Friday, 31 August 2012

Chapter 9.3

Sir Henry’s grey Bentley was joyless at the best of times but as Watson steered it on to the M4 it was definitely venturing close to negative joy and possibly pain. Something like yoghurt. Sir Henry did not approve of yoghurt.
  Sir Henry himself was brooding in the back seat. He had spent a rather disappointing couple of hours, driving out to Professor Greenwood’s house and finding it empty but otherwise devoid of clues. He glanced over at the laptop on the seat next to him. Perhaps that would have some answers that the tech boys could extract. He sneered. Sir Henry did not trust computers.
  Alec Watson, meanwhile, was quietly fuming in the front seat and trying not to convert his anger into miles per hour. Sir Henry did not approve of speeding. The fact that Alec Watson was probably capable of driving the Bentley back to London on two wheels was neither here nor there. He was tempted to try.
  For Watson, the last couple of hours had been more than disappointing. They had been held up twice on the way to the Professor’s house: first by a drift of sheep being driven down the lane and then by a tractor that necessitated Watson reversing for quarter of a mile. Neither of these were particularly unexpected but Sir Henry seemed to hold him personally responsible.
  When they had finally made it to the house, which was clearly deserted, Sir Henry had then refused to let Watson pick the lock. Instead, he made Watson call for a local locksmith, wasting another three quarters of an hour. As a final insult, he rejected Watson’s offer to hack into Greenwood’s laptop, in favour of shipping it back to Q division, who would no doubt find a way to make it explode or turn the CD drive into a Shiruken launcher before getting round to actually extracting any useful data - assuming there was even and useful data on there. As so often in Watson’s life of late, he could not help thinking that he would have achieved four times as much in half the time if Sir Henry would just sod off back to London.
  To add injury to insult, they had missed lunch and now Watson’s stomach was rumbling. Sir Henry did not approve of motorway service stations, so there would be nothing for Watson until they got back to London. At least the partition was up so Sir Henry could not grumble about the rumbles.
  Just as that last thought passed through his head, Watson heard the gentle whir of the partition sliding down. He gripped the steering wheel a bit tighter and let the accelerator pedal creep towards to the floor.
  “I think I might have to get Wainbridge on this one, Smithers,” said Sir Henry. “There’s something funny going on here and I don’t like it.”
  Watson nodded. Sir Henry did not approve of funny at the best of times, and this was not the best of times.
  “I need you to call ahead and arrange a meeting with the M.O.D.” Sir Henry continued, oblivious to the bad vibes emanating from the front seat. “Unless Greywood turns up soon, I think we’ll have to close down BIRD-FLU until this all blows over. We would not want the locals to panic.”
  “Yes, sir.” Watson answered, through gritted teeth.
  “Either way, I want you to head back to Swansea first thing and do some more checking up on the rest of the staff. That American professor reeked of whisky and the caretaker clearly cannot be trusted. Never trust a man with a beard, Smithers: they have something to hide. Now, if you excuse me, I have some thinking to do."
  As the partition slid back up, Watson’s left hand was already instinctively dialling the number for headquarters as he reflected what was just said. There was some good news, at least. Sir Henry said “you” not “we”. There was chance that he would be released from Sir Henry’s leash. He also found himself contemplating the idea of growing a beard.
  Noting that Sir Henry had activated the darkened glass, Watson accelerated a little more and pulled the car out into the fast lane. Perhaps things were looking up.
  With that, the heavens opened.

Chapter 9.4 ☛

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Chapter 9.2

The police van skipped easily down the windy back roads with WPC Evans at the wheel. Apart from setting the dogs on drunken troublemakers, this was the part of her job that Kippie normally enjoyed the most. Today, however, her heart was not really in it. Seeing her friend so shaken up had rattled her. She made a mental note to dig up the notes on the St Mildred’s robbery as soon as she got back to the station.
  So deep in thought was she that she almost did not see Foxy Loxy and Weasel until she was upon them. Foxy was trotting along the verge but Weasel was ambling along in the road itself. He probably wanted to get run over.
  If he did then she was not going to oblige him. Kippie applied the brakes firmly and, pulling up alongside them, wound down the window.
  “You guys wanna ride?” she shouted over the Cheryl Crow blaring out of the stereo.
  “I wouldn’t say no!” smiled Foxy.
  “I would,” moaned Weasel. “We’ll probably end up having a horrible head on collision with a tractor or something.”
  “Ignore him!” Foxy told her.
  “I always do!” she smiled in return, clicking open the back of the van. “Come on. Jump in.”
  Foxy nudged the back of the van open with his nose and jumped nimbly on board. He turned to Weasel. “Coming?”
  “I suppose so. Probably just end up as road kill if I don’t.”
  Foxy Loxy held out a paw for his cheerless chum. After Weasel was safely on board, Foxy pulled the door shut with a specially fitted strap, and turned to Kippie in the front.
  “Tally ho!”
  “Who are you calling a Ho?” Kippie smiled but needed no second bidding and with a brief wheel-spin the van sped off once more.
  “It smells like dog in here,” muttered Weasel.
  “So,” Kippie asked as she turned the stereo down, ignoring the moaning Mustelid. “Did you learn anything from O’Bee’s place?”
  “Not really,” Foxy answered. “There were goat tracks near the bomb site but I’m not convinced they were from one of Toby’s goats. Even if they were, I am convinced that his goats were not involved in this ghastly business. Not directly, anyway. How about you? Get anything useful from the unlikely martyrs?”
  “Not really,” Kippie told him, slightly distantly. “Didn’t get much on Patrick Edwards at all.”
  “But…?
  Kippie turned in her seat. “But what?”
  “Eyes on the road, m’dear. But… you seem a bit preoccupied by something.”
  Kippie clicked the stereo off completely. “Yeah, it’s my friend Mary. Well, she used to be my friend – at school. She was involved in the robbery there a few days ago. Did you hear about that?”
  Foxy looked at Weasel, who shook his head. “Nope. Can’t say that I did.”
  “Well, it was an odd one all right. Someone tied up Mary. I mean, a nun. And a school teacher at that. What kind of person ties up a nun?” She paused. “The same kind of sicko that would steal some animals, I s’pose.”
  At this Foxy perked up and even Weasel stopped pretending that he was not interested.
  “They stole animals?” Foxy asked. “What kind of animals?”
  “Newts…” began Kippie.
  “Newts?!” cried Weasel with an air of disgust. In his book (the ladybird pop-up book of carnivorous monsters), anything with gills did not count as a proper animal.
  “Not just newts! Newts, a gerbil and…” Kippie trailed off for a moment as an old thought resurfaced. It was only as they rolled to a stop at the next junction that she caught sight of the two expectant faces through the grill partition behind her.
  “And?” prompted Foxy.
  “Newts,” repeated Kippie, softly, “a gerbil and…”
  This time the pause was dramatic.
  “…and two tortoises. And there was a tortoise shell at the bomb site.”
  “I know,” Foxy told her. “We found it!”
  “Really?” Kippie raised one eyebrow and met Foxy’s gaze, then smiled. “I suspected as much. Cassidy obviously forgot to mention it.”
  “What a surprise.” Weasel’s voice was so heavy with sarcasm that he had trouble lifting his head. “For your information, though, that shell was not exactly found at the bomb site.”
  The eyebrow dropped. Now she was genuinely confused. “What do you mean?”
  “He’s quite right, m’dear,” Foxy confirmed. “We found it in a nearby wood, don’t you know. Must have been blown for miles.”
  “Tortoises don’t live in the woods on the whole, then?” Kippie asked him, who didn’t know. Foxy replied with a toothy grin. “Not in these parts, m’dear.”
  “And this one wasn’t whole,” added Weasel. “And it certainly wasn’t living.”
  “Plus,” added Foxy, “eyewitness accounts describe it falling from the sky.”
  Evans released the handbrake and got the van moving once more. “Blimey. To get blown that far it must have been right in the centre of the blast.”
  “Yes,” muttered Foxy. “The poor little bugger.”

Chapter 9.3 ☛

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Chapter 9.1

The clouds were looking menacing as D.I. Rhys-Morgan’s Mondeo rolled into the police car park. Despite the threat of rain, however, Rhys-Morgan sat in his car for a few moments after turning the engine off. He wanted some time to collect his thoughts before facing the news that his troops would bring him.
  The address that Butterworth had given him had taken the policeman to a flat above “Peter’s Pet Shop”, a small business specialising in birds and reptiles but covering the standard array of small mammals too. No one had answered either when he rang the bell or banged the doorknocker.
  There were many innocuous explanations for this: Wendy may have been at the doctor’s, or may have even been too unwell to answer the phone. Indeed, if she was too ill to phone in sick it was unlikely that she would be able to accept visitors. Alternatively, Mr Smeg’s fears may be justified and she may be off somewhere with young Anthony. Then again, Anthony Smeg covered the case of Frank Jackson and Dave Lloyd. Wendy, meanwhile, was a relative, albeit by marriage. If someone had a score to settle, they all made good targets.
  The shop itself had been shut, or he would have asked in there if Wendy were about. This was not especially unusual as many shops shut early on a Wednesday but the overall feeling of emptiness and quiet it produced put Rhys-Morgan’s detective hackles up. With nothing more to be learnt from that location, he had taken the precaution of radioing ahead the names of the two absent workers before heading back, so he was expecting a full report on both of them to be sitting on his desk when he got in.
  He would just have to wait and see when they turned up. The only real question was whether they would walk in through the front door or were already in the morgue.

