I was sitting in front of the computer, struggling with the new (projected) Karno book–another collection of short stories. I had a catchy name for the anthology (Purrfect Crimes), I had a cover more or less planned out (yet another consignment of ‘Kittie Crunch’ to Adina in Fiji) and I had the beginnings of the first story. Well, if I’m being I’m honest I had the title, the main character(s) but I had no crime. Despite several hours of walking and numerous blisters from a new pair of sandals, I was beginning to resemble the protagonist in the first story, ‘the limping leafleter’. The main problem was, as I limped–ever more languidly–an old idea kept intruding.
The door was thrown open and a sinister figure in a black uniform with silver insignia stood and regarded me balefully for a moment. He–it was a he–stood to one side and a smaller, slightly chubby figure in a similarly sinister uniform entered the room, silently. As he did so, he glanced at the ramrod-stiff figure standing at attention with his right arm raised in a sinisterly familiar salute. Smiling slightly at me, he turned his attention to the figure and–making a downward motion with his left hand– clicked his tongue a few times.
I recognised him of course, and thought that of all the characters who had played him over the years, perhaps the late Donald Pleasance had got it most right. The eyes behind the round glasses were almost friendly and the smile was almost sincere. He projected an air of friendly menace. He sat down opposite me.
‘So Herr Bernfeld. Why do you deny me?’
I wasn’t sure what he meant and felt safer making no reply.
‘My dear fellow. You are planning a story where I am the hero, no?’
‘No.’ My mouth was suddenly dry–arid– but I got the word out.
‘Ah. But you are planning to write about me, yes?’
‘I might be–later, perhaps.’
He smiled. The room lit up. As if a flare had burst above an arctic landscape, I saw the white walls of the room in stark relief and I swear the ambient temperature dropped to about zero.
‘Sooner I think–definitely, yes’. It wasn’t a question although his voice ended on a higher note.
‘If you say so.’
‘Oh but I do. My dear fellow, I positively do say so.’ He positively beamed. The room temperature remained the same.
He stood and without a backward glance left the room. The door was rapidly pulled to and came to an abrupt, barely open halt. Ice cold blue eyes stared at me for a moment and the door was closed with a click reminiscent of a stone dropping onto a coffin in an open grave. I found my fingers slowly tapping keys. I glanced down.
Alternative history by Peter N Bernfeld.
Sighing, Karno poured himself a stiff King Victoria and the leafleter limped up the loamy lane. They would have to wait. My mind had been changed and I was on a mission from the devil himself.