Saturday, 19 December 2009

Episode 21

India took a sip of water to wash down the last of her doughnut. Othello had grumpily fetched a box for them from a nearby store – anything to quiet Prada's rumbling stomach. For someone so image-conscious, she can certainly eat, thought India, watching Prada fussily wiping her hands with one of the frustratingly inadequate paper towels from the doughnut shop. In the front seat, even Mercury had resorted to doing a crossword by torchlight to pass the time. They had been here for hours - or so it felt.

"Woe is me, 4 letters." Mercury sighed.

"Alas," replied Othello, staring through the window at a deserted and windy street.

"Did Opal say when this guy was going to show up?" asked Prada.

"Nope." replied Mercury firmly, "What's another word for greed, beginning with 'a'?"

"Avarice," Othello could not keep the boredom from his voice. Like all of them, he just wanted to get in there and deal with the demon they had followed here, once and for all. Having to wait was maddening.

"Doesn't fit,"

Othello glanced over at Mercury's paper, "Spaghetti ends in an 'i' not an 'e'." he grunted.

"Oh yeah, thanks." Mercury's pen scratched the paper.

Outside in the street, nothing was still doing its best to happen.


The armoured figure facing Harold was like something come to life from one of those old mythology books. It topped Harold's six feet by a good head, and was broad of shoulder and narrow of hip. Its flowing golden hair framed a bronzed face of such surpassing beauty that, if it had smiled, it would have lit up the whole alleyway.

It was not smiling, however.

"You!" cried Harold in disbelief and not a little trepidation.

"They told me that one of the First Order was roaming around on Earth," said the armoured figure, "Imagine my surprise when they said it was you." He took a step closer and in so doing, brought the flaming tip of his sword close enough to make the front of Harold's jacket begin to smoke a little. "Do you not remember me warning you what would happen if our paths ever crossed again?" The perfect grey eyes were ablaze with anger.

"Of course I do," answered Harold, his voice calmer than he felt.

"And yet you still come up here to the world of men to make mischief."

"That's not what I'm doing here, Baruthiel," Harold protested.

"Oh?" the angel (for such it was) raised a perfect eyebrow, "So you got Lolita LaChaise to sign away her soul for her own good then, did you?" Even dripping sarcasm, the voice was lovely. "You are truly pathetic!"

Harold had no answer: he had indeed ensnared that young actress with a promise of a major part in All My Children, but that was before – and she had been drunk at the time, so even the best of the Basement's lawyers (and there were plenty to choose from) would probably not be able to get the Contract to stick. The Contract had to be signed knowingly and willingly. Harold doubted that would cut any ice with Baruthiel the Reckoner, though, and prepared himself for a swift and painful trip back home. It was a pity really, things were just getting interesting.

"I would love to deal with you as you deserve, Fallen," continued the angel, "but fortunately for you, there are more important matters at hand. I assume all this amateurish skulking in alleys is your way of investigating the disappearances?"

Harold was stung by the angel's scathing tone and, with the threat of imminent Dismissal having receded, somewhat irritated by his holier-than-thou (though technically quite true) manner.

"What's it to the Penthouse if there are a few less Fallen?" he retorted, "I would have thought you'd be pleased."

"Oh, we would be," Baruthiel assured him, "Except that some of the Loyal have also disappeared."
Even Teatime, who had been perfectly still and silent up to this point, gasped.

So Angels were disappearing too.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Episode 20

An obsequious waiter in a cummerbund brought the bill. Harold looked at it and gave a low whistle.

"I think that waiter should double as a mortgage advisor, these prices are crazy – they've even charged for the sugar in my coffee!" he said, aghast, "Good thing Ray gave me some money or I'd be washing dishes for a month!"

"Indeed," agreed Teatime, "And the fruit salad wasn't as fresh as it ought to have been. Still, time we were off, old bean, work to be done and all that. Make sure you don't leave a tip, that'll teach them."

"No tip?" cried Harold in mock horror, "Is there no end to your evil schemes?"

"None whatsoever," replied Teatime without a trace of humour.

The two made their way out of the Nirvana Cafe and into the gathering gloom of the evening city streets.

India felt as awkward and outlandish as a scarecrow on roller skates in her makeup, wig and heels. A picture in this get-up would definitely not be one for the photo album. She glanced at her watch: 20:34. How much longer would they have to wait?

"Target's on Fletcher Street, where that jazz club was," said Mercury, watching the GPS display. "Wonder why it's gone back there? It said it had nothing to do with the fire, yet here it is all the same."

"Well, we used to suspect that Baron Samedi was a demon, didn't we?" said Prada, "Maybe that's why."

"We never managed to get any proof, though," replied Mercury, "and now the Baron's vanished, so I guess we'll never know."

"Bit like the wild goose chase we were on before this." Othello chimed in, "Agent Domino swore there was a demon working in that soup kitchen, ensnaring down-and-outs, but when we got there, nothing."

"Well, I wouldn't be sorry if all the demons just disappeared. Good riddance!" declared Prada.

India was intrigued: when Demons managed to get to earth, they never left voluntarily, so had to be Dismissed. So far as she knew, only OGS agents had the necessary faith to do that. So if Baron Samedi and that other demon hadn't left on their own and hadn't been Dismissed....

Harold and Teatime were in the alley behind the club. It was the logical place to start - the front being far too public. There was a fire exit here with no lock or handle, one of those opened by a push-bar from inside. Harold did a quick survey of the area: there were no handy windows left open or inviting ventilation grilles like in the movies.

"You'll have to open the door yourself, old shoe," whispered Teatime, "You do remember how to do that kind of thing, don't you?"

"Yeah, I remember," sighed Harold, "I just haven't done it lately."

"You really ought to practise these things more," scolded Teatime, "It's like what I said about your shape-shifting. That could have been very useful – and still could be, if only you'd put some effort in."

"Ok, ok", Harold raised his hands in mock surrender, "I'll try harder. Now let me see if I can..."

He placed his hands against the door and concentrated. For a minute, nothing seemed to happen. He was about to give up when a disused circuit in his brain suddenly lit up and, yes, he could sense the push-bar. Now, just a little pull...

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!" he breathed as the lock clunked.

"Well done, old fruit!" applauded Teatime, "I had every faith in you!"

"You're a terrible liar, Teatime," laughed Harold, really pleased with himself for having got something right at last. He pulled the door open. Inside, it was pitch black, but Harold could see perfectly well.

"Breaking and entering now is it?" said a deep melodious voice behind them.

Harold whirled round so quickly at the unexpected sound that Teatime was forced to grab a handful of hair or be summarily thrown off Harold's shoulder. He chittered sharply: sometimes only monkey expletives would do.

The owner of the voice was about 10 feet away, clad in radiantly shining armour, and held a huge flaming sword pointed directly at Harold.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Episode 19

Ray pulled the car over.

"Well, here we are, my Lord," he announced, somewhat unnecessarily. "And here are the things Mr Teatime asked for." He handed a carrier bag to Harold.

"Er, thanks," said the demon, "Well, it was nice meeting you and thanks for the lift."

"It was our pleasure, my Lord," said Nicole, "If you ever need us again, our number is in the phone."

Harold and Teatime got out of the car and watched for a few moments as it pulled away and disappeared into the traffic.

"Nice people," said Harold.

"Actually, old bean," Teatime corrected him, "they're not – at least by most people's standards. Now, let's find somewhere for a drink and a bite, after that long drive I'm feeling a bit frazzled, I don't mind telling you."

After the noise and bustle of the city street, Cafe Nirvana was a haven of cool and calm. In the corner, real live musicians were playing Beethoven's String Quartet No 1 in F major. While he and Teatime waited for the food and drink to arrive, Harold cocked an appreciative ear in their direction.

"The allegro in this is so joyful," he commented after a few minutes, "so sprightly, it's like a bright necklace of notes winding into your ear. You know, Ludwig has such a light touch here, compared to some of his other stuff. Why I remember - "

"Yes, yes. If you say so, old shoe," yawned Teatime, music appreciation not being one of his specialities, "Now let's have a look in Ray's goody bag."

Harold emptied the contents of the carrier bag onto the table. There was a mobile phone (a Rainbow Industries Edge-5100T, no less, with solar charger), a wallet full of money, some sunglasses and a baseball cap. Harold laughed at these last two items.

"The old disguise kit, eh?"

"Well, it pays to be circumspect, old fruit," said Teatime, "The human police are still looking for the man in the CCTV film, you know – which is you, in case you'd forgotten."

"I haven't forgotten," replied Harold, "But why don't I just talk to them and tell them I had nothing to do with the fire anyway? That way, the problem is removed altogether."

At that moment the food arrived – a nice juicy steak for Harold and a fresh fruit salad (and wedge of chocolate cake) for Teatime.

"Such naivete," sighed Teatime when the waitress had gone, "Just telling the police you weren't there won't be enough, there'll be questions and we'd be tied up for hours or days even. They might even try to take your fingerprints and we can't risk that."

This was true, for while Harold had been kitted out with a basic set of earthly credentials: Social Security number, birth certificate and driver's licence courtesy of the Black Sheep working in the SSA, IRS, DMV and so on, Harold did not have fingerprints or DNA. This was not a crime, of course, but was bound to raise questions if discovered as part of a police investigation.

"I think, " said Teatime, changing the subject, "we should wait until this evening and then take a look around Baron Samedi's then. I doubt we'll find anything, but we must be thorough."

"Indeed we must," agreed Harold happily. In the meantime, there was food, drink and glorious music.

Agent Mercury's phone rang. He picked it up, listened for a short while, grunted occasional acknowledgements and then hung up. He turned to the others.

"That was Opal," he said, "Someone's coming to meet us and we're to wait for him before moving in."

There was a collective groan of frustration from the other agents: they were so close to their target, just a block away in fact, and now they had to wait, maddening!

"So, who's coming?" asked Prada.

"Someone from the Penthouse, apparently," replied Mercury.

There was a stunned silence in the car. The Penthouse only ever involved itself directly with earthly affairs in the most exceptional of circumstances – and the apprehension of one rather puny demon didn't qualify as exceptional, surely!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Episode 18

"I look like a streetwalker!" gasped Agent India in dismay, as she surveyed her image in the mirror.

"Oh, nonsense!" soothed Agent Prada, brushing the last few wisps of India's platinum blonde wig into place. She stepped back, a smug look on her own immaculately made-up face. "You look classy, but slightly naughty, which is the effect I was going for. Now, try these shoes on."

