Mythaxis

Uncle Glussog’s Talent Parade, and Other Matters


Les Sklaroff


"Flowers of silk shatter"
Bambane Quossark

By mid-afternoon the rally in Fountain Square, which had begun in a desultory fashion around breakfast time, had already reached unusual proportions. Other than at local sporting events, citizens of Snoak were rarely given to boisterous public displays. At CenSec a recon pod had swiftly been sent up to assess the situation. Fitful gusts of wind severely tested the efficiency of its stabilizers, but it was robustly built, and designed to withstand much tougher conditions.

Various flapping banners rose intermittently, often lopsidedly, above the milling crowd, suggesting that what may have started with a few malcontents making a specific protest had randomly attracted people with quite different agendas. It was not easy to distinguish genuine protest from undirected exuberance, but the overall mood seemed to be lively rather than belligerent. Even where banners were not in evidence, some individuals appeared to have exploited the occasion by wearing animal masks or silly clothes and indulging in cacophonous chants or a spot of cathartic yelling.

Back at Central Security, CSO Welkin Hofft, watching the images relayed from the recon pod could see that having filled the square in front of Sparagulan College, tendrils of the crowd now extended westward almost as far as the Anakalyptoscope, south and east towards Garrible Park, and beyond the stadium walls in the direction of Sparrink’s Yard.

Some of the banners carried particular messages, although making sense of them posed differing problems for Hofft and his security team:

One of the more professional efforts read:

Join the Fight for Gunder’s Bight!

ICE FOR REMBLE FOAD!

proclaimed another, in boldly painted wavering capitals.

A third, in a complex decorative script which hinted at a communal effort, simply stated:

UNCLE GLUSSOG'S TALENT PARADE

Cavorting behind this declaration was a motley crowd. Their costumes were variously spangled, tattered, striped, gleamingly robotic, flouncy or formal. Many of the faces were camouflaged under lavishly applied cosmetics, or by the addition of sparkling accessories. Among this curious troupe there were occasional displays of dancing and singing.

In addition, a few opportunistic, possibly desperate local businesses had infiltrated the mêlée with hastily-contrived flashing or glowing signs wielded or worn as headgear either by nonessential staff or coerced family members.

H°U°B°B°I°N   S°T°R°E°E°T   F°E°E°D°E°R°Y

S•L•I•D•D•A’s   P•A•M•P•E•R   P•A•R•L•O•U•R,   H•A•R•B•O•U•R   L•A•N•E

FAST TWINDLE REPAIRS - LET FEX FIX IT – 38 THE SCRUTTINGS - EAST SNOAK

As an advertising ploy such efforts were at best rather optimistic amid the throng of demonstrators, whose vision and attention were limited by the proximity of surrounding bodies.

In Central’s Security Division the initial tremor of anxiety had been replaced by a buzz of purposeful activity. Since the inner city was now pedestrianized, the demonstration was fortunately not likely to pose a road traffic problem. Shoppers and local commuters were bound to be inconvenienced, but it was the week-end, which obviated the problem of anxious parents, fraught teachers and abandoned children. CenSec’s duty was to ensure that any signs of criminality were spotted swiftly, and reported to the detechs, who would take appropriate action. Half a dozen precautionary micropods equipped with tracer dyes had been deployed into the eddyng air currents. So far these were all still in passive mode. However, pressing questions remained for Chief Security Officer Welkin Hofft and his team, among which were the following: Who had instigated the demonstration? Why had it swollen so quickly? Who on earth was Remble Foad? What would he want with ice? And whose uncle was this Glussog?

The marshy area known as Gunder’s Bight was a popularly avoided soggy blot on the landscape just south of the Stirrow, above Whissit Fields. On the face of it, it was one of Snoak’s least accessible and most unappealing features, and Hofft wondered why anyone other than an idiot would think it worth fighting for. Hofft was a practical man who liked to keep his feet on solid ground. On a visit to the glassworks he had seen and smelled Gunder’s Bight from across the river, and could not find any attraction in that waterlogged area malodorous with decay and undoubtedly infested with insects. He had said as much to his lieutenant.

