“Hail, Shining Morn,” cried a breezy Aunty Crist, carrying in a breakfast tray for her dear cousins, Daphne and Maude, this Sunday morning: “we are in the Nationals, again!” and she spread a selection of newspapers on the bed, before asking Daphne to “budge over and make room,” and squeezing herself into their bed: “naturally there is a lot about the mysterious disappearances of Pantagruel and young Gertie, but there seems to have been a botched Police raid on old Ranulph Ochan'toshan's house in Bowden! someone tipped them off about an orgy involving some very old men and very young children, and Ralphy got nabbed, but a Police van carrying the others has simply disappeared – vanished into thin air, as the papers say; though I would guess they're holed up locally: I mean you can't drive around in a marked police vehicle without someone spotting it – you know how alert we locals are to unusual cars and vans loitering about; Neighbourhood Watch has given all the old biddies something to justify their peeping and peering and nosing about into everyone else's business; I daresay if we didn't have rozzers in the family to keep us up to date, we'd probably be snooping through the net curtains ourselves!” and Daphne asked: “but what's happening in the country?” to which Crist replied: “well, the Tories are still in something of a tourbillion after the referendum – emphasis on the 'Dumb' if you ask me - that little School Sneak, Michael Gove, is strutting about like a Peacock having stuck the knife into his Dear Friend, Boris Johnson, you know, the artfully-disshevelled-hair chappie, always was a bit of a Bully Boy, but got a taste of his own medicine – what's that old thing about revenge?” and both her cousins chimed in: “a dish best served cold,” and Crist nodded, “yes, that would be Gove's style, I suspect his veins are filled with anti-freeze, he's that passive-aggressive type, terribly, punctiliously polite, but looks at you as if you are a piece of shite, my guess is Boris did something unmentionable to him in a lavatory thirty years ago and he's just been biding his time to get his own back in the most public and destructive way possible, he always reminds me of Reginald Christie,” and when the ladies looked blank, she added: “10 Rillington Place,” to which Maude asked, “wasn't that Dickie Attenborough?” which brought a stern look from her younger cousin, who corrected her: “just in the film, dear, Christie was himself in real life; oh and poor old Jeremy Corbyn is still being harried by those screeching harpies on his back-benches – I'd de-select the lot of them and be done with it, if I had a say, which, of course, I don't, but it's all so histrionic and obviously orchestrated by that dreadful sepia-soulled Mandy Mandelson – I never trusted him when he had that awful toothbrush 'tash, trying to look like poor old Graham Hill, which he had the good sense to dispose of before he stood for Parliament, but you know what they say: 'you can take the 'tash off a man, but you can't separate a man from his 'tash',” and the three ladies hooted with derision at the very idea; then Crist continued: “of course all this hullabaloo has put the mockers on an early exploration of The Eildon Hill Caves! sweet Isa has been keeping me up to date on that front – it seems that because the Boys in Blue are scouring the area for Pan and Gertie, and now also these escapees from custody, they have the whole area locked down; everyone is being kept at home and only allowed to have their shopping delivered, it seems the Girls in Blue are scooting up and down the hills with messages from the town and transporting folk to the Health Centre or Hospital appointments, there is a cordon sanitaire around Melrose, Gattonside, Darnick, Bowden. Newtown and St Boswells – even Tweedbank – so you can see how massive an operation it is; I think young Bruce Bruse is coming here later to question us all, even our Syrian Refugees! most of them are under 10 so what good that will do, I can't imagine: maybe they want advice on the push-factor that makes people escape from repressive regimes - bombed homes, death and destruction - so that their profilers can try to work out where the sodomites from Ralphy's place have gone; but my money is on somewhere local and well-hidden from passers-by; but hey, girls, it's time for The Archers Omnibus, so put the wireless on Maude, dear, and enjoy your cuppa before it gets cold!” and then dropped her bombshell: “oh, I almost forgot – the children have been studying MacBeth with Miss Laverock and have decided to put on the play in the Corn Exchange, and they want we three ossified Aunties to be The Three Witches!”