Chapter 9.2 ☛

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Chapter 8.4

When Mary opened the door and Kippie first laid eyes on Sister Enid, she thought that the old nun was dead. Her eyes were closed and her face wore a look of wrinkled tranquillity. Her hair was as white as freshly driven snow* and her flesh was not much darker. [*Before an eskimo has peed on it. Sorry, that’s not very politically correct. Before an Inuit has peed on it.] Her face had so many lines that it looked as if someone had peeled the skin off, screwed it up, and then stuck in back on. It was a face that had lived.
  Although, deep down, Kippie knew that the nun could not really be dead, her police training kicked in and she started looking for signs that the old woman was still in the land of the living. A voice in the back of her mind intoned: “Whatever you do, don’t move the body!”
  In front of the nun sat a china mug, a large pink rose emblazoned on the near face. A slight purple discolouration on the inside indicated that it had been used recently: a blackcurrant drink by the appearance of things. This was supported by the slightly shrivelled tea bag in the bin and the purple stain slowly spreading into the wastepaper below. The bag looked a little damp, revealing that it had been immersed until quite recently.
  Kippie’s gaze now drifted from the desk to Sister Enid herself, looking for vital signs such as the gentle rise and fall off her chest. As she checked for any indication of a slight pulse on the side of Enid’s neck, Kippie noticed the thin black cables. They emerged from under Enid’s hair, running over her collarbones before joining together just above the silver and cobalt blue pendant that hung from her neck. The wire then snaked down her grey cardigan, across the left arm at the crease of the elbow, and then up to a small stereo sat on the window ledge.
  Mary cleared her throat. “Ahem. Sister Enid?”
  The old nun did not answer, but continued smiling peacefully. Kippie could now see her foot tapping under the desk at one hundred and twenty beats per minute, plus or minus a few. Mary frowned and waved her hand in front of Enid’s closed eyes, hoping to elicit some kind of response but got none. Seeing this, Kippie tapped her friend on the arm and pointed to the stereo.
  Mary smiled and nodded. Placing her left index finger over her lips in a signal to stay quiet, Mary reached across Enid with the other hand and gripped the headphone lead as it left the stereo. She winked mischievously at Kippie and then gave the lead a quick tug.
  The stereo speakers sprung to life with guitars, drums and a scream of: “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”
  Noticing the change in sound, Sister Enid opened her eyes. Spotting her visitors, she calmly and serenely reached over and hit the button to stop the CD, which obligingly span to a halt with a gentle whir.
  “Rage Against the Machine,” she said nodding towards the stereo with a gentle smile. “Aren’t they wonderful?!”
  Far from her original fear that the old nun had snuffed it, Kippie could see that Enid’s eyes sparkled with vitality. She may be over eighty years old but here was a woman who was in no hurry to shuffle off her mortal coil.
  “Now girls,” she smiled warmly, “what can I do for you?”
  Mary returned the smile. “This is WPC Evans, Sister Enid. She’d like some information from you.”
  Enid’s eyes narrowed quickly. “I won that stereo in a raffle. That’s why I don’t have a receipt!”
  “WPC Evans is a former pupil,” explained Mary. “She needs some information about Patrick Edwards.”
  Enid cogitated for a moment. “That name rings a bell,” she nodded thoughtfully.
  “He was a caretaker here,” Mary told her.
  Kippie stepped in. Mary had laid the foundation but this was her investigation. “He retired about three years ago?”
  The wrinkles across Enid’s brow changed configuration briefly and the sparkle in her eyes seemed to dim momentarily before flaring back to life with a vengeance. Her smile was like opening the blinds on a really sunny day.
  “Oh, I remember Patrick!” she beamed. “Lovely man. Liked to be called Tricky or Ricky or something. Possible Dickie, like Sir Richard Attenborough.” She leant forward and winked. “Now, there’s a man I’d jump on if not for my vows of chastity. He’s yummy. Did you see him in…”
  Kippie cleared her throat gently.
  “…oh yes. Patrick. Where was I?” She sat back. “That’s right. I wouldn’t let him shorten his name. St Patrick was always my favourite, you see. Reminds me of when I was a girl in Galway.” She made a brisk movement with her hand. “I loved the way he drove those snakes into the sea.”
  There was a faraway look in her eye for a moment, before she visibly drew her concentration back to her office. “That was St Patrick, of course!” she laughed. “Not our Patrick. No, we don’t have any snakes here.”
  The words had barely left her mouth before she clamped it shut with her hand, turning wide-eyed to Mary. “I’m sorry, dear. I wasn’t thinking.”
  Mary trembled slightly but managed a reassuring smile as Enid patted her hand. “That’s okay.”
  Kippie’s heart-rate increased slightly. At last, she seemed to be getting somewhere. “Our last known address for him is the cottage here. Do you have any address on record for where he went after he left here?”
  “Oh, I doubt it dear.” Enid told her, quite cheerful once more. “I’m afraid they’re not much interest to us once they’re gone. Especially the men. Sister Millicent makes sure of that.”
  Kippie retrieved her notebook and pencil from its usual spot in her left breast pocket. “Any relatives that you’re aware of? Did he ever bring anyone to formal occasions, anything like that?”
  “No. I don’t think so.” Sister Enid reached past her and pushed the door shut.
  She leant forward and continued in tones bordering on conspiratorial. “To be honest, Patrick wasn’t all that popular round here.”
  “Yeah,” Kippie nodded and glanced sideways at Mary. “So I gather.”
  “I liked him, and I know Mary did too, as did Jo and a couple of the others. But the powers that be were never too happy with some of his, how can I put it, more secular pastimes. The marijuana thing was just the last straw. I think that Sister Millicent had been looking for an excuse and was glad to see the back on him.”
  Sister Enid straightened and touched her forehead, belly, and each breast to make the sign of the cross. If Kippie wasn’t mistaken, Sister Enid’s expression had hardened slightly.
  “Well, um, would any of the others have stayed in tough with him?” she pressed. “In your opinion?”
  Enid considered this for a moment. “I shouldn’t think so, dear.” She stiffened. “At St Mildred’s, we don’t tend to associate with the likes of him, you see,” she added loudly.
  Kippie could take a hint, even if she did not understand it. She put the pad and pencil back and took out a small business card, which she handed to Enid. “Thank you, Sister. If you think of anything that could help us find Patrick’s address, please be in touch.”
  Sister Enid took the card and dropped it in her in-tray. “Of course. Always happy to help the police is St Mildred’s. Now, unless there’s anything else, my dears, I must ask you to go. Got exams to mark, you see.”
  “Of course,” echoed Kippie. “Thank you for your time.”
  She turned and opened the door, revealing Sister Millicent in all her icy glory.
  “Got what we came for did we, Evil Evans?” the headmistress asked with poorly concealed venom.
  “I think so,” Kippie told her. “Your staff have been very helpful to my enquiries.”
  Sister Millicent glared from Sister Mary to Sister Enid, the latter of whom was now typing away industriously at her computer whilst humming the school hymn quietly. “Good. Then you’ll be happy to leave. Police uniforms do get the girls overexcited so. I do not like the girls getting excited.”
  This was not news to Cerys Evans.

Chapter 9.1 ☛

Monday, 27 August 2012

Chapter 8.3

Toby Ron looked at the retreating figures of Foxy Loxy, Turkey Lurkey and Weasel. “Well, that went all right.”
  William looked at him, puzzled. “But we didn’t really tell them anything!”
  “No,” Toby shrugged, “but they don’t seem to think you’re involved now.”
  “But what if I am involved?” cried Billy.
  “I think you should go and see Mystic Mog again. Hopefully, she’ll be able to tell you after last night.”
  Billy did not look too pleased at this suggestion but began wandering towards the gate. Toby stopped him.
  “But not until you’ve finished getting rid of those daisies,” he told the young goat.
  “You’re joking!”
  “S’alright, Billy.” William told him. “I’ll help.”
  Mrs Goat smiled at one son while scowling at the other – something only mothers can really pull off. “Aren’t you a little angel? Billy, why can’t you be more like William?
  “Goody goody,” muttered Billy as they wandered towards the floral region of the paddock.
  “I heard that!” scolded their mum. “You should be nicer to your brother. Especially after he made sure you were OK last night.”
  William stayed quiet. He was still feeling bad about losing Billy last night but not bad enough to own up to any failure in front of his mother. Particularly not when she was in this kind of mood. Biting his lip, William attacked the first patch of flowers. He just hoped that Toby Ron was right and Mystic Mog would have some answers.

Chapter 8.4 ☛

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Chapter 8.2

His anger shocked out of him, Rhys-Morgan accepted the chair he was offered. Jonathon moved Butterworth to a small velvet cushion on the desk and then sat down himself, neatening up his clothes at the same time.
  “I would offer you lunch,” Butterworth told Rhys-Morgan, “but I’m afraid I’ve just eaten. I could get Joanne to bring you in some tea and cake if would like, though.”
  “Er, no, thank you. I’m hoping this won’t take too long.” Rhys-Morgan thought for a moment. “Some coffee would be good, though.”
  “Certainly.”
  At an unseen signal from his Haemophagic boss, Jonathon buzzed the secretary.
  “Now, how can I help you?” asked the tiny lawyer.
  Despite himself, Rhys-Morgan found Butterworth to be quite charming. Furthermore, he was rather helpful. He remembered the Jackson and Lloyd case, for a start, which was more than Mr Smeg was even bothered to try to do. It turned out that Wendy, the missing-presumed-fraternising secretary, was David Lloyd’s sister-in-law, which is how Smeg & Butterworth got the case in the first place. Furthermore, young Anthony Smeg assisted on this case – his first official work at his father’s company – and it was through it that he first got close to Wendy.
  “Of course, I don’t really believe the rumours about those two having an affair,” Butterworth told him. “Wendy’s more like a mother to him, in my opinion.” He sighed. “But then again, I am just a haemophilic annelid. What do I know about humans and your strange ways?”
“Enough to fleece lots of money out of us!” thought Rhys-Morgan. But, back to the matter at hand. “Have your clients received any threats about this case, that you know about?” he asked.
  “I don’t think so, detective. Jonathon, have a look in the file to see if we have anything recent on the Jackson and Lloyd case.”
  Jonathon rose and opened one of the filing cabinets. After a moment or two he withdrew a beige document wallet a flicked through the contents.
  “Of course,” he said, “Anthony has all the details of that case. We just have the summaries here. All the recent stuff, though, seems to be about collecting evidence for the civil action against Garth Jones.”
  “Oh yes,” said Butterworth. “I had forgotten about that. Not much chance of winning that one, I’m afraid. Don’t think it will even get to court, to be honest. Mr Jones certainly doesn’t seem worried – he’s been surprising cooperative for a man being sued.”
  Rhys-Morgan jotted all that down. “There haven’t been any actual threats to do with the case, then?”
  Butterworth shrugged, which was quite impressive given his lack of shoulders. “There was a bit of trouble at the time, as I recall. The case featured some, you know, unpleasantness to animals. I believe there were a couple of threats from some kind of animal rights group - the ALF, I think it was - but they rescinded once they learnt of my, er, non-human status. Then of course, we won the case.”
  “There’s nothing on record of any threats since.” Jonathon reported, replacing a folder and closing the filing cabinet.
  “You could ask them,” suggested Butterworth. “Mr Jackson and Mt Lloyd were also most cooperative with the police before.”
  Rhys-Morgan snapped his notebook shut. Butterworth could probably be trusted but he did not want to risk it.
  “No, sadly that’s not possible. Mr Jackson and Mr Lloyd are unavailable.”
  “It’s a shame Wendy’s off today or you could have asked her,” said Butterworth. “She would probably know if Frank Jackson had received threats. I can give you her address, if that would be helpful?”
  Rhys-Morgan stood up. “Yes. Thank you. That would be very helpful.”

