One man's obsession with Scotland. One Shamanic detective. One twelfth century monk catapulted through time to present day England.
A devil, a megalomaniac maths lecturer and the world on the brink of economic collapse. It sounds a convoluted tale, but it all fits together - honest.
And what's more, while it doesn't actually explain how time travel is possible, it does at least prove that it does exist. Irrefutably.
That is, of course, if you believe the word of a man whose business card contains no contact details, who smokes mushrooms through a pipe and who talks to Mooses.
And what has any of this got to do with Scotland?
Interested? You can read this extract from the book (the first seventy or so pages!) before deciding if you would like to buy it.
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
It is early spring, and my first impressions of Scotland have been beautiful. Despite the torrential rain and howling, relentless winds - or perhaps partly because of them - the whole place exudes a certain freshness that sings to the soul made stale by city life. There is an ever-present, timeless quality that is difficult to describe; like a watch that has had the hour and minute hands removed - only the second hand tick-tick-ticking resolutely away. An imprecise, immeasurable time, unrelated to any fixed points of reference that simply passes inevitably and relentlessly towards who knows what.
Lately I have found my attention being drawn towards Scotland in a variety of faint but insistent ways. My dreams have been haunted by hazy images of thick-bearded highlanders, the blue and white flag of St Andrew waving continually in my peripheral vision; in my thoughts, wind battered mountains and long, low lochs have been vying for my attention in ways which would have a group of surrealist painters fighting hand over fist to get down on canvas.
What's more, these influences have not been limited to my sleeping, but have carried over with alarming prevalence into my everyday, waking world: on the television I have noticed an inundation of Scotsmen and women - news reporters, spokespeople being interviewed, politicians (they're all bloody Scottish, every one of them), doctors, game show hosts - an unstoppable tide it would seem.
In fact, the only thing that could possibly bring more attention to our northern neighbours would be if their national football team was to actually win a match, but that is so unlikely it has shot through the realms of impossibility and burst out the other side.
It's not just a recent thing - for several months now I have had these nagging feelings, tugging me inexorably in the direction of the Borders and beyond. It is similar in many respects to the tweaking of a long forgotten memory, yet I am sure that it can't be, as I have never been further north than Chester.
I had come to thinking, what can be so special about all those thistles and glens that is strong enough to distract me from my day to day life? What is it about all that rugged coastline and the splattering of tiny, fragmented islands that have been sneezed from the nose of Caledonia that allures me so much? How can I have become so addicted to Scotland?
Anyway, there it is and here I am. Finally, after a long, drawn out winter of speculation I have made the decision to come up here and find out once and for all. It is my intention to learn where all things Scottish come from. How all the kilts and bagpipes and all that sort of stuff actually came into being. The origins of Scottishness and how the nation then evolved from there.
Is that my mission in life, my raison d'être? Is that why I am now here in Scotland, to carry out my life's true purpose? Perhaps it is too ambitious; a too all-embracing task for one man (especially me) to complete; maybe I'll be forced to leave an unfinished legacy for others to continue after my death.
Who knows, but I'm here now, so I can make a start at least.
My first port of call is here in Skye, or 'Skye' as the locals call it, just off the rugged north-western coast. In the mouth of the beautiful Loch Alsh there is an island, over which a bridge has been built connecting Skye up with the rest of the mainland. Legend has it that the very first haggis was conceived, prepared and eaten there, on the 'wee small' island of Eilean Ban.
On the site of this supposed historical event there now stands a hotel, huge and impressive. It is a five star affair, catering for conferences, functions and Americans more than anything. I am staying just down the road in the Loch and Quay, a small family run place - it was apparently the present man of the house who thought up the inspirational title. I see him at the beginning and end of every day collapsed in a small rowing boat with a few empty bottles of Glen Fiddich as sleeping partners. Such a shame, a wasted talent like that.
The story goes that there were two villages - fishing villages, both relying heavily on the multitude of squid that used to visit the loch all year round. The happy coexistence of these villages was unfortunately brought to an end when they became embroiled in a dispute: long, long ago a Mr Gavin Glenragh accused his neighbour Colin McArum of cutting his nets. This bitter feud lasted seven whole generations.
Many hideous acts of vandalism were carried out by both sides over the years, until a deal was finally struck by William Donley Glenragh and Colin McArum - a descendant, not the same man. He would have had to have been an immortal, if it was the same Colin, and there are apparently very few immortals now living on the west coast of Scotland (rumour has it they have all moved to Zimbabwe for reasons known only to themselves).
The deal came with the proclamation that both villages would stop fishing entirely and they would all eat badgers. How the present day Haggis has evolved from this is quite beyond me, but I intend to find out.
There were several conferences going on at the Eilean Ban Hotel where my search started yesterday. A large contingent from Interpol were discussing whether there was any point in them existing as an organisation anymore; there was a sizable group of Swiss pocket-watch manufacturers wondering whether or not to call it a day and go digital, and there was also a lone hitch hiker from Swansea who thought he had heard that Status Quo were playing a concert here (I've checked and they're actually playing in Redcliff, deep in the heartland of Zimbabwe at the moment, to a group of fans who have been with them 'from the start...')
There was one which particularly caught my eye however, going on in the MacPlimsol Hall. It seemed on a smaller scale, with only a handful of people inside gathered around the stage, where a man in his mid fifties was speaking. His light rimmed spectacles and grey hair would have made him look distinguished, had it not been for his grin, which was in between that of the Cheshire Cat and a used car salesman.
Looking at the set up through the glass panel in the door, I noticed that upon the raised platform he was speaking from there stood a large blackboard with ominously familiar sigils scrawled across it. Directly across from this on the opposite side of the stage was one of the more modern white boards decorated with yet more hieroglyphics.
Dominating his background however, was the inevitable OHP, or overhead projector, that we all learned to hate whilst going through school and college - I dare say they used the accursed things at University too, but who would notice? The only reason any student attends any lectures at Uni is because they tend to be secure and relatively quiet places to sober up or come around from whatever they were on the night before. I was intrigued. What was going on in there?
Outside the conference halls in the plush, carpeted corridor, sandwich boards had been positioned outside the doors, advertising the theme of the lectures going on inside. A cursory glance was enough to make me choke in amazement. I could not believe my eyes! Surely not?
A second look was required.
But it was true! The bare faced cheek of the man! No wonder the contents of the black and white boards had seemed so familiar. Professor Alan Humphries, the speaker inside, was claiming - quite unashamedly - that "Maths Can Be Fun!"
I was in half a mind to nip back into the Interpol Conference and insist they come and arrest this man immediately. Something held me back however. I never minded maths at school to be honest, more for the fact that it teaches your brain how to think than for all the swirly squiggles and formulae you have to go through.
No, if this man was actually here in this highly respected hotel, talking to actual people and was actually being paid for it, there must be something worth listening to, surely.
I entered the hall as quietly as possible - which was not very, as I fell down the two short steps immediately inside the door. Professor Humphries glared at the cause of this interruption over his podium like a judge, before taking a casual sip from his glass of Sparkling Skye Spring water (manufactured and bottled in Bristol) and motioned for me to please take a seat.
For several minutes he droned on in what has be to said was an incredibly boring voice, and I could see heads dropping in front of me, as the gathered ensemble tried to stay awake. It was almost hypnotic; his voice became a monotonous dull throbbing sound at the back of my consciousness, and the algebraic symbols began to swim and dance on the boards in front of me. The room was incredibly hot and stuffy, and it finally became like a despised relative's slide show as the lights in the hall dimmed to nothing. A single spotlight focused on the boards at the back of the stage was all that was left. The voice mumbled on.....
I was vaguely aware shortly before it happened that the Professor placed a pair of mirrored sunglasses on. The thought crossed my mind that this was an odd thing to do in a darkened room. Suddenly though, the spotlight was cut dead and several strobe lights flickering and flashing about is all I remember, until I came around with the rest of the audience several hours later.
The hotel has of course tried to hush the incident up, but apart from the embarrassment and anger caused by the ordeal, the only things any of us seems to have lost is any food we were carrying (I had a pack of Rolos taken from me) and also neck ties from the gentlemen and shoes from the women. Strange. Luckily I had no tie on, so it was only my sweet tooth which suffered.
I have decided to put my Scottish research on hold, in order to try and find out what had happened here, and why? The whole thing is quite mystifying and besides - it seems far more interesting than what I was doing originally.
* * *
TAKEN FROM THE RIGHT AND ORDERLY NOTEBOOK
OF SADFAEL THE MONK
I had been summoned to see His Grace the Abbott in his study straight after Evensong, so I did not really notice the murals lining the otherwise bare corridors in this part of the Monastery, the flapping of my sandals echoing noisily as I dashed, almost running, to keep my engagement. Needless to say a whole myriad of thoughts were spinning in my head as I stood outside the door. I took a deep breath and knocked, waiting for the reply before entering.
To be requested for an audience with such immediacy straight after prayers meant it must be something quite serious, but as usual His Grace showed a composed and most holy frame of mind, not letting anything on. At the moment of my ingress he was holding out a handful of corn to his 'pet' Rocking Horse.
"He doesn't seem to be very hungry today Brother Sadfael. He hasn't touched his meal from this morning. I am beginning to worry about him."
I looked away, unable to meet his eye and in the embarrassed silence that followed he patted the toy horse affectionately on the neck. It was always like this when somebody forgot to remove the food His Grace put down for the thing twice a day. I have since looked on the rota and seen that it was Brother Goot's turn today and have already admonished him for his forgetfulness. Lord knows - I hope and pray - that we mean no harm by this deception, for surely it is kinder to His Grace this way, to humour him in this, his one and only weakness rather than telling him that for the past fifteen years he has been trying to feed a wooden toy. It could well break him, and he is such a great man.
Sighing and replacing the corn in the bowl at the horse's feet, he stepped away and moved to the other side of his dark, wooden desk. His countenance was grave indeed and he proceeded to tell me of a Just and Righteous Mission for which he has singled me out.
"Sadfael, there is a Just and Righteous Mission at hand, for which I have singled you out." He was always straight to the point, His Grace. "Reports have been coming in from the countryside," he began, his face darkening further still. "Most disturbing reports. The peasants from as far a field as Ashworthy and Hood have sent messengers here to St. Malcolm's, all claiming that the very Devil is abroad, waging havoc and laying waste to all in his path."
I crossed myself as a chill passed down my spine, respectfully following His Grace over to the lead-lined window. We stood in silence for a few moments, watching as the crows fought the magpies and the pigeons fought each other for the scraps put out for them - not as much as was customary, due to Brother Goot's lapse.
"Your Grace, if this is true, if the Great Goat himself now walks among us, the Lord of Lies, could it mean that the Second Coming is at hand? Could this be the beginnings of the end? Could it be that Old Jake Peabody was right after all?" The Abbott raised an eyebrow at the name.
"Old Jake Peabody?" he enquired.
