There was nothing alazon about the leader of the Cavemen – which was what D presumed them to be: strong, wiry, rather enigmatic, as he observed the two interlopers; then he moved slightly to one side and the backing group parted, as if to make a passage-way between them and in the mouth of the Cavern, D noticed another group, women and children: so this is a family, he realized, and unconsciously covering his privates with his hands, he began to move forward; the leader beckoned him and P to keep moving and they were aware of the men falling in around and behind them; the women and children stared at them with a definite look of curiosity and D realized that he and P were much bigger than even the tallest of these people, as they entered what was more than simply a Cavern: it was a huge space – the path descended as it went on, and the walls spread out around a huge floor-space while the roof seemed to soar above them, as if it was a cathedral or an aula, a combined living space and an assembly-hall, there were many more people inside, some standing in ones and twos, others in close-knit groups; D felt a gentle pat on his shoulder and turned to find the leader gesturing for him and P to take seats on two large flat-topped boulders, while the leader sat himself down on another; righty-ho, thought D, this is the nitty-gritty: who are we, where do we come from, where are we going? and of course all the other wh's, especially Why?
The Men, for they were all men, from the Cavern stopped about a hundred yards away from the two former Russian Oilygarchs and the group who had followed them up the hill fanned out in a semicircle behind and beside them; a grizzled old fellow from the Cavern number called out: "oo oo en?" and P turned to D: "what's he mean?" to which D replied: "it's a bit like baragouin, a form of pidgin, and at the risk of blowing my own horn, as it were, I sense from the appearance and movements, and that brief glottal-stop, employed by their Elder, that a neontologist would probably estimate then to be somewhere between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age, say three or four thousand years ago, but that's a loose estimate, could be more or maybe even less," and P snorted: "so from that pseudo-intellectual periphrasis, I take it that you haven't a scooby!"
"This is hellish, walking with no shoes," said the zowerswopped one who used to be Paderewski Varolov, and the other, formerly Dmitri Dosvedanya laughed: "and when we've no clothes, try to avoid the stinging nettles and these big fucking thistles, OUCH!" he hopped, trying to massage a stung calf, but as the rough ground seemed to stab at the sole of his foot, fell over, producing more cries of varying degrees of agony, until his friend helped him to his feet; "where actually are we heading?" asked P (for ease of identification) and D indicated the hill which now seemed to tower over them, "but why, in the name of God do you want to go up there?" and D replied: "because I saw someone, running around the side, not far below the summit," and P stared keenly at him: "are you sure it wasn't just an animal?" but D shook his head: "no, definitely a person; I don't know whether it was man or woman, at that distance, and crouching, but my eyes are good enough, so in the absence of any better ideas, that's where I'm going," and he paused to look P straight in the eyes> "you can stay here or some with me, it's all the same to me; I don't know who you are, but we were both beaten up and probably left for dead, so unless we simultaneously knocked each other out at the same time, it's a fair guess that someone else did it and took our clothes – if we ever had any," at which P interjected: "what do you mean by that?" and D replied: "well, the person I saw running didn't have any either, or at least, not much to talk about, so I'm assuming he, or she, isn't the one who robbed us, but I'm willing to be proved wrong, come on, we must keep moving, oh, and here's one of those big leaves for rubbing on nettle stings – they work, I don't know how I know that, but they do," and he handed D a docken leaf and kept on walking, so D followed behind him, singing a mournful palinody in English:
"Twas not bryllyg, and ye slythy toves
Did neither gyre nor gymble in ye wabe:
Not mimsy were ye borogoves;
And ye mome raths never outgrabe."
and P wondered why? and what it meant? and then he suddenly got it: "how many?" he hissed and behind him D mumbled: "three following, one either side, about 100 metres off, and two in front, it's a classic 7-man box for trailing two targets, I can't see them, my eyesight's not up to yours, товарищ, but my hearing is perfect," at which P asked: "any ideas of where we are and what's happening and why?" and D chuckled, "it's either another Dimension, or Time Travel, but as to why? not a scooby!" at which moment, P halted in his tracks and D almost walked into him, just stopping in time, and then noticed that P was staring at a point on the expanse below a shoulder which linked the two hills, and for the first time registered movement, as a number of people came out from what he had previously thought was just a shadow, but now realised was much more like the mouth of a large Cavern: "do you think they're going to attack us?" asked P, but D simply clapped him on the shoulder: "if they wanted to kill us they could have done it at any time, come on, my friend, I think we're going to schmooze!"
