It was Algy’s birthday. Not that he paid much attention to it. He had to remember to take in a selection of cakes to feed anyone who might visit their office and assure some of his more maternal colleagues each year that he was quite happy not celebrating it and he really didn’t want a surprise party or a night out with all and sundry or even a birthday card. He got a few birthday cards, of course. Older members of his family sent him a card religiously. He tended to check them for important information – such as impending visits – then put them straight into the recycling from which Ginger removed them to display on the mantelpiece for a couple of days. Facebook was everyone’s preferred method of sending birthday greetings nowadays and this he did have to pay a little more attention to. Some of his friends had very schoolboyish senses of humour and an apparently inexhaustible supply of dodgy photos from their shared past. He still hadn’t lived down the photograph posted of him in a little sailor suit and apparently all copies of the one of him dressed in velvet and ribbons hadn’t been destroyed. So far this birthday, only pictures of him in various uniforms had surfaced, but the day was still young.
Biggles was sat behind his desk, opening the post. The latest copy of Flight had arrived. Biggles passed it to Algy. ‘You can have first dibs on it, birthday boy.’
Algy opened it and was soon deep within the technical specifications of a proposed ten seat development of an existing jet.
He was roused from this by the sound of Biggles laughing heartily. He looked up to see Biggles holding a thin pepperoni-style sausage in one hand and a letter in another.
‘Why on earth are you ordering sausages through the post?’
‘We’re being challenged, by Wilks,’ Biggles was still laughing. ‘A sausage-themed night to raise money for St Dunstan’s. He’s sent us this to practise with.’
The others were laughing too.
‘What are we expected to do with that poor sausage?’ Algy asked. ‘I daren’t imagine.’
‘It’s a variation on the cardboard box game. It will be supported upright on the floor and competitors will take it in turn to shorten it by a bite without any part of their body other than their feet touching the floor and no part of their body other than their mouth touching the sausage. Every mouthful has to be swallowed,’ Biggles added before laughter stopped him speaking further. The others joined him and it was into this scene of hilarity that Gaskin walked.
‘Well, you’re usually a cheerful bunch but this takes the biscuit. Have you all been awarded early retirement on double pay?’
‘We’ve been invited to field a team for a charity event,’ Biggles explained, waving the pepperoni ‘and sent this to practise with.’
Gaskin invited further explanation and then explanation of the cardboard box game. ‘You mean to tell me, that grown men spend their time bending over to bite sausages and Vice aren’t involved?’
‘It’s fun,’ Ginger grinned. ‘We used to challenge the WAAFs during the war at the cardboard box game.’
‘The competitive ones used to pull their skirts up to their stocking tops,’ Algy said reminiscently. ‘It was a real shame when they started wearing trousers instead.’
Gaskin shrugged and moved onto his reason for visiting, which was merely to ask Biggles’s advice on the possibility of an aviation angle to one of his cases. Biggles promised to give it some thought and let him know his conclusions when he had done so. Gaskin left.
Algy returned to Flight and Biggles, after checking that Saturday was alright with the others, started writing acceptance e-mails to Wilks and the organisers.
Ginger answered the phone. Shortly, he was raising his eyes to heaven as he replied to whoever was on the other end. Putting the receiver down, he got to his feet.
‘HR has managed to mess up my pay again. Honest to goodness, I don’t know why I don’t legally change my name to Ginger then maybe this would stop happening. I’m off to sort it out.’
In HR, an apologetic admin assistant went through his expenses and overtime with him. ‘Sorry Ginger. It’s because people call you one thing but you’re another on the system. If a temp does the additions then all of your stuff gets put aside as a query which is never passed on and then your expenses are missed off and then it’s difficult to get them authorised as they are a month late and only senior management can do that and half the time they won’t. Is Algy doing anything for his birthday this year? A few of us are going out on Saturday if he’d like to join us. It does seem a shame that he never celebrates it.’