"From the village, your Grace. The one who walks around with a bough of apple-wood tied around his neck, believing it somehow to be his Bible. He rants and raves continuously about the final war between Heaven and Hell being upon us." A glimmer shone briefly in the Abbott's eye and he nodded with recognition.
"Ahh yes, Mad Jake Peabody - Peabrain the villagers call him." Uncharitable souls. "No, no brother. He has been going on about Judgment Day being at hand for as long as anybody can remember; a half dozen years at least. I fear that poor Jake's ramblings owe more to his fondness of the Brewer's tap than to any inclinations towards God.
"I do not believe that these latest incidents - heinous though they undoubtedly are - foretell the opening of the Seven Seals, but certainly the Dark Angel has sent one of his Hellish minions to work his deprivations among us and he must, therefore, be stopped.
"In consultation with my colleagues at the High Table, it has been decided that you are the one to be sent out after him."
"Me, your Grace?" I almost choked, so taken aback at this new confidence.
"You, Brother Sadfael. It is our considered belief that in the whole of St. Malcolm's there is none other with your… unique skills." He did not give me time to brook any further arguments as to my suitability, simply turned back to the window and continued on. "You are familiar with the Rites of Exorcism?"
"Err, to a degree your Grace." I stammered.
"Good. It is well for you that you will have ample time to refresh your memory of them as you walk. By the pleas for help coming in to us it can be deduced that the fiend's path is carrying him East, ever away from the Monastery."
"No doubt he fears the certain retribution that would be visited upon him were he to stray too close to this Holy seat," I proclaimed with fervour.
"Err… yes…" the Abbott replied, although with a somewhat furrowed brow. "No doubt. The clouds in the evening sky show good portent of the weather for you on the morrow. I pray the Lord in his Mercy will bestow such favour upon you for the duration of your journey." His Grace moved toward the door. I followed meekly, still shocked.
"I… I must leave so soon?"
"Oh yes. It is of the utmost importance that you do not dally Brother Sadfael. This spawn of Satan must be tracked, caught and banished as soon as possible. I recommend that you gather together a small pack of what you will need and then sleep. As it is I fear it may well take you several weeks to find this monster, so one more night will not overly hinder you, for the sake of freshness." He opened the door to usher me out into the cold corridor beyond. "But no more than that. Do not expect anybody to see you off on the morrow brother - it is my intention to spare as many as possible, even from the knowledge of these troubled happenings, lest a great panic set in, allowing Lucifer a further foot in the door. You must be up and away before the others rise."
As I stumbled into the long and lonely corridor which now seemed to stretch far longer than ever it did, the Abbott folded his arms within the sleeves of his habit and stared at me with a look of absolute finality.
"You are doing a great service to all of us Brother and I know I can rely on you to never quit, to never stop, to never come back until this thing is done." Numbly I nodded, dumbstruck by the gravity of it all. Maintaining his forceful stare, His Grace nodded one last time.
"Goodbye Brother Sadfael," he said and then he closed the door
Much as it troubles me to think of the tribulations that lie ahead, as I sit here in the tiny, unadorned cell which has been my humble home for many years now, I cannot help but count my blessings. For no matter how daunting, 'tis an honour indeed to be given a quest in these times of darkness and devilment. True, it does mean that I must leave here on the Eve of the Great Centenary Cheese-fest, and will therefore miss the week-long celebrations, but God's work is always more important than our own mortal frivolities; one must never lose sight of that.
Ahh, to think of it, an infidel on the loose, some Stygian Abomination, and it has been given up to me, Sadfael, to stop him!
This can only be a sign from the Lord! I must confess that there had been some unholy - or rather I should say 'less than holy' - thoughts racing around in my head these last few months. Why does He allow cabbages to rot after only three days, for example? Why am I not permitted a draft excluder in my cell? And why must I wear these unstylish sandals all the time?
It must be a sign, an opportunity from God for me to expunge these and other blasphemous thoughts from my mind and thus to reaffirm my faith. He has bestowed a great honour upon me, and I must ensure that His trust is well founded. I now close this entry in order to pray for success and then go and pack.
But first I will quickly nip back to the Abbott's rooms and remove the horse's food which is still sitting uneaten. I am surprised he has not noticed how fat the birds are around here, but then His Grace does not get out as much as he used to.
A truly great man though.
In his youth.
Or so I am told.
* * *
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
It is amazing how people will insist on nothing but the police until the word compensation is mentioned. It was handed out in huge dollops by the hotel in order to keep the incident quiet. For the sake of a wasted afternoon and a packet of Rolos, I received three night's free accommodation plus the princely sum of two hundred Scottish pounds.
All I have been able to ascertain is that, by switching on the strobe lights after we had been lulled into such a near hypnotic state, the whole audience had effectively been put into a kind of trance from which we only awoke almost as one, long after Humphries had gone. I have been unable to squeeze any information from the staff or management as to the credentials of the now infamous professor, or his whereabouts - or anything else about him in fact, so that is why I decided to invest my almost useless Scottish money in hiring a Private Detective.
He is an odd fellow, an Englishman currently 'visiting his Scottish offices'. It transpires that at this time of year he normally works in and around Salisbury, but for four days during the waxing phase of the moon which he spends up here in Scotland. He also spends one night every three months, preferably during a new moon for some reason, squatting in a tent in Romney Marsh. Quite why he does this he seemed reluctant to tell me.
When he handed over his card I noticed several strange things immediately - well who wouldn't, when presented with a business card with no name or address on it? All that appeared on the little white square were the words 'Shamanic Detective' in bold letters and then underneath that 'Spiritual Arbitrator' in slightly smaller script. What any of it is supposed to mean I have no idea.
"Call me Eric," he said.
"Eric," I repeated, "Ok." He then hesitated a moment.
"No, hang on. Not Eric, Vincent. Yes, that's it. Vincent. Vince."
"Fine," I said, although somewhat puzzled. "Vince is fine. And your last name?"
There was another moment's pause. "Dragon. Vince Dragon." I had to laugh. In a thick Scottish accent he told me it was highly rude up here to mock someone's name.
"I didn't know you were Scottish," I said.
"Aa'm no, but it's still bad manners," he replied.
"I'm sorry," I said finally, "I don't mean to mock your name, I just thought it a little unfortunate that you are what you are with a name like that: a Private Dick, with the initials V.D."
* * *
CASEBOOK OF GEEZA VERMIES
A strange job, I'll say that much. Some mad professor nicking peoples' food, ties and shoes. No obvious connection, but a hunch told me he would have headed down South and as the Moon was nearly in Her full face I followed him.
It wasn't long before I realised my hunch was spot on. The guy I'd hitched with had stopped at a transport café for a break. I bought myself a cup of tea and had a herbal Pipe to try and get a trace on things - to see if I was heading in the right direction. And lo and behold, when I stepped back outside of the dingy place, wiping the grease my hands had picked up from the door handle onto my trousers, I spied a piece of stolen merchandise on the opposite side of the car park.
There was a young and unnecessarily rotund woman was sitting in her frozen foods delivery van with the door open, about to eat a piece of flapjack. I might have missed it, but at that moment the Pipe kicked in and I noticed traces of a strobe light still dancing between the oats that made up the base. I strode across the broken, pot-holed tarmac and confiscated the aforementioned confectionery item, telling her it must be taken to be used as evidence.
She looked at me with cold blue eyes and said nothing. She didn't look convinced though, so I began to explain a bit more about the circumstances involved as I felt I owed it to her. She listened to my speech impassively and then, slowly extracting herself from her tatty vehicle, she stood and faced me.
She blinked once and when her eyes opened again I was staring straight into a pair of swirling, baleful pits filled with all the fury of the Seven Hells. She held me like that, rooted to the spot for several moments before speaking and when she finally did her voice cut through me like a chainsaw. I was forced to shut my eyes and clasp my hands to my head in order to stop it being sliced apart by the words which tore through my mind like a dentist's drill.
Eyes still shut and ears suddenly inoperative, I read what she was saying as angry lines on the blackboard of my mind. The exact words are insignificant, but were to the effect that should I fail to hand back her flapjack - which she had apparently been given by a well to do businessman she had met yesterday. He'd bought too much and otherwise it would only be thrown away - she would ram the king size Twix lying on her dashboard up my anal tract and also punch my face to the back of my head.
I considered it was more important finding that I was on the right trail than in collecting every scrap of evidence which came my way, so I handed the item back without pursuing the point any further and made myself scarce until Joe - my ride - was ready to go again.
Once Joe had finished his English brekkie we continued Southwards, only this time, thanks to my Pipe, I was aware that we were being watched by the beady little gaze of the thousands of Gnomes that dwell within the cats' eyes, lining the roads. They weren't for letting on what they were looking for - kept disappearing whenever I tried to catch their eyes' - but for them to take an interest there must be more to this than meets the eye.
* * *
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
I have been brought up to date with my detective's progress, whose name is apparently Geeza Vermies. He is always cautious of giving out his real name to anybody he meets.
"There are some dodgy characters out there you know," he explained to me.
Pots and blackened kettles rose unbidden into my mind as he said it, I must just say. I had decided to let him follow the professor alone for a while however, because in the meantime I have received an important tip off with regards to my Scottish investigations.
It is a little known fact, I am told by the natives around these parts, that the radio transmitter was invented in Scotland years before it caught on in the rest of the civilised world. Many years before. The world at large might have been wowed by Marconi and his machine in 1896, but up here they had known about transmitting messages over the airwaves for ages.
And I mean ages.
If all I have been told is true, then simply by tapping the horns of cows - or some other horned ungulate - and then listening up close with the aid of a large sea shell, one could listen to a myriad of frequencies.
Similarly, by repeating the first part of the process and then speaking through the shell, you could send messages. It was as easy as that. Due to the Aberdeen Angus and other long horned varieties indigenous to the area, it is said by the locals that there was a complex intercommunications network established by the Celtic peoples thousands of years before the birth of Christ!
It is further claimed that the ancients were in communication, not only with the Native American Indians, who used buffalo as their medium, but also the Chinese and the multitudinous population of the sub-continent. I also heard a local legend that the Scandinavians spoke to the Celts - and others - using a technique called Norse Code, but I feel this goes beyond the boundaries of my investigation.
And so it was that I was staying in a guest house just on the outskirts of Edinburgh when my mobile phone announced that somebody wanted to talk to me. It was Mr. Vermies, and he had discovered something new.
"Reading," was all he said after I had greeted him.
"I beg your pardon?" I said. "Is that Mr. Vermies?"
"Yeah, yeah," he came back impatiently. He was obviously excited and wanted to skip the niceties. "Look, I'm in Reading; or nearby anyway. He's been here! I'm right onto him!" Good news indeed! "Well, almost."
He claims that our wily Professor is no more that two days ahead. How he knows this, or quite what he means by it he wouldn't say. Two days to get to Reading? What's he doing, walking? However, I am paying the man so all I can do is trust his information to be correct, and begin to think about making my way down there.