Chapter 8.3 ☛

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Chapter 8.1

Sister Enid gritted her teeth as she stared at the contents of her china mug.
  “Sweet Mother Mary and Joseph, infuse, damn you!” she shouted at the teabag that was sitting quietly at the bottom of the vessel. She was desperately in need of the calming herbal tonic, not to mention the ginseng buzz she always got from this particular blend.
  It had been one of those days. She had been late to work after the cat had puked into her toaster. It wasn’t even her cat. Then, in morning registration, Sarah-Jane Putterly had had yet another nose-bleed. All over little Maria Jones. (Despite her GP’s assurances to the contrary, Sister Enid was convinced that Sarah Jane Putterly’s blood vessels must be connected upside down or something.) Both girls had ended up in tears in Sister Enid’s office while she had to try and contact their parents. Mrs Putterly was at home but Mrs Jones had been harder to track down.
  Several phone calls and a box of Kleenex later, Enid had managed to locate her at the local hospital, where she had just taken Maria’s elder sister for what the nurse who had answered the phone described as “self-inflicted shrew bites”. Quite how that could have happened the duty nurse did not know but it was definitely a pygmy white-toothed shrew, apparently.
  Once both girls had been collected, Enid had to fill in the required forms but there was only one left. A quick visit to the photocopier turned into a twenty-minute wait for Sister Rachel to photocopy the entire British Library. (Every institution has a photocopying king or queen who itches for any possible excuse to use their department’s copying contraption. Privy to arcane secrets, whispered from one Xerox engineer to another in darkened rooms, these masters of reproduction revel in the delights of double-sided stapled collations complete with different coloured card cover. Whether any of it is really necessary, only they really know. The rest of us just stand and stare impatiently.) When eventually she stopped, it was because the thing was out of paper. Bitch.
  Enid closed her eyes for two deep breaths and then examined the mug once more. Finally, it looked just about right. With a well-practised movement, she fished the bag out with a silver teaspoon, engraved on the handle with Rupert the Bear, and dropped it into the bag-lined plastic bin next to her.
  Bringing the mug up to her face she took a heavy blackcurrant breath. Everything was going to be all right.

Chapter 8.2 ☛

Friday, 24 August 2012

Chapter 7.6

Although the BIRD-FLU common room was well furnished with comfortable chairs, the atmosphere within was far from comfortable. Sir Henry Montague Ponsenby-Brown did not notice, however, for he was surrounded by uncomfortable atmospheres wherever he went. It was his gift to the world. He flicked through a few more pages of the dossier in front of him, nodded to himself, and then looked up.
  “What do you know of the ALF?” he asked with an abruptness that made it quite clear that conversations about the Centre’s name were most definitely over.
  “They’re justified and they’re ancient?” hazarded Miss Mabel Middlebottom.
  Alec Watson chuckled. “I think you’re thinking of KLF.”
  "The Dutch airline?" she responded, confused.
  “No!” frowned Sir Henry, flashing Alec a quick look of disapproval for unauthorised expression of amusement. “The Animal Liberation Front. I take it that you haven’t heard of them.”
  “I have,” said Ricky. “The Swansea lot are getting quite militant, I believe.”
  Johnson looked slightly alarmed but Ricky just laughed. “We don’t have anything to worry about here, though. This place is locked up tighter than a lamb’s sphincter.”
  “How, er, colourful,” commented Sir Henry. “I suspect you’re right. The ALF would be unlikely to be able to break into this place. Not without leverage. That’s why they might have opted for more, how shall I put it, indirect methods.”
  Johnson’s eyes widened as the penny finally dropped. For the first time since Sir Henry’s arrival, the professor stopped thinking about his lack of trouserage.
  “Gee!” he blurted, collapsing into the leather armchair opposite Watson. “You don’t think this has anything to do with Tony’s disappearance, do you?”
  Sir Henry inclined his head. “It’s certainly a possibility. The ALF have made several threats against the centre recently. That’s why I was sent to check security. Has Professor Greywood received any personal threats, to your knowledge?”
  Johnson and Miss Mabel Middlebottom exchanged looks. The professor shook his head. “Not that I’ve heard about. Ricky? Did Tony say anything to you?”
  Ricky shrugged and shook his head. “I’ve heard nothing like that.”
  He sipped his tea. “I hope he’s okay.”
  Miss Mabel Middlebottom was beginning to look a little upset.
  “I’m sure he’s just ill,” she said. “And can’t get to the phone. Maybe he’s bedridden, with a fever.”
  She bit on her finger in anguish.
  “He’s a bachelor, you know,” she told Sir Henry. “He lives alone. Oh, the poor man!”
  “Perhaps you could give us his address,” suggested Watson. “Then we…”
  He was silenced by a glare from Sir Henry. It was not Watson’s place to eat biscuits and it was certainly not his place to make suggestions.
  “Miss Middlebottom,” said Sir Henry. “Perhaps you could provide us with Professor Greywood’s address, so that we can investigate this matter further. It seems that our records are not as up-to-date as they should be.”
  Watson rolled his eyes and took another hobnob. Miss Mabel Middlebottom nodded and wiped a tear from her eye.
  “Of course,” she said, standing up. “I’ll go and get it, right away.”
  “Thank you,” Sir Henry replied, softly.
  Quite out of character, he found himself moved by the woman’s emotion, and it took him a few seconds to compose himself as she left the room. Taking a slow breath, he returned his attention to Professor Johnson.
  “In the meantime, Professor, you need to be wary of ALF attack. You should probably move the larger animals off-site, just to be on the safe side.”
  Johnson nodded. “We’ll have to close the labs for the cleanup anyway.”
  “We also need to consider any other possibilities,” Sir Henry continued. “Any other potential targets for industrial espionage?”
  The bare-legged academic blinked and shook his head with a small shrug of one shoulder.
  “Not really. I mean, we’ve got biological samples here but, like I said, we haven’t really got the research up and running yet.” He laughed nervously. “The only really innovation since the centre opened is Ricky here’s new air filter design. And that’s not even finished yet.”
  Sir Henry sipped on his tea. “Would Professor Greywood have known anything of plans for the new air filter?”
  “Well, obviously he was the one that okayed the installation of a new filter but he hadn’t seen the actual plans. Ricky keeps the plans locked away in a safety deposit box in his bank. Ain’t that right, Ricky?”
  Ricky smiled and gave a nod, looking slightly uncomfortable about having his work discussed.
  “Wouldn’t be any real point in stealing the plans anyway,” Johnson continued. “The system will only work in one of the Level Four labs on site here.”
  The pensive silence that followed was broken by the return of Miss Mabel Middlebottom. Sir Henry set down his cup and saucer and stood to meet her.
  “I think we have seen and heard enough,” he said, taking the piece of paper offered by Miss Mabel Middlebottom. “The centre will remain open for now, but be extra vigilant. We’ll be in touch soon. I expect an update the moment anything changes.”
  “Of course, Sir Henry,” nodded Johnson, rising to see the visitor out.
  “Come, Smithers.” He looked at the address in his hand. “We have a missing Professor to find.”

Chapter 8.1 ☛

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Chapter 7.5

If Rhys-Morgan was angry before – and he was – then he was really angry now. He had got nowhere with Mr Smeg, and now he had been fobbed off to his partner, Mr Butterworth, the haemophilic annelid. To cap it all off, the vacantly smiling secretary at the front desk was insisting that he waited. The policeman was feeling the desire to arrest someone stronger than he had felt since the great Donut Truck Hijacks of 1994.
  He sat down on one of the comfy-looking brown leather armchairs opposite the secretary’s desk. It turned out not be as comfortable as it looked. He scanned the hardwood coffee table next to him for something to browse. All that was on offer was a two-year-old copy of ‘Hello’ magazine and the sports section from the Telegraph. Rhys-Morgan did not believe in sports and he had no time for celebrities. After a couple of minutes, he could not bear it any longer.
  “Look,” he said, sharply. “Does Mr Butterworth have an important client in there, or something?”
  “No,” replied the secretary. She now wore the expression of someone who had come to terms with the fact that she had to deal with an undesirable and was determined to bear the burden with dignity.
  “Then why can he not see me now?” Rhys-Morgan demanded.
  The secretary coughed quietly. “He’s, er, having his, erm, lunch.”
  By now he was out of his seat. “He’s what?!”
  That was the final straw for the tired detective and before the secretary realised what was happening, he was marching purposefully towards the oak-panelled door bearing the gold plaque with the engraved letters ‘B. B. Butterworth. Senior Partner.’ This act was enough for her to lose her composure.
  “No, sir!” she cried. “You really don’t want to…”
  But it was too late. Rhys-Morgan was already bursting through Butterworth’s door in a fury. Inside, he found himself in a well-decorated office with high bookshelves and filing cabinets on each sidewall, either side of a central desk of fine mahogany. Beyond, a tall window looked out through net curtains into the car park.
  Behind the desk, a surprisingly young man sat up sharply and quickly pulled his suit jacket closed. He was well groomed, but Rhys-Morgan noticed that he wore no tie and the top three buttons of his pale pink shirt were undone.
  “What is the meaning of this?” he demanded, his face displaying a mixture of shock and, to Rhys-Morgan’s surprise and intrigue, embarrassment.
  Rhys-Morgan ignored the question. His policing instincts were screaming at him that something funny was going on here. “Mr Butterworth?”
  “And who is asking?” came the uptight response.
  Rhys-Morgan flipped out his badge. “Detective Inspector Rhys-Morgan. Homicide.” He liked saying that. It generally got people worried, even if they were perfectly innocent.
  “Oh.” This was obviously not the response that the young man had expected. “No, I’m Mr Butterworth’s personal assistant.”
  Rhys-Morgan snapped his wallet shut without a loud slap. He was not prepared to be passed around any more. “I want to see Mr Butterworth.”
  To Rhys-Morgan’s well-trained eye, the P.A. panicked a little. “Er, I’m afraid that Mr Butterworth is…”
  Rhys-Morgan leant forward, placing both hands firmly on the desk and looking the man squarely in the eye. “Now.”
  “It’s alright, Jonathon,” said a third voice. “I can see the policeman. Let him see me.”
  Rys-Morgan stood up and took a step backwards. There were only the two of them in the room. Jonathon continued to look worried and began to unbutton his suit jacket. As it fell open, Rhys-Morgan noticed that Jonathon had his tie draped around his neck. It was what was known as a “power tie”. To Rhys-Morgan’s mind, that was just a synonym for “tasteless”.
  The detective’s gaze did not linger on the tie, however. Once the jacket was open, Jonathon pulled open the top of his shirt to reveal his left breast almost down to the nipple. On it, in line with the armpit, was a leech. Twin puncture marks oozed blood next to it.
  Rhys-Morgan’s face contorted as if he had just tasted some more McDonald’s coffee. “That’s disgusting!”
  Jonathon fingered at his tie, his discomfort plain to see. “I know, and I’m sorry. But it was present from my late aunt, and my mum makes me wear it.”