“Nevertheless, see what you can dig up on Gunder’s Bight, would you, Possins? Pun not intended. Can’t imagine why anyone would be interested in that fetid stretch of wasteland, other than mud-collectors or demented archaeologists.”

“Fast food merchants?” his second-in-command offered helpfully.

Hofft frowned. “How so?”

“All that insect protein waiting to be harvested, you know, with nets, or maybe at night using bright torches and sheets.”

“Is this one of your bizarre dreams, Possins? Are you actually suggesting that a nose-blind band of would-be chefs would choose to wade through a swamp in the dark, carrying bedding materials in the hope of bagging a few nocturnal midges, or maybe a water-moth?”

“I’m not too sure there’s such a thing as a water-moth, sir.”

“All the more reason not to go looking for it, especially at night. Plain common sense!”

“I suppose not,” Sevrel Possins acknowledged, secretly indignant that another reasonably sensible idea had somehow been exploded in a puff of confusing logic.

Hofft strode over to another member of his security team. “Right, Quossark. What have you found out about this Foad?”

Bambane Quossark, former detech, looked up from his console. “I’ve checked the files, chief. Nothing in the last ten years, not for Remble Foad. There was a Tharm Foad of Narpins Way, former physician, deceased aged 84. No suspicious circumstances, no known surviving relatives. The only other record in the same period is of Estrel Foad… just a moment… yes, Estrel Foad, three years ago. A schoolgirl from Platport, then aged 13, parents Hablan and Aeris. Here for a fem cousin’s birthday party. The two girls were both witnesses to a fracas outside Smigs in Yarp Street. Three local youths later identified and apprehended, found to be drunk and disorderly, and not in possession of nultox, which was duly administered by a medtech. That’s about it.”

“So, one natural death and one minor incident, but no leads to Remble, or why he would need ice. What kind of person needs ice? Any ideas, team?”

Possins, still inwardly smarting, was concentrating intently on his screen. Hofft looked around the other team members, who obliged with useful suggestions.

“Fishmongers.”

“Skaters.”

“A sculptor.”

“Cocktail-makers.”

“Someone with a head injury, or a hanging basket?” This last submission came from Purlie Norpwit, who was the team’s first-aid specialist.

“You mean someone who has banged their head on a basket?”

“No. Well, possibly. But aside from applying to bruises, using ice is a convenient way to water hanging plants. Safer than trying to reach up with a watering can, and the water gets absorbed slowly. I saw it on a vid.”

“I see, very practical. Well, all plausible, men and fems, but we need corroborative background. It might be worth delving further back in the files, but if this ice-seeking Foad is from outside Snoak, it’s beyond our jurisdiction. Unless whoever is carrying that banner ceases to do so peacefully, in which case the dye will, so to speak, be cast.” Hofft nodded meaningfully towards the bank of pod control switches.

A happy yap from Sevrel Possins signified that he had made a discovery.

“EPL, sir. The Ecological Protection League. Local offices in Brangdurp Street. They’ve found some snails and a newt, and they’re worried about effluent.”

Welkin Hofft waited, eyebrow raised, inviting further information.

“In Gunder’s Bight. Endangered species, they say. Tiny water-snails, and a small grey-banded newt. And there’s historical evidence of nesting grebe, which means there must once have been fish, but they think there might be slow contamination from both the brewery and the glassworks.”

“That might explain the smell,” said Hofft, for whom an interest in the wonders and diversity of nature was not altogether natural, but he was broadminded enough to allow that others might have such concerns. “Good work! Would you say they pose a threat?”

“They’re endangered, sir, not dangerous.”

“Not the snails, Possins! Those Eco people, out there in the streets. ‘Join the fight…’ That sounds to me like a possible incitement to violence.”

“I doubt if they mean it literally. It’s just an attempt to gather support.” He peered at the screen in front of him and magnified the image of those clustered around the banner in question. They were of all ages, and seemed to be enjoying themselves. He saw faces he was sure he recognized: the charming assistant from the Accessories place in Welfage Road, the old neatly-bearded librarian wearing one of his trademark cravats, the Laggabard twins with brightly beribboned berets… “They look harmless enough, sir.”

