Part Twenty-Eight: A Dread Crack of Doom!

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Part Twenty-Eight: A Dread Crack of Doom!

I do enjoy it when cliché breaks loose and generally sums up situations rather well. In this instance, for example, all hell broke loose.

Possibly literally, I suppose, although this wasn’t the time to arrive at metaphysical crossroads like that without map, chart or sextant.

All hell, as I said, broke loose. Tavis Knoyle, the hollowed-out Highland volcanic plug in which I and my foes stood, imploded. Essentially.

After the first doom-laden crack from the ceiling above, Judgement Day, prompted by the Archbishop’s use of the Taxus Brevifola, arrived.

And it arrived in pretty short order. After the crack, a slab of roof dislodged like a chunk of stale cake and fell lethally to the floor!

It fell on Holman-Hunt. If that was his name. Which it hadn’t been, and wouldn’t be, now. Not be a very long and rather squashed shot.

The rest of us – me, the Archbishop, Galanthus and Moon – gaped. I think I heard the roar of static as Holman-Hunt dissolved to nothing.

You know, like old Homicidal Cardinal Wolsey did, back in Lambeth Palace what seemed like so long ago. A creation uncreated, if you like.

The thought, opportunately, allowed me to recover from the shock of seeing Jesus squished by a chunk of basalt rather faster than the rest.

Naturally, the Archbishop of Canterbury was rather stunned by the sight. With that and the bullet wound in his breast, he seemed all in. 

Scooping the Taxus Brevifola in my arms, I bent down to where he sat, slumped, against the stone altar in the middle of the shaking chamber.

The old chap looked at me with fading eyes. ‘My dear fellow…’ he said. ‘My dear fellow…’ Even in my shaking hellhole, a tear came to my eye.

A manly one, obviously. ‘Natch’, as the saying goes. But still, a tear. I’m not a particularly godly fellow, but the Bish had been a brick.

‘My dear fellow,’ he said, coughing a gout of scarlet blood on to his rich purple cassock. ‘My dear fellow… I… rather think… I’m done for.’

Not cheering words, but I had to allow they were true. The Archbishop coughed, and fell a deathlier pale. I put a hand on his shoulder.

‘Glad I could help,’ he said, wits restored in the last moments of his earthly. ‘Thought I’d teach that blighter Moon. Dreadful little man.’

He coughed. Chunks of rock skittered from ceiling and wall. I knew I should be getting on. Fortunately, the Archbishop seemed to sense this.

To put it rather baldly, which often helps, the Archbishop snuffed it there and then, on the disintegrating stone floor. I laid him down.

And looked round. The chamber in the depths of Tavis Knoyle shook and groaned; thousands of terrible screams sounded from the main cavern!

Tavis Knoyle was collapsing. It being a volcanic plug, and the word ‘volcanic’ implying the proximity of lava, I wasn’t keen to hang about.

Nor, evidently, was the Reverend Francis Gibbous Moon. He had disappeared. Galanthus still stood, however, shaking and staring wildly.

Moon, the blackguard, had left a woman in such deadly peril – never mind me too. I swore, under my breath, that I would have his lousy hide!

That, however, would mean finding him, and finding him would mean escaping from Tavis Knoyle before I was entombed in its death throes!

I tucked the Taxus Brevifola under one arm and grabbed Galanthus with the other. She seemed to start from a trance. ‘Leinigen!’ she cried.

‘No time for protesting!’ I roared. ‘My girl, you’re coming with me!’ At that, I sprang for the door, lifting Galanthus in a desperate dive!

Around us, as if the apocalyptic storm brought forth by Project John Martin had regathered its fury, the chamber simply disintegrated.

Showers of rock crashed down, pumice dust mushrooming on impact into miniature atomic clouds. The Archbishop’s body disappeared from view.

Simon the YMCE kapo, or what was left of him after the Sten gun’s dirty work, disappeared. The rock under which lay Holman-Hunt disappeared.

Galanthus and I tumbled into the rock-corridor as the ceiling hammered down. The chamber with the altar existed no more. It was entombed.

There was, of course, no time for further reflection. Tightening my grip on Galanthus, from whom the fight seemed completely gone, I ran.

As I did so the tunnel floor seemed, disconcertingly, to peel upwards, slabs and shards of stone flicking up as if impelled by a giant hand!

