'... according to the Minister
, who explained that although there were no vampire
-related incidents at all in the last twelve months, the Government were still on target
to meet their target
of a twenty-five percent reduction
. It was at least logically possible that some incidents of a hitherto unidentified
nature had been erroneously misclassified
, and a task force
was to be created to oversee the reduction of such incidents. In sporting news, Swindon Town have been relegated after a freak incident
in which an escaped--'
Henderson Duckfolder pressed the button on the remote control with the hand-affixed label KILL MINISTER.
He had an in-tray on his new desk, a red wire basket with an empty manilla file in it. He had an empty green basket on the other side. He had a small pile of yellow sticky notes, two blue biros and a red one, a stapler and a packet of staples and a staple remover, and a plastic wallet of six coloured highlighters, at his right hand, in front of his in-tray. By his out-tray was a ruled A4 pad.
There were no drawers. The drawers were on order from Basingstoke.
He had a swivel chair, an unconnected telephone on the floor behind him, a throb high above the orbits of his eyes, and eight plastic name-plates of triangular cross-section. Two of them said H.M. INSPECTOR OF VAMPIRES, one chipped and worn with age and the other newly made. All the others were newly made.
Henderson Duckfolder could also call himself CHIEF SUPERVISOR OF VAMPIRES, CENTRAL VAMPIRE-RELATED INCIDENTS INVESTIGATION CLERK, INSPECTOR OF POTENTIAL VAMPIRE-RELATED MISCLASSIFICATION INCIDENTS, and three other variations. They had all arrived a few hours apart on his third day in his new office, along with the chair, the staple remover, and the manilla file.
The file number was sixty-one digits long and contained twelve slashes, nine forward and three back, and it ended in four hyphens and a B. It was stamped UNCLASSIFIED.
His telephone rang briefly, once, and the afternoon sun was blotted out by a cloaked shape behind him as he drew the file towards himself, wrote '21 August. None.' in a careful hand on the topmost sheet of the pad, and filed it.
Henderson Duckfolder's eyes darted listlessly between in-tray and out-tray. After a while he initialled his note and dropped the file in the out-tray.
He had filled thirty-five pages of the pad with the line 'Reclassifying potential vampire-related incidents is boring', changing one letter with each line. It now contained the Minister's name and three of his internal organs and much of the back end of the alphabet, with diacritics and little faces.
The unconnected telephone rang twice. Henderson Duckfolder got down, picked it up, and put it in his out-tray. It rang again.
It was near midnight. He was waiting to report to a Mrs Benson, who would issue him with instructions and tell him his office hours. He thought it was her scraping tentatively at the window, then a minute later at the door, but it was only a delivery from Basingstoke of more name-plates.
GRAND WAZIR OF ALL VAMPIRE ACTIVITY
LORD OF THE VAMPIRE QUEST
VAMPIRE-FINDER GENERAL AND EXTRAORDINARY
HENDERSON DUCKFOLDER 1 AND 2
He filed all the rest of them in the out-tray and kept the last one, concentrating on its text for a few minutes in the noisome fluorescent
light before setting it in the proper place on the front of his desk.
There was a knock at the door.
Or a hallucination.
He spent a few more minutes wondering how, in this frame of mind, and at this time of night, he could distinguish a knock on the door from a convincing hallucination. All those undergraduate essays on epistemology, wasted.
Either the knocking had stopped or he had stopped hallucinating.
Or he was having a hallucination that there was no knocking.
He tore off the top thirty-five pages of the pad and dropped them into the out-tray, onto the telephone, which almost rang but thought better of it. On the free page he began to sketch the logical possibilities, first as abbreviated sentences in bullet points, then as truth tables and Venn diagrams, then as a ramified conceptual map with the more parsimonious possibilities such as 'always hallucinating' and 'never hallucinating' more heavily underlined. Then he initialled it.
'Mr Duckfolder 1 and 2?'
'Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't hear you come in.'
'Most people don't.'
'Is it Mrs Benson?'
'Mrs Benson's had an accident, I'm afraid.'
'Well, an incident.'
Henderson Duckfolder 1 and 2 stared at his cowled visitor for a while, before tearing off the top sheets of calculation and placing them in his out-tray, and heading the next page with the word 'Incidents'. He underlined it in red biro then switched back to blue: 'August 21. Mrs Benson. Confirmed (single source only).'
He drew his in-tray towards him. Cautiously he lifted it up, turned it over, and shook it in case there was anything to dislodge. Nothing. He sighed.
'I shall have to start a new file,' he said, then gestured towards his out-tray. 'Or wait till the old one comes back.'
'How long would that normally take?' his visitor asked.
'Wait till someone arrives to collect it,' Henderson Duckfolder 1 and 2 calculated. 'I was promised a secretary by Saturday. Inter-office mail, two days. Basingstoke, another three. Chief Inspectorate of Files, call it a week. Call it two weeks to be sure. Office of Filing Targets Reduction, two weeks. Basingstoke again. We're, what is it now, August, so that's...' he trailed, counting them off on his fingers, 'October, November... Talk of an election after Christmas...'
He took a minute to clean his glasses then squinted up at his visitor again. 'Nothing I can do about it, I'm afraid, as you well know.'
'Well... We would welcome any opportunity to, er, shave a few percentage points off the numbers. A really doubtful case perhaps need not be handled with quite the, ah, full department capacity. Don't you agree?'
hoping that arcanamundi might be amused in her idle hours