Part Twenty-Four: A Villain Makes Her Play!

A Twitter adventure told in portions of 140 characters or less.
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!’

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