Book Three in the Cripplesby Diaries Trilogy
Geeza Vermies, Shamanic Detective, is hot on the heels of a gang of poachers. Bumping into his old friend Elliot, they join forces and follow the trail to Mexico, but their investigation quickly uncovers a far deeper plot, and once again they find themselves in a race against time to save the world!
Meanwhile Father Sadfael, the bumbling, out of time Benedictine monk, also finds himself in Mexico, sent to stop a vitriolic campaign of destruction being carried out against the entire Christian Church.
Who are the sinister figures orchestrating their deadly schemes from the shadows of the jungles? Could a rogue vicar burning down churches have any connection to a plot to bring back the bloodthirsty Gods of the Americas? And if so, what can anybody do to stop it?
Not a lot really - not when you don’t know what it is that’s supposed to happen, who’s going to do it or where it’s going to take place!
And especially when you’re up against a Jaguar-Priest of exceptional power, not to mention the small matter of the Aztec Gods themselves…
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
Finally, I’m sitting here out of plaster and it feels so good! Well of course it does; anyone who has ever broken a limb will know only too well how damned uncomfortable it is to have their beloved appendage, an arm in my case, stiffly wrapped up in a fibreglass shell. It is a wretched inconvenience, however colourful they make the casts these days.
But at last I can write again! I have tried over the last six weeks to write left-handed, but while my efforts did improve, as anything will given practice, the results were still barely legible once the memory of what I’d been saying was gone, usually after only a few days.
I also tried to write my journal on a computer, but it just isn’t the same, tapping at a keyboard. It’s ok I suppose, functional, but it lacks that certain something, that personal connection with your thoughts that you get writing it out by hand - feeling the smooth, flowing liquidity of your thought processes as they travel from your brain down through your arm and into the pen, blossoming across the paper like a lotus unfurling its petals in the brightness of a Midsummer’s morning.
I wasn’t able to start straight away mind you. I had a week of physiotherapy to contend with before I could purposefully put pen to paper because my arm, scabby and skeletal when it emerged from out of the cast, was slightly worse than useless. The feelings which assailed me immediately after the casing was cut were very, very strange. You hear of people who have undergone a surgical transplant, a kidney or a liver or whatever, only for the body to reject the new organ, shunning it as something alien and unwanted - a foreign invader if you like, as so many of the St George waving Englishmen have started grumbling about the Scots cluttering up Parliament down in deepest Westminster.
It’s funny, but it is commonly believed that the English conquered the Scots when we muscled our way over the border all those years ago, succeeding where even the mighty Roman Empire had failed, and yet if you look at the way the world has moved on since those heady days of Edward I and William Wallace, it seems more a case that it is the Scots ruling us, albeit from down in London instead of craggy Edinburgh. I’ve heard it said many a time that if you wanted to find a Scotsman in Westminster all you have to do is throw a brick into the Members’ Lobby - you’re bound to hit one; they totally dominate Parliament in all parties across the board.
Not that it matters because politicians are a breed unto themselves anyway and you can’t trust any of them, no matter where they’re from.
Back to my arm though, and I felt exactly what I imagine the body must go through after one of those transplants. As I stared down at this withered-looking, scaly limb that had been entombed for six weeks I had to make a considerable effort not to simply refuse it and will it to drop off and die. I genuinely felt that it was not a part of me; that it did not belong.
It was an utterly bizarre and most uncomfortable sensation.
Amazing what a hot shower can do though. Ohh yes, that was nice. I was right as rain again after that, although it did have a tendency to swell up if I left it hanging down for any length of time.
What was also distinctly unpleasant was when I first saw the doctor for my initial examination. After only a cursory glance at the x-rays he was keen to screw the bone back together with a metal plate, a procedure they view as standard these days apparently, ensuring that the healing is quick, correct and efficient. I did not share his enthusiasm though and in fact had to practically fight the scalpel-wielding maniac off with my copy of Lola McLogan’s New World Adventures, the book I was reading at the time.
Somehow I just knew that I would have some kind of psychological problem with having a chunk of metal inserted in me, so I declined his offer and insisted that we let Mother Nature do it her way, as natural healing must surely be best.
I felt his disapproval like a punch in the face as he glared at me with furiously arched eyebrows. Angrily stuffing his surgical blade back into his top pocket alongside a thermometer, two pens and what looked for all the world like a sherbet fountain, he called out for a nurse and sent me away to the plaster room with a disdainful sweep of his hand.
I can only hope his behaviour was not typical of all doctors, as the impression he gave was that to question his authority was about as unthinkable as a lamb or a cow telling the knacker-man it would rather not be slaughtered today. It was as if patients were an unwanted burden to be squeezed in between rounds of golf, and the fact that one of them might actually have an opinion about something was… well, unthinkable.
The nurses also pressed for me to have the operation as it made things a whole lot easier, but when I politely declined them too they simply shrugged and began cocooning my arm in the fibreglass casing they use these days, telling me to be prepared to have my patience tested to its very limits. I was in for a period of considerable discomfort, they told me, and it would be better if I set my mind to accept this.
Interestingly though, it was not as bad as I had imagined. Sure enough, there were pains and frustrations, but they were by no means constant. I hardly noticed anything in the first week, for example, as I was almost totally given over to stunned disbelief - ‘this hasn’t happened to me, surely?’ My mind was taken off the six weeks to come by the constant desire to either eat or sleep, both of which I did to excess.
I muddled through for a while then, before coming to the only two weeks to go stage and that’s when the despondency kicked in. Those last two weeks dragged by so slowly I thought the healing process had been put under the management of some UN Aid Agency and that before the bandages, miles and miles of red tape had to be cut through first.
However, like the days of the British Empire, those days are gone and you find me right at this very moment reclining on a sun lounger at the side of the swimming pool in my hotel on the sunny island of St Lucia. I have come to the Caribbean for a well earned break (no pun intended) because when I think back I have had no peace at all since that concert at the pyramids seven or eight months ago, when we somehow managed to stop the Tokolosh from destroying the world.
I’ve not heard a peep from Baxter and had neither sight nor sound from Geeza since we all went our separate ways in the autumn of last year. I guess Ollie is back racing again and Rachael gardening, but to be honest I’ve been too busy to keep track. Busy busy busy, but in no danger - or so I’d thought, until that big BP sign came crashing down on top of me!
For the past twenty weeks I have been on another massive worldwide tour, back on my soap box to promote Clean Energy Awareness, in particular that of Wind Power. Research suggests there are an estimated seventy-two terra watts (TW) of energy available worldwide from ‘harvestable’ wind alone. Current total human usage globally runs at around seven TW so you don’t have to be an Oxbridge graduate to see how we could meet our needs so easily.
While I was over in Hong Kong I chatted with a quite senior executive in a prominent Indian multi-billion dollar company who is sympathetic to the cause. He told me that the research department of his company had predicted a model for high-altitude nations to become the major players in the global power markets by the year 2050, shoving the big oil companies and OPEC countries unceremoniously off the perches they’ve been sitting on for so long. I can’t say I’d be sorry to see that happen.
At the same time, my tour was also given over to raising funds for the victims of the numerous El Niño related disasters which have been all too prevalent of late. Ironic, I know, that on the one hand I am encouraging people and governments to embrace the renewable power of the world’s winds and on the other I am calling for relief to be distributed to victims of the earth’s largest wind-driven environmental disaster for the last God knows how many years.
We have been experiencing a particularly big El Niño for some time now, which has had catastrophic effects all over the globe. Australia has seen the worst droughts in living memory while on the other side of the Pacific, the floods there have caused unprecedented damage. There is not a nation on earth who is not feeling the effects of this temperamental weather system, and what’s worse is that it shows no signs of abating.
Be that as it may, I am particularly keen on championing wind energy over and above everything else, as it seems to be something absolutely everybody - every nation on earth - has access to. There’s a Scottish engineer I have flown over to the Faroes and set up in a lab, funding his experiments to suspend turbines from helium filled balloons floating at various heights in the atmosphere in order to tap these high altitude winds.
A rather whacky, eccentric fellow as most inventors inevitably are, Dr Ross G. McGloss is a black-bearded Highlander with - and you’ll never believe this - an eye-patch and a hook! Both injuries came about one fateful fishing expedition when he got into a tussle with a ferocious Loch Arkaig Pike which rather got the better of him. He has coped admirably well, especially with the loss of his hand for which he has had several attachments custom-made, different tools for different occasions which can be slotted neatly into his Swiss army wrist, as he calls it. He laughs loudly at the James Bond villain-ness of it all, but the only time I found it slightly off-putting was when I joined him for eighteen holes at the Plockton Municipal Course. Click-click - 6-iron off the tee. Click-click - wedge. Click-click - putter. Down in three he was. Scandalous.
Anyway, remembering him helps to put my own accident into perspective. It was just over three months into my tour when it happened. I was chairing a conference on the benefits of one of the latest designs of wind turbines, several models of which I was showing off to a selection of the main players in the energy-petro-chemical industry, when the large BP logo that was hanging on the wall behind me for advertising purposes fell off its mountings suddenly and knocked me into the middle of next week!
BP used to stand for British Petroleum, then Beyond Petroleum, which they used in their marketing campaign a few years back, but for me now I am doomed to think of it forever more as Bloody Painful! Fortunately only one of the bones in one arm got broken, but I was slightly concussed for a day or two and turned a colourful shade of blue all down one side of my body.
Needless to say, various conspiracy theorists have made all sorts of noises about ‘the arrogant, flagrant attack on one of the world’s most outspoken and influential environmental campaigners,’ by the ‘shadowy elite that steer and manipulate the governments of the world into doing their nefarious bidding,’ but I don’t know.
I suppose it could have been deliberate, but then again, probably not. Personally I am more inclined to think it was more a case of ‘gravity overcoming shoddy workmanship,’ by the ‘overpaid stage designers who couldn’t even bang a couple of nails in properly.’
Who knows? All I can recall is a gigantic, MDF lump falling on top of me shortly before being carted off to hospital. I was repeatedly told in the days that followed how lucky I had been to sustain only the injuries that I did because the logo had been quite a considerable weight - what exactly is MDF anyway? Everything seems to be made from it these days; we’ll be eating it next. Of course there are those that say certain fast food outlets have been peddling it for years, but that’s not for me to say…
THE RIGHT AND ORDERLY NOTEBOOK OF FATHER SADFAEL, VICAR OF BRAMFIELD
I still find my hand trembling slightly whenever I think of my current title, for it is as illustrious as it is ill-deserved! Although it has been a good two years since I was elevated by my Superiors in Canterbury to this lofty status, the honour has not yet fully sunk in.
And how can it? Within myself I do not feel in any way different from the lowly monk I once was in King Stephen’s war-torn England, more than one thousand years before the age I dwell in today and yet the facts, however strange they are (and they are!) are indisputable. I am no longer that hessian-wearing Brother of the Benedictine Order inhabiting the cold, stone chapels and corridors of St Malcolm’s, but rather a Father of the Anglican Church with my very own Parish of Bramfield!
But it is not only the concepts and responsibilities of my new status alone that are giving me pause for thought - there is so much I am struggling with. The Anglican Church for one. Apparently we no longer recognise the authority of the His Holiness the Pope, ever since a German man named Martin Luther voiced his protests about the seeming corruption of the Vatican several hundred years ago.
In nailing up his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg he effectively banged the last nail in the coffin of Catholicism in these lands, and many more besides. His objections resulted in a schism which has split the Church into as many fragments as the mirror I previously used for shaving, until I dropped it accidentally to the floor only two days ago. Having had a goodly portion of this theologian’s points explained to me in some depth, I can agree that most were valid, but to be honest the fact that he was an Augustinian is all I need to know about the man.
We had many of those mendicant clerics pass through the hamlets and villages around St Malcolm’s back in the day, and I have to say they were itinerant blabbermouths to a man! I’m not purporting them to be bad men, or wrong in what they preached - only that they all loved the sound of their own voices, every man Jack of them. So no, it is no surprise to me that such dramatic changes were brought about by one such as he. Once they got a bee in their bonnets (or up their cassocks, as once happened when one of their kind strayed too close to the hives at the edge of the Pease field), there was no stopping them.
I don’t suppose his Diet of Worms can have done much to improve his choler either. Perhaps if he had only enjoyed a more leguminous diet, things might have happened more amicably.
