Summary: A pig of a day.
Notes: Written for Grevling for Yuletide 2011.
In other circumstances, Fran might have realised something was up when Bernard grabbed her by the collar as soon as she entered the bookshop.
Of course, those other circumstances would have had to involve some form of parallel universe where this wasn't Bernard's normal mode of behaviour.
"Fran!" he said, staring at her wild-eyed. "Fran! There's a pig in the kitchen!" His eyes bulged even wider as he popped the 'p'.
Fran let out a weary sigh as she slipped out of her coat - a rather jazzy pink number that of course, Bernard wasn't likely to notice unless she set it on fire. And even then he'd only use it to light his cigarette. "Oh, Bernard," she groaned. "How many times do I have to tell you? That's Manny. Did you blank out the whole of the last five years again?"
Bernard flailed like a poorly operated Muppet. "No, not that abominable hairy creature - a pig! Swine!" He staggered over to sit at his desk, slapping his hand down on the counter top and groping for the wine bottle. He uncorked it, poured himself a glass, and swallowed it in one swig before continuing as if uninterrupted. "Pork! Ambulatory bacon! This little piggy went to market - it went 'wee, wee, wee' all the way home. Except it didn't go home, Fran!" He shook his head emphatically. "No, no, no, no, no. It didn't. This little piggy has occupied Little Bevan Street! It is a protestor. A piggy against the machine."
"Well, whatever it is, I hope it didn't go 'wee, wee, wee' in the kitchen," she said, drawing the curtain aside to peer through at the kitchen area.
Where there was, indeed, a pig. A rather large and bristly one, as opposed to the small, pink, shiny version depicted in My First Book of Farm Animals. It was snuffling about under the front of the cooker, in the rather optimistic hope that something resembling actual food might have been dropped there.
Fran pondered briefly whether to be surprised, but really, this was nowhere near approaching the top ten most bizarre things she'd seen in Bernard Black's kitchen. She still wasn't sure how he'd got that Police Box in and out. His drunken insistence on, "Aliens!" had actually been one of his more plausible explanations.
She joined Bernard at the counter and helped herself to some wine in a mug that said World's Best Granddad. The pig wasn't her problem. "So where is Manny?" she asked. It wasn't like him to be missing out on an opportunity to panic.
Bernard swung out one arm to point, the other and the rest of his attention more preoccupied by trying to light his cigarette with a pencil sharpener. "Filed under M. In the fiction section."
Bernard's idea of a fiction section didn't contain any actual novels, but rather all the travel books - except for those pertaining to, for some reason, Belgium - twenty-five copies of the Reader's Digest Book of Facts, the entirety of the shop's business collection, and anything relating to the 1960s.
And currently also, Fran discovered when she wandered over to peer around the corner, Manny. He was lying face down on a makeshift mattress that appeared to be assembled out of loaves of cheap white bread.
She poked him with the toe of her shoe, conveniently pointy for that purpose. He mumbled and mashed his face further into the bread. "Mmm, soft and fluffy... With a slight hint of preservatives."
She tried to think of something that would stir him into waking up. "Manny, Bernard's auctioning your beard off to members of the mattress stuffing industry again."
He sat bolt upright. "What? Oh, no." He clutched his chin protectively. "You have to stop him, Fran," he said, muffled through his fingers. "He's mad! Drunk with power. Drunk with... drunkenness."
"Yes, well, that's just Bernard, Manny," she reminded him. "More importantly, how did a pig end up in our kitchen?"
"Our kitchen? Our kitchen?" Bernard bellowed from behind the shelves. "I built it with my own hands! Bought it with my own hands. Bought it from a man called Hans, that's it. And don't you forget it!"
Fran ignored him with the ease of long practise, more focused on the fact that Manny was looking distinctly shifty. "Manny?" she prompted. Getting Manny to confess was like cracking an egg. That was made of micro-thin glass. And laced with explosives.
"I don't remember anything!" he blurted. His eyes flicked wildly from side to side. "Except, possibly, something to do with a craving for bacon sandwiches."
"Well, I suppose that explains the bread," she said, helping him up. He staggered around the corner into the main shop.
Bernard peered at him with myopic sternness. "You're late to work," he said. "No pay for you this year."
"I've been here the whole time!" Manny protested.
"A likely story!"
Fran helped herself to a second mug of wine. "Bernard, what are you going to do about the pig?" she demanded.
"We need to feed and water it," Manny said with bright enthusiasm.
"Feed it, water it, plant it - what kind of soil do pigs grow in?" Bernard asked. "Do they need direct sunlight? Never trust a plant that requires any of that horrible, horrible stuff."
