Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Murder to Order: Four

The office buzzed with conversation. It was an odd sight, everyone talking, but no-one talking to anybody else in the office, except perhaps in those rare instances where someone wanted to speak to a manager. Now some weeks in to the role, Ms. Madison still hated using a headset, as it messed up her hair.

"Hullo," she took another call, "this is Ultimate Solutions, I'm Lynette, your Pinnacle Murder Consultant. How can I help?"

"That's easy," a coarse male voice came down the 'phone, "gimme your 'phone number."

"You're already calling it." Ms. Madison tried to sound as icy as possible. "Now, can I help you?"

"Sure thing, baby." The man was not American, and his attempt to sound it failed to impress the capable blonde. "I'm callin' about your two for one offer on unwanted lovers."

"Let me guess," Ms. Madison shook her head. "Your wife's found out about your mistress. She wants a divorce, and you don't want your mistress either?"

"Not quite," he replied, "my mistress and my mother-in-law. It's a birthday present for my wife."

"I'll put you through to the hitman handling division," Ms. Madison hit a couple of transfer keys, after noting the man's details.

She hated the job, and she hated the hours even more. This week she would be working until nine o'clock, which meant that her social life would be practically non-existent. Her head hurt from the number of calls she had taken, and the act of having to pass them to the Green Man would take up even more of her time.

Still, she reflected, she was lucky. The man she had just dealt with would receive a visit from the Green Man, as would the hitman. And the hitman, who had to have several confirmed kills to his name, would not survive the encounter.

"Lynette!" he supervisor shouted across the office. "Come off the 'phone! The Boss wants a word with you!"
Ms. Madison rose and put the 'phone down. As she walked towards the door which led to the boss' pffice,her heart was pounding.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sunday Supplement: The Wrong Sort of Spirit

Sir Richard Arcos here: I had meant to visit the Moreton-on-Rails Pentecostal Fellowship's morning service of healing and prophecy, only this was cancelled due to unforseen illness, so I visited the village's ancient Congregational Chapel instead.

The Chapel, known for its illustrious former ministers, one of whom went out to minister abroad and was eaten by the natives (he was called to minister on a housing estate in Liverpool), has recently acquired a new minister, and he is apparently a little nervous. More so than is perhaps advisable.

As he stood up in the pulpit, he took a drink of water. This was repeated at regular intervals. The children's talk was delivered with some reserve, but the 'long prayer' was more uninhibited. I must confess that I felt some of what he said was a little odd. I mean, when he asked for a blessing on the trees outside the chapel, on the sun and the sky and the chapel cat I was a little suspicious (although the cat was later appropriated by the Cat-Baptists). When he rose to deliver the sermon and almost fell over I became rather more concerned.

After starting off by telling us that the text was 'nice' while wearing a massive dopey smile, he proceeded to tell us that he was lonely when he was young. He took another gulp of water and added that he was a better preacher than Wesley, who he referred to as 'Johnny boy.' After a while he started to tell us that he'd go into the highways and byways and thump anyone who wouldn't come in. He stumbled and started to slur his words after another few gulps.

Then he started to say he loved everyone and was an awful failure. this while blubbing like a girl. Good taste prevented me from telling him to quit himself like a man. After another drink or two from the water glass, equilibrium was restored. He leaned on the pulpit and began to read slowly from his noted. He sank down in the seat and his voice slowed more and more. After a few minutes of this he stopped altogether.

The elders waited for a minute or two, then ascended the pulpit to check. He turned out to have falled asleep.
Further examination proved that that 'water' was in fact eighty per cent proof.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sunday Supplement: 'The Bible in the Light of Modern Thought'

Sir Richard Arcos here again: This Sunday I was at Loddon Road Methodist Chapel, Bacon St. Anne's. The Minister there, the Rev. Dr. Playce-Filler, DD, is a noted graduate of the now-defunct central Wesleyan College, and a man whose scholarship cannot be doubted, since he has written twenty-nine books, none of which anyone has read.

I was welcomed by a smiling woman at the door, who handed me a hymn book and a notice sheet. There was a meeting on Tuesday for 'woman and toddlers' - I pointed out the error, only to be told that it wasn't, but descriptive of the actual numbers. There was also a social set of meetings and social work. A woman was preaching the next week. When the Rev. Playce-Filler entered the pulpit the congregation stood. He read a prayer from a book, before announcing 'Jesus the Name High Over All.'

