Slasher’s Plan (with Crocodiles)

Flo turned towards the piano:

“Sam!” The pianist had been joined by Mouse Jackson on tenor sax and they were murdering Star Man. “Shhhh!”

“But Les Chats… And Mrs King’s engine,” said Ferdy, now that he could be heard, “How on earth can we get to it?”

Slasher leaned forward, “I might have an idea. Remember Bazalgette’s cathedral and my escape on the Bovril Boat? Well no-one’s ever seen Les Chats down that end of the sewer.”

“Why?” asked Boz.

“Well there’s rats the size of Tamworth boars.”

“You’re telling us the Chats Souterrains are afraid of rats? Wooses.”

“…or the crocodiles.”

“Crocs!” squeaked Phoebles, “The idea of going back to Abbey Mills is bad enough. Them marshes are dead spooky.”

“We’re all agreed then,” quickly chipped in Slasher, “The Duesy’s garaged in an old warehouse up the road, but you won’t all fit in. We’ll take the Cord too.” There was joint mumbling and a shrugging of shoulders.

“OK, no time like the present. Off you all go and get kitted up.” Slasher checked the magazine in his Red9. Everyone else, except Aunty Stella, departed without much enthusiasm. She slung her carbine across her back and clipped the sabre to her Sam Brown.

Sam paused his piano playing momentarily. “Don’t worry Mrs S, I’ll get the pot-boy to stable your horse.”

Soon the others began to return, Ferdy first, having added a pair of gumboots to his usual flying gear, then Ginsbergbear in a moss tweed Norfolk jacket, matching trousers, deerstalker and green Hunters. Boz had a goatskin jerkin over his sailor suit and sea boot stockings turned over the top of his black wellies; Augusta King chose close fitting black suede waistcoat and trousers over a Prussian blue silk blouse with Doc Martens and matching eye patch. Her ke-tri was strapped between her shoulder blades and hair pulled back into a tight bun. Zelda had on a black PVC ankle length Dover coat, oilskin sou’wester and shocking pink wellingtons with white polka dots. Phoebles appeared in a white rayon pierrot costume with black pompoms, scull cap and waders. Finally Master Dorje came down in his yak coat and a tall orange hat crested in golden horsehair, leaning on a twisted rowanwood staff. Somehow getting dressed up had raised everyone’s spirits.

“Where’s Flo?”

“Here,” as the street door opened, apparently on its own.”

The soaring blank walls of the warehouse were dark, soot stained London brick, ironwork rusting and windows barred. The huge double-doors had once been painted red, now faded and pealing to reveal an equally weathered grey undercoat. Slasher took a key to a large, new padlock and slid one of the doors back on its runners. Inside he felt along the wall for the light switches and, one at a time, florescent strips pinged on. The cavernous space was filled from floor to ceiling with crates, boxes of flat-screen TVs, laptops and assorted white goods. A pyramid of suspiciously corroding drums were stacked in one corner and nearby several vehicles hid beneath tarpaulins. Slasher pulled off two of the tarps to reveal his Graber Duesenberg in its weird opalescent paint job that was gold or red depending on the viewing angle, and a maroon Cord 812 Phaeton with white-wall tyres.

“There’s bags of hardware and ammo in the boots. Flo and Augusta squeeze in with me. The rest of you into the Cord. Best you drive Ferdy, Phoebles would just bend something and the last respray cost an arm and a leg.”

They tore up the Mile End Road, zig-zagged between the tidal mills at Bow and eventually pulled up outside the wrought iron gates of Abbey Mills pumping station. Beyond the neo-gothic pile stretched a daunting expanse of eerie, featureless salt marsh. They tooled up from the assorted small arms that filled both car boots, mostly choosing AK-47s, bandoleers of 7.62x39mm ammunition and tucking Model 24 stick grenades into their belts. Zelda picked out a Franchi SPAS-15, loaded two spare mags with Remington Express 12 Gauge 2-3/4″ 9 #00 Buckshot cartridges and emptied the rest of the box into her coat pockets. She also pocketed a box of experimental flechette loads.

The gates were locked.

“Over the top,” cried Slasher. With little more than a pause from Ferdy and Master Dorje our heroes swarmed up and over the railings and rushed the pumping station’s front entrance.

