Sunday, 31 May 2015

The VillageTales of Fekenham Swarberry - UNPUBLISHED WORK - Book Four - The Politics of Turnips - Part Three 'Reactions' - Chapter Twenty Nine

Tall Buildings, Short Grasses - Dwarves in Pillow Cases

Verity stood, hands on hips, hair loose and windswept wearing a snugly-fitting dress looking nothing like the prim and proper school headmistress of popular Fekenham myth. In front of her, seated within the confines of a police interview room, was Mick Stag. He and brother Lenny had been picked up by the police after Lenny, upon seeing the police waiting at the ferry port, had panicked. He had run from the car into the constabulary’s waiting handcuffs. Mick, surrounded by policemen, had no choice but to surrender quietly.

The older brother looked more at ease being in custody than his sibling. He was far more experienced than Lenny having spent much of his career behind bars. The police had interviewed him but had got nothing in the way of either a confession or, when pressed, the whereabouts of Sally and Billy. Of course the police had no idea that the teenage couple had escaped. Mick had no interest one way or the other. Even if he had known that Flora had recaptured Sally and Billy he wouldn’t have informed.

Verity had managed to convince Detective Sergeant Haveaway that she might have more success. At first the policeman had scoffed at the idea but a call from D.I Lazarus soon put him wise. Verity knew how to play men but Mick was not so easily manipulated.

“Two teenagers were kidnapped by your gang. You surely don’t want harm to come to them do you? Committing robbery is one thing but kidnap is another and if they should be injured or hurt in any way you and your brother would be culpable. You would face long- term imprisonment.”

Mick remained stoic. His eyes glittered darkly. He made no sound but simply sat silently, gazing at Verity with a sardonic smile. Verity remained calm. Not a flicker of emotion crossed her face.

“If not yourself then think of your brother.”

Mick looked up at Verity then spoke in a whisper.

“Lenny’s a big boy now. He knows the score.”

Verity beamed. At least her mouth made the shape of a smile. Her eyes conveyed another emotion entirely.

“I’m sure he does,” said Verity who then turned on her heel, nodded toward the police officer standing sentinel by the door then left the cell. Waiting outside was DS Haveaway.

“How did it go?” he enquired.

“Not good. May I speak with the other one, the younger brother?”

“Lenny? Sure. Follow me.”

Haveaway led Verity down a short corridor to where another interview room was situated. The detective opened the door for Verity then closed it behind her.

“I’ll be out here if you need me,” he said.

Lenny sat disconsolate. His head bent low. His arms folded upon the table in front of him. It struck Verity that he looked much like one of her fifth form children did when caught doing something they shouldn’t have.

As she approached him, Lenny looked up. What he saw was an attractive woman but one whose eyes revealed something more, something deeper, darker, a steely resolve perhaps.

“Who are you?” asked Lenny, his voice betraying his obvious anxiety.

“My name is Verity. I am the school headmistress of Fekenham Senior School. I am also a mother. You kidnapped two teenagers. One of them is just sixteen. The other is his girlfriend. Imagine how scared you would have been at that age, Lenny. They have names you know, Sally and Billy. Billy plays football for Winchester FC. He may one day make the first team. Robbery is one thing. Kidnap another. Do you really want to serve extra time when you could tell us where they are?”

Lenny looked both terrified and perplexed. There was a sense of misery about him. It was as though all his sins were weighing heavy on him, that his brief career as a bank robber had not proved such a romantic adventure after all.

“But they escaped. They somehow got out of the van then ran off before we got to the ferry. Flora was mad but there was sweet FA she could do about it.”

Verity felt a bubble of relief rise within her chest.

“They escaped you say?”

“Yeah, somewhere around Portsmouth I think. I dunno now but they definitely escaped.”

Verity kept her voice calm using a soft, slightly deeper tone.

“And Flora, where’s she now?”

Lenny threw his head back then blew out of his mouth.

“She legged it. Left us on the bloody ferry and got off before we sailed.”

Verity looked at Lenny hard.

“She’s still in England?”

“I guess.”

“Where.”

“I dunno. She double crossed us though.”

“The car she was driving; do you recall the license number?”

“I’m no grass.”

