The Greatest Lie Ever Told
by Morton Cubberd
“Please state your names and the purpose of your visit,” the voice said through the intercom. Two closed-circuit surveillance cameras swiveled into position to look down at the two detectives standing at the gated entrance to Bramblebay Castle.
“Detectives Paddy Rogue and Timmy Keen,” Rogue spoke gruffly into the intercom, and then flashed his badge up towards the cameras, “we’re here to speak to Sir Wilkins Bramblebay about the murder of Maurice Wagon. Open up these goddam gates right now!”
Minutes passed, Rogue repeatedly retried the intercom without answer. The two detectives paced about in front of the high gates, Rogue hatching a plan how to get inside, the two cameras following their every movement. Rogue was just about to press the intercom again when the gates slowly opened and the voice returned.
“Leave your car behind and walk to the castle.”
The gates closed behind Rogue and Keen as they headed up the long gravel driveway towards the enormous eighteenth century castle belonging to the eccentric billionaire Sir Wilkins Bramblebay. “I should be pissed out of my face in the pub by now,” Rogue said. After a ten minute walk they reached the huge entrance to Bramblebay Castle skirted by an immense set of Classical Roman-inspired steps, and climbed up to the colossal oak door that was slightly ajar. Inside it was dark, then a dim light came on illuminating a featureless black room containing only a walk-thru metal detector, an intercom speaker and another camera monitoring them.
“My name is Huggins,” the voice said, “I am His Lordship’s butler. Detective Keen, please walk through the metal detector.” Keen walked through without setting off the machine. “And now you, Detective Rogue, please.” The alarm buzzed as Rogue stepped through. “Please take all metallic objects out of your pockets and place them on the floor. Then walk through again.” Rogue took out the keys to his Ford Capri and walked through, again setting off the alarm. “Rogue, you will not be allowed to enter the house until you have removed all metallic objects from your person.” Rogue snarled at the camera and then began to empty his pockets of his trusty interrogation torture tools: hammer, screwdriver, kitchen knife, tyre wrench, another screwdriver, belt sander, nail gun, fish slice, another screwdriver, set of spanners, hacksaw, two more screwdrivers and a set of cheese knives.
“For fuck’s sake!” Huggins the butler said, as he watched Rogue from in his CCTV control room, “is that everything?” Rogue had one final rummage through his pockets and took out a flick knife and his Zippo lighter, then walked through the metal detector without setting off the alarm. Shortly after a passageway opened in the wall and the two detectives walked through to meet the butler Huggins and his eccentric billionaire employer Sir Wilkins Bramblebay, the world’s leading expert in ornithological fraud.
“So they got poor old Maurice?” Bramblebay said, leaning against his diamond-encrusted cane and squinting through his monocle. Despite only being in his early fifties, Sir Wilkins Bramblebay was dressed in full tails and top hat, a cliched Wodehousian buffoon. “How did they get him, detectives?”
“Who are ‘they’ ?” Rogue asked. “Do you mean to say that you know who killed him?”
“Tell me, detectives, what do you know about the Bristow Chapter?”
“The what?” Rogue and Keen both asked.
“Ah, so you’ve never heard of the Bristow Chapter? Oh my! Well, I think it would be best for us to go through to the parlour and get ourselves a drink. And a bloody strong drink as well, what what. It seems like I have a ruddy awful lot to tell you.”
“Would you care for cognac, detective?” Bramblebay asked Rogue. The enormous granite fireplace crackled and shot out embers as Huggins the butler threw on a log.
“Gah!” Rogue spat on the oak floor. “Goddamit no. I never touch toff’s booze. Have you not got anything more patronisingly working class?”
“Huggins,” Bramblebay said, “could you go down to the kitchen and fetch Detective Rogue a bottle of Mad Dog 20:20 and a few cans of Kestrel Super. Or anything else that soaked winos like to guzzle on the street.”
Huggins left the room, Rogue lit a roll-up cigarette, Timmy Keen took out his detective’s notebook, and Bramblebay stood in front of the fireplace and began to tell the story of the Bristow Chapter. Each time he became excitable he swung his diamond-encrusted cane around like an eccentric billionaire aristocratic maniac, destroying antiques worth millions of pounds, the exact behaviour exhibited by all eccentric billionaire aristocrats. And I should know, because I’ve met lots of eccentric billionaire aristocrats.
“It all started back in 1892. There was a man called George Bristow who stuffed dead birds full of sand, it was an old trade known as taxidermy, and he owned a taxidermy shop in St Leonards-on-Sea near Hastings. But Bristow was more than just a taxidermist, he was also well versed in the apocalyptic writings of the Mayans, the Aztecs and Nostradamus. Bristow saw a dangerous trend, a cult almost, emerging in Britain at the end of the Victorian era. He noticed men, nearly always men, coming to the coast and taking great interest in the bird life, and they started to call themselves birdwatchers. Bristow considered these men to be like no others that he had encountered. He wrote to friends saying that these birdwatchers exhibited fanatical and manic behavioural traits, they spoke in a strange, coded tongue using language that was barely intelligible to the non-birding layman. They described birds as being ‘stonking’, ‘mega’, and seemed to become disproportionately excited by big gulls and brown pipits.