“These door’s are locked too,” observed Dark Flo, “Can you pop through the cat flap, Phoebles, and open them from inside?”

“I’m not a cat burglar,” complained Phoebles.

“I know petal. But just this once, it’s in a good cause and we won’t tell anyone.”

“Sod this,” said Zelda, blowing the lock apart with her 12 bore ‘Chiave dell’Incursore’.

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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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Cruisin’ on a Cruiser

A boarding ladder was dropped down from Aurora’s poop deck as the rubber duck came along side, and was climbed with varying degrees of agility. A Starshina piped Boz and his pals aboard and they were met at the rail by Acting-Comrade-Captain-for-the-Day Tchaikovsky in a peach evening gown from Les Modes, abundantly trimmed in lace, and wearing a discrete diamante tiara perched on top of his ginger crew cut.

“Thought I’d best dress for the occasion,” he explained.

Next day most of the gang had dug out their swimwear and arranged loungers around the six-inch gun on Aurora’s foredeck. Dark Flo’s Airtex Y-fronts gleamed white in the sunlight, her pert breasts supporting an angled reflector designed to give an even tan under the chin. The cruiser had rounded Cap de la Hague in the early hours and was rolling gently as she proceeded up the English Channel. Ginsbergbear had his deck chair aft of the third funnel, sheltered from the wind. He was reading a borrowed copy of Michael Moorcock’s Cornelius Chronicles. In view of the impending apocalypse it seemed appropriate, but was not helping.

Phoebles was on the bridge being given a closely supervised turn at the wheel by an alert member of the steering committee.

Boz was in the wardroom consulting with Augusta King and Master Dorje.

“Les Chats Souterrains are capable of popping up almost anywhere at will. The situation back home might already be grave.”

“The answer’s in my Analytical Machine, I’m sure it is. We must find a way of getting to it.” Insisted Lady Augusta.

“Permitted only a limited degree of autonomy the minions normally are. Given the current situation, less than happy the Lizard Kings must be.”

“Or maybe they like it this way,” said Boz. “Aren’t they the Lords of Chaos after all? I think we must try and be patient until we can get to Larry and find out how things stand. We’re just guessing wildly at the moment.”

“But…”

There was a commotion on deck.

“It’s the white cliffs of Dover.” Phoebles shouted down from the port wing of the bridge. Everyone clustered along the rail to view the towering white walls of chalk. Gulls turned lazy circles against an azure sky, the faint sounds of a gramophone playing a Kate Smith rendition of God Bless America drifted across the water. Ferdy sighed.

By the time the Aurora steamed into the Thames Estuary it really did feel as if they were coming to the end of a proper cruise, a cruise on a cruiser. The river seemed remarkably quiet. They saw no aircraft flying in or out of the Silvertown airstrip and the flood barrier appeared deserted. Rounding the Isle of Dogs not a boat passed them in either direction. When they got to Limehouse Reach Dark Flo appeared on deck with her Bergen rucksack.

Can you drop me off at the Den? I want to check they’ve not lost too much trade in our absence.” A jolly boat was lowered and as it approached the ladder at the back of Bozzy’s Catnip Den Ferdy and Ginsbergbear saw Sam the piano player come out onto the balcony to meet her.

And then Tower Bridge loomed before them. The cruiser’s horn blasted out…

Whooooop whup whup whup

…the time honoured signal requesting that the bascules of the bridge be lifted. There was a delay as they drifted nearer and nearer, whilst any traffic was halted, and then the bridge began to open. The Aurora moved quietly into the London Basin, picked up a buoy for’ard and one aft. The Comrade-Officer on the bridge rang down ‘Finished With Engines’.

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Where’s Boz?

The sky was copper where the park still burned beyond the horizon. As dawn crept up, returning tank buster single-seater ‘dragons’ careered recklessly in through the Queen Anne’s midships hanger bays to pull up sharply as their tail hooks engaged with the arrestor wire, each urgently manhandled to one side before the next warbird arrived. Cumbersome roach-like bombers circled Captain Rotskagg Blenkinsopp’s dirigible, waiting for their turn to be craned up into the ventral hanger. Ferdy, in his Cierva, bumped down onto the topside flight deck. He stood at the edge of the platform as a lift lowered him and his autogyro into the cavernous interior. He was met by the expectant enquiring faces of Phoebles and Flo.

