The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis

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9780330291491: The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis

Living in the midst of the London metropolis and haunting the streets at night, the mischievous Borribles live by their wits, avoiding the Special Borrible Group of the London Police whose assignment is to capture the imps and send them back to a boring childhood

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About the Author:

Michael de Larrabeiti was brought up in Battersea. He is the author of two more books about the Borribles--The Borribles and The Borribles Go For Broke--as well as many other books. He has three grown-up daughters and lives with his wife in Oxfordshire.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

BORRIBLES: ACROSS THE DARK METROPOLIS
1Sergeant Hanks of the Metropolitan Police and second in command of the Special Borrible Group sat on a chair outside the office of the District Assistant Commissioner and picked his nose in a state of unalloyed rapture. He had excavated very successfully for ten minutes in the left nostril and he was now delving in the right one. As the curved nail of his index finger dug into something soft and spongy his eyes closed with the joy of an exquisite physical pleasure, and when, at last, the moist and luxuriant bogey was pulled reluctantly away from its tenacious root and coaxed out into the light, Hanks just half opened a single eye and examined his trophy with a close and professional interest.'Hmm,' he said, 'first class that one, looks like a well-fed whelk.' And he stuck it under his chair and crossed his fat ankles in utter contentment. This was the life.Inside the office, Sergeant Hanks's superior, Inspector Sussworth, was not enjoying himself. Quite the contrary. He was standing to attention before a large leather-topped desk, his lips tightly clenched and his postage stamp of a moustache humming with indignation. Sussworth was in serious trouble and the District Assistant Commissioner was making sure that he knew it.'It's not good enough,' said the DAC, 'just not good enough. Two months ago I was assured that you had these Borribles all cooped up in Wandsworth. No way out, eh? That's what you said. And the horse, eh? Where are they now?'Inspector Sussworth opened his mouth to answer but shut it again immediately as the DAC held up his hand for silence.'Escaped, that's what, escaped.' The DAC's voice was pointed and half-transparent, like shards of bone china. He was elegantly turned out in a well-cut suit of dark grey and a shirt that was as crisp as newly fallen snow. His tie indicated, discreetly, that he had once been connected with an exclusive regiment, and his shoes shone so brilliantly that it was impossible to tell what colour they were.He examined one of those shoes for a second, on the end of a stiffly straight leg, and, satisfied with the sheen, he got to his feet, rising easily from his swivel chair. 'You see, Sussworth,' he continued, 'I gave you the command of the finest body of men to be found in any police force in the world, in the world mark you, and all you have managed to achieve is a spectacular failure.' The DAC snorted and began to pace the olive-green carpet that covered the wide expanses of his office floor.Sussworth gazed out of the window and down on to the jumbled skyline of London. It was wet out there, and cold. It had stopped raining but only so that it could start again presently. Only midway through the afternoon and the office lights were already gleaming across the dark from a thousand windows in a hundred skyscrapers.Sussworth sighed. London was his patch, all of it. He sighed again. It was the Borribles' patch too; the whole town was lousy with them. At that very moment Borribles were out on the streets stealing stuff like nobody's business; and if they weren't stealing they were idling and lounging about in empty houses; activities that Sussworth had sworn to stop.The DAC returned from his stroll and stood once again behind the desk, facing the inspector. He was tall and languid, the DAC, and his face was well bred and haughty and pink, like a judge's in a wig. He sighed too, deeply, as if exhausted by being alive; the road of his life had been strewn with fools.'All you have done, Sussworth,' he said, 'is to smash up some Transit vans on Eel Brook Common, get some twenty of your men injured and invalided out of the force, and then allowed these Borrible ringleaders to escape.' He raised his hand as Sussworth took a breath. '"Safe and sound, sir," you said. "Safe and sound in Wandsworth. They can't get away." Can't get away, eh? Not only did they get away but they got away with a horse. Dash it all man, a horse! It escapedfrom your own police station. Why, you were the laughin' stock of everyone'.Sussworth fidgeted on his feet but made no attempt to answer.'I admit,' went on the DAC, setting off on another stroll, 'that you've captured a few Borribles and clipped their ears, but you couldn't call them important, they aren't the chaps we want. Concentrate on the ringleaders.'Sussworth twitched his neck. He could not bear to stand still for so long. He needed to be on the go; stamping, turning, marching.'Don't you realize, Sussworth, that the more you let these Borribles get away with things the more they undermine society? We can't allow it. It is our responsibility to see that society stays where it is. We can't have Borribles doin' what they like, livin' as they like, goin' where they like. You must find this gang of Borribles and eliminate them. Above all you must find their horse, which seems to act as some kind of mascot, and you will turn it into catsmeat. If you fail, Sussworth, then I'm afraid I shall be obliged to hand your job over to Chief Superintendent Birdlime of C Division. He's an up and comin' chap, you know, and as keen as mustard.'Sussworth was allowed to speak at last: 'I've tried everything sir, but London's such a huge place. It is not plain sailing to apprehend these malcontents.'The DAC gave Sussworth a pitying smile from the fireplace, where he had propped himself at an angle against the wall. 