"And there wille come a Beast,
With thee Fyery Lyte of Helle in His Eyes,
Thee marks of Deathe upon His Brow.
From thee Lande of thee New Caesars He will Comme,
And He wille claime Dominion over thee Worlde Entire,
And thee Kinges of Menne will Bow Before Him.
But lo! Know ye His Downfall!
For it wille be Smalle, Yellowe and Quite Humorous..."
- Nostradamus, Volume VI, Verse CIX
Guy looked up as Nurse Bertha walked in. A fat woman with stiff movements, she wore her heavy makeup heavily. The ruffles at her collar and the bright flower on her lapel softened the effect, however. He found her presence soothing. She carried the oil over to guy's bedside and began to massage her charge. Tapping the toe of one large, flat shoe, she hummed a soothing ditty as she pounded away on the prostrate guy, who was so busy relaxing he failed to notice the foul, noxious-smelling, vile yellow smoke spilling out from the neck of the bottle.
While X went to the lobby for a coke Arthur knocked on the nurse’s station. The door swung quietly open under his genteel rapping. He peered inside at the pristine and clean surfaces littered with antiseptic wipes and disposable surgical gloves. The electric strip bulb hummed overhead. The room was empty except for one cupboard stuck awkwardly ajar.
Arthur, a fastidiously tidy person, couldn't resist and snuck inside to push it too, then stopped.
"oh dear.." he said.
Inside he saw something that was so horrendous it made his heart skip a beat.
Grimacing, Arthur pushed the further ajar to and gasped in horror as he realised that Nurse Bertha, the one he had just left massaging Guy, had been bound and gagged and stuffed into the cupboard of the nurse's station.
Beside her were a discarded clown's outfit and an empty bottle with several XXXs on it.
She looked up pleadingly. "Mphhgle fPH!" she mumbled, helplessly. Arthur looked around the hallway, uncertain what to do. No one was there to advise him...no one at all....at that moment X walked in.
"They were out of coke so I got fanta instead - err....why have you got that nurse gagged and bound..he-he- Arthur? ... ol' buddy?"said X, backing away slowly.
Arthur, ignoring this minor slur on his good character, appraised his partner of the current situation in as calm and as reasonable tone as he could muster.
"THE CLOWZ - ONE OF THEM'S IN THERE WITH GUY!" Agitatedly pointing at the frosted glass of the ward across the hallway.
X meanwhile had bent down was pointedly examining the squeaky red nose and over-sized spotty trousers that had been discarded in the corner, he was eyeing Arthur suspiciously.
"look what do you think this is - cough syrup?!!", howled Arthur, scooping up the empty bottle of poison and waving it in front of X.
"Ooo-kay, I think somebody needs to take a nap."
Arthur calmed down a little and tried a different tack.
"Listen to me X, that nurse we passed by coming out of the ward with Guy, did anything strike you as odd about her?"
"Well...er...now that you mention it - a little bit..stiff, like one of those infernal mime artists doing that... thing, y'know", said X waving his arms up and down in a frantic chopping motion like some deranged karate expert.
"Anything else?" probed Arthur gently on what might generously be called X's 'tenuous', grip on reality.
"Flat feet too. Poor dear must have fallen arches or something she was wearing those over-sized orthopaedic slippers, damn near sent my headfirst into that plant porrrrt..orrr..o-o-o-OH MY GOD!!"
"Yes?" Inquired Arthur, leaning forward.
"The..um...clown..is..err....is...err...Guy.....clown is in there-there-there - A CLOWN IS IN THERE WITH Guy?"
They both then ran across the corridor and into the ward....
Meanwhile, upstairs in the office part of the hospital which normal patients never get to see, five men and women in immaculate business clothing were sitting regarding a very large computer screen.
"But it was all going so well! Completely according to plan!" Said one of them, disconsolately.
"It will still work. You must all just do as I say, though. No more arguments... we all need to add our authorisation, and then our plans can succeed.." said a woman, evidently in charge.
"But.... I've heard they're in the hospital, even now. What if they try to stop us?"
"They can't. Ha. Ha. Hahahahaha!!"
Back on the ward, X and Arthur's brains were struggling valiantly to cope with the horrific scene before them. Half a dozen Clownz, surgical masks barely concealing their bulbous red noses, were milling around Guy on a gurney. Or at least they were trying to mill. Oversized clown shoes do not make the business of milling an easy one.
A rather large clown nurse with striped bloomers handed the clown surgeon a hammer and stonemason's chisel. X then looked beyond the tray of surgical instruments and saw a bowl with what looked like clown wig, ready for transplantation. Agent X decided on a course of action and...and....promptly passed out, from shock that he could ever decide anything.
Arthur took over! In a flash of brilliance he grabbed a defibrillator trolley.
"GUY!", he shouted. - "CATCH!"
Guy looked up from his reverie, Arthur threw on of the defibrillator pads to Guy who reached up and caught them.
"shock her!" screamed Arthur.
Guy noticed the wild look in his Agent's eyes, instinctively sensing danger he pressed the button. There was a flash and a sound like "Schlockk!" and the robot was catapulted backwards onto the far-side of the room, thick oily smoke began pouring from it's head and it began to thrash about in a fit short-circuits.
One of the Clownz turned and bore down on Arthur. He ducked down and its massive fist arced overhead connecting with the wall. The robot pulled it's fist out from the gaping wound in the plaster and spun round - it's fiery red LED's flamed at Arthur.
Arthur was meanwhile dealing with the other clownz, using the prostrate body of X to gain some extra height he jumped and ripped the curtain rail from it's slider round the bed and threw it over the heads of the other clown nurses, who began to pitch and turn randomly unable to see where they were going.
"Arthur, look out!" cried Guy, reaching over he grabbed the bottle of deadly toxins and threw it at the murderous form of the killer nurse.
The bottle smashed, spilling it's lethal acid all over the robot, which promptly melted. Arthur looked down, out of the corner of his eye he could see one of the big slippers start to twitch a little bit.
Arthur turned around slowly. Carefully he gave the robot clown an experimental prod. The remaining hulk was fizzing silently as the acid went to work, the occasional pop or spark issued from where it's head had been and then finally the whole thing gave up on inertia and succumbed instead to gravity and fell backwards rather pathetically and with a loud thunk.
Just then Bob, Jill and the others came back in...
"Right we off to - oh." stopped Bob
"What happened?" asked Jill mouth agape.
"oh not much." said Arthur dissmissivly, wiping a bit of axle grease from his lapel.
"Well I'm going, finally - you can...you can...um..deal with -..er..this" he decided, gesturing to the scene of carnage and destruction behind him.
He fixed his tie in place and walked smartly across the room and dragged X out of the ward by the sleeve of his jacket.
Bob approached Guy's bedside.
"Lucky escape for you there." he said, non-commitally, reaching for a better topic of conversation.
"Indeed this is not the first time I owe my life to Arthur" replied Guy thoughtfully.
Gonzaroolio gave the acid-eaten husk of the clown a contemptuous little kick,
"Seems to me, like you may have a problem." he said. "I don't know how the clownz found you as quickly as they did, but you are clearly a target."
Guy nodded in solemn agreement.
"I'll make the necessary arrangements to be shipped back to the Agency. I want you to pay a visit to this Mr Smittington on Barn Street, see what you can get out of him..."
Outside the hospital, out beyond the car park there cruised a limousine. Inside there sat the 5 shadowy figures from earlier. The leader closed her laptop with a decisive snap.
"A minor setback." she suggested.
The others looked to each other.
"Yes, mistress." they replied in unison.
"Still, we know the name of their next target." she said.
"We will need a search running." replied one of the figures.
"It has already begun." said another.
"Order the strike." said one of the shadowy figures.
"They're not out yet." said the leader snapping open the laptop one more time as the limo pulled out of hospital lot...
Meanwhile, in the nurses' station.
"mfgMMPPHHGGG!!" said a bound Bertha.
Suddenly the inter-com switched on and a woman’s voice began to speak:
So, they just left you there, did they? Those ingrates! They left you, all alone and helpless, after all you did for them!"
Her voice, soothing and dripping with sympathy, filtered through the nurse's panic and Bertha realised with shock that it was true! They had abandoned her! After all her kindness, all her gentle bathes and backrubs, all those shots...well, never mind those,...how ungrateful and cruel!
Although she couldn't see this of course, the voice was smiling. And it wasn't a nice smile. It was the smile of a cat that has realised that rather than pursuing it's prey..if it stays very still on the birdbath - dinner will come to it!
The maddened cackle drifted down from the corridor. Bob stuck his head outside to see what was going on and nearly beheaded by Nurse Bertha wielding a mop.
He scrabbled inside on all fours and reached for the defibrillator pads again. Bertha spun the mop like a shaolin monk and unplugged it at the socket with one deft flick of the handle.
Jill and Gonzaroolio tried to take the mop from her but were driven back by her frenzied swinging. Heddingly was nowhere to be seen.
Guy tried to effect some kind of attack as well but weakened by his previous exertions groaned and fell back to his pillows. Bob was helpless, completely at Bertha's mercy. She stood tall and bore the mop aloft like some magnificent trophy - issuing forth a Valkarie attack yodel:
- lowered the mop and charged Heddingly sprung up from behind Bertha and reached out to deliver the Vulcan Death Grip. Bertha crumpled with a small, happy, sigh. The mop clattered to the floor.
"What is going on?"shouted Bob. "Leicester died on the island, right? only now our every move is being dogged by evil and malignant forces bent on delaying us from leaving this hospital."
"Your right Bob" moaned guy a bit breathlessly "you need to get out of here quickly - use my special 4 X 4. It's parked in the garage downstairs... The Agency's 'Special Weapons' division has upgraded it with suitable refinements. I think you'll find it more than reasonable." and threw him the keys.
They traced a graceful arc through the air, intercepted by Jill tracing a less graceful arc through the air in the opposite direction.
Reaching out she caught the keys before they even touched the floor and landed with cat-like prowess.
"YES" she exclaimed. "I'm driving!" as she sprinted towards the car park.
"I'm riding shotgun!" cried Heddingly running after her hotly followed by Gonzaroolio.
Bob was left standing stunned, expectant palm outstretched.
"Hey - wait! come back here. hey - Guys! I want to drive the secret agent car...please? come back!!! Guys.. hey!..guys??" whined Bob as he shuffled after them.
Guy leant over the rails of his bed and peered down upon the unconscious form of nurse Bertha.
The shadowy lady (whose name was in fact Annabel) wanted to take over the world. Oh just another one of those two-a-penny
mega-megalomaniacs you may think - but no. What Annabel had that all other villains of the past lacked, with perhaps the exception of Napoleon Bonepart - Emperor of..well just about wherever he fancied really - was AMBITION. Real Ambition. Back in her primary school days, when she'd attempting to steal the globe from the teachers table and put it in her desk - and had been summarily deposited in the Head Teachers office for her troubles and a letter sent to her...parents - taking over the world had become her all consuming passion.
Annabel sighed a disconsilant sigh.
"You just can't get good quality hench-people anymore."
She tapped into a panel on the wall, which immediately disappeared to reveal another panel, this time with a small LCD screen embedded in it.
"And now they actually think they're going to get away. I pity these people, fighting for good, its all so pointless..." she muttered, tapping the screen three times.
Out in the car park, two big wrought iron gates noiselessly started swinging shut...
Annabel's car phone buzzed and she nervously picked it up. Holding it to her ear, she turned a whiter shade of pale as a hated voice from out of her tortured past spoke.
It was the headmaster at the awful Airhead Alternative Education Institute, her Alma Mata, and the scene of much childhood trauma.
"Are you still angry, Annabel?" the guidance counsellor's voice bounced and chirped ingratiatingly.
So many hours had Annabel been forced to sit in his airy office, with the sad paintings and the hippie music in the background, during anger management class, while he tried to help her find the source of her rage.
All she'd ever wanted was to rule the world , and instead of helping her to achieve this simple little dream, he'd tried to force her to embrace the world, not dominate it.
She didn't want to find her true centre!
"No!" she screamed, then realised her error and screamed "YES!!" down the phone even louder. The snivelling wretch on the other end of the line responded by assailing her with a 'thought for the day'.
"Why do you continue to torment me!?"
"Just wanted to let my little snuggle-bunny know that we love her." said her Dad and hung up.
"That does it!" she roared, slamming down the phone.
"As soon as I take over the world he will be the first one up against the wall."
The thought soothed her, and Annabel sat back as the car cruised on its journey...
Meanwhile down in the subterranean car park of the city hospital. Jill and the others were preparing to leave in Guy's 4X4. It was a monster of a machine, oil-slick black, caught in the right light new colours seemed to glisten on it's surface just out of sight.
Jill gave it a quick look over. It felt glassy to her touch. 'bullet proof probably', she speculated.
"I say!", said Heddingly, really piling on the upper-class accent - he begin fitting a small monocle into his left eye, "That's quite a beast isn't it?"
"Oh yeah!" said Jill grinning so wide it threatened to remove everything above her ears.
Bob arrived panting behind them I time to her Gonzaroolio express his disquiet about the whole thing.
"I got this feeling y'know like this...car...isn't right." he petered out "Like it's too powerful..." he finished weakly.
The car sat there radiating an aura of confident and quiet menace. Jill stood up from her brief examination of the under-carriage she thought Gonzaroolio had a point. There seemed to be more pipes and things than were strictly necessary down there.
She suspected that this thing's closest relative on the family tree of cars, weighed about 30 tonnes and had caterpillar tracks. The word "turret" floated, unbidden into her mind.
Shaking her head she turned the keys in the lock. The keys snatched out of her hand and began turning anti-clockwise. A stern computerised voice spoke:
"Agent XXX" said Jill, "Passcode: P13X #Blue"
SUBMIT FOR RETINAL EXAMINATION."
The wing-mirror glowed as Jill knelt down. A series of thin red lines danced across her face.
There was a click as the locks sprung open. Jill slid in behind the wheel. Heddingly sat opposite, Gonzaroolio sat plumply on the back seat, swinging his little legs over the side of the seat. Bob slid in behind Heddingly.
"Start." ordered Jill.
There was a shudder the dashboard lit up and the engine growled into life and revved itself a few times.
"GOOD MORNING AGENT XXX" said the computer.
"WHERE IS GUY?" a not of electronic concern appearing in it's voice.
"He's ill, he's given us the keys, were going on a mission."
"OH DEAR. I AM SORRY TO HEAR THAT. WHERE ARE WE GOING?"
The bakery on Barn street."
"ONE MOMENT PLEASE...ACCESSING GLOBAL POSITIONING SATALITE DATA FEED....BARN AVENUE. AQUIRED...AH YES, I KNOW THE WAY."
The Gear stick moved of it's own accord as the Agency moved out of the car park and up the ramp.
"Wow!" said Bob leaning over to Gonzaroolio, "a talking computer!"
"Yeh!" agreed the clown hoarsely, "The only car I ever had, the doors kept falling off whenever you tried to drive it. That's some impressive calculator!"
"AHEM!..EXCUSE ME GENTLEMEN, I AM AN ADVANCED PROTOTYPE, INTEGRATED CODING MATRIX: SERIES ONE THINKING COMPUTER. I AM NOT A CALCULATOR!!"
"Well I for one aren't going to go around calling you all of that all the time - do you have a name?" asked Bob, with a trace indignantly.
"PLEASE, CALL ME....AL. WOULD YOU LIKE SOME MUSIC TO SOOTHE YOU ON YOUR JOURNEY?"
"That would be nice Al."
The rover wound it's way around the inner structure of the underground car-park and crested the ridge of the last ramp to the straining waltz of "The Blue Danube" by Johann Strauss.1
Jill scowled at the dashboard.
"Um, could we go a little faster, do you think?"
The vehicle crawled along at a snail's pace, and she had been looking forward to a wild ride. AL's circuits glowed in disapproval.
"WHAT, AND BREAK THE POSTED SPEED LIMIT? I RATHER LIKE THIS SPEED THANK YOU. IT GOES WITH THE MUSIC, LOVERLY AND CALM."
Grinning, Jill slipped a copy of the "Flight of the Bumblebees" by Wynton Marsalis into the tapedeck. AL gasped, lurched forward and whipped around the corner, then came to a screeching halt.
Smoke rose from the abused tires.
"WE ARE HERE." Jill looked around, and realised that they were, indeed at the bakery on Barnes Avenue.
"Heh, heh. We were just around the corner from it - Imagine that!" she said triumphantly as she helped Bob remove the dashboard from his nose.
"Hey, wait a minute!" Heddingly added, "This isn't the place, old fellow".
He tried to adjust his monocle, but it was stuck in the back of his skull.
"WELL YOU COULD HAVE ASKED." Al huffed.
"This is Barnes Avenue isn't it?added Heddingly, looking around.
"OH SORRY I THOUGHT YOU SAID..."
"No, no, I distinctly remember Jill saying..." started Bob.
"IF YOUR INTERESTED IN MY OPPINION I WOULD RECCO - "
The lights on the dashboard winked out as Jill turned the keys off in the ignition. They all exited the car and examined the front of the shop. "Smittington Bakery" proclaimed the frosted glass window. "Raising Hell since 1811."
"This is the place?" asked Jill a little non-plussed.
"Um...I'm not sure. Let's take a look around while we are here." said Gonzaroolio.
There ought to be a way in round the back...."
He talked as he led them down a narrow alleyway that ran down the side of the shop. On the shop frontice-piece, a security camera turned and followed their every move....
All of a sudden the door burst open.
There stood, highlighted by the doorframe, a large black moth, attracted by the brightness of the lights. Its feathered antenna
played tricks with the shadows, and Cliff (for that was the moth's name) was none too impressed - they had a gig in 20, and the last thing he needed was a baffled backing group.
"I've not got time for this, c'mon we've got to do the sound check!" said the moth leading the way down the dark corridor...
"Is this the bakery on Ban Street?" mumbled Bob (as usual at least 5 minutes behind on current events) as they trooped through the door after the moth-man.
Your Humble Narrator can exclusively confirm to you now, that it was not.
Because, and here we reward those of our readership who pay close attention to the text...this was not the bakery owned by the twisted engineer of the cryo-clowns Mr Smittington, who resides on one Barn Street but the other Cliff Smittington in the phonebook who lived and worked on Barnes Avenue in his self-styled music
workshop known locally as The Bakery.
There is a reason for this...and it is this:
Out back, the old walk-in kiln for baking the rolls and drop-scones and crusty bloomers had been altered - opened out in fact - one wall had been demolished effecting a sort of make shift staging area.
The effect was that the old oven looked down on for want of a better word was a small amphitheatre. Sloping round the sides were sat lots of expectant faces, a few were expectedly waving flickering lighters already. In the centre was a mosh pit in which jostled lots of people dressed in black and wearing heavy make-up which for the odd notable exception was also black.
In Gonzaroolio's heart a small flicker of excitement engaged. Ever since he'd run away from The Big Tent he'd been dying inside to work a crowd again....
Cliff motioned the backing group to the back of the stage where they took up positions behind three mikes.
Cliff approached the front of the stage and growled:
"DO YOU WANNA GET ROCKED?!!!"
The chorus of delighted howls and roaring cheers seemed to indicated that that the goth mosh gathering pit did indeed
want to be rocked. The bassist plucked a chord on his guitar and the speakers exploded with a cacophonous boom.
Now Bob had grown accustomed to the lighting a bit more he could see the Cliff's costumes wasn't a moth after all but it did display a number of spikes and looked unnaturally furry.
Some commotion amongst the band members seemed to indicate that he show was almost ready to start. The drummer reached up tapped his cymbals experimentally a few times.
The crowd before them erupted.
They began to sing....
"Eboneeee and Ivoreee, live together in perfect harmoneee-e-e!"
Up on the lighting gantry, mayhem broke loose as Colin, who was manning the blue spot, was suddenly possessed by the disembodied soul of Leica the first dog in space.
Oblivious to the bizarre goings on, Cliff took it to the bridge.
A wave of pent up overtly sexual energy, pulsated from the adoring crowd. Knickers were thrown as the mosh pit became a squirming orgiastic mass of musical fervour.
Getting back to Colin for a moment it is worth explaining that Colin was one of those poor unfortunate people who suffer from acute occult telepathy.
If he wasn't hearing Beethoven composing romantic sonatas by his bed post at half past 2 each morning he's painting the shed and trying to avoid looking at the hedge clippers while the ghost of Van Gogh whispers in his ears.
Occasionally one of them would score a direct hit and the ghost would sit in his mind looking out through his eyes making him moved like they wanted to move.
This had had to some very embarrassing situations in the past. So he'd moved to London and picked up this gig spotting lights on some band.
Currently he is a dog. And when you've been trapped in the after life for a couple of generations and find yourself suddenly embodied again - there is just one thing you have to do.
Colin cocked his leg up against the railing and began to widdle onto the fuse box.
It began to flash and spark, these cascaded down onto the stage below eliciting a few "ooohs" and "ahhhh"'s from the crowd. Unfortunately one of these sparks intersected with one of the passing sets of knickers being lobbed at the stage. The frilly underwear ignited and
sailed over the heads of the band and landed squarely in the lap of the drummer.
The crowd cheered as the drummer flailed about madly on stage trying to put out the burning in his groin.
When the fuse box, exploded and fell out of the rigging straight onto his head, the crowd let off a huge excited 'whoop!''
This was spectacular entertainment most of the crowd agreed. The band, displaying the utmost professionalism, continued to hammer out the screaming guitar solos.
The drummer staggered wildly: simultaneously trying to get the damn box off of his head and control the flames that were spreading up his legs.
"arrrGH - Gerritoff oww-oww-ow-ow, aRRRgh agh! agh!!MMMMphh!!! AAAAArrrrrrr!!!!!!"
Even the normally taciturn Cliff was impressed: Especially when the drummer, fell off the stage onto the outstretched hands of the mosh pit and was carried across the sea of dancing bodies.
"Quickly!" he shouted, "one of you get on them drums!"
Gonzaroolio had been waiting for this. He hopped onto the stool and began. Start small, build up. he reminded himself.
"6.5 on the Richter scale ought to do nicely...."
Meanwhile, Annabel was having a bad day. But it was about to get a lot better because she was about to meet her illegitimate father.
Mr Smittington was sitting in the restaurant where he had arranged to meet Annabel, smiling to himself, he was going to clone an army of Annabels to complement his massed ranks of cloned figures and cryo-clowns.
He grinned evilly to himself as she walked through the door.
She could see herself in the full-length mirror, but it wasn't herself she could see it was Bob! Bob thought that by dressing up as a woman, people would think he was Annabel!
(S)he ordered a Guinness and joined Mr Smittington at the table.
What a fine figure of a woman she's turned out to be!
He felt an odd sensation overwhelm him as he took in her tall, slender figure, her fine posture, her five-o-clock shadow.
Too bad they were related...He felt himself blushing like a schoolboy and waiting breathlessly for her to speak to him...
Bob disguised as Annabel sauntered across the floor of the cafe swinging his hips like some internal gyroscope had blown a gasket.
"Welcome my dear." said Mr Smittington, overcoming his paralysis, rising to take his daughter by the hand.
"I have come on business, we can dispense with the pleasantries."
"Alright." conceded Mr Smittington with a nod and reaching for the wine bottle he had ordered earlier.
"Lets talk business."
Ha-ha! My plan is working perfectly, HE doesn't suspect a thing!
Ha-ha! My plan is working perfectly, SHE doesn't suspect a thing.
"Now this is what we have come up with." said Annabel handing Smittington some technical schematics and blueprints.
He put on a pair of thin spectacles and began flipping through pages.
He was trembling like schoolboy! He tried to concentrate on the pages. Her face! It was perfect for the project...
Bob took a sip from his Guinness and wiped the froth away from his mouth on his sleeve.
"Now all we have to dOOOoooo.." He blinked his eyes, slightly out of sequence.
Smittington put the papers down in surprise as her voice began shedding octaves.
"N-n-n-ow a-a-all we have-ve-ve-ve to d-d-d-dOOoooo..." faltered Annabel, gripping onto the chair armrests which began to buckle and began swinging his hips violently from side to side.
Smittington sprung up and plucked Bob dressed as Annabel from the chair and with unimagined strength for a man of his age carried her away from the table and laid her face down. He then knelt on her back, forcing his knee into her spine and began trying to wrench her head off from her shoulders.
"IT'S MINE" he snarled, jerking her neck backwards.
"do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do." rattled Annabel grinning madly.
There was a fissure of sparks as her neck finally ruptured and her head finally came away from her shoulders revealing the complex network of cables and circuitry beneath.
"wEWilL BE sOOoo Hap-pap-yeeee...."the light in his eyes died and his body slumped forwards still gripping the head of Annabel.
High voltage lights set high in the ceiling flashed on and the walls at the far end of the cafe parted and out walked the real Mr Smittington from the observation room. He was quite short and looked about 60. He was thin too: his skin hung off of his bones and his face had developed a natural sneer. Behind him a small vanguard of scientists and engineers trailed in his wake.
He strode up to the elevated section that had been the cafe floor and looked grisly tableaux before him.