But there it is. I am an Anglican now, so I’m told, a member of the Ecclesia Anglicana or Church of England, which is itself but a portion of the expansive Protestant Church. Oh well, the Lord is still the Lord and continues to watch over His failing flock, no matter what we choose to call ourselves! What with the Lutherans, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Calvinists, us Anglicans, the Pentecostals, the Adventists, Baptists, Anabaptists, Charismatics, Congregationalists, Evangelicals, Methodists, Moravians, Presbyterians, Reformists, Unitarians and so many more, the mind simply boggles! We are all still Christian I suppose - I never thought to ask!
Even my title, Father Sadfael, Vicar of Bramfield is but one of the baffling variety contained within the structure of the Church. I have been honoured with the position of vicar, but stand amongst a plethora of others from rectors and pastors, deacons, arch-deacons and deans right up to canons, bishops and arch-bishops!
When the Hierarchy in Canterbury so magnanimously deemed me to be worthy of such a thing they offered to bestow upon me my choice from three possible titles, each of them equal in standing. I plumped for vicar, but could as easily have been Rector Sadfael or else Perpetual Curate Sadfael, which I thought had a certain ring to it. However, whilst I found this last one tempting, there was actually no question in my mind which to decide upon; if vicar was good enough for my friend Gawdley Pinball back in Bramfield then it was good enough for me!
Of course I didn’t know it then, but Gawdley would have already vanished by the time I arrived back in his cosy little parish - his parish, which was to become our parish, but has ended up becoming solely my concern these last two years! No one in these parts has heard a single word from him since the day he packed his bags and left, reportedly in foul temper, but for what I remain clueless to this day.
Still, I shall be the first to welcome him back should one day he return.
THE CASEBOOK OF GEEZA VERMIES
I’m writing under a paraffin lamp in the district of Serracunda, in the house of a man known as Seiko, my contact here in The Gambia. It is a district made up of red, dirt roads and corrugated-iron dwellings, with the odd breeze block house squatting here and there, probably the homes of officials from one of the nearby Mosques.
I arrived here in a taxi held together with chicken wire, poly-filler, and a lot of good luck after sending in an update of my mission back to CITES. This involved going back into Banjul, the squalid capital once again, with its dusty streets, worn out Pepsi signs and the country’s only commercially independent Internet Café. My reports have been few and far between, and in the three weeks or so I have been working for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, I must have only ‘written home’ twice.
Not through any deliberate awkwardness on my part, which I’m sure the guy I’m dealing with understands. It’s just that the trail these poachers have taken has been almost impossible to follow and - funnily enough - there haven’t been too many phone boxes along the way.
But at last the end is in sight, which I had great pleasure in informing my man in CITES from the crumbling dive that is Challerams International Cyber Café. Lance Pahia is a New Zealander who has been involved with CITES since its birth back in 1975. He’s a likable guy, as most Kiwis are, and had apparently been looking for me for about six weeks when he finally caught up with me in the Ivory Coast. He was by then on a tight schedule so he came straight to the point over our arranged breakfast meeting at his hotel.
“We don’t get many chances to crack a ring of poachers Mr Vermies, and especially not ones like this. There’s just not enough co-operation between governments or willingness in industry to face up to facts.” This I could only agree with. “Add to that the combination of severely limited finances and the sheer enormity of the problem we face right across the globe and you can probably see our job isn’t an easy one.” I nodded again. It was clear to see that Lance was a man who cared passionately about his work. “For some time within our organisation there has been a growing belief that if we continue to work solely along orthodox channels we might as well kiss good-bye to the lot of them - Tigers, Snow Leopards, Turtles, Sharks - they’ll all be gone within twenty years.
“Finally though, after months - years - of throwing this argument at the Board, backed up with gigabytes of statistical forecasts and computer models based on current and projected trends, they finally agreed to apportion a small amount of our funds towards a more… direct, if not widely publicised, course of action.”
“Which is where you come in?” I enquired.
“It is where you come in Mr Vermies - we hope.”
“Tell me more,” I shrugged. I wasn’t involved in anything at that point and I liked Lance. Something about him, his energy, his intensity - and his cause.
“There’s this one particular gang of poachers, highly organised and operating for some of the biggest buyers from all round the world. There’s nowhere they won’t go and nothing they won’t stoop to. They have killed and mutilated species on the critically endangered list and have at least twelve human deaths on their hands as well, anti-poaching troops mostly as well as two quite senior Customs officials whom they obviously couldn’t bribe.”
“They must be pretty exclusive, if they’re willing to go so far,” I commented, because most poachers will usually cut and run at the first hint of confrontation. They’re in it for the fast buck and are normally not prepared to face up to an armed anti-poaching unit. More often than not the actual poachers themselves are just local people - sometimes low-life scum, but just as often villagers just trying to get by and feed their families. They don’t make much and simply pass on the carcass to the next in the chain. And as usual, the higher up you go, the bigger the pot gets and the bigger the sleazebag feeding from it.
“Like I said,” Lance pushed his plate aside, his breakfast only half-eaten, “only the biggest players use their services and their prices are high - they have to be to bribe so many officials in so many places.
“Eight or nine years ago they were notoriously prolific; they seemed to be everywhere in those days, but after a couple of years of inactivity they just started operating again.”
“Why the lull?”
“We got them, that’s why!” he said with some venom. “They had avoided capture on every other occasion, twisting out of the way here and squirming over a border there, but one time down in Panama we nailed them! But their bloody bastard lawyer found a couple of loopholes in the law which forced us to drop the charges and every one of them got off scot free!”
Lance got pretty stewed up as he told me about ‘that day in court.’ He told me how the six men had laughed openly as the judge let them simply walk away, despite having been caught red handed with Tiger pelts, Rhino horn, live Panamanian endangered Frogs and plenty more - in all nearly three quarters of a ton of illegal wildlife goods.
“I want these guys caught, and now with this new legislation we have our chance.”
“We’ve heard about you from field operatives of ours and of the WWF’s here in Africa, although how much is true is… questionable. There’s all sorts of stories flying around about how you find things, or do things when everybody else has given up. You’ve taken on a bit of a mythical status amongst some of the junior members of staff in CITES, so much so we weren’t sure whether or not you really existed until that thing in Uganda.”
He was referring to an incident a few months back when I managed to trace a party of smugglers from the Ugandan Rain Forests up to an isolated airstrip where they had absconded with two juvenile Gorillas who were due to be flown out to Germany to a private collector. I happened to be in the area at the time, and became aware of the incident whilst conversing with local Mountain Spirits.
I had hoped to effect a rescue nice and quiet, tidy tidy, but there kind of ended up being a bit of trouble. Certain Spirits of the Mist followed me up there and attacked the smugglers, with some pretty horrific results. Most of them were driven mad with terror and, with so many guns being waved about as the fear and panic took hold, the entire group managed to shoot itself dead. Good riddance to bad rubbish, but it was a mess.
I can’t say I lost any sleep over their deaths, but it would have been a nasty way to go - I’ve seen these Spirits, and they’re not the easiest to get on with even when they’re being friendly.
Amazingly the Gorillas’ family group had not been murdered, which is what normally happens in these situations, but more amazing than that - curse my luck - there just happened to be a freelance journalist in the neighbourhood, so unfortunately I couldn’t totally escape the limelight. I tried to appeal to her discretion, but apparently she didn’t have any.
She kept my name out of the papers, but not much else. The story appeared in the international news, making mention of ‘a wily man of the Mountains whom locals referred to as Ngueizi, who heroically rescued both Gorilla infants after leading a local anti-poaching unit to a well-concealed jungle hideaway.’ The report went on to say ‘the armed and British-trained unit attempted to apprehend the ruthless gang, but a cross-fire ensued and none of the perpetrators survived.’ Etc., etc. Well, it was the best story I could come up with at the time.
A picture accompanied the story which the crafty woman had managed to take on the sly when she finally pinned me down to an interview over dinner in the nearby town. Thankfully it was kind of dark and somewhat blurred and it would be difficult to recognise me from it, but it had apparently proved my existence in the offices of CITES and so Pahia and several others had been dispatched to try and find me and enlist my help.
It wasn’t hard to persuade me, to be honest. This ring Lance was after has been chased across every continent in the last few weeks, where they have carried out their brutal work very specifically, targeting just one animal from each major landmass. They were known to have entered Africa by the time Pahia found me, so it was then over to me.
I waived the fee they were offering - you can’t charge for something like this - but asked for expenses, as I would have to visit the site of each of their killings to have any hope in finding them. I was furnished with a credit card, a contact who would secure all my permits and special ‘access all areas’ visas, a gmail address and a completely free reign, at which point Mr Lance Pahia departed, his job done - for the time being at least.
I spent an exhausting fortnight flying out to all the sites of the atrocities and what I found in each case sickened me - the hearts had been removed from each of the murdered animals and the rest of the carcasses had been simply left to rot.
I started off in Antarctica, then on to Oz and then all round the globe, but unfortunately by the time I got back to Africa - yesterday - I had run out of time. The gang had already killed again, and although by then it was as easy to trace them as an Elephant through a field of corn, even with the aid of the Denubari and all the other Spirits I’ve become acquainted with over the past few years I couldn’t catch up with them before they left.
My Denubari friend Umfalezi, the mighty Tusker, was weeping over the corpse of the Elephant they had slain and left to rot on the plains. No scavengers dared come anywhere close with the huge Elephant Spirit around, so the body had not been spoilt. Several shots had been fired to kill the ancient male and a precise incision in his side spoke tellingly of what they had been after. They had not even taken the enormous ivory tusks that must have curled majestically before him while the Bull Elephant had still lived.
It was a disgusting sight to behold and filled me with more anger than I like to admit. Like I said, it was easy to find them, but I was just too late in preventing them from leaving African soil.
However, the last thing I was able to find out was that the poachers, a party of six, have boarded a Liberian-registered merchant ship crewed by Portuguese, bound eventually for the Caribbean. In some perverted twist of fate the ship is called le Coeur d’Afrique and I can tell by the ugly, rage-coloured swirls of their violence still dripping in the æther that St. Lucia is its final destination. I intend to be there when it comes into port.
THE RIGHT AND ORDERLY NOTEBOOK OF FATHER SADFAEL, VICAR OF BRAMFIELD
It is abhorrent how poverty can be rampant even on your own doorstep and yet somehow you do not notice it! Here I am, supposedly the chosen representative of the Good Lord Our Heavenly Father, ministering to the needs of His Parishioners in Bramfield, and yet only this week I have become aware of such a terrible hardship being suffered right here underneath my very nose! How long this travesty has been going on I know not, I am sorry to confess, and for that I consider myself a disgrace to my office, having failed so completely in sniffing it out.
Despite those to whom I have confided in all being of the opinion that I am being more than a little hard on myself in my condemnation, it is nevertheless something for which I must contemplate long and hard on how best to chastise myself. It will not do.
I was invited, some three days since, to call around at Mrs Gower’s cottage any time that evening, should it prove convenient for me to do so. She, that is to say Mrs Gower, is a widow of middle years who has not long moved to the village, taking up residence in the Apple Yard, the cottage recently vacated by poor old Mr Fingers, who was forced to quit his job as the Regional Executive for Public Transport after his turn, brought on so people say, by pressures of work.
I gather he is doing well at the hospital he was taken to and am indeed doubly comforted by the knowledge that he will not only be well-tended there, but safe as well, as I have heard it mentioned that he is being housed in the building’s ‘secure unit.’ Perhaps it is one of the infirmaries governed by the Knights Hospitaller, given that there are currently no Crusades for them to embark upon.
But this is by the by. Three days ago I found myself knocking on the door of the Apple Yard with a small basket of fruit which I have made into a custom of mine, whenever I formerly greet a new village member. I have met the lady on several previous occasions, of course, and indeed she seems a most keen and attentive listener at church - she has not missed a single one of my sermons to date and sits always in the front row of pews.
I particularly admire her determination because she remains utterly focused throughout, never once taking her eyes off me despite obviously suffering some not inconsiderable discomfort, a fact I have grown to suspect by the way she keeps shifting her position where she sits - one minute leaning forwards, sometimes stretching slowly, arching her back and constantly crossing and uncrossing her legs, yet smiling kindly at me the whole time.
I thought to myself that perhaps she has piles, and intended to ask her that evening, as I know of an excellent herbal remedy for just such a condition.
When the door was opened to me at the end of her winding brick path, edged along its length by colourful flowers, I was horrified by what I saw and castigate myself for not having noticed before - all the signs must have been there to a more careful observer, no matter how well she had tried to cover them! The mettle of the woman is a credit to us all as she stood quite unashamedly, her gown the most spartan and threadbare I have ever seen! You could see practically all the way through it!
“Father Sadfael, I was wondering when you’d come,” she told me a voice so deep and husky I wondered if a chill had not already settled on her chest.