"A pig is not a vegetable, Bernard," Manny said sensibly. "You remember we discussed this, with the book?"
Bernard threw out a disparaging hand. "Animal, vegetable, mineral, bah. Away with you and your new-fangled scientific terminology."
"Do we have any food suitable for piggy consumption?" Fran said dubiously. Pigs were supposed to eat anything, but she doubted that had ever been tested with anything as toxic as Bernard's idea of a healthy diet.
"There's the bread," Manny said, waving a loaf helpfully.
Bernard gave him a narrow-eyed look of contempt. "You can't put the bread in the pig. That is a very fundamental misunderstanding of the art of sandwich-making."
"Nobody's making sandwiches out of it, Bernard," she said firmly. Her brain refused to provide any mental images of Bernard and Manny attempting to butcher a pig, out of sheer self-preservation.
Manny peered through the curtain into the kitchen. "Oh, it's all right, he's found the crisps," he said.
Bernard slammed a hand down on the desk, rising from his seat in fury. "Crisps?" he demanded. "Mancini Georgina Bianco, have you been hiding food in our kitchen?"
Manny shrank in on himself. "It was just a few snacks!" he said, raising his hands. "I just get so hungry sometimes, Bernard, when you make me work all night." He retreated steadily as Bernard strode across the room towards him, pointing a finger that quivered with accusation. "It was Monster Munch!" he blurted desperately. "You don't even like them! You said it was suspicious to eat pickled onion flavoured feet!"
Ignoring them both, Fran moved over to peer around the curtain again. "Oh, he's already finished them," she said. And judging by the snuffling, he was still hungry. She reached for her handbag. "I think I might have some crisps in here..." If she hadn't blanked out eating them in a random fit of mid-morning greediness. Oh, no, here they were. "Do you think he'd like Mango Lime Chutney?"
Bernard forgot about Manny and turned on her, appalled. "Mango? Lime? Chutney? What- what are those? Is that a fruit bowl?"
"They're a limited edition." Fran popped the bag open and ate one. "And, mmm, rather nice, actually." Maybe she wouldn't give them to the pig. It couldn't be that hungry. Probably wouldn't starve or anything. She ate a few more.
"Ooh, can I try one?" Manny asked, darting in to dip his fingers into the packet. She clamped it shut around them.
"No." Bloody cheek. They were her crisps. And the pig could stand to go on a diet anyway.
"Mango Lime Chutney," Bernard repeated, his voice dripping disgust. "Mango Lime Chutney. In my day we had three flavours of crisps, and we were grateful! And there was none of this 'ready salted' malarkey - plain, we called them. Plain! And the cheese and onion ones came in green packets. Not blue. It's Gary bloody Lineker, that's who it is. He's the one to blame."
"I used to quite fancy Gary Lineker," Fran said, crunching a crisp reflectively. "And the other one, what was his name? The French one."
"Marcel Marceau?" Bernard suggested. She flapped a hand at him.
"No - the footballer!"
He folded his arms. "Feh. Bunch of mindless thugs with their... feet, and their... bawling."
"Oh, come on, you must know his name," Fran said. "Eric-"
"Eric Cantaloupe," Manny said.
"Cantona! That's it," she said in triumph. "We used to have a chant. It went 'Cantona-'" Her shoulders slumped. "I've forgotten the rest."
Manny folded his arms, sulking now he'd been denied a crisp. "Look. How are we going to get the pig out of the kitchen?" he asked, taking refuge in sensible behaviour in the vain hope that someone would join him there.
"Get Fran to sing some more; the high pitched squealing will undoubtedly confound it into thinking it has piglets," Bernard said. She absently punched him with the hand inside the crisp packet.
"Oh, no, now they're all broken," she realised, peering into the bag disconsolately.
"We need a plan of action," Manny said, and clapped his hands together eagerly. "Right! We need- um, a blackboard! And... pig catching gear... and jackets! We should have jackets. Team pig!" He spread his hands, inviting them to picture it in blazing lights.
"Maybe we should just rush the pig," Bernard said. "We could chase it out with a spear and a net, and, and, other hunting stuff."
"Look, why don't we just try to herd it?" Fran said. "They're herd animals, right?" Or was that the other thing? Chickens. Oh, well, one of the two.
They attempted to herd the pig. This mostly involved the three of them crowding into the kitchen, flapping and banging and making various attempted pig-herding calls while the pig ignored them completely.
Finally Bernard staggered away and collapsed in his chair, exhausted. He took a swig of wine straight from the bottle. "That pig is a demon pig," he said, gnashing his teeth. "It's evil! You can see it in its little piggy eyes."