'My dear Sussworth,' he said, 'it is your duty to apprehend them, and once apprehended to make sure they have no chance to get away again. If the old methods are not successful you must try new methods; you must be crafty, sly and even evil if necessary. Do you think that Caesar and Alexander got to the top by playing the white man? Think, Sussworth, think. You must infiltrate Borrible culture; you need a fifth column, spies, traitors. Do anythin' to achieve your end ... but don't tell me about it. Inform me of your success, but not how you do it.'Sussworth's moustache began to twitch in anger but he restrained himself. He nodded vigorously. 'Yes sir, infiltrate, bribe, corrupt. Yes sir.'The DAC ambled back to his seat and lowered his body into it. He placed his elbows on the desk and laced the fingers of his right handwith those of his left. 'Don't you realize, Sussworth, that life is a game of snakes and ladders? If we are successful, you and I, there is promotion in this. We would both be up the ladder. I could be Commissioner this time next year and you ... Well, for a man of your energy and intelligence, the sky's the limit, the sky.'The DAC smiled wisely and rotated his chair at a leisurely speed so that he could look out through the plate glass of his window. The storm clouds, heavy with rain, had lowered themselves down to a dim horizon, and the endless confusion of London roofs and buildings was fading into one dull tone of dark blue.The DAC stretched his arms. 'Winter's comin',' he said as if the statement were philosophy, 'and that can only help. Not so many people on the streets; the Borribles will be easier to spot. It's up to you, Sussworth, complete annihilation of this criminal band of Borribles, nothing else will satisfy me. Don't let me hear anythin' but good news, do you follow? Eh? Or it will be bad news for you. Birdlime is waitin', Birdlime is waitin'.''Yes sir,' said Sussworth. 'Of course, sir.' He stood hesitant, not knowing if he had been dismissed or not. He waited for the DAC to swivel round from the window, but the DAC remained gazing into the darkening panorama spread out below him, watching the lights shine ever brighter.Sussworth decided to leave. His moustache twitched and twirled, and he saluted and turned in one nervous movement and marched quickly over the carpet towards the polished oak door of the office. He opened it and passed through, closing it reverentially behind him, the muscles of his face rigid with hate. 
Inspector Sussworth seized his hands behind his back and strutted between the door and the window of his office like Admiral Nelson on his quarterdeck. Sergeant Hanks had hooked his large and wobbly buttocks on the desk, folded his arms over his egg-stained tunic and was cocking his fleshy ears to scoop up every word his superior was about to utter. Both men were in the SBG headquarters, Micklethwaite. Road, Fulham.'That was a high-powered conference at Scotland Yard,' Sussworth said, 'very high-powered.'Hanks loosened his fat lips and smiled blankly. At the same time hepushed his hand into a coat pocket and drew out a bar of chocolate. 'I'm glad to hear it, sir,' he said. 'Care for some fruit and nut?'Sussworth waved his hand impatiently and spun on his heel through a hundred and eighty degrees, about ninety degrees more than he had intended, and was somewhat surprised to find himself facing the window overlooking the street. 'There is more to life than fruit and nut,' he said, his voice sombre. 'We have problems, Hanks, vast problems.'Hanks looked at the inspector's back and shoved half the chocolate into his mouth, salivating so freely that the moisture dribbled down his chin. It was a brown colour flecked with chewed raisins.'The DAC and I,' continued the inspector, 'have decided that the situation, re the Borribles, is critical and chronic. A new initiative must be implemented. We are going to concentrate our efforts on the main criminal gang, the gang from Eel Brook Common. Those ragamuffins must be apprehended and their ears clipped without delay. Their hideouts must be demolished. They've got to be made to behave like everyone else, earn money like everyone else and grow up like everyone else. Society is our responsibility, Hanks.''It is indeed, sir,' agreed Hanks, masticating slowly, lips smacking.'There is a slackness in the ranks, Hanks. Both the DAC and I had a long discussion about this. The Borribles are undermining the pillars of society and when that happens those pillars topple. Freedom leads to anarchy. They must conform to law and order.''They must conform indeed,' said Hanks. He lifted his weight from