Friday, December 19, 2008

12. The International Conspiracy of Clichés

Concepts contributed by: Angelbot and Freezair

As soon as Spanky stepped out of the cubicle in the bathroom of the Three Broomsticks, his world went dark. Someone had pulled a sack over his head. He heard muffled voices from the people hustling him out the back door of the tavern.

"Keep your eyes peeled," said one voice.

"Ain't that the truth," said another.

"Make it a double," said a third.

Spanky knew better than to struggle. He would only end up hurting himself. And besides, he wanted to concentrate on cracking the weird code his captors were using.

A door slammed. The sound echoed, suggesting a large vacant space. Someone shoved Spanky roughly down onto a hard wooden stool, and someone else tied his wrists together with a strand of dragongut. "This'll hurt you more than it hurts me," this person said.

Finally, the sack came off his head along with the hood of his cloak. Spanky sneezed and shook the tangles out of his hair. He looked around. He couldn't see much. A bright light was shining in his face-the lit wand of one of his captors-and the others were only shadowy figures in the background. There were no walls, ceiling, or furniture within the circle of light.

"Who are you?" Spanky demanded, more harshly than he had intended.

"Another county heard from," said a very serious voice from the shadows.

"I am an officer of the RMB," Spanky added. "You know they will not negotiate with..."

"Make like a tree and leave," said the voice of the lit wand's owner.

"All right, then," said Spanky, and he began to get up. An impediment curse hit him in the gut, and he sat down again. "Sit down and shut up," said the second voice.

"We have ways of making you talk," added the third voice.

"Huh?" Spanky was very confused. "Do you want me to talk or not?"

"Wouldn't you like to know," sneered a fourth voice. Spanky's eyes watered as he tried to match the voices to the shadowy figures around him.

He took two or three slow, deep breaths and calmly said, "None of you are making any sense."

"It's all in the wrist," said the lit wand's owner. "Now, you will tell us everything you know about the International Conspiracy of Clichés."

"I've never heard of it," Spanky blurted, quite honestly.

"Liar, liar, pants on fire," said the apparent spokesman. "We have met the enemy, and it is us."

"What should I know about it, then?" Spanky asked reasonably.

"That's for me to know and you to find out," said the wand-lighter.

"So can I go now?"

"Take a number. I refuse to believe that such a highly-placed agent has no knowledge of our secret plot to overthrow the Muggle World Order by filling the media with meaningless clichés, most of them used inappropriately, until no one listens anymore and even if they did, they would be too confused to make any sense out of it. I am really all aflutter at the very suggestion."

"Well, actually, I'm not such a highly-placed agent," said Spanky. "I'm the one they usually send out for buns and coffee. Can I get you anything?"

"Coffee isn't my cup of tea," said the spokeswizard. "Anyway, it's a good thing. If you had known about ICC, your life wouldn't be worth the newspaper it's wrapped in."

Spanky tried hard to stop it, but it slipped out: "Huh?"

"We would have to kill you, in other words."

"Oh. Lucky break for me then. Now I really must dash, there are people expecting me at the Hog's Head."

"I'll believe that when I see it," said the spokesvoice. "All right, since you don't know anything about our nefarious plan to undermine scientific thought and precise communication until industry and public services come to a standstill, we'll have to let you go."

"Not so fast," barked the second voice. "Maybe he has some information we could use."

The second speaker stepped forward, pointing his lit wand straight into Spanky's blinking eyes. "Spill it," he said.

"Spill what?"

"The whole magilla," said the second speaker. "The Ministry's strategy for World War Two-to-the-Seventh-Power, for starters."


"Let me refresh your memory. Blintzkrieg would have worked if it hadn't been for you meddling kids, particularly that wizard Atkins with his Muggle diet. So we opened up a new front in the 9th century B. C., in New Zealand."

"You don't say."

"Rather. Staging the magical side of wars in distant eras is all the rage these days. Saves on having to rebuild the infrastructure. Plus, there's no one to bear witness except a few pudgy little people with hairy feet and pointy ears. But that is neither here nor there."

Spanky shook his head, squinting.

"So," said the third wizard, stepping forward with his wand lit, "if you've nothing to tell us about that campaign, perhaps you can enlighten us about the Ministry's proposal to deport high-flight-risk prisoners to the moons of Jupiter, to solve the Azkaban overcrowding problem? Is it or is it not code-named Project Ice Mice?"

"I might have read something about that in the Daily Prophet," Spanky said speculatively. "But really, I only look at the Prophet to follow the fan fiction based on Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle. You don't happen to be a Gilbert-Gwendolyn shipper, do you?"

"I beg your pardon," said the fourth wizard, shining the brightest light of all right up Spanky's nose. "You seemed to have missed the point. We can do this the easy way or the hard way."

Spanky gave up and closed his eyes. "Which way is this?"

"What we have here is a failure to communicate," said the first wizard again. "Jog his memory, boys."

A stinging hex hit Spanky right between the eyes. "Ow," he said.

"You were warned. We know all about your past, and we'll be watching you in the future. We've got you surrounded. Don't make any quick movements, keep your powder dry, and remember, wherever you go, there we'll be."

"Easy does it," said the second voice. "The bigger they are, the harder they fall."

"Time is money," said the third voice. "Slow and steady wins the race."

"He who hesitates is lost," said the fourth voice. "Look before you leap."

"That's enough," the first voice barked. "Come on, fellas, let's get outta here."

The sack went over Spanky's head again. He was hustled out into the street, spun around several times, and left staggering around. A moment later he managed to get the sack off his head and saw that he was alone in the garden behind Zonko's Joke Shop. In the time it took to walk back up to the Hog's Head, he managed to wriggle out of the dragongut tying his wrists together and put his hood up again.

"What happened to your portkey?" was the first thing out of Harvey's mouth, as Spanky sidled up to the parlor table. "What took you so long?" was the second.

"I got mugged," Spanky said.

The other witches and wizards murmured the usual expressions of polite horror and sympathy. Harvey, however, had his mind on business. He said, "Oh, well. Easy come, easy go. This town is really going to the krups. Here, your firewhisky is cold, let me buy you another. You were about to tell us..."

"I remember. It was my next meeting with Joe Albuquerque, and the Bette Noir Affair." Since his hood was up again, no one could see the suspicious look he darted toward Harvey as he mentally counted the clichés in his host's last utterance.

"We're all ears," said Harvey, rubbing his hands together.

"Hmmm," said Spanky. But he remembered in time to pretend he was clearing his throat. "Anyway, two or three months passed after Joe moved out of the Bucharest Mission..."

[Originally posted 7/25/04]

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