And, as it happens, when they next opened their eyes it didn't take long for them to learn that they were boracic (boracic lint = skint) and not only that, they were both clueless as to their whereabouts but also clothesless! naked as the days they were born and suffering apparently from a form of concussion which had rather buggered up their memories, but under whose aegis they had no knowledge; as they had forgotten their own names they could only mumble to each other, until one pointed up at the great hill not far off: "that I remember, but why, God only knows!" and the other looked around where they sat, on a grassy knoll, and had a flashback: "this was the hotel, do you remember?" but his companion shook his head sadly, then winced at the pain, but the other pressed his point: "like a Dacha, more than a cottage orné," and he suddenly seized his companion by the shoulders, provoking more pained groans: "that's what it was, right here, the Hotel, and we admired the view of that hill before entering! don't you remember anything?" and the other winced at the voice interrogating him when it was no use, "just the hill," he mumbled, "we need to go there?" and the slightly older one asked: "why? what's there?" but the other rose to his feet, unsteadily. using his new friend's shoulder for support, then let go and started stumbling in the direction of the great rounded hill, as though drawn there by some invisible force, and his companion reluctantly decided to follow, as there was really no other option – at least two would have more chance of survival that one, alone in this empty landscape; and the eyes of the watchers on the hill followed their movements and sent word back to the Cavern that there were Strangers in the valley, and they were coming this way!
And, as they stirred, the Very Reverend Angus MacAngus looked round anxiously for his titfer – a birthday present from his sister, a Sister in A&E at the BGH who still knitted him a bunnet for every birthday – and the two Professors Sir Clement Dane stared at the bodies of the two Russians; Grigori Rasputin was sitting with his back to the door, smoking a black Russian cigarette he had taken from the pocket of Paderewski Varolov, and was examining his and Dmitri Dosvedanya's passports; "he may be a barracks emperor, back in Russia, but now dead as a doornail," then, as MacAngus whimpered: "don't be getting namby-pamby on me Your Reverence, that's not how to ingratiate yourself at a time like this, now an afflatus! that would be most welcome!" and with that MacAngus felt the Divine Inspiration suffuse itself throughout his body and the Danes and Rasputin swore afterwards that he actually glowed with an inner light and despite one of the Professor half-wondering if it was an Oscar-winning performance, and determined to be blasé about it, the truth is that even had a banshee howled outside the window, they none of them could have taken their eyes off of him; he struggled to his feet, still glowing, and stood over the prone figures of the dead Oilygarchs, pointed at them and, in a tremulous voice, said: "get thee from me Satan!" and, d'you know? it was surely the strangest thine ever, for the light in the room seemed the thicken, as if there was some kind of mist or, as if the very air through which all eyes were fixed on the bodies thickened and became blurred with vaseline, and it seemed to tremble, and then they were gone!
Paderewski Varolov, clearly the mentor of his companion, Dmitri Dosvedanya, blew raspberries, thrice, and it seemed to be a signal, for in a trice the other Russian siderated the three Scots and Grigori Rasputin, but while the Danes and MacAngus were all floored, Grigori merely shook his head to clear the sound, like the buzz of an irritated bluebottle inside his brain, then poked Dosvedanya in the eyes with his forefinger and second finger, effectively blinding him and then everybody was Kung Fu Fighting, those guys were fast as lightning, in fact, it was a little bit frightening, but they fought with expert timing, until Rasputin swung a goalscoring kick which connected at full velocity with Varolov's crown jewels, and the Oilygarch subsided beside his associate, while Rasputin roused his friends: "vake up, vake up, iss all ova!"