* * *
CASEBOOK OF GEEZA VERMIES
I picked up more signs of my quarry along the banks of the upper reaches of the Thames, on the outskirts of Pangbourne, a village on the borders of Oxfordshire and Berkshire as exclusive as it is picturesque. It's about four or five miles North-west of Reading. The vibratory patterns this Humphries has left in the vegetation are as easy to follow as an eight lane motorway. At one particular point he had stopped and by leaving hard, tangible evidence, the Professor has made a big mistake.
Alerted by swirling bands and spirals floating as rainbows on the surface of the river, I came across his scent. Carelessly left in a small patch of rushes by a still sleeping chestnut tree between the water and the railings of a pub garden was a small bag of rubbish screwed up with some highly significant bread and pastry crusts. These were definitely alien to the area - ducks, otters and various rodents make up the majority of the fauna to be found around here and I doubt very much that any of them nipped off to the pie shop for lunch.
And if any of them did, at least they'd have put their garbage in the bloody bin! I know pubs take a dim view of people using their facilities these days if they're not customers, but I don't think they'd mind about the rubbish! The fact that this guy dumps litter all around the countryside makes me even more determined to grab him. That really sticks in my craw.
Anyway, the trail is no more than two days old. Hopefully I can nab him for the weekend.
Damn! He's smarter than I thought. I tracked him all the way through Reading only to find he has got himself onto the M4 and gone off towards London! It's like a bloody Wasp's nest that place, but I have no choice; I have got to follow him. I had already parted company with Joe - Reading was as far as he was going - so I've now got to find myself another lift.
Even if I had my car with me there is no way I'd be driving into the City, not a chance mate! Congestion, congestion charges, road rage, astronomical parking fees - I vowed long ago never to take my car into London again. So here I am, stood at Junction 10 where the Professor's trail heads East, trying to thumb a lift to the Big Smoke.
Ah, here we go - a lorry has just pulled up. Right then, to London.
Damn it, he's slipped the net! I kind of knew that once he made it to London his trail was as good as lost, but hope drove me on. Bernard Hope, of Hopes' Haulage to be precise. He was delivering a truckload of new, blue plastic seats to one of the football stadiums dotted around the capital. A likeable guy and very well spoken for a lorry driver. He told me he started out as a mechanic before switching to work for one of the main banks in a small Lincolnshire town. Through the years he worked his way up to become manager of the branch, but he said his heart had always been in engines, so he quit and started his own haulage company.
I asked him how he coped with all the aggression you find on the roads these days. He said it was nothing compared to all the hassles and shenanigans he had to deal with in the bank.
"Besides," he continued motioning to his thirty-something ton lorry, "people don't tend to get angry with this. They store it up and let it all out on some unsuspecting granny further on down the road."
Eventually he dropped me off pretty centrally - Zone Two, tube users would have called it. With so many people bustling about I would have had enough trouble latching onto him if I was only half an hour behind, but nearly two days? This was going to be difficult. Very difficult.
However, a quick toke on Old Smokey showed me quite an aura of blackness which he'd left in his wake, so although it was pretty laborious I finally managed to track him South of the River to a phone box in Kennington where he had made a few calls. No one else had used the box, amazingly, but it was damned hard getting a trace. I could only pick up hints of the first call. I knew he had made a couple of others, but how many and to whom there was no way of knowing.
The phone itself was like putrid treacle and I had to make sure I didn't put the receiver too near my head or else I would have got a load of sticky, tar-like strands - the decomposing left-overs from his voice - all over me. It was bad enough getting them on my hands, but if they had gone down my ears, or in my mouth - urrrgh! Foul, man.
Anyway his call had been to a British Airways booking agents and as I tried to pour my mind into the memory of the phone line I had to fight through clouds of distortion so thick that it was not so much cutting through them with a knife as having to hack through them like a Victorian explorer, carving his way through the jungles of the Congo. Too much damned time has elapsed! Africa is all I got. He is going to Africa, and he is going tonight. First class.
So now I have got to contact Cripplesby to see what he wants to do. If we are still going ahead with the case then I had better find out exactly where he has gone to. There is something about this guy. I don't know what it is yet, but I'm picking up some very dodgy vibes about him. He's as slippery as an eel in butter and is hiding his tracks pretty well.
The fact that he is trying to hide them at all reaffirms that he's up to something - whatever this is about, I've only glimpsed the tip of the iceberg. There is more to this than meets the eye. Much more.
Something ugly. Something tricky.
Tricky, perhaps, but not impossible.
* * *
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
Having had an early start, I am currently on the six forty-seven stopping train from Edinburgh to London, where I am meeting Mr. Vermies to discuss the case further.
Now trains are all well and good; I could have taken a plane, but this way I have limited my so-called carbon footprint and they do help to keep cars off the roads, so I am all for them in principle. The thing is though, the rail system we have here in England is like an old farmer who has laboured for many, many years in the sleeting rain, howling wind, and driving snow.
It has been baked by long, hot summers and subjected to wild, wet winters. Now is the time when it should be metaphorically tucked up by a crackling fire, the work having been taken over by a horde of doting grandchildren. Instead though, it is still out there toiling away as if it were still young and sprightly. Which it most definitely, definitely is not.
In a word, it is knackered. If it is possible for an entire transport system to have developed arthritis, then this one has. Privatisation has done nothing to improve things and the whole system creaks and groans in constant complaint. It is slow, dirty, and its movements are laboured. I suspect that even Stephenson’s Rocket could easily over-take the train I am in right now, such is its inability to pick up speed.
And the people who use these fatigue-ridden carriages - do they bring rubbish specifically in with them in order to spread it around in as wide an area as possible? Perhaps the station is closer than the dump for some people, I don’t know. I boarded this train at the point of departure. That is to say the journey began there. It had not been to or come from anywhere else, yet it was already dirty. Do they never clean them? Or is there some sort of pixie that comes out at night, casting litter hither and thither with a filthy wave of her magic wand?
Still, I made my choice so here I am; it cannot be helped. The reason for my unhappy travelling is that it would appear the elusive Mr. Humphries has left these fair isles we love to call home, and bade a hasty retreat, to Africa of all places.
Mr Vermies has put it to me that I have some decisions to make. Should I drop the whole thing and try to stay focused on Scotland? Or do I carry on paying the mysterious ‘Shamanic Detective’? I am unsure of his methods, but he certainly seems to have tracked him down somehow or other. Is it worth the expense in packing him off to big game country? He insists that it is.
But then he would do, wouldn’t he?
I for one was looking forward to spending a glorious summer ‘over the border’, perhaps finding out how the sporran got its name and many other interesting historical truths, which would help me to understand my Celtic cousins and therefore - hopefully - lessen the need for me to spend almost every waking hour thinking about the place.
Surely if I was that committed in catching up with the mad professor I would have to go myself to the sunny continent with G Vermies Esq., denying myself the summer just described and replacing it with one of dust, disease and insects.
Having said that though, if I did go to Africa I would be guaranteed the sun, roving purposefully across the plains of the Masai Mara, spotting elephants and dodging poachers’ bullets. If I wanted a good tan in Aberdeen this summer, I would be better advised to go to Malcolm MacGin’s Sun Parlour as opposed to relying on dear old Mother Nature. Unfortunately it is an indisputable fact that, laying wistful romanticism aside for a while, the influence of nature’s sun between the months of June and September up here is not so much that of a Mother as an obscure Great Aunt living alone and undisturbed in St. Ives.
It is something I shall have to think long and hard about on my way down to London. Thankfully, due to the nature of my chosen method of transport, ‘long’ will not be a problem. You see? There is always a silver lining if you look for it.
* * *
CASEBOOK OF GEEZA VERMIES
OK. I know he has gone to Africa, but that is a fairly large net to cast, let’s face it. I’ve got to narrow it down somehow, to a single country or at least East, North, South, or West. Something. Anything. Otherwise I might as well just give up the chase completely - and I have a funny feeling in my bones that I need to stay with this one.
Last night I spent a night as close to the River as I could get, in a grubby little backpackers’ hostel on the South Bank. The Sun has dipped down again now though, another day gone, and I have retreated to a small pub back across the River called the Apple Tree. It is a cosy little place, filled to brim almost entirely with postmen for some reason. Weird. I’ve got myself settled into a nice secluded alcove with a table and a window and have decided to call upon the aid of a couple of Mick Jaggers which I managed to procure yesterday evening.
I figured that under these circumstances I needed a bit more of a kick. The Smoke’s great, but I wasn’t handling London very well and it just wasn’t cutting through - so many people, so much going on, so many disturbances and so little time.
It’s me that’s at fault, not the Smoke, but there you go. I needed something stronger; I knew that without a doubt.
As I was looking for the Backpacker’s earlier on I had seen a hooded man lurking around underneath that enormous railway bridge near Waterloo Station. As soon as I’d clapped eyes on him I knew what he was up to. Fortunately when I went back he was still there.
“Evening,” I said to him as I approached, quite obviously fiddling with a tobacco pouch, as if to display I was running low. He eyed me warily from beneath the hood, but stood his ground.
“I, err, I was wondering if you could help me out,” I said, again shaking the pouch about a bit. His bloodshot eyes narrowed to slits momentarily. I guess I must have passed his test.
“What d’you want then?”
His body language gave him away to be all street tough and bluster. The same sort you’ll find in any part of any city, anywhere in the World. It is never pleasant having to do business with these types, but there you go. Neither of us wanting to take too long about it I decided to get straight to the point.
“I want to get off my chops mate.” Talk to them in language they understand.
He dropped his guard enough to allow a half-smile break out, and then he put his hand out to shake. It was cold, pale and unpleasant.
“My name’s Simon, but friends call me Charlie,” he said. Bingo. He’d be able to sort me out. “What you after mate?” he asked. “Smoke or powder or pills?”
“Actually I was looking for a bit of acid.”
“Yep, yep; I can do that. How much we talking?”
“Ahh, couple of tabs is all.” He looked disappointed, but I shrugged an apology. “Hey, sorry Charlie, but there’s only me here.”
He tried flogging them for a fiver each if you can believe it, and then kept on reaching into various pockets and pouches, trying desperately to get me to buy some of his other wares.
“Got some wicked strong skunk mate. Dead trippy - could be up your street?”
Eventually I gave him four pounds and came away. The two tiny, cardboard tabs I’d bought were each decorated with a big set of thick, rubbery lips, a tongue and teeth, hence the name - Mick Jaggers.
“Go steady with ‘em,” Charlie had told me as he handed them over in the smallest size of seal-top bag. “They’re good and strong these mate. Can get away from you if you let ‘em.” Sounds like just what I needed.
I thanked him and left and now I’ve banged them both down they do feel quite strong. There’s a good buzz about them, a good kick, and very informative they are becoming, even as we speak - well, even as I write.
I am beginning to detect aromas of a deep, deep earthy smell and looking down into my cup of coffee I can now see a rainbow of browns and tans that wasn’t there before, spinning and circling round and around. The rich scent of coffee fills my nose, taking over my head and quickly consuming my whole body.