"no,no,no,no." he muttered to himself under his breath.
He pulled from his pocket a set of spectacles identical to the pair being worn by his robot clone.
He took a screwdriver out of a small leather pouch on his belt and stuck it in the ear of the standing robot and gave it sharp twist to the left.
A small panel popped open on the back of the clone Smittington's head and Mr Smittington reached up to look inside.
"The sanity chip is all fused together!" he grumbled. "No wonder he had an episode. That programme we fed into
him about cloning my daughter Annabel went into a software loop. Fused the circuits and...this happens." he said indicating the robot clutching the head of the Bob robot in a wig.
"And as for Bob." He said kneeling down over the collapse form of the man dressed as his daughter. He flipped him over and began undoing her blouse from the bottom up. He retrieved his screwdriver from the ear of his other self and stuck it into bob's belly-button.
There was small hiss and the chest sprung open like a car bonnet.
"Hmm..." sniffed Smittington "this model seemed to accept the undercover programme but something wasn't quite right....ah-ha found it! Yes, I'd thought as much. The internal gyroscope had blown a gasket!"
"Right!" he said turning back to the eager faces of his team. "get me another Bob robot from storage. Wheel out the other one and bring it down to the lab I'm going to need to replace it's entire hypothalamus region." He clucked his gums thoughtfully. "and we'll go again in about an hour."
A klaxon sounded somewhere else in the massive complex that hid beneath the Smittington Bakery.
The group all nodded and broke up to their respective tasks....
On one of the batteries of monitors one screen displayed not a never-ceasing display of numbers but a face - it was the face of Annabel.
She sat back in her limo and went over what she had just witnessed. Hacking into the mainframes of even her fathers security laden fortress was no mean feat - and what it brought in new information - it lacked in other faculties mainly sound...her main conclusion was sheer annoyance that anyone could have mistaken a robot - a imitation Bob robot at that - for her!
pressing some more on-screen displays closed down the image of her father striding about his pen and brought up the remote feed from her plant at the Bakery music hall where she had followed the Agents and that clown to. She saw that all was chaos at the concert - smiling wickedly, she accessed the programme that activated one of the Cryo-clowns attack perimeters.
The third groupie on the left nodded, and began creeping up on Jill, an odd metallic gleam in his eyes.
Gonzaroolio, whose playing was seriously testing the building codes in that area, failed to notice.
He splashed water on his smoking drums and began a new, even louder beat. The building trembled, and far away, in the London Observatory, Mr Richter's patented seismograph registered at 7.0...
Meanwhile, in the massive complex beneath Mr. Smittington's Bakery, Mr. Smittington finished replacing the clone Smittington's hypothalamus. He also added a lube job and rotated the tires, at no extra cost. Smiling, he stood up and surveyed his handiwork.
"Urk!" said the robot."Swing-bobble zloop weet?"
Smittington frowned. Maybe he'd torqued the sprockets a little too tightly? He reached up to adjust the gyro and made a faulty connection.ZZZzzap! Smittington fell back, dazed.
"Where am I?"
Mr. Smittington looked around, confused. He reached his hand to his face, and felt particles falling off it as it came along.
"Hmm..." he tried to growl, but all that came out of his mouth was a soft "whizzz..."
He didn't at first understand but slowly realisation dawned upon him - his mind had been downloaded and become trapped in the robot's body....
The door swung open and two assistants walked in. Upon seeing his body lying in a crumpled heap on the floor. One immediately ran across picked Mr. Smittington's body from the floor and slung him across his soldier, the other turned to the robot.
""bumble", mumbled Smittington. "Brrrr whiz Brr." he added, confidently. The assistant glared into his eyes.
"Can we make the robot shut up for a while?" he asked the other assistant.
"Gulp grr whiz buzz" explained the robot Mr Smittington- but to no avail his speech centre was shut down.
The body of Smittington was taken away to his private apartments in another part of the complex. As it was being taken way all the time it kept saying:
"Smittington version six 101 active"
The assistants looked at each other.
" Let's just get him back to his quarters make him comfortable..."
"+ + Fatal exception error at line 36 79 - redo from start. + +" burbled Smittington as he was dragged along the corridor.
Annabel, leaned back into the welcoming leather of her stretch limo. Her network of surveillance technology allowed her peer into the goings on of various people almost anywhere. When she'd seen the robot clone of her father destroy the robot of bob dressed as her she'd wondered what her father was up to.
She cast her mind back to the original accident all those years ago when the harmless, goofy and amiable, guidance counsellor and part-time electronics teacher had suffered a bizarre series of personal injuries culminating with a blow to the back of the head. When he had awoken gone was that man and instead there was a scheming and calculating engineer determined to take over the world.
Naturally this had a profound affect on Annabel as a child. She idolised her new father -he had been her role model. However this new personality was not stable, he would occasionally lapse back into his old self and she hated him for that lack of commitment.
That phone call she'd received in the car earlier had been from him, he was obviously 'having an episode' "oh well" she thought.
Now her attention turned to other matters. She touched the screen in the car once more and it now displayed the concert taking place at the Smittington bakery on Barnes Avenue. She could see the groupie robot working it's way past the front of the stage towards Jill.
Cliff reached a crescendo. The thunderous music quietened while he strummed a bridge, Gonzaroolio hit the drums like it was Fate himself knocking on the door.
The music sank into oblivion and the band stepped forward to rapturous applause.
The robot, it's eyes a fire as it stalked up the steps leading from the stage, pulled apart the curtains and made it's way backstage towards Bob and Jill.
Cliff waved Gonzaroolio to come forward. The little clown hopped down from the stool and joined the rest of the band on the stage front.
Meanwhile, across London, the seismologist was talking on the hotline to the British Geographical Survey.
"Yes of course. Contact the others - this may be the sign we've been looking for."
He put down the red hand piece. and walked across to the other side of the room. He opened up his globe and selected one of the single malts, and took a slug straight from the neck of the bottle. Glancing up to the high ceiling adorned with frescoes of angels and cherubs he knew, deep down, that this was a portent of things to come.
He looked again at the table of instruments The seismograph needle has stopped it's mad sweep. At one point the entire width of the graph chart was solid black. Occasionally now, it registered the odd blip of a passing bus but whatever that event had been clearly it had now ceased. Now he just needed to locate the epi-centre. But the great-great grandson of the inventor of the Richter Scale in Seismology was a patient man and he would bide his time. No sense in rushing the end of the world.
Back at the concert.....
Jill was clapping with the others when suddenly a horribly ripped and bemuscled mechanical arm reached out from behind the curtains and in one movement grabbed her by the neck and hoisted her over one huge shoulder.
The insane grinning face of Annabel's loyal servant droid spoke in a primitive computerised voice.
"DEAD - YOU'RE COMING WITH ME."
"Don't you mean dead or alive?" pleaded Jill.
"Help me Bob!!" she screamed.
Bob seeing his love was in danger ran across the stage, ducked under the arm of the droid - stood square on to the approaching monster delivered a swift kick to the lower regions of the colossal robot.
In between the flashes of pain running up and down his leg and just before he blacked out Bob thought:
"That was really, really stupid."
The robot, naturally was completely unaffected by such heroics and stepped over Bob's crumpled form to continue with its objectives.
"Help me, help me!!" Jill bellowed, and began beating on the back of the thing holding her but her cries were drowned out in the cheers from the crowd and the sirens from the St John Ambulance people quietly attending to the drummer in a secluded corner of the amphitheatre.
Cliff turned and saw Bob fall. He spread his moth wings and took flight grabbing his precious fender start and proceeding to beat the robot about the head with it.
The robot picked him up by his antenna with careless ease swung him around his head. Cliff was sent hurtling over the rest of the band into the heart of the crowd where he spotaniously began to crowd surf and receive a standing ovation.
Heddingly jumped down and swung the microphone like a club.
The robot caught it and bent it like a paperclip.
The machine, pivoting at the hips, swung an arm round and picking up Heddingly brushed him aside.
Gonzaroolio brave and squat clown that he was recognised the design it was A Smittington Labs Cryo Clown Model.
The following moments passed in a blur:
He found himself charging at the monster machine, grabbing the biggest cymbal from off of the drums and skimming it across the stage - where it buried itself in the chest of the robot.
The machine looked on in some bewilderment but this did not slow it down. It bore down on Gonzaroolio and there it all would have ended but for Colin.
Still possessed by the spirit of Leica the first dog in space, Colin couldn't stand watching all this excitement any longer and let go. The thin arc of water created a small puddle between the killer robot and the plump clown. The robot took another step and slipped.
As it fell backwards, it's grip loosened and Jill utilised her special agency training and vaulted off of the shoulder of her abductor and grabbed onto the curtain. The robot crashed down onto the floor of the kiln, the ancient stone work cracked and it disappeared with a roar and an explosion of masonry and dust.
The building's foundations, already weakened by the shock waves created by the clown's drumming, began to give away.
"Run for it!" Bob yelled and grabbing Jill's arm, dragged her to the entrance.
As the building was evacuated, the chaos created by the exodus of the band and the fans gave Annabelle the perfect opportunity.
She motioned the driver, and the limo trundled up behind Gonzaroolio, ominously stalking him...
The building came crashing down!
In the aftermath of smoke and rubble - Bob looked around. "Is everyone Okay?"
It was only then that he noticed the clown was missing...
Richter the seismologist was consulting some mystical scrolls, wrought in ancient runes and script, they each bore at their head an odd kind of symbol:
A large blue circle set just above a dark red oval, that was itself overlaid with a series of grey coloured roughly shaped triangles.
The first two were arranged back-to-back in the shape of a lop-sided diamond. The last was stuck point-to-point with the second.
To the untrained eye it was a series of meaningless blobs.
To Richter they were the key to the future.
He put down his compass and ruler and leaned heavily on the sideboard, stroking his chin, massaging the feel of fine bristles that had accumulated there.
"So the prophecy is coming true after all." He mumbled quietly to himself and steepled his fingers as he wrestled with
the thought of action. Eventually a new light passed across his face. he walked over to the desk and pressed the inter-com:
"Yessir?" Inquired the voice on the other end.
"Albert - instruct Robin to meet me in the cave."
"Very good sah." intoned the gravel-pitted sardonist on the other end.
Richter walked over to the bust of his great-great grandfather and pulled back the head. There was, naturally, a large red button.
He twisted it one quarter turn to the left and two impressive looking ornate spears launched themselves from between the old vases on the other side of the room and, passing over his head, buried themselves in a rather fetching Van Gogh hung on the opposite wall.
He glanced side-long at them and returning to his present concern absent-mindedly muttered something about remembering to hang priceless works out art outside the trajectory of the office security systems.
This time he twisted the button a quarter turn to the right and now the bookcase was drawn back into the wall and away - revealing two slide-poles that descended down into The Cave.
He pointedly removed the small jar of lubricant from the shelf on which it lived just inside the mouth of the entrance. Carefully, he applied the emergency Vaseline to the pole and then slid down into the darkness.2
Robin was waiting below in the cave. He had grown old after all this time and had developed a little paunch - but his spiffy black Lycra outfit was still slimming.
Seeing his boss; he jumped up, turned off the game show he'd been watching and ran forward eagerly.
"Is it the Prophesy yet? Is it? huh? Is it?" dancing around the cave with excitement, he watched as Richter fired up the computer.
'At last!', he thought, 'I'll finally get to drive the car'. 'I'll be able to fight the Chosen One and I'll finally get to leave the damned cave!'
The computer screen showed a map of England.
It is worth noting that the large flashing red dot that was clearly the sole purpose of the current programme was, oddly enough, centred on the ruinous monument of Stonehenge.
Far away from these earth-shattering events, in the quiet, maximum-security prison at Frongoch in Wales; Tim the double agent was settling in to his cell and indulging in some interior designing.
With a small sigh of satisfaction he sat back on the floor and regarded the new wallpaper. He had some difficulty putting a name to the design but finally decided it was kind of textured burnt umber. He'd had to trade in three weeks worth of privileges to get it - but the price had been worth it. He nodded at his accomplishment - banished were the depressing grey stone walls.
Next he was going to have Finch, the facilitator, smuggle in some
After that, he mused, it could get a little uncomfortable for Finch; having to smuggle a three-piece suite past the guards could test even his powers of retention.
Having selected from the rack a favourite from his enviable LP collection, Tim respectfully removed the LP from it's dust sheet and placed the needle on the disc and let the soothing strains of Verdi waft from the simple and elegant speakers he had mounted around the cell.
Tim lay serenely back on his bed. After a few seconds of enforced calm he squirmed in irritation. He'd have to order some more pillows or maybe some additional sheets.
He sat up in frustration: It was no good! The bed needed sorting as well. He pressed and beat his fist on the uncomfortable mound beneath the underlay, trying to force it to disperse again. Annoyed that the lump in the mattress he had this time been unable to pound back into submission and therefore persisted in digging into the small of his back; he over-turned the entire matters and picked obsessively at the stitching until the seam was undone. Then he began tearing into the bed with his bare hands. Reaching inside, right up to the elbow, his hand closed around something hidden in the lining...a look of confusion passed over his face - it felt...wooden.
He drew his arm out of the gutted bedding and examined the board by the light from the bedside lamp.
He saw it was covered in arcane runes, of the sort you see on ancient dolmens or modern Wicca websites. It was, in fact, an ouiji board -and there were instructions and a short letter secured in yellowed and fading tape to the front..
"Tim, if you are reading this then I will be dead and Boutros-Boutros Ghali will have triumphed.
Or so he thinks.
For not even death can stop me from crushing that meddling old head and his Agency dogs.
While suppressing a student revolt in Romania in 1959, an old Gypsy taught me the uses of the ouiji board. I later shot her for stealing my shoes but now I am eternally grateful to that old mad woman because now you can bring me back from the grave! Follow these explicit instructions - they are quite simple:
Your master, The Red Leicester."
Tim gave a small whistle of surprise and upon further exhuming of the mattress recovered a complete incantation set: ritual candles and incense - the lot. The incense had gone out of date so Tim reasoned that anything sweet smelling could be reasonably substituted. He grabbed a tub pot-pourri he had resting on the ledge of the bar window and emptied it onto the floor.
In no time at all was ready to begin his first adventure in invoking the Dark Powers.
he clucked, whistled and whirred his way through the long and hideously incomprehensible chant, culminating in:
"Govinda jaya jaya, Red Leicester please."
He then sat back and waited.
It was turning out to be a bad eternity for the Red Leicester.
Currently he was being slowly roasted in the Lake of Brimstone while some gibbering demons twisted his intestines around a coil of barbed wire, so he was less than receptive when the call came over the intercom.
"Summoning for the Red Leicester. We got a Red Leicester here? A pirate, maybe? Anybody?"
"I am he." said a strange voice.
Leicester would have protested except his severed hands were being rammed down his own throat. He could only watch in fury as the impostor twinkled out of existence to begin life anew on the world above.
In the cell, there was a brief lick of flame and whiff of sulphur and a figure in a ragged monk’s cassock stood admiring itself.
Tim gulped in shock. "Boss? Is that you?"
A lean, lined, bearded face turned to him, and grinned broadly.
"No, I am not ze Red Leicester; vot a ridiculous name. My name is - Rasputin."
"R-r-rasputin?", spluttered Tim
"Ah! You haf heard ze song. It is a good song. And accurate!"
"The Mad Monk? The one Alan Rickman played in that film?"
"Ze very same. I'm afraid your old master vas unavoidably detained in ze Ninth Circle. I am your master now, my young rip!"
Tim rallied himself tremendously.
"And what makes you think that, you creaky old dead guy!?"
Rasputin's grey eyes seemed to glow with an inner light; Tim felt himself falling into them.
"But it is YOU who sinks so. I vould be a good master... a GOOD master... you didn't vatch the entire Alan Rickman film, did you? Thought you'd tape it and vatch it later, but never did, am I right?"
"Yes" droned Tim, his eyes glazed.
"Vell, if you'd bothered to vatch the rest of it, you's haf learned zat I haf Mystical Hypnotic Powers. - I can cure ze asthma, bend spoons, start vatches and cloud ze minds of mortal men.
Now ... I haf a brand new body... I must get out of zis cell and use it. Tell me, are ze Romanovs still in power in Holy Russia?"
"Is ze Kaiser still bogged down in Flanders?"
"Vell, I expect I'll find somezing to do. Come, ve must leaf zis place. I hafn't stretched my legs in 87 years..."
It was a dark and stormy night three days later, in the grimy, dangerous capital of Russia. In the grey, flaking Soviet-era housing blocks on the edge of town, the denizens were conducting business as usual under flickering electric lamps.
Here, every vice imaginable was available, every sick whim catered for. If there's ever a Marquis de Sade theme park, it must be located in Moscow. Throats were cut, deals were done and a truly staggering amount of small plastic bags containing any number of varieties of powder were circulated.
In the communal lounge on the fifth floor of block 3, Vasily Yusupov sprawled in front of the small black and white TV set and tried to concentrate on the soap opera through his resident alcoholic haze and the sounds of genuine gunfire coming from the next apartment.
He banged a hefty fist on the wall:
"Shut up you nekulturny sons of whores!! I'm a war veteran!!" he wheezed. Then he scrabbled on the floor for his misplaced bottle.
Had Yusupov deigned to pry his attention away from the meagre soap opera, which all to frequently degenerated into blank static, but which nonetheless passed for entertainment these days. He would perhaps of heard the footsteps approaching along the corridor of apartments towards him.
"Is your name Yusupov?" inquired a low, dangerous voice from behind the couch.
"Da, but if Dimitri sent you - tell him I haven't got the money and if you've come to rob me then you're out of luck - free market economy wasn't kind to me, and I think the TV's bust." Yusupov didn't turn around.
"Vell, how ze mighty haf fallen!" said the voice, astonished. "Are you avare zat you haf nobility in your blood, you odiferous reprobate?"
"Shut up, will you?" exclaimed Yusupov, craning forward to catch snippets of the tv drama which returned intermittently - "Ivan is about to tell his Mama that he's going to Dnipopetrov'sk to become a life guard."
The couch was violently overturned and Yusupov sent scrambling on the floor among broken glass and cigarette butts.
The drunken figure hauled himself up on all fours and turned awkwardly to see his attacker. The figure stepped out of the patch of shadow, a bedraggled figure in a monk's cassock.
Rasputin grinned with the light of vengeance in his eyes and a length of rope in his fist.
"Are you aware, you trembling slug, that your great- great- grandfather murdered me?"
Consider the tenses in that sentence. This is a strange question to spring on anyone, and if Yusupov's mind had been more amenable to logical thought, he might have pointed this out. As it was, all he managed was an uneven:
"EEEeeeeeeeeehhhhhhh, Mother of God!"
" Yes." grinned Rasputin menacingly. "That's right. He poisoned me with enough toxin to kill a bull elephant - yet I lived. He stabbed me, many times. Yet still I lived. Finally he shot me and dumped my body in the river - and then I died. It was a most tiring process, and took several hours. I wonder..." And here he tightened the rope between his fists and beckoned Tim from the shadows with a heavy bag, "... will you last as long?" His dead eyes flashed.
Twelve busy hours later, Rasputin and Tim stepped out into the refreshingly clean air of the yard. Note the differences in their respective appearances. Tim is pale, shaking, and has the haunted look in his eyes of one who has gazed long into the abyss. He tottered along on jelly-like knees. Rasputin was hopping along cheerfully whistling 'John Brown's Body'.
'I am in the presence of a maniac', mused Tim. 'That business with the nylon string and the red-hot poker...' He
shuddered. Even The Red Leicester was never this bad; he gloated and tortured but he never *enjoyed* it, it was just part of the job.
"You know what I want now?" chirped Rasputin, derailing Tim's train of thought, "
"What?" asked Tim, tucking his hands deeper into his pockets in a vague attempt to ward off the cold
"I just realised in there what this feeling of emptiness I have is. When I held that wretch's life in my hands and I saw the look of fear in his eyes. It's...power." He lingered over the word in the manner of would-be demagogues everywhere.
"I enjoyed that feeling. I want more power! - Let's go get some. Come."
Tim obeyed and followed in his master’s wake.
'Madder than a cage full of mountain lions', Tim thought. He grimaced, and struck up a respectful distance behind the tall, dark figure.
Sometime later at the the Moscow Airport. The unholy duo waited for a flight...
...and waited some more...
Finally Rasputin, his eyes glowing red with anger, strode up to the young woman behind the flight desk. After his attempts at hypnosis at garned no improvement in the level of service whasoever, thus thwarted Rasputin crashed back down into the cheap plastic seat cursing unspeakable things under his breath.
Cursing, The Mad Monk settled in to wait, his evil mind plotting world domination, his toe tapping to the catchy tune leaking out over the intercom.
Rasputin squirmed uncomfortably in the plastic seat. Their flight had been delayed again, and he was wondering about relieving his frustration by hanging up the check- in girl and eviscerating her. Tim had assured him it wouldn't help, but he believed in experimentation.
"Tim" he said airily,"who is the most powerful person on the planet?"
Tim looked up, annoyed from the Jeffrey Archer novel he'd picked up from the stands and was trying to get into.
"Most people would say that's the President of the United States of America. He's the leader of the free world, you see. They are electing a new one right now. But you might want to aim a little lower than that" He harrumphed, and opened the book again.
The Mad Monk sighed, and wandered off to get some coffee. He had the patience born of decades of suffering in Hell, but only now did he comprehend true mind-numbing boredom. He got the coffee, and to amuse himself he persuaded the vendor to pour the vat of steaming liquid over his own head. Leaving the screams and confusion behind him, he strolled into the lounge area where a TV was on CNN.
"Choosing The lesser of Two Evils: - America Votes", intoned the dramtic disembodied voice of the show's anchor.
It cut then to a replay of a press conference of the incumbent standing behind a podium regurgitating his speech:
"So...in conclusion...you must let the our party build a better future...for our children...for our country...and especially for our children. Thank you...good night...and God Bless...America"
To thunderous applause from the carfully vetted members of sympathetic press junkets, the candidate was manhandled off-stage by his aides. Rasputin stroked his wirey beard thoughtfully.
"I can surely do better than that." He mused, as he walked back to the departure gate.
The World turns... and in an unspecified location, an elderly clown was waking up with a bad headache.
Gonzaroolio rolled over, yawned, stretched, hit his head off the low stone ceiling and promptly passed out again. A few minutes later after he regained consciousness again, his primal survival instincts prevented him from making the same mistake. He gingerly swung his legs over the sides of what passed for a bed and looked around the small room. The walls were polished slabs decorated with carved spiral patterns and, reaching down with inquiring toes, deduced that the floor cold stone. The only furniture was the bed and to his utter confusion, an old cast-iron laundry wringer.
"I've been kidnapped by some militant dry cleaners?" he tested the idea outloud, and quickly discarded it.
He was absorbed examining the the wringer when one of the slabs went grinding back and two heavies came into the room.
Gonzaroolio looked at them approvingly. They were your proper, solid heanchmen types, with apes clearly visable in the lower branches of their family trees; all overhanging lips and dragging knuckles, with beady little eyes and short tempers.
The old clown was pleased in some obscure corner of his heart. He may be in the hands of a villain, but at least they were a traditionalist.
They jostled him professionally through more low, stone corridors to a central atrium - the walls curved away at the edge of seeing. The central hall opened out into a large roughly oval-shaped space - there was a domed ceiling of slabs,in which there were suspended shapes. At first Gonzaroolio couldn't quite make out. Occasionally they were illuminated with little bolts of blue lightning chasing each other through the air, leaping from vast pieces of arcane machinery which seemed designed to do only one thing: and that was to shoot little sparks of blue electricity at each other.
And in the centre of the room, sitting at an ancient altar and tapping away at a laptop, was Annabel. She looked up and gave a brief, joyless smile.
"Ah!" she exclaimed,"You're awake."
Gonzaroolio opened his mouth to give a pithy reply, but thought better of it. The be-suited woman had already turned her
attention back to the laptop. He figured he'd let things see how they played out.
"Oh yes" she continued, eyes fixed on the screen, "I expect you're wondering where you are and who I am and what my evil plan is. Only can it wait? I've got to close this deal now or Mobius is going to defer payment again. Suffice to say that you're underneath Stonehenge now, in the centre of an age-old conspiracy. OK? Ciao, babe. We'll dialogue later." and with that returned to her laptop.
"Wait!" called Gonzaroolio, somehwat taken aback at how is own voice echoed - "There's one thing I have to know."
Annabel raised an eyebrow.
"What's with that laundry-wringer?"
"Oh that old thing?" she said dissmissively. "Well, it was just cluttering up the place, so I said, let's put it in the holding cell, out of the way. OK?"
"Yeah, Ta!" and so mildly less baffled, the clown was led back through the prehistoric tunnels to his cell.
Some distance away and also underground...
"What conspiracy?" asked Robin.
"An ancient one" bustled Richter unhelpfully.
"Yes, yes - you've told me that already."
"I have?" said Richter absently looking up from the piles of manscripts he was busily sifting through before stalking off to the other side of the cave. Robin chased after him.
