LEINIGEN & THE LAMBETH TREASURE
A Twitter adventure told in portions of 140 characters or less.
Part Six: A Frankly Unlikely Development
I woke in the tunnel’s dim light. Sam’s body lay where the Guardian had let it fall, dried out, a husk. Not Phraxby, now. Not my old friend.
I listened. No sound. I scanned the shadows. Nothing. The beast was gone. My synapses flickered into life. I would have it’s lousy hide!
Press into the darkness! Stalk it, shoot it, skin it – if that were possible – and mount its head on a plinth. By God, I’d avenge my friend.
But no. Sam was dead. I would beat a tactical retreat. Not thinking beyond the next step, I hoisted Sam’s dry corpse on to my shoulders.
I retraced my way. Climbed the stone steps, back to Blake’s study. Staggering into that musty den, I let Sam’s cadaver slip to the floor.
It was dark. A new silence filled the room, lighter than that in the tunnels. It had a different nose, a keen sommelier might have said.
I turned for the chaise longue. I had some thinking to do. Brainwork’s best done after a buffalo steak and a quart of stout, but needs must.
At a cough I span round, my revolver quick to the draw, a wild glint in my eye. I loosed a shot and a window shattered in the moonlight!
A feminine chuckle, low and seductive, came from the murk. ‘You are jumpy, Mr Leinigen,’ said a foreign voice. ‘Please, do not shoot again.’
My senses span. ‘What is this?’ I said, sternly. ‘Who are you?’ The chuckle came again. ‘Oh,’ said the voice. ‘Just your guardian angel…’
My mind raced, searching for sense and advantage. I blustered. ‘What the devil? Poppycock! I mean to say!’ Fortunately, I was cut off.
A flame flared, briefly, to light a slim cigarette. In the flame, behind Blake’s desk, I saw a profile. Strong, handsome. Dark. Greek.
Memory is a strumpet, nostalgia a harlot. Neither are to be trusted. But I would have known that profile anywhere. I gasped. ‘Neozeleboria…’
Again came the chuckle. ‘Neozeleboria Cryptoides, to be precise,’ said my shadowy interlocutor. ‘But you can call me Vespa.’ I knew I could.
My mind flicked back to a summer in Athens. Venizelos, heat and filthy raki. Lightning on the Acropolis. Revolution. Riot. Death. Vespa.
Vespa. Archaeologist. Or that was the front. Professional explorer. Rival. But a wasp-waisted, seductive rival with eyes you could swim in.
‘You?’ I said. ‘Me,’ she said. ‘The charlady?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘My God. You let Phraxby water your radishes.’ ‘He was sweet.’ Yes, I thought, he was.
‘Why are you here, Vespa?’ I asked. I wanted answers that Sam’s corpse didn’t have. She laughed. ‘I’m looking for the Lambeth Treasure.’
Of course. No prize was too big. I hadn’t heard of her in years – presumed her dead, or lost in the Amazon. She had been here all the time.
Vespa lit a lamp and told me her story. How she’d heard of the Lambeth Treasure from some bird at a dig. How she’d come to London forthwith.
The real Greek charlady hadn’t been a problem. Vespa skated over the details, but I didn’t fancy the old dear’s chances. Vespa was ruthless.
She had been sitting here since, edging into the Lambeth Labyrinth, exploring further each night and bumbling about in disguise by day.
And now here I was, her old rival and, according to some sources, inamorato. Burst in with a gun and a dessicated corpse. Like old times.
I told Vespa about Sam and she listened, cat’s eyes impassive. I told her about the curious little beast. About how it wasn’t so little now.
‘You are a lucky man, Leinigen,’ Vespa said. ‘It could have been you.’ ‘Quite,’ I said. ‘But why wasn’t it you? You’ve been down there.'
‘It is not good,’ she said. ‘Someone else has found the Lambeth Treasure.’ ‘Someone else?’ I said. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘And they are using it.’
‘Using it?’ I said. ‘What the devil?’ Vespa laughed. ‘Your word is appropriate,’ she said, reaching for a book that was placed on the desk.
Vespa handed me the tome. Dusty and leather-bound, it was an album, containing prints and lithographs. I snorted. Vespa raised a finger.
‘Turn to page forty-two,’ she said, ‘if you wish for answers regarding your friend.’ Glancing at Sam’s shrunken form, I did as I was told.
The pages of the album creaked with age. Dust swirled. I coughed and cleared the air with my hand. Page forty-two held a small picture.
I squinted. In the murk of the study it took a second to focus. When I did, I rather wished I had not. ‘Gad!’ I cried. ‘It’s the Guardian!’
The drawing showed a tiny form. Humanoid. Ish. Orange-scaled, a spine from its head to its long and loathsome tail. Strong, sprung legs.
In its talons, the creature held a small bucket. The bucket was full of blood and the creature gazed at it with a look of haunted hunger...
The caption was in close gothic script. Without monocle or lorgnette, I squinted further. ‘William Blake,’ I read. ‘The Ghost… of a Flea!’