“My poor dear!” I exclaimed, at once struck by her desperate plight, and to save her blushes I bustled her immediately beneath the lintel and threw my cloak around her. The poor woman! Obviously she has become so used to her state of poverty that there on her own doorstep she had forgotten to keep up the brave face she evidently has been putting on for so long. I must have caught her with her defences down. Unable to speak as I scurried through with her to her living room, she was clearly embarrassed by her predicament, though I told her not to be. As she sat in what appeared to be a state of shock, her secret finally revealed, I explained to her that I would do whatever I could to help.
“The Church is here for you,” I told her, “but my poor dear woman, you must never be too proud to ask for our assistance. If but one of my parishioners is suffering some poverty then we are all the poorer for it!”
She looked numb and remained mute despite her mouth flapping open a few times as if to speak.
“Say nothing my dear, say nothing,” I soothed her. “Do you have fuel and food enough?” I could see no kindling stacked up, so I made certain to reassure her she would not want for anything in that regard. “I shall bring a basket of stout faggots around as soon as the evening service is completed - and do not worry,” I held up a hand to qualm her fears, “I will be the soul of discretion. No one need ever know if that is how you want it.”
Her finances must be in a bad shape because she hardly had any lights on, resorting instead to burning several of the old-fashioned wax candles that I am more accustomed to in the vicarage - I still prefer them to the glass-bulbed lighting so common in this new and magical age, but most households have their illumination supplied by a place called Electric City, wherever that is.
As I busied myself making her a cup of tea as I have learned to do, by clicking the switch on the smooth white cauldron people know as a kettle, I took the liberty of checking her cupboards to see what food she had in store. Fortunately the situation is not as bad as I had first thought, as there seemed to be a whole myriad of foodstuffs.
In fact I was surprised to see several exotic, what you might consider luxury items in the long, white tallboy known commonly as the refrigerator - asparagus, oysters, strawberries and a princely bottle of French wine, along with a bowl of dessert I have since heard may have been something called ‘whipping cream’, though what this tastes of I cannot imagine.
Nor was this the last surprise I was in store for either, for when I re-entered the living room with two cups of tea, I found the good widow Gower sat up on her settee in a burgundy coloured robe of excellent quality, my own cape lying neatly folded up and moribund on a nearby chair arm.
I must have seemed as baffled to her at that point as she did to me on her doorstep when I wrapped her in my coat. Gently patting the cushion next to her, she smiled a charming smile and bade me sit down. Then she rested a caring hand upon my knee and stared deeply into my eyes.
“May I be forward with you Father?” she asked.
“Much better than being roundabouts,” I informed her of my preference, to which again she smiled.
“Father - Sadfael - have you ever loved a woman?”
Quite why she thought this particular question relevant remains beyond me even now, but I endeavoured to answer none the less. “But of course! Why, if it were not for the warm smiles and numerous tasty cakes given to me by some of the ladies of my congregation this job would a far less pleasurable!”
She frowned and shifted slightly, her wine-coloured robe falling open slightly to reveal the suggestion of a most comely bosom lying beneath. Most delicately, she placed her other hand on my other knee and then leaned close in towards me, so close in fact that I was in danger of becoming intoxicated by her perfume - a delicate blend of jasmine and carrot I remember thinking at the time. She paused just before the point of actual physical contact, yet was still close enough for me to feel the warmth of her breath against my cheek. As she parted her lips slightly I was pleased to note that her teeth and gums were in good order and there was not even the slightest hint of gingivitis, which a poor diet can sometimes give.
“You have never married, have you Sadfael?”
“Err, no,” I replied. “Unless of course you are referring to my marriage to His Eternal Majesty in Heaven?” I leant back and slurped my tea, confident that this must surely be what she meant.
Taking the tea cup from out of my hands, she placed it back on the table before proceeding to kneel on the floor at my feet. Firmly she clasped my fingers in her own which were soft and smooth, yet surprisingly strong. She looked up at me with a stare that left the back of my neck itching.
“Tell me honestly though, do you never yearn for the warmth of a woman by your side in the long, dark hours of the night?”
I thought for a moment as she held my gaze, her moist lips pursed softly open, her breathing shallow. Her legs were folded so elegantly beneath her, and with her dark hair loose and tumbling around her shoulders she looked for all the world like some Eastern princess or Queen Cleopatra herself - were it not for her poverty I might have supposed she bathed in asses milk, so creamy and smooth was her skin.
“Actually, I must confess I keep my house as warm as toast now. Ever since Mr Samuels showed me how to use the thermostat. Shameful, I know, to pamper myself like that, but I guess I am allowed the odd failing here and there - I am only human after all.”
Rolling her eyes, she heaved what I can only describe as a rather frustrated sigh and stood up quickly, informing me that she was not feeling well - probably the piles. Despite my offer to prepare her a salve or make a medicinal tonic, she insisted that she would be fine and ushered me unceremoniously out of the house. Again she must have been suffering more than she let on because in her fevered state she accidentally slammed the door abruptly in my face.
She missed the following day’s sermon, but was there again this morning at the back of the church. I cannot help but think it would be better for her to rest in bed a few days longer as she seemed a little dazed and confused still, staring at me throughout the service in a curious, confused manner.
Poor Mrs Gower. Perhaps I should pay her another visit tomorrow, just to be sure.
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
Something refreshing about being on holiday in an exotic country is just how different everything is. It is something I’ve had in the back of my mind for some time now, especially since embarking on my tour, but sitting here in the calm, careless environment of a St Lucian beach, it has condensed itself into solid thought.
You see, back home in the UK the town centres themselves (and the shopping districts in particular) all seem to have become rather faceless. I suspect the same could be said wherever you happened to live, but everywhere just looks exactly the same as everywhere else these days - the same shops, the same products, even the same layout once you’ve stepped through the door. All very uniform, which I suppose has its advantages from time to time, but it isn’t half boring.
Only by going to a completely different country can you find any sort of variety. Yes, there are still supermarkets and department stores, but at least they’re selling something in a different wrapper. Bread from a tin for example, in Germany, or endless shelves in Belgium filled with supposedly different varieties of waffles, although how many types you can have of such a bland and cloying confection remained a mystery to me while I was there. In Amsterdam you can buy chips from vending machines! Ha ha, fantastic! I doubt it would take long for the novelty to wear off, but it is nice in the meantime to be able to walk into a shop and not know exactly what you are going to find, and exactly where you are going to find it.
Having said that though, while I was shopping in a mini-mart in Cyprus on the European leg of my Energy-El Niño tour, I was startled to see several goods imported from Britain - from Tesco’s of all places! In Cyprus these Tesco’s Own Brand were obviously considered luxury items as they were considerably more expensive than any of the local produce! Astonishing.
Yes, Tesco. Can you believe that monstrous entity, which used to be the cheapest supermarket on British shores, now accounts for a whopping ten pence in every pound spent in the country! It has since cast its net over much more than just fruit and veg though, now supplying the customer with everything from TVs and electrical goods to insurance, banking and clothes. Honestly, ten per cent of the entire British market! That’s massive!
They haven’t done so well overseas on the whole though and are pulling in the reins out there in the big wide world. Some years ago they opened up a store in Thailand of all places. Why on earth they thought it would be a good idea I couldn’t say; probably to provide for all the British tourists who ‘don’t trust all that foreign food’ or something. At any rate, it was burned to the ground mysteriously one night, presumably by the local stall-holders who looked set to be driven out of business in one fell swoop, and good on them I say!
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been one to condone violence or anything so criminally destructive, but neither could I ever agree on a huge, multi-national swooping in and crushing everything around it. It’s happened in the UK, with the traditional high streets in smaller communities looking more and more like ghost towns every year, but don’t let it happen everywhere else. Sometimes there are things which just don’t belong - like a McDonalds in Colombo where, mystifyingly, you can buy a McRice of all things! Honestly! I mean, it can’t possibly be cheaper than a local restaurant and it certainly can’t be any better - personally I couldn’t see for the life of me why anyone would ever go in the place. Like I said, some things just don’t belong.
People too. I stopped briefly in Bali when I was passing down from the Far Eastern leg to Australia. It was just for a bit of a rest really, three days on a beach. Not long, but long enough to meet an English family who complained endlessly about, well… everything actually, but especially about the food.
“You can’t get a decent meal anywhere round here,” Carol the mother said to me. Silently I disagreed strongly, but I kept my reply to a more diplomatic “Mmm?”
“It’s terrible! They call this an omelette?” She twizzled her plate towards me.
“Well, this opor ayam is very good,” I indicated my heaped plateful, into which I was making steady inroads.
“Ooh no, our Geoff doesn’t like rice.”
What? When I then listed almost every other item on the menu she found fault with every one of them. Too spicy, too fishy, too salty, not enough salt, the chicken’s too stringy, “they don’t know how to cook eggs here…” etc., etc. Not one single thing was good enough for them. Nothing.
“Oh well, that’s a shame. You’re not to know though are you, when you come to a place for the first time.”
“Oh no, it’s not our first time - we’ve been coming here for the past eight years.”
Are you kidding me? Stay at home, for god’s sake, I wanted to say, spare us all!
There are already plenty places like Benidorm and Torremolinos for people like that, and they’re not so far to fly! I mean, just because it’s easy to get somewhere it doesn’t mean that you have to go. It is said that a sizeable proportion who fly into Mumbai airport turn straight back round again and head back home before they’ve even reached the hotel!
Really guys, if you don’t fancy Edinburgh or Dundee for your hols then please, stick to Spain. And not only for your own good - think of your carbon footprint if not absolutely everybody around you who has to listen to you whinge.
Anyway, at least here in St Lucia sanity prevails - natural brown sugar is cheaper than white over here. It has always puzzled me why this shouldn’t be the case back home. It has not gone through any refining or bleaching processes, therefore has had less done to it, and yet they charge you more for it in the shops. How on earth do they justify that?
But enough about this, that and the other Elliot - what about St Lucia!
Ahhh, magic! What marvellous images the Caribbean conjures up, and all of them absolutely spot on from what I’ve seen so far. Funnily enough though, the thing that sticks out most in my mind, if I had to list just one thing that the place could be famous for, would be… vanilla milkshakes.
Yes, ok, there are gloriously sandy beaches being constantly caressed by clear, turquoise waters, and it is true that the mountainous twin peaks of the Pitons are every bit as beautiful as the holiday brochures suggest, but to be quite brutal about it, you can go almost anywhere for hills and beaches.
That’s not meant to do the place down, don’t get me wrong - it is a magnificently beautiful island, and the scenery around Pitons Bay in particular is quite simply unique. However, the same could be said about any number of other places around the world. They are each idyllic paradises that no one in their right mind would look forward to leaving, but they are not the only thing each place has to offer.
The Seychelles can be remembered for the sunsets, for example, for the Black Parrot and the Coco de Mer; Hawaii for the whales and volcanoes - certainly not for its friendly waiters. Cyprus has its white gold, closed shops and curiously large vegetables, and St Lucia, in turn, has its vanilla milkshakes.
To describe them as merely ‘delicious’ would be to do them a terrible injustice and ensure that I was never able to look one in the eyes (well, the straw) again. They are simply out of this world!
Nothing can prepare you for the strength of flavour that is about to overwhelm your taste buds as you touch the iced glass to your lips. I had always assumed that vanilla was just ice cream language for plain, because it never tastes of anything, the stuff you buy the shops.
Does it say something about the Belgians by the way, that amidst the ice cream sections in all their shops, vanilla is pretty much the only flavour on offer? That’s not for me to say, especially as I am due back in Antwerp for a clean energy convention in six weeks time - I don’t want to get lynched by a bunch of angry Flemings…
These St Lucian milkshakes though are a whole new experience, and really do have to be experienced to be enjoyed. The soft creaminess of the iced milk, the strong yet delicate flavour of the vanilla itself, so smooth and yet so powerful... ahhh! They’re just gorgeous!
Of course the one deleterious effect of this discovery is that rather than getting out and seeing the sights I have found myself opting instead for the ‘lying on the beach or at the poolside surrounded by empty glasses and attentive waiters’ approach. Not all the time, maybe, but perhaps for far too long now I come to think about it.
Hmm, yes. This could turn distinctly unhealthy if it carries on. So to show that I have not yet succumbed completely to full-time laziness I will close this entry and go and book myself on a tour.
THE RIGHT AND ORDERLY NOTEBOOK OF FATHER SADFAEL, VICAR OF BRAMFIELD
The morning broke bright and blue - or so I am been given to believe because of course I didn’t see it myself. It was certainly lovely when I arose at my customary time with quarter to eleven showing on the morning clock.