Richter made his way up the long fight of stairs as they spiralled around the main spire of rock up toward the central
He spoke as he strode.
"Some time around the turn of the new millenium - it's so hard to be precise about these thing, I'm mean the old races tried to be accurate. Drawing constellations invisible to the human eye without telescopes and all that but that's just nothing compared to a good digital watch in my opinion...anyway, by consulting the entrails of certain animals they prophasised, now; the return of a dark and terrible evil. It is, I believe, that evil that triggered our siesmographs the other night3"
"My god!" said Robin quietly, studying the laces in his shoes and twirling his cape nervously.
"Are you sure? - about Stone Henge I mean."
"There is more to that site than you could possibly know. - oh no!" he said quickly - panic sweping across his face - he cleared the last few steps in a sort of agitated shuffle.
"I only pray they haven't discovered The Artifact."
"Ancient druid technology, boy. beyond even the comprehension of todays scientists. It is the key to stopping the evil but if miss-used it could doom us all. Our one saving grace my be that they have nt yet discovered it or have no idea of it's significance."
"Why what des it look like?"
"It is shaped to like an old cast-iron laundry wringer." said richter hastily trying to access the computer and looking back over his shoulder...
Gonzaroolio had found himself back in his cell. After lying around and trying to think, mostly about squirty flowers and exploding cars, and occasionally about other stuff - his attention was once again drawn by the funny machine across from the bed.
He walked over to it and began examinging the metal frame closely. Eventually he spotted what was missing and a quick search around the cell brought forward the missing handle , which was resting on a small ledge cut into the stone.
Gonzaroolio reached over, picked it up and inserted it into the first cog-wheel where it gave an excited and happy 'click'.
He gave it an experimental half-turn - the wheels turned and the drums spun quite satisfactorily.
Turning around he squinted - the drippy candle in one holder gave out just enough visble light - he espied sitting unobtrusivly in the corner a small butt, which had been collecting rain water dripping down through the stone above him.
Slowly he reached up and behind his ears and removed the hooks that secured his curly green wig to the top of his head and carefuly pulled back the comical curls and with the other hand stroked the fine down that feathered his near perfectly bald head.
Kneeling down on the cold slabs he began to wash his hair.
Gonzarillo polished his head lovingly, setting the wig out to dry. His bald pate, glowing gently in the darkness. Tired, he sat in his safe corner, his mind drifting inexplicably to wrought-iron laundry wringers...
Richter was still droning on about the Druids, and had somehow managed to get the Templars, Rosicrucians, CIA, Mafia and the former British Rail into the conspiracy. Robin had begun loosing interest and had turned on the Crime-View TV, and tuned it in to Sky News while Richter rattled on in the background.
"...Which explains the career of Mr. Scwarzenegger rather neatly, I think. The only thing left to puzzle out is the identity of the mysterious tool of evil who will bring about this cataclysmic doomsday... I confess I'm rather stumped at that..."
"Um...Boss? I think you should see this..."
"...If it isn't the Jackson Five then I'm left without a leg to stand on... fits the pattern, you see..."
Robin, pale-faced and stricken cried out: "Boss - Please! look at this..."
Richter finally turned his attention to the TV. Coverage of the American election was airing, and the new independent candidate was taking questions from the floor.
"Oh my... God help us all."
The World had indeed turned and in that time Rasputin was already one step closer to world domination. From behind the podium he leered out at the press corp and addressed the prettiest reporter.
"No, Natasha, rumours of my death were greatly exaggerated."
"Im quite alive and... supple." His dead eyes flashed and Natasha giggled girlishly.
A far more sober- looking reporter stood up
"Wait, I'm pretty sure you're dead. We did it in high school history. Are you sure you're Rasputin?"
The monk bared his teeth.
"Are you sure you're not...a chicken?"
And suddenly the reporter wasn't. He doubled over and began scratching in the carpet with his head and flaping his arms about at the elbows. The assembled media clapped politely.
Rasputin spread out his arms like a great black crow and a hush fell over the stadium. When he spoke, although it was
hardly a whisper, it carried to the farthest reaches of the vast echoing space. This isn't magic, though - it's called a
"I'd like to end by reminding you that my opponent claims to get his authority from the Republican Party. Myself, I cut out the middle-man - and get my powers direct from Satan!"
He clicked his fingers and the terrified reporters found themselves applauding madly.
Richter sat down heavily, his face ashen.
"Good lord! The power - he could destroy us all."
"Is it time to drive the car yet boss?"
"Not yet, Robin. But soon."
And on TV it was time for The Analysis. The anchors pontificated uncertainly.
"Bit of a risk of alienating the religious right there, don't you think."
"Yes ndeed, he's quite an odd duck that Mr. Rasputin - but corageous, doesn't mind nailing his flag to the post - I think the voters will respect him for that."
"What do you think Claire?" the two anchors leaned in the female anchor's direction.
"I think he's a wonderful man who truly deserves the Presidency."
"You alright Claire? You've gone all flushed..."
Rasputin's influence spread across the American networks...his will bending people to his power.
In Anytown, USA, Joe Sixpack squirmed into a more comfortable position on the couch and called his wife, Mary Sixpack.
"Did you see that guy on the Telley-viz-ion just now?
He went an' god-damned hypnotised the other guy.
Just like that David Blaine fella!"
"Hot damn!" said Joe, cussin' like a sailor.
"Well, I'd vote for him!" Mary cooed, blushing.
Down through Limbo, the Gluttonous and the Wrathful. Over the River Styx, pausing briefly to see the Heretical and the Violent. Moving on, down again we come to the Treacherous and Traitorous and then, just left of the Ninth Circle, was where the really bad ones went.
A demonic guard was patrolling past the barracks for damned souls when he heard a strange low evil laugh - well, evil for beginners. And let's face facts - in this place - everybody was a beginner.
The demon stopped to have a look through the window. Inside he saw a well-dressed German fighter pilot consulting with a shadowy figure in the corner - he spoke with a Russian accent... The guard did not stop to hesitate - this had to be reported immediately!
"Wgfmle!*" mumbled Lucifer.
The Demon Guard dared to crack a shrug with what passed for its shoulders. The Devil spat out the remains of Judas who limped off for a coffee break.
"An evil alliance between The Red Leicester and the Red Baron!!!" The devil began to stomp around his thrown room flinging fireballs at the various damned souls that were hung around the hall. Slowly however, he began a slow and a sinister evil smile came over his already evil face so the whole effect was really very evil indeed.
"I think, I can use these two to recapture Rasputin, then I'll teach that monk to trick his way out of Hell! " he said in a rising crescendo, so that as he said ´Hell´ all the windows in the great hall broke and flames erupted from the floor fricasseeing a few more sinners.
"Bring then before me now!!!" He barked.
The Demonic guard turned and ran off to fetch the self-styled ´ReD or DeaD´ alliance....
Unaware of the diabolical forces ranging themselves against him, Rasputin settled with a sigh into his new jacuzzi, letting the bubbly water soak onto his greasy, matted beard.
"So, Natasha," he enquired, "did you have any more questions?"
The reporter from the press conference earlier just giggled, and wriggled in a most provocative way.
"Why are all the good men bad?" she mused.
In an adjoining room of the penthouse floor, Tim sat on his hard little bed and flipped through the huge manuscript his boss had given him; the first draft for 'Rasputin: In His Own Words', the autobiography which would soon be bribing its way to #1 in the NY Times best-seller lists.
He opened the first page:
"Worse than the ordinary childhood is the ordinary Russian childhood; worse still, the Russian Orthodox childhood; the
worst is surely the Russian Orthodox peasant childhood..."
It went on like this for several chapters, a long whinge about eating raw turnips and getting eczema for Christmas. Tim
flicked through it, glancing at the pages as they went by:
"... until she cried Uncle. And that is how I became the confidante of the Tsarina..."
"...imagine his surprise when I lunged up and grabbed his throat. Yusupov let out a strangled squeak, and backed away..."
"...strange recurring dreams about a cast-iron laundry wringer, which he assured me were symptoms of extreme Oedipal anxiety. I wasn't so sure..."
"...sure showed them , didn't I? And where are the Romanovs now? At the bottom of a salt mine in Ekaterinburg! I often felt I could have learned to like the Bolsheviks..."
Throwing down the book, Tim flicked on the TV to see the latest polls. They were depressingly positive. Dan Rather glowered out of the set at him.
"The polls indicate that Mr Rasputin's slogan of 'Peace, Land and Bread' made a far greater impact on voters than his opponents 'Compassionate Republicanism'. However, with the introduction of butterfly ballots countrywide, the result of this election will be a surprise for all concerned. And now to the sports news...."
Tim felt sick in the pit of his stomach. He had never particularly wanted to be an agent of evil, sure, he'd become a hired hitman for a megalomaniac ex Mafia Russian super-villain, yet now found himself working for what was probably the most evil creature on earth.
Something had to be done.
He steeled his nerve, and took another shot of vodka. Through the connecting doors he heard raucous laughter and a bawdy Russian folk song being sung at full volume. Something had to be done.
His head was a miasma of conflicting thoughts and fumes, Tim gently toppled backward onto the narrow, hard bed, and slept.
A monstrous landscape opened up before him.
He stood up high overlooking a pit of fire, bridged by thin ledges of rock.
He was drawn forward, his movement seemed not to be his own, and traversing the rock down he landed on a flattened area and looked up.
The sky was brazen, the colour of a bruise. Beneath his feet lay the skulls of the slain. Among them grew black flowers that stank of decay. A distant cry of agony assailed Tim's ears and the shrill shriek of tormented laughter drifted by and was swallowed by silence.
"t i i i m m m..."
The voice was barely a whisper yet it rung in Tim's ears like a Bell.
The air was getting heavier and tasted bitter, the smoke from the burning pits rose up like a shroud.
"T I I I M M M M..."
That was when he saw him.
Kneeling between iron spikes, manacled with red-hot chains that seared the flesh...The Red Leicester sat in eternal torment
illuminated by a shaft of fetid light that bore over him like baleful eye.
Trying to shield himself from the flames that now began to roar all around him, Tim ran to his master. The scourge of many, Tyrant of the weak: The Red Leicester, head bowed, hair matted and bloody, stirred fitfully in his prison.
Tim reached out a hand to help and it was seized by Leicester whose chains dissolved away like false courage. His emancipated hand now became a talon, oozing ichor from the wrist as the skin burned away entirely. Another great claw gripped Tim by the throat and the Red Leicester rose, seeming to double in size and strength.
As Tim's own life ebbed, Leicester snapped back his head, revealing a mess of features, bloody and distorted; his remaining eye shone red with the fire of the Pit.
The hideous creature screamed and roared all at once.
Tim screamed and threw himself from the bed, landing awkwardly on his front. Panic stricken streaked with sweat, he could still feel the press of the elongated nails into his neck and the stench of that demon as it breathed on him.
The words haunted his mind.
And he knew what he had to do: he walked over to the mini-bar and poured himself and excessively large drink to calm his nerves. Second on the list was locating a copy of the Yellow Pages and looking under the section for 'Witchdoctors'
Rosy fingered dawn was breaking over Stonehenge, the ancient rocks tinted red by the rising sun. One hundred metres down in the secret druidic tunnels that the tourists never saw, Gonzaroolio was in no position to appreciate this beauty. He had risen before dawn, as a good penitent clown should and was practising his catechism.
Although he was an international assassin and general ne'er-do-well, currently aligned to the side of good - he felt nonetheless obliged to keep in practise in his chosen profession. And this was why, when Annabel slid back the slab covering the door, she found him patiently arranging a banana skin on the floor of the cell.
It was an old, blackened piece of peel, which had obviously seen more action than was good for it.
Intrigued, Annabel hung back to watch. With the certain grace of the ballerina, Gonzaroolio lolloped across the floor in his big shoes, slipped on the skin, flailed about in the air for a brief second and then landed with a honk and a crack.
She applauded warmly.
"Wonderful" she purred, "Highly amusing."
The aged clown got up rubbing his back.
"Are you going to do the exposition bit properly now? I've read the Broccoli Convention, I know my rights as the prisoner of an evil megalomaniac."
"Certainly." she said leaning nonchalantly on the stone wall. "It all started six thousand years ago..."
"Is this going to take long? Or could you just give me the gist of it? I'm afraid I have a short attention span."
"OK, let's see. Have you heard of ley lines? Mystical lines of energy that run across the earth, like a supernatural latitude and longitude? Well, the Stonehenge complex is built on a massive convergence of these, what Malory called 'the navel of thy world'.
The Ancients used it to harness the power of the ley lines, but they were primitive and feckless and ended up destroying themselves. The upshot of it is that this is a very sensitive spot, like the Achilles’ heel of the world or something. And it's quite unstable, like... aha! I just thought of the image I was looking for. It's like the San Andreas fault."
"I see." said Gonzaroolio, who didn't.
"And it wouldn't take much here to trigger off a devastating unravelling of the laws of physics; the stars would fall out of the sky, the continental plates would buckle and flip like mating crocodiles and everyone would be generally miserable. Of course, wielding this kind of power is a tempting prospect.
Which is where the Diabolical Engine of Alastair Crowley comes in... I'm sorry, am I boring you? Even the short version is quite long!", she finished apologetically.
"No, I'm not bored" muttered the clown behind a yawn, who was, "It's all very good. You were saying something about an
engine of some sort."
"Yes..." said Annabel, and her eyes flickered over to the right. Gonzaroolio followed her gaze to see the cast-iron
laundry wringer resting against the wall, suddenly looking more sinister and shadowy than a cast-iron laundry wringer has any
right to be...
Elsewhere - occult forces were abroad.
Little Reggie Brunswick (9) and his friends Tobey (101/2) and Bob - the eldest at 11 years old and actually a girl (AKA Wilma) -but more one for the 'carefully sawing and re-gluing bits of the Barbie' than questing for the 'Happy Barbie Ballerina Malibu Wedding Set with Tuxedo Ken' collectors clique.)
It was a Sunday afternoon and the group were excising their boredom by exorcising a Ken doll.
They had constructed a small sacrificial altar out of plasticine.
Bob had supplied the Ken Doll, muttering something to her confused mother as she'd left the house that morning clutching the doll, something about "smashing the dogma of perpetuated social gender roles!"
Tobey4 -had brought along some of his dad's metal chain-link from the garage to bind the doll to the alter.
Reggie, more in touch with the Dark Forces - had brought to the ritual his Mum's safety matches from the kitchen.
This was going to be fun.
Down in Hell a small crowd of minions and demons and unspoken things that jabbered at you, watched eagerly as little Reggie's soul edged step by step closer to damnation judging by the 'Damn-o-Tron sliding-scale of naughtiness' which served much the same function as those exploding red thermometers you sometimes see out side of churches5.
"Right - um o powerful forces of the Pit ...er...er"
Tobey consulted his meticulous notes...
"I think your supposed to say: we invoke thee o' minions of the deep!" he counselled, pushing his glasses up his nose.
"Thank you Tobey.", nodded Reggie and continued unabashed.
"We invoke thee o minions and dark things of the deep!!"
He'd added in that bit about 'dark things' himself, he was rather pleased about that.
The dark things in Hell murmured in appreciation, it was always nice to get a mention.
Reggie wetted his lips he was getting the hang of this now.
"We offer unto you this 'oo-man' sacrifice - bring forf' the flame!"
Bob struck a match enthusiastically and passed it triumphantly to Reggie.
He tried dangling it next to Ken's plastic shoes but these failed to ignite...the hell spawn began chanting "crotch!!"
"crotch!!" "crotch!!" "crotch!!"...slowly the thought dawned in little Reggie's mind and he carefully moved the match up.
Tobey caught Reggie by the wrist mid way up past Ken's left shin.
"Nah, jab it in his eye!" he said wickedly.
"Cool!" exclaimed Reggie and did so - the match melting through the thin plastic facade of the Ken doll.
The Demonic Horde was loving this - the barrier between the world was etched a little bit thinner that morning paving the way for Armageddon. Meanwhile The Devil found it hard to suppress a grin... another soul slipped further into his grasp and in so doing brought his plan further to fruition...he signalled to the others to prepare for launch.
And though they did not realise it - Reggie Tobey and Bob were about to summon a most terrifying and deadly adversary from Below.
She was bent over the sink carefully washing the dishes when she heard the ear-shredding clatter of the smoke alarm upstairs going off. She raced upstairs and saw the children hastily (and unsuccessfully) attempt to hide the charred remains of one of that
ginger-haired, freak-of-a-girl, Wilma's dolls. She exploded and sent them all home with the promise to call their mothers and then severely scolded Reggie and escorted him by the scruff of his shirt collar to his room.
" Un ve hafe leeft off!" exclaimed the Red Baron from the cockpit of his two-seat bi-plane as He and the Red Leicester plummeted off of the highest cliff in Hell attempting to achieve some sort of lift.
The engines whirred into life and Leistersniicth-Titanya-Irrania-Tatonya-Karenska-Alisov ( on temporary reprieve ) and The Red Baron ( flying Ace )flew like a bat out of Hell, through the gates of the Inferno and on into the real world.
Owing to the relative weakness of the fault created by the ritual sacrifice of the Ken doll moments earlier - they materialised just above the waterbut in the Brunswick's loft.
Stuck with nowhere to go: they did what comes naturally to all bodies suspended in mid-air like that; where bodies, let's face facts - don't really belong: They fell.
The scarlet bi-plane came crashing through the ceiling, removing both wings; taking out the spare room and demolishing the bathroom where Reggie and his pals had communed with the forces of evil, and fell in a cacophony of bricks, plaster board, dust and noise. Finally landing with an almighty thump in the middle of Mr's Brunswick's kitchen.
The door to Reggie's room was gingerly opened, the frame toppled forward with a pathetic clatter and Mr's Brunswick surveyed with a disbelieving eye, the destruction that had been wrought about her house. As she stepped cautiously out across to the large hole in the, appropriately named landing, she could hear voices coming from downstairs.
She couldn't believe what she was seeing when she saw the antique plane perched awkwardly across her smashed dining table and sink. The pilot in some state of agitation was desperately trying to clear his flying goggles of dust and unsuccessfully brushing yet more dust out of the fleece of flying jacket.
The other figure in the back-seat of the aircraft ("darkish, wore an overcoat" as she would later describe him to police.) eased himself out of the seat and casual as you like plopped down onto the floor and started raiding her fridge.
Recovering at this Mr's Brunswick shouted "Oi!" "hey, you - stop that!"
The Red Leicester looked up from the pleasant coolness of the fridge that was bliss after the eternity of Hell's furnaces and carefully took another bite out of the cheese.
"Here, look what's the meaning of all this" - she struggled for a suitably admonishable crime of which to accuse them - "dropping in unannounced and creatin' all this mess?"
The Thing that looked like Leicester glanced carefully at the wreckage of the Brunswick family home then looked up at Mr's Brunswick for the very first time. ("The eyes, the eyes, there was something terrible about his eyes." -as she would later tell three doctors, 2 psychiatrists and the County Board of Parole for the Mentally Unsprung.)
He spoke breathlessly as if there were many voices all scrabbling for supremacy...the voice wheedled and pleaded and rasped and commanded:
"My DeaR lAdY...wE apOLoGiSE..fOR The..messss. CAn yoU PleAssSsee DiRect ME to StoNE heNGe?"
Meanwhile far away underneath London. Richter and Robin had barely registered the needle on the evil-o-matic-sensotron 'tick' a small
blip on the never ending graph that charted the ebb and flow of Good and Evil in the world. The timing about corresponded with the lighting of the match in the ceremony recently conducted.
They could hardly fail to have noticed when, not more than 10 minutes later the frantic swinging of the needle arm had shredded the graph detaching the needle and gantry from their housing and burying them in the cave wall 2 inches above Richter's head.
The autumn fog had crept up through the streets, choking the avenues and alleys in what could charitably be
called a pea-souper. Dark shapes of carriages and pedestrians moved through the thick veil. Occasionally the dark shapes of the carriages moved through the dark shapes of the pedestrians and there were brief, damp protests.
The Thames lay languid in its bed like a student with a hangover.
ZOOM IN: Over various roofs, chimneys etc. (This is what is known in the trade as an establishing shot. We might even include Big Ben and some Cockneys shouting, so there can be no mistake that this is definitely London.)
CUT TO: The inside of an attic room.
The room was littered with all the junk collected by a man who was interested in everything the universe contained, but particularly the parts of it that are to be found inside animals, or can only be bought from disreputable men in pubs. Things glistened on every surface. Weird carvings leered down from the shelves.
There were charts plastered over all the available wall space; star maps, diagrams of defunct monasteries, details of the
London Sewer System and next to that a hastily drawn sketch with the distinctive shaky-handed script of the Medium, it was a mess of coloured lines and the scrawl at the top indicated this vas a vision of the 'Toobs.'
There was a pervading stink of acid and decay. This is the workshop of Alastair Crowley, twisted occultist. Here he is, at the centre of a small patch of empty floor, triumphantly twitching a stained sheet off his latest creation. And yes, it's a cast-iron laundry wringer, not at all unlike one we've seen before.
"The Diabolical Engine," he twittered "Right now it can only perform small feats. But if I could place it correctly, I could bend the Earth's energy to do my will. When placed at the correct fulcrum - which I and you, my educated friend, know to be the navel of the world, that fine collection of ancient masonry, Stonehenge), it can cause the rise and fall of continents, the distortion of the material world... ohh, the possibilities!"
It should be clear from this that Mr Crowley is a mad scientist of the Igor-fetch-brain-No.42 variety. His audience seemed unimpressed. Steepling his fingers, he said "Convince me".
Consulting a small hand-written sheaf of notes, Crowley began twisting the handle of the wringer, first clockwise, then anti-clockwise, ever faster. As he grunted at his toil, a small jar with a dodo's head preserved in formaldehyde lifted from the shelf and began dancing across the room. Crowley's guest reached out and caught it out of the air.
"Very impressive, Al. You always were a clever swine. Tell me, how many of these have you made?"
"Just the one. The time I spent casting charms on it, well, you wouldn't believe. The druids certainly laid them on thick."
"And those are the instructions?"
"Um...yes." It was beginning to dawn on Crowley that the greasy monk opposite him was taking a more-than-benevolent interest in the Project. This was confirmed moments later, when he found himself laying face-first down on the cobbled street moments later with a broken neck.
A crowd of fishwives, hucksters, policemen and other assorted scum gathered round.
Rasputin beamed down at them from the shattered attic window then, tucking the instructions into his robe, left the building by the back door. It's always worthwhile looking up old friends.
"But that's just left me more confused" Gonzaroolio whined, "What has a dead Russian monk got to do with you kidnapping me?"
"Mm - yes of course." Annabel obviously found this amusing - "Have you turned on the TV recently?"
"Well of course I haven't you've had me locked up in this broom cupboard of yours and I - oh."
"IT'S A LANDSLIDE! The United States has a new President. Ex-Russian Monk has risen from the grave and defeated the incumbent Republican candidate by 30%, convincing many observers that 'things are looking up'.
In his inauguration speech, Mr Rasputin gave a fiery denunciation of such things as the Constitution, votes for women, gun control and immigrants, and promised "ethnic warfare on an unimaginable scale.”
"He also announced that he will be leaving for Britain shortly. Asked why, he had a Washington Post reporter liquidated.
We at Sky News welcome Mr Rasputin to our puny, insignificant country, only pleading with him to spare our quivering, pathetic lives.
The Special Relationship lives on into the 21st century! And now, over to Sam for the sports news..."
It was another underground chamber several hundred miles away.
Interesting things were beginning to happen. There was an almighty creak, and the lid slid off the great sarcophagus in the centre of the chamber, shattering on the floor. For centuries it had beamed its silent message onto the silent ceiling, but now it was too broken up to tell anyone that this was the tomb of 'Arthur, Rex Quondam Rex Futorum'.
A stiff figure in chainmail clambered out of the Stone coffin, pulling cobwebs out of its hair and coughing up dust. Finally composed, the king croaked:
"Thif better be important", speaking in the Old Tongue, which was around before spelling was invented.
Suddenly but not unexpectedly, there was a burst of white light to fricassee the eyeballs, illuminating the chamber - so it was a good job that the animated corpse perched on the lid of his own tomb didn't have any.
ARTHUR." a voice spake.
"Aye, that I am. Thou'd be'st God, then?"
"Arthur, your hour of glory is upon you. The final mission that will lift you up and exalt you into the Communion of the Saints. The land of Britain is in mortal peril - the entire world, my son. Go forth, to the rocks of Stonehenge, and there - !"
"Bide a moment - thou wishest me to do thou a FAVOUR?"
“Well, if you wouldn't mind." said the Voice of God.
"Hah!" scoffed King Arthur.
"Let's review our relationship - thou had me born a bastard, made mine wife cuckold me with my trustiest friend and then allowed mine own son to kill me. And thou'rt asking me for a FAVOUR?"
The Deity rallied tremendously.
“Arthur, I command you - "
But the king of the Britons was having none of it, and clambered back into his tomb.
"Command shmommand!!" he muttered, in a tone of disgust. "Push off!"