“There’s no sign of him.” Ferdinand said dejectedly. Nothing had been heard from Boz since he called down the air strike, and the trio had accompanied the attack fleet in the hope of picking him up.

“But what can have happened to him,” said Phoebles.

“All be not yet lost.” Rotskagg came up from behind and placed a hand on the ginger cat’s shoulder. “We’ll be back in camp soon and gather together your colleagues to plan our next move.”

Ginsbergbear was outside the stockade watching the Queen Anne’s Bounty approach through his little brass pocket spyglass. He jumped as a scarlet, stubby, monoplane fighter roared overhead, barely clearing the blockhouse roof; its Shvetsov M-63 supercharged radial engine spraying oil and smoking. Two gaudy red and yellow Grumman J2F Ducks were hard on its tail firing bursts from the heavy machine guns gaffer-taped to their top wings. Within seconds the ack-ack battery immediately forward of the Queen Anne’s majestic four funnels opened up with a QF 2-pounder pom-pom. One of the Ducks erupted in a ball of fire and spiralled away. The other broke off and, with shells exploding all around, turned it’s rear end to the airship. The red Rata executed a 180-degree handbrake turn, losing height all the time. It banged down heavily, at speed, onto the cleared killing zone surrounding the corsair compound. It roared past Ginsbergbear and into the woods, sacrificing its wings and many other vital bits as it ploughed on between the trees. The bear broke into a trot, following the gouged scar of snapped twigs and flattened foliage. And eventually, there was Wing-Comrade Polly Karpova sitting astride the tail section of her I-16 and downing a long swig of something suspect out of a plastic milk bottle. She unzipped her flying jacket and pulled a Rizla from the breast pocket of her dungarees.

“Ginsbergbear. Swap you the last of this Ukrainian horilka samohon for a roll of nip.”

The teddy bear offered up his tobacco pouch. “You be careful with a naked flame near to that moonshine,” but she tossed the bottle down to him before lighting up. “Where’s the rest of your plane?”

“Most of it’s on down there a ways.” Polly waved a thumb over her shoulder. “Not sure where I left the wings, I had my eyes shut. Think she’s going to be a bit of a challenge for the maintenance guys.

“Are Boz and the rest of the gang here? I’ve some important news.”

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The Horror! The Horror!

Boz and Slasher were crouched behind a clutch of dustbins looking into the cool, wide eyes of an all but invisible ninja.

“I’ve got the others to safety in the woods. Now all we have to do is join them and not get caught on the way. Follow me.” And with that she disappeared.

“Er, Flo. We can’t see you.”

“Hang on.” Dark Flo rummaged around in the nearest dustbin and returned triumphantly clutching a crumpled front page of the Beano, No 2275 from February 22nd 1986, depicting Dennis the Menace and Gnasher. She produced a large safety pin from the folds of her Shinobi shozoko. “Pin this to my backside. Carefully.”

“You’d better do it, Slasher. I’m too petrified.” Boz was indeed quaking. “She’s more terrifying than that Captain Tierrasmedias.”

“Shush. Now, come along. And keep low.”

After an age in pursuit of the waggling comic, crawling and pausing and melting into the shadows, the trio reached a hole cut neatly in the chain link boundary fence. Beyond it small paper flags of all nations, on wooden sticks, marked the location of various booby traps.

“Boz, pick up the flags as we pass them. And for Cod’s sake look where you’re putting your feet. Both of you.”

Having reached the edge of the woods they could breath again. Dark Flo led them through the undergrowth and followed a muddy ditch deep into the forest. Until…

“Boz! Slasher? We’re all here.” Ginsbergbear popped up in front of them and Phoebles pushed past him to rush at his comrades. There was whispered jubilation and hugs all round. Flo had an arm each around Phoebles and Ferdy, but Boz stood alone, quivering.

“What’s the matter, Boz?” enquired Ferdy.

The ginger cat turned. His hands were shaking and staring eyes glistened.

“This obscenity has to be ended. It stops here and it stops now. Flo, get them to safety. I’m going to finish him tonight. Just me. I can’t ask anyone else to do it.”