India tried to quell her rising feeling of acute embarrassment. She had never worn make-up in her life and Prada had applied plenty of it – at least that's what it felt like – and a blonde wig, for goodness' sake! Now, to India, things like make-up, high-heels, overly-fashionable clothes (her bright red T-Shirt had Liberation!!!! blazoned across it, complete with exclamation marks) were all symbols of a very secular and worldly existence - of which she usually wanted absolutely no part. She had to admit, though, under Prada's skilful hands she had been transformed – even her own mother wouldn't recognise her now, let alone a none-too-bright demon who had only met her a couple of times.

The none-too-bright demon in question, along with his talking monkey, was speeding along the highway in the back of Ray's car once more. The sound of Andy Williams's honeyed tones singing Love is a Many Splendoured Thing floated out of the costly Bose sound system. Harold would have preferred some nice Louis Armstrong, but he had to admit Mr Williams could certainly carry a tune pretty well for a human.

Thinking this, Harold felt a familiar pang of sadness. His own music had been warmly appreciated once upon a time, long ago. His talents had been much in demand back then. That was over for good now though and he'd never get to play for that audience ever again. To think he'd had it all: a purpose to his music and an eternity to play it in. and now it was lost to him forever - and it had been his own stupid fault.

"Take it easy, Ray!" Harold's maudlin reverie was broken by Nicole's sharp voice from the front passenger seat as Ray accelerated past a couple of big semi trucks, "We don't want to get pulled over for speeding like last time."

"Aw relax, woman," Ray grumbled, "It's not like we can't afford the odd speeding ticket now and then, sheesh!"

He did slow the car a little though.

"So how are we going to get into Baron Samedi's?" asked Harold, "Oh wait, I know, we could make out I'm some sort of sanitation inspector or something. How to explain you, though?"

"My dear fellow," replied Teatime somewhat acidly, "in your relatively brief time here, you seem to have managed to fill your head with an alarming amount of television nonsense. We'll go and see how the land lies first, then decide what to do. Sanitation inspector, indeed!"

"Well it works in the movies," shrugged Harold

"But this is real life, old sock." Teatime reminded him.

"Is it?" mused Harold, "Sometimes it feels like a badly-written novel, I mean, where's it all going anyway? Supposing we do find out why demons are disappearing, what then?"

"That, old button, is a very good question." replied Teatime, "And one to which I'm afraid I have no answer. Now, hand me one of those bananas, will you? I need some thinking fuel"

Harold did so. Teatime looked at the little label stuck to the yellow skin and made a face.

"You'd have though Nicole would have bought organic," he grumbled, "These pesticide-ridden things have no flavour whatsoever."

Agent Othello popped his head round the door.

"Target's on the move," he announced, "We have to go now."

India and Prada picked up their bags and trotted (or in India's case, tottered) after him. Those high heels would have to go. Honestly, the things you had to do in the eternal battle against evil!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Episode 17

Director Opal regarded the hand-held GPS tracker with its steadily glowing red dot.

"Turtles Wood Heights." he mused, "Nice address these black Sheep have. Good work Agent."

As India's supposed superior officer, Agent Mercury felt mildly envious of the praise India was getting. As a far more experienced agent, he should have thought about the tracker himself, but hadn't. He shook off the unworthy bad feeling with a finger-wagging mental reprimand: shame on you, you know she deserves it, now learn from it and move on.

"We'll need to move quickly," said India, "the battery in the Ladybird won't last forever,"

"Indeed," agreed Opal. "We'll need a different approach this time, though: we can't just bust into a private residence – especially one in that particular neighbourhood. They'll probably have private security and everything. Thinking caps, people!"

"So," said Harold, now ensconced comfortably in one of Ray and Nicole's expensive electric recliner chairs, "If you're on a mission and I'm supposed to be helping you, why did I have to waste my time working in a bar all those weeks, why didn't we meet sooner? And what was that all about me finding a job and slumming it when we could have been as snugs as bugs here all the time?"

So many questions, thought Teatime, as he wracked his brains for a quick answer. He had not been completely candid with Harold about the latter's purpose on Earth. Oh, yes, it was true he was here to assist Teatime in a way, but (and there really was no way this could be sugar-coated) he was here because his father considered him completely expendable. The original plan had been for Teatime to follow and observe Harold covertly to see if his naive bumbling about on the Brightside would attract the attentions of whoever (or whatever) was making demons disappear.

When, after a few weeks, this hadn't happened, Teatime had decided to make himself known to Harold and encourage him to be a bit more proactive to see if that would do the trick. It was still early days on that one, and the run-in with OGS hadn't helped matters. He had to admit, though, a charismatic "human" would probably be useful in the investigation for the reasons he had told Harold earlier, so if the plan didn't work out it didn't really matter, and if it did, well... Having never once come close to drowning in the milk of human kindness, Teatime was not the most soft-hearted of creatures, but even so, he couldn't really bring himself to tell Harold that he had been basically set up as bait.

"I was busy with other matters, old sock," he prevaricated, "Took a while to sort things out, but I came as quickly as I could."

"But why didn't you tell me straight away that all this stuff was going on?" persisted Harold,

"Er, well, I wanted to see what you were like for a bit first." replied Teatime, wishing the demon would just let it go. "Getting to know someone is a bit like prospecting for gold: not to be rushed into without a proper survey, as it were."

Harold shrugged and was silent for some time after that, but Teatime could see that he was not altogether satisfied by the answers he'd been given. Perhaps he wasn't as big a duffer as Teatime had previously thought.

"Right, well, anyway," declared Teatime brightly, "I think it's time we packed our luggage and made a move. I think we should go and take a look at the crime scene, so to speak. What say we go and have a look around Baron Samedi's?"

Friday, 6 November 2009

Episode 16

Harold stared up at the bathroom ceiling, marvelling at the rather bizarre seashells-spiderwebs-canada geese repeating decorative motif running around the edges. He wanted to slide down under the water and fully immerse himself, just to see what it felt like. Needing no oxygen for respiration, he could submerge himself for as long as he liked. Teatime wanted to tell him something, though, so he had to content himself with floating in the hot scented water, deliciously defying gravity.

"You're probably wondering," Teatime began, "why your father, after leaving you in peace these many millennia, has suddenly seemed to take an interest in your education."

"I wish he hadn't," replied Harold, reaching out to fiddle with some distinctly modern-looking controls on the side of the bath. "Hey, I wonder what these do." He turned a gold-plated knob (the initials RD were engraved on it) and the water began to bubble energetically.

"Oh! Wow! A fizzy bath!"

"It's a jacuzzi," sighed Teatime, "Now do pay attention, old sock, this is important."

"OK, OK," sighed Harold, turning it off, "Sorry, you were saying?"

"There's something strange going on up here on the Brightside."

"Only one thing?" laughed Harold, "Only I could name at least -"

"Yes, yes, very funny," interrupted Teatime, "The thing is: demons are disappearing."

"Really?" Harold replied, "I bet those OGS guys are responsible, they seem pretty keen to get rid of our kind."

"No," contradicted Teatime, "It's not OGS. They can send you back to the Basement, alright, but this is different."

Harold sat up a bit and began paying attention properly. This was getting interesting.

"Different, how?"

"Well, as I said, demons are disappearing, and have been for a while. Baron Samedi is one. The demon that those frightful OGS goons that nabbed you were going after is another, and there are at least three others before that. Your father is very concerned"

"How do we know they've actually disappeared?" Harold asked, "It's not like we all keep in touch on Facebook or anything, is it?"

"Your father always knows where his children are, as you know – and he can't find Baron Samedi or the others anywhere."

This was shocking news indeed, unheard of.

"So where do I come in?" asked Harold. "I was told to come here and ensnare souls. I got one, you know? A young film star, I think she was - Lolita LaChaise. Signed up soooo easily...."

"Yes, yes, well done and all that, old bean," said Teatime dismissively, "But the real reason you're here," said Teatime, "Is to help me find out what's happening."

"Me?" Harold laughed, "Help you? That's rich, when all I seem to do is blunder straight into trouble at the first opportunity: first I manage to antagonise Baron Samedi, then get grabbed by OGS. I'm not sure that's the kind of help you need."

"I daresay we can put the former down to inexperience and the latter down to just plain bad luck." said Teatime, soothingly, "Who could have known that an OGS Spotter would just happen to be hanging around the railway station as you came through. The odds against that were pretty enormous."

"Even so," said Harold, "I don't have much real knowledge of how this place works."

"No," agreed Teatime, "But you look like a human so you can go wherever humans go. I can't wander around on my own: humans don't take kindly to animals running about the place. But if I'm with a 'human' I can be his cute pet monkey. D'you see?"

"Aaah, right!" cried Harold, "So you'll be like a detective, a bloodhound on the scent and I'll be your faithful assistant! Oh, now this could be interesting! We could have secret codes like come with me to the Casbah or something!" This looked to be way more fun than trying to get humans to turn away from the Light – as if they needed any help from him to do that, anyway.

Teatime rolled his eyes. It was going to be a long mission.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Episode 15

"Ray used to be a plumber, you know," said Nicole, as she bustled backwards and forwards about her huge kitchen with its impressive array of sleek-looking modern appliances. Harold and Teatime were seated at the kitchen table. Ray had just gone out with the dogs to the local watering hole, as he called it, to get some celebratory alcohol.

Ever since they had arrived, Nicole had not stopped fussing over Harold and Teatime like some modern-day Florence Nightingale. Were they hungry? (A definite yes in Harold's case, Murder at the Blood Drive being neither appetising nor sustaining) Thirsty? Too warm? Too cold?

At first it had been a bit of a novelty to be so nicely treated, but now her and Ray's overly solicitous attentions were beginning to grate just a little. Harold half-expected her to ask for his autograph.

She plonked a generous plate of trail mix down on the table in front of a somewhat bemused Teatime (who had been hoping for cake, to be honest). "Ray calls this stuff 'parrot food'", she laughed, "But the kids used to love it so I keep some around for when they visit. Have I showed you Cathy, Caitlin and Carrie - my triplets, my Lord?" she asked, and when he didn't answer immediately, "My Lord?"

To distract himself from Nicole's inane chatter, Harold had been thinking of triplets of an entirely different kind: in his head another new piece (he was going to call it A Chill Wind's a-Blowing) had been getting born just nicely, but it disappeared with a disappointed silent pop as he realised that Nicole was actually addressing him directly and that she actually expected an answer of some sort.

"Er, yes, I believe you did." he answered, lamely, "Fine-looking children, they were too."

"Tell Nicole you want a bath," whispered Teatime. If there was not to be cake, then they might as well get down to brass tacks and start getting organised.

