Something rotten, p.1
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       Something Rotten, p.1

         Part #4 of Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde
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Something Rotten


  For Maddy, Rosie, Jordan & Alexander

  With all my love

  April 2004

  The Thursday Next series in chronological order:

  The Eyre Affair

  Lost in a Good Book

  The Well of Lost Plots

  Contents

  Dramatics Personae

  1. A Cretan Minotaur in Nebraska

  2. No Place Like Home

  3. Evade the Question Time

  4. A Town Like Swindon

  5. Ham(let) and Cheese

  6. SpecOps

  7. The Literary Detectives

  8. Time Waits for No Man

  9. Eradications Anonymous

  10. Mrs Tiggy-Winkle

  11. The Greatness of St Zvlkx

  12. Spike and Cindy

  13. Milton

  14. The Goliath Apologarium

  15. Meeting the CEO

  16. That Evening

  17. Emperor Zhark

  18. Emperor Zhark Again

  19. Cloned Will Hunting

  20. Chimeras and Neanderthals

  21. Victory on the Victory

  22. Roger Kapok

  23. Granny Next

  24. Home Again

  25. Practical Difficulties Regarding Uneradications

  26. Breakfast with Mycroft

  27. Weird Shit on the M4

  28. Dauntsey Services

  29. The Cat Formerly Known as Cheshire

  30. Neanderthal Nation

  31. Planning Meeting

  32. Area 21: The Elan

  33. Shgakespeafe

  34. St Zvlkx and Cindy

  35. What Thursday Did Next

  36. Kaine versus Next

  37. Before the Match

  38. WCL Superhoop '’88

  39. Sudden Death

  40. Second First Person

  41. Death Becomes Her

  42. Explanations

  43. Recovery

  44. Final Curtain

  Credits

  Dramatis Personae

  Thursday Next: Ex-operative from Swindon's literary detective office of SpecOps 27 and currently head of Jurisfiction, the policing agency that operates within fiction to safeguard the stability of the written word.

  Friday Next: Thursday's son, aged two.

  Granny Next: Resident of Goliath Twilight Homes, Swindon. Aged no and cannot die until she has read the ten most boring classics.

  Wednesday Next: Thursday's mother. Resides in Swindon.

  Landen Parke-Laine: Husband of Thursday who hasn't existed since he was eradicated in 1947 by the Goliath Corporation, eager to blackmail Miss Next.

  Mycroft Next: Inventor uncle of Thursday's and last heard of living in peaceful retirement within the backstory of the Sherlock Holmes series. Designer of Prose Portal and sarcasm early warning device, among many other things. Husband to Polly.

  Colonel Next: A time-travelling knight errant, he was eradicated by the ChronoGuard, a sort of temporal policing agency. Despite this, he is still about and meets Thursday from time to time.

  Cat, formerly known as Cheshire: The ex-Wonderland Uberlibrarian at the Great Library. And Jurisfiction agent.

  Pickwick: A pet dodo of very little brain.

  Bowden Cable: Colleague of Thursday's at the Swindon Literary Detectives.

  Victor Analogy: Head of Swindon Literary Detectives.

  Braxton Hicks: Overall commander of the Swindon Special Operations network.

  Daphne Farquitt: Romance writer whose talent is inversely proportional to her sales.

  The Goliath Corporation: Vast, unscrupulous multinational corporation keen on spiritual and global domination.

  Commander Trafford Bradshaw: Popular hero in 1920s ripping adventure stories for boys, now out of print and notable Jurisfiction agent,

  Melanie Bradshaw (Mrs): A gorilla, married to Commander Bradshaw.

  Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Emperor Zhark, The Red Queen, Falstaff, Vernham Deane: All Jurisfiction operatives, highly trained.

  Yorrick Kaine: Whig politician and publishing media tycoon. Also right-wing Chancellor of England, soon to be made dictator. Fictional, and sworn enemy of Thursday Next.

  President George Formby: Octogenarian President of England and deeply opposed to Yorrick Kaine and all that he stands for.

  Wales: A socialist republic.

  Lady Emma Hamilton: Consort of Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson and lush. Upset when her husband inexplicably died at the beginning of the battle of Trafalgar. Lives in Mrs Next's spare room.

  Hamlet: A Danish prince with a propensity for prevarication.

  SpecOps: Short for Special Operations, the governmental departments that deal with anything too rigorous for the ordinary police to handle. Everything from time travel to good taste.