The cheerful chimes caused a momentary silence in the cottage, and in the sepia light, dust motes danced as though the very air was charged with electricity: Sir Parlane MacFarlane reached for a sword he did not possess, so Christiane gripped his cock harder and whispered in his ear: “it's alright, Master, just a telephone,” and he watched Caber take a small pink oblong from his trousers, and press on it before putting it to his ear – he spoke, listened, spoke again, listened again, then tapped it and put it down beside him: “Soaky Dokey, guys, that was The Lawyer, ever punctilio in the performance of his devoir: he's monitoring the Cops – they have no idea where we've gone, but have a chopper patrolling the area,” and MacFarlane half rose from the sofa: “an Axeman!” he cried, “is he anywhere near us?” and Christiane again whispered to him: “do not fret, Master, it is a flying machine which can stay motionless in the sky above, and watch for any movement below, but we ain't goin nowhere notime soon – the longer we stay hid, the quicker they'll look further away, Master, may I kneel before you and will you do me the honour of permitting me to take you in my mouth?” and, still shaking from the anxiety provoked by the interruption, he nodded and spread his legs for Christiane to kneel and lower her head in supplication; while the others watched, Christiane parted her lips, formed a red O with them and took MacFarlane's still only semi-aroused cock in her mouth, but her expert tongue and his fierce need after 800 years, quickly aroused him and he was soon holding her head still and thrusting deep into her throat and, although he had always prided himself on his mastery over his own body, which enabled him to delay ejaculation for as long as he wanted, this time prolonged absence from the pleasure, combined with the tight sucking to which Christiane subjected him, brought him to climax quickly and once he had started cumming, he withdrew and showered the upturned face with semen, pleased to note that prolonged inactivity had not brought about any defalcation in either the quality, or quantity, the prodigious amount of which made Christiane cry out for more! ”form an orderly queue, lads,” said Caber, breezily, rubbing his hands together with delight “and do let the dogs see the rabbit, Squire!”
And so it was that the little party found themselves ensconced in a sheltered cottage – restored and much improved since it had been a humble shepherd's home – on a well-wooded estate, on the Eastern slopes of The Eildon Hills, where they had hidden the van from sight in an old barn, and settled themselves on the comfortable chairs and sofas of the main living room, made sepia by the drawn curtains in case of wandering eyes; introductions were made, because they did not all know each other: there was Sir Parlane MacFarlane, apparently restored to life some eight centuries since his unexplained death in the stables of Melrose Abbey, and with him, His Manne, Dominic Doubleday, believed to have been slain beside him; and here too was Duncan Doubleday, Deputy Chief Constable of Police Scotland, with responsibility for the South of Scotland, rather flabbergasted (I think that is the best word to express his astonishment at meeting his ancestor – or at least the man whose name he bore, it having been common practice that Doubledays never had sexual relations with their wives, preferring much younger girls and boys, before they were marred by puberty, and left their wives to the attentions of whichever descendant of Sir Parlane was their Master at the time; and also disgorged by The Cavern and then rescued from Hill House, George Gill, who, along with Duncan, was a 21st Century member of The Golden Ring; these last two seeming only to have lost a few weeks of their lives before Doubleday, roused by a clamour in the darkest recesses, had found a box of hand-grenades and other ordnance stored close by and, still groggy, had accidentally pulled a pin and then just barely reached safety when it sounded as if the entire mountain had been blown up, the noise revived his fellow sleepers and they had managed to escape by following an air-shaft to the outside; now the other modern members of The Golden Ring who were present – Larry 'Knickers' Lauderdale and his 'wife' Christiane, and Larry's cousin Barry 'Caber' Lauderdale (his nickname being an acknowledgement of the size and hardness of his erect penis) - were delighted to make the acquaintance of two of the Founding Members: and to so unexpectedly, impossibly, find themselves in the company of Sir Parlane MacFarlane and Dominic Doubleday, of whom they had heard so much, humbled them, and provoked many questions about the strange cave system inside the hills: how did it work, and who was behind it? when MacFarlane learned that Thomas Learmonth had also spent a considerable time there but was now alive and well and, apparently, under police protection, he became incensed, cursing and blaming an Abbot from the 13th century that none of the others had even heard of; which was when Christiane – nudged by Knickers Lauderdale, squeezed in beside him on the sofa and, reaching between his legs, began stroking and squeezing him, and then suggested that she might distract him from his concerns – MacFarlane seemed at first reluctant, but on thinking back to the recent frustrating events at the party in Ochan'toshan's Hill House, when – after an 800 year abstinence – he had been hauled away like a common thief or footpad from the young girl he was just about to enter, decided that “yes, I do need a receptacle for my seed, and though you are not an entire woman, nevertheless, you are pretty and freely offering your jorum to me in qua dilecta and I have never been so foolish or churlish as to refuse such an offer – shall we do it here, in good company, or privately, in one of the bed-chambers?” and on hearing this, the others pressed him to let them watch and then, when he was spent, they could take their turns, and realising that this would break some of the tension which was palpable in the room, and unite them, as The Golden Ring Full Circle, he told Christiane to spread a mat on the floor and make ready for boarders, and suggested that if Caber cared to bank up the fire, the party might enjoy Spit-roasting Christiane Churrasco, in celebration of their Liberation from the Dark Forces of Laura Norder, which was when a telephone began to ring!
