Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Chapter 13.4

As the tortoise plodded on, Cyril surveyed the scene for inspiration. It looked increasingly like it would headed for the Barclays bank across the street. Of course! That would explain the eagle in Mog’s vision. That was good news, at least - she was not predicting aerial attack. Cyril had suffered enough of those to last a few lifetimes - or, for the average squirrel, to end a few lifetimes.
  The bad news, on the other paw, was that if the bank was the tortoise’s final destination, Cyril was almost out of time. Short of fresh ideas, he resorted to running in front of the tortoise and jumping up and down, screaming and waving his arms about.
  “Oi! Tortoise!” he yelled. “Wake up! C’mon, man. You don’t really want to explode, do you? It will hurt, like. A lot! Stop!! Please? I...”
  Cyril had no survived two years of living in Swansea and two (albeit overlapping) inter-dimensional invasions without an enhanced survival instinct - and that instinct kicked in at that very moment. As a result, he was able to fling himself aside as a giant raptor flashed past, extended talons missing him by a hair’s breadth.
  Cyril rolled twice and jumped to his feet in time to see the bird coming in for a second pass. This time, it was coming in slower, giving itself time to react to whatever he may try. It also gave Cyril time to size up his opponent. It was a Red Kite and the size was not encouraging. Nor was the fact that he was now stuck in the open. This did not look good.
  Shifting his weight onto his right leg, Cyril pretended to trip and stagger, touching down with right paw and scooping up a bit of loose gravel and dust. As he had hoped, the Kite changed his attack angle slightly and accelerated to take advantage of its stricken prey. At the last possible moment, Cyril sprang hard off his right foot and somersaulted to his left whilst throwing the stones into the bird’s path in a small cloud of dust.
  The kite squawked in surprise and peeled away as Cyril rolled back to his feet and looked around frantically. He had lost sight of the bird. Worse than that, he had lost sight of the tortoise. It was gone!
  Cyril’s mind raced. Surely, the bird hadn’t carried it off? That would be too much to ask. Attention split between sky and street, he took a couple of steps towards the bank and then spotted the relentless reptile.
  The tortoise stopped just behind a lamppost opposite the main doors to the bank. Cyril stopped too and tensed, trying to see what it was doing and hoping that it was not about to go boom. Its head was extended and moving left and right as if casing the building. Then, as suddenly as it had stopped, it started moving again, ambling further along the street towards a litter bin and the ATM.
  Cyril felt a sharp pain in his tail for the second time this week.
  “You’re a feisty one, aren’t you Boyo?” said a welsh accent from behind him. It was a voice he recognised.
  “Lloyd?!” he asked, turning his head.
  The Red Kite had landed, pinning him by the tail, and was examining him closely, head tilted to the right.
  “Yes, that’s right,” the bird answered. “Famous, am I? Something to threaten the children with? Go to sleep, or Lloyd the Red Kite will eat you up! That sort of thing?”
  “What?” Cyril shook his head. He did not have time for this. “No, Lloyd. It’s me. Cyril. Remember?”
  The bird considered him, shifting its head title to the left. “Have I eaten you before?”
  “What?” Cyril repeated. “No! I’m Mystic Mog’s friend. You helped me find the Cabbage of Doom.” He raised his eyebrows and nodded encouragingly. “Remember? Please!”
  The penny dropped with an almost audible click. “Ah, yes! I remember you, Boyo. You’re the one that I wasn’t allowed to eat!”
  Cyril continued to nod with increased vigour. “Yes! That’s right!”
  “Ah, funny that,” Lloyd said. “Me bumping into you again. You helping Mog to save the world again, or something?”
  “Yes, yes!” enthused Cyril, hope returning by the second. “I am!”
  “Oh, wonderful, Boyo. Very noble of you.”
  Cyril stopped nodding and blushed. “Thanks, I...”
  “I almost feel bad that I’m going to eat you, now,” the bird continued. “Bit of a shame, really.”
  “I... what?!” Cyril’s face went from blood positive to blood negative in a moment. “But... but Mog... you’re not allowed to eat me...”
  “Oh, no, I wasn’t allowed to eat you.” Lloyd corrected. “I’m much better now. I don’t need to do Mog any more favours. Still, nothing personal, eh?”

Chapter 13.5 ☛

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Chapter 13.3

The moon cast an eerie glow throw the building mist as two small horned quadrupeds crossed a field at the edge of Toby Ron Ken O’Bee’s land, accompanied by the faint tinkling of bells and Duke, the sheepdog.
  “Good luck,” the latter whispered to William as a fence came into sight ahead ahead. “I’ll wait here. I would come with you but...”
  William stopped and nodded. It was well known on the farm that Duke and Garth Jones had some bad history. The farmer had threatened to shoot Duke if he ever found him on his land again. Hopefully, the same would not apply to Toby Ron’s goats.
  “Don’t forget the electric fence!” Duke added, as a slight tug on William’s collar got him moving again.
  “I won’t,” he answered.
  “Let’s hope that Pan knows about electric fences,” he muttered to himself as his brother reached the boundary in question.

