Saturday, 29 May 2010

Episode 41

“Everybody OK?” Mercury looked around, the noise of the blast still ringing in his ears.

The rest of the team seemed to be pretty much unscathed apart from a couple of minor cuts caused by flying glass fragments. They had all been fairly well shielded from the main brunt of the explosion by the Osprey building itself, but its windows had shattered, raining down little pieces of grimy glass.

“What the hell was that?” demanded Prada, shaking bits out of her hair.

“That’s what I was trying to tell you,” came Teatime’s exasperated voice from down by her feet.
“There was a bomb in the warehouse.”

“A bomb?”

“Yes! You know: tick-tick-boom. A bomb!” Teatime jumped up onto a pile of boxes (McKinley’s Organic Clam Chowder) which provided a more convenient platform from which to address these maddeningly thick-headed humans. “Someone left us a little present, it seems. Harold found it.”

“And ran off to save itself. “ said India sourly, “Nice.”

“No!” cried Teatime, irritated. “He ran off with the bomb to save us!“

The wail of a police siren insinuated itself into the surprised silence.

“Look, we can’t afford to be found here,” said Mercury, “Let’s go find that demon and get out of here. Shake a leg, people!”

Harold carefully levered himself up into a sitting position, causing little avalanches of dust and debris to cascade off him. He was nowhere near fully recovered yet, but the sound of sirens had started up somewhere in the distance and was getting louder. While he didn’t know exactly what would happen if one of his tribe were to fall into the hands of human law enforcement, he had no doubt that if such a thing were to happen, awkwardness would certainly ensue. He had better get out of here and quickly.

Part of a nearby wall had come down in an untidy pile onto his left foot and lower leg, pinning it to the ground. Sighing, he set to work as quickly and carefully as possible removing the bricks one by one and tossing them aside. They seemed ridiculously heavy in his weakened state. He hoped the humans and Teatime were all safe, that he had got the bomb far enough away and that this had not all been for nothing. Running off with the bomb like that was arguably the most reckless course of action in the circumstances – he might have triggered it himself. Somehow, though, it had seemed exactly the right thing to do and there had been no time to give the humans chapter and verse on the situation anyway.

He wondered if they’d come looking for him or just simply write him off. If the latter, a little voice in his head whispered, he’d be free to do as he pleased, maybe find a quiet little town somewhere, settle down, get a job, compose jazz pieces in his spare time with pretentious names like Blue Dangling Participle, Noetic Concordance or Purity of Possibility. He would stay out of everyone’s way, not attract any attention. After a few years he could give himself gray hair and a few wrinkles to allay suspicion. A quiet life, now that was an appealing thought.

The pile of bricks was getting gradually smaller. Soon he’d be able to get his foot out.

No, he told himself, disembarking reluctantly from the rather pleasant train of thought he’d been riding, the OGS humans would come looking, definitely. They would know he couldn’t have been killed by a mere explosion. He was also fairly certain that Agent India wouldn’t let them leave a loose end like that. No, they’d be here any minute with that useful car of theirs. His foot emerged from under the bricks, decidedly the worse for wear. They’d better be: in his current condition an untidy stagger would be the best he could manage.

“Here!” said Mercury “Turn left and don’t drive over the – “
The car’s tyres crunched over a bent and battered sign - Tired of smelly shoes? Odour-Eater Mega Sale Now On! – flattening it out once more.
“Never mind.”
“We’re definitely getting closer,” said Othello from the passenger seat. “There’s much more debris down here.”
“How can you tell?” asked Prada, sarcastically, “This whole neighbourhood looks like someone blew it up long before we got here. I bet even the rats have moved to a better area.”
“That demon can’t have got too far away, there wasn’t enough time.” said Othello. “It must be around here somewhere. Keep looking”

Harold heard the welcome roar of the approaching engine. He got to his feet and began hobbling towards it. At last! Those sirens were getting decidedly too close for comfort. When the vehicle appeared, though, Harold was dismayed to see it was not the OGS car – not a car at all, in fact, but a motorcycle. It was piloted by a rider in black leathers whose features were hidden by a full-face helmet. Harold glanced around quickly for possible motorcycle-proof escape routes, but none presented themselves. There wasn’t time anyway.  The machine roared to a stop, blocking his way before he could do more than stagger a few feet. The rider jerked his thumb at the pillion seat behind him.