As I shut my eyes there are swarms of space invaders buzzing about, dancing hypnotically left and then down, right and then down, left, right, down, left, right, down! Down, down, down! Each time they drop down a row the whole world shakes as if a mountain just fell over. On the walls and table tops of the pub there are pictures, pint pots and ashtrays jumping all over the place, but no one else seems to have noticed.
Gradually these pixelated aliens drop below my line of sight, grinning at me as they go, with only my teeth rattling in their settings and a wispy vapour trail left lingering in the air to mark their passing.
In their wake they leave sets of life sized antlers and horns, tossing to and fro amongst the thickets of coffee which have suddenly sprung up. Next, these antlers start to grow people underneath them - like a horses’ hoof, growing downwards. These then begin strutting down a long, low cat walk in a variety of clothes: blacks, reds and greens, melding and merging and blurring together eventually to take on a wholly safari look.
Once the khaki safari gear dominates the apparel of the antlered models, a host of babbling, overweight figures appears like a mote of dust on my eyeball, swimming and dancing in my vision, yet they disappear as soon as I try to look at them directly. They are ghostly white in colour, that pale, sickly shade that makes people look as if they need to get out in the Sun a bit more - a bit like Simon really, or Charlie, or whatever his name was. Only much, much fatter. Binoculars hang around their necks’ without exception.
Aha! It is becoming clearer now... Black, red and green, somewhere in Africa, where they grow coffee, and obviously have a large amount of safari to tempt the tourists.
It has got to be Kenya doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? South Africa? No, there’s some blue on their flag somewhere. I think. So, Kenya…
And now I’m seeing a kaleidoscope through eyes a good eight to ten inches in front of me. I have a strong feeling that I am going to get well and truly Jaggered tonight.
Sit back and enjoy...
* * *
TAKEN FROM THE RIGHT AND ORDERLY NOTEBOOK
OF SADFAEL THE MONK
My satchel is considerably lighter than when I left the Monastery and many miles have been covered in these two weeks hence, during which time it is my sorry duty to note down that never have I seen such chaos and sufferance! Woeful though I am to report it, it has not just been in one, but in all of the villages and hamlets through which this emissary of Beelzebub has smeared his evil taint - on each occasion it has been my deep misfortune to have to follow and witness the misery left in his wake.
A well spoken prayer and a choice concoction of the various medicinal herbs I carry for such purposes is all I can offer the simple folk whose minds have been so abused by my quarry. Alas, but I cannot afford to spend the time I would like in helping these people as I cannot waver in my pursuit of such a rogue, the likes of which I feel the world has never seen since before the days of Judas himself.
In the worst cases of his demonic manipulations his victims are wont to show severe outbreaks of delusion and delirium, incessant mutterings and wild gesticulations. All gibber distressingly about this odd looking character and the magic he makes, and also about the singing demons he carries with him.
Strange. And most disquieting.
One man I felt especially sorry for was a certain master ‘Dundee’ Jock McBride, a traveller in these parts from across the Borders no less, hailing from the eastern coast of Scotia. I feel great shame that this man, a visitor to our fair Kingdom, could have been so rudely and fatefully accosted, robbed of all the monies that he had brought with him from his homelands and then bewitched to the point of idiocy.
So whilst a goodly part of me wishes to tarry longer in order to administer to these poor unfortunates, a far greater urge presses me on forthwith, with narry a thought for my own safety. Oftentimes have I had to remind myself that this task to which I have been appointed is such a one as has been bestowed upon me by the very highest of authorities. The Lord Himself has commanded me to rid the world of this cursed Hell Spawn and so that it what I must surely do!
Wheresoever this fiend despoileth the earth with his foul footfall I am duty bound to follow and whensoever I finally happen upon him, this malevolent blackguard, this terror incarnate… well, there can be no argument with the Heavenly Father. I will smite him down!
I feel no fear peculiarly enough, but it could be that I am so consumed with pity for all the casualties I have seen along my way that as yet I have not found time to allow the seeds of fear and doubt to take root in my head. Not to be discounted though, in this warding off of my fear, are the blessings from my very own Monastery which bring me more succour than anybody might know. Indeed, it is quite by accident that I happened to overhear a conversation on the night before I left St. Malcolm’s which, although it causes my chest to sinfully swell with pride whenever I think of it, it nevertheless has provided me with an immeasurable comfort thus far.
Having stolen back to His Grace’s quarters to empty the excess horse feed out into his private rose garden, I was creeping back through his rooms when I heard the unmistakable sound of the Abbott’s voice issuing from behind the door to his inner vestibule.
I would hope that any reader will not think that I stopped in order to eavesdrop. The truth of the matter is that I was forced to freeze for fear of my unwieldy sandals flapping awkwardly and giving me away. As I stood like a guilty child caught scrumping apples in the western orchard, it became apparent that the Abbott had somebody in there with him. They seemed in the midst of discussing something.
“So he’s definitely going?” It sounded like Prior Job Pedloe, second in the hierarchy at St. Malcolm’s, answering only to the Abbott himself.
“Yes. Tomorrow before dawn.”
“Well thank God for that!” Prior Pedloe exclaimed.
“Indeed,” came the more measured tones of the Abbott.
“Finally he is on his way! Glory be!”
Could I believe what I was hearing? Unless my ears were deceiving me I could have sworn I heard then the sounds of a set of goblets being clunked together, as if in a toast. Could this be true? I thought to myself as I stood there, cold and breathless in the middle of His Grace’s woollen rug. Not only were these two most important men of my order actually discussing me, but they were also raising a toast to my endeavours! I was touched beyond words.
“So who do you think this maniac is then?” the Abbott was asked.
“I don’t know, just some lunatic probably; some peasant finally driven mad by a life of serfdom and repression.”
“You don’t think there’s any chance that… that Sadfael might not…?”
“Now Prior,” His Grace’s voice floated through the door. “We can but put our trust in God and hope that in His ineffable wisdom Sadfael is… taken care of. Whatever the eventual outcome of it all, I shouldn’t wonder that Brother Sadfael will be gone for a long, long time.”
Well, I can tell you that hearing all of this brought a huge lump to my throat. It had not go unnoticed by me that here was the Abbott talking with Prior Pedloe, his right hand man - the very man to whom St. Malcolm’s was entrusted in His Grace’s absence - and yet he was playing down the nature of my mission, even to him!
Claiming in his unruffled manner that this Demon is simply a poor lunatic, the Abbott is attempting to shield even the prestigious members of the High Table from the full burden of this painful happenstance.
That His Grace should see fit to do this, that he should keep the truth even from his most trusted Brethren causes me to fairly brim over with a sense of duty. I must confess that his supposition that I will be away for a lengthy period of time did sink my heart like a rock in a bog, but remembering his faith in me is a veritable Tower of Strength.
And of course, I also have God on my side, which is deeply comforting…
* * *
CASEBOOK OF GEEZA VERMIES
Arrgh! I’ve got to get this down while I still can! I am sitting, cross-legged on my chair, when suddenly I’m staring down my own throat as if I were using one of those doctor’s fibre optic cameras. A gaping hole opens up, revealing a toothless jaw into which I am swallowed whole. This new tunnel is held open by C-shaped rings of thick cartilage, running parallel to my trachea. After only a short distance, which takes an immeasurably long period of time to travel, it branches off and I go with it.
Plummeting down in this new direction, gyrating and rotating as I go, I find myself surrounded by a thousand shades of black, more dazzling than any colours I have ever seen. Agghh! I’m still spinning and tumbling, careering out of control down the tunnel which has suddenly widened into a limitless, swirling void - what’s that? A sound! Faint yet insistent. What is it?
I am floating now. As soon as I heard that noise I stopped falling. But what is it? It is somehow familiar… A buzzing? Purring? I can’t make it out, it is too… distant. I must try to get closer.
I can actually swim through this inky blackness, but it is thick like molasses and I am sweating already. Whenever I stop moving, to listen and try to get my bearings in relation to the sounds, I find I am bobbing and floating about like an Otter, without any effort at all. As soon as I head off again towards the noise though, I am back to swimming in a sea of glue. Jesus, I’m knackered! It is like being caught in a rip tide, but I am… almost… there -
Arrrgh! A roaring, angry sound slashes through my eardrums, reverberating maniacally as the taste of oil and smoke fouls my mouth! The roaring changes to a throaty revving sound, and a few faces whirl fleetingly past my vision. Sinister faces.
Something is about to go wrong.
Laughing faces in dark glasses! Cruel faces, circling, taunting, laughing…
Stop. Stop! Oh! Christ, make them stop!
Quick! They’ve turned their backs’ on me, turned to look inwards. Oh Gods, their malice - I can feel it from here! And the noise - it’s unbearable! They’re focussing on someone, inside the ring they have formed. Such malevolence! Such wanton menace!
But why? And who? Who is the unfortunate soul in the middle being choked in the poison given off by that noise?
It’s Elliot Cripplesby. I’ve got to get to him! Got to warn him. His face! Distorting in a scream of pain! I must get to him! They’re laughing! Oh Gods, stop laughing! Look out!
He turns to look at me and a black hole bursts forth from his straining lips. Once more I am dazzled by the blackness. I know now with a terrifying certainty that I must get to him, I must reach him, before they do. Whoever they are.
All I can do is to swim blindly in the darkness, groping for the light that will lead me out of here. And fast. Cripplesby is in serious trouble.
* * *
TAKEN FROM THE RIGHT AND ORDERLY NOTEBOOK
OF SADFAEL THE MONK
I now find myself more alone and confused than I have ever been in all my life. I shall endeavour, by these writings, to glean perhaps a small part of the explanation as to how I am... wherever it is I am. Much have I prayed to the Holy Father, but so far He has chosen not to answer, so all I can do is record the facts leading up to my present predicament in the hope that by doing so some answers and perchance some much prayed for guidance will be sent my way.
I had through Divine Guidance and, methinks, not a small amount of luck, caught up with my quarry sooner than I had thought possible. He was not difficult to follow mind you - it was like following Johnston le Hat’s heifers after they had escaped and fled through the wheat field last year - only a thousand times more harrowing. I simply went from ruined village, to battered hamlet, through each of which a wide swathe of chaos and confusion had been cut.
Oh! Was it only yesterday that I came to stand atop that craggy hill, overlooking the site where this demonic fiend had apparently been trapped? It seems like an impossible eternity to me now.
Even without him in sight, the crowd’s reactions were too obvious to be coincidence. There was a small, single roomed hut surrounded by at least two score enraged God-fearing peoples of all denominations: peasant farmers, through soldiers and militiamen right up to the mounted nobles of a nearby keep. Fiery brands were being wielded, Holy Bibles were being quoted from, spears were brandished and accusations were flying about like nesting birds, flitting from one end of the mob to the other in a matter of moments.
