Saturday, 27 February 2010

Epsidode 29

“The crafty old beggar,” breathed Teatime in admiration, “Now all we need to do is work out what the numbers actually mean. May I see them for a moment?”

Othello held up the paper.

162.500 – 22.98976 – 95.96

“Three numbers.” Teatime mused, “ Could it be something like a map reference, I wonder?”

“I would expect that to be just two numbers,” replied Othello. “Anyway, before we get too deeply into that, we should look around and see if there’s anything else he might have left for us. Look around people, but don’t disturb anything”

The agents busied themselves around the deceased agent’s apartment, looking inside every lampshade and underneath every stick of furniture, searching for clues. Harold and Teatime were left at a bit of a loose end in the living room. Harold wandered around, taking care not to arouse agent India’s wrath by touching Emerald’s personal things. His feet soon brought him to the corner where Othello was working on Emerald’s computer, operating it with a smothness that Harold found quite fascinating.

“You’re pretty slick with this technology, aren’t you?” Harold said, “And it looks so complicated. It must take forever to learn.”

Othello spared him a brief glance and carried on working. Slightly disoppointed, Harold thought the agent was going to ignore him completely, and was about to move away, but Othello began to speak quietly.

“I went with him when he went to buy this machine. He wanted my supposedly expert opinion on it as it was a big purchase for him. I said it was good enough for anything he was likely to want to do with it and he laughed and said I might be surprised at what he wanted to do with it. So I asked him what his plans were and he just laughed some more and said he was thinking of trying his hand at computer art. He fancied having a go at drawing a web comic or something. I hadn’t really had a lot to do with him before that, I just assumed he fitted the usual stereotype of the dedicated bachelor agent with no time for anything but the job. Just goes to show how easily we make assumptions about people when we don’t know them.”

“But you became friends after that?” Harold was keen to keep the man talking, the story was interesting in its own right and it felt good to just be having a simple conversation with someone.

“Yeah,” continued Othello, “We’d go for the odd beer at the end of a shift or go see a play or sometimes just sit around and talk for hours. The guy could talk for his country - and he could draw too.” Othello turned the computer’s screen so Harold could see it. “Look at this.”

Emerald’s desktop background was a stunningly rendered moonrise over a fabulously turreted fantasy castle, all perfectly reflected in the gleaming ebony waters of a lake.

“It’s beautiful,” said Harold, wonderingly. “You humans are amazingly creative at times.”

As if Harold’s words had suddenly reminded Othello that he was chatting casually with a demon, the agent was suddenly all business again.

“I’m going to take this back with us.” He said, quickly starting the shutdown sequence. “I’m going to need more time to look through what’s on here.”

“Othello,” called Mercury from the bedroom where he had been looking around, “I found something.”

Othello made his way to the other room and Harold trailed after.

Mercury held up a paper wallet with a colourful airline logo on it. “Looks like he never went to Hawaii,” he said, “His ticket’s here.”

“Well that answers that question, anyway.” Othello looked round the small room. Everything was so neat and precise, not a thing out of place. He was about to go back out of the room when he stopped, frowning.

He knelt down beside the wooden bookcase where Emerald had housed his small collection of books. He had not been a particularly voracious reader and these were mostly reference titles, plus a few biographies.

Othello ran his eyes along the neat rows.

“Ah ha!” he said after a few moments.

“What is it,” cried Mercury, leaning over to see better.

“Another clue, I think,” Othello reached out and indicated a book – Basic Inorganic Chemistry by Prof. S J Chirping & Dr O N Kendrick.

“OK, I see the book, but so what?” said Mercury.

“It’s been put in the shelf in the wrong place.” Said Othello, “Everything is in alphabetical order except this one.”

“Are you sure?” asked Mercury, “That’s an awfully subtle clue if you ask me. Might it not just be a bit of carelessness?”

“Not likely,” said Othello. withdrawing the book from the shelf. “He did this on purpose.” He held the book by the spine and shook it gently to see if anything would fall out, and when nothing did, he turned it over and opened it.

