Since it is getting colder, and the shops are decked with green plastic,
(including American Express cards), it must mean that it‘s time for you
to gather the children around a roaring log fire, and regale them with
one of Uncle Shortfinal's Festive Tales
'Go North by Northwest, Young Man !'
(with extreme apologies to the estates of Sax Rohmer, and Alfred Hitchcock)
Conan Wayland-Smith was a frustrated man; he had grown up with a driven
mother who admired almost all the super heroes and adventurers she saw
on the screen or read about. She had changed the family name (Nussbaum)
to Wayland-Smith fairly early in his childhood, and named Conan's
siblings in a similar fashion. He had two brothers, Indiana and Hulk, as
well as a sister, Xena. Xena was now a rather conflicted young woman,
who enjoyed playing with knives, and had been described by her
classmates as 'the ultimate Jewish Warrior Princess'. Their father had
been a shadowy figure; their mother rarely mentioned him, and he had not
been heard of for many years.
Pushed towards dental school, Conan had resisted, ‘Who ever heard of a
dentist named Conan?', and plumped for his first love, archeology. His
controversial thesis, "Stonehenge; Preseli Bluestone Erection Using Martian
Teleportation Technology", had caused something of a stir in academic
circles, and had lead to this tenured post in a small New England college ('not so
much Ivy League, more like having one or two small evergreen shrubs', he
thought). His class load was light, and his students seemed to enjoy the
rather exotic themes of his lectures, such as 'How Rome WAS Going To Be Built in a
Day, Until The Contractors Got At The Plans' and ’Are Pyramids Really A
Special Class Of Dreydl?', were two of his favorites. Recently, he had
taken on an instructor, a pretty blonde, Dr. Helen Petri (she was quite
dish, he thought), and this had allowed him the time to research some rather
obscure Egyptian documents which had been handed into the department by
a mysterious stranger only a month ago.
The day had been a long one and his eyes were still straining over several
dusty manuscripts when Dr. Petri entered his office. 'Still pouring
over those papers, Conan?' 'Yes! And...and...I think I've found
something. It's blindingly simple of course, anyone with access to a
Cray Supercomputer, a pint of ox blood and a 6 inch reflecting telescope
could work it out, but I think that you should get your bags packed;
we're off to see the Library of Alexandria'. His assistant shook her
blonde tresses, 'You‘re mad! First of all, Julius Caesar is supposed to
have accidentally burnt the Great Library down in 47BC, and secondly,
it's the 23rd December, and there is NO way we are getting flights to Egypt at
this time of year.' As Conan grabbed his coat from behind the door, he
snorted, 'Well, according to an ancient inscription found in the early
20th century, a German source states that Tiberius Claudius Balbillus Modestus,
a Roman teacher and librarian, was still in charge of it in 56AD, so the
jury's still out on that one. Plus, who said anything about Egypt? We're off to
Conan lashed his Ford Edsel down the interstate toward Washington D.C..
The Edsel couldn't lash back at him, but both the rain and Dr Petri
did. 'What have you found?', she yelled over the pounding engine. 'l think that
the library contains a clue to possibly the last surviving scroll from
the Great Library, one of the 700,000 that were eventually destroyed. It
could be one of the original examples from Aristotle's collection, which
is what started the whole thing off in the first place.' 'Started the
Library?', Helen shouted. Conan grinned,'That and civilization..it's a fabulous prize!'
Conan drove the Edsel straight past the Main Library in Alexandria, and drew
up outside Gadsby's Inn. Helen looked at Conan with an arched eyebrow,
'Separate rooms, l trust? And why did we drive by the Library when you
said that there was no time to lose?'. Conan smiled, 'Because the
first Alexandria Library was founded in 1794 by Edward Stabler, an
apothecary, and it was housed in the upstairs section of this very
building'. Hustling inside, and ignoring the raucous sounds coming from
a festive party in the downstairs bar, they slipped upstairs in the dark.
Using a flashlight, and consulting a small piece of paper (liberally smeared
with dried ox blood), Conan drew Helen into one corner of a large room, until
a broad oak floorboard creaked beneath his foot. It was the work of a
second for him to pry it up and reveal a dusty, empty, cavity. 'Blast! Someone
beat us to it, whatever it was.' Thinking hard and glancing round the
room, he noticed that many of the pictures on the walls, and several carvings
showed lions in various poses. 'That's it! I know where we can find this thing.'
'Oh God, l thought you said that we weren't going to Africa', moaned Helen.
'No! Think of where you find lions.' 'The zoo?' 'That's too obvious. The New
York Public Library, here we come.' With that, he whirled, strode towards the
door, and fell flat on his face over a lion-skin.