Bristow was puzzled by them, but soon he came to realise that these birdwatchers, men who were as desperately pathetic and frighteningly hopeless as this, were surely destined to bring about the end of the world as we know it, as predicted by the Mayans and the Aztecs and so on. Bristow failed to convince his friends of the danger posed by these birdwatchers, and so he set out alone. He began to procure extraordinarily rare birds from foreign lands, stuffed them full of sand and lied by saying that they were being shot by local sportsmen in the Hastings area. Unfortunately Bristow got too carried away and began claiming all sorts of mad-ass shit, and eventually he was sussed out as a fraudster years after his death. The whole thing became known as the Hastings Rarities Scandalous Affair Scandal.
But what nobody knew was that Bristow had three children, and so began the royal blood line of the Bristow Chapter, a blood line whose sole purpose is to maintain the secret that all rare birds and vagrancy is one huge great big massive monster lie. Indeed, detectives, it’s The Greatest Lie Ever Told.
Bristow changed his children’s surnames and sent them away, two of them abroad, so that their true identities could never be known. These unknown children – whom I have devoted my entire life to discovering their identity, without success – continued their father’s work and began to write fake scientific papers under various pseudonyms pretending that there was a phenomenon known as vagrancy, that rare birds turned up because of weather patterns and faulty bio-navigational systems. The birdwatchers sucked it up and believed every bit of it. Dedicated birding journals published these theories and it soon became accepted as fact. All of this brought about the modern hobbies of birding, twitching and rare bird finding.
Of course, soon the birders wanted to see these fantastic birds for themselves, and so the ultra-secretive Bristow Chapter needed to expand, bring in outsiders on a payroll, bribe editors of bird magazines and members of rarities committees. They started to smuggle real birds into Britain on an industrial scale, then they had to fake the science to suggest that certain weather patterns and times of year were better for certain vagrant birds, thus making the birders go out and find these planted vagrant birds. For every hundred birds they smuggle in from throughout the world, only a handful are ever found by birders.
The blood line continues to this day, not only in Britain, we believe the Chapter is active throughout the world, especially in Holland, Scandinavia and the US. And now they are making up ever new theories to support their lie, the latest one is that birds are crossing from the Pacific straight over the North Pole, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is as absurd a statement to make as saying that Geoffrey Howe wasn’t a fucking cunt.
So there you have it, detectives. The Bristow Chapter murdered Maurice Wagon, and they removed and destroyed any evidence he had discovered as to their wickedly despicable lies and deeds. And as you dig deeper, detectives, you’ll discover that they have killed many, many more of us truth-seekers, anyone who ever knew the secret and threatened to expose them and The Greatest Lie Ever Told.”
Bramblebay sat down, removed his top hat and sipped his cognac.
“Okay, so all of that is just fine, just goddam fine,” Rogue said, putting another crooked roll-up to his lips and lighting it, “but here’s what I don’t understand. You seriously expect us to believe that these killers and liars – this Bristow Chapter – go to so much effort just to make up a load of rare bird sightings? And they even murder people? I mean, think about it, it’s just fucking ridiculous. Just imagine if anyone ever decides to write this down into some kind of web-serialised novel, I mean by this point whoever would be reading it must be thinking that this wholly improbable plot is just fucking mental. For a start, it must be costing this Bristow Chapter an absolute fortune to smuggle in all of these birds and pay for trained killers.”
“Tell me, Detective Rogue, have you ever met a birdwatcher?” Bramblebay asked.
“Let me think… well my Uncle Tony was a birder.”
“And what was he like?”
“To be honest, I never knew him very well. He was pretty weird and nobody in the family really liked him. He hung around with some really weird people as well, and they were all birders.”
“Exactly!” Bramblebay said, and leapt back to his feet in excitement, wildly swinging his cane, smashing priceless ornaments and great works of art. “That’s the whole purpose of the Bristow Chapter, to keep birders out of mainstream society, and they’ll do anything, absolutely anything to keep things that way. They plant these rare birds, distribute the disinformation, make up the science, pretend that some birds are really obvious hoaxes like a Short-toed Eagle in Lincolnshire to legitimise their own hoaxes … all of this to keep birders in a hermetically sealed bubble in which they can squabble amongst themselves about suppression and mis-identification, and ensuring that they never ever come into contact with real people. Perhaps you don’t understand the severity of this: birders are like a modern day colony of lepers. They’re vile, diseased, disgusting lepers. Can you imagine what would happen if people like your Uncle Tony had to do the things that real normal people do? Can you imagine them having to mingle with shoppers in Primark on a Saturday afternoon? Or go looking for new curtains with a partner they despise, like the rest of society have to do every three fucking months? If birders and real people ever have to mix, then the results would be like what happens in Ghostbusters when you cross streams.”