"But this is your divine purpose! Your reason for being!" argued God, somewhat taken aback. The Lord couldn't remember being this vexed since the Reformation. "Don't you know who I AM?!?
"La-de-da, I canst hearest thou!" chanted Arthur, hands clamped over his ears.
“I'll bloody smite you..you...you ungrateful pimp!" shouted God.
"Summer is a-comin in, loudly sings the cuckoo!!" Arthur was singing incoherently at the top of his voice and with a decisive thud pulled the lid of his coffin back down. The tomb was once again silent.
"Fine, be like that. Hellfire and B*****y, where am I going to find a Divine Champion at this hour?"
In a cheap hotel room in London, Bob's ears had just perked up. He was sitting on the bed trying to open a packet of cheese and watch the telly, while the others argued behind him about the allotment of blame, despite the fact that there was plenty to go round.
Without cause or explanation he blacked out and keeled over backwards.
Bob didn't know that divine grace was being bestowed upon him, which is just as well, as if he had he would have locked himself in the bathroom for the rest of the day.
In the next room, Heddingly and Jill were sat around a table playing poker.
It had been several days since the disastrous end of the Rock Concert and the destruction of the Smittington Bakery concert Amphitheatre. In the melee Jill had dragged the unconscious form of Bob out by his shirt collar from the collapsing building, Heddingly had staggered out a moment later clutching his ribs from the blow dealt to him by the deranged cryo-clown.
Jill had bundled them both into the Secret Agent Range Rover still parked out-side.
AL chirped into life, "PLEASE STATE YOUR INTENDED DESTINATION..."
"Just drive." screamed Jill.
AL Knowing better than to quiz a woman on the warpath depressed his accelerator hotly, the wheels spun and they had fled.
That had been last week.
Bob had spent the past few days with his leg up, nursing his three broken toes. Heddingly had been badly bruised all down his left side but had with Jill's considerable help nursed both him and Bob, using his training as a witch-doctor to cook up some special remedies to ease the pain, back to health.
They had regrouped but were diminished. This evening had passed like all the others. Jill sat behind her cards looking pensive. The scene however was deceptive, her body might have been playing cards her mind was elsewhere.
'Gonzarrolio had been snatched by some mysterious figure driving in a black limousine - Jill had been helpless, busy trying to safely load the others into the waiting vehicle - watching the car cruise up like a shark and two hands reach out and pull the clown inside.'
She was worried of course but had already been briefed on his more than considerable talents as an ex-assassin and was more than confident in his wiley ability to survive. Besides she reasoned whoever had taken him and taken him for a reason. If they'd just wanted him dead, then...
Her train of thought was broken by the emergence of Bob, limping painfully on bad foot. She remembered him running in to tackle that monster machine as it had tried to abduct her. 'What a brave and bloody stupid thing to do....' she'd thought.
Bob motioned for some attention and announced to the group:
"Say look I've had this idea....I...I think we need to go to Stone Henge."
Jill, who long ago had mastered the art of listening with only one ear whilst at the same time carrying out all number of tasks, stopped trying to tactically out play Heddingly at poker ( as it happened, she was in fact loosing.) and turned to face Bob with a look of what can only be described as utter incredulity.
"Sorry?...say that again. I could have sworn you said we should go to Stone Henge." she said laughing at the very prospect.
"No, no - that is what I said." nodded bob with naive simplicity.
"Then I must be going mad." said Jill, her voice firm. "You want us to go to Stone Henge. May I beg of you a reason for this little venture...or do you have the sudden urge to see the sights before the world ends?" she asked sarcastically.
Bob didn't want to tell her about the Voice coming through the television set with it's dire prophecies of doom or when he had been pinned to the bed by an unseen force and the knowledge had be cold-dropped directly into his brain making him want to thrash about like he'd been dropped into an ice-bath. He knew where he had to go, when and worst of all WHY.
Jill was pacing her room at the hotel...there was nothing else for it...they'd need The Shop's help on this one. She dug the satellite phone out of her satchel and prepared to call The Agency.
The front of the La Scala Opera House in Milan was a dazzling display of gardens, statuary, pillars and beautiful facades.
'Just my luck', thought UPS Guy, 'that I get to take the back way in.'
Typically the alley round back was dank and stinking, with steam rising from the vents and the giant skips brimming over with rubbish. Guy adjusted his cap, produced his clipboard and knocked. The door was opened by a harassed-looking stagehand, and a burst of 'Rigoletto' escaped.
"Delivery for Mr Pavarotti."
"Give it here. He's about to go on stage." said the stagehand. 7
"I need his signature" said Guy thinking quickly.
Relenting, Guy was beckoned into the shadowy backstage area, all ropes, crates and rolled-up backcloths, and led up a rickety staircase into the dressing-room corridor.
"Here is his dressing-room, but be quick. What is the package, anyway?"
Guy racked his brains, unpleasantly aware that he had no plausible story.
"Pasta!" he blurted out, then cursed his stupidity.
"Ah! Go in. Mr Pavarotti is expecting you"
The dressing-room was plush, with couches and tasteful prints on the wall. Guy saw the familiar hulking figure of the famous tenor sitting before a mirror polishing off a plate of meatballs. He glanced up briefly from his exertions.
"Are you the pasta man?" he inquired through a mouthful of minestrone.
"That's right," said Guy, approaching the unsuspecting singer and gripping the blackjack in his pocket "The pasta man..."
The strains of 'Libiamo Ne'lieti Calici8' filled the air, masking the surprised grunt and thump.
Five minutes later the famous tenor appeared on stage, and the assembled opera critics instantly noted that he seemed ill at ease. 'Probably another no-show by the pasta man', they whispered among themselves, and braced themselves for a disappointing evening.
Amongst the operatic cognoscenti it was a well known fact that he didn't perform well without a gut full of mince.
The great man waddled out on stage for the Drinking Song, and seemed to be scanning the chorus of happy townsfolk. One of their number seemed to be occupying a lot of his attention.
'Glory to God', whispered the Le Monde correspondent, 'he's about to go cannibal'. He gripped his pencil a little tighter.
Agents were trained to operate under extreme stress, and having six cushions stuffed up your shirt with the eyes of five thousand people on you and your makeup beginning to run with the sweat was stressful, to be sure, but Guy, a field operative to his bones, still found his man.
There, between a rosy Gypsy lass and a hawker of potatoes on sticks, there was a clown juggling, very badly as it hadn't been programmed well.
Guy recognised it at once as one of the Cryo-Clowns of Doom, soon to explode and take half of Milan with it. He fingered the hilt of his prop sword.
Now the orchestra pounded in with the overture to the famous Drinking Song, and Guy faced another unpleasant realisation - he had no idea what the song lyrics were, and had only a very rudimentary grasp of the Italian required to bluff one's way into opera houses. Too late - the little plinky up-and-down bit that meant he had to sing had arrived. He cleared his throat and sang, in a slightly quavering alto-bass:
"Vieta-to fumare! Camer-iere! La lista de vini! Tagli-atelli!"9
In the orchestra pit the conductor had bitten his baton in half, but the music went on. Guy hopped a few dance steps across the stage towards the cyborg juggler. The robot's head turned suspiciously towards him, and its eyes blazed red. He swallowed hard, and began to sing again.
"Il pom-eriggio! Carte di cred-ito! Il frutti-vendolo! Camere con bag-no!"10
Muted sounds of someone choking on an aperitif were emanating from one of the balconies, but by now Guy had skipped his way over to the juggling cyborg and, with an operatic twirl, he tore its face off.
The gunmetal grey face of the clown, enlivened only by the sinister red grin daubed across the mouth region, glowered out at the audience. They gasped. Somewhere a woman screamed and collapsed dramatically.
Realising even with its very basic programming that the jig was very much up, the Cryo-Clown lunged at Guy with a wickedly sharp steel forearm blade, and ripped his stomach open.
A blinding drift of feathers emerged from the perforated pillows, and Guy hopped nimbly backwards through the cloud. The clown lumbered after him buzzing incoherently and flailing wildly...11
...only to find Guy poised with a slim fencing epée, which he swished around professionally.
"Have at you," he suggested.
The Cryo-Clown decided to have at Guy instead and, to great applause12, jumped forward with programmed hatred in its dead red eyes.
Guy stepped backwards again and raised the blade, which punched through the triple-reinforced titanium hide of the robot and pierced a very precise spot in the dark innards.
The clown suddenly toppled forward, landing on Guy, crushing him beneath its torso. A quiet voice burbled in his ear.
"You have selected the failsafe shutdown procedure. Are you sure you wish to shut down this unit?"
Guy tried twisting the sword blade a quarter turn to the left.
"You have selected 'Yes'. Please wait while this unit shuts down."
"It is now safe to turn off this unit. Thank you. In accordance with protocol #23a, we recommend that this be done remotely from a distance of approximately 53 miles as this unit will self-destruct in one minute. Have a nice day. In so far as that is possible. Fifty-five seconds."
"It never ends..." growled Guy to himself and, clambering to his feet, he shouted to the rapt audience. "Umm...mi scusi! The..um...the fire exits are located to your left and right as you leave the auditorium..." gesturing wildly as the riot started.
An hour later, when the fire had been put out and the carabinieri recalled, Guy was strolling through the Parco Sempione beside the lake trying to rub the scorch marks out of his brown suit. His secret Agency cell phone burst into a plinky rendition of Beethoven's 'Ode To Joy'. He flipped it out and to his ear with the practised ease of a life-long poser.
"Agent Orange here" he quipped.
"Who? Is that you, Guy?"
"Yes, Jill, it's me. Yes, Italy is nice. Yes, it's mostly all still here. Thank you, I do my best. What can I help you with?"
Two minutes later he was on his way to the aeroporto for a plane back to England.
"Let mE eXplAIn aGAiN" said the Red Leicster impatiently.
"You StIcK uP yOuR thUmB, aNd A nice MOtoRiisT sTopsss To pICk yoU UP. IT's caLLeD Hitch-inG"
"Nein, furchtbar, es ist nicht so leicht. Ve haf been trying for half an hour!"
As a flying ace, the Red Baron hadn't spent much time standing on the verge of rain-swept motorways, and it was beginning to try his frayed patience. The Red Leicster had made him carry the 'Stonehenge' sign, he was soaked to the skin and was feeling ratty.
"PeRhApss if yOu pUt A CoAT oVEr tHaT UNiForM..."
"I vos avarded zis Iron Cross by der Kaiser himself! Schweinhund, to suggest that I conceal it! - I vill now demonstrate ze correkt vay to stop a motor vehicle..."
The driver of the articulated lorry was on a long haul from Calais, and had been consuming an unhealthy amount of uppers to keep his eyes on the road.
A man in this situation shouldn't be confronted with a mad German with a flapping greatcoat in the middle of the lane shouting "Achtung! Halt! Halt! Wir wollen- !". He didn't even have time to brake and, as he reasoned later while scraping the remnants off the fender, it was probably just a hallucination anyway. Probably.
The Devil was avidly watching developments in his Mirror of Discord, and winced slightly when one of his pawns was knocked out of the game. He cradled his chin in his talons for a moment, pensive, then picked up his phone - it was, of course, red. He dialled the number. It was a one digit number, which was just as well, as this was a one-digit phone.
The Angelic Host Switch board took the call and redirected it to the boardroom.
He waited while his call was connected, and winced at the harp music being played down the line. Finally, he got through.
" Speaking. Is that you, D? Did you see that dumb fighter pilot of yours get iced? Hehehe." mocked The Deity
Unfazed the Devil caried on - "I've been thinking. This is no way for gentlemen to settle disputes. Do we really need to involve the mortals? It's not exactly any of their business, and it all smacks of, you know... frivolousness."
"This is how it's always been, D. I really can't see any alternative."
The devil had been expecting this he had a solution already lined up.
"Tell me, old man, have you ever heard of Paper, Scissors, Stone?"
Later, when the rules of engagement(best of three) and the neutral venue(Switzerland) had been decided upon, the two old players hung up, each smirking to themselves, each aware that it would all come down to this. It had started with a Word; there was a good chance it could end with a Scissors.
"Gabriel, cancel all appointments, re-route all prayers."
Then he settled down in his throne and, tongue sticking out in concentration, began practising.
Back under Stonehenge, Gonzaroolio watched henchmen putting up the bunting in the main chamber, where the Diabolical Laundry Wringer had been installed.
The banner read 'WELCOME MR PRESIDENT'. The goons were also lighting candles and scrawling runes over the walls. Annabel flitted all over the chamber like a despotic hummingbird, directing the work and talking on her cell phone.
"No, not the brass band. Because I didn't feel it would be appropriate. Yes, your Evilness, I know who's boss. Of course, some sort of band can be arranged..."
Gonzaroolio sat back, wriggled a little in his manacles and waited for the end of the world.
Jill had continued to pace...then there was a knock at the door - Bob and Heddingly had resumed another poker game in the other room so she went for it herself.
Nervously she looked out of the peephole at the visitor who annoyingly had turned his back to the door. (Now if Jill's Secret Agenting skills had been running on full steam - she might have thought twice about opening the door to let this person in.)
As it was, they weren't and she did and that was when Agent XXX got the second biggest shock of her life.
Tim, that wretched double crossing assassin from the Red Leicester was standing amiably on the doorstep, a little out of breath.
"ah - " he said but that was as far as he got.
Jill picked up the lamp that was stood on the table by the doorway and smashed it over his head. (Those secret agent reflexes, thankfully loosing none of their edge.)
Tim grinned a little then folded face first onto the hessian weave welcome mat.
She dragged his unconscious body into the living room.
"Where's Heddingly?" Jill asked.
Bob continued to stare at his cards, reshuffling them every once in a while. "err...in the kitchen, I think."
"Look what I just found lurking about outside." proclaimed Jill
Bob looked over a rather promising hand and fell out of his chair.
Gathering himself up from the floor Bob shouted "What the hell is he doing here?!"
"I don't know."
"Quick lets get him bound and secure, before he wakes up!!" urged Bob.
Jill ran to bedroom and came back a few moments later with a pair of very solid looking handcuffs.
A flash of confusion passed over Bob's face.
"Erm..why have you got...urr.. those?"
Jill fixed him with a level stare and said:
"Do you really want me to answer that?"
Bob flushed and stumbled and flustered for an escape -
"No...no...I don't...no..your correct...right, that's him done let's move him into the bathroom."
They dumped Tim in the bath and he groaned a little.
Bob settled down on the fluffy toilet cover and Jill began pacing.
Eventually, Tim's eyes gave a little flicker and he managed a groggy - "Urrrgh."
"That the best you've got?" growled Jill menacingly.
That evidently did the trick because Tim sat up and tried to wriggle free of his bonds.
"You've tied me up!"
"Of course what did you expect - a cup of tea and a pat on the back? You're a traitor and you tried to kill us."
Tim shied away from Jill's berating.
"Yeah well, I'm in a bit of a fix and I need your help."
"Help!?" exploded Jill - "That's rich! coming from a maggot of a man like you." she spat.
Just then Heddingly walked in...."I say, I heard all the commotion chaps what the devil's blaze's is going on?"
Tim peered around the shower curtain - "Ah-ha. Just the man I was looking for..."
Ten exposition-filled minutes later, Tim was finishing up:
"...and that's why we need the Boss back. I mean, I know he was an evil megalomaniac and all that, but he never did it for fun. He had a code of honour - you never involve women or children, unless you really, really want to. But Rasputin, he's just a complete psychopath. If you had only seen what he did to that poor Russian...the nylon shoe laces, the glue, the cutlery, and the herring...uurgh. You've got to bring back the guv'nor. He could sort out that greasy madman."
Heddingly leaned back and took a puff from his pipe.
"Interesting." he muttered.
"And I think I could do it. The question is, should I? The Red Leicester was pretty despicable alive - who knows what he'd be like after a period in Hell."
Jill yawned, and headed for the door.
"Are you going to do a spell or not? Cause if you're not I'm going to see what's on TV"
"Wait! Of course I'm going to do it. It's just that I'm bound by the witchdoctors' code to give dire warnings about the possible results before doing any spell. It's called "wa'tyango" - the black mage's art of covering your ass.
Now Tim, do you have anything that belonged to the Leicester?"
"In my left pocket, there." said Tim, jerking in his bonds and rather enjoying the sensation.
"No, don't untie me...I'm, ah, dangerous. Just fish it out there."
Heddingly held it up for inspection. It was a small silver locket, and on opening it Heddingly found a small picture of what was presumably a woman, although it bore more of a resemblance to an angry bulldog in a nun's wimple.
"..?" he said glancing at Tim.
"Sister Rochenko." Tim explained, testing the tightness of the cords around his arms, tapping the sides of the bath gently with his foot judging for solidity and smiling vacantly.
"She raised the Leicester in the orphanage in Moscow, and was like a mother to him. It was her who taught him to hate everything, and set him on the road to arch-villaindom."
"This will do nicely. Okay, form a circle everyone...we'll have the Red Leicester here in no time. He might be a little disoriented, so try to appear non-threatening. Now, concentrate..."
It was the diner where the bikers hung out. Not your namby-pamby Sunday cruisers who wore squeaky-clean leather jackets and called themselves Dredd and Butcher. This was the domain of the men who'd eaten their jackets, and forgotten their names, who'd rather bite your throat out than not. To emphasise how squalid and unhealthy the atmosphere was, just consider that it actually improved slightly when the Red Leicester demon-thing walked in.
It surveyed the diner with unblinking compound eyes, then slithered and clicked it's way over to a biker leaning up against the bar, idly chewing a spitwad of tobaccoone of his fingers off.
"Isss tHAt YouR HARLEYouside?" it ventured.
"S'right" nodded the tatoo-ed man.
"I NeEd yoUr CLothESs, yoUr bOOts aND YOur Mot - "
Before he could finish, there was a loud sucking noise, a sense of motion, and he found himself looking, standing in a circle of people, some of them familiar, some not.
"TIM?" he growled. He didn't understand what was going on. And this made him ANGRY. Long, razor-sharp blades slid out of various points on his body, making him appear like a porcupine drawn by Hieronymous Bosch in a particularly foul mood.
His faceted eyes glowed red.
At this point, Bob who'd snuck out to go and search for some tea, stuck his head round the door.
"Does anyone know where the bags...are - "
Meanwhile, at Heathrow Airport, Air Force One had just screeched to a halt right next to the terminal building. A small group of nervous dignitaries clustered round the steps, chattering.
"Well I'VE heard he has no notion of foreign policy. He's been dead for over eighty years, after all."
"But that's exactly my point, it gives one a long view of events, invaluable in today's..."
The Prime Minister stepped forward, arms outstretched, grinning from ear to shining ear. If his smile had been any bigger, it would have had to be sincere.
"Mr Rasputin." he smiled, "May I be the first to, ah, accept your gracious invite to visit our country? I hope you had a pleasant flight?"
Rasputin gave him a withering stare and announced to the waiting cameras and press corps.
"Who is this pathetic little twerp? And why is he mugging like a Petrograd hooker?"
The PM's smile didn't falter for a minute, thanks to the daily Botox injections.
"..And what, may I ask, have you got planned for your visit? A state dinner?"
"Shut up. Go away. I'm on very pressing business, and I don't have time for this...oh, will you let go of my sleeve!"
When the limousine had sped off towards the motorway, an aide wandered out of the terminal to find the Cabinet strutting around doubled-over, scratching in the dust and clucking. He took a few deep breaths, then pulled out his cellphone.
"Get me Alistair Campbell, we need a good spin doctor right now - well then wake him up!"
Back in the hotel room, things were rather tense. The Red Leicester thing glowered around at the assembled seance, steam rising from its open pores, drool glimmering on its fangs. It cleared its throat with a noise like a clog in the U-bend.
"wHat-?" it began, then stopped. Things are easier for a demon. The hell with it, thought the Red Leicester, and, with a roar, he took a backhanded swipe at Tim and sent him spinning into the opposite wall, where he collapsed into a small neat heap.
The rest dived for cover, Jill scrambling behind a couch, Heddingly jumping nimbly behind the upturned coffee table and Bob standing in the doorway, soiling himself. No one noticed.
"Try to get to the door, Jill!" suggested Heddingly, "I'll distract it!"
Jill nodded and silently cursed - "I knew this was a bad idea..."
Seconds later Heddingly spun out from behind the table, pausing only to rip one of the legs off. He twirled it professionally in his hands, and delivered the correct challenge, in the patois of the street:
"Come and have a go, if you think that you are hard enough!"
The moment was slightly spoiled by Heddingly's pleasant upper-class accent, friendly tone and correct grasp of grammar, but it probably wouldn't have made any difference. The Leicester-thing turned a few glistening compound eyes on him, and let out a sneeze of laughter. Several tentacles appeared out of the region on the demons back which seemed to be oozing green slime; they twisted, made complex shapes in the air and swiftly removed the table leg from Heddingly's grasp, punching him in the gut for good measure.
"Bugger..." he gasped then, seeing Jill slipping out the door, he wheezed:
"And now...I really must be going..." He turned and limped for the door. A great stinking claw closed around his waist and he was lifted, struggling, in front of the Leicester's leering face.
"yEeeEssSS..." it cackled phlegmily,"AllOW uSsss To heElP..."
A polite swearword lingered in the room for a moment after the witch doctor had left it via the window. There was a screech of brakes and honking of horns from the street below.
But there was another one, thought the Leicester demon, one who glowed like a lighthouse in his red-tinted vision - the one in the bathroom.
Bob cowered behind the shower curtain and watched the shadow creep across it; he could hear the creatures' heavy breathing, and smell it's fetid breath. After one heart-clenching moment, the curtain was ripped away. There was no strident violin music. There was no need for any.
Thirty seconds later, the rough beast left the hotel room, exited the hotel and sloped off down the street, looking for a bus stop.
UPS Guy had been cruising the street looking for the entrance to the carpark when a body hit the windscreen, shattering it into a million fragments, and rolled off onto the street. He screeched to a halt. The car behind him gave an angry honk.
The van door opened, and Heddingly collapsed in, holding his side tenderly and gasping for air.
"..." he explained.
Picking fragments of glass out of his hair, Guy ran across the street, into the hotel and up to the hotel room. He found the door hanging off it's hinges and the room so thoroughly trashed even Keith Moon13 would have been impressed. Jill was hunched over by the door to the bathroom, dishevelled and sniffling slightly.
"It's Bob" she quavered "In the bath...ohmygod..."
Peeping his head in, Guy saw more blood than was contained in the entire Nightmare on Elm Street series. That's a lot of blood, on the walls, on the torn shower curtain, and especially on and importantly coming out of Bob.
He was still breathing, barely, and flickered his eyes at Guy in what was most definitely a non-sexual way.
"Not good." muttered Guy assessing the situation. He had liked Bob, for no other reason than that he was so eminently bland and nondescript, qualities which Guy strove to emulate as a necessary part of his job.
"The puncture wounds are too deep, and he's probably bleeding internally."
And then, for narrative reasons, he added:
"It'd take a miracle to save him."
On a white telephone, on a white desk, in a white room, a little white light blinked on and off.
"Gabriel? I thought I told you to hold all calls."
"This needs your attention, sir. Your immediate intervention..." he said holding the handset out for God.
"Dammit man, I'm busy! Is it that little Timmy kid pestering me again?"
"I really think you should take this call." urged Gabriel.
"Oh, alright... spake God a little testily, reaching over...
A small roadside café cum petrol station off the motorway had become a miniature armed camp. Humvee jeeps with glowering soldiers manning machine guns stood around the perimeter, and in the carpark patrolling grunts barked at each other over the radio and watched the traffic suspiciously. Sharpshooters lined the roof of the small faux-redbrick shop unit and anyone foolish enough to pull in was immediately pulled out and given a cavity search.
The President of the United States was relieving himself.
Behind a cordon of secret service agents, Rasputin kneeled in a grubby, brown-streaked cubicle in the gents toilet. His eyes were clamped shut, and he was fingering a crucifix. He blessed himself hesitantly.
"I'll give you one last chance", he began. "I've been so patient, and so penitent...it's time you answered me. Are you there God? It's me, Rasputin."
No reply. No flash of light, no booming voice, no rapture, nothing but the sound of an agent outside explaining to his partner why they drive on the wrong side of the road over here. The monk cleared his throat, and continued.
"I've always tried to do what was right, what was holy. I gave up material things and walked the earth in your name. I walked from Siberia to Greece and back, with nothing but the clothes on my back. Everything I did, I dedicated to you - even when I sinned, I did it for your greater glory - and you never gave me so much as a 'hello'. It was your fault I went down the path of vice, but I don't understand why. What was it all for?"
Nothing but the sound of the motorway.
"Why did you abandon your servant to Hell? What were you thinking? Did you even care? Was I wrong to worship you? Was I ever special in your eyes? And when have you ever given ME anything back?
I'm giving you this one last chance...speak now, or I'll break your little toy, and destroy all your little children."
"Very well then. Have it your way. And I'll have it mine..."
Hauling himself off his knees, Rasputin blessed himself again with a flourish and walked back to the plush interior of the presidential limo.
As the circus lumbered back onto the motorway, he pulled a flaky, fragile old sheaf of parchments from his robe.