“I know that, I can see it in your eyes, you are not the sort to hurt anyone but she betrayed you and besides if we had that number perhaps she could help us find Sally and Billy.”

“She made us do it. Neither Me or Mick wanted to kidnap two kids.”

“I need that number Lenny. Please help me; please help us find our missing children.”

Lenny tried not to cry in front of this woman but tears filled his eyes.

“I thought it might be a bit of a laugh, you know, pulling another heist. It wasn’t my first time but I never wanted to hurt no one.”

Verity put her hand onto Lenny’s and squeezed it gently.

“Please Lenny.”

The conflict in his head was apparent on his face. Whatever misguided loyalties he harboured they were plaguing him now. Lenny hung his head down again then muttered almost inaudibly.

“Okay, okay. Get me a pen and paper and I’ll write it down. I’ll also give you the road name and house number of the gaff she was staying at prior to taking up lodgings in Fekenham if it helps.”

Verity smiled. Her grey eyes revealed another side often not seen; a compassionate, sensitive quality. She squeezed Lenny’s hand again sensing his shame and remorse.

“Thanks. I’ll let the police know, without your brother needing to know, that you helped me.”

Lenny smiled. It was a fragile look.

“When I goes to trial will you stand up as a character witness for me?”

Verity nodded.

“Of course. I know the police inspector in charge of this case. I shall let him know how you helped. Now I have to go. I must find those teenagers.”

:

:

Ralph stood beside his Aston Martin pumping fuel into the tank. The downside of owning a car like his was the way it guzzled gas. It would have been better had the vandals chosen his tyres to slash rather than Arthur’s for even though the Jaguar was heavy on gasoline compared to the average automobile it still wasn’t as thirsty  as his.

With the tank filled, Ralph went into the French store to pay. It was a small shop that sold, much like Cybil’s post office, a mix of goods. Ralph picked up some candy, fruit gums. He thought they would be handy to chew as they drove.

He had agreed with the vicar that between them they would take it in turns to drive. He looked to see where the publican had gone but couldn’t see him. Ralph paid for fuel and the candy then tried asking the woman behind the cash register, in his best schoolboy French, if she had seen a circus passing through. The woman looked surprised by the question raising her eyebrows in mild astonishment. She shook her head saying she hadn’t. Ralph thanked the woman and left.

As he left the shop he spotted Linkthorpe talking with a man in uniform. He heard Elvis thank the man then watched as the vicar walked toward him.

“Who was that guy?” asked Ralph inquisitively.

“A chap who works at the dock; He’s a customs officer. He checks vehicles as they pass through, you know, looks at their passports and examines what they are carrying. He’s off duty now so I asked him if he’d seen a circus pass through,” replied the vicar, brushing a hand across his hair

“And what’d he say. Had he seen them?”

Elvis grinned roguishly.

“Better than just seeing them, which he had, he knew where they were headed.”

With mild exasperation evident in his voice Ralph spoke again.

“Vicar, stop being such a goddamn tease. Where are they going?”

“Lyon.”

The pair climbed into the car with Ralph behind the wheel. The circus had the advantage of several hours but they couldn’t match the Aston’s speed. Ralph knew if he took the péage rather than the pretty back roads that he could reduce those hours.

Elvis laid back and closed his eyes as Ralph drove. Soon he was asleep. His dreams featured images of Lupini, of Delores Dewhip and of Susanne. It was the latter who took centre stage. As a man of the cloth he was meant to be above the urges of the flesh but when he thought of Suzanne all his urges went into overdrive.

He had, for many years, held a torch for Verity. He had never made his feelings known. She was totally unaware of his secret affection and even had she been aware, or so he thought, those feelings would not have been reciprocated. What he didn’t know was how for some years Verity had felt the same. Now of course there was Ralph. He was the one she had spent her adult life looking for.

The same was now true for Elvis Linkthorpe. Anais Sin, as he first knew her, was the woman for him. He didn’t even give their age difference a second thought. She had given his life the spark it had lost. He didn’t care one whit for her past. It was their shared future that excited them.