  Bartholomew Stiggins: Commonly known as 'Stig'. Neanderthal re-engineered from extinction, he heads SpecOps 13 (Swindon), the policing agency responsible for re-engineered species such as mammoths, dodos, sabre-toothed tigers and chimeras.

  Chimera: Any unlicensed 'non-evolved life form' created by a hobby genetic sequencer. Illegal and destroyed without mercy.

  St Zvlkx: A thirteenth-century saint whose 'Kevealments' have an uncanny knack of coming true.

  Superhoop: The World Croquet League final. Usually violent, always controversial.

  Lola Vavoom: An actress who does not feature in this novel but has to appear in the dramatis personae owing to a contractual obligation.

  Minotaur: Half-man, half-bull son of Pasiphaë, the Queen of Crete. Escaped from custody and consequently a PageRunner. Whereabouts unknown.

  This book has been bundled with Special Features including:

  'The Making of documentary, deleted scenes from all four books, out-takes and much more. To access all these free bonus features, log on to: www.jasperfforde.com/specialtn4.html and enter the code word as directed.

  Acknowledgements

  Frederick Warne & Co. is the owner of all rights, copyrights and trademarks in the Beatrix Potter character names and illustrations.

  I

  A Cretan Minotaur in Nebraska

  'Jurisfiction is the name given to the policing agency inside books. Working with the intelligence-gathering capabilities of Text Grand Central, the many Prose Resource Operatives at Jurisfiction work tirelessly to maintain the continuity of the narrative within the pages of all the books ever written, a sometimes thankless task. Jurisfiction agents live mostly on their wits as they attempt to reconcile the author's original wishes and readers' expectations within a strict and largely pointless set of bureaucratic guidelines laid down by the Council of Genres. I headed Jurisfiction for over two years and was always astounded by the variety of the work: one day I might be attempting to coax the impossibly shy Darcy from the toilets and the next I would be thwarting the Martians' latest attempt to invade Barnaby Rudge. It was challenging and full of bizarre twists. But when the peculiar and downright weird become commonplace you begin to yearn for the banal."

  THURSDAY NEXT – The Jurisfiction Chronicles

  The Minotaur had been causing trouble far in excess of his literary importance. First by escaping from the fantasy-genre PrisonBook Sword of the Zenobians, then by leading us on a merry chase across most of fiction and thwarting all attempts to recapture him. The mythological half-man, half-bull son of Queen Pasiphaë of Crete had been sighted within Riders of the Purple Sage only a month after his escape. We were still keen on taking him alive at this point so we had darted him with a small dose of Slapstick. Theoretically, we needed only to track outbreaks of custard-pie-in-face routines and walking-into-lamp-post gags within fiction to be led to the cannibalistic man-beast. It was an experimental idea and, sadly, also a dismal failure. Aside from Lafeu's celebrated mention of
custard in All's Well that Ends Well and the ludicrous four-wheeled chaise sequence in Pickwick Papers, little was noticed. The Slapstick either hadn't been strong enough or had been diluted by the BookWorld's natural aversion to visual jokes.

  In any event we were still searching for him two years later in the Western genre, among the cattle drives that the Minotaur found most relaxing. And it was for this reason that Commander Bradshaw and I arrived at the top of page seventy-three of an obscure pulp from the thirties entitled Death at Double-X Ranch.

  'What do you think, old girl?' asked Bradshaw, whose pith helmet and safari suit were ideally suited to the hot Nebraskan summer. He was shorter than me by almost a head but led age-wise by four decades; his sun-dried skin and snowy-white moustache were a legacy of his many years in Colonial African Fiction: he had been the lead character in the twenty-three 'Commander Bradshaw' novels, last published in 1932 and last read in 1963. Many characters in fiction define themselves by their popularity, but not Commander Bradshaw. Having spent an adventurous and entirely fictional life defending British East Africa against a host of unlikely foes, and killing almost every animal it was possible to kill, he now enjoyed his retirement and was much in demand at Jurisfiction, where his fearlessness under fire and knowledge of the BookWorld made him one of the agency's greatest assets.

  He was pointing at a weathered board that told us the small township not more than half a mile ahead hailed by the optimistic name of Providence and had a population of 2,387.