‘That’s very kind but we’re all out on Saturday,’ Ginger told her, relieved to have an excuse. ‘There’s a fundraiser for St Dunstans.’
‘That sounds worthy rather than fun,’ commented the admin assistant.
‘Oh no. It should be great fun,’ Ginger assured her. ‘Apparently, way back when, they used to call the barrage balloons used for observation ‘sausages’ so it’s a sausage themed party.’
‘Do you have to dress up?’ The admin assistant was obviously rather taken aback at the thought of the SAP dressing themselves up as hotdogs or something rather less politically correct.
‘I think the organisers felt there was too great a possibility of attracting the wrong kind of publicity if costumes were involved,’ Ginger grinned, ‘so no. It’s party games with a sausage theme and an auction afterwards.’
The HR department was quite intrigued by the notion of a sausage party and auction and spent time speculating, both in a pc and non-pc way, on what might be involved. This is how it came to the ears of a member of the marketing department. He, also, was quite intrigued and thought it would make a good piece for the internal magazine. They liked to cover charitable events and this would be a change from people completing park runs for cancer or sitting in baths of baked beans. He spoke to his colleagues then rang St Dunstan’s up for permission to cover the event. In exchange for a name check, an outline of the work they did and donation details, St Dunstans were very happy for a representative of Marketing to come along and cover the event.
Algy’s birthday passed without further remark and a quiet week led to the weekend.
‘I’m looking forward to tonight,’ Biggles said cheerfully. They were dressed in comfortable, loose fitting clothing as the invite had suggested. Not baggy – they had all seen games lost due to overly loose clothing and they were quite competitive by nature – but clothes they could move easily in. ‘I wonder how they are accommodating all the vegetarians and vegans?’
‘Greggs do a very good veggie sausage roll,’ Ginger suggested. ‘Maybe they’ve got them to do the catering?
‘I give it about five minutes before someone manages to swap the labels for vegetarian and non-vegetarian foodstuffs over,’ Algy opined.
‘True, old boy, but if several people swap ‘em, each thinking he is the first, then no one will have any idea what they are eating.’ Bertie pointed out.
‘Well, it doesn’t matter to us,’ Biggles pointed out. ‘We eat anything.’
‘Not lizard,’ Algy said firmly. ‘I no longer eat lizard. And you won’t eat monkey.’
‘True,’ Biggles grinned, ‘but I don’t think either will be served tonight.’
The event was buzzing as they walked through the door.
‘Hello, Biggles,’ one of the organisers greeted him as they walked in. ‘Algy. Boys. Drop off your coats and get yourselves a drink then you can get started. Here’s a list of all the games. There’ll be a marker by each of them, recognisable by their waistcoat,’ he indicated his own, bright yellow waistcoat covered with little hotdogs. The hotdogs had legs and were running in all directions. ‘They’ll tell you what to do and mark your scorecard. Prizes will be given out after the auction. Have fun.’
They dropped off their coats. Bertie went to the bar whilst the others read their handouts. Biggles spotted various cameras and found a senior organiser to request that photographs of his team weren’t used for publicity. ‘Security stuff, I’m afraid,’ he apologised.
‘No problem, Biggles,’ the man said cheerfully. ‘You’re not the only Secret Squirrel here tonight. I’ll put you on the verboten list.’
It was a shame that neither knew anything about the police marketing request, because it meant that Biggles paid no attention to the cameras recording the event all night long.
There were a number of games. A couple were due to start at a particular time, but the rest were arranged around the room and could be completed at any point.
Biggles looked at the list and the groups of people around the room. ‘Let’s start off with ‘Put the Sausage on the Plate,’ he suggested. ‘The queues are lowest there.’ Gins in hand, they made their way across.
There were several laminated pictures of plates stuck to a board, with scoring rings around them, like an archery target. They were stuck at different heights, the higher scoring ones higher or lower than average shoulder height. Participants were given a hot dog dipped in mustard, blindfolded with a back to front balaclava, spun around three times and then had to touch the end of the sausage to a numbered ring in order to score.