Dumbstruck, the confused WPC Isa Urquhart listened as Sam Smiles took the call on his mobile, his face draining of colour that left it almost taupe: “what do you mean you lost them? we saw them being cooped up in one of your vans! how did you manage that? what about the tracker? fuck, fuck, fucketty fuck! someone's head will roll for this débâcle – you'd better find it and fast! use a chopper, or I'll set my towser on to you with a chopper!” and he turned to face Isa and Jasmine: “the officer driving the van is Lauderdale's cousin and it's gone off the radar – the four men from the caves: DCC Doubleday, another Doubleday, Sir Parlane MacFarlane and George Gill, together with Lauderdale and Christiane, I don't know whose bright idea it was to put them all in one van, but the driver didn't wait for his escort, just drove off as soon as the rear doors were shut and he must have disabled the tracker, no-one knows where they are!” and Isa spoke sharply: “you can't lose a police van, surely? it's pretty conspicuous!” and Jasmine pointed at the screens: “it left our cameras there, it headed down the road to the Kirk, but a local driver could take it anywhere – the only traffic cameras are on the A68 and the Melrose Bypass – he would know how to avoid them,” and Isa tugged at her hair: “the driver will have his phone, can't we get a location on it?” but Smiles shook his head: “not if he's using a disposable – to be able to organise this at such short notice, means he'll be smart enough not to have the van radio or his own switched on; that's the difficulty when a cop goes rogue, he knows about the technology and how to cover his tracks; I'm getting a chopper to circle the area, as you say, the van should be noticeable, if it's still on the road, but they may have a safe-house somewhere and if they get it under cover we're dependent on someone having spotted it, even before they know we're looking for it, so we'll get an appeal on Radio Borders, for a stolen Police Van; I know it will show us up for numpties, but if we are numpties, we really can't complain! but come on, it's not the absolute nadir – I've seen much, much worse, believe you me – we do have the Romanian girl and I've got an interpreter coming over from the College, she may be able to tell us something, and we also have Ochan'toshan and he may be willing to barter, because otherwise he's going down for a good long time – I don't understand how he could have been running these orgies involving lots of village children and some pretty dubious celebrities for so long without anyone hearing a whisper,” and Isa said: “people don't see what they don't want to see, and it's surprising how good kids are at keeping secrets, especially if they are being rewarded, or threatened, and probably both; are the Social Workers with them?” and Smiles nodded: “a whole team from Children's Services – they are all going to the BGH to be checked out and their parents will be there too, and so far as I can tell, they are all insisting that everything at Hill House is above board: 'Uncle Ralphy is just a sweet old man who adores children' and he's considered to be the village Santa Claus, or Fairy Godmother, all year round: none of the parents will hear a word said against him, or Lauderdale and his wife!” and he suddenly roared, which seemed quite out of character: “damn their eyes! lock 'em up and throw away the key, but that would be too easy, what a pity our undesirables get better treatment than they ever afforded their victims, although if the professional criminals ever find out what they've been doing, their cushy life can suddenly become extremely dangerous, so we'd better make sure nothing leaks out about them; come on, we've got a lot to do before the trail goes stone cold,” and he hurried them out of the van and into his own car, intending to do a bit of scouting about before going to the hospital to see how the interviews with the children were going on, which was when Isa asked the question that was troubling her: “if we've got Lolly and she's safe, how was she able to tell Tavish about the party at Hill House when she was in Stow 800 years ago?” and Jasmine simply said: “a Quantum Collision, Isa, Parallel Universes,” and all Isa could say then was, “oh! I see now!”
The indispensable WPC Isa Urquhart watched it all on a monitor in the Police Scotland Command Post, an anonymous van parked near the entrance to the drive leading the Hill House in Bowden: squeezed in with Sam Smiles and Jasmine Juniper-Green, both representing MI5 and still very anxious about Tavish and the girls; the images came from from the helmet cameras of the Armed Response Team as they stormed the building – she saw the astonished face of the middle-aged man who opened the door wearing a poncey, ponceau poncho – Ranulph Ochan'toshan then tumbled back inside as the first officers barged their way in; the panic on the faces of the other men, in varying states of undress as they tried and failed to hide the children they were with; the burning fury on the face of the man she recognised as DCC Duncan Doubleday, caught in flagrante in a retro bentwood bed with a young boy; the confusion on the face of a man she later learned was the 16th Century Sir Parlane MacFarlane, still in bed with an attenuated young Romanian girl who after first giving her name as Lolly, later confirmed that she was actually Licinda Antonescu and had been bought from her father and then trafficked into Scotland to be used as a prostitute and the finely-tuned sensitivities of the emotional WPC wanted to wrap her in a blanket and feed her back to a healthy size and shape, for she knew this was the girl whose testimony had resulted in this Bust; she saw the bitter defiance of Detective Sergeant Larry 'Knickers' Lauderdale and his paramour, Christiane; and later heard the pleading voices of the parents of the seven other children who had been found in the house, desperately failing to convince anyone that they had never dreamt, could never believe, that their children were being sexually abused by their Uncle Ralphy and his friends: “such a dear old man,” they kept repeating, “so devoted, so generous, so kind,” and “he'd do anything for the kids, give them treats, take them to the sea-side, just like a proper Uncle,” and of his associates: “oh Larry and Christiane, such a devoted couple, always happy to baby-sit, at the drop of a hat, we have every confidence in them, there must be a mistake, they were probably just helping with the children at Uncle Ralphy's party, the kids adore them,” and of the various parties Ochan'toshan hosted: “yes, Ranulph's parties are famous for the celebrities he brings to the village, everyone has a great time and they always make sure there is something special for the children,” and “say what you like about Larry and Christiane, they are supererogatory – they always go Above and Beyond for those kids – they deserve Medals, not dragging off in Black Marias, you should be ashamed of yourselves, treating good Christian souls like that!”
