THE GREAT CAKE STALEMATE
[This exists solely because of my fabulous associate CuddlyTogas, and the fact that His Pryority likes "Singin' In The Rain". If I owned this stuff, I wouldn't spend my days mooching around writing fic for it. -Don'tArgue]
Aubrey Fitzwilliam knew that what some people called 'adventure' tended to resemble his idea of 'logistical nightmares'.
"It won't take long," he insisted to a sceptical George and Caroline. "These military-type junkets never do. Just long enough for a few token greetings, a dance -" he caught Caroline's frown but pushed recklessly forth, "-or two, and then-"
"-and then we'll listen in on a private conversation between the Holmlandish ambassador and the foreign secretary," George put in.
Aubrey stuttered to a halt, but recovered strongly enough: "Exactly. Simple, wouldn't you say?"
Caroline was tapping a toe impatiently. "Simple, but potentially inflammatory. It would hardly do to be caught eavesdropping on a pair of men who are, to all intents and purposes, above suspicion."
"Besides," added George, "It's hard to hide in a ballroom. No handy telephone booths to slip into -"
"-a conspicuous lack of newspapers to sit behind -"
"Precisely. Shocking, the lack of press representation in these military junkets, don't you know."
"Yes." Aubrey felt himself teetering on a very narrow ledge. One movement in the wrong direction, and he would stumble to his death. If, however, he manipulated the situation just so...
"It is difficult," he said slowly. "But I have a foolproof way to get one of us in and out of the place completely unsuspected."
The expressions on his friends' faces fell significantly short of the awe he had anticipated. Caroline rolled her eyes at George. "I was afraid of that."
"Weren't we all?"
"His foolproof pans have such an extraordinary tendency to fall apart, don't they?"
"It's the seat-of-the-pants, impromptu kind that always seem to pull through."
"I wonder why that is. Maybe it's some kind of law of behaviour. Might be worth looking into," she said thoughtfully. "There could be a paper in it."
Aubrey cleared his throat loudly. "May I continue?"
George deferred to Caroline. She bit her lip, then shook her head with a sigh. "I suppose he may."
"If she says so, Aubrey. Fire away, and all that."
Aubrey rubbed his hands together smugly. "This being a military occasion, there'll be plenty of pomp, lots of discreet rubbing of brass, speeches and all that. Showing off Holmland's finest. Once we've all suffered through that, the height of the festivities will be a gala dinner. Four courses, plus dessert."
George's expression had sharpened from one of dubious compliance to serious interest. "What sort of dessert, exactly?"
"A cake. And, naturally, what with Holmlanders being Holmlanders and so on, this cake is going to be very large, very ugly, and positioned in pride of place on the head table."
He leaned back and surveyed them. "Do you follow my train of thought?"
Caroline's face was a mask of indignance. "No. I mean, yes, I believe I do follow, but no, I haven't the remotest intention of going through with this, if it's what you're suggesting. Which is not to say that I'll do it if it's not that you are thinking what I think you're thinking."
"Caroline," George stage-whispered.
"I'm babbling, aren't I?" she muttered under her breath.
"Jolly good. Just making sure that you knew. Don't let me interrupt."
She treated him to a steely gaze. Aubrey quite enjoyed seeing Caroline using her steely gaze on someone other than himself, but at length felt it was his duty to save his friend from slow evisceration. "Shall I go on?"
"Of course," Caroline snapped, turning back to face him. "But you have been warned."
"Understood," he smiled, with a small bow in her direction. "Now then. The cake."
George was all attention. "Yes. This cake. You said it was large. And ugly?"
"Ugliness being a prerequisite of most cakes," Caroline put in.
Aubrey felt he was again at risk of losing the conversation. "Be that as it may, the cake shall be on the head table, meaning that it will be placed between-"
"-the ambassador and Sir Guy," chorused George and Caroline.
He nodded and managed to press on. "Now, of course, being so large, the cake could hardly be expected to be solid all the way through." Caroline gave the tiniest of grunts at this point, which he ignored. "Therefore, the perfect hiding place will be right there, on the table. All one of us has to do is climb into the cake before it's taken out, then stay and observe." He scratched his chin, not daring to make eye contact. "Now, difficulties may arise when the cake is cut, so it is essential that the person hiding in the cake has a reason to be there. I expect you're both familiar with the convention of a dancer jumping out of a cake?"
Silence. Aubrey had been studying his bootlaces for some time and hadn't the slightest inclination to stop now. "Naturally, I'd offer to do it, but as the son of the Albion Prime Minister, I am a fairly recognisable figure. Not that I'd go so far as to describe myself as famous. Or even particularly well-known, necessarily. But nonetheless, questions might be asked. Awkward questions." Very awkward questions. "I can only conclude that another of us must do it."
He looked at George, who raised his eyebrows. "Don't look at me, old man."
"Oh. Sorry. It'll have to be someone else then. Ah." He gritted his teeth. "What do you think, Caroline?"
Her jaw was clenched so tightly that he momentarily feared for her dental wellbeing. "I believe I've already made my views on this subject perfectly clear, thank you, Aubrey Fitzwilliam."
George turned to her. "You knew that this was what he was on about?"
"I had a nasty suspicion," she said. "And with his background in musical theatre… well, one has to suspect the worst, with Aubrey, doesn't one."
Beginning to feel distinctly sheepish, Aubrey scraped his fingers through his hair. "Oh well," he sighed. "And it was our only shot at finding out what the Ambassador and Sir Guy are up to. Still, I suppose it can't be helped, if you truly can't bring yourself to –"
"Now just a minute, Aubrey," snapped Caroline. "I never said I wouldn't do it."
"Yes you did," George said helpfully. She stamped on his foot.
"I've never harboured the least intention of shirking my duty," she brazened on, glaring at both of them without actually making eye contact. "So, seeing as no other options appear to be presenting themselves, I vote we follow the course of action suggested. I presume you've arranged something for me to wear? A ballgown, I believe, might not quite be in the spirit of things."
Aubrey goggled. "Yes," he said at length. "I've managed to, ah, to source a…a sort of feathery thing."
George gave a rather strangled cough that sounded quite remarkably like a guffaw, and pawed hurriedly at his handkerchief pocket. Caroline's foot had begun to tap again. Presumably it was this exertion that was causing her cheeks to grow steadily pinker. "What sort of feathery thing, Aubrey? Really, you'll have to work on your precision if you're planning on a life in espionage."
He waved his hands rather helplessly at his shoulders and legs. By an astonishing coincidence, George's respiratory system chose this moment to come under attack once again. "It's…a sort of a…thing. Lots of feathers. And those little shiny round things."
"Yes. That sounds about right."
George raised his head, eyes streaming. "And where precisely did you find – source, I mean – this esoteric garment?"
" I got it from Irene. You know, Irene Dubois, the ballet dancer. I told her what was in order, or rather Tommy Sparks did, as it were, and she said she'd see what she could unearth in the old Show Hall storerooms."
In the corner of his eye, he saw Caroline's mouth shape itself around the words old Show Hall storerooms, while George's face twisted into increasingly peculiar contortions. He rubbed his eyes, tired already.
An adventurous life was sometimes much more trouble than it was worth.