Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Chapter 15.1

Sir Henry strode up the steps of the Secret Intelligence Service headquarters at Vauxhall Cross in London, taking them two at a time. He was not a happy bunny. Ignoring his lack of lagomorphism, the causes of this were threefold.
  Firstly, he had been denied his usual driver and car for his journey from the Home Office. His annual request to excavate a secret tunnel under the Thames had been denied once again this year and so he had been forced to take a black cab. The journey had only lasted four minutes but that was hardly the point; in those four minutes he had heard considerably more about the plight of Chelsea and the folly of their new managerial appointment than he would care to know in four lifetimes.
  Secondly, before he left the Home Office, the Home Secretary had made it very clear to him that she was not very pleased with the Swansea situation. The morning news was full of stories about a terrorist attack on a High Street bank. Although there was not yet any connection to the possible murder of the NATO Professor, the fact that Sir Henry had been in the area the day before had the Home Secretary worrying that the press would soon link it back to her. He wondered for a moment when politicians had got so obsessed about their own job security rather than national security; probably around the time the plebs had castrated the monarchy. (Sir Henry approved quite strongly of monarchies and often wished that he had been born in an earlier age. The Victorians would not have reassigned the driver of a man in his position.)
  Thirdly, he had no sooner left the Home Secretary’s office when he had received the news of the accident that had befallen Charles Wainbridge. Her office was probably still echoing with his words, “we’ll putting our best man on it ma’am.” Now he was going to look like an idiot. Sir Henry did not approve of being made to look like an idiot, even if it was by a fellow Old Etonian like Wainbridge.
  He was still mulling over the triple injustice as he rode the lift to the top floor of the building. Hopefully, M would have some good news for him; if not, at least Sir Henry would have someone to vent his frustration on. Technically, Kevin was only answerable to the Foreign Secretary but as the official representative of the Home Office, Sir Henry could certainly make life uncomfortable for the other man.
  The lift arrived at its destination with a chime that was far too cheerful for Sir Henry’s mood and he was scowling by the time the doors had slid open to reveal the outer office of the Secret Intelligence Service’s inner sanctum.
  Sir Henry breathed in the varnished mahogany wall panelling as he stepped from the lift. He was greeted by M’s secretary, Veronica Shagpile, who had clearly been crying and had panda eyes; she was a big believer in traditional Chinese medicine and sometimes abused her position in MI6 to smuggle all sorts of things into the country.
  “Control is expecting you, Sir Henry,” Veronica told him, pressing a button under her desk that opened the concealed door to her left.
  “Thank you, Miss Shagpile,” Sir Henry answered, pretending not to see the eyes; she was obviously upset about Charles Wainbridge and he could not blame her for that. There would be much wailing in the toilet cubicles of 85 Albert Embankment before this day was over.
  “You’ve heard about Chuck?” she asked as he stepped towards the door.
  Sir Henry paused. “I’ve been told there was an accident,” he confirmed. “But I’ve not heard the details. A fall, wasn’t it?”
  Veronica nodded. “Climbing in Africa. Fortunately, he managed to deploy the emergency arse-flaps on his shorts but it was a bit too late and he’s broken both his arms and cracked a few ribs.”
  She felt her resolve weaken. “He landed on his face,” she sobbed. “His beautiful face.” By now, the door was fully open and Sir Henry resumed his stride with what he hoped was a sympathetic nod. In reality, there was still a trace of scowl and his expression ended up somewhere midway between consternation and constipation. Veronica gave him a weak smile in return and wiped her eye with a handkerchief that was somewhat too lacy to be standard government issue.
  The scowl returned in full when Sir Henry saw who else was in M’s office; at least now he knew why his driver had not picked him up this morning.