"Maybe it's just... deaf," Manny suggested optimistically. "Or shy. We could have hurt its feelings. Tried to rush it too fast. Just slow down, man! Don't be a hassle." He cooed encouragingly at the pig.
Bernard slammed the base of the wine bottle down on the table, then paused for a few drunken moments to remember the emphatic point he was making. "We need to send the pig back home!" he said. "Back to the farms. Where are the farms?" He pondered the issue for a few moments, drumming his fingers on the table. "There are farms in Yorkshire, aren't there? Next to t' mill. And all those cobbled hills that the irritating children in flat caps are carrying loaves of bread up and down all the time."
"How are we going to get the pig to Yorkshire?" she asked. "I'm not driving it," she added pointedly, before either of them could suggest it.
"We can go by train!" Manny said enthusiastically. "A day trip, out into the country. Wouldn't that be fun?"
Bernard looked at him sideways. "Oh, yes, and perhaps we can take some ginger beer and cucumber sandwiches and have a picnic with our little friends and catch some smugglers!" he said, his voice growing steadily more belligerent as the sentence progressed.
"I always wondered about cucumber sandwiches," Fran said, upending the crisp packet over her hand and shaking it to make sure she'd got all the crumbs. "I mean, are they just cucumber? Wouldn't that be a bit soggy? It would be better to have cucumber and cheese and ham and some- actually, it would be better without the cucumber."
"How are we going to get the pig on the train?" Manny said. "I'm not sure that's covered on my Oyster card."
Bernard glowered at him blearily. "Oysters, cards? What fresh madness is this?"
"Never mind the pig, what about Bernard?" Fran said. "When was the last time you were on a train?" she asked him.
"Recently," he insisted huffily. His eyes wandered away from her and then flicked back. "Fairly recently," he amended, and then blurted, "Do they still have those nice ladies who come round with the little trolleys full of snacks?"
Manny clasped his hands together, still off in some internal world of espionage activities and matching jackets. "A luggage trolley, that's it!" he said. "We'll disguise the pig by hiding it inside a really, really big suitcase!"
"But who would have a suitcase of such preposterous dimensions?" Bernard asked.
For some reason, they both turned to look at Fran. "What?" she said.
Half an hour later, they departed the shop with the pig concealed inside Fran's second biggest shoe-carrying case. It seemed content to huddle in there without too much struggling, or possibly it was just stupefied after the unwise attempt to keep it comfortable by wrapping it in one of Bernard's blankets.
They'd managed to wrestle the case onto a luggage trolley, although it was pretty hard going to push it uphill. Well, presumably. Manny was doing all of the pushing, while she and Bernard wandered along behind.
"How much further... to the... underground station?" Manny puffed.
"Just three more streets," Bernard said. "Hush your piteous bleating. This is good for you. It's exercise!"
"Why am I doing all the exercise?" he demanded, hunched forward over the trolley. "You're the one who has chocolate ?lairs for breakfast. With wine!"
"It doesn't count as breakfast if you eat it at four in the afternoon," Bernard said loftily.
"It does if you only got up three minutes ago!" A police car drove past, and Manny abruptly yelped and threw himself sideways into an alley. "Oh no, it's the fuzz! Quickly, hide. Get me a false beard - no, wait, get me a false non-beard. Where's my passport? We have to flee the country."
The police car drove on without slowing, and they both peered into the alley after him with raised eyebrows until he came out, straightening his clothes and looking sheepish. "Hrm, yes, well, that was a very good test of the emergency response system. Excellent. Well done, team!" He gave them a double thumbs up.
Bernard said nothing, merely pointed sternly at the abandoned trolley. Manny scuttled over to take his place and start pushing again.
"Slave driver!" he grumbled.
"If you were a slave, I could take you back for a refund," Bernard said. He scrabbled in his pockets for a rumpled sheet of paper and a leaking pen. "Maybe I could make up a receipt. 'One... Manny...' How much do you think, thirty pence? No, no one would believe I paid that much."
"Look, there's the tube station," Fran said, spotting the sign. "You get the tickets. I'll flirt with the man on the gate to distract him while we take the trolley through."
In fact, she saw as they entered the station, the security guard on duty was actually quite dishy. Well, he was all right.
Well, she was desperate. She pulled down the front of her top and adopted a vampish expression. "Hi, there," she said with a winning smile.
"Ticket?" the man said in a bored tone.