"But I don't need a bath, Teatime," said Harold, somewhat puzzled. Demons' vessels did not sweat and bacteria could not live on them in any case, so bathing was rarely necessary. Surely Teatime knew this?

"I know you don't, old button," replied Teatime patiently, "but we need to talk – preferably in a quiet place where we won't be disturbed. Honestly, old shoe, do I have to explain every little detail?"

Harold shrugged, "Er, Nicole?" he said.

Back at Aunt Aggie's, Agent India was almost ready to hug herself with satisfaction. She had been absolutely on the money. OGS had been a little lax and had not followed its own procedures properly. India liked procedures, they minimised the variability of human decision-making and kept things nice and controllable. Now India knew that the slip-up was probably because of the last-minute change of plan imposed upon Joshua squad by Director Opal, but all the same, procedures were meant to be followed even if – especially if – something unusual cropped up. In this instance, however, she was pleased to note that, just as she'd thought, the demon's bag had not been searched very thoroughly at all. She looked down at the device in her hand. On its screen, a little red dot was glowing steadily.

"Bubbles are always perfectly spherical, aren't they?" mused Harold as he soaked in the scented water of Ray and Nicole's massive marble sunken bath. He'd seen people bathing on TV and had had the odd shower himself, but this! This was really pleasant. No wonder humans enjoyed it.

"Yes, it's because surface tension exerts an equal force in all – " Teatime stopped himself, mid-lecture, "Look here, old sock, I didn't mean for you to actually have a bath, merely to ask for one."

"I know," said Harold lightly, "But now I'm here... Anyway, how come we were slumming it at the Sleezee when we could have come here and lived it up?"

"That's part of what I want to talk to you about," replied Teatime, "Now listen."

Friday, 23 October 2009

Episode 14

"Easy as rolling off a log!" crowed Ray, as he finished checking the duct tape binding India's and Mercury's hands and feet. "I can't believe you fancy-pants OGS agents with all your special training, Captain Midnight decoder rings, silly names and whatnot fell for the ole' bogus 'couple in distress' routine, I really can't".

The two agents glared at him in incensed silence. They had little choice: Ray had pressed a strip of tape over their mouths once Mercury had (reluctantly) uttered the formula that would release Harold.

"Right-ho, old shoe," declared Teatime, "Time we made ourselves scarce, I think.""

"You sit tight now. I'm sure someone will come along – eventually - and find you." Ray sniggered. "Agent Dumb, Agent Dumber, it's been a pleasure." He sketched a mocking bow to the two agents, and walked back to his car.

"Where to my Lord?" he asked Harold.

"Oh, mm," Harold hadn't the faintest idea where would be a good place to go but Ray and Nicole were looking at him expectantly. Fortunately, Teatime had an idea.

"Your house, I think." he said, "We can plan what to do from there."

"My Lord?" Ray looked to Harold for confirmation.

"Yes," declared Harold, "let's do that." One of these days, he was really going to have to start making decisions for himself.

When they had gone, the two agents immediately began to try and free themselves. Ray had been pretty thorough, however, and they made little headway. Eventually, they gave it up as a bad job. When they missed their nine o'clock check-in, someone would be despatched to investigate. Until then, there was little else to do but wait.

"The look on those OGS agents' faces!" laughed Nicole as they sped along the road. "They must have thought they were being sooo good-Samaritan-like, rescuing us!"

"Yeah, and when Mr Teatime started talking I thought they were going to have a conniption," Ray chuckled, "Bet their fancy training manuals didn't cover that!"

Meanwhile, in the back seat, Harold was trying to make sense of it all.

"Teatime," he asked, in Infernal, so as not to be overheard, "Who are these people and, come to that, who are OGS?"

"These, dear fellow, are Black Sheep, our little helpers here on the Brightside. In exchange for a life of wealth and comfort, they do odd jobs for the likes of you and your father."

"I see," said Harold, "But how did you manage to call them?"

"I was fortunate enough to find a public telephone and, one quick reverse-charge call later...." Teatime looked very pleased with himself.

"Ok, but what about this OGS thing?"

"Well," explained Teatime, settling comfortably into his role as tutor, "OGS stands for Order of the Good Shepherd. They're committed to the cause of Light and work to protect human souls from us – well, you demons, specifically. They are, shall we say, somewhat noted for their zeal"

"But, how come you know all these things and I don't?" Harold wanted to know. "I know I wasn't always paying attention, but I'm pretty sure no-one mentioned this stuff."

This put Teatime into an awkward position: he knew perfectly well why Harold hadn't been told anything about OGS, Black Sheep – or plenty else that a demon needed to know before venturing to the world of men – but wasn't about to let on, not yet, anyway.

"I'm sure it was an oversight, old sock. Anyway," he continued brightly, "That's why your father sent me along to help out, I expect. Oh look, I do believe we're here.""

Ray and Nicole's home was a magnificent sprawling mansion set in its own grounds. The gates, huge steel things, perforated in a beautifully intricate pattern, swung silently open as the car approached, courtesy of Ray's remote control.

Hearing Harold's low whistle of appreciation, Ray laughed. "It certainly is something, isn't it, my Lord?" He stopped the car in front of the magnificent front doors and they all disembarked. Harold gazed at his new surroundings. This was certainly a whole lot nicer than the SleepEZ Motel!

"Ray had the architect customize just about everything," Nicole said proudly, "Even the bath-taps!"

"Woman, will you ever shut up about them taps?" Ray pretended to grumble, "Can't a man have his initials on something without hearing about for the rest o' his life?"

They walked into the cool spacious elegance that was the house's hallway. Ray's two huge dogs, Haz-Mat and Sidewinder, bounded up to them, barking joyfully. What do you know, someone's actually pleased to see us, thought Harold. That makes a change.

Eventually, Agents Prada and Othello arrived to free India and Mercury. When they heard what had happened, they shook their heads wearily.

"It constantly amazes me that people are willing to risk conniving with demons when it could cost them their very souls." said Prada,

"True," agreed India, massaging some feeling back into her hands, "But they probably don't think it'll ever come to that. They just see the benefits they're getting right now."

"Well," sighed Othello, "I guess we lost this one, I don't suppose we'll be seeing that particular fiend again anytime soon."

India was just about to agree when an idea struck her. If it checked out, they'd be seeing that demon again soon enough – and this time they'd be sure to nail that perishing monkey as well.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Episode 13

The early morning light was burning off the last few wisps of mist, giving the day a washed-clean look. Overhead, the light edged what few clouds there were, turning them into fluffy cotton wool balls. It was going to be a glorious day.

There was little traffic on the road and, with Agent India at the wheel, they were making good time. So good in fact that, upon hearing India's stomach growling, Agent Mercury had allowed a brief stop to pick up coffee and muffins for them both.

Needless to say, they didn't offer any to Harold, which the latter thought was a bit mean since he hadn't eaten anything since the previous afternoon. Maintaining a physical vessel here in the world of men took energy, surely they knew that? Oh, well, if they weren't going to give him proper food, he'd have to improvise. He reached into his rucksack and pulled out one of his paperbacks. It was better than nothing, he supposed. He tore out a page from Murder at the Blood Drive, screwed it up and popped it into his mouth.

Agent Mercury caught the movement in the rearview mirror.

"What are you doing?" he demanded. Harold chewed quickly and swallowed, so as to be able to speak.

"Having breakfast," he said, tearing out another page. He glanced at it briefly, "Oh, what do you know. Looks like the janitor did it." He screwed up the denouement and ate it. It tasted like wet leaves, but it was an energy source of sorts. Agent Mercury shook his head in disgust and turned back to face the front once more.

Up ahead, there was a car parked on the shoulder with its hood up. A sandy-haired man stood looking into the engine compartment, scratching his head, clearly baffled. On the grassy verge at the roadside, a young woman with a swaddled baby in her arms looked on anxiously. As the van drew near, the couple waved frantically at them to stop.

"Shall I stop" asked India.

Mercury sighed, another delay! Still, all they might need to do is phone for a tow-truck or something, he couldn't in all conscience just pass by without helping.

"Yeah, pull over," he said, and India did so.

As the van stopped, the woman ran up to the nearside, a look of relief and gratitude on her face. Mercury wound down the window.

"Oh, thank goodness!" the woman cried, "I thought no-one was ever going to stop!"

"That's alright ma'am," replied Mercury, "what seems to be the trouble?"

"The engine just cut out on us. Please, could you take a look? Ray's not really very good with cars and I'm sure it's something simple. Please?"

"Well, OK," said Mercury, "But I'm no expert either. Mechanics is a bit of a dark art to me." He turned to India, "I'll just be a minute." then to Harold, "You stay put and don't try anything."

Harold shrugged and carried on eating.

As Mercury was walking towards the other car, Ray turned towards him. He had something in his hand, a tool of some kind, Mercury thought. As the object came into full view, however, Mercury realised it was actually a gun.

Agent India was surprised when the woman suddenly let her "baby" fall to the ground, revealing a gun of her own, pointed straight at her.

"Everyone out of the vehicle!" shouted Ray, his gun levelled squarely at Mercury's chest.

Moving slowly, India complied. No matter how much they train you, she thought, there are always things they don't prepare you for.

Harold reached for the door handle but immediately felt the warning prickle of Mercury's Binding. Stay put, he had said. That was pretty unequivocal, and to disobey would be painful. The thing was, if he stayed put, Ray might react badly and start shooting. Harold had no affection for these two humans after the way they had treated him, but he didn't particularly want them to die either. He stalled in indecision, feeling like Pinnochio with his strings cut.

Mercury, seeing that Harold hadn't moved, called to him to do as the man said, which he did.

"You must be the one who did the Binding," said Ray. "You have until a count of three to release my Lord."

Now Mercury realised what these two were.

"No chance, Black Sheep" he snarled. The man laughed.

"Your bravery is admirable, my friend," he said, "but, pray tell me, are you willing to let your lady friend die because of your stubbornness?" He called out to his wife. "Nicole, shoot the girl"

"No!" cried Mercury and Harold both together. "No shooting!" added Harold. If he was their Lord, they should obey him, right?

"Sorry, my Lord," said Nicole, "we have orders not to do anything you say until you're released."

"Whose orders?" asked Harold.

"Why, mine, of course, old sock, whose do you think?"

Harold looked down in astonishment to where the voice was coming from. Teatime shook off the baby blankets and climbed nimbly up to his usual place on Harold's shoulder.

"You didn't think I'd abandoned you, did you?" he said, grinning.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Episode 12

Mr Teeth was not happy at having to meet Mr Peck so early in the morning, but the latter had insisted as he wanted to provide an update before leaving town for a couple of days.