I muttered a silent prayer to give me strength for the confrontation to come, and headed down the grassy knoll into the morass, where I made the Lord’s presence known. After a moment or two, all but a few recalcitrant herdsmen were quiet, and I asked for a spokesman to tell me what the disturbance was concerned with.
Unsurprisingly, it was one of the mounted peers that spoke. He declared himself to be Duke Duster of Nine Feathers Castle, a stout upholder of the law and a devout Christian. I could not help raising my eyebrows slightly at this, as I noticed the lack of a crucifix around the Nobleman’s throat.
He explained that a moustachioed madman had attempted to subvert his entire population of serfs with evil demons and witchery. Thankfully he said they had not been duped, despite many of them being afflicted by his hideous spells. They had chased him as far as this hovel, kept him here whilst a sizable force was mustered, and they were now set to burn him for the abomination he undoubtedly was.
I held my hand aloft at this juncture however and told them of my Holy Mission, from God Himself, to rid the land of this accursed fellow, whom I had been pursuing now for several weeks. They immediately conceded that if that were indeed the case then it was now well and truly in God’s hands. For the time being at least they agreed to hold back their torches and bade me luck, one and all, as I approached the door to the peasant’s house.
Immediately as I reached the door though I heard a tortured sobbing from within and turned sharply to the crowd who were by now eager with anticipation of seeing the Lord’s work done and justice served. With a calmness that belied the tumultuous feelings that were running amuck inside my puny body I caught the Duke’s eye and asked who else was in there.
In their satanically inspired bloodlust, perhaps pardonable under such trying circumstances, the gathered menfolk had neglected to mention that two individuals - the local hounds’ man, and a visiting London dog breeder to the high society - were trapped inside, along with the demonic cause of all this mayhem.
Fearing the worst, but resolute, I squared my shoulders, breathed deeply and entered.
What I saw inside sent my mind reeling in an instant! I had told the ugly mob outside to take no action unless I did not re-emerge in half an hour, but I could not help wishing that I had not intervened at all and instead had allowed the crowd to burn the hut and its occupants - all of them - to the ground.
I know these are sinful thoughts indeed, but at least in taking that particular course of action I would have been saved from the terrifying moments that followed!
Indeed, I would also have been spared the torment I am going through now… To continue though:
There were flashing lights, as if a hundred multi-coloured will-o-wisps had been encased inside a number of boxes that lined one wall. The boxes were of metal I believe, but of a craftsmanship so fine that it would have been any Smith’s proudest day to show them off at his Village Fete. Also, there was a myriad of... I know not what - similar to ropes, yet much thinner and smoother - and these were criss-crossing all over two thirds of the room, like a tangled fishing net.
Cowering to my right as I entered were the two innocents whom I had been told about: the Londoner, Paul Coddingtail and lying wounded in his lap was Albert Brass, the hounds’ man. The gentleman, Mr Coddingtail seemed remarkably on top of the situation and was keeping his head admirably. Mr Brass, however, would not last long I feared, as he was gibbering like a madman, thrashing and flailing about uncontrollably.
Unfortunately I never had the chance to go to his aid directly however, as it was at this point that my eyes fell upon the very Antichrist himself! Surely this was the Devil in a human incarnation and although finding strength in my faith, I now feared for much more than my life.
He - It - was connected to the boxes on the wall by a cluster of metallic tubes that appeared to suck on his head like a horde of leeches. I noticed that two of these led to a small, sealed casket upon which I was able to read the inscription ‘Caravan, 12 Volts’, although what this could have meant I did not have the time to speculate. After the event I can suppose this chest once belonged to a trader’s caravan, perhaps of twelve wagons in length and that it once was the property of a Mr Volt - however, this is nought but idle speculation and quite irrelevant as to what happened next.
I crave the forgiveness of whomever is reading this account, but please try to understand that at the time of writing I am searching for anything - even a minor detail such as this - which may help me regain control of my most pitiable situation. I freely admit that I am desperate! Anyway, back to the events as they transpired inside the hovel.
This devil, his eyes were quite clearly mad and the poor soul who had originally inhabited this body I can only hope had been mercifully pushed aside long ago, at the moment his body had been completely possessed. It was an hideous sight, and I at once crossed myself and began the exorcism rite I had been revising daily since my hurried departure from St. Malcolm’s. The Demon stared straight at me, feigning surprise.
“What’s this?” he snorted. I immediately retorted with the next lines of the Latin incantation. He collapsed and I wondered hopefully if this would be easier than I had imagined. It quickly transpired though that he was laughing.
“Oh no!” he mocked. “It’s the Exorcist, come to get me!” He screamed with more insane laughter which fair chilled my blood.
Somehow I maintained enough presence of mind to motion for the two unfortunates to try and get out whilst I kept the Luciferian menace at bay. The next three lines of the Rite issued forth from my mouth to which the Lord of Illusion doubled up again in fits of wicked cackling.
“Hokus pokus, gobble-di-gookus,” his gutter-tongue spewed back at me, each word poisoning the air with its foul blasphemy. “Espiritu Santi, my fat Auntie,” his abominations continued. “By the love of Christ and all that!” He waved a dangerous finger at me. “Don’t forget ‘Get thee behind me Satan!’”
How I longed to close off my ears, to shut my eyes, to flee from the hovel and this devil incarnate, but the strength of God suffused my body allowing me somehow stand up to his despicable tauntings.
“Look,” he said in yet another tone of voice, “I hope you’re not expecting my head to turn green and spin round full circle, projectile vomiting and all that.”
I neither knew nor cared what he was talking about. I simply continued unbroken in my chant, speaking louder and louder as I went on in order to drown out his foul insanities. Eventually I was forced to shout as I neared the end because the lightning infested boxes had begun emitting loud and unearthly sounds.
I stepped closer to the fiend, to drive the incantation home and also to prevent him from doing any more harm to the two men who, mercifully, I could see from the corner of my eye, were making good their escape through the door. The brave Mr. Coddingtail was having to drag poor Mr. Brass to the safety which lay outside, but he managed and by the Grace of God I knew that they were now safe.
As I screamed the last words at the top of my voice, directly into the Demon’s face, the power of the exorcism rite began to take hold and smoke began to race from inside the tubes affixed to his head! Again he laughed insanely and his arms shot out to grasp my own - then, a blinding, searing white light, a deafening explosion and now he is nowhere to be seen, and I know not where I am...
* * *
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
I never really enjoyed visiting London as the whole size of the sprawling conurbation just seems wholly unnatural to me. I had found a place to stop for the night a few minutes walk from Kings Cross station, where my train had finished up - eventually.
This morning I decided to go for something to eat - a late breakfast, early lunch - before taking a taxi to my arranged rendezvous with Mr Vermies. Having feasted on a delicious toasted sandwich, one of those slightly greasy ciabattas dripping with mature Scottish cheddar at the splendidly basic Giuseppe’s El Snacko, I hailed a cab and set off towards the spot we had arranged to meet.
After roughly three minutes and twenty seconds I had stopped trying to engage in conversation with the driver, and instead I interspersed his nasal monologue with “Yes. Really? Ugh, hmm,” and ironic laughter at what I assumed to be appropriate moments. Before the half way stage of my journey, I began to notice a gradual increase in the presence of policemen and to my surprise and alarm, members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.
Quite abruptly, the cabby stopped at a particularly seedy-looking street corner and refused to take me any further. When I asked him why, he simply told me that the presence of so many officers of the law was making him nervous and that I could walk the rest of the way in “less than two minutes,” if I took a short cut across a nearby estate. He was deaf to my repeated protestations, so eventually I paid him his fare and left the vehicle, stalking off towards the supposed short cut.
Forty-five minutes later and I came to the conclusion that the driver had been lying. I was by now, of course, hopelessly lost, so I decided to ask one of the natives for directions.
About a block away I spotted a scrawny tree which was apparently being guarded by a corporal of the aforementioned body of fighting men. I thought that I would be safer in these strange parts to ask a man in uniform than to trust my luck with an everyday Joe citizen, so I approached him smiling. My amiability was not returned however, and my questions were answered with a short and curt response.
“You want to get locked up?” he snarled. “Go on, bugger off!”
Apparently there had been a number of bomb scares in and around this part of the capital in the last few days and I was informed quite gruffly that any time wasted on me could better be spent in looking out for ‘terrorist scum’.
“What d’you think I am - bloody Tourist Information? Go on, get!” When I simply stared open-mouthed at the chap’s undisguised hostility he looked me up and down and added “Unless of course you’re one of them, deliberately trying to distract me...”
Honestly, this whole ‘War on Terror’ business has brought the very worst out in people. The reasoning behind first of all making a man live in fear and then giving him a gun and a uniform is one that has escaped me from the start.
Be that as it may, the thought of being detained by this obviously power-hungry, unpleasant young man made his advice seem sound, however rudely it had been delivered, so I moved on fairly quickly without making further issue, although I did take his number so I could report his inexcusable behaviour to the proper authorities at a more appropriate time - as if they’d listen. The days of reasonable tones and subjective argument have all-but died out, from what I see in life going on around me. Only those who shout the loudest get heard in modern times, or so it seems.
Anyway, a few moments later I spied a shaven headed youth of around nine or ten years, so I made my way over and addressed the question of my whereabouts to him, offering him a crisp Scottish pound note in return for information. He eyed the money up with an ever-narrowing stare, before suddenly snatching it from my hands without a word and legging it through a hole in the adjacent fence.
I found myself once more stunned by the downright anti-social behaviour of the folk around these parts before walking off, disgruntled, down an alleyway in search of a more cooperative person who could help me extricate myself from this dirty backwater and send me on my way towards Geeza and our meeting, which was drawing ever nearer.
After a further half an hour or so of hearty walking - striding purposefully, arms swinging and chest puffed out with as much enthusiasm as you would find in any high street fitness video - I noticed that I had finally left the run-down residential area behind me. The squat terraced houses and pathetically sparse and sickly looking trees had been replaced by huge, domineering skyscrapers, sneering down at me from their smooth and impersonal mirror-glass walls.
In a street that I was highly surprised to find deserted, I found myself at the foot of the London Stock Exchange, examining the emblem and motto of that venerable institution set above the door at the top of a short flight of steps. Somehow I had found my way into the financial district. That was miles out of the way!
Suddenly, amidst a roaring of powerful engines and a constricting cloud of black smoke I found myself face to face with several bikers, dressed in sharp, fashionable suits and sat astride a variety of motor cycles of all shapes and sizes. I appeared to be the focus of their attention for reasons which were about to me made painfully clear to me.
It all seems a bit of a blur now, sitting here writing this and it is highly possible, even probable, that I have missed out large chunks of activity, but here is how I remember it - and you have to remember that it all happened so fast...
I was being harassed by seven, maybe eight executive, stock market bikers dressed in expensive suits and sunglasses, wearing menacing faces. There they were, circling me, revving up their engines and laughing in a way which would have made the most malcontented, murderous gang from any one of a hundred Hollywood films stop what they were doing, put down their cheap cans of American lager or bourbon or whatever it is they drink, and nod approvingly.
