Abbey Mills

Inside they were confronted by a short, portly pensioner in a flat cap, grey flannels and bracers over a grubby singlet. At his heal was an alert French bulldog on a length of thick string.

“You could have just knocked.”

“Ah, sorry.”

“We weren’t expecting anyone to be here.”

“Well, I’m here and I’m the caretaker. The black gang’s down in the boiler room too, and they’re big buggers. You lot look like Chat hunters – except that one.” Both he and the dog glared disparagingly at Phoebles.

“I didn’t want to look aggressive, or edible,” replied Phoebs defensively.

“That door’s going to be a sod to fix. And there’s no Chats in this neck of the woods. So you’re wasting your time.

“Not exactly,” said Slasher, “we’re just after getting into the sewer. Have you got a plan of the system?”

Charley the caretaker, ‘Right Charley’ to his few friends, was still wary and not a little annoyed about his door.

“Bloody adventurers,” he muttered under his breath. “Come on then.”

He led them through the imposing Engine Hall; all cast iron galleries and pillars in dark red, sky blue and gold, the mighty beam engines clunking and chuffing to a slow beat. At the far end of the hall was a small door out into the back yard. Under a lean-to he pointed into an inspection pit next to a foul smelling skip. They could make out a heavy iron grill. The dog found something interesting and wandered off with it.

“This is the Big Strainer. Sifts out dead dogs, discarded limbs, shopping trolleys and the like. You wouldn’t believe what people flush down their loos. Down stream is the Little Strainer.” Charley pointed to a second skip across the yard. “That collects all the condoms, wedding rings and teaspoons. This way.”

They passed several eight-foot diameter corroded cast iron pipes and mounted a flight of rickety wooden stairs to a dilapidated shack with cracked windows.

“The office.” The caretaker opened an old cupboard, sending up a cloud of dust and unrolled a set of blueprints. He rifled through them until he found the one he wanted.

“This should do you.” He jabbed at the diagram. “Best go in just here. I’ll show you.” They meekly followed along a walkway that ran above the pipes and into a brick tunnel. The old man stopped at a steel door.

“There’s a short ladder just the other side. Be careful. Take the left fork and pray it doesn’t rain.”

Slasher distributed headlamps from his knapsack. As the last of the group, Dorje, stepped onto the rusting ladder Charley slammed the door shut without wishing them luck. They heard a bolt slide across.

“Let’s crack on,” said Slasher, splashing into eighteen inches of fast flowing shite, “Look out for any tunnel that’s not on the map.”

“And anything long and scaly,” added Phoebles.

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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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Bozzy’s Back!

“We know. What the hell happened to you?” Flo was truly concerned about the state Boz was in.

“Napalm, mostly. One of you buggers was non too bothered where he dumped it. And I’ve lost my second best telnyashka.”

“But you’ve been gone so long,” said Phoebles.

“Yeh, well, I had to take a bit of a roundabout route coming home. There’s some weird shit out in them there woods.”

“Let’s get you cleaned up and into a change of clothes,” said Ginsbergbear.

“Six penneth of coleyfish and chips and a nip spliff and I’ll be fine,” replied Boz, “So, what’s happening back here?”

“Rotskagg reckons un Chatattack is imminent. The Corsairs are planning to split. And the Kittens and nuns are going their own way too. So it’s going to be down to us to sort things as usual.” Flo delivered her assessment.

 

Boz was looking almost as good as new when he and Ginsbergbear rejoined the Crisis Briefing. His fur was still a bit frizzed, but would soon grow out. He was bright eyed and alert, dragging on the biggest catnip joint the gang had ever seen. He leaned forward across the table and peered at each of them in turn. “The counterrevolution has become a sideshow. For now we can leave the island in the hands of La Résistance Crapaud. I think we need to get back home, Les Chats could be popping up all over the place.”

“I need to get my flyboys back to the Kronstadt Airbase on Hessle Foreshore to lick our wounds,” said Polly Karpova.

“Hand hwee weel keep thee rrevolutionarry end up heerre, Meesterr Boz. Haf no fearr. Guerrillas een thee… ”

Smee crashed in on the discussion. “Cap’n, there be summat rum turned up outside.”

“Great Herrings In!” cursed Captain Blenkinsopp, “What is it this time?”

“That’ll be my boys,” said Le Brocq.

 

Drawn up beside the main gate were two heavily armed Willys Jeeps and an Austin K2 Ambulance, its red crosses painted over, somewhat crudely, with the flag of Free Jersey. The drivers, in leather jerkins and woollen beanies, were having a crafty smoke.

“Anyone coming with us pile into the van,” La Brocq called out. He turned to Mother Superior, “We can give you a lift to La Hougue Bie. But stay alert, you’re awful close to that Chats’ portal.”

“My girls will see that the passage entrance is well boarded up.”

“I’m going with Boz,” said Augusta, “Can I borrow Zelda?”

“For as long as you want, dear.”

“Can we hitch a lift as far as Bonne Nuit Bay, Captain? We…”

“Bouonne Niet,” Le Brocq corrected.

“…have a rendevous.” Slasher finished asking the Pirate King.

“Have we?” said Boz.

“Hang on a mo,” said Phoebles, “We’ve forgotten about Mad Jack.”

“Quite right,” replied Slasher. “Let’s keep it that way.”

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Les Chats’ True Colours

The long, forbidding shadow of the Queen Anne’s Bounty sidled over the pair as they walked back to the corsairs’ compound.

“We have lost Boz,” said Ginsbergbear solemnly.

“Lost as in…?” asked the horrified aviatrix.

