Hi, Phoebles here,
As a consequence of my numerous trips to the vet’s this week and our Dad’s attention being side tracked into the recent, local Arts Fair there will be no Boz adventure today. So, instead here is a picture of a cute animal…
“Oh good,” she panted, “Could you two lend me a hand? I’ve an urgent job to do for Master Dorje.”
“Why not?” Together they rushed past a cluster of laughing urchins toasting marshmallows in the radiant heat from the fire raging aboard the iconic tea clipper. A tramp wearing an Air Raid Warden’s armband was sidling up to the children with the intention of administering Health and Safety advice whilst cadging one of the confections.
“We’ve got to find Professor Flosso’s Punch and Judy,” said Zelda, breaking into a run and heading for the covered market.
Displaying little regard for the conflict that had been raging up the hill the market stalls were doing steady business. Those traders willing to move with the times were all but sold out of gas masks, tin hats and primus stoves. Knitwear was selling well but there was little interest in the Rhassoul Clay and Argan Oil spa treatments or themed mouse-mats so prevalent in the town’s trendier past. The artisan bakery had abandoned Malthouse Sourdough, Ciabatta, and Dampfnudel; going over instead to the dispensing of easily stored and transported tinned or dry comestibles.
“Punch and Judy?” a wheezing Ginsbergbear enquired of one of the costermongers.
“Far corner, mate. You’ve missed the best bits, show’s nearly over.”
An optimistic profusion of benches had been arranged in rows before the red and white striped booth. They were all but deserted. Two infants huddled, wailing on the front row and a hunched crone in a Pakamac sat at the back eating a sandwich.
“That’s the way to do it.” A motley clad Punch was beating a crimson devil with his slapstick. Ginsbergbear bent over clutching his knees while he got his breath back.
“Wow, man,” exclaimed Beryl, “This is soo profound!”
“Really?” replied Zelda. “Child abuse, domestic violence, police brutality; it’s a socio-feminist nightmare.” The old lady clapped enthusiastically as the drama closed and croaked, “encore,” when Toby leapt up onto the stage. Punch and his wife took a bow and the weeping children departed.
“Quick, round the back while he’s packing up,” said Zelda.
“Hello!” They pulled back the curtain at the rear of the booth. The professor cringed.
“I told your boss I’d pay up as soon as I had the money.” The plaintive plea was rendered even more pathetic by the swazzle that he had omitted to remove from his mouth.
“We’re not here about that. We would like to engage you for a private performance.”
Professor Flosso was still shaking, “Well I’m pretty booked up. When and where?”
“Here. And now. I am authorised to offer you a blank IOU. You can fill in any amount you feel to be appropriate. You do have a crocodile don’t you?”
“Halt! Who goes there?”
“My companions and I, emissaries from the Himalayan stronghold of the Merovingian Lizard Kings are. Taking me to your leader you will be.”
One of the guards idly watched the dogfight unfolding above. The other leered.
“Yeh, like that’s going to happen. Bugger off old man.”
Dorje stood his ground. “Failing to comprehend the situation you are. Imperative to the very survival of your high command my mission is. Insisting I must be that detaining us you are not.”
What the sentry lacked in intelligence he made up for in bulk and aggression and he was not used to being contradicted. “It’s you that’s failing to comprehend, mush. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a war going on. If you were to get shot no-one’s going to care about a few extra dead gooks. Collateral damage.” At this moment of mounting tension a Lieutenant emerged from the guardhouse polishing the lenses of his goggles with a paisley silk handkerchief.
“What’s going on soldier?”
“These chinks want to see the commander, sir. I think they’re taking the piss.”
Master Dorje stepped forward, produced a small parchment scroll from the depths of his robes, and presented it to the officer.
The lieutenant read the scroll with an air of suspicion. He studied the crested heading, the signature, and the back of the document. He sniffed at the parchment. “Seems in order.” He reached through the open guardhouse window and picked up a phone. “I think you should see this, sir.” He listened for a reply. “Of course, sir. I’ll organise an escort and send them through.” He turned to Master Dorje, “Are these hippies with you too?”
Boz, Phoebles and Ferdy were whistling innocently as they ambled away in the direction of the pier. Flo had disappeared. Ginsbergbear, arm in arm with Beryl, turned in feigned surprise.
“Us? Nope, never seen the little fellows before today. Haven’t even been to the Himalayas.”