I had begun my life in this new and future Bramfield by keeping strictly to the Liturgia Horarum, rising still at midnight for Matins, again a few hours later for Lauds and then at around six in the morning to attend the service of Prime, but I soon found I was in all instances completely alone in doing this. Not only was the Reverend Pinball not in any way desirous to join me, before he left, but my observances seemed to really, as he put it, “tick him off.”
I did not find it unusual for the ordinary parishioners to abscond themselves from these three early services, but I had found it a little strange that the resident vicar should shun them so completely. So, loathe though I am to admit it, in my isolation I too succumbed to the sloth so particular of these times and allowed Matins, Lauds and Prime to pass unobserved each day, shameful as that may be.
Having taking on the responsibilities of my new position however, I begun again with the Litany of the Hours with renewed vigour - for a time at least. The thing is I was always left somewhat unsatisfied, singing away by myself in those early services, as the hymns sung by my voice alone instead of the choir for which they were intended rang hollow and empty in the dark and draughty church.
And furthermore, there were numerous complaints about me ringing the bell at such early hours and I was warned to keep Little Malcolm (as I named the small cloca) silent until at least Vespers. Otherwise, I was advised, the local constabulary would have its clapper removed.
You see, Bramfield is a rather sleepy village and most of the residents like to arise at their leisure, as and when they will. After the fifth visit from Constable Hash, my Bishop instructed me to let things stand as they were and so once again I have lapsed - forcibly lapsed, but lapsed none the less - and spend many more hours in the bed than I am sure the Good Lord intended.
Happily though, I have found that in not arising until but an hour from noon actually works out quite well; not only am I still able to get all of God’s work done for the day, but it also allows me an extra hour or two under the covers to ensure that my constitution does not dip for Compline.
As I descended the stairs of the vicarage, I recapped in my mind what I had decided to do today. Straight after breakfast I would check upon Mrs Gower to make sure she had recovered from her malady and then perhaps an hour in the cottage garden (I must check the Pease patch as I suspect a host of fattened slugs are making merry on my legumes). After lunch, I would choose some words and hymns for Vespers, which would follow almost immediately after or perhaps with a small, insignificant delay if I took three courses for my meal.
None of this was to be however, because greater things are in store for me it seems - far greater things! As I went to collect the fresh pint left on my doorstep by the ever reliable deliverer of milk, Bedward D’Elevere, I espied several leaflets upon the carpeted floor. Most of them were the colourful declarations, promising ‘free gifts’ for all, if only you ‘ring this number.’ Ahh, what an enlightened Age this is, where so many philanthropists are at work each and every day!
The only time I have tried to partake in these kindly peoples’ generosity I must have done something wrong, hardly surprising really, for I am not at all proficient with the device I know to be called the phone. And besides, of late I cannot find the thing anyway. I hear its strange ringing infrequently, perhaps once or twice a week, but whenever I go to the concave box on the wall and press the little bar, the ringing stops and nothing else happens. Now I come to think about it, there was another part to it originally, a detachable piece of the same smooth material which a man could fit into the palm of his hand, but I haven’t seen that for weeks. However, I digress.
As I said about these charitable papers thrust through the door, perhaps these offers are intended only for the truly needy and, as a man of God, I am excluded from their pitiable fraternity. After all, what other Earthly riches do I require other than what the Good Lord has already put at my disposal? On the one occasion I tried to contact these distributers of gifts, descendants I suspect of the three wise Magi of old, I was ‘put through’ to a young lady who introduced herself as Julie.
“What type of car do you have sir?” she enquired after a faltering start during which neither of us understood what the other was saying. She repeated the question a further three times before I guessed what it was she was endeavouring to find out.
“Ahh!” I exclaimed, illuminated. “Perhaps you are referring to the horseless carriages which are driven forwards by the love of the angels and that gleam bright in the sun, reflecting the very light of the Heavens above?”
Her reply was muffled, but I knew that we were now talking about the same thing.
“I regret to announce, my child, that I am not yet fortunate enough to be in possession of one of these chariots of the Lord.”
“I’m sorry?” she said, so I repeated my statement. “What? You don’t have a car?”
I have heard the members of my flock at times use this affectation for the vehicle so I nodded my head in confirmation, although of course she could not see this. “That is correct.”
“Then why the Hell are you calling up about car insurance?”
“My dear,” I replied, “I know not what this thing is you call ‘car insurance,’ but I have read that you were giving away free shoulder bags and mouse mats.” Again what enlightened times are these, when such thought is given even to the rodents who creep into the barns and kitchens to nibble at the corn! Why, in my day they were considered nothing but troublesome pests!
It was at this point though that I must have done something wrong because before I had chance to admonish her for the profanity she had so thoughtlessly mouthed I simply heard the words “Stupid fu-” before a crashing sound went off in my ear, and then there was silence.
Never mind. Did I really need that bag? Probably not. After a morning’s thought and an evening’s prayers I came upon the conclusion which I mentioned before, that these acts of charity were obtainable only by the truly needy, and from that moment on I began the habit of placing all further pamphlets into a bag, which I intend to distribute at Christmas.
Strange as it seems, this is remarkably similar to the advice given to me by Mr D’Elevere one morning, when I first made comment about the wondrous Acts of Giving being pushed through my letterbox each day.
“It’s just junk mail Sadfael. Bag it up and bin it.”
Perhaps it is just me, but I think it a shame that such charitable deeds have been given the name ‘junk.’ The word does not do justice to the action it represents.
And ‘bin it’? I was of the impression that a ‘bin’ was something one put one’s refuse in. Ah, but these are strange times indeed, and I cannot hope that I have become fully assimilated, even after these first couple of years.
Getting back to the matter at hand though, having collected my milk and carefully added this new collection of ‘junk’ mail to the already bulging pile, (that is four sacks filled already; maybe I should not wait until Christmas after all, but begin giving them out at the Harvest Festival, otherwise I might not have room enough to store them all), I was surprised to note an envelope bearing the formidable mark of the Triple H - the Holy Hidden Hierarchy! Heavens above, I had received a letter from that most Hallowed of cities, from Canterbury itself!
With trembling hands I broke the seal all along the top and brought forth the letter from within. It was brief and to the point:
You are needed in Canterbury. Someone will collect you. Be ready.
It was signed by a Bishop and stamped with the official seal of the Triple H, and according to the meagre text the date on which I was to be collected was today! I can only think myself as being extremely prudent in having had those extra few hours in bed these last months - if I am to be sent on another mission like the last time I was taken to the Cathedral then I will assuredly need all my strength!
And you may also call it prudence - though some may put down to luck - that I had enough food in my cupboards for an extra large breakfast! A few more rashers of bacon than normal went down before I begun this entry. Like I said, I may need all my strength if I am to go on Church business again!
THE CASEBOOK OF GEEZA VERMIES
Talking into a Dictaphone is easier than trying to write while I’m waiting for a message or a sign from whoever’s out there - I’ll copy it out in my book later on. I only put a weak mixture into Old Smokey as the gentle rocking of the waves is helping me achieve the state of mind I need. Not that anyone should need much help out in this part of the world. The Spirit of the place wraps round you like a shawl.
Thousands of tiny, silvery-white specks are dancing before my eyes like midges in the twilight. Behind them, as I lie on my back on the webbing of the catamaran, the Sky takes on such a vibrant, throbbing glow that I have to squint to make it bearable to my eyes. The electricity bristling in the air is clear to see, kind of like vines - creepers as bright as lightning, arcing across the Sky from horizon to horizon, running through the clouds like fibres in a piece of gelatinous fruit.
The atmosphere is peculiarly African on the surface. I suppose it has only been a couple of hundred years since life was changed so drastically in the Caribbean, the native Taino having been eradicated years ago by the ferocity of the colonising powers of Europe. It’s not that long, five hundred years, but enough to have left an indelible mark throughout the islands. Just beneath the surface though… That is something altogether different.
I can’t quite put my finger on what it is though. It’s as elusive as the wind, intangible and yet… I can almost feel it. I just need more… time. I think. Strange.
Actually the wind is a good way to describe it. One minute there is nothing and the next you feel something stirring and flowing all around you. Picking up force then settling to stillness again. Ebbing and flowing. The wind and the Sea, the wind and the Sea - huge, powerful, but detached. Not uncaring exactly, just... Life on a totally different level.
But now something’s happening. The Sea rises beneath me and envelops me, wrapping around me like an effervescent Cowrie shell. The beauty of the salt water is just stunning. Such ceaseless, hypnotic motion. The interplay of the currents from underneath with the waves formed from above is - ahhhhhh!
Just as I begin to merge with the Ocean Herself, feeling my own consciousness becoming one with the vastness of Her waters’, the shell that surrounds me falls away and I am gazing once more into the endless Sky.
It has clouded over. Half of the brilliant blue is now concealed by clouds, yet not in any uniform way. Shapes bubble and boil within the towering white masses foaming above me and then a face looms out in the Western portion of the Sky.
Tinged with a peachy, orange-red colour, it is a face I have never seen before, yet he looks somehow familiar to me, like a distant memory that itches at the back of my mind. I greet him by lifting my chin towards him and raising my eyebrows.
“Is it the hearts you are after?” his whispering voice floats down to me on the breeze.
“It is,” I reply.
“And what do you want with them?”
I think for a moment before answering. I have to be precise. “To recover them if possible and to erase the taint of violence in which they were stolen.”
“And that is all?”
“And also the perpetrators of the deed,” I reply aloud, confirming what the consciousness behind the voice had already guessed.
The face in the cloud smiles and nods before vanishing in a swirl of dark, rain-laden bulges. In its place there then forms a huge eye, whose cyclopean pupil is the blue Sky above it. As the Sun chooses this moment to appear within the pupil, I look directly at it through the lashes of my own eyes, almost totally closed now.
An explosion of dancing rainbows swamp my senses in a long, lingering moment of luxury and then in an instant they take the shape of a small bay I recognise - we sailed past it about twenty minutes out of the main port of Castries. I know now that this is where our operation must take place.
Standing up I gently bounce my way to the cabin at the stern and give directions to the captain. From my position back at the prow I can hear all too clearly the clicking of guns being checked as the crew ready themselves for action.
THE RIGHT AND ORDERLY NOTEBOOK OF FATHER SADFAEL, VICAR OF BRAMFIELD
The Cathedral was every bit as magnificent as I remember it from before, but for the fact that on this occasion we arrived still in daylight to see a large group of children exiting through the imposing, studded doors of the main entrance. Apparently this was only one of several parties of school children who visit the Cathedral every day, from as far afield as Rome! Another sign of how far Humanity has progressed, that such arduous Pilgrimages can have become so commonplace.
My own journey here was just as incredible as the first time I was escorted here more than two years ago. The huge, iron wagons, so monstrous to me when first I happened to clap my eyes upon their gargantuan forms, were - and indeed are - breathtakingly ingenious, running along steel ‘tracks’ set upon the ground which stretch away in either direction like a colossal, inert centipede. This image is further supported by the fact that these tracks supposedly disappear several miles beyond Canterbury, into a large tunnel which burrows - beneath the sea mind you! - all the way to the shores of France! God be praised at such wonders!
I confess to having been somewhat apprehensive on my coming away as to who would be there in Bramfield to stand in my stead, but as it transpires I need not have worried myself. In its infinite wisdom the Church had, of course, already considered this and sent a temporary replacement to ensure my parishioners’ needs are met in my absence.
The Right Reverend Peter Patter seems to be a most capable man, although he is perhaps a little older than I and slightly more grey around the temples. Any doubts I may have harboured about his understanding the needs of my flock were quickly diminished by his enthusiasm though, particularly when I explained my concerns regarding Mrs Gower’s condition. He is obviously a zealous man, as his eyes lit up quite visibly when I related to him the story of what had happened and he seemed most keen, fervent even, to “bring comfort and succour to her unfortunate affliction, whatever it may be.” He was even rubbing his hands together as he spake thus, as if he could not wait to get started. Ahh, it warms the heart, such true Christian spirit!
And so it was that almost all thoughts of Bramfield were put aside as I stepped across the threshold and into that Holiest of all places. Oh, Canterbury Cathedral! Sweet, magnificent edifice! It is a privilege and an honour to walk its hallowed halls, truly it is.
Flanked at all times by two silent Church officials, I was led again through a myriad of passageways and portals, descending deep into the labyrinthine caves that lie beneath this Holy Site. Lit always by the pale, white glow that emitted from long cylinders suspended from the ceiling, I was eventually left alone in a tiny antechamber, not at all unlike one of the cells I remember so clearly from my youth.
