Part Nineteen: A Brawl with the Bully Boys!

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Part Nineteen: A Brawl With the Bully Boys!

It should be needless for me to say that I had not really punched Jesus – as in the real Jesus, if there ever was one – flush in the mush. 

I am a regular desperado; I have crossed swords and swagger sticks with personages high and low. But I draw the line at the son of God. 

No, the bunch of fives that kicked off what became a ten out ten mêlée in the hall of Teviot House was thrown, by me, at a picture of Jesus. 

The picture in question was ‘The Light of the World’ by William Holman Hunt. The St Paul’s version, I guessed, given its strapping height. 

I didn’t suppose, though, as I fought on with Moon’s henchmen and said picture of Jesus, that Moon had expected me to stick one on him. 

After all, ‘The Light of the World’ had proven its potency – Moon’s guest had a powerful, unsettling, unutterably wholesome and lovely gaze. 

Moon’s audience had fallen to it. I damned near had too. That was what Moon had wanted. He had conjured up a mesmerist. Nothing more. 

Which was just as well for him, because ‘Mr Holman-Hunt’ (I suppose I really shouldn’t call him Jesus) did not quite punch his weight.

In fact, he did not punch at all. I exchanged lusty blows, upper cuts, jabs and left-right combinations, with the two members of the YMCE.

But Holman-Hunt proved a little too, well, Christlike. He merely gazed in his winsome, beneficial way at the ball of flying fists we made.

I sensed Moon’s misfortune. Unfortunately, so did Moon. Sighing, he handed his guest his black cloak. Meekly, Holman-Hunt covered himself.

Moon clapped loudly, twice, and the audience in the hall, all three or four hundred somnambulant Scotchmen and women, woke from its snooze.

That was where things, as in events progressing and developing in the hall, got a little, well, sticky. I shall spare you grisly details.

After all, a brawl at a neo-Fascist rally is not something to inflict on gentle readers, whether said bully boys are C of E trained or not.

I’d seen such things before. Boxing clubs on the Ratcliff Highway: Marxists to the left, Mosleyites to the right. I fought at Cable Street.

Safe to say, on this occasion meaty Scottish fists and handbags rained down from all sides and eventually I was overcome. And restrained.

As the rabble, dismissed by Moon, streamed out, satisfied as all Scots are after a bit of stoosh of a Saturday night, two YMCE men held me.

Moon also spared me further speechifying, turning quite the strong, silent type as he led Mr Holman-Hunt off the stage and out of the hall.

I tried a bit of how’s-your-father, but my stern captors had none of it. The supposed Jolyon could have held me quite on his tod, I knew.

So I waited. Duly, Moon returned. He regarded me wearily, then seemed to buck himself up and gather his predictably malevolent thoughts.

‘Very well, Brother Leinigen,’ he said. ‘I see converting you will prove as impossible as shaking you off my trail.’ I grinned at him.

‘Too right, old chum,’ I said. ‘I see half of what you’re up to and its become quite the chivalrous quest to stop it.’ Moon laughed, coldly.

‘It don’t figure chortling, mate,’ I said, stressing the word as is practicable when addressing tradesmen, loafers and lawyers. Moon glared.

But he was, as before, not in a particularly loquacious mood. I supposed I had messed up one too many of his villainous set-pieces. Good.

Moon looked at Simon of the YMCE, lurking as per, and barked a pre-emptory order. Not that an order should be anything but. Obviously.

Simon of the YMCE went backstage. After a moment, there came a sound of running chains and moving scenery. I cocked a weary eyebrow.

The backdrop rose. It did not reveal another set: French windows for a grinning monster to bound through, asking if anyone was for tennis.

Instead, chill air blew in from the raw Edinburgh night. Diligently, Simon of the YMCE cranked open two huge iron doors behind the stage.

Under a short platform, as at the back of a warehouse, Moon’s flatback truck idled. I supposed Mr Holman-Hunt was the driver. Talented lad.

From somewhere, Simon switched on an arc lamp. Moon’s truck carried a large, square object, covered by a coarse, ex-army, khaki tarpaulin.

This was, of course, the cage that held Vespa and the Archbishop of Canterbury. I predicted, rightly, that I was about to be thrown into it. 

The suspected Jolyon manhandled me into the cage, then surprised me by climbing in too. Vespa and the Archbishop blinked in the harsh light.


We did not talk, even as the possible Jolyon produced a coil of thick rope, tar-smeared and rough, no doubt freshly lifted from Leith dock.

From the loading bay, Moon spoke. ‘I’m afraid I shall have to restrain you, Brother Leinigen.’ I maintained a stony, disdainful silence.

