In which Lord Gorblimey of Crikey Downs (a/k/a Citizen Jim) arrives with the news that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will soon be arriving to stay with Chicken Sheets. But just until they can get back on their feet.
It’d been a very trying week at work. When I headed home on Friday evening, all I really wanted out of life was to put on my pyjamas, feed my cat, and have a cup of tea. My plan was to be in bed reading by eight o’clock and asleep before nine.
It was drippy and blustery outside. The promise of even worse weather made me eager to call it a night as soon as possible so that I could be coaxed into the arms of Morpheus by howling winds and rain striking the windows like pins thrown by billions of angels who decided not to see how many of them could fit on the heads.
At around 7:30 my stomach was making other plans, groaning loudly as a reminder that I had not put anything in it since noon. Because I’d been too lazy to go to the grocery store, I was in the quandary I’d faced a couple of weeks before: there was nothing in my fridge except a dozen jumbo eggs, a package of cheese, and some turkey bacon. So breakfast for supper it would be.
At the very moment my egg cooker buzzed, the doorbell rang—which was particularly strange since I don’t have a doorbell.
Figuring the stress of the previous week and my ongoing recovery from acute bronchitis was making my ears play tricks on me, I ignored what I thought was an aural hallucination and sat down to eat my cheesy omelet and bacon.
But I heard it again. Then again. And again and again, until the cacophony of the imaginary bell ringing twice every second became too much to bear. I went to the door and opened it just to assure myself that it was all in my head.
Standing there in the dark, illuminated only by white Christmas lights still strung around the neighbors’ treehouse, was Citizen Jim.
“At your service, ma’am,” he said, and bowed.
When he stood to his full height, I saw that he was wearing what appeared to be a tuxedo. His black shoes were buffed to a glass-like shine and covered by white spats. I was especially intrigued by the pair of lumpy white gloves he must have struggled to pull on over his hairy, ape-like hands.
His face turned as cloudy as the night skies. “Can’t you think of some other way to describe my appendages without calling them ‘hairy’ and ‘ape-like’?” he asked. “Repeating the same insults in different stories only makes you seem lazy and makes the reader feel sorry for me.”
“If any reader feels sorry for you right now they won’t by the end of the story,” I said. “What do you want?”
“Why do you always assume I want something? Here I am, going out of my way to visit a poor, lonely spinster on a dark, stormy night and all you can say is, ‘What do you want?’ God, you’re horrible.”
“You still haven’t answered my question,” I said. “I’m hungry and tired and ready to go to bed, so.”
“You better wake up, Sister Kristy, and break out the fine china and Egyptian cotton linens! You can’t be treating the Duke and Duchess the same way you treat me when they show up here, you know. It’s a good thing I’ll be here, too, or you’d probably hurt their feelings and ruin all my plans.”
Ah. Everything was becoming a little clearer to me, despite the fact that I still had no idea what the hell Citizen Jim was up to. Just knowing he was up to anything at all was enough to feel waves of dread cresting in my brain—but not the good kind (read: the Waves of Dread who have a new single coming out on 31 January).
“Is that what the tuxedo’s all about?” I asked, looking him up and down.
“This is no goddamn tuxedo, you low-class barbarian! It’s a butler’s uniform!” he said, beating his chest with his fists and then wincing. “Ow! And you can believe I didn’t get a good deal on the rental fee since we’ve got Mardi Gras right around the corner.”
“I hate to say you rented a tuxedo for—”
“I just told you it’s not a goddamn tuxedo!” he yelled.
“I’m sorry, I forgot,” I said and bowed my head.
“Look here! The Duke and Duchess should be getting my invitation and their tickets in a couple of days, and—”
I looked up, wide-eyed. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but—”
“You might be sorry, but not about that.”
“This is important! I just realized I only had two dogs during my childhood: a German Shepherd named Duchess, and an English bulldog named Duke. And now you’re here talking about a Duchess and a Duke. Wow. Isn’t that crazy?”
“Now’s not the time to start talking about your horrible Appalachian childhood when you worked twelve-hour days in the coal mines for two dollars a week and had to walk five miles through a blizzard every winter just to get to your one-room schoolhouse at the top of Chicken Gizzard Hill.”
“Fair enough,” I nodded. “Now what were you saying?”
“I was saying that as soon as Mr. and Mrs. Sussex get passage on that cruise ship from Belfast, we won’t have long to get ready for them.”
“There’s no cruise ship that’ll leave from Belfast in January, you idiot!”
“The hell you say! I bought the tickets yesterday and had them sent directly to the royal couple!”
“You didn’t happen to buy them from the trunk of someone’s car, did you?” I asked.
He frowned. “Huh?”
“Remember when we went to the booksellers’ convention in Orlando and we met that drunken Irish guy with all those tickets to Universal Studios he was trying to sell from the trunk of his car in the hotel parking lot?”