When it became obvious to Linkthorpe that he and Verity would never happen, Fekenham’s vicar had briefly turned his romantic eye elsewhere. He hadn’t realised at first that he shared a common lust with Arthur Bentwhistle for Delores Dewhip but that brief infatuation to one side Elvis Linkthorpe was very different to the publican.

As much as Arthur tried to keep his lustful ways under control his body let him down. His brain was as sharp as pin but it wasn’t such a powerful organ as the one that stirred within his Y-fronts. Arthur was after all just a man, All of Arthur’s life he had been the subject of its desires. When it demanded action he did as it dictated.

Elvis felt completely fulfilled having Susanne by his side. The same couldn’t be said of Arthur and Lupini.

Ralph drove, looking at the road while thinking of Verity. The péage roads are straight and fast. They are far better than those of Albion. Direct and fast. Driving at eighty is permissible but, like anyone who drives, Ralph added another ten on the speedometer. By the time they arrived in Lyon, Elvis was awake and it was dark outside.

Ralph knew of a hotel he had stayed at some years ago. It had been just before he had met Verity and before he had moved to Fekenham. His memory was good and he soon found the establishment. He was virtually out of petrol but fortunately there was a Gas Station near to the Campanile.

When he had filled the tank he was once again tried to engage the store manager in conversation but the man appeared not to understand him. The hotel desk clerk was more helpful. He spoke English and when asked if he had seen sight of a circus he said he had. He informed both Ralph and Elvis that the Spiegielie Zirkus had made camp on the outskirts of Lyon. He said there had been an argument between the circus owner and the group of performing dwarves. The dwarves had booked into the hotel and now occupied rooms on the top floor.

Ralph thanked the man, asking if they had spare rooms for two more. The man replied that he didn’t. He only had one room left. A single on the lower floor. The prospect of sharing a single bed with Elvis was unappetising but, as Linkthorpe insisted he could sleep in the armchair, Ralph paid for the room.

Just the one night sir?

Yes, Please.

The clerk rang a small bell which was answered with seconds by the appearance of a sallow-skinned youth with acne. He looked at the meagre luggage, picked the bags up then indicated for Ralph and the vicar to follow. He led them to a small room then beckoned for them to enter. As they stood scrutinising their surroundings the youth placed their luggage on the floor then stood waiting in silence.

“What’s he waiting for?” asked Elvis innocently..

Ralph dipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out a crisp note.

“Merci,” he said as he passed the money to the porter who turned on his heel then left the room.

“Not exactly the Ritz,” commented Elvis as he bounced up and down on the divan,

“It’ll do,” replied Ralph, looking suspiciously at the man who had, only minutes before, volunteered to sleep in the easy chair and who now appeared to be marking out his turf. “We’ll go get some food soon if it isn’t too late, or maybe a takeaway.”

Elvis scoffed. “Takeaway in France, I’m not sure the land of high cuisine supplies that service.”

“Sure they do,” responded Ralph. “At least they did the last time I was here anyway.”

Ralph put a call into room service for omelette and French fries and a bacon and egg sandwich for Elvis. The sallow-faced, acned youth returned with the foodstuff on a tray. Again he stood there silently waiting. This time Ralph ignored him looking stoically at the priest who looked from Ralph back to the porter. With sudden inspiration he dug into his pocket and pulled at a coin; a centime. He thrust the change into the youth’s hand who stood, palm open and uppermost. The boy looked at Ralph, raised a quizzical eyebrow, sighed then left the room. The vicar smiled broadly.

They ate their food in silence then Ralph, feeling tired after the long drive, announced he was retiring for the night.

“If I snore just dig me in the ribs,” said the American as he climbed into bed.

“Righto!” grinned the vicar. “I might just pop out for a swift gander at the locals. Get to know the area as it were.”

Ralph didn’t answer. He was already drifting into the land of dream. He didn’t hear the door close as Elvis left the building. He felt, rather than knew, time drift.

Verity was before him wrapped in a towel. Her hair was hanging down wet from showering. She looked how he imagined she had twenty years ago. Her grey eyes held that same sensual promise. Her lips were parted. The towel tied around her bust shifted slightly revealing a glimpse of her cleavage. Ralph moved closer to her, feeling his desire for the woman he loved grow.