Moon barked an instruction and the enormous YMCE member, who turned out, rather disappointingly, to be called Matthew, began to tie me…

… to Vespa. Face to face, in quite startlingly indecent proximity, we were bound! I turned my head to protest. Moon positively leered.

‘Do not be so prim, Brother Leinigen,’ he said. ‘It is only a light and temporary bondage. Quite usual in adventures such as these.’

I supposed it was, and when Vespa wriggled against me, searching merely for a more comfortable way to slump, I began to see its attraction.

But further inappropriate thoughts were chased from my mind. Matthew of the YMCE stayed in the cage as Moon clicked its heavy door closed.

Two YMCE troopers covered the cage with the ex-army tarpaulin. In the dark, I sensed the presence of Matthew and the captive Archbishop.

I lay flat, with Vespa on top of me. Outside, in the yard behind Teviot Row House, I heard the grumble of more than one engine. A convoy! 

Soon, we moved. I knew, from Moon, that we were being taken to the Highlands. Slowly, surely, we were pulled into the night. We drove north…

Part Eighteen: An Enlightening Experience

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Part Eighteen: An Enlightening Experience

In the stage-right store cupboard outside the grand hall of Teviot Row House, I crouched still and pressed my eye harder to the keyhole.

In the hall, the Reverend Francis Gibbous Moon clapped his hands once – or twice, actually – again. The light dimmed. The audience murmured.

A spotlight hit the caped figure on stage; the murmur of the stolid Scotch crowd became a hubbub and the hubbub became an expectant thrum.
The two YMCE drummers on stage struck up another military beat. I watched, frozen in place, as the caped figure raised its arms to its hood.

My heart, forgetting its Inuit training (hunting bowheads under pack ice, the pulse slows) raced. Without knowing what, I knew this was it.

It was Moon’s big moment. The point of his rally, of his dabblings with the dark arts of the Taxus Brevifola, of his spiralling insanity.

As it turned out, I was wrong. This was not the apex, apogee or apotheosis of the Reverend Moon’s plot. But it seemed like it at the time.

The tall caped figure, centre stage, grasped the cloth of its hood. Scotch voices caught in Scotch throats. The YMCE’s drums grew louder!
The drums stopped. The spotlight clicked off. The crowd stilled. Only the eerie luminescence from beneath the figure’s cloak lit the room.

Moon’s odious voice rang out. ‘Brothers and sisters,’ he preached. ‘Behold your new hope! Behold your new leader! Behold your new saviour!’

And with that, the cloak hiding the Reverend Moon’s guest speaker dropped to the bare, cigarette-burned boards of the Teviot House stage.

There was silence. Then the crowd of middle-aged Scottish churchgoers gasped. I’ll allow that an involuntary ‘Swipe me!’ escaped my lips.

‘I give you our guest speaker,’ said Moon. ‘The most honourable Mr Holman-Hunt!’ The crowd gasped again. At my keyhole, my mind raced ahead.

Holman-Hunt – if that was his name, which it wasn’t – did not speak. He did not need to. His mere appearance precluded all words or deeds.

About six-four, I guessed, Moon’s guest wore a long sheathed robe of what I had to suppose, not being up on couture, was silver damask.

Over the shoulders of the robe, in what I thus also had to suppose was an intriguing example of layering, he wore a long crimson cloak.

He wore a golden crown, studded with rubies, garnets and countless other gewgaws and baubles. He was bearded and his brown hair was long.

And in his hand, explaining the odd luminescence that had leached from the folds of his bigger, blacker cloak, he held a burning lantern.

Did I need to say the guest’s name, to confirm his fabulous identity? I did not, any more than did the bowed mass of people in the hall.

Moon’s guest surveyed the crowd with a look of infinite patience and love. Behind him, the dread Reverend stared heavenwards, eyes closed.

Of course, I knew – if only from basic reasoning, not the hardest proof – that this chap was not the real thing. He was a mere apparition.

A ghost, a ghoulie. An oddly solid one, no doubt, but conjured from the pages of a book rummer than Mr Brown’s latest popular entertainment.

The Taxus Brevifola. Moon would have opened it, chanted his art-historical mumbo-jumbo and magicked up the geezer who stood before me now.

With long, graceful movements of an arm, the guest speaker cast the light of his lantern over the hall. Where its beams fell, Scots swooned.

Unconscious Edinburghian bonces bounced on hard linoleum. Swathes of Scots fell where they stood, or bowed, or kneeled. My mind boggled.

The speaker stayed silent as he carried out his curious operation. Soon none in the audience were alert. The speaker smiled, beatifically.

He turned to Moon, who opened his eyes, unclasped his bony talons and smiled back. That was enough. In my cupboard, I resolved to act. Now.