  I shielded my eyes against the sun and looked around. A carpet of sage stretched all the way to the mountains less than five miles distant. The vegetation had a repetitive pattern that belied its fictional roots. The chaotic nature of the real world that gave us soft undulating hills and random patterns of forest and hedges was replaced within fiction by a landscape that relied on ordered repetitions of the author's initial description. In the make-believe world where I had made my home, a forest has only eight different trees, a beach five different pebbles, a sky twelve different clouds. A hedgerow repeated itself every eight feet, a mountain range every sixth peak. It hadn't bothered me that much to begin with but after two years living inside fiction I had begun to yearn for a world where every tree and rock and hill and cloud had its own unique shape and identity. And the sunsets. I missed them most of all. Even the best-described ones couldn't hold a candle to a real one. I yearned to witness once again the delicate hues of the sky as the sun dipped below the horizon. From red to orange, to pink, to blue, to navy, to black.

  Bradshaw looked across at me and raised an eyebrow quizzically. As 'The Bellman' – the head of Jurisfiction – I shouldn't really be out on assignment at all, but I was never much of a desk jockey and capturing the Minotaur was important. He had killed one of our own, and that made it unfinished business.

  During the past week we had searched unsuccessfully through six civil war epics, three frontier stories, twenty-eight high-quality Westerns and ninety-seven dubiously penned novellas before finding ourselves within Death at Double-X Ranch, right on the outer rim of what might be described as acceptably written prose. We had drawn a blank in every single book. No minotaur, nor even the merest whiff of one, and believe me, they can whiff.

  'A possibility?' asked Bradshaw, pointing at the Providence sign.

  'We'll give it a try,' I replied, slipping on a pair of dark glasses and consulting my list of potential minotaur hiding places. 'If we draw a blank we'll stop for lunch before heading off into The Oklahoma Kid.'

  Bradshaw nodded, opened the breech of the hunting rifle he was carrying and slipped in a cartridge. It was a conventional weapon but loaded with unconventional ammunition. Our position as the policing agency within fiction gave us licensed access to abstract technology. One blast from the eraserhead in Bradshaw's rifle and the Minotaur would be reduced to the building blocks of his fictional existence: text and a bluish mist – all that is left when the bonds that link text to meaning are severed. Charges of cruelty failed to have any meaning when at the last Beast Census there were over a million almost identical minotaurs, all safely within the hundreds of books, graphic novels and urns that featured him. Ours was different – an escapee. A PageRunner.

  As we walked closer the sounds of a busy Nebraskan frontier town reached our ears. A new building was being erected and the hammering of nails into lumber punctuated the clop of horses' hoofs, the clink of harnesses and the rumble of cartwheels on compacted earth. The metallic ring of the blacksmith's hammer mixed with the distant tones of a choir from the clapboard church, and all about was the general conversational hubbub of busy townsfolk. We reached the corner of Eckley's Livery Stables and peered cautiously down the main street.

  Providence as we now saw it was happily enjoying the uninterrupted backstory, patiently awaiting the protagonist's arrival in two pages' time. Blundering into the main narrative thread and finding ourselves included within the story was not something we cared to do, and since the Minotaur avoided the primary storyline for fear of discovery we were likely to stumble across him only in places like this. But if, for any reason, the story did come anywhere near, I would be warned – I had a Narrative Proximity Device in my pocket that would sound an alarm if the thread came too close. We could hide ourselves until it passed by.

  A horse trotted past as we stepped up on to the creaky decking that ran along the front of the saloon. I stopped Bradshaw when we got to the swing-doors just as the town drunk was thrown out into the road. The bartender walked out after him, wiping his hands on a linen cloth.

  'And don't come back till you can pay your way!' he yelled, glancing at us both suspiciously.

  I showed the barkeeper my Jurisfiction badge as Bradshaw kept a vigilant lookout. The whole Western genre had far too many gunslingers for its own good; there had been some confusion over the numbers required on the order form when the genre was inaugurated. Working in Westerns could sometimes entail up to twenty-nine gunfights an hour.

  'Jurisfiction,' I told him. 'This is Bradshaw, I'm Next. We're looking for the Minotaur.'

  The barkeeper stared at me coldly.

  'Think you's in the wrong genre, partner,' he said.

  All characters or Generics within a book are graded A to D, one through ten. A-grades are the Gatsbys and Jane Eyres, D-grades the grunts who make up street scenes and crowded rooms. The barkeeper had lines so he was probably a C-2. Smart enough to get answers from but not smart enough to have much character latitude.