‘Best of three,’ grinned the marker, standing by a table holding a bowl of mustard, several jars of long hotdogs and an already rather mucky towel. A bin part-full of broken hotdogs stood beside him.
Ginger studied where the scoring rings were then indicated he was ready. He was blindfolded, spun around and told to go. Confidently he reached out with his sausage only to find the wall wasn’t quite where he expected it to be. Three dabs later and he could see his score. Height was good but he was further to the left and right of his target than he expected. ‘Not bad,’ declared the marker, writing the score on Ginger’s card. ‘Next.’
Bertie, hilariously, was given an extra half spin and had to be verbally coached to the wall. Wilks had joined them and was calling out incorrect directions. Then his sausage snapped. Still, he achieved a score in the end, as did Biggles, Algy, Wilks and his team.
‘That was harder than expected,’ Biggles remarked. ‘How’s everyone else doing?
‘You flyboys are doing the best generally,’ the marker told them. ‘You’re used to being in flat spins, I suppose. Some of the army chaps. Well, I don’t have words. There’s a woman who’s brought her three teenage daughters with her. They all scored bullseyes every time. Said they always knew where they were in space and time thanks to their dance and gymnast training.’
They progressed around the room, greeting old friends and talking to new. There was a quiz on how sausages were made and their history which they did quite badly on, and a blind tasting which went better. Algy went to the bar to buy more drinks to wash away the spicy taste which earned him gentle mockery from those around.
One of the markers appeared. ‘Have you chaps played Silly Sausage yet? There’s a space at one of the tables.’
The table was half occupied by a woman with three daughters. The family resemblance was very strong. They were all slight with long, straight, dark hair, heavy glasses and solemn expressions. Until they saw Biggles and his team. Then they sported grins of pure evil.
‘Have you played this before?’ the marker asked. They shook their heads. ‘You’re in for some fun then.’
He produced a foot long plastic sausage with plastic eyes. ‘Follow the instructions. Twist me, stretch me, poke me, shake me, dip me.’ He demonstrated. Algy closed his eyes. He wasn’t sure he could play this with teenage girls. The mother’s grin got even wider. She knew exactly what Algy was thinking and she was going to use it to her advantage.
‘Have a practice,’ invited the marker. He pressed a button on the sausage four times. ‘Turbo Party Mode,’ the Sausage announced. ‘Shake me.’
One of the girls obliged. The instructions came quickly from the sausage but she followed each correctly. She passed it to Biggles who promptly got an instruction wrong and switched it off.
‘Where did you find this?’ Algy demanded.
‘Age 7 plus. Available in all good toy shops,’ the marker told him, once more switching the sausage on. ‘Kids love it. It’s the adults who have dirty minds.’
He passed it to Algy, who discovered he couldn’t look at the mother opposite whilst shaking it.
‘Right. You’ve had enough practice,’ the marker announced. ‘Follow the instructions. Pass to the next player when it tells you to. I’ll count the passes. You’re aiming for the longest unbroken chain.’
It went up and down the female line impressively before one of the girls stretched it instead of twisting it. The sausage was passed across. Algy wondered why it was only him who found it troubling. Biggles appeared to have no problems making the movements. Nor did Bertie and Ginger. He gritted his teeth and followed the instructions, trying not to look at the knowing faces opposite. He got through, but their turn ended when Ginger made a mistake. Another impressive score from the females and it was back. Algy received it for the second time. Making sure he didn’t look opposite, he followed the instructions. A foot ran up his leg, all the way to his thigh. He jumped, twisting, dipping and stretching his sausage as he did so.
‘Cheat,’ he said indignantly as the woman opposite dissolved into giggles. Algy appealed to the marker.
‘Nothing in the rules about interference with team members,’ the marker grinned. He looked at his notes before filling in their score sheets. ‘I think we’ve probably got the overall winners here,’ he said, indicating the females. ‘Your scores are right in the middle of the pack, I’m afraid, lads.’