Chapter 15.2 ☛

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Chapter 14.5

“What’s going on?” Rhys-Morgan asked his sergeant as sirens continued to sound in the distance.
  The two men had been standing in the street outside the pet shop for a few minutes, trying to ascertain the cause of the earlier catastrophic demise of Tommie’s ginger nut. Judging by the alarms and sirens, something big was going down. Not for the first time that evening, Rhys-Morgan rued his decision to stakeout the pet shop.
  The larger man fiddled with his radio. “I can’t work it out, Guv. There’s a lot of chatter on the radio but it’s quite confusing. Some kind of explosion, I think.”
  “Well, I guessed that much,” Ifan snapped. “But was it another bomb?”
  D.S. Jenkins frowned at the rancour of his boss. It was not his ginger nut that had been so cruelly snatched from his grasp. He was midway through returning the radio to his ear when Rhys-Morgan put a restraining hand on his arm, signalling with his other hand to wait.
  “Wha..?” Jenkins began.
  Rhys-Morgan raised his hand further, lifting his index as he did so to call for quiet and cocking his head slightly.
  Jenkins stopped and listened too. Across town, he could still hear the sound of distant car alarms and the occasional siren from an emergency vehicle. Another noise was building, however, and Tommie had been a policeman too long to ignore the feeling of unease that was building along with it.
  It sounded like someone over-revving a van. Tommie opened his mouth to say as much when a squeal of tyres to his right made him spin back round. Sure enough, a small van had just come skidding round the corner, bathing the two policemen in the bright beam of its headlights. Instinctively, Tommie put up his hands to shield his eyes.
  “Look out!” cried Rhys-Morgan, pushing Jenkins hard out of the path of the speeding vehicle and sending him sprawling into a pair of wheelie bins outside the Cancer Research charity shop.
  Two wheels of the van mounted the pavement and Ifan had only a brief moment to regain his own balance before diving back into the road. As it was, he narrowly missed being run over. The van bumped back down on to the road, swerved a couple of times as the driver tried to regain control and sped off into the night as quickly as it had arrived.
  The two policemen slowly rose to their feet.
  “Are you OK, Guv?” asked Tommie.
  Rhys-Morgan nodded, staring after the two retreating red lights as then rounded a bend out of sight. “Call it in, Tommie. I want that bastard brought it.”
  “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Guv.” Tommie held out his radio for the Detective Inspector to inspect. It had taken the full force of Tommie’s fall and a bit too much of its insides were now its outsides. “Did you get the number?”
  “No,” Rhys-Morgan replied, rubbing his cheek. “I was too busy using the road to grind my face off. You?”
  Tommie shook his head. “It all happened to fast. Do you think he was coming here and then saw us?”
  Rhys-Morgan looked at the dark and deserted pet shop and then up at the dark window above the charity shop. “I doubt it. At that speed, I don’t think this was the destination - there was no way it was going to stop. It wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t see us at all. I think we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
  “But you think it’s got something to do with the explosion?” Tommie asked.
  “Well, let’s just say that it would be one hell of a coincidence otherwise,” Ifan replied. “And I’m not a big fan of coincidence.” (He had once got Mrs Rhys-Morgan a bottle of Calvin Klein Coincidence for her birthday and found the scent quite cloying.)
  The Detective Inspector was still staring up at the window of their stakeout room. He thought that you were supposed to feel euphoria or something after a brush with death. He just felt angry.
  “Tommie?” he asked.
  “Yes, Guv?”
  “Did you turn the camera on?”
  Tommie nodded. Stakeout tea was important but D.S. Jenkins was a man of experience and you always turned the camera on first lest you missed something important whilst dunking your biscuits. “Yes, Guv.”
  He turned and followed the other man’s gaze. “Do you think it would have caught the van?” Rhys-Morgan shrugged. “Only one way to find out. Let’s check the footage and head back to the station. I think it’s fair to say that this stakeout is over.”