“ Jump on,” he ordered, “The police are almost here.”

Seeing no other option, Harold clambered aboard and they roared off into the night.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Epsisode 40

Behind him, Harold heard the startled shouts of the humans plus the screech of one very indignant monkey which had just been dumped without ceremony onto the grimy concrete.

He had no time to spare for them now.

He had to get himself as far away as possible. The rhythm of his feet pounding the pavement brought the words of a chant into his head and he found himself running in time to it: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven. All God's children go to Heaven. One-two-three-four... He pushed this irrelevance aside and tried to remember where he'd seen the safe place, it had to be around here somewhere...

"I knew it!" cried India as Harold suddenly shot past her and out the door, "It's getting away!" Taser in hand, she set off after him.

"What?" Mercury and Othello spun round in surprise, having been intent on the crumpled old speeding ticket they had found.

"The demon's making a break for it!" This was from Prada as she herself ran toward the doorway.

"Helluva time to pull a stunt like that," grumbled Othello as he and Mercury followed.

"Wait!" cried Teatime, but it was too late.

Harold was not strong as demons went but he was fast and had soon put several streets between himself and the crumbling old building. This was not a good neighbourhood, its days of prosperity were well behind it. It was a wasteland of failed businesses and broken dreams, a desolate sprawl of padlocked doors and smashed windows. Even the gangs didn't bother coming here any more, such was the spirit of listless despair that hung around the place.

Where was it?

Harold rounded a corner, passing the shuttered windows of Sweetman's Cafe - Cucumber salad a speciality and Bergdorf Solar Power and Light Inc, now ironically in total darkness. Sale of Surplus Library Books! shouted a hand-painted sign as he flashed past. He was close now, he was sure. Rooster & Trench – False Teeth and Dental Supply Company proclaimed a faded hoarding to his left. Yes! He was almost there now, just down this street: he'd seen it on the way in.

"Darn it!" India skidded to a stop in the empty street. Of the fleeing demon, there was no sign. "I knew it couldn't be trusted." There was a savage edge to her voice, "I just knew it!"

Beside her, Mercury sighed and shook his head. "Guess you were right after all." he said, "I have to hand it to that demon though, he had me fooled. I really thought he was helping us."

"It was just biding its time, obviously." added Prada, "Now what?"

"Well, we've still got –" began Mercury.

The bomb exploded.

Glass and brick fragments and great clods of earth flew everywhere, and the air immediately filled with a great spreading cloud of choking dust. Where the bomb had been, there was now a large hole in the ground as if a giant had wielded a great big invisible spoon, scooping up the earth. Knocked flat by the blast, Harold could only watch helplessly as shards of glass and lumps of masonry rained down on him from out of the smoke, the whole thing a weird sort of drizzle and fog. He'd still been too close to the bomb when it had gone off and he would be going nowhere until his vessel had repaired itself. He closed his eyes. It was such a pity that humans weren't as durable.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Episode 39

Whilst life in the world of men was a definite improvement over the one he had led in the Basement, Harold could not but help being a little disappointed sometimes that things were not more, well, glamorous. He and Teatime found themselves, once again, in a narrow alley. This one was behind the crumbling old building that was supposedly the home of a hi-tech medical plastics company. The alley was a classic of gritty gumshoe movies and hack cop-shows. Rubbish lay everywhere, piles of cardboard boxes labelled McKinley's Organic Carrot Soup were stacked untidily, ready no doubt to be crashed into at any moment and sent flying by a speeding car. There were a couple of dumpsters (with bodies or incriminating evidence in them for sure) and Harold expected at any moment to turn the corner and come across some ill-lit figures conducting a furtive and shady deal of some kind. Yep, definitely not glamorous, but at least he wasn't sitting in his little room at Aunt Aggie's, being bored to tears.