“But Bozzy, we don’t do that…” began Phoebles.

“Now, Flo!”

The ninja began ushering the protesting chums away. She glanced back, an anxious look in her tearful eyes, but she obeyed the command.

Once he was alone Boz slid down into the foul dyke. He stripped off his shirt and wallowed in the mud until his fur was caked and umber. Only his bloodshot eyes were visible against the growing darkness. He returned to the gap in the wire fence. Inside the stench of putrefaction seemed stronger than ever. The demonic amber glow from braziers and blazing torches danced intense shadows about the compound. Clashing gongs and booming drums drowned out all other sounds in a satanic cacophony. Capitáno Tierrasmedias’ drug crazed horde was working itself up into a frenzy before descending on the hapless defenders of liberty and freedom. Boz slithered unseen towards Les Augrès Manor.

After a while he was inching towards something indescribable that blocked his path, something with a Dayak Parang sticking in it. Boz pulled out the machete, wiped the blade on his trouser leg and tested its weight. Perfect. He crawled on.

A spectral figure rose slowly behind one of the dodo statues, eyes glinting gold in the flickering firelight, matted fur blending into the darkness. Boz strode up the steps to the mansion and sought out the Capitáno’s lair. The sofa was unoccupied. An empty Tennents lager can rolled noisily across the floor, coming to rest at his feet. The prostrate Napoleon lay in front of him on a moth-eaten kilim. A skeletal matchstick body, luminous skin stretched taught over bone, appended the globular head it no longer strove to support. Face to the ceiling, wide sightless eyes sunk deep into the skull, the deranged, hyperactive brain had finally drained all but the last vestige of vitality from its wasted host. The lips moved imperceptibly, were they trying to form words? Boz leaned towards the toothless mouth and suddenly a claw like hand grasped his shoulder, dragged him close.

“Crows’ blood!” it cried in anguish. Then, a rattle in the hollow throat, and Capitáno Tierrasmedias was gone.

Boz heard the padding splayed footfalls, the swish of a tail, the clicking of claws on bare floorboards, approaching at speed. He dropped the parang and legged it.

 

The Routemaster was still where they’d left it, partially burned out, but the radio and battery had escaped the fire.

“Versailles this is Bald Eagle!”

“What? Who?”

“Smee, is that you? It’s Boz here. Dump everything you’ve got on the Jersey Zoo. I want that abomination flattened, wiped off the face of the earth.”

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One for the Gang

The moment their captive’s densely tattooed billiard-ball pate touched the steaming gloop below he became eagerly co-operative and unstoppably talkative. His accent was pure Louisiana swamplander.

“I am become Nimitta Matram, Petty Officer, 984-31-78. This here is what happened to us. Before He was wi’ us we was getting nowhere. Wi’ help from us Seals Mr Fluffy’s band a patriotic no-hopers could jus’ about have defeated the Jersey police and a bunch a locals wi’ pitchforks, but not when the Résistance was operating behind our lines. Then Captain Midlands turn up wi’ his irregulars, guerrillas to fight guerrillas. Self sufficient, independent, autonomous units, living off the land, free to respond instantly to rapidly cchanging conditions, genius. Pretty soon we was starving, diseased, demoralised and out a supplies.

“That was when He had an epiphany. You should hear Him. ‘War is not a game. War is lunacy. It can only be legitimised by victory. Victory at all cost. No atrocity, no perversion is unconscionable if the result is victory. Armageddon!’

“He reinvented Hi’self as Capitáno Tierrasmedias and we became His willing acolytes. Magic mushrooms and all-night line dancing orgies helped win over the sceptics. We are His lunatic tools.”

“OK, Mr Matram, that be all most fascinating.” Rotskagg leered into the Petty Officer’s inverted face, intimidating, invading every last vestige of spoliated personal space. “Let’s get you down. Lower away Roger.

“Ah, sorry.

“Smee, remove the bucket please. We be contemplating a cautious first contact with your metamorphed commander. I trust you be able to expedite a meeting.”

Nimitta Matram was hauled upright from the floor and dumped in a chair.

“I think we’ll leave you in the straight-jacket just now. We have yet to establish even a modicum of mutual trust.”