And with regards to Dickensian characteristics, the Very Reverend Angus MacAngus could likely be assumed to be coeval, in age, appearance, personality, and expectation that something will always "turn up", with Mr Micawber; he trusted that one or other of the Danes would speak first, and that he would say the right thing (there would be no benefit in stating their extremely dernier figure firest, the one below which they would not sell, for that was the lowest below which they would not go, so, judging that the Russkies were pretty eady - why they even wore designer shoes, and in the Cold War period MacAngus had been taught that he must always check the shoes, for the Russians were notorious for not giving tuppence for the state of their shoes - perhaps it was a historical natiuonal characteristic: snow, slush, ice, salt, all play havoc with shoes so as that is a year round state of affairs, no-one bothers to look after their shoes and doesn't give a jot about anyone else's - but the churchman liked a nice pair of Italian shoes on his feet, and he immediately noticed that brown kid pair worn by Paderewski Varolov snd the distinctive red Manolo Blahnik's favoured by Dmitri Dosvedanya, and so wrapped up in his thought was he, that he missed the first utterance by Dane #1 although not the different responses registering in the faces and posture of the two potential buyers, if a deal could be clinched today!
It struck the Very Reverend Angus MacAngus that the meeting in a back room of the Waverley Castle Hotel was like some of the symposiums of the Church of Scotland he had attended, where attendees could argue for hours about the precise orthography of a Statement of Intent, but here, with three Russians – albeit that one, Grigori Rasputin, was now a resident of Melrose and married to Calamity Jane (née Canary) - who were quite unable to decipher the language of Sir Parlane MacFarlane's 13th Century diary, which was where he and the two professors Sir Clement Dane should have had something of an edge over them; if only they could agree among themselves of some of the abstruse words the author used; and the fact that there was something Dickensian about the two potential buyers: Paderewski Varolov struck MacAngus as being of a Pickwickian cut – short legs, fat body, and owlish head, round and probably Slav, with a fringe of white hair around a bald cranium, and he smiled a lot, but was something of a rich kid by nature, expecting to get his own way, and then MacAngus realised that he was also, in many ways, very similar to Donald Trumpet-Trousers while Dmitri Dosvedanya was reminiscent of Fagin, particularly as portrayed by Ron Moody in Oliver but without that twinkle in his eye which MacAngus recalled from a brief encounter he had with the actor at the Edinburgh Festival a few years before his death: Moody was with some theatre friends in the bar of the Lyceum when MacAngus – long a fan of his – spotted him and, in typical MacAngus style, drew up a chair and joined them; never one to restrain himself, the Clergyman declared that Gotta Pick a Pocket or Two was one of his all-time favourites from a lifetime of enjoying musicals and at the small cost of a round of drinks for the party, Moody agreed to reprise it, on condition that MacAngus himself play the Artful Dodger and attempt to snatch a pocket handkerchief which Moody pulled out and left dangling from one of his trouser pockets; the whole bar applauded as the elderly actor and clergyman cavorted around the room and when MacAngus eventually succeeded in snatching the handkerchief, it turned out to be Moody's shirt-tail, pulled through a hole in the pocket and that brought the house down; oh! the laughter and applause! and in return, Moody signed MacAngus' copy of the Evening News, which he still has in his Morningside flat; but he doubted if Dosvedanya would be so courteous and game as to do such a thing, no, he represented the darker side of Fagin and MacAngus felt quite wary of him, not that he was any less wary of Varolov, remembering Rasputin's veiled warnings of their backgrounds in the KGB before becoming Oiligarchs!
