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fic post: 'hard cheese' (hot fuzz) (2 of 2) - Thanks, ants.
Thants.
annlarimer
annlarimer
fic post: 'hard cheese' (hot fuzz) (2 of 2)
TITLE: Hard Cheese, Part 2
FANDOM: Hot Fuzz
AUTHOR: annlarimer
WORD COUNT: Eleventy-something thousand.
RATING: PG fer the cussin', bloodshed, and shit that blows up
WARNINGS: American spelling; don't try this at home even though I totally want to; slurs against the French.
SUMMARY: "Oh, God, some fucker's brought a guitar."
NOTES: Crit is love.
CREEDITS: at the end
DISCLAIMER: I no has Fuzzburger. Is Rogue's Fuzzburger!


Ten minutes later, Nicholas was sure he was dying. Going down the hill had been tricky, but he'd gone slowly and carefully, his judo skills keeping him balanced. He knew he could fall safely if it came to it.

Climbing back up, however...

Negotiating a 1:1 incline while carrying an eight-pound cheese under one arm is, at the start, a bit of a slog. Then it becomes treacherous. Then impossible, the literal stuff of nightmares (though Nicholas was at least fully clothed, there was no snow, and the sky was devoid of shrieking bats).

In a crueler world, or a funnier one, he would have lost his grip on the cheese just before he reached the top, and watched in blank despair as it rolled to the bottom again. In this world, Nicholas crawled over the crest of the hill, cheese clutched to his breast, and collapsed at Danny Butterman's feet.

"Hey," said Danny.

Angel rolled over and glared up at him.

"You've got goo on you," Danny offered.

"Yes. Egg. Duck, I think. Also..." he wiped the cheeseless hand on Danny's trouser cuff. "Snail. There are snails on the hill. Very large snails. They make a noise when you crush them."

"What, like a scream?"

"No; a brittle squishing."

"Ew."

"Yes."

"I tried to tell you."

"I kind of hate you right now, Danny."

Danny grinned. "Nah, you don't."

"No, I don't. Do you think you could take the end of your cane there, and just...smash it right through my temple and into my brain so I die?"

Danny lay down in the grass next to him. "Can't. You got to help eat the cheese."

"Damn."

They looked up at the sky.

"You can eat those snails, y'know."

"No," said Nicholas. "I really don't think that I can."

****

Danny didn't trust the bin bag not to reveal some new horror, so they sat on the edge of Spencer Hill, with the racing cheese, the finest bread the Sandford Mini-Mart could provide (Nicholas had slapped Danny's hand away from the beer), and the last of Danny's hospital fruit, watching the early Moon rise up over the other side of the valley. The sound of the tiny washing machine could be heard faintly from the open back door.

Not long after, Nicholas would allow himself to look back on that soft evening as rather romantic. For now, he let himself feel well fed and comfortable and (say it softly) quietly happy.

"Isn't she lovely, then?" said Danny.

"Yeah."

"You never know how she's gonna be, though. Sometimes she's sad."

"Yeah."

"What would happen," Danny asked, "if the Moon suddenly blew up?"

Nicholas stared at him.

"What?"

Nicholas' mobile rang, and for a moment he thought he'd been saved by the bell -- or at least the beep. Instead, the bell chose to give him a wedgie. "Yes -- Janine?" (IT'S JANINE, he mouthed at Danny. I KNOW! Danny mimed back, grinning. WHO'S JANINE?) "How are you -- wait, what? What? No, of course not. Why would I send them there? No. No, this is not my way of asking you to take me back!"

Danny's eyes were huge.

"I... Well, tell them to put it back in the van! No, I am not trying to make your life even more mis-- Easy. Easy, now. I promise. It's supposed to have been sent here! Yes. Yes. All right. Okay. I'm very sorry. Really, incredibly sorry. I will find some way to make this up to -- or not, all right. Um...could you put the van man on? Thanks."

Danny gave the phone a little wave and mouthed, BYE JANINE.

Nicholas glared at him.

Nicholas' conversation with the driver (at least the half that Danny heard) was both excruciatingly polite and, had they been indoors, would have stripped the new paint off the cottage walls. Danny could have sworn he saw a tiny curl of smoke rise from Nicholas' mobile, as he finished his tirade, rang off and pocketed it.

Danny stared at him, all admiration. "Teach me your ways."

"My boxes," Nicholas said, "are no longer in Dorset. They are in London." He looked at Danny intently for a moment. "If I thought you were capable of doing something like this..."

"No way, man. When I decide to have a go, you'll know exactly where it's coming from, and you won't be able to do a thing about it.

Nicholas raised an eyebrow at this, but sat back down in the grass. "All right, then."

Danny decided this was not a good time to say, "Who's Janine, then?" Besides, he had a pretty good idea.

After a moment, Nicholas said, "If the Moon were to explode, first we'd have a pretty amazing meteor shower. But then..."

***

Angel felt a bit superfluous at the Thursday meetings of the Cheese Committee. As often happens with long-running events, there was a firmly established routine. The volunteers had already been gathered, the ambulance and rescue crews scheduled, ribbons and badges made -- they'd remembered this year -- hay bales and plastic sheep fencing arranged, parking mapped out, and a sound system borrowed from the Council. Nicholas' only duties were to turn up, assure them that the Sandford Police would be present as always, drink tea, and nibble at the inevitable wheel of Double Gloucester.

