A Neolithic Portal

Kiki spoke, “Mr Ferdy may be trustworthy, but right now I am your only chance of getting into the fortress of La Houghue Bie. I would advise against approaching the Résistance Crapaud with Les Chats in tow. They will shoot first and ask questions… Actually they’ll just shoot. Best explain yourself to the Lesbian Nuns. Leave your dubious allies here and follow me.” Kiki did not return to the sally port, she took them to the main gate and began to kick it hard whilst shouting, “hey, you lot!”

A pair of shaven heads peered down from the battlements and quickly vanished. More kicking and shouting. The sturdy axe proof oak door swung back just enough for the mother superior to step out, one finger curled resolutely round the trigger of her AK-47.

“Oh, it’s you. Stop kicking my door, you’ll scratch the paint.” The venerable nun eyed the monk, dodo and one-eyed aristocrat standing behind Kiki, “And what have we here, a travelling circus? Come inside quickly. Monsieur vendeur de oignon laissez votre vélo à la salle des gardes.” She turned back to Kiki, “I believe an explanation would be in order, my young kitten. Refectory, all of you. Now.”

Augusta King had been talking for some time when Kiki started to fidget.

“Kitty, Red, there’s too much chatter and not enough action in this chapter. We need to get back to the Resistance.”

The mother superior rose, begged Augusta’s pardon for the interruption and addressed the kittens.

“You are probably quite correct, young miss. Take some of my girls with you, they need an outlet for their wilder tendencies, and you will need a guide. Let them face peril.”

Obedient for once, the Kittens rounded up a contingent of enthusiastic volunteers, cleaned and greased their weapons; packed sandwiches, fresh knickers (with the exception of Kiki who despite the chafing of her combat chinos insisted on going commando) and a generous supply of ammunition. With a cheerful goodbye they set off into the night.

The mother superior resumed:

“Now Mrs King, perhaps if I ask questions we can obtain some clarity. Mr Desai here, who I perceive is neither French nor indeed an onion seller, tells me you immerged from our Neolithic passage earlier this evening.”

Augusta was not sure how much of her tale would be believed. She took a deep breath:

“Your chamber contains the concealed entrance to a trans dimensional portal into the Atlantean world tunnel system. Vast amounts of power and ingenuity are required to breach the veil between worlds except on a very limited number of auspicious occasions each year, like Halloween. The tunnels link to our home in Shambhala.”

The nun wrinkled her brow, but Ferdy recognised something in the description.

“I know about these portals. The boys and I discovered one in Derbyshire. Oh, you probably don’t know about Boz and Phoebles and Ginsbergbear and Slasher and me, but we do this sort of adventuring stuff all the time. We were sabotaging a secret underground flying saucer factory.”

His outburst did not reassure the mother superior. Yet she continued her interrogation.

“And you, young lady? Lets start with your history.”

“From the start?”

“Probably, if that’s not too tedious.”






