Fotherington-Tomas and the Christmas Crisis
… or how FT saved the Queen at Hamleys…
Fotherington-Tomas was drunk. Sarah had left the Harveys Bristol Cream out on the sideboard and he had been tippling away quite happily since mid-morning. Now with lunch rapidly approaching, he was starting to feel the effects of the fine Spanish libation and it was red-faced that he gulped down the last of his glass, as the door opened to admit Maxwell, still shivering from the winter chill.
“What ho, FT! Ready for the off?” exclaimed Maxwell cheerily, stamping his feet and leaving little clods of melting snow on the fine Persian rug.
“Whassat? Off what? And leave your filthy brogues in the hall when you come inside. Thass a antique carpet that is!” belched Fotherington-Tomas, fixing his companion with a woozy stare.
Maxwell regarded his friend with concern. He’s tighter than Nureyev’s underpants, he thought with alarm. And we’re on special duty protecting Her Majesty in less than two hours’ time.
“Fancy a snifter?” said Fotherington-Tomas hopefully, as Maxwell brushed past him and lifted the needle off the Perry Como Christmas Album. Before the silence between them could grow too uncomfortable, Maxwell called out through the open door: “Sarah? Could you put the kettle on, please? I think we could do with a pot of hot coffee in here, tout suite.”
“Of course, Maxwell,” came the dulcet tones of Sarah, Fotherington-Tomas’ long-suffering but dearly devoted wife. “Lunch is almost ready, so I’ll bring the whole lot in at once, if you can just wait a minute, that is.”
“That will be entirely acceptable, thank you,” replied Maxwell, turning to face Fotherington-Tomas, who hiccupped loudly and tried to hide his now refilled glass behind his back like a guilty schoolboy.
“You’ve got more onboard than the Titanic’s captain!” said Maxwell angrily, grasping Fotherington-Tomas by his broad, masculine shoulders and shaking him roughly, spilling most of the alcohol onto the carpet in the process. “And we’ve got to be at Hamleys by three! Have you forgotten?”
“Hamleys?” said Fotherington-Tomas uncertainly, as he withdrew the glass from his back and examined it sadly.
“Yes, the Royal opening. We do it every year,” replied Maxwell in exasperated tones.
Fotherington-Tomas stared into the middle distance, as if trying to recall something important and then slurred: “You don’t mean the ‘Gran Ham Slam’, do you? I thought that was next week!”
“No, it’s today, FT. It’s this afternoon, in fact!” cried Maxwell in desperation.
“Oh crap!” said Fotherington-Tomas, all the colour draining from his face. “Well, bugger me with a deck of playing cards, that one completely slipped past the old noggin, that did. Drastic action is called for. What we need is… coffee! Yes, coffee! That’ll do the trick!”
“Sarah! Fetch me some coffee at once!” he bellowed into the hallway.
“Right away, dear,” replied Sarah, wheeling a serving trolley laden with festive delicacies into the living room. “I assume you’ll be having yours black?” she queried, looking at her husband fondly.
“I’ll have the whole damned pot!” retorted Fotherington-Tomas, reaching rudely past Maxwell and grabbing the glass cafetière, downing the piping hot contents in one go.
“That’s better,” he said, dabbing his lips with a monogrammed silk handkerchief.
“And what would you like, Maxwell?” asked Sarah.
“Actually, I’d quite like a small glass of sherry. And one of those lovely mince pies, if you’d be so kind please, Sarah,” replied Maxwell, receiving a hooded stare from his now sober colleague.
“Of course,” said Sarah, handing him a delicate china plate with a hot mince pie atop it and reaching for the Bristol Cream, which she swished around a couple of times before returning it to the sideboard. “But no sherry for you I’m afraid. Someone seems to have emptied the bottle.”
“Could have sworn it was half-full a moment ago,” muttered Fotherington-Tomas under his breath.
“No matter,” replied Maxwell, brushing the last of the mince pie crumbs from his mouth onto the rug below and twirling the ends of his waxed moustache out of habit. “We should be off anyway. Duty calls and The Realm awaits, eh FT?”
“Damned right it does!” said Fotherington-Tomas, bending down and giving Sarah a peck on the cheek. “Don’t wait up, my dear. You know how these things tend to go. We could be gone for weeks.” Then without waiting for his wife to respond, he strode purposefully out of the living room and into the wood-panelled hallway, where he grabbed his winter travelling cloak and fur-lined top hat from the stand by the door and stepped out into the frigid stairwell.