‘Let’s have a breather,’ Algy suggested. ‘We’re romping through the games.’
They found a table and sat down, watching the other teams. Various people said hello and chatted for a while to one or the other of them. Wilks joined them once more.
‘How’s it going? Have you come across the Khans yet? I think they are going to whitewash the other teams.’
‘Mother and daughters team?’ Biggles asked.
Wilks nodded. ‘The mother works for me. One of my senior pilots. Fantastic flyer. The twins are at Oxford doing something with Maths and Computers and Artificial Intelligence. The younger one is taking a gap year, I think. Helping some homeless charity whilst she decides which university to grace with her presence.’
Algy felt much better knowing the daughters were older than they looked, though now he came to think about it, they’d have to be to be here. The Charity Evening wasn’t a family event. Biggles described meeting them for Silly Sausage which had Wilks spluttering into his pint.
‘Who invents a game like that for children?’ he asked. ‘I felt like an absolute pervert shaking the damn thing up and down.’
Algy grinned. ‘I was doing that, trying not to look at Ms Khan, when she goosed me.’ Wilks roared with laughter.
‘Excellent. She deserves a payrise for that. She won’t get one as have you seen the state of the airline industry at the moment, but she deserves one.’
He looked at his watch. ‘I better join the gang for that damn lick the sausage off the carpet thing. Get it out of the way before the team games.’
Biggles agreed. ‘We’ll join you.’
This game was running as a knockout. Anyone who failed to take a bite of the sausage, who used their hands or who lost their balance was out. When the last bite of one sausage had been taken, a new one was produced. A clamp held the sausage upright on the floor.
Wilks was out very quickly, but this was Biggles and co’s game. Ginger and Bertie favoured the splits. They slid their feet out to each side, hands holding their ankles, then carefully tipped their heads forward whilst sticking their bottoms out before biting a chunk from the sausage. Biggles used a peculiar method which no one else could make work. He crossed his ankles as if sinking into the crosslegged position and, balancing an inch above the floor, moved his head forward and his hands back until he could take his bite. Algy favoured the lunge: with one leg stretched far out behind and his arms wrapped around his bent front leg, he simply bit when his head was low enough. ‘Take it down all the way, Algy boy,’ Wilks shouted. Algy grinned but was unaffected by the heckling.
Soon, only those who could bend far enough to pick the very last of the pepperoni up were left.
‘Tie breaker’, announced the referee, producing a plate of salami slices. ‘Anyone able to lift one of these bad boys off the floor becomes a joint winner.’
It was hard work to get the salami slices up from the floor. Each competitor had to remain in a very uncomfortable and precariously-balanced position long enough to scrape an edge up and get firm hold. Most of the remaining competitors were wiped out at this point. Bertie succeeded with suction. Algy used his teeth. Biggles poked at it with his tongue until he had raised it enough to pull it up with his lips. There were calls of encouragement, catcalls , cheering and a jolly good time was had by all. The Khans arrived, to take their turn. Algy watched Ms Khan slip easily into her lunge position and couldn’t resist. He liberated a pepperoni stick and slid it along the side of her calf and just past her knee. Ms Kahn squeaked and wobbled. She nearly regained her balance but Algy had timed it perfectly and she was too far from her equilibrium to return to it. She turned furious eyes behind her and saw Algy grinning. He saluted her with the pepperoni stick. ‘Revenge is sweet,’ he told her, biting into it.
Having finished the side games, they enjoyed another period of relaxation before the team games. There were three, all variations on well known games. First was the game where the players had to roll a die, score a six, run to a chair at the other end of the table, put on a flying hat, flying gauntlets and a silk scarf then cut and eat the sausage using the knife and fork until another six was rolled by a team member, when the everything had to be removed for the next potential sausage eater to take their turn. Referees, in their bright yellow waistcoats, stood by each table to time how long it took to finish the sausages. There were enough teams that the game had to be run three times, despite there being multiple sausages and tables. There was also multiple cheating. Wilks swapped his large sausage for Biggles’s much smaller one. Bertie pinched Wilks’ team’s scarf and ran half way around the hall with it before he was caught and it was retrieved. Both teams received time penalties.