Tiny explosions like bullet strikes pinged and paffed from the walls, sending nasty shards of granite whizzing about our retreating forms!

The mountain was dying, loudly, and we had not one second to spare! I knew if I ran, I could make it. Galanthus and the Book could be saved.

Saved for prompt arrest, incarceration and, in terms of the Taxus Brevifola at least, incineration. Moon too, if I could find the bounder.

But escape was all that mattered now, as I hurtled towards light, air and safety. I hoped Tavis Knoyle would contain this lethal force...

Presumably, Judgement Day had only been released upon and within this accursed boil, this seething anthill of diabolical, insectoid evil!

The allusion was apt. As I skidded to the edge of a precipitous staircase down to the volcano floor, an astonishing sight presented itself.

On the floor of Tavis Knoyle, the YMCE army – men, women, even the children too – was dying. It explained the screams I’d heard earlier.

As when malevolent little boys boil a kettle and pour its scalding contents on blameless ants or termites, so the YMCE perished. Hideously.

The floor of the crater had cracked. The walls had cracked. And, for some good geographical reason, falling rock was not the only hazard.

Lava bubbled and poured through the cavern! Hot lava! Hotter than the fires of hell! And it was rising! And the YMCE army could not escape!

Part Twenty-Seven: A Desperate Battle Rages!

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Part Twenty-Seven: A Desperate Battle Rages!

Simon the kapo fired first. That I could present as fact at any necessary inquest, tribunal or coroner’s hearing. Yes. I said ‘coroner’.

I dare say I could also prove I fired second; infinitesimally close to spontaneously, yes, given reflexes akin to cat or cobra. But second.

Of ballistical science, I have forgotten more than the average chap in a lab has learned, through extensive, explosive field experience.

Unfortunately, however, I have forgotten from which shooter a bullet or slug flies faster: the trusty Sten, or a government-issue revolver.

So as to whose shot hit first, well, I cannot tell, even at such a thankful remove from the all-round rather ghastly moment in question.

It is however safe to say that the YMCE kapo shot at me with my own gun, taken from me in Lambeth, and I shot at him with his chum’s Sten! 

I hit. He missed. Or rather, he missed me. Hit the Archbishop of Canterbury instead. Fetched him a nasty one in the breast. The Bish fell.

But, as I say, I hit. Somewhere round the Adam’s apple, which in Simon’s case was rather prominent. And I hit with a burst from a Sten.

Moon and Holman-Hunt (if that was his name…) caught their share of the mess. I shan’t illustrate further. It wasn’t too pretty, after all.

Simon the kapo was no more, evidently. The Archbishop of Canterbury was at best decidedly unwell. Moon and Holman-Hunt seemed in shock.

Galanthus, predictably enough, seemed unmoved. ‘My-my,’ she said, when the echo of the simultaneous salvoes had died harshly away to nought. 

‘This is now serious, Leinigen,’ she said. ‘Do not let it become seriouser still.’ Seriouser? Was that even a word? Damned Swiss liberties!

I bristled. The Archbishop moaned and slid to the floor. I stepped towards Galanthus, Moon and Holman-Hunt. This had to end. Pronto. Now.

I said so. I would arrest ’em. I wasn’t overly sure how to get them past the teeming nest of YMCE drones outside, but I’d figure it out.

Galanthus laughed. I glared. She laughed again. I asked her what the devil she meant by such behaviour. She smiled icily, and spoke. Icily.

‘Do not you see your position is hopeless?’ she asked. ‘Do not you see you cannot win? You have killed one YMCE soldier. I have thousands!’

I was willing to concede that, but brute resolution, not to mention moral outrage, had me in its grip. Lacking words, I flourished my gun.

‘Empty gestures!’ cried Galanthus. ‘Mere impotent rages!’ I glared more fiercely still. Seduction had failed her; so would base abuse.

She seemed to sense it, and softened. ‘Why do you not see? Why do you not accept? Why do you not – ‘ I knew it was coming – ‘join us?’

I drew breath to respond, but there was more. ‘Why do you not fight for a winning side?’ Galanthus smiled. ‘Why do you not fight for… God?’

With that she gestured at the gore-splattered Moon and Holman-Hunt (if that was his name…) The two of them stood there mute, still shocked.

They presented an unappetising picture. Not enough to tempt me off the straight, narrow, clean and true. Not by a long way. I shook my head.