'Correkt Operration of thee Dyabolikal Engine - Dr. Alastair Crowley, Inventor'
The monk felt a brief flare of irritation. Al had known how to spell perfectly well, that was typical of his over-eager attempts at baroque-ness.
"Um, sir?" ventured the aide sitting opposite him, with a briefcase hancuffed to his wrist.
"I just got a report from NORAD about possible Indian Navy incursions in Indonesian waters...Secretary Hovis is on the line..."
Rasputin looked up and snarled.
"Shut up, you snivelling little pug, or I'll settle you. What care I if the savages want to scrabble among themselves? Let them kill each other: we'll make friends with the victor."
"Yessir." winced the aide. Onb the plus side he had to reflect - Foreign policy had become quite refreshingly simple under the new administration, or at least the language had changed.
The President scanned the faded pages of densely written handwriting until the familiar heading caught his eye.
'3-Bar Turn & Twist Anti-Clockwise, w. Apparent Apocalyptic Side Effects, NB: Don't Do This!'
Rasputin began to read, as the convoy trundled closer and closer to Stonehenge.
Bob passed in and out of consciousness, aware of a great agony in his leaking body yet isolated from it as if by a sea of cotton wool. All the drugs coursing through his blood couldn't plug the rather large holes that had been punctured through him, though. He dazedly saw a ceiling slipping by, with concerned faces gathered around him, and heard a TV on in another ward, then blacked out again.
When he woke again, the feeling of unreality was even stonger. He looked up, wincing at the pain. A tall, kindly-looking man with a big grey beard was inspecting his progress chart and clucking. Seeing Bob was awake, he smiled, sending a wave of love and concern as thick as jam oozing over him. A whiff of roses filled the air.
"Don't be afraid," said the stranger, in a quiet, reassuring voice.
"I wasn't afraid, I just happen to be bleeding to death and I really don't want any passages of the Bible read to me, thank you. And could you open a window in here, please, it's a bit stuffy."
Bob was surprised to find he could speak without any pain. Morphine, no doubt.
"My name is John XXIII, and I'm here to help you. Just relax..."
"If you're a doctor I'd like to see your credentials. And what about some food, I'm starving. Are any of the others out in the waiting room, Jill or Heddingly? You're not a male nurse, are you?"
A flicker of irritation passed over the saint's face. Patience of Job, he told himself, patience of Job.
"Actually, I was the Pope" he sniffed. Bob looked at him blankly. "The Supreme Pontiff. Il Papa. I wore the big white hat. Oh, forget it. Ungrateful little twerp."
"You're *not* a doctor, are you?"
The saint gave a flick of his wrist, and Bob slumped back on the pillow. Now he moved in to commence Healing. A few moments later, that complete, he looked over the prone figure in the bed, and remembered the instructions of his boss. The Champion must be given every possible advantage, he had said. Pope John XXIII gave a wicked little chuckle, cracked his knuckles and improvised.
Bob slipped back into the living world like a alcoholic cat burglar, woozy and disoriented and liable to fall off the edge.
Rubbing sleep from his eyes, he massaged his numb legs and scratched his head.
'Something's wrong with this picture', he decided, but what? His wounds had closed up, that much was obvious, but there was something else. He only realised it when the nurse came in with fresh sheets.
"THREE!!! OHMIGOD! He's got THREE!!! DOCTOR!" and fled from the ward screaming.
Perplexed, he rubbed his face with his hands. ALL his hands.
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, but in Bob's case he had been more than generous.
Bob was stood by the bed-side cabinet when the others all came running in.
As one they stopped and stared.
"uh?.." was all that Jill could muster.
Bob quite calmly poured himself a cup of tea, tipped in some milk and stirred the spoon all at the same time with the relaxed air of someone who is totally at ease with the situation.
The doctor finally arrived after the nurses paniced outburst, elbowed his way to the front.
Adjusting his specs he glanced upward - "now what's all this abou -! ab-b-b-..." he let go of the glasses and they swung down by his neck. the clipboard he carried in his hand clattered to the floor out of his grip as he toppled forward and crumpled to a stop.
"Hi Guys!" said Bob and waved.
This bizarre image snapped Jill back to her senses.
"Bob! - You've got THREE ARMS! - and you're up..and well....breathing."
"I fell...oka-a-ay" Bob hazzarded a reply.
"You DIED! We were all here. The doctors did everything they could but after all Leicester had done I...they......" she broke down and collapsed into bob who held her tightly.
"I went somewhere..Bob said...it was bright and I was on my back and I felt no pain. I saw a man dressed in red with a flowing white beard."
"Santa Claus?" murmered Jill confused.
"No, no...oh well anyway, I woke up here and something doesn't feel the same and I can't quite put my hands on it." Bob's voice wandered off.
Jill opened her eyes, a momentary look of confusion crossed her features, and unlocking Bob's hands from around her waist she reached down and pryed his other hand of her bottom. She looked up at him and Bob smiled with an amiable wobble from ear to ear.
"Just cos you came back from the dead doesn't mean you can win me over that easily pal!" and stalked off to stand next to the doctor.
Bob shrugged, which was more humerous than you might imagine...
Heddingly finally found his voice.
"I say! This is beyond mere medicine. We are dealing here with powers that go far beyond what is possible in this world."
"I thought that should have been obvious when we summoned up a demon in the batroom. I should have known better than to trust that sneak Tim! He very nearly killed us all - AGAIN!" scowled Jill
"oh I don't know.." started Heddingly
"No! I don't want to hear it! shouted Jill, when I see him next, I'll rip his - "
"May I interject?" asked Guy walking into the Ward.
Jill was speechless mid-rant.
"Oh Guy!" - said Bob, "am I glad to see you again!"
"Likewise, as am I." selecting one of his hands to shake.
"Where exactly am I?" asked Bob.
"Of course - you wouldn't remember. You are back at The Agency - we commandered an ambulance and brought you straight here. I've been hearing about your miracle recovery - and a miracle is what it is by all accounts. I have been on the wrong end of one of Leicester's beatings myself. The man is a monster."
"He isn't a man any longer." whispered Bob darkly.
Guy look a bit embarresed but continued..."Sorry I was late I was alas in a meeting but fortune may once again be smiling on us Perhaps this gentleman might be able to explain a few things for you..." he gestured towards the doorway.
The figure standing there was elderly and bore about himself an overly-large raincoat and bowler hat. His hands he held down before him and cluthced by the handle what looked like a leather doctors bag. Realising that he was being introduced - he looked up to finally see the face of The Champion.
"Hello, my name is Richter and I can explain...Everything." proffering a friendly welcoming glove.
"So that's it really you see?" finished Richter with an aplomb.
A few slack-jawwed "huh's?" hung in the air.
"Just go over the bit about the end of the world again would you?" prompted Jill.
"Right", said Richter rubbng his hands together - "It goes down like this..."
"There are a all sorts of cults and religious zealots dotted all over the world - most are just your local common-or-garden water-melon worshipers and such like. Nearly all have a schematic for describing the ending of the world. It only takes one of them to be right and we are in a whole heap of trouble. I am a member of an elité group who monitor signs as foretold by these cults in a bid to stave off the end of the world."
"I was not aware of this." said Guy - "What is your groups name?"
"The 100,000 Committee."
"The what?" perplexed Jill.
"oh well we wanted to be known as the Millenium Group; it's full of intrigue you see? Only that was copyrighted to Chris Carter - still we are not bitter."
"I see." said Bob, who didn't. "and where do we all fit in to this?" gesturing in three directions at once.
"Well It was my job to specifically wait for portents of doom in England." explained Richter "Last week - our machines went off the chart - whatever evil has arrived it is here the apoolypse is almost upon us." he fnished, head sunk to his chest.
"It has to be Leicester." fumed Jill - Tim had us summon his spirit up in our own bathroom!"
"Mr Guy here, has spoken to me of this man you call Leicester with whom you are all aquainted," he nodded at Bob - "however, I fear he is not The One. Have you by any chance heard of The Ascension of Rasptuin?"
"The Glorious New President of the World, All Hail!" chriped Heddingly who then looked confused.
Richter sighed a small sigh. "Clearly his mind control is strong, and it will grow stronger...take one of these each." and from out of his yellow belt which bore several handy compartments he produced a handful of orange tablets enscribed with what looked like a badly-drawn monkey.
Everyone in the group obdiently took the tablet and chomped it. There was a tiny flash and smoke began to gently rise up out of their nostrils.
"hff! cah! Wha? - cough what was that for?" spluttered bob, producing an aesthetically pleasing series of orange smoke rings.
"See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." muttered Richter as he sat back in his chair. "Your minds have all be unclouded from the Evil - see it now for youself" and reaching for the remote he flicked on the hospital T.V
The news stations were still carrying on their reports of the President of the World's gracious presence in the insignificant island of Britain and his tour of special sites of ancient historical interest.
In replays of the brief speeches he had given begrudgingly to the expectant T.V crews it was quite obvious, even through the poor reception of the hospital that the thing that called itself Rasputin was beast surrounded by flame.
"This is what has arrived on the shores," intoned richter, flicking off the T.V.
"If it reaches Stone Henge - we may never be able to stop it."
Bob folded his arms and put his hand in the air.
"Yes?" asked Richter leaning forward slightly.
"Where do I fit into all this?"
"You are the Divine Champion. It says so quite clealy in the all the material we have on this event. That one shall be chosen - a mighty warrior who shall confront the Beast on the presip..ice of..doo...even as I am saying this I can see there has been a mix up somewhere....let me check my notes."
Richter began to rifle through a small ring-top bound notepad "Hmmm have you ever died?" He asked after some time had expired..
Bob glanced around nervously."Well almost...I mean yesterday I did...sort of."
"Well that may be it then. Divinity always favours it's champion. I'll admit this particular favouring is ...a little bit...odd. even so - The Lord moves in mysterious ways, does he not?" he ended with a hopeful shrug but then muttered under his breath - "and just sometimes bloody incompresible ways as well...."and smiled at Bob, who began twidlling his thumbs...all three of them.
it can be quite difficult to get a good TV reception. So Satan had had a pirate cable linked to a dish in the suburban back garden of the Joneses, who lived in Stoke-on-Trent and subscribed to a digital service. The cable wended its way down the shed, behind the boiler, through thousands of metres of bedrock and into Hell. Because of this Satan got a perfect reception and also committed a minor felony, which he was quite pleased about. Right now the news was not so good, though.
"Look at that," he growled to one of his gibbering minions, flicking a talon towards the TV, where a news report was detailing the Glorious Leader's itinerary. "Bloody upstart. Thinks he can just waltz out of here and cause the Apocalypse without even asking me! I was a fool to have anything to do with him...what am I supposed to do now?"
"Smite him with your terrible anger, your Viciousness!" slavered a creature with the head of a donkey and the body of...a donkey, but a pretty terrifying one. "Your infernal agents are everywhere..."
"Not a bad idea..." mused the fallen angel. "Let's see...the President is currently on a stopover at the Chelsea Flower Show. Have we got anyone there?"
"What's happening now?" asked Heddingly, squinting at the TV mounted on the wall. "Is that Alan Titchmarsh...?"
The normally-jovial presenter's eyes were blazing red, and he was foaming at the mouth. As the horrified camera crew looked on, he lurched up behind the President and swung at him with a huge pair of hedge-clippers.
The picture went jerky for a moment, and there was a sound of shots being fired and terrified screams from the crowd, then the picture centred on Titchmarsh lying in a large puddle of blood, clawing at the air and snarling, while a Secret Service agent kicked the clippers out of his reach.
Raputin was unharmed, and now he crouched over his assailant's body for a few seconds. His voluminous cloak hid his actions, but there was a loud crack, one last awful scream and then silence. The anchor observed that it was the first time he had seen anything of that sort. He then launched into list of the programs on that evening, unaware that the evening would probably never come. Celebrity Ready, Steady, Cook was scheduled for 8.00pm, which just shows that every cloud has a silver lining.
Richter was shaking his head gravely.
"I'm afraid nothing can stop him now, unless we can. There are terrible powers at work, beyond our understanding. We must set off at once for Stonehenge, there to drive the Beast from this world and save humanity."
"Here here!" shouted Heddingly, slapping his thigh and fumbling in a pocket for his pipe.
"But it is you, Bob, who must stop Rasputin. It is your Destiny"
Bob wrung his hands together. Everyone stifled a laugh.
Just then, a paunchy middle-aged man in tight Lycra poked his head round the door.
"Is it time to say it now, boss? Can I say it?"
Richter smiled indulgently. "Go ahead, Robin. It is time."
Robin grinned delightedly. "Alright!!! *Ahem*...TO THE RICHTERMOBILE!!!"
He rather spoiled the effect by coughing hoarsely afterwards, and Jill asked him what the hell he was talking about, but it was still a moment to treasure.
It was a Camper-Van.
"That - is the 'Richter-Mobile' ?" mocked Jill, making the 'inverted comma's' gesture in the air with her fingers.
"I'll take my car." - said Guy switly spotting an escape route. "AL!" The range rover obeyed obligingly and trundled over.
GOOD AFTERNOON GUY."
"No not really" - said Guy morosely - "we must save the world."
"ONE OF THOSE DAYS AGAIN?" Said the car, Gnomicly.
Guy looked up to the sky, the clouds were churning and the sky had the odd quality of being sunset but looking like an unhealthy bruise.
Coming back to his sense Guy shouted back over his shoulder: "Who else is coming?"
"Me!"called Bob and Heddingly together as they raced to the rover and got in.
Jill was just about to add her support to this plan when Richter spoke for her.
"The lady can accompany us."
Jill turned and tried to fuse Richter into the cobbles with a stare.
"That's quite a squint you there m'dear" beamed Richter innocently - "you ought to have that seen to! Now come along we have not got time to waste!" and struck off in the direction of the van.
And Time was precisely what they did not have...
News reporters had been going crazy all afternoon. - Alan Titchmarsh, that quaint little gardener had tried to assasinate the President! The Networks were alive with repeating headlines and the odd expert kept wandering into the studio to inform the nation of their views on the matter. (There are always experts for everything.)
Opinion was divided on the details but what seemed clear - everyone had seen the footage - Alan leaps up from his "Viola kitaibeliana"14 grabs a pair of pruning sheers and attempts to assault the president but is killed by the Secret Service.
The President is hurried away by his Security Guards - who would no doubt get it in the neck for this.
Indeed had anyone been resolute enough to look they would find their bloodless corpses not but 5 miles further along the motorway.)
The news-reader turned saliently back to the camera:
"Our Glorious President's whereabouts at this time are unknown - more on this late breaking story as it develops throughout the day, but know we turn to the *lovely* Sian Williams for a word on the bizarre birth of a two-headed cow in the Yorkshire dales - Sian." he crooned adoringly.
Guy and Richter had both been listening to a simultanious radio broadcast.
Guy activated his hands-free phone kit
Richter took the message.
"Well we know know he's heading for Stone Henge." said Richter.
"Something must have made Titchmarsh attack Rasputin like that." mused Guy.
"Head out onto the motorway." suggested Richter.
"The Agency is reporting a huge security blokade went up around the entire area not long after the presidential convoy passed through." announced guy
"Could be tricky." said Richter.
"We'll find a way around it - we must. Guy out."
Jill looked out the back window and observed the Ranger move itself level with the road, the back popped open exposing 4 serious looking rocket engines which ignited propelling the car down the road at break-neck speed.
"Well there they go...no wait, don't tell me." she said turning to Richter in the front - "you've got something similar - a little flame that pops out the back of this bus!" she said sarcastically. - "'Atomic batteries to power'" - she continued to mock "'turbines to speed.'"
"No nothing like that." smiled Richter turning onto the exit ramp at a steady 30 miles an hour.
Jill sat back with a huff in the back seat.
"You may want to do your seatbelt up m'dear."
Jill grudgingly obliged.
"Strike the sacred rune, Robin."
Robin unwrapped with great care an ornate looking hammer from a velvet cloth and with great care and deliberation brought it down hard on a complicated sygil on the dashboard.
The van glowed - there was the sound of a celestial choir - the vehicle became an blur and in it's haste melted the tar-mac in two long strips.
A minute later they had over-taken guy.
10 minutes later they encounter the road-block set up across the road to deter way-ward travelers from entering the Ritual Site.
It didn't stand a chance.
A mile further up the road - Richters ancient carrige failed to compelte a turn and neglected to steer across a round-a-bout quite sufficiently and for a short while achieved flight.
There would be UFO reports in the news the folowing morning.
Which at this stage - was by no means guaranteed.
Meanwhile at Stonehenge...
Annabell had come up from the catacombs in order to great the advanced enterage of the presidential caravan. A few had arrived early She was busy organising the seating arrangements for the guests when news began to filter through her hands-free ear-piece from survivors at the roadblocks, that a heavily armoured four-by-four and a glowing camper van were decimating the security leading into Stonehenge.
"Thanks." muttered Annabel into her earpiece.
"Yep. Nope. We anticipated this. What possible harm could they do? Yep. Keep me informed."
She flicked the piece off, and cast an inquisitive look at the clip-boarded aide.
"They're ready for you now, Ms. Smittington" coughed a discreet aide politely.
Annabel fixed her most dazzling smile and stepped out of the visitor's centre lobby onto the platform set up in the carpark, in front of which the Dignitaries were gathered. Behind her through several walls, in a small field, there was an interesting collection of rocks, if you were into that sort of thing, which she wasn't.
She suppressed a shudder. The price you pay for being CEO of an Evil Empire, she reminded herself. You meet the oddest people.
Jim Davidson was visibly having a nervous breakdown, sweating profusely, stuttering and trembling. His cheeky-chappy persona had crumbled beneath the unblinking gaze of the Dignitaries like a sugar cube under the hammer of the Gods, he had run through his vast collection of double-entendre jokes, and now he had reverted to that collection of jokes he had sworn never to touch again:
"But the mother-in-law, no, seriously - " he began, then broke off as he spotted Annabel offstage.
"And now ladies and gentlemen, the CEO of Globotech Corporation and regional head of the Stonehenge Tourist Information Centre, Ms. Annabel Smittington, lovely lady..."
He scurried off the dais clapping and mopped his forehead.
"I'm getting too old for this crap. THAT is a tough crowd" he moaned.
It was. The Dignitaries consisted of the many friends that Rasputin had made in Hell, specially raised for the occasion. There was Genghis Khan in the back row, looking uncomfortable in his huge pelt and wondering if he should wait until the interval to find the loo.
In the next row, among lesser scum, the Emperor Caligula was giggling to himself as he slowly pulled apart a wriggling earthworm, much to the disgust of Josef Stalin, who was leaning out of the way and looking for some matches for his pipe.
Adolf Hitler was enthusiastically explaining about racial theory to Jack the Ripper, who was yawning behind his hand and wondering when they'd get to the buffet table. Judas Iscariot sat crouched in the front row, trying to look inoffensive. He had been stewing in blood, spit and bile in the fangéd mouth of the great demon Azareal for an infinity, and this was all very confusing and new to him.
"Gentlemen", said Annabel, not meaning it, "You are all here today for a very special occasion. An occasion which, I must say, is probably unique..."
"Get on with it!" bellowed Machiavelli, because there's always one.
She smiled indulgently. "I understand you're anxious to know why you're all here. I think I know a man who can explain a little better than I can..."
Right on cue, the Presidential limo pulled into the carpark and slid to a halt. There was an embarassing pause, some homely Russian swearwords and a flustered aide rushed around and opened the passenger door. Rasputin emerged, immaculate in a jet-black habit, entered through the back door and climbed onto the stage, exchanging smiles and waves with the audience. A brass band struck up 'Hail To The Chief'.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States!" announced Annabell.
Cue applause, modestly waved down by the monk, who then launched into his speech.
Annabel stepped aside, checked her watch and worried. The end of the world is a large enterprise to manage, and there had been no chance for a dress rehearsal. Added to her worries were the Agency busybodies, and some kind of demon which seemed to have a grudge against the President. She knocked back a Panadol, and flicked on her earpiece.
"...ind of weird animal, all spikes and drool. We can't be sure if it's inside the perimeter. You there boss?"
"The situation is weird: we can't be sure who's gotten in, but we've sent some guards to give the - "
There were some extremely unpleasant cracking, gristly noises, and a loud exhalation, then hoarse phlegmy breathing.
"moOOnnKKK....iSss THaT yoUuU...? I'LL FIND yOu mOnk...noT FaR Now..."
A crunch, then static. Now what was that all about? Annabel felt a headache coming on.
Jim Davidson poked her on the shoulder.
"Do I get paid now?"
A lowly demon squelched it's in through the great black doors and addressed The Devil:
The Devil cast a regarding eye down hoof-ward and grunted that the messenger should continue.
"Er..I don't know how I should break this to you...um...I mean..it's ...it's..."
"It's what?" quizzed Satan.
"It's the pits, sire..."
"Could it be, that you are asking ME, for...a raise??" bellowed Lucifer.
"No, no, no your evil-ship...it's the Pits...The PITS - they're um...empty..."
"Empty?" said the Devil.
"uh-huh." nodded the imp
"EMPTY!!!!?" he roared.
"I checked the log - there was a mass summoning about half-an-hour ago."
"This is The Monk's work." mused Belzeebub.
"Should I get your pitch-fork, your Infernal Beast-y-ness...sir?" glowing with a small amount of pride.
"No." said Satan, who then trod on the Imp. "And don't ever fail me again!"
"I have a better idea."
Meanwhile at the entrence to Stonehenge:
Two of the gaurds who were patrolling the compound, when a section of chain-link fence that had formed the gate to the security wall, crashed out of the sky in front of them.
A second later they were most surpised to be nearly run over by two blurs travelling at speed towards the visitor centre.
One of the gaurds pressed his earpiece and put a call through to Annabell.
"Yes - what?" - she finished stuffing the deceased Jim Davidson down the laundry shute. "Idiot - no-one touches the Armani."
"The what?" said the gaurd, craning to hear better.
"Nothing...nothing. It will be those medlesome agents - stop them getting here at all - "
"Yes it's in that direction," she heard the guard addressing someone.
" - costs...Who are you talking to?" said annabell agitatedly.
Back outside, Guy had reversed back down the Muddy path and was asking directions.
"Is this the way to Stonehenge Visitors Centre?"
"Yes it's in that direction." pointed the guard helpfully.
"Much obliged" saluted guy who shot them both with a silenced revolver.
Heard annabell who scrabbled to remove the microphone and ear-piece from about her head.
With disbelief in her eyes She hurried back to the side-door of the stage.
Rasputin was still in full flow
"...THIS BENIGHTED AND GODLESS ROCK HAS BROUGHT US ALL NOTHING BUT MISERY. I REFUSE TO SPEND ANOTHER ETERNITY IN HELL!! THEREFORE MY DARK BRETHEREN, I REQUIRE YOUR AID IN ENDING THIS FAILED PROJECT AND CALL UPON YOU TO ASSIST ME IN BRINGING ABOUT QUIET AND PEACFUL OBLIVION!!!"
There was an appreciative roar from the crowd.
Rasputin smiled a slick smile, which grew into a grin, it spread across his face like an oil-slick over an ocean.
Outside Bob, Jill, Guy, Heddingly, Richter and Robin advanced through the car-park. They had just spotted Rasputin's Limo when they heard screams coming from the conference hall.
"This is it!" shouted Richter above a sudden gust of wind.
"Charge!" shouted Guy.
And they did.
Moments earlier inside the hall.
Rasputin was soaking up the raputrous applause from his fellow Damned. Such was his delight at how things appeared to be going that he failed to notice two rather important things: One that Annabell was gesticulating frantically in order to get his attention about the breach in security and the other was the small collection of drool gathering in a puddle at his feet.
A shadow passing high in the gantry caused him to look up.
Which is when Leicester dropped onto the stage.
To his credit, Rasputin barely batted an eyelid. He stepped back, head on one side, and said quite calmly:
"I don't think I know you. Are you on the guest list?"
Bewildered by this reaction, Leicester drew himself up to his full height and extended all of his spikes, giving a bellow which shook the hall. Caligula slid under a table and cowered.
"i hAVE been LoOKinG fOr YOu, moNK...I - aM tHE rED LeicEStEr!!!"
The monk looked puzzled for a moment, then his face brightened.
"But of course! The pirate! The gentleman I, um, usurped. And how are things down below? Still with the fire and brimstone?"
But Leicester's conversation had been exhausted, and he opened his maw to swallow the monk whole. In a flurry of robes, Rasputin had changed position and now held a small crucifix a few millimetres from the fangs of the demon.
"The power of GOD compels thee!" he denounced.
The Leicester just grinned.
"Alright, Plan B. Shoot him." Rasputin motioned to his bodyguards.
A Marine guard reluctantly stepped up to the stage, raised his pistol in the Weaver stance and fired. The shots sounded very small.
Now the Leicester grinned AND fed.
"WhaT Isss youR pLAn c, moNK...?" he slavered, picking a Navy Cross from between his teeth.
Then he did a double-take, which is quite a thing to see in a two-ton demon. The monk had gone, and the side door was flapping loose. Leicester snarled, and followed.