Gertie sat on the train and dozed: she had no memory of how she came to be here, no references to her past or her present; she remembered reading a book, a novel, by Brigid Brophy: In Transit, it was called, about a traveller in an airport who had no recollection of an identity, of name, of gender – am I a man or a woman, wondered the traveller who, looking down at the clothes which were gender-neutral, felt unreal; there would be mirrors in the toilets, Men's and Women's, but which could be safely entered if you don't know which you are? oh, but at least she knew her own gender, for she was dressed in a slightly strange but feminine style – not what she would normally wear, feeling and looking down at them, out of date, or perhaps fashionable in an earlier age; and Palestrina had spoken her name, so she knew she was identifiably Gertie; but as to why and how – they were, for now, unknowable, unless Palestrina could explain more fully – Adolf Hitler, the name rang a faint bell, but her memory prior to waking up on the train was shady, confused, ungraspable – but, again for now, Palestrina sat quietly reading a book, not concerned about the world outside her own little bubble of contentment, while Gertie fidgeted and fizzed, jactitating with worry and wonder – she kept surreptitiously checking her watch: it was still running backwards – and with a sudden thought about Alice Through the Looking Glass she glanced around, but no, there was nothing in print that she could use to check, and a complete absence of mirrors, so she closed her eyes and let the rocking of the train seduce her into sleep again and the next time she opened them it had become night and passengers were preparing to go to bed; catching Palestrina's eye, Gertie hissed: “how far is it to Berlin, I thought we'd have been there by now,” and Pal hissed back: “so we should, sweetie, and the German's are reputed to have made travelling an Art Form, they haven't given out any information, only that 'due to unforeseen delays, the result of sabotage by enemies of the Reich' the train will now be arriving in Berlin at 8.12am', God, their love of minutiae, while showing complete disregard for the passengers comfort and safety, has to be experienced to be believed!” so Gertie asked, simply, feeling quite wretched at her own helplessness: “so, where do we sleep?” and Pal indicated the upper bunk, “that shall be our little nest, and tomorrow we shall bloom again, like remontant roses” and gave a tinkling laugh, which reminded Gertie of her dear cousin Teri, and she wondered, bleakly, if she would ever see her family again! and behind the panel, snug in his own little nest, Herr Marrowsky smiled to himself and almost inaudibly muttered: “very interestinct – meine sharkbait – vee haff vays off taking you malk, leiblings, und not all off zem nonderfully vice!” and he cackled softly and murmured:
“You may think I am not real,
That my face is burned vermeil,
As I hound you from Pillar to Post,
In the country or on the coast,
Like a crackerjack I can terrify,
Like Doctor Jekyll, transmogrify,
But when you hear me whistle my tune,
Then you will know your end is soon!”
and he lit another cigarette and put his ear to the thin partition, the better to hear the two mysterious young women and he smiled: “pretty, yes, interestink, yes, but stupid!”