“So does Quossark, but bear in mind that as a detech he was trained to disarm an attacker in less than a second using no more than a single finger or a handful of bread.”

Possins, who had been unaware of this, turned to look with renewed respect at his habitually mild-mannered colleague, and could not help glancing nervously at the man’s sandwich box, which lurked on its usual shelf below the console. Quossark, with a sheepish grin, raised his lethal hands in an unconvincing gesture of humility.

“Well,” said Hofft, we’ll keep an eye on them, but let’s assume for now that these Ecos do not have combat skills. Now, I’d like a closer view of whoever’s carrying the Foad banner.”

“It’s changed, chief!”

“Changed? How?”

“See for yourself.”

The banner, drooping between two arm-weary bearers, their features concealed by hat-brims, now read:

JUST FOAD!

Hofft was not Head of CenSec for nothing. Experience brought occasional insights. “I think we can forget about the ice. Drop that pod to a shallower angle. I want to see that banner more clearly.”

Gradually, the message resolved itself:

JUST ICE FOR REMBLE FOAD!

“Ah!” said Hofft. “That makes more sense. Or rather, it would if we knew who he was, and what sort of justice was required. And of course why.”

“I know it’s not in our remit to interfere without due cause, chief….” ventured Quossark.

“I have a hunch that you are about to make a hypothetical point.”

“Well, if we really needed to obtain that knowledge, the people most likely to provide it would be...”

“…the demonstrators themselves. In fact, probably those carrying that banner, provided that they have not been anonymously bribed to do so. Yes, I realise that, Quossark, but in this department the code stipulates that unless there is verifiable evidence of an imminent or actual breach of security, or a serious threat to public welfare, we can only observe. And continue searching the files. It pays to be methodical, even though it’s not always the easiest option. Any subsequent implementation, as you know, lies with your former detech colleagues. After all, that’s why they’re known as the Action Faction.”

Purlie innocently asked the question that had secretly been bothering Hofft. “What about this Uncle Glussog and his Talent Parade, sir? There seem to be quite a few of them, mostly young adults, I would say.”

“Ah, yes, Uncle Glussog. Indeed.”

Hofft pursed his lips, and stared, frowning up at a familiar trailing speckled cluster of marks on the ceiling. They had been there since he joined CenSec, possibly caused by an accident with a fizzy drink. He was unaware that in times of stress he used them as a focus for his thoughts. They looked like a group of islands on a map; a peaceful archipelago where he could seek inspiration or solace. In view of Hofft’s years of experience, and the respect he believed he had earned, he was most reluctant to admit to his colleagues that he was baffled by the ‘Uncle Glussog’ brigade. He presumed it must be related to some recent vidfad, perhaps something trendily technical, disguised as entertainment for the under-fours.

Hofft dragged his gaze away from the ceiling and back to Purlie. He knew she had a little boy, Irvel, so would have more reason to be up to date with the pros and cons of portable gadgetry for the young. Therefore it would hardly be wrong of him to refer the matter back to her. Would it?

He tried to adopt an avuncular air. “Well, about this Talent Parade thing, Purlie. What do you make of it?”

“Me?” Purlie shrugged. “Well, sir, to be honest, I don’t believe I’ve heard of Uncle Glussog, and I can’t quite make out what sort of talent is being paraded.”

“That’s a relief!” said Quossark, slamming his hand down on the edge of the console with lethal insouciance. “I was hoping it wasn’t just me.”

Possins coughed politely. “There’s no mention of a Glussog in the records, sir. I took the liberty of checking. Whoever it is, unless you have privileged information, no-one here at CenSec knows anything about him.”

“Privileged? No, no, I was just, um, confirming that we were all on the same screen.”

Time to rally the troops, thought Welkin Hofft. “Now, we are the body principally responsible for the safety of the citizenry of Snoak, are we not?”

His team expressed its fervent agreement.

“Throughout the year we maintain order, we respond to alerts, we carry out surveillance when necessary, and to the best of our ability ensure that on the streets of our city no person causes harm to another. Correct?”

“Absolutely, chief!”

