Mr Zip and Mr Punch were taking tea together.
Mr Zip quite enjoyed these occasions, even if he found Mr Punch's curious blue and white striped house not entirely to his taste. He'd also been brought up to take his hat off indoors and it irked him a little that Punch seemed never to take off his sugarloaf hat. His habit of striking anyone in range with that damned stick of his, was another of Punch's foibles that jarred with Mr Zip's sense of decorum. However, he'd always found Punch to be an engaging, if eccentric conversationalist and in Zip's mind this tended to outweigh the other less attractive characteristics.
Little had been said over the plates of cucumber sandwiches (with the crusts cut off), but now as they sat in two comfortable chairs before a roaring coal fire, the glow from the flames playing across their faces, it was obvious that something was on Mr Punch's mind.
"Look here, Zip old man," he suddenly burst out, "just who is this Harry Bell whose work you keep publishing?"
Weighing his words carefully, Mr Zip said, "Why, just an old friend. We're rather close."
Crossing two fingers on his right hand, Mr Zip held them aloft and said, "As close as that." The cup and saucer in his left hand rattled a little as he did so, and some of the Earl Grey slopped over into the saucer.
It was evident from the way Mr Punch was now leaning forward in his chair, his little legs dangling above the floor, that the subject was exercising him somewhat. "So he's not a figment of your imagination, then?"
"What, you mean the way you are?" said Mr Zip.
"Exackley!" exclaimed Punch in a cod Scouse accent.
"No, I guarantee that he exists. Indeed he's invited me to a party at his house tomorrow night. I'm afraid he feels that your surprise antics with the slapstick wouldn't go down well with his other guests. Nor does he want any of them hanged."
"I yam what I yam," said Punch, looking pleased with himself. Mr Zip thought that the Popeye impersonation was no more convincing than the Scouse accent.
There was a slightly strained silence as each of them sat listening to the ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner, wondering quite what to say next.
Suddenly Mr Punch spoke. "I may not be invited, but it won't stop me climbing a ladder and peering into his window at night."
"That's the way to do it!" exclaimed Mr Zip, and they both laughed.