Author's Note: This is my first attempt at a Last of the Summer Wine fiction. I've set this somewhere between Seasons 22 and 23 with the Clegg, Truly and Billy line-up of lead characters. Please read and review.

Last of the Summer Wine - Freedom for Howard (Part One)

Clegg didn't even bother to raise his eyes from the newspaper upon hearing the familiar sound of Howard scampering furtively through the front door.

"Come on in, Howard. Tell me what you want. Then I can refuse you and get back to reading my paper."

Howard tried one of his best mournful looks but it was totally lost on Clegg, he had found something interesting in the small ads of his Yorkshire Post.

"Don't be like that Cleggy! What makes you think that I want something? Can't one neighbour visit another without it being assumed that he wants something?"

"Howard, you always want something. You only ever come through my door when you want something. What do you want?"

Howard shifted uncomfortably on the carpet, rather like a guilty child in the headmaster's study, as Clegg finally turned around to look at him.

"I'm really hurt by that, Cleggy," Howard whined plaintively. "Life is so unfair."

Clegg nodded enthusiastically in confirmation.

"I'm so glad to hear that you've noticed that. It'll make it so much easier for you to come to terms with my instantaneous denial of your request."

"But I haven't made any request," then suddenly he decided to change tactics, he leaned forward confidentially and whispered his problem.

"Pearl has confiscated my bicycle - she thinks that I'm up to something. I was wondering if I could borrow your bicycle. I've an urgent errand to run this afternoon."

"You're always up to something, Howard, I should think that Pearl is probably right. Would this errand, by any chance, happen to have blonde hair, a very short skirt and be called Marina?"

Howard flushed visibly at the mention of the M-word. He darted over to the door and slammed it shut for fear that the outside world, also known as Pearl, might be listening in on them.

"I do wish that some people could learn to keep their voices down! I hardly even know the young lady in question - we've just bumped into each other a few times through our mutual appreciation of the wonders of nature!"

Clegg shook his head.

"Well the answer, Howard, is no. My bicycle is not an extra-marital bicycle. It's entirely not the kind of bicycle that transports guilty neighbours to meet strange women. My bicycle was brought up strict chapel. If you like the wonders of nature so much then why not take up gardening? You'll find it far less stressful and so shall I."

"But I don't have a garden."

"Get a window box, Howard. They're more your size. I can just see you sat there under a geranium."

But Howard was gone. Clegg shook his head and shrugged.

An hour or so later Clegg, Truly and Billy were sat out in the open countryside, their backs against a dry stone wall, admiring the view.

"Pearl has confiscated Howard's bicycle again," said Clegg. "He came around pestering me for mine this morning."

Truly nodded.

"That's Howard for you. He's not really built for cunning is he? He'd have made a lousy policeman you know. Never covers his trail properly - that's the first rule of police work. Always cover your trail."

"Eh?," interjected Billy. "I thought it were the criminals who have to cover their trails, and your lot what 'as to catch 'em."

Truly shook his head.

"You need to know the criminal mind, think like a criminal. How do you suppose I ever managed to get the better of the former Mrs Truelove? That woman was lethal with a vacuum cleaner. She once hoovered up my best tie, I suppose I really should've taken it off before arguing with her…"

"We outlaws don't wear ties," proclaimed Billy. "There's not much call for formal dress out in the greenwood. Not much call for vacuum cleaners either."

"Not even heavily camouflaged vacuum cleaners?" Clegg teased him. "Perhaps that's how Robin Hood robbed from the rich? Perhaps he used to just plug in his heavily camouflaged vacuum cleaner and every time the local nobility rode through Sherwood Forest he'd switch it on and suck up all of their riches as they passed by. He probably used to practice on the ties of the unwary too."

He nodded towards Truly.

"It's nice to think that these quaint old traditions might not've totally died out isn't it?"

The former policeman shuddered at the memory and rubbed his throat.

"That's all very well, what are we going to do about Howard though?"

Clegg didn't feel the need to do anything at all about Howard.

"Well I usually find that ignoring him works pretty well. Until the next time of course."

"Wouldn't it have been easier for you to just lend him your bicycle? Picture him pedalling off into the distance, he'd have been out of your hair for the rest of the day."

Clegg could see the obvious advantages to the plan but the disadvantages were just as apparent.

"Hah! You think that I want to get on the wrong side of Pearl? You think that I want my bicycle to get on any side of Marina? No, we're all out here enjoying the sunshine and Howard is shut in at home, doing housework and under Pearl's thumb, everything is as it should be. I can live with that."

With that said, Clegg pulled his cap down over his eyes and settled down, he looked for all the world like a man with every intention of taking a long nap.

Billy had a flash of inspiration.

"Well I reckon you're right Truly. Let's go and find a bicycle for Howard, real men don't belong indoors with ties and vacuum cleaners. We belong out here in the forests and fields."

Truly nodded approvingly at him and clambered to his feet.

"Spoken like a true idiot. Come on Clegg, that's two votes for helping Howard. Let's go and break him out."