Sir Parlane MacFarlane was feeling rather Tiggerish, when Dominic Doubleday, his great pal, bosom buddy and life-long - or should it be lives-long? - friend, valet, companion-at-arms, Squire to his Don Quixote, entered, but his thoughts stumbled to a stop, "feeling a bit liverish Dom?, you're looking kind of raddled, a tad puckeroo, certainly not your usual bouncy self, what's up?" as Doubleday took a seat by the fire, and his Master joined him: "c'mon mon, ye kin tell ma whit's up, oor jist wursels here, naebdy's keekin at the lock!"but Doubleday shook his head: "na' oss, it's this plenum ye're wantin organised fer the Ring of Gold," he sneaked a wee sideways peek at the Laird, and continued: "it's michty hard tae organise," but MacFarlane shook his head: "'tis a braw notion, kin ye no see, mon, bringin aw the members fae aw airts an pairts thegither here," and Doubleday interjected: "it's no the airts an pairts that's the bugger, it's the past an future, no jist the present, it's giein me a rich pain in the napper!" and he thumped his head with a gnarled fist to emphasise the point, "an thae's no aw! ye ken ah managed tae track doon thon hacker, The Economic Migrant? well, he didnae gie me mich hoose room, ah think he suspected a sting, bit afore he blocked me ah drapped a wee bug that's only activated on ane keyword, an then only fer a quarter o a second, and it jist pinged - he's had contact fae sumdy in Melrose, bit ah got their ISPN - it's sumdy cried Little Levy an he's wantin tae access Tunnel 39 frae the Eildon Cavern tae here!" and MacFarlane cursed: "hoo the fuck does he ken aboot Tunnel 39? naebdy does - dae they?" but the shake of Doubleday's head was just a fraction of a millisecond too late, and MacFarlane pounced on the hesitation: "wha Dom? wha the fuck kens aboot it?" and a tear-stained face turned towards him: "Elginbrod drapt it, jist like his troosers – ye ken hoo he luvs boastin an tryin tae impress - dusnae metter wha, he cannae help it, an this time it wis sumdy wha wis able tae pit twa an twa thegither and mak 39 an fare the ither clues it wis evident he wis yappin aboot the triplet an a wey tae reach his best freens and blud relatives an ye ken that points richt at us anes; ah think the place wis likely bugged, probly that time the Peelers wis roused by the Peepin Tams - oh he wisnae arrestit, Duncan buried it sumhoo, but the Peelers hud awreddy been tae interview Martin an hud a squint aboot the place, an his freend wud hae hud plenty time tae place a few pinheads an that eejit wud never think tae look, so ah dinnae ken wha, or when, or even whaur, but it's soon, cos he mentioned the date, but ye ken hoo 39 wiggles a bit, it spans the hale island except when we harness it," but MacFarlane held up his hand, palm towards him: "okay, got the pitcher - emdy no kent, ower the next thurty days, roon them up an bring thum here, an ah mean emdy! – got it?"
The Universe faded and we were back in Little Levy Balquhidder's room, Luc and Columbine had resumed their places in the mirror and Lulu, Jasmine and I sat on the floor with the small boy and listened as he explained that we should meet up in the morning, after the grand Supper at the Burns', with the two Free Spirits and make our way to the Cavern which lay at the heart of the Eildons; the Map would show us which way we needed to travel, taking one Worm Hole from the proliferation of possibilities, which would lead us to the latest known location of the dastardly Duo – Sir Parlane MacFarlane and Dominic Doubleday – in the year 2084, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Canada; he never properly explained how he knew this, but we had no doubts; between his own instructions and the experience we had just had with the Universe Map, and the remarkable ability of his two friends in their guise as Action Man and Action Woman, we were convinced that we could rely on his information and the veracity of the Free Spirits; so, after a chat with his mum, Rilla – who told us that she and her sister (who turned out to be Pru Montelimart, née Teitlebaum, which meant that Rilla, like Pru, was in fact my second cousin, once or twice removed, I've never quite got my head around these terms) would be singing some of Robert Burns' songs at the Burns Supper – we made our way back to my Aunts' house at the other end of Melrose, only to find that Auntie May had an attack of shingles which meant she would miss the Burns Supper, which was a shame because she normally responds to the Toast to the Lassies, but no doubt Auntie Cristo will opitulate and fill in for May; anyway, we commiserated with May then went upstairs and had a pow-wow in my room; Jasmine, as an officer in the Scottish Secret Service, had no qualms about the prospect of pursuing and encountering MacFarlane and Doubleday, but then, she would be armed and Lulu and I would take our cues from her, without the need to act independently; but we should have kept in mind the warning Robert Burns wrote in his poem, To a Mouse, dehorting blind optimism and over-confidence, that 'The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley!'