Caligula screamed like a girly.
In this action-packed thirty seconds, the Charge of the Reluctant Agents had reached the main doors, which they cautiously breached, and entered the hall. What they saw was a roomful of assorted evildoers making small talk, and an empty podium.
Guy approached the nearest Dignitary, a small man with a funny Chaplin-esque moustache.
"Sorry, could you tell us where the monk has gone? It's rather important."
"Entschuldigung? Leider verstehe ich nicht."
Jill stepped forward.
"Allow me. I speak a little German...um, wo...ist der Monk? Bitte?"
The little German rattled off a quick barrage of words that left Jill clueless, but by then Heddingly had found out the situation from a helpful Richard III.
"They've gone off to some kind of underground lair where they're going to...use some sort of device to end the world. Sorry, but there were a lot of verily's and forsooth's, I couldn't understand it all."
The Agency were back on the trail.
Far, far away, in a plush hotel room in Zurich, two old sportsmen had gotten together to play for the pot.
The lights were turned down low. The air was thick with smoke, as God and the Devil faced each other across a small folding table. Now the ritual exchange of banter began.
"When's the last time we got together like this, I wonder?" mused the Devil. "Was it Sichuan, in '03? The typhoid pandemic that never was?" he prompted.
Being omnicogniscent, the Lord never had trouble remembering details.
"Noooo, I think it was in Acre, '66. That affair with the relics."
"Hmm." the devil nodded thoughtfully
"Shall we just begin, then? The Last Trump, as they say, and we'll see if we can't beat that Rasputin chump to it?"
"Right you are, G. Just let me, um, get something."
In the bathroom, the Devil clicked his finger. 'That ought to do it', he decided. 'They'd have to do the rest on their own.'
"I think it's a trap." volunteered Bob.
"No-one asked you what you think." snapped Guy. "So shut up and lend a hand."
"I'm just saying..."
"Saying what, exactly, Mister Clever?"
"Well, flashing neon signs saying 'Secret Elevator Here' don't just appear, do they? It's a bit, well, odd."
Jill, feeling around on the grass, felt something click. With a silent whirr, a chrome elevator slid up out of the empty field.
"You were saying?"
They piled in, and it whirred silently down again.
Squashed up against Richter and the boy in the lycra, Bob watched the layers of earth slip by and felt wretchedly put-upon.
"I still say it's odd..." he muttered.
Leicester was lost. All the low, stone corridors looked the same to him, and he was wandering aimlessly through the labyrinth, feeling his rage building. He tried smashing the walls in, but all he gained was a bruised fist and an insight into Druidical building standards.
A Tannoy crackled into life next to his ear.
"Testing, one, two etc. Are you there, pirate?"
Rasputin was seated in the central domed chamber, with blue flickers playing across the ceiling. The Cast-Iron Laundry Wringer was installed on the altar in the centre, and some bunting was hung around the walls. Annabel stood off to one side, massaging her temples and wishing the end of the world would come soon, because she had a migraine coming on.
In deference to Rasputin's villainhood, the monk was idly stroking a large white cat. He tapped the microphone, and resumed.
"I'm going to try a little trick, pirate, and I want you to tell me if you find it amusing. Are you ready? Here we go..."
Tongue sticking out, and consulting the faded notebook, he began to turn the wringer handle in a complex curve. He finished with a small flourish, sat back and waited.
A second later, a hoarse voice full of astonished vileness spoke from his lap:
"wHAt DId you DO?"
The monk grinned.
"Watch out!" squeaked Guy. The Agents flattened themselves against the wall, and he peered around the corner.
"It's Leicester," he whispered. "He seems to be...licking himself...?"
Guy walked out and strode up to the hulking demon, who looked at him in some amazement, and said:
Rasputin had of course made one elementary mistake with two less than comforting consequences...
Firstly in transferring the consciousness of The Leicester into the cat and vice versa; he had nullified an immediate threat to the Agents infiltrating the underground network of caverns. Secondly, and possibly most distressing of all, he had introduced, and this we want to stress, AT GROIN LEVEL - A severly p****d off demon with teeth, four sets of claws and a viscious streak a mile wide.
The scream went on for a long time and was VERY high.
"What was that?" said Bob nervously.
"Take heart brothers - we will face this evil together," said a staunch Richter trying to bolster some confidence...
"meeeooow?" said Leicester.
"This way" said Guy pointing down a gloomy passage-way.
"ai-aiiii-Arrgghh!!!!" - echoed the scream around the ancient Stone Henge Catacombs
Annabel suppressed a smirk. She didn't trust magic, and she was beginning to realise that she didn't like the monk very much either. So it was with no small pleasure that she watched him writhing on the floor, clutching what he had once called 'the seat of my holyness', half-unconscious, while some worried aides (with clipboards) huddled around him. Off to one side, the Leicestercat was holding off five heavily armed Marines, by hissing and making himself appear bigger than he was.
Of course, it was a great honour to be selected as the one to assist the Beast in his infernal designs. She recalled her pride when the Grand Master of the Cult had tipped her on the head with the ceremonial pilchard...
But the reality of the assignment was quite distasteful. Rasputin was sleazy. He had put his hand on her leg at their first meeting, and it had taken a firmly placed stiletto heel to call him off. Besides, she liked the world, and could think of no possible benefit to destroying it. She idly picked up the notes that Rasputin had dropped, and flicked through to the passage that he had circled and underlined. It vividly described the probable effects of the apocalyptic sequence that he intended.
She shuddered, and felt the reassuring weight of the blackjack in her executive purse. 'Where were the Agents?'
The Marines had finally pacified the Leicestercat with some catnip (standard US Army issue: stunning cats, for the use of). He was now drooling gently and staggering into walls. They softly nudged him into a catbox (again, standard issue: detaining cats, for the use of), and the danger to the POTUS was averted.
"Take the cat topside!" she barked, "And stay up there, too. You're no longer needed. You, too." she ordered the aides. They obediently filed out, leaving her alone in the chamber with the prone monk.
Now she slipped the blackjack into her hand, hefted it and strode decisively towards the monk. It was time for a career choice, and she had decided that her prospects were brighter in a future which didn't involve the destruction of the world.
This would be quite unpleasant. Usually she was at least three levels removed from any loss of life occuring as a result of her business.
"Mr Rasputin? - " she began.
"Hnnghh..." he squeaked.
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to terminate our partnership. Goodbye, sir"
She steeled herself, bent over the writhing monk and began beating around the head.
He jerked up, eyes wild, and bellowed. Thinking fast, Annabel sprayed Mace into his face. He thumped to the floor twitching, and she resumed the beating, until his pulse ebbd and ceased, and his breathing too.
She flicked an errant strand of hair from his face. Then she stared at the Laundry-Wringer for a moment. Clearly it wasn't safe. Who could dispose of it? Obvious.
Picking up the monk's microphone, she spoke over the Tannoy into the corridors.
"Agents? Are you there? Could you please come to the central chamber now? We need to interface. Um, I'm happy to say that the situation re: end of the world has been resolved. So if you would please follow the line of the spirals on the wall, you'll find the chamber. The monk is dead. I killed him..."
"What's going on?" said God, a smile creeping over his face. "Well, this is wonderful. So much for the monk, eh D?"
"Humph" commented Beelzebub. "Just wait..."
A pair of immensely strong grasped Annabel's neck from behind and tugged. She was slammed with bone-jarring force against the slab wall, and Rasputin's face thrust in hers. Streaked with blood, eyes wildly rolling and dribbling slightly, he was a formidable sight. He held her in an unbreakable grip.
"Thilly little girl, thtriking me like that" he screeched in her face, then spitting out a tooth, he continued. "Now I shall have to hurt you, pretty little girl."
He yanked her forward roughly, then shoved herbackwards. Her head smashed into the wall and it all went bright and painful as she blacked out.
Far above in the carpark, several Marines lay very badly mutilated. A Humvee jeep was on fire, and some haggard footsoldiers crouched behind it, afraid to come out. When one of them finally worked up the nerve to peek around the burned out shell, all that could be seen was the tattered catbox.
"Roger Green Team - All Clear." he joyfully reported, "the feline presence has left, repeat, the cat has gone..."
The Prince of Lies peered through the floral-print curtains at the street below. A small red Vauxhall went by, and a man selling steaming sausages at a stand across the road turned the page of his newspaper. Apart from that, there was no movement at all on the tidy Swiss street. He sighed inwardly. Time to end it all. Goodbye, world, it's been interesting.
"What's the matter, D.? Getting cold feet?"
He turned, annoyed, to the taunting voice.
"As I recall, G, this was all your idea anyway. Creation, mankind, free will, temptation, the battle between Good and Evil. Even so, even I every once in a while like to take a quiet moment, and this may be one of the last moments, so if you don't mind...."
said Lucifer picking nervously at his talons.
It was time to begin the End.
"This is Armin, our neutral observer. He will ensure that everything proceeds fairly." God gestured to a neatly dressed, blandly smiling little man with a combover, who realising he was being introduced inclined his head slightly.
"It vill be an honour". he whispered.
"Fine, fine, let's start before the monk beats us to it. Just one go, right? Not best out of three - we decide on one try?" asked Satan.
"And it's - two beats and then on the third we reveal our hands, right?"
"Correct." said Armin.
"Very well. Let's go."
They made an epic couple, facing each other across the card table. The Word and the Lie. da Vinci would have painted them, Mozart would have composed operas, Michelangelo would have rendered them immortal in stone.
Unfortunately the only person present was Armin, and he was a banker.
Two great hands were raised, clenched into fists, one glowing white and the other red and scaly. History and Destiny crackled in the air, as the two fists swung up and down, with seeming geological slowness, like the pendulum on the clock of Universal Time.
Outside, storm clouds boiled and rolled over the mountains, lightning flickered and the wind picked up. Armin, being Swiss, was unaffected. He shuffled his feet, and discreetly checked his watch.
The hands beat down once...twice... And now the Universe seemed to hold its breath - in a moment it would all be over; the winner would gather up the chips, the loser would taste bitter defeat, both would leave the table and the lights would go out...
The Agents had followed Annabel's instructions, and now found themselves huddled at the entrance to the main chamber. Guy had found himself appointed official peerer-around-corners, and was currently describing to the others what he saw.
"I can see Gonzaroolio! He's all tied up on a slab, next to a woman in a suit...the Diabolical Engine is there, too. It's a bit of a let-down, to tell the truth, just like something from a cultural museum... there's lots of bunting, all torn down, and little flashes of blue light on the roof..."
"Yeees." whispered Richter sagely, "The navel of the world... Those blue flashes are ley lines, my friend, earthing themselves in the rock. I could explain more, but no-one is actually listening to me, are they?"
No-one replied. Richter tutted, and doffed his bowler hat. Wilfully ignorant, people just wouldn't listen these days.
"Look at the pretty colours." mused Bob. Richter fought the urge to smack him.
"Now I see Rasputin! He's walking around shouting, raving, shaking his fist...yikes, he's covered in blood...seems to be waving a sheaf of paper...very angry, I'd say...he's shorter than he looks on the telly."
Heddingly gave Guy a Look.
Now some of Rasputin's fractured speech found its way through the crack between the slab and the doorframe.
"...have been weighed, and found wanting, due to your criminal negligence! You made your children, then abandoned them to their own worst instincts! What kind of parent does that?!?"
"He's got a point there, interesting theological point..." mused Robin, stroking his chin. Richter ordered him to shut up.
"...tried prayer, fasting, abstinence from pleasures of the flesh - nothing. And now, my 'lord' - I am forced to more desperate measures to attract your attention..."
Flinging back his cassock, the mad monk strode towards the cast-iron laundry wringer.
Richter urgently jabbed his finger in Bob's side.
"NOW is the moment, Bob. You are the Divine Champion, you must manifest your goodness to vanquish the evil!"
And Bob spake, and he spake thus:
Armin polished his spectacles, replaced them on his nose and tittered.
"You both appear to have um, 'chosen' stones."
This was quite embarassing. Satan and God glowered at each other, each still with their fist outstretched over the table.
So what does that mean?" barked the Lord. "Not a stalemate?!?"
"Ah no. The rules state that in the event of a tie, both parties must simply, um, 'go again' in order to determine a winner. Ahaha"
"Sounds like a plan. Alright." said the demon. Both players shook around their shoulders, flexed their wrists, attempted psyche-out stares.
The hands beat down once...twice... And now the Universe seemed to hold its breath - in a moment it would all be over; the winner would gather up the chips, the loser would taste bitter defeat, both would leave the table and the lights would go out...
"Oh, this is ridiculous. BOTH paper?"
"The, ah, rules are quite clear on this eventuality..."
THANK you, Armin, we know."
Once again... The hands beat down once...twice... And now the Universe seemed to hold its breath - in a moment it would all be over; the winner would gather up the chips, the loser would taste bitter defeat, both would leave the table and the lights would go out...
This time it was stones again.
"You know G, this is starting to look like a bad idea."
"The, ah, rules are quite clear..."
YES Armin, thank you so very much"
The moments, passing each other like grains of sand in the egg timer of destiny, tumbled by like an eternity - which was strictly speaking less metaphorical than it ought to be
They had both played. They would play again. They will keep playing. But neither can win just yet. They're both too good.
Scissors!" thought God. "
I've got 'im now. "
More moments passed
"Scissors." announced Armin in broken tones that bordered on despair.
"What ...AGAIN?" bemoaned Satan.
Yes..odd that, really, isn't it?" said God, stroking his beard.
"We go again." demanded The Devil, pointing an accusing finger at his rival.
Alright." said God, with a shrug. "
patience was never one of your virtues was it?"
"I don't *have* any virtues...now if you don't mind..."
Armin stopped biting his nails and gathered his composure.
"Hands behind you backs please gentlemen - on three, please reveal your chosen stance..."
They beat their hands down..1...2...
"A-HA!" said the Devil triumphantly.
God looked a little non-plussed and raised an eyebrow at Armin.
I say, he can't do that can he?"
"No he can't." agreed the arbitraitor, looking over his spectacles at the Demon.
"What? - well why not?" growled the devil petulantly " 'Fire burns paper!"
"Yes, but that is not the point." said Armin, who began busyily consulitng the slim-bind office folder that contained the single sheet of paper upon which ALL the rules for this game in exitence were inscribed.
The devil silently cursed Armin unto the thriteenth generation.
God saw this one coming and diverted it onto a listless plant-pot in the corner.
God sat and stroked his beard again. There was something bothering him.
He recalled the events of yesterday:
Before he'd left Heaven for this little mission, He'd deputised St Peter to deal with all the in-coming prayers. As he hung around the door to the prayer room he'd glimpsed St Peter fluffing and attempting to sit on several cushions on the Throne, struggling to find a comfortable position.
St Peter himself, God knew, was a spectacularly unimpressed grouch.
Peter's temperament was hardened by eternities standing at the pearly gates welcoming the recently deceased and answering those same two bloody questions:
"Am I dead?", "Is this Heaven?" he would mimic silently if he thought no-one was watching.
Strapping on the headphones he had waved to the switchboard operator.
Samantha Temple had been slicing cucmber to make sandwhiches with. A momentary slip and she cut the top of her thumb. It oozed and bled a little. Samantha ran to the other side of the kitchen and started dabbing at the wound with some paper toweling.
"Oh god." she had cursed her stupidity.
YES?" came the imediate and deafening reply.
Wide-eyed and striken she stared upward at the ceiling.
DON'T JUST STAND THERE GAWPING - IF YOU'VE GOT SOMETHING TO SAY - SAY IT."
"eep!" she had managed and fainted.
HELLO?....HELLO?! THE LINE'S GONE DEAD...HONESTLY SOME PEOPLE! "
God allowed himself a little chuckle at the memory. Being omniocgnisent he new that Samantha would make an excellent nun - and closing the door with a satisfying 'click' he mused on the fate of those with blasphemining tongues and how they had better be more careful in future.
Gabriel had been packing his suitcase allday.
Ready to go, sir"
Thank you, Gabriel."
"Is that everything?" Gabriel asked.
Let me check." said God reaching into his jacket pocket and unfolding a slip of paper. "
check, check, check, check...keep an eye on Peter won't you - he means well but..."
Of course." nodded Gabriel.
Check, check, check ooh here's one.. a-ha! of course!" said God.
The memory faded and God found himself once again sat opposite his frustrated nemesis:ready to decide the fate of the world.
Ah-ha! of course!" said God. "
how silly of me to forget." and he clicked the fingers that started universes'.
In the bowels of Stone henge there was the magnifcent echo of the Celestial Choir singing "Allileueh", a sound like "shhhlop!...*twang!*"
And Bob stood before them clad in the armour of God that shimmered and glowed even in the murky darkness that pervaded these corridors. Jaw set, eyes fierce, Bob drew from it's scabbard a sword that looked like it has been forged out of pure white light and merely compressed into something that was sword shaped.
"I say!" said Richter. "I take it all back - that's pretty impressive."
Bob swallowed hard. He wasn't looking forward to what was about to happen one bit...
Rasputin had heard the cry of Allileueh as well.
"Zo you come to fasz me at last."
Yellow, fetid clouds boiled over the countryside, casting a feverish glow on the landscape and the monoliths of Stonehenge. Strange flashes of light were seen deep in the clouds; in Stoke-on-Trent there was a rain of fish.
In London, the ravens flocked the air on clamorous wings, departing the Tower and setting off down the river towards the sea.
All over the world, the great colourful carnival that was the end of the world wound up towards its deafening climax.
In a field a short way from Stonehenge, a thin, dapper little man had settled down to have a picnic. Tim reasoned that he may as well face death on a full stomach, and the roadside café had really good luncheon rolls. Now he settled his back against a fence post, and unwrapped the roll, setting the wrapper neatly on his knees to catch the crumbs. He felt, strangely, at peace, for the first time in several weeks. Since he had met the monk, in fact. Now there was nothing more he could do. He had tried to get in to the Stonehenge complex, but been turned back by the Marine guards. If the Twilight of the Gods was really upon them, it would have to do without his contribution.
The happy assassin took a small bite out of the roll, and wiped his chin free of tomato juice. He was his own master again. Life was good.
In this peaceful frame of mind, he was totally unprepared for the spitting, clawing ball of fur which suddenly dropped on his head.
He felt a razor-sharp pain along his forehead, yelped and jerked back. The breakfast roll went flying unfinished into the hedge. He felt claws scrabbling on his shirt, pinpricks in his chest, saw a totally evil little cat face thrust into his.
"Boss?!? is it YOU?"
"YoU BRoUght me BaCK, tiM...diDN't You?"
"Sure boss. Course I did."
The fact that this was stretching the truth a little didn't even cross Tim's mind.
"we'VE gOt tO geT OUt of HEre TiM... tHoSe B******S hAve CATNIP... yOU'll tAke CAre oF mEEe, WoN'T yoU, tIm? MeeOOWWW..."
"Oh yes boss. Absolutely." Cats are notorious for their ability to manipulate humans; in this case the Leicestercat was helped by some strategically placed claws. Tim didn't so much speak as squeak.
"i'LL mAKe thOse AgENCy DogS pAaaAyYy... buT fIrst, Do yOU KNoW wHat I WAnt?"
"A saucer of cream and a ball of string, boss?"
"sTOp sNiggerIng, tiM. mY neeDs aRE dIfFereNT NoW, That'S aLL. aLSo, sOmE wHIskAs..."
The dastardly duo walked and padded down the motorway and out of our story, for the moment. But it would be foolish to underestimate the evil malevolence of the Leicestercat - we haven't heard the last of him...
Back in the Apocalypse Chamber, things had taken a turn for the Biblical.
Bob stepped forward, uncomfortable in his bulky heavenly armour, and hefted the heavy fiery sword. He was sweating profusely, uncomfortably aware that something was expected of him. The bloodied monk was staring at him with those deep-set, grey eyes...Bob felt himself slipping...
A sharp crack on the head brought him to his senses. Jill glared at him.
"Focus, you lemon. And if you mess this up..." chided Jill.
Bob gulped, and turned back to the monk, who was looking on, amused, and tapping his foot.
"Trouble vis ze voman, yah? Unt you call yourself a Champion..."
The Champion, feeling distinctly ordinary, took another step into the chamber, and tried to fix the monk with a steely glare.
"Now see here - " he began. Then he realised that Rasputin wasn't paying attention. The monk had in fact turned his back and was messing with the laundry wringer, oblivious to Bob's presence.
"Hey, hey! I wasn't finished! Excuse me, umm... Mr Rasputin? Stop that! What are you doing?!? Stop!"
Richter slapped his forehead. he looked over his shoulder, and grinned. It was a terrible sight. The ground began rumbling slightly, like distant thunder.
"Vy don't you make me stop, you silly little Henglishman? You nekulturny turd, I haf seen more life in a ... Digestive biscuit. Hah!"
"Well, there's no need to get personal..."
Realising that he wasn't quite filling his armour, so to speak, Bob lunged forward and swung clumsily with the fiery sword. Rasputin side-stepped with a cackle, and shot out his arm. Bob overbalanced and landed with a small cloud of dust on the floor next to the altar. The fiery sword flew out of his grip, and out of reach.
"Bugger! Come back here..." said Bob clambering after it.
Bob struggled in the heavy armour, and managed to roll over.
All around him, the ground was shaking. Rocks began falling from the domed ceiling, bouncing around and over him. Twisting his head, he saw the ground around the altar was falling away - a sudden rush of heat from the crevase made him strain backwards as the chasm opened up into into a pit of churning lava.
He was left on an island, isolated from the other Agents, with the sacrificial alter, Apocolyptic laundry wringer and Rasputin. Flickering red light filled the chamber, giving an appropriately sinister air. This is about where the 'Dominus' chorus would kick in, if this was a film. You'll just have to hum it to yourself...
Now the monk was looming over him, grinning evilly.
"Vot do you sink off my little toy? It does bluddy good tricks, da? Now maybe I mess YOU up, like I mess up your very funny friend, Mr Clown"
He was hauled up, and slammed back on the altar by the wiry but incredibly strong President of the United States, who then produced a stiletto blade and pressed it up against his throat. Bob smelt oil, blood and sweat as Rasputin thrust his lined, twitching face very close.
"Now you vill all DIE, vot do you sink of that, eh, my Henglish friend?"
And suddenly Bob was overtaken by a great surge of annoyance. He hadn't asked to be mixed up in secret agent games or apocalyptic conspiracies, or chosen as some kind of divine tool, or fight megalomaniacs over pits of lava. It was, what, eight o' clock? All he wished was to be on his comfy sofa-bed watching "Ready, Steady, Cook!" and wearing slippers. This immense tide of miffed-ness swept through his body like a red tide, eventually reaching his mouth, where it erupted.
"OH, WHY DON'T YOU JUST PUSH OFF!!!"
He roared, shoving back the monk with unexpected strength, and slapping him upside the face in the process. Rasputin fell back, nearly toppled over into the abyss, but regained his balance with cat-like grace and cast an appreciative look at Bob.
"Aha, not all tea unt crumpets, zen? Very vell - let's dance!"
Meanwhile across the sea of molten rock....
"What's happening now?" demanded Richter.
"They're circling each other...Rasputin is saying something to Bob...." Guy squinted "What..? I think Gonzaroolio is trying something..."
Horrible pain clouded Gonzaroolio's mind. Before the Agents had arrived, Rasputin had used him for amusement for several minutes, and now his face was laced with blood, with a broken nose and two black eyes. He had somehow retained his little red nose, and this was a comfort to him in what all his carfeully honed assassins instincts screamed to be an inescapable situation. Diminished as he was by the years of drinking...he knew these were his last moments. And no clown was going to die with out a large red hooter.
Now episodes from his long, eventful life played out on the ragged cinema screen of his mind. The first time he had told the old Don that he wanted to become a clown, and the old man's fury. His first unicycle. His first cycle-by shooting. The giddy thrill he had gotten after killing the Communist Premier of Czechoslovakia with a bunch of flowers. Great days...
He felt his life ebbing away, his blood flowing out, weakening him. Worse, he was unpleasantly aware that he would have to do something incredibly noble before he died, to make up for a life of crime and depravation.
The old Don, his father, would have called it a 'debt of honour'.
Gonzaroolio saw it as a massive incovienience and a bloody pain. 'may as well get on with it.'
Gritting his teeth against the terrible agony that flew down his arms as he tried to negotiate his fractured shoulder through a twist, he turned over and slipped the ropes off his wrist - escapology was one of his specialities - and shook his head groggily.
He saw the monk inches away from him, facing away, shouting something at... was that Bob??
"Ve vill see hif your spit unt vinegar vill last, eh?, ven I haf buried zis knife in your guts, haha! Vere is your pretty sword gone, Henglishman? Maybe you vill knock me out viz your big stiff hupper lip, da?"
Rasputin seemed to swim in the heat haze rising from the lava pit, and he tossed the stiletto blade from one hand to the other. He was grinning madly, and foaming slightly.
Bob spat out a bloody tooth, knocked out when he had fallen, and growled. Unfortunately he was a mild-mannered chap at heart, and found it hard to keep in the berserker frame of mind. The Russian's incessant chattering didn't help, either.