  'He might be using the alias Norman Johnson,' I went on, showing him a photo. 'Tall, body of a man, head of a bull, likes to eat people?'

  'Can't help you,' he said, shaking his head slowly as he peered at the photo.

  'How about any outbreaks of Slapstick?' asked Bradshaw. 'Boxing glove popping out of a box, sixteen-ton weights dropping on people, that sort of thing?'

  The barkeeper laughed. 'Ain’t seen no weights droppin’ on nobody, but I heard tell the sheriff got hit in the face with a frying pan last Toosday.'

  Bradshaw and I exchanged glances.

  'Where do we find the sheriff?' I asked.

  We followed the barkeeper's directions and walked along the wooden decking past a barber shop and two grizzled prospectors who were talking animatedly in authentic frontier gibberish. I stopped Bradshaw when we got to an alleyway. There was a gunfight in progress. Or at least, there would have been a gunfight had not some dispute arisen over the times allocated for their respective showdowns. Both sets of gunmen – two dressed in light-coloured clothes, two in dark, with low-slung gunbelts decorated with rows of shiny cartridges – were arguing over their gunfight time slots as two identical ladyfolk looked on anxiously. The town mayor intervened and told them that if there was any more arguments they would both lose their slot times and would have to come back tomorrow, so they reluctantly agreed to toss a coin. The winners of the toss scampered into the main street as everyone dutifully ran for cover. They squared up to one another, hands hovering over their Colt
.455 at twenty paces. There was a flurry of action, two loud detonations and one of the gunmen in black hit the dirt while the victor looked on grimly, his opponent's shot having dramatically only removed his hat. His lady rushed up to hug him as he reholstered his revolver with a flourish.

  'What a load of tripe,' muttered Bradshaw. 'The real West wasn't like this!'

  Death at Double-X Ranch was set in 1875 and written in 1908. Close enough to be historically accurate, you would have thought, but no. Most Westerns tended to show a glamorised version of the old West that hadn't really existed. In the real West a gunfight was a rarity, hitting someone with a short-barrelled Colt .45 at anything other than close range a virtual impossibility: 1870s gunpowder generated a huge amount of smoke; two shots in a crowded bar and you would be coughing – and almost blind.

  'That's not the point,' I replied as the dead gunslinger was dragged away. 'Legend is always far more readable, and don't forget we're in pulp at present – poor prose is far more common than good prose and it would be too much to hope that our bullish friend would be hiding out in Zane Grey or Owen Wister.'

  We continued on past the Majestic Hotel as a stagecoach rumbled by in a cloud of dust, the driver cracking his long whip above the horses' heads.

  'Over there,' said Bradshaw, pointing at a building opposite that differentiated itself from the rest of the clapboard town by being made of brick. It had 'Sheriff' painted above the door. We walked quickly across the road, our non-Western garb somewhat out of place among the long dresses, bonnets and breeches, jackets, dusters, vests, gunbelts and bootlace ties. Only permanently billeted Jurisfiction officers troubled to dress up, and many of the agents actively policing the Westerns are characters from the books they patrol – so don't need to dress up anyway.

  We knocked and entered. It was dark inside after the bright exterior and we blinked for few moments as we accustomed ourselves to the gloom. On the wall to our right was a noticeboard liberally covered with Wanted posters – pertaining not only to Nebraska but to the BookWorld in general; a yellowed example offered $300 for information leading to the whereabouts of Big Martin. Below this was a chipped enamelled coffee pot sitting atop a cast-iron stove, and on the wall to the left was a gun cabinet. A tabby cat sprawled upon a large bureau. The far wall was the barred frontage to the cells, one of which held a drunk fast asleep and snoring loudly on a bunk bed. In the middle of the room was a large desk which was stacked high with paperwork – circulars from the Nebraska State Legislature, a few Council of Genres Narrative Law amendments, a campanology society newsletter and a Sears/Roebuck catalogue open at the 'fancy goods' section. Also on the desk were a pair of worn leather boots, and inside these were a pair of feet attached, in turn, to the sheriff. His clothes were predominantly black and could have done with a good wash. A tin star was pinned to his vest and all we could see of his face were the ends of a large grey moustache that poked out from beneath his downturned Stetson. He was fast asleep, and balanced precanously on the rear two legs of a chair which creaked as he snored.

 

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