They met in the same function room of the Swan that had housed the NWA. Nicholas supposed he'd just have to get used to that.

"I have a special announcement," said Andy Wainwright's dad. He was not only Master of Ceremonies, but Committee Chair as well. "Mr Peter Ian Staker has accepted our invitation to be this year's Guest Roller."

Light applause around the table.

"Guest roller?" Nicholas asked.

"Indeed. A local celebrity is invited to roll the cheese for some of the races."

"Sandford has celebrities?"

"Certainly," said Miss Wickerman, the schoolteacher. "Last year it was the postman."

Angel must have looked at her oddly, because then she said, "He's a very good postman."

"Excellent postman," said Burt Gloucester-Gloucester.

"We've had some bother with the Guest Roller this year," Andy's dad explained to Nicholas. "Our first choice was Martin Blower."

"Oh dear," said Nicholas.

"Then Simon Skinner. Then poor Gordon Ceiler."

"Really rather brave of Mr Staker to take on the job," said Miss Wickerman.

"Sergeant Angel," said Andy's dad. "Since you're new to the group, do you have any questions?"

"I..." Angel rubbed at an eyebrow. "I suppose, just to get it out of the way...this really is just an eccentric local tradition, and won't turn out to be any sort of cheese-related conspiracy of evil?

The members all looked at one another.

"Anyone?" said Andy's dad. "No?"

Vicki Brewer raised her hand. "I was recruited by MI6 out of Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education's Leisure and Tourism Management program, and have been placed as the Swan's new manager as cover for my real assignment, which is to watch over the secret cheese research at Burt's dairy."

Miss Wickerman snorted her tea.

"Surely it would have been MI5?" said Andy's dad.

"Damn!" said Vicki.

"Actually the correct name now is the Security Service," said Angel.

"Oh. Well, if the place turns out to be crawling with foreign agents, don't say I didn't warn you. Did you find the coded message in your plant's pot?"

"Your grocery list?" said Angel. "I left it at the front desk for you. Sorry it was soaked."

"Oh." Vicki looked thoughtful. "That explains why my fridge is full of grenades."

***

"What the hell was that little performance in aid of?" Burt demanded after the meeting.

"Psychology," said Victoria Brewer, as she and Kevin gathered teacups and leftover nibblies. "Putting Sergeant Angel -- and the rest of the group -- at ease. Everyone in Sandford is completely paranoid right now, and with good reason."

"You're going to get us killed."

"See? Paranoid."

"You're going to get Helen killed."

"No, I've helped save all our lives. I really did put a grocery list in the plant pot."

"Are you speaking in code?"

"Not to my knowledge, Burt."

Burt sputtered a little, then said, "I'm going home. Étienne gets twitchy when he has to let me out on my own."

Vicki shook her head. "I really don't understand how that little maniac got this far."

"I really don't care. We only have until next Monday."

"It will be all right, Burt. We'll make the trade, give him what he thinks he wants, and he'll be gone."

"If it isn't, Official Secrets Act or no, there is nothing in this world that will keep me quiet."

"If it isn't, Burt, I will join you. That's a promise."

She was lying, but if she did her job right, and she usually did, he'd never know. One way or another.

***

"...and soooooooooooooooooo," Tony Fisher said, crossing a T on a form, "you, Constable Butterman, are back on duty as of..." He dotted an "i" "Now."

Whistles, applause, and bits of paper greeted this announcement.

"Light duty," Nicholas reminded him.

"Only kind we had until you turned up," muttered Andy Cartwright.

"Oh, stuff it," Angel told him. He'd given up being polite to the Andys. Weirdly, this seemed to make them like him better.

"He has a point," Danny said. "This is Sandford, you know. That won't be a problem."

Nicholas stared at Danny. Clearly their two experiences of Sandford were very different.

"Snairseensafferdwowtmurdrin," Bob Walker reminded him.

"Oh. Yeah. Never mind, then." He offered Nicholas a small plate. "Cake?"

Cake at 9. a.m. I am turning into...one of them. "Oh, why not?"

Danny looked delighted as he handed over the plate, almost as if he'd read Nicholas' thoughts.

Then Nicholas' mobile rang, which effectively coshed the moment, put it in a sack, and tossed it into a pond.

***

Somewhere in France, Helen Gloucester-Gloucester sat in a straight-backed wooden chair, knees drawn against her chest. This was not a comfortable way for a grown woman to sit, but she had no choice. She was waiting.

Somewhere outside, a cloud obligingly moved out of the sun's way. A square of sunlight appeared on the bare floor. After a moment, something small, dark, and shifty-looking wandered into it.

Helen leaped from her chair, and began stomping. “DIE! DIE! You little BASTARD! DIE!”

A voice called from another room. “What is going on in there please?”

When she was sure the creature was dead, Helen shouted back, “This place is full of bloody scorpions, you…twerp!”

“Is it?” said a second voice. “You should put out some lavender.” This was followed by muffled laughter.

“Bastards,” Helen muttered. Whether she was referring to the scorpions or the owners of the voices was anyone’s guess.

***

The great disadvantage of a mobile phone is this: it is virtually impossible to slam it down when you are very angry. Nicholas had to settle for switching it off with intent.