The two men met for breakfast in the Mayflower Hotel. Mr Teeth didn't go in for the sort of fancy breakfasts these places dished out, usually contenting himself with some crackers with cottage cheese and a protein shake. He had to admire the artistry of the pastry chef here though. His creations, all variations on a theme, were little short of stunning. Glazed pastry animals of all kinds were set out alongside the more usual fare of bacon, eggs, beans, toast, fruit salad and whatnot. They must have had to set up a veritable production line to turn these things out in such numbers. Hard working waiters bustled about the place, getting coffee and toast for the patrons while overhead, an old-fashioned ceiling fan turned lazily under the intricately moulded plaster of the ceiling.

"What have you got for me?" said Mr Teeth, setting aside his orange juice.

"Well, the person we're looking for left town by train at about four in the afternoon, the day of the fire." replied Mr Peck, flicking a pastry crumb from the sleeve of his Armani suit with a perfectly manicured fingernail.

"You sure?" asked Mr Teeth. Mr Peck looked at him in silence for a few moments before replying.

"Yes. I have seen camera footage taken at the train station which confirms it. I have some still images if you wish to see them."

Mr Teeth waved the offer away. If Mr Peck said he'd seen that little trumpet-playing punk get on a train, that that's what the little punk would have done, you could bank on it. That's what fifteen hundred a day bought you: certainty. So he was probably out of town when the fire got started – unless...

"Maybe he snuck back into town later by bus or something," he rumbled, "keep checking."

"As you wish," said Peck smoothly.

The little trumpet playing punk in question was passing time mentally composing his latest jazz piece. He was going to call it The Sky is Falling and it would feature some deliciously creepy harmonic minor scale runs. Yeah that ought to do it. Harold wondered if these hostile, hard-eyed humans would actually let him have his trumpet back any time soon. Probably not, but at least composing music kept his mind off what was probably coming.

If he had understood the situation correctly, they were going to send him back to the Basement. Most demons really hated this, it was a badge of abject failure to be so summarily ejected from the world of men and, because of the way a Dismissal worked, they could not return for at least a year and a day. Harold knew that his father would be furious with him for messing up so spectacularly after such a brief spell on the Brightside - and Harold's father's wrath was legendary. Demons with more bravery than Harold possessed had withered under it.

It wasn't entirely his fault though, surely. After all, no-one had told him about the crazy humans and their crack-of-dawn raids. Come to think of it, he had not really been told that much at all about what to expect once he got here. Harold was self-aware enough to know that he was not the most attentive and focused pupil that had ever lived, but he could absolutely not remember anything about these agents with their tasers and hallowed words of power. Food for thought, indeed! He made a mental note to ask Teatime about it if they ever got the chance for a private talk.

Agent Mercury appeared in the doorway to the break room.

"You." he barked, pointing at Harold, "With me."

Harold followed Agent Mercury out of the room. Agents India and Othello fell in behind him, tasers still drawn although there was no need, Harold wasn't about to try any "funny business". Teatime, perched now on Harold's shoulder, took the opportunity to have a good look around as the little group walked through the operations room to Opal's office. It didn't look good though, he had to admit: these Shepherds were annoyingly vigilant and well-prepared. Escape was going to be extremely difficult.

Director Opal was a distinguished-looking African American man of late middle age and if he was surprised to see a little monkey perched on Harold's shoulder, he didn't show it. As Harold and the others entered, he pointed wordlessly to a seat in front of his desk. Harold sat down and saw that they had emptied his rucksack onto the desk for some reason. There was a small pile of spare clothes, his shoes, a couple of paperbacks - The Case of the Broken Finger and Murder at the Blood Drive – that he hadn't got around to reading, two empty soda bottles and (hooray!) his trumpet. Opal leaned forward and indicated this last item.

"What is the purpose of this?" he demanded. His dark eyes boring into Harold's baby blues.

Harold was nonplussed, of all the silly questions to be asking! Surely the human knew what a trumpet was? Did he think it was some kind of secret demonic weapon? Its music could be beguiling for sure, but honestly, it usually took more than a pretty tune to ensnare a soul. OK, not much more in some people's cases, but still. As he pondered these things, Harold became aware of an unpleasant prickling sensation which was gradually worsening: a warning from Agent Mercury's Binding that he'd better play nice and answer the question.

"It's a musical instrument. I enjoy playing music." Harold explained. The prickling receded. "Would you like to hear something?"

Opal looked at him as though he had suggested something incredibly filthy. That would be a no then, thought Harold. He was beginning to wish that they would just do the ritual and send him back home already, if that's what they were planning. This relentless suspicion and hostility was getting old! Oh, wait, the human was speaking again.

"What do you know about the disappearance of the demon, Baron Samedi?"

That was an easy one for Harold. "Nothing at all," he said, "Except what I heard on the news." Opal frowned.

"You're in the club's CCTV film, what were you doing there?"

"I went to see if the Baron would let me play at the club, it is the best jazz club around, you know – or was, anyway."

Opal grunted, "And the Baron said 'no', I take it?"

Harold nodded. He was not proud of the stupid blunder he had made in trying to set up shop in another demon's turf.

"OK," said Opal, leaning back in his chair, "We're done here. Mercury, you know what to do."

"Yes, sir!" said Agent Mercury, pleased at last to be doing something.

Oh well, this is it, thought Harold. Back to the Basement. If he was lucky his father would get over his rage in a couple of hundred years or so. If he was lucky.

They had ordered Harold to pack all the stuff on the desk into his rucksack and bring it along. On leaving Opal's office, Agent Mercury took the little group towards the double doors leading to the reception area and the outside world. Seeing Harold's look of surprise, Mercury couldn't help himself.

"Bet you thought we were going to send you home, didn't you?" He said, "Well, we were going to do just that, but it seems that HQ has requested the pleasure of your company."

On Harold's shoulder, Teatime stiffened. Oh, this was terrible news! He would definitely have to do something now.

As they got outside the building, the first light of dawn was just beginning to creep across the sky, edging the powder puff clouds with pale light. Well, it's now or never, thought Teatime.

All of a sudden, the little monkey leapt off Harold's shoulder and was away around the corner of the building in the blink of an eye. Harold was about to go after him but Agent Mercury would have none of it.

"Get in the van!" he ordered.

"At least let me try and get him to come back," pleaded Harold. The prickling sensation was beginning again.

"Now!" insisted Mercury.

Harold reluctantly got into the van. He hoped that Teatime knew what he was doing.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Episode 11

Even as a child, growing in a small town in Pennsylvania, Agent India had never been afraid of monsters in the closet; as a teenager, she had yawned her way through countless movies about zombies attacking small towns in search of the inhabitants' brains. These things did not scare her because she had always had a firm idea about what was real and what was not. Zombies and closet-dwelling monsters were not real. Demons, on the other hand, very much were. For as long as she could remember, India had been able to sense them when they came near.

At first, she had had no idea what it had been about certain people that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She had asked her parents about it and they had not known what to tell her. Eventually, she had plucked up the courage to speak to the priest in her local church. He had explained her gift to her and had put her in touch with the Order of the Good Shepherd, who, he said, could make good use of it.

How right Father Nolan had been! India was full of elation as she and the other members of Joshua squad, along with their captive, bounced around in the back of the van which was now bowling along at a good clip away from the warehouses and back to base.

Harold, on the other hand, was decidedly not full of elation. He had fallen straight into the humans' trap. Honestly, even someone with the IQ of a bath brush would have realised that they had left the doorway so invitingly unguarded on purpose, but not him, oh no!

The paralysing effect of the taser had not had chance to wear off before the leader of the humans was standing over him, reciting the words of Binding. Few humans even knew these words and fewer still had enough faith to make them stick, but stick they did. Harold could feel the effect of them like a cocoon of barbed wire wrapping him from head to toe. At the moment, because he was sitting quietly and not causing any trouble, the wire was only loosely wrapped and he could only just feel it, but he knew that if he did anything out of line, the wire would tighten. No wonder Teatime had been so insistent that he put as much distance as possible between himself and these humans. Harold hoped Teatime was alright - the little monkey hadn't said a word since the female driver of the van had thrust the pillowcase with him in it roughly into Harold's arms with the stern injunction that he sit still and keep the monkey quiet, or else.

Agent Mercury had been about to begin the words of Dismissal to send this fiend back where it belonged when the approaching wail of a police siren had interrupted proceedings. Someone, it seemed, had heard the noise and had called the cops. OGS agents had no more powers than any other private citizen and it was unlikely that the police would be even remotely understanding if they were to come across a small group of people performing some strange ritual in a deserted warehouse. There had been nothing for it, therefore, but to de-camp to base and do the ritual there.

Agent Prada brought the van to a halt outside what looked for all the world like a small industrial unit in a nondescript business park just outside town. A fading sign on the unit even proclaimed that this was the home of Aunt Aggie's Mouth-Watering Family Cheesecake. Cheesecake production had ceased more than twenty years ago, however, and the unit now served as OGS's local base of operations.

Agent Mercury slid open the van's door and ordered Harold out with a jerk of his thumb. Cradling Teatime's pillowcase carefully, Harold complied. He desperately wanted to talk to Teatime, make sure he was alright. He didn't dare risk it yet though because, although he had not specifically been told he couldn't, he wasn't sure how much leeway the Binding permitted, if any (if only he'd paid more attention to his teachers!). Also, the humans might be suspicious if he started talking to his "pet" in Infernal, which was the language the two of them had always used.

The deserted reception area of Aunt Aggie's was much like any other: there was a counter, some fabulously uncomfortable seating, a coffee table bearing out-of-date magazines and on the wall, a picture of a bowl of African violets and butterflies which was a triumph of anodyne mediocrity. This was, of course, all a front and Harold was surprised to discover, upon passing through a set of double doors, that a bustling, brightly-lit operations room lay beyond.

"...was actually holding hands with her, can you believe it? I know! Oh, wait, I'll have to call you back." A fresh-faced young man quickly put down the phone as the small group passed his desk.

"Sir?" He called out, "Agent Mercury, Sir?"

Mercury turned to face the youngster, a look of irritation on his face.

"What is it?" he barked.

"Opal wants to see you in his office right away."

"Tell him I'm kind of busy." Mercury gestured vaguely in Harold's direction.

"He knows that, sir. That's what he wants to see you about."

Mercury sighed. More delays! Was he ever going to get rid of this demon?

"Ok," he said, addressing the squad, "Go and wait for me in the break room. You –" he said, turning to Harold, who had been gawking like a hick tourist at the bright lights, computers and whatnot, "Go with them and don't try any funny business".