‘Join you?’ I said. ‘Your evil crusade? Never!’ Galanthus tutted. ‘Always the Boy Scout,’ she said. ‘Always the sense of honour. Ah, well.’

The Archbishop, slumped by the altar behind me, grunted and seemed to slump to the floor. I had to save him. A plan began, slowly, to form.

Take Galanthus captive. Possibly – it had to be faced – after killing, or at least incapacitating, Moon and Holman-Hunt. Sans brackets.

The latter, if the Homicidal Portrait of Cardinal Wolsey had been a guide, would merely dissolve if I shot him. He wasn’t really real.

Moon? I could wing him. Leave him here to rot. Needs must. With the Archbish on my back and Galanthus at gunpoint, I might make it out.

Past the YMCE army. Past the guns and the tanks and a thousand dead-eyed, not to say deadly stares. Without Galanthus, they were nothing.

If I had Galanthus, I had a shield. The book too, the Taxus Brevifola. Galanthus could carry it. I assumed she needed Moon to operate it.

It wasn’t much of a plan, and it required the shooting of a man and a magically animated Pre-Raphaelite painting in reasonably cold blood.

I found a little residue resolution from somewhere within me, and tightened my finger on the trigger of the still smoking Sten. This was it. 

As it turned out, it was, indeed, it. But the it was something else. Something different. Something mad, dangerous, terrifying and glorious!  

Unnoticed, the Archbishop had not slumped to the floor – he had dragged himself up to his feet. He had leant, bloodily, on the stone altar.

Unnoticed, the Archbishop had opened the heavy leaves of the Taxus Brevifola, smearing the pages with the very crimson force of his life!

Unnoticed by Galanthus and I, and the catatonic Moon and Holman-Hunt, the Archbishop of Canterbury was intoning a list of familiar names!

‘Ames-Lewis, Hartt, Fried and Nochlin,’ he said. ‘Penrose, Richardson, Burckhardt, Nead.’ Art historians! The whole, glorious lot of them!

The Archbishop of Canterbury was initiating Project John Martin! Here, in Tavis Knoyle! In Galanthus and the YMCE’s volcanic Highland den!

As this marvellous truth dawned, Galanthus and I gaped at the determined, faltering, weakened Archbishop. Incantation done, he collapsed!

‘No!’ cried Galanthus. ‘No!’ chorused Moon and Holman-Hunt. ‘Yes!’ cried I! The Archbishop, a brainy egg with artistic leanings, had struck!

The Taxus Brevifola had been turned against its operators! Project John Martin was beginning, and not in the skies over London as intended!

There was a moment or two of chilled silence. The Archbishop groaned. I looked to Galanthus, and Galanthus looked to me. Tension reigned.

And then, from the cold roof of the cavern above us, there came a groan. Ancient rock heaved and tore apart. Judgement Day had arrived!

Part Twenty-Six: A Shattering Climax Nears!

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Part Twenty-Six: A Shattering Climax Nears!

At the door of the earthen chamber within which my quarry plotted, I clamped a hand firmly across the Archbishop of Canterbury’s mouth.

I wasn’t totally comforted by my action – his beard itched, for one thing – but His Grace took it, appropriately, with considerable grace.

Flattening myself to the rock wall of the tunnel within the volcanic plug known as Tavis Knoyle, I listened in to a chilling conversation.

‘March… south… Westminster… armoured columns… rendezvous… pincer movement… total victory… mopping up.’ That was Galanthus, icy and precise.

‘Firm government… control… retribution… Bible study… coffee mornings… executions… hangings… burnings… garrotted first, for mercy.’ Moon!

The blackguard was set on a vicious C of E theocracy that would have made Savonarola blanche! I gripped tighter on Archbishop and Sten.

My thoughts, as often in situations when blood boils and my prey, stalked for days or even months is near, tended towards violent action.

I could whirl round the corner, leaving the Bish to his own devices for a second, and strafe the lot of ’em with my trusty purloined Sten.

I’d seen such nasty little firearms make ’em pirouette, on fields urban as well as rurally martial. Capone, I can tell you, was a tiger.

Fortunately, experience and a spell with a flotilla of monk chappies at the top of Nepal in twenty-two kicked in. I held my passion tight.

Releasing a slow, careful breath, I poked my head around the rock-hewn frame of the door. As they connived, none inside the chamber saw me.