"Where's it now, then?" asked a Turner.

Angel's glare took in the whole room, daring any of them to so much as smirk. "Peel House," he said darkly. "It's been in a storeroom in Peel House for the last four days. They only just noticed." He took a very deep breath, and opened the door. "Constable Butterman?"

"Mission time!" Danny followed him out.

"Leave the stick," Nicholas told him.

"Awwww." Danny propped his cane against the wall. "I think we should carry sticks."

"We do carry sticks."

"No, I mean --"

As soon as the door shut, the entire squad fell about laughing.

"Poor bastard," said Doris. There was a clink. "Thanks, Bob." She wiped at her eyes. "Seriously, though, don't you think you should let Angle have his things? He's been without a proper home for months."

Andy Wainwright shook his head. "S'not me. You'll have to get Andy to tell you how the fuck he's doin' it." Clink. "Thank you, Andy."

"Me? It's not me, mate. Though I wish to God I'd thought of it."

"It's not?"

"I thought it was you."

"Me?"

"It's not?"

"Cross my heart."

They both looked at Bob.

Walker held up his hands. "Narrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, snothinnadoothme."

Bob, Doris, Andy, and Andy looked at Tony Fisher.

Tony looked up from his Arrowwords. "Sorry, what's the problem?"

"Never mind," said Andy Wainwright. "Turner." He put his hands on that worthy man's shoulders from behind.

"AGH!" Turner's copy of The Wasp Factory leapt from his hands and onto the floor. "Watch it!"

"It's you, isn't it?" said Wainwright. ("You," echoed Cartwright.)

"Of course it's me! Who else would ---"

"Not in the chair," said Wainwright. "You're the one who's sending Angle's stuff all over to hell and back." ("Hell and back.")

"I never!"

"It's not his style," said Doris.

"It's too...epic," said Tony, who had finally caught up.

Cartwright surveyed the room. "All right, then. I'm just saying, if anybody cares to confess, there's a pint in it for 'em."

His only answer was a room full of gormless silence.

***

"Light duty" in Sandford is much the same as regular duty, though with less chasing after things. Danny's first mission was backing Nicholas up as he visited the Sandford Primary School to give his Standard School Talk, Primary Edition -- less sociology, more sirens, lights, and police dogs. With luck, no "Why did you put my Gran in jail?"

Morning assembly at the school was much the same as it had been in Danny's day, and his father's. Though there was one new wrinkle.

"Why are the children on the floor?" Nicholas asked. The small bodies were all face down, arms over their heads.

"We've added Explosion Drill to morning assembly," Miss Wickerman (acting head, since Amanda Paver's incarceration) replied, as the gym mistress counted aloud and critiqued individuals' forms. "Best not to take any chances."

Danny nodded. "They're doin' it at the Council meetings, too. An' church."

"You don't go to church."

"No, but a fella hears things."

Nicholas wondered, during the announcements, when and where a fella managed this, since he and Danny seemed to be together more or less constantly. Perhaps there were frequencies only Dannys could hear.

Danny nudged him. "You're up."

"Oh." Apparently there were. Miss Wickerman was looking at him expectantly. He stepped up to the podium.

***

"...and so," Nicholas said, "we have checkered hatbands. Questions?"

A dozen tiny hands shot up. Interest. Excellent.

"Yes, er..."

"Rosemary," prompted Miss Wickerman.

"Rosemary."

A girl in the front stood up. She was no taller standing than sitting. "Sergeant Butterman, what's it like being shot?"

All the other children's hands went down.

Angel glared at Danny. Danny grinned at him.

***

Monday dawned bright and...well, no, it dawned grey and drizzly, and Spencer Hill was muddy and slick.

The people of Sandford were up and on the move early. The race wasn't untill Noon, but there was fierce competition for prime viewing spots, and hampers full of sandwiches and beer did not make themselves.

***

In the dairy, Étienne Gruyère rapped on Burt Gloucester-Gloucester's bedside table with the butt of his gun. He tended to treat the thing like a Swiss Army knife, which Burt found rather more frightening than actually having it aimed in his direction.

"Wakey-wakey, Burt, mon ami. Today is the big day."

"You don't have to call me 'Burt' every time you speak to me. I do know my own name."

Étienne looked put out. "This isn't fun for me, either, you know, Burt. I do this for France."

"Right. France. The country that wants to put your little gang of terrorists in prison. Along with Belgium, Germany, Britain..."

"Quiet!"

"Andorra, Lichetenstein, Spain... How do you even piss off Andorrans?"

"Shut your hole! We are freedom fighters. For too long, French cheesemakers have labored under the domination of--"

"Oh, blah, blah, blah..."

***

The members of the Sandford Constabulary didn't have much to do that early in the morning, except watch as the volunteers in day-glo gave the sheep fencing and hay bales a final check, or walked the hill checking for litter, rocks, and snails. Nicholas and Danny had staked out a spot at the bottom.

The members of the Cheese Committee were out bright and early, supervising. Andy Wainwright's dad was resplendent in his Master of Ceremonies costume, an approximation of an antique farmer's smock, a wooden staff, and a rather extraordinary hat, all trimmed with tricolor ribbons and little jingly bells. Peter Staker turned up, accompanied by a swan. Miss Wickerman fluttered from place to place, stopping for a word with Bob Walker.