Funny business was the farthest thing from Harold's mind as he sat in the OGS break room with Agents India and Othello, et al eyeing him in a less than friendly fashion. On top of the refrigerator next to him someone had left an old Pizza Hut menu and an unwashed mug with a cartoon of a weeping clown on it, along with the words laugh and the world laughs with you. They got that right, thought Harold.

Feeling Teatime stir, Harold loosened his grip on the pillowcase and the little monkey poked his head out and looked around.

"Excuse me, can I let him out now?" Harold asked Agent India, "He won't be any trouble."

"I suppose so," she replied. He's just a little monkey after all, where's the harm.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Episode 10

Agent Prada was idly perusing a magazine article about the film star, Lavender Oakenberry's new film, Under the Wide Tibetan Sky, when the radio beeped and a panting Agent Mercury requested she bring the van to the old warehouses on Lamont.

Harold was running as fast as he had ever done in his life. He had crashed through the bathroom window (no time to open it) and had landed on the crumbling tarmac 12 feet below, broken glass descending all around him like falling leaves.

As he'd scrambled up, two shadow figures had resolved themselves into the forms of a man and a woman both running towards him out of the darkness, pointing some kind of weapon at him. As the woman had got closer, Harold had realised with a shock that she was the one that had helped him with the postcards at the station. He'd let out a yelp of surprise, and they would have caught him right then if the higher functions of his brain cortex had not over-ridden his impulse to stop and ask her what she was doing there. As it was, he had veered off just in time to avoid the crackling discharge of the male human's weapon.

Agent Mercury barely suppressed a curse as the darts of his Taser flashed harmlessly past the demon as it suddenly changed direction. Man, but this one was fast! He reached for his radio as he set off after his quarry.

Agent India was hot on his heels. She was filled with a mix of nerves and start of school-type excitement. You could say practice makes perfect all you liked, but practice was nothing like the real thing! Heck, if someone had told her a year ago that she'd be chasing demons in the dark, she'd have thought they belonged in a mental hospital.

Harold could hear the sound of the humans' pounding footsteps grow quieter as his superior speed began to tell. His vessel was not particularly strong, but his reflexes and stamina were demonically good.

Suddenly, a shocking question jumped into his mind: where was Teatime? In the excitement, he had left the little monkey behind! Dammit! The sprawl of warehouses was just ahead, maybe he could lose the humans in there and double back for his companion.

He raced round a corner and down an alley between two buildings – to a dead end. He looked around quickly for somewhere to hide: going back would run him into the humans again for sure. He ducked through a busted-in door into one of the warehouses. Luckily, there were old packing crates for him to hide in or behind. He chose a dark corner and slipped in behind a crate which once contained bottles of apple cider.

"Which way'd he go?" Mercury panted as he and India rounded a corner. The demon was nowhere in sight. "I'll call the others, we need everyone searching."

India nodded agreement. She switched on her torch and began to shine it around, looking for any clues as to where the demon had gone.

In the darkness, Harold was berating himself for being so useless. If he'd only practiced a bit of shape-shifting now and then over the years, he could have escaped this situation quite easily but, no, he had to go and waste his time re-working old Jazz tunes like Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey instead! Fat lot of good that was going to do him now! Who were these crazy humans, anyway?

India's torch played over the side of a particularly derelict-looking building, illuminating spray-painted gang symbols and startling a fat rat that was preparing to chow down on a discarded hamburger. Hmmm, she definitely had a feeling about this place...

The rest of Joshua squad had arrived by now with the van. One of the other agents, Othello, was carrying what appeared to be a pillowcase with something struggling inside it.

"What's that?" asked Mercury.

"Demon left his pet monkey behind." Othello explained, "Thought we could drop it off at the animal shelter after. It's not his fault his owner's a demon, after all"

"OK, put it in the van for now." sighed Mercury, "Did you clear out the room?"

The agent nodded then deposited the pillowcase containing Teatime into the arms of a startled Agent Prada.

"Ok, here's the plan..." said Mercury.

Harold counted four humans entering the warehouse, too many to even think about fighting with - not that he was much of a fighter, anyway. They spread out and began poking around the crates. It was only a matter of time before they found him unless he could sneak past them and out the door.

As quietly as he could, Harold began to edge towards a patch of shadow a bit closer to the door. So far so good: the humans did not appear to have noticed. He paused a moment to ensure no-one was looking in his direction, then carefully moved to the next hiding place. He took his time and his bare feet made no sound on the rough concrete. At last, the invitingly open doorway was just a few feet away and they still weren't looking his way.

Harold slipped out from behind the last crate and was through the door before they could even turn round. Now to get back and find Teatime!

As fast as he was, Harold was nowhere near quick enough to dodge the twin barbs of Agent India's taser as they stabbed into his back. He crashed twitching to the ground.

"It worked!" India called out, stepping out of the shadows by the door. She smiled down at Harold. Her first Spot and first catch, did it get any sweeter than this?

Episode 9

"I can't believe that the Christmas stuff is in the stores already!" shouted Agent Mercury above the racket of the van's engine. There was a grumble of agreement from the other members of Joshua squad in the back.

Agent India couldn't believe they were being so matter-of-fact. Here they all were, about to encounter a demon, for goodness sake and all they could talk about was bauble sales!

"Yeah," added a diminutive blonde agent, whose passion for fashion had earned her the nickname Agent Prada, "Where does it say in the Bible we should celebrate Christ's birth by buying a fake plastic evergreen and smothering it in tinsel, anyway!"

The others laughed, but India was too nervous to do more than smile wanly. This was her first time out as an active member of a squad rather than just an observer. Sure, she had participated in mock missions in training, but this was real and potentially dangerous: demons were not fans of the words of Binding and Dismissal and tended to make their objections known quite forcibly. Still, the squad was well-prepared. In addition to the centuries-old formula of the words, it had a few bespoke twenty-first century tricks up its sleeves too.

"OK," announced Agent Mercury as he turned the van onto a quiet side-street, "we'll stop here and approach on foot. Is everyone clear about what we're doing tonight?"

There was a chorus of yeses and the squad began to disembark. Agent Prada was detailed to remain with the van to bring it up when signalled, something to which she had agreed rather sullenly in India's opinion: the woman obviously wanted a more active role. There was a big part of India that wanted to trade places with her, but this was her "shout" – her first solo Spot, and she had earned her place on the team going in. Radio checks were quickly conducted and watches synchronised, and then it was time to go.

Harold was resting on the bed in his motel room. He and Teatime had been given a room on the second floor today and the sampler on the wall of this one was a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. Harold had been pleased that there had been a different proverb in the room but had been disappointed to discover, on closer inspection, that the sampler wasn't actually embroidered at all, but was just a print. What a swizz! Like many things in this confusing world, the thing had not been what it seemed.

Teatime was curled up on the pillow beside Harold's head. It had been a frustrating day. None of the apartments they had seen had been any good. Harold would need to start job-hunting tomorrow or the two of them would be destined for a life on the streets.

Suddenly, Teatime sat bolt upright, startling Harold.

"Did you hear that?" he asked urgently.

"Hear what?" said Harold. A freight train had rattled past a few moments before, but somehow he didn't think the little monkey was referring to that.

"Shh!" hissed Teatime, "Listen!"

Sure enough, now that he was actively listening, Harold's ears picked up the sound of stealthy footsteps on the stairs leading up to the wide balcony which fronted all of the rooms on this level. He got to his feet and padded over to the window. Teatime was quickly there beside him.

"Here," he whispered, "Let me look." He stuck his tiny head up under the absurdly flowery curtain without disturbing it, and cautiously peeped over the windowsill.

"Listen, old biscuit," he said drawing his head quickly back out into the room, "I need you to do the very next thing I tell you without question, alright?"

"Er, OK," Harold replied doubtfully. Teatime was a very strange little fellow sometimes.

"Jump out of the bathroom window and run as far from here as you can." said Teatime.


"NOW!" screeched Teatime, as the motel room door crashed open.

Episode 8

Elroy Jackson, a.k.a. Mr Teeth, was not a happy man. For years now, the jazz club had been a sweet little number for him and now somebody had gone and burned it down. This was bad enough, but what worried him more was the fact that the club's owner, Baron Samedi, had vanished.

Now Mr Teeth may have looked like some steroid-enhanced gym-junkie whose IQ was about half what he could bench press in pounds, but underneath that shiny shaved head was a sharp mind, a wealth of street smarts and the predatory instincts of an alligator. He knew perfectly well that the Baron, one of the more powerful demons around, could not have been killed in the fire: fire would not have bothered him in the least.

Mr Teeth had toyed with the idea that the Baron might have set the fire himself, but that didn't make sense either – the club had been a sweet little number for him too. Who knew how many souls had been ensnared in the place over the years, what with the drink, the discreetly purveyed drugs and the other more personal services offered to the club's most favoured clients. No, the Baron wouldn't have torched his own place.

It was possible that a rival might have done it, but that still didn't explain the Baron's disappearance. Over the years, others had tried to make a move against the Baron but had quickly learned the error of their ways. Crossing him was tantamount to suicide. The Baron had enemies for sure, but none of them were that stupid. No, the only possibility that Mr Teeth could think of was that the Baron had been taken out by one of his own kind. He slid the picture of Harold that had been on the news and in the papers across the table to the man opposite.

"This is him,"

The other, one Edward Peck by name, reached out a slim, perfectly manicured hand and picked up the picture. Behind the twin discs of his steel-rimmed spectacles, a pair of keen blue eyes studied it carefully for a few moments before laying it carefully back down on the table.

"He was here in town yesterday, you say?" he asked. Mr Teeth nodded.

"I threw him out of the club at about three in the afternoon," he rumbled, "and told him to git by sunset or else. Looks like he had other ideas"

"Indeed," agreed Peck smoothly, "Now, when I find him, how do you wish to proceed: am I to bring him to you, beat him senseless, kill him or what?" Peck did not go in for euphemisms: a spade was most assuredly not a manually-actuated implement of horticultural excavation.

Mr Teeth knew that killing wasn't a likely option: the Baron had often boasted that he couldn't be killed by mortals, so it stood to reason that the young trumpet-playing punk in the picture couldn't be either. Truth to tell, he wasn't exactly sure what the most effective course of action would be. Best to keep it simple.

"Bring him here," He handed over a card. Peck quickly scanned the address printed on it and raised his eyebrows slightly.

"Mountainside Boulevard. Nice area," he commented, pocketing the card. He picked up the picture and dropped it into his Louis Vuitton briefcase. "Now, if you'll excuse me," he said, getting to his feet, "I really must be going, I need to call a few people in preparation. My fee will be the usual: fifteen hundred a day plus expenses, is that alright?"