Chapter 13.4 ☛

Friday, 26 October 2012

Chapter 13.2

Cyril sat on a fairly sturdy branch of the old sycamore tree and waited for some action. Action was his thing, really, though he always liked to think that he liked the quiet life. He spent most of his time seeking the quiet life but whenever it came along, it was a bit boring really. Sitting in a tree opposite Pizza Hut waiting for something suspicious to explode was definitely boring. He just wasn’t sure if he really wanted things to become exciting in this instance. It was a bit of a lose-lose situation. Mog seemed to be quite good at generating those for him.
  Mystic Mog’s prediction had been characteristically imprecise. She had travelled with the terror-tortoise for a while and had definitely seen Pizza Hut. Then her vision had all got a bit confusing. There was something vague about an eagle or a bird of prey or something. Cyril had not liked that bit - such birds usually considered him to be prey. She had been quite adamant that he should watch out for the tortoise and try to intervene.
  Apparently, Mog was unable to do it herself as there was a risk that the temporal and spatial proximity to the subject of her dream might trigger a psychic feedback loop that would make her head explode. Cyril wondered why this danger was deemed worse than the risk that Cyril’s proximity to an exploding tortoise might make his head explode. Presumably, the fact that it was not Mog’s head had something to do with it.
  A shout from behind him drew his attention from the Pizza Hut for a moment. It was only two men leaving the local pub, The Flying Radish. Cyril considered popping into the pub before it closed for some nuts but resisted the temptation and returned to scanning his surroundings for impending doom.
  A nice packet of nuts to nibble on might help him think, though. He still had one over-riding problem to solve. If Mog’s information was reliable and if he managed to spot the tortoise in question before things got explosive, Cyril was not entirely sure what he was supposed to do about it. In fact, he was very far indeed from being entirely sure. Mog had suggested making some loud noises and trying to snap the tortoise out of its trance. He was no bomb disposal expert and, besides, this was no ordinary bomb.
  The other problem was that Cyril did not really want to get that near. Being naturally quite low down the food chain, he had a very well developed sense of self-preservation. At least this time he had enough to don his armoured shell suit for protection but he sincerely doubted that it would do much to save him from a bomb at close quarters. Or any other fraction, for that matter. Still, you have go to go some time and better to die a hero, trying to save the world (from what?!) than being taken roughly from behind by a polecat whilst busy sniffing your nuts, as had happened to his cousin Gerald.
  The next two hours passed very slowly for the squirrel. Cyril tried to keep himself alert by changing branches occasionally but, by the time the city clock chimed 1 am, he was becoming convinced that Mog had made a mistake. It had been known to happen. Come to think of it, he was not even sure that this was the right Pizza Hut.
  It was quite dark and getting cold by now, and Cyril was struggling to keep his eyes open. There was not much to see anyway. Ceasing to fight the urge, he closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on his other senses. The feel of the bark beneath his paws. The slight Southerly breeze in his whiskers. The smell of moss and... wren droppings. He paused. Wren droppings? There were not any...
  A voice cleared its throat next to his ear. He opened one eye.
  “The motor may run but walking is quicker when the ice of calamity covers the road ahead,” said the Zen Wren.
  “Fuck off!” Cyril told him. That bird never made any sense.
  The wren flew off and Cyril closed his eyes once more, listening to the flap of the bird’s wings fade and finally get drowned out by a distant engine drone. He let his attention shift to the engine. Diesel. Van. Ford Transit, maybe. No. Smaller. Maybe an Astra van. Going quite fast. No. Approaching quite fast.
  He opened one eye and watched the van turn into the end of the road. He wondered what it was carrying. Food maybe. Perhaps even nuts. He could murder a good Brazil nut right now. He opened the other eye and stared vacantly as the van pulled up in front of the Pizza Hut and stopped. His gaze was subconsciously drawn to the words “Pet Supplies” stencilled in black italics against the white van’s side.
  A deeper part of his subconscious at the back of his mind was trying to get his attention - something about Pizza Hut being closed and not having any pets. The front of his mind, however, had hooked onto the words. Pet supplies. Nuts.
  He closed his eyes again as he considered the delightful satisfaction if coaxing a pistachio out of its mussel-like shell. The fabulously flaky almond. The perfectly presented hazelnut. The beautiful bend of the cashew.
  The van’s engine sprung back to life again and Cyril dreamily half-opened his eyes, staring straight ahead as the van pulled away. Sure enough, it had deposited a giant almond on the pavement.
  Mouth watering, he turned tail and bounded down the tree. Dropping the last four feet onto his four feet, he spun around just in time to see the giant almond crawl around the corner of Pizza Hut on four stubby legs.
  Cyril frowned and rubbed his eyes with balled-up paws. Theodore Ferguson MacCabbage, Intimidator of a Dozen Root Vegetables, had never mentioned any walking nuts. Then, suddenly, it dawned on him. The tortoise!
  Making a mental note to trust Mog’s predictions a bit more next time - and possibly get some hypnotherapy for what was clearly a bit of a nut problem - he bounded across the road and round the corner after the departing creature.
  The tortoise was making surprisingly good progress and was already half of the way along the northern wall of Pizza Hut, approaching the small fenced-in collection of dustbins.
  The dustbins! Rudely awakened from his dreams about nuts, Cyril’s brain might have been a bit slow warming up but now it kicked into over-drive. Pizza Hut served salad. There was probably a fair amount of waste salad in the dustbins. Tortoises eat salad. Maybe he could use the discards to coax the tortoise to a place of safety and work out what to do next.
  A plan forming in his mind, Cyril sprinted towards the bins. There were two major problems to overcome. Firstly, the bins themselves were locked up inside a six-foot-high wire-fence enclosure, the gate of which was secured by a heavy chain and padlock. Secondly, there was no way that Cyril was strong enough to over-turn a wheelie bin full of rubbish.
  Undeterred, he bounded past the tortoise, climbed the fence and jumped into the enclosure, landing on the bin nearest the gate. Pausing only to balance himself, he pulled out the grappling nut and line from his shell suit’s utility belt and, after two swings above his head, successfully launched it at the chain on the gate. He gave the line a quick tug to make sure that it had securely wrapped around the chain. It had. So far, so good.
  Quickly, he detached the end and tied it to the hinge of the wheelie bin before scampering along the line itself to the gate. He was up and over the gate quicker than a ferret up a man’s trousers. Another tool came out of the belt and, with a deft twist of the wrist, the padlock was unlocked.
  Now it was make or break time. A well-aimed punch through the wire swung the loop of the padlock open. The friction of metal on metal was not sufficient to keep the terminal chain link on the loop and the two parted company. Cyril, who was hanging upside-down just above the lock, kicked off with his legs and landed hard on the padlock just as the chain broke free.
  The combined weight of squirrel and padlock was enough to pull the chain - now free at one end - through the gate to land in a pile on the ground below, accelerating all the time as more weight was transferred to the outside. As it fell, the chain pulled on Cyril’s grappling line, transferring its momentum to the wheelie bin with a sharp tug.
  Cyril rolled clear and held his breath as the bin spun round slightly before the wheels caught on something and it tipped. Cyril grabbed the line and pulled with all his strength. The bin teetered for an agonising second or two before resigning itself to gravity and toppling over, smashing its way through the gate and crashing to the ground as Cyril dived clear once more. As it hit the tarmac, the bin’s lid flipped open and spread slightly brown lettuce across the pavement right in front of the tortoise’s nose.
  Cyril smiled and breathed once more. That could not have worked better.
  The tortoise, however, just plodded on impassively through the scattered vegetation as if nothing had happened. If was remotely impressed by Cyril’s destructive athleticism, it was not showing any sign.
  Cyril shuddered as, for a moment, the fallout from the fallen bin reminded him of the aftermath of last year’s invasion by the Cabbages of Doom. Marshalling his resolve, he grabbed a nearby leaf and sprung after the retreating reptile.
  Several seconds of uselessly waving the greenery in the tortoise’s face was enough to convince Cyril of the futility of that approach. Giving up, he dropped the limp lettuce leaf where he stood and looked around frantically for a Plan B.
  “That Testudine is really testing my patience,” he muttered.