The words spoken by Luc and Columbine from across millions of light years, or millennia, were surprisingly clear: "the blue lines are Worm Holes, spanning both Space and Time, unpredictable and random – they shift and change from moment to moment; the pink lines are more predictable, with the use of this map, it is possible to travel consistently and quickly over vast distances; the yellow lines operate only through Time, enabling regular trips but only between two points; and the green lines only through Space, in variable Times; the map is necessary to make use of any of the Worm Holes; it seems that Sir Parlane MacFarlane and Dominic Doubleday have obtained a Map; look," and the universe vanished and was replaced by a large Earth, travelling around the Sun, and criss-crossed by the same coloured lines – it was like a map of the London Underground, but the pattern remained – Space/Time, Space only and Time only, and it was clear that there were certain hubs, where all of the lines interconnected, one of these points was the triple Eildon Hills and explained so many of the incidents which, in recent years, had brought so many strange disappearances and re-appearances: "but where did the bastards get their Map?" asked Lulu, still holding tight on my right hand; it was Little Levy, his face shining in the strange reflected light of the Earth, far below us, who spoke next: "first, you must understand that they were Free Spirits like us, but they took their identities by murder, and we believe that they stole the Map from another Free Spirit, Azael, leaving him to die in the desert, but he did not die, though he was robbed of his charisma, and from being an inspiring teacher and guide, his memory was cleared of all recollections so that, to this day, he wanders the desert of the Land of Nod, searching, but without any knowledge of what it is he seeks; that is what MacFarlane and Doubleday did, and just one good reason why we still strive to catch up with them, for the sake of Azael; but MacFarlane is as slippery as an eel, as sharp as a skelf, and it is not simply a matter of finding him somewhere, we need to catch up with the latest, most up-to-date appearance of himself and there destroy him!" and there was a squeak from Lulu: "izzat whit oor here fur? dae ye want us tae dae yer durty work?" and Little Levy chuckled: "no, that's probably our job; Gor is his base, the name is a reversal of the initials of th Ring of Gold and it's populated by the top echelon of that hedonistic cult – do you know how it was created?" when we admitted that we didn't, he explained that the planet Earth, long before any life form existed, had been much larger than it is now, and in it's semi molten stage, had such a strong gravitational force that it twisted into a shape like a barbell and eventually split and the two halves separated and drifted apart until they reached their present locations, on opposite sides of the Sun, unable to see one from the other, although on the same orbit around the Sun: "the Rulers, all members of the Ring of Gold, originally from Earth, abduct their victims from Earth and other vulnerable inhabited planets in the Universe and enslave them; MacFarlane – and there is nothing Rafflesian about him, he enslaved the indigenous inhabitants of Gor and forced them to work in the coal mines, salt mines, gold mines, diamond mines, cultivating the arable lands, he worked them to death until there are now no surplus mouths to feed, beyond the Ring of Gold, even Cecil Rhodes might seem a Saint in comparison, MacFarlane is only out for himself, a truly vile, ondful, evil and thoroughly nasty piece of work – and he is the head honcho, although he is rarely there; he's been beaten to a pulp and blown to smithereens, decapitated and speared, but always resurrects himself; he can only be destroyed by Free Spirits, but we can never get close to him – which is where you three come in – we need you to track him down, at the latest point in his life, so that we can finish him, for once and all time!"