My foes stood at a rock table, not unlike an altar such as used for early Christian rights or black masses in the loucher parts of Chelsea.

Galanthus, Moon, Holman-Hunt (if that was his name, and so on) and Simon of the YMCE. Quiet, they gazed at something perched atop the altar.
I knew what it was, of course. The Taxus Brevifola, that damned medieval codex, that accursed tome, that volume of hideous black depths.

Were they going to start Project John Martin? Was this it? Was this the moment when my adventure reached its point of literally no return?

Events subsequent were to prove, as events subsequent often do, that this was not the case. But at the time at hand, I could not know that.

It turned out, I was to find, that the Taxus Brevifola could only be used locally; it’s affects took effect in situ. It had to go to London.

Possibly the YMCE planned to use it as they travelled south, laying waste to England like some horde of painted medieval Scots nasties.

I did not know that. I could not take a chance. You’ll remember my waffling on about single viewpoints and the lack of an omniscient author.

There was irony in that remark, viz: Moon and his theocratic imaginings, had I but chosen to remark it then, instead of now. Had I had time.

I had not, and no such thoughts entertained my teeming loaf. Instead, pulling the Archbishop closer, I clicked off the Sten’s safety catch.

‘All right, children,’ I said, affecting the voice of a stern, disapproving and, importantly, armed geography master. ‘The party’s over.’

Here, my old friend ‘events subsequent’, even pursuant, took over. And as happens when that happens, what happened next was rather blurred.

I shall try to reconstruct them here – for one thing, the publisher’s contract demands it. But the fog of war has not lifted over time.

When I appeared, toting jutting gun and gibbering Archbishop, Galanthus, Moon and the rest looked up in what seemed considerable surprise.

Galanthus smiled. Simon the YMCE kapo reached, quite naturally, for his gun. But then, rather oddly, the Reverend Moon told him to drop it.

I don’t suppose I meant to appear to hold the Archbishop of Canterbury hostage. I had not uttered the words ‘Freeze, or the Bish gets it!’

After all, student of the life adventurous that I had become, five years at a Welsh Methodist boarding school had not been all for nought.

But still it rather seemed, possibly reasonably given the hot confusion, that he, Moon, thought that was what I, Leinigen, had in my mind.

There ensued what Hollywood film types call a Mexican stand-off, though given that only one of us had a gun, it was possibly only Honduran.

Nonplussed for a mo, I soon twigged. Moon, though having deposed his Archbishop and replaced him with a robot, was still a man of the cloth.

Thus, seeing the old beardy threatened, a sort of mother hen instinct had been pricked. This, disarming Simon the kapo, gave me my chance.

I seized upon it in a vivid flash. ‘Hands up!’ I cried, wildly. ‘Yes, all of you!’ All of them, somewhat surprisingly, complied. Even Jesus.

‘As I said,’ I said, ‘the party’s over!’ I edged into the room, dragging the Archbishop. Galanthus, Moon and Co edged away from the altar.

I motioned them towards the doorway and circled till I stood by the book. The Taxus Brevifola! The key to ending all this madness for good!

‘Leinigen, my dear,’ said Galanthus, her voice and gaze set steady despite her raised hands and plain sight of the oily muzzle of my piece.

‘Save it, sister,’ I said, gripping the Archbishop tighter. Galanthus ignored me. ‘Leinigen, what is it that you are meaning to do now?’

I would have thought that was obvious, but I spelled it out. ‘Destroy your plot, destroy your damned book and destroy you! Yes, all of you!’

Galanthus laughed. I’ll own that I did a little double take. It was Vespa’s laugh, throaty and dark, made of Turkish cigarettes and danger.

‘Leinigen, darling,’ she murmured, seductive. ‘Do not be so hasty. Do not forget our love. Do not forget that night the Peloponnese burned.’

I hadn’t the foggiest what she was on about either, but no matter. Moon, at the door, looked disapproving. Simon sneered. I jutted my jaw.

‘Your lascivious tricks won’t save you,’ I said. ‘It’s the end of the road!’ With that, I let go of the Archbishop and reached for the book.

Which was a mistake. As soon as I did so, Moon motioned to Simon of the YMCE. The kapo reached swiftly for his gun, picked it up and fired!

Part Twenty-Five: A Prelate Proves His Mettle!