Chapter 7.6 ☛

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Chapter 7.4

Kippie caught Sister Mary’s eye, and had to try desperately hard to suppress a giggle as Sister Millicent berated the moral fibre of today’s young people. In the end, the two of the managed to duck down a side passage, leaving the old nun ranting to herself as she continued down the corridor oblivious to their absence.
  Mary ushered her friend into a small classroom. (One of the form rooms for the house of St Quentin, patron saint of grapefruit. After reading about the activities of the protestant William of Orange, St Quentin believed all citrus fruit to be anti-papist, heretical and evil. His life turned around during a long sea voyage to the Americas when his life was saved by the ship’s supply of limes, the only food they had been left with following a raid by the infamous pirate, Scurvy Graham. St Quentin was martyred protecting a sacred lemon tree from Don Huan del Monte in 1839.)
  Sister Mary shut the door behind them. As soon as it clicked shut, both of them burst out laughing.
  “I can see she hasn’t changed!” chuckle Kippie, wiping a tear from her eye.
  “Tell me about it!” smirked Sister Mary. “She doesn’t seem to have aged since I’ve been here, either.” She leant close to Kippie and whispered conspiratorially. “We think that she really died years ago, but St Peter didn’t want to let her in, so he sent her back!”
  Kippie nodded. “I could imagine her telling the Heavenly Hosts to keep the noise down!” Mary took and deep breath and, with some effort, composed herself. “So, I presume this isn’t just a social visit?”
  Kippie shook her head, and was suddenly serious. “No.”
  “Is it about the robbery?” May asked quietly.
  “No, but I heard about that.” Kippie looked at the friend in concern. “Are you OK?” Mary laughed again and tried to make light of the situation but the laugh was fairly hollow. “I’m fine. But it’s not the normal way I’d chose to get tied up. Garden hose gives you bad friction burns!”
  Kippie could see through the fa├žade and remained silent, giving Mary the space to say what she needed. Sure enough, the young nun soon dropped the smile.
  “Actually, it was horrible,” she confessed. “I could swear that it had been a snake that wrapped itself around me and not garden hose.”
  Kippie had read the report, and the official psychologist line was that the stress of the robbery had cause Mary to think that the textured hose she had felt was actually the scales of a snake. After all, as a young welsh nun, Mary was not exactly an expert on snakes. (Not unless you included the one-eyed trouser snake of Bishop Plum. Now, there was a bishop that had really needed to be bashed.) Furthermore, some of her personal habits did leave her prone to hallucinations. Kippie could see the fear in her eyes, though. It was a look she had often seen in the eyes of numerous punters, usually just before Cassidy sank his teeth into their private parts.
  Mary dropped her gaze to the floor. “Seems like an awful lot to put someone through just to get hold of a couple of tortoises, some newts and a gerbil.”
  Kippie also stared at the floor and nodded sympathetically as her brain processed the information. Then she looked up suddenly as the penny dropped. “What?!”
  Mary looked up, slightly dazed. “That’s what was stolen – a couple of tortoises, some newts and a gerbil. I thought you’d know that.”
  “I must have skimmed over that bit when I read the report,” explained Kippie, somewhat distantly. “I don’t really do robberies. Well, not unless they’re in progress, anyway.”
  She chewed her bottom lip as he made the connection. Two tortoises were stolen from St Mildred’s. (The house mascots of St Percy, patron saint of shelled animals. St Percy died trying to rescue terrapins from the sewers of Cardiff City.) Then one turns up dead in a field with a former employee. Coincidence? Maybe. “In this case, though, there may be a link with my assignment.”
  Mary snapped out of reliving her ordeal. “So, why are you here, exactly?”
  Kippie tried to push the thoughts of tortoises to the back of her mind for the moment. But tortoises can be stubborn animals with strong little legs, so she resorted to tempting them to the back of her mind with two sticks of celery and a dandelion.
  “Mary,” she said. “I need some information about an old caretaker.”
  Mary frowned. “Not old Bob Bob?”
  Bob Jacobs, known as Bob Bob due to his tendency to repeat himself, was the white-haired old caretaker of St Mildred’s when Kippie was a student there. It was hard to conceive what he could possibly have done to warrant police interest. He would frequently fall asleep in the middle of mowing the lawns or sweeping the corridor. Once he even fell into the fish tank when he fell asleep feeding the fish.
  Kippie smiled at the memory but shook her head. “No. I’m interested in a guy called Edwards. Patrick Edwards.”
  She watched as Mary opened the classroom door and peered out, alert for the signs of Sister Millicent. Satisfied that they were safe, she returned and sat close to Kippie.
  “I do remember Patrick,” she confided. “Lovely fella. I suppose you know that he left in a bit of controversy.”
  Kippie consulted her notebook. “Yep. Arrested for possession and then forced to resign, according to my notes.”
  Mary glanced nervously at the door and dropped her voice to a whisper. “He was a pagan, you know.”
  Kippie nodded. “Yes, I know.”
  “It caused a few problems here, I can tell you. I’m sure you can imagine. I mean, I didn’t really mind, and neither did Blow Jo – pagans can get the best gear – but it didn’t go down well with Mother Superior. Or Millicent, for that matter.”
  She looked round at the door again before leaning closer to her friend.
  “I think that it was Millicent who tipped off the filth, sorry, the police about Patrick’s marijuana,” she whispered, even quieter than before. She sat back straight again. “What’s he done?”
  Kippie opened her mouth and then shut it again. She was sure she could trust her friend but the explosion was not yet in the public domain. “He’s been involved in some, er, cult activities.”
  “Oh, that.” Mary smiled. “Indecent exposure, was it?”
  She leant forward once more. “He asked me along to his cult, once. I must admit I was tempted by the naked frolicking.”
  She sat back and shook her head wistfully. “I would definitely lose my job if that came out, though, so I didn’t risk it.”
  Smiling again, Mary looked at Kippie. “So what do you need? Character witness?” She frowned. “He was perfectly safe around kids, if that’s the concern?”
  Kippie looked at her feet. She did not realise that Mary had known him so well and felt that she was going to have to tell her the truth now. Mary would not spread it around. She took her friend’s hand and took a deep breath. “Mary. I’m not sure how to say this but, er, I’m afraid something’s happened to Patrick.”
  Mary frowned. “He’s not got himself arrested again has he? Look, I’d love to help but I’m not exactly in Sister Millicent’s good books as it is.”
  Kippie shook her head. “I’m afraid it’s worse than that. Mary, Patrick’s dead.”
  “What?” The colour drained from the young nun’s face. “Dead? Wh… how?”
  The WPC squeezed her friend’s hand before releasing it. “It was an explosion. We think it was a cult suicide. Please – you’re not to tell anyone. We don’t want the press getting it until we’ve contacted next of kin.”
  Mary was still in shock. “Suicide? He never mentioned anything to me about his cult committing suicide. Tended to concentrate more on the naked frolicking, as I recall. And the, um, mind expansion, so to speak.”
  Kippie had her pencil out now and was scribbling a few things down in her notebook.
  “What did he say about the cult, Mary?” she asked, gently. “Think. It could be important.”
  Mary shrugged, the tears slowly welling up in her eyes. “Nothing, really. Just the frolicking really. Getting out into nature for some ‘good cult vibes’, as he used to call them.”
  “Did he ever mention anyone else?”
  “Not really,” Mary frowned. “There were other people but he never said how many, or who they were.”
  Kippie sucked the end of her pencil briefly but quickly withdrew it when she tasted the rubber on the tip. “What about next of kin?”
  Mary sagged forward, her head in her hands. When she looked up, a lonely tear was running down her right cheek. “I really don’t know.”
  Kippie put her pencil down and placed a hand gently on her friend’s arm.
  Mary wiped the moisture from her eyes and took Kippie’s hand up in her own once more. “Come on. Sister Enid keeps all the records. If anyone knows, it would be her.”