"First," said Luc, in the form of a full-sized Action Man toy, with a raspy kind of voice, "we need to go back to the caliginous past of the Universe and use some naometry to explain the variations in the STC which made it possible for Worm Holes to occur," but Columbine interjected, and her Action Woman had a husky, 40-a-day habit: "forget it, already, they don't wanna know that, do ya?" but without giving any of us time to respond, she snapped back: "see, we don't need to go back to Genesis so cut it with the gob, Luc, you always say too much – forget History, give'em the technology!" so Luc cracked his knuckles, which worried me, lest the plastic break, gave a grin and said: "oh, I see, you just wanna know how they work, not why, yeah?" and we nodded, under the glare of Columbine's impossibly blue eyes, which clearly took no prisoners: "right, well, if you accidentally find yourself in a Worm Hole, chances are you won't even know it before you're dropped off somewhere you've never been before, but if you want to go to a specific Time and Place anywhere in the Universe, it pays to have a Map!" and from his back-pack he took a small black cube which he placed on the floor, then he tapped it and the room darkened as the walls disappeared and we found ourselves floating in the void; instinctively, Lulu, Jasmine and I held hands, to stop one of us from floating away in the vastness; we could see Little Levy and his friends on the far side, a million, million miles away, or should that be light-years? now, I'm no sleuth, but I suddenly felt that there was something terribly wrong with the Universe and we were on the wrong side, or in the wrong Time, like a clone of a Neanderthal might feel if he opened his eyes and found himself in the lab where he had been conceived and grown like a piece of fungus; so I felt an overwhelming and urgent need to kick out and smash everything that The Creator, about whom Levy had spoken, was responsible for, all the pain and suffering his Universe had witnessed – and we only knew about the history of Earth – there might be dozens, hundreds, maybe more, other planets with developed life, maybe way ahead of us – perhaps even caused!
Well, if it was Magic, Little Levy was way ahead of Tommy Cooper and Paul Daniels; he pointed at a looking glass and we could see two figures in it, a bit like Action Man and Woman, in safari uniform, one (him) blonde, the other (her) brunette; they each had a rucksack and a variety of tools and weapons on their belts and straps: "are you ready for the foray?" asked Luc, the male figure, while the queen of the night, Columbine, said: "we'll have to go down into the Cavern in the Eildons, so you need to dress for damp and dirt, and carry water; are you okay to start tonight?" and I realised that we'd miss the annual Burns Supper with Rabbi Shmuel and Rebbetzin Zelda Burns – it's one of the main Family Events we have and is only missed on account of Death, Contagious Disease, or Imprisonment, but Levy seems also to be a mind-reader, for he interjected: "can't be tonight guys, big family dinner – I'm going too, so if you want to tag along, you'd better come out of the mirror," and it was incredible – from a mirror about 10"x12" these two small figures stepped out and were full-size, both about 5'10" and suddenly the room was too small for us all; but Levy gave a signal and they both shrunk to toy size and scrambled under Levy's bed just before his mum came in with bowls of soup: "give me a shout if you want anything else," she said, and left the room, with the door just a crack ajar, but Levy crawled over and closed it quietly: "that was closer than I like," he said, and when the other two came back out from under the bed he advised them to stay that size until we started on our trip: "and in the meantime, let's make some plans and explain to the ladies how these particular Worm Holes work!"
"Before you tell me what it is that you want to know, or how you might want to use the knowledge I can give you, I must warn you that there are risks with Worm Holes; they were never intended by The Creator, they are an aberration, a tiny coding error, and for that reason, they are unpredictable and inconsistent; they aren't holiday jaunts or safaris, it's quite possible to arrive at a different time or place from that intended and, obviously, the return may be impossible or, at the very least, inexact; Jasmine, you know the two Professors Sir Clement Dane, they are one obvious result of a Worm Hole malfunction – two identical people who are one and the same, existing in the same present because a little looped Worm Hole brought one back to a moment before his original disappearance, who prevented the original accident happening to his original self and so, now, there are two of him; definitely not to be recommended; The Creator could, possibly should, correct the Worm Holes, eradicate them, and may well do so, but because there are innocent people who have been displaced and not yet returned to their proper time and place, The Creator has not done that, yet – but such a mopping-up could happen at any time, although the result could be a permanent displacement, so bear that in mind if you decide to venture into the sub-strata of the Space/Time continuum: you may find that you are unable to return, ever! and while some Worm Holes are fairly straight-forward, within the context of the theoretically impossible, others are like shifting sands – here tomorrow, gone yesterday; others, because of the number of journeys, have become eroded, meaning that while they appear to contact two different Space/Time locations, points of entry and exit, there are sections where the fabric of Space/Time has become so worn and thin, it is possible to slip through the net and find yourself in entirely a wrong location, with no identifiable access point through which to escape; now, because of my responsibilities here, to my parents, I cannot accompany you should you decide to make a journey, but never fret: one or both of my friends, Columbine and Lucifer, may be willing to be your guide – they are Free Spirits, not perhaps in the sense that you might use that expression, but rather that they are not players, they do not possess identities, in a sense, they are