After they had decided I had coughed and choked upon their ghastly fumes for long enough, they responded to a signal from their apparent leader and formed a crude circle around me, trapping me in a menacing henge of bikes. Despite an occasional ‘rev’ now and again, however, these henchmen melted into the background as the leader, a tall fellow, well over six feet tall with curly hair, waddled forwards. The movement made by his legs on either side of his motorbike reminded me for some reason of a duck emerging clumsily from his pond, not entirely comfortable out of the relative safety of the water. The air was still for a minute, and the sun glinted off a highly polished brass buckle on his left shoe. He smiled. And then spoke in a cultured voice.
“Good morning,” despite it being well into the afternoon by now. “You may or may not realize it, but you have something - certain items in your possession - which we are very, very interested in.”
I told him that I was only a visitor to London and he must have mistaken me for somebody else.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” he replied and, with another smile, leant forwards. And there riding pillion, unseen up until now, was the youth who had absconded with my Scottish money! The nerve of it, I thought, and must have taken a step towards him, though as I said before, I cannot remember the exact run of play. However, I must have done something as the man in the driving seat raised his hand.
“Now, now, that is quite close enough thank you.” He turned momentarily to the boy. “Is this him?” My identity was confirmed with a monosyllabic grunt and a nod of the head.
“You see good sir,” I believe the villain saw himself as some sort of modern day ‘charming highwayman’, although if this was indeed the case then it’s desired effect had not even the merest hold upon me, because, scared as I don’t mind admitting I was - to the core - I saw none of the lovable rogue in him at all. “This lad here saw upon your person a large wodge of Scottish pounds. No, no, don’t try to deny it. It would not be in the boy’s interest to lie to me.” This last statement was a cutting response to my attempted protestations. He continued.
“No doubt you know as much as the next man about the highly turbulent fiscal climate we are living in. The Euro teeters almost daily on the very brink of collapse, China owns more Greenbacks than the US Treasury and the markets bounce around like a jack-in-the-box on a bumpy road. You may or may not be aware that the Scottish pound shows every sign of replacing the dollar as the world’s leading currency.
“Rumours have been floating about for weeks, but believe me this is not mere idle conjecture - all the predictions can be substantiated easily enough given ten minutes or so on a computer linked to the financial data of the last dozen years. If you know what to look for,” he added, “a man can also see a correlation in the commodities market - which is always to be expected, of course.”
Of course. What? Did I look like some kind of out of uniform investment official? Did he assume that I, like all of his cronies, had even the slightest inkling of what he was talking about? Please don’t start talking about Sub-Prime interest payments and negative equity I pleaded in my head.
“Now I know there are always those who would advise caution with these kinds of speculations and admittedly it is a high risk venture, but just think of the rewards.” His eyes glazed over for a moment as he stared out at something only he could see. Then with a brief flick of his curly mop he was back. “Trust me; there is a lot of money to be made in buying Scottish. You are probably well informed of the sudden increase in the prices of such products as porridge, tartan materials, dried thistles and the like.” Then with a nod and a wink, “and between you and me, cabers are due to make a meteoric rise.
“However, I digress. I see that you are standing there a little bemused, wondering to yourself what exactly is the nub of my gist. And in a nutshell sir, it is this: I would like you to hand over your Scottish currency to me. All of it.
“Now perhaps ‘insist’ is too strong a word, but if you fail to do so willingly the consequences will be dire.”
What choice did I have? I reached for my wallet.
* * *
CASEBOOK OF GEEZA VERMIES
Having seen what I had seen in my trip last night I knew I had to act fast! Immediately when I came to back in my bed at the dingy hostel I filled my Pipe with a mixture of herbs and ‘shrooms, lit him up and offered him to the four directions. East first, then South, West and North, asking for their advice. I then offered the smoke to the Sky Father above, the Earth Mother beneath my bare feet, the Sun, and Grandmother Moon.
Once I had called upon all of the Spirits of Nature, I smoked the Pipe empty, wet my finger and cleaned him out. And then I waited, breathing rhythmically, first from just my throat, then from my chest cavity, and finally bringing my diaphragm into action. Four breaths of each individually before closing my eyes and breathing from all three areas of my respiratory tract at once, clearly and deeply.
Time distorts during altered states of consciousness so I cannot say how long it was before my vision was upon me. When it came though, it was direct and to the point - if you know how to read these things. It showed me quite clearly the action I had to take.
Tall buildings, some very old and others of much more recent construction were suddenly enveloped by a huge swirling cloud of colours - grey, black and white with here and there flecks of purple and also a metallic green. It was twisting and contorting all the while, never staying still for a minute. After only a short while though the whole cloud lifted high up into the Sky, at which point I saw all of the buildings were gone, eaten away by a trillion acidic white blobs. Where their remains still hissed and smoked there now rose a plaza, large and ornate, a couple of acres across, in the centre of which stood a tall, proud pillar.
The brooding cloud swooped low again and formed the shape of a Bird, her beak pointing towards the financial district of the City. Then a hole opened up in the main portion of her body where her stomach would normally be positioned. This hole then filled, bit by bit, and the cloud descended still further, coming to rest on a solitary figure in the square. As it did so, it exploded into thousands of Pigeons and the figure was lost in a storm of feathers - grey, black, white, purple and the same metallic green that I’d seen in the cloud from which they’d been born.
Knowing now what was to be done I tore several pieces of my hair out and burnt them as a thank you to the Spirits. I then wrapped up Old Smokey in his velvet cloth and sprang into action.
* * *
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
Evidently in no hurry, the curly haired leader of the biker gang held my wallet in his left hand and then, one by one, began counting out my Scottish pound notes. Holding the bunch aloft in his raised right hand with each new addition, he received a chorus of cheers, whoops and cries of victory from his thugs around him. I remember one of these cries as being heavily laden with an American accent, as his blood curdling exclamation rang out above the rest: “You’re the Man!”
Suddenly, just as I thought my situation was hopeless, bursting from around the corner at the end of the street came my saviour, Mr Vermies! He was running at full pelt straight towards us carrying a large crusty loaf of bread under each arm. Quite how he found me I do not know and exactly how he effected my bizarre yet miraculous escape I am - and will forever more I suspect - remain completely clueless.
The drama unfolded thus: the leader of the bikers must have seen my startled look, as he turned his head to see what was happening behind him. Those of his gang who had their backs to the fast approaching Mr Vermies also followed suit. Yelling a cry of “Cripplesby, run!” Mr Vermies vaulted the circle of bikes, tearing the loaves into rough, large pieces as he did so and flung them up in the air, causing everybody - myself included - to raise their heads skywards.
It was only then that the sun was blotted out by hundreds and hundreds of pigeons which were descending rapidly from the sky! Still running at top speed, Mr Vermies grabbed my wallet from the open-mouthed brigand leader with one hand, my wrist with the other and then dragged me clear, just about, to avoid the screaming - well ‘cooing’ - mass of hungry birds that had descended upon the scene.
While we fled, I chanced a look over my shoulder and the last I saw of those modern day highwaymen was each and every man-jack of them leaping and running about in panic and confusion, their bikes forgotten in their frantic attempts to flee from the chaotic swarm of feathers, beaks and claws which had by now completely engulfed them.
Having bade a hasty retreat, shocked and somewhat shaken for my part, we took refuge in a cafe where, over a cup of tea and a sticky bun, he told me that the robbery in Eilean Ban and these bikers were undoubtedly linked, although he could not quite see how; not yet.
So as I sat wiping crumbs from around my mouth and slurping the dregs of my drink - don’t you just hate it when people leave that last mouthful? You go to pick up the cup and end up spreading half a gallon of cold tea or whatever all over your carpet - I was persuaded by Mr. Vermies to continue with the investigation. Disappearing below street level, we made our way onto the London Underground and headed towards the first of our connections that would take us to Heathrow and thence to Africa.
At one of these stops, above ground once again, we had about a quarter of an hour’s wait and while we were stood on the platform I took a little time to examine Mr Geeza Vermies the man. He had long, flowing hair, covered up at the moment by a conspicuous red woolly hat. He stood at around five feet ten inches tall, but it was difficult to judge his build accurately as he was wearing fairly loose fitting black jeans and an Arran sweater which hid his precise contours well. He also wore a comfortable looking pair of well worn brogues and sported a set of small, round, sixties style sunglasses.
A camera hung around his neck and from time to time he placed a set of smart binoculars to his eyes, watching for the train I assumed. Having finished his observations, he would thrust the field glasses back into one of the voluminous, bulging pockets of his blue windcheater. In this guise - for he had differed in appearance on each of the few instances I had met him so far - he seemed completely and utterly forgettable: an anonymous face in the crowd.
When I asked again how he had found me and what exactly had he done with the pigeons, he simply shook his head and told me that I didn’t really want - or need - to know. A real enigma for sure. Perhaps the ‘Dark Continent’ will bring a little more of the man out. We shall see.
* * *
TAKEN FROM THE RIGHT AND ORDERLY NOTEBOOK
OF SADFAEL THE MONK
If I am to believe what I have so far discovered, then our Lord - in his infinite wisdom - would appear to be testing me far more than I could ever have imagined. In fact, what I have racing through my mind right now could be construed as heretical, even blasphemous!
Simply to think of myself being in the situation I am in, having undergone all that I have, would cause even a flagellant trouble! He would run out of birch and have cramp in both arms before he had managed to thrash even half the sin out. And yet think it I must and my journey has only just begun.
I sit here writing this in surroundings which are as outlandish, foreign and downright other-worldly as anything I have ever known or heard of in all my life. Now I am aware that, with much of my time on God’s green earth having been spent within the walls of the St. Malcolm’s, there will be my critics who would perhaps suggest that another, more well-travelled man might not be suffering the same culture shock as I.
Well, I concede that that is possible, but I must let it be known that at no point in my narrative have I exaggerated in any way and I must also point out my very firm belief that no matter how well travelled a man may be, were he to find himself in my position and had he not the same depth of faith as I, he would find himself, methinks, faced with such a level of insurmountable confusion and doubt that he may never recover! Whether I do or not is in the hands of the Lord.
I have been put up in mystifyingly sumptuous accommodation by the vicar of the local parish, the wooden cot I am used to having been replaced by the bed and furnishings of a King!
This is my second night here since I awoke - for I do not mind admitting that I fainted during my tussle with the devil, though not at first, I might add. I was fully awake and aware during my confrontation with the Satanic foe back in the hut. It was only afterwards that my wits failed me, after an enormous bang and once all the smoke had cleared, when my surroundings presented themselves to me. When I found myself I knew not where, I knew not how.
If truth be told, I thought myself to have been transported to the Outer Circle of Hell, but this first supposition has since been proved erroneous.
I shall list the facts plainly as they would appear to stand, however far fetched, and then explain how I have come to accept my situation - as accept it I must, lest I go mad!