Before Moon and his guest could confer, I kicked down the flimsy door between me and the madhouse scene I had seen unfold on the stage.
As splinters flew and Moon turned in white surprise, I let out a roar – one of my specials, guaranteed to stun any foe for a vital second!
The two YMCE drummers froze. Moon laughed in mocking amazement. The guest speaker whose name I did not need to mention gazed towards me.

A while back, I mentioned my old trick of hypnosis – the way to make a beserk water buffalo, elephant or civet cat kneel and rage no more.

Under the guest speaker’s gaze, I knew how the poor beasts felt. My revolver, raised on my explosion from cover, seemed to lower itself!

My knees weakened. The guest speaker’s lovely, calming brown eyes bathed me in understanding, peace and universal love. It was horrible.

I strained, fought to find my wits, but they were going under. Dammit, I was too. My gun dropped with a clatter. The guest speaker smiled.

I was paralysed, and as I stood, stock still, the Reverend Moon spoke. ‘Brother Leinigen,’ he said. ‘Welcome. I knew you would follow me.’

‘Cardinal…Wolsey?’ Under an imprisoning tide of loveliness, I strained to speak. ‘A test, a test,’ chuckled Moon. ‘Well passed, I must say.’

Flattery would get him nowhere. I supposed he knew that. Though I was getting nowhere either. Which was why his next words were a mistake.

‘But you will not pass this test,’ said Moon. ‘You will bow before this greater power, as all England, Scotland and even Wales will too.’

At such condescension, such presumption, I felt a twinge. In the pinkie of my right hand. Against the guest speaker’s power, it moved.

Moon didn’t notice. ‘Yes, Brother Leinigen,’ he said. ‘You shall join Sister Vespa on an excursion I have planned. A trip to the Highlands.’

‘You see, this little spectacle,’ – he motioned to the sleeping crowd – ‘was just an experiment. A bit of fun, yes.’ My whole hand flexed.

‘My project, of which you have learned something, will come to fruition in the north.’ Moon laughed. Powered by revulsion, I formed a fist.

‘I dare say you know my guest,’ said Moon , gesturing to the passive lantern-holder. ‘He shall be coming with us, oh yes, to the Highlands.’

Moon reached his climax. ‘After all,’ he said, ‘if I’m going to bring about the end of the world, the Judgement Day, I shall need a judge!’

His laughter was the final fuel I needed. Summoning every sinew and tendon, roaring louder than before, I broke the guest speaker’s spell!

My bellow filled the hall! Moon stepped back! The YMCE members blanched! Only the guest speaker stood his ground, his calm gaze unwavering!

Unsure of the best action – and unable, directly, to reach my gun or the cowering Moon, Simon and Selwyn – I lashed out at my nearest foe!

Which is how, dear reader, told with no particularly enormous sense of pride, I achieved the singular feat of punching Jesus in the face

Part Seventeen: A Meeting of Diabolical Minds

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Part Seventeen: A Meeting of Diabolical Minds

I reached Teviot Row House, a pile dour and grim as pursed Presbyterian lips on a housekeeper, quickly. Saltbrine’s gun rested in my pocket.

Which presented a problem. As I lurked in the shadows of Bristo Square, primed like the keenest Sumatran jungle hunter, I saw an obstacle.

An obstacle by the name of Colin, or Benjamin, or even Jolyon. The obstacle – an apt word – was an unusually large member of the YMCE.

He stood, marbled forearms like meat on a butcher’s slab, at the bottom of the steps to Teviot Row House, pomaded hair glinting in the dusk.

I didn’t fancy a fight, which would be necessary. Jolyon – as I had decided to call him – greeted a couple walking up by frisking them. 

He seemed to enjoy his job, which was nice for him if inconvenient for me. Finding my gun would no doubt be a highlight of Jolyon’s evening.

But it would be a lowlight of mine, for it might afford an unwanted moment in the spotlight, one of many that swooped across the building.

I shrank back into the shadows’ bosom. The soot-blacked frontage of Teviot Row House reflected the lights as anxious faces in a dark loch.

Large banners hung either side of the building’s entrance, blood red except for a white circle in the middle, which bore a black emblem.

It was a curious runic sign, unfamiliar in any of the many languages, tongues and screeds I knew. Nunavit? Paktango? I could not decipher.

Still, Reverend Moon had put up quite a show. Your average demagogue knows his stuff on set dressing. A career in musical theatre, wasted.

Jolyon of the YMCE briskly frisked another couple. I looked at my watch. Five to eight. Stragglers. Moon’s meeting was about to start.

I considered my situation. Plainly, I could not walk in by the front door, pick up a programme and a cup of tea and take a leisurely seat.

I considered Jolyon of the YMCE. I could wait for the meeting to start and the doors to shut, then creep behind him and snap his neck.

