birthday bed sheets (short story 1,571 words)

With some difficulty, Super Dan climbed in through the Police Commissioner’s fourth floor office window, displacing several ornaments and a dried flower arrangement onto the plush carpet.
“You called?” he said panting to catch his breath while pulling the long sleeves of his gloves back into place.
“Yes Dan Man! We need your help and also some of your assistance.” said the Police Commissioner.
“Hey, hold on! I’m Super Dan, not Dan Man.”
“Oh,” the Police Commissioner chewed awkwardly on a finger nail for a few seconds, “the Chief Inspector and I thought you called yourself Dan Man. We’ve always called you Dan Man – haven’t you noticed previously up until now?”
“You have a large ‘D’ on your chest.” pointed out the Chief Inspector of Crime, as he moved a handheld magnifying glass in and out over said ‘D’.
“Well, that’s because ‘S’ is already in use.” said Super Dan.
“Say-whaa..?” said the Police Commissioner.
“It’s being used and basically, is ruled out forever now.” said Super Dan.
“It is?” said the Chief Inspector, “that’s sad.”
“Yes, well, whatever, a ‘D’ is what it is” said Super Dan.
“For Super Dan?” said the Chief Inspector, scratching the side of his head.
“That’s right.” said Super Dan.
“Not Dan Man.” said the Police Commissioner.
“Dan Man sounds alright though, don’t you think?” said the Chief Inspector.
Look,” said Super Dan, his patience coming all unravelled, “anyway – what did you want me for? And let me just say, I first saw a ‘P’ projected into the night sky – the next minute – it’s slowly turning around clockwise to form a  lower case ‘d’.” Super Dan frowned in an obvious manner, “You need to be ve-ry careful about that, you could have ended up with Pee Man.”
“We know, we switched it around as soon as we noticed.” said the Police Commissioner.
“Believe me, you do not want Pee Man turning up unannounced.” said Super Dan.
“Yes, yes,” the Police Commissioner wiped an anxious white handkerchief across his perspiring forehead “for sure – we know Dan Man, we know.”
“Anyway, now that I am here,” said Super Dan, hands on hips, “what is the mission?”
“Your mission tonight Dan Man, take it or leave it,” the Police Commissioner pulled down on the hem of his waistcoat and pushed out his chin, “is to fly past every circular intersection roundabout within the city limits and each bed sheet daubed with birthday greetings that you find, you are to remove and dispose of permanently – in a responsible manner.”
“Well, okay, fly no, bicycle yes, I accept!” said Super Dan.
“Eliminate these unsightly ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD’ eyesores, rid us of this plague upon our land – this graphic art void. Promise you will not fail us.” said the Chief Inspector.
“You have my word.” said Super Dan, standing at ease.
“Er-humm, Dan Man,” said the Police Commissioner, pointing at Super Dan’s inner thigh, “it looks like you’ve laddered your tights.”