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Part Twenty-Five: A Prelate Proves His Mettle

They threw me in a dank cell, hewn out of the rock and isolated from the buzzing military-industrial hub at the centre of Tavis Knoyle.

I landed on the rough stone floor with a thud; as I sprang back to my feet, the door of my oubliette clanged shut. Keys jangled in the lock.

I massaged my chafed wrist and pondered my options. Like pilchards in a fishmonger’s window at closing time they were few, and unappealing.

I rattled the door – no go. At the noise a YMCE goon stationed outside spat with practised accuracy through the bars of its small window. 

I wiped my cheek and snarled at the grille. I supposed a solution would present itself – they usually do – and, at least, I was still alive.

Galanthus might have killed me; it seemed she would have, had I not bluffed an apparent full knowledge of her plot, codename: ‘John Martin.’

Of course, that bluff had also succeeded in eliciting details of her machinations I could not otherwise have hoped to learn. Funny, that. 

Apocalyptic paintings brought to life by a medieval book and deployed in a Calvinist-Anglican plot for world or at least British domination.

It was mad but, as I have said before in telling this unlikely, not to say unusual tale, it was and had been proved to be horribly feasible.

I could feel the onset of another brown study, which would not be welcome. Brooding is no use to a man held captive. He might as well pray.

There was irony in that notion, as became apparent halfway through another – that a sachet of Bolivian mesa powder would have been handy.

The blessed stuff was cut from some leaf or other by those johnnies in bowler hats and knitwear and was the whizz for marching the Andes.

Brown studies require such colourful solutions, as the famous detective knew. I wondered how I would stave off the blues (or browns) now.

I sniffed, morosely. But then said irony hit me, square between eyes and schnozz. At a meek half-cough behind me, I turned. I was not alone!

Against the wall of the cell squatted a bearded, purple-cozzied chap, a battered mitre atop his head and dulled garnet rings on his fingers.

The Archbishop of Canterbury! Other than a nagging thought that Moon must have been keeping him alive for a reason, I’d forgotten about him.

‘Oh, dear,’ he said. ‘My dear fellow. I startled you.’ I allowed that he had. I’d been snuck up on by a primate before. In Tanganyika.

As then, if towards a silvery-haired ecclesiastical cove rather than a gigantic buck silverback, I made emollient noises. The Bish simpered.

‘My dear fellow,’ he said, rather spry considering his position and what I knew of his ordeal on the way to this prison. ‘My dear fellow.’

Ah, I thought. Wandering. I supposed it wasn’t a surprise, really. Gone in the scone, quite. ‘My dear fellow,’ he said. ‘My dear fellow.’

As the Archbishop scrabbled for what remained of his wits, out of which he had evidently been startled, I saw the devilry of Moon’s plot.

Who would suspect the automaton put in the real Archbishop’s place, that I had left behind, unwound but intact, in Lambeth Palace Hall?

No-one, I thought, or at least no one in the C of blessed E. Even though the Archbish had a reputation as a bit of an egg, intellectwise.

After all, he had a beard and wrote letters, and not just to the Times to complain about socialism and Gracie Fields. Books too. Dostoevsky.

But now, alas, he seemed quite enfeebled. I squatted, pensive, in the shadows of the cell. ‘My dear fellow, my dear fellow,’ he burbled.

On my haunches, I pondered my best plan of action. Escape was imperative, obviously. I’d have to take the Archbishop with me. Rescue him.

Foil Galanthus’s plot. Foil the Reverend Moon too, and Holman-Hunt (if that was his name…) and the YMCE and the whole damned lot of it.

It was a tall order, taller still if to be accomplished in the company of the gibbering wreck before me. Still, there it was. As usual.

So I fell to further thinking. Stirred from self-pity by my pitiable companion, this was less a brown study than one in ochre. Even puce.

Fortunately, inspiration did not lie particularly far off. After maybe five minutes' hard cogitation, a plan of action formed in my mind.
The Archbishop’s attire did it. I noticed the tarnished glint, in the last of the weak Highland light, of his heavy episcopal crucifix.

It hung from the Archbishop’s neck on a chain of dull brass. It was long, battered and strong and it tapered to a very intriguing point.

I saw immediately what I should do. The Archbishop protested only mildly as I slipped the cross over his head and weighed it in my palm.

I moved noiselessly to the cell door and applied keen ear to cold steel. From without, I heard a precious sound. Rhythmic, guttural snores.