Chapter 13.3 ☛

Chapter 13.1

Rhys-Morgan looked thoughtfully out through the second-floor window of the flats above the Cancer Research UK charity shop over the road from Peter’s Pet Shop. There was one benefit to a global recession, at least - it was much easier to find an empty property within sight of the pet shop.
  He looked across at D.S. Jenkins. “Just like the old days, eh, Tommie?”
  Tommie nodded and stifled a yawn. “Yep. Just as boring as I remember it, Guv! Any movement yet?”
  Rhys-Morgan shook his head. “Nothing yet. Did you bring the kit?”
  Tommie nodded again. “It’s not been so long that I’d forget the kit, Guv. Do you want me to set up now?”
  “I think so,” Ifan replied. “I suspect it will be a few hours before we get any action, so best to be prepared.”
  “It’s in the boot,” Tommie told him. “I’ll be back in a jiffy.”
  Rhys-Morgan turned back out the window and listened to his sergeant clomp down the stairs to the small car park round the back before turning his attention to the pet shop across the street. It was very quiet. Bobby and Roger had returned earlier in the day and reported no signs of life at all. There was no notice of a holiday closure, just the usual CLOSED sign hanging in the window all day.
  Of course, if Peter Lloyd had any sense then he would be long gone by now. Fortunately, however, it was D.I. Rhys-Morgan’s experience that the average criminal did not have an awful lot of sense, especially when it came to something like a multiple murder. Usually, part of them wanted to be caught.
  On the other hand, what if Sir Henry had been right? If this was the action of the Animal Liberation Front, where would that leave Peter Lloyd? Unless...?
  The sound of Tommie plodding back up the stairs interrupted his train of thought.
  “Tommie?” he asked as the sergeant returned. “What do you think are the chances that Peter Lloyd is part of the Animal Liberation Front?”
  Tommie paused in the doorway. “Not sure, Guv. Isn’t owning a pet like animal slavery or something to these guys? He’d be more likely to be a target than a groupie, I would have thought.”
  “That’s a good point, Tommie,” agreed Rhys-Morgan, turing back to the window. “If this was the work of the ALF, they might make a move on the pet shop themselves. Liberate any animals left, that kind of thing. You remember the Dynamo Joe’s case.”
  The sergeant grunted noncommittally and entered the room carrying a squat brushed metal briefcase, which he carried over and placed on the small table behind Rhys-Morgan.
  “Are you having doubts that Peter’s our man, Guv?” he asked, flicking the two latches open with his thumbs.
  “I don’t know what to think any more, Tommie,” sighed Rhys-Morgan. “This case has got more twists and turns than a sackful of snakes. Either way, my gut tells me that Peter’s pet shop is the key somehow. Hopefully, tonight will tell us how. If not... I guess we should call the RSPCA in the morning and sort out a warrant for a raid.”
  Tommie grunted and opened the lid of the case. Nestled into special cut-foam housing was his stakeout equipment. He traced a finger loving over the exterior of the largest piece. This was his favourite bit of hidden surveillance operations.
  With a dextrous flourish that was slightly incongruent with a man of his build, he pulled out two large ceramic mugs, spun them round his middle fingers and set them out on the table. This was swiftly followed by an electric kettle. A hidden compartment in the lid of the case, quietly swung open to reveal an array of tea bags.
  “So, what’ll it be, Guv?” Tommie asked. “English breakfast, Assam or Darjeeling?”

Chapter 13.2 ☛

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Chapter 12.5

Dusk was drawing in and Alec Watson instinctively cut the lights as the grey Bentley rolled almost silently up the drive towards the small house of Patrick Edwards. The powerful V12 hybrid engine made barely a whisper and only the faint crunch of gravel beneath the tyres would have given away his arrival to an observer. (Unless they were eating crunchy nut cornflakes, of course.)
  Alec was not sure what had caused him to adopt the stealthy approach but he had been an agent too long to ignore his instincts. The bodywork and windows of the car had an almost matte finish and reflected very little light but Watson pulled off the road into the trees before reaching the house, nonetheless. The downstairs lights were on. Someone was at home.
  Patrick Edwards was not just the neighbour of Professor Greenwood, his cottage was actually on the Professor's land; Edwards was Greenwood's tenant. Watson turned off the engine and pondered this for a moment. Was it important? Did Greenwood owe Edwards something from their past? What if they had had a falling out and Greenwood had threatened to expose Patrick’s past indiscretions, or kick him out? Was that motive for murder? It seemed unlikely but he filed away the information for later in case it turned out to be significant.
  Watson had parked the car with a clear view through the trees to the house. He entered a code on the radio and the windscreen flickered into a faintly greenish glow as a night vision camera behind the right fog lamp was activated. With a deft flick of his left thumb, he flipped opened the top of the gear stick to reveal a small joystick. He pressed it forward and the image in front of him zoomed in until the large bay window at the front of the house filled his windscreen.
  The curtains were drawn. Watson pressed another button on the dashboard and the monochrome green image was replaced by the rainbow colouring of a thermal camera. The resolution was quite poor but Watson could make out the distinctive shape of a human being moving around inside. The profile was consistent with Patrick Edwards but Watson set the display recording so that he could double-check later.
  As Watson watched, the figure knelt and appeared to be picking something from a low cupboard. Perhaps he was making himself a nightcap? Watson quite fancied a nice single malt himself but resisted the urge to raid the minibar in the back of the Bentley. At that moment, the figure stood again and scratched its head before quickly striding out of shot.
  Watson panned right and zoomed out slightly to follow the progress of his quarry through the house. A bright white light flared into life behind the front door as the hall light was switched on and the red figure, haloed in yellow, climbed the stairs. It slowly shrank as it moved away from Watson towards the back of the house and then grew again. Another bright white spot flared as the light came on in the room above the front door.
  Watson zoomed in, flicking the camera into the visible spectrum. Edwards had not closed these curtains and, although the angle was not great, Alec got a fleeting glimpse of his bearded face as he crossed the room to a desk or bookshelf. He was now hidden from view, so Alec cycled back to thermal and adjusted the temperature range to maximise the resolution of the target. Edwards seemed to be searching for something and, judging by his motion and the biometric readout appearing on Watson’s Heads-Up Display, he was getting increasing frantic.
  “What are you up to?” the welshman muttered quietly to himself.
  The figure paused, holding something aloft in his hand as if scrutinising it. Watson began adjusting the controls to get a sense of what it was when the screen in front of him shuddered and was replaced with the floating head of the man referred to sometimes as “Control”, sometimes “M”, and sometimes simply Kevin.
  “Alec,” said the head. “I need you to come in. I’m afraid something has happened to 001.”