And that was when 'Duck' Trumpet-Trousers came over the sea to Scotland to endorse his candidate for British Prime Minister, 'Daisy' Donaldson – wildly rumoured to be his 'love-child' and wearer of his regressive jeans; united by their cravings for power and influence and dedicated to protecting the interests of their own species – rich white men with tousled hair and bulging paunches – they have both given selflessly to the cause and have won widespread support for their populist policy of 'pulling up the drawbridge' and protecting their respective nations from the depredations brought by brown people who laughingly claim to be fleeing for their lives from war and famine, as if! while bringing in their baggage women strangely attired in shapeless and baggy black sheets through which suspicious eyes and be-sandalled feet may occasionally be glimpsed; but the 'Double-Ds' or more simply 'DDs' know better than to believe such nonsense, so Borders will be barricaded, walls strengthened, tunnels flooded, trenches dug and armed guards stationed every few feet (metres and grams abolished for a return to good Christian values, weights and measures - why, it is even rumoured that Daisy will restore the traditional Stones, Pounds and Ounces of British weight and Pounds, Shillings and Pence of British currency (and by British, you should read English, for Daisy has taken to wearing chain mail and riding a donkey while draped in the white and red of England's jolly good old Saint George while tucking in to roast beef and Yorkshire pudding – and singing of the famous Roast Beef of Old England and Old English Roast Beef! and giving stirring neo-Churchillian speeches which invariably end with the cry of God for England, Daisy and Saint George!!! and Will Marrowsky or 'Brexit leader Bill Wrexit', to the Butter Gress who lapped up his every word coined the phrase Extirpate the Encephalon and European Feast Balls! and the tattooed balding bull-boys waved their St George Flags and the rag-headed dragon wombled at their turds and the cheers rang out in Parliament Square: England for the English! Britain for the English! Europe for the English! The World for the English! and the cheers sent a spill down Marrowsky's chine! what, oh what had he unleashed?
There's no-one like Marrowsky,
He plins the spates, goes on dind blates,
And claims he's Alexander Nevsky,
With his arborescent lunch of billies,
He can give a bather rashful wirlie gillies;
His hermetic locks, ascetic looks,
are written of in bylish stooks,
By goyish birls, and birlish goys,
Who rance to daucous Nechno Toise,
And make a rella fealoise,
Marrowsky is the Ultimate of Endsville!”
said Gertie to Palestrine, somewhat enigmatically.
She was only a nullifidian's daughter,
But when it came to rib-tickling sexuality, Gertie was a Nobel Prize-winning Genius!
The flushed and fierce WPC Isa Urquhart stormed out of her meeting with DCI Bruce Bruse and DI Gordon Brevity, flounced into the canteen, where Jasmine Juniper-Green and Sam Smiles were on their third cups of coffee, threw herself into a chair at their table, picked up the nearest mug of Latte and downed it one, before turning to focus her gimlet eye on Smiles and, pointing her finger at his face said: “you'd better talk, Sunny Jim, make it snappy and tell it true, because I have just about had it up to here with all this tohubohu shit about my cousin and mentee being on a 'Special Secret Mission' authorised by the Chief Constable' and want to know everything that's going on and I don't give a flying fuck about the Official Secrets Act – I signed it when I joined the rozzers, just like you and everyone else and I'm a Black Belt in The Glasgow Kiss so, if you don't want to go home with yer Grecian I suppose plastered right across yer fizzog like a rotten tomato, quit feigning ignorance and man up!” and that's exactly what he proceeded to do, as the sweat trickled down his collar and he could feel Isa's fury envelop him, until she suddenly said: “whoa there, China, back a couple of steps, how exactly do you know where Gertie and Pan are? how exactly do you know where Tavish, Tammy and Bernie are? and how exactly do you know who is in the House on The Hill?” at which point Smiles glanced desperately at Jasmine who said: “Isa, the bottom line is that no-one really knows where any of them are, right now, because they are in parallel universes, on different planes and in different Time Zones, and we don't know enough about the drug Pantagruel was using – how strong, how often, how frequent, or whether there might be an element of tachyphylaxis which could mean that Pan having used it before, could have reduced it's effectiveness, and so might be in a different place from Gertie, who has only – and accidentally – been injected once, and the only things we have to work with are diaries and letters which have been passed down through the decades and centuries and are being patiently and carefully examined and decoded to enable us to tell where they were – so as far as right now goes, we don't have a clue: particularly about Pan and Gertie, they have only just disappeared, we have only just now discovered their diaries, in the National War Museum Archives, but the information from the 13th Century is very particular and precise and we have a detailed account, written by Tavish in 1265, which states clearly the names of several individuals who are at Hill House right now, and that is because they had been in the caves with the Americans and had escaped when the Big Bang Banged and the account is very precise about that, and an Armed Response Team has been mobilised and is taking up position around the House as we speak; this is very hush-hush because two of those individuals, according to Tavish's account, which is based on the recollections of a Romanian girl, Lolly, and her grasp of a strange language, but diligent work by the Priest in Stow at the time, Father Boisel, has been extraordinary in helping her recover suppressed memories and translate them through Romanian back into English: the man is a Saint in my book, are Police Scotland Officers, who may be monitoring our radio traffic, so everything is off-radar and making use of back-channels, so that is why you have been given no details so far – not because you are a suspect, but because you are so emotionally involved and have to be kept behind the lines, for your own safety, and to prevent you rushing in like a hoon and beating them all to pulp – which I think I can safely say, is what all of us would like to do: but we must stick to protocols for if we catch these guys, and rescue the kids they are abusing, and want to make the charges stick, this has to be done strictly by the book!” and Isa suddenly felt utterly deflated, hung her head, chin on chest and simple said: “Fuck Me!”
