When Maude eventually pulled the sheet of paper out of one of those Scotland's Records envelopes in which you've probably received copies of your own or your ancestors' Birth, Marriage or Death Certificates (obviously the latter not being your own!) we were all fairly crowded around her and certainly I felt slightly disappointed at what was apparently a photocopy of an old Diary or Journal, showing a double page spread which, so far as I could see was written in French! "and the other, please Maudie," prompted Daphne, and from her bag Maude drew another envelope, this one marked Republique Francaise – Charges d'Affaires Ecosse, Edinbourg and took out a sheet of paper with the same official heading: "it's a translation, not ours, but theirs," said Maude, "just in case anyone thinks we're playing silly buggers," but no-one laughed; it was Auntie Cristo who broke the silence: "well, isn't one of you going to tell us what you are playing then – Daphne? Maude?" and when Daphne sat back, with one of her rather smug expressions, it was Maude who explained: "you know my chum Lettice?" no-one bothered to confirm the obvious, so she continued: "well, when she was helping out with some tidying up in the Archives – I mean the real Archives, the ones no-one is allowed to access without extremely High Permission – she came across a box of stuff which had come over from France at the beginning of the German invasion in August '14 – it had originally been deposited with the British Embassy in Paris some time after The Terror but before Napoleon, by a Scottish nobleman who had been trying to find out what had happened to relatives during the Revolution, and it was only regarded as a temporary holding, but the chap never came back for it, which was why it was still there when the war broke out, I've got no idea why or how it was sent to Edinburgh, or ended up in the Archives; it looked to Lettice as though the box had never been opened for 100 years: it was marked as the property of Sir Pontius MacFarlane and the Journal was that of a Mlle Eunice Eglantine!" this produced a gasp – could she have been a descendant, surely not, of Sister Evadne Eglantine? more likely she was descended from a relative of the Scottish nun murdered by Sir Parlane in the oubliette under Edinburgh's Royal Mile discovered by Daphne a couple of years ago: "anyway," said Maude, "according to the translation we got from the French Attaché, she was at the château of the Marquis de Sade when two Scotch travellers visited him and during their visit she read MacFarlane's fortune and told him, apparently, that he would never live to see the year 2020!" this brought another gasp: it is known that Sir Parlane and his servant, Dominic Doubleday, used Worm Holes in the Space/Time Continuum to travel backwards and forwards in time. and obvious aliases wherever they went but, true enough, although he was known to have been in various parts of the Earth in the 2030s and even further in the future, there was no record of either of them being around in 2020: "how could this woman in the years after the French Revolution – remember that de Sade died in the Asylum of Charenton in 1814 – make such a prediction, unless she knew that she was dealing with a Time Traveller?" it was beyond belief, beyond reason, it was incredible! "well, " said Daphne, we've had a read of it on the train – we only received it yesterday – and even for the time, the language is rather gurrier – of course we know nothing yet of this woman, but she rather philippizes, it is possible, I daresay, that she was one of the Madames who procured girls for de Sade, or indeed was one of the girls herself, but that is conjecture – we only have the one volume, perhaps others will turn up in the Archives. . . . ." but Auntie Cristo held up a restraining hand: "nothing is insuperable to women such as we, if we put our minds to it, perhaps Maude, dear, you could summarise the most relevant parts of the Journal for us, while Daphne explains exactly what she is ettling us to do about it!"
Last night, Ludmilla Lermontova, in a spirit of Gastrodiplomacy, made a huge pot of Borscht which we ate with freshly baked Soda Bread to her Irish mother's recipe and, of course, Auntie Cristo brought out her bottle of Laphraoigh; with what might have been simple curiosity or, rather, Socratic irony, Ludmilla pondered the relative merits of Scotch and Irish whiskies – that really sett the cat among the pigeons, as everyone tried to explain why their favourite tipple was best: as so much about whisky is a matter of taste, and nothing to do with measurable differences, it got pretty raucous – as Isa and Milly were there, too, and our Embra Aunties, Daphne and Maude had arrived earlier with Father Mungo and Lulu (he has lost his driving licence so she has now assumed the permanent role of Driver, Distance no Object, except when her removal business has a job on) followed closely by Gordon and Goldie Brevity; Father Mungo insisted that anyone who didn't appreciate that Irish Whiskey – or better still, nudge-nudge, get the pun? poteen - was superior to Scotch Whisky was Midas-eared at which Gordon pooh-poohed such a "boilerplate argument," insisting that it was like comparing tea and coffee, or bread and butter, or even rose-water and Holy Watter! – which, fortunately Mungo took as a great joke and the two went out for a smoke and an exchange of hip-flasks: "you know," said Auntie Daphne, "now that the men have given us peace, I wanted to ask you all about something that Maude and I found deep in the bowels of Register House – but don't worry, it's not an example of civil service bumbledom, nor a tasty morsel about a Moderator of the Church of Scotland flouncing about the General Assembly with his cassock caught in the elastic of his g-string, which we did see one time but we're naming no names, while the children are still here! no, there used to be a bit of an Ice Age in there, but since the new Registrar General took over, things have definitely thawed, she greets us by name, which her predecessor never did, in twenty years of passing us in corridors, or sitting at the same table in the ref, oh a cold fish, Doctor Tunnock, but no, it's about Sir Parlane MacFarlane meeting his Waterloo, go on, Maudie, show it them," and Maude duly did!
