Percy slept soundly during the afternoon and then began to prepare dinner, while awaiting Donna's call. It came at twenty-five minutes past eight.
"Thanks, Donna. You can sleep well tonight. I would rather not get you involved in this one. I can commute to Franklin Morton's Sydenham address by train, and use a little bit of legwork. Freddy is going to meet me at Sydenham station after the job has been done, and take the morning off with a headache, which he may well really have after such a late night. We cannot spend forever studying his behaviour patterns in order to predict a time when he will not be home. I will just have to take everything as it comes tonight, and get in there while he is asleep."
"And while his wife is asleep. His computer record details a wife and no children. Well good luck. I think you are mad, but that has not come between us so far."
Percy arrived at Sydenham station at five past ten. After a two minute walk, he saw the house. It had only one storey. This reduced the likelihood of there being a reasonable distance between the bedroom and the room containing any cassettes owned by Franklin Morton. Well Percy would just have to work silently.
The first thing the Sneaky Spy did was to survey Morton's house and the houses on either side too, to see whether any lights were on and whether the front windows had the curtains drawn. The house on the left had the curtains drawn. The one on the right had no curtains in the front windows, as did Morton's house. The lights in all three houses were off. Percy turned around and lowered his left hand. To make those observations, he had stood on the footpath facing away from the houses, as if to cross the road. He had raised his hand, the one with his watch on its wrist, and used a special quality of the watch to study the houses. When the human eye was close enough to Percy's watch, the electronic digit display appears to go out of focus, giving way to a clear screen shaped mirror. Percy turned around, stepped towards the two foot fence at the front of Morton's property, and jumped silently over it.
"Early to bed,
As soon as you're fed,
Leaving your homes
At the mercy of Dale."
Percy composed it mentally and did not recite it verbally, as he silently paced the distance towards the front of the house. There were front windows for rooms on each side of the door. The one on the left was silent. From the one on the right Percy could hear two distinct patterns of snoring: and the window was half open. The Sneaky Spy removed his tranquiliser gun from inside his coat, and reached through the window with the gun in his hand. Two quiet shots was all it took to prevent any possibility of husband and wife waking up. Percy lifted the window to its full height, climbed in and removed the two darts from the shoulders of their sleeping human targets.
He wanted to leave no evidence of his progress, apart from the cassette recording in his pocket. Percy had copied only the insinuating portions of the many hours he had spent at Safecover. He had also typewritten an explanation of the cassette recording and inserted a small piece of paper between the cassette and the side of the box. He was now able to follow his original plan. He took out the letter and read the small typed piece of correspondence:
I TEMPORARILY BUGGED ONE OF YOUR
DEPARTMENTS IN MY OWN WAY, BECAUSE I
HAVE A FASCINATION WITH THE INTERNAL
WORKINGS OF INSURANCE COMPANIES.
UPON PLAYING BACK SOME OF THE
RECORDINGS THAT WERE MADE, I THOUGHT
THAT YOU WOULD BE INTERESTED TO KNOW
ABOUT SOME OF THE RIDICULOUS
INJUSTICES BROUGHT ABOUT BY PATRICK
REID AND PAULA TEMPLEY.
IT WAS AS EASY TO FIND YOUR ADDRESS AS
IT WAS TO BUG THE DEPARTMENT. TO ENTER
YOUR HOUSE WAS ALSO A TASK THAT
PROVIDED ME WITH NO PROBLEMS. I HOPE
THAT YOU WILL NOT BE DISSUADED BY MY
METHODS OF DOING THINGS, FROM TAKING
THE NECESSARY ACTION.
DO NOT LOOK FOR THE MONITORING DEVICES
THAT I USED. I HAVE REMOVED THEM. I
ACCOMPLISHED ALL OF THIS IN SPITE OF YOUR
STAFF, NOT BECAUSE OF ANY ASSISTANCE THAT
YOU MAY WRONGLY ASSUME THEY HAVE GIVEN
A CONCERNED OBSERVER.
He found Morton's cassette player, and substituted the Safecover tape for one of Morton's cassettes, which he hid under the bed. The cassette rotor was located in the bedroom that Percy had entered through the window.
Then he noticed an empty cassette box on top of the bedside table, beside which was a small portable taperecorder. Percy found the corresponding music cassette in the recorder, and reversed his previous exchange of cassettes, before hiding the music cassette under the bed, and placing the Safecover cassette in the recorder.