Augusta was lighting a fresh new cheroot from the smouldering nub end of her last.
“I’m with the monks,” she called out as they strode in through the gates.
The heavily guarded party was crossing an open quad when, with a blood-chilling siren scream, the foo-fighter dove almost vertically towards them from out of the firmament. It zoomed overhead still pursued by the three Tsetse warbirds that barely cleared the rooftops, the clatter of their flapping gossamer wings clearly audible to the group below. For a split second the Chat Ray-gunner managed to get one of the tormentors on to the cross hairs of his weapon’s sights and fired. Lightning bolts crackled and zigzagged through the air. There was the distinctive, acrid stench of ozone. At the same moment yet another shell from the lead ornithopter exploded beneath the flying saucer. The craft tipped and the death ray went wide, slicing an arc through space until it met with one of the Naval College towers. Classical columns split apart and the cupola exploded. A tangled brass weathercock landed at Augusta’s feet.
“Could we just get under cover, a bit smartish?”
At last the gang had their pints; best bitter, mild ale, or porter, Black Velvet for Augusta and warming Po Cha for Master Dorje, served from a copper teapot with a dragon spout into a delicate china bowl with only one small chip out of the rim.
“Impressed I am. Where in Limehouse, yak butter did you manage to acquire?”
“Under the counter at Jamrach’s Exotic Pet Emporium on Ratcliffe Highway,” replied Sam, looking over his shoulder as he sat at the piano, “They also do a side line in Kopi Luwak, a natural by-product from the feline department.”
“Civet poo coffee,” shouted Flo from behind the bar.
“No thanks!” sang out the entire company, in unison.
“Now, Master Dorje,” enquired Augusta, “what is your important news?”
“Ah, so. The Merovingian Lizard Kings my news concerns. The Dark Lords of Pandemonium are well displeased with this coup by Les Chats Souterrains. My companions and I…” There came renewed hammering on the cellar trapdoor. Flo jumped and then, baseball bat in hand, cautiously lifted the trap. Three more Tibetan worthies emerged. They were marginally less wizened than Dorje, identically clad in tall hats and yak skin coats, and similarly lacking in stature. They did not speak. “Aware were you that within your beer cellar a portal there is?”
“Do you think we’d have spent all that time wallowing around in the sewers if we’d known we had a portal of our own?” asked Phoebles.
“Ancient as time it is, referenced only in one single, rare, coded Sanskrit text, and known to no-one but the Lizard Lords. Also, fiendishly difficult to activate it has proved. But, to continue – my companions and I charged with bringing Les Chats to order are.”
Beryl was sitting alone in a dark corner of the room with a hubbly-bubbly pipe and a glass of Absinth. She stopped sucking. “Heavy, man. I hope you’re in time to save Aunty Stella. When we flew in it looked like a seriously bad trip was unfolding down the river.”
“Let us hope… Somewhat lacking in detail my instructions were. To improvise I am required.”
“Not again,” said Phoebles.
Outside clouds parted and a shaft of sunlight shone down, through the den’s bay window, to illuminate the back of master Dorje’s head. He rose, haloed in glowing gold:
“Have faith. Get me to Greenwich.”
Da da da dum. The long, final E-flat reverberated around the low ceilinged room, Sam hunched over the upright his fingers resting on the keys, the gang froze and Dark Flo looked up, stirred from the innocent act of tea-towelling a nonic beer glass. There was a pause, pregnant with dimly perceived significance.
“Right,” said Boz, “that will be ‘everyone back in the flying boat’ then.”
Ferdy butted the nose of the Do-X up against Greenwich Pier and Ginsbergbear tied the mooring line to a handy bubblegum dispenser. Overhead Les Chat’s foo-fighter ducked and wove about the sky, emitting a frenetic, wavering Wooh sound and mobbed by three corsair ‘Tsetse’ ornithopter ship-busters. The pursuers were blasting away, randomly and ceaselessly with their Molins six-pounders, pouring 57-mm round after 57-mm round into the vicinity of the flying saucer and giving it no chance to bring its death ray to bear. As Boz and the gang watched a stray round took out that woebegone relic of the golden age of sail, trade, and empire, the emasculated, land-bound Cutty Sark. They marched past the blazing hulk, strode up to the Chats’ guards on the West Gate of the Naval College, and pushed Master Dorje to the fore.