Now, as it happened, when Gertie opened her eyes and found herself sitting in a compartment of a train travelling through open country, she felt quite confused, but managed to hide it well; the other passengers seemed not to have noticed her arrival, or maybe she had been here all along – dreaming, for in her mind was a jumble of half-memories and imaginings, and she had no clear recollection of boarding the train, or of where she was heading, maybe simply a result of stress or distress, anxiety, confusion, or exhaustion, a sinecure of synonyms or poecilonyms (she didn't really care which) or even a combination of all of them, so she glanced at her watch but, as she looked, she saw that the hands were all wrong: they seemed to be moving backwards, indeed the second hand was fairly spinning anti-clockwise, with the minute hand lumbering behind it, and crikey! the numbers on the dial were also placed on the wrong sides, and in the wrong order, although each figure was the correct image, so it wasn't like looking in a mirror, but was sufficiently weird to make her feel slightly nauseous, so she closed her eyes for some moments, but that made her feel even more dizzy, and believing that she needed to be able to see the horizon, as if below deck on a ship, she opened her eyes and sought to find her equilibrium by fixing on a distant tree or cow as it passed across the screen of the window – now, while steadfastly ignoring her wristwatch, Gertie was, however, fortunately possessed of an innate awareness of time, a kind of zeitgeber, which told her from the height of the sun, ascertaiined by the length of the shadows cast by that tree and cow, that it was still morning, perhaps about 10.18, and in that same summertime she had most recently been aware of, being a dedicated heliolatrist herself, and happily staying out of doors as much as she could – and she pondered her situation: the train was not British, not in the 21st century, for sure, and heading East, but there were insufficient clues for her to gauge the precise location; and then suddenly the young woman in the corner seat next to her spoke quietly: “Gertie, my sweet, are you still a little behind the times after your sleep – you were so tired and I wanted to let you recover naturally,” and Gertie smiled back, knowing at once that she was with a friend but lacking any clear knowledge of who this friend might be; “I think I must have had too much to drink last night and my head is still befuddled, dear . . . . .” and her hesitation was clearly understood, for the young woman quickly said: “I am Palestrina, Pantagruel's sister, he said that you might be a tad out of sorts, but that will quickly pass,” and she saw relief on Gertie's face and Gertie said, “oh, Palestrina, I missed Pan, and wondered if he would be here,” but Palestrina shook her head: “sadly, no, he was called away, so we are travelling alone, I do hope that is all right with you,” and Gertie nodded – not too much, though, for her head was still sore and she did truly seem to have the remains of a hangover; then Palestrina said: “Clement is, I believe, following on a later train, and we should be able to meet up with him this evening, but I am pleased that you have come on this train – I know that we will get on well; I seem to recall Clem or Pan telling me that you have fluent German, yes?” and this time Gertie nodded more convincingly, and explained that she had studied German History and Politics as well as the language itself and Palestrina was obviously pleased, explaining that her own knowledge in those areas was sketchy, her studies having been focussed on Arabia, like Pan's, and that reminded Gertie that Palestrina was almost impossibly young-looking to be Pan's sister, although it was possible, but more probable, or make that very probable, that their father must have remarried after his first wife's death, which had most likely occurred before she, Gertie, had even been born, and it was almost as though Palestrina had been reading her mind, because she placed a hand gently on Gertie's wrist and said that she would explain everything once they had reached Berlin and found their hotel – so now she knew their destination and, deciding that the unexpected often brings it's own rewards, was happy to watch the countryside panorama flowing past the carriage windows and wait drowsily and perhaps even drift off for a while, until Palestrina should feel herself able to tell her just what the fuck was going on! which is almost exactly what she did next: “in your sleep, my sweet Gertie, we have crossed the Border and while it behoves me to be ever so slightly economical with the truth, for the nonce, my dear, I really feel obliged to advise you that there is a monster at large in Germany called Adolf Hitler, aka Der Fuhrer – and this nephalist took an inchoate angry nationalism, identified an easy target, turned his own contumacy into a crusade, made martyrs out of thugs and coined the sniglet, Nazi, that will evermore be applied to all manner of evil corruption and despicable brutality, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and ethnic cleansing where- and whenever Little Hitlers rear their ugly heads – but I intend to stop him dead in his tracks!”