The lights down here are similar to those that hang from the rafters in every house in Bramfield, other than their shape and also the qualities of the light given out. Whilst those in my own cottage illuminate the rooms with a golden-yellow light, the glow from these tubes is not so warming. It is rather more detached. Not so much cold as aloof. Befitting, perhaps, of the relationship we unworthy sinners share with our Heavenly Father.
There were two other doors in addition to the one from which I entered, though each was equally non-descript and gave no clue to indicate what may lie beyond. The walls were bare of decoration, but for a rectangular picture entitled the Last Supper. The only other thing of note was a small, low table upon which were several glossy ‘magazines,’ as I have heard them called.
The Son, Bell Ringers Weekly, JC Magazine, and The Font of Wisdom all looked tempting, but I plumped for Sermonz!, which seemed to be largely concerned with what the fashionable Priest is wearing today. Looking down the excruciatingly precise script which listed what was to be found within its leaves, I noted chapters entitled Your Cassocks, How the Mitre are Fallen, and Alter-Nativity - how to brighten up your Christmas Congregation.
I only had time to notice the page number of Sandals, an Old Testament to fashion - A Buyers Guide to what’s Hot and what’s Not, before the door to my left opened inwards and a familiar figure emerged.
My joy must have been easy to read for it was written clearly across my face and I made no effort to conceal it! It was none other than Dr Franklyn Bwop, the Priest without a Parish who had helped me so much when first I was transported here to this current and colourful age! He had been instrumental in building the device which had enabled me to best my Demonic foe more than four and twenty moons since, and to see him standing before me now was a sight most welcome.
“Sadfael,” he said to my astonished face as he shook my hand. “If you’d like to come this way, there are several men who would very much like to meet you.”
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
I threw my phone away this morning. Why? Because they’re a right, bloody nuisance, that’s why! They were created to make our lives’ easier and they did for a while, but like the plots of so many sci-fi films and books, the machines have risen up and taken over - what was a useful tool, has taken now control, as Hollywood Beyond sang back in nineteen-eighty whatever. How many people would still be able to conceive of a life without their mobile now? They say there are more mobile phones currently on our planet than people, and they’ve become an addiction.
I’ve got one - of course I have, everybody does! I never used to, I had no need for one, but ever since getting involved with so many of my charities and foundations it has been a kind of constant companion. But for some stupid reason, I brought it on holiday with me. Why on earth I felt I might need it is beyond me, but that’s exactly how they get you. It draws you in like a drug, making you carry it around with you wherever you go just in case someone rings! You start wondering to yourself how you ever coped without one.
Up until today I didn’t realise just how addicted I was to the thing. These last three days it hasn’t stopped ringing, which in turn has led me to notice that I have been taking it everywhere with me, and I mean everywhere - out to the pool, down to breakfast, I even leave it on the toilet seat while I’m having a shower!
I was one of the real late-comers in the world of mobiles, smart phones and i-thingies, but it isn’t just me who’s become enslaved. Everywhere you go, inside the hotel or beyond, almost every single person you see has one, tourist and local alike. Nobody seems to be able to go anywhere without them!
And the phone calls I’ve been getting - people from this company, people from that one; “would you endorse our product Mr Cripplesby,” or “good evening Sir Elliot, would you like to attend a dinner at such and such, and perhaps do an after dinner speech on behalf of…?”
I even had a call from my mobile company asking me if I was happy with my tariff. Nestled cosily on my sun lounger by the pool, I listened for a good ten minutes before being persuaded I could in fact get a better deal, so I agreed to switch. A further ten minutes of rigmarole, going through account details and a plethora of passwords, none of which I can ever remember, until finally we were done and I bade the fellow goodbye. It wasn’t even an hour later when I was called again by the same person asking if I would like to change back again!
Good God! These are exactly the kind of calls I try my hardest to avoid when I’m at home, so what it was that possessed me to travel with my phone God only knows! Honestly, thousands of people coming on holiday to get away from it all and they fill their day in talking with friends back home! What has happened to the idea of meeting people, the art of conversation?
I saw a couple of honeymooners last night, you can picture the scene: a romantic dinner for two under a palm-thatched roof, a single candle between them in a sand-filled bowl, with the waves of the Caribbean lapping gently on the shore not twenty yards away. It was picture perfect, idyllic. The sunset was giving way to the stars and the two young lovers held hands across the table, enjoying every single stretched out moment…
Then, just as the first course arrived, the chap’s phone rang. Clang! I thought, but did he apologise to his beloved? Did he, suitably embarrassed, turn the wretched thing off and put it away in the deepest part of his most inaccessible pocket? No he did not. He went and bloody answered it!
And not only did his new blushing bride not appear to mind, she reached down into her bag and began writing out a Facebook message on her iPad! Sitting directly behind them I couldn’t help but see her type out having dinner with hubby and adding a smiley face before I looked away, utterly appalled.
The waiter hovered awkwardly for a few long moments before eventually putting the plates down unacknowledged and then he shuffled off, clearly embarrassed. I myself could only shake my head. Whatever happened to young love, eh?
And what’s more, what with everyone on the island having their phone on them at all times, every waking moment is filled with the constant chiming of all those cheesy ring tones! Whichever marketing man came up with the idea that someone might want a crappy rendition of Star Wars to sound off whenever someone called should be given the Nobel Prize for Annoyance and then taken out to sea and fed to the sharks.
They are not cool, nor are they funny. Crazy Frog? Either I’m getting old or I’m not on the right drugs. Ok, at least the latest models can carry a decent tune - some of them sound better than my stereo back home! - but really, can’t a phone just be a phone and go ring-ring? Not any more it seems…
So at just after nine this morning after another call asking if I wanted double-glazing, my phone was consigned to the bin and good riddance to it. Anyone that needs to get in touch with me will just have to wait a fortnight like they used to. And if anyone wants to fish it out and have themselves a free smartphone, well good luck to them!
I’m usually pretty easy going about most things, but these phones and their users have got right up my nose here on the island. I hope the sunset cruise I’ve booked myself on this evening puts me in a better mood. We set sail an hour before dusk on a hundred and forty foot ship which is supposed to be an accurate replica of a nineteenth century brig. I’ve heard it was used in the filming of some historical movie or other, so it promises to be all creaking timbers and flapping sails, perfect for watching the sun dip down into the waters of the western horizon. It sounds like just the tonic I need. Apparently the captain used to let one of the passengers pilot the ship home once the sunset was dimming, until someone put it into a sandbank not too long ago which, as you’d expect, brought a halt to that charming little gimmick. Tut, someone always has to go and spoil it for everyone else don’t they?
THE RIGHT AND ORDERLY NOTEBOOK OF FATHER SADFAEL, VICAR OF BRAMFIELD
Goodness gracious, what a day! Nothing could have prepared me for this turn of events; so sad, so tragic, so… utterly without cause. Perhaps that is the worst part of it, that this has all sprung up from nowhere, and for no obvious reason either, or leastways none that I can see.
Following my old comrade in arms Dr Bwop eagerly, he took me through the door from which he had come and we entered directly into a vaulted hall, lofty and magnificent, which was dominated by a large oaken table. The light from three ornate candelabras illuminated the faces of several well-fed figures seated evenly around the table. I can honestly say that I was glad of the tall, straight candles which burned without a flicker as they softened the cold white lights of this underground world to which I have still not yet become accustomed, even in the four days that have passed since my arrival.
I swallowed in deep apprehension as my eyes were drawn towards the unmistakable crest of the Triple H whose coat of arms hung imposingly on the opposite wall. Dr Bwop invited me to take a seat which I did without comment. What was I to think? A lowly vicar such as myself, and so recently but a humble Benedictine monk, seated here amongst the very highest echelons of the Church! I could not help but be utterly intimidated, and even the sight of my friend Geoffrey Slush, the only other man I recognised at the table, did precious little to calm my nerves.
After what seemed to me an eternity of uncomfortable silence (although it possibly was not quite as long as that) the man at the head of the table whose identity I later learned was His Ostentatiousness, Dr Reubens Magpie, nodded towards me and put a question to Reverend Slush.
“This is him?” His voice betrayed signs of disbelief.
“It is, Reubens,” came Geoffrey’s steady reply. In my state of shock I cannot be certain of what exactly was said next, but I believe I remember him going on to say that although I “may not look much,” I was nevertheless capable of helping them in a way no other man could.
Praise for which I very much doubt that I am worthy.
There was then a drawn out debate in hushed tones. It was mainly between these two men, although the acoustics of the chamber caused the occasional snatch of a broken sentence to float over to me. I cannot confess to knowing what was being discussed, but what I heard was this:
“May not look much?” this was Lord Magpie. “… looks exactly what he is… hick from the… and the medieval sticks at that… jaw’s dropped open so much his chin’s banging on the table!” I then thought I heard an explicative, but in this I must be mistaken. Then came “… he’ll start drooling on the china next!”
Their conversations came to a close with Geoffrey Slush insisting “… and I’m telling you that not only is he the one we need, but he is all we need.”
Another interminable silence followed in which the two men stared unblinking at one another as if they were involved in a staring contest, the likes of which were held annually at our Summer Goose Fair on the lawns outside St Malcolm’s, all of which were invariably won by the child of the thatcher’s brother, whose eyelids had actually been torn off in an accident with a puddle and a pig. An unfair advantage to be sure, but the consensus was to let the child have this one small thing after all the suffering he had gone through.
Suddenly, with a wave of his arm, His Ostentatiousness signalled for Geoffrey to explain the situation to me - the first time I had been spoken to directly since being asked to sit.
“We have a problem, Father Sadfael. We, that is to say the Church, all denominations, both C of E and Catholic. It concerns a series of very disturbing attacks that have been carried out in Central America upon some of the oldest churches and cathedrals to be found in that part of the world. Several have been razed completely to the ground. Others have been looted and heavily vandalised.”
Understandably I crossed myself at this hideous news, although in truth I know not where this Central America is. By the sounds of such feats of barbarism I could only hazard a guess at distant Caledonia, far to the north. There is something about the mix of wind and thistles that has always made the Scottish a violent, ungodly lot. However, when I asked if indeed that was where these violations were taking place Lord Magpie, evidently Slush’s direct superior, ejaculated such a mass of voluble air that he sounded like a set of bagpipes deflating.
“Let us leave the matter of where it is for now Sadfael,” Geoffrey continued. “I am sure you can appreciate the severity of these crimes,” I nodded emphatically, for the horror of what he was saying was actually making my skin crawl. “This alone would be cause for serious concern. However, I am sorry to say there is something else which makes the situation even worse. We believe the perpetrator of these foul acts is not unknown to any of us currently seated around this table.”
He gave a meaningful glance at a shaven-headed colleague and a tattered piece of paper encased in a clear, see-through pouch was passed across to me. What I read caused me to cry out in disbelief.
TORN EXTRACT FROM THE DIARY OF GAWDLEY PINBALL
How dare they? What have I done? What great, unpardonable sin had I ever done other than to serve my parishioners faithfully and guide them from the very depths of my heart? I always served to the very best of my ability and always along the exact precepts set out by the Church itself!
Did I do a bad job? Did I fail my congregation somehow, in some terrible, inexcusable way? Or, maybe I performed some heinous act quite unknowingly, accidentally contravening everything the Church stands for? Did I? Is that what I did?
I think not.
And yet that was the reward for my devotion, for my selflessness! For all the sacrifices I have made throughout my life, for Church and God! How quick they were to saddle me with that cretinous imbecile Sadfael! Oh yes, palm him off onto Gawdley, then we can forget all about him! Let him suffer the fool for the rest of his bumbling life! Is that what they expected? Is that what they thought would happen?
And even that wasn’t enough! No, they even had the gall to elevate him to my own status, making a total mockery of everything I or any other clergyman went through to gain their position! They even had the nerve to split my parish in two! ‘Sharing the responsibilities’ my eye! How did I cope for the last thirty years by myself if the job was too much for one person?
Who do they think I am?
Who do they think they are?
And who on earth do they think that idiot monk is? How quickly he became the very bane of my life, a thorn in my side more painful that Christ’s entire crown! Heavens to Murgatroid, I have never met a man so utterly incompetent, so unbearable, so… loathsome!
Well, they’ll learn. Soon enough they’ll all learn! Oh yes, it won’t be long now…
I have wrestled with my conscience long and hard these last three years, agonised and deliberated over my actions until I made myself sick, but that time is over now. It has long since passed. Things have advanced way too far to turn back now, even if I should want to.
Oh yes, it’s too late for anybody to stop it now. Ha ha haaa! Soon they will learn all too clearly just how flaccid and pathetic they have become, them and their musty, decrepit old faith! Just how strong will their weak and weary God prove Himself too be in the presence of real power?
