LEINIGEN & THE LAMBETH TREASURE
A Twitter adventure told in portions of 140 characters or less
Part Nine: An Old Enemy Reveals Himself
The Reverend Francis Gibbous Moon was never a friend of mine. Tall fellow, thin and sallow. Studied divinity at Oxford. One of the killjoys.
Put a stop to a lark of mine, the Combined Colleges Alpineering Society. Took exception when he found me belaying the south face of Jesus.
He’d gone on to a career, darkly glittering by all accounts, in the Synod. Popped up in broadsides from home, behind World Service static.
Advocated something called Moral Rearmament. I have never had much time for morals – in nature, tooth and claw rule over nicety and nuance.
We’d had the odd scrape. The Assyrian Affair in ’20. The Bad-Wurttemberg Unpleasantness of ’32. A nasty stand-off on the maidan at Cawnpore.
I hadn’t seen Moon for a while. Assumed he’d been busy, as had I. I did not expect to find him deep in the bowels of the Lambeth Labyrinth.
Sorry to kill the surprise. No cliffhanger here – Vespa called me and I joined her in a doorway, through which could be glimpsed said Moon.
The Reverend Francis Gibbous Moon, committed straightface that he was, was never one for surprises, after all. His was a lugubrious evil.
He had his back to us, Vespa and me, as we stood in the doorway. The chamber we beheld was lit by flickering torches affixed to the walls.
Moon – I’d have known that stooped form anywhere, just as a bear once winged stays in the memory until you pot him for good – did not turn.
He was standing at a large desk. Black balsa, I guessed, the stuff of Okavango native canoes. Handy crafts. Smart lads propelling ’em too.
On the desk was a book, open in the middle. About a thousand pages thick, it seemed. Heavily bound. I looked at Vespa. She looked at me.
Moon was still. In the silence, the air in the room seemed almost to calcify. He had that affect, the Reverend Moon. Not a hit at parties.
I looked again to Vespa. She shrugged, so I took matters into my own hands. I coughed. ‘Ahem!’ The stooped figure at the desk did not move.
I coughed again. Still Moon did not move. Not for the first time in my earthly, impatience bested me. ‘Dash it,’ I said. ‘Moon! Over here!’
Such impetuousness, while part of my rough charm, often serves me ill. The time I missed the Rajah’s beserk elephant goads me to this day.
In this case, fortunately, my brusque manner served to kick events into some sort of gear. With an odd sigh, the Reverend Moon turned.
Moon spread his hands in greeting. ‘Brother Leinigen,’ he said. ‘We are delighted.’ We? I didn’t care for such weaselly regal affectations.
‘And Sister Vespa, yes, quite so.’ Moon seemed almost to simper. It wasn’t pretty; rather like watching a very thin hippo suffer from gripe.
‘You know us? You knew we were coming?’ Vespa spoke, jaw jutting and eyes flashing, every inch the voting modern woman. I looked to Moon.
‘Yes, yes, quite yes indeed,’ Moon murmured. ‘I have been waiting for you, yes, yes. I presumed you would pass my little tests. Yes, yes.'
‘Tests?’ I said. ‘Sam Phraxby didn’t pass ’em.’ ‘No,’ said Moon, ‘no indeed, quite no. Poor Sam. Always a slow student, yes?’ I glared.
‘What the devil d’you mean by this, Moon?’ I asked. ‘Sam Phraxby is dead thanks to you and your damned book. And he didn’t go pleasantly.'
‘Oh yes, quite so,’ said Moon, with a wave that became a flutter. ‘But Phraxby was a plodder, Brother Leinigen. Not a first-class mind.’
I started forward, pricked to vengeful anger. Vespa laid a firm hand on my arm. ‘How dare you, Moon!’ I roared. ‘You killed my friend!’
‘Not so, no, not I,’ said Moon. ‘It was the Flea.’ True enough, I thought. But the dastard had conjured up said dreadful Flea. Blame stood.
I said as much, and again Moon fluttered his pale hand. I didn’t see how I could answer that, so silence descended on the room once again.
Vespa broke it. ‘Mr Moon,’ she said. ‘Reverend,’ said Moon, with unusual vehemence. ‘Reverend,’ said Vespa. ‘You have the Taxus Brevifola?’
She gestured to the book on the desk. ‘Oh,’ said Moon, relatively airily. ‘Yes, yes, quite so, that is the Taxus Brevifola. Yes, quite so.’
Vespa looked at me. I looked at Vespa. Clearly we should lasso the book, truss Moon up like a bantam and hopscotch it back to the surface.
I stepped forward. Moon, understanding my design, stepped back. ‘I’ll take the book, Moon,’ I said. He reacted with a thin, sickly smile.
‘Oh no, not quite so, no,’ he said, raising his hands in his gesture of greeting. I froze, expecting spell or apparition, golem or ghoul.
But there was to be no magic this time, no curse or fright. The Reverend Francis Gibbous Moon merely clapped his hands, sharply, twice.
At Moon’s clap, a door in the far wall flew open and into the room marched ten, fifteen, perhaps twenty identically clad young gentlemen.
The young men all wore brown brogue shoes, cornmeal slacks, black shirts with white dog collars and close-fitting cable-knit cardigans.
Each young man wore brown-tinted, squareish spectacles of the kind used by aviators and parted his short, firmly pomaded hair to the right.
‘Ah yes, my boys, yes,’ said Moon. ‘Brother Leinigen, Sister Vespa. May I introduce the paramilitary wing of the reborn Church of England!’