Paderewski Varolov and Dmitri Dosvedanya stepped out of the train and blinked in the sunshine, their cases piled around their legs and seeming to expect a peasant porter to rush to their aid, but this is Tweedbank, the terminus of the two-year-old, resurrected Borders Railway and there are no peasant porters available, not even shlepping towards the bike shed to lepak with their cronies and smoke surreptitiously out of the gaze of the security cameras which surveille the car park and platforms like some quasi-Dickensian Beadle's beady eyes and the only people waiting to greet them are Grigori Rasputin – whom they recognise from the old photographs every Russian has seen many times – and a strange trio, three craws as in the old Scottish Song, but rather than being sat upon a wa', they were standing behind the former monk as if hoping that he would protect them from scrutiny; instead he beckoned them and they trudged after him and towards their guests; names were exchanged, hands formally shook, and the two Professors Sir Clement Dane led the way to the waiting taxi, leaving the Russians, helped by Rasputin, to manage their own luggage, while the rather helpless Very Reverend Angus MacAngus fussed around like a mother hen: "oh, fancy that, so many cases and not enough hands," he bleated, wringing his own, rather ineffectually, making a great show of the state of duress in which he found himself, rather concerned lest the inhospitable welcome they had received might put them into some Dostoevskian quede which might bring extremely prejudicial harm to himself – oh, and the Danes, although in his heart of hearts he believed that in a situation like this it was truly a case of every man for himself and he knew, if at a pinch he had to act in self-preservation, exactly what he would do!
The two Professors Sir Clement Dane met with the Very Reverend Angus MacAngus and Grigori Rasputin an hour before they were to meet their buyers at Tweedbank Station; this was no time for braggadocio, if they wanted to avoid any noy, they would need to buttonhole the other party and hit the sweet spot running; they had all the documentation proving the provenance of the diary found in a ha-ha near Lesmahagow and certifying that it was indeed the genuine work of Sir Parlane MacFarlane: "what's their names again?" asked one of the Danes and Rasputin growled: "vun is Paderewski Varolov and the other Dmitri Dosvedanya, they are vat you call here Oiligarchs, they have privatised the Baku oilfields and become very rich men!" he spat on the pavement and cursed; "and should we, Grigori, old chap," ventured MacAngus, "quote the price we expect them to pay?" and the former Orthodox and then very Unorthodox Monk looked at him with contempt: "you ask for four times vat you vant, insist on three times, demand two times and settle for vat you vant – unless that's too much and they make you dead and take it for nothing," and he looked up at the Eildons, visible over the rooftops opposite: "vich they may do anyvay, vithout the trouble of haggling, it vill depend," and the other Dane asked: "depend on what?" at which Rasputin burst out laughing, great belly laughs which soon had the others joining in, so infectious was his good humour that they could not help it; and eventually MacAngus said: "you are caution, Grigori," at which Rasputin stopped laughing and said: "niet, I am a fatalist!"
Which was when Ralph Roister-Doister, MP for the Isle of Dogs, and a regularly souped-up patron of the Bar, stumbled over to the pianist, Danny de Lyon, and demanded that he play I'll Be Seeing You for Ralph's current squeeze, Bunty Cockermouth – only son and heir of the Duke of Cumberland and a rather trashy sort of tart – and the place went strangely quiet, even the buzz of conversation in the Dominoes corner died out; now, not everyone knows that I'll Be Seeing You was just becoming one of the Home Front anthems of World War II in 1943 when it's singer, Tamara Drasin, died in a plane crash near Lisbon, and even less will know that Danny is her son, his father being Irving Kahal who wrote the song along with composer Sammy Fain; and, in other circumstances Danny would be more than happy to play, and sing, that number, but the boorish way Roister-Doister had thumped on the piano as he ordered Danny to play it, was not how it works in here, and it was no surprise to anyone when the normally taciturn Manager, Tyrone Mourne walked across the little dance-floor and spoke quietly in the MP's ear; and it was almost like watching an example of allelopathy in a botanical experiment – whatever words he had spoken must have been highly toxic, for they shut Ralph up PDQ and he actually blanched – I think that was the first time I appreciated the truth of that expression, for his normally florid face went deathly pale and several members were concerned that he might collapse and actually die, there and then, not concerned for him I should point out, but rather for the reputation of the Hispaniola Cocktail Bar and indeed Grebeling's Hotel, in whose basement our normally happy little club is housed; Roister-Doister grunted something inaudible and he staggered back to his table and appeared to apologise to Bunty for failing in his request, at which Bunty took a compact from his handbag and began ostentatiously to apply a particularly hideous shade of red lipstick; and that was the moment when Sir Padraig O'Pharlane and his friend Dougal Doubleday chose to enter, with their companions, Felix O'Mara and Petra Kelly in tow; for those of you who don't read Homes and Gardens or the Mail on Sunday I should briefly explain that Felix is actually Felicity, a long-standing Principal Boy in some of the most successful pantomimes of the past two decades and off-stage she successfully switches from her own gender to that of a rather swish youngish man as the mood takes her and she has been O'Pharlane's bidey-in (as they call it in rural Ireland and Scotland from whence the O'Pharlanes and their kin the MacFarlanes hail) for many years while Petra is actually Peter and similarly switches gender to suit the occasion; for tonight the two companions were dressed as a pair of King's Cross hookers, while the two gentlemen looked rather like spivs from the Arthur Daley mould, both wearing camel-coloured coats and sporting trilbys; but that wasn't the really interesting thing about their arrival!