Chapter 15.1 ☛

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Chapter 14.4

The two goats staggered slightly after knocking noggins. Fortunately for the two youngsters, they were pretty experienced at butting heads and no serious damage was done.
  Billy blinked, startled. “Where am I?” he asked.
  William opened his mouth to answer but screamed instead as six kilograms of angry tabby sank its claws into his rump. The cat was screaming too. Confused, and not wanting to be left out, Billy joined in.
  William frantically bucked as hard as he could but the cat had a tight grip with her claws and refused to let go. With each kick of his back legs, William felt the claws tighten and the pain increase but he could not calm himself down enough to stop.
  “Help me!” he wailed at his brother.
  Billy, however, was frozen rigid barring his head, which was involuntarily bobbing up and down in time with his bouncing brother. “I don’t know what to do!”
  “Anything!” cried William.
  Bereft of any better ideas, Billy resumed screaming. As he did so, a ghostly shadow emerged from the mist above him and hurtled straight at William’s unwelcome passenger. There was a muffled thump, a caterwaul and the sound of goat hair being ripped loose, then William found himself feline-free.
  “Thanks!” he said, as the two goats stopped screaming.
  Billy stared at him wildly. “It wasn’t me!”
  William slowly rotated and shuffled backwards until he was beside his brother; the two kid craned their necks forward but all they could see was the mist.
  Another wail split the night air, this time accompanied by the screech of some fearsome beast from prehistory, followed by a sudden silence. The goats exchanged a glance but remained rooted to the spot with fear.
  The vapours in front of them swirled and an owl’s face briefly appeared.
  “Run, fools!” it cried, before being suddenly yanked back into the fog.

Chapter 14.5 ☛

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Chapter 14.3

Cyril groggily opened his eyes. The ceiling swam into focus. He was on his back, lying with his head up against a wall. His head was throbbing again with a steady thump, thump, thump that felt like it was shaking the whole world and seemed to resonate out of the wall above him.
  “That’s odd,” he thought. “Shouldn’t the thumping be inside my head?”
  Before he could answer himself, the wall above him exploded inwards into the room. Instinctively, Cyril covered his face with his paws and raised his tail up over himself, tucking in to a ball. Could this be a second bomb?
  He opened one eye cautiously to see a massive figure leap through the new hole, knocking a few more pieces of masonry into the bank in the process, before executing a rather unnecessary commando roll and returning to his feet. The entrant looked quickly from side to side before noticing Cyril beneath his entry point.
  In a flash, before Cyril had the chance to say “Eh, calm down!”, a nightstick was in the figure’s hand, shooting out to full extension in the blink of an eye. With an impressive (but still rather unnecessary) flourish, the nightstick was whipped round sharply, stopping with the end just a hair’s breadth from Cyril’s throat.
  “Don’t move, punk!” the man shouted. "You're nicked!"
  Cyril closed his eyes again and let his head slump back against the floor. In the distance, he heard the squeal of tyres as a van sped off into the night.