Chapter 13.1 ☛

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Italian Mog

I've been in Lucca for a few days, with considerably more access to wine than wifi but normal service should resume tomorrow. In the meantime, here's a very pretty (but skittish) Italian moggie from Lucca. (And for the next couple of days, you can get The Cabbages of Doom at for 20% off!)

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Out of the country for a few days

I'm out of the country for a few days and, depending on internet access etc., Mystic Mog updates might suffer as a consequence! If so, you can always watch kittens instead!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Chapter 12.4

For reasons that were not clear to him, Cyril had spent the last half an hour or so thinking about cats. As a result, he now sat atop a horse chestnut tree at the bottom of Mrs Gargrady’s garden, watching four of her cats trying to stalk a pigeon. They had not really mastered the concept of teamwork, however, and so rather than working together, it was more like a competition to get to the pigeon first.
  They were failing. With bells on. Literally, in their case, which was part of the problem. As Cyril was pondering the relative cruelty to the cats for sabotaging their natural hunting behaviour versus the cruelty to local wildlife of letting them hunt without warning - and finding himself firmly on the side of the prey animals - he noticed something odd. One by one, the four kitties stopped their stalking and sat on the grass, staring straight up at him.
  Cyril gulped nervously. He felt like someone must be making a Youtube video and, therefore, some hilarious act of Schadenfreude was about to befall him. With a sense of foreboding, which was rapidly becoming five or six boding, he slowly turned to find himself nose to beak with a tawny owl.
  His body was already tensing and before his brain could really register the situation his right fist was flying at the beaked face of the strigiform stranger. It was blocked effortlessly by a feathered wing.
  “Cool it, playa,” his visitant told him.
  Cyril groaned inwardly. It was one of Mystic Mog’s avian bodyguards.
  “Cool it?!” he cried. “What are you doing, sneaking up on me like that, eh?”
  “I didn’t sneak,” the owl retorted. “I ain’t no bitch, dawg.”
  “Well, I didn’t hear you arrive,” he told the owl.
  “I’m an owl, yo,” the owl replied with a bob of the head that Cyril interpreted as a shrug. “That’s just how I roll.”
  “Well, you scared the crap out of me, alright?” Cyril countered, rather tensely. “Care to roll somewhere else?”
  “Snap out of that tizzle, yo” the owl told him. “I’ve got a message from Her Mysticness, nahmsayin?”
  “Oh, er, right,” Cyril answered. This was not good news. He rarely knew what Mog’s owls were saying. At least it explained why this particular owl was visiting him. “What does Mog want?”
  “She wants you to meet her at Pizza Hut,” the owl told him. “Something big’s going down.”
  Cyril nodded, thankful that the instructions were simple and easily understood. “I can do that.”
  “You better jet,” said the owl when the squirrel did not move.
  Cyril was slightly taken aback. “You want me to go now?”
  “Fo’shizzle, ma squizzle.”
  “Move it, fool!”

Chapter 12.5 ☛

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Chapter 12.3

The wind whistled its way eerily through the craggy outcrops of rock that were jumbled together to form the cheerily named “Death Head”. (Otherwise known as “Satan’s haemorrhoids” to the locals. No more pleasant but, arguably, a little more cheery.)
  Geologists may have got excited by the interesting combination of sedimentary foliation and exposed igneous intrusions but the man currently hanging by his fingertips, two-thirds of the way up the most exposed northern face of Death Head, was not. But then, he was no geologist.
  While he had the natural tan of a man who had been in the field a lot, and the well-defined muscles of someone who could chip away at rocks with the best of them, he did not look like the sort of man who would be at home in brown tweed. In fact, even though he was wearing a skin-tight climbing outfit, comprising black shorts and a sleeveless Union Jack vest, an observer would get a strange sensation that he was actually wearing a designer tuxedo; whatever he was wearing, Charles Bartholomew Wainbridge somehow managed to look like he was wearing a designer tuxedo.
  Charles blinked a drop of sweat out of his eyes – clear, blue eyes, in which many a woman had lost herself – as he shifted position, dangling for a moment by one hand. His powerful biceps flexed as he hauled himself upwards, regaining a second handhold plus a foothold scarcely large enough for an anorexic puffin to nest on. He was here for the rocks alright but not their scientific value.
  Death Head had got its name from two sources. The "Head" was a reference to the fact that from a distance, and with some imagination (plus a lick or two of the local frogs), the rock formation resembled a human head. It was the head of a human who must have suffered from really bad acne as an adolescent but a human head nonetheless. The "Death" part referred to what anyone trying to climb unaided to the summit usually met with.
  "Chuck" Wainbridge was trying to climb unaided to the summit. But then, Chuck Wainbridge was not anyone. He had often looked Death in the face before redirecting him toward someone less fortunate with the aid of a sniper rifle, silenced pistol or even, on one occasion, his little finger and a cocktail stick.
  Fluent in six languages and familiar with two hundred and eighty-seven different weapons (or two hundred and eighty-eight if you include cocktail sticks), Wainbridge had joined the British Secret Service a decade earlier and he loved it. Chuck Wainbridge was addicted to adrenalin and when he wasn't spying on spies or assassinating assassins, he was always seeking new and interesting ways to push himself to the limit.
  The wind around Death Head was beginning to pick up, ruffling Chuck's dark hair gently. He had a quick look below. It was a long way down but that did not bother him. He was only using his estimated altitude as a means of estimating the distance to the top, which was impossible to see directly due to a large outcrop above him - the head's left ear. Chuck was going to have to circumnavigate the outcrop using a horizontal crack that was only just wide enough to get a fingertip grip. Although this would have given other men pause for though, it was OK with Chuck - his fingertips had gripped many cracks in his time. (He went to Eton, after all.)
  Steadying himself for a moment, Wainbridge stretched his right arm out and felt for the crack. Finding it, he cautiously began transferring his weight, feeling along the rock for the best grip, alert for any looseness that might indicate that it could crumble under his weight. It was at this crucial moment that a vibration from his belt caused Chuck's concentration to waiver and his foot to slip from his narrow foothold.
  Grabbing quickly by reflex, he managed to find a solid grip in the fissure just in time to stop himself from becoming the next victim of the Head. Dangling from one arm once again, Chuck rolled his eyes and tapped the earpiece in his left ear.
  "Wainbridge," he said.
  "Ah, Charles," came a terribly well-spoken voice in his ear. "Not a bad moment, I hope."
  "No sir," lied Wainbridge. "Just hanging around. You know how it is."
  "Yes." He did not. "Well, I'm afraid that you're going to have to cut your holiday short again, dear boy. I've just had a call from Sir Henry. There's a situation in Swansea and he wants our best man on it. You're the best, Charles."
  "Thank you, sir." Chuck frowned. A 'situation'. They were always messy. A 'job' was easy. A 'problem' was simple. A 'situation' was always messy. "I'll get right on it sir."
  "Good man. You can take your holiday after the assignment but, right now, I need you on a plane back to Britain, ASAP. Sooner, if you can."
  "Yes, sir." Chuck looked towards the hidden summit. Death Head would have to wait. "Wainbridge out."
  He tapped the earpiece again, cutting off the call and hooked his left hand up to the grip the crack before looking around for an easy way down. When his foot had slipped earlier, the ledge had given way; there was no going back the way he had come up.
  Over to his right and below him, however, was an outcrop from a neighbouring rock formation known as "Laughing Point" (it was a good place to go and laugh and point at the fools stupid enough to climb Death Head). It jutted out towards him at this point; if he could just swing himself enough to clear the ten foot wide chasm in between and catch hold of Laughing Point, he'd be laughing himself and down in no time.
  Edging along as close as he could, Chuck used his arms to get a pendulum motion going. The trick was to swing slightly more each time, without swinging so hard that he lost his grip. At the apex of the fifth swing, he released, kicking off with his left leg for extra boost and windmilling his arms for balance as he flew across the gap.
  The landing on the other side was heavy and, while sloped in his favour, not as easy to find handholds as he had hoped. Scrabbling for any kind of purchase he could find, Wainbridge slid inexorably backwards towards the edge - and a very big drop. At the last moment, when his legs were already dangling over nothing, he finally managed to grab hold of a branch belonging to a plant that was inadvisably trying to take root halfway up a mountain.
  As Wainbridge looked around for his next move, he felt another vibration from his belt. He tapped the earpiece again.
  "Yes?" this time his voice was coloured with just a hint of irritation.
  "Chuck!" It was Phillipa Carter, his field operator and occasional bit of crumpet. "I saw that! Are you OK?"
  Chuck wondered whether the director had Samantha spying on him, or whether she was doing it of her own volition. Working for MI6 gave you the best tools to be a stalker. He glanced at his Rolex. It was just after noon. That meant she must be using satellite K36, which would be crossing from North-North West and passing overhead just south of his position in about 15 seconds. He quickly calculated its approximate position and flashed a dashing smile heavenwards. Behind her monitor, Phillipa swooned.
  "I'm fine," he told her, giving a little wave at the sky. "Make sure a plane is waiting. And tell them to make sure First Class has a decent bottle of Krug on board. The stuff on the way out was swill. Now, stop spying - that’s my job, remember! I'll be back with you soon."
  He clicked off the earpiece and returned to a two-handed grip. "And when I say with you," he added quietly to himself, "I mean with you."
  Now, with transportation sorted, his only problem was getting off this mountain. He looked around again. There must be a quick route down. An ominous cream overhead was followed by a heart-stopping snap. There was indeed a quick route down but it was most unwelcome.
  Charles Wainbridge, 001, had a very long fall to rue his decision at breakfast not to wear the Timex with the built in grappling-hook.