outwith the continuum; are you with me so far?" and he looked at us, and it was Lulu, as ever, who spoke first: "so whaur ur these geezers? wud we ken them if we saw them, or ur they like ghosts or summat?" and Little Levy had a fit of the giggles, rolling on the floor and thumping the rug with his chubby hands and feet, tears of laughter running down his cheeks! in fact, he was making such a noise that there was a knock on the door, which then opened and Rilla looked in: "I should have warned you," she said, "he's been in a funny mood the past couple of days, are you okay, sweetie?" and Levy threw himself at her and was scooped up in his mother's arms; she kissed and cuddled him and then sat him back down on the floor: "would you like some tea or coffee?" she asked, "and I've made Cullen Skink for lunch, seeing as it's Burns Night, I hope you'll stay," and when we'd said we'd be delighted to stay for lunch and each told her what we'd like, said she'd just be a few minutes and closed the door behind herself; which was when Little Levy said: "she doesn't have to be myopic, she chooses not to know what's going on here, not to see what's under her nose, but I don't know if it's because she's a frogpondian, you know, a believer in transcendentalism, she certainly has a firm belief in the inherent goodness of individuals – as opposed to the State at whatever level – but I could tell her some tales would straighten her hair and iron out her features; don't get me wrong, Rilla loves me as only a mother can love her child and I love her right back; Rary's a bit different – he’s working full-time so we don't see so much of him and when he's here he's like a lodger; he doesn't take me out – okay it's winter, but it's nothing like the one in '98 during the Alaska Gold Rush, brrrrrr that one could freeze a fellah's balls right off, oops, sorry, I don' get a lot of chances to speak so freely and so I make the occasional slip, but hey! you were asking about Columbine and Luc, okay guys, time to show yourselves!"
Which is how it came about that this morning, Lulu, Jasmine and I, were standing outside the front door of a former council house in Priors Walk, beside an assortment of children's toys and a fair old brumous morning it was, the hoar-frost still showing in the shadows as yet unreached by the spreading fingers of sunlight, a perfect blue sky and pink clouds to the east, with a stunning view across the Tweed towards Gattonside – I could even see my Uncle Norman, his big Russian fur hat looking like an Afro postiche at that distance, crossing the river by the Swing Bridge, well, properly, the Chain Bridge, but only tourists would think of calling it that; the door was opened by Rilla Balquhidder, who I knew vaguely as we Melrosians know vaguely everyone who lives in the town, it's so small, from being at school with them, seeing them in shops, pubs, or even, in extremis, in Church – or Churches, we've got three: the Parish Church on the hill overlooking the Greenyards (another place you might know people vaguely if you're into Rugby, which I'm not) is Church of Scotland; Holy Trinity, next door to us in High Cross Avenue is the Episcopal Church in Scotland, and just along on the left is a former C of S church which is now St Cuthbert's Roman Catholic Church, oh yes. in Melrose, there's a lot of Religion going on, though the old Congregational Church which was just across the main road from us is no more – you can still tell from the shape of the building and some of the architectural features which survive that it was once a church; Rilla didn't seem at all fazed by us, though of course she was a friend of Jasmine's and, as she took us through to the living room, she explained to Lulu and me that she really couldn't understand the interest Sam and Tavish had in her son, while admitting that he was quite precocious for a two-tear-old – although as he was her first and she herself had no siblings, she had really no first-hand knowledge of what children of that age were supposed to be able to do that could be of interest to people outside the family: "well. I've read all the books about children's development, but my own legal training is of no help, so count me out as an adjudicator; Rary, my husband, has three younger sisters, though he admits that all they seemed to do which directly affected him, was break his own toys – probably so that their parents would buy them new ones of their own!" she laughed, then said, rather self-deprecatingly: "if you can get anything useful out of him, that's good enough for me – Sam says that he has remarkable talents, for a child of his age, and it helps him and Tavish practice interviewing children who have witnessed things they may not understand and don't yet have the language to say what happened and if speaking with Little Levy helps you to solve crimes and put bad people away, that's surely a good thing; and he seems to enjoy meeting other adults, so much of his time is spent with wee ones of his own age and just having me and Rary here probably becomes a bit boring at times. anyway, here he is," and she introduced us to the wee boy, who gazed seriously at us, then cuddled a rather tatty teddy bear, but after his mum had left the room and her footsteps died away at the far end of the hall, he looked at us each in turn, then said, in the voice of a toddler who has swallowed several dictionaries: "don't expect much sense from me today, I barely slept last night – I had to go to Gor with my friend Luc to rescue another friend who'd been abducted; we were there for three weeks, and it was pretty full-on!" and Jasmine asked: "how could you be away for three weeks?" he replied: "it could easily have been longer if we hadn't got a lucky break, but all we had to do on our return was wind back to the middle of last night – it's not as complicated as it sounds, well, to us it's not, but I appreciate that it's rather beyond your present capability and I'm not going to explain it to you just now; you might want to read me a story about a ranivorous rook that catches frogs from a babbling brook for his wife to cook in the inglenook, but I rather suspect that what you really want to see me about are controllable Worm Holes, rather than the random ones, am I right?"