As far as my cousins and I are concerned, the old tarzy in our Aunts' garden has been there forever and a day – since you and I were young, Maggie, and we used to race home after school to claim the lion's share of the prize; it was theoretically possible, once the old tyre had been added, for two, or even three, to ride it simultaneously, but in those days we lacked that sense of common purpose which allows pleasures to be shared, and if any of us was possessed of that Achilles' heel which was an inability to resist the hostile/covetous stares of three, four or five girls of about the same age, size and strength, she knew better that to reveal it, for we pounced on any weakness in our struggle for the title of Top Cat, awarded once a year on Midsummer, when Auntie May produced a tray of sandwiches, pastries, cheeses and biscuits, to be followed by Auntie Cristo's Strawberry cake with fresh double cream, all washed down with Babycham; the giveaway is the bit pronounced Sham! but we didn't care, believing ourselves from the age of 7 to be sophisticated young Ladies, rather than jist gurrrrls, as the boys in class or street, said it; and though we now may be older, wiser and even settled into a job – or career – there must still be a bit in us of that recidivism that hankers after the security of those golden summer days when we we could pick and chose who, from one end of High Cross Avenue to the other, was permitted to come in and play with us: it may be simply that we were learning how to bestow or withhold favours and so establishing ourselves as Very Important People in that part of Melrose – or as Auntie Cristo said it: "Very Impertinent Bairns!" but as I was idly swinging on it this afternoon – being self-employed has it's benefits – I mused about the security we all have here – obviously myself, Isa and Milly, because we all actually live in the house, but also our other cousins, Elvira, the twins Roxie and Trixie. Ginger, Gertie, Jerry and Nikki, Sammy, Jinty and Pru, Jasmine and Rosie, of whom there are usually at least two most weekends and when it's a proper Holiday Weekend, the majority of them will be around and about, in and out at different times; of course, familiarity bestowing on us three Residents, that contempt which differentiates us from the Visitors, so we also tend to give them first dibs on the swing - something which, as children, would never have entered our childish heads, for we had all learned about the Survival of the Fittest in the great battles we enjoyed during the long summer holidays: High Cross, Darnick, Priors' Walk, Newstead and Dingleton were the five territorial gangs of boys and girls who roamed over, clashed on, battled for, won or lost, the three hills which hunch over our town: "Wir Toon!" – and most days' play would end in a race from the Trig Point on Mid Hill, to our Aunties' house, where all-comers were welcome to pancakes and jam and home-made lemonade – with that sourness that draws in your lips and cheeks; and everyone got a turn on the swing; so I think it represents all that was good about those years and provides the substance that still binds us all together – but now, if I am alone, I will usually be reading a book, with a cigarette and a glass of Laphraoigh close to hand, but the sense of security and belonging is rooted deep in my own heart's core.