The Way We Lied

“So how was your hard day in London?” Sarah snarled when Nick walked into the kitchen that evening. She half turned to look at him, while she rinsed salad leaves in a shining stainless steel colander. “Tough day sitting around in some swanky hotel, was it?”
He opened the enormous larder fridge she had insisted was essential when the bespoke kitchen was designed and reached for a cold beer. He knew she was about to complain about her day of sacrifice and hardship.
“It was interesting and worthwhile actually,” he said, then took a long gulp of beer, thinking he might need another very soon.
“Good. I’m glad one of us had a productive time. I had to wait in all day for that bloody computer printer you ordered, then the stupid idiots tried to deliver when I finally went off at the end of the afternoon to do the school run! I’m sick of wasting my time over things like that. You can get it sent to one of your offices next time. I’m not waiting in any more!”
Nick waited for her to finish. “Fine. I’ll do just that, though the printer’s for you and the kids, not me. I don’t need it at the office.”
“I know, I know. But you have people who are paid to sit around all day and sign for things, don’t you? I’m sure it wouldn’t be that inconvenient!” Sarah vigorously wiped the gleaming granite work surface around the sink, restoring order in her efficient domain.
She sighed and poured herself a glass of wine. “Sorry. It’s just been one of the those days. I had to race all the way back to the school this morning, because your daughter had forgotten she had to return her library book today. Supper will be ready soon. So was the conference worth it?”
He told her a little about the charity and its developments, then added, “They’re putting a sculpture in the communal gardens of their next project. Specially commissioned. I was thinking we might do the same.”
Sarah turned round from the spaghetti she was forking in the pan of boiling water. “Are you serious? How could you justify that sort of expense? You’re always banging on about watching the margins on the developments.”
“Yeah, I know. But sometimes you just have to give things a bit of an edge over the competition. Stand out a bit, you know.”
“Well Nick, I’m sure you don’t have to go to all the trouble of actually commissioning something. It’s bound to cost a bomb. Why don’t you just pop down to that wonderful architectural antiques place instead ? They have some brilliant pieces and I bet they wouldn’t exactly cost the earth.”
Nick finished his beer quickly. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that. But look, it’s just an idea at this stage. I thought I might have a chat with the artist the charity is using. Mary Reid. Get her round to look at Dover Court perhaps. It could give the project a touch of class.”
“Touch of crass more like,” Sarah sniffed and began furiously grinding black pepper into the sauce. “Have you seen her stuff? Well, Nick? Have you?”
“What? He turned from putting more bottles of beer in the fridge. Sarah never made sure there was enough cold beer.
“Well, have you actually seen any of her work?”
“No, not yet.” He sighed and hoped Sarah was not going into one of her rants. “But of course I will be taking a close look at her previous commissions and in my view if it’s good enough for the Rural Homes Society then it’s good enough for me.”

The Way We Lied

By the time they reached the coffee break, Nick was feeling that attending the conference had been a worthwhile use of his time. He followed the other delegates into a large bright central atrium where refreshments were being served. He did not know anyone else here and decided to just stand back and see if he could identify key players as opposed to key workers. If he had an opportunity to introduce himself, he would. He stood back and observed the crowd. He could see Lady Marion Thursley, the charity’s director and the fellow beside her was their head of publicity, who had been doing all the links and introductions during the morning sessions. And there beside them, being kissed on both cheeks by Lady Thursley, was the interesting woman he had been watching. Did that mean she was part of their organisation?
Later, when the conference broke for lunch, Nick decided he would introduce himself to this unconventional delegate. It would be easier to ingratiate himself with a single person than with a group or those who were clearly heading the event. As the audience left their seats and shuffled towards the door, he made sure he was close by her side. She was carrying her sketch pad under her arm in a folder and as he caught up with her, she turned round to look at him.
“I couldn’t help noticing,” he said with a smile, gesturing at the sketches. “You seem to be the only one here who is not making written notes.”
She smiled back at him. “I make my own record of events in my own special way.” She held out her hand, by way of introduction. “Mary Reid.”
“I’m Nick Haskell. Are you involved with the charity in some way? I spotted you talking to Lady Thursley earlier.”
“I support the Society’s work and principles. They’re doing valuable work. And they’ve commissioned me to create a sculpture to be installed at their next project. They want to mark their success and it will be their one hundredth development.”
Nick grimaced to show he was impressed by this, then said, “Good for them, but I’m surprised a charity like this would want to splash out on works of art.”
“It’s a gift from a benefactor, actually. They won’t have to use any of the charity’s funding for it at all.”
Nick showed his approval with a nod, then asked, “And will the sculpture depict some of the people here today? Is that why you were drawing them?”
She glanced around at the councillors and architects piling plates with poached salmon and coronation chicken. “Possibly. But mainly I sketch at these events just to remember what it feels like. It’s better than taking notes for me. What about you?”
They had joined the buffet queue and Nick wondered how much to tell her. He decided to be vague. “I’m involved in property and thought this might be something I should be thinking about in the future.”
“Cheap housing?” She passed him a plate then helped herself to a generous portion of potato salad. “You should think about it. Everyone should. If we don’t, the countryside will be soon be dead and whole areas of cities will be out of bounds to the very people who maintain society.”
He was a little taken aback. “You have very forthright opinions. You obviously feel very strongly about this. And you yourself, are you a town or a country girl?”
“Both, but I live mostly in the country at present.”
Nick reached for the quiche and added two slices to his plate. “Well I’m all for preserving the countryside. And actually, I’d like to meet Lady Thursley as well. There’s a project coming up in the near future which might be of interest. Would you mind introducing me?”
Mary agreed to do so as soon as they were relieved of their plates of food. They found a couple of chairs and perched while they ate. As they talked, Nick assessed her potential. It was something he found himself doing instinctively with every woman he met. She was not his usual type. He was normally attracted to petite blondes, both buxom and slender, as long as they had a sense of humour, which had long departed Sarah. Mary was none of these and with her earnest tone, he had not yet established whether she found anything funny.
“Do you have any developments in my area?” she asked. “I’m living near Guildford at present.”
“As a matter of fact I do. And that happens to be my neck of the woods too. I live about four miles away.” Nick briefly pictured this tall dark woman reclining on the cream sofa in the show home. It was not an unattractive thought. “I’d quite like you to see the Dover Court project, as it’s nearing completion. We should perhaps discuss another commission for you.”
“I’ll come and see you there then,” she said firmly. “I’d like to see how you operate.”
Nick agreed and gave her details. She sounded serious, but Nick wondered whether he had just been propositioned.