For anyone who doesn't know it, the Guidebook says that 'the Church of Our Lady of Longformacus in the village of Longformacus in the County of Berwickshire, is dedicated to two Ladies: Lady Griselda of Longformacus and her cousin, Sister Evadne Eglantyne, a nun, tortured and beaten with a kurbash till her body was a relief map of cuts and weals, martyred and murdered by Sir Parlane MacFarlane in an oubliette deep under MacFarlane House on the High Street of Edinburgh in the 13th Century; many legends are told of the iniquities of that depraved baronet – with an almost insatiable appetite for lamb gigot as much as for inflicting pain in his sexual excess – but shining through them all is the virtuous nun and her remarkable cousin who vowed never to rest until she rid the world of the murderer! for centuries, historians have sought out the truth, but it is only now that modern science has been brought to bear upon the mystery and recent discoveries promise to bear fruit;' Lulu put down the book and looked hard and deep into my eyes: "your Aunts believe that Sir Parlane has been able to control and make use of a network of Wormholes in the Space/Time continuum, to go backwards and forwards and appear in different times and places to pursue his evil ends – he is still doing it and so is his manservant, Dominic Doubleday, and of course their family lawyer, Martin Elginbrod - you do know that he was one of the secret financiers of Brexit? he even copyrighted that word, Brexit, and every time it's used, in print, or speech, in the media or in Parliament, the royalties roll in! that's how MacFarlane and Doubleday can act with impunity. wherever and whenever they appear, the slush-fund is available to them; no-one knows quite how it works, but the only way of stopping them will be use their own method, slot into the puzzle. like those plastic toys kids get, sliding squares about until the whole picture is revealed, but actually, of course, it's a four dimensional Rubik's Cube – are you willing to have a go at it? my chum, Jasmine Juniper-Greene has been working on it in her own time – she's an analyst with the Scottish Secret Service, you know Sam Smiles and Tavish Dalwhinnie, and I understand from Jasmine that a wee boy, Little Levy Balquhidder, right here in Melrose, has been advising them; he's somehow got a Portal into the Wormholes which could be used to find out where the bastards are; the only way to stop them is to join them – not simply in our own Past or Future, but in the Past and Future that are right here and now – it might be hundreds of years ago or way in the distant yonder, but if we can follow them and catch up with them, perhaps entice them into an embroglio like a spider does to the fly, I know a thing or two about men, how to use their own quiddity against them and that if we can get them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow and their vanity will propel them where they shouldn't go; we might have a chance to put paid to them for ever! do you want to come with me, have a shot?"