And so it came to be, that the Archbishop led his Bishops and their prisoner out of a cave in the mountainside, into a sunlit glade and sat him upon a boulder that had lang syne been severed by lightning storms from the great rocky crag and rolled down to the place where it now stood: "give him watered wine to quench his thirst," said the Archbishop, "and meat to eat his fill, and let us listen to what he knows of Quixote," and he kicked the man's foot and one of the Bishops cut his bonds and held a goatskin to the man's lips and he drank greedily, and another Bishop gave him a platter on which slices of venison were laid; and a third Bishop pulled away the strip of cloth that had bound his eyes and Sir Parlane MacFarlane stared at his captors and sighed, for he knew this place to whence he had been brought and knew that no rescue was possible, he had been here countless times, and even in his oneiric returns, for the dream-state enabled him to repeat his best memories, he knew that this valley was one that afforded an erratic Worm Hole as the only means of escape, but it was risky, because it could lead the unwary to almost the Point of Destruction!; years had passed since he had first gained his knowledge of the Worm Holes, years during which he had travelled further in Time and Space than any other, saving, perhaps, his half-brother Dominic Doubleday, or one of his many aliases: Desmond, Duncan, Django, Doughty (ha ha, such an oxymoron, silly fucker, a Moron for sure) and the Red Etin; years in which he had lived his life to the full, had exploited and profited from his knowledge, had corrupted and debauched and depraved, only and exclusively for his own pleasures and now, it seemed possible, that he had reached the End of Times; he didn't know how or why the Spanish Inquisition had tracked him down – he had no knowledge of the poor fellow they were pursuing nor how or why they had chanced upon him – his security had been breached, in much the same way as Dominic's had, when the Shottstown Ladies Quick-Draw Club had found his supposedly secure Love Nest in Edinburgh and spirited away his illicit pleasures, oh yes, that had been the beginning of the End of Times, deceived by Dominic's Achilles heel – a craving for tender young shoots and a misplaced belief that his exalted position in Police Scotland made him inviolate – and it had just been a matter of time until he had reached this point – it was all so silly, random and unfair, but that was probably The Creator's way of getting back at him for abusing that one little error in the Universe to benefit his own appetites; he slowly returned his attention to what was happening in this present time: the Archbishop was giving him the full bloviation, his justification for the Terrors of his Spanish Inquisition – there was no need to listen, until he got to that bit when he told MacFarlane exactly what he needed, the one vital piece of information which, if given, would result in the immediate release of the prisoner – that was the Archbishop's Achilles heel, he needed the information but, alas and alack, MacFarlane did not possess it; how should he free himself from this Unholy hassle? which was when he heard a jingling of harness and in the distance saw a lone knight upon his horse and he said: "hark! is not that the person you seek? just emerged from the same cave as by which you brought me here?" and the Archbishop looked where MacFarlane pointed and he was visibly elated: "yes, indeed! that is the Quixote we seek, that is he, the man whose soul is in jeopardy, you can go!" – and with that, the Spanish Inquisition forgot about Macfarlane and set off towards the old man whose horse looked as weary as any that has carried the weight of a man in full armour, and now unheeded, MacFarlane made his way towards the cave and entered it, glad to be shot of them and hoping only that this time the Worm Hole would would lead him back to his hotel suite, for he still had unfinished business to attend to; ah, but there was a wrinkle in Time and the Worm Hole, as if it had a mind of it's own, took him elsewhere!
In point of fact, as it happens, the four Officers had barely gone a dozen steps before they disappeared from the scrutiny of the others watching by the tunnel entrance, and that was also when Sergeant MacCool glanced over his shoulder to check that Constables Gilliam, Marx and Duncanson were keeping up, only they weren't; before he could call to them, he heard a step ahead and swung back to find that Duncanson, Marx and Gilliam were now in front; automatically, he glanced behind himself - and there they were, where they should have been and that was when he realised that the atmosphere in the tunnel was nitrox, with it's aigre-doux, sickly sweet and sour taste, of course that was why he hadn't realised that the tunnel wasn't a tunnel at all, it was just a very tight circle, so that if he moved slightly faster than his crew, he caught up with them and, if he went slightly slower, they caught up with him; so, he thought to himself, if it's a closed circle, where the fuck's the entrance? and suddenly he bumped into a herm, a square pillar, filling the width of the tunnel and topped with a bust of God and wondered how he could have missed that, but when he turned back, he found that his crew were no longer there and in the distance, several hundred yards away, he could see Constables Hank Marvin and Murray Melvin chatting to the two female Officers who'd first entered the hotel suite and then, just twenty yards from him, an Archbishop carrying a crozier, emerged from the wall on one side, crossed the tunnel, and walked straight through another wall, followed by a group of Bishops dragging a stumbling man who was wrapped in a bed-sheet; and that was when Lorenzo Marx called to him from the other side of the square pillar: "hey, Sarge! how did you squeeze past this thing? there's no way we can manage it!" and all MacCool could see of him was one of his hands wiggling in the small gap beneath God's left ear: "retrace your steps," said MacCool, "that should bring you back to me," but he was met with protests that the three Constables were trapped in what must have been a niche in the wall, with nowhere to go: "it's like one of those refuges in the Tube, Sarge," said Gilliam Gilliam, "for the maintenance guys when a train comes through," and that was when MacCool felt light-headed, leaned back against the tunnel wall and was slowly swallowed up by it, leaving only his Heckler & Koch MP5SF on the floor.