“So if someone, for whatever reason, were to organize a public display under a name that none of us is familiar with, either we are not doing our job properly…”

There was an offended grumble of dissent.

“…or, that same someone – or group of someones - is deliberately mocking us, trying to trick us into wasting time chasing ghosts and shadows.”

“Whoa, chief. You think this whole thing might be a distraction while they’re plotting something else?” Quossark looked ready to exercise his hidden skills at a moment’s notice.

“Not plotting, Quossark, but perpetrating! That’s the threat we may be facing. With all these people out of their homes, half of Snoak lies vulnerable to trespass and burglary, and who knows what else?”

Fired with enthusiasm, disregarding that the question might have been rhetorical, the team speculated on other dire possibilities:

“Arson!”

“Reckless commission of graffiti!”

“Vandalism!”

“….and all manner of wilful, um….

“Malfeasance?”

“Yes, that will do.”

Hofft sanctioned the deployment of four further recon pods to cover all residential sectors of the city, ensuring that there would be continuous monitoring while the demonstration was in progress. He co-opted selected detechs who would be available to stand in for CenSec team members if necessary. At the first hint of suspicious activity Snoak’s culprit-catching net would be triggered. They would soon know the identity of these subversives.

The device, which had used up all its inventor’s savings, and had taken five difficult years to perfect, consisted of a shallow cylinder, about the size of a large dinner plate, attached on either side to a strong light-weight frame whose lower ends were held firmly in a simple harness of hard-wearing cloth which strapped to the back. For the upmarket version the cloth would be replaced by leather or whent. An energator fitted neatly into a pouch in the belt. The top and periphery of the cylinder were studded with very precise perforations. Concealed within was a set of blades which could rotate at very high speed with a hum that was barely audible. It hung above the head like a halo, and was intended to deflect saturated air. It was his answer to those bent and broken-strutted inside-out tendencies which in a strong wind turned even the sturdiest umbrella into something resembling a severely disabled crow.

Some years earlier, as a temporary expedient, he had found work at the local factory. In the absence of any particular ambition he had soon become accustomed to the routines of delivery and collection, and even the occasional physical effort of helping to stack or retrieve heavy drums of paint. He enjoyed the company of his fellow workers, especially that of Tathia from the colour-matching department, whom he had cajoled (or, stretching credibility, charmed) into marriage and motherhood.

To add family appeal, he decided to decorate his working prototype in bright, prismatic colours. The paints he used were redundant test samples from work, some of which, although intended for industrial use, had already contributed over the years to the embellishment of otherwise bland items of furniture. While the paint was drying he thought it was about time he gave his device a name: something unfussy, but relevant. His first proposal was The Protector, but that seemed both too melodramatic and not specific enough. What was its actual function? Basically, its job was to blow, but that particular combination of words might be thought indelicate. Similarly, he felt it best to eschew air and head, even though the wearer of one of these devices could stay hands free and dry-headed in a monsoon or a snowstorm. He needed to encapsulate the idea of avoiding getting wet. He stared with a kind of unfocussed concentration at the colourful design. What about… yes, that was it! A Rainblow.

The concept of the portable rain deflector had come to him during a persistent spell of turbulent weather which had dampened their clothing and their spirits for an entire week. For the first time in his life he felt he had a goal of his own which was not only worth striving for, but potentially achievable. He tried to share his excitement with Tathia, whose attention at the time was largely taken up with the demands of their infant son. He could not have known how costly it would be, or how long it would take, working at night and at week-ends, mainly at the kitchen table (for want of any other convenient surface), gradually learning to refine each element of the design until he had the optimal result with the most durable materials. Although he was scrupulous about cleaning and tidying up after each session, his obsessive tinkering led to domestic friction.

His wife had staunchly put up with the inconvenience as long as possible, but it had caused a strain on their relationship which became too much for her to bear. Tathia, in tears, had taken the boy, who was too young to object, to stay with her sister in Platport, away from what she referred to as “that awful contraption”, until things hopefully returned to normal. He had let them go with a minimum of protest, knowing that he was at fault, but resolved to see the development of his device through to a conclusion. Remble Foad, native of Trevury, assistant store manager for Swelfs Industrial Paints, abandoned, weary, impoverished, now grimly determined, set about launching his Rainblow on an unsuspecting world.

