LEINIGEN & THE LAMBETH TREASURE
A Twitter adventure told in portions of 140 characters or less
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...