It worked on birds, Germans and certain kinds of monkey, but I didn’t fancy such brute behaviour now. Besides, what had Jolyon done to me?

I didn’t even know the blessed fellow’s name. Cavalier, I had bestowed upon him an effete handle that was quite possibly quite unmerited.

He might have had a perfectly serviceable name. Frank or Roger or Bevis. He might even be quite… I slapped myself, hard across the chops!

This was ridiculous. Here I was, skulking basely in the shadows, talking myself into circles, and in Teviot Row House the game was afoot!

And so, quick-sharp, I skirted the front of Teviot Row House and the guard who may or may not have been called Jolyon and made for the roof.

Scottish buildings being as craggy as Scottish women, it was an easy climb – barely a belay or overhang; hardly a call for ice axe or piton.

Soon I was crouched on sloping slate, fingers spread, feeling for the next firm hold as I panthered my way to the nearest gleaming skylight.

Gingerly, I poked my head over the smudged glass aperture. Below, many feet down, was the main hall. A cavernous black room, lit by candles.

As I found my focus, I picked out serried ranks of collapsible chairs, filled by eager Edinburgh citizens. Hundreds of them. Expectant.

Women clasped handbags and peered from under prim hats. Men massaged cramping knees with red-knuckled fists, blistered from honest toil.

I knew the type. Churchgoers. Holy-rollers at a sedate pace. Canon’s fodder, randy for certainty and salvation at modest prices, with tea.

Not my folk; not lads to help in scrape, skirmish or stramash. But maybe, yet, an army from whom there could be no salvation. I shuddered.

Suddenly, as I mused, the candlelight below me flickered. I switched my gaze to the raised dais of the stage at the front of the hall. Moon!

I recognised his pate, cowlicks of scant hair plastered, as well as his stoop – even from above the cadaverous blighter was bent like an S.

There was no sign of Vespa or the Archbishop of Canterbury. Moon stood alone on the podium, gazing over his mute crowd of lumpen disciples.

Moon raised his hand as if to command, and through the glass, in the distorted dim light, I saw two YMCE members take the stage beside him.

One, his nose swollen and his eye purple-blackened, was clearly Simon, the kapo. The other I didn’t recognise. Call him Selwyn, I thought.

Both carried large drums, leather-strapped round their necks, and large woolly beaters. At a sign from Moon they struck up a martial beat.

The drumbeat increased steadily, to a hypnotising thrum. The candles seemed to burn brighter. Moon stood, stooped but exultant, stage front.

At the drums’ crescendo, Moon clapped, twice. Simon and Selwyn ceased their infernal racket and a large flag unfurled on the stage backdrop!

The flag, blood-red with its white disc, bore the same runic devilry as the banners outside. I sensed an intake of breath in the crowd.

Moon spread his arms in his gesture of greeting, and began to speak. I strained to hear. The glass of the skylight muffled his speech.

I made out a few words. ‘Brothers,’ Moon said. ‘Sisters… Church… England… in Scotland.’ Desperate, I leant further into the skylight’s glow.

Moon went on for fifteen minutes. My calves began to ache. Who would have known a C of E demagogue would be so damned windy, I thought.

My attention had drifted by the time Moon, at last, got to the point. He raised his arms and the two YMCE members struck up a menacing beat.

I listened. ‘Brothers… Sisters…’ ‘Yes, yes,’ I snapped. ‘Get on with it!’ Perhaps Moon heard me. Perhaps not. But get on with it he did.

Moon clapped again, and as the YMCE drums grew louder a figure appeared from the side of the stage, stalking slowly towards the Reverend.
The figure was tall, unnaturally so, and straight-backed, imposing where Moon, physically, shrank back. It was wearing a long, black cape.

No feature presented itself as the hooded visitor stalked regally towards Reverend Moon. But then, in the candle light, I noticed something.

Moon’s guest – the guest speaker, I guessed – emitted a strange, wholly unearthly glow. A warm light seeped from the fold of his cloak.

It was hard to make out in the flickering candles’ glow, but it was undeniable. The hooded figure exuded a strange, even beautiful light.

The guest speaker reached centre stage. The audience was awestruck. Moon did not move. I took my chance to creep to the next skylight along.

I jemmied the latch easily, and dropped into a dark space. Store cupboard, probably. Light – candlelight – leached from the hall next door.

I felt for Saltbrine’s revolver. Then I crept to the door and pressed my eye to the keyhole. The sight I saw then lives with me still...

Part Sixteen: An Adventure Among the Scots!

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Part Sixteen: An Adventure Among the Scots!

Taking a slightly circuitous route in my pursuit of the dastardly Reverend Moon, I reached Teviot Row House via a stop in Nicholson Square.

