Sailortown

Barrymore dropped Boz and his companions off in Whitechapel. The entrances to Aldgate East station were heavily barricaded and guarded by an armed contingent of Brick Lane Zapatistas who were clustered around a brazier. The gang exchanged pleasantries with the troopers and then walked briskly down Leman Street. Just off Cable Street they could hear Wilton’s Music Hall in full swing. Underneath the Arches was being sung above the accompanying Wurlitzer organ and periodically drowned out by heckling from an enthusiastic, mostly inebriated audience. When they reached Ratcliff Highway it was alive. Sailors and their doxies lurched in huddled groups about the pavements, cursing costermongers wheeled their barrows through the crowds, a dozen different accents and languages sang out. Barrel organs vied with each other in the middle of the thoroughfare, pop music blared from the jukeboxes of every pub and bar, squeals from every brothel. Fast food vendors shouted enticements to passers by and the scent of fish and chips made Phoebles’ mouth water. Pulsating, pastel coloured neon signs directed the unwary to strip joints and tattoo parlours.

“Hullo deary, fancy a quick one? Oh, sorry Mr Boz. I didn’t recognise you straight away. You been in the wars?”

“Hello Mavis. Just singed. Things nearly got on top of me a bit back, but I’m fine now. Thanks for asking.”

There was a good deal of squawking and not a few growls as they passed Jamrach’s Pet Emporium.

“That place always depresses me,” said Ferdy.

“Oh it’s not so bad nowadays,” Ginsbergbear replied, “Jamrach Jnr has abandoned the sale of exotics and runs an endangered species breeding program. He even has a Bornean Orang-utan working the counter.”

“There is a rumour he also runs illicit interspecies porn shows on the side,” added Phoebles.

Narrow Street was quiet, all but deserted, smelling of Stockholm tar and cinnamon, and appearing reassuringly normal at first. Yet, unusually, there was a Palomino pony tethered to the hitching rail outside Bozzy’s Den. Inside, Dark Flo perched on top of the saloon’s upright piano, her bare right foot pressed gently against Sam’s chest. The left dangled, beating time with her big toe. She was wearing a bowler hat and singing The Ballad of Sexual Obsession. Several local girls were standing in, without much enthusiasm, for the absent Kittens and an aging wizard wielded a cocktail shaker behind the bar.

“Aunty Stella!” cried Ferdy.

Aunty Stella sat in the bay window, in the full-dress uniform of a captain of the Hampshire Light Horse, midnight blue knee length top coat trimmed in gold, crimson paisley cummerbund, an ultramarine and mellow yellow striped turban, white jodhpurs and black patent leather cavalry boots complete with spurs. A Persian style sabre and SMLE .762 bush carbine rested on the table and she was smoking a hookah. She beamed at the bird.

Most of the clientele wore grubby raincoats, trilbies and reflector shades. As Boz led the way towards Aunty Stella one of the punters rose. His gabardine trench coat was not grubby and his homburg neatly brushed. He came over.

“Hello Slasher,” said Aunty Stella.

“So,” he asked Boz, “what’s Larry got to say for himself?”

Phoebles and Augusta pulled up a second table so they could all sit in a group. They parked. With her set concluded Dark Flo came over, wrapping a silk Liberty print kimono about her slender body. She retained the bowler. Sam vamped an extended improv on Blue Rondo à la Turk.

“Nothing new,” said Boz in answer to Slasher McGoogs. “The city’s hanging on by the skin of its teeth and I’m beginning to think Mrs King might be right. We need to gain access to her computer thingy.” He looked over at Aunty Stella. “What’s the situation here?”

“We have deliberately allowed Les Chats Souterrains to infiltrate Sailortown. Specialist units of the Autonomous Revolutionary Insurrectionary Limehousesailortown Irregulars, in mufty, have them under close surveillance. At least that way we can keep an eye on what they’re up to. We have thwarted several attempts to gain access to the docks, but so far they seem unaware that they are being exploited.” Aunty Stella turned to Dark Flo, addressing her in a discrete, concerned tone. “I couldn’t help noticing during that last number, you have some nasty bruises, Flo.”

“They’re fading now,” replied the chanteuse barmaid. “Anyway the punters enjoy a subtle suggestion of off stage S&M. We’ve had a few narrow squeaks since I saw you last. I don’t think anyone’s come out of Jersey totally unscathed.”

“Does one ever?” mused Ginsbergbear.

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Armada

Whirring propeller blades pushed gently astern. The mooring line was dropped and Lady Æthelflæda edged slowly away from the pylon. Making a broad sweep of Farnborough Aerodrome as she rose she turned north and headed for the M3.