Christmas Kensington-Gore QC peered over his half-moon spectacles: "make mine a Molotov Cocktail," he said, then went back to considering the menu; at this point the eminent barrister's chum, Filbert, a barista in his own right, smiled smugly at Scaramouch Silverman, whose round it was: "might I have a Lodestar, please, I hear that Pirandello, the barman here, mixes a rather potent one?" and Silverman smiled benignly at the youth: "one Lodestar for you, dear boy, with a dash of mustard?" and Filbert blushed to his dyed roots; "and what about you, Jazzer?" he asked Jack McCreary, "what would you like to drink?" innocuous words in print, but there was an undercurrent in his tone, which Filbert caught on to immediately, wondering how Jazzer would respond: "weel, Scarry, if it was Glesca we wiz in, ah'd jist hae a pint o Heavy, like as no, which wid help us tae deal wi aw youse profundifyin, ah mean am mebbe no sae educated as youse geezers, bit ah ken aboot thon Clement Freud an his slips an yer reversed psychology bizness an ah kin aye tell when it's yer auld Pavlov an his slaverin dugs, bit seein as wur here, wud ye mind gettin me a Battleship Potemkin? bit nae ice, ah cannae staund ice in a drink, it minds me o the very fat man whae waters the workers beer, Rab Ha' the Glesca Glutton, definitely agin ma religion no but!" and Scaramouch quickly moved on to Fat Bob Smith-Smythe: "what about you Bobbo? "and the American drawled: "d'you know, Scaramouch, I rather fancy trying one of those B52 Bombers we used to drink in 'Nam, haven't had one since then – a long, long time ago now," and it was he who asked his ladyboy partner, the petite and pert Thai who went by the name of Pattacake, what she would like: "who, me? well am not known to the cocktails in this bar, can you me a clue, Master Bobbo?" and Fat Bob gazed fondly into her eyes: "how about a Madam Pompadour? it's something of a speciality for the ladies, one of Pirandello's own concoctions," and Pattacake shivered, smiling back at the journalist: "then me know it love, Bobbo, yes, absolutely, thankyou!" so Scaramouch added that to his list and trotted over to the bar, just in time to catch Pirandello finishing an order for another customer, Scaramouch's old school friend Egbert 'Eggs' Benedict: "Eggs, my dear old mate, how are you? haven't seen hide nor hair of you for yonks, what've you been up to?" and Eggs looked slightly shame-faced, leaned in close to Scaramouch: "just out of Clink, old boy, got five years for fiddling while Rome burned – turned out that dear little Italian Romeo was under age! swear I'd no idea! you met him didn't you? eighteen if he was a day! absolutely! turned out he was only fourteen, but must have been on the game for a while before me, I mean, knew all the what-nots, bits-and-bobs, nuts and bolts, where everything goes and how to tickle my fancy!" and Scaramouch felt for Eggs, who had always been discreet and very considerate towards his young lovers, but it just went to show, and he, Scaramouch, always made a point of checking out a potential bed-mate's age and background before committing himself to anything or anyone, although his first preference was for RT as indicated by his long-term/on-off relationship with Jazzer, a pigman on a farm just a few miles from their home: "you can't be too careful," he said and patted Eggs' shoulder: "so who are you with tonight?" and Eggs indicated a blonde girl in a very short dress sitting at a nearby table: "that's who the Fandango's for, Joan Hunter-Dunn, you may remember her as Johnny. a few years back obviously, at Benjy's 60th," and Scaramouch did a double-take: "that's Johnny? sorry, was? crikey! there's hope for all of us, though I suppose the hormones help," and Eggs nodded: "she's had the op and do you know? she's the first woman I've ever been with, ever, fancy that, at my age – I've gone straight!"