Chapter 7.5 ☛

Monday, 20 August 2012

Chapter 7.3

Professor Johnson led Sir Henry to BIRD-FLU’s common room whilst Ricky went to store his biohazard suit. Considering the mess that Sir Henry had made and that the janitor was going to have to clear it up, he felt that the fellow was being surprisingly decent about the whole thing. Johnson did not really know the man but that was the reputation he had - calm and unruffled. He just hoped that he wasn't suddenly going to snap and come into work with a shotgun.
  The Common Room was one room that had neither swipe-card access nor a security keypad. The ubiquitous CCTV camera was present, however, but it was not this that Sir Henry noticed upon entering the room. Nor was it the presence of Miss Mabel Middlebottom, which he expected. Sitting next to Miss Middlebottom, in the act of dunking a chocolate hobnob into a cup of tea, was Alec Watson.
  “Oh, Sir Henry,” said Miss Middlebottom as she spotted him. “I took the liberty of inviting your driver in for a cup of tea.”
  Sir Henry frowned. He did not approve of taking liberties. (Not unless it was the liberty of some small third world nation, that is.)
  “So I see,” he said, tight-lipped.
  “I’m afraid we didn’t have any Earl Grey,” Miss Mabel Middlebottom continued, heaping woe upon woe. “I hope Typhoo will do.”
  “That’ll be fine, Mabel,” answered Professor Johnson before Sir Henry could respond, taking the proffered cup of tea from Miss Middlebottom and passing it to the grey bureaucrat. He waved Sir Henry into a seat and almost sat next to him, then remembered that he was not wearing any trousers and decided to stay standing.
  Sir Henry sipped his tea and shuddered. His refined taste buds were not impressed. He was a firm believer that you could judge a man by his tea. (Or a woman. Sir Henry was quite egalitarian when it came to judging people.) If you added sugar, you were weak. If you drank it with lemon, although traditional with Earl Grey, you were too fruity. If, heavens forbid, you drank it black, you were clearly trying too hard to be quirky. (Or, worse, were too disorganised to remember the milk.)
  Unconsciously aware that they were being silently judged, the other three stared down at their cups, desperately trying to avoid both eye contact and conversation. The embarrassed silence was broken only when Ricky the Janitor entered the room. Even without the bulk of his protective suit, he was quite a burly man and sported a thick but well-trimmed face of hair. He loitered by the door for a few seconds before taking the cup of tea offered to him by Miss Mabel Middlebottom and sat down next to Alec Watson, looking equally uncomfortable.
  Professor Johnson watched him sit down and coughed nervously, desperate to break the uncomfortable silence. “You know, Ricky, you should join us for morning coffee more often.”
  Ricky looked at his watch and glanced at Sir Henry. "I'm normally home by 10.30, Professor."
  "Of course, of course." Johnson replied.
  “Ricky works nights,” he followed up feebly, feeling extra explanation was needed. He took another sip of his own tea, wishing it was something distinctly more alcoholic. Sir Henry glared at him and placed his teacup very deliberately onto the low coffee table in front of him, rotating the cup on its saucer to make the handle perfectly parallel to the edge of the table.
  “Yes, I know,” said Sir Henry. “You told me earlier.”
  "Yes, well, I, er..."
  “Tell me what you know about the Director’s disappearance,” Sir Henry commanded in a tone that made it quite clear that he did not really care when the caretaker usually worked.
  The Professor cleared his throat again. “Gee, Sir Henry. I don’t really know what I can tell you. Tony - Professor Greenwood - failed to turn up for work yesterday. Mabel followed protocol and called his home. When she was unable to get through, I tried his cell and couldn’t get hold of him either. Again, Mabel followed protocol and raised the alert.”
  He looked over to Mabel for support and she nodded sombrely. He coughed again. “To be honest, we were hoping you might be able to tell us something.”
  If Sir Henry had any intention of telling Johnson something, he did not show it. “Have you had any problems before this?” he probed.
  Johnson thought for a moment, taking another sip of tea to prolong the cogitation. He tried to hide the grimace. Johnson did not even like tea and usually drank coffee but he felt that he already had enough black marks against his name in Sir Henry’s bad books. Had there been any problems before? There was that one incident months ago but that was just kids.
  Probably best not to withhold information from a man like Sir Henry, though, lest he find himself an unwilling new recruit in the British Antarctic Survey or something. Did they even taken Americans in the British Antarctic Survey? He was not sure about that but was sure that he did not want to find out. He took a big gulp of tea.
  “Professor?” Sir Henry had sounded mildly impatient before but now he was definitely up to a medium or hot level of impatience. Johnson got the distinct impression that he did not want to find out what happened when it reached the top of whatever scale Sir Henry used for these things.
  “Umm, there was one incident,” he explained, “but it wasn’t anything major. Not long after I started, there was a legal case brought against us by a local animal rights organisation - HAVEN, or RAVEN or something. It wasn’t particularly aggressive, though. I think they were just trying to get the name changed. Wanted us to change it to, umm,” he paused. “What was it, Mabel?”
  Mabel looked up from her cuppa. “I think it was the ‘South Wales Murder Death Camp’,” she answered.
  “That sounds about right,” he agreed. “It wasn’t a big deal, though. Our lawyers, Smeg & Butterworth, managed to get them to back down without it even going to court. Professor Greenwood got the whole thing sorted within a couple of days. I’m not sure he would have even mentioned it to the rest of us if he wasn’t so annoyed by the name himself.”
  “Interesting,” said Sir Henry in a flat voice that sounded anything but interested. “Any chance of something similar happening again?”
  Johnson shrugged. “I don’t think so. As we’re not doing any actual experiments at present, it would be an open-and-shut case. Besides, apart from the mice, all our animals are volunteers these days, anyway.”
  “Volunteers?!” Sir Henry did not approve of volunteers. People should do what they were told, not what they wanted to do.
  Johnson nodded. “From Bristol zoo, mostly. Looking to expand their academic horizons.” He glanced about conspiratorially and leant forward to whisper. “To be honest, most of them are rejects from the Bristol University labs.”
  Sir Henry frowned and picked up a dossier from the table. He opened it and turned to the third page. “It seems that Professor Greenwood does not share your confidence. You said he was annoyed by the name of the Centre, himself. According to this report, he has complained several times since it opened. Apparently, he feels that BIRD-FLU is not a very sensible acronym and might attract what he called, the ‘wrong sort of attention’.”
  “Gee, well, it is a rather stupid name,” Johnson told him. “I think we’d all have to agree with that.”
  He looked around the room and felt gratified to receive affirmatory nods from all but Sir Henry himself.
  “I mean, I know we are part of the Brecon Institute for R and D, and this is the Flavivirus and Lentivirus Unit but calling the place BIRD-FLU?” He continued, hoping that Sir Henry himself was not responsible but knowing that he was beyond retreat now. “Really? That’s just dumb. Right?”
  Sir Henry was just staring intently. “Go on.”
  Johnson’s jaw flapped for a moment in surprise before a nervous chuckle escaped. “Umm, isn’t it obvious?”
  “Humour me,” came the humourless response.
  “Well,” Johnson explained. “We’re the Flavivirus and Lentivirus Unit. Everyone knows that Bird Flu is in the Orthomyxoviridae family!”

Chapter 7.4 ☛

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Next post coming soon...

Due to some recent inter-dimensional interference (and a weekend away), the next part of Mystic Mog and the Exploding Tortoise has been delayed.

Normal service will resume shortly...

Friday, 17 August 2012

Chapter 7.2

“That’s the problem with the younger generation,” said Tony Smeg, putting on his coat. “No discipline.”
  Rhys-Morgan nodded noncommittally. “Yes, I...”
  “Never would have turned up late for work when I was lad,” Smeg fussed, checking his right coat pocket for something. “Not that he has turned up,” he added under his breath.
  “No, I...”
  “But young Anthony – that’s my son – he’s forever gallivanting around with some young lady or another.” Smeg looked up for a moment. “There was even a rumour that he was having an affair with my secretary. Did you know that?”
  “No, I didn’t...” Rhys-Morgan did not know that and, frankly, did not care.
  Smeg patted the other pocket. “Not that I ever really believed the rumour before,” he added. “But it is a bit of a coincidence, is it not? The two them not turning up to work on the same day.” He shook his head. “Today of all days.”
  Rhys-Morgan waved vaguely in the direction of reception. His impatience was beginning to get some confusion for company. “But, your secretary’s...”
  “Oh, no!” Smeg retorted. “Not the one out the front at the moment. Though he’s probably doing her too,” he sighed.
  “Really? Has...” Rhys-Morgan started.
  “No, I’m talking about my other secretary, Wendy.” Smeg shook his head. “And she’s old enough to be his mother! I know he’s my son and all, but that is just not right.”
  “Quite, but...”
  “I mean,” Smeg continued. “If anyone should be having an affair with her, it should be me! I am the one that pays her salary, after all. Well, me and Mr Butterworth, of course, but he’s a haemophilic annelid.”
  There was moment of quiet as Rhys-Morgan stood bewildered and Mr Smeg started rifling through the papers on his desk.
  After a second, Rhys-Morgan’s brain caught up. “Do you suspect foul play?”
  “I’m sorry?”
  “Your son and secretary have not turned up to work. Do you suspect foul play?”
  Smeg glanced up from his search. “Heavens, no! Anthony’s just upset because I asked him to shave off that ridiculous beard of his. Probably seduced Wendy just to piss me off.”
  Smeg resumed his hunt. “But facial hair like that, it’s simply not appropriate for a lawyer. We have a meeting with an important client this afternoon, and he will not want to think that his divorce settlement is being handled by some kind of New Age weirdo.” (Actually, Smeg & Butterworth’s client would probably prefer to be represented by a New Age weirdo. The cause of the divorce was his desire to become One with everything - including his Personal Assistant and next-door’s housekeeper.)
  “That’s fascinating, Mr Smeg,” Rhys-Morgan told him. “But I really must...” This time, it was one of Rhys-Morgan’s own thoughts that cut him off mid-stream.
  “Wait a second. Did you say beard?” he asked the lawyer.
  “Yes,” Smeg replied, not hiding his disgust. “Almost reaches his waist. No other law firm would put up with it. But, he is my son. More importantly, he’s a damned good lawyer.”
  Rhys-Morgan frowned. A good lawyer. Now there was an oxymoron, if ever there was one. He probably was damned, though. “I think that bastard got my ex-wife the house when she filed for divorce, a couple of years back.”
  “That’s my boy!” smiled Smeg.
  “He was probably doing her too,” he thought. Wisely, he kept that one to himself.
  “Ah ha!” Smeg finally found what he was looking for: the keys to his Jaguar. (They had been hidden under his signed copy of the international best seller, ‘Who needs a conscience at £200 an hour?’)
  “Now”, he said, giving the policeman his full attention at last with a smile that said that he charged by the minute. “What was it you wanted? I am in a bit of a hurry.”

Chapter 7.3 ☛

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Chapter 7.1

William’s head hung dejectedly as he followed the Spandecs, who in turn followed Toby Ron and Duke across the field towards the northern paddock. This was all his fault but he was yet to be punished. He had lost his brother and now he was dead. Perhaps that was castigation enough.
  The scene that greeted them when they arrived at the paddock was not quite what William was expecting. His mother was there with a scowl on her face – not exactly the expression of a mourning mother. At the focal point of her scowl was young Billy, pushing up daisies as Toby Ron had said. As usual, he was moaning.
  “It’s not fair!” he cried - and not for the first time, if his mother’s expression was anything to judge by. “This is stupid.”
  Mrs Goat continued to scowl at her son. “It’s perfectly fair. Mr O’Bee warned you what would happen next time you threw one of your little breakfast tantrums.”
  Billy continued muttering under his breath but resumed uprooting the little yellow and white flowers.
  Foxy Loxy drew alongside Duke. “What exactly is the point of that?” he asked quietly.
  “Toby Ron’s agreed to look after Streppy the incontinent Shetland Pony for Dynamo Joe, of Dynamo Joe’s Petting Zoo and Animal Electrical Experience,” Duke replied softly. “The poor fella’s lost it completely after that break-in a couple of weeks ago.”
  Foxy nodded. “That’s a strange case, alright. What’s the deal with the daisies, though?”
  “Streppy has a very sensitive stomach. Daisies give him the runs.”
  “I say, dear boy!” said Turkey Lurkey, squinting and peering forward. “I know my eyesight is not great, but is that young goat not digging up each flower individually with his little horns? It’s hardly the most efficient method of daisy removal, is it?”
  “I think that’s the point,” said Foxy.
  “Quite so,” confirmed Duke. “He’s a bit of a moody goat, this one, and kicked over the milk bucket this morning. Not for the first time, mind you. Toby Ron wanted that milk to make some scones.”
  “Ah, so this is his punishment?” asked Turkey.
  “Sounds a bit harsh to me,” volunteered Weasel. “I figure that bucket probably leaked and you would have lost most of the milk anyway.”
  “Well, that’s hardly the point!” said Turkey. “And it’s certainly no laughing matter!”
  This last comment was directed at young William. At the sight of his brother hard at work and the accompanying explanation, all the worry and tension in him had drained away. Instead, he found himself shaking with laughter. The more he desperately tried to suppress it lest he also got in trouble, the harder it became, until tears were rolling down his cheeks. Any trouble now, however, seemed wholly trivial next to what he had been expecting - his brother was far too animated to be a corpse.
  It was Turkey Lurkey’s turn to scowl and William’s turn to be scowled at. “This is the problem with the younger generation. No respect for discipline.”