Then he left the letter beside the taperecorder and partly covered it with the empty box of the music cassette. He took out a small handkerchief and used it to remove his fingerprints from all of the objects that he had touched. He was just about to climb through the window and make his departure, when he heard the clink of milkbottles in a crate.
"Oh," he thought, "One should not assume that the Sydenham milkman comes on the same nights as my Wahroonga chap."
For a person who had just discovered his first mistake of the evening, Percy was doubly pleased that he had taken the precaution of tranquilising his unwitting hosts. He waited until the milktruck was heard to be a few houses away, and then left through the window as planned, using the handkerchief as a glove.
He had completed the task in less time than he had estimated. This was partly because he had allowed for time to plan and climb up into a second storey, should Franklin Morton have turned out to have had a two storey house.
Percy walked back to Sydenham station and spent the next twenty minutes waiting for Freddy to arrive in the scarlet XW Ford Falcon.
Donna telephoned Percy during her lunch hour, to ask if she could come over for dinner. Percy agreed, and spent the day filling in time in ways that a Sneaky Spy fills in time. He took from his cupboard a pair of large boxes containing parts of his grandfather's old electric train set. He had liked his grandparents to an uncommon extent. When he was four years old, the old house in Burnseid Street had been his childhood concept of paradise. A three day visit to that house was something that Percy had always viewed as an escape from the dissatisfying lifestyle that school provided for him. He had done many things at Burnseid Street, one of which was to watch his grandfather playing with the trainset in the spare room. The entire house which bore a stone denoting its 1897 birthmark, had a sentimental oldwordly air about it. Percy felt extremely fortunate to at least have the house by which to remember its owners. If the house were ever to be invaded or threatened without a proper reason, Percy would protect it with fierce dedication to the task, as certain unfriendly drug racketeers had once discovered. This house was something more than a home to the Sneaky Spy.
Percy looked at the boxes. In the top box he noticed some booklets which included a catalogue and assembly manual.
"I wonder if I can make it go," he said aloud to an empty house devoid of people who might question his sanity.
He carried the boxes into the spare room. Then he went to his bedroom and collected his portable cassette recorder and some cassette recordings of movie soundtracks from the decades of old, and took them to the spare room, which had two power sockets on opposite walls to each other. He plugged the recorder into one of the sockets, and listened to one of the cassettes, as he stared at the platform leaning against the far wall.
"How Grandpa propped that up I will never know," he thought.
Percy removed it to its horizontal position and then set to work, connecting pieces of track, wiring up signals, and choosing where to position the different pieces of scenery. Every minor detail was treated as requiring another decision that was just part of the fun. Finally he was ready to assemble the train itself. He took it out of its boxes, carriage by carriage, and eventually came to the engine. He gave some thought to the order in which he would have the carriages, and then connected them together.
All that remained was to connect the transformer to the tracks, and plug it into a power socket. It was now approaching four o'clock.
"Such a sentimental occasion calls for a sentimental drink," he thought, and decided to make a proper sentimental afternoon tea out of it.
He began reminiscing again, looking back into the past to a rainy afternoon at this house, when he was six years old. His grandmother had squeezed a drink of fresh orange juice from a small portion of the produce of an orchard. She also used to give him chocolate wheatmeal biscuits. So he opened a packet of those as well, put four on a plate, and tipped the others into a jar.
He enjoyed his afternoon tea, and then completed the work on the trainset. Would the old toy still work?
Percy smiled, and then he moved around the platform and began to change the combinations of the points directions on the forking parts of the track. For an hour and a half, Percy sat there watching the train. The music was still playing from taperecorder behind him, and the time was approaching six o'clock.
Percy did not hear Donna knocking on the front door.
Five minutes later he did not hear her letting herself in with a key that he had recently given her. Donna walked soundlessly across the carpeted floors, following the sound of the music, until she entered the spare room and saw Percy, with his back to her, staring at the train.
As she stood at the door and watched the scene, she could not see an adult Percy Dale watching the train move around the tracks. Donna was absolutely convinced that she was looking at a five year old boy.
The boy that she saw was peaceful and contented. He liked to play and have fun; and yet as the boy grew up, he found himself in a world where many people played dirty and hurt each other for fun.