Scaramouch Silverman was a bad loser, but rather than ever admit to that, his rubric was invariably: "let's change the game, I know a better one, it's so much fun, you're all gonna love it!" but the time he produced a pair of antigropelos, and explained how the game worked, Jack 'Jazzer' McCreary took one look and said: "fuck that shite fer a gemme o sodgers, ah'll stick tae ma Nicky Tams, an a gless o Irn Bru, ta very muchly," and do you know who won? uh oh! the virus I picked up a few weeks ago has wreaked havoc with my insides, which is why I've been rather erratic in accepting the daily challenges, and, oh gosh, apologies, I've gotta dash . . . . .
From a corridor, orthogonal to that in which Milly had found Kaplan, with blood pouring from the wound on his head, two young nurses appeared, each with a red cockade attached to their hats; now, Milly felt obliged not to make a big thing about Hyman being where he was, in a section of the hotel restricted to Staff – as indeed she was – so, saying that she had been looking for him because as he had not arrived in the dining room as arranged, she guessed that he had got lost: "he's got a hopeless sense of direction, he must have taken a wrong turning, will he be ok?" and the male nurse, whose uniform bulged with biceps, triceps, and a six-pack to turn any young woman weak at the knees, gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder: "we've got a fully equipped Emergency Room and some of the best doctors in Nova Scotia, sweetheart, he'll be in the very best hands = what's your room number?" and distracted by the female nurse, whose curves were also accentuated by a uniform two sizes too small, and who had collapsed the gurney, so that Hyman could be easily lifted onto it, Milly said: "911 – gosh, what a coincidence!" and the male nurse, Brad, according to his badge, stroked her cheek with his hand, said: "I'll see you later, then," before turning his attention to transferring Kaplan from the floor, already bloodstained, and raising the gurney to it's full height: "Brad to Control," he said into the walkie talkie clipped to his shirt, "patient," then to Milly: "what's his name?" and Milly's mind froze, what was his cover name? was it Colonel Mustard, but then she remembered: "he's the Reverend Mr Emerald Green," and Nurse Brad continued: "it's a Reverend Green, a Preacher-man, ETA two minutes," and to Milly, "you can follow us Miss," and the pair set off at a quick jog, with Milly trailing behind, racked with anxiety over Hyman's state – if he had suffered a cracked skull, there might even be brain damage, then she remembered the others, so, keeping the nurses and Hyman in sight, she dropped back a little and called Isa on her cell-phone: "Hyman's been attacked, the nurses have him on a gurney and I'm following, come down to the Emergency Room, wherever that is, quick as you can!"
Which was when, taking a dogleg and turning up a runway between neighbouring periods and places in the Space/Time Continuum, on Nova Scotia's Prince Edward Island in 2038, Hyman Z Kaplan, being in some need of some refection, had sauntered out of his room in the MacFarlane Castle Hotel and was blithely peeping round corners and into rooms expressly marked as being Strictly Private or Staff Only or indeed, Management Only, when he received the crunt on the head which – when he was discovered just a few minutes later by Milly Millican – made it exigent that he receive immediate First Aid and seeing a red Panic button on the wall with an accompanying plaque marked Emergency Only, Milly did what any self-respecting police officer would do and hit it hard with the palm of her hand and winced at the resulting 150 decibel alarm sound that immediately issued from the speaker just above her head: but it brought results!
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