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.
"What name old man?" asked #2 and #1 whispered back: "Mistuh Sclatch," so #2 shoehorned this into his message which, by way of Huawei's G5 was sent and received instantly – but as the recipient was to be found in a suite at The Ritz on Park Lane, wasn't so fantastic; he knew that #1 and #2 were Truefasts and could be counted on absolutely, but taking out the Brexit Secretary early would be crossing a Rubicon, a move not to be made lightly; but did he have to be so circumspect about this old Sclatch character? it might be best just to get him out of the way, whoever he was – it was Sir Parlane MacFarlane's usual game-plan: take unnecessary pieces off the board, it always made for a quicker and more decisive check-mate!
"I'll tell you something for nothing, Tim," said Mr Scratch, coyly, with that twinkle in his eye that made Tim go all goosebumps, thinking that something really important was about to be divulged to him: "well, what is it?" he asked, never having been blessed with much patience, a trait which his mother described as being rather 'oxish' like his late father, who could never wait for anything and refused to stand in a queue, "like sheep, Tim," he would say, oxishly, as he marched past, dragging his son by the hand, "what we Michaelmas-Daisies are meant for is the food of the Gods, Ambrosia and Nectar!" which may be why Tim is so fond of Ambrosia Creamed Rice and shopping at Sainsburys, so that he can shoehorn more points on to his Nectar Card; and Mr Scratch said, in a voice which had reduced in volume to the point where Tim had to lean close as the old man whispered: "fill your pockets with money and your briefcase with padkos, food for the journey, and be careful, you are being followed and I wouldn't put anything past that pair, they may not have harmed you yet, but expect the unexpected, Tim, and for God's sake hurry!"
And meanwhile, as the Party Grandees dithered over which candidates for the Leadership should be shoehorned onto the Ballot, with only two names to go forward for the Members to vote on, Timothy Michaelmas-Daisy found himself doing the Ali shuffle – floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee – around the watering holes of Whitehall, always avoiding whichever that shot-clog Andrea Woesome had camped out in, pouring drinks into journalists mouths and the recitation of her utterly unique claim to be the Woman We Want as PM into their ears as it was on a loop; most eventually managed to say: "this is where I came in," and staggered out as if they had been imbibing ether rather than Scotch, and wherever Timothy went, his two shadows went with him, apparently utterly invisible!
When Mr Ba Nana of Edinburgh University left the cottage in Darnick, Tavish and Ludmilla sat together on the sofa and studied his translation of the document discovered in the old police cells in Hawick's former Town Hall basement; according to the expert, it dated from around the 13th Century and was a charter from the then Emperor of Japan to three High Nobles granting them the right to form an organisation which would exist in secret to track down and remove anyone, anywhere, who posed a threat to the Empire, in perpetuity: "it is like a combination of the KGB, the CIA, and FBI, the Gestapo and MI5 and MI6," said Mr Ba, "operating entirely independent from all other instruments of the State, their disbursement coming from whatever they can make through their duties – loot from their victims pretty much sums that up – and with no requirement to report back, thus absolving the Emperor from any culpability and giving him complete deniability – once set in motion, they are vamping, improvising, identifying whoever they choose to see as meeting their requirements, their Secret Society growing and getting richer through the centuries, and nothing can stop it, not even a future Emperor; good luck, Mr Dalwhinnie, Miss Lermontova, I do not envy your responsibility," and nor did they; learning that this organisation – or as much as could be gleaned from the fragments which they had been able to reassemble – was in London, and that their key Targets, Sir Parlane MacFarlane, Dominic Doubleday and the Red Etin, were the masterminds behind it, was worry enough; Sam Smiles and Tabby Shanter (Tavish's wife and also a member of the Scottish Secret Service) believed that they were closing in on the latest chronological emanation of the threesome, who had cheated death so many times; this might be the only chance to put an abrupt end to their criminal careers, but more urgent was the question of Who was the present Object of their Assassination Bureau? as Ludmilla opened the window to let Jeremy in, having temporarily evicted the Service moggie, when Mr Ba had admitted to suffering from from ailurophobia, Tavish was already on the phone: "hello, Sam, it's worse than we thought!"
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