the desk and waded to a food cabinet which stood just outside the door of the office. He opened this cupboard and, taking out a roll, he cut it in half, buttered it and then spread it with thick honey.'I likes this stuff,' he announced, and squeezed the roll between his teeth so that the honey oozed over his chin and on to his tunic.Sussworth ignored the remark and performed a reverse turn quickstep across the room and around the desk. He sat down and then got up again immediately as if he had sat in something wet and nasty. His expression hardened and his moustache twitched from side to side, matching the movements of his feet.'The men will have to be reprimanded,' he said, 'and then retrained. We have to get those Borribles and above all that horse. This is a crisis. We must think of something new: bribery, corruption.''That's not new, sir.''There's promotion in the offing, Hanks. You will become an inspector; I shall rise to DAC and the DAC will get a knighthood. Imagine the glory, Hanks. Knighthoods. Sir Sergeant Hanks. Lord Sussworth of Fulham. The mind boggles.''Boggles,' said Hanks.Sussworth raised a hand to his forehead and fell into his chair. 'This is our last chance. If we fail we will be demoted to the ranks and Birdlime will be in. We have to think of some means of penetrating the Borrible infrastructure.''Super-narks!''Exactly.''What we need is someone on the inside,' said Hanks. 'That's what we need.'Sussworth got out of his chair again, stamped both feet at once and strode to the window. His hands, still behind his back, made a determined attempt to strangle one another. 'Precisely,' he said, and emotion steamed out of his ears like there were two kettles boiling in his head.Hanks stood in the middle of the room, lifted a finger to his nose and screwed it into a nostril just as far as it would go, about the second knuckle. 'What we want,' he said, 'is a regiment of bloody dwarfs.'Silence slid down over the room like a tipper-truck load of wet cement. Sussworth suddenly crouched and turned from the window very slowly, inch by inch, pointing a rigid finger at his subordinate who continued to stand, all innocent, grappling with a bogey. Sussworth laughed the laugh of contentment.'Ha! Hanks, ha! I have just had the most brilliant idea.' Sussworth advanced towards his sergeant, still crouching and still pointing. 'Did you know I was top of my year at Hendon Police College? My brain is a computer that never stops computing, taking in information and storing it until the day when, compressed by the white heat of necessity ... You Reeker! Out comes the desired answer. In other words, what we need is a regiment of dwarfs.'A look of puzzlement wandered over Hanks's face and he removed the finger from his nose without even looking at it. 'I just said that,' he said. He took a teapot from the cupboard and ladled some tea into it. 'I could have sworn I said that.'Sussworth straightened his back and dropped his pointing arm. He jigged around to the rear of the desk and sat down. 'Don't be foolish, Hanks,' he said. 'I do not want to see you change the habits of a lifetime, habits that have stood you in good stead. Your job is not inception but implementation.''Oh,' said Hanks, and he flicked on the switch that controlled the electric kettle.'That's why I am in my position and you are in yours, Sergeant,' said Sussworth as prim as a parson. 'Now listen to me. We shall place advertisements, discreetly, in the newspapers, especially the trade papers--The Stage, The Circus and Sideshow, Fun-Fair Weekly--all of them, offering employment to young adult midgets and dwarfs. Got that, Hanks? We only want the young-looking ones.'Hanks unplugged the boiling kettle and poured its contents into the teapot.'We want midgets from all walks of life,' said Sussworth. 'We'll train them and get them ready; we'll tell them all about Borrible customs, everything. They'll steal and live in broken houses like Borribles and they'll know all the proverbs, just like Borribles. They will infiltrate, insinuate and penetrate.'Hanks sucked at his tea and made a noise like water going down a drain in the middle of a storm. 'Dwarfs don't have pointed ears,' he observed. 'Borribles do.' The sergeant smiled like a quicksand smiling at the sound of approaching footsteps; there was no answer to that.Sussworth banged the desk and stamped the floor. 'You can't beat me,' he said. 'Honours at Hendon, that's what I got. We'll have special plastic ears fabricated, pointed, and we'll clip them on.'Hanks's vast stomach rolled under his stained tunic like water in a balloon. 'I don't think that will work, sir. If a Borrible gets suspicious of one of your spies and pulls at his ears, why, then the lugholes would come off and bye-bye dwarfs. The Borribles would have their guts for garters.' He handed the inspector a mugful of tea, hot, black and strong.Sussworth sipped. 'Difficulties,' he said, 'only exist to be overcome by minds like mine. If clips won't achieve our purpose then we shall affix the ears with superglue; nothing gets that off, I can assure you, however a Borrible might pull at it.''Superglue,' said Hanks. 'But them dwarfs'd never get the ears unstuck again. I can't see them standing for that ... I...

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de Larrabeiti, Michael
Published by London Pan/Piccolo 1986. (1986)
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