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 mattress 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 ouija 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 ouija 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 have 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.