It would appear that I have been catapulted several hundred years into the future - and a very strange future it is, in this, anno domini two thousand and nine!
I know, I know, but as preposterous a claim as it seems, it is the only explanation to be found, and here is how I came across it.
As the smoke cleared and I took in - well, everything - I could not make out what on earth had happened and then upon looking around, as I said, I fainted dead away from shock. When I came to again, I found a small cluster of people gathered around me, all dressed very differently than we do. I was lying at the foot of a nice and comfortable looking wooden bench. The floor was hard and not dissimilar to flagstones once they have been warmed by the sun, although there was only one unbroken piece stretching as far as I could see.
I was carried into a neat little church which, I noticed as I was lifted through the doors, bore the inscription ‘Bramfield Chapel’ and as I learned later that day it lay nestled in a small village similarly named Bramfield.
Most of the parishioners were ushered out, leaving only a dear old lady and the vicar of the parish. I was brought around by a milky, sweet, hot herbal drink of tea and was delicately probed with numerous concerned questions. By my clothing, so unlike theirs, they thought that I had been to a celebration of some sort that required the participants to dress up in costume, as the nobility are wont to do. Having ascertained that this was not the case and that I was not under the influence of the Devil’s own brew, they asked me to explain what I was doing and, indeed, who I was.
Having been told, the look on their faces gave away the fact that they were both of the mind that I was a hopeless lunatic; a poor, ranting simpleton, scratching a living in-between the worlds of the capable and the dependant.
A discreet look from the vicar encouraged the old lady to make her excuses and leave. Then the vicar, the Reverend Gawdley Pinball, asked me once again to explain myself. So one more time did I recount to him my story so far - both the Heavenly quest and my terrible dislocation. Throughout my narrative he interspersed in timely places, asking astute questions and clarifying things within his own mind.
I like the Reverend Pinball, I must say here. He is kind, wise, intelligent and most humble - the very soul of compassion. Or so he appears and whilst I admittedly know very little of him beyond first impressions, the respect he generates in his community adds a not inconsiderable weight to my own humble suppositions.
Having finished this retelling of my tale of woe, he invited me to pray with him in the chapel, and then to look at the Holy Book of the Parish of Bramfield. And it was here, in the Parish Book that I learned what I now know and which troubles me so deeply.
Flicking through the early pages of this aged book the Reverend somewhat excitedly traced the lines of script with his finger and read out certain excerpts from several passages.
“Here, look,” he said. “‘Thee next week after that most dreadful of combats with thee foul Devil, only after seven days of glad rejoicing had taken place, but days that were also used for remembering such a sad loss and noble sacrifice, thee Church commissioned a chapel to be built in honour of that brave and most humblest of Brothers…’” He fell silent here, murmuring to himself as his finger travelled over a few more lines of text. “Here we go: ‘…that bravest soul who most willingely gave himself up unto the bosom of thee Lord, that heroic monk sent out from St. Malcolm’s wythe his singular purpose to banish that foul figure of evil, Beelzebub Himself.
Therefore do we pay honour and tribute in this, thee very Heart of thee Parish, to that Knight Protector, that Paladin of the Lord, Brother Bramfiel.’”
“Bramfiel?” I almost shouted. “Bramfiel?” The good Reverend put a hand to my shoulder to settle my shock.
“Brother Sadfael, calm yourself, please! It could easily be a mistake in the translation. You see the inscription stone, which supposedly marks the exact spot of the exorcism, was so faded with age and the effects of the elements that it was removed some years ago and a commemorative bench was erected in its place.”
“But, but, the book,” I stammered. “The book must be accurate, surely?” He shook his head in a way which suggested this may not be the case.
“Well, we think it is, or did anyway, but the original parish book was damaged by floodwaters some four hundred years ago.” So approximately five hundred years after my own time! “It was copied immediately afterwards, so in the early to mid Seventeenth century, but parts of it, certain words, had to be guessed at in places.
“The name ‘Bramfiel’ was chosen as the most appropriate from examining the faded inscription left chiselled into what has since been made the foundation stone of our lovely new pulpit.” He signalled to the admittedly magnificent structure to the right of the altar.
Unlikely as it may seem then, it would appear that upon touching me, the Devil managed to transport me several hundred years into the future without actually moving my feet! So ironically, although I had moved scarcely a yard, I am now further away from home than I could ever possibly conceive.
Despite my troubles though it is of huge consolation to me that I had seemingly managed to complete the exorcism successfully, thus freeing all those tortured peons of Duke Duster from that hideous creature’s depredations. It is also humbling in the extreme to find that a church and indeed an entire village has been named in my honour! Incorrectly named, maybe, but the thought was there and one must not succumb to the sin of pride, must one?
My relief was short lived however, for something was announced this very morning which leaves me to believe that my work is not yet done, and that the Devil abounds still in this very parish!
This latest aberration occurred some time in the early hours of this morning. Unfortunately it would seem that several Holy Artefacts have been taken from the very chapel in which I am staying! A range of ceremonial robes, aspersoria and other silverware, crooks, crucifixes, plates and a wide variety of other religious icons have been removed by a man who was only glimpsed by chance by an individual who delivers milk to several of the houses in the village. From the little he saw, it is beyond doubt I fear that my nemesis is biting his thumb at us once more.
At around five of the morning clock, Bedward D’Elevere, the ‘milkman,’ observed a man in his fifth decade - or sixth; in the light it was difficult to tell - whilst out on his daily rounds. Quite brazenly this man entered the chapel by the front doors and although his hair was wild and unruly, in all other aspects he looked from a distance not unlike the Reverend Pinball: staunchly built at around five feet and seven inches tall.
It was only natural for this D’Elevere to assume the vicar had got up early on Parish business, perhaps in a rush, had been unable to brush his hair in time, so he thought no more about it at the time.
Now though, in the clear light of day, it is heart-rending to see that the sanctity of the Church itself has been violated. The Artefacts and the Relics of the Chapel have been feloniously removed in their entirety. Gone! Stolen!
Worrying. Very worrying indeed.
* * *
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
Having arrived at Heathrow without further incident and not much conversation, both wrapped up as we were in our own private thoughts - in my case regarding what had happened to me back in London - we booked two seats on British Caledonia flight CA0768 to Nairobi International airport. This was conveniently leaving in three hours time, and so having checked in at the desk (Geeza was quite distraught when he discovered that it was a no smoking flight - they all are these days - partial, as he is to the odd roll up or his pipe, which he never seems to be without), we made our way around the shops contained in the Terminal building, purchasing such items as sun cream, hats and cool summer clothes, as I was sure our current apparel would have been most unsuitable.
The flight was long but uneventful, and although I dozed through the feature film the name of which escapes me now, I did enjoy a small half an hour interview, an old re-run, between Michael Parkinson and that finest of Scottish comedians much beloved by said eminent chat show host, Mr Billy Connolly - on his day, a raconteur without equal. We touched down at around eleven forty-five local time and left the aircraft directly onto the tarmac - my first ever contact with Africa.
Africa! What can you say about the place that could possibly do it justice to somebody who has never trod upon her soils (concrete or tarmac)? Other than repeating old clichés, involving words such as ‘majesty’, ‘mystique’ and such like and so forth, you just… cannot - it’s as simple as that.
The sheer immensity of the place is stupendously overlooked until you are actually here, at which point you realise that without travelling by air it takes days to get around, rather than the hours we associate with a long journey back in Blighty. It is truly, truly massive, and you feel this simply by standing silently and looking around. It is difficult to retain the feeling which everybody carries around with them that they are somehow important, even irreplaceable, in a place as vast as this.
It has since struck me that it does not matter whether you are stood in quiet solitude on the parched savannah, sheltering amongst the Acacia trees dotted about here and there, or whether you find yourself similarly ‘alone’ despite being surrounded by a multitude of people in a sprawling metropolis such as downtown Nairobi. You are simply another Human being, as frail and temporary as one of the billion snowflakes alighting gently on the upper slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, visible in the distance by the light of the moon.
Before any of this sinks in, however, you first and foremost notice the heat. Wow! It hits you like a thousand tons of velvet, smothering you, suffocating you, every delicious breath as thick as treacle. It seems so much heavier, yet much more comfortable, like the difference between sitting on a hard-backed, wooden chair and lounging in a sea of silken cushions. And this was still the middle of the night!
I freely admit that upon first impressions I loved the place.
We negotiated passport control relatively easily, although Geeza was asked a few half-hearted questions due to the words ‘Private Detective’ being written in the Occupation box on his immigration card. Next we queued for some Kenyan Shillings and US Dollars at the Bureau de Change in the massive corridor that is Nairobi Airport.
I haggled only briefly with a taxi driver, who delivered us to our three star accommodation, a lovely little hotel by the name of, funnily enough, The Scotsman Abroad. By this time, the hour had changed from late night to early morning, and so after signing several forms in the hotel lobby, we both headed straight for our rooms, which were opposite one another on the third floor.
Despite my fatigue, I could not help but notice the decor of my room. Functionally, it was pleasant enough, with two low to the ground single beds with wicker work headboards, a small ensuite bathroom with shower and white walls and floor tiles throughout that were cool to the touch. A sliding glass door led, presumably, to a small balcony or veranda. There was a ceiling fan, currently switched off, positioned over the gap between the beds, and there was also a small desk attached to the wall, with a couple of shallow drawers. On it was a large ashtray and a polished mirror lit by a single, low wattage clay lamp. A dark coloured telephone upon the bedside table blended in nicely with the browns and tans of the bed linen.
There was the low humming of an air conditioner - which was a blessed relief - and this gently drowned out the few sounds that filtered up from the streets below. All of this went a long way to make me feel very comfortable and as ‘at home’ as could be. However, like a crack in a window pane, or a yellowy curry stain on your otherwise clean shirt, there was something which stood out a mile and slightly offset the otherwise restful ambiance of the room.
Dotted around the walls were several big game ‘trophies’, wholly inappropriate I thought, in today’s day and age and I felt these glaring, gnarling, growling, snarling faces were in rather bad taste, making - as they did - for most unwelcome bedfellows.
After waking to the ghastly visages of those poor unfortunate creatures mounted on their polished wooden shields, I shaved off two days of growth, had a refreshing shower, and met Geeza downstairs for a breakfast.
“Good morning,” I greeted hum, plonking myself down at his table with a big plate of fresh, local fruits and a glass of pineapple juice. “I’ve ordered tea and toast. Do you want some?”
“Thanks, no,” he said with a smile and I noticed then the crumbs littering the white, linen table cloth and the soiled knife lying on his side plate. I decided to have some fun and play the detective - beat him at his own game. Coughing outrageously to attract his attention I reclined in my chair and pretended to smoke a pipe of the Sherlock Holmes variety.
“I deduce from your sunny disposition and early appearance that you enjoyed a good night’s sleep before rising bright and fresh to dine upon a breakfast of toast and,” I checked the spent packet sitting beside his knife, “mango jam. You completed your repast with two bananas and a cup of coffee.” I grinned a grin and a glimmer of humour caused his mouth to form a reluctant smile.