"No problem," said Mr Teeth, getting up as well. He extended a huge hand and Peck shook it firmly. "I'll be in touch." he said, and with that he turned and walked out of the bar.

Mr Teeth watched Peck's Armani-suited form disappear into the crowd on the street. Fifteen hundred a day was a lot, but Mr Peck always delivered the goods.

Harold and Teatime wandered back out onto the street. The tiny cramped shoe-box of an apartment they had just viewed had been somewhat less than suitable: the wallpaper had been peeling and damp, the windows covered in enough dirt to grow a crop of carrots in and the carpet – if that's what the unpleasantly sticky brown and orange layer on the floor actually was, had been alive with vermin. The landlord, an unsavoury-looking slob in a filthy string vest had also been drunk – at just after nine in the morning.

"We could have fixed it up a bit," said Harold, "a good cleanup, some paint, some wallpaper..."

"I'm thinking more in terms of a gallon of petrol and a match," replied Teatime dryly. He scratched himself, "If that place has given me fleas, I'll..." As he was speaking, he was looking back over Harold's shoulder at the way they had come. "Great Ceasar's Ghost! There's that woman again!"

"What woman?"

"You know, the one at the station that helped you pick up the all postcards you so carelessly spilled over the place."

"Oh, good," said Harold, "Let's go and say hi." He turned and started back the way they had come.

"Let's not," suggested teatime, "she didn't seem that keen on you and we haven't time to lark about, we've another viewing in half an hour."

"Oh, come on, a few minutes won't hurt," said Harold, "Honestly, Teatime, you're such a slave to the clock sometimes!"

Sure enough, there she was, dressed differently today of course, but it was definitely her. She was apparently studying the objects in the window of a shop selling second-hand goods for some charitable cause - studying it very intently in fact.

Agent India was indeed looking in the shop window. She had been told in training that a good way to observe someone without looking at them directly and thereby giving oneself away, was to use reflective surfaces like shop windows, car door mirrors and so on. So it was with some annoyance – not to mention a touch of fear - that she observed Harold's reflection turn around and grow larger as he approached her.

"Hello again," said Harold brightly, charisma turned all the way up to number eleven. "You helped me clear up at the station, I think. I just wanted to say thanks."

It was a tribute to India's training and iron self-control that she managed to turn away from the window quite coolly, quite casually in fact, or so she thought. Inside she was buzzing: Apart from that brief encounter at the station, she'd never spoken with an AFO before: more senior agents had always dealt with them directly. Her job had always been simply to spot them and keep track of their movements until others could come and get rid of them. Now the wretched demon had seen her and wanted to make polite conversation it seemed, and she was on her own. Stupid, India, really stupid!

"Er, Hello," She hadn't been trained for this! "Er, it was no trouble, really." Surely it must be able to hear her heartbeat – it was louder than a propeller for goodness' sake! She needed to get out of here fast. Think, India, think! Getting a sudden idea, she made a show of checking her watch.

"Ooh, is that the time?" she practically squeaked in mock astonishment, "I have to go. Nice seeing you." With that she turned and hurried away down the street, leaving a bemused Harold staring after her.

"Am I that scary?" he asked.

"You're positively terrifying, old shoe," said Teatime wearily. "Positively terrifying."

Around the corner, Agent India had slowed to a walking pace. That had to be the lamest way of getting out of a tricky situation ever! Mind you, the look on the demon's face had been really good: surprise and then bewilderment. It had got mimicry of human expressions pretty much down pat, she'd give it that. If she had not had so much confidence in her gift of spotting demons, she could quite easily have believed that she had just rudely snubbed an ordinary human. Her gift was never wrong though and now she'd have to be much more careful about following her target. Still, not for much longer, she thought. The text she'd received half an hour before was unequivocal: JOSHUA SQD ETA 18:30. RV @ OGS 19:00 4 PLAN MTG.

Episode 7

Agent India scrolled her way through her email inbox and sighed. If someone could invent a machine that ran on spam, it would be the nearest thing to perpetual motion as the world could get. No, she wasn't embarrassed by her small member not pleasing the ladies. No, she didn't want a genuine submariner's watch, whatever that was. No, she didn't want to lose 10lb of weight in a week, and, no, she definitely didn't want to give her bank details to Mr Liberty Akubuntu, of the Nigerian Law Socity (sic!) so that he could transfer the residue of a late client's estate out of the country and split it with her.

After all that, there wasn't a single email worth reading. She shut down her email program and decided to surf the net instead while she finished off her morning coffee. It would soon be time to go and take over from Agent Carlisle, but first she would take a quick look at what was going on in the world.

She was just taking a slurp of coffee when the web browser finished loading the main page of her favourite news website. Her sudden indrawn gasp of breath when she saw the main news item caused her to splutter and choke on the hot liquid. Drat it, now she had coffee stains on her nice clean t-shirt and would have to change before going out. The news item was all about the devastating fire at Baron Samedi's jazz club, which was shocking enough, but what had caught her eye was what appeared to be a blown-up still image from some CCTV footage. It showed a young man walking towards the camera, a trumpet dangling from his right hand. The face, although rendered somewhat blurry by enlargement was still clearly recognisable as that of the AFO she had tagged the day before. "So, you're a fire-starter, are you?" she murmured as she read the rest of the article. Was there nothing these creatures wouldn't do? It was lucky no-one had been hurt.

Shaking her head, she drained the last of the coffee, dumped the mug in the sink and got changed. In a few minutes she was out the door.

She parked up and got out of the car, narrowly avoiding bashing the driver's door against a telephone pole (for a Spotter, you can be awfully unobservant at times she admonished herself). She walked briskly up to the side of Carlisle's VW and rapped on the window. His head whipped round and by the startled look on his face, it was clear he hadn't noticed her approach (not just me then, she thought). She dangled the brown paper bag containing one of Marvin's Marvellous Muffins in front of his face as he wound down the window. He eagerly snatched it out of her hand and looked inside.

"Sorry," she said as he examined the contents, "they ran out of Chocolate Sprinkle, so I got you Blueberry instead, is that OK?"

"Yeah, fine, fine, thanks," he replied, "Do you want to get in? I can hand over while I'm eating. Did you get me any coffee?"

India mutely handed over the lidded cup. She then went round the car and opened the passenger-side door. Pulling a moue of fastidious disgust, she quickly brushed the littler of candy bar wrappers and empty drink cans off the passenger's seat before climbing in.

"Sorry about the mess," Carlisle mumbled through a mouthful of muffin. He took a swig of coffee and cleared his throat. "Sorry. Anyway, our boy stayed put most of the night, but did something weird at about three-twenty. Have a look at this." He got out the Cicada and pressed the play button. The VW was instantly filled with sad, sweet music, albeit somewhat tinny-sounding on the recorder's little speakers.
"Pretty sweet, no?" said Carlisle, stopping the playback after a few minutes. "It's a pity we can't put it on YouTube or something. You ever see anything like that before?"

India hadn't, but then she hadn't been an OGS agent for much more than a year, so it didn't mean a lot. "So, it didn't go anywhere else or do anything else?" she asked.

"Nope," replied Carlisle, "it stayed put all night, apart from that one hour. I never lost sight of it at any time when it went for its music practice, and the Ladybird showed it staying put in the motel the rest of the time. Like I say: weird."

"Hmm, then I guess I must be wrong," she said.

"You? Wrong? I find that hard to believe!" laughed Carlisle. India blushed: she was aware that she had something of a reputation amongst the other agents as someone did not take correction or contradiction easily. Seeing her red cheeks, Carlisle's grim disappeared abruptly. "Sorry, India, wrong about what, anyway?"

India explained about the fire at the jazz club and her suspicions of Harold. "But," she concluded, "that demon can't have started the fire: it was here all night. Thing is" she continued thoughtfully, "the police are now looking for it. What should we do?"
"Nothing," said Carlisle. "If your demon didn't start the fire – as seems to be the case – then the police not finding him does no harm, and anyway," he paused for a gulp of coffee, "he'll be gone as soon as we can get a squad over here, won't he?"

"True," acknowledged India. "But in the meantime, they'll be wasting resources looking for the man in the CCTV pictures instead of whoever really started the fire."

"That's not really our concern. We can hardly go to the cops and give our boy over there a squeaky clean alibi, now can we?"

"I suppose not," India sighed. That was the trouble with OGS: it wasn't a government agency and had no more authority than any other group of private citizens being, as it was, essentially a religious order.

"What should we do?" asked Harold for the umpteenth time since he and Teatime had seen the news bulletin about the fire. He was pacing up and down the room.

"Oh, do sit still, old bean," grumbled Teatime, "I can't think with you tramping up and down like that." Harold flopped into the one dilapidated armchair the room possessed.

"Now, these humans are pretty stupid," began Teatime, "so it's my bet that even with your picture all over the news they'll not recognise you in the street so long as you don't do anything to draw attention to yourself."

"I could wear a baseball cap or something," suggested Harold, "shade my face. Maybe wear sunglasses?"

"That's good. That's good, "said Teatime approvingly, "Do you happen to have any of those things?".

"Er, no, just that old hat I was collecting money in." admitted Harold. Teatime rolled his eyes.

"And you're sure you can't change your physical appearance, not even a bit?"

"Sorry," apologised Harold, shrugging, "I was never any good at shapeshifting: it takes all my effort keeping up this one appearance."

"If you take my advice, old button," said Teatime, "You'll start practising: your self-preservation may very well depend upon it one day."

"I will," promised Harold, not really meaning a word of it. Shapeshifting was hard!

"Well, for want of anything better," said Teatime, "I think we're just going to have to rely on humanity's staggering capacity to overlook what's in front of their stupid faces. We can maybe get you a hat or something while we're out. Let's go, old sausage, I'm starving."

They found a pleasant-looking diner easily enough and spent a short time perusing the neatly alphabetical menu in the window before going in. Teatime had wanted to ensure there would be pancakes and maple syrup (there was) and proper English Breakfast Tea (there wasn't).

The Lovin' Spoonful diner was obviously one of those places that relied for the most part on the patronage of regular customers rather than passing trade. As Harold and Teatime jangled their way in through the door, all heads turned toward them and all conversation ceased abruptly. The proprietor – Hank, by name - had just been telling one of his regulars, a middle-aged lady, about his impending knee surgery, and didn't look especially pleased by the entrance of a stranger into his cosy domain. For form's sake, however, he plastered on a smile and asked Harold what he could get him.