“You look so hot,” he said.

“I’m on fire for you,” she whispered in sultry tones. “I’m on fire for you.”

A bell rang. It kept ringing and he wished it wouldn’t. He didn’t need that damn noise ruining the moment. He wanted his wife. “I’m on fire for you.”

“Fire! Fire!”

Ralph sat up in bed startled. The voice he heard was not that of Verity’s. The body before him was not that of his wife’s but of Elvis Linkthorpe who was gesticulating wildly.

“Fire! Fire! Get out of bed Ralph. The hotel is on fire.”

Ralph shook his head as he slipped out of bed. Alarm bells were sounding. He could hear voices shouting in French. His head was foggy. Sleep reluctantly crept away.

“Where is everyone?” he asked as he quickly pulled on his clothes.

“Outside, they are all outside in the car park.”

Linkthorpe ushered him out of the hotel room. The sound of the alarm bell continued but there was also the sound of flames greedily burning the building.

“Where is the fire?” shouted Ralph over the din.

“It apparently started on the floor above. The sprinklers failed. The circus dwarves are all trapped on the second.”

“How are those poor bastards going to get down from there?” screamed Ralph.

“A fire engine should be here shortly,” shouted back the vicar.

“We have to help them, come on!”

Ralph ran off. Elvis followed on behind.

“Help them, how?” bellowed Elvis.

“I don’t know but we can’t leave then to burn to death.”

Elvis Linkthorpe was not a brave man. The thought of playing hero was alien to him. The idea of putting his life at risk had zero appeal.

“Errr, well, if you say so.”

Beside them was a large laundry basket on wheels. The wicker woven carriage was filled with bed linen. Ralph grabbed a handful of pillow cases.”

“Take hold of these and follow me,” cried Ralph taking more pillow cases from the basket before ascending the stairs.  Linkthorpe followed on fearfully, clutching the linen cases to his chest. Flames roared all around them but only on the second floor. The fire door to the stairwell was open. Ralph threw it shut. The flames momentarily disappeared. Ralph ran on up the stairs to the top floor.

“Come on Elvis, we have to be quick.”

Being quick is all well and good but the village vicar was struggling with a desire to run in the opposite direction. He had never pretended he was a brave man – he wasn’t. Courage was a thing one read about in school books, the sort of thing depicted on film but he was not a hero.

“Couldn’t we simply wait for the French Fire Brigade to arrive?”

“No. There isn’t time.”

Ralph opened the door to the top floor. There was no fire but there was a great deal of smoke. The American wrapped a pillow case around his nose and mouth. The vicar did the same.

The smoke was thick now making it almost impossible to see. There were shapes before them scattered on the floor. As they got closer to them they could see it was a dozen or so dwarves all of whom had been overcome by smoke inhalation.

“I’ve got eight cases Elvis, how many have you got?”

“About six,” shouted the vicar coughing as he did.

Ralph was finding it hard to breathe. He knew they had to act and act swiftly. He grabbed the first dwarf he came across and bundled him into a pillow case. He passed the case with the dwarf inside to Elvis.

“I’ll pass them to you. You stack them up by the stairwell. Once we get them all into pillow cases we can carry them up to the roof and hope the fire brigade get here soon.”

Elvis looked nonplussed. “You want me to carry dwarves up the stairs in pillow cases?”

“That’s the general idea,” retorted Ralph.

“It seems a bit weird to me. Mightn’t the dwarves find it a little demeaning being carried like laundry in a sack?”

“I would have thought it infinitely preferable to being cooked like steaks on a barbecue.” 

“Right, yes, okay, I see your point.”

The first signs of flame blossomed on the far wall. The priest and restaurateur worked quickly. The unconscious circus people were placed into the pillow cases then laid out by the stairwell. With the fire door now shut to keep the hungry flames at bay the two men started the process of carrying the insensible circus folk up to the roof.

It was no easy task for all though the dwarves were small they were still heavy to carry. Elvis tried carrying one in each hand but found it almost impossible to do. They were far heavier than he imagined. He managed with the first two but kept banging their heads against the wall or stair and even, at one stage, dropped them both. He decided to carry only two by putting then top and tail in the pillow case and then shifting the weight across his shoulder. He placed the first, a female head down and then placed another, a handsome male head up. He then bent his knees, slung the pillow case across his shoulder then stood up.