Having no experience of trying to market a new product against the massed forces of established competition, Foad naturally sought advice from supportive but equally inexperienced friends and colleagues, who, despite their occasional teasing, knew how much this project meant to him.

“Gonna cost thousands, Rem, old fella.” These encouraging words emerged in a doleful rumble together with a radiant spatter of pastry crumbs from the preoccupied mouth of Tyle Hutter, who supervised the mixing vats. He was sturdily built, and the friendly arm that rested briefly on Remble’s shoulders felt as ponderous as a limp dog.

“First y’ need to patn’t the thing,” said Appen Garch, sipping from his mug. They were gathered in the factory canteen.

Foad looked puzzled. “You’ve seen the holo. It’s already painted.”

“Not paint, patn’t. Get the design registrated by the patn’t people.” He spoke with an air of casual authority, which only the better-informed would think to question.

“Oh, right.” Foad was vaguely aware of this requirement, but not altogether sure how to proceed.

“You’ll hafta find a lawyer,” declared Melgus Prant from Quality Control.

Foad suffered a flutter of panic. They all knew about the recent departure of his wife and child, which had left him feeling wretched and vulnerable. Had Tathia said something about divorce? He was suddenly very unsure. “A lawyer?”

“Someone who can get you prop’ly organized, do all the legal stuff about, y’know, contracts an’ suchlike…”

“Ah, that kind of lawyer, yes, of course.” The feeling of panic subsided, leaving a somewhat more tolerable sense of confusion.

Tyle Hutter had been thinking. “Tell you what you want, Rem,” he announced in his confidential growl. “What you want is an investor.”

There was general agreement that finding an investor would be a useful step.

Back at home in front of his e-screen Foad began to realise that he would definitely need help. The patent application alone would cost more than he could afford. On the positive side he had found a substantial list of potential investors offering to support new ideas. He ruled out those who insisted on prior completion of the patent application, or whose entries were full of forbidding terms like traction and scalability. He made a note of those remaining few which had a more reassuring approach, speaking of trust and early stage assistance and shared vision.

Foad’s enquiries eventually led him to a local firm, The Select Options Agency, where, on his first visit to their sparse but tasteful office he was talked through each stage of the process by Jagmot Yives, evidently a senior member of staff. Yives was polite, friendly and reassuring, explaining that the agency’s high success rate depended on knowing what to reject, and that this Rainblow design looked very promising. With Remble Foad’s permission, the prototype would need to be examined and tested by their technical specialists before they could proceed further. If it passed as acceptable, the firm would then undertake an exhaustive search for any similar existing patents among the many thousands filed each year; a tedious but necessary task in order to avoid any possible future legal difficulties. Foad understood that these were sensible precautions.

Foad had duly delivered the prototype, and spent an anxious ten days before receiving a call from the agency to say that the tests had been most satisfactory. He was invited for a further appointment. The agency proved sympathetic to Foad’s awkward financial position, and Yives assured him that as evidence of their good will, they would make no charge for the patent search, which could take a number of weeks. Yives was about to return the prototype Rainblow to its owner’s safekeeping, when he had a helpful afterthought. While waiting for the completion of the search, unless Foad had any objection, the agency was in a position to expedite matters by arranging to show the device to some major distributors, and to explore with manufacturers the costs of mass production. Foad thought this was an excellent idea. He was glad to pass on the responsibility of the whole marketing issue to people with the proper expertise. The burden, though very much of his own making, was lifting at last.

Tathia and the boy had returned from Platport. Tathia was anxious to settle back in, though Remble could sense she was still on her guard. In contrast, his son Corm was unduly manic, seemingly driven by the same impulse that sends cats dashing about in random directions. Remble tried his best to atone for his previous neglect. He made conscientious efforts to compensate for his long fixation on developing the Rainblow by being more attentive to his wife and son. Any further mention of the device was now confined to the workplace.

At the factory his workmates were happy to see that he was appreciably less stressed. He had told them of his early dealings with the agency, and they were all keen to hear of any further progress. It was very nearly a month before Foad was called back to see Jagmot Yives.