“Are you taking the piss?” he said. I laughed out loud.
“Elementary, my dear Vermies!” and I waved a nonchalant hand over his place setting. “The evidence is all there for the discerning eye. Even now it is barely eight o’clock and yet you have already showered - the ends of your hair are still wet - and have finished eating. By the banana skins on your-”
“Yeah, yeah, thanks Sherlock, you don’t have to spell it out.” He pointed to my hand where I had forgotten my imaginary pipe. “You’re spreading ash all over the place by the way.”
I laughed once more and as my tea things arrived we discussed our next course of action.
“So,” I said with a mouthful of toast, “I hope you’ve got some ideas of what we’re going to do next, because I haven’t got a clue.”
“Yeah don’t worry,” he replied in his laid back way, “I’ve got a few leads to check up on.”
“What, already? God, you were up early!” He smiled a peculiar smile.
“Let’s just say I had an eventful night and leave it at that.” And he did; he refused to be drawn any further, but he suggested that to get a good feel for our surroundings we should take a stroll around Nairobi, just a random wander about letting our feet dictate where we go.
It wasn’t long, however, once we had descended into the heaving streets - already boiling hot - that we changed our plan. After fifteen minutes or so of constantly fending off a plague of begging kids and peddlers of every kind of trinket imaginable, my detective friend spotted that I may have had enough.
“You ok Elliot?”
“No I’m bloody well not!” I snapped back. “It’s too bloody hot, there’s too many people,” and here I swatted aside another set of begging hands that had been thrust into my face, “I don’t know where I’m going and I don’t know why I’m here and I could be in Scotland and… and… it’s just so damned hot! God, it’s not even ten in the morning!”
“Hey, it’s Africa, what did you think?” Seeing how thoroughly fed up I was though, he suggested a change of tack to which I instantly agreed.
Geeza would push on - he didn’t seem to mind the horde of straggling urchins who were clamouring all around us. In fact, it seemed to me as I walked away that he was positively encouraging them and as he headed off in opposite direction they strung out behind him making the scene look like some sort of tropical Pied Piper.
He would continue trying to find the trail of the devious Mr Humphries in his own peculiar way whereas I would head back to the hotel to follow up a few leads of my own, like scouring through the selection of newspapers provided by the hotel - which all happened to be found in the comfort of the cane furniture of the lobby. I also hoped to speak with the proprietor of the Scotsman himself, a Mr Allistair MacIntosh, a bachelor who has lived out here for the last thirty seven years, and who hails, coincidentally or not, from the island of Skye.
And so it was that I found myself out of the heat of the midmorning sun, sat in the lobby area of the hotel. Five cane tables topped with glass were arranged about the place, each one the focus of four deep, basketwork bucket chairs sporting decorative blue and white flowery cushions. Three ceiling fans whirred away overhead, creating a lovely downdraft of air which added itself to the cooling breeze coming in from the landscaped area beyond the confines of the main building. Out there was the swimming pool which nestled on the fringes of the ornamental gardens, a beautiful array of delightfully bright colours - oranges, reds, pinks and greens - which could be seen quite easily from where I sat with my iced fruit drink, as could the numerous rainbows dancing upon the droplets of water given off by the sprinkler system without which, presumably, nothing would grow.
As far as the papers were concerned, the English ones - the Telegraph, Express and the Sun - yielded nothing. Then I leafed through the Kenyan English-language ones, the only item of any interest being the mention of the sudden influx of tourists which apparently happens around the same time every year, when people flock in to watch the annual Nairobi to Mombassa Rally. Over a thousand miles of raw African countryside, including about one hundred straight through the Tsavo National Park in a race with a top prize of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. It is apparently a most prestigious event, fought fiercely each year by hundreds of competitors from all around the world, with prize money totalling nearly half a million, being awarded down to sixth place.
My reading was interrupted at this point, however, by a most succulent smell drifting over from the poolside area where a barbeque was declaring to all who cared to notice that lunch was ready to be served.
* * *
THE CASEBOOK OF GEEZA VERMIES
So, we’re here in Africa at last! The flight took an age, and the infernal airline company wouldn’t let me smoke for the duration. Elliot booked us into a hotel, and as soon as I got into my room I realised that the blasted manager had switched the air conditioner on! Christ, how am I supposed to assimilate myself to the place with so much artificiality?
Needless to say, I strode straight across the room and switched the damn thing off, throwing open the balcony doors to try and let some of the night in - it’s bad enough that we’re three floors up. I suspect that the Allies I shall find here will be immensely strong - and tricky - so I really have to localise myself, because apart from the obvious ‘not-wanting-to-get-torn-to-bits’, I must make contact very quickly, otherwise I’ll lose the scent for sure. The Prof could be thousands of miles away by now. I must act fast.
Right, smoke a pipe man and calm down.
Ok, so I sat at the foot of my bed - it is nice and low, but I still prefer just a mattress on the ground, if not the ground itself. We’re so removed from everything these days! I filled up Old Smokey, having shut off the lights. There was a big, fat, contented Moon lazing by and Her silvery glow illuminated several grotesque animal heads hanging up on the wall. I felt for the things, I really did and as I sat puffing away the sorrow seeped in with the smoke - I swallowed lungfuls of the stuff.
It brought tears to my eyes, the wanton destruction… the sheer lack of respect. I looked into the Lion’s face, and saw the last moments of his life, sprawled out on the Savannah after a big meal in which the whole pack had been able to gorge itself. He spent a leisurely afternoon playing with the cubs, and then he spots a strange contraption moving closer to his family group, kicking up huge clouds of dust. He rose to confront the invaders of his territory, and moved a good dozen lengths away from the pack. That was when, isolated, he had been hit square in the chest by a Winchester. It took seven shots to put him down.
Bastards! A hole seemed to open up inside my stomach, a bottomless pit of pain and loss and it was at that moment that they came to me, just as I was about to lapse into a pit of sorrow and grief. Suddenly there was this towering dark figure standing where an Antelope’s head had once been, only about two yards away from me!
I’m going to have to tread very carefully with these guys - they’re so sharp! You get nothing like this raw energy, this freshness back in England.
She stood a good eight feet tall, the antlers on her shoulders rising another six or seven inches past that. The silken qualities of her smooth, chocolate coloured skin seemed enhanced by the Moonlight, and she gave off an aura that was exotic, alluring and powerful.
I took a strong but very respectful stance, and offered her the Pipe. She smiled, with narrowed eyes, but made no further move. I was still unsure of what was going to happen here and was all too aware that one false move on my part could well prove fatal. I guessed that something further was expected of me, so I decided on an impromptu speech, keeping it formal.
“I give my thanks for your coming and wish for you to know that I have called you freely and welcome your presence here. I am grateful for any assistance you may be able to offer.” Still nothing. She just stood there, radiating power and looking down at me with a quizzical, slightly amused expression. I continued.
“Should you desire to lend your help to me then I would be glad to perform a service in return,” and here I chose my words carefully. “Anything that it would be within my limited power as a stranger in your land to perform without malice or unnecessary detriment.”
At hearing this she smiled beautifully and stepped forward towards me. Although still potentially on dangerous ground I remained where I was, unflinching. Stretching out her long arms she held my face in her large, elfin hands. Still my resolve held and I made no reaction, though inside my heart was pounding like a jack hammer! I was really on my toes, ready for something to happen, whatever it may be.
In what can only be described as one of the most amazing feelings I have ever experienced, she leaned down and kissed the top of my head. I was flooded instantly with both ecstasy and relief. Her touch and kiss surged through me in rush after rush, after golden rush.
“Always so formal little one?” she purred, her hands lifting my head up to stare into her eyes. “Come now, I do not feel this is your way.” She gave me the look of a fiery temptress then and stroked one long finger down my chest. “Surely you do not wish for anything to be between us,” she teased like a sultry predator closing in for the kill.
As I was struggling for words - struggling to do anything in fact - she burst out laughing and released me from her delicate grasp, stepping away and staring at me as if she could see straight into my soul. She smiled again and then sprawled herself across my bed, lying on her back and stretching out luxuriously.
“You are the first in forty years to speak with us in this place,” she said. “Do you know who we are?” I had a few guesses which turned out to be pretty near the mark, but seeing as I still couldn’t speak she went ahead and told me. “I am Malika, of the Denubari, only one of the many Animal Spirits who frequents this place, seeking recompense for the wrongs committed by those who came before you. Seeking a way to put things right.” She propped herself up on one elbow and stared at me again. “We know why you are here Little Thief.”
I knew by the way she said it that this was a name she had chosen for me. It puzzled me. Little Thief? Why would she call me that?
“Yes, we know what you are after and will gladly assist you - and perhaps you could do just one small thing for us in return, seeing as you offered so kindly with so eloquent a speech just now.” Her movements and tone had turned temptress again. “And if not for the others,” she said, looking down and toying with the bed sheets, “then maybe just as a personal favour for me… Would you do a favour just for me…?”
Not for the first time my mouth became as dry as the desert. She continued.
“This hotel contains many of these despicable remnants, heads and other dismembered body parts, taken merely to be trophies by those of your kind - needless cruelty and death just to ornament their dwellings.”
At last I found my voice. “I look at them with probably almost as much hatred and contempt as you, but surely you can’t expect me to exact revenge for you - the scum who did this will all be long dead themselves by now I should think-” she silenced me simply by tilting her head to one side and smiling.
“But my Little Thief, you misunderstand. We look for no revenge. Any retribution we could have carried out years ago. The recompense we are looking for is simply to remove these hideous insults to all that lives and return them to the Wilds in which they belong. To give them the respect denied to them for so long.
“Would it please you to do this small service for us Little Thief? It would please me… Do you wish to please me…?” She rolled coquettishly on the bed and left the question hanging in the hot, night air. Gods! She is achingly beautiful!
Of course I agreed to do this for them - that it would be an honour. I even told her it would be my pleasure, flirting back a little bit. She loved it.
So I don’t know how I’m going to do it yet, but I will get them out of here and bury them with an appropriate ceremony in a wild and untamed place - just as soon as I come across one.
Having agreed to help them I decided to stick my head out a bit and tried to press upon her the need for urgency in catching up with the Professor. Again the beautiful Denubari stopped me with a glance.
“But I have already told you Little Thief, do not worry. Your quest is known to us. Look into my eyes and also the eyes of others. It is there that you will find what you are looking for.”
It was then as I looked closely that I noticed the area immediately surrounding each of her almond eyes was shaded a much darker, ebony colour which followed the contours of her strongly defined bone structure like some kind of ceremonial face paint.
“Should you complete our little task as you have promised you will find the Denubari very useful Allies.” She gave me another smouldering look. “And very willing…” Then she sat up and said one last thing. “Know me as a friend Little Thief, for I am Malika. Be kind to the Children.”
And then she was gone.
* * *
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