He took to the stairs. Smoke was thick now. The heat was growing as the fire came closer.

One sack he carried starting coughing. From the sack came a mild expletive followed by an unpleasant smell. A head popped out of the sack.

“Sorry,” the unknown dwarf said, “I couldn’t help myself, I was that scared.”

“I wouldn’t worry if I were you,” replied Linkthorpe, “I only have to cough and I soil myself,”

The dwarf though wasn’t happy. He continued the conversation and as he did a pair of feet thrust themselves out the top.

“Why have you shoved us in here like this? It is most undignified. You have placed us in a most inappropriate position, quite compromising in fact.”

“Better than being fried like bacon surely?” grunted the vicar as he staggered forward.

“But my chin keeps rubbing against Lemon Pip’s naughty bits and we have only just begun courting.”

A muffled squeak came from the case.

“What was that?” asked Linkthorpe.

“She asked me to behave. My, er, male member seems to have woken and is behaving in ways I wish it wouldn’t.”

“Ahhh,” huffed the vicar, “I see. Happens all the time to me. Just a couple of more steps up these stairs and we’ll be on the roof. My names Elvis,” said Elvis.

“I know who you are. We regularly attended you sermons. I’m Grom Tick.”

“I see,” panted Linkthorpe as he staggered up the stairs with the pillow case bumping up and down on his back.

“Oh, oh, oh, oooooooooo,” came a muffled voice from within the case.

The village priest lay the sack down and helped Lemon Pip and Grom Tick to clamber out.

“Sorry about that,” said Elvis stooping with hands on knees.

Lemon Pip blushed cherry red. “Don’t apologise on my behalf,” she said breathlessly.

Ralph had thrown a sack containing a dwarf over his shoulder and then moved with speed. Smoke was rising thick and sooty now. Linkthorpe picked up another pillow case. This one contained a fat female dwarf who seemed to weigh a ton. The vicar muttered under his breath something about one or two dwarves defying the trade’s descriptions act as he hefted the cotton case over his back.

By the time they had got all twelve of them onto the roof the fire had spread beyond control. The fire door had finally submitted to the flames which were now dancing their way upward. Elvis, no longer quaking with fear but now covered in sweat, stood beside Ralph. Both men were coughing. The unpleasant effects of the smoke had left their mouths and throats dry but also had filled their lungs with the toxic residue of smoke inhalation.

They felt cold now as they stood on the roof. November was turning toward December and the cold of winter was beginning to bite.

The sound of alarm bells had been joined by the sound of sirens. On the street below them three fire engines, with lights flashing, were parked. Above them a helicopter buzzed. From two of the fire engines below ladders were rising skyward. On each were two French fire fighters. One of the dwarves stared coughing as he awoke. He scrambled out of the pillow case rubbing his eyes. He was, understandably, in a state of shock. He looked around him in bewilderment trying to take in all that he saw. His fellow circus performers were, one by one, regaining consciousness.

The helicopter landed a short distance away from them on the roof. A helmeted man jumped down and ran toward them shouting in French.

“He wants to take some of these chaps into the chopper,” wheezed Linkthorpe. “Oui, oui. Allez, allez.” 

Other dwarves were now regaining consciousness. They coughed and cursed. Six were loaded onto the helicopter which took off and flew away presumably to the nearest hospital. Flames were now licking at the exit to the roof doorway. The two firemen on ladders started to carry down one circus man at a time. Including Ralph and Elvis there were still six people remaining; four circus people but also the two Fekenham men.

A section of the roof caved in with an almighty roar and crash. Fire leapt forth in red tongues of flame. The six men shuffled closer to the edge of the building.

“You’d better start praying father,” said one of the dwarves. “We are going to need the good Lord’s help.”

Ralph looked at Elvis.

“I never understood what Verity saw in you at first. The more I get to know you the more I see what she must have seen. You’re a good guy Elvis. If we don’t make it off this roof know that I am proud to have had you as a friend.”

Linkthorpe smiled.