Chapter 12.4 ☛

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Chapter 12.2

Rhys-Morgan was feeling happier than he had for a while as Tommie and he wandered to the canteen in search of a fresh brew and possibly a donut. Despite the tragic circumstances, Tommie’s (and Emma’s) revelations to the detriment of Sir Henry’s ALF theory had cheered him up no end.
  “I still think Peter Lloyd’s our man,” he declared. “He owns - or possibly owned - a pet shop, and if the bomb really was delivered by tortoise... It just fits.”
  “Yes, Guv,” agreed Tommie. “What about MI5? Or is it MI6?”
  “I’m not sure, to be honest,” he sighed. “It’s a domestic issue but then it’s an international research centre. I guess we’ll find out when we get visited by some guy driving a car worth more than my house and wearing a suit worth more than my car.”
  Tommie laughed. “Aren’t most suits worth more than your car, Guv?”
  “True. Anyway, I’ll assist them by staying well out of their way,” he told his number two. “If they want to chase up the ALF, that’s fine with me.”
  The two coppers entered the station’s common room, which was devoid of people so soon after lunch but happily still had a pot of coffee on the go. Tommie poured them both a large mug and slumped into a plastic seat at the closest table. Rhys-Morgan deposited himself in the chair opposite and waved away the sugar. Although he knew full well that his friend did not take sugar, Tommie always felt that it would be rude not to offer.
  “So,” Tommie asked, stirring two lumps into his own coffee. “What’s our next move?”
  Rhys-Morgan held his mug in both hands and took a long, contemplative swig of coffee. It was not very hot and tasted quite old but was still better than the stuff he made in his office.
  “Well, we’ve had nothing yet from the ferry or airports,” he answered after a moment’s reflection. “although we can’t rule out the possibility that he took the ferry to Ireland under a false name. I’ve requested the CCTV footage from Pembroke and Holyhead.
  “Bobby and Roger should be back soon from their little man hunt. I’m guessing that we would have heard something had Peter Lloyd turned up at the pet shop. Assuming they don’t have any good leads from the neighbours, I’m thinking it might be time for a good old fashioned stake-out. See if he turns up at night when he thinks no one’s watching."
  He took another gulp and shrugged. “If nothing else, it will keep us away from the station in case Sir Henry Montague Ponsenby-Brown and/or his minions turn up looking for some assistance.”
  He chinked his mug off his sergeant’s in a mock toast. “You and me, Tommie. Just like old times!”

Chapter 12.3 ☛

Friday, 12 October 2012

Chapter 12.1

Princess awoke to an unearthly banshee-like wail. It took her a full second to realise that the source of the wailing was her and shut her mouth. The sudden quiet that followed was broken only by the steady ticking of the carriage clock on the mantelpiece, inexorably drawing her gaze. Only an hour had passed but it had been quite long enough for another disturbing dream.
  Princess closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths and Mystic Mog stepped out of the cat basket onto the sheepskin rug before the fire. There was so much static in the air, she could feel the hairs along her spine and tail slowly sticking straight up into the air. It reminded her of the time she fell into a box of balloons as a kitten.
  Mog padded into the kitchen and took a long lap of water from the porcelain cat bowl next to the AGA. She was already feeling a bit more composed and the hairs were beginning to settle back into place. It was time to try and recall what she had dreamt.
  She closed her eyes and pictured the scene. She had found herself trapped inside a tortoise once again. It was dark but lit with streetlights and the faint coloured glow of High Street shops. Somewhere in town, perhaps? Focus. The memories started rushing back and the hairs on her back began to rise once more. She found herself tensing and her claws coming out, shocked at the raw power that had locked the tortoise inside its psionic shell and swept her along as some form of psychic collateral damage. The Princess inside her broke the spell before she gouged claw marks into the expensive polished marble floor. She had seen enough anyway and most certainly did not want to relive the explosion.
  This was not the work of a natural psychic. Someone was playing with the Dark Arts and quite possibly meddling with something beyond their control. Fortunately, the light outside indicated that she might be able to do something about this one. It was time for Mog to go “Harry Potter” on the situation: it was time to send an owl.