Harold was just about to order a nice big plate of bacon, eggs, hash browns and all the trimmings for himself (plus pancakes for Teatime) when Hank registered Teatime's presence.

"Oh, I'm sorry, son," he said, not really sounding it. "This is a food service area. No animals allowed in here, you'll have to leave. Hygiene laws, you know?"

"Aw, lighten up Hank," said the erstwhile recipient of the knee surgery story, a rather blowsy middle-aged woman who could most kindly be described as 'handsome'. "He's only a little monkey and I think he's adorable."

So saying, she leaned her face in close to Teatime's and spoke in the sort of simpering high-pitched voice usually reserved for babies, halfwits and small dogs. "Yeshoo are, aren't you? You're adorable, you wittle monkey, you." She started tickling Teatime under the chin.

Harold felt Teatime tense. His companion's little body just radiated outrage at this violation of his personal space and dignity. Now, Harold didn't know if Teatime was preparing to spring at the woman's face, bite her hand or simply run off. Whichever way, it would not be conducive towards the acquisition of breakfast.

"Take it easy, Teatime," he said soothingly, "the nice lady's just being friendly." He turned to her apologetically, "I'm sorry, ma'am, he's not used to the attention of such a pretty lady – it makes him nervous."

Evidently pleased by this piece of outrageous flattery, the woman laughed but quickly drew back her hand.

"He doesn't bite, does he?" she asked.

"No," laughed Harold, "but he can be very sarcastic at times."

Even Hank laughed at that and grudgingly agreed that, yes, OK, the monkey could stay after all, so long as he behaved himself.

Outside, Agent India was watching the diner from the clean and tidy comfort of her own car. Her cell phone beeped.

"India." she said, not removing her gaze from the diner.

"India, this is Control. Joshua squad has become available earlier than expected and has been despatched to your location. They should reach you sometime this evening. Please liaise with Agent Mercury, the squad leader, from this point on."

"Will do, Control." she replied.

"Also," continued Control, "please upload any images you have of the target and we'll distribute them for you."

"Yes, I will, thanks."

Control ended the call. India allowed herself the luxury of a grin. At last!

Through the window of the diner, she could see the AFO eating a hearty breakfast and apparently laughing and chatting with the diner's owner and some of the other customers. Her grin disappeared. Enjoy your meal, Demon, she thought sourly, because you won't be eating many more.

Episode 6

It was three a.m. and Harold was wide awake. Beside him on the pillow, Teatime was curled up sound asleep, emitting tiny snores. Harold wondered what sleep was actually like since, as a demon, he did not – indeed, could not – sleep. The nearest thing to it for him was quiescence, a state of relaxation which allowed him to conserve some of the not inconsiderable energy required to maintain his corporeal form – his vessel – here on the Brightside.

From time to time, a car would drive by outside and its lights, shining through the absurdly cheerful flowery curtains of the drab motel room, would light up the framed sampler that someone had hung on the wall. Good fences make good neighbours it said. Harold wondered if all the rooms at the motel had the same embroidered aphorism on the wall or if they were all different. Somebody must have had a lot of time on their hands. He sighed: he was a million miles from the calm mental state needed to drift into quiescence.

They had not been able to find any suitable apartments for rent the previous evening, but had made a couple of appointments to see some the following day. A friendly gas station attendant had pointed them in the direction of the SleepEZ motel, situated, according to a leaflet he had given them, conveniently close to the city's major transport hub. This meant, of course, that it was right next to the busiest and noisiest railway tracks. When they had arrived, Teatime had been unimpressed to see that someone had removed the "P" from the motel's sign and had expressed the hope that the result was not going to be a too accurate description of the place.

Fortunately, the motel room had turned out to be clean and comfortable enough, if a little worn and threadbare-looking, and they had settled in for the night.

It had been, on the whole, a rather disconcerting day. At the start, Harold had had a job and place to stay, but just because of a stupid impulsive whim, he'd chucked all that away and ended up jobless and homeless in a strange city with very little money and nothing but a talking monkey for a companion. Was everybody else's life as confusing and disorganised as this? He wondered. Probably, if what he'd seen so far was anything to go by. Everywhere around on the Brightside, there was hunger, heroism, suffering, saintliness, greed and grace in various degrees. Back home in the Basement, life had been pretty straightforward compared to this.

Three twenty-one a.m. Harold sighed again, got up carefully so as not to wake Teatime, picked up his rucksack and slipped quietly out into the night.

"Three twenty-one," murmured Agent Carlisle into his voice-recorder, "Subject has left the motel. Am proceeding to follow on foot, as the car will be too conspicuous." He clicked off the recorder and, making sure the Ladybird tracker's handset was safely in his pocket, quietly got out and locked the dark blue WV he had spent the night in on Agent India's instructions.

Harold had no particular place to go, but for what he needed to do, he needed to be well away from people. He took a route that roughly paralleled the railway tracks. After a few minutes' walk, he found just the place. It was an old, abandoned warehouse – the derelict cliche of every gritty cop or gangster show – and as he seated himself on the crumbling loading bay platform, it made the perfect backdrop.

Agent Carlisle watched from the shadows as the AFO took a cloth-wrapped bundle from its backpack. He looked through the viewfinder of the Cicada night-vision camcorder to see if it was getting a good image – it was. It was a really cool piece of tech, but then agents always had the best kit that OGS's not insignificant resources could acquire. The War on Error, as he privately called it, was certainly making somebody rich.

Right now the image showed a strikingly good-looking young man who was carefully fitting together the pieces of something metallic and shiny.

"A trumpet?" breathed Carlisle,

Indeed it was. Harold began to play, completely unaware of his audience.

A series of long sad notes drifted up into the night. They spoke of sadness, they wailed of homesickness and wept unconsolably of loss. They soared to the heavens and floated down gently like a breeze. Now and then a passing train would drag them away to screeching, rattling oblivion, only for them to return, soft as a sigh.. In the shadows, Carlisle stood frozen, tears running down his face, all thoughts of observation and recording forgotten, totally caught up in the heartbreakingly magical moment.

Eventually, having played himself out, Harold lowered the trumpet to his lap and sat there in the darkness, eyes closed. He loved the feeling he got after playing his heart out: part exhaustion, part elation. If only they would just leave him alone with his music. What he had played tonight was a new piece that had come to him just as he had put the instrument to his lips. That was the best kind of music.

He decided he would call the piece We Were Angels Once. Then, laughing to himself at his own pretentiousness, he mentally scrubbed out that title. As he cleaned and put away the trumpet, another idea came to him. He'd just call it Missing You instead - more catchy, more likely to sell records – not that anyone would ever be likely to record it.

In the east, the sky was just beginning to show the first faint light of dawn. Harold got up and headed back to the motel, Teatime would not be pleased if he thought Harold was wandering off about the place without him.

When he got back to the room, Teatime was awake and irritatedly flipping back and forth between the channels on the battered TV set in the room.

"Where on earth have you been?" he demanded, "I was worried sick!"

"Sorry," replied Harold, dropping his backpack onto the bed, "I just went for a bit of a think and a walk. You were asleep, so I didn't want to disturb you."

"Fair enough, old sock," said Teatimre, somewhat mollified, "but you have to be careful out alone at night. Bad things can happen."

Harold laughed, "I'm a demon! I'm supposed to be the Bad Things That Happen', aren't I?"

"Yes," agreed Teatime, "but there are things out there which are a threat even to you."

"Like what?" scoffed Harold, "Ghosts? Brain-eating Zombies? Dragons? Here, give me that remote." He perched on the edge of the bed and began flipping channels himself.

"Don't dismiss the dragons so lightly," admonished Teatime, "Just because they have some silly agreement not to eat humans, doesn't mean they wouldn't – wait! Go back!"

Harold pressed the remote.

...coat the whole thing with breadcrumbs and bake in the oven for twenty...

"Again!" commanded Teatime, "Hurry up!" Harold did as he was told.

..Sponge Bob is Nickelodeon's highest-rated show and, today, as we go behind the scenes to...

"No, not that one!" Teatime was fairly jumping up and down with impatience. Shrugging, Harold pressed again.

The screen now showed a news bulletin. The news anchorman was speaking over a piece of grainy CCTV footage which showed a young man apparently being thrown out of the main doors of a building by a very large black man. The first man, having landed in a heap, got up and walked away quickly.

"I was right!" gasped Teatime, "That is you! I thought it was."

"Unfortunately," said the newscaster as the film ended, "We don't have any better pictures that these as the rest of the footage was damaged in the fire. The Police Department is very keen to speak to the man you just saw, so if you know who he is or if indeed you are him, please contact them. Now we go live to Sherry Taylor at the scene. Sherry." He turned to the large screen beside him.

A pretty blonde reporter began speaking to camera from outside what Harold instantly recognised as Baron Samedi's club. Behind her, firefighters could be seen coming and going through the blackened main doors, their hoses trailing like fat snakes into the dark recesses of the building.

"Bill, the world-famous jazz club has been almost completely destroyed by the blaze." she said, "Fortunately, no-one appears to have been inside the club when the fire broke out. The Fire Department has yet to conduct a full investigation but, as you mentioned already, early indications are that the fire was started deliberately. We have still not been able to track down the club's owner, Baron Samedi, for comment. I do, however, have here with me the club's Head of Operations, Mr Elroy Jackson." She turned to a hugely-built black man. "Mr Jackson, do you have any idea who could have done this?"

Mr Teeth looked straight into the camera. Miles away in his hotel room, Harold gulped: Mr Teeth seemed to be looking right at him.

"Oh, yeah," he growled, "I got a pretty good idea."

Episode 5

"Right," declared Teatime, having polished off the last of the cheeseburger. "What we need now is to get you a job and a place to stay. Let's go and purchase ourselves a local newspaper and see what's about."

So saying, he hopped smartly up onto Harold the demon's shoulder as the latter got up from the table. Harold reached out to pick up the plastic tray containing their food wrappers and paper cup.

"Leave it there, old fruit, leave it there." whispered Teatime into Harold's ear.

"Why?" asked Harold.

"Because this is a self-clear eatery." Teatime explained.


"Look, if we leave the tray," the monkey continued, "it will cause annoyance to staff and patron alike, but most people are too polite to do anything about it so they'll just seethe inwardly. It'll put them in a bad mood and they'll probably take it out on their loved ones when they get home – which is a result for us."

"Well, OK, if you're sure..?" Harold quickly grabbed his rucksack and walked away from the table.

"It's the little things," sighed Teatime happily, as he looked back over Harold's shoulder at a young woman in a charcoal suit who was definitely glowering – and probably seething too if he was not mistaken.

