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.”

Save

Ferdy Flies Out

Ferdy over Jersey 2SThe summons, when it came, was not from Larry’s able factotum. Dark Flo knocked gently on the penthouse bedsit door.

“Call for Boz, the payphone on the landing.” She smiled round the corner at Phoebles, who blushed. “Can’t stop, there’s a riot broken out in the bar.”

“Need any help?” asked Slasher McGoogs as Boz squeezed past on his way to the phone.

“Nah, it’s just high spirits.”

And out on the landing Boz picked up the handset.

“Boz? It’s Ferdy. I’m grounded in Guernsey, at the Silvertown Airways’ airship hangers in St Peterport. There’s some sort of commotion going on out over the sea to the southeast and I’m worried about The Kittens. I dropped them off outside St Helier earlier. They and Consuella have a gig at the Jersey Opera House. Have you heard what’s going on.”

“The Opera House?” The Kittens of Chaos were infamous for many activities, but their choral skills had rarely been called upon.

“Yes. It’s the Channel Islands Naturist Society Annual Karaoke next week and the Kittens are booked to do their Histoire d’ O with Balloon Sculpture. But what about the other stuff?”

“Oh that’s just an invasion. I expect Larry will want us to do something about it. Keep calm and find something to occupy the time while you wait for us. Have a go at that Jackson Pollock jigsaw I gave you for Christmas.”

But Ferdy could not just wait. He was a dodo of action.

 

Ferdinand sprinted across the tarmac, buckling his flying helmet under his chin as he ran and pulling on his goggles. He sprang into the rear cockpit of his shiny new Cierva C.30A autogiro, taxied onto the runway and took to the air.

As he approached the island tax haven of Jersey, hidden beneath a blanket of oily smoke, his headphones crackled into life.

“Sergei’s taken a hit! Watch out for the flack, comrades!”

“Mayday! Mayday! I’m going in!”

“Red6 on strafing run. Yahoo! See how they scatter!”

“Cut the chatter, comrades. And keep tight.” This last voice had been female, sultry, with just a hint of Russian accent. Ferdy flicked on his microphone.

“Polly? Is that you Wing-Comrade Karpova? What’s occurring?” Her distinctive scarlet Ratta burst out of the smoke screen climbing steeply, looped over and plunged back into the fray with all guns blazing.

“Ferdy? Good to see you old friend. Welcome to the scrap. It’s hotting up down here. There’s two clapped out old battleships anchored in the bay, but they’re bristling with Ack-Ack, QF 2-pounder pom-poms. Can’t get near them. And some mob’s established a bridgehead on the beach. God know’s where they bought their uniforms, they’re all dressed as superheroes. We’re trying to keep them pinned down.”

“What’s the plan?” Ferdy asked.

“No plan, and no back-up. So we’re just going to blast the hell out of them till we run out of ammo and then bugger off home.”

Wee Hamish

March Ör Die SThey squeezed through as near to the front as they could manage and Dark Flo lifted the vertically challenged Ferdy onto her shoulders. They were in time to see Snowdrop’s techanka wreathed in flowers with Consuella in her most exotic Carmen Miranda outfit, letting rip on her tambourine. The techanka was followed by the prancing cavalry of the Snake Pass Zapatistas led by Aunty Stella, in her Subcommandante Everyman outfit, sans ski mask, but wearing a delicate feathered purple half mask that perfectly matched her hair. Each caballerro lofted a fluttering black SPZ flag. Next came the Catnip Growers Association rainbow float, swathed in a purple haze. Bringing up the rear, with the Kittens of Chaos crammed on the roof rack, came the Vicecream van booming out the Slasher Theme from Psycho. As the last of the parade passed, the crowd spilled onto the road and followed into the Recreation ground.