"Ennyunseevigbroorrerburglosserglosser?" came over the radio.

"Saw 'em at the top of the hill earlier," Tony Fisher's voice replied.

"Yarrrrrr, thags."

Bob spoke to Miss Wickerman. Miss Wickerman looked up the hill at Andy's dad, shaking her head and shrugging broadly.

Andy's dad returned the gesture. I don't know, either. They've got to be around here somewhere.

It wasn't like either of them would miss a Roll. And if anything needed their direction, well...the event practically ran itself anyway.

***

Whey Cottage stood unmolested by the spectators, thanks to its protective hedge.

In the garden, the negotiations between ARCES and FROMAGE were going badly.

Burt Gloucester-Gloucester was there, with Victoria Brewer at his side.

Helen Gloucester-Gloucester (née Gloucester) was there, flanked by two members of FROMAGE. (They were called Guy and Sophie, though, for reasons that will become apparent, it really doesn't matter.) Helen looked rather worn, and had a cloth bag over her head.

Everyone except Burt and Helen, had big guns, with big silencers.

"I think we will hang on to her for a bit longer," Étienne Gruyere was saying.

"This wasn't the deal!" Vicki objected.

"In fact," said Étienne, "I think..." and he casually shot Vicki in the head. The growing crowd and the hedge easily masked any noise it made.

Vicki fell to the ground and lay very still, bleeding quietly into the turf.

"Jesus Christ!" said Burt.

"What's happening?" Helen cried.

"I think, Burt, my friend, that you, your wife, and the formula will all come with us." He yanked the bag off Helen's head. "Hello."

Helen blinked and looked around uncertainly. "HellOH JESUS VICKI!"

"It's all right sweetheart," Burt said quickly.

Helen was crying. "In what way is it all right, Burt?"

***

Nicholas glared up the hill. "What are they doing?"

"Warming up for the race."

At the crest of the hill, close to three dozen young men and women were singing songs, jovially punching one another, and...

"But they're -- are they drinking?"

"Well, of course they are," said Andy Wainwright.

"You'd have to be fucking bonkers to do this sober," added Andy Cartwright.

"But..."

"Relaxes the muscles so it's safer to fall. Harder to break a bone if you're boneless," said Doris.

"But we arrest people for--"

"Not on Cheese Day we don't," said Tony Fisher.

"But--"

"Sandford's had Cheese Day a lot longer than it's had coppers," said Wainwright. "Long as nobody starts anything, we let them be."

But Angel was on a tear. "This wet grass can't be safe!"

"Safer than when it's dry," said Danny Butterman. "Some summers, the ground gets so hard it's like cement."

"You can hear the racers' bones snap," Wainwright added.

"You're all mad!"

Wainwright shook his head. "You knew this job was dangerous when you took it, Angle."

"And sometimes," Cartwright said, "it's just plain stupid."

"Welcome to the countryside," said Tony Fisher.

***

Burt and Helen Gloucester-Gloucester sat on the floor of Nicholas Angel's tiny laundry room.

"That went badly," said Helen.

"At least you're all right."

Helen looked at him disbelievingly. This was completely wasted, since they were tied back to back. "I've just spent two days locked in the luggage compartment of a coach, after four weeks in a cottage in the south of France. It was not charming. It did not have mod cons, quaint and eccentric neighbors who make their own wine, or light bulbs. It did have scorpions."

"Lavender is supposed to repel scor--ow!" Helen's elbow was sharp.

"At least my head's unbagged. I would very much like a bath."

"You could use one. Stop poking me!"

The door opened.

"Damn," said Burt.

"This is it."

They tried to grasp one another's hands, but the ropes only allowed a tangling of fingers.

***

There was a large crowd on the Hill now, and they were getting noisy. But they were well behaved, all things considered, and even Nicholas had to admit that trouble seemed unlikely. It's hard to get too beligerent when you're all hepped up on dairy.

Then, from somewhere came a small, cutting noise that went right for his back molars.

"Oh, God,” Nicholas said, wincing.

“What is it?” Danny asked through a nibble of Cheddar.

Nicholas glared up the hill. “Some fucker's brought a guitar."

The fucker in question was singing lustily, the crowd joining in when they could be bothered:

They say double Gloucester is twicest as nice,
They say double Gloucester there, I've said it twice,
It's nice in potatoes but nicest in mice.

Sing oh, the hard cheese of old England,
In old England very hard cheese.


“Folk music,” Nicholas hissed. “Why did it have to be folk music?”

Danny was singing along.

***

"Who wants breakfast?" Said a chirrupy voice. "Ow."

"Vicki!" said Helen.

"I thought you were dead," Burt said.

But Victoria Brewer was there, bleeding profusely from the head and grinning like a retriever. "Nah, just knocked out. Bullet nattered my head, but I think I'm all foresty." She tapped lightly at the affected area, and a lock of hair fell to the floor. "Ow. Kevin rounded up the villains."

"Well done, Kevin!" said Helen.

Kevin nodded modestly, and set about untying them.

"Where are the Frenchies?" asked Burt.

"Back of the van," said Vicki. "Ow." Talking hurt.

"I do hope you put bags over their heads," said Helen. "Smelly bags."

Burt helped her to her feet, and they trailed out into the main room.