Chapter 14.4 ☛

Monday, 19 November 2012

Chapter 14.2

The two goats continued in silence. This side of the hill, the evening mist appeared to have coalesced into a dense but narrow layer, barely covering the heads of the animals. For William, this meant that everything around him formed hazy shadows whilst, at the same time, he could make out stars above him quite clearly through widening gaps in the clouds. It was not a combination that did anything to offset his general feeling of unease.
  Unease was not the only feeling growing for William. He could feel the static electricity around him continuing to build, which he found odd given the humidity. Occasional flashes of blue haunted his peripheral vision, which for a goat was somewhere behind his head. He found that he kept turning to look behind him but there was no one - and nothing - there. Of the earlier thunder, however, there was no more sign. This did not comfort him. Something was building and the more it built, the bigger it would surely be when it broke.
  In between backward glances, William peered ahead in an attempt to determine their destination. This was uncharted territory for the young goat and he was determined to pick up any possible visual clues to his whereabouts should he have to describe the evening to Mog later - or, worse, should he have to return.
  The Jones farmhouse was a looming shadow to his right: dark and menacing. In front, some fenceposts materialised out of the mist, running in a straight line across the path of the two brothers towards the house.
  William instinctively dropped back a little and followed Billy, hoping that his brother’s immanent pilot would have knowledge that transcended that of its mammalian vehicle and avoid trouble. After their earlier encounter with the gun-toting scarecrows whilst Pan was at the helm, he found himself holding his breath, just waiting for the inevitable collision with the fence. Knowing Jones, it would be electrified and far exceed animal welfare regulations. With all the static in the air, the two goats would be electrocuted in a bright flash, leaving nothing but a pair of charred four-legged corpses for their grieving mother to find in the morning.
  William shut his eyes. If this was the end, he would rather not watch. A sharp tug at his neck made him stagger forward and open them again. Without a conscious message from his brain, his legs had decided to join his breathing in its strike, apparently directing all bodily activity to his heart, which was beating like a hyperactive chipmunk playing maracas. (Chipmunks have surprisingly good rhythm, even at 150 beats per minute.) Billy meanwhile, had plodded steadily on and stretched the rope taut once more.
  William scampered forward before he was dragged off his feet: his possessed brother possessed surprising strength. A dozen metres or so ahead he could see another row of fenceposts, hopefully as devoid of intervening fence as the cordon they had just navigated. Beyond that, the mist was a little thinner and he could make out a large hut or possibly a barn straight ahead, which could be their destination. A pale yellow glow surrounded the base as light from within leaked out. It would appear that someone, or something was in the cabin. It was not a thought that did William’s confidence any good; nor his continence, for that matter.
  With another quick look behind him, William hurried after his brother. The mist was creepy and his mind was beginning to see shapes in shadows everywhere. He suddenly felt his herd instincts kick in with an overwhelming urge for safety in numbers, even if the number in this case was two.
  He caught up with his Billy just as he reached the second row of posts. A sudden giggle burst forth from William’s lips as nerves combined with his internal monologue reaching “number two”.
  “And what do you think is funny?” purred a slightly husky female voice over to his right.
  William’s eyes widened as a misty shadow atop the nearest fence post developed a pair of green eyes. Feline eyes. William froze. Below the eyes, a row of sharp feline teeth appeared.
  “Don’t eat me!” he cried.
  “Eat you?” answered the cat. “What an interesting idea.” The teeth were joined by a second row, shaping into a smile. “I’ve never tried eating a goat before. Not a whole one, anyway. But then... you are quite small. And I am hungry!”
  William saw a flash of claws in the moonlight and he could swear that the cat doubled in size as it tensed to jump. Herd instincts forgotten, it was every goat for himself as William turned tail and fled. Judging by the blood-curdling yowl and hiss behind him, he was not a moment too soon.
  As the young goat streaked away from the cat, his panicked brain tried to catch up. He was fleeing directly away from the Jones farmhouse. Another fencepost reared up from the mist to his right as he sprinted past; this one was animal-free. His current heading meant that he was neither running towards Billy and Pan’s target nor back towards Duke and safety. So where was he heading?
  Before he got a chance to do the necessary mental triangulation, William felt a now-familiar throttling sensation as he hit the maximum extension of the rope. Conscious decisions were postponed for a moment as his trajectory was converted from a straight line into an arc, gently curving back towards his previous heading with Billy. Within a couple of steps, he felt another sharp tug and the arc tightened.
  William looked behind him and spied two green eyes still in pursuit, reflecting the diffuse moonlight brightly. His own eyes wide with fear, he ran harder and only dimly became aware that his circumferential route was now arcing him back towards the house. The rope was still taut, stretching away to his right, back towards Toby Ron’s land but Billy’s bell could still be heard ahead of him and he was closing fast.
  William thought hard, squinting down the tether as he ran. Of course! The rope must have wrapped around a fencepost. Unless he did something about it, he was doomed to spiral round in ever-decreasing circles whilst his brother traced the opposite route. Whilst his brother traced the opposite route.
  Alarms bells rang in the back of William’s mind just as Billy appeared from the mist in front of his face on a direct collision course. With no time to stop, William closed his eyes and braced for impact.