Earlier in the day, Prada had visited the place and had found it locked-up and deserted. Far from being the home of a hi-tech medical supplies manufacturer, the place looked more like an abandoned warehouse. There had been nobody around to ask about it either, so it had been decided that a night-time visit was in order.

"OK, demon," Came Prada's soft voice in the darkness next to him, "time for you to do your thing."

"My, my, what it's like to be in demand, eh, old sock?" came Teatime's amused voice from his shoulder.

"Yeah, yeah," replied Harold, "It's what we ache for, now step back please, ladies and gentlemen." He flexed his fingers theatrically. India rolled her eyes: what a show-off!

Harold placed his hands against the peeling paintwork of the door.

"Ta-daa!" he sang softly, as it clicked open after only a few moments' concentration - he was definitely getting better at this.

They quickly entered the building and Agent Othello closed the door carefully behind them. No point advertising their presence, after all.

They paused for a few moments to listen out for any signs that their ingress had been detected, but the dead stale air in the place was playing it cool and was not being split by the sound of wailing sirens, angry shouting or the thudding of running footsteps.

The humans clicked on their flashlights.

"Mag-lights?" Harold said to Prada, in mock disappointment, "I'd have thought you agents would have had some fancy gizmo like a powder puff that turns into a set of night-vision goggles or something."

"Mag-lights are reliable and cost less," replied Prada.

"Yes, and they're just about heavy enough to make a handy bludgeon as well," added India darkly.

"Focus, people." admonished Mercury.

They were in a narrow hallway. A door led off one side of it and another stood ajar at the opposite end to the one they came in by. A cursory glance through the side door revealed an empty room.

The door at the far end gave out into a large space which was mostly empty. Here and there, the concrete floor had metal brackets sticking up out of it - presumably once used to bolt down machinery, and the odd wooden pedestal here and there which may once have supported a tool rack or a workbench. Two rows of metal column marched down the room, holding up the corrugated metal roof. The agents played their torches around some more, and the shadows rose in clouds like dust before settling back into place once the light had moved on.

"Well, this looks like a bust." said India, with a sigh "If those records ever came here then they must have been picked up long since."

"Spread out and keep looking," ordered Mercury.

Harold and Teatime wandered over toward the farthest corner, away from the OGS agents and their lights.

"Oh," he said disappointedly when they reached the corner.

"Oh, what?" demanded Teatime, "You know, you could turn on your flashlight, old bean. You might be able to see like a cat but I see like a monkey."

"Oh, sorry, I forgot," laughed Harold. He got his own light out and switched it on. He shone the bean down at the remains of a cardboard box. "I thought I saw something here, but it's just an old box after all."

He knelt down to look more closely. The box was labelled Changeling Electronics Inc – Amplitude Modulation Circuits.  Setting down his torch, he lifted the top flaps to see inside.

Behind him, he was dimly aware of Agent Mercury announcing that he found an old speeding ticket, but that was all a very long way away.

The inside of the box was dimly lit by a single red LED, whose sullen light also showed a tangle of wires and a slab of something that looked a lot like Play-Doh, but clearly wasn't.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Episode 38

Mr Teeth was annoyed that he'd had to turn back from following the OGS car. They had gone a good way out of the city onto empty desert roads and to have kept on following would have looked suspicious. Frustrated, he flicked on the radio. "...dream a little dream of me. Stars fading but I linger on, dear... " Mama Cass's distinctive voice came floating out. Not in the mood for easy listening, Mr Teeth turned the dial: "The flowers are in bloom again here at Providence Floristry! Surprise that special someone with a nice bouquet that won't upset your bank balance! Ask about our special Bride and Groom package today!" He spun the dial again "... special offer on bagels and lox at Rosenbaum's Deli!" He flicked the radio off again in disgust. If there was one thing Mr Teeth hated, it was those brassy-voiced, super-cheery radio commercials. Dammit, though, he'd been so close! If he could just get his hands on that little trumpet-playing punk, he was sure he'd be able to get some answers to the mystery of his boss's disappearance. Not today, though. Not today.