"Sadly, no. I'm afraid they're all a bit dead," said Kevin.

Burt looked shocked. "Oh, surely that wasn't necessary!"

Kevin chuckled. "No. It wasn't." Then he smiled in an unnerving way, and spoke in an accent similar to Étienne's, but, for want of a better word, rounder: "But it was a bit of a giggle." Then he raised his gun and pointed it at Helen's head. "Vive l'industrie fromagere Quebecois. Vive la FROMAGE-Q. Where is the formula?"

"Oh, for Christ's sake!" said Vicki. "Ow."

***

The Under-10s Uphill Race made Nicholas wonder if he ought to contact Child Protective Services. He'd done that climb, in (if he said so himself) perfectly excellent physical condition, and it had left him barely able to eat his share of the practice cheese. The pack of tiny children that tackled Spencer Hill had no more chance than baby spiders trying to escape a sink. Some gave up after a few yards and simply rolled back down again. Most of them collapsed before the halfway mark, and had to be dragged to the top by their parents -- or peeled off the turf, like fruit leather from clingfilm, and carried to the sidelines, where they were revived with juice boxes and buns.

The winner was a six-year-old girl who crawled to the three-quarter mark, sat down, and started playing with a snail. She named it Snail, and burst into tears when she was separated from him, carried to the top, and given her ribbon.

"That's just awful," said Nicholas.

"Nah," Danny said, applauding. "They've toned it down. Used to be they'd throw candy out on the hill and make us all dive for it."

"Jesus."

Tony Fisher took a moment to retrieve his son (who was dressed in Spider-Man pajamas in order to enhance his climbing ability), and spent the rest of the morning with the boy slung over his shoulder, like a large, giggling cat.

***

The main race started out in the usual fashion. Two dozen men and women of varying levels of sobriety lined up at the top of the hill. Andy's Dad, dressed in his shabbily magnificent MC's outfit and brandishing his staff, gave Peter Staker a similarly-beribboned cheese. Mr Staker paused, shared a glance with his companion Beatrice the swan, and stood.

"One to get ready..."

"Two to get steady..."

Mr Staker rolled the cheese as though trying for a seven-ten split.

"AND THREE AWAY!"

The swan shook its wings encouragingly.

The racers ran down the hill -- For five or ten feet. Then the rolling, tripping, and sliding started. A woman faceplanted on the wet grass, shot to her feet again, and kept going, her white jumper now stained brilliant green. A large man in a COME HAVE A GO IF YOU'RE HARD ENOUGH t-shirt skidded out of control into the sheep fencing, and was pushed out onto the course again by the crowd. Several contestants made the entire journey on their bums, not always facing forward.

The crowd screamed deleriously, waving pennants, handkerchiefs, and the occasional rubber hat shaped like a wedge of Cheddar.

One of the contestants, a man of few brains but a considerable tolerance for alcohol, decided to record his journey on his mobile phone. The video itself is of negligible quality and little forensic value, consisting of sky, grass, shoes, sky, grass, sky, shoes, grass, repeated for approximately 15 seconds. The audio track, after enhancement, was transcribed as follows:

"Ow oh God ahahahaha ow oh God ahahahaha ow ow ow ow ow ow."

"WhoopsARGH!!!"

"IgotitIgotitIgotitIgotitFUCK..."

"OH GOD SNAIL!"

And similar outbursts, until it is suddenly cut off. It was amusing as a YouTube oddity (where it appeared within ten minutes), but essentially useless as a record for those who had hoped to use it determine the winner of the race.

Because as it turned out, that was the year that nobody won the race. Because that was the year that Whey Cottage, the little cottage at the top of Spencer Hill, and Nicholas Angel's home, exploded.

***

"Oh, do be serious, Kevin. Ow."

"I am as serious as an aortic cannulation, Victoria. All of you against the wall, please."

Having little choice, they complied. "I knew it. I knew there was a mole. Didn't I say there was a mole?" said Burt.

"No," said Vicki. "Ow."

"No," said Helen.

"Well, I meant to."

Kevin waved his gun menacingly. "All of you shut up. Where is the formula?"

There was a long silence. Then Helen said, "...how can we tell you where it is if we shut up?"

Burt shook his head. "Fine."

"Burt, no!"

Burt sighed. "I'm tired, sweetheart. I'm tired of all of this nonsense. We've done the right thing all our lives, guarded the family secret, and look what it's done to us. You're carted all over Europe like cheap luggage. I'm held prisoner in our home. And a weedy Canadian with a gun is making us miss the Cheese Rolling."

"Weedy?" said Kevin.

Helen's eyes met Burt's for a long moment. Then she nodded.

"Burt..." said Vicki.

Burt ignored her. "It's in the press, Kevin."

Kevin blinked. "The what?"

"The stone cheese press in the wall of the cottage."

Kevin looked blank.

"The dangly thing! Over there!" Burt jerked his head in the direction of the rustic feature.

"Why the hell would someone build that into a cottage wall?"

"To hide the formula, you stupid bastard."

"What if somebody with kids moved in? That's really fucking dangerous."

And that was when Vicki kicked him in the head, while Helen did something crunchy and unpleasant to his wrist to make him drop the gun.

Unfortunately, when the hit the floor, the gun discharged with a silenced thuddy noise. Burt felt the bullet whisk through his left trouser cuff, and there were two or three schrwing! sounds in quick succession, as it ricocheted off one stone, then another...and into the cheese press.