With the Edsel's engine protesting like a list of Ukrainian voters,
Conan explained to Helen on the drive to New York that the very first
donation to the antiquarian collection of the Alexandria Library in 1822
was a volume entitled ‘The Gardener's Dictionary', by Miller. The donor
had been one Dr Craig, and he had been given the book by no less a
person than George Washington. ‘Not only that, but Alexandria was the
scene of an annual lecture given by prominent politicians, amongst them
John Quincy Adams. It all fits. l found a code which depended on the
relationship between the pants sizes of all the US Presidents and the
exact distance to the Moon. When I worked it out, it gave a corrupt Dewey
Decimal classification for the Miller book, along with the average
weight of a male lion. Easy, really'
The Edsel screeched to a halt outside the NYPL, and, pausing only to
place a sign in the window which said ‘Archeologist On Call', and leave
his illegally fitted blue light flashing, they dashed up the steps. 'Book first, lions
last!', Conan yelled. Within minutes, he had wangled access for them to the
deepest levels beneath the Public Library. Along the dark and dingy
corridors, they forced their way through a green, sticky slime on the
floor. 'What's this?‘ said Helen. 'Ectoplasm. They've tried exterminators,
bad stand-up comedians, everything...it just won't go away.' Suddenly, he
grabbed her arm and pulled her into the stacks; the phantom figure of a
headless librarian, dressed in Victorian garb and carrying a large tome,
glided past. 'Blast! l think we are too late'. Turning a corner, they
could see that the stacks were completely filled, with just one
prominent gap; Conan groaned as they found that the call number
corresponded with the work by Miller, the one they sought. 'I suppose
that's it then?', sighed Helen, dreading the thought of wading back up
through the ectoplasm, empty handed. 'No, we still have the lions.'
They got outside just in time to see their Edsel being towed away. Conan
rushed to the left-hand lion and groped under his tail. 'CONAN! Stop
that! Don't be disgusting. There are limits, even in New York.' The
archeologist looked disappointed. 'Nothing there...perhaps...' and
dashed across the steps to the other statue.The archeologist withdrew a
tiny object from beneath the lion's tail. 'Eureka!'
Helen looked down at the tiny thing in Conan's palm, 'So? A little
compass from a Christmas cracker; and it's broken. See, the needle
doesn’t even swing.' 'That's it, Helen, you've got it. The needle is
stuck in the direction we must go, North by Northwest. Quick, there's
"No-time" Toulouse!'. Helen looked puzzled, 'Don't you mean "no time to
lose"? Conan dragged her towards a passing French-Canadian, whom he had
recognized, 'No, it's "No-time", a travel agent friend of mine, he'll be
able to get us there, I'm sure.'
The floor of the drab, khaki-painted C-47 lurched, and both of the
occupants grabbed for their static lines. They were perched on canvas
seats, and wearing full jump gear. 'Great, that's all we needed', yelled
Helen, above the roar of the twin engines, 'I think we are lost; and when I
get down on the ground, I'm going to kill your friend, Toulouse'. The
archeologist shouted back, 'Well, I think that we are on the right
track. The compass didn't give us a course, it gave us a destination.
"North by Northwest" refers to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, in
South Dakota, as featured in the film of the same name. l also think someone
is out to get us. We were buzzed pretty closely by that crop-dusting biplane
a while back, and than there's these in-flight snacks. l can stand pretzels, but K
rations -‘. Just then, the light over the open doorway flashed red, then
green, and our intrepid duo flung themselves out into the black night.
After a bumpy landing on the hard stone of the Black Hills, a short walk
brought them to the lip of the escarpment. Peering over the edge, they
could see the heads of the four Presidents outlined in the moonlight.
'Which one?' whispered Helen. 'Obviously, it must be Washington, since he
had the link to the rare book collection at Alexandria. Here, watch the
extra rope; l'm going down.’ So saying, Conan lowered himself into the
blackness. When he was level with the left nasal opening, he reached as
far as he could inside. Nothing. Squirming across the nose of the Father
of Our Nation, he reached deep into his right nostril. With a cry of
triumph, he pulled out a lightly wrapped canvas-covered cylinder. 'I've got it!'
'Good! You have saved me a chore, Professor.' The sneering voice with
a heavy Chinese accent drifted down from above him. Conan looked to his
right, as the bound and gagged figure of his assistant was lowered down
at the end of a rope to dangle next to him. ‘Let the scroll fall, and my
underlings will catch it at the foot of the monument. Either that, or the
girl dies.' ‘Neverl' yelled Conan, defiantly. ‘Then you BOTH shall die'
screamed the enraged voice, and Conan felt the rope go slack, as he and
Helen fell into the black night.
Just as he had resigned himself to die, a huge green arm appeared out of
nowhere and grabbed him, along with Helen, and lowered them softly to
the ground. 'Hello, bro! l wondered when you’d turn up. Mom will kill
you for what you've done to that shirt.' The Hulk picked up a large
number of loose rocks from the base of the monument and hurled them
upwards. There were many screams, and a wail, 'The world shall hear from
me, again!'. Helen struggled free from her ropes, saying, 'Well, what do you want
to do now, Professor? You can have any archeological chair in the world with what
you've discovered. Or you could just write for the rest of your life.'
As the professor lead his battered little band down towards the Visitor
Center he mused aloud, 'I've always wanted to do something on
television. Something brave and unusual, something truly original.' His
assistant looked at her boss, quizzically, 'You mean something like
'Time Team' or 'History Detectives' on PBS?' 'No' grinned the
archeologist, 'l always wanted to do something like a chat show....something
on late at night, when I can tell risqué archeology jokes........I know.......
I think I'll call it, 'Late Night With Conan!', and they trooped off the hill, into
a lifestyle beyond their wildest dreams.
May you all have a most peaceful and enjoyable Holiday Season!