Chapter 12.2 ☛

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Chapter 11.6

Detective-Inspector Ifan Rhys-Morgan was still fuming as D.S. Jenkins returned with another forensics report. Who did that English twat think he was? Sir Henry Montague Ponsenby-Brown. Ponse was right. What kind of person includes their middle name when answering the phone? The same kind of person who has Montague as a middle name, apparently.
  Ifan found it funny how he always felt like joining Plaid Cymru whenever he dealt with bigwigs from government agencies based in London. He knew that Wales had its fair share of arseholes but somehow felt that they did not seem to rise to the top quite so often.
  He had pondered keeping the files locked in the database so that MI5 would not get direct access but had a last minute change of heart. They would be able to hack his system anyway and if things went wrong, he did not want the finger of blame pointing at him. No. The best solution would be to solve the case before his assistance was even requested.
  “Wanker,” he muttered still staring at the phone.
  “Sorry, Guv,” answered Jenkins, who was hovering in the door. He started to withdraw into the corridor.
  “Not you, Tommie!” Rhys-Morgan sighed. “What have you got for me?”
  “Fresh forensics, Guv,” Tommie told him, handing over one of the beige folders in his hand. “Apparently, that tortoise shell wasn’t just caught in the centre of the blast - it was the source of the blast. That’s what the lab boys think, anyway.”
  Rhys-Morgan nodded thoughtfully. “Well, if anyone would know, it would be the lab boys. Are they sure?”
  Tommie shrugged. “When are the lab boys certain about anything?”
  “Good point,” conceded Rhys-Morgan. Everything was probabilities and likelihoods to those guys. He skimmed through several pages of numbers to the take-home message at the end.
  “Eighty-nine point five percent probability,” he read aloud. “I’ll take that.” He waved Jenkins into a chair and recounted his phone conversation with Sir Henry a few minutes earlier.
  “I don’t know, Tommie,” he said. “I just don’t buy that this was a ALF attack.”
  “I agree, Guv.”
  Rhys-Morgan was slightly surprised by the conviction in his sergeant’s voice. “Explain.”
  Tommie tossed a second folder across the desk to him. “WPC Roberts just finished her report after visiting the Fredricks house, Guv. It seems that Emma and Antonia Fredricks were animal rights nuts themselves. Called themselves RAVEN and protested against wearing fur, that kind of thing.” Tommie blushed slightly. “Actually, from what I can make out from to some of the photos, they protested against wearing most stuff.”
  Rhys-Morgan sensed there was more. “Go on.”
  “Er, well, Guv,” Tommie looked uncomfortable and stared at his feet. “Let’s just say that I think I have confirmed the identity of one of the dancers from the video of the explosion.”
  Rhys-Morgan looked quizically at his friend, who responded by nodding wordlessly towards the folder that was now in the Detective Inspector’s hand. He opened the it and got an eye-full of the front cover of RAVEN’s “Skin not skins” charity Christmas calendar to raise funds for PETA, which had been banned from sale in the local WH Smiths but become quite an internet sensation. It had also meant that the girls had not had to buy a drink at the Ravenhill Rugby Football Club bar for two and half years.
  “Oh,” he said closing the folder again. “I see. Given the cause, that was a little more fur than I was expecting.”

Chapter 12.1 ☛

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Chapter 11.5

"Bloody Chuck Wainbridge," Watson thought to himself as he re-tuned the radio, trying to find something half-decent to listen to. That man was such a show-boater. 
  "Ooh, look at me, I'm double-oh one!" he lampooned in a mock upper class English accent.
  "I can shoot people in the head, whilst hanging upside-down by my feet after chasing them across roof-tops for half a mile."
  Never mind the fact that if he was a bit better at the secret part of being a secret agent, he would not get involved in so many high speed chases or near-death gun fights.  Alec Watson, on the other hand, had a soft Welsh accent, so was obviously only good enough to drive around upper-class pricks with silver spoons up their arses. Sometimes he felt that he only had a license to kill time.
  Still, no point crying about it; fortunately for his superiors, Alec Watson took his job seriously and found that success was its own reward. Success and not getting shot at four times a week.
  Giving up his quest for good tunes, Watson reached down below the radio and twisted a dial, tinting the car's windows from the outside until they were one-way mirrors. He then entered a secret code using the radio station select buttons and the centre panel of the dashboard slid silently up to reveal a sophisticated computer panel, with a slight excess of flashing lights.
  Watson hinged the keyboard out and flicked a switch, converting the whole windscreen into a giant heads-up display. The satellite upload connected him quickly to HQ in London and he deftly typed in his twelve-character password using all ten digits. He smiled. To think that Wainbridge had petitioned for machine guns and rocket launchers in the space that housed the advanced information technology at Watson's fingertips. Fortunately, Control had seen the sense of letting Intelligence Officers apply their intelligence in the field. If they wanted uncontrolled use of automatic weapons, or large explosions, they could call the police's Armed Response Unit. Or even the army.
  Watson wiggled his fingers whilst he decided what - or who - to run a search on first. He had begun a background check on Johnson earlier in the morning but that had been de-railed by the unwelcome news that Sir Henry wanted him to drive them both to Swansea again. It had not come up with anything, so he decided to turn his attention to Ricky the Janitor. (Even in his subconscious, Watson found himself deliberately trying to annoy Sir Henry by using the American job description.)
  It did not take him long to find the first irregularity. There were no staff listed at BIRD-FLU named Ricky or Richard. He thought back to yesterday’s meeting and pictured the janitor’s ID badge: Ricky Edwards. His fingers danced. Edwards got a hit. The caretaker’s bearded face loomed large on the windscreen in front of him. Patrick Francis Edwards.
  Watson frowned. Patrick Edwards. No wonder his previous search had failed.
  He pulled up a scan of Patrick’s job application and driver’s license. That was when he found his second irregularity. Under criminal record, Watson could clearly see “YES” crossed out and replaced by “NO”. The official electronic entry clearly said “NO”, however: said “no” and listed the applicants name as “Ricky Edwards”. The name had clearly been replaced with his real name before the contract had been set up but the document used for background checks was clearly altered and misleading.
  Did BIRD-FLU have some kind of criminal infiltration? Was there someone on the inside planning something? Had Professor Greenwood discovered this?
  The furrows on Watson’s brow deepened as he scrolled down looking for the name that could blow the case wide open: the individual that had signed off on the doctored documents. There!
  Professor Anthony Reginald Greenwood.
  Watson sat back. Greenwood? Why would Greenwood want to infiltrate his own facility? He already had access at the highest level.
  Feeling his lead slip away and his heart rate return to resting, Watson called up the police database and entered the name and National Insurance number of Edwards. He did indeed have a record but it was not exactly sinister: a mild drugs possession charge just over three years ago. Hardly a matter of national security but enough to stop him from getting a job at a high security NATO research lab.
  Watson sat back in the driver’s seat and nodded as his brain made the connections. He flicked the driver’s license into centre view and focused on the address. Patrick Edwards was not just Professor Greenwood’s employee, he was his neighbour.
  Suddenly it all made sense. Greenwood and Edwards were probably friends and Greenwood pulled a few strings - and turned some blind eyes - to get Edwards a job at BIRD-FLU. No wonder Ricky was looking uncomfortable yesterday: as well as being concerned for the Professor, he was probably worried about being found out and losing his job if people started digging.
  All of which left Watson with something of a conundrum. If he mentioned this to Sir Henry then Edwards would certainly lose his job: Ponsenby-Brown would make sure of it. Sir Henry not approve of people breaking the rules. On the other hand, Bloody Chuck Wainbridge was on the case now and Watson would probably be reassigned in the morning. He should probably just leave it to 001.
  As if on cue, Sir Henry emerged through the double doors of BIRD-FLU with Professor Johnson and Miss Mabel Middlebottom in tow. Alec pressed the cigarette lighter and the display on the windscreen winked out as the computer gadgetry slid silently back into place. Had he been looking at the screen at that moment he would have spotted a blinking red “entry updated” box flash up just before the system powered down. But he wasn’t, so he didn’t.