There was dead silence in the cottage, followed by a sound not unlike a hidden key, in the form of a yellow Cotswold stone brick, depressing itself inwards.

Then, from somewhere, came a click.

"Oh..." said Helen.

And then, from somewhere down below, the sound of ancient gearwork coming to life.

"...merde," said Kevin.

"..." said Vicki.

"It means--"

"I know what it means, Kevin!"

"Run!" said Burt.

***

"EVERYBODY GET--" Nicholas stopped in mid-sentence. He and Danny were the only people on the Hill who were still standing. Explosion Drill had done its work, and the entire population of Sandford, Nicholas and Danny excepted, were face down on the ground with their hands over their heads.

"Whoah," said Danny softly.

Nicholas blinked.

The swan, distressed and confused, pecked at Peter Staker's head and flapped.

There was a long whistly noise, and something heavy dropped into Danny's arms. It was the Japanese peace lily. The pot had completely shattered in the blast, and was now crunchy and flexible inside its duct tape cocoon. The lily looked extremely unhappy and, considering it was a plant, not a little surprised.

Danny looked at Nicholas, grinning. "Heeyeah!" He would have chimp-clapped, but his hands were full.

Nicholas gaped at the lily, then at Danny, then at the the crowd, and then at the remains of his cottage. Then he gaped at them all again.

"My house..." Much of the roof was gone, replaced by a roiling column of smoke.

"By the power of Greyskull!" said Danny. The situation seemed to warrant it.

A few seconds behind the peace lily, since their surface area put them at the mercy of the wind, books, socks, and underpants rained down on the scene, fluttering like badly-made birds.

Nicholas looked at Danny, lost. "Why do these things keep happening?"

"It's Sandford, Nicholas."

Nicholas nodded mutely.

Behind them, Cartwright and Wainwright were howling with laughter.

"What are you two idiots laughing at?" Nicholas demanded.

"Underpants," Wainwright said between gasps for air. "It's raining underpants."

"Underpants," echoed Cartwright.

Nicholas had had enough. "THERE IS NOTHING FUNNY ABOUT UNDERPANTS!" he roared.

Floating down from on high, a pair of Y-fronts draped itself across his head.

Wainwright's laughter became high-pitched squeaks, while Cartwright helplessly banged his head against his partner's chest.

Danny reached over to pluck the offending garment from Nicholas' head. "It'll be all right. Come stay with me. It's got all its walls. And a roof. Only thing that ever happens out back is moles making more moles."

Nicholas nodded again. "Thank you."

"No prob, man," Danny said. That was easy, he thought. Then he thought, Oh my God, what did I just do? Then he thought, Oh, shit, what exactly did I just do? Then his brain began jumping up and down inside his head, shouting, Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes!

Tony Fisher ambled over, the exhausted Spider-Boy still on his shoulder. He peered through his glasses at the top of the hill. "Isn't that your cottage, then, Sergeant Angel?"

Nicholas shook his head. "Not anymore, no."

Sirens blaring, the fire brigade came rolling up the lane.

Trailing them uncertainly was a large moving van.

"Oh," said Tony. "Your things are here."

***

Across the lane from Whey Cottage, hidden from view by a hedge, the Gloucester-Gloucesters clambered to their feet.

"Oh, that's a shame," said Helen. "I was hoping it would be Listed one day."

"At least it's insured," said Burt. "Poor old Étienne. He was a violent, annoying maniac, but..."

Helen looked at him expectantly. "But?"

Burt shook his head. "That's it, really."

Vicki Brewer had a knee in the small of Kevin's back, and was tying his hands with a pair of men's briefs. "Kevin. You're nicked. You're also sacked."

Kevin did his best to glare at her. "Vive la FROMAGE Quebecois!"

"Sure. Why not?"

"It means--"

"I know what it means, Kevin!"

***

The residents of Sandford, always willing to pitch in for a neighbor, devoted much effort to finding and returning Sergeant Angel's scattered property. They brought him clothing plucked from trees and roofs, draped amongst hedgerows and dropped down wells. In fact, Nicholas (technically) turned a profit on the whole affair, since a disturbing number of the pants brought to the station turned out not to be Angel's at all. Why the men (and, indeed, women) of Gloucestershire were leaving their smalls strewn about the countryside was something no one really wanted to think about.

Some of the articles in question still had tags attached, and were suspiciously risqué in design. But Nicholas could never quite prove that certain members of the squad had spent their lunchtimes buying lace knickers and camouflage posing pouches to scatter across the area.

Nicholas gave them all to the Oxfam shop, preferring a fresh (as it were) start over sorting the damned things or -- dear God -- trying any of them for fit.

As the years went on, the day after Cheese Day became known as Pants Day, that day on which local residents traditionally gift officers of the law -- and each other -- with underpants. Few people now remember why this is done, but they keep doing it. It's tradition, innit?

***

It was a gas main explosion, the residents were told. It was in the Sandford Citizen, so surely it was true.

The West Midlands Gas Board hurriedly issued Nicholas Angel a startlingly large check as compensation for the loss of his living space and possessions, meagre though they were. Nicholas told them there were far too many zeroes on the thing. They assured him that their actuarial tables were very specific about the compensation due a tenant of a near-Listed cottage following its spontaneous destruction. Really. Ask anyone.