My YMCE guard was, evidently, asleep. Thanking sweet Lady Luck – an old travelling companion, assiduously courted – I bent to the lock.

As a pick, the Archbishop’s crucifix worked a treat. The door eased open. Silently, before beckoning my companion, I removed my right boot.

The door swung inwards on noiseless and well-oiled hinges. I stepped out of the cell, coiled on my haunches like a cougar or mountain lion...

The YMCE guard snored, slumped forward on a small stool. I regarded the nape of his hirsute neck dispassionately. It would do very nicely.

I hit him with the boot. He knew nothing (I assume, for if not his dreams would have been very interesting) as he crumpled to the floor.

I took his sten gun, retreated, replaced my boot, took the Archbishop by the hand – ‘My dear fellow!’ he cried – and walked into the tunnel.

Torches flickered. Military noises echoed. I paused. From surprisingly nearby, I heard voices. Galanthus. Moon. A calming lilt: Holman-Hunt.

That way lay my goal; the conclusion to this mad caper. Salvation or perdition. Pulling the Archbishop with me, I crept towards my fate...

Part Twenty-Four: A Villain Makes Her Play!

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Part Twenty-Four: A Villain Makes Her Play!

You could, I’ll admit, have said I was ‘surprised’ when Vespa Cryptoides, co-adventurer, inamorata… chum, even… revealed her true identity.

‘Vespa’ was Max Galanthus. As in, Maxine. She had not disguised her gender – on certain points, as it were, that would have been impossible.

But she had disguised her identity. In all our knowing, from war in Athens to that yurt in Tashkent to Lambeth and here, she had hidden!

Max Galanthus. Swiss megalomaniac billionaire. Banker to terror gangs and Calvinist bible-study groups. Despotic tyrant, tyrannical despot!

… and, facing facts, my sometime bedfellow. I guessed, of course, her reasons for reappearing in my life. Or mine for reappearing in hers.

The Lambeth Treasure. The Taxus Brevifola. A book that could change realities, alter worlds. Precious to any common or garden megalomaniac.

Such as Moon. Galanthus was using him. I could see that. Galanthus had also used me. I did wonder briefly about the punishment she’d taken.

The manhandling by Moon and the YMCE, in Lambeth. Tied and handcuffed to me on a bumpy drive to the Highlands. But I supposed it figured.

Rum lot, the Swiss, prey to who knows what appetites and delights. The cold does it. Though I knew Galanthus’s blood ran hotter than most.

Now, in the depths of Tavis Knoyle, as awed YMCE members knelt and Moon’s arc light followed her every move, she walked slowly towards me.

I stiffened. Straightened my back. Raised a manly eyebrow, and found resolution. The reservoir was a tad low, but it was there. In the gut.

Galanthus – despite the blonde hair, blue eyes and strange paramilitary uniform she had revealed, I wanted still to call her Vespa – paused.

I raised my eyebrow further. She raised hers. I tried to counter, but had no room left on my forehead. I raised the other one instead.

‘There’s no need to look so surprised,’ she said. I couldn’t place her accent. French? Italian? German? Damned Swiss. Neither fish nor foul.

‘You must have had an inkling of my purpose,’ she said. It was true; I’d known she was out for herself. Or her other self. It was confusing.

I stayed silent. Galanthus smiled a smile that receded like a glacier. ‘No words, darling?’ None. At times, woman, false, commands muteness.

‘Very well,’ she said, before taking the rather surprising step of kissing me, lingeringly, on the lips. The YMCE gasped at the impropriety.

My knees buckled. There was no Greek fire; none of that aftertaste of raki, pine nuts and garlic that had driven me crazy years before.

Galanthus’s kiss was like ice. Cold. Hard. Translucent. I saw through it but it chilled me to the very bone. It was the kiss of Judas.

Or Judith, I supposed, or Jude. Judy? But while I cogitated such matters, Galanthus withdrew. The YMCE let out their collective breath... 

‘Farewell, Leinigen darling,’ said Galanthus. ‘You have served your purpose well. You have brought me very far, and I thank you for it.’

‘Thank me?’ Galanthus looked at me through eyes as blue and bottomless as a Swiss fjord. If there were Swiss fjords. Which I doubted.