I knew a bar there, you see. Well, I say ‘bar’; perhaps I mean ‘dive’. Or possibly ‘flophouse’, ‘stew’ or ‘sump’. Saltbrine’s, its name was.

I knew the whisky to be good and the landlord, said Saltbrine, to be amenable, adaptable and, crucially, affable towards old Leinigen.

On my last visit to Edinburgh – the Canasta Affair, remember – I’d hidden out in his broom cupboard while a wound in my arm set and healed.

High-stakes canasta can get rather nasty. I’d exposed a particularly Japanese bit of practice and taken a shiv in the elbow for my pains.

The prince never did thank me. Typical. But Saltbrine, well, he’d done me proud. Sewed me up, boozed me up and then spirited me out of town.

Stout fellow, Saltbrine. A fixer, a doer – always on the fringes of things, ready to produce the goods. Met him in the Indian Army, in ’19.

On the trail of an evil reverend, his C of E goons and a captive adventuress and archbishop, I knew such an old mucker would come in handy.

Entering his bar,  I kicked a few loungers out of the way. The fellow practically kept a coterie of unsavoury types. Students and the like.

Saltbrine spat into a pint glass. ‘Leinigen, old pal,’ he growled. His voice had seen a few failed campaigns and the odd colonial atrocity.

I greeted him, slapped a coin on the bar and took a glass in return. Rich, peaty amber fluid leached warmth into the depths of my loins.

I told Saltbrine most of why I was in Edinburgh, leaving out, naturally, the bits about magic books and fine-art monsters run rampant.

At mention of the Reverend Francis Gibbous Moon, Saltbrine’s rather lowering brow lowered further. Beetle-browed, he growled an obscenity.

‘I’ve heard of the wee divot,’ he said, when I pressed him futher. ‘Church of England reborn in Scotland, all that.’ I nodded, carefully.

‘Moon’s caused a wee stink up here,’ Saltbrine said. ‘Chucking about braw words like ‘moral rearmament’ and ‘re-establishment’ and that.’

I nodded again. Saltbrine seemed to think – at least, his eyebrows knitted yet closer together. ‘But mostly he’s just a big English shite.’

Knowing the profane to be somewhat sacred to the average Scot, I did not complain, however my chaste English soul bucked at such language.

I do not employ swearwords. Even with wedding tackle in the mangle – literally, once, in a dungeon in Smolensk – I do not choose obscenity.

Still, Saltbrine did, years in the ranks not light on his rounded, hairy and tatooed shoulders. I forgave him when he gave me another drink.

There wasn’t much more to be had from him. He told me a little about Moon’s doings up here, about what the YMCE got up to at his command.

Punch-ups with Presbyterians. Potatoes studded with razor blades. Sharpened missals, hurled at the peelers when they attempted to intervene.

By the time I’d finished my drink I’d had enough. So I asked Saltbrine for directions to Teviot Row House, then pushed back my stool to go.

Saltbrine stopped me. ‘I’d hate you to go in underhanded,’ he said. I paused. Was he going to lend me a hanger-on? One of his flying squad?

He was not. Saltbrine’s posse of hangdog students, dropouts, panhandlers and actors stayed slumped as he handed a package over the bar. 

The offering was wrapped in heavy khaki sacking, which added to its ugly, dead weight. Folding back the hessian, I raised an eyebrow.

Good old Saltbrine. In folds of rough sisal sat a good old service revolver. It wasn’t mine – Simon of the YMCE had that – but it would do.

I pocketed the piece and the ammunition that lay alongside it, and thanked my host. He spat at another glass, missed, and explained himself.

‘You’ll need that where you’re ganging,’ he said, picaresquely. ‘Teviot Row isnae for the timorous.’ I said I knew that, and turned to go.

Saltbrine’s words followed me. ‘If you get past Moon’s goons you’ll still have to be careful,’ he said. ‘Why?’ I asked, at the door.

‘Och,’ said Saltbrine. ‘The Reverend Moon’s got a guest speaker. A heavy up from London, like yourself.’ I told him I fancied my chances.

‘Aye, well, so do I,’ said my old army mucker. ‘But mind the moniker. Holman-Hunt. Double-barrelled by name, double-barrelled by nature.’

I minded it. So Moon had conjured up a Pre-Raphaelite now, had he? Milksops, the lot of ’em. Hardly the act of a deadly villain. I laughed.

Saltbrine frowned, but I set out for Bristo Square. I did not expect many problems to come. I could not, of course, have been more wrong...

Part Fifteen: A Journey to the Frozen North!

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Part Fifteen: A Journey to the Frozen North!

I passed some pleasant hours on the train north. Mostly, once past the soot-stacks and grime of the Midlands, I gazed out of the window.

