The publishing event of the year – unless Jeanette Winterson hurls another thunderbolt from the mountaintop – is the long-awaited appearance of Pebblehead’s latest blockbuster. The indefatigable potboilerist has been uncharacteristically tardy. It is thought that he spent at least six weeks on this new work, twelve times as long as it commonly takes him to bash out a fat bestselling paperback with a gaudy cover. But at last, tomorrow it will be here. I have even managed to nab myself an invitation to the launch party, where I hope to rub shoulders with the great man. Last time I came within spitting distance of him was at a sophisticated literary soirée. Well, not “at”, exactly, but outside, where I fawned in a doorway before being Tasered by the Pebblehead security contingent, every man jack of them as big as a grizzly bear, and as savage. Tomorrow night things will be different. I have a ticket. It is a counterfeit ticket, forged for me by a ne’er-do-well of unsurpassed forging skills, or so I am told. He has even managed to copy the magnetic strip on the swipecard with which one gains access to the subterranean bunker where the party guests will gather before being ferried, one by one, in specially adapted rubber bodybags with breathing holes, by pneumatic tube to the equally subterranean bunker serving as a holding pen in which guests will be vetted, and their tickets subjected to forensic anti-forgery testing. I am brimming with confidence that I will make it through. I’ll let you know.
But what of the book itself? Advance copies have not been made available, so I have not even seen its gaudy cover, let alone read the blockbusting contents. I did engage the services of a ne’er-do-well with unsurpassed thieving skills, hoping he could pilfer a copy from the printers, but so tight was the security that my thief is now chained in an oubliette nursing a splitting headache, a bruised noggin, the after-effects of a severe electric shock, and with his bootlaces tied together. Clearly his skills were not as unsurpassed as I had been led to believe by the ne’er-do-well fixer of unsurpassed fixing skills who put me in touch with him. It is a frustrating business, traffick with ne’er-do-wells, let me tell you. A dangerous business, too, though not nearly as dangerous as dealing with Pebblehead’s retinue, who would strike fear into the boldest and mightiest of souls.
Which brings me neatly to the subject of the as-yet-unseen book, for Pebblehead has written the first ever biography of Rudyard Boot, the so-called Antipipsqueak, as bold and mighty a soul as ever bestrode the streets of Pointy Town and its environs. It will be interesting to see what Pebblehead makes of this enigmatic figure. For all that he was a colossus and a titan, at least in the minds of Pointy Townites, very little is actually known about him. I have something of an advantage over the teeming millions of general readers here, for I have a family connection to Boot – or “Das” as he was known to all and sundry. An aunt of mine, before she married my uncle, walked out with Rudyard Boot. Most if not all of their walks were around the reservoir after which, like Rudyard Kipling, he was named. According to my aunt’s stories, the young Boot was no Antipipsqueak. Indeed, he was very much a pipsqueak, and a milquetoast pipsqueak at that.
“When I knew him, he wouldn’t say boo to a goose,” said my aunt on one of her tape-recordings, “Once when we were walking out together, around the reservoir, we were set upon by a pack of geese. I know ‘pack’ is the collective noun for wolves rather than geese, but as far as Boot was concerned the geese might as well have been wolves, even werewolves, even zombified werewolves, even zombified werewolves injected with a serum causing their murderous bloodlust to be magnified a thousandfold. At their approach, he squeaked, a milquetoast squeak, and ran away, leaving me to deal with them, which of course I did in a sensible matter-of-fact manner, being a goose-familiar kind of girl. Later that day I wrote a letter to him in which I chided him for his pipsqueak goose-frit milksoppery, and I broke off our engagement. I think, for him, receipt of my letter was a turning point.”
And what a turning point it was! Having lost the heart of my aunt, Boot determined to transform himself, body and soul, from a pipsqueak into its antithesis – the Antipipsqueak. The wonder is that he effected the transformation in the space of little more than a fortnight. Alas, it was already too late to win back my aunt who, walking around the reservoir by herself the next day, was swept off her feet by my Uncle Quentin, a world-famous and bad-tempered yet loveable scientist from Kirrin Island. The dashing of his romantic hopes simply spurred Boot on in his new persona as the Antipipsqueak. He became a sort of superhero avant le lettre, doing battle with ferocious wild animals, fire ants, swarms of killer bees, pit vipers, and with human foes too, among them ne’er-do-wells and malefactors and organised criminal gangs from the far Carpathians. And all the time he wore, over his heart, a locket containing a miniature portrait of my aunt. It was a drawing rather than a photograph, a cack-handed drawing done by a weak-brained patient in a lunatic asylum, and it looked more like Otto von Bismarck than it did my aunt, who bore no resemblance to the guns-before-butter man, none at all.
Given the personal connection, I had occasionally thought about writing a biography of Rudyard Boot myself. Knowing of my interest, my aunt bequeathed to me her Boot-related memorabilia, including several hundred hours’ worth of tape recordings, piles upon piles of tear-stained scribblings, a photo album, scrapbooks containing Boot’s bus- train-, library-, and fairground-tickets, and, most prized of all, the medicine balls which it is believed he flung around in a gymnasium in those two weeks when he turned himself from a pipsqueak into the Antipipsqueak. Armed with such a mass of material, I was obviously in a position to write the definitive biography. I ought to have guessed that Pebblehead would engage the services, through a ne’er-do-well, of hired thugs. There were seventeen of them, and after loading my Boot archive in to an articulated lorry and speeding away to their rendezvous with Pebblehead, four stayed behind, bundled me into the boot of a car, and drove me to the reservoir. They tied me to a block of cement and chucked me in. They must have thought I was a milquetoast pipsqueak. How wrong they were. I freed myself and bobbed to the surface. Then, soaking wet, I sprinted to the gymnasium and began to fling medicine balls around. And tomorrow, Tasers notwithstanding, I shall come face to face with Pebblehead.