Just inside the gate there were Hoop-La stalls and coconut shies and Hook-a-Duck, all the fun of the fair for thruppence a go. Beyond these they approached an inflatable paddling pool and soggy cleric beneath a sign proclaiming Dunk the Vicar. A target was contrived, by utilising a cunning arrangement of levers and gears, that when hit it would trip a precarious chair, tipping its occupant into the water below. The local boys were very good at throwing. Flo had travelled down with Boz and Co on the Æthelflæda, trusting the public bar at the Den into the care of one of the more reliable regulars, a trustworthy, conscientious and only slightly undead connoisseur of the golden nectar. She took one look at the forlorn and bedraggled priest, strode over and stepped into the pool.

“Go and get yourself a cup of tea, Pops,” she said swinging herself up into the chair and smiling sweetly at the queue of teenagers. “Come on, brats, I don’t mind a little water.” Somehow, under Flo’s withering gaze they found themselves utterly unable to hit the mark, several broke down before they got to their turn and one optimistic urchin, having thrown up on the grass, tried unsuccessfully to demand a refund.

Boz smiled, “Best crack on, she’ll be there for a while.”

As they moved further in amongst the booths and stall they were enveloped in a cacophony of sound.

“They playing Charles Ives in a fairground?’ queried Ginsbergbear. But no. As they approached each booth they could tell that it had an accompanying tune. And each tune mingled with that of its neighbour’s. The musical jumble was punctuated by tings and boings and the squealing of infants, underscored by the incessant rumble of generators. They had to shout to be heard. The irresistible scent of chips frying wafted on the air.

“Is it lunchtime yet?” asked Phoebles.

They were passing side isles cluttered with jostling fast food stalls, Egyptian Koshari, Vietnamese Pho, Bakewell puddings, Welsh cawl, Hairy Tatties from Strathbogie and, of course Harry Ramsden’s Guisely fish and chips.

“Hokey pokey penny a lump. Have a lick make you jump.” An Italian hokey-pokey man had parked his ice cream trike close by the Kittens’ Vicecream van and was attracting a queue. Within the forbidding gothic interior of the Vicecream van a plot was being hatched to remove the unwanted competition, whilst one of the less scary Kittens leaned out of the serving hatch and beamed a smile at the unwitting Latin.

Overhead the Kronstadt Fleet Air Arm were giving a heart stopping aerobatic display in their little Ratas. As the gang looked up Polly broke away from her squadron to skywrite Hello Boz within a heart across the clear blue. At a lower altitude, Beryl was taking kids on flights round the town in the Dragon Rapide.

The boys had not gone much further when they heard the soulful strains of Scottish bagpipes.

“Come on.   Sounds like we’re missing something good.”

They emerged onto a grassed plaza where, shadowed beneath the looming presence of Tamworth Castle, erstwhile seat of Æthelflæda Myrcna hlæfdige, legendary feminist and war-leader, the piper, kilted and clad in Darth Vader helmet, droned out Motörhead’s March Ör Die, blasting flames from the chanters and swirling tight circles on his unicycle. A small torti-shell was hurrying towards Boz and his pals.

“Hi, you’re here then. We made it too. Anna’s just over there with the ambulance.”

Anna Alban Pyromatrix travelled with Bui her cat in and old ambulance converted to a mobile home. It was more cramped than a Winnebago, but cunningly kitted out to provide all their basic needs.

“This,” Bui pointed at the piper, “is Wee Hamish. He came down with us.”

 

Gilnockie Tower Part 3

Gilnockie Tower UFOLes Chats’ Foo Fighter

Then we all tuck in to our porridge, which is REALLY salty, not like at home, and I’m not liking it much, but you got to be polite. Conversation is replaced by munching for a while and then Boz pipes up:

“I’ve got an idea. It’s the Tamworth Ranters’ Gala coming up soon, and that’s always good for a laugh. Lets all meet there and after the fun we can have a conference. If you sir…” he addresses The Gilnockie, “ …bring some of your chaps and this pirate king along, we’ll get Larry to join us and we can thrash out a deal.”