At York, I purchased tea and cake from a cart. The hack Pengelly, bless him, had furnished me with a crisp fiver for ‘travelling expenses’.

No doubt it was one of those magic newspaper fivers, liable to turn from green to brown or even blue when given to the Guardian’s cashiers.

As we made Durham, that old drivel about ‘grey towers, half church of God half castle ’gainst the Scot’ leached into my lobes. Ah, prep.

Scott’s lines gave me pause. They also give me pause now, knowing what I know, now, of what then was still to come. Hope you followed that.

Scott, Sir Walter. Usual dry old vulture, bane of my schooldays, learnt by rote to avoid whacks with a collected works. Out of fashion now.

Which is just as well, but as I sped his fractured verses turned me to thinking thoughts as deep as the North Sea off Dunstanburgh point.

Scott was born in Edinburgh, in seventeen-seventy-something. Moon was now, in nineteen-twenty-thirty-forty-something, on his way there too.

He was travelling to Edinburgh, as dastardly Church of England hardliners in charge of neo-fascist goon platoons will, in a flatback truck.

On that flatback truck he carried a cage, which contained Vespa Cryptoides, my comrade in misadventure, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Somewhere about his person (or about his flatback truck, perhaps in the glove compartment with the mints), Moon toted the Lambeth Treasure.

The Taxus Brevifola. A medieval codex – or book – that had caused a Flea from William Blake’s imaginings to kill my friend Sam Phraxby.

The dratted tome had caused a few other things. An attack of The Gout. A ghostly stampede. An ugly brawl with a portrait of Cardinal Wolsey.

I remembered Moon’s words, spoken in his underground lair. He wanted to use the damn book to boost the Church of England. I didn’t see how.

But he knew best, or at least better (or worser, being a villain) than me. I also remembered mention of a megalomaniac Swiss industrialist.

Would I meet him in Scotland? It seemed more likely than meeting him (I assumed it was a him, Swiss women being retiring sorts) in Lambeth.

Train trips, you see, are ideal for consideration and cogitation, for recapping and analysing, for getting thoughts into some sort of order.

I learnt so on a scoot through the Old West, as Tolstoy palled, the heat hazed and I searched my soul for answers. Or at least a few jokes.

True, on that occasion a knife fight on the train roof with a gang of mescal-crazed Mimbreños had distracted me, but the principle stood.

It’s like the famous detective beak said: When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Or, rather, in my rather odd case, once I had experienced the impossible, nothing remained, however improbable, that could not be the truth.

This was, definitively, a two-pipe problem. Or, rather, it was a two pipe, three coffee, sixteen Benzedrine and a very long snooze problem.

What I am trying to say is that as the train rolled past manor houses and curious Scotch cattle, I was stumped as to what would come next.

I did not know. Nor did I know how, once I had arrived in Edinburgh, which now loomed as close as the Bass Rock, I would or should proceed.

Fortunately, after the train wheezed its way into Waverley Station and I prised my aching limbs upright, providence was on the lookout.

It often is. Providence, I mean. On the lookout, whether for me individually or not I don’t know. But there it is. Providence. Looking out.

It’s a tricky thought, perilous close to the pious inanities of Moon and his lot, but I have often felt some protective force attending me.

I wouldn’t say it was a religious feeling. But across my adventures and misadventures, across all eight continents, I have flourished.

In tight scrapes, I have thrived. You might put this down to bravery, strength, British spirit and a brain the size of Bournemouth. I might.

If an ice field splinters my ship, I grab a team of huskies, hunt out a polar bear, shoot and skin it and turn it into a serviceable kayak.

If, as I paddle off the Siberian coast, a giant octopus attacks, I stroke and tease it into docility. And then feast off calamari for weeks. 

But sometimes, as the fire flickers low and ardent spirits seize me, I wonder if I am not aided in my quests and tests in the wildest wilds.

Like King’s Cross – at an ebb low enough to expose some decidedly unfortunate mental rock pools, who should show up but the hack Pengelly.

Thanks to him, my belly was full, my mind rested and my quest a going concern. Funny kind of Guardian angel, I thought. Or perhaps not.

He must still have been watching over me, anyway, for as I stepped on to the solid stones of old Edinburgh, a garish poster caught my eye.

‘Revivalist meeting!’ the poster shouted. I made to pass, knowing your average Scot for a dour, pious fruit. But the next line gave me pause.

‘The Church of England reborn in Scotland! Moral Rearmament! The Reverend Francis Gibbous Moon speaks!’ I checked place, time and date.

‘Teviot Row House, Bristo Square, tonight, eight.’ It was six. I had time for a dram with the last of Pengelly’s fiver. Adventure beckoned! 