I look forwards to seeing them fall…
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
What a feeling, standing on these gently rocking wooden floorboards and staring up at hundreds of yards of complicated rigging, watching the sail get hauled up the mast and secured in neat bundles thirty feet above our heads. The sound of the sea lapping against the side of the hull compliments the swaying motion of the boat beautifully, helping to complete - along with all the wonderful sights that have surrounded us since the minute we left the harbour - a total sensory experience par excellence!
No wonder so many people take up sailing and fritter away all those hours out at sea. While I can’t imagine that modern, fibreglass boats could possibly give the same atmospheric feelings as are given off by this magnificent Brig, that wonderful sense of freedom must still be there as they take to the waves.
Perhaps in years gone by when there were not so many cars on the roads, the same sensation was achieved by hitting the highway and going for a drive, to everywhere and nowhere in particular. That openness has gone now though, and instead of cruising along to your heart’s content like in those adverts - top down in the glorious sunshine, zooming without a care along those winding coastal roads with not another car in sight - you find yourself sealed in, cut off from everybody and everything around you with a combination of climate control, a stereo system cranked up to full and an attitude of selfishness you could cut with a knife.
It’s strange isn’t it, that as soon as the key turns in the ignition the very meekest of the meek are suddenly transformed into foul-mouthed, ill-tempered yobs to whom impatience and intolerance have become an art form. Even I am not immune, although I’d like to think to a lesser degree than most. Maybe I can take credit for that, or possibly it could just be down to the fact that most of my driving is done these days on the Faroes where a traffic jam consists of three cars instead of thirty.
Anyway, out here on the open ocean all that is as far away as you can imagine - ahhh! The sheer immensity of the sea is matched only by the skies above you. In the absence of any land separating the two, they seem to stretch out forever, and it is no surprise to me that sailors of old believed they were heading off into oblivion.
Of course all I have to do to see land is turn around as we haven’t gone all that far away from the island, but that is the impression you get, even here - of being out on a limb so to speak, isolated between two vast expanses of blue. It is fantastic.
As is the scenery of the shoreline. We floated out of the harbour all creaking timbers and cracking sails, following the channels of Port de Carenage, or le Petit Cul-de-sac de l’Ilse du St Lucie as the early French sailors dubbed the bay. Then we rounded the peninsula and hugged the coast for a little while southwards, admiring the forested contours before heading out away from the island and into the really deep blue just as the sun began to dip slowly in the western sky.
The only thing that slightly spoilt this otherwise unblemished green jewel protruding from the waters was a dirty great oil refinery, sticking out like a dog doo on a bowling green. I suppose the oil has to be refined somewhere, but still… I just can’t help thinking of the alternatives. Of course critics would point out that two dozen wind turbines poking up like the prongs of Neptune’s trident would be equally abhorrent.
Me, I don’t think so, but that’s all down to personal taste and, more often than not unfortunately, vested interests. You’d be amazed at the lengths some people or businesses - or whole industries - would go to in order to try to stop the changes that must inevitably be made.
Still, that’s for another time. The sun has begun its dramatic descent towards the horizon now, so rather than attempt to describe the glorious colours bleeding across the sky, I shall put my journal away, sit back, and enjoy it.
One thing before I do though - the captain seems pre-occupied with something hard astern, back toward the island. Listen to me, hard astern - I’ll be battening down the hatches before you know it! Two small boats, what look like local fishermen’s boats from here, with peeling paint and faded lettering, have been nestled together just out of coastal waters since we got here. Now though they appear to be being approached quite rapidly by a third, which is causing no end of distress to the occupants.
This third boat which, according to the captain is moving like a catamaran, is closing in fast and there appears to be someone standing right on the prow. They’re some distance from us, but I can make out that this figure is bare chested and… there’s something strangely familiar in the way he is standing, his long hair flowing out behind him in the wind.
I can’t put my finger on it though, not from here.
Although it is difficult to say for sure from where we are, it looks as if several of the men on the catamaran are getting ready to board the other vessels as they draw up alongside them.
I wonder what is happening?
THE CASEBOOK OF GEEZA VERMIES
Well. Mixed results really. The sting went entirely according to plan to start off with - the boats were exactly where I’d seen them in my vision and they had no chance of getting away as our catamaran sped around the bluff and closed in. In the end though… Like I said, mixed results.
Three of our guys jumped across and boarded them as we drew up alongside. They had their guns cocked and loaded which was just as well as our quarry were ready to fight. Our man shouted out a warning, but they suffered no such scruples and opened fire - Bang! Carl got hit in the shoulder and was sent overboard, but he wasn’t hurt too badly we learned soon after, and he was pleased to hear afterwards that he had taken out his mark before he fell. Two rounds square in the chest; ruthless, but a pro. The rest of the gang threw their guns to the deck and came out with their hands up pretty quickly as they saw the firepower being levelled at them by the rest of my team.
The owners and crew of the two vessels were being cuffed and Carl was being fished out of the water when I began my search. By the time I’d gone through both boats we had one corpse and nine men in custody, lying spread-eagle on the Cat in the light of the dying Sun.
I was not happy with what I’d found. There were pelts and skins from dozens of animals; horns, tusks, hands, hoofs - the lot. But not the hearts had I been specifically looking for so I asked our captain Little Tom if I could have a few minutes with one of the poachers. He obliged me by kicking one of them down the hatch leading into the left hull.
I smiled, despite the crunch and cry that came from below. Ever since the first time I met him I have been able to see Tom’s ancestors all too clearly, floating around him like a translucent cloak. Pirates, the lot of them and not a pretty bunch! I’m glad he’s on our side.
The man’s eyes were fearful as he watched me climb down the ladder to join him. He was scrabbling painfully into a better position with his knees drawn up in front of him, his back pressed against the curving hull. From the look on his face and the way he moved he could well have broken a shoulder in the fall, but that was not my concern.
I said nothing to him as I filled up Smokey’s bowl, ignoring the blood running freely down his face from a large gash in his scalp - again, I couldn’t care less what he suffered; not with the things he’s done. I looked down at him and struck a match. This was an altogether different mix and after I had smoked it up I blew the last mouthful of smoke into his terrified face.
The man yelped and flinched, his pain mingling and exacerbating his fear. Knowing what was to come, I almost felt sorry for him. Almost. “If you think you’re scared now,” I said to him, “you’re not going to know what’s hit you in a couple of minutes.”
“Wha-wha what?” he stammered in a craven voice. “What do you mean? What are you going to do to us?”
“Are you ready to atone for what you’ve done?”
He nodded eagerly. “Yes, yes!”
Cruel of me to give him a reason to think he might escape what was to come, but rightly or wrongly I felt very little compassion for the man. We are all given the choice of which road to walk down every day of our lives. He could have stopped at any time, but he didn’t. He deserved what was coming - and something was coming; I knew that even if he didn’t. For now though I wanted answers, so I had to get him to talk while he still could.
Crouching down next to where he was huddled, I was vaguely aware of things stirring on the periphery of my vision, entities attracted by my Smoke. I wouldn’t have much time; I had to get on with it.
“Where are the hearts?”
“Jean-Luc has them,” he wailed, maybe thinking if he ratted his friends out he might get out of this.
“Jean-Luc? Which one’s Jean-Luc?”
“No, no, he’s not here. He left already-”
“What?” Damn it! It turns out we only had five of the six members of the gang. The others we had trussed up on deck were the so-called clients who had ordered all the things we’d found. Nice to have them as well, but the sixth member of their little band of scum was missing.
“Where he is? He has the hearts with him?”
“Yes, yes, he took them. We had to separate. The consortium who commissioned these goods could only collect today, or tomorrow at the latest, but we couldn’t afford to wait that long with the hearts.”
“What, they’re decomposing or something?”
“No, no, they’re ok; they’re in a special container, vacuum sealed. No, it’s the buyer who wants them so bad. He had us running on a pretty tight schedule so we guessed he must be working to some sort of deadline. Jean-Luc went to deliver them while we were supposed to take care of the handover here.”
I began to notice ominous shapes bulging and popping in the darkness of the hold. Time was running out.
“Ok Costas,” he had told me his name, as if it mattered, “this guy, the buyer - where is he? What does he look like? You have met him? You’ve seen him?”
“Ohh yes, I met him all right, the crazy one; he’s not someone you forget in a hurry. He paid us good, real good. More than double what we’d asked just as the deposit, with more promised on final delivery. He didn’t pay us in dollars see - no money or anything like that. He gave us statues, holy relics, gold, turquoise, jade - amazing things! Some of them, if they’re not priceless, they’re still worth millions! Beauti-”
I could see the flickering in the shadows around us getting more and more agitated by the second, so I cut him short, desperate to get the most important piece of information before the end. “Where he is damn it? Where are the hearts going?”
“Ahh! Somewhere in Mexico man,” he flinched, thinking I was going to hit him. “I don’t know exactly! The man, he… he comes and goes from the Mountains I think; lives in the Jungle we reckoned, by the look of him. We figured he must be near a load of old temples or something, things hidden away out there in the Bush, you know? Some must have been from churches too, but some were old man.
“Anyway, he wants us to collect these hearts for him, one from each continent specifically, and the price he was paying you don’t ask anything past where to meet with the goods.” He laughed at this point. He actually laughed as if it were a joke.
Definite shapes were beginning to form in the air around us now. I smiled at him.
They were coming.
Unfortunately they came too fast, because at that moment the smoke I’d blown into his face began to take effect. His eyes caught a glimpse of the entities that were solidifying all round him and he was screaming at the top of his voice before I made it to the foot of the ladder.
Turning briefly, I saw his outstretched hands reaching desperately towards me, imploring me amidst his screams, and even overcoming the pain from his broken shoulder. Suddenly he became rigid with fear. There was an unexpected crack, and I could only watch as a dark shape came flooding in with the Sea water through a hole that was opening ever wider in the floor of the Cat.
A figure began to form between the poacher and myself, the crude silhouette of a woman standing with her back to me. We were knee deep in water by the time she was fully formed. She was black - and I mean black. She was the blackest shade I have ever seen. It was more than just a colour though, something deeper than simple darkness. Her body didn’t swallow the light, it just seemed too thick for any light to have penetrated it. Ever. She gave off an air of depth, cold and ancient.
She turned her head around to look at me and I noticed she had hair made up of flecks of foam like you see on the crest of the Waves. Her facial features were vaguely discernible, being merely the deepest, darkest blue you can imagine, and she fixed me with a quizzical stare.
“Are you coming too?” Her question floated towards me in a voice that was deeper than the songs of the Whales. The water was by now waist high and rising. Let me tell you, I was up that ladder quicker than a Monkey on speed. I fled.
As luck would have it there was a tourist ship, an old fashioned clipper or something, not far away. It came to our aid as soon as her captain had seen that our Cat, as well as the two poacher’s vessels, were going down. I was in a minority of one when I was not surprised that none of the poaching gang or their clients were rescued.
The media can blame it on them all being cuffed if they want to, but I knew they were gone, as soon as I’d lit up that mix… Every one of them sunk without a trace before they could be hauled out of the water.
All our crew were rescued though and what did surprise me was who it was that helped to haul me over the side of the Brigg - there standing on the top deck still holding the rope was Elliot! Elliot Cripplesby! What was he doing here?
“You really ought to have a life jacket on you know,” he said with a slightly worried grin.
“You could have pulled a bit harder,” I joked. “Just as well the Sharks weren’t hungry!”
After clasping hands with him and the others who had dragged me and my companions out of the eerily impassive waters, I couldn’t help but glance down at the place where the boats had gone down, incongruously mill-pond calm surrounded by the chop and swell of the rest of the Ocean. Our nine captives and a corpse had gone with them and I do not envy them their fate.
Like I said though, we all make our own choices.
THE RIGHT AND ORDERLY NOTEBOOK OF FATHER SADFAEL, VICAR OF BRAMFIELD
I am speechless. Honestly, I am just at a loss to know what to say. I have had several most unpalatable truths exposed to me over the last few days and whilst my preference would be to shy away from them like the old carter’s horse from the ducking pond back at St Malcolm’s (nobody could ever understand why he did that), it is not an option available to me. Some things must be faced.
There is no way of knowing, but down here in the catacombs of Canterbury it feels like night time, by my reckoning the sixth since my arrival. I have just been returned to my room after another day spent in the company of my betters, those great men who between them wield all the power within the Church, the Holy Hidden Hierarchy.