The congregation belted this out with gusto, after which the venerable heresiarch [minister, surely? ed.] proceeded to observe that Charles Wesley had a wonderful poetic gift. He read a piece of verse he had read that week, which proved he didn't have a gift of choosing good poems. The reading was on Isaiah 44:9-17, the title was 'Practical Religion.'

Speaking about the idol-maker who burned half the cedar and worshipped the other, the minister observed that this man had a religion that benefitted him. His religious observance was useful for him, as his idol making also provided him with firewood. He asked if our religious onservance was as practical. Did we warm and feed people as well as serving God in our worship. I just kept from exploding.
The minister went on to say that this part of the Bible was not written by Isaiah at all, but this was the product of some man after the return from Babylon, whose book was added to another book. In fact, he went on, the whole Bible was not written by the people whose names were attached to it, but other people. In fact, he went on, Wesley's Journals were not written by John Wesley, but by another man of the same name. His own books, he went on, were not written by him, but by another man with his name. the same man who had fathered his children...
At this point the venerable pastor climbed down from the pulpit and began to tell us that we were all illusions and that someone had replaced him with a clone and that his wife was trying to leave himfor another man with his name. The men in white were called and he was quietly taken away.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sunday Supplement: Pragmatism!

Sir Richard Arcos here: With the fragrant Lynette Madison busy working her pretty fingers to the bone in the call centre of doom, it was down to me to pick the church again this week. I chose Castle Hill Community Seeker Fellowship in Woodbridge, Suffolk, as I had heard that it was seeking to make the Gospel relevant to the needs of modern men and women. Tis time I took Lady Louise Vaughan, another of my daughters, with me. Her son, Lord Ambrose, lives fairly nearby, at Mainstone Castle, so she hoped to make it a family visit at the same time. We arrived early and were ushered into a huge parking lot. At the door, we were handed a voucher that we could swap for coffee at the nearby fast food outlet. We later gave these to a tramp, who turned them down, as even the tramps in Woodbridge have good taste.

Inside, we discovered that the church was doing a themed day, in this case the theme was the circus, and the pastor and deacons were dressed as clowns. My daughter was less than impressed, especially when one of them squired her in the eye with his buttonhole. For my part, I disarmed him before he could do the same to me, then apologised and said that I was a delusional old man who thought he was Batman sometimes and that I had mistaken him for the Joker. He looked at me as though I was mad. Which was the general idea.
The children were led out of the service and encouraged to paint and what have you, while afterwards the young people went to the pub for a large lunch. The sermon was all about how Jesus will be there for you when you need him, which is all very well, but we were never told exactly why we needed him, and the whole left one with the idea that he was asort of imaginary friend. Since I had more thanenough friends at the age where one can have an imaginary friend, this impressed me not at all.

I did ask the ringmaster (sorry, pastor) why I needed the Gospel of Jesus and he said something about a fulfilled life. At which point I told him that my life is pretty much fulfilled, thank you very much. I am married to a wonderful woman, have lots of money, a great house and many grandchildren. He made like a guppy, so I tossed him a handful of fishfood.
After which we were thrown out. At least we didn't have to turn to the person next to us and tell them they mattered.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Murder to Order: Three

Ms. Madison tried very hard not to look too shocked as she was led through into the busy office. They passed by a number of cubicles, with people working away. Ms. Madison looked out of the window, over the rooftops of the city.

"Come on!" the woman spoke sharply to the elegantly dressed blonde, "this isn't a fashion show!"

"Noticed," Ms. Madison glared at the woman, while looking at the attire of the young men and women. "Some people here could do with a serious makeover - and I don't mean maybe. Where 'll I be working?"

"The call centre," the woman told Ms. Madison, in tones that made her heart sink. "You'll be dealing with small and big customers."

"Small and big?" Ms. Madison looked even more shocked.

"We do have corporate clients," the woman told Ms. Madison. "As well as the individual clients, of course. Most of the people who use us are individual clients, but when we have the opportunity to build a lasting relationship..."

Ms. Madison was sure she was about to faint, when her mobile 'phone went off. She started and apologised.