Part Fourteen: A Passage Cunningly Forged

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Part Fourteen: A Passage Cunningly Forged

Edinburgh. My quarry was there, or at least on the way. Moon, the YMCE; Vespa and the Archbishop. And the damned book. The Taxus Brevifola.

I have never gone in for multiple narratives – you’ll notice, it follows, that this adventure is a splendidly linear, single-person affair.

So what Vespa thought and did as Moon sped her northwards, in company in her cage with the highest prelate in the land, I could not say.

For, dear reader, I was not there. I know now that the other folk in my tale travelled thus beyond the Wall, for I met them there later.

But then, in the continuous present that is forced upon any such hardy narrator, I knew not where they were, or how fast they travelled.

As I ran, as previously mentioned, to King’s Cross, I mulled such undergraduate problems. But I forced them from my mind. Edinburgh it was!

This presented problems, not least in Scotland being a place I find chill, haughty and insufficiently supplied with domestic conveniences.

Suffice to say, I arrived at King’s Cross – portal to northern adventure, gateway to romance in Grantham and Newark – in a spot of a fix.

I had not, for example, eaten since before Sam Phraxby and I set off on this ride into uncertainty, insanity and hideous subterranean death. 

This problem proved solvable – discovering a soft protuberance in my trousers, I fell on Sam’s oilskins of sandwiches with a happy yell.

Nor, however, had I drunk. I cursed my refusal of the Reverend Moon’s offer of tea, however filthy his sweepings would certainly have been. 

I resolved this. King’s Cross being a locale to make Lambeth look like Monte Carlo, I simply joined a line of tramps. Tea flowed as nectar.

Bucked by such a capital feed, I set about solving the final poser – how to board a steam train for chill Caledonia when I had no ticket.

This would be tough. Suffering a shortage of cash – I’d left my billfold of ooff in my other jacket, at Phraxby’s – I could not buy one.

Nor could I steal. Needs must in a tight spot, as a variety of encounters in the bush had taught me, but stealing? Never. A code is a code.

And so I stood on the forecourt, eyeing the train-company stooges who stood at the turnstiles like so many ill-qualified school leavers.

I had decided to ride to Scotland on a train roof when fortune, a mistress not blind to my charms, or at least my moustache, played me fair.

As my eye roamed the crowd, I spotted a familiar and, it had sadly to be said, entirely welcome phiz, lurking about near the arrivals board.


Chap called Pengelly. Martin. Writer, second class. Penned unlikely adventure stories and lurid sex-crime shockers for the penny dreadfuls.

Knew him at prep. Not trusted. Partial to fruit juice. He had now sprouted a beard; his fingers were stained with inky drips from pamphlets.

Last I heard he had a job at the Manchester Guardian. Headmaster mentioned it in the yearly round-robin, in something of a resigned tone.

The grubby swine would be what chaps in darker trades call my ‘mark’. I would still catch a train by stealth, but I would have a ticket.

I sidled up to the hack and, mastering the rising in my gorge, tapped him on a brown-corduroyed shoulder. He turned, grinning absently.

I introduced myself and, using the same technique as when hypnotising water buffalo in paddy fields for food, quickly won his confidence.

In no time we were sitting in a roundly ghastly canteen, sipping oily tea from chipped cups and munching on quite appalling jam donuts.

It took three cups of tea – ordered by Pengelly, greedily – two donuts and a promise of the ghosting rights to my memoirs before I had him.

Which was to say, desperate for a deal. Utter oiks, hacks. Pengelly cited Lawrence and Burton, but I knew he would sell my life to Tit-Bits.

Gamely, I told him the tale was as good as his. The only problem, I said, was that I had left the manuscript with my brother in Edinburgh.

I had no brother and no manuscript. I had not seen Edinburgh in years. But I had every faith in a journalist never, ever checking his facts.

I said I had to make it to Edinburgh, retrieve the papers and return. Unfortunately, as a gentleman of adventure, I had mislaid my ticket.

Within a minute I had accepted, with manly protestations followed by demonstrations of quite sickening gratitude, one ticket to Edinburgh.

I had to prise myself away at the gate – Pengelly pumped my hand and tried his best to look manfully glad to have helped an old school chum.

I knew he was really happy just to have secured a fat commission and, like as not, a plum byline or two in the dailies. Vainglorious oaf.

But, eventually, as I settled myself on a railway-carriage banquette and contemplated the long journey ahead, I softened towards the chump.

He’d write anyway, cook up some ludicrous escapade and sell it as a true-life tale, twittering to anyone who’d listen. Maybe self-publish.

‘Good luck to him,’ I thought. But further cogitation was muffled by the whistle of the train and the sweet arms of Morpheus. I slept. 