‘Yes, thank you,’ she said. ‘You have, in your inimitable swashbuckling style, led my friends and I to the Lambeth Treasure. I am grateful.’

I suppose I must have scowled at that. I made to remind her of Sam Phraxby, poor, dead Sam, my chum who had died in the Lambeth Labyrinth.

But what would she care of Sam? As little as she had at the time of his demise, stashing his cadaver behind a chaise longue and moving on.

So I kept Mum. Galanthus turned away. “Lights!’ she shouted: at her mittel-European command (always the best kind), Tavis Knoyle was lit!

The YMCE army stood to attention. Up on his balcony, the Reverend Francis Gibbous Moon surveyed the scene with smug satisfaction. I growled.

‘Shhhh,’ said Galanthus. I shhhhed. It pays to be obedient occasionally. One learns surprising things. Like, in this case, Galanthus’s plot.

‘Friends,’ she cried. ‘Prepare yourselves! Our immortal project, codename ‘John Martin’, begins at midnight! Our great moment is nigh!’

At this, hellish industry returned to the depths of Tavis Knoyle. Saws buzzed, engines revved and tank-tracks ground out a steady beat.

The YMCE Army was moving! I knew I had to act, and now, but my YMCE guard had me shackled fast. So as Galanthus walked away, I shouted:

‘I know your game, Galanthus!’ She turned. ‘Oh yes?’ she said. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘And Moon’s too! I’m all over you two like a cheap suit!’

Galanthus raised a pretty eyebrow. ‘You know everything?’ ‘Absolutely,’ I said. ‘You know about John Martin?’ ‘All about him,’ I said.

I am, as I have no doubted pointed out, a bluff and winning cove. I have a sort of manly authority that many find excellent persuasive.

So in this game of bluff, there could only be one winner. I held Galanthus’s gaze, icy and gimlet as it was, and, sure enough, she cracked.

‘You know John Martin? Painter of biblical, apocalyptic scenes? Vast canvases tens of feet across? Popular in the early nineteenth century?’

I nodded. ‘You know,’ Galanthus continued, ‘of his paintings of the Flood, and of Judgement Day, and of the damnation of all human souls?’

‘Yup,’ I said, lying happily. ‘You know,’ Galanthus continued, ‘that using the Taxus Brevifola I plan to inflict such scenes upon the world?

‘You know I will then ride to the rescue, using Moon and his army as ‘muscle’, and thereby assume the pitiless rule of the entire globe?’

It took the last of my reservoir of inner spiff not to blench at the mad, maniacal terror of it, but I managed. Galanthus seemed surprised.

‘Very well, then,’ she said. ‘Perhaps, inconveniently, I shall not kill you after all. Guards!’ Three YMCE men jumped. ‘Take him away!’

Part Twenty-Three: A Villain Makes His Play!

A Twitter adventure told in portions of 140 characters or less.
Part Twenty-Three: A Villain Makes His Play!

I often pause to thank my extensive reading of adventure serials and detective novellas, both when young and when becalmed in doldrum seas.

Such revision proves its worth when dramatic moments choose to play themselves out. As now, in the hollowed-out volcanic plug, with Moon.

Suffice to say, thanks to such bountiful masters as McNeile, Buchan and De Mille, I felt right at home, even in such diabolical surrounds.

Moon appeared on his balcony, carved into the living (or dead, but not being a geologist, thank God, I wasn’t sure) rock of Tavis Knoyle.

‘Good lad,’ I thought. ‘Knows how to make an entrance. Now for the curious unspooling of his entire plot, to set up the tale’s climax.’

I was not to be disappointed – for the Reverend Francis Gibbous Moon is, or rather was, nothing if not a commendably orthodox supervillain.

He raised his hands – as indicated before, I know, but it pays to reiterate when speaking to the curiously part-literate masses – and spoke.

‘Brothers, Sisters,’ Moon brayed, his piping contralto pinging off the crater walls like a pea in a tin. ‘Friends! Our moment approaches!’

I grimaced with distaste. Moon, oblivious, continued. ‘For long years you have laboured, my children,’ he said. ‘For years you have toiled!’

‘But your moment is at hand. Oh, my children, the Church of England will rise again! The Church of England will be born again! In Scotland!’

Further reaction, ironic comment or biting satirical aside, was lost to me in an answering roar from the waiting YMCE throng. ‘Hallelujah!’