“God help us all!” Rogue said, and swilled back a whole can of Kestrel Super in one slug before lighting another roll-up.
“If birders ever make contact with real people with real lives the whole fabric of society will unravel, civilisation will crumble, and everyone will be walking around Tesco saying that everything is ‘stonking’, ‘crippling’, ‘mega’, and informing each other that things are ‘showing obligingly’ and ‘giving up good views’, and all that other trite bullshit jargon that birders use.”
“Oh, the humanity!” Timmy Keen cried, looking up to the Heavens.
Rogue put another roll-up to his lips and lit it. “Well if things would be as bad as you say and society as we know it would be destroyed, tell me this: why are you and others like Maurice Wagon so desperate to expose the Bristow Chapter as liars? Answer me that, Bramblebay.”
“A good question, Rogue, a very good question, and no doubt a question that is seriously fucking troubling the author of this web-serialised novel as well. So just give him a few minutes to think up something vaguely plausible…”
“err… okay, got it. It’s all about truth. Truth, I tell you!”
“Truth?” Rogue asked, lighting another fresh roll-up
“Yes, truth. Actually, this is all just like the Da Vinci Code, only not as well thought out and with gaping potholes in the plot. Think about it: the Bristow Chapter are like those Opus Dei Catholic nutjobs with the albino monk. And us lot are like the Priory of Sion and the Illuminati, and all that bollocks. No matter what happens to society, we believe that mankind needs to hear the truth. Only truth can set you free. And as soon as we discover the true identities of the Bristow Chapter, we shall publish and be damned. The very air we breathe shall shake with the truth. Truth, I say!”
“Is that really what the Da Vinci Code was about?” Timmy Keen asked, momentarily pausing from dictating the whole conversation into his special detective’s notebook, “I’m not sure it was about that.”
“You could be right” Bramblebay said, “I read it on a flight back from New Zealand about five years ago. Can’t remember a bloody thing about it, what what. Wasn’t there a film made about it?”
Huggins stepped in to answer. “That’s right, m’Lud. It starred that two-dimensional smug twat Tom Hanks, and it was directed by little Richie Cunningham from Happy Days.”
“Oh yes, I remember it now,” Bramblebay said, then took a seat having smashed every priceless object in the parlour with his cane, the floor now strewn with torn canvases by Caravaggio alongside shattered Rodin sculptures. “So there you go, Rogue, we want the world to know the truth. No group of people have the right to trick people into believing a total massive lie. Well, other than organised religions, the entire British media and Jeffrey Archer. But let’s not get into that. Now the trouble is, Rogue, is that if you managed to find me, then the Bristow Chapter won’t be far behind you. All the sophisticated security you see in this castle won’t stop them eventually getting to me and murdering me in a viciously sadistic, gut-churningly violent manner. You have to find them and stop them, otherwise me and Huggins here are completely fucked, what what.”
The old man lowered himself onto the damp shingle of Cley beach with excruciatingly slow care and patience. One slip and he feared he could easily snap his brittle arse bone and have to be airlifted off the beach and taken to Norwich Hospital, hardly dignified for an eighty-seven year old man. As he looked out to sea he felt that this could well be the last time he would ever see the great big wobbly brown bucket of shit called the North Sea. A Great Black-backed Gull was tearing apart a floating dead dog, and a Black-headed Gull coughed and puked on the beach as it headed towards a slow and painful death from botulism having spent all morning eating used sanny towels off a landfill site. You don’t see Attenborough making programmes about real nature, do you.
The seven foot killer arrived by his side and sat down on the shingle beside him, her enormous frame shadowing the frail old man. Without looking he handed her an envelope. “Everything’s in there. The shipment from Iceland is due on Tuesday. How did you get on in Scotland?”
“It’s all sorted. I had a problem with a female police officer, but I sorted it.”
“You got the knife out of MacDogkennel’s chest and took his bag?”
“Yes. No evidence. In future you shouldn’t use amateurs to do those jobs. The knife handle was sticking right out of his chest. You know I never leave a trace.”
“I know. I’ve been very pleased with your work. But this is the very last time we will meet. From now on you will report to my son.”
“Everything is in the envelope.” Still avoiding eye contact, the old man reached out and lightly squeezed her enormous hand, almost with affection. “Thank you for everything you’ve done.”
She rose to her feet and walked back to the car park, leaving behind the old man watching the Black-headed Gull now lying on its back and choking on a tampon string.
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