Which is how it came to pass that two Metropolitan Police Constables, Mary Godwin and Eunice Campbell, knocked on the door of Sir Parlane MacFarlane's suite and, on not being admitted, used their Enforcer battering ram – a rather unsubtle statement of intent – to force the door and so entered the suite; what they discovered was really an apartment containing an ana, or foyer, a sitting room, three bedrooms and two bathrooms, which probably cost more to rent for a week that the average copper's annual take-home scrilla; in one of the bedrooms a wardrobe lacking it's doors, had no backing: instead it led to a darkened tunnel which, when they shone their torches into it, appeared to stretch to a darkened infinity; when they switched off the torches, the light remained, as if the walls, ceiling and floor of the tunnel had absorbed and stored the light from outside and were now emitting it; they called in a request for armed backup, as the sitting room showed signs of disarray, with furniture knocked over and blood on the carpet; the Armed Firearms Unit arrived a few minutes later, under the authority of Police Sergeant Finn MacCool, who discussed the situation with his Inspector via his police radio; it was all rather equivocal – the information from the Hotel Manager was that there were three residents, while according to a couple next door, only one of the residents was present, along with a group of priests, possibly from the Spanish Inquisition, at which Inspector Garry Noonan snorted with derision: "pull the other one, MacCool!" and then gave one of his regular philippics on the inability of elderly aristos to tell the difference between real life and some stupid cop show that was probably on next door's TV, but then, relenting, because he thought it better to demonstrate that the Met take all calls seriously, no matter how implausible they may be, and especially when the complainant is a cousin of one of the nastier pieces of work in the present Cabinet, who was ever joyful at a chance to snipe at the Old Bill's Boys and Girls in Blue, so, on being given orders to inspect and secure the tunnel, which from the outside looked a bit like a tokamak, being perfectly round and seemingly made of gleaming metal, PS MacCool and three members of his team, PCs Gillian Gilliam, Lorenzo Marx and Isadora Duncanson, entered it and were never seen again!
Lord Philbert Wellington-Boot, his ear pressed against the bottom of the tumbler which, in turn, was pressed against the party wall through which Euphemia could still hear wailing and excited railing, attempted to give her his understanding of what was being said on the other: "Archbishop Charisma, he's the one with the loudest voice, he's definitely Spanish, something to do with the Spanish Inquisition, called the Scotchman a rigwelted sheep – does that mean they've cut of his crown jewels?" his wife snorted: "no dear, just that he's lying on his back, kicking his legs in the air, like that chap in the Kafka story who turn into a cockroach!" but Philbert sook his head: "I don't know that one - "oh! the Scotchman called the Archbishop a crocodile and got severely chastened for his troubles, and one of the others, a Bishop or something, a real crawler by the sound of it, asserted that the Archbishop is quite esquamulose, whatever that means?" and he was informed by Euphemia: "it means smooth all over, not at all scaly, then what?" and still listening intently, her husband laughed: "oh dear, the Archbishop told the Bishop to shut his cake-hole and not discuss his intimate details with such a scabrous creature, I don't think they are on friendly terms, dear!" and then he continued: "oh, it seems the Archbishop suspects the Scotchman of philandery, or corruption or something, he says the Scotchman either has the Midas Touch, or very sticky fingers - they seem to have discovered a cache of valuables looted from some Palace in Spain, but the Scotchman asserts that he won them in a game of chance and. . . . .oh, now he has told them that wardrobe through which they entered his suite is connected to some kind of Wormhole and that he and his friends can travel through Time and Space and that if the person they are looking for has used this Wormhole thingy, he, that is, the Scotchman, would be happy to give them a four-dimensional map so that they can find him; it all sounds rather flimsy to me. he's probably just hoping he can lock them all in the wardrobe and then call the rozzers!" at which Euphemia gave a whoop and exclaimed: "that's how we've never heard any coming and going from that suite - remember the chambermaid told us there were three gentlemen in there, but they never left or returned by the door, and if he's got the Spanish Inquisition in there with him, how did they get in? you've solved it, Philbert – I'll ring the Manager and tell him that if he doesn't get the Police in PDQ, I'll ring Cousin Vinnie myself, he'll put a rocket up someone's behind!"