The good Reverend Pinball told me about them, such as he knew, before he disappeared more than two years ago. They are a secretive selection of Church officials hand-picked from across the whole of Christendom, from the lowliest of rectors to the Arch Bishop himself, all distinctions of rank forgotten the moment they set aside their cloaks in the antechamber. It is these men who decide upon matters of real or extreme import.
And though I can scarcely believe it, they want my help!
My poor, dear friend Gawdley Pinball. He showed such kindness to me when I first arrived, but I have since been informed of some very grave news regarding my much missed companion.
It would appear on the evidence collected by the Triple H that Gawdley has become embittered by something I am not sure I understand. Some satanic influence must have come to bear to pervert him thus, as they tell me he has not only turned upon his friends within the Church, but also upon God Himself!
My mind went into a spin when I first learned of this and has not stopped since. Poor Gawdley! What pressures could possibly have twisted him so, to have caused him to act in such a way? He has already been excommunicated and is on the very brink of throwing away his very soul to damnation! Denouncing God? Burning churches? What is he doing?
I care not about the things I have read in his own hand about me personally. Things such as these can be attributed to the desperate ramblings of a man possessed by an agent of Beelzebub. He cannot be held responsible for such trifling things as words, but to desecrate Holy monuments?
I fear - and pray - for his soul.
There is so much to take in it is difficult to know where to start. Do I dare ponder for any length of time upon the absurd notion that the earth we live upon is not flat, but round instead? Can I afford to let my mind wonder about this great landmass of the Americas I have been told about, situated many thousands of miles to the west of our own shores?
Both concepts are as bizarre as each other and yet I am assured of their accuracy by the esteemed personages of every member of the HHH and all others amongst the staff below the Cathedral with whom I have spoken.
Oh no! The thought has just occurred to me that the Devil has managed to pierce the inner sanctum here at Canterbury and caused the Holiest men in all of Britain to become feebleminded! But no, I cannot afford to give credence to these fearful thoughts lest I am driven impotent with despair.
I clearly recall several of the villagers in Bramfield telling me that Pinball had made muttered promises of “going to South America” shortly before his disappearance, but of course I did not know where they were talking about. At the time I had assumed it must be somewhere in the West Country or perhaps even in Wales and had envisaged my friend making his way towards the famous fish market of Splot on the southern Welsh coast. The fact that he has been gone so long is of no particular surprise as it is a long and arduous journey into that barbaric land of valleys and forests, with every darkened twist and bend in the road filled with lurking bandits ever eager for coin.
But now I am being asked to believe that he is not in Splot, nor even in Wales, but in a far off place called Mexico, many miles in the direction of the setting sun. That in itself is more than enough to have to cope with, but the stories I have heard of what he has supposedly done… It is too horrible to contemplate!
Yet it seems I have no choice. Geoffrey Slush and the others have shown me rather too many of their ‘light pictures’ to be in any doubt.
What these pictures, which they call photo-graphs, showed was, well… Under normal circumstances the artist should receive the very highest of plaudits for the craftsmanship he shows in his work, but on this occasion the subject matter is so sickening and repulsive that it detracts totally from one’s appreciation of his mastery of the art. The burnt husks of once fabulous churches which he depicts with such meticulous care are a truly horrendous sight, so clear in their brushstroke that I am forced to look upon them still in my nightmares! So hideous are the images that I have tossed and turned almost sleepless through my nights ever since having had the misfortune of casting my eyes upon such loathsome scenes.
Oh woe, oh woe, alack and alas! To set fire to a house of the Lord! It is the same as thrusting a flaming brand into His eye! What could motivate anyone to do such a thing, and a man of the cloth at that?
It is unfair of me to criticise the artist in any way - he was only putting down what he saw after all, and the man must have suffered unbearable torments, having been forced to look upon and paint the atrocities before him. Even so, I do have to say that his attempts at trees… well, they are not very good at all to be honest. They bear not even the slightest resemblance to any tree I have ever seen. Fruit trees which bear no likeness whatsoever to either apples or pears, nor gooseberries or any other low-growing shrubs.
And his inaccuracies are not limited to the vegetation either. While the buildings and the profane damage done to them are tragically realistic, almost everything else is absurdly disproportionate, even fantastical. In one of his appalling vistas a bird is pictured flying across the smooth canvas with the grace of a skylark, but the colours of its plumage together with the size and the shape of its beak are frankly ridiculous. The poor man’s mind must have been shaken by the scenes before him to the extent that he could no longer concentrate properly on the surrounding countryside. I shall mention him in my prayers before I retire after writing this.
The HHH have requested that I travel to this South America place, this ‘Mexico,’ and to find my friend before he damages his soul irreparably and upon hearing that there is still a chance, however slight, to affect his redemption, I allowed hope to soar within my troubled heart! And though this task may prove to be even more harrowing than my last outing for the Church, something to which Geoffrey freely admitted, at least I will not be going alone on this occasion. I am to be accompanied by another man, whom I am to meet tomorrow. He is being sent with me primarily to help me keep my resolve, no matter how bleak the situation seems. He apparently knows where this Mexico is as well, which is rather helpful for I do not possess a compass even if I knew which direction to strike out in!
Oh well, I had best try to get some sleep. We set off on the morrow and although no one has mentioned the time of our departure I assume it will have to be early if we are to reach the nearest docks to catch the morning tide. The journey across five thousand miles of unbroken ocean will take long enough without missing another day.
TAKEN FROM THE MINUTES OF THE HHH MEETING, ON THE NIGHT BEFORE SADFAEL’S DEPARTURE
Geoffrey Slush (GS): “I can assure you, Your Ostentatiousness, Sadfael will not question the Churches instructions, not even for a minute.”
Reubens Magpie (RM): “Nevertheless, it is in the Hierarchy’s interests to keep him in the dark wherever possible. The man’s an idiot and the less he knows the better.”
GS: [shaking head vociferously] “I have to object, in the strongest possible terms! We’re already sending him into the unknown; surely it is in our interests to prepare him as best we can! Think of the problems if he makes a mistake through ignorance, or the fallout in the media should anything go wrong.”
RM: “We minimise the risks of that by having as few people as possible in the know. All our other agents will be fully briefed. Everything has been planned Geoffrey. Nothing is going to go wrong. All hands against keeping Sadfael informed?” [Seventeen were counted] “And those who think we should tell him everything?” [Two]
[A knock sounds on the door and the usher enters, accompanied by two men. They are shown to chairs]
RM: “Gentlemen, for those of you who do not know him, may I present our own CIA [note: Canterbury Investigations Agency] man Lambert Fence. Not only is he one of the most highly experienced field agents in the Agency, he has also worked in Central America on several previous occasions so the area is well known to him, or familiar at least.
“And this [indicates the other man] is Senor Antonio Nun, the Cross-Faith representative from the VIP [note: Vatican Inspiration Police]. These are the men who will travel with Sadfael.”
GS: “Have you been made fully aware of the situation Senor Nun?”
Antonio Nun (AN): “Yes I have.”
RM: “Senor Nun arrived four day ago with glowing appraisals from Cardinal Albresi, together with detailed documents from the VIP’s own files on the troubles over there.”
Lambert Fence (LF): “I believe there was to be a vote on whether or not this Father Sadfael was to be kept in the loop?”
GS: “There has. Though I strongly disagree, it has been decided that the two of you are to remain strictly undercover. As far as Sadfael is concerned Reverend Fence is a simple parish priest, there to act as interpreter and general assistant. He is not to learn that Senor Nun will be following them every step of the way.”
AN: “What if he notices me? There is always that chance.”
GS: “Well, it’s doubtful, but if he ever does cotton on then it shouldn’t be too difficult for Lambert to explain you away. [Turns to LF] You can tell him he’s a taxi driver, your brother or a friend -”
RM: “You could say he’s a nun and he’d probably believe you!”
GS: “The point is, it’ll probably blow over as soon as he sees something else shiny and new. Take him to a fish market or a shoe shop or something. He’s very easily distracted.
[Turns back to AN] “The important thing is to stay hidden from the media and that might prove more difficult. You can’t afford to be in any of the shots he’s going to be in. The entire operation hinges on that.”
AN: “But Senor Fence…”
GS: “Lambert’s going to be the public face, that’s no problem, but no one can know you’re there. It is well known that the target hates Sadfael with sufficient passion to unbalance him to the point of distraction, so the Cross-Faith is going to use its influences amongst the Mexican media to massively publicise Sadfael’s arrival in every city, town and pueblo, no matter how small, in order to draw him out.”
LF: “I take it there’s going to be a lot of travelling then?”
GS: “Essentially, yes. I anticipate it’s going to be non-stop right up until… That’s not a problem is it?”
LF: “Absolutely not!”
AN: “No sir!”
LF: “It’s just to know, that’s all; to be prepared.”
GS: “Don’t worry, you’ll both get a final briefing at first light tomorrow. [Turns obviously to stare at RM] We’re not sending you in unprepared at least!
“Now, once the target Pinball has been lured out into the open, one of you is to administer Last Rites to the rogue vicar, it doesn’t matter which one. You needn’t worry about fall-out, you’ll both be well looked after, but do try to keep it as low profile as possible, if you can.”
LF: “And Father Sadfael?”
RM: [snorts] “Gentlemen, make no mistake about it, the rogue vicar is your one and only concern. At all times Father Sadfael is to be considered an expendable decoy.”
THE JOURNAL OF ELLIOT CRIPPLESBY
What a wonderful surprise! Fancy seeing Geeza here; I haven’t seen or heard from him since waving him onto a plane in the Faroes after the Tokolosh affair! There was one story I read in the papers a few months back about an incident involving some gorillas in the mountains of Uganda or Rwanda that had Vermies written all over it in all but name, but that’s been all. Not even as much as a postcard.
It’s true that I should feel somewhat more sombre - nine men have just drowned after all, and another one shot dead - but… I’m not. What can I say? My friend insists I shouldn’t waste a single thought on them as they were the lowest sort of scum, but even so… I think it’s just meeting up with him again. It’s peculiar, the effect he has on me.
Whenever Geeza shows up I feel somehow more ‘myself’ for some strange reason. It’s that part of me that exists deep down at the core, you know? The person you become when you’re by yourself, when you are no longer wearing the masks or personalities that you assume whenever you are with other people - a different one depending on whomever you happen to be with at the time. That’s quite normal behaviour so I am told, and rarely do you meet someone with whom you’re comfortable enough to keep the crowds of slightly altered personalities at bay.
The Captain of our Brig had recognised the emblem of the East Caribbean Coastal Police in the gathering twilight and gone to the rescue as soon as we all saw the three little boats go down. Every one of us had crammed along one side of the ship to watch as the drama unfolded - who wouldn’t, come on - the catamaran speeding in and causing panic on the other two boats, guns being brandished in the amber light of sunset, a shootout, men in handcuffs (well, those little plastic zip-strips or ties that they tend to use nowadays). That’s not something you see every day!
Oh, there was one young couple who didn’t seem to notice; they stayed on the sunset side of the ship throughout the whole thing, wrapped in their own little world and oblivious to all, locked together in a honeymooner’s embrace, a grip which is stronger than a barnacle on a rock. Ahh, young love. Beautiful isn’t it?
I still don’t have all the strength in my arm back yet, but I heaved along with the rest of them as hard as I could as we pulled the men out of the water. As it turns out, Geeza was the last one we pulled up. Ten men in all, one of whom was still bleeding from a gunshot wound, his field dressing having become sodden in the darkening waters.
All of the men from the two target vessels, smugglers and poachers so Geeza tells me, were lost to the sea.
When we arrived back at the harbour Geeza didn’t go with the rest of the ECC Police to fill out the official reports. Once he had led me through the cordon of minivans with their flashing blue and red lights, police cars that had gathered to take the witnesses statements from everybody on our ship, he vigorously shook hands with the men of his team and then drew me aside.
“Come on Elliot; let’s get away from the circus.”
“But don’t we need to give our statements?” I asked. The eighty or so other tourists from the cruise along with the Brig’s crew were all being processed one by one at a series of little makeshift desks set up near the jetty.
“They’ll get a clear enough picture from that lot,” he said, flagging over a taxi and waving to his colleagues as they drove off in a three car convoy. “I doubt you’d be able to add anything else.”
“But what about you? Don’t you have to go with them,” I indicated the ECC vans, honking their horns as they passed us. Two of them peeled off at the junction up the road and one turned the other way, following after the ambulance that had taken their injured man to be treated for his wounds. “There must be some official paperwork to fill in, surely?”