At first the news was encouraging. The distributors had been impressed, and had expressed definite interest, subject to satisfactory legal requirements. The manufacturers the agency had consulted had the capability of setting up automated production lines without extensive re-tooling, thereby reducing costs, although the estimated initial investment would still run to about half a million… Yives had paused, and sighed.

”Unhappily, Mr Foad, we have figuratively hit a brick wall. There is no doubt that you have solved an age-old problem with a clever idea, but the very fact that it is such a familiar problem means that of the many others who have put their minds to this, some will have hit upon very similar solutions, particularly in the light of today’s technology. And so it proved, I’m afraid. There are no less than one hundred and ninety-three patent applications for designs for rain deflectors differing only in minor details from your own. That excludes the two hundred and twelve thousand or so which contain no moving parts. So, with great regret, we can proceed no further.”

Remble Foad was numbly aware that this was not what he had envisaged. He was distressed to see that Yives was close to tears at having to deliver the information, and felt foolish at having had such high expectations, and at the same time perversely relieved that it was all over. As he retrieved what he now saw from Tathia’s viewpoint as his ‘awful contraption’, he thanked Yives for all the agency’s efforts on his behalf. Yives, accompanying him to the door, courteously praised him for his enterprise, sympathized with his disappointment, and wished him well for the future. They shook hands solemnly. After a few steps Remble turned back to wave, but Yives had already closed the door.

During the following year only those acquainted with these events might have regarded as suspicious firstly the unannounced closure of The Select Options Agency in Trevury, and secondly the subsequent appearance in well-known stores of the Spindrip: an apparatus remarkably like the ill-fated Rainblow, fashionably available in an assortment of colours and a choice of hard-wearing materials at prices to suit even the most expensive tastes, and to judge by its growing popularity, likely before long to supplant the obsolete umbrella. Among those who smelled a corporate rat were Tyle Hutter, Appen Garch and Melgus Prant. They were convinced that Rem, their good friend and fellow worker, who had sacrificed so much for his invention, had been blatantly cheated out of the rewards due to him. Even if Rem himself argued that he had ‘moved on’, and would rather not have to be reminded about how gullible he had been, they felt that he deserved better, and vowed to take up his cause with the proper authorities. They were debating exactly which authorities these might be when Melgus happened to mention that he’d heard from his cousin Follick in Snoak, the one who kept amphibians, that there was to be some kind of rally at the week-end, starting in Fountain Square, and that everyone was welcome. This seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. They would need a banner, of course. Fortunately there was a large reserve of fabric offcuts at Swelfs, and finding enough paint would definitely not be a problem.

Welkin Hofft was disconsolate. It was early evening. The recon pods had been operating within visible wavelengths, but could switch to other frequencies if needed. He was beginning to think it might be a wasted effort. Members of his team had been monitoring all residential areas of Snoak continuously, but there had been not the slightest trace of criminal activity. Meanwhile the rally was still in progress, although numbers had diminished as people went in search of food or toilet facilities, or simply resumed their customary routines.

Most of the Ecological Protection League’s followers had drifted off in small groups, those with binoculars to a vantage point from where any surviving wildlife in Gunder’s Bight could be observed until the light faded, without requiring the involvement of nostrils.

The Remble Foad contingent, apparently only a handful in number, were seen to be animatedly engaging with anyone who would listen to them. Possins had pointed out that during each encounter one of them would make a curious twirling motion with a finger above his head, and wondered whether this was a ritual gesture of some kind. Was Foad perhaps the leader of a religious cult?

The colourful capering of Uncle Glussog’s Talent Parade, whose participants seemed to have inexhaustible energy, continued to attract attention. Who were these people? Hofft was none the wiser. Purlie Norpwit had scanned the media and entertainment database without success.

The team had ruefully concluded that they were in all likelihood just young citizens having a good time. They might be behaving rather like uninhibited children, but some of their more casual social interactions indicated that they were beyond school age. The realisation struck Hofft that they must be students, and because so many had appeared early in the day they would not have travelled very far. He concluded they must be from Sparagulan College, within sight of his office windows. But who was Uncle Glussog?