"The Socratic Method of disimprovement and downcycling," said Lady Euphonia Wellington-Boot, "is too, too, utterly ineffable, and that, dear, is my last word on the subject, it's quite, quite, filthy dirty, and I refuse to let any further reference sully my tongue," and before Lord Philbert Wellington-Boot could say anything in reply, she continued: "it's patently obvious, to any right-thinking person, that the whole concept is destined to fail, from beginning to end, that it is not in the least, teensy-weensy, little bit, sustainable, and you can take my word for it – I have read extensively on the whole sorry subject, it's been discussed ad nauseam in this week's Telegraph – and even the Mail had an op-ed, making precisely the same point as me, so there can be no doubt about it, I am indisputably Right. . . . .but what on Earth's that dreadful roaring and shrieking next door? go on Philbert, get one of the tumblers from the bathroom and listen at the wall, is it Italian, or Spanish? sounds like a cat-fight – call the Manager and complain, I can hardly hear myself think!"
Archbishop Charisma interrogated MacFarlane using the crucifix: "this your adobe? your Castillo?" and MacFarlane talks like a stool-pigeon under the third degree, he babbles: "no, no, it's a hotel, you know, a hostel, this is just my suite, my rooms, just rented, for me and my two associates, they'll be back soon, hoodehell you find me?" and the Archbishop smirks: "an accident, we no lookie for you, but hunting heretics is our vocation so you'll do!" and MacFarlane seizes on this: "who you lookie for, maybe I can find him for you, yes? my organisation, we specialise in tracing people, even the ones who slip under the radar. . . . ." at which the Archbishop slashes the crucifix before MacFarlane's glazed eyes: "you confess you know him then? deluded Quixote from La Mancha?. we follow him into a cavern, nine different tunnels, he go one way, we go another, to trap him but instead we walk outa de wardrobe in de udda chamber – some kinda trick, eh? de power of de ennead? how many doubles, trebles, and accumulators can you get with nine? eh? my local bookie gives me 502, I'd have needed an army to cover tham all, it's so frustrating, but it led us to you!" and the Archbishop’s eyes narrow with a nebby sort of malice and he presses a small stud on the crucifix and a sharp blade flicks out, now he holds it, like a dagger, pointing directly at MacFarlane's swivelling left eye; and meanwhile, in the ana, where he has been all along, hidden among the coats and hats, Mr Scratch is listening intently, rather amused by this strange turn of events and wondering when the virus that had entered the Scotchman's ear from the Huawei G5 phone will make it's presence felt – oh, yes, that part is true, very true indeed! it will be interesting to hear what kind of psychobabble it will produce from his flapping lips before it really takes him overboard!
"We're not here to quibble with you," snarled Archbishop Charisma of the Archdiocese of Polynya in the Arctic Ocean and The Spanish Inquisition as he drew his crucifix across Sir Parlane MacFarlane's throat, producing a screeching zeep – although whether from the friction of the stroke, or MacFarlane's clenched vocal chords was not immediately apparent, but it certainly drew a burst of laughter from the Bishops!
Which was when the curtain was swept aside and four men, each in the black soutane that encapsulated their clericality, strode into the room, forcing MacFarlane, by virtue of their combined Christian bravura, to step backward, trip over the discarded sumo suit and end up performing a perfect pratfall that jarred his spine: "whoodafukayoo?" he gasped and spluttered, at which one of the four, who by now had him surrounded, doffed his amaranth biretta, leaned menacingly over the panicked, sweating figure and introduced himself and the other three: "me, I am Archbishop Carlos Charisma, these are Bishops Mathias Mę́rit, Bartholomeo Bombast, and Gonzalo Gilravage – you seem surprised to see us, no?" and the prone figure spluttered: "whaddayawan?" at which each produced a silver cross and they held them towards him, as if warding off evil spirits: "b b b b b but?" he stuttered, at which the Archbishop sneered: "ah donno why it is, but nobuddy ever expects the Spanish Inquisition!" and as four bloodcurdling laughs, "mwaHAHAHAHA!" filled the room, MacFarlane promptly fainted.