Lulu and I took our coffees onto the patio, where we could hear the aubade of the birds attracted by my Aunts' feeding stations on and under the trees; the air this morning had a severe chill about it and the threat of snow, The Pest from The West! becomes more believable; I had missed the blood moon this morning but Lulu, who never seems to sleep, had seen it when she and the Gurrrrls and Father Mungo were packing the van in that dead zone of the night when most of the world is lost in slumber, and which gives those souls who do come out then a real sense of zip and zing: "where did all that stuff come from?" I asked, and Lulu gave me one of those squints, like a card-sharp sizing up an opponent: "do you want it verbarian or just substantive?" has she swallowed a dictionary, or has Father Mungo been tutoring her? he used to be a senior Professor at the Catholic Seminary in Durham, but either the lack of young men closed it down, or made him seek pastures new, with better pickings; but hey, don't pick on him, we all have our own Crosses to bear and at least since Lulu moved in with him he seems to have found in her what he was always searching for among the boys – someone unshockable and immune to his protestations, who just has to snap her fingers and he jumps to obey; it's actually quite funny when you know what's going on, it blossomed after she drove him down to some kind of Grapplers' Reunion in England a year or so back and h came back invigorated and devoted to her: "well," she said, "troo fizz - there was this stone pomander thing on top of the lintel in the Jekyll Family vault and it got accidentally knocked down and broke and also damaged the door, so we had to go in so that we could find out if the door was easily repaired or it would involve a joiner and maybe a locksmith and, while we were in there, Mungo sat on a wooden chest - he called it a kist, but I thought he was pissed - and it broke too, it just fell apart, a combination of woodworm, dry rot, wet rot and the ould fellah's weight; and that's where all the stuff was! – well it was Dora who noticed a mention of Griselda and she showed me and I showed Mungo and that was it! everything packed as best we could, all pile into the van and here we are; I just hope to fuck it's worth it, he says it's gold dust – all that stiff about the Ring of Gold Trial at the Old Bailey – but I just hope we can find out what happened to Griselda, after her experiences in London, did she ever get back to her own time?" and we sat smoking, our coffees growing cold, with a deep sense of the weight of Time that sometimes closes right in and you feel that if you reached out a hand you could touch someone from long, long ago, or centuries yet to come, at least, that's how Lulu and I felt this morning.
And as suddenly as the light came back on, the hortative voices resumed, and Lulu sidled over to me; in something of a stage whisper – subtlety not being her forte – she told me that Father Macaneny had discovered a cache of documents hidden in an old family vault in The Church of Our Lady: "it's the diaries o a London doctor, an his sister, wha had a practice in Drury Lane in the 1860s an 70s, seems they rescued a damsel in distress name of Gracie Long aka Griselda of Longformacus wha was ane o the witnesses for the Croon against a bunch of High Society ne'erdaeweells wha had the wherewithal tae hire top briefs an QCs an wi'oot Gracie's sworn testimony the scumbags wis likely goanie be acquitted, only a butterfingered solicitor's clerk jist happened tae drap a bundle o documents intae the area beneath the Doc's front door an the gate to the stairs doon bein padlocked, it didny cross his mind for a second tae climb ower intae, as he said in an affidavit: 'private property,' so he went hame for his supper an it was only next morning that he fund the bundle neatly placed ootside the area stairs, so he picked them up an, wi perhaps only the slightest kind o a wink towards a tiny twitch in the net curtains, carried on tae the chambers whaur he worked – and whit dae ye think the bundle contained?" and after the shortest possible moment, she continued: "list efter list o a'thing the defendants wis accused o, in the defendants ain statements tae their lawyers, confirmin every crime they wis charged wi! un-be-fuckin-lievable, but true!"
I had just finished the annual purgatory of completing my Self Assessment for HMRC when I heard the most exuberant racket from downstairs, a co-mingling of many voices all roaring and bellowing at the same time, each layered over or under the others, almost a choral descant and certainly hortative and entirely incomprehensible so that I had to go down to discover what on Earth was afoot: inn the kitchen I found my resident Aunties, May and Cristo, joined at the table by Daphne and Maude and with them Father Mungo Macaneny – gargantuan ex-grappler and occasionally-de-frocked priest – and Lulu and three members of her Gullane Gurrrrl Gang, who had evidently transported several packing cases (originally tea chests) jam-packet with books and papers of all sizes and colours; a slew of them was spread across the table, and people were picking them up, willy-nilly and searching for, then reading out, something they seemed to find extremely important, but all were doing so at the same time and no sense of order could be found; so I switched off the lights, and everything went both dark and silent, until there was a wheezy "be'jasus!" from Fr Mungo, and a "fer fucksake!" from Lulu who asked with pluck and gumption: "whaur's yer fuse-boax? ah'll check if ony's tripped, eh?" and she switched on a powerful torch, which scanned the pale faces round the table and came to rest on me, caught in the spotlight, like a winter fish, my hand still on the switch: "you?" she cried and I switched the lights back on!