"Why don't you just shut up, you dirty, silly fool!" he shouted hoarsely. Insults weren't his strong point. The monk reared up in mock-horror, and whistled.
Bob saw it first: A dark, twitching figure rise up behind the monk; from the smeared makeup and bruised red nose, he knew it could only be Gonzaroolio.
The clown winked painfully at him, and reached into his sleeve. He fumbled for a moment, then drew out a long line of colourful handkerchiefs, all tied together. A pigeon flew out too, cooed and fluttered off in a cloud of feathers.
Rasputin half-turned at the bird-call, but it was too late. The clown's garotte was viciously yanked around his neck, and dragged him back. Gonzaroolio put every particle of his remaining strength into pulling back on the colourful choker, trying to cut off the monk's windpipe. Rasputin struggled with wild fury, lashing back with fingernails and feet, but the grim clown stood firm.
"Bob, grab his arms!" shouted the clown.
Bob darted forward and circling around, attempted to get hold of Rasputin's flailing limbs, but only caught a hand in the face for his trouble, which sent him teetering at the edge of the precipice. He lost balance, half-fell and swung an arm over the edge in time to save himself.
The heavenly armour weighed him down, making every movement an effort. Tremendous heat washed over him from the Pit, as he scrabbled for a handhold. He heard grunts and sounds of the fight proceeding.
Eventually dragging himself over the edge, he saw that the mad, half-dead monk had somehow slipped his multi-coloured noose and had now facing the haggard clown, who stood on the edge.
Time stopped. Bob's eyes met Gonzaroolio's own. He could see the resignation and tiredness in his swollen, bloody eyes.
Gonzarolio looked upwards at the looming figure of the monk.
"I don't suppose you'd care to sniff my button hole?" he hoarsely enquired of the evil monk.
"Vot? Do you plead for mercy?"
The clown shrugged fatalistically. There was a blur of robes, a sharp crack, and then he was just gone, disappeared over the edge.
Rasputin turned, and Bob cringed. The monk had a livid red line around his neck, dripping blood all over his black cassock and giving him a well-hard appearance. He snarled, an animal sound, and advanced.
"You see vot happens to your very funny friend, Mr Clown? Vell, I vill take my TIME viz you, Henglishman, make you beg for ze Lord's forgiveness..."
Only Annabel, from her position trussed up on the altar, could see that Gonzaroolio had left more behind than a few bloodstains.
Directly in the monk's path, there lay a blackened, shrivelled old banana peel...
It is of course universally ackonowledged that the Universe loves a good joke. Just look at giraffes. And the simpler a joke is, the better. This one is really going to have them rolling around on the floor.
Feels like I'm falling or...
Gonzaroolio opened his eyes.
Gonzaroolio sat up.
He felt an odd disquiet. Not becuase he was uncomfortable - quite the reverse in fact. All the old aches and twinges had dissolved away; the pull in the pit of stomach, the parched sensation at the back of his throat, the legacy of years of alcohol abuse, were all gone. He felt well. For the first time...ever.
"Feels strange doesn't it?"
Gonzaroolio shifted on his hands, turning around, trying to locate the source of the voice.
The owner of the voice was a man. The first thing that you noticed about him was he was thin, really, quite extraordinarily thin.
He sat in a chair - well sort of slouched, no he...reclined in a regal sort of manner - leaning into one side of the high-back chair, a leg cast notiantly over on arm-rest.
He was wreathed in many glamourous cloaks that hung around him down to his ankles. He sort of drooped like a sheet blowing in the breeze. He stroked a small grey and whispy beard that extended a couple of inches from his chin.
The real kicker though was his eyes. They sat like diamonds beneath his two grey, perpetually arched eyebrows and crackled with an unfathomable joy when they fell upon you. They made you want to laugh.
Gonzaroolio was obviously still taking all of this in.
The man cast his eyes around the pale non-descript milky-whiteness which seemd to extened to limit of sight in every direction.
"How do you feel?" he asked smiling gently.
"Am I?" finished the man with a wry grin and a slow nod.
Gonzaroolio nodded back, his brow furrowed deep in confusion.
"I am Pan." said the man
Somethign was bothering Gonzaroolio.
"Am I? - "
"Oh." said the clown a little down-beat.
"HIM? No." he self-effaced with tiny chuckle, and steepling his fingers, leaning forward said: "HE is away on business - the workload gets farmed out to the lower divisions if things get a bit busy.
I am the pagan god of mischief."
He tapped his hands on the rests of the chair, gave a quick clap and in a flash was one his feet. Everything about the way pan moved was a performance and a dance.
"So this is Heaven?" said Gonzaroolio casting a critical eye about the uniformly bland walls.
"Mmm-hmm." nodded Pan through pursed lips and segued like a tap dancer,over to where Gonzaroolio stood.
He placed a comforting arm on the clown's shoulder and gestured with his free hand.
"All of this...Heaven - frightfully boring, let me tell you."
"Oh yes. The light entertainment is organised by senior managment and between you and me - Peter couldn't get a rise out yeast."
Gonzaroolio startled on a small chuckle.
"Oh you liked that? I authored all the great ones. Some of the less great ones too. You've heard of The Divine Comedy - that was me. Dante got it all confused of course. I mean I said 'comedy' but these humans all have there own ideas. " said Pan roling his eyes and spiralling with his index finger round his forehead.
"The chicken?" mumbled Gonzaroolio in sudden inspired awe.
"Oh yes." said pan beaming with incandescent pride. "Would you like to know why?" Pan said grinning like a cat.
"Uh-huh." said Goonzarrolio nodding furiously. No self-respecting clown could possibly expire without at least trying to find out why the chiclken crossed the road.
Pan cupped his hand around the clowns ear and whispered something.
The clown, smiled then the smirk spread across his cheeks and he laughed for a long time. He had to rest his hands on his knees while he fought to regain his breath but all of sudden found he had no need. For he had no breath to breathe.
Pan reached into his lapel pocket and produced a small black box like a remote control. It had a single button.
When he pressed it, then was the sound as of gears far away sliding into position and from the featureless, milky background two huge gates opened and brilliant white light spilled out.
"Cor!" cooed the clown.
Pan crossed his arm once more behind Gonzaroolio and led him forward, the pair silhouetted aginst the light.
"Do they have a stage?" Gonzaroolio was heard to ask as he disolved into nothingness.
"Cabaret on Wednesdays but we'll soon see to that, eh?" Pan was noted to reply.
"Yessir." saluted the voice of Gonzaroolio
"I think this could be the start of a long and beautiful friendship."
"You've got talent kid, there's no denying it. That thing with the bannana you just pulled - masterful!"
"It was nothing." self-effaced the clown.
"No, no - it had style."
The textured air that now was the clown could, had any mortal being been their to wittnesses it, been seen to blush slightly but seeing as this is clearly impossible you'll just have to take our word for it.
"Who's th - "
And with that, the gates of Heaven closed and the light faded....
It was the pratfall to end them all.
Time seemed to run slowly, like thick honey, while Rasputin's feet slipped from under him. The banana peel, its function in history complete, shot off the edge with a little squelch. Apart from that, all was silent.
Rasputin hung in the air, arms flailing impotently. Thinking back, Bob could even remember the expression on the monk's face; utter surprise, mixed with incomprehension and rage. It was one of those moments as if preserved in amber, still, quiet, perfect for all eternity.
Normal temporal service resumed suddenly.
Rasputin landed on his back at an angle, with a loud and quite final crack
And that was very nearly it.
Taken aback, Bob could only stare. Several seconds passed. The fiery light from the pit played on the walls of the cavern like an ambient mood in a fancy restaurant. Across the precipice, Heddingly cleared his throat. It was one of those moments, like after a really good party, when you pause, take a deep breath and take stock of the damage.
Jill was staring at the point where the steading expanding concentric ripples marked Gonzaroolio's exit from this world.
Richter bit his fist and squinted at the still figures across the lava. He was worried. He was always worried.
Guy was chuckling loudly. Jaded as he was, banana peel jokes just cracked him up.
Bob leaned forward a little bit, peering at the tangle of cloth and hairy limbs. Some of the latter were at rather strange angles, he noted quesily.
Annabel, still trussed up on the altar, jerked around in her bonds and wished someone would say something explanatory, as she couldn't see a thing.
Rasputin did nothing, not even breathe. He was dead.
This was a conclusion Bob had just arrived at. He gave a short, breathless laugh, and raised his eyebrows as high as they would go, and scratched his head.
"Wonder if I get the credit for this...?" he mused.
He reached out cautiously and poked Rasputin's knee. The leg flopped down. He giggled, a little frantically.
Turning on his heel, he waved to the Agents clustered on the opposite side of the chasm.
Guy and Heddingly did a high-five, and Jill shot him an appreciative look. Ignoring Richter's frantic hand gestures, he turned back to the corpse.
Rasputin's face, though laced with blood and bruised, looked almost peaceful in death. He had something tucked into his collar, and Bob leaned in to look...
Richter winced, and bit through the brim of his bowler. He could see where this was going...
...the mad eyes shot open, and before Bob could even gasp he was staggering back seeing flashes on a black background, clutching at his throbbing head, and wishing he had stayed out of headbutt-range.
When Bob painfully opened his eyes, Rasputin was back on his feet, shaking his head groggily, wiping blood from his eyes, not grinning now.
"Oh, da," he snarled "Ha bluddy ha. You sink me fallink is jolly funny, eh? Vell, let me show you MY idea of a choke..."
He slipped yet another dagger from the recesses of his robe, and spun it in his fingers.
"Vot do you get, ven you cross a bluddy stupid Henglishman, vis eight hinches of stainless steel? Take your time, sink about it..."
"But...but...you were dead..." stammered Bob.
The monk gave him a wry, sideways look.
"I get zat a lot"
Without further conversation, he lunged.
By sheer luck, Bob caught the monk's arm as it swung down, and tried to prise the dagger from his grip. Rasputin growled, and scrabbled and tugged at Bob's hand. Locked together by the dagger that tottered over their heads, the pair staggered about the altar, inches from the chasm, Rasputin spitting and hissing, Bob absently dreaming of microwave dinners and primetime TV.
'There was something he should remember', he thought distantly, as the dagger slipped in his grasp and the monk tried to edge him over the precipice.' Was it something important?', his body enquired; it was rather busy at the moment. 'Yes', his psyche assured him, 'this was very important indeed, vital, in fact. No, it wasn't about Ready, Steady, Cook. He had to think.'
'Ah yes'. After all, he was the Divine Champion.
"Nnngh....vot? You bloody Henglishman....you vant to TALK? Hnnnghhh...let me see that dagger..."
He needed a distraction. A witty off-the-cuff remark would have been perfect.
Bob had never been very good at witty remarks, but the occasion seemed to call for one.
"your shirt's on fire."
Well try coming up with one at short notice. We can't all be Bruce Willis.
And with that, he brought up the thirdarm, which he had quite forgotten about in the exitement, two forefingers extended, and poked the Beast in the eyes.
Howling, Rasputin clutched at his face, letting the dagger drop, and stepped back -
And that really was it.
A few moments later, there was a high lick of flame and a pleasant barbecue smell, redolent of summer days and patios.
Meanwhile back in Switzerland.
Armin was trying to kill himself by repeatedly beating his head on the table. Aside from a bit of bruising ranging to mild concussion he was enjoying little success.
God and Satan were keeping time by the rythmic beating of his forhead against the wood.
1 thunk.....2 thunk.... -
"What was that?" said God, looking up.
This time the noise broke out into a tinny rendiotion of "The Macarena."
Hmm? - oh - it's my mobile!" said The Devil
You have a mobile phone?" said God.
Oh yes very useful things. We get all the venture capitalists so naturally we also get all the latest gadgets." beamed Satan.
Not to mention that one of these babies in Fifty years time will do for radiation sickness what one of the old ICBM's would do back in the eighties. You gotta love progress..." he mused as he acessesed his text messages.
oh yes!" Lucifer exclaimed. "
We got 'im! We got that little sneak damn grease stain of a monk. He's mine."
"Rasputin is dead then."
Yup." said the demon tossing on his jacket. "
Heard it was a laugh-riot too."
"I know the banana - "
- skin, yes." chuckled Satan to himself.
God turned to Armin.
"You may go now." and clicked his fingers. There was a flash of light and Armin vanished - transported off someplace to recover.
I" God said standing up and dusting of his tunic "
have some business to attend to - if you'll excuse me." and with that he vanished.
The Devil was just putting on his painfully stylish sunglasses and retrieving his pitchfork from the umbrella stand where it had partially melted into the floor.
Hey - come back here!" he stamped a hoof - there was a lick of flame and a whiff of sulphur and the flat was empty.
It was like a dream.
There was a sense of space opening before him - he opened his eyes and saw nothing but heard the sound of wave-fall. He realised he was laying in sand and staring up into the sky.
Rasputin hauled himself to an upright position and surveyed the scene stood down by the water was a figure wreathed in robes and white light.
"My Lord." he whispered and picking up his cassock ran down towards the beach.
He arrived feeling as though he ought to be breathless but found that it came quite easily to him. The fresh salty air of the sea was cool on his face.
"Lord..." began Rasputin.
Walk with me a while." said God and began to walk off along the beach.
Rasputin hurried along behind.
"Lord God - how often did I speak to you. How many times did I entreat you to bade my pleas, how often did thou ignore my offerings and thy back on me!" spat Rasputin his anger welling up inside.
God stopped and turned to face the monk.
Take a look at the sky."
Rasputin looked and saw his life as the beach upon which they know stood and he saw God beside him at many intervals along that path.
In each scene he saw two sets of footprints in the sand.
one belonging to him and the other to God.
Frequently one of the sets of footprints would dissapear.
He glanced back down the beach they had just come along.
One set of foot prints stayed steady and true the other set wavered and unsteadily meandered up to where Rasputin now stood and instead of leading to where God stood they lurched right, up and over a dune.
He noticed that the footprints of his life had departed from God's path when the rage he felt towards his Lord had driven him to acts of wickedness and depravity.
"What lies beyond that ridge?" asked the monk, noticing it for the first time.
The Desert." Said God.
As before God led the way up the dune-side and over the top.
As they crested the ridge, Rasputin couldn't stop thinking about the footprints in the sand.
"Lord," he asked, "It was written in the Holy Books that once I decided to follow You, You'd walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why when I needed You most You would
It was not I who abadonned you my child. No, it was you who abadonned me." said God sadly with a flick of his head.
"Then if it was not thine who I serviced. Who?"
HIM." Said God pointing to the Horizon.
And there stood Satan - the beast aflame - in the centre of the sea of dunes.
You could tell he wasn't happy because the closest ones to him had fused into glass...
The monk whimpered. He made a pathetic figure, on his knees, eyes raised to The Terror on the far horizon. The shining figure by his side watched him impassively.
Squinting, tears running down his lean, lined face and through his matted beard, Rasputin turned to look desperately into the face of the sad Lord.
A slow, solemn nod.
"And I have to-?"
Again, the nod.
God cleared his throat, and tutted.
This, from the man who never showed mercy to another living thing?
That business with the nylon laces and the red-hot Dustbuster... You forget that it was I who coined the phrase, 'An eye for an eye'..."
Rasputin groaned, and averted his gaze. And although he clamped his hands over his ears and screamed at the top of his voice, he heard quite clearly.
You ask for mercy. You ask too much. I give you...justice"
When the monk looked up, he was alone. The desert had spread to consume the sea, and the red-brown dunes stretched away to infinity. He got unsteadily to his feet, wiped his nose on his sleeve and went forth.
Bob, two fingers still outstretched, opened his eyes - surveyed the absence of the monk save for the small trail of smoke from beyond the lip of the precipice. He turned his head and cast a quizzical look at Richter across the fiery abyss. The seismologist gave a thumbs up.
"I think that did it!" he hollered. Everybody cheered, except for Annabel, who was lying on her front grunting desperately and jerking in her bonds like half an earthworm.
When a large chunk of the roof of the cavern came loose and tumbled into the lava, the reason for her agitation was plain to see. Bolts of blue energy were shooting out of the walls and ceiling and striking the Diabolical and cast-iron Laundry-Wringer of Doom, which was emitting a shrill shriek and shuddering slightly.
The divine, rather terrified champion ripped off Annabel's gag and flinched as another block whipped past, this time glancing off the altar pedestal.
"Gakkk..." spat Annabel breathlessly. "The engine is unstable. He half-completed the sequence, it's drawing in all the energy, it's going to implode, or explode, but there's going to be a hell of a bang, we've got to get it out of here..."
Bob reeled backwards at this, and, as he always did when confronted with something incomprehensible and upsetting.
"Ummm... I don't think we've met. My name's Bob."
Annabel tried to mask her recognition of Bob from the hospital and gave him a withering stare.
"Just untie me. Bob."
Which, against a background of fiery armageddon, he rather clumsily proceeded to do. He had, of course, been a Boy Scout. He had gotten a merit badge for Eagerness, so he wouldn't feel left out.
The shaking in the chamber grew worse and the blue streams of lightning flickered and sparked, as Annabel, rubbing her wrists and shielding her eyes from the white glare, turned to the laundry wringer, in it's pride of place on the altar. Bob rocked on his heels and bit his nails. He felt nervous around women in suits.
'Right', thought Annabel, as she leafed through the instructions for the engine, 'time for another executive decision. Ah, here it is...'
"You might want to stand back. Bob. I'm not one hundred percent on how this works." She shot a little smile to him, and he practically leaped back, glancing at her uneasily and feeling that he was somehow failing to fill his armour.
Annabel felt the handle of the wringer, barely warm despite the elemental power flowing through it. Blue sparks crackled on her arm, raising the fine hairs. She gave a long turn anti-clockwise.
She gave two short twists clockwise. She gave a sweet smile.
She gave one last twist, tapped herself on the wrist and blinked out of sight.
That, thought Bob, was unfair. Now more chunks of bedrock were plummeting from the crumbling roof, and a large swathe of the wall cracked and slid into the spitting, churning lava. The laundry-wringer was vibrating and giving off a high-pitched squeal which slid into the ear like a knife and cut up the ear-drums. He picked up the sheaf of instructions from where they had fallen, and regarded them balefully.
Technology and Bob were uneasy bedfellows.
To take the analogy further, they had arranged separate single beds, which they occupied in frigid silence, and didn't talk to each other at breakfast.
The last time he had tried to set his VCR to tape an episode of 'Heartbeat', he had ended up with a programme on the iron-ore industry in Argentina, in Flemish, on a channel he didn't even have. That had been three years ago...
He grimaced as he leafed through the instructions. Better get good fairly quickly, he thought, trying to block out the frantic yells of the others. Let's see, does it have an index? No. Glossary? No. FAQ? No.
'Alright, I'll just have to wing it'. Not perhaps a thought to inspire confidence in anyone trying to stay alive. But what had Annabel done? Adolescent years of furtively finding the salacious passages in his parents books paid off. He suspended the manual by the spine, and found the page she had been looking at. 'Trannsport and Trans-Location w. the Enginne'.
'This is it!' he thought, sweat running into his eyes; the sound of tortured rock filled the air.
One hand holding open the instructions, the other on the handle, gibbering slightly, he copied her moves to the last, and, just as a massive rock smashed against the side of the altar pedestal and cracked it down the spine, he tapped the glowing laundry wringer.
Then the world twisted sideways, and slid into the abyss. He slipped on the shifting floor, grappled for a handhold and fell into emptiness. His last thought before the darkness swallowed him was that it served them right for 'Home and Away'...
"Hark! She comes."
"um...over there, I think."
"Are you certain?"
"Let me check my notes."
The two shadowy figures, the questioner and the one who was a bit unsure of things, were huddled together over what had once been a plinth.
All around them was darkness - real darkness however, ulike the darkness which is when like light has gone on holiday and will be back next Tuesday but the sort black that is dark because light had never been there in the first place.
The pair's sole recourse against this inhospitable scene was a small waxy candle that was hurrdly burning down to the stub - the yellow flame was flickering madly like the eye-lid of an old insane sailor.
The air was still and old but there was aoccasionally from the depths something approaching a stale breeze, ever so slight, which caused the candle to go into something approaching a spasm.
The flickering light made it hard to read the scrolls.
"Um...take a few paces that way". said one of the figures pointing with out really looking
"Here?" asked the now distant voice.
The scroll studying figure glanced upward.
"No,no - the other way."
There was the sound of sandals on flagstones
"That's it - perfect!"
There was a strangled metallic sounding bass note with a resonant twang - as of one molesting a harpishord with a chainsaw - and a flash of intense blue light flared up above their heads, illuminating the forest of impossibly tall stone pillars that surround them on all sides.
There was a cry like "whoa!" and another sound whumph! - arg! - as of an immaculately cut suit with a person inside it and with accesorising guichi heels crumpling to a heap after dropping 8 feet out of mid air through a dimensional rift.
In all the excitment the candle had gone out.
"I think that was it." said the first.
"Hello?" he ventured bravely but against all reason what came out was a terrified squeeak.
"urrrrrgh." growled some furred toothy monstrosity - well at least that's what the first figure's imagination was currently crediting with having made that sound.
He reasoned - that if there was a big, huge, furry, hideously clawed thing - out there in the dark it would be useless him sacrficing himself for his colleague who by now was probably having his shin bone used as a tooth pick , and all in all the best thing he could do right now was ...RUN!!!!
His feet were already one step ahead of his cerebral cortex. In fact they were several - he ran and ran , careering into obstacles left right and centre, ricocheting from pillar to post. After he figured he put sufficient distance between himself and whatever it was he was supposed to be here to escort (for the moment forgoing the fact that he would doubtless be killed for abdonning his charge) he was merely trying to put off being killed right now by the ..by the.. the...um...
While our protagnoist wrestled with this rather limited series of career options he failed to notice the shadow move black-on-black past this pillar around that corner snaking towards him.
The cowled figure shuffled his feet a little and sounded despondant.
"So that's it - I'm dead then."
A hand reached out grabbed him by the tunic and hoisted hm bodily up into the air and pressed him against the stone pillar with a considerable degree of force.
"Yes you are!" said a voice.
There was the sound of some fumbling, some itinerant clicking and finally a flame jumped up out of the lighter and Annabel stared frustrated into the half-sane eyes of the terrified monk.
"Yes." said Annabel. "Late. I was unavoidably detained being tied to a stone alter about the be sacrficed by a crazed holy zombified man."
"Bad day at the office?" said the figure sympathetically prompted by some inner instict of survival.
"The office" stared Annabell "is no more. I shall contact my solictor have the company liquidated, the assets sold on.
On second thoughts I won't kill you. We may someone to have to come back for your friend over there, I'm afraid he gave his head a nasty crack on the floor when he broke my fall."
"It's good to see you again, miss."
"It's good to be back."
"You mission was successful then?"
"I have seen much that the others must know. Take me into the inner sanctum. I must speak with Him."
"The Dying Pilchard Bleeds Under A Turqoise Moon." intonded the monk from the bottom of his indoctrinated heart.
"Yes.....quite." smiled Annabell whimsically and heel's clicking on the ancient stone floor of the temple, she strode off to deliver her report.
Bob was becoming quickly bored. He squirmed on the white couch, and cast a glance at St Peter, back behind his desk and glowering over a log book that had to be filled in in triplicate.
"Erm..." quavered Bob.
Peter gave him a Look.
"Like I said, he'll be ready when he's ready. You wouldn't believe his workload. It's not as if you're going anywhere, is it?"
"No, I was just wondering where the, umm, bathroom was? You see, I didn't have time to go before I...went."
The angel frowned.
This is...weeell, it's never come up before. Highly irregular!" he tutted.
"Yes, that's the problem!" said Bob jovially, trying to make a joke of it and failing. Peter harrumphed, and turned back to his books.
The little tibetan monk beside Bob on the couch gave him a broad grin.
"Don't worry, he's always like this. He has a lot of stress. Every time I get reincarnated I say to him, you've got to get an assistant, but he has his ways, you know..."
A bell rang out clear and bright, and a grateful Bob was ushered out of Purgatory into the presence of his god. He waved bye-bye to the Dali Llama as he went.
"So, Robert, you did it. I must admit, I had my doubts about your ability; when Arthur refused me...ungrateful little ...but you performed above and beyond the call of duty. And right now, things are becoming...unpleasant...for the renegade monk. Thanks to you.""
Bob blushed, shuffled his feet, stared at the floor, said it was nothing really.
"Although I have had several quite sharp prayers from my children in, um, Australia I think it was. Was it really necessary to transport the machine there? Wouldn't some inoffensive stretch of ocean have done just as well?"
Now Bob looked up.
"Have you ever seen 'Home and Away', sir?"
God cradled his chin in his hands.
"Fair point. When you leave me, you will wake up in a hospital bed, surrounded by your friends. I have arranged it all. But first, I believe it is customary to grant you a request - a boon, if you like. A reward for your sterling services to Creation. What shall it be, Robert?"
"If you could get rid of this third arm? Please? Only it's a bit of a nuisance, 'cause I lose track of which hand is holding what, and when I'm in the loo that's..."