“Those were lovely scones Aunty Stella laid on for us.” Beryl didn’t turn round. She was at the helm and looking out for the ribbon of motorway that would guide them up towards the London docks. Phoebles was manning the elevator controls.

“Wortleberry jam is my favourite. I think Ginsbergbear organised a moggy-bag to tide us over for the journey.”

“You two on about food again?” Boz had his atlas open on the chart table and was concentrating hard, trying to decide whether to circumnavigate the coffee stain that obscured Twickenham or fly on through it.

“We’ve a brisk following wind and will be over the Thames before too long,” reported Beryl, “wave as we pass The Den.”

They did.

*

As the London River opened out into the Thames estuary the gang could see the commanding Isle of Grain power station chimney on their starboard side, 40,000 tons of towering concrete recently saved from demolition by a preservation order citing its historical and navigational significance; and to port they noted the Destroyer of Worlds refuelling at the end of a long pier off Canvey Island. Phoebles had his brass telescope out and could see her corsair crew scurrying about the pier.

“The Kittens won’t be pleased at having their ekranoplan commandeered.”

“By all accounts,” said Boz, “they’re creating mayhem in Jersey’s interior. They’ll be happy enough.”

As the Lady Æthelflæda passed beyond the Red Sands Sea Forts they met Slasher McGoogs’ armada racing for the English Channel. Scattered across the choppy open sea were a dozen or more Corsair whale-chasers, their hulls garishly tagged and graffitied. They could make out Kapten Nyai’s lug rigged bisquine Bonnie Lass flying a huge skull and cross bones, the mighty gun turret on de Kraken’s foredeck and Inchcolm Lassie audaciously converted into a rocket ship. Not a rocket ship like Flash Gordon’s, that would have been impractical in the time available, but a vessel bristling with banks of unguided rockets intended for the bombardment of Jersey’s coastline. Above the little ships floated the ugly black form of Rotskagg’s Queen Anne’s Bounty with its crimson death’s head insignia, and crowding around her like fawning chicklings, a clutch of smaller dirigibles. Higher still a big-wing of Kronstadt Naval Air Arm Polikarpov Ratas provided air cover. Two brightly coloured Chats Suterrains’ Gumman Ducks were maintaining a cautious distance, despite their dubious status as allies.

“Well this lot should make quite an impression when we turn up off Jersey,” said Beryl.

Away on the northern horizon a plume of oily smoke suggested that some unidentified vessel was rushing to catch up.

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Slasher’s Plan

Corsair Destroyer of WorldsA thick, aromatic fug obscured much of the interior, a fug almost dense enough to muffle the jangling, stannic notes of Sam playing Jelly Roll Blues on an open fronted upright. Entering deeper into Bozzy’s Bohemian Babel and adjusting slowly to the atmosphere Larry discovered Phoebles doing duty behind the bar.

“You’re not the regular bar staff. Where is Dark Flo?” Larry coughed as a swirl of sweet smelling smoke diverted from its random meandering to insinuate his left nostril. A feeling of unaccustomed light heartedness came over him, “Is Mr Boz in?”

Phoebles wiped a tumbler with a corner of his apron, “Flo’s on her hols I suppose. And…”

“…Boz is over there,” announced Barrymore as she strode towards the front bar. Sam’s playing rose to a crescendo.

Boz was sitting at his favourite table in the bay window, affording a comprehensive view of activity within the den and the pavement outside. He was with Ginsbergbear who’s Peterson appeared to be responsible for most of the surrounding smog and, as it seeped out through a fanlight above the door, for a hint of gothic noir in gaslit Narrow Street. Barrymore pulled out a chair for Larry and then seated herself opposite Boz, elbows on the table and glaring uncomfortably closely into his face.

“OK, let’s have it. Dark Flo doesn’t take holidays. And you and your gang aren’t the sort to sit around doing nothing while an adventure is unfolding.”

Boz gazed innocently back at her. “We’ve been a bit worried about Ferdy and the Kittens. They would appear to be lost in the thick of all that mayhem in the Channel Islands. Have you heard about the invasion then?” One eyebrow raised as he tilted his head inquisitively.

“C’mon. Give me more.”

“Oh… OK… Slasher wanted you two kept out of the loop for as long as possible. He and Flo have gone up north to talk to the pirate king, Rotskagg Blenkinsopp. Alongside the Kronstadt Coastal Patrol he sees the Corsairs as our only hope of successfully fighting back. Cod knows how he finds things out, but he says the Corsairs are upgrading The Destroyer of Worlds. They’re fitting banks of von Ohain HeS1 turbojets in the hope of getting her back up as a GEV, that’s a ground effect vehicle,” he added helpfully, “and replacing the missile tubes with six sawn off Japanese Type 94 naval guns. Big bangs, not too much accuracy.”