But, of course, the overblown Boss didn't go for the gutta, which might have taken him to the gutter, but then Mr Scratch – a many long lifetimes student of polemology, particularly enjoying Sun Tzu's The Art of War, but then he had invested part of his long lifetime, indeed very many lifetimes, towards cultivating a close relationship with Sun Tzu himself and had fond memories of that long, sitient summer in the late 6th Century BC, when the General was serving King Hela of Wu, and Scratch, full of admiration for Sun Tzu's kinetic energy and ability to outwit even the elements, saw it epitomised when the sun scorched the Earth and burnt the crops, yet Sun Tzu's army never wavered – never thought that he would; instead, Sir Parlane MacFarlane – for indeed, it was he – unzipped the sumo suit and stepped out of it, removing the syrup – which resembled nothing so much as a sleeping ginger tom – from his head and throwing it over the balcony's balustrade, wiping the fake tan from his face and reaching for a glass of Daiquiri, knew he couldn't stay here, his cover was blown, he couldn't contact Doubleday or The Etin, the old man had somehow penetrated and fatally compromised the Huawei network; if he could track MacFarlane down, who else could?
When the old man entered the room, the other cried: "who are you?" and the old man replied: "you can call me Michael Malapert – herbalist, verbalist, survivalist, medievalist, memorialist, communist, fundamentalist, realist, hyperbolist, pointillist, somnabulist, but you'd be wrong, because beneath the stratum of power and wealth you inhabit, beneath the clothes, the fake tan, the syrup on your head, you are just rubbish, something the cat brought in, and you know what? it's no good looking at that phone for a report from #1 and #2 because they are heading for the North Sea, well, the bits the fish don't eat; you probably think of me as Mr Sclatch," and the other, caught off-balance, sat heavily on a Louis XIV chair, which broke under his weight and left him sprawled on the Axminster carpet, his mouth opening and closing like the stranded goldfish he resembled, "but you'd be wrong again, because the last time you held the phone to your ear, what you thought was a report from #1 was actually a virus being planted in your brain, it's wonderful how Huawei's 5G has extended the possibilities, and it will grow over the next 24 hours and then you will die horribly – and don't worry, there is a less painful way to go, though I probably shouldn't tell you, and it needs no skill or weapons: just walk out onto the balcony, climb onto the balustrade and step forward – the twenty-four floors will pass in less than 10 seconds and then zippo, you won't feel a thing, but personally, I'd rather you didn't, because I really want you to suffer; there's no cure, no doctor can help you, other than giving you a general anaesthetic, but this virus thrives on that, because it will enter your unconscious mind and create havoc and pain which no-one monitoring you will even guess at, their machines will show no signs; but hey, it's up to you, after all, you're the Boss," and with that, Mr Scratch walked out of the room and disappeared into thin air!
From the ala, Mr Scratch could see into the larger roon beyond, past a curtain trimmed with entredeux, to where three men sat on a chesterfield sofa, puzzling over the sudden and inexplicable loss of contact with #1 and #2: "maybe we should amalgamate the London cells, if they've been compromised, we may lose our chance, we may never ever have a better chance, we need to close the situation down, and quick," and when the speaker rose and stepped over to a table where drinks stood, it struck his watcher that he must surely take shots of ghrelin, his size and bulk looked no more natural than his orange tan and wig-like helmet of sunflower-yellow hair; "the thing is, Boss," said one of the others, "the phone stopped just after that last exchange, "we don't know if they still have it, lost it, or someone took it!" and the big man glared: "they're the best in the business, no-one, and I'll say it in capitals: NO-ONE could have beaten them and lifted the phone, don't say it, don't even imply it, it's FAKE NEWS and I won't listen to it – you two get out there and find it – and them! bring them back here, okay?" and with mumbles of "sure Boss," and "yes Boss," they came through the ala and out the door into the corridor, without even sensing that Mr Scratch was there!
The reply was direct, without nuance or ambiguity: kill Sclatch; so, as soon as Tim had left the river steps and headed back towards the Palace of Westminster, the two shadows slipped down to where he had been with the old man; all #1 knew was a searing pain as a throat punch smashed his adam's apple and cut off his breathing – if he wasn't dead before he fell into the oily Thames, he soon would be; at the faint sound, #2 turned into a Glasgow Kiss that broke his nose and pushed the bones into his face, which was when two hands clapped hard on his ears, bursting his ear drums, and he was already unconscious when his body slipped beneath the surface; the currents quickly pulled them both downriver and under the surface, where their stigma mattered not to the predators of the deep; the old man never liked killing people, even in self-defence, but he knew enough about the Secret Society these two assassins belonged to, to feel little regret – someone else could deal with their Spirits in the sunlit land where their ancestors disport themselves, for now he had other things to attend to; the 5G phone he had snatched from the second man's hand would provide useful information – but, for the nonce, he slid it into his pocket, climbed up to the road, and disappeared into the gathering gloom.
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