Part Thirteen: A Chilling Portrait Of Evil!

A Twitter adventure told in portions of 140 characters or less.
Part Thirteen: A Chilling Portrait of Evil!

The Homicidal Portrait of Cardinal Wolsey and I circled each other. I had, I reflected, no time to ponder the unusualness of the situation.

Wolsey, meatily three-dimensional despite his canvas origin, glared at me through eyes pursed in jowelly flesh, stevedores’ fists flexing.

Was it to be mano-a-mano? I had wrestled many creatures. Bears. Mexicans. Once, an irate Mother Superior. But a sixteenth-century portrait?

At least there would be no need for preparatory oiling. I chuckled to myself, only to be rudely interrupted by a swinging right. I ducked.

Fists? I thought back to that bare-knuckled night on a quay at Manaus, when Gentlemen Jim Splinty gave me six of the best. I gave him seven.

Wolsey threw again, a haymaker of agricultural origin. I swayed away, easily, then stepped sharply up to jab a cut at his bristly chin.

I gave thanks to my gym master, Knuckles Stibson, and the endless mills that had left me ring-sore but, an unusual tick apart, ring-savvy.

My punch connected, and for all the world the substance that gave, cut and hosed beneath my hand felt not like canvas or board, but flesh.

Cardinal Wolsey grunted and staggered, but came on. He threw another roundhouse heave, which I dodged, but he followed with a crafty jab.
The Cardinal’s fist, an array of ecclesiastic ruby rings making a splendid impromptu knuckleduster, connected with the point of my top rib.

I gasped in pain. Wolsey’s eye flashed with unseemly bloodlust and he came on, muttering oaths under his breath. I strained to hear. Latin!

In my bewilderment, The Homicidal Portrait of Cardinal Wolsey fetched me a sharp blow below the belt! I reeled and rocked. He came again!

The Tudor statesman showed remarkable agility as he attacked, a whir of scarlet sleeves and billowing robes. Terribly, he roared his intent! 

I swayed, delivered a sharp blow to his temple with my right and slammed my left into his crumpling gut. My hands sang with the force of it.

Wolsey seemed to hang still, rather, as if the air in the Palace Hall held him up. He appeared confused. I imagine Henry VIII knew the look.

And then, with an agonised bellow, Cardinal Wolsey crashed to the parquet floor. I stepped forward, and fetched him a kick in the head.

Not seemly, I know, but it pays to ensure a quarry’s incapacity. You learn that with any beast of the plains, from jerboa to grizzly bear.

Wolsey was out for a very long count, so I took the chance to get my breath back. Flexing my tingling gauntlets, I turned to look behind me.

The Clockwork Archbishop of Canterbury – I’d forgotten about him – sat motionless, slumped in his chair. Needed winding up, I supposed.

I wondered if his vicars and beadles would twig. Probably not. It would be safe to leave him. And the real Bish (and Vespa) needed saving.

Which would mean – as I remembered the Reverend Francis Gibbous Moon’s parting words, as he ran for his flatback truck – a trip to Scotland.

Edinburgh. I hadn’t been to Auld Reekie in an age, not since an unreported affair involving the heir to the throne and high-stakes canasta.

I didn’t fancy a return leg, but there it was and there was where the dastard Moon had dragged Vespa, the Bish and the Taxus Brevifola.

I turned to go, my mind racing to perils ahead. Fortunately, though, I am getting old. A laggardly bit of said mind loitered in the Hall.

I saw, therefore, The Homicidal Portrait of Cardinal Wolsey stir afresh from his apparent comatose stupour. I saw him rise to his knees.

And, from the corner of my eye, I saw him reach into his robes. Remembering Moon’s Mauser pistol, my brain chilled. The Cardinal’s Beretta! 

I threw myself to the floor as the Cardinal fired, the bullet giving my moustache a trim and smithereening a priceless vase behind me!

The next shot caromed off the Clockwork Archbishop’s throne as I skittered for safety behind it. Giggling insanely, Cardinal Wolsey came on!

That was his undoing. As Wolsey rushed on, his Beretta before him, I heaved with all my might and shoved throne, Bishop and all at his feet.

Wolsey went down, as they say in the fistic trade, like a holdall of ordure. His gun spiralled towards me. I dived, grasped it and fired!

Wolsey roared no more. I watched, horrified. As a noise akin to a thousand radios tuned to static filled the air, the Cardinal… disappeared.

And so did the gun. I stared, agog. But I pepped up. Leinigen, in the Hall, with the imaginary disappearing pistol. It would never stick.

And, what was more, nor would I. Mindful of the imminence of Lambeth Palace staff, I ran. I ran north, to adventure. I ran to King’s Cross!