If this were one of those TV detective dramas, thought Harold, we'd be able to get DNA samples and things and find out what happened to Reverend Box. DNA samples always seemed to be the answer for some reason on those shows – even when it made no real sense. Still, it was only entertainment, after all and didn't have to be true-to-life. It was curious, though, how the strange little man had just seemed to vanish into thin air. Harold hoped he hadn't come to any harm like agent Emerald had - that would be tragic. He nay have been as crazy as a racoon but he had been quite likeable and, come to think of it, he hadn't actually been all that crazy anyway. Just because he worshipped Zeus and ran around the place with no clothes on didn't make him much more insane than most of the humans he'd met so far.

The car pulled to a stop outside Aunt Aggie's. They were back.

Othello headed straight to the nearest computer with the shipping receipt from Box's place in his hand. Harold and Teatime wandered over to watch him work his magic – and it really was magic to Harold. Computers were so clever and interesting! No wonder so many demons worked in IT. Where better to build things that held out the tantalising promise of such a variety of information, entertainment and efficiency while actually delivering such an amount of disappointment, expense and tooth-gnashing, hair-tearing, blood-vessel-bursting rage and frustration. Yep. Demonically perfect.

"So, who lives at 223 Oakland Drive," murmured Othello, typing the address into a search window. The computer thought about this for a moment, then displayed the answer: Osprey Medical Plastics Inc.

"Now what on earth would a company making naso-gastric tubes, disposable aprons, instrument trays and whatnot be wanting with information about Project Dynamo?"

"It doesn't make any sense," agreed Teatime, "Is it definitely a genuine company?"

Othello typed some more. "Well, it's certainly registered in this state as one so I guess it's a real company alright." he said, "But why would this so-called OGS agent get Box to ship the project records there of all places? Why not to here or any other OGS office? It just doesn't add up."

"Perhaps this agent was working on his own, not as part of some official OGS activity?" suggested Teatime.

"I wish Box had managed to get the guy's name," sighed Othello.

"Assuming he was a real OGS agent," replied Teatime.

"Yeah, that's argumentative, I suppose," Othello pushed his chair back and stood up.  "I'm getting a coffee, you want one?"

"No thanks," said Harold. This was a lie: he did want coffee, having developed quite a taste for it since coming to earth, but right now he didn't want to go into the break-room.

"Any minute now..." sang Teatime softly.

Spring Has Sprung! The familiar bright pink letters shouted up at Agent India from the mug sitting in the centre of the table. The perfectly undamaged, totally-not-in-a-bajillion-pieces mug sitting in the centre of the table. She reached out and touched it lightly with a finger and, when it didn't fall to pieces or prove to be a hallucination, she picked it up, cradling it thoughtfully. The demon had done this, obviously. No human could have repaired it so thoroughly - not in one night. Now this was a conundrum: she had loved this mug, cheap and gaudy as it was, but if that demon thought it could wheedle its way into her affections by fixing it then it had another think coming.

She walked over to the garbage bin and pressed the foot pedal to flip open the lid.  She held the mug over the bin, ready to drop it in, but for some reason her fingers just couldn't let go. Darn it, she really loved that mug! With a sigh, she lifted her foot, letting the bin lid fall closed and, mug in hand, wandered over to the coffee machine. Doesn't mean I like you any better, demon, she thought to herself as the hot bitter liquid splashed into the white china.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Episode 37

“I wonder what the exact opposite of ‘raining cats and dogs’ is,” mused Teatime, gazing round at the featureless and aridly grey-brown desert, “Because this is definitely it.”

They were back at Reverend Box’s ‘church’ and, as before, all was quiet. The agents, Harold and Teatime had been standing around for several minutes, expecting the strange little man to pop up out of his hole in the ground, having seen them on his cameras, but so far he had failed to do so.

“Did anyone notice that car that was behind us for a while back there?” said Prada, “I could have sworn it was following us until it suddenly turned off.”