Donna moved closer and knelt beside him, and looked at his steady eyes. He made no movement, and yet she knew that he had inwardly and happily acknowledged her arrival ... and that was enough. She looked at Percy. He seemed no more relaxed than he usually was, an the chronicler assures his readers that Percy could be as relaxed as a hybernating bear in the most strenuous situations, but it was in a different way.
For the first time, Donna discovered a new depth in the man she had come to love.
"I did not have much of my own work today. So I kept your old job up to date without needing to work overtime."
"That's good. I'm just keeping Grandpa's job up to date... Sometimes I get sentimental about this house. We can't all be living a simple life, but I like to pretend sometimes, that mine has not acquired the complexities of adulthood."
"You were remembering the good old days."
"I was. Sometimes I would like to invent a time machine in that laboratory upstairs, and go back a few decades and live there for a while."
"Maybe I could give you a few of the good old days."
"I don't think you need to. With you around, the good new days are as good as anything gone by. Say, I don't really feel like invading the privacy of anything in the refridgerator just at the moment. Would you fancy taking this and buying some chicken up at the shops? We might sit at opposite ends of the dining table and have ourselves a dinner to remember."
He handed her some money as he spoke.
"You know, Percy, I don't think we're anywhere near being ready for marriage yet, do you?" asked Donna.
"No, I don't think we are either. What brought that on?"
"I was just thinking how much I love the thought of wedding ceremonies. I don't want to marry anybody just yet, but it must be fascinating standing in the aisle in a long wedding dress, with all your friends watching... and taking vows and so on... The whole process is a tempting experience."
She noticed the barely detectable movement in Percy's eyes, and then he said it.
"Why don't we ask a few friends over and have a pretend wedding ceremony? We could use Freddy as the celebrant, and change the questions and responses a bit, just for the hilarious incongruity of it all."
"Are you free next Saturday?"
"I certainly am."
"Then Percy my love, do you take me by proxy, at least for the duration of the service, to be your hysterically wedded wife?"
"How could I help but comply?"
"Where do you think we could do it?"
"In my large living room. Where else? I'll bring down any chairs from the other rooms, and arrange them all, armchairs and couches alike, in rows. I will just give Freddy a call, and then I will see you to the door, and we will call it a night."
Percy dialed Freddy's telephone number in the telephone room.
"Hello Freddy old friend. Listen, Donna and I are going to get married, well not really, but we'll have a bit of an imitation ceremony, and we were wondering if you could just do us the one small favour of-"
"Oh no. I hate to think what it is."
"You, friend Frederick, are going to imparsonate a vicar."
The publisher has made no spelling errors in the reproduction of the last sentence.
Of their friends, Percy and Donna selected those with open minds and broad senses of humour, and sent some carefully worded invitations. Donna went shopping and purchased an ordinairy white dress, which she kept far away from Percy's eyes, secured in her wardrobe at home. Percy simply selected some clothes which he had never worn in Donna's presence before. They included a predominantly black suit, with a provision for certain minor areas of white.
On the Tuesday evening, they collaborated to write a script for Fred Hailstrum, which they would give him to read from, unrehearsed, on the Saturday. Their plans for the Friday night were simple. A game of monopoly would suffice. Percy had only begun to load up his real estate with housing, when he heard a knock at the door, which he then opened.
"No bogus marriage is complete without the bogus boys party," said Freddy, and the Sneaky Spy allowed himself to be seized by Fred Hailstrum and three of their old friends. He did not have the heart to oppose whatever plan they had gone to the trouble of springing on him.
"Donna, I'll be gone for a while. So if anything happens to me," he called out, as they led him down the steps to the loop at the end of the driveway, "don't forget to sell Mayfair back to the bank."
Two of their friends each took an arm, and the third held one arm around Percy's neck, loose enough to allow Percy to speak.
"It's not too late to amend the script we wrote for you, Freddy," he said.
"And I can still opt out of the whole deal."
They led him around to the back lawn. Percy noticed that they had lit the garden up, by turning on all of the outside lights, and they had also positioned a home movie camera on a tripod.
"May one be permitted to enquire what you are going to do?" queried Percy.
"You're not going to have to do anything by yourself, except to go into the coach house and change into that pair of overalls that you said you were saving for a dirty job. Percy waited until he was released, produced his key to the coach house, and replaced his attire with the aforementioned item of clothing.
As he was later led to the back lawn, Percy noticed a collection of cardboard boxes separated from a similar pile by about five metres of grass. He waited for Freddy to make his announcement.