Was it, wondered Welkin Hofft, a kind of honorary title bestowed by Sparagulan College, perhaps on a venerable member of their Drama Department for services to … something? Hofft’s imagination failed to supply a suitable achievement. He was not a devotee of the theatre. He knew that the College had some arcane traditions dating back centuries to the time of its founder, Aubec Sparagulan, who sprang from a family of wealthy fruit merchants. Aubec had been equally fascinated by botany and mathematics, and had written a famous book whose title Hofft could not remember. He caught himself staring at those spots on the ceiling again, and realised that his mind had wandered away from the subject.

Bambane Quossark, he of the lethal hands, who had a secret penchant for crosswords, and a nagging feeling that they had missed a clue, interrupted Hofft’s reverie.

“Chief, I think the answer is in the banner. If I’m right, Uncle Glussog is no more than a wild goose, or a red herring.”

Hofft was still trying to recall the title of the book, and was momentarily flummoxed.

“How can he possibly be a bird, or a fi… Oh, you mean not an actual person? Please explain.”

“It’s just a hunch, chief, but I think we should try re-arranging all the letters in that slogan to see if there’s a hidden message.”

“So, ‘Uncle Glussog’s Talent Parade’ could be just a smokescreen? Hmmm. Well, team, there’s a challenge for you all. Let’s have a crack at this. The first person to find a plausible solution gets a free mug of emberskelven at the Owl & Skillet.”

This was the first time that the CenSec team had been offered a reward for taking time off to solve a word puzzle. They would almost certainly have tackled it even without the added inducement. An industrious silence fell, punctuated only by random grunts, sucking of teeth and the odd plosive exhalation as the various team members applied themselves to the problem.

After about ten minutes Purlie Norpwit held up a page from her notepad. “Sir, I think have something, but I’m not sure what it means.”

Hofft, whose own efforts had become stuck on the name CLASTER GALE, tried to sound encouraging. “Go ahead, Purlie,”

“Well sir, I was thinking there must be a clue here, and then I noticed that you can make the word CLUE, and then I found A TANGLED CLUE, which seemed promising, so I tried to find something meaningful in the remaining letters, but all I came up with is STOPS GRANULES.”

“A tangled clue stops granules,” Hofft murmured to himself. “A tangled clue” is definitely a good start, but as for the granules, what would they be? Sand? Salt? It’s a bit vague, I’m afraid, Purlie. Anyone else? Not yet? Keep trying, team.”

He returned to CLASTER GALE, and picked out PLANS TO. He was on to something here!

CLASTER GALE PLANS TO… what? Which letters had he not yet used? D,E,G,N,S,U,U.

Not a propitious selection. Wait! He spotted USE. CLASTER GALE PLANS TO USE…

Four letters left: D,G,N,U. There was only one word he could form from those, but he really didn’t want to. Its implications were at best… agricultural, and he decided, at least for the moment, not to share this dubious triumph.

Despite unusually fierce concentration over the next hour or so, the others fared no better, being reluctant to claim success with phrases that remained stubbornly cryptic. Sevrel Possins had produced what looked like a mythical threat: DRAGONS PLAGUE CATTLE, UNLESS…

Bambane Quossark, who enjoyed doing this sort of thing in his spare time, had churned out several alternatives. These were:

LEGLESS! – A DANGEROUS CUT PLANT

CLOUDS AS GLUE: STRANGE PLANET

A LOST NUDE GETS SLUNG A PARCEL

Since this exercise had been his idea, he was increasingly irked that these re-arrangements had little obvious relevance to Sparagulan College or the students. He stared again at the words on the banner, and experienced a moment of thrilling clarity. His hunch was justified. For the last time, he wrote out the phrase in carefully spaced capital letters:

U N C L E G L U S S O G S T A L E N T P A R A D E

Then he began to cross them off one by one, beginning with S for Sparagulan, then C for College, and finally S for Students.

He raised one of his lethal hands.

“Chief, I’ve got a sudden dreadful thirst.”

© Les Sklaroff 2017 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 10:50 Thu 24 Aug 2017
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