Fran threw back her head in an enticing laugh, making sure to jiggle some cleavage. "Oh, my friends are just getting it for me now," she said, flapping a hand in a carefree way. She glanced over towards the ticket machine, where Manny waved enthusiastically from behind the squirming suitcase, and Bernard stood lighting a cigarette beneath the No Smoking sign. "Well, when I say friends, I mean... not-friends. They're really more of a responsibility. Burden. I care for them. Because that's me. Caring." She turned around and mouthed furious 'hurry up!' signals at them, accompanied by violent hand gestures.
She turned back to smile winsomely at the lovely security man, but the stream of people passing through the gate kept walking in between them. "If you haven't got a ticket, madam, could you please move out of the way?" the man said.
Madam? Madam? Fran puffed up in outrage, but before she could unleash her tirade Manny arrived at a run with the trolley. "Sorry, sorry... tickets!" He accidentally flicked them into the attendant's face as he pulled them out, and then scrambled to pick them up off of the floor.
Fortunately, or more likely not, Bernard ambled up at that point and provided a distraction. "Can you put that cigarette out, please, sir?" the guard said.
"Yes. I can," Bernard said, and didn't.
"Tickets!" Manny repeated, bobbing back up like a manic jack-in-the-box. This time he managed to hold them out without flinging them all over the station. The man gave them a cursory glance and started to open the gate.
The pig chose that exact moment to let out a loud squeal and thump against the confines of the suitcase.
"Wheels!" Manny blurted frantically, as they all tried to cover the bulging sides with their hands. "It's got squeaky wheels. That's where we're going, actually. To Yorkshire. To get some... trolley... oiling... oil." He smiled hopefully, which succeeded in making him look like he was on drugs.
The queue was building up behind them. "Oi, get on a move on!" somebody shouted from the back.
"Oh, shut your face!" Fran shouted in return, and then went back to smiling beatifically at the station attendant. Clearly it worked, because he opened the gate to allow her and Manny through, but swung it back again to block Bernard.
"Put it out, sir," he said, unwilling to be moved.
"Oh, of course, of course." Bernard gave the best impression he could do of an innocent smile, which was more of a pained sneer, and dropped the cigarette into the hood of Manny's anorak.
"Right, we're through," Manny said, once they'd finally passed the gate. "We've got to be cool, guys. Got to be calm and collected and act like we belong, man. Just the three of us, taking our suitcase up to Yorkshire, yeah?"
They made it another three steps before the suitcase burst open with a loud zipping noise and the pig's head poked out of the top to gaze around in cheerful curiosity.
Manny's nerve broke. "Run!" he yelled, and grabbed Fran's arm as he hurtled towards the stairs down to the underground platform. Fran grabbed Bernard, on the general theory that she shouldn't have to be the only one being dragged. The suitcase bumped down the steps ahead of them, out of control, and Manny lunged to grab the trolley handle just before it rolled off the edge of the platform. "What do I do, what do I do?" he blurted. Bernard slapped him across the face, and Manny blinked. "What?" he said expectantly, turning to face him.
Bernard gave a narrow-shouldered shrug. "I don't know! I just felt like slapping you."
"Train's coming!" Fran said. "Quick, get the suitcase on board before the guard comes." Well, they could. She might stay behind and get arrested. Maybe the dishy security man would have some handcuffs.
She looked back towards the stairs, and pouted in disappointment when she saw he wasn't chasing them yet. Honestly, some men. What did you have to do, draw a map?
A tide of people surged around them as the train doors opened, impeding Manny's feeble efforts to lift the suitcase on board. "Help me, Bernard, help me Bernard!" he begged. Bernard flailed ineffectually a bit. "Stop helping me, Bernard!" Manny corrected.
"Heave, Manny, heave!" Fran called, cheerleading from behind the lines.
"Work that flab!" Bernard bellowed from beside her. "Do you want to be able to fit into your pretty dress for prom night?"
"Gnyargh!" Manny finally succeeded in hoisting the trolley off the ground and up into the train carriage, pig and all. He turned around to face them, raising his fists in triumph. The train doors closed behind him and it pulled away from the platform, chugging rapidly away into the darkness.
They stood side by side for a while, staring reflectively at the posters on the other side of the tunnel.
"Oh, well, somebody'll probably let him out," Fran said.
"After all, every train has to come to a stop somewhere," Bernard said.
"Mmm. Quite so." They all nodded wisely, and there was a further silence.
"Unless it was a Circle Line train, of course," Manny said. "Ha, ha, ha."
Fran grinned. "Heh, heh, yes, that would be funny, wouldn't it?"
"Hilarious." Bernard mimed slapping his knee.
She slid her eyes sidelong to the prominent bright yellow sign that said Circle Line, then hastily yanked them away again.
"So," Bernard said, bringing his hands together. "Who fancies a bacon sandwich?"