“Don’t be a racist!” Citizen Jim said. “For your information, I got the tickets online at a website called jaysus bucky what a feckin deal dot com. Anyway, I told their highnesses they could stay with you while Harry looks for a job and Meghan tries to land a new acting gig.”
“I hope you let them know they’ll be sleeping on the futon,” I said.
“You mean you won’t even let them use your bed for a week or so? What kind of pro-immigration, migrant-supporting anti-American socialist are you, anyway?”
“The kind who needs her sleep every night so she can go to work at a real job Monday through Friday,” I said. “And I can’t leave strangers in my house every day—who knows how many books they might steal from me while I’m gone? And don’t they have a baby? You know how much my cat hates children. I’m sorry, but I just can’t agree to have them here for more than a day.”
Citizen Jim grabbed me by the wrist and dragged me into the living room, then flung me into one of my comfy armchairs. “That’s where I come in! In this uniform! I’ll be your butler!”
“Oh, that’s just the kind of butler I need—a Jeeves who’s more dangerously stupid than Bertie Wooster!”
“While you’re wasting time making these arcane literary allusions, the Duke and Duchess are balling up their undies and boxers and nightshirts and silk stockings and throwing them into suitcases so they can get the hell out of England and make a better life for themselves and their child.”
“Yeah, well, I hate to sound like a Fox News talking point, but on second thought: I don’t think I want to get involved with offering safe haven to these Royal Family Refugees.”
“You’re joking, right?” Citizen Jim asked.
“Hell no, I’m not joking! The last thing we need is for this country to start welcoming freeloaders from the upper classes inside our borders. Remember what happened when we let the Shah of Iran seek asylum? Fifty-two hostages! Held for 444 days! Remember that?”
“That was forty years ago!”
“I don’t care of it was eighty years ago—if Harry and Meghan darken our shores, nothing good can come of it. They’ll show up, then I’m sure Prince Andrew won’t be far behind. If he comes, you know his dingbat ex-wife will follow, and she’ll probably drag those horse-faced daughters along!” I said. “And what if members of other royal families decide to flee their countries—we could be invaded by royal Swedes and Norwegians and Belgians before we even know it’s happening. Good God! If those unemployable moochers overrun us, I can’t even imagine how many Roman Catholic cardinals escaping the Vatican City will be lined up with their soft, warty hands held out for a give-away! We can’t risk all that, no matter how unchristian it seems.”
“Will you listen to yourself? Do you not have a heart in your chest? Or is it just a lump of coal frozen inside a ball of ice? It’s going to be hard enough and dangerous enough for the Duke and Duchess to cross the Irish Sea so they can get on that cruise ship!”
“I’m no world traveler, but I have a feeling they could probably fly from Liverpool to Belfast in under an hour,” I said.
“Pah! You don’t know shit about shit! You’d bloody well better get this house cleaned and stock your pantry with plenty of Marmite and winkles and prawn flavored crisps before Harry and Megs and Baby Archie get here, or my plans’ll be for nothing.”
I knew I couldn’t make him understand that this plan was just as naive and ludicrous as—if not more than—any other plan he’d come up within 20 years. And I knew I couldn’t try to reason with Citizen Jim, as that’s always a futile endeavor. So I just decided to go with the flow until our visit reached its natural conclusion.
“You’re right, Precious Lamb. I need to get on the ball. But will you just tell me what the goal is?”
“I guess we don’t ever need to worry about you getting a Ph.D. in Obvious Studies any time soon, do we? The plan! The plan is: once they get here, we make them sign non-disclosure agreements. That’ll make us look legit. I’ll spy on them every day while you go to work, then you’ll write the tell-all about letting them stay here and it’ll sell a zillion copies. But they won’t be able to sue you because of the non-disclosure agreements we’ll make them sign! We can’t lose on this one!”
“Wow, you really put a lot of thought into this, I can tell,” I said, trying to lead him toward the door by his elbow.
He yanked his elbow from my cupped palm but continued toward the door. “Well, someone’s gotta put some thought into the things that go on around here since your little raisin brain isn’t exactly equipped for anything harder than sleeping and liking Patton Oswalt’s tweets,” he said. “So don’t say I ain’t never done nothing for you!”
I clutched my chest and assured him: “Oh, I would never say that! You’re my best friend in the world!”
“And another thing,” said Citizen Jim, turning in the doorway and squinting at me. “When the royals get here, don’t call me Citizen Jim. That’s not a good name for a butler. So you call me Lord Gorblimey of Crikey Downs, okay? I need to sound a little fancier.”
“I mean it!” he said.
“Pip pip!” I called out as he made his way down the sidewalk.
“You better not mess things up!” he yelled.
“Cheerio!” I shouted and slammed the door.
Then it was back to my blasted eggs and soggy bacon.