"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.