The Way We Lied

Nick believed every business had to be aware of the competition. Sometimes your competitors operate along similar lines; occasionally they employ very different tactics. Today Nick was checking out The Rural Homes Society, a charity which had already succeeded in beating him twice on land deals in nearby villages where they proceeded to build small developments of houses and flats. This organisation was dedicated to ensuring affordable housing was provided for key workers, such as teachers and medical staff. They had a knack for hearing about site availability before anything went public and each time their plans had proceeded without a hitch. He wanted to know more about them and find out how they did it.
Of course he could have sent one of his land agents, but he wanted to see the set up for himself. There is nothing like knowing your enemy he thought. Booking his place under the aegis of his builder, he had decided to invest the best part of a day in London attending a conference on affordable housing, at which the key executives of the charity would be speaking. It was held in the sleek headquarters of the Directors Society, which, the printed programme for the day declared, had been donated to the charity free of charge by an interested supporter. Damn, cursed Nick, and I thought I’d spotted the first loophole in their worthy, high principled arguments.
The majority of delegates were civil servants, planners probably, in tweed jackets and twill slacks. There was a large sprinkling of town councillors, the men in tired crumpled suits and the women in large shouldered, brightly coloured jackets they must have bought when power dressing was first fashionable in the eighties. One particularly short woman with broad hips resembled a green cube in her unflattering, outmoded suit. A handful of people stood out as individuals in their black sweaters and collarless shirts, which Nick recognised as the common uniform of all architects and designers.
However one delegate in particular, a handsome woman, probably in her forties, was particularly striking. She clearly did not care what her clothes said about her as she was wearing worn jeans, scuffed brown boots and a crumpled pale blue raincoat. Half way through the first presentation she shrugged off the coat to reveal a striped man’s shirt with rolled up sleeves.
Nick kept glancing at her. She looked so different to the other members of the audience. Sitting just a row to his left in an aisle seat, he could see her resting her foot on her knee and leaning back. He noticed she had a large pad of paper of her lap. She must be planning to take a lot of notes he thought. But as he continued to watch her, he realised she wasn’t writing, she was sketching, drawing in easy strokes with a pencil comfortably held as if it was an extension of herself.
The first session of the morning outlined the charity’s work and its aims for the future. It emphasised how large numbers of vital staff, such as health workers, teachers and members of the police force, were struggling to find affordable accommodation near to their place of work and how many organisations would be crippled if they lost their staff because of housing problems. Nick yawned, as this was not news, but he perked up with the second session which explored illustrated case histories of successful developments. This was more like it; this was how they got their foot in the door.

