} Inspector Lisa Lovelace of the Yard looked out of the flat's window
} onto the London cityscape spread out below. From twelve storeys up, it
} was a spectacular view. But what had caught her attention was much
} closer to hand. She bent down until her nose almost touched the
} windowsill. There was no mistake: it was a V-shaped notch, about
} quarter of an inch deep. How had the SOCOs missed that?
} "Sergeant Zadoc," she called out, "take a look at this, will you."
} "At once, She Whose Breath Is Like a Heady Perfume from Far Araby!
} Whose Every Syllable Is a Note in a Symphony by Mozart! Whose Perfectly
} Apportioned Features..."
} Lisa made an exasperated noise in the back of her throat. "Zadoc, a
} simple 'Yes, Ma'am' is sufficient deference for a sergeant to show to
} an inspector. And, for God's sake, get up off your knees - you won't
} see anything that way! That's better. Now, look at this windowsill -
} what do you see?"
} Zadoc studied it closely for a long time. "Needs dusting?" he
} ventured. "How about the notch?"
} "Oh, ah. Needs dusting and mending."
} "A notch made by a nylon rope, wouldn't you say?" Lisa prompted.
} "The kind mountaineers use? For lowering a heavy object, judging from
} the depth? Say, for instance, a tied-up supplicant? Hence the fact that
} he was not seen leaving the building by the CCTV cameras in the lobby?"
} "Absolutely!" Zadoc agreed heartily. "That's precisely what I would
} "Would you, indeed? On the basis of what?"
} "On the basis that it's what you just said, She Whose Breasts Are
} More Voluminous than Ripe... erm, Ma'am."
} Well, it answered one question. Wherever the Oracle's supplicants
} were disappearing to, it looked like they weren't going voluntarily.
} The Internet Oracle had contacted Scotland Yard two days
} previously. He was getting worried about the gradual disappearance of
} his British supplicants. More and more, all he received from this side
} of the pond was a deafening silence. It looked suspicious. Not that he
} was bothered about a few supplicants going walkabout - he had far too
} many already. But these supplicants doubled as incarnations and, as
} everyone knows, British incarnations are distinguished by...
} "Sergeant," said Lisa, "remind me of the results of your analysis
} of the recent digests."
} "At once, She Who Must Be Fawned upon Incessantly!" cried Zadoc.
} "As you instructed, I counted the occurrences of certain key words and
} whether or not they were spelled correctly. I have no idea why this
} should be significant and most people would have refused on the grounds
} that it was a complete waste of time, but since I only live to obey
} your every whim in the most abject and servile manner I can conceive
} "The results!" shrieked Lisa, momentarily losing her characteristic
} "Ahem, the results: humour - 57 yes, 9 no; axe - 12 yes, 1 no;
} dialogue - 4 yes, none no; programme - 6 yes, 3 no; lift, as opposed to
} "Yes, yes, yes," the inspector interrupted impatiently. "And what
} does all this tell you?"
} Zadoc considered the possibilities. "That the Americans are finally
} learning to spell?"
} "How about: British incarnations are naturally gifted in this
} sphere and, despite their relatively low numbers, get selected for the
} digests more often?"
} "Ah yes, that too."
} "So let's assume for a moment," said Lisa, "that this supplicant
} was indeed kidnapped, as were the previous eight that have gone missing.
} Let's also assume that the only common factor is that they are all
} eminently digestable incarnations. Who, then, would want to kidnap a
} bunch of proven comic writers?"
} "Prince Charles!" Zadoc exclaimed.
} "The editor of The Times!"
} "Peter Mandelson!"
} "No! Why should he?"
} "I don't know, but I wouldn't put anything past Peter Mandelson."
} Lisa tried a different tack. "Okay, how about this: what are the
} funniest shows on TV at the moment?"
} "That's easy!" cried Zadoc. Here, at last, was a question he felt
} fully competent to answer. "Friends, Frazier, Seinfeld, Cybill, Third
} Rock, Caroline in the City..."
} "Which are all American, are they not?"
} "Seinfeld's American!?!"
} "Take my word for it," Lisa assured him. "In short, whereas the BBC
} used to have the whole world wetting itself with mirth at masterpieces
} like Steptoe and Son, Dad's Army, The Good Life, Porridge, Only Fools
} and Horses, Yes Minister and Blackadder, now all the good stuff is
} imported from abroad by Channel 4 and the best the BBC has to offer -
} God help us - is Birds of a Feather and Keeping up Appearances."
} "I always watch Keeping up Appearances!" Zadoc protested.
} "Zadoc, you'd watch the test card if someone didn't switch the set
} off," said Lisa kindly. "Come, dear boy - let's pay a visit to Auntie
} Beeb. I think we can wrap this business up quickly."
} And so it was that Sir Cyril Burt, Chief Executive of the British
} Broadcasting Corporation, was arrested for multiple kidnapping and
} unlawful detention. And nine students of Computing Sciences and
} part-time incarnations of the Internet Oracle emerged blinking into the
} daylight, freed from the bowels of Broadcasting House where they had
} been forced to co-operate on the writing of a new sitcom entitled "I
} Dream of Slobodan". A show which, incidentally, would have been so
} hysterically funny it could only have been broadcast accompanied by a
} government health warning, for fear that people would die laughing. As
} it was, all the scripts were impounded as evidence by the police, so it
} was never produced.
} And, finally, a grateful Oracle invited the arresting officers to
} come and visit his shrine in Indiana, at his expense.
} "Sergeant, what have you got in that suitcase?"
} "Forty-six jars of Marmite, She Who in Her Infinite Wisdom and
} Playful Eccentricity Prefers to Be Addressed as Merely Ma'am. I heard
} they haven't got it over there."
} "We're only going for a week."
} "It pays to be prepared."
} Lisa made an exasperated noise in the back of her throat. "Zadoc,
} do people ever tell you that you get on their nerves?"
} "And you don't read anything into that?"
} "I always thought they meant it in a purely affectionate way."
} "Yes, I can see why you might think that."