I don’t know if you can summon to mind your average Church of England shindig; if you know the general lack of vim and gusto in the hymning.

Put simply, if a massed cry of triumph from a gathered crypto-fascist horde could ever sound wan, unenthusiastic and dull, this one did.

‘Really,’ I thought. ‘This ain’t going to be a very bloodthirsty coup.’ But what did I expect from a gang of Grey Shirts, rather than Black?

Eventually the drear roar ebbed, and Moon spoke again. He detailed his plot (the replacement Archbishop, all that) to general approbation.

I stared at my boots, at my captors, at Vespa. My fellow prisoner, I thought, was rather quiet. I nudged her, whistled. She did not respond. 

‘I say, old girl,’ I said, although that was as far as I got before one of my guards whacked me over the bonce with the butt of his gun. 

I understood from this that Moon, on his balcony, was getting to the point. My eyes swimming a little, I looked up. Moon waxed lyrical. 

‘Children of the YMCE,’ said Moon. ‘In a moment I will reveal to you the author of our fate, the person behind my plan to take us to glory!’ 

‘Hullo,’ I thought. ‘Must be time for old Holman-Hunt to whip off his cloak and do a spot of magic with his celestial lamp.’ Moon continued. 

‘But first, dear Brothers and Sisters, I wish to introduce your…’ he paused, a rictus of divine unction playing around his chops… ‘sponsor!’

This was a turn up for the books, although it bore inspection. The whole volcanic plug crater set-up couldn’t have been cheap, after all. 

Moon gave his ‘sponsor’ chappie a reasonable preamble: it being our Swiss industrial megalomaniac chum, he started banging on about Calvin. 

I rather zoned out and, cursing my inability to listen in class, failed to notice the guard who reached for the cuffs that held me to Vespa. 

I did not notice the soft click as he released my companion from her shackle, or the second click that subsequently cuffed the guard to me.

Up on his balcony, Moon continued. ‘Children, none of this’ – he swept the crater, military hardware and all, with his hand – ‘came cheap.’

‘None of you’ – he indicated his sullen legions – ‘could be here without our sponsor. We could not march without Galanthus Industries!’

Of course! Galanthus! Swiss industrial cartel. Huge. Chemicals. Metals. Guns. Tanks. And the cuckoo clock, of course, as the fellow said.

Not widely known, true. But familiar to any who knew the world. No one who’d fought dirty war in African jungles could not know Galanthus.

Galanthus supplied industrial knowhow and hardware to anyone with a chequebook and impure intentions. Where evil lurked, Galanthus invested.

Their chief was one Max Galanthus. Shadowy, furtive. A recluse. Rumoured to live in a revolving restaurant on the Schilthorn. Face unknown.

I’d fought his lot before: defending trade concessions in Peru; hopping from junk to junk in Hong Kong harbour, torching contraband cheeses.

And I knew, from weary experience, the canard that went with ’em: that Switzerland was and ever would be a neutral, peaceful nation. Pah!

I didn’t like ’em. Not a bit. Couldn’t stomach Gruyere. I laughed, harshly. I should have known Galanthus Industries was behind Moon’s evil.

I supposed the Calvin stuff Moon was pouring out explained the ideological co-travelling. It didn’t bear close inspection, but it figured.

Once again, however, such close reasoning with myself blinded me to hideous and dread reality, and I almost missed Moon’s grand reveal.

But not quite. On his balcony, Moon shrieked loud enough to gain my attention. ‘Brothers and Sisters! Meet your sponsor! Max Galanthus!’

The electric lights in the crater of Tavis Knoyle clicked off, and then clicked on. The spotlight was no longer on Moon. It fell elsewhere.

It fell surprisingly close to me. It fell to my left. I turned. Vespa did not stand, shackled, next to me. A YMCE guard stood there instead.

Vespa stood further away. She stood oddly erect. As Moon’s arc lamps created an aureole of beauty about her, she reached up to her hair.

Vespa pulled off a long, dark wig. Vespa’s hair was ash-blonde. Vespa turned to look at me. Vespa’s eyes were no longer brown, but blue.

‘Vespa’, for the first time since disguising herself as William Blake’s charlady, acquired a set of quotation marks. My stomach pitched.

‘Vespa’, with Moon’s connivance, had been revealed to be Maxine Galanthus, Swiss industrial megalomaniac, sponsor of all the world’s evil!