“Where,” she demanded, “where has she gone? where has she gone? where has Gertie gone? Where, where, where has she gone?” and as Professor Sir Clement Dane, or at least one of them, blinked, Isa continued: “has she gone with him? has she gone with him? has she gone with Pan? has she gone with him? has she really, truly, gone with him?” and she shook him again – she felt like Alice shaking the kitten! “spit it out, man, you must tell me what you know, or think you know, it's a matter of Life and Death!” and he blushed, and stammered: “I'm rather afraid it's more than that, Isa, my dear, much, much, more than that, more than a matter of Life and Death, in fact, it's even more than Football!” and even as he said it he could almost feel Bill Shankly's eyes piercing him, from The Great Dug-out in The Sky, and he blushed to the top of his shiny domed head, took hold of Isa's arm and pulled her away from the house, lest Aunty Crist or one of the lodgers might hear his hissing: “you know that The Eildon Hills are a magical place, a meeting point for Ley Lines which run from all over the Earth and where past and present merge? remember Jasmine's theory about Quantum Collisions, about Past, Present and Future all happening at the same time, everywhere – surely a better explanation of glimpses of ghosts than any supernatural mumbo-jumbo? don't you ever get the feeling of being watched when there's no-one there? of hearing music, when there's no-one there? or of something or someone brushing against you when there is definitely no-one there? haven't you always sensed something like that? you do know that, don't you?” and he stared into Isa's eyes, until: “no, I can't say that I did, but I do now, cos you've telt me,” the sterling WPC quipped, and Dane gripped her tighter, until a shadow fell across his hand and he relaxed his grip, and turned to see the other Sir Clement standing hard by: “you'll just have to tell her now, or if you won't, I will,” said the second Dane; and Isa turned the full force of her famous Death Stare on to him, which may be why he took a couple of steps backwards, leaving the goalmouth to yawn before his other self, who coughed, hesitated, and then said: “your Uncle Pantagruel has gone back to 1938 and it's all my fault, I'm the one who had been telling him about some of my dearest friends and not a few relations – almost my entire family in fact,” and the other interjected: “and mine too, don't forget,” but was shooed away by whichever Dane was closest to Isa, who then continued, “our entire family, almost, between Dachau. Buchenwald, Auschwitz and Belsen, all gone, ashes to ashes, and you see, dear Isa, he said that he felt guilty for doing nothing about it when he had the chance, in 1938, when Daisy went home to help Dandy organise Duncansby's wedding and Pan took a month from his work at the Foreign Office and went to Arabia, travelling and site seeing; he said that he should have made better use of his one opportunity to have a direct effect on History, instead of just reading about it - Future History, he meant; and he said, just yesterday, that he'd made up his mind to do what he should have done that summer, that he believed he had found a way of using the power of The Eildons and a psychotropic drug he'd been experimenting with to enable him to make contact with his younger self to that end,” and Isa stared at him: “are you mad? are you absolutely bonkers? are you saying he's gone to travel back in time to do something bloody dangerous? and the same thing has happened to Gertie?” and now both Sir Clement Danes reached for her hands and said together: “look at us!” and did a little dad-dance which would have been funny if Isa's mind wasn't whirling with the hurly-burly of all this new and fantastic information – had the same thing happened to Tavish, and Tammy and Bernie – to one of these two whirling dervishes and the Americans from Vietnam? it was all so impossible, yet it was terribly real, as she watched the two Danes jig and jump to some kind of internal, shared, rhythm, the very antithesis of the nonpareil she had always believed human beings to be: they weren't twins they were the same person, it was madness but also, unbearably true! and she was overcome by a dolorous longing for Gertie, acutely aware of her own responsibility for the welfare of her young cousin and Trainee WPC – “some mentor I am,” she muttered bitterly, wondering what would happen to the girl and if she would ever see her again – and then a sudden idea struck her!
“Now the hurly-burly's done, now the battle's lost and won . . . . .” the words of MacBeth's three witches ran like a worm through Isa's brain as she tried to take it all in; the sense of kvell she had experienced when the paramedics collected Gertie, and said that she's saved the young Trainee WPC's life had gone, and gloom settled on her shoulders like a mandilion, but not keeping out the chill, rather, retaining it within her body just as it had entered, when she heard her phone ring, followed by Jasmine's voice, distant and hollow, putting an end to the jamboree: “she's gone, Isa! wee Gertie's gone!” and Isa had dropped the phone, hearing it break as it hit the concrete path outside Aunty Crist's back door; shock had frozen her, mind, body and soul and it took a few moments to realise that Aunty Crist had come out and was speaking to her: “it's Jasmine at the BGH, she can't reach you on your phone,” and Isa looked down to the broken mobile at her feet, almost automatically, without any thought, she took the landline receiver her Aunt was holding out to her: “hello, Jasmine, it's me,” and Jasmine began speaking rapidly: “Isa, they don't know where she is – she'd been in a cubicle, while they were waiting for blood results from the lab, but when the nurse went in, she'd gone, gone away!” and the full import began to hit Isa, “gone away? what do you mean?” and Jasmine spoke in a rush: “she's not there, she must have woken up and left, no-one saw her, a couple of your constables are searching and one of them has been looking at the CCTV in Security, it looks like she managed to get out through the back of the hospital and was last caught on camera heading towards The Eildons!” Isa's heart skipped a beat: “but she's alive?” and Jasmine laughed nervously: “very much so, but she's out there somewhere and no-one knows where!” which was when one of the Professor Danes appeared and approached the confused WPC: “Isa,” he said gently, “I'm the one who saw Pan after he left the house, and I think I know where he's gone – although it's more a case of when he's gone to!” and Isa lost control, she grabbed him by the lapels and shook him: “my cousin Gertie has gone too,” she yelled, “has she gone with him?”