"Hiya," she ignored the glare of the woman, as she answered her 'phone.
"Hello," the grim tones of the Green Man settled the worries of Ms. Madison. "Are you enjoying yourself?"
"I think I've gone insane," Ms. Madison smiled. "But I guess you're the man with the answers. What do I do?"
"You do your job," the Green Man told her. "Until I tell you not to. You live as though you are who you seem to be."
"Even in a call centre?" Ms. Madison was incredulous.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Murder to Order: Part Two

Compass House, an office block in central London, is the headquarters of Pinnacle Partnerships, Ltd, a form whose website declared itself to be a 'consulting' firm. Which tells the casual enquirer precisely nothing. It was to a little shabby hotel just round the corner to this that the taxi took Ms. Madison. She sighed and rolled her eyes, before reading the briefing notes. She was not pleased to find that she was Millicent Riches, an office drudge about to start in an entry-level job at Pinnacle.

So, the next morning Ms. Madison, dressed as elegantly as she thought an office drudge might be, headed for the office, whistling a merry tune. She gave the security guard a cheerful, slightly flirtatious smile, as she passed the desk. She was almost in the lift by the time the guard called her back.

Ms. Madison was required to sit for a photgraph, so she posed accordingly, only to be told that all they required was her face for a pass. Once a pass had been generated, she was told to wait by the desk until her manager arrived. When the man turned up, Ms. Madison stepped forward with a cheerful smile.

"Millicent Riches," the blonde extended her hand. "Just joined the firm."

"I know." The man took her hand, smiling back. "I'm Robin Thatcham, manager of Customer Services. Did the agency tell you what the job entails?"

"More or less," she smiled. "I answer the 'phone and deal with our customers when they're not satisfied with our service."

"Partly," the man nodded, his tone a little patronising. "You will be a Customer Services Consultant in our after-sales servicing department. You will be arranging payment plans for clients who cannot meet their existing payments, as well as dealing with people who are not satosfied with our services."

"Sounds simple," Ms. Madison smiled, "sort of like a holiday job I once did for an insurance firm."
"Good," he smiled. "Of course, there is a huge difference between what they do and we do, Millicent. You will be taking calls from people who have had people murdered on their behalf."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Murder to Order: One

The band at the Savoy played softly, the dancers swaying over the floor. Ms. Madison, held in the arms of Mr. Rake, looked at the band and the elegant surroundings. She sighed, an action that caused her beau to look solicitously at her.

"Still thinking about him, Lynette?" he asked tenderly. "After he left you. You haven't seen him in weeks."

"But my bills here are still being paid," Ms. Madison replied soberly. "He's coming back, Mike - I know he is."

"He put you in hospital!" Mr. Rake looked shocked. "You almost went mad, and Sylv's still in a nursing home! But you still want to run around with him?"

"Mike," Ms. Madison sighed again, "please don't be jealous. I'm his secretary, not his girl-friend. He's got one of those, and I think you've met her."

"The cat lady?" Mr. Rake chuckled. "I've met her. She's a nice girl, and a lot more domestic than you are, Lynette."

"She's the Girl in Grey," Ms. Madison laughed, "but it's not so hard being more domestic than me. I live in a hotel, after all!"

Mr. Rake shook his head, looking down at the girl in his arms. He stopped dancing, his hands on her arms.

"Lynette," he sighed deeply. "I know you too well to expect you to change and become a domestic goddess. But when your eyes shine like that, I wonder why I bother seeing you. I love you, Lynette, but love doesn't wait forever. Can't you just..."

Ms. Madison looked up at him with big blue eyes. Light caught a teardrop lurking there.

"Don't force me to choose, Mike," she fought to control herself. "Don't ever force me to choose!"
She remained icily self-controlled, as she marched out of the ballroom. But in the lift the tears came. She ran into her room and threw open the bathroom. Ms. Madison was about to throw something at the mirror when the 'phone rang.
"M...Ms. Ma...Madison," she stammered tearfully.
"This is the Green Man," the familiar voice brought a smile to Ms. Madison's tear-stained face. "You are to take a taxi from this hotel in fifteen minutes. It will be green and driven by a woman. Just stay in it. Your briefing is on the rear seat. Do not be late."