"Percy Dale, in honour of your mock-matrimony and recent handling of drug smugglers in your own home, we will now shoot the world's finest boys night foodfight with-"
"Creamcakes," said Percy smiling, and the Sneaky Spy dived towards the nearest box of edible ammunition.
They were at it for half an hour, pausing occasionally to call truces and reposition themselves, in order to avoid situations which would lead to covering the automatic camera in pieces of dripping creamcake. As he dodged and hurled, and did not always dodge in time, Percy realised that he should have suspected it, with four of his friends arriving in overalls. There were no teams in the game. It was every cake launcher for himself. Every competitor was guarranteed a taste of both the action and the creamcakes.
When they had finally exhausted their supplies, Percy examined the aftermath. Three friends were rolling in the grass laughing. Freddy was staggering towards the house. Percy threw himself at the man's waist, and Freddy fell to the ground, emitting a mixture of guffaws and groans.
"Not a chance, you silly sticky mess," said the Sneaky Spy, "We clean ourselves as best we can with the hose, and then you lot can drive home as you are, to some nice hot showers. I will go to the door and ask Donna to bring us out some towels."
She confronted him at the front door with the towels already in her hands giggling hysterically.
"Well you see, we... you already know, don't you?"
"Yes. I watched it all from the balcony upstairs. She handed him the towels, and he kissed her lips, and then considered the enormity of what he had to do next.
"I had better go and get us dried off," he said, "It's only a quarter to eight. We'll still have time to talk in front of the fire, while I dry out thoroughly. I hope that I don't fall into the wedding cake that Andrea Hailstrum made, tomorrow."
"I will eat you out of that mess if you do," said Donna.
She followed Percy out to the lawn.
"I think I am going to enjoy marrying you, Percy."
"Sleep well, Mrs Dale."
Percy threw off his bedclothes, leapt out of the bed, crossed the room, turned off the alarm clock's bell, and stood motionless, smiling into the bedroom mirror. There was not a trace of worry or concern on his face. He had survived a dream which combined elements of the make-believe marriage ahead and the problems he had faced at Safecover.
He showered and dressed, and ate a light breakfast. He wanted to allow for the consumption of large helpings of the food which he would be serving at the 'reception' in the dining room at lunch time.
Percy had no addictions to, or even any history of indulgences in drugs, alcohol or nicotine. However, he was an addicted participant of anything that he could interpret as a cue for an eating contest.
At quarter past ten the guests began to arrive. Percy seated them in rows as planned, and retired to his study to briefly rehearse his lines. He would have to invent some of it as he went along, but Percy was used to inventing lines to either mock or fool the naughty ones whilst on Sneaky Spy missions, so this morning would be easier.
He walked casually into the room and saw Freddy at the front eagerly awaiting something. Percy took out a folded piece of paper with writing on both sides, and handed it to Freddy, as he approached one of his closest friends.
"Your script as promised, and Freddy," he said, as he moved to within whispering earshot of the man, "If I see one creamcake in this place today, I will be most distressed."
"Don't worry. There's only the wedding cake, and it is actually a giant pavlova. So nothing will go wrong. You will both enjoy yourselves in peace with your friends. That's something," said Freddy.
Percy went to wait outside the front door until he saw her at the bottom of the steps alone, and ran down to hug her.
When he reached the bottom, he stopped to take in the full sight of her staring and smiling at him. Her hair flowed perfectly straight as always. Her naturally red lips were, to him, the most prominent manifestation of the fact that the girl required no make-up, and looked her best without it.
He looked at the dress and knew that it suited her more than any of the dresses he had imagined her to wear to the wedding in his mind in the past few days.
"Did you drive all the way here in that dress?"
"No. I didn't want my parents to know about this mad idea of ours. So I had arranged with Freddy on Tuesday, to give me the key to his house last night, so that I could change there this morning."
"Amazing foresight," said Percy.
He began to walk her up the steps. When they were halfway up the steps, it registered in his mind.
"You knew that Freddy was coming over here last night?"
She tried to hide a smile, when he asked that question, and nodded reluctantly.
"I thought the creamcakes were rather funny last time," she said.
"Oh come on, let's pretend to get married."
They entered the house without the slightest trail of a smile on either of their faces. They had had their joke and then composed themselves. They walked across to Freddy, noticing the collection of amused spectators as they did so.