“Come on, Maxwell. Time and tide wait for no man!” he shouted, as Maxwell grabbed his own cloak and hat, and hastily followed his mentor out of the flat.
“Merry Christmas, boys. Take care of yourselves,” said Sarah softly, as she too entered the rapidly cooling hallway and shut the front door behind them.
Once outside, Maxwell shivered in the icy blast of the harsh December wind and called out to Fotherington-Tomas, who was already some way ahead of him, ploughing through the snowdrifts like a Dreadnought under full steam: “I’ve got us a carriage! There’s no need to walk!”
“Well, why didn’t you say so, man?” replied Fotherington-Tomas, stopping short as a shiny black, horse-drawn carriage pulled up alongside him.
They quickly climbed aboard the gleaming hansom, glad to be out of the biting cold and set off towards Hamleys, enjoying the sound of the horses’ hooves clip-clopping on the road and completely ignoring the angry tooting of horns and frustrated shouts of the taxis, Ubers and other Christmas traffic that they were holding up behind them.
Just over an hour later, they had covered the half mile to Hamleys, lamenting the dreadful yuletide traffic and disembarked the coach, giving the driver a single gold sovereign in payment, which greatly annoyed the sallow-faced chap, until he realised that it was worth more than he normally made in a month.
After passing through the official Police cordon by showing their shiny, ‘Special Agent’ badges to the officers on duty, they entered Hamleys and took up position on the second floor. Outside, the crowds were starting to gather, waiting to catch a glimpse of the Queen, as she made her annual pilgrimage to the famous toy store to buy gifts for her grandchildren and officially declare Christmas open. All around them, the lucky few that had been granted access to a personal audience with Her Majesty were trying to busy themselves by browsing through the mountains of shelves stocked with every possible toy that China could manufacture.
Far from his previously inebriated state, Fotherington-Tomas was now on full alert, observing each group as they wandered past and tugging at his beard thoughtfully. “There’s going to be trouble here, Maxwell. Mark my words. Before the day is out, mischief most foul will have occurred,” he whispered to his sidekick, as a particularly loud gaggle of schoolchildren scooted by. “I have an idea. You go and disguise yourself as a day-boarder and I’ll pretend to be your father. That way we’ll blend in, rather than looking like a couple of desperate lollygaggers as we currently do.”
“Jolly good idea, FT,” replied Maxwell, stepping away from the great man and privately wondering how he was going to pass himself off as a public schoolboy, when he was in his mid-thirties and sporting a finely groomed piece of follicular topiary above his top lip.
Moments later, he returned, wearing a slightly ill-fitting uniform, which rather alarmingly looked as if it belonged to a girl’s school.
“Ah, I see that you’ve chosen the uniform of St Bede’s Naval Academy, in Cholsey. A very fine school indeed. I was nearly sent there as a boy, you know,” said Fotherington-Tomas, looking at his protégé with warm approval. “Now, all we have to do is wait. Her Majesty will be along shortly and that is when our troublemaker will undoubtedly reveal himself.”
“But I want to go and see the Nintendo’s and they’re on the fourth floor!” said Maxwell, stamping his foot and causing several groups of parents to stare at him in displeasure.
“Don’t be stupid, boy! Everyone knows that the Queen is a traditionalist when it comes to toys. She’ll have no truck with electronic gadgetry, especially not for the princelings in waiting. No, it’s the second floor for us. Traditional Victorian amusements and pastimes. This is where she’ll gravitate to and this is where our scoundrel will strike.”
“Aw, but Dad,” whined Maxwell petulantly. “I wanna go see the Gameboys!”
“Enough! Now, unless you want a severely smacked bottom, I suggest that you go and investigate the spinning tops and running hoops over there,” replied Fotherington-Tomas sternly, shoving Maxwell in the desired direction.
“Kids, eh? Whipping’s too good for them,” he said to the disgruntled onlookers, before hurriedly busying himself in the examination of a reproduction china doll for signs of anatomical correctness.
Suddenly, there was a regal blast of trumpetry and everyone stood to attention as Her Majesty entered the venerable store. Eschewing the first floor, laden with ‘Slime’, ‘Goo’ and Japanese squawking things that were specifically designed to drive parents to distraction, she headed straight towards the escalators, which had been gold-plated for the occasion and made her way to the second floor.