“It would be difficult to follow someone in these conditions undetected – there’s no cover for miles around. ” commented Othello. “It doesn’t look like Box is in any hurry to come out and join us today, what say we drop in on him?”

Prada rolled her eyes, “Very droll.”

When they reached the bottom of the access shaft leading to Box’s underground living quarters, they found the door locked.

“Don’t suppose he’s left the key under a plant pot or anything like that,” sighed Mercury, looking around the now rather crowded space at the bottom of the ladder.

“Doesn’t look like it.” Replied Othello, regarding the plain grey metal door, “We could try knocking I suppose, but this door is quite thick as I recall and he may not even hear it.”

“I think you could assist here, old sock,” Teatime whispered into Harold’s ear, “Remember how you got the jazz club’s door open?”

“Oh yeah!” agreed Harold. Aha! Here was a chance to make himself useful to the team – actually useful – for once. He stepped forward.

”Excuse me,” he said, “I think I can get us in.”

Mercury raised a quizzical eyebrow but stepped aside with a be-my-guest gesture, and Harold set to work.
It took longer to get this particular door open than when he’d opened the old fire ext door at Baron Samedi’s – the mechanism was more sophisticated - but, after a couple of minutes of concentration (along with a number of sceptical glances from the others), Harold was able to give the door a push and was rewarded with the sight of it swinging silently inwards.

“Nice job,” murmured Othello, slipping his notebook into his pocket (he had been making a careful observation of Harold the whole time). “I’d love to know how that’s done.”

“Sorry, trade secret,” Harold grinned as they all filed into Reverend Box’s bunker.

The lights were on and the refrigerator was still humming away in its corner, but of Box, there was no sign.

“Hello?” called Mercury, “Anyone here?” He listened for a few moments but there was no answer. “Ok, let’s look around carefully and see if we can figure out what’s going on here. Prada, you check what’s through that door. India, you take that one, Othello, check in here.” He paused, “Demon, you help Othello.”

The group dispersed as instructed.

Harold followed Othello over to Box’s desk and watched as the agent opened the drawers one by one. The first drawer just contained a sheaf of papers devoted to the various aspects of ancient Greek religious practices of which Box was so fond, many of which he had apparently written himself. The second drawer held office supplies, spare ink cartridges, staples and so on, but the last drawer contained a surprise.

“Well, well,” chuckled Othello, lifting out a stack of well-thumbed paperbacks. “Charity Lambert and the Spoof Spooks’ Book Club, eh?” he said, holding up the first one. The cover art was a luridly-painted scene featuring the eponymous Ms Lambert, a rather voluptuously endowed young lady PI, clad rather impractically in six-inch heels, tight leather jeans and an even tighter t-shirt, standing in dramatic pose under a streetlamp, gun pointed at a rather salacious-looking criminal. “Who’d have thought Box was into these penny dreadfuls,”

“I suppose it must pass the time.” Opined Harold, picking up the next book off the stack: Charity Lambert and the Magical Mystery Tour. “I imagine life down here could be quite lonely and boring.”

“Hmm,” agreed Othello, setting the book down, “I guess. Oh, hello, what’s this?” At the bottom of the drawer was a folded sheet of paper. Othello picked it up and unfolded it.

“Aha,” he breathed, “the legendary Lost Shipping Receipt!”

At that moment, Prada came back into the room, sneezing loudly, “The dust in this place,” she moaned, brushing her sleeves vigorously, “You’d think a guy could flick a duster round once in a while, sheesh!”

“Find anything?” asked Othello,

“Nah, I think that was just an old store room - loads of old clutter, broken desks, empty filing cabinets and a bicycle, of all things.” She shrugged, “You?”

Othello held up the receipt.

One by one, the other returned. Box, it seemed was nowhere to be found.

“Guys?” said India, after a few moments, “Didn’t Box have a computer when we were here last time?”

“That’s right, he did.” Agreed Othello, “a laptop. It was right here. I knew something was missing. He must have taken it with him.”

“Now what?” said Prada.

“Let’s leave a note for Box,” suggested Mercury, “and then let’s go check out the address on the Shipping Receipt.”