The Way We Lied

“Oh I think we could could skip the paperwork, don’t you? I could let you have all my particulars during the interview if you like. Don’t you think that would be the best way of managing the situation?”
He could not help but agree as she pouted at him and so they had made an assignation. She was a bold one. And here she was now, swinging her hips as she walked, her stilettos spiking the gravel. Nick greeted her with a handshake for the sake of the staff and then escorted her across the courtyard to the finished apartment. She was wearing a tailored suit with a striped shirt, which was neat and decorous if you ignored the tight fit and the split skirt.
“It’s lovely to see you again, Mrs Wilson,” Nick said, enjoying his role of prospective employer.
“It’s very kind of you to invite me along for an interview, Mr Haskell.” Alex shook his hand. “I take it the position is still vacant?”
“That’s correct.” He coughed and tried to hold in his laughter. “I’m still looking for the right person. So perhaps we should get down to business?”
They were two promiscuous personalities who perfectly understood the rules of this encounter. Nick ushered Alex into the flat and offered her a seat on the plump cream sofa, then sat opposite her on its twin. He smiled, thinking that at any moment she might burst out laughing, but she maintained her composure and her role as potential employee with an interested and alert expression.
“Perhaps I could start by asking you some questions first, Mr Harper, if that’s alright with you?” She crossed her legs and the split slid to one side, revealing stockings. “I was wondering if you could tell me a little more about the position you have in mind. Have you had many applicants?”
He smiled again. This was going to be fun. “None at all, Mrs Wilson. Or rather, should I say, none so far. You are in fact the first applicant. However, if we both felt that the position would suit you then I would see no reason to interview any further candidates for this particular opening.”
“I quite understand, Mr Harper.” She paused and gazed at him, then licked her lips. “So perhaps you could tell me more about the job itself then.”
Nick leaned back against the cushions, making himself more comfortable. He was enjoying this. So much better than a quick fumble as soon as the door was closed. “Well, it principally involves ensuring that I have everything I need and that I am satisfied with your productivity. And I should add that I value initiative and imagination most highly.”
Alex raised an eyebrow. “It all sounds very interesting. I am sure it would not be beyond my capabilities. And could you also tell me something about the working conditions?”
“I generally conduct my work at whichever site is currently top of my list, such as this development.” He waved a hand to indicate the apartment and stroked the rich cream of the sofa. “But sometimes I have to go away on business and then I might set up a temporary office in a hotel in whichever town or city I happened to be in.”
“That seems like a very practical arrangement,” Alex said. “Now what about the equipment you will require me to use? Would you like to show me?”
Equipment? Nick looked puzzled. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“What are you expecting me to work with?” Alex asked, giving him a serious direct look. “Don’t you think it would be best if we checked it was something I could handle?”
Good God, was the woman asking him to undress, or at least expose himself? He was not afraid, he knew he would more than pass muster. But just to be sure of her intentions, he started by undoing the buttons of his shirt and then unfastening his belt.
“I really think I need to know more about the working conditions before I accept the position,” she insisted.
So he unzipped his flies and let her see. He thought he heard a little sigh escape her lips and then she said, “Is it working properly?” He knew what she meant. So he touched himself, just briefly, just enough to emphasise his asset.
“I think I need to see if you are properly qualified,” he whispered. Then he saw that she was parting her legs, her skirt had ridden high and he could see pink wetness and dark blonde. “Perfect. You’ve got the job,” he croaked. “Now can we get down to business?”
She was the perfect applicant, he said. He told her she was his ideal candidate because she was gorgeous, talented and delightful, which was what he assumed she would like to hear. But he actually wanted her as his mistress because while she was all those things, she was also undemanding, apart from in bed. She wanted him because she was bored and because she clearly liked captivating men for excitement and pleasure. He wanted her for now because Sarah was unadventurous and other women might have caused complications, becoming emotionally needy and tearful.
Alex was perfect. Nearly twelve months later she was still perfect, but he noticed now and then that she asked more questions about his work and his availability. He assured her that he had no intention of interviewing any other mistresses, which made her laugh. It was the truth, but he didn’t tell her about the woman he had met at the housing conference. The woman who was pricking his conscience. No, he hadn’t told her about that.