Chapter 14.3 ☛

Friday, 9 November 2012

Chapter 14.1

Cyril opened his eyes and wondered how long he was unconscious. Judging by his current view of tree foliage and the thumping headache originating at the back of his skull, he had been blown right across the road and into the tree opposite. Embedded firmly in the trunk of the tree, just inches above his head, was a tortoiseshell. It was still smoking.
  He sat up. His ears were ringing and bits of his body screamed at him but nothing vital seemed to be broken. He winced and glanced over his shoulder. His tail, for once, seemed to have come off unscathed. He probably had a couple of cracked ribs but he would live - assuming he was not about to be eaten, that is.
  Looking around him, the only signs of Lloyd that Cyril could spy were a couple of feathers lying on the ground nearby. In a twist of fate, the bomb may have just saved his life. Hopefully, the bird was incapacitated somewhere or had flown away. If not, there was not a lot Cyril would be able to do to defend himself now.
  Cyril staggered to his feet and then half collapsed as his left leg gave way under him. He looked down. He could not see any disturbing signs of trauma. Gingerly, he put his full weight back on it. It was painful but he reckoned he could probably walk it off. Shaking his head to try and clear the ringing in his ears, he widened his attention to take in the other side of the street. The air was thick with dust, which was still settling; he could not have been out for more than a few seconds. The litter bin across the street was gone. Beyond that, there was a large hole in the side of the bank between the glass doors and the ATM.
  Grimacing at the effort, Cyril half walked, half crawled, across the road. Halfway across, he realised that the ringing in his ears was not ringing in his ears at all - twenty or so car alarms were sounding in the surrounding streets and an alarm high up on the wall of the bank itself was wailing like a banshee.
  Cyril dragged himself into the bank through gaping hole, wondering why it had been selected as a target. There must be easier targets if one wanted to get hold of wads of cash. Besides, the tortoise had missed the ATM. On the other paw, there was no link that Cyril could see between a bunch of hippy druids and a bank that surely represented the opposite of everything they stood for. Not that Cyril really knew what they stood for. The alternative was possibly even more disturbing: perhaps the bank had not been selected at all. Perhaps the targets were random.
  The air inside the bank was choked with dust and surprisingly quiet given the cacophony of alarms wailing outside. It was then that Cyril realised that there were no alarms ringing inside the bank. Was that odd? He did not really know much about bank security systems but it seemed odd.
  A loud crash to his right drew Cyril’s attention but when he looked round there was nothing to be seen except a couple of sheets of paper drifting slowly to the floor. As his eyes drifted down with them, he noticed that the floor was littered with bits and pieces of safety deposit boxes and their no-longer-so-safe contents.
  The little light from the streetlights outside that had managed to heroically battle its way through the dust cloud to the interior glinted invitingly off numerous jewels and other goodies strewn among the wreckage. It also gave hints of a few envelopes stuffed with cash of various currencies, poking out through singed corners. Given the amount of obvious loot there was a distinct lack of obvious looting.
  It was then that Cyril noticed the next strange occurrence in an evening of strange occurrences. The pieces of paper that had been drifting down towards the floor had not reached it. Instead, they had changed heading and were drifting towards the wall: drifting up towards the wall.
  He looked around for some any sources of strange wind but Barry the flatulent badger was nowhere to be seen. The dust in the air all around him was moving as if recently disturbed but the trend of its motion was definitely one of that induced by traditional gravity.
  Cyril limped over to the wall to investigate. With the change of angle, he could make out some kind of thick cord, or something similar, attached to the paper. It was slowly contracting, bringing the paper closer to the wall as it did so. He stepped forward for a closer look but where the cord reached the wall, he found it very hard to focus. The slightly concussed squirrel blinked a couple of times, trying to clear his blurry vision. Perhaps he had hit his head harder than he thought.
  A voice from above said: “Stuff this. Just whack him!”
  Cyril instinctively looked up and could have sworn that he saw something scuttle along the ceiling before vanishing in front of his very eyes. The paper dropped to the floor beside him and he turned back just in time to meet something hard and sticky travelling towards him at very high speed.
  “Ow!” he cried, clutching his eye. “That really hurt!”
  The second blow knocked him out cold. With a slight shimmer, a chameleon de-cloaked on the wall beside him, with a second appearing on the ceiling above his head.
  “C’mon,” said the latter. “Let’s finish up and scarper before the Old Bill get here.”