The second game required them to have their wrists tied together. They stood in a line. The person at the back was issued with a large salami. It was to be passed forward using legs only, until it reached the front whereupon that person was to run (or bunny hop), salami still between their legs, to a wastepaper basket, around the basket then return to the back of their team, from where the sausage would once more be passed to the front. The final person had to drop the salami into the wastepaper basket before sprinting back. Wilks won that game, mainly because only three of his team went and in the confusion, the referee failed to notice. Biggles, knelt astride a dropped salami and discovering like many others that it was difficult to stand up whilst squeezing an object between his knees with his hands tied together, objected vociferously but was ignored.
The final game was a wheelbarrow race. Each team of four was split into two couples. One person would wheelbarrow the other down the room where the wheelbarrow part of the couple would pick up a bratwurst sausage in their mouth and race back, still as a wheelbarrow, to deposit the sausage in a bowl cuing the other couple to carry out the same actions. Then the first couple would go again, but the carrier would be the wheelbarrow second time around and vice versa. Biggles took Ginger by the ankles. ‘Only speed will save us,’ he grinned. Ginger knew only too well what sort of a scrum wheelbarrow races could turn into. He agreed. Their only hope was speed.
It was bruising, tiring and very funny. Couples barged into each other, making opponents fall over and drop their sausages. Ginger balanced on one hand and tugged at any ankles which came close to him and Biggles exerted all his strength to keep them moving. ‘Watch where you’re putting your hands,’ one bloke complained, as Ginger and Biggles went straight over him. They weren’t the first back, but they were well ahead of a lot of the competition. Ginger spat his sausage into the bowl. ‘That’s foul. They could have cooked it.’ Algy and Bertie set off.
Many crashes later, the wheelbarrow race was over. The teams had their score cards marked and handed them in. Biggles’s sole concern was to beat Wilks, both as a team and individually. He held no illusions about winning overall. There was a pause for contestants to get cleaned up and have their drinks replenished whilst the organisers moved furniture, cleaned away the games and set up a buffet in one of the side rooms.
Filling his plate, Biggles was glad to see that the sausage theme only went so far. There was a sausage quiche, but also standard quiche Lorraines and one which advertised itself as being a vegan spinach affair. Mini sausages were stuck into half grapefruits, but so were cheese chunks interspersed with pineapple pieces and cherry tomatoes. Biggles piled his plate with food. He was hungry after his exertions. It had been a long time since he’d played what he still thought of as Mess Games and he was glad that the rest of the evening would be conversation and a short auction. He didn’t intend buying anything but supposed that if a voucher for colonic irrigation was going cheaply then that would be Wilks’s Christmas present sorted. He joined the men looking at a picture of a barrage balloon and the debate on the best way of shooting them down.
They enjoyed the rest of the evening very much, chatting to old friends and meeting new acquaintances. Algy joined Ms Khan and was later seen leaving in her company.
‘How does he do it?’ Wilks wondered. ‘I’ve never dared approach closer to her than three feet.’
Biggles shrugged. ‘I’m more surprised that she’s left before the results are announced.’
The Khan family, were, indeed, the team winners and one of the daughters the individual winner. Biggles politely applauded and waited until he could see the lists of results, which confirmed that the SAP had beaten Wilks’ team by three points and Biggles had beaten Wilks by a larger margin.
‘It’s because they forgot to put bones in your body when they made you,’ Wilks grumbled. ‘How do you bend so much? It’s not natural.’
‘You’ll have to take up yoga,’ Biggles grinned. ‘Get yourself into some lycra and after a few months practice, you might be able to touch your toes if you bend your knees.’
‘When would I have the time for yoga? It’s one thing after another at the moment and if Algy upsets my best pilot then he can come and fly for me.’