Four evenings later…

On this occasion, Super Dan rang the front door bell.
“Dan Man!” cried the Chief Inspector, ushering Super Dan quickly inside and swiftly up the oak banister staircase.
“Yes! It is I – and you did it again, didn’t you? A ‘P’ and then a ‘d’. You really must be much more careful. You know that one of these days you are going to have Pee Man arrive.”
“Yes – yes, we know – we know.” said the Chief Inspector flapping his hand around in minor irritation.
They clambered up the next three flights of stairs in a convenient silence, that is until they reached the luxurious office where the Police Commissioner had been waiting, relentlessly  pacing backwards and forwards, from side to side and in diagonal lines, creating a fragrant cloud of carpet fibre fluff that filled the air.
“So, what is it this time?” Super Dan said.
“Dan Man, you remember the task we set you the other night?” said the Police Commissioner.
“Y-es, indeed I do.” Super Dan said, sashaying his striped cape over one shoulder with pride.
“Well perhaps you could give us both a short debriefing?”
“Of course!” said Super Dan, his voice beginning to echo, “let’s start right at the beginning.”
“What’s happening?” cried the Chief Inspector, “everything’s going all wavy and blurred – and my voice sounds funny!”
“Don’t worry yourself, we’re just going back into my memory concerning the events of these last four evenings.” Super Dan said.
“Alright, if you say so Dan Man!” said the Chief Inspector, as he held on tight to the corner of the Police Commissioner’s desk.
“Initially, I had split the city into three quadrants, but then at the last minute decided on four, which helped spread the task out more evenly across the four nights I’d allocated to the mission. On the first evening, I made good progress. Out of ten roundabouts, I cleared three that had birthday wishes adorning bed sheets tied to the signage. On night two, in the south side of the city, I cleared four roundabouts and also a bridge, which I’d noticed as I was getting ready to head home. Strictly speaking, it fell outside my remit. I thought about it for a while, ultimately concluding it was fair game and away it went.”
“Yes Dan Man, that’s okay,” said the Police Commissioner, “I admire your initiative. But what happened on evening three?”
“Well, it’s interesting you ask that Police Commissioner,” said Super Dan, “because yet another anomaly cropped up.”
“Well? Go on Dan Man, go on.” said the Chief Inspector, his eyes narrowing.
“We-ll…” said Super Dan.
“Well?” said the Police Commissioner, his eyes narrowing in similar fashion to the Chief Inspector’s.
“Do you both know what I am going to say?” challenged Super Dan.
The two men exchanged furtive glances, but said nothing. The Chief Inspector flapped his hand exactly like before, only on this occasion motioning for Super Dan to continue with his telling of recent past events.
“By now, I had become adept at the removal of birthday wishes bed sheets.” Super Dan shifted the weight placement on his feet, “Whether located on intersection roundabouts, bridges, tied to wrought iron railings, or even if draped out of a first or second floor window – wherever they appeared, they soon became gone. Now, despite being fully immersed in my mission, I couldn’t help but notice makeshift, roadside shrines located here and there across my journey. I saw brown, dead, dried-out former flower bouquets tied around the midriffs of trees. Elsewhere, bicycle wheels, bunting, football scarves, curled up photos, letters inside polythene bags where the writing had faded away or become smudged by the ingress of water.”
“And what did you do about it, Dan Man?” said the Chief Inspector.
“I removed them,” said Super Dan, “it had somehow seemed in line with my mission.”
Suddenly, the Police Commissioner crumpled onto his knees, his eyes filling with tears, clenched fists shaking above his head. “What foul monster have we created in our idleness! What force have we unleashed! May God have mercy upon our very souls!”
“Hey, hold on!” said Super Dan, “it’d just seemed a natural extension for the mission. I’d cycled straight past them at first, barely giving them a second look, but as I got more and more into the bed sheet job, I found I couldn’t stop myself. On this fourth evening, I can report back to you that the mission is fully accomplished, with a bit more beside.”
“DAN MAN! You shouldn’t have done that!” the Police Commissioner and Chief Inspector chorused together (only fractionally out of sync).
“…” Super Dan came speechless.
“Earlier today we received instructions direct from the Lord City Mayor, telling us to tell you to go back and reinstate all the makeshift roadside shrines you’ve taken down.” said the Police Commissioner.
“What – are you serious? Why exactly?” said Super Dan.
“He wouldn’t say – even when pressed to tell. He just wants it all put back.” said the Chief Inspector. “He’d mumbled something about humanity, respect and basic common decency, that’s all I can tell you Dan Man.”
“How am I going to be able to do this? I can’t remember what where went!” said Super Dan.
“What went where?” cut in the Police Commissioner, rubbing his thumb across the scratchy stubble growing from his chin.
“Yes, that as well. Look, if I try to put the makeshift roadside shrines back together, the bereaved families and friends are bound to notice they won’t look anything like how they remembered them. I mean – I didn’t take any photos as a record, I just tore them down and shoved all the rubbish into black bin bags.  How can you expect me to do this?” said Super Dan.
“Well Dan Man, you are just going to have to try your best, or…” said the Police Commissioner.
“Or what?” said Super Dan.
“If you do not carry out your instructions successfully, then you’ll just have to wait and see what the consequences are.”
Both the Police commissioner and the Chief Inspector of Crime folded their arms across their own chests in a pugnacious fashion, throwing back their heads in loud and demeaning laughter, not stopping until their cheeks ached, as Super Dan hurriedly exited the building.

To be continued… where Super Dan finds himself out of pocket, having purchased a number of potted evergreen plants and a job lot of medium-sized Italian ceramic shrines obtained from an online auction site. 

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