'I won't take too long about all this," said Freddy, reading from his speech correctly, "and then you can beetle into the dining room and start the festivities. Ahem then. We are gathered here today to prove, among other things, that fun can be experienced in ridiculous ways, as well as those commonly shared by the general public. So without any further ado, I shall manifest the aforementioned..."
"Hypothesized opinion," supplied Percy.
"Hypothesized opinion, by initiating the make-believe marriage of Donna Connolly and Percival Dale. Donna, do you take this Percy Dale to be your role-played wedded husband?"
"I think so," said Donna.
"And do you, Percival take this gem of a lass to be your wife, the whole truth and nothing but the- Hey, how did that speech get in there? This script is not the best. Well anyway, do you take her?"
"Oh definitely. Of course I do," said Percy.
"Then if there be anyone here present who would wish to throw a spanner in the works, let him spill the beans now or forever vanquish any memory of the whole thing from his mind," said Freddy.
A score of hands went up at such a pace that, had the ceiling been falling towards them, their hands might well have pushed it back into its place before anyone had noticed what had happened.
"Yeah, we object," called a voice.
So did others.
Freddy became inaudible.
His attempts to control things were smothered by the chorus of cries from the congregation. Percy checked his face for any residual trace of a smile, and spun around to face the congregation.
"Alright, dear visitors," he said in a voice that just seemed to take command of the situation,
"We shall conduct this like any democratic movement in this country, and take a vote on it. No, on safer thoughts, Freddy just get on with it."
The room erupted into laughter.
They finally quietened down.
"For the sake of good fun, with no intention of cheapening the true concept of marriage, I now pronounce you husband and wife, until the reception is over and done with," said Freddy, "Andrea's pavlova is awaiting. Until clean-up time do you both part."
Before anyone else had transmitted the decision to move from their brains to their legs, Percy pivotted around sideways, put an arm behind Donna's back, bent down and put the other arm behind her legs and lifted her into his arms.
"The aspirations of any true connoisseur await you in the dining room, dear friends. Freddy can say grace."
Freddy followed them into the dining room, and the congregation followed suit.
When they were all positioned around the table, standing, for there were not enough chairs to seat everybody in the dining room, Freddy said grace, and then they ate.
On Sunday Percy and Donna drove into the country for a quiet relaxing picnic. Neither of them saw any need to continue the marriage joke. It was a new day, and they would both make it as infinetely different to its predecessor as the difference between the sizes of an atom and a universe.
They had taken a street directory with them and brought their lunches from a country shop. After enjoying their midday meal, they opened the street directory and pencilled out a copy of the relevant page on a spare piece of paper. Donna was unusually fast at this task, Percy discovered. This they took with them as they spent the afternoon walking the country roads in a circuit that would lead them back to Donna's orange Ford Fairlane by the time most of the afternoon had elapsed.
Although Percy was wealthy, he enjoyed the chance to do something for nothing, creating the enjoyment of the day with the effort of his own legs, rather than by spending money. Percy and Donna created their own entertainment and enjoyed it to the fullest.
As Donna drove them back towards the back streets of western Turramurra, Percy asked a question which had been forgotten in the excitement of the marital preparations.
"Has Patrick Reid found a replacement for me yet?"
"No, but he has called a staff meeting for tomorrow morning, and the issue to be discussed is inter-staff relations."
"Well maybe the ones in your department will improve."
It was a grim and nervous Patrick Reid who addressed Donna and the others at the Monday morning meeting.
"I have been in conference with a guy called Franklin Morton. He's the managing director for everyone in this building. Apparently my... the dismissal of Percy Dale has caused a few bombs to go off. I'm not here to find out if any of you were involved in what has happened. I have just been asked to tell you that the way we treat you and the way you treat us will be given special attention by management over the next few months. So if you have any problems, and you do not think that you want to confront Paula or myself, you are always welcome to discuss them with your personnel manager on the seventh floor. Anything you tell him will be said in the strictest confidence. That means that I will not be able to find out what you might say."
"I may just do that," thought Donna, "and I think I might just buy Percy a large bottle of his favourite brand of bitter lemon soft drink the next time I see him."
Patrick, Paula and Penelope never gave Donna any further cause for complaint. Throughout the coming weeks, it became evident that Franklin Morton had come down heavily on Patrick Reid. This meant that the supervisors would have to conduct their departments properly and fairly, or face demotions, or even the prospect of losing their jobs altogether.
Percy and Donna went out for dinner to celebrate.