Mr Desai I Presume

Augusta King SKiki froze for a moment and then began to rise. She had barely moved when she was stopped by the sound of cracking twigs. A few feet to her left an onion seller, pushing a rather rusty, antiquated bicycle stepped out into the clearing. The bike’s wheel-bearings squeaked as he approached the group standing at the passage entrance. He held out a stubby wing to the lady who had addressed him. She shook it enthusiastically.

“Mr Ferdinand Desai I presume.” The onion seller confirmed her presumption with a cautious nod. “My name is Augusta King. I believe we have a shared fascination for aviation.”

Ferdy liked nothing more than to talk planes with almost anyone. But whilst speaking to Augusta he was eyeing her feline escort.

“As I am sure you are aware I was proceeding on my lawful occasions, all be it in disguise, within a downtown opium emporium frequented by lesser clerks of the Occupational Administration when I was approached by your oriental companion. He requested that we meet here. Said it was of vital importance. He did not mention Les Chats Souterrains.”

“What is it you say, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’? I appreciate your scepticism, you and they have clashed before, but they are integral to my mission.” Her homely smile never faulted.

“I don’t think I have ever said that.”

“I could send them away.”

“As they are here, madam, and would seem to be associated with your purpose. I would just as soon have them within sight.” Ferdy was beginning to doubt the wisdom of having turned up at all. He was not about to trust some strange woman in league with Les Chats. On the other hand he had not failed to notice Kiki in the bushes and she famously packed a fearsome array of percussive hardware. At this very moment she could be drawing a bead on either one of these tunnel-wraiths. He was ready.

Augusta King smiled on.

No shot rang out.

One of Les Chats nervously fingered a tin ray gun that looked as if it might have come from a Woolworth’s toy counter back in the 50s. After the conversational hiatus had dragged out rather longer than was comfortable Augusta spoke again.

“Your young friend could come out into the open as well, if she wanted.”

Kiki didn’t move, just in case. But this time no one else emerged. She stood up and stalked out of the underbrush. Even when she appeared sheepish there was a sense of barely contained wrath in her demeanour.

“Oh, come on, the pair of you. We really are all on the same side, just this once.” Augusta was being almost too solicitous; she had all the big guns. In fact, for the moment, she had the only guns.

Kiki glared, “Why?”

“Because… Hmm… I expect you have surmised that I am tasked in some way by The Merovingian Lizard Kings. Master Dorje here and I myself do in fact hail from their mountain domain. They are less than happy with the current situation and do not wish to see a restoration of the conditions that were extant prior to what your Mr McGoogs chooses to call his Great Revelation, your little British coup. I have run numerous scenarios through my analytical engine and in every model you do not prevail. Your surreal confederacy constitutes a guttering beacon of hope in a blighted world and, for the time being, they do not wish it to be extinguished.

Kiki still glared, “What?”

Ferdy placed a wing on Kiki’s shoulder. “I fear we do not entirely grasp your intentions. Why us?”

“You, Mr Desai because I want to chat amiably of ornithopters and because you are trustworthy. As for the lioness,” Augusta King glanced towards Kiki, “she was not supposed to be here.”

“I am but a pilot and own an autogyro not an ornithopter. I’m afraid I know little of bird flight.” Ferdy flapped his wing stubs ineffectually to reinforce his point.

Master Dorje stepped forward:

“Extending our time out here in the open I do not want. A British Imperialist patrol might pass at any moment. But perhaps I may elucidate.

“In our mountain valley utopia, China and the orient at our backs we have, with their predilection for conformity and tradition. Society is all, the individual nothing. Confucius and Lenin for that I blame. Before us the seething shambolic legions of the subcontinent there is. The Dark Lords are drawn naturally to such chaos. Concluded they have that the near global Corporate Neoliberalism pertaining at this time curbed must be. Overt US Military intervention avoided at all cost however must also be. And your Temporary Acting Prime Minister Larry is our last, great, and woefully forlorn, hope. We are picking a side.”