“Sounds good to me,” says The Gilnockie of Gilnockie, “Will there be booze?”

“Good Burton ale,” says Ginsbergbear, puffing quietly on his Peterson briar.

“But no weapons,” chips in Barrymore, “and that includes bagpipes.”

“What about Les Chats Souterrains?” asks Ferdy, “No one’s mentioned them yet.”

“Ah…”

That’s when I become aware of a whirry buzzing noise from outside.

“Last time I heard a sound like that we were running for our lives in Castleton,” says I.

“Oh no,” groans Boz. And we all rush up onto the battlements in time to see the metallic Frisbee glinting pink and mauve in the setting sunlight.

“Is that a real flying saucer?” shouts The Gilnockie.

“Les Chats Souterrains’ foo-fighter,” says Ferdy, “We really don’t need this right now.”

It’s got revolving, flashing lights and flies straight over the croquet lawn level with the battlements, and it is so close we can see the pilot’s face, all white and demented in dark goggles. The flying saucer whizzes right past us, cranks its death ray round and targets The Airship of State. And it doesn’t do the dirigible any good at all. There are a series of explosions and a sort of crumpling metal greeouch noise and our airship transport collapses in on itself in flames.

“Bugger.” Says Slasher McGoogs, looking pointedly at Boz, “Someone’s going to get that stopped out of his pocket money.”

“If they’ve scorched my Roller,” screams The Gilnockie, “I’m going to get really cross.”

The foo fighter is just beginning to train its death ray onto the upper floors of Gilnockie Tower when a stream of bullets is pinging off it’s hull. Out of the majestic, orange disc of the sun races a little crimson Rata, and it will be opening up with its cannons any moment. The saucer recoils and then hurtles off towards the east at an incredible speed, enthusiastically pursued by Polly, shooting as she goes. But there’s more…

“Hens’ teeth!” exclaims Slasher McGoogs as he peers over the parapet and his Mauser Red9 materialises in his right paw.

Gilnockie Tower Part 1

Gilnockie_Tower 3SI (Phoebles) was the first to spot the Gilnockie Tower on account of I was looking out the bridge windows with the big spyglass.

“Left hand down a bit, the tower is over there,” I says to Ferdy, who is doing the driving. And he gives me a stern look, as if I’s criticising his navigation or summat. I do have very keen eyesight, ’specially when I got the spyglass.   But Ferdy’s being OK too.

Polly sticks her head round the door.

“Are we nearly there yet?”

So I says, “Yup, we’ll be landing within the hour.”

And she says, “In that case I am going to bugger off in my little red plane. If things don’t go to plan you all may need back up later.”

She’s dead good in that thing. It’s a Polikarpov I-16 fighter, red all over with yellow stars and two 7.62mm ShKAS machine guns and two 20mm ShVAK cannons mounted in the wings. And it’s dead manouverable.

She stops off at the officers’ canteen to pick up a pre-ordered packet of Catapano goats cheese and Coln Valley smoked salmon sandwiches and to refill her hip flask with cheap vodka.

“No point using the good stuff,” she says, “in the middle of a dog fight I spill more than I drink.”

“You should get one of those Beerbelly™ WineRack bras for hands free drinking,” suggests the Pusser.

“What’s a bra?” asks Polly.

The best things about the Airship of State are deffo the food. She has chefs instead of cooks and three-Michelin-star gourmet restaurants instead of mess decks and there is all day breakfasts available ALL DAY!

Anyway, back to the story. Polly gets in her plane and starts up the engine and stuff, while the crew are lowering it out of the hangar, unbolting things and hammering and swearing at the release mechanism. Then there is a clunk and the red Rata drops away from beneath the airship. And she is whizzing off towards the horizon doing barrel rolls as she goes.

And I has another look through the spyglass. It’s dead good, made of brass tubes that slide inside each other and when you stretch them out it’s really long and makes things look ever so close even when they’re not. I’m looking at Gilnockie Tower again. It’s grey and stony and has a little flag on top.

