. The League of Left-handed Bottle openers! I knew this not from the cunning hand signals this mysterious figure had given, but because beneath the cowl - he was an asparagus.
...to be continued!