“Bingo!” he breathed.

“What? “ demanded Mercury, “What?”

Othello held up the book so the flyleaf could be clearly seen. It bore an inscription “Happy 30th birthday, Emerald. Enjoy. Othello.”

“I never bought him that book – and that’s his handwriting, not mine.” Othello stood up still holding the book. “What on earth is he trying to to tell me?”

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Episode 28

Agents Othello, Prada and India all stood frozen for several silent seconds, transfixed by shock at Mercury’s news. Eventually, a frowning Othello broke the silence.

“How’d it happen?”

“The cops think it was a mugging – he was found in an alley off Spartan Street behind the Heavenly Fragrance cafe. He’d been shot at close range and his wallet was found nearby. His credit cards and money were gone”

“That’s not right.” said Othello. “He was supposed to be on vacation in Hawaii and wasn’t due back till next week. How could he have been here?”

There was a pregnant pause as this sank in.

“Perhaps he came back early from his holiday?” suggested Teatime, somewhat diffidently as he was not sure how the humans would react to his including himself in their discussions at this sensitive time.

“I doubt it,” replied Othello, “He’s talked about nothing but this vacation for months – it was a dream holiday for him. There’s no way he’d have come back early.”

“Do the cops have any leads?” asked Prada.

“I don’t think so,” sighed Mercury, “Spartan Street’s in a bad neighbourhood and they’re overworked. Emerald’s case will probably end up at the bottom of the pile in some rookie lieutenant’s in-tray. They’ve done the basics as far as forensics are concerned and nothing came up, so it’s not a huge priority for them.”

“I’m wondering if there’s any link between Emerald’s death and what we’re currently investigating.” Said Othello. “Maybe we should do some investigating of our own. At the very least I’d want to know whether Emerald ever went to Hawaii – and if not, why not.”

“Well, the police have returned his personal effects,” Mercury held up a plastic evidence bag. He had us listed as his next of kin, apparently. His keys are here, maybe we should have a quick look around his place.”

There was an uncomfortable silence: one the one hand, the agents wanted to find out what had happened to their friend, while on the other, going into his home felt like an intrusion.

In the end, though, it was decided that they would visit Emerald’s home – if only to see if there were any contact details for family members that might need to be informed of his death.

Emerald’s apartment was the first human residence Harold had ever set foot in. Standing in the small, tidy main room, his eyes were drawn to the many framed cartoons adorning the walls. Evidently, Emerald was something of a fan of the funnies and quite of few of the pictures appeared to have been autographed by the artist. Better than any tacky printed sampler, thought Harold, thinking back to the Sleezee Motel. One picture – “Larry the Lark and the Pirates of Treachery Bay” – was slightly askew, which seemed odd to Harold, given the meticulous neatness of everything else. Instinctively, he reached out to straighten it.

“Don’t touch that!” snapped India, “Keep your hands off his things.” Harold snatched his hand back is if burned.

“What’s going on?” demanded Mercury from Emerald’s bedroom, where he was looking for address books, letters or anything of that kind.

“Nothing,” said India firmly and, favouring Harold with a warning glare, she went to join Prada in the tiny kitchen.

“This picture is crooked, I was going to just…”

Othello, who had just booted up Emerald’s computer, hurried over. He took in the scene briefly then reached out and took the picture down off the wall.

“Emerald was a total neat-freak,” he said, “There’s no way he’d leave a picture hanging like this.”

“Oh, come on!” groaned Prada, re-entering the room, “This isn’t some low-budget TV whodunit, you know, where the victim leaves a mysterious clue by deliberately – “ She broke off as Othello, having turned the picture over, removed and held up a folded piece of paper that had been tucked into the frame, completely hidden when the picture was on the wall.

“You have got to be kidding me!” she exclaimed.

Mercury and India came over. Othello set the picture down and unfolded the paper.

162.500 – 22.98976 – 95.96

“What on earth is that?” said Mercury.

“I have no idea.” Replied Othello, shaking his head, “But Emerald hid this, knowing that only someone who knew him really well was likely to find it.