“Steady on old chap,” he said pointing up at the horizon, “you’re not so bad for a Yank yourself. By the looks of the chopper winging its way here I think we may get out of this mess with no more than unpleasant coughs.”

Hours later, with all of the dwarves hospitalised for twenty four hour observation, Linkthorpe and Ramhard were released having been given medical examinations. As they left they were greeted by the impossibly tall, thin man who had first driven the circus into Fekenham and by a plainclothes policeman. The traveller held out is hand to the vicar.

“I am Gustavo. I attended your sermons when we visited Fekenham. Thank you for helping my fellow circus people in the fire. We cannot thank you enough.”

Elvis warmly shook his hand.

“You are most welcome. My friend here did most of the rescuing.” he paused, momentarily, then asked the question that he and Ralph had travelled so far to ask. “Two teenagers from Fekenham had disappeared. They aren’t with you are they?”

Gustavo shook his head.

“No. We haven’t seen them although I know who you mean. We would never steal children. Why would we when we intend to return year after year to your hospitable village?”

The plain cloths policeman interjected.

“Bonjour, I am, how you say, inspector of police. My name is Claude Dupont. I ‘ave been talking wiz Adam Lazarus. I can promise you that this cirkus has not any Fekenham teenagers. Lazarus he say the ones who took your enfant are captured. The children were not wiz them. They ‘ave vanished. You should return to Albion to help, oui?”

Ralph extended his hand to both men thanking them profusely for their help.

“Thanks. Sorry if we misjudged the circus people but our kids mean a lot to us.”

Gustavo smiled indulgently.

“We too place great importance on family and children. No need to apologise. I hope you find them soon. Maybe we will see them again next year. For now though, go home as soon as you can and punish those who stole them in the first place.

Ralph and Elvis said their goodbyes. It was time to grab some sleep even if it meant using the Aston for shelter.

:

:

“At least we don’t have smelly sacks over our heads,” said Billy, trying to turn a negative in to a positive. The effort was wasted on Sally. She looked at him with a piercing glare.

“Maybe so but now we are locked up in a dark, dank and smelly basement with little light and nowhere to wash, nor any toilets. I am not weeing in a corner like a dog. It is also cold down here. It’s nearly December and there is no heating. I’m freezing, Billy and I want to go home.”

Billy sighed.

“I’m sorry Sal. I don’t know what to say to you. I thought we had got away. I wish we hadn’t taken that bus. If only we had found a telephone in Portsmouth.”

Billy’s guilt made Sally’s heart melt. She knew she had a short fuse at times but she didn’t blame her boyfriend. She knew that without him she would never have managed to escape from the gang in the first place. Meeting up with Flora again was simply bad luck, or so it seemed. As Sally thought about it now there seemed something oddly perspicacious about her finding them. Perhaps there had been an element of luck involved but there had to be a deal of planning too.

“Don’t apologise Billy. You haven’t done anything wrong. I’m just a little stressed I guess. I thought we had managed to get out of the clutches of that horrid woman and her gang. I thought we were on our way home. I even began to grow a little excited at the thought of seeing mum and dad again. How did that woman know where we would be?  How did she find us?”

Billy had no answer for that question and so it remained a puzzle to both of them.

Upstairs, seated at a kitchen table drinking hot chocolate from a large mug, was the diminutive figure of Flora Gusset. She too was reflecting on how lucky she had been to have found the Fekenham teenagers again.

Of course her leaving the gang on the ferry had been planned. It was after all she who had arranged for them to dump the van they had been driving. They had left the van in a back street where it was less likely to be spotted. She had previously arranged to have two cars driven onto the ferry. She had thought it a smart move as the police would be on the lookout for a van occupied by four men. They would be less likely to be concerned about two men in one car and two men and a female in the other. She hadn’t known that Adam Lazarus suspected her involvement so had not taken that into consideration.  The third car, the one parked a short distance from the ferry port, was one she had had delivered there. It was her escape vehicle.

Flora had waited until the crowds on the ferry had assembled and the gang had settled down before she turned tail and walked off the boat then to the car. It had been simplicity itself. She thought it was fool proof.