Every nerve in Fotherington-Tomas’ body was on edge as he tried to identify the heinous criminal who he was sure was lurking somewhere amongst the onlookers. And then, one particular nerve, the one connected to his bladder began to jangle in a most annoying way. Damn, thought Fotherington-Tomas. I should have gone before I left the flat. Oh well, I can hold it in for a while longer. At least I think I can.
But as he stood there, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot, the jangling grew more intense and his aching bladder began to twitch alarmingly. Damn my twerking loins, he cursed. I’m going to have to find somewhere to go, but I can’t leave my post. Not now that Her Majesty is on the floor.
No longer entirely focused on the Queen’s wellbeing, Fotherington-Tomas scanned the room for possible places to inconspicuously relieve himself, but nowhere seemed suitable. He looked longingly at the line of Coldstream Guards flanking Her Highness as she inspected the various offerings on display and especially at their bearskin helmets. Maybe I could use one of those, he thought. I do have the freedom of the Palace after all and it would probably hold enough, but no, it would cause too much of a scene and probably strain my relationship with the Monarchy beyond any hope of redemption.
With his tortured bladder at bursting point and beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead in desperation, he suddenly spotted an ornate plant pot on a Victorian stand, next to a display of wooden Jack-in-the-Boxes. Sidling slowly over to it, anxious not to let any errant drops of liquid gold run down his trouser leg, he carefully unbuttoned his fly and let rip, keeping one eye out all the time for the perpetrator to appear.
Then, to his utmost surprise and horror, the plant pot began to tremble and without warning, a figure sprang from the top, holding a miniature African blowpipe in its hand, complete with a poison dart chambered and ready for use.
“Doctor Mephostus!” shouted Fotherington-Tomas in alarm, causing all eyes to turn towards him and the guards to form up in a protective screen around the Queen.
“How could you?” screamed the outraged arch-villain in disbelief, dripping from head to toe in warm, grape-infused urine. “You peed on me! Why would you? Why would anyone in their right mind, urinate in a plant pot in Hamleys, let alone when the Queen is in attendance?” Then, a light of sickening realisation dawned on his face and he said incredulously: “How on earth did you know? How could you possibly have known where I was hiding?”
Dr Mephostus didn’t have time to get an answer from Fotherington-Tomas, because at that moment, Maxwell burst forth from the crowd and shouted to the guards: “Arrest that man! It’s none other than Doctor Mephostus, the sworn enemy of Her Majesty and all right-thinking Englishmen!”
“Curses!” cried Dr Mephostus, realising that the game was up. Then darting away from Fotherington-Tomas and the approaching guards, he jumped into a small, metal peddle-kart and scooted down the escalator, heading towards Regent Street and the Oxford Circus Tube station beyond.
With the Police and a handful of guardsmen in hot pursuit of the evil genius, the Queen approached Fotherington-Tomas, who thankfully had both relieved himself fully and buttoned up his fly, and said: “Once again, Fotherington-Tomas, one has saved oneself from the depredations of evil. For this, one thanks you, as indeed does the entire country. And as for the other thing that one saw, one shall both forgive you and envy your wife for many a long night to come. One shall, of course, see to it that you are rewarded for your gallantry in the New Year’s Honours list, but in the meantime, one must continue to find something for the kiddywinks Christmas party.”
“Your servant, as always, Your Majesty,” replied Fotherington-Tomas solemnly, with a formal bow of his head, before backing away from the Queen, to allow her to continue selecting presents for her beloved brood of anklebiters.
As they left Hamleys, with darkness descending and a light dusting of snow just starting to fall on the pavement around them, Fotherington-Tomas turned to Maxwell and said: “Well, that went rather well, don’t you think? I knew that there would be skulduggery upon this day and once again we have persevered and preserved the sanctity of the Royal Household. Now, I think that it’s time that we enjoyed ourselves a little. It is Christmas after all. What do you fancy?”
Maxwell thought carefully for a moment or two and then replied: “Well, I’d quite like a brandy after all that excitement, FT.”
“Good thinking, that man!” exclaimed Fotherington-Tomas. “It just so happens that I know a Brandy. She lives not far from here. And while you’re having fun with her, I might just pop in and see her friend Sherri, who lives next door. After all, you can never have too much Sherri at Christmas, can you, Maxwell?”
“Indeed not, FT!” replied Maxwell, with a salacious glint in his eye and together, the pair of them strode happily off towards Filbone Street, merrily chanting ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’ into the wintry night sky as they went.
HAPPY CHRISTMAS, EVERYBODY!
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