Chapter 7.2 ☛

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Chapter 6.7

With the animals dropped off, WPC Evans whacked up the volume of the car stereo and motored along at about twenty miles an hour faster than most people would consider safe.
  “Girls just wanna have fun!” she sang with a smile. “Yeah, girls just wanna have fun!”
  The irony was not lost on her as she steered the police van down the windy lanes that led to St Mildred’s convent school. Her old school. She had certainly got an education there, and no mistake. Her smile widened at the memory. Mr Jones, the trainee maths teacher had learnt a thing or two as well, the poor man. Kippie could not help but wonder what he was up to now. She had heard rumours that he had been moved to an all-boys school. What a waste.
  It had not all been fun and games, though. Sister Millicent was particularly vicious at handing out punishment to the troublemakers. What would the old bat think of ‘Evil Evans’ becoming a policewoman? Evans found herself hoping that she bumped into the old battle-axe. Then she thought of the current crop of young ladies at St Mildred’s and rescinded that wish. With any luck, Sister Millicent was long gone.
  Worse that Sister Millicent, however, was Bishop Plum - a man whose face was as purple as the fruit with which he shared his name. He had been forced to leave St Mildred’s following a scandal of indecent exposure. Ewww.
  The memory jogged her back to the case in hand. She could not remember a caretaker called Patrick Edwards from her time at St Mildred’s. This was particularly surprising as she thought she knew everyone there who could get hold of drugs. Sister Josephine (or “Blow Jo” as she was known to the students) was especially fun but she must surely have retired or expired by now.
  According to the file, Patrick Edwards was forced to resign three years ago. Kippie had not been a pupil at St Mildred’s for over ten years. The smile faded at this thought. Had it really been that long? She suddenly felt very old. Anyway, it was eminently possible that Patrick Edwards had started working there after Kippie had left.
  The police van rounded another bend, barely on all four wheels, and the ancient building of St Mildred’s came into sight down the hill. It had originally been built as a monastery in the sixteenth century during the Reformation. Having been abandoned sometime during the Napoleonic Wars, the nuns moved in around 1860. It became a convent school at the turn of the century.
  The Roman Catholic School of St Mildred and the Improbable Martyrs. (Like St Barnaby of Weston-Super-Mare, patron saint of candles, who was convinced that electricity was the work of the devil. He died when an electricity pylon crashed through his roof during a storm and ignited the gas lamps that lit his home.) Yes, there was some history here. St Mildred’s had been churning out well-educated emotionally-repressed young women just begging to go off the rails for just over a hundred years.
  Kippie switched off the radio and slowed to a respectable five miles an hour over the speed limit as she turned onto the winding lane that led up to St Mildred’s cast-iron gates. This was no time to get sentimental. She was a professional and she had a job to do.
  The school was expecting her visit and the gates were open to receive her. There was even one of the nuns was waiting for her in the doorway: a nun who looked very familiar.
  Kippie smiled. Sister Mary Lou Gargrady had been in her class at school. Together, Kippie and Mary had been part of the lacrosse team that had finally brought the sports cup to their House – St Bernard. (St Bernard was the patron saint of brandy. He died after being run over in the street by Dick Turpin. Local legend said that he had been trying to stop the highwayman getting away after robbing the visiting Bishop of Bath. In actuality, St Bernard had been drunk out of his mind and mistook the fleeing bandit for one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.)
  She got out the van.
  “Kippie!” Mary came forward to greet her with a big hug. “Long time, no see!”
  “Good morning, Lou Lou!” she replied, breaking out into a big grin. Perhaps it was time to get sentimental after all. This was going to be like old times. Then a voice from the shadows of the doorway spoke. “Ah, Evil Evans has come to visit us.”
  Kippie’s smiled vanished. It was going to be just like old times.

Chapter 7.1 ☛

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Chapter 6.6

Sir Henry Montague Ponsenby-Brown stood in the centre of the animal house, looking round at cage after cage, stacked up to head height. There were several different types of animals present. A large cage in the corner housed a couple of chimps. A second held a troupe of monkeys, one of which was masturbating quite openly, much to Sir Henry’s disgust. (Sir Henry most certainly did not approve of masturbating monkeys.)
  “Somebody really should spank that monkey!” he said.
  There were also several guinea pigs and a dozen rabbits. Mostly, however, there was just cage upon cage of white mice.
  “What are all the mice used for?” he asked.
  “A lot of it is a historical throw-back,” Johnson explained. “Mice were used in early biological weapons testing, looking at the spread of viruses associated with wound caused by different calibre weapons.”
  “Really?” asked Sir Henry. “And what did they find.”
  “Sadly, mice do not respond well to high impact damage. The spread of just about everything was roughly proportional to the calibre of the weapon. Those early experiments were terribly crude, though.” (And messy.) “We are much more sophisticated now. The Mouse is a good model organism to represent mammalian physiology. However, we mostly use them to run in little wheels and generate electricity if the power fails.”
  Sir Henry looked around the room. It looked secure. “Who has clearance for this room?”
  Johnson thought for a moment. “All the research staff, the two animal technicians. Oh, and the janitor, of course.”
  Johnson noticed Sir Henry wince at the word ‘janitor’ but he was not going to change his language just for some stuffy English bureaucrat. In fact, he had started emphasising his American accent just to spite the toffee-nosed limey.
  “The caretaker?” questioned Sir Henry. “Does he have access to all the labs?”
  Johnson nodded. “Of course. He doesn't have the security codes for any of the actual experiments, naturally. Not that we are actually doing any experiments at the moment. If NATO would give us a bit more money for the science and impose a little less security then...”
  “Why does he wear that suit?” frowned Sir Henry, cutting him off.
  Johnson gave the nervous laugh of someone thrust into a position of authority who has suddenly realised that he is likely to held responsible for all the idiosyncrasies of their fellow workers. “The suit? Oh, Ricky’s just a bit of an eccentric. Slightly paranoid about us releasing germs into the air. I think some of the cleaning chemicals are also a bit nasty.”
  There was a pregnant silence. "I don't clean," he added weakly, feeling the need to justify his ignorance.
  “Can he be trusted?”
  Johnson was visibly shocked by the question. “Ricky? Why, sure! Like I say, he’s a bit eccentric but he’s harmless enough. Certainly not dangerous. More committed than anyone to keeping the place functional and secure – and the bugs firmly contained inside. In fact, he’s actually designing a new air-filtration system for us at the moment. Quite the all-round handyman is our Ricky.”
  Sir Henry said nothing and Johnson, being a worrier, started to worry. Had he said something bad? Was Sir Henry now worried about bugs? They did not even have any bugs at the moment. Not any good ones, anyway. Nothing that would make you bleed out of every orifice.
  As the gap in conversation grew, Johnson felt more and more compelled to fill it. “I mean, I don’t really know the man. Professor Greenwood hired him. Seems like a nice fella too. Gets on well with everyone as far as I know. Especially well with Greenwood, I believe. They both tend to work nights a lot, you see.” He glanced at his watch.
  "Actually, Ricky's normally knocked off by now. Must have been another fecal incident in the animal house."
  Sir Henry thought for a moment. The masturbating monkey stopped playing with itself and started picking its nose instead. It certainly had the air of an animal that could create a fecal incident.
  “I believe I have seen enough,” said Sir Henry, a decision reached. “I think it’s time for tea.”
  The two men left the lab and Sir Henry approached the caretaker, who stopped mopping and looked up at the approaching grey figure.
  Sir Henry peered through the transparent window in Ricky’s hood and adopted the standard Englishman abroad tone: very slow, very clear, and very loud. “How – well – do – you – know – the – Director?” he asked, nodding slowly in encouragement with each word.
  Professor Johnson winced at such a flagrantly patronising display. “It’s all right, Sir Henry. He can hear quite clearly in that suit.”
  “Really?” Sir Henry sounded rather disappointed. He enjoyed patronising the lower classes. (And ‘Johnny Foreigner’.) He turned back to face the janitor. “You – can – hear – me – OK?”
  Ricky nodded. If he had taken any offence at Sir Henry’s behaviour, he showed no sign in his voice, however.
  “Perfectly, sir,” he replied in a soft West Country accent. “And the Director, sir. I get on very well with the Professor Greenwood. Is he alright?”
  Sir Henry thought for a moment. “I would like you to join us for a cup of tea,” he said, only slightly slower and louder than normal.
  Ricky looked over Sir Henry’s shoulder at the Professor. He generally took his tea breaks in the caretaker’s cupboard. Johnson shrugged and nodded encouragement at him.
  “Certainly, sir. I’m pretty much done here anyway. I’ll just have to stow my bucket.”
  “Quite so.”
  Sir Henry spun about on his heel and marched off back down the corridor, leaving Johnson dithering over whether to explain to the janitor what was going on, or follow the belligerent bureaucrat.
  Deciding discretion was the better part of valour, Johnson opted for hurrying after Sir Henry, catching up with him just as he stopped by the door through which he had entered the lab area. There was no swipe-card receptor or keypad.
  “How do we get out?” he asked Johnson.
  “The codes are only used for access,” the professor explained. “To open the door, just press the green button.”
  Being colour-blind, Sir Henry could not see a green button. However, there was a prominent grey button on the wall next to him. He slammed his palm on it.”
  “Nooo!” cried Professor Johnson, leaping forward. “Not the red button!” But it was too late. Alarms started ringing very loudly above their heads. Sir Henry turned in time to see the interior of the lab opposite engulfed in jets of steam from all directions. Soon the window was completely misted up and he could see nothing.
  “Good heavens.”
  “That’s the emergency decontamination button, Sir Henry!” shouted Johnson over the alarms. “In case there’s an emergency in the lab.”
  “Oh.”
  Johnson pulled a key out of his pocket and inserted it into the middle of the button Sir Henry had pushed. With a sharp twist, he pulled the button out again.
  The alarm ceased and the sprays in the lab stopped. Condensation ran down the inside of the window. Sir Henry peered inside. It was no longer spotless. Every available surface seemed to be covered in a white powder that must have dropped from the ceiling before the steam-jets kicked in caked it on.
  “Oh dear, what a mess!” he said, glancing down the corridor at the caretaker and his bucket. “I wouldn’t want to be the one who had to clean that up.”