“Nah, it’ll be alright. We came to an agreement, me and Tom; I’ll not be getting mentioned anywhere in their files.” Geeza had spoken at some length with the Captain of their little band as we sailed in and I guess they had a ‘gentleman’s understanding.’ In my experience with Geeza, things very rarely happened which were black and white enough to fit into standard forms or scenarios. It was undoubtedly easier this way for all concerned.
“Now,” he continued, giving the driver directions, “do you want to go and eat somewhere?”
We headed north out of Castries and up to the main tourist area of Gros Islet where most of the hotels are situated, including my own. I had long since had my pockets emptied by the well-organised procession of beggars that patrol the streets here; they are amazingly friendly and work to their own particular code of ethics, so when they all recognised me as somebody they’d already fleeced they “helloed,” but otherwise ignored us. I walked with Geeza along the sands of Rodney Bay to Spinnakers, a restaurant I have frequented plenty times already during my stay. The seafood is second to none and the vanilla milkshakes easily as good as the hotel’s. Over dinner he recounted his story, after I had told him mine. As usual, his was an awful lot more exciting.
He talked only briefly about his travels in Africa, and then got straight down to why he is here in St. Lucia. The facts and figures he spewed out at me about the absurdities in the laws regarding the illegal trade in wildlife did not sit pretty with my meal and I have to admit that even my crab cakes with parsley sauce and wasabi mashed potatoes turned to ashes in my mouth as I learned some of the shocking truths about this abhorrent industry.
“A lot of people think the illegal wildlife trade disappeared with the big game hunters, but it didn’t. Not only is it alive, Elliot, it’s thriving and getting ever more sophisticated. I was told that it has become one of the world’s most lucrative illegal economies now, with only drugs, arms and people trafficking bringing in more cash. And because of that you’ve now got some of the serious organised crime groups getting involved; the Italian and Russian mafias, drug cartels, Free Scotland Forever. We’re talking a multi-billion dollar industry here.”
“Really?” I asked, unable to see how the odd tiger pelt or turtle shell could add up to billions.
“Sure Elliot. The U.S. alone accounts for over twenty billion, Europe more than thirty; worldwide the trade is estimated to run to around one hundred and sixty billion dollars.
“Really? Just from body parts?”
“No no no, it’s more complicated than that. You can split it into four distinct branches: first you’ve got Trophies and Decorations, the kind of thing you’re thinking of - heads, skins, teeth and tusks, shark fins and all that lot. But then you’ve also got the Live Animal or Exotic Pet trade, Chinese or more properly ‘Traditional’ Medicine and last but not least, Bushmeat.
“Since these big boys got involved it has become better coordinated and far more organised. They’re using many of the smuggling techniques used in other trafficking so it’s not just people stuffing baby turtles down their jumpers any more - these days they’re brazen enough to use couriers and air mail services.
“But surely there are proper controls in place at all the airports. My god, it takes us hours to get through security.”
“Yeah, at airports maybe, although of course some still get through - always will. No, ports are a rung down the security ladder and land crossings way, way down. A massive proportion of the trade going into China,” which he told me is the world’s largest importer of wildlife products, with a seemingly insatiable demand, “whether it’s for the meat market, decorative, medicine or pet trade, often come in by land routes. These guys are canny remember and they know they can come through Sikkim, Ladakh and Tibet where the border controls can be… shall we say porous?
“In India alone from the mid-nineties to 2006 they seized skins and other products from nearly a thousand tigers, more than two and half thousand leopards and thousands more products from hundreds of other species, and bear in mind that what gets found is only ever a fraction of what actually got through.”
“And that’s only scratching the surface Elliot. If you want to measure how many pangolin carcasses and scales are found in Vietnam every year, shipped in from Malaysia and Indonesia en route to China, you have to count in tons.”
I can’t imagine what a ton of pangolin bodies looks like - and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to either. My god, they’re only tiny - three and half pounds or one and half kilos most of them, although the bigger African species are obviously… bigger. Geeza told me that the largest portion of the illegal wildlife trade takes place in Asia, whether to fulfil the desire for medicine, human consumption or simply as symbols of fashion and wealth.
Of course the chain is a long one and there are many, many links that have to be first found and then disassembled. And again, the situation is a complex one. Even if you take an expedition into the bush or the mountains and catch the actual poachers themselves, unless you get rid of the demand then somebody else will quickly step up and take his place. What I didn’t realise, although perhaps I probably should have done, was that in many cases the actual poachers themselves earn very little. Geeza explained it with an example.
“A Nepali goat herd, Dor let’s say, gets approached by a man from the big town nearby - we’ll call him Gopi. Word has trickled down the mountain to this Gopi that Dor has lost a few goats in recent weeks to a wild cat with a big tail. He pays him a visit in a shiny jeep and listens to his troubles sat around his tiny stove. Feeling for Dor’s plight, he offers him a gun and ammunition and a whole lot of persuasive talk that he should kill the thing. He’s got to look after his goats after all; his family depend on it. ‘Keep the gun, keep it; just let me have the body when you shoot the cat.’
“In a way you can’t blame the Dor’s of the world. No flock, no family, it’s a fairly basic equation. He shoots the Snow Leopard and is happy enough with the result - his goats are safe, he gets the gun plus something like ten dollars for the carcass when he hands it over to Gopi or his men. Gopi sells it on to another middle man where the body is cut up into skin and various parts, all of which head off in different directions to different dealers.
“Gopi probably gets a couple of hundred bucks or maybe a grand and each person higher up the chain gets more and more. A Snow Leopard pelt can go for anything - depends on demand - but typically you’re looking at between ten and twenty five thousand dollars to the right buyer and as numbers dwindle…” he pointed skywards, the direction the prices were sure to go.
“But there are organisations getting involved, especially in South East Asia,” I told him. “WWF and others are actively lobbying governments and setting up education programs. Surely that’s helping?”
“Well it’s not hurting, but it’s nowhere near enough. It isn’t just the economics, although that does play a major role. There are also just so many cultural differences and massive differences in standards of animal welfare.
“The Chinese eat dogs. We find the very idea disgusting, but it’s been a part of their lives for centuries. It isn’t going to stop over night. Live animals are sold in restaurants that specialise in wildlife dining. Other places cater for those who want to eat animals while they’re actually still alive!” By now I had stopped eating my crab cakes altogether and may have turned an unhealthy shade of green. “Turtle eggs are commonly found on their menus, as are sharks’ fins - again, to us this is unacceptable, but how would the English like it if the Hindu community suddenly rose up and told them they should stop eating their Sunday roast? Or the Americans their rib-eye steaks?”
I saw his point. If there could ever be a change in mentality it would take a long, long time.
“And it’s not just Asia and the Chinese. Take the Houbara Bustard as another example.”
“Err, ok.” I didn’t pretend to know what a Houbara Bustard was, but also knew this wasn’t the time to bring it up.
“For years there has been a well-established, illegal trade of these birds which are trapped wild in their native Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan and then exported to the Middle East where they’re used to train falcons. It’s known about, documented and yet it still goes on. To the Arab mind-set it just doesn’t matter.
“It is on record that following the Hajj in 2010 the skins of pythons, other reptiles and Arabian leopards were all available for sale throughout the tents of Mina, the tent city of the pilgrims. On record, but they just don’t care.
“Endangered animals and their parts are often smuggled into Saudi and the Gulf States with very little effort in trying to hide them. Not long ago a man was arrested at Bangkok airport as he was trying to fly First Class to Dubai with four leopard cubs, an Asiatic black bear and two macaques in his suitcases!”
Good god. It makes you scratch your head in sheer disbelief that anyone could do such a thing, to subject another living creature - especially a baby - to that sort of shock and trauma. What must the inside of their head’s look like? I shudder to think.
“So yeah, there’s a long way to go battling cultural standpoints, but like I said, not all the blame can be laid at the feet of Asia, Africa and the Gulf. The USA is the second largest importer of illegal wildlife products and a huge market for exotic pets. Every month tons of bushmeat arrives from Africa. In a five year period ending in 2005 eleven thousand specimens, both live and dead were seized in shipments from Central American countries alone. How many more slipped though?”
His contact at CITES had told him of a case a couple of years back when a couple were arrested at the Mexican border trying to smuggle in jaguar skins. These two had made numerous trips back and forth and had offered to sell to customers in Texas and Florida, both in person or through internet sites.
“What happened to them?” Geeza repeated my question. “They each faced up to five years in prison and criminal fines of up to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars! Up to. That was the maximum! I don’t know what they got in the end, but do you think it’s enough?”
I certainly don’t. Not nearly. Geeza’s friend had explained to him how CITES had had to lobby for years just to get the prison sentence in the UK increased to a maximum of five years for involvement in the illegal wildlife trade - prior to that it was maximum two, but more often than not all that happened was the goods were confiscated and maybe a fine was issued, maybe just a slapped wrist and a note made in some file somewhere.
The thing is, even having actually caught someone, it is then incredibly difficult to bring a conviction to court. Loopholes and lawyers, as ever the Achilles heel of the Law. There is a growing tendency, especially in Europe and America, for using legitimate businesses with the proper licences to trade to bring in illegal goods on false documents.
In these cases they are usually bought and sold to order, strictly black market. Otherwise wild animals are brought in and sold as ‘captive breeds’ along with the forged papers. The consumer doesn’t know they have just bought an endangered Madagascan river turtle for little Jimmy’s aquarium - it says ‘Thailand’ quite clearly under Country of Origin. There is as yet no standardisation of trade certificates so trying to ascertain the authenticity of foreign paperwork is enormously complicated even for the experts, of whom there are too few.
And then, for the few cases that do make it to court, all they can do is give ‘up to’ five years - five years for helping make a species extinct; five years, out in two. No I don’t think it’s enough. How could anybody think that’s enough?
Tonight, the entire shipment went down with the poachers and their boats, but there is still one man at large, and presumably he is still in possession of his rather grisly contraband. Geeza is punishing himself for letting the guy slip through the net. I told him not to be too hard on himself. He’d got the majority of the gang after all, along with the five buyers. He was not to be consoled however.
“I was stupid Elliot! Stupid and lazy. I didn’t think beyond my anger. I should have paid more attention to each and every individual, instead of just the gang. I was there when their ship came in. I should have picked up on the fact they were about to separate.”
“Oh come on Geeza,” I interjected, “how on earth were you supposed to know that?”
He stared at me across the nibbled remains of his dinner. “You know how I do things Elliot,” he said, “I should have known.” We were both silent for a few minutes after that, and I noticed that the waitresses had started putting chairs on tables and were beginning to sweep up at the other end of the bar. “Now I’ve got to start all over again, pretty much. All I know is that the hearts were ordered by some weird feral guy somewhere in Mexico.”
“Near some mountains or on the outskirts of the jungle,” I added, remembering what he’d said the poacher had told him before the boats mysteriously sank.
“Oh yeah, that narrows it down a bit doesn’t it?”
These poachers had really got under his skin. My friend was being uncharacteristically sarcastic and he knew it.
He held up his hands in apology. “I’m sorry Elliot; this has just got right under my skin.” Told you. “You’re right, it’s not much, but I should be able to pinpoint a few key areas to begin my search.” The he sighed heavily. “I should have got it out of him where they were due to meet! Stupid! I was so intent on revenge I let it cloud my judgement. Never give in to anger Elliot - it doesn’t let you go without a struggle.”
Geeza was evidently beginning to get himself down, so I decided to take him back to my hotel where I’d be able to keep an eye on him. I waved for the bill. There were two beds in my room so I told him he could stop with me the night and we could start again fresh in the morning.
“Start what?” he asked. “And what do you mean we?”
“What do you think? After breakfast you can do whatever it is you have to do and I’ll make a few enquiries - what planes flew to Mexico since the Cœur d’Afrique came into port and where exactly they flew to. We might even be able to get a name if I can get a passenger list from both the ship and the plane.”
He was sceptical and protested that he did not want to drag me into something as difficult - and more than likely dangerous - as this. As I paid for the meal, leaving a few EC dollars on the plate for the waitress, I told him not to be such a fool.
“By your own standards my friend, you can’t say it was a coincidence that we met. We ‘just happened’ to bump into each other in the middle of the Caribbean Sea? Come on, that’s not very likely - as you’d be the first to point out under different circumstances.” I grinned all over my face as I stood up and slipped my jacket on. “You were meant to find me,” I said, eyes wide open with mock dramaticism.
“Shut up,” he replied, albeit with a similar sized smile on his face. “Alright then Lord Cripplesby, let’s go get ‘em!”
“Ah ah - after breakfast.”
He shook his head. “Yeah, alright then, after breakfast.”
Like it so far? Follow Elliot and Geeza to Mexico as the plot thickens...
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