Sir Wilfred spoke on the telephone and both Tim and Quentin could tell, from his hortative tone, that it was The Dame on the other end: "whatever his faults may be - and I have no doubt they are legion - he is a banausic teetotaller and when he is toppled, there will be such an effusion of cannibal stinkwood, that his body will be left to rot into the forest floor! but let's not become so focussed on the bright side that we miss the essential point, which is - he doest not give a fig for Ulster, so he and those rag, tag and bobtail followers of his will happily trot along in his wake, seeing neither cannons to the right of 'em, cannons to the left of 'em, nor even cannons to the front of 'em and into the jaws of death will he ride 'em; not quite the words of the poet, but you catch the point, Ma'am, so shall we proceed accordingly? yes, Ma'am, no Ma'am, three bags full Ma'am? ab-so-bloody-lutely Ma'am, thankyou Ma'am . . . . ." and he actually blew a kiss before hanging up and turning to the others; after a few seconds, with the tension growing, Sir Wilfred clapped his hands and said: Thunderbirds are GO!"
"What you need to remember, Tim," said Sir Wilfred, "is that The Dame is by nature predaceous, remember how she won the leadership out of the jaws of victory? little Master Goven, school sneak, a bit of a butterfly, but with the loyalty of the born assassin, he despatched Doris with one stab, and that thrust pushed him above the farouche throng, with all their roars and boos and waving of Order Papers, but he had no concept of snatch and run, he was the kind to drop his weapon and raise his hands in surrender with a bleat of 'it was me wot dunnit, m'lud, as gawd's me judge it were a fair cop,' but that's not The Dame's way. look at this video, young Quentin's put together: it was silent, just snippets of The Dame being interviewed, speeded up; "see her head, Tim, and her eyes, never still, she looks to right and left, up and down. well, those are her tells – which indicate when she is telling the truth and when she is telling a barefaced lie – can you spot which is which; Quent, run it again, and you Tim, no deep thought, just your gut instinct, decide for each clip whether it's Truth or Dare!" and Tim did, said what he thought each one was, and ended up with twenty True and 3 False; but when he told Sir Wilfred the totals and then identified which he saw as False, the Cabinet Secretary and Quentin had quite a chuckle, before Sir Wilfred said: "wrong 100% of the time, she really is a proper caution!" and they went through to the kitchen, leaving Tim trying to work out what Sir Wilfred had meant and how he could have been so wrong – it just didn't add up!
The gypsy music, which allowed Timothy Michaelmas-Daisy to sense the origins of the kletzmer he so loved, died away and the rather sprightly figure of Sir Wilfred Heath-Robinson too, came to a stop and ended the verbunkos he had been dancing with Ms Natalie Rhombus and caught an unexpected glimpse of Tim in the mirror; he spun around and to Tim's surprise, threw open his arms to embrace the Secretary of State for Brexit and hold Tim much closer than he would ever have expected, but least of all, now, after the staggering 230 vote majority against The Dame's Proposal etcetera etcetera: Tim felt it was his bounden duty to break away from the embrace and bring to the room the agony that had been eating away at him, especially after the Vote of Confidence, which the Old Lady had won easily with just her own MPs and the Orangemen, but not one single Member from the Opposition parties had stood out against his or her Whips to lend support to the beleaguered government; then he noticed the xanthic pallor of the Cabinet Secretary and the dark smudges beneath his eyes, themselves red-rimmed, and he bit off the words he might otherwise had spoken; as Ms Rhombus, one of the Beddingshire MPs lit a pink Sobranie and the smoke drifted in the airless room, Sir Wilfred clapped his hands and Quentin Quibb put his head around the door: "more champaign," cried Sir Wilfred and threw himself into the large sofa which stood below the Downing Street window, through which Tim could see Dan McGann of The Sun shouting out his Headline Questions at any MPs walking towards The Bunker; "'tis the season to be merry, Tim, all the cards are falling as we planned, the bait is being snapped up and we will have everything in place by Monday and then . . . . ." which to Tim's ears all sounded rather nomothetic, abstract and as unlikely as that there really is a Santa Claus, although when Sir Wilfred had worn his red costume for The Staff Christmas Party he had looked the real deal – 230% for sure!
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