Driving to Portsmouth had not been pure luck although luck had certainly played a part. Instinctively Flora knew that the teenagers would make for a large town. Portsmouth was the nearest to where she believed they had escaped. Seeing them queuing at the bus stop had been her good fortune. Driving to its eventual destination was common sense.

The problem she now had to face, one that she had not given enough thought to before, was what she was going to do with them.

Flora was a thief. She worked for one of the greatest bank robbers of all time. She was not a murderer but they, Sally and Billy, had seen her at the scene of the crime. That had been a monumental mistake. She didn’t want to retire upon her illicit gains only to have Interpol arrest her some months hence. Having made up her mind to dispose of the two teenage lovers she now was finding the method unpalatable. However, unsavoury a task as it was, it had to be done.

Sally and Billy could expose her. Sally and Billy had to go. It was just a question of how and when.

:

:

The morning after, saw Tommy Tickleshaft resting in bed in one of Brigadier Largepiece’s spare rooms. The Brigadier had a first aid kit the size of a broom cupboard that would have been welcomed by most general hospitals. He had administered pain killers and a mild sedative to the wounded man. Tickleshaft now slept the sleep of healing, grateful to the retired military man for his generous hospitality.

Downstairs in the living room Largepiece, along with Lord Urpington Crust and Ernie Stallworthy, sat discussing recent events. A pot of tea along with three cups and saucers were laid out on a tray beside the retired military man. The Brigadier returned to the subject mentioned last night.

“Urpington old fellow, you intimated, before we all tootled of to bed, that it was due to Regus Nasaltwist’s dislike of Verity Ramhard that we have been plagued by those infernal Brethren twits. Can you elucidate?”

The charming adventurer flashed his toothsome smile, stroked his blonde goatee and then began.

“Several years ago, back in the eighties I believe, Verity, still a Lambush then, had a string of lovers. There is no secret in that so please don’t think I am tittle tattling. One of her conquests, or rather near misses, was Nasaltwist. She treated him, as is her wont, rather brusquely. She slung him out on his ear, gave him the old heave-ho; dumped him like the proverbial. He took umbrage, serious capital U umbrage. Apparently he was smitten by her heavenly smile or something just as daft and was mortally wounded, if the heart can be so injured and it not being lethal, that her dismissal of him turned his sharp mind blunt as it were.

“He bore a grudge most deep and lasting. Unable even to prick the indomitable shield that Verity so magnificently wields, he chose to bide his time. He didn’t know of Cybil or Amy nor of the tryst between headmistress and vicar so instead he targeted the only other thing that Headmistress Lambush loved: the village itself.

“It was a long wait for he didn’t meet Hazel Thorny for several years after. They became lovers. Of course he felt no love for her. She was useful to him. They both shared the same obnoxious dislike of anyone not born white. The Brethren was Nasaltwist’s concept. Hazel Thorny was its spiritual head but the heart of the beast was false for Regus didn’t care about for racist groups. All he cared about was hurting the only woman he had ever had feelings for.”

“Verity Lambush,” whispered the Brigadier. “I’ll be jiggered.”

“The geezer is a slice short of a loaf,” intoned Ernie. “All that maliciousness over a bird, it seems bloody daft doesn’t it?”

The errant lord agreed with a nod of his head.

“They say there is nothing so twisted as a lover spurned,” said Crust trying to recall a quote.”

Ernie jabbed a finger at Crust.

“You are one shady bloke if you don’t mind me saying so. I mean all this business with the East India Trading Company and the S.I.S. How the bloody hell do you manage to keep it all under your hat. It would drive me mental.”

The Brigadier and Urpington Crust laughed out loud.

“I imagine it does send you round the bend a bit doesn’t it old chap?” queried Largepiece.

“Sometimes yes but that is where Tommy is so vital to our little enterprise. Without him the mucky types at East India would have uncovered my escapades long ago. I would have found myself garrotted, or with a bullet in my brain long since. He is the epitome of a right-hand-man. He is everything a chap could want as a companion in espionage.”

From outside there came the sound of barking.

“Is that your dog’s Ernest?”

Ernie shot up out of his seat.

“Yes, guv, it is. Best break out some weapons and sharpish.”