“Oh, great,” sighed Prada, “Now it’s the DaVinci Code!”

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Episode 27

    It was a beautiful Saturday morning with the rising thermometer inviting folks to venture outside in just their shirtsleeves. Through a gap in the Salamander room’s blinds, Harold could see a sparrow on the lichen-draped branch of a nearby tree singing its little heart out in the sunshine – albeit silently, as no sound penetrated the double-glazed window. He was getting a bit fidgety, truth to tell, the magic of PowerPoint having worn off already. Agent Othello’s carefully bulleted list of information was depressingly short: little more than some names and last known locations.
    “What other things do we need to consider?” asked Mercury, watching Prada languorously completing another one of her vivid and intricate doodles.
    “You might want to think about how whoever is behind this actually locates their targets.” offered Teatime, “Neither demons nor angels stand out in human society unless they choose to.”
    “That’s an interesting point.” replied Mercury as Othello tapped it into the computer, “Are they using Spotting or some kind of technology?”
    “Spotting?” asked Harold.
    “Yes,” explained Mercury, “Some people have the gift of being able to sense your kind – India, for example, has this gift.”
    A few things suddenly made sense to Harold.
    “So,” he said turning to India, “Back at the railway station, you knew? Fascinating!”
    “Yes.” India replied, “You made my teeth itch – still do, as a matter of fact”
    “India!” said Prada, looking up from her sketch of a garland of flowers around the words “apple dumplings”. “That’s not very nice!”
    India shrugged, “Well, it’s true. That’s how it feels”.
    “Could whoever it is – “ Teatime stopped, “Can we please give our mystery opponent some kind of name? I’m fed up of saying “whoever it is” all the time.”
    “OK, we’ll call him, her, it or them Enigma,” declared Mercury, “Now, moving on, Mr Teatime has raised a very good point. So far as we know, only Spotters can detect angels or demons. It would be very handy for us if some technological means existed, but it doesn’t. It’s a gift, and a rare one at that.”
    “Is it so rare that Enigma couldn’t be employing a Spotter?” ventured Teatime. “Over what range does this gift work?”
    “About 20-30 feet at the most” said India.
    “All of the disappearances,” said Othello, bringing up a map on his computer, “were within 20 miles of here, but not particularly close together. Unless Enigma has a number of Spotters, it’s hard to see how they could have been so successful in locating their targets.”
At that moment, there was a polite knock on the door and the fresh-faced young agent that Harold had scared earlier poked his head into the room.
    “Agent Mercury?” he said, “A report from the Watch Tower has just come in and I think you should see it.”
    “Excuse me,” said Mercury, making his way out of the room. “Take five everyone, get a coffee or something.”
    Glad of the interruption, the others repaired to the break room.
Someone had brought in a tray of home-made cupcakes and had left them with a hand-written sign indicating that anyone could have one provided that they left a donation in the box provided. The money raised would go to fund research into diseases of the pancreas.
    “These look very tempting,” remarked Harold, dropping some money into the box and snagging a cake.
    “You’d know all about that,” said Prada lightly, taking a cake for herself.
     “I’ll let you into a secret,” said Harold, lowering his voice in a mock-conspiratorial whisper, “I’m not actually very good at it, but please don’t tell the others, I have a reputation to maintain.”
    Prada laughed.
    “Your secret is safe with me.”
    “Ahem,” interrupted Teatime, “Are you planning to keep that cake all to yourself, old sock? Only, being the brains in this partnership is hungry work, don’t you know?”
    “Sorry,” Harold apologised, breaking off a large piece and handing to the little monkey. He bit into his own piece and closed his eyes in pleasure: these were good!
    “Can you actually taste things?” asked Prada. “I always thought your kind didn’t need food…”
    “We need energy, and food is as good a way to get it as any – and very enjoyable too, I might add. “ explained Harold, “Plus, I can eat anything and not get fat..”
    “Now I know you’re evil!” groaned Prada, “I’ve just bought myself another 2 hours in the gym.”
    “She’s being awfully friendly with that Fallen,” said India quietly to Othello as she poured coffee for herself. “Someone should have a word.”
    “Prada’s an experienced agent,” replied Othello softly, “She knows what she’s about. I reckon she’ll get more information out of that one than the rest of us ever will. ‘Softly, softly catchee monkey’, as they say.” He chuckled a little at his own wit.
    “Hmm, she needs to be careful she doesn’t end up like Pandora – opening up a box full of trouble.” Was India’s sour reply.
    Agent Mercury entered the room, his face grave.
    “People,” he said, “I’ve just received some very shocking news.” He paused to ensure they were all listening. “Agent Emerald has been found murdered.”

