The Department

A sketch from A Bit of Fry & Laurie

Hugh is returning to his flat with some shopping. Echoing stairwells etc. Stops outside door and reaches for key, but something is wrong. Ears pricked. He carefully puts down shopping and removes an automatic from his belt. He works the slide to load the chamber, the way one has seen countless times, but instead it comes away in his hand.

Hugh (Mutters) Shit. Hugh puts the gun down and gently nudges the door open with his foot. Nothing. He moves stealthily through the flat. Nothing. A lavatory flushes. Hugh whirls round in a martial-looking crouch. Stephen emerges from the bathroom, drying his hands.

Stephen Alan, my boy. Good to see you. I hope you don't mind, but I was ...

Hugh What the hell are you doing here? How did you get in?

Stephen Your landlady. Charming woman. It turns out that she and I are great fans of Johnny Mathis.

Hugh So what the hell do you want? Stephen crosses to a fish tank in the middle of the room.

Stephen Mmm. I'd forgotten your obsession with Japanese fighting fish. You're quite an expert aren't you?

Hugh Never mind that. Just say your piece and get the hell out of here.

Stephen Never could really see it myself. What is it about them that interests you?

Hugh Japanese fighting fish? They're loyal. Honest. They don't send you to Aylesbury on half-arsed operations and then sell you down the river.

Stephen Now that's hardly fair, Alan. The Department ...

Hugh The hell with the Department. That's finished, over. Finished with. Over. Finished and done with. It's over. Completely finished.

Stephen You're right, Alan. I shouldn't have come. You have your own life now, I can see that. Your flat. Your fish. And there's a girl now, I gather. Deborah, is it? At the mention of "Deborah" Hugh snatches up a banana from the fruit bowl and hold it under Stephen's throat.

Hugh You want to know something, read the file. Sir.

Stephen Of course, Alan. Of course. I'll leave you now. Thanks for the use of the lavatory. Oh by the way ...

Hugh What now.

Stephen We're reopening the Steinbeck case. I thought you might like to know ...

Hugh Steinbeck? What the hell ...?

Stephen You and Steinbeck were pretty close, weren't you? Both orphaned at an early age. Both took excellent degrees at the Sorbonne. Both had trials for West Bromwich Albion. You at inside right, Steinbeck in goal, if I remember rightly. Both have an account with John Lewis at Brent Cross.

Hugh Is that a crime?

Stephen Of course not, dear boy. I'm just pointing out the similarities, that's all. And then of course, you both adore fish. Really quite remarkable.

Hugh You bastard.

Stephen He trusts you Alan. You're the only one who can get him back for us.

Hugh It's your damned porridge, use your own damned spoon.

Stephen Please Alan, don't throw porridge in my face. That's completely over. Finished. Done with. Over and finished. Done over and finished with. Over. You understand? Finished over with. Done.

Hugh Hello! I seem to have touched a nerve.

Stephen All right Alan, blast you. Fifteen all. We need you and you need us.

Hugh I need nothing and nobody.

Stephen You need an import licence for those oh so pretty Japanese fighting fish of yours.

Hugh You bastard.

Stephen (Throwing documents on to the table) First class flight to Chichester. Table for two in the sleeper from Chichester to Stroud. (Puts down a gun and some bullets) Hair-trigger, fur-barrel and soft-eared bullets. Just as you like them.

Hugh You certainly came prepared didn't you?

Stephen I prefer to put it this way. I certainly came prepared. (More documents) Welsh passport, hotel reservation at the Welcome Break, Low Wycombe, all in the name of one Lewis Potter.

Hugh And the real Lewis Potter?

Stephen A chartered prostitute from Hereford. Killed two years ago in a smiling accident. Will you do it, Alan?

Hugh You said table for two ... ?.

Stephen Of course, Alan. Allow me to introduce your wife. A woman emerges from the bathroom.

Hugh What the hell ... ?

Woman You need a new ballcock.

Hugh I beg your pardon?

Woman On your cistern. I've fixed it for now, but it needs replacing.

Stephen I know you've always worked alone, Alan, but under the circumstances the Department felt ...

Hugh The Department can go to hell. I'm finished, done away with, at last, period, no more, full stop, the end, full period. You can shove the Department up your arse.

Woman Well of course I can't do that, as you well know Alan. The Department is a huge building housing hundreds of people - not the sort of thing you can shove up your arse without a great deal of ...

Woman Excuse me, Admiral.

Stephen What is it, my dear?

Woman Major Tarrant seems to doubt my abilities.

Hugh You're damn right.

Woman Would it make any difference if I said that I was the case officer on Operation Richard Whitely?

Stephen Since your time Alan. Ugly business. Russians tried to flood Europe with counterfeit Richard Whitelys. The Department was on a Code 1 for three months.

Hugh All I'm saying is, I don't carry passengers.

Woman Neither do I, Major.

Stephen Ho ho ho. Looks like you've met your match at last, Alan. Now, I'll leave you two to get acquainted, while I have another go on that excellent lavatory of yours. (Sotto voce to the woman as he passes) Don't worry. His bark's worse than his bite. Exit Stephen.

Hugh Did he tell you what happened to my last partner?

Woman Shot dead on the steps of the Prague Embassy. I've read the file.

Hugh Yeah? Well files ain't a lot of use when you're staring down the barrel of a knife.

Woman I'll try and remember that, Major.

Hugh Yeah, you do that.

Woman Nice flat.

Hugh (Refusing to be charming) It gets me from A to B.

Woman Quite a collection of Japanese fighting fish. Are they good?

Hugh At fighting?

Woman At being Japanese.

Hugh (Grudgingly) The one on the left has a black belt fourth dan, the one on the right has retired.

Woman Look, if we're going to be working together we might as well be friends.

Hugh I work faster alone.

Woman Perhaps it would be a good idea if we went to bed together.

Hugh Like I just said, I work faster alone.

Woman Me too. Have you got two bedrooms?

Hugh Sure.

Woman I'll take that one. You take the other. They both disappear into seperate bedrooms. Almost a split second later they re-emerge, both smoking cigarettes.

Woman Better?

Hugh Much. Dammit, I don't even know your name.

Woman Does it matter?

Hugh I guess not. Well if you want to be useful, you could start by fixing us both a drink. You'll find some whisky ...

Woman Above the sink. I know. I've read the file, remember?

Hugh Huh. You minx. Stephen emerges from the lavatory.

Stephen Hmm. That really was most enjoyable. Would anyone else like a go? There is no response. No? Well in that case, I think I might have another turn. Really most excellent. Stephen bumbles off again.

Woman What does he do in there?

Hugh I've really no idea.

Cut to Stephen's Song.

Vox Pop

Hugh I can't stop now, my wife is being towed away.

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