“You could never understand,” she told Ferdy, “Grass is such a bright green, rooftops such a gaudy grey. Everything glows like it’s made from neon tubing. The sunlight on the river is a firework display. And I am part of an eternal, infinite wholeness.”
“Good for you. Could we just concentrate on our driving?” During her enthusiastic praise of the beneficial effects of whatever concoction it was that she’d acquired from Rotskagg’s corsairs Beryl had veered away from the river and was heading for Greenford. “More black coffee up here please.”
Having got Beryl back on track Ferdy took a spell at the helm. He flew the Do-X over Hammersmith Bridge, past the Buddha in Battersea Park, and beyond the old Palace of Westminster, now a Steamroller factory. As they passed over Tower Bridge and the Lower Pool he was aware of thick smoke obscuring the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs.
“Looks like trouble down by Greenwich.”
As soon as they neared Bozzy’s Catnip Den Ferdy dumped the flying boat onto the river. He taxied up to a handy buoy and while the Do-X was being tethered the dinghy was launched.
“All aboard the Skylark!” And they headed for the shore. Sam was out on the den’s patio and as the gang scrambled up the ladder he organised a bosun’s chair for Lady Augusta. Once they were all inside Flo headed for the bar and Boz grabbed Sam’s arm.
“What’s going on?”
Sam took a breath, “Les Chats have been running rampage. They’ve occupied the Millwall Docks and Aunty Stella has rushed her troops to Greenwich to take them head on. It’s a reckless mission; my agents say Les Chats are well prepared and heavily armed.”
“Pints all round? Jugs or sleevers?” Dark Flo had a hand on the nearest in a row of beer engine handles, London porter, but before she could start to pump there came an urgent tapping on the trapdoor beneath her feet. “Who’ve you got in the cellar, Sam?”
“No one, I’ve been on my own all day.”
“Hmm.” She produced a baseball bat from under the counter and tossed it to Boz. “Cover me. Let’s see what’s going on.” With Boz poised by her side Flo grabbed the ring in the trapdoor and pulled it open. The black hole gaped. Then an orange plumed hat appeared, and an oriental face, and Master Dorje clambered out from the beer cellar.
Mrs King gave a gasp of surprise and clumped across the room on her crutches to greet him.
“Augusta my child, much important news for all of you I have.”
“Not now Mam, I had a rough night.”
“What? Ow!” Scarlet DuBois was surfacing from under the freezer.
“Jump to it you two,” said Kiki as she retrieved her Bren from a heap of burst cornet cartons, “We’re missing all the action.”
“The van’s very buckled, isn’t the door jammed?” asked Kitty.
“Might well be, where ever it is. Flew off somewhere up the hill. We can get out, but keep your heads down.”
Outside the battle was at its height, the air thick with smoke and a cacophony of percussions, cries, whinnies and faltering mariachi filling their ears.
“Come on. We’re going to take out that eighty-eight.”
“Really?” They crawled on their bellies, snake like and unnoticed towards the far gun emplacement where a Krupp 8.8-cm Flugzeugabwehrkanone was pounding shell after shell into Aunty Stella’s cavalry. The Chat gun crew were too intent on loading and firing their artillery piece to notice the kittens creeping up. Until that is, Kitty, leaning provocatively against the stacked ammunition boxes, gave a whistle.
“Hello boys. Fancy a bit of fun?” They didn’t, it wasn’t, and they never knew who hit them from behind.
“Go again Mrs?”
Aunty Stella had staggered back to the observatory gates, leaving her mount, turban and pride in the melee below. She was looking around for Mad Jack when the Corporal of Horse addressed her. His uniform was torn, he had a nasty gash across his forehead and was leading a limping horse. His bedraggled comrades, clutching various wounds and supporting each other, tried unsuccessfully to match his enthusiasm.
“Not today lads. It was a brave, mad dash, but once was more than enough,” she replied. A two man Kronstadt machine gun crew was still firing their PM M1910 Maxim from the back of the tachanka as Snowdrop urged her team in retreat. Scattered survivors were making their way back as best they could. The exhausted troopers moved aside as Mad Jack trotted through their ranks looking like he had just stepped out from his tailor’s, unstained, uncrumpled and blissfully unconcerned. He was escorting Aunty Stella’s cob.