Chapter 14.2 ☛

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Chapter 13.7

Rhys-Morgan stared moodily out of the window, a cup of steaming Assam tea grasped tightly in both hands. He had thought that an old-fashioned stakeout would be nostalgic and fun. The problem with nostalgia was that you cannot necessarily control it, and Ifan was just left thinking of all the stakeouts he had volunteered for when it was clear that his marriage was falling apart. Ironically, it was only thanks to the extra overtime that he had been able to maintain their membership at the golf club where his wife had met Clive.
  Thanks to Clive, he’d lost his wife, his house and he could not even show his face at the bloody golf club. He was rubbish at golf but that was hardly the point. The Detective Chief Superintendent liked golf and so Ifan needed to like golf if he was ever going to grease the wheels of promotion. He should be Detective Chief Inspector by now at least, if it was not for Clive.
  Ifan sighed. The bloody men’s room attendant. He had not been attentive enough himself, he knew. It was easier to blame Clive, though.
  “Everything OK, Guv?” asked Tommie, who was busy dunking a ginger nut into his own mug of English Breakfast tea.
  “Hmm?” Ifan snapped out of his depressing deliberations and turned to see the big sergeant’s face wearing an expression of genuine concern. “Sorry, Tommie. I was miles away.”
  “Trying to get inside the head of the enemy, Guv?” Tommie asked.
  “Something like that, Tommie. Something like that.” Rhys-Morgan took a big slurp of tea and looked back out of the window. There were not any pubs or curry houses near the pet shop so the street was less active than his sex life. Were stakeouts always this boring?
  He looked back at his sergeant, who now held a tea-soaked ginger nut gingerly above his mug and was slowly moving his face towards it, lest the slightest move should cause its structural integrity to fail. Rhys-Morgan could see it bending under the strain and found himself holding his breath as mankind’s struggle against nature was encapsulated for a moment by one man and his McVitie’s biscuit.
  Just at the moment that Tommie was about to make the final lunge for his prize, the whole building shook to a loud bang in the distance. With a faint plop, his ginger nut halved its size. As Tommie sat there aghast, mouth still open, staring at the empty space where biscuit heaven had hovered but a moment ago, two dozen car alarms sounded across the city.
  He looked up. The two policemen looked at each other wordlessly for a moment, then scrambled as one man for the door.

Chapter 14.1 ☛

Friday, 2 November 2012

Chapter 13.6

Cyril opened his mouth to tell Lloyd in fully rendered 3D graphics where he could stick his “nothing personal” and that, quite to the contrary, he would find being eaten very personal indeed. He was still forming the first syllable of some quite unprintable last words when it felt like he was smashed in the chest with a baseball bat and sent flying. He had a brief sensation of tumbling through the air before his consciousness decided it had somewhere it would rather be and everything went black.

Chapter 13.7 ☛

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Chapter 13.5

William turned back to Duke and gave him an encouraging nod. He wanted to give him a thumbs-up but he had no thumbs. Their plan was working well so far. Duke had dug out under the electrified fence earlier that evening and William had gently steered his brother towards the deepest hollow. He was not sure whether Pan knew about electric fences but he had allowed Billy to be nudged to a point where it was just about deep enough to allow the young goat to scrape under, even if the tips of his tiny horns had been left glowing blue for a few seconds.
  The two goats trudged on. The field opened out, giving William views down towards the valley ahead of him and up the slope to his right where the farmhouse of farmer Garth Jones stood, dark and foreboding, on the hill. The mist had cleared a little on this side of the fence but the faint haze in the air gave the house a ghostly glow and sent a shiver down William’s spine.
  Although the lack of light indicated that no one was at home - or, at least, at home and awake - William was nonetheless disheartened to notice that Billy was slowly changing course to head towards it. He did not want a run-in with Farmer Jones. He certainly did not want to end up as mutton stew, as Billy had rather pessimistically predicated earlier that day. (The fact that, technically, mutton only really referred to sheep was not much consolation.)
  It was at that moment that Billy stopped dead in his tracks.
  “Billy?” William whispered. “Are you awake?”
  There was no reply. As suddenly as he had stopped, Billy resumed his march although William noted that his course had shifted and they were definitely skirting around the house rather than heading straight for it.
  This might have given him some comfort had he not also noticed something rather disquieting. He could feel his hair beginning to stand up a little and a general sense of oppression was building in the air. He glanced heavenwards. Cloud cover was light tonight but it felt like a thunderstorm was brewing.
  Sure enough, that thought has scarcely entered his head when a thunderous crash sounded from the direction of Swansea. Somewhere, an owl hooted mournfully into the night. William gulped. He was well into his fifth or sixth boding by now and still none the wiser as to how this evening would end.

Chapter 13.6 ☛