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Episode 26

“OK, people,” announced Agent Mercury, “Time to get started.”

They were gathered in the Salamader room - one of the oddly-named conference rooms at OGS. Mercury was running the meeting. Othello had his laptop open on the table in front of him connected to a projector. It was currently displaying his screensaver – animated fishes swimming all over a coral reef complete with overflowing pirate treasure chest. Prada looked bored already and was doodling on her notepad. Harold could make out the words “pantry” and “laundry list” in amongst a growing number of cartoon flowers, hearts and spirals. India, on the other hand, was leaning forward, pencil poised, all alert attentivemess. Harold himself was quite interested in the proceedings. There were no briefing sessions in the Basement, although Harold had heard humans claiming that they thought they had died and gone there after a particularly long boring meeting up here. Teatime sat quietly on the table in front of Harold.

“OK, I think it’s safe to assume that since both sides have lost –er – people then neither side is responsible for what’s happening. Agreed?”

A murmur of assent ran round the table.

Othello tapped his keyboard and a neat bullet point appeared on the whiteboard.

“So who does that leave?” continued Mercury.

“Humans,” suggested Teatime. India tutted and shot him a look with a wind chill factor strong enough to freeze a small bird to death.

“Well, who else is there?” he continued, unperturbed.

“Aliens?” Prada didn’t even look up from her dodles. “Vampires? Dragons?”

This was greeted with a chorus of general disagreement.

“Perhaps we should shelve that point for the moment, pending more information.” said Othello as his fingers danced on the keyboard once more.

“OK,” agreed Mercury, “Let’s record such information as we do have. Mr Teatime, I believe you have the details of the Fallen that have disappeared. Would you care to share them with us?”

“Yes, of course” Teatime assumed his schoolmasterly tone, “The Basement has lost touch with five demons thus far. The most recent was Baron Samedi. Before that there was Crippled Tom, then Akim, a.k.a Baying Wolf, Michael Everest and Susan.”

Prada let out a giggle.

“Susan?” she said, “Seriously? There’s a demon called Susan? What is she, the spirit of extreme bossiness? ‘Cos if she is, then you’ve just described my little sister.”

“Very funny, Prada,” said Othello, “Now, on our side, we’ve lost three: Territhiel, Auriel and Illyriel, according to the information given us by the Penthouse.”

Harold started at that last name. He and Illyriel, while not exactly BFFs or whtever the human idiom was, had nevertheless been quite close before the Great War, and it was shocking to imagine that he might be gone for good. Even though he had been banished from the Penthouse along with all the other Fallen, Harold had, in those first terrifying dark days, taken a little comfort in knowing that former friends were still there, safe and happy.

“How can an angel or a Fallen just disappear, though?” asked India. “They can’t be killed, can they?”

“That’s right,” agreed Harold, “Our vessels are pretty much indestructible.”

“But vulnerable to electricity, or our tasers wouldn’t work.” observed Othello. “In all our dealings with Fallen, we’ve never found any other practical way of restraining them – apart from Binding, and only a very few of us can do that.” He looked at Harold, “in the interests of solving this mystery for both our sides, do you have any other weaknesses we should know about, that might have been exploited by whoever is behind this?”

Yeah, like I’d tell you if I had, thought Harold. “Not unless you count trad. Jazz.” He said. “I’m a real sucker for that.”

“We’ll take that as a ‘no’ then.” said Mercury drily.

It was going to be a long meeting.