But too late! Gertie almost automatically put her finger into her mouth and sucked the blood, and then everything happened so quickly: Gertie gave a little shudder and slumped to the side, quickly losing consciousness; “call an ambulance,” cried Isa to Jasmine, sliding Gertie to the floor and beginning CPR, her locked hands pumping up and down on Gertie's chest, while Jasmine, galvanised into action dialled 999 and gave the operator details of what was needed; Gertie was still unconscious when the paramedics arrived and took over, quickly loading her onto their gurney and wheeling her out to the ambulance parked just outside the front door; Jasmine went with their young cousin as Isa, still in shock at what had happened, cordoned off Aunty Crist's study and waited for the SOCOs to arrive, which was a brief wait – the team was already nearby, waiting for the planned entry into the Cavern which sonar had predicted would be found once the entry point on the shoulder between the two largest hills had been breached – although, after the hurly-burly, time seemed to stretch and she could almost fancy she was seeing the chyron that passes subliminally at the bottom of a tv screen but she couldn't grasp what the meanings were; Isa didn't care that there would now be a delay in the process of entering the Caves, she needed urgent answers to the questions thrown up by the discovery of a hypodermic needle under the chair in which both Gertie and Sir Pantagruel had been sitting so very recently – what had it contained? who had put it there (presumably originally penetrating the chair from below) and was it intended that Pan would have sat on it? and, just as importantly – why? her head reeling with questions, and while she waited for them, Isa sat outside on the doorstep, sipping at a fresh coffee given to her by her ever-benign Aunty Crist, and smoking a less-benign cigarette while aware of the alliaceous scent of wild garlic drifting from the kitchen garden; Pan must have been the intended victim – but who knew that he was coming? that he would sit there? and anyway, where on earth is he now? and was Gertie's question to Jasmine about the double-chiming clock really so irrelevant? And why had Jasmine referred to it as a MacGuffin?
And meanwhile, back in Melrose, where the hue and cry had sent searchers scouring the lower slopes of The Eildons, the back gardens of Dingleton Hill and all the way up to the old Dingleton Hospital, now a very select housing development – with flats in the original hospital buildings that for several generations had been a byword in modern psychiatric treatment and success, while the extensive grounds where, in yesteryear, patients could wander freely along wooded lanes to gather tussie-mussies to brighten their wards, or admire the reflections in Dingleton Loch, are now the location for expensive family homes - with no sign of Sir Pantagruel MacFarlane; and in Aunty Crist's study, Jasmine Juniper-Green is beside herself, frantic, distressed and oft-times incoherent: “yes he was here . . . . at nine o'clock . . . . . at ten to nine . . . . . he seemed to have a stroke . . . . . and then he disappeared . . . . . at nine o'clock , , , , , the clock struck nine, twice , , , , , the only way out was through the window . . . . . Professor Dane saw him in the garden . . . . . after the clock struck nine and then before it struck nine again . . . . . maybe ten minutes later . . . . . after the Professor went back out to look for him,” and the attentive WPC Isa Urquhart looked up from her notebook and glanced at the bubbly Trainee WPC Gertie Mountcastle who took up the baton: “has it ever happened before, to your own knowledge, personally?” and Jasmine thumped the arms of her chair, staring wildly at her two cater-cousins as if they were rather zany extras from Central Casting: “not to my own personal knowledge, no, I've never heard it do that, why? do you think it's a MacGuffin?” at which Gertie blushed to her roots and dropped her pen and when she reached down for it, felt something prick her finger and she squealed, raising her hand to see a drop of blood well up from the surface of her skin and drip to the carpet, Isa knelt and shone her torch under the chair and spotted the needle beside Gertie's pen, “don't!” she cried out and Gertie, he finger raised to her lips and about to suck it looked down, eyes wide in astonishment!”
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