Larry slid down in his chair. “So we do have a plan. Can we go home now?”

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Refugees From Sark

Whilst beyond the storm tossed Channel the forces of repression advanced inexorably across the verdant interior of beleaguered Jersey, in a sumptuous office at the heart of England’s capital three bedraggled figures stood, stooped and spiritually broken before a vast mahogany desk. They were dressed in ill fitting white roll-neck submariners’ jumpers, dungarees and plimsolls donated by charitable sailors, crew of the Coastguard armed trawler that had plucked them from the sea off Brighton pier after intercepting their dangerously overcrowded pedalo. They wrung their knitted woollen beanies in their gnarled hands.

“Coping with the whims of our feudal Seigneur was tough enough in the Tyranny of Sark, but this King Emperor is threatening our livelihoods. He inflicts burdensome taxes, criticises our architecture and imposes farming methods unsuited to our tiny island. We have risked all to escape. You must do something to help us.”

Larry tried to look compassionate as he faced them across the desk.

“Actually I don’t have to do anything. That is the point. I am the temporary, acting, titular head of state in a federation of autonomous anarcho-surrealist collectives. My job is to do nothing.

“I am, of course fully aware of the invasion and of your plight. I have formulated a plan, a plan so secret that none but my trusted aide even guess at its existence.”

Barrymore entered with a tray of scalding hot mugs of cocoa, smoothly gliding across the carpet on Rookie Retro V2 roller skates. As she skidded gracefully to a halt before placing her tray on the desk Larry leaned over and whispered in her pointed tortoiseshell ear:

“Do I have a plan yet, Barrymore?”

“No sir, you do not. I have refuelled the dirigible runabout and would respectfully suggest we make an excursion to Limehousesailortown.” She turned to the Sarkees, “I’ll get someone to take you down to the kitchens. You must be famished.”

Barrymore adjusted the elevator wheel and Larry’s runabout gently descended from sunshine into the clouds below. The ever-present Vwoooh given off by the churning propulsion blades changed pitch ever so slightly, the Stanley Steamer aero-engines chuffed reassuringly and, as condensation began to form on the observation ports, she switched on the windscreen wipers.

Shortly they broke out of the cloud and the silver ribbon of Limehouse Reach sparkled up at the airship. Barrymore blew sharply into a speaking tube and the resulting shrill whistle was answered with a, “Huh?”

“We’ll be there in five minutes, Mr Prime Minister. Do you want me to fetch Boris up or are you planning to visit that den of iniquity in person?”

“Take her down and anchor as close to the shore as you can manage. We’ll take the launch in.”

Larry stood in the bow of their tiny inflatable while Barrymore rowed. Once alongside and with the craft moored to a handy pile, he scrambled up a precarious vertical ladder to the balcony at the rear of Bozzy’s Catnip Den and marched unannounced through the French windows into the lounge. Barrymore scurried to catch up.

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Larry’s Approval

Phoebles and Boz moved over to their favoured table in the bay that looked out onto Narrow Street and sat on the window bench.   Ferdy and Ginsbergbear pulled up bentwood cane-bottomed chairs and McGoogs perched on a leatherette-padded stool.   They huddled conspiratorially.

“My plan is that we explore the caves south of Mam Tor and discover what is going on.” began Slasher McGoogs, producing a dog-eared copy of The Potholer’s Handbook for Derbyshire, IIIrd Pocket Edition, 1956; printed on storm resistant paper.   Within the chapter headed Castleton Caverns it included a handy sketch map of the Speedwell and Peak cave system.   It did not show Titan, which at the time of printing was still to be discovered, but Slasher had roughly pencilled in the location of the gigantic chamber.

“Have you cleared any of this with Larry?” asked Boz.

“I have told Larry nothing.   I despise despots and Larry is Gato Número Uno.”

“That’s hardly fair,” chipped in Phoebles, “We and the Revolutionary Committee did all agree he should be PM.”

“And it’s not as if he’s done any harm since taking office.   In fact he’s done sweet FA.   I’m amazed he doesn’t get bored.” Added Ginsbergbear.

