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...

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