There was no time though. The French windows fell open with a loud crash and the sound of breaking glass. A masked man pointing an automatic rifle burst in, shortly followed by another.

“Down on your faces now. Hands on the backs of your heads. The first to move dies. Where is Tickleshaft?”

Faced with imminent death the three men did as instructed. No one spoke though. One of the masked men strode over to where the Brigadier lay then prodded him with the toe of his boot.

“I asked you a question old man. Where is Tickleshaft?”

The Brigadiers voice, with his face pushed against the floor, came back slightly muffled.

“I haven’t the faintest idea what you are talking about,” Largepiece replied.

The man gave the prostrate Brigadier a hefty kick in the ribs. Ernie remonstrated loudly.

“Leave him alone you arse, he’s an old man.”

“He’ll be a dead man if he doesn’t give me the answer. Where is Tickleshaft?”

Brigadier Largepiece didn’t win a chest full of medals by kow-towing to bullies, dictators or armed men. He had faced the might of the Imperial Chinese army; he had seen men die for their country and the cause they believed in. His ribs hurt. He felt the grip of fear that all military men have to face when in combat. He had no desire to meet his maker just yet but he would never betray a friend, or a comrade to the enemy.

“I haven’t the faintest idea what you are talking about,” he repeated.

Just as the man drew back his leg to kick out once again a voice came from the doorway.

“Who wants him?” asked Thomas Isaac Tickleshaft.

The two men looked directly at him raising their weapons as they did. They hadn’t noticed that the barking had stopped. They had forgotten about the dogs. Perhaps they had dismissed then from their minds thinking that a dachshund and a mongrel with a limp were no threat to them. They were wrong.

Codpiece, by Nature’s design, wasn’t far from the ground. He seldom jumped up unless it was to steal a sausage from a plate. There was no such food available this time so he made do with the masked man by the French doors under parts. He sank his teeth firmly in said gent’s testicles and clung on for grim death.

The man, naturally enough having a set of jaws clamped around his private parts, let out a scream. His colleague, the one fond of kicking elderly men in the ribs, spun round. As he did so the Brigadier, defying his arthritis and the onset of age and the crippling pain in his ribs, leapt up and kicked the back of the man’s legs. The Special Operations enforcer collapsed onto his knees whereupon the Brigadier picked up the Wedgwood teapot then brought it smartly down on the masked man’s head. The man collapsed amid a flood of hot tea and fragments of china.

Scrubbs joined the fray, biting firmly into the backside of the other man who was frantically beating at the sausage dog’s head. Urpington Crust took hold of the unconscious man’s automatic weapon pointing it directly at his howling comrade’s chest. Ernie commanded Scrubbs and Codpiece to heel.

The East India special executive agent cupped his hands around his sore genitalia. His eyes were streaming from the pain inflicted on him. His gluteus maximus throbbed but Urpington Crust showed no sympathy.

“On the floor now with your hands on your head.”

Crust waggled the gun between man and floor. The foot soldier groaned.

“For pity’s sake; my nuts have been perforated.”

“I don’t care if they’ve been desiccated, masticated and bleeding shredded, do as his Lordship says,” growled Ernie.

With little choice in the matter the man laid down. Ernie bound the shorter man’s hands and feet together then did the same to his colleague. Tommy Tickleshaft limped to the sofa. The Brigadier rubbed his hand gingerly across his bruised ribs. Ernie whistled to his dogs that wagged their tails at him. Urpington Crust stood over the captives then spoke to Humphrey Largepiece.

“That was very brave Humphrey but very foolish, how’s the ribs?”

The Brigadier, whose face was flushed, grimaced.”

“A little sore. I think I might need a medic.”

“I’ll call Doctor Kettle,” replied the Lord of the Manor, moving toward the telephone.

The dogs started barking again. Urpington Crust primed the automatic as Ernie picked up the other weapon. To their surprise Adam Lazarus stepped through the broken door. He swiftly scanned the situation

“Looks like you have been busy,” he said.

Urpington Crust sighed then beckoned the policeman to enter.

“The Brig’s taken a bit of a beating I’m afraid and we have these two ruffians to deal with but if you’d like to come in I shall explain all.”

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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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