Nicholas felt in his heart that something wasn't quite right about all this, but since this was perfectly normal for him, it only made him more uncertain. He had doubts, but they were at best circumstantial. He'd used Whey Cottage's cooker for a week, and it had definitely been electric. But he could never remember what sort of water heater it had. It might have been gas. It might have been electric. Local plans showed that the cottage was connected to a gas main, working or no. More suspiciously, the check had been delivered to him personally, at 8 p.m. that Thursday, by a man in a cliché City suit and bowler hat, while he and Danny were holed up in the snug of the Queen's Head.

"He looked an awful lot like a shadowy figure from a technically nonexistent government agency," Danny said, after the man had left.

Nicholas chuckled. "If you're living in 1967." Then he looked at the check. "On the other hand, surely our region is supplied by the The South Western Gas Board."

Danny's face lit up like the neon sign outside Flappers. "I KNEW IT! I knew there weren't nothing wrong with the gas! It were the exploding cheese! There was some kind of massive conspiracy, involving..."

Nicholas handed Danny the check. Danny looked at it. Then he shook his head. Then he looked at the check again. He gave a low whistle. "They know you was only rentin', right?"

"Well. If he was a shadowy figure from a technically non-existent government agency, I imagine he knows what I ate for breakfast and my preferred brand of underpants.

"Everybody knows that."

Nicholas looked pained. "True."

Nicholas left the check on the refrigerator door for several weeks while he made inquiries. But nobody -- not POFED, not HCMIC, not even Nicholas' Dad -- could find any ethical, regulatory, or legal reason for him not to cash it.

Eventually he and Danny chose a modestly priced flatscreen television setup, and banked the rest. Seed money, in case they became rogue cops with nothing left to lose.

Barring that, maybe a weekend at Diggerland.

***

The man in the Citified suit got into the back of the unmarked van. (A check of the license plate might show that it was registered to the Association of Racing Cheese Enthusiasts, or the West Midlands Gas Board. Or it might not.) Burt Gloucester-Gloucester was inside, listening intently through a large set of headphones.

"We could have come clean with him, you know. He wouldn't have blabbed."

"Perhaps. Perhaps not. Absolute secrecy, Burt. Nobody wants a repeat of the Swiss Ratcatcher affair. Speaking of which, how's the missus?"

"She's signed up for a combat course. As if you didn't already know."

"Good for her! The Chalk and Cheese Gloucesters are, as a rule, excellent chemists, but useless with their fists."

"She did perfectly well," Burt said, affronted.

"Yes. Well. Aside from triggering the explosion we've just paid for."

"She also wants me to remind you that she expects the coach to be off our property by the weekend."

Vicki Brewer called back from the drivers seat. "Can we go, now? The Swan doesn't run itself."

"It sort of does, actually, Vicki," said Burt. "How's the new Kevin working out, by the way?"

She gave him a withering look, and put the van into gear.



The Man from ARCES
WILL RETURN
in

'The Man with the Golden Gouda'

You may also enjoy:

Never Say Cheddar Again
The Spy Who Came in From the Curd
Bleufinger
Three Days of the Gloucester
On Her Majesty's Stilton Service
Moonrennet
Live and Let Brie





viedma ("Any acronym that spells out ARSE is a winner") who asked for a story with Nicholas losing it and shouting, "THERE IS NOTHING FUNNY ABOUT UNDERPANTS!" at the Andys. That was on February 21, 2008. So, glad to get that done for you right away, there, Mary.

Corrections and suggestions by viedma, goddessdster, dr_tectonic, and crantz. Y'all have been listening to me bitch about this story for a year and a half, and I'm grateful. Let the bitching about the next story commence.

The annual Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake is the sort of thing you really can't make up (well, I can't), so it's a good thing it really exists. It takes place every May Bank Holiday (the same day as Memorial Day in the U.S.) in Gloucestershire. A quick chat with Mr YouTube will bring up some amazing videos. It also rates a couple of books:

Cheese Rolling in Gloucester by Jean Jefferies
The History Press LTD
ISBN-10: 075244302X; ISBN-13: 978-0752443027
Locally produced, crammed with photos.

True Brits: A Tour of Great Britain in All Its Bog-Snorkelling, Shin-Kicking, and Cheese-Rolling Glory by J. R. Daeschner
Overlook Press
ISBN-10: 158567656X; ISBN-13: 978-1585676569
Fantastic write-up on the Cooper's Hill race -- but that's just the start. Meet the Burry Man! See Popes burnt in effigy! Feel the jaw-dropping horror that is (I'm really sorry) Darkie Day! The UK is weird, man.

"Hard Cheese of Old England" is a real song, by Mr Les Barker. You can find the lyrics in his book, Reign of Terrier, and as a track for the charity anthology CD Guide Cats for the Blind (Osmosys OSMO CD 020/21) sung by Martin Carthy. Right here, y'all: http://www.mrsackroyd.com/guidecats.htm. Also downloadable on Amazon and iTunes. You know you want to.

Tags: , ,
noise: someone shouting, 'I FOUND A PENNY!'