“If I may interject at this point.” interjected Ferdy, “Mr Larry can in no way have ‘done sweet Fanny Adams’ despite the accusations in Mr Fluffy’s Chicken News on US telly.   Firstly she was not all that sweet – she was a grubby little tyke.   Secondly, she was ‘done’ many decades ago and her story has passed into myth.   And thirdl…”

The tail end of a steel wire ladder dropped past their window into the street outside.   It was followed by the descent of a pair of improbably long legs and finally by the top half, only, of a bottle-green chauffer’s uniform.   As the door to the catnip den opened and Barrymore, Larry’s indispensable feline factotum, entered, the inmates could hear the Vwwshsh of the twin VW vectored screw engines of the incumbent Acting Prime Minister’s personal dirigible.   She lifted her goggles and perched them above the peak of her cap as the wire ladder began to drift slowly down Narrow Street.

“Stay!” commanded Barrymore into the discreet mouthpiece that curved elegantly out from under her headgear.   The drifting ceased instantly.

“Blimey!” exclaimed Boz, “Is the Den bugged?”

“Certainly not, Mr Boris.   I just happened to be passing and am graced with unusually acute hearing.   Larry wanted you to know that he intends to despatch the Coleyfishspytrawler Lord Ancaster towards Antarctica to investigate the rumours.”

“What rumours?” asked a slightly ruffled Slasher.

“Ah, Mr McGoogs, a pie without your sticky paw in it?   Makes a refreshing change.   There’s reports of unusual activity at the US airbase – UFO under the ice – that sort of thing.   Leave it with us.   You have Larry’s full approval for your own little enterprise.”

“Man… Larry knows of our enterprise?” Ginsbergbear spoke, “I’m not sure even we know about our enterprise yet.”

Sashaying over to the door Barrymore looked back over a coquettishly inclined shoulder and said, “Carry on.”

Wrapping one leg around the wire ladder with the sensuality of a trapeze artist, she ascended into the heavens.

Slasher’s Plan

DisasterSGinsbergbear had not really been paying attention during the exchange and was idly flicking channels on the old TV.   Up popped the COD CHANNEL.

In lill ole England during the terrible insurgency against democracy their prime minister and some of his aids were cut off and surrounded by drug crazed and heathen anarchists.   Knowing that if they were captured they would be tortured horribly, in ways I cannot describe on television, they determined to take their own lives rather than be captured.   As the screaming demons closed in yelling their blood curdling war cry and the English Gentlemen prepared to meet their end, the baying horde suddenly stopped, stunned into silence, and knelt in prayer.   The astounded British ministers looked about – and in the sky above swam COD in Glory, glowing pink and gold.

And COD spake, “Let my people be!”

Needless to say, the terrorists fled.

Although the forces of Anarchy and Atheism are currently in the ascendant, COD and Democracy will one day prevail.   The Army of COD is being assembled and we need your donations.   For every $ we receive an amount will be put towards armbands, stickers and Tetrafin Delica Bloodworms (COD’s favourite).   Contribute today.   Support the cause.Cod Channel

“More trouble.” Mused Ginsbergbear.

“Don’t worry about them,” said Slasher, “They’re too busy fleecing their own to really bother us.   The true danger lurks in the caves of Derbyshire.”

Phoebles was aghast.   “You expect us to take on the Merovingian Lizard Kings, the Dark Lords of myth, the shades behind all that is twisted in the world?   Isn’t that a bit ambitious?”

“Just a little nibble at the trouser cuffs of their ambition, a tentative toe into the custard bowl of Machiavellian malevolence.   See what we can stir up.”   McGoogs’ eyes blazed behind the mask.

Ginsbergbear had begun to pay attention and Boz swallowed, “We can’t just sit back and do nothing – the coleyfish.”

Downstairs, the lounge-bar was all but empty – two worn out Kittens of Chaos were recovering along a red plush chaise longue over hookahs and tiny cups of treacle-black Monsoon Malabar, Sam was mangling a boogie-woogie improv, flat fingered across the tobacco stained ivories of an aging upright, smoke-grey derby pushed to the back of his head, striped shirt with white collar and cuffs folded back from the bony wrists, breakfast stained flannel waistcoat ruckling as he played.

“Your usual, boys?”

Dark Flo was doing service behind the bar.   She was slight and pallid with sunken eyes and raven hair that hung about her face like dead crows on barbed wire; waif-like, vulnerable and yet hard as black-iron nails.   She could pull a perfect pint, Yorkshire head judged to the millimetre, with one hand tied behind her back and the other skewered to the bar by a Bowie knife.   She might dispense or relish pain with equal measure, quell a riot with her contortions at the pole, or empty the bar with a single, gentle command.   For now, she pulled pints of tawny London Porter and served them up with Talisker chasers.   Before Slasher McGoogs she assembled a shot glass of Tres Amigos Anejos, saltcellar and a half lemon on a cracked white bone china saucer.