Agent India was glowering. She had hoped to get close enough to her target to plant a Ladybird, but it (the target, not the Ladybird) had got up and left just that bit too soon. She let it move off a bit, so it wasn't too obvious that she was following, then casually walked after it.

Harold and Teatime wandered over to a newsstand. The little kiosk was piled high with colourful glossy magazines whose covers shouted things like: The Secrets of Cajun Cooking Revealed! Creationism Must Be Taught in Our Public School System! and Sun, Sex and Sangria – Get All the Gossip from the Soap Operas! (the exclamation mark was mandatory, it seemed).

Harold bought a paper and turned away from the counter, almost bumping into the young woman in the charcoal suit, who had come up close behind him whilst he had been making his purchase.

"Pardon me," said Harold, as the young woman skipped smartly back a couple of steps.

"It's OK," she replied, "You weren't to know I was there."

Harold flashed her a quick apologetic grin and made his way past her and a couple of other people who were waiting to buy something.

Drat it! Thought India furiously, missed my chance again! Planting trackers had been so easy in training, how come it was suddenly so hard? She took a calming breath. Well, if at first you don't succeed... She set off after the demon.

"We should have bought the paper first, then we could have read it at the table while we were eating," said Harold, "Now we'll have to find somewhere else to sit down since we can't go back to that place, thanks to you."

"Oh, pish, my dear fellow," replied Teatime airily, "it was worth it. Anyway, this is what you're supposed to be doing up here – it's not all about getting people to sign the Contract, you know?" He glanced around, "And, if I'm not mistaken, there's a new opportunity for you just over there." He pointed a tiny black finger across the concourse to where a girl – in her early teens, by the look of her - was just in the act of furtively trying to slip a cheap silver pendant from the station's jewellery stall into the pocket of her jacket.

Unfortunately for the girl, the concourse security guard had also spotted the theft and was starting to head her way.

"We need to distract him," said Teatime, "See that stand over there? Accidentally on purpose knock it over."

Harold did see, and walked purposefully over to one of those rotating displays of postcards - which just happened to be between the girl and the guard. As he walked past the stand, Harold turned suddenly, as if remembering something important in the other direction, and allowed his rucksack to clout it.

It had the desired effect: the display went down with a satisfying racket and suddenly there were bits of shiny card all over the floor. The guard was not to be put off his quarry that easily, but had perforce to go around the mess. Harold, meanwhile, was busy making a nuisance of himself, getting in the way by diving around and snatching up the scattered cards, all the while apologising noisily to everyone in sight. Several other people had also come forward to help clear up the mess, adding to the confusion.

Hearing the racket, the girl turned and saw the guard for the first time. A momentary look of blind panic flashed across her face, but seeing the guard somewhat hampered by the idiot with the rucksack, she seized her moment and was away on her toes before he could get anywhere near.

"Bravo!" crowed Teatime, as Harold righted the stand and started to replace as many of the cards as he could under the scowling eye of their owner. "Now that girl has had a taste of shoplifting and, buoyed by her success here today, is likely to try it again! Good work, old boy, good work!"

Suddenly, the woman in the charcoal suit was beside him, a bunch of postcards in her hand.

"Erm, I think this is the last of them," she said, offering them to Harold.

"Why, thank you, Miss," he replied, taking the cards, "that's very kind of you." He spread his hands in mock helplessness and grinned, "I'm such a klutz!" His twinkling blue eyes and perfect smile would melt any woman's heart.

"It's no trouble at all," she said coldly, and with that, turned and walked briskly away into the crowd.

"Obviously not your type, old boy," sniggered Teatime, "Come along. Let's see if we can find a low-rent apartment that isn't positively crawling with fleas. You have no idea what a torment they can be, no idea at all"

As demon and talking monkey headed out of the station concourse into the city proper, India fished in her bag and brought out a small hand-held device. To the casual observer, it looked like a typical modern cell phone. India touched a button and the device came to life. Its display brightened to reveal an aerial view of the railway station and its environs. In the very centre of this was a red dot, which was moving slowly along the street outside the station.

India smiled in satisfaction. It had been so easy to plant the Ladybird this time: the stupid demon had been so busy mucking about with the postcards and whatnot that it had totally failed to register her presence as she slid the little device into one of the pockets of its stupid rucksack. India knew that the technology was not exactly legal, but you simply couldn't have AFOs running around the place, free and easy. In the battle for men's souls, there were higher laws to be obeyed.

Previous <----- > Next

Episode 4

"Well, don't look so flabbergasted, old shoe," said Teatime, "Anyone would think you'd never seen a monkey before!"

"Well I've certainly never seen a talking monkey before, that's for sure," replied Harold the demon, "How in Hades did that happen?"

Teatime jumped nimbly off the table and onto Harold's shoulder, where he settled himself down quite comfortably.

"Well," he began, "there I was, deep in the forest, minding my own business – "

"- or throwing it at someone." interrupted Harold, chortling.

"Oh, charming!" moaned Teatime, "Why is it that that people only ever remember the poo-throwing? You know, we capuchins have a very rich repertoire of behaviours: nest-making, tool-using... Look it up in Wickedpedia sometime, why don't you? Anyway, where was I?"

"Deep in the forest." prompted Harold, still smirking a little.

"Yes, right." Teatime sniffed, "Anyway, there I was, minding my own business when, all of a sudden I felt this stinging sensation and the next thing I knew I was in this big white room, being prodded and poked by humans and injected with badness knows what, and generally in a pretty pickle altogether."

"So the humans made you into a talking monkey!" marvelled Harold, "What was it? A secret government experiment? Was it their military?"

"No, I'm afraid not," sighed Teatime, "Nothing as worthy as that, dear boy. I think they were probably just looking for a cure for dandruff or something." An angry glint suddenly appeared in the monkey's black eyes. "But of course I wouldn't know, would I? Because you'll be amazed to hear that for some reason THEY DIDN'T ACTUALLY BOTHER TO EXPLAIN IT TO ME!" This last part was delivered in a screech which, coming as it did from right next to Harold's ear, caused him to wince.

All over the carriage, heads turned towards the pair.

Harold smiled weakly at the heads and hastily started stroking Teatime as one would a pet.

"Calm down," he urged, "People are looking at us. I'm sorry if I upset you."

"No, No," replied Teatime, collecting himself with an effort. "I should be the one to apologise."

He produced a tiny white handkerchief and blew his nose delicately. "It's just that the thought of what those humans did - and still do - to creatures like me rather gets in amongst me. Please accept my most humble apologies for the outrageous display."

"Er, Ok, sure," said Harold, somewhat mentally wrongfooted by the monkey's rather mercurial temperament.

After another nose-blow, Teatime went on. "Anyway, things were looking decidedly sticky for me. Each day the humans would take one of us monkeys away somewhere, never to be seen again - and there weren't that many monkeys to start with, if you know what I mean."

"I do," cried Harold, "It means that –"

"The point was rhetorical, actually," said Teatime with some asperity. "Anyway, when we were down to just two monkeys, I decided that, whatever else happened, I was not going to end up the way the others had, so I made The Deal. That night, a lab assistant carelessly left a certain cage door unlocked and the rest, as they say, is history."

Harold pondered this for a few moments.

"So you escaped," he said, "I get that, but how did you get the ability to talk if the humans didn't give it to you?"

"Well, that was part of the bargain I made with your dear pater, you see," explained Teatime. "I needed more than just an open cage door to get away from the humans. I needed the tools to stay out of their clutches for good. I needed to have the sort of powers that my tormentors had: language, rational thought, education, culture and so on. Your father gave those to me."

"I see." said Harold. "But why are you here with me now instead of running around?"

"Well, I work for your father and he told me to come up here and keep an eye on you. Help you out a bit and whatnot."

"You work for my father while you're alive?" Harold was amazed: the Deal did not usually oblige the Signatory to do anything in life. "And he gets your soul when you die as well?" He shook his head in wonderment.

"Let's say you father drives a hard bargain." Teatime said dryly.

"Wow!" breathed Harold, "And to think I didn't even know animals had souls to trade."

"Now, that's exactly the way the humans think," said Teatime. "And I would have thought that you, as a demon, would know better. Didn't you pay any attention in Monday School?"

"Not really," admitted Harold, "it was just so boring. I mean, all those rules and regulations, stealing of heirlooms or birthrights or whatever, and those tedious genealogies! Who cares who begat who, anyway?"

"Whom," corrected Teatime, fussily. "who begat whom! I can see it wasn't just Bible Study you neglected."

"I fear it is so," grinned Harold, "Anyway, here's our stop, I think."

The train had indeed come to a halt. Harold and Teatime alighted and began to make their way through the crowded station.

"Righty-ho," declared Teatime, cheerily "Let's find something to eat, something to drink and then we'll see about getting you a job and a place to stay."

Harold surveyed the various fast food outlets on the station concourse.

"Hmm, I don't see any banana stalls here," he said doubtfully. Teatime rolled his eyes.

"My species is omnivorous, you doorknob. Just get a cheeseburger, and make sure there's none of that filthy mayonnaise stuff on it."

They got to the counter and the burger was duly ordered.

"What drink do you want?" Harold whispered as the smile behind the counter waited expectantly. "Let me guess, banana milkshake, right?"

"Don't make me throw poo at you," hissed Teatime, "An orange juice will do nicely, thank you so very much."

"You're the boss," grinned Harold, opening his wallet.

Across the concourse from the burger bar, a nondescript young woman in a smart charcoal business suit flipped open a cell phone and dialled a number. As the call went through, she brushed back her dark hair and lifted the instrument to her ear.

"Control?" she murmured, "India here. I think we have an incursion, can you send a squad?"

"Negative, India." came the reply, "All squads are currently engaged. Track and report the incursion until a squad becomes available."

"Understood, Control." She snapped the phone shut and sighed. Just her luck! The one time she actually managed to spot an Accursed Fallen One for herself, there were no squads available to wipe it out. Well this AFO was not going to get away from her! She dropped the phone into her shoulder bag, zipped it closed and stepped out onto the concourse.

As she walked towards the burger bar, the late afternoon sun glinted off the discreet gold pin in the left lapel of her jacket: a shepherd's crook bisected by two crossed keys. Underneath was inscribed a tiny motto: Dirigere et Defendere.

Meanwhile, the Accursed Fallen One in question was involved in the abominable machination of happily tucking into a bacon-double-cheese (hold the Mayo). From time to time its evil scheme involved passing bits of food to its pet monkey, thereby occasioning a certain amount of damnable saucer-eyed delight in three small children at a nearby table.

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