“Why, yeh. I can get you to the Boss. He will blow your minds. Believe me, I can be really useful to you.” enthused the pathetic prisoner.

Boz stepped forward. “I believe this is one for the gang. Queen Anne’s Bounty is required here to keep the barbarians from the gates and we need your corsairs…” he was addressing Rotskagg, “…in reserve. I bet we can talk Captain Midlands back down. He’s probably just a bit frustrated. We’ll have this here Nimitta with us while we check out the situation so we should be safe… -ish.”

“Er… Does ‘the gang’ include me?” said Phoebles, “It doesn’t sound all that safe-ish.”

“Yes, you and me, and Ferdy and Ginsbergbear, the old team. We’ll take the bus. Zelda, can you install a transceiver so we can keep in touch?”

 

And thus it was that the Kronstadt Sailors’ bus disappeared into the forest, trailing a cloud of oily exhaust. Phoebles was at the helm, Boz and Ginsbergbear keeping a cautious eye on Petty Officer Matram and Ferdy checking out the radio.

“Testing Testing, Roger Wilco.”

Dark Flo watched them depart.

Turning to Rotskagg, “I’d best keep an eye…” She pulled the Mountbatten pink veil of her Shinobi shozoko across her face and vanished.

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Zombies?

“Zombies!” bellowed Phoebles.

“Worse I’m afraid.” Le Brocq jumped down from the airship and joined his nervous companions, “That is one of Captain Midlands’ rogue psychos.”

Boz flicked off the safety on his Saturator AK-47 water pistol, not that anyone believed that a face full of water was going to deter this demon. Everyone else began to walk backwards, very, very slowly.

“Steady now. We don’t want to startle it,” said Augusta.

Master Dorje, on the other hand, marched towards the creature holding aloft his twisted yew staff, “Now then son, looks to me as if a fair bit of stress you have had of late. Due for some rest and recuperation you must be.”

The eyes of the thing that had once been a Navy Seal stared blankly into space, the lad’s connection to the real world as tenuous as that of a teenager with a smart phone. It uttered a curdling scream and charged, brandishing the lethal golok. Dorje stood his ground.

Before the creature could cross ten feet of open ground a vaguely pinkish whirlwind surrounded it, its head snapped back and its feet, still running, took to the air. It landed heavily and was instantly leapt upon by the indistinct figure of a Ninja. Dark Flo had her left knee pressed down on his carotid and was now in possession of the machete. She poised, about to bring the golok butt down on his temple, changed her mind, and put him out with two fingers and a thumb pinched just above his collarbone.

“Contravening the Geneva Convention is the Vulcan death grip,” exclaimed Master Dorje.

“The only Genever I know of is Dutch gin,” said Flo, “and unless you’ve got a bottle it’s hardly pertinent.”

“Oh Flo,” said Boz, “we thought you’d gone off with the pirates.”

“Nah,” she replied, “I had a feeling this bloody great black airship parked in the clearing would attract some sort of unsavoury attention.”

Radial engine spluttering and coughing and better late than never, a maroon autogyro chose this moment to land next to the Queen Anne’s Bounty, with Ferdy at the helm and Ginsbergbear in the front cockpit wielding a Purdey 12-bore.

“Have we missed all the fun?”

 

When the prisoner awoke he had been divested of hat and boots. For the sake of propriety he had been put into a pair of Mother Superior’s bloomers and, for safety, into a straight jacket. He was dangling from a girder within the ‘Games Room’ on the Queen Anne, upside down with a chain round his ankles. His head hung a few inches above a bucket that Smee swore was filled with hyena offal though from whence it came he would not tell.

“Time for a chat,” said Rotskagg.

“I don’t have to tell you anything but my name, rank and number,” said the tattooed fiend. His chain jerked and head dropped an inch or so.

Rotskagg indicated the newly appointed replacement cabin boy straining to hold the handle of a winch. “Roger be not a strong lad and he has to pop off in a mo to help the cook. I wouldn’t hang about longer that you have to if I were you. Do you even remember you name?

“Look boyo, whatever concoction it is that you be on, withdrawal is not going to be pleasant. All we be wanting to know is how much of these rumours about you degenerates be true. Oh, and the location of your camp’s defences, troop numbers, fire power and future plans.”

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