“What ho. Found this back there, wandering around on its own. One’s not sure, but them Chats may have something else up their sleeve.” On cue there was a glint of sunshine on polished aluminium out beyond the Naval College, and an eerie, pulsating, whirring sound. Les Chats’ ‘Feuerball’ flying saucer rose, hovered, and then advanced towards them, its death ray swivelling to point directly at the horrified remnants of the Hampshire Light Horse.
Seconds later there was a thundering crump from behind the observatory buildings and a large bore shell whooshed overhead. It hit the fuselage of the foo-fighter with a clang but did not explode. The Corsairs tended to buy their ammo on the cheap from a highly suspect black marketeer called Ali, on the Port Said quayside. The dark bulk of the Queen Anne’s Bounty lumbered into view, her mighty engines roaring and pennants straining in the cross wind. The haunting brass of Richard Strauss’ Sunrise from Also Sprach Zarathustra issuing from her speaker arrays was withering trees. Yet the overall sound quality was disappointingly tinny as the ship’s engineers had proven better at fixing motorjets than hifi.
“That tune’s quite soothing after the first noisy bit,” observed the Corporal of Horse.
“Time for a chat,” he said, handing the binoculars back to Aunty Stella and unfurling his own white pennant. She returned the bins to the case hanging from her saddle pommel and raised her right arm. The Hampshire Light Horse formed into three divisions, creating gaps for Snowdrop’s tachanka and the Vicecream van, topped with its gigantic jingle-horn, to move forward into view.
“Wait here,” she called back to her troops, and then to Mad Jack, “Lets get on with it.” They urged their mounts into a stately walk down the slope and halted some thirty yards short of the cluster of Chats Souterrains. After a brief pause the King Emperor Charles III, his Ronald McDonald costume faded and threadbare, face paint cracked and melting down his cheeks, Imperial State Crown perched precariously on top of his ginger wig, and a portly Mr Fluffy, in the Saville Row tailored uniform of a five star general, squeezed out from the group and walked towards them. A single Chat carrying the white flag of truce hurried to catch up.
The King Emperor was the first to speak. “You have a request? Could We be of assistance in any way?”
“You could surrender.”
“We think not.”
“You are cornered,” Aunty Stella lied. “Your forces on Jersey have collapsed without their CIA backers.” That was the truth, “It is all over for you. Defeat is inevitable.”
“Au contraire. We are at the heart of Our realm. What need We with the Channel Islands? Our Chats have possession of the Greenwich foot tunnel and command both banks of the river. The waterway is denied to you. Westminster Abbey is already booked for Our coronation.”
“They are not your Chats.” Mad Jack Belvoir had become uneasy with the way that Mr Fluffy was glowering at him and felt he should contribute. “You are their puppet. Do you really want to serve as a petty tyrant in a bankrupt client kingdom on the desolate outer fringes of their world empire?”
“On your own head be it then.” Aunty Stella petulantly whirled her gipsy cob round and headed back up the hill. Just short of the ridge she stopped.
“Oh sod this.” She raised her right arm and with a dramatic twirl yelled, “Charge!”
The tachanka, with Snowdrop standing on the box seat, was first past Mad Jack and Aunty Stella. Then the Vicecream van, blaring out La Cucaracha, Consuella Starcluster, the tambourine virtuoso, on the roof lashed to the jingle-horn, waving both the Spanish republican tricolour and a black and red flag of the anarchist CNT.
The Hampshire Light Horse lurched forwards, in line abreast, knee to knee, and the ground trembling with the thundering of hooves. The SPZ mounted mariachi struck up, rabbits broke cover and scattered, crows took to the air in cawing clouds. The buildings below were silent for one of those moments that feel like an age and then a fusillade of small arms fire broke out. Muzzle flashes sparkled, flames belched, smoke billowed. Explosions sent clods of earth and sward flying, bullets whined like mosquitoes about the careering cavalry. A mighty roar went up from Chats and troopers alike.
Suddenly an RPG rocket grenade took out the Vicecream van’s offside front wheel. The vehicle skewed sideways and began to tip. Consuella dropped her flags, whipped out the Navaja folding knife from her waistband and cut herself free. As the van began to roll she leapt clear. She tumbled for several yards and lay winded. The battered Vicecream van bounced on, La Cucaracha still blaring, cleared a low hedge and came to rest close to the sandbag parapet. The crumpled horn fell off.
Within the wreckage three bruised kittens lay stunned. Kiki was the first to stir.