Chapter 11.6 ☛

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Chapter 11.4

Princess lazily opened one eye and considered the view through the conservatory windows. The weather appeared to have cleared up nicely and the position of the shadows in the garden told her it was roughly noon. A successful morning, she thought, well-spent curled up asleep on the floral rocking chair next to the patio doors, which always caught the early sun. She now found herself in partial shade, however. It was time to take action and find a new location for her afternoon nap.
  With the measured pace that comes with intention of spending most of the day asleep, Princess opened her other eye, followed by her mouth. The yawn that came after took a few seconds to build before culminating in a gape so wide that a casual observer might think that her head was about to flip open. There were no causal observers, however. Princess could feel that she was alone in the house and it felt good.
  After a quick lick of the end of her tail, which was experiencing a brief tingle, Princess stretched her front paws out, flexed her claws, and then relaxed them again and stood up in the chair. Her body shook slightly with a second round of stretching before she jumped nimbly down on to the floor, causing the bell on her red diamond-encrusted collar to give a brief tinkle.
  Subconsciously, she lifted a back leg and had a bit of a scratch at her collar. It always felt a bit tight when she first woke up. She yawned again. This morning was the first uninterrupted sleep she had had for a while. She was still not feeling quite her old, rested self but she was well on the way.
  She padded into the living room and stepped daintily into the fur-lined cat basket by the fire. The fire was not lit but there was still a general ambience of coziness about the whole setup. She contemplated her sleeping configuration for a moment, conducting slow spin to scope out the most comfy fold of the silk blankets that adorned the bed, before nestling in and curling up with her head resting on her back paws and her tail across her face to block out more light.
  On another day, she would have noticed that her tail was starting to tingle again and got a sense of foreboding. On this day, however, she was already fast asleep.

Chapter 11.5 ☛

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Chapter 11.3

“What do you know?” Sir Henry asked.
  “Not as much as I would like,” conceded Rhys-Morgan on the other end of the line. “Our current working hypothesis is a murder-suicide. Or murder. Or suicide. Some combination of murder and/or suicide, anyway. Unless it was an accident.”
  “Not much then, Inspector.”
  Sir Henry heard what sounded like a palm hitting a forehead on the other end of the phone.
  “No,” came the muttered response. “Though we’re fairly sure that your man wasn’t the target. A number of the victims were related to each other and one Peter Lloyd, who is currently missing, presumed dead or fled. I think the Professor was just collateral damage.”
  “What about the ALF?” asked Sir Henry.
  Rhys-Morgan paused. “Excuse me?”
  “The Animal Liberation Front.” Sir Henry’s tone dropped a few degrees. It was not quite icy yet but had certainly reached frosty. “You do know about the threats made by the Animal Liberation Front against BIRD-FLU?”
  There was another pause. Rhys-Morgan was too tired for this.
  “BIRD-FLU?” he asked. “An animal rights organisation has been threatening a disease? I’m a little confused, Sir Henry.”
  “More that an little, I would say, Inspector,” answered Sir Henry. “And more than confused,” he thought to himself. If this was the lead of the investigation, it did not bode well.
  “The ALF have not threatened the disease, Inspector,” he explained, as if to a child. “They have threatened BIRD-FLU: The Brecon Institute for R&D - Flavivirus and Lentivirus Unit. The very research centre that was headed up by the late Professor Greywood.”
  “Greenwood,” Rhys-Morgan corrected subconsciously, whilst he mind was processing the new information.
  “Don’t be ridic...”
  “I don’t think this was an ALF attack,” interrupted Rhys-Morgan.
  Sir Henry did not approve of being interrupted but it happened so rarely that he did not really know how to react. He opted for pretending that it did not happen. “Explain.”
  “One of the, er, victims was a tortoise,” Rhys-Morgan told him. “Right in the centre in the blast, too. That doesn’t strike me as the M.O. of an animal rights group. What’s more, they were a bunch of hippies. Druids. Tree huggers and the like. Not really your usual animal rights target.”
  “I see,” said Sir Henry in a tone that suggested he did anything but. “And you prefer, this Peter Lloyd chap?”
  “Well, he owns - or possibly owned - a pet shop.”
  “A pet shop.”
  “Yes, Sir Henry.”
  “And the relevance of this is...?”
  “Well, it might explain the tortoise?” replied Rhys-Morgan, a creeping sense of doubt transmuting what started life as a statement into a question.
  Sir Henry was not convinced. “I am not convinced. You pursue your pet theory, Inspector. I am going to get our best man to follow up the ALF angle. I will let you know if you can be of assistance.”
  It was Rhys-Morgan’s turn to be stunned.
  “I’m sorry. If I can be of assistance?” he asked. “In my homicide investigation? With all due respect, Sir Henry, I’m not losing control of this one.”
  “Really? It sounds like you already have. My people will be in touch to get the names of the rest of the victims.”
  Sir Henry ended the call before Rhys-Morgan could muster a response and turned to the shell-shocked Johnson.
  “It’s as I feared,” he confirmed. “I’m afraid Greywood’s dead. I’ve decided to bring in our best man, double-oh-one. Do you have a secure phone line in this facility?”
  Professor Johnson nodded. “Yes, Sir Henry. It’s, er, in the Director’s office.”
  “Wait in the car, Smithers,” Sir Henry told Watson, handing him the phone. “This won’t take long.”