"That's already taken care of, Robert. Tell me so; what do you *really* want?"
Bob looked far away for a moment.
"Well, there is this girl..." he stuttered, then stopped.
"Jill" prompted the Lord.
A mute nod from Bob.
God shook his great head sadly, and clapped a hand on Bob's shoulder.
"Walk with me, my son"
And now they were surrounded by stars, billions of tiny galaxies that twinkled and flashed garishly in the sober vacuum of space. Bob waved a hand, and it passed right through a cluster of stars and space dust.
The Lord turned to him, infinity reflected in his eye.
"Look. This is my Creation. I made this. All here is mine to control"
To demonstrate, and also because he had a penchant for showing off, God waved an arm expansively. A perfect circle of galaxies supernovaed around his head, giving him a halo formed from the death of worlds.
"Time is my servant, Matter is my tool, Reality is my canvas..."
And here he looked sympathetically to Bob.
"...but you and Jill? That's *never* going to happen..."
He clicked his fingers, and the real world came back into focus.
Bob jerked up in the hospital bed.
"He's awake! Oh Bob, thank God you're alive!"
He looked at the circle of relieved faces,
Jill asked him.
"So did you see anything?"
"Where?" asked Bob quizzically.
"Beyond the Veil - y'know...up...there." said Richter clutching his bowler and looking towards the ceiling cautiously.
Bob thought of the conversation he had just shared with God.
"Really?" said Jill surprised.
"Divine champion and all that?" mumbled Richter a tad disappointed.
"That's right not a thing. Now I could really murder a jam croissant." said Bob, hopping out of bed.
and Bob, our quite Bob found himself thinking. 'Free will - what a mistake THAT was!'
God folded his arms and said: "I knew he'd do that."
Uh-huh." nodded St Peter, who didn't believe a word of it.
No really I did. What?"
You still owe me a fiver."
"How about a Bagel with my face in it? I have a distribution centre in Wyoming."
"Not a chance."
St Peter strode ahead into Heaven, out through the 'staff only' door to the Pearly Gates. and got almost as far as his desk when he felt a small tug on his tunic.
Looking down he saw a new soul had arrived up the Divinity Escalator.
The man was quite wet and dripping, evidence that he'd drowned obviously.
Then there was also the fact that he was busy trying to extricate his legs from the throat of shark using his surf board for leverage. It appeared that the shark had choked on it's meal.
"Erm...excuse me" said the man.
"Yes?" said St Peter with the air of one who hopes to be pleasantly surprised when delivering bad news.15
"Am I dead?"
Peter looked over his half-moon spectacles past the man at the shark, still gripped about his waist, taking stock of the man's predicament.
I'd say so."
"and is this - "
Peter couldn't hold back.
YES it is. I mean really - is that any surprise? You've got a bloody great fish clamped onto your legs. and these - he said stamping his foot madly. "These are clouds! have you ever stood on clouds before? No? well then!"
The man was clearly confused at the large man in the glowing white tunic having a hissy fit. "but is this."
Peter sighed. "Yes it's this way. hoisting the man up by his shoulder and persuading the shark to let go.
A thin, cracked voice was quavering out over the bleak dunes of the desert of the soul.
"...amaaaaaziiiing graaaaace, how sveeeeet ze soooul, who saaaaved aahaaha wretch, like meeeee, for I-i-i-i voooss lost, but now am found...."
Lips parched, throat dry, Rasputin was stumbling up a large dune. Pebbles stuck in his shoes. Dust stung his eyes. How long had he been stumbling across the terrible expanse of flat sand, with nowhere to hide from himself?
Eventually he had started to sing, to drown out the voices in his head. They would *destroy* him. Through long years of debauchery and evil, he had become numb to the protests of his weakened, atrophied conscience. Now it had caught up with him, with a vengeance. All those people...men, and the women... He began bawling out again, as loudly as his tired lungs would permit.
"Vooos bliiind, buuuuut now, I seeeeee...."
With this he reached the crest of the dune. Below him, water glinted in a small canyon, carved from a rock outcropping. A patch of white showed up lividly against the ochre hues of the desert. There was a whisper of wind in the airless desert.
"....my son....come to me...."
Forgiveness? Hope dawned in the eyes of the bedraggled monk. He ran, tumbled, fell, rolled down the dune in a cloud of stinging sand, regained his footing and hobbled frantically to the white figure, sitting gazing into the small desert spring. Sweating, gritty with sand and bleeding from small cuts, he stood behind the figure, heaving in deep breaths.
There was a blur of movement, which ended up with Rasputin on his back in the sand, and the white figure kneeling on his chest, gripping his neck and pushing an unfriendly red face into his.
The Devil cast off his white robe.
"Care for another guess?" he spat. Hellfire flared in his eyes.
"Aaahahh..." twittered the monk, "My, ahh, ozzer Lord. I haf been lookink for you..."
I've been looking for you too, monk. You made me look quite foolish, with your little escape-from-Alcatraz stunt."
Rasputin looked blank. "Al-katraz?"
That's not important. You tarnished the reputation of my fine establishment when you skipped out. You made HELL look SILLY..."
The Prince of Lies was literally fuming. Steam rose off his flanks. A heat haze formed in the air. Rasputin turned approximately the colour of really *good* lobster.
My house didn't seem to affect you overmuch, monk. We boiled you in molten sewage - you came out smelling of roses. We cut out your entrails, and made you eat them - you smiled, and swallowed. We stewed you in the odious maw of Azrael the Black Beast for a million years - you compared him..."
And here the heat grew more intense.
...to a jacuzzi! Do you have any idea how much that hurt his feelings? hmm? I'll tell you - he cried like a baby. You arrogant little twerp!"
Rasputin gave a tiny, satisfied smile.
Hell apparently couldn't punish you. We failed. So, Rasputin, you're not going back to Hell"
The monk raised an eyebrow, cracked a grin.
"Vell" he squeaked, "Vell, zat is good news. Haha"
Satan stood up, dusted himself off, smiled.
"I thought so too. Goodbye, monk."
Rasputin was alone again, in the featureless desert. The canyon was gone, the rock was gone. He stood, quite still for a moment, before walking on, heading for the horizon. No wind whispered. No vultures circled. Silence, but for the sound of his footsteps.
...remember that woman who lived on Pokrovskoe Street, who...
Pretty soon, he was going to run out of songs.
Two figures sat at a table in the bright, plastic McDonalds off the motorway, being regarded on all sides.
One was a nervous man with a funny, Chaplin-esque moustache and jackboots, who darted glances from side to side and picked at his box of chips. He had a sneaking suspicion he wasn't welcome here.
The other diner was a sallow, twitching young man in a toga with a crown of laurel leaves, who was messily devouring a cheese-burger with all the trimmings, spraying his neighbours with secret sauce and random gherkins, blissfully oblivious to the hostile attention being focused on the table. He held two pickles up to his eyes, and giggled.
The two Dignitaries had become bored and hungry, and wandered off to find some grub. The Fuhrer had opted for Chicken McNuggets, while Caligula had insisted on getting a Happy Meal.
Now a chair scraped back, and a hush fell over the restaurant as a huge, muscled biker strode slowly over to their table. The entire restaurant held its breath; only the reworked pan-pipes version of 'How Deep Is Your Love?' that was playing on the intercom broke the silence. Leather creaked as he walked, and the tattoos on his arms rippled. This man looked, for want of a better more polite way of putting it, royally 'ticked' off. He had already been accosted today by what looked like an especially sick creation of HR Giger, and he couldn't take any more upsetting freakiness. He leaned ominously over the table. The Dignitaries leaned back. The biker, whose name, though he would never admit it, was Gerald, cleared his throat.
"I knows you" he rumbled angrily.
The Fuhrer felt his stomach drop into his boots.
But the biker was looking at his dining partner.
"You're the emperor Caligula, incha? Thirty-seven ta forty-one ay dee, right? Who's yer friend?"
The giggling despot looked up and giggled some more.
"Imperator Caligula mea. Qui tu, plebeian insolens?"16
Gerald didn't understand, and just growled.
"Murdered yer sister Drusilla and proclaimed yerself a god, dincha? Made yer horse Incitatus into a consul in thirty-eight ay dee while neglecting the functions of proper government and pursuing a life of wanton luxury, dincha, yew - !"
Caligula had meanwhile stuck a chip up his nose and started singing an obscene song in Latin. It could have gone very badly for him, but at that instant he and his fellow diner disappeared in a lick of flame, leaving only a lingering whiff of brimstone and two half-finished meals.
Hell had claimed back her own, and Gerald finished off the chips, so everything was alright then.
A side-step to the left - through the flimsy dimensional barriers we laughing call 'reality' - and we arrive again in
The Devil clapped his hands in glee and folding his arms, reclined upon his throne.
"They are all back then?" he asked stroking his chin
"Yessir" muttered a three-legged purple demon wearing half-moon spectacles who was pacing up and down with a clipboard. Pausing he ticked off the last remaining name on the list with a charcoal stick with an officious flick.
"well minus one...er..."
I've taken care of that one myself. He won't be going anywhere soon."
"I see. If that is all?"
Yes. leave me."
The Imp, bowed and exited backwards, closing the impressive black gates behind him as he went.
The Prince of Hell waited a while until he thought he was alone. then unfurling his clawed fist he flexed his fingers once or twice then beating his hand rhythmically on the armrest counted out:
Bah!" he exclaimed in frustration. "Next time we play tiddlywinks."
Now two steps to the right and into:
- which has an unprecedented twenty billion stars out of five in the Michelin Hotel Guide - God, like his infernal counterpart, broods on his throne.
It had been a busy week, and he turned events over in his vast mind, which is in fact, the universe. He was pondering again the reason why he had given humankind free will - all they ever did was use it. Like the monk, Rasputin...a needy child who thought his god should come when he was called. Perhaps he hadn't been Old Testament enough recently: people seemed to be getting uppity all over. Spare the bolt of lightning, save the child... He hadn't waxed his wroth in ages, it must be getting tarnished.
And the ones who weren't denying him, never gave him a moments peace, with their prayers, hymns, dedications, invocations...did they know he had to listen to every one of them? Intolerable. And just on cue, Gabriel's voice came in on the intercom.
"Sir, you're scheduled to create some new suns after lunch, then you'll be receiving a new batch of souls, answering prayers, watching a sparrow fall and posing for Michelangelo, which brings us into the evening schedule...more prayers, I'm afraid... Oh, but first, you'll be appearing in a vision to a hermit named Severinius. The usual clouds parting, heavenly vision, booming voice job. OK?"
"Yes, yes..." he affirmed wearily, already feeling the headache. But now an old memory bloomed in his mind, and he smiled slowly. He glanced around warily...but then who was boss around here? He hadn't had a rest since the seventh day. They could manage without him for a weekend.
Severinius lay in his smoky cave, trembling with anticipation. He had lived as a hermit for twelve years far from any towns, in a hair-shirt the whole time, flagellating himself daily with thorny branches, neglecting hygiene and all worldly things, existing on a diet of slugs and moss. But now he felt some great moment approaching, and had laid himself on the jagged rock that passed for a bed.
And all of a sudden, lo! he felt himself lifted up above the world, leaving his corporeal body behind, and he saw the whole world girt by the sea, and all the lands thereof (and he fought valiantly an inexplicable urge to shout "I can see my house from here!") and then he saw three circles, each within the other, and they were with each other, and they were one, and he saw a golden chariot race across the sky carrying the sun. And it was good. Finally he saw clouds, fluffy white ones tinged with gold from the glorious sun, a choir of angels and the clouds parted, and he saw... a note.
He picked it up. It said:
...Severinius sat up, back in his cave and extremely bloody annoyed. Francis of Assisi never had to take that kind of thing, he fumed to himself. 'Sod this.' Pausing only to kick over the slug barrel, he stomped out of the damp cave and went looking for a stiff drink.
Back in the present and as this brief chapter in our tale draws to a close we can reflect that the celestial balance has been restored and the Apocalypse neatly sidestepped - but the vigilant reader will no doubt be left with many questions at this point.
What, for instance has become of the Leicestercat, and his minion/feeder Tim? What, for that matter, happened to the ill-fated kitty whose mind was transferred into the demon body?
Who is Annabel's mysterious superior? What is their nefarious scheme? How were the reviews for Cliff's rock concert? Who succeeded Rasputin as President of the United States? What happened to Stonehenge which is, after all, a World Heritage site?
Will Bob defy fate, pre-destination and God and, in fact, get it together with Jill?
To shed a little light on some of these questions, we go to a house....
It was a small, thatched-roof house, more of a cottage really, tucked away from prying eyes on a tree-lined little country lane. In the golden light of evening, clouds of tiny, pointless flies hovered above the fern-lined track and thought their tiny thoughts, mostly concerning reproduction.
In the cobbled yard about a dozen cats of all hues sprawled sunbathing, yawning toothily and thinking about food, sex and how exceedingly fine it was to be a cat.
In fact, the only lifeform within a square mile which wasn't currently thinking about propagating their species was Mrs Waverly, and this was because she was eighty-four, arthritic and blind as a dead bat - and apart from a brief, torrid fling with a GI back in the War, her life had been fairly short on passion. Except for her cats, of course. She was pottering about in the shady kitchen, very carefully preparing her supper, when there was a scratching at the door. Pausing to take a carefully-placed kitchen knife in her blue-veined hand (Mrs Waverly had no illusions on the state of the nation, it was a Disgrace, all this crime), she creaked her way to the door and tugged it open.
"That you, Godfrey?" she croaked.
Waverly cocked her head to one side. "You're new, are you? Well, there's always enough milk and scrapings for another kitty. Coochy coo? Coochy...?"
There was a hiss, and she heard a slicing sound, like a razor-blade sliding through a raw pork chop. She drew back her hand, frowning slightly, then smiled.
"Don't like to be petted, no? Well, never mind. Here you go..."
She tossed out a handful of dry feed, and was gratified to hear a rapid snuffling and gulping, followed by a deep, rattling noise, like a log being sawn in half.
The new cat was purring.
Mrs Waverly smiled again, and closed the door, fumbling for the bolt. Then she went back to her supper.
And that was pretty much the end of it. To Mrs Waverly's relief, the other cats seemed to take to the new one - in fact, they were more quiet than ever - and if there was any cloud on her horizon, it was that the postman hadn't visited in over a month. Probably the postal service, she decided. Another Disgrace.
Tim was busy trying to extracate the desicated corpse of the postman from a branch high up in a great oak that overhung the thatch.
"Poor guy he must have come up here to get away from the cats...they kept him up here till he starved."
He heaved the body off of the limb and it crashed down into a fern-covered gully that run down the side of the cottage.
Leicester polished off the last cat feed.
"TIiim, We ShAlL Maaake THiiIiS our nEew bAasssE of oPpeRrrations."
"Err...good idea." he called down.
"courssse it iiiis."
Tim from his high vantage point on the wodden limb survayed the idyllic peaceful countryside.
Pure yellow sunlight filtered through thick high-branched canopies, a pleasent breeve took and lifted the grasses that wallowed in far fields and on the edge of hearing a small brook babbled and meandered.
Whatever apololypse had been brewing only hours before, it had not apparently touched this quite slice of paradise.
Down on the ground somewhere approaching ankle height, Leicester sat with his head resting on his paws.
Sweet visions of vengence flashed before his eyes.
Seeming to make his mind up about somethign leiscester rolled over and did that funny stretch that cats do.
'Well' he thought. ' a favour is a favour.'
Pausing only to behead a row of daffodils he troted out of the front gate and went searching for a cow for Mrs Waverly to have for dinner.
Meanwhile many, many miles away, in the heart of the nation's bustling capital city; on the banks of the River Thames, doing it's best impression of aesthetically arranged blocks of lego, stood the MI6 Headquarters.
The building, and indeed much of MI6 itself, was merely to distract attention from the real spy network that operated from within the nation's capital.
Contrary to popular belief spies do not wear long trenchcoats, trilbys and dark glasses or read papers with eyeholes cut out of the middle. They also don't wear tuxedos under their wet suits unless they can forge the cheque to pay for the dry-cleaning bill.
The Gentlemen Spy should desire annonimity above all other things. Which doesn't explain why they always hire womanisers, gambling addicts, hopeless winos and extroverts to to the job.
Spies, let us emphasise, do not wear trenchcoats or trilbys or dark glasses because it's completely impractical. You can't run in them for starters (very necessary on occasion.) You can't see very well either and you stick out like like a sore thumb in public,tending to look like a charcter staight out of Dick Tracy comic.
A spy would probably hand in his casino chips and retire if it came to that.
Your average spy certainly wouldn't wear any one of these items within spitting distance of MI6.
Which is why the figure standing patiently at the zebra crossing waiting for the lights to change; flanked on both sides by assorted pensioners, mothers and screaming children, Japanese tourists and pigeons, looked so helpless, lost and thoroughly out of place.
The traffic slows to a stop and the mass of people collecting on the kerb step forward at the sound of the familiar beeps and make their way forward as one. In the middle gliding silently along is our spy. The brim of the hat keeps his face perpetually in shadow on this bright, warm day. Detatching himself from the group he side steps into an annonymous seeming alley way. picking his way over discarded boxes and other asorted mess, he emerges in a secluded courtyard,
Mustapha Kofi's Franchised Egyptian Family Bistro was de riguer for MI6 spies. No one made sauages rolls like Mr Kofi, as all the local spooks respectfully called him. And his coffee mocha was worth ten times it's weight in international trade secrets.
Our spy strode into the British Security Communitie's favourite coffee house without a second thought.
As he waited in line, our spy surveyed the blackboard that hung on the wall above Mustapha's head. Mustapha was cleaning a glass using a teacloth when the spy approached the counter.
"How may I help you sir?" Mustapha inquired
"I'd like to order the Double espreso with steamed milk and chocolate sprinkles."
"Grande or Regular?" asked the owner pointedly.
"Dammit - I always forget his part...er...um...Grande?"
"Close enough." shrugged Mustapha, "but you look quite odd in all the getup Si Bob, you should take notes from Guy how to dress up and be sneaky - he's terribly good at that sort of thing."
"Here are you groceries Mr Kofi" said Bob reaching into the deep pockets of the trenchcoat and producing a bag of grapes and some fresh fruit.
"Most kind young man, I'd hurry up though if I were you, the others are already in the basement, I'll have the coffee sent down to you. Extra chocolate sprikles for you. I'll buzz you in - one second."
Bob settled himself down at the table in the alcove
Mustapha pressed on the secret pedal hidden under the counter and in the corner Bob was suddenly whiped round through the secret wall into the stairwell on the other side.
He made his way down the steep flight into a long gloom, periodically off-set by single strip lighting that continued onto vanishing point. He set out to take the long walk down the faceless concrete walkway but instead Bob took the first door on the left he came to and walked into the middle of a meeting.
"So you see it was Archbishp Desmond Tutu who was the majority share holder all along and...oh hello Bob!" said Richter conversationally.
"Ah there you are," said Guy looking up - "Bob, what the hell are you wearing!?!?" spluttered Guy.
"I'm incognito" said Bob with a touch of pride, putting his hand conspiritorially to the side of his mouth and winking .
Your IN-sane...get over there...and take off those dark glasess!
Bob scurried around the large round table and took a seat between Jill and Heddingly who was still nursing some colourful bruises and had his arm in a sling.
Guy addressed the assmbled agency.
"Rasputin as you well know is dead. There's still the problem with the hypnotised members of the cabinet who think they are all chickens but we've gotten lucky with that one - so far nobody has noticed.
Our souces have revealed a couple of worrying events. I instructed a second unit to track down the Cryo clown labatories when we got there the labs had been cleared but we hacked into the mainframe and recovered some revealing documents.
It seems that The Cryo clowns were indeed being manufactured by The Smittington Labs. Smittington is incidentally the father of Annabel, that woman who was conspiring with Rasputin and escaped on that clothes wringer thingy."
"WHAT!!?" screamed the the rest of the group.
"Yes I know hard to believe isn't it?" Said Guy scrathing the back of his head. We did get some good news. Smittington appears to be dead. Well at least we found his body in some apartments at the labs, however, there is some doubt as to whether or not he really is *that* dead.
Some of the recovered documents point to an accident of some sort occouring not too long ago."
"Seems Smittington was," Guy scanned ahead a few lines..."electrocuted or something."
"Good." husked Heddingly , who'd been on the wrong end of a cryo clown fist before.
"Well actually - no. Not quite quite as simple as that. Smittington seems to have survived - his personality was downloaded into the CPU of a model Clown he was working on at the time. This appears to be corroborated - " Guy pressed a hidden button on the desk in front of him and some security footage from The London Underground began playing on the wall behind him. Nothing much happened for a few seconds - "here it comes." he said
Suddenly a man could be seen approaching and casually hoped over the security rail - pursued by a fleet of security guards the film cut to another camera over the platform. The figure ran through the bustling crowds and leapt straight onto the track punching his way through the wall and dissappearing though the gap.
"How old did you say this Smittington was?" Asked Jill.
"Um..." said Guy conslting the sheafs of notes again... "Seventy - Six."
Gesturing behind him at the security fottage replaying endlessly "I trust you all noticed the
- "metallic" inturrupted Jill, thinking out loud.
"Indeed - metallic appearence of the man we just saw punch his way through a tunnel wall on the Central line.
"Seems our Mr Smittington may be At Large." Guy mouthed the words deliberately.
"It also goes without saying that he is to be considered armed and extremely dangerous.
That's the first of my reasons for sending you all on a little... ENFORCED holiday.
Smittington may well yet re-emerge and I don't want him turning up like some huge, malevolent, ill-tempered, battle-armoured bad coin and for you to be here if and when he does."
There was a hushed silence over the group.
"I said that was the first of my reasons, I do have another. We all saw Leicester underneath Stone Henge..."
If it was quite around the table before it was positively grave like now.
"...I ...I thought he was dead. NO. I *know* he is dead. Unfortunately in the aftermath following the implosion beneath Stone Henge, We can find no evidence of his whereabouts - he might as well have vanished off the face of the earth."
"And after what he did to Bob..."
Jill looked away.
"Simply it's too dangerous to have you all at the Agency - For my own peace of mind and for your safety, I've arranged to have you stay on a Carribean island for a few months get some well deserved R and R and you -" Guy pointed to Heddingly, "You need to get mended. and a month or two cooling your toes in crystal clear waters under blue skies might be just the ticket."
"Your plane leaves in," Guy consulted his watch "about 16 hours so I suggest you start packing."
At this a secluded door opened in the wall and some agency staff appeared though it.
Heddingly nodded in appreciation. Jill helped him to his feet.
Richter raised his hand - "Can I go too?"
"Don't see why not." shrugged Guy.
"We're all going on a summer holi - "
"BOB!" yelled Guy.
Bob turned around a little sheepishly.
"Just go. and have a great time."
They all began filing out accompanied by the entourage of agents.
When he was certained they'd left Guy gathered up the remaining papers and left by another door. Walking alone through several annonymous corridors, quite what he was thinking was a mystery his face was entirely blank.
Walking by his office he scanned his access card through the reader and walked inside. He left the papers on his desk and picked up a photograph of himself next to his mentor Boutros Boutros Ghali. Tapping it thoughtfully, he glanced again at his watch realising the time set it down again and walked out. Picking up his pace he walked quicker now passing down through several levels; past several security checkpoints. He made his way to the communications centre.
There in front of a battery of screens a technician handed him a headset and ear piece.
After some static and the occasional period of empty silence Guy could hear the voices on the other end.
Holding the 'secrecy' button on the mouthpiece in he asked the technician, "How is it?"
"Signal's clean but unstable we keep loosing it - you may not have long."
"Strawberries and cream, Strawberries and cream are you receiving? Over."
There was a loud noise followed by some more static.
"STRAW BERRIES AND CREAM ARE YOU -
"We're....here..Guy." Arthur was heaving, out of breath.
Guy could here a strong wind howling in the background and the sound of things being blown about.
"Is it safe?" he asked.
"Not for long."
"Fine get yourselves out of there and we'll re-establish communications in 48 hours."
"We are being tracked so that might be a little tricky but we'll see what you can do."
"We'll talk again."
"Strawberries and Cream out"
"One last thing," said Guy, - "did you find it?"
"Oh we found something all right. A whole lot of something"
Guy heard X shout: "They're coming!" and the line went dead.
"A quite daring interpretation of the classic, but not, one feels, one worthy of repetition. Kudos to Maestro Alfonso for his choreography though..." ~ Kultur Zeitschrifte, Opera Review.12"An uninspiring performance from the great tenor's understudy. Fire this man immediately!" ~ Quentin Zeitgesit Opera Highlights. 13The Drummer for the Band 'The Who' and the epitome of the phrase - "If you can remember the Sixties, you obviously weren't there!" - he is famous, and it is this capacity that he is here referenced, for trashing hotel rooms after gigs.14'English Dwarf Pansies' - for the horticulturially challenged.15 Which explains why telephone sales people are always so cheerful.16"I am the Emperor Caligula. Who are you, rude person of low standing?"