The dour, granite, crenulated pile had been sturdily built with defence high on its creator’s agenda. It stood in solitude amidst the wooded hills of the Scottish Marches, bearing the battle scars of centuries of conflict, family feuds, power struggles and border wars.

We approach slowly from down wind and come in over the croquet lawn.   Lots of ghillies (sort of Scotch servants) in greeny-bluey tartan kilts and matching bonnets rush out to catch our mooring lines as we cast them down, and we are dragged and guided over towards the stables, where we are tethered close to the laird’s Silver Ghost.

The APD Airship of State

APD Airship of StateWow man, like…

That Larry, he’s the man. That’s some pad he’s got. And we talked… and drank… and smoked… and drank… and ate… Those mooncakes… out of this world. Some quality catip in the mix. Bet Barrymore made them. Not much she can’t get hold of.

Sky. I can see the sky. Sky’s all around?   Wow!

[Ginsbergbear wakes, or ‘comes down’ as some would say, on the upper observation deck of the Airship of State, beneath a geodetic Plexiglas dome. We will discover why he is there before too long.]

Woah! Sky up ahead. Sky up above. And fluffy clouds… And birds. I like birds. But what’s that behind me? Behind me there’s… funnels. Big bronze smoking smokestack funnels And this is? A spiral staircase… that goes… Wayhay! Down and… down and… down and…

Round and… round and… round and… round and…

The gang were gathered in The Airship of State’s sumptuous lounge. Boz, Slasher and Phoebles were huddled in a circle of light-weight armchairs discussing McGoogs’ plan, Ferdinand was studying the Scotland double page spread in The New Pictorial Atlas of the World, Odhams Press Ltd., 1926 Edition, and Barrymore was doing something mildly erotic with a cocktail shaker whilst chatting to Wing-Comrade Polly Karpova. Polly had been overseeing the tethering of her crimson warbird within the dirigible’s midships aircraft hangar, before coming forward and joining the others.

“Woah-haaay!” There was a protracted rumbling bumping sound and a bear rolled out from the bottom of a spiral staircase to halt with a thud against the leg of a coffee table.

“Mr Bear, how good of you to join us.” Barrymore and Ms Karpova advanced sinuously upon Ginsbergbear, the contents of their uniforms animating the coarse fabric like eels in a flour-sack. Barrymore proffered a glass containing a raw egg, Worcester sauce, Tabasco, vinegar, and a generous measure of Balkan vodka. “This will pep you up.”

Ginsbergbear took the glass and drank the contents without looking. His eyes opened wide, then opened wider. “Ay carajo! That smarts – what is it, distilled aviation fuel?”

Barrymore smiled and patted his shaggy head. Polly sashayed over to the others and collapsed into a vacant Lloyd Loom armchair next to Phoebles. She swung her army booted feet onto the intricately inlaid rosewood coffee table, flashing bare legs and thighs smooth as a barrister, taut as banjo strings. She removed her officer’s cap and dropped it on the deck, copper-red hair cascading about her shoulders. As she lounged back her jacket fell open to reveal a body hugging, telnyashka-striped, thermal teddy. Suddenly the temperature in the cabin felt uncomfortably warm and sweat began to form on Bozzy’s brow.

“So gentlemen,” she purred, “What have you in store for us?”

Ferdy joined them, still holding on to his atlas; his dodo cool untouched by the provocative antics of the young air ace, “We’re going north from Carlisle, following the A7 deep into Reiver territory. Larry has lent us the Airship of State in the hope that it will impress the natives. We are wholly and deliberately unarmed so let’s hope he is right.”

The SL102 Airship of State was Britain’s most impressive dirigible, 978 feet long, with a polished aluminium skinned canopy embellished with bronze tracery and powered by four 1200 horse power in-line Stanley Steamer aero-engines with a funnel each.