Chapter 6.7 ☛

Monday, 13 August 2012

Chapter 6.5

Coffee. Ifan Rhys-Morgan needed more coffee. He glanced with disdain at the empty cardboard cup on the passenger seat of his black Ford Mondeo. It was not just that the cup of coffee he had procured from the MacDonald’s drive-through on the way was disgusting. It was small and disgusting. And he had managed to burn his fingers.
  Who was responsible for designing such rubbish cups? Even the MacDonald’s staff at the drive-through window - who Rhys-Morgan suspected had a similar brain content to their burgers - realised that cardboard was a terrible insulator and warned him of the danger just seconds before handing him the cup. Of course, they had not bothered to hand him the vessel in a way that would have given him a chance of avoiding injury, but it was the thought that counts.
  Rhys-Morgan turned the engine off and pocketed the keys. Sucking at his right middle finger at the memory of the pain, he ran his left hand through his thinning greasy hair in a vain attempt to make himself look more presentable. Realising the folly of this idea, he settled for vaguely straightening his tie before stepping out of the car.
  The small car park of Smeg & Butterworth legal consultants (“Smeg & Butterworth – we’ll sue the shirt of your back and then press charges for indecency”) was otherwise empty barring a very large Jaguar in one corner. Rhys-Morgan had parked in the opposite corner, leaving room for another three cars. If he had parked straight, there would have been room for four or five, but Rhys-Morgan did not care. He did not care much for lawyers. (Lawyers had a bad tendency of getting criminals released. Rhys-Morgan did not really care about that, however. It was the way they tended to object to his interrogating suspects with a melon, an eggcup and a red-hot poker. Rhys-Morgan thought that very few of the world’s troubles could not be sorted out by the perspicacious application of a red-hot poker.) D.I. Rhys-Morgan did not care for much. Except coffee.
  The interior designer of the reception area for Smeg & Butterworth had obviously gone for the pot-plant jungle theme. Rhys-Morgan had to fight his way through the trailing leaves of several spider plants suspended in hanging baskets and side-step a five foot peace lilly before finding himself face to face with a rather attractive young lady receptionist. Rhys-Morgan frowned. Lawyers always had attractive receptionists. Bastards.
  The attractive receptionist looked Rhys-Morgan up and down with a facial expression suggesting that she was calculating his worth in her head.
  “I’m sorry,” she told him, with perfect elocution, “but young Mr Smeg Junior deals with evictions and alimony cases, and he has not come in to work today.”
  Rhys-Morgan ignored the implication and flashed her his badge. He was not sure whether the disappointed look on her face was because of his appearance or his profession but he got the distinct impression that the young lady would have preferred it he was really was a vagrant divorcee.
  “Detective Inspector Rhys-Morgan,” he told her. “I would like to speak to one of the senior partners about a case they handled three years ago.”
  “Of course,” she replied with a very false smile. “Smeg and Butterworth are always pleased to help the police.”
  “Yeah, I bet they are,” thought Rhys-Morgan. “That’s because we’re responsible for some of their most lucrative cases.” He could not help his lip curling slightly. “Lawyers – they’re all blood-sucking leeches.”
  “Actually, only Mr Butterworth is a blood-sucking leech.”
  Rhys-Morgan frowned. “I’m sorry. Did I say that out loud?”
  “It’s OK.” The attractive receptionist smiled sweetly at him but the eyes behind the smile were as a cold as ice. “Although Mr Butterworth prefers to be described as an haemophilic annelid.”

Chapter 6.6 ☛

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Chapter 6.4

“The disappearance has raised some security issues,” Sir Henry told Professor Johnson. “I want to make a full inspection of your security measures. You will take me on a tour of the facilities and then perhaps Miss Middlebottom will be kind enough to make us a cup of tea, over which we can discuss the security threat and Professor Greywood’s disappearance.”
  “Well, I...” began Miss Mabel Middlebottom.
  “I wasn’t asking,” said Sir Henry. “I’ll have Earl Grey, naturally.”
  Leaving Miss Mabel Middlebottom performing a passable guppy impression, Sir Henry Montague Ponsenby-Brown waved Professor Johnny D. Johnson III into action. Johnson turned and indicated a bank of monitors behind Miss Middlebottom’s chair, throwing the receptionist a grimace of apology as he did so.
  “The monitors behind the reception desk can patch into any of the centre’s CCTV cameras,” he explained. “Every room in the building, except for the offices, are monitored and there are a further eight cameras outside covering the compound. Camera footage is taped, naturally.”
  “Naturally.”
  “The centre itself is surrounded by a high voltage electric fence. Motion sensors and floodlights are spaced evenly round the perimeter and the gate is guarded twenty-four hours a day. A backup generator in the outhouse supplies power in the case of a Mains failure.”
  Johnson pointed to various features in the foyer. “Access to the main building is restricted by swipe-card and security codes. The doors themselves are bullet-proof and there’s an infrared intruder-detection system in reception that is activated when the building is empty.”
  Sir Henry nodded. So far, so good. “And the laboratories?”
  Johnson gave an internal sigh of relief and pointed down a corridor to his left - the opposite direction to his messy office and fire-damaged legwear. “I’ll show you.”
  Sir Henry was already striding down the corridor with purpose and Johnson scurried after him, catching up as he halted at the large metal door at its terminus.
  He pointed at the wall. “This has a higher clearance level swipe-card and keycode.”
  Sir Henry waited expectantly whilst the Professor swiped his card through the appropriate slot and punched in his code, each key emitting a different tone like a cluster of slightly depressed Clangers. Using touch-tone keypads could be seen as a security risk, allowing spies and whatnot to hide around corners and hear the entry codes. They were, however, standard issue in all government buildings following the Montreal Treaty on international espionage countermeasures. Professor Johnson also found the tones useful on days like today, when he had forgotten his glasses.
  The door slid open with a low hum and a stock science fiction female computer voice purred: “Welcome, Professor Johnson.”
  “The computer logs all entries to the laboratory area,” Johnson explained, stepping through the door.
  Sir Henry started to follow Johnson through the door but stopped when a red light started flashing above the door, accompanied by a loud buzz.
  “Please identify,” said the female computer voice, oozing disembodied sexuality and yet being somehow clear that failure to identify oneself may lead to someone else having it do it for you. In a morgue.
  Sir Henry frowned and withdrew his leg from the doorway. (Sir Henry did not approve of female voices for computers. In his opinion all computers should sound like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. He was convinced that they shared HAL’s psychotic tendencies anyway.) The buzzing stopped but the red light continued to flash.
  “Sorry,” apologised the flustered Professor. “Only full-time BRC staff have clearance.
  I’ll sign you in too.”
  Johnson leant round the doorway and swiped his card through again, this time keying a security code of a different tune that in other circumstances might have seemed quite jaunty. The red light ceased flashing.
  “Welcome, guest of Professor Johnson,” said the computer.
  Sir Henry stepped tentatively through the door and it hummed shut once more. He found himself in a clinically clean corridor of pale-grey that stretched away to the left and right. In front of him was a large window into a spacious laboratory. The lab was spotless with very little visible equipment. Several empty animal cages sat on the benches.
  This window was the central one of three equally spaced down the corridor. Next to each window was a door, each with its own swipe-card and keypad lock. At one end, to their left, the corridor cornered to the right. At the other end, it ended in a very sturdy-looking Emergency Exit.
  “There are eight laboratories,” explained Professor Johnson, “including two with level four containment facilities and the animal house. Every lab has restricted access and only those with the highest security clearance can enter the Level Four labs. Doors and windows are bullet-proof, naturally.”
  “Naturally,” nodded Sir Henry. You could not have a madman with a gun interrupting important research. Not unless it was him, anyway.
  Johnson pointed to the Emergency Exit. “Emergency Exits are locked and cannot be opened unless there is an emergency, in which case the computer will switch them onto manual release. In a power failure, they also switch to manual. Like the main doors, they have infrared intruder detectors.”
  He looked around in approval. “I must admit, Professor, you have gone some way toward allaying my fears. Except for some slackness on the gate, security seems to be very acceptable.”
  “Thank you, Sir Henry,” replied Johnson, relaxing slightly.
  “Could probably do with changing the voice of the computer, though.” He tensed again. “Excuse me?”
  “Can’t have a woman running the show.” Sir Henry told him flatly. “Most improper, what?”
  “Um, er, quite so, Sir Henry.” Johnson lied. Even if it was not utterly politically incorrect, reprogramming the security system would cost thousands of pounds. Johnson just smiled and nodded, hoping Sir Henry would continue the tour and forget about it. Better still, he would never be back to find out either way.
  Sir Henry peered through the window ahead of him into the lab. “So tell me, Professor. How goes the research?”
  Johnson coughed. “Actually, Sir Henry, what with all the security measures we’ve had installed and the recent government cut-backs, we haven’t had the money to do any experiments. But we do have very well equipped labs and Professor Greenwood was confident that once we could afford some consumables, we should be able to make great advances.”
  “Marvellous,” said Sir Henry, who had not really been listening. Instead he had been trying to work out what the little grey box on the bench nearest the window did. “Can I see inside one of the labs?”
  Johnson was taken aback. “Certainly, Sir Henry. To see inside that lab, however, you will need to suit up fully and go through the airlock. Perhaps one of the Level Two labs or the animal house would be more to your liking?”
  “Lead on, Professor.”
  Sir Henry followed Johnson down the corridor away from the Emergency Exit and round the corner into another stretch of corridor. This one looked much the same but had doors and windows on both sides – three on the left and two on the right. At the far end was another Emergency Exit, in front of which was a man mopping the floor. The man was dressed from head to toe in a bright yellow biohazard suit, complete with hood.
  Sir Henry pointed. “Who is that?”
  “Oh, that’s Ricky. The Janitor.”
  Sir Henry scowled. “You mean the Caretaker? Just because most of the money for this place came from those ghastly Americans, it does not mean that we have to start talking like them.”
  Professor Johnny D. Johnson the Third’s jaw dropped slightly. “But I am American, Sir Henry.” “Don’t be ridiculous, man. Do you think I would forget the nationality of my own staff?”

