Sprout Mask Replica

Sprout Mask Replica by Robert Rankin

Book: Sprout Mask Replica by Robert Rankin Read Free Book Online
Authors: Robert Rankin
Busby Berkeley Musical Extravaganza, might incur a certain social stigma
and ensure that the absentee never again saw the Queen’s mail coming through
his or her letter box.
    ‘I don’t
know what we’re all getting ourselves in such a state about,’ said Omally. ‘After
all, this is just a local talent competition with a bottle of Scotch for a
prize.’ Then shaking his head at what he had said, he vanished away to the
Gents muttering a strangely familiar recitation.
    Neville
was looking horribly pale. ‘Suppose he doesn’t win,’ he murmured to Pooley.
    ‘Who?
Omally? He never wins.
    ‘Small
Dave,’ said Neville and those with a mind to crossed themselves. And Jim gave a
squeeze to his amulet.
     
    At seven-thirty, ‘Laughing’
Jack Vermont, the self-styled Eric Morely of the small pub talent competition
circuit, stuck his toothy grin through the saloon bar door and doffed his sou’wester
and cycling cape. Within no time at all, or an interminable duration if you’re
nervous, he had set up his crumbling PA system, seated himself at The Swan’s
elderly piano, blown into his microphone, said ‘one-two, one-two’, and
distributed a sheath of entry forms.
    ‘Just
fill them in and pop them into the magic box,’ he called, indicating the
tin-foil-covered biscuit tin on the piano lid.
    Pooley
watched the hopefuls as they took to their form-filling. There were not quite
so many as usual. And those that there were, were strangers.
    ‘I’ve a
very very bad feeling about this,’ Jim told Omally. ‘How do you spell,
recitation,’ the other replied. If I were you I wouldn’t even try,’ Jim drew
John’s attention to his still bruised kneecap.
    Omally
bit his lip. ‘Yes, you’re right. No point in handing in a badly spelt form.’ He
crumpled up the paper and tossed it aside.
    The
minute hand on the Guinness clock moved towards eight-thirty. Laughing Jack
sprung up from the piano, blew once more into the mic’ and said, ‘Well, well,
well, it’s Howdy Doody Time. And tonight it gives me enormous pleasure …’ He
paused and peered about the crowded bar wearing what he considered to be a
wickedly mischievous grin. ‘But then it always does.’
    Jack
considered himself to be a master of comic timing. Most of his audience
considered him to be a prize prat, but a possible means by which to gain a free
bottle of Scotch.
    ‘All
joking aside,’ Jack continued, ‘tonight we have a big line-up. And a mystery
guest star. That’s right. Oh yes.’ He tapped his nose and winked a knowing eye.
    ‘That
man is a prize prat,’ said Omally. ‘And would you look at that jacket of his.’
    That
jacket was Laughing Jack’s pride and joy.
    He had
explained it once to Omally.
    ‘Some
people,’ Jack named Liberace, ‘have teeth.’
    ‘Others,’
he let slip Maurice Chevalier, ‘straw boaters.’
    ‘But I,’
he made an expansive gesture, ‘have my Laughing Jack Jacket.’
    Omally
had drawn the laughing one’s attention to the fact that Liberace was not a man
known for his conservatism when it came to the matter of jackets.
    ‘A mere
sham,’ said Laughing Jack, turning to reveal the sequinned wonder of it all and
the words LARFING JOCK VERMOUTH embroidered in rhinestones by his inebriated
mother.
    ‘A
mystery guest star,’ said Jim. ‘I’ll bet we can all guess who that’s going to
be.’
    Omally
cast his eye over the night’s contestants who were now milling around Jack, few
in number as they were and looking nervous with it.
    ‘I
wonder where the fat boy who sings ‘Danny Boy’ has got to tonight,’ wondered Pooley.
    ‘And
what of Old Pete and his performing dog?’ asked Omally. ‘And the rabbi
ventriloquist who won twice last month.’
     
    First up on the tiny stage
was a grey-bearded Scot in antique highland dress, who juggled sprouts, whilst
regaling the audience with humorous anecdotes concerning Custer’s Last Stand.
    The
only one I can remember went as follows.
    It
seems that a sculptor

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