“Our destination is Gilnockie Tower, ancestral seat of the Gilnockie of Gilnockie. He is nominally the Reiver Head Honcho and has agreed to meet us to discuss an acceptable way out of the current impasse. That’s if The Kittens haven’t already set the Lowlands ablaze.”

Ferdy paused as Polly took a catnip roll-up from the tin that Phoebles was offering round. She struck a Swan Vesta on the hobnailed sole of her boot and set light to the end of the spliff.

“And I don’t get to shoot anyone?”

“Not unless the whole exercise turns to cold custard,” interjected Slasher McGoogs. “But if we find ourselves up to our bum holes in angry crocodiles you’re the only hope we’ve got.”

The Severn Seals

the-severn-seals-chess-game“Chins up,” said Ginsbergbear, “It’s not two months since we escaped the caverns in Castleton. I’ve written a poem…”

THE SEVERN SEALS

I

Kt – Q3 ch

It is a petty triumph, black plays

The long game.

Black Death tossing pawns into

The fray, pinning, forking.

Mein fahrer hat vom blitz getroffen.

Blitz und Donner, fork

Lightning.

Noir de la mort comme la nuit

Peste Noire and Quixote, silent, still

On the pebble strand.

Sea creatures, Kraken chicks

Whisper, “QxKt.”

A high price to pay

For fish.

II

“Is that you, darling?”

“No, it’s someone else.”

Dog Days’ vindictive caresses, sweating

Over dead Odysseus, drowning

In Leviathan’s aquatic grotto, rotting

Pelagic cargoes.

Beleaguered White King scorns ransom.

III

The bowler hats and brollies, departed after…

High heeled, high hemmed, thrawen thighs (with thwongs attached) typing

Endlessly.   “The copier’s out of ink.”

Had to get a proper job,

Down the Co-Op.

While the brazen Geordie,

Embracing Superman,

“Careful Ducky!” holds:

He who fights monsters should beware

He does not become a monster too.

Gaze long enough into an abyss and

The abyss will gaze back into you.

IV

Moonbeams and blue jeans,

Selkies gambolling off the sandy shore.

Feed me mooncakes and I’ll sing some more.

Boz wondered if he had ever been this depressed before. However, everyone’s mood lightened considerably when the poem ended and the flags and wind socks of the Kronstadt Fleet Air Arm aerodrome at last came into view. And the gang were bordering on cheerful once the Lady Æthelflæda was on her pylon and repair crews were swarming all over her. Larry’s personal runabout was tethered to a neighbouring pylon.

On the tarmac they bumped into Barrymore. She had been tinkering with one of the Porsche engines on Larry’s dirigible and was removing a tiny speck of oil from her bottle-green, crotch length chauffeur’s jacket.

“Hi boys,” she straightened the fur on the longest tortoise-shell legs this side of Paradise, “Larry’s waiting up stairs. He wants to discuss developments. I’ll just hang around down here, see if I can catch one of these delicious sailors.”

Larry had made himself comfortable at the Comrade-Squadron-Leader’s desk in the Comrade-Squadron-Leader’s chair, the Comrade-Squadron-Leader, tapping at his tin leg with a crook handled walking stick, was perched on the edge of his adjutant’s desk trying to look only slightly put out, and the adjutant was fetching teas and coffees. Kronstadt Fleet Air Arm Wing-Comrade Polly Karpova, in navy-blue flight suit and sheepskin flying jacket, goggles hung round her neck, was rolling a fag by the window.

Larry started talking before tedious formalities could delay him. He addressed Boz and waved a general indication towards any Kronstadt personnel within range, ‘I’m putting these boys in charge of trawler protection for a bit.’

Polly looked up, “boys?”

Larry ignored her, “Boz, a spot of R and R for you and your gang whilst The Lady’s in drydock. And we have another piccolo problema. No-one has heard from the Lord Ancaster since they radioed that they had arrived at the Antarctic ice shelf.”