Chapter 6.5 ☛

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Chapter 6.3

The police van pulled up round the side of Toby Ron’s house to be greeted by a small reception committee. William the goat was standing shakily by the door to the kitchen and had just been joined by Toby Ron Ken O’Bee and Duke. WPC Evans turned the engine off and gave Toby a brief nod as she let the animals out the back of the van.
  Foxy Loxy and Turkey Lurkey were looking sprightly as ever. Weasel, on the other hand, was clutching the side of his head with one paw.
  “What happened to him?” asked Evans.
  “Hit his head against the side of the van when we took that corner on two wheels.” Foxy explained.
  Evans looked at Weasel. “Why didn’t you strap yourself in?”
  Weasel looked up moodily. “I figured you’d just brake suddenly and give me whiplash anyway.”
  Shaking her head in disbelief, WPC Evans locked the back of the van and got back in the front.
  “Cheerio, then!” Turkey Lurkey called after her. “Don’t get your pinkies caught in a blender.”
  “See you guys,” she chuckled. “Good luck.”
  With that, Evans started the engine and backed the van back down the drive. The three animals approached the welcoming party.
  “And how can I help the Special Animal Detectives this morning?” asked Toby Ron. Foxy Loxy took a step forward, his police badge dangling visibly from around his neck. “We’ve making enquiries about the nearby bomb-blast yestermorn.”
  Toby Ron shrugged. “I’ve already told the regular police what little I know. And that wasn’t much, I’m afraid.”
  Foxy’s gaze drifted over to William, whose legs were still shaking. “We have reason to believe that one of your young goats may have had some involvement in events. We found tracks.”
  William’s heart sank. This was what he feared. In his limited experience, ‘involvement in events’ was not a good thing.”
  “Really?” asked Toby Ron. He also turned his gaze to the young goat. “William?”
  “I haven’t been anywhere near the site of the bomb,” William told them. “Honest!”
  This was true, as far as he knew. He was still in a panic over Billy’s disappearance and anxious to keep the conversation away from his brother. He was not very successful.
  “I was under the impression that you had two young goats.” Foxy told Toby.
  William’s paranoia latched onto the word ‘had’. Did the police know something about Billy? What had happened to him?
  “That’s right,” confirmed Toby. “Their mother’s watching over the other one.”
  Was that a hint of melancholy that William detected in his owner’s voice?
  “Can I speak to him?” asked Foxy.
  Toby shrugged. “If you really want to.” He shook his head sombrely. “I don’t think you’ll get much out of him, though. He kicked the bucket at breakfast. It was an awful mess. He’s been pushing up daisies in the northern paddock ever since.”

Chapter 6.4 ☛

Friday, 10 August 2012

Chapter 6.2

The grey-uniformed guard only gave a cursory glance at Sir Henry’s identification before activating the main gates to the NATO biological research institute outside Swansea. Sir Henry knew that they were expected but did not approve of such slackness. The British Empire had not been built by slackers. (In Sir Henry’s understanding, it had been built by slaves, sugar and tea – three things of which he approved quite strongly.)
  The large electrified gates slid silently apart, allowing the grey Bentley entry into the compound. Sir Henry looked around at the electrified perimeter fence, topped with razor wire and nodded to himself. High voltage fences topped with razor wire were things of which he approved. The guards may be a little lax but at least security in general seemed good.
  Watson parked the grey car on the grey tarmac next to the entrance of the low grey building and got out.
  “Would you like me to wait here, sir?” he asked, holding the car door open for his boss.
  “Yes, thank you, Smithers,” Sir Henry replied, closing his grey briefcase and stepping out of the car. “I shall take things from here.”
  Sir Henry strode with purpose towards the double doors of the Institute. He noted the swipe-card mechanism and security keypad next to the door. He had a swipe-card and, being a high level NATO technocrat, was privy to all the security codes of the building. He felt, however, that since the guard should have announced his arrival, it would be below his dignity to use such things.
  The receptionist on duty did not disappoint him and over-rode the security system. The double doors slid silently open before him, silently closing behind him again once he was inside. He looked around at the closed circuit television cameras covering the reception area. CCTV was another thing of which Sir Henry approved.
  The receptionist, whose security tag identified as one Miss Mabel Middlebottom, smiled nervously at Sir Henry. Sir Henry almost smiled back. He approved of security tags.
  “I have notified Professor Johnson of your arrival, Sir Henry,” Miss Mabel Middlebottom informed him. “He will be with you shortly.”
  “Thank you,” he replied with a slight subconscious frown. He did not approve of people keeping him waiting.
  As if in answer to his impatience, there was the sound of a door closing down the corridor. Walking towards Sir Henry was a short, flustered-looking man with thinning brown hair and a gleam of sweat upon his brow. He was wearing a pristinely clean, white laboratory coat that came down almost to his knees. Beneath the coat were a pair of pale bare legs that terminated in brown sandals (much like a gladiator might wear) and argyle socks pulled halfway up his calves (much like a gladiator certainly would not wear). It was a combination of which Sir Henry did not approve. (More due to the flash of colour that he believed to be in the argyle socks than the inherent affront to fashion, which was the sandals and socks combination. Sir Henry did not really approve of fashion, either.)
  As he drew to within a couple of feet of Sir Henry, the man offered his right hand.
  “Welcome to Swansea, Sir Henry.”
  Sir Henry took the proffered limb. “Deputy Director Johnson, I presume,” he said, shaking the man’s hand firmly.
  “Er, yes, that’s right,” came the nervous reply. “Forgive my appearance,” Johnson added. “I am wearing shorts under this lab coat – it looked like a sunny day when I left home this morning.”
  Sir Henry frowned. An odd bunch, these science types, he decided.
  “I’m sorry, Professor,” he replied. “You appear to be confusing me with somebody who cares.”
  Johnson almost took affront at such candid insensibility but, realising that he was standing trouserless before a superior that could have him fired on the spot, he decided to let it pass.
  “I am anxious to get straight down to business,“ continued Sir Henry.
  “Of course.”
  “I am most concerned about the apparent disappearance of Professor Greywood.”
  “Don’t you mean Professor Greenwood, Sir Henry?”
  “Don’t be ridiculous, man. Do you think I would forget the name of the Director of a NATO research centre?”
  If Professor Johnson did think that Sir Henry would forget the name of the Director of a NATO research centre – and he most surely did – he was far too prudent to say so.

Chapter 6.3 ☛

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Chapter 6.1

Duke lay on his blanket in the corner of Toby O’Bee’s large farmhouse kitchen. He had been working like a dog that morning, trying to round up Toby Ron’s sheep. Toby Ron did not actually have any sheep but Duke liked to make sure of this every morning.
  This morning, Duke had been especially keen to keep his mind occupied but had been finding it especially hard. Even his usual distraction of thinking about old Mrs McClusky’s thoroughbred show poodle, Fifi, was not working. This was the morning that Toby Ron was confirming their entry into the Women’s Institute cake, bun and integrated dairy-based dessert competition.
  Just as climacteric, they would finally discover the nature of Garth Jones’ entries. Duke felt butterflies in his tummy just thinking about it, and not just the Orange-Tip he had swallowed on this morning’s sheep-hunt. Farmer Jones made a mean Manchester Tart. (One year it had actually attacked Mrs Martinson who, coincidentally, was also a mean Manchester tart.) He had won prizes in the W.I. cake competition for three years running. (He was running from Mr Martinson. Garth Jones was a tough man but even he did not mess with big Biff Martinson. Biff was a professional boxer but had to retire after beating a referee senseless, ironically whilst trying to “beat some sense into him”. Even more ironic was the crowbar that Biff frequently used to beat sense into anyone messing with Mrs Martinson.)
  So lost in thought was he, Duke did not hear Toby Ron’s Range Rover come up the driveway. It was only the slamming of the car door that caught his attention. Even so, by the time Toby had crunched across the drive to the back door, Duke was off his blanket, waiting expectantly.
  Toby shut the door quietly behind him, absent-mindedly patted Duke on the head and tossed his car keys onto the table. Duke’s head tracked his owner across the room. When it became obvious that Toby was not going to say anything, he frowned.
  “Well?” Duke asked impatiently.
  “Hmmm?” Toby Ron was obviously as lost in thought as Duke had just been.
  “How did it go?” Duke pressed.
  “Oh. We made the deadline OK. I’ve entered your pavlova, eccles cakes and I opted for an orange Dundee in the end.”
  Duke nodded. That made sense. Toby had lost faith slightly in his lemon Madeira following the success last year of the Manchester Tart. - Mrs Martinson had entered an exquisite Victoria Sponge. (Bishop Jeffrey Plum had entered a chocolate eclair, which was why he was not allowed on the judging panel this year.) This was all skirting round the issue that Duke really wanted to know about.
  “And what about Garth Jones?” Duke could not help but snarl as he uttered the name of Toby Ron’s nemesis.
  Toby Ron held his dog’s stare for a moment or two. “He missed the deadline. He wasn’t there.”
  Duke looked puzzled and rightly so. Garth Jones always entered the cake competition. (The regularity of Jones’ entry to the cake-making competition was only matched by Detective Sergeant Jenkins’ entry to the cake-eating competition.) It was rare for him not to be the first to file an entry. It was unheard of for him to miss the deadline altogether.
  “He wasn’t there?”
  Judging from Toby’s expression as he shook his head, Duke’s owner was a confused as he was. “No. No one’s seen or heard from him. It’s like he just disappeared.”
  “Blimey,” said Duke.
  “I know.” Toby Ron did not understand it. “I don’t understand it either. It’s not like him at all.”
  Duke scanned the kitchen as he thought. He absent-mindedly noticed one of the goats crouching outside the back door. Part of his mind wondered what the goat wanted. That could wait, though. The issue was the disappearance of Garth Jones. Duke knew that he should feel relieved to lose his best opposition but instead he just felt strangely empty.
  Duke looked at Toby Ron for guidance. “What do you think it means?” “What did it mean?” Toby thought, puffing his cheeks up with air. He emptied his cheeks in a big sigh and shook his head. Garth Jones would not disappear for a nice reason, he was sure.
  “Trouble,” he told Duke. “Big trouble for someone, no doubt.”
  “Yeah,” thought Duke. “Big trouble for us, probably.”
  “What can we do?” he asked.
  Toby shook his head again in bafflement. “I really don’t know, Duke. I really don’t know.”
  The two of them stood in silence for a few seconds before the sound of a car coming up the drive interrupted their contemplation.
  Toby Ron ruffled the furry head of his faithful four-legged friend. “I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough. Now, let’s see who’s visiting us on this most confusing of mornings.”

Chapter 6.2 ☛