Algy turned up the next morning, yawning. ‘I’m going to crash for a bit,’ he announced, walking straight into his bedroom, carrying a scent of an unfamiliar perfume with him. ‘Excellent night, last night. Did we beat Wilks’ mob?’
Monday started like any other Monday for the SAP. They did their patrols. They kept their filing up to date. Bertie played Candy Crush on his phone and Ginger thought about the problems involved in translating the Khan twins’ ideas into actual engineering.
In the marketing office, Mo was looking at his photographs of the Charity Event. They were quite something. He wasn’t sure if they were suitable for the in-house magazine. He needed a quick answer and his line manager was away on a training course. He picked up the phone and dialled his boss’s boss.
‘Photographs of the Special Air Police at a Charity Event? Of course they’ll be suitable for the magazine,’ his boss’s boss declared, annoyed at the interruption and hanging straight up before Mo could give any further details. Mo looked at the receiver in his hand. Well, he had asked.
‘Is this what Algy did for his birthday?’ a visiting representative from HR, asked, peering over Mo’s shoulder at his computer monitor. ‘Wow.’
Birthday. Mo’s mind started working on how he’d write the story.
Tuesday was another day like any other for the SAP. They did their patrols. They did their filing. Biggles worked on a presentation about the Role of the Aeroplane in Modern Policing.
Mo ruthlessly re-arranged the layout of this month’s cheery staff magazine until he had cleared the two central pages. He’d probably have to work late tonight to get it finished but it would be worth it.
Wednesday was not a day like any other for the Special Air Police. Biggles had seen a couple of hastily concealed smirks as he entered the building and his phone was ringing off the hook as he unlocked his office door. Wondering what the flap was, he grabbed the phone.
‘I’m sorry, sir, but I haven’t the foggiest what you are talking about,’ he protested. ‘Give me time to fire up my computer and take a look-see.’
‘What the hell has happened?’ he muttered, looking at the others. They shook their heads. They were as baffled as him. They didn’t remain in that state for long. Biggles opened his e-mails and selected the staff magazine. The cover appeared innocuous, as did the first couple of pages. Biggles touched the page turn arrow again. ‘Christ Al-Bloody-Mighty,’ he swore. ‘How the fuck did they get hold of these?’
Startled by his language, the others looked. Algy, too, took refuge in foul language. Ginger and Bertie were stunned into silence.
They were beautiful photographs. Razor sharp in their focus, the subject not obscured by anyone or anything. A close up of Algy straight on, lunging in the sausage game, his cheeks slightly hollowed as his lips closed around the sausage, his eyes dancing with laughter in reaction to Wilks’ banter. Another of Algy lunging, taken from behind, fabric stretched tight across his backside as he reached forward. Biggles, laughing ,as he shook a large plastic sausage suggestively. Bertie, his face covered by a balaclava, holding up a hotdog accusingly which had snapped in half but not separated fully. Ginger’s hand on a man’s crotch as he and Biggles wheelbarrowed over him.
‘Birthday Boy Algy Lacey’s Saucy Sausage Fundraiser ‘was the headline Mo had settled on. ‘Ever wondered what those Special Air Police get up to when they are off duty?’ He was a little disappointed in it but had run out of time to think of anything better. Algy was muttering to himself, ‘fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck,’ like a metronome. Ginger stretched out a finger which shook slightly, pointing to a little box inviting them to click here to see more photographs .
‘Better know the worst,’ Biggles muttered as he did so.
There were a lot of photographs. Algy starred in the majority. Clear, sharp snaps. There were also a lot of comments. Algy had stopped vocalising but his lips were still shaping the words of his mantra.
There’s a gif,’ Ginger said. Biggles clicked on it. In silence, they watched Algy repeatedly go down on a sausage and up again and down and up…. Algy watched it, mesmerised.
‘I don’t often want to run away,’ he whispered, ‘but god help me, I want to run from this crash. How the hell do I ever live this one down?’