Flavogg heard 46 supplications or speak to the Mighty Flavogg
Comments
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alpha_orionis_v From: alpha_orionis_v Date: November 13th, 2009 10:19 pm (UTC) (linkage)
I might have woken the husband a few time from laughing at this. As always, absolutely brilliant! :D
annlarimer From: annlarimer Date: November 13th, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC) (linkage)
Thank you ma'am!
From: cimness Date: November 13th, 2009 11:16 pm (UTC) (linkage)
GOD YOU ARE SUCH A GENIUS. Your Fuzz fic is the best.
annlarimer From: annlarimer Date: November 17th, 2009 03:53 pm (UTC) (linkage)
*meep* :D
goddessdster From: goddessdster Date: November 13th, 2009 11:40 pm (UTC) (linkage)
I'm not sure what you did, except work some amazing magic, and added "the swan," but it worked!!!

ILU, missy miss. And reading this over for you has jump-started my brain.

Also, awesome. Just sayin'.
annlarimer From: annlarimer Date: November 17th, 2009 03:29 pm (UTC) (linkage)
:D I listen to people who are smarter than me when they say something sucks. (I also left her name in there by accident, sorry.)
pandonkey From: pandonkey Date: November 14th, 2009 05:25 am (UTC) (linkage)
I want to squeeze this story like the Cuddly Monkey.
annlarimer From: annlarimer Date: November 17th, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC) (linkage)
It loves you back!
batneko From: batneko Date: November 14th, 2009 03:12 pm (UTC) (linkage)
THAT WAS AWESOME and I may love you now.
annlarimer From: annlarimer Date: November 17th, 2009 03:41 pm (UTC) (linkage)
Yay! Thank you. I'll make dinner, you rent a movie.
(Deleted comment)
annlarimer From: annlarimer Date: November 17th, 2009 03:44 pm (UTC) (linkage)
Thank you for reading.
twigcollins From: twigcollins Date: November 15th, 2009 04:53 am (UTC) (linkage)
It goes all the way past awesome and into that ethereal realm beyond the words to describe it.

Scrumtrulescent.
annlarimer From: annlarimer Date: November 17th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC) (linkage)
Thank you. /slips you five dollars
random_nexus From: random_nexus Date: November 15th, 2009 06:03 am (UTC) (linkage)
(potty mouth alert)
THIS WAS FUCKING AMAAYYYYYZING!!!
OMFG! I can't even quote anything, 'cause it'd be like 9/10 of the whole damned thing. INCLUDING THE BITS AT THE END! I'm incoherent with glee. This is going into memories so fast, it might catch fire from the friction.

Did I mention ILU? 'cause, srsly.
<3
annlarimer From: annlarimer Date: November 17th, 2009 03:21 pm (UTC) (linkage)
:D Thank you. Really, I don't know where you get such a goddamned fucking filthy shithole of a mouth.
From: panda_pooka Date: November 15th, 2009 06:48 am (UTC) (linkage)
I stand by my assessment of the first part. This Is Excellent! I laughed SO much!
Absolutely going into memories!
annlarimer From: annlarimer Date: November 17th, 2009 03:18 pm (UTC) (linkage)
Thank you kindly, ma'am. Stop by any time.
koshiroryuu From: koshiroryuu Date: November 16th, 2009 12:14 am (UTC) (linkage)
I am so in love with you right now. *loves*
annlarimer From: annlarimer Date: November 17th, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC) (linkage)
:D /shares Fig Newtons
beccavox From: beccavox Date: November 16th, 2009 03:59 am (UTC) (linkage)
There had been talk of going to the cheese rolling on the last vacation. We may have to go on the next trip.

If I told you what part I liked best, it would be 'all of it'. :)

annlarimer From: annlarimer Date: November 17th, 2009 03:09 pm (UTC) (linkage)
DO IT.
dr_tectonic From: dr_tectonic Date: November 18th, 2009 07:32 am (UTC) (linkage)
OH GOD YAY!!! My cheeks HURT, woman.

FUCKING. AWESOME!

"There is nothing funny about underpants!" Oh, Nicholas, you have never been more wrong. :D :D :D <3 <3 <3
annlarimer From: annlarimer Date: November 19th, 2009 10:33 pm (UTC) (linkage)
Yayayayay!!! Thank you, sir.

Underpants are SERIOUS.
norabombay From: norabombay Date: November 19th, 2009 01:26 pm (UTC) (linkage)
AWESOME!
annlarimer From: annlarimer Date: November 19th, 2009 10:34 pm (UTC) (linkage)
Thank you, ma'am.
haliyah From: haliyah Date: November 20th, 2009 09:43 am (UTC) (linkage)
Oh.

OhdearGOD.

NO ONE WRITES FUZZFIC LIKE YOU. I'LL LOVE YOU FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER.

*bookmarks*

It's always the damn Quebecquers, innit? *glares to the west*
annlarimer From: annlarimer Date: November 20th, 2009 03:12 pm (UTC) (linkage)
Awww, I like the Quebecois. They have their own cussing, and thanks to them, it's a lot easier to get French comics in North America.
burntcopper From: burntcopper Date: November 22nd, 2009 01:41 am (UTC) (linkage)
GENIUS.
annlarimer From: annlarimer Date: November 23rd, 2009 03:25 pm (UTC) (linkage)
:D Thank you.
Flavogg heard 46 supplications or speak to the Mighty Flavogg
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