Chapter 11.4 ☛

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Chapter 11.2

“OK,” Butch agreed reluctantly in response to Cassidy’s goading. “Let’s do this thing.”
  The thing turned out to be both dull and tabby-cat-free. The main farmhouse was quiet and deserted. Without a warrant, they could not force their way in and, in contradiction of all the rules for crime dramas, no one had left any of the doors or windows unlocked. The dogs could not find any recent traces of Garth Jones, nor goats or tortoises for that matter. Tommo was getting visibly bored.
  After an hour, Kippie decided to pull the plug on the operation. Cassidy had eventually found some signs of life in the form of vehicle and animal tracks near a wooden hut on the outskirts of the property but the recent rain had washed away the detail and it was not clear what kind of vehicle or what kind of animal.
  They could have been goat tracks but they could equally have been deer tracks as far as Kippie knew. The manor house a couple of miles north of the Jones farm kept some deer and they regularly escaped.
  (The escaping deer always caused mayhem on the local roads. This was not because they caused more accidents, as such. At least, not unless you can accidentally phone up Griff “The Reaver” Evans and his armoured pickup and cause him to accidentally drive around the area until a hapless beast was spotted and then accidentally mow it down at high speed allowing the original caller, who just so happened to be tailing Griff at the time, to claim the carcass in the well-established “if it’s road-kill, it’s not poaching as long as you don’t hit it” myth. Technically, the carcass actually belonged to the local council (or whoever’s land the poor creature was on at the time - Griff had been know go off-road sometimes in his quest for the perfect accident -) but these thing never made it to court. Entirely coincidentally, the local magistrate and Griff “The Reaver” Evans never seemed to be short of a venison sausage or the odd haunch.)
  Likewise, the vehicle tracks were not of obvious of interest. Kippie considered taking a mould but decided that (1) the definition was too poor following the rain, (2) there was nothing unusual about keeping a vehicle in a shed on a farm, and (3) she really could not be bothered. Judging by the width and depth, the it was probably a van or four-wheel drive vehicle of some kind and it had been in and out of the hut several times. She made a note to look up Garth’s vehicle collection when they got back to the station.
  “Come on,” she sighed. “Let’s make tracks.”
  Butch’s ears perked up. “Wouldn’t that be fabricating evidence?”
  Kippie looked at him. If she did not know better, she would have interpreted that look as eager willingness rather than shocked reproach. She did not know better: Butch did not just throw the rule-book out of the window when it came to bringing down a suspect, he strapped a brick to it and aimed at the suspect’s head.
  “I don’t mean...” she tapered off and pointed at the police van. “Just get in.”

Chapter 11.3 ☛

Monday, 1 October 2012

Chapter 11.1

A fully-trousered Professor Johnny D. Johnson III waited nervously with Miss Mabel Middlebottom at the entrance to BIRD-FLU as the grey Bentley of Sir Henry Montague Ponsenby-Brown pulled up to park outside for the second time in as many days.
  Sir Henry had called the previous evening to inform them that NATO were closing the centre until the business with Professor Greenwood was cleared up. With the exception of the mice, the animals were all on their way back to Bristol zoo, which had kindly agreed to put them up at short notice. The other staff had also been sent home. It was just left for Professor Johnson to oversee the lock-up and transfer of the security responsibilities from the usual base staff to some NATO guards. With guns.
  Johnson gulped. Although he considered himself as American as Apple Pie (i.e. with European ancestry), guns made him feel distinctly uncomfortable. (He preferred the tridents of the Retiarii or the gladii of the Secutores, although he could appreciate that a Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun was considerably more practical.)
  He instinctively straightened as Alec Watson opened the rear door to the saloon and Sir Henry emerged. The bureaucrat surveyed the scene and gave a small nod of satisfaction at the sight of the NATO guards, who were already in place. A few strides then took him to the double doors to BIRD-FLU. This time, they were open and ready. Two guards flanked the entrance and gave crisp salutes, which Sir Henry acknowledged with another small nod.
  “Sir Henry,” greeted Johnson, extending a slightly sweaty hand for a shake.
  The hand was ignored as Sir Henry passed his gaze over the reception area. “I trust all the arrangements are in place, Professor?”
  Johnson gulped again. His throat was suddenly very dry. He knew that he had done nothing wrong but still somehow felt like a schoolboy in front of a headmaster. “Sure are, Sir Henry.”
  “The animals?”
  “All gone bar the mice,” confirmed Johnson. “We are making arrangements in case they need to go too. Some of them are GM and so the licenses for moving around are more complicated.”
  “But in hand,” he added as he saw Sir Henry’s frown.
  “And the staff?”
  “Sent home. Myself and Mildred are the only ones here now,” Johnson told him. “We’ll be leaving as soon as you are satisfied. The guards have been briefed to let in no one except myself and the animal house technician - he’ll need to come in once a day to look after the mice.”
  Johnson found his stare drawn to the machine guns. “Umm, Sir Henry, are all the guns really necessary? I mean we don’t even know even something has happened to the director.”
  Sir Henry opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted by Alec Watson hurrying up with a mobile phone in his hand. The scowl that was beginning to form for the American academic was instead directed at full force at his Cambrian chauffeur.
  “You are going to want to take this call, Sir Henry,” Watson insisted.
  He took the proffered phone. “Sir Henry Montague Ponsenby-Brown.” Pause. “You are quite sure?” Another pause. “Excuse me a moment.”
  Sir Henry lowered the phone for a moment and turned back to Johnson. “Regrettably, Professor, it would appear that you are quite wrong.”

Chapter 11.2 ☛