“Lost as in we don’t know where he is. No more than that at the moment, but we are extremely worried about him.” Ginsbergbear recounted the events leading up to the destruction of Jersey Zoo. By the time they had reached the stockade gates the pirate flagship was moored close by, beyond the palisade. Rotskagg and the gang had disembarked and as a group they went into the blockhouse. Lady Augusta and Dorje, Mother Superior and Zelda, Consuella with the Kittens were already seated at the roughly hewn communal dining table. McGoogs leaned nonchalantly against an African Blackwood mantelpiece.

“The foo fighter’s back,” announced Polly. “Les Chats Souterrains have switched sides and we were totally routed at the aerodrome.”

“Not switched sides,” interjected Slasher McGoogs. “They have formed an unholy alliance with the CIA and constitute a Third Force. They are on nobody’s side but their own.”

Thucka thucka thuck thuck thuck thuck thuck.

Something passed low over the pirate camp. There was a moment of silence then a loud Crump followed by a grinding and graunching of metal and a springy sort of Twang. Everyone rushed outside.

Parked neatly next to the Queen Anne was a twisted pile of wreckage, haemorrhaging oil and cracking sparks from exposed electrics. Sitting, rigid, in a pilot seat near to what had once been the cockpit of Mr Fluffy’s shiny black Chinook was a tiny Hit-Girl, still tightly clutching the helicopter’s joystick.

“Anna-Vasil’yevna! Hwhat have hyou done thees time?” called Consuella Starcluster. Anna-Vasil’yevna, AKA Thérèse Defarge, last encountered working undercover as Mr Fluffy’s personal secretary, shook herself out of her shocked trance, tossed the redundant joystick away and scampered over to her mentor.

“Oh miss, I don’t think I’ve quite got the hang of big choppers. Did I crash it?”

“Technically, dearr, eef hyou can walk away frrom hyourr helicopterr eet ees not ay crrash eet ees ay harrd landing. But why arre hyou heerre?”

“It’s Les Chats Souterrains, miss, they’ve switched sides…”

“Well that’s an important bit of news,” muttered Phoebles.

“…They’ve taken Mr Fluffy and King Charles hostage. I only just managed to get off Sark before I was captured too. Is Mad Jack still controlling the counterrevolution from St Hellier? If he’s as thick as he looks he’ll not have a clue what’s going on.”

“He is, and he won’t, child, but don’t concern yourself with Mad Jack. For the moment he is irrelevant.” Slasher spoke quietly, “Les Chats are on the move and they are confident. We must formulate a response.”

“The answer will be trapped in my Analytical Engine,” said Augusta, “and Les Chats are barring our access to it.”

“Hang on. What about Boz?” There came a desperate cry from Phoebles. “We have to find Boz before anything else.”

“He’s right,” said Ginsbergbear. “No one’s going to think straight till we know what’s happened to Boz.”

There was a Whump! And flames began to lick around the wreckage of Mr Fluffy’s Chinook. One of the Queen Anne’s mooring lines caught light.

“Smother that! Quickly! Before my airship gets damaged,” ordered Rotskagg.

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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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No Hammerhead Sharks?

Smoke from incense burners and josticks curled in serpentine swirls about the room, their mixture of pungent aromas masking a sweeter, pervasive and much more disturbing smell, the lingering stench of decay.

“Has no one heard of Febreze?” exclaimed Phoebles

“I would discourse with Mr Boz,” said the capitáno, “the other one is irrelevant. Feed it to the hammerhead sharks.”

“Now just hang on one minute.” Phoebles’ response was urgent if a little squeaky.

“We have no hammerhead sharks,” replied Nimitta.

“Why not? Well, feed it to something.”

There was a movement in the deep shadows behind Capitáno Tierrasmedias and a figure stepped into the half-light, a figure in a grey homburg, black mask and gabardine trench coat.

“Sla…” began Phoebles.

Boz kicked his ankle.

“Perhaps he could be returned to his cage whilst your minions source a suitable carnivore.”

“I value your advice as always Mr McGoogs. Take it away.

“Now Mr Boz, are you familiar with the works of Nietzsche?” Silence. “Übermensch?” Still no response. “I shall explain. I am become Superman. Or to be more accurate, I will become Superman as soon as my brigands can find me a phone box in which to change.” Boz remained unenlightened.

“Milne then, have you read anything of his?” asked Tierrasmedias. Boz brightened at the mention of a more familiar author.

“‘You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes,’ said Pooh. Well we are coming, Mr Boz. We are coming.”

“If the person you are talking to does not appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in this ear,” replied Boz.

“Deep, Mr Boz. Profound. I can see that we will get on spiffingly. Sit.”

 

The captain had talked for hours.

“There can be no justice in war. Your dragon slayers like Beowulf, St George, John Lambton did not prevail because they were chivalrous and bold, they won because they were harder, more persistent and more brutal than the dragons. Your revolution did not succeed because you were just, but because Mr McGoogs here was more devious than the Government. Our counterrevolution will not succeed because we are patriotic, but because we have the greater force and will not fail to use it. Your countercounterrevolution will not founder because you do not have right on your side, but because you are weaker than me. Might and badass commanders win battles. And I am the biggest badass of them all.”

“But we must strive for justice and freedom and equality,” replied Boz.

“Why? I am going to win. I am going to win because no horror is inconceivable if it brings me victory.” Captain Midlands grew tired of the conversation. “Go now.”

“I will escort the prisoner back to his pen,” said McGoogs, “Perhaps tomorrow…”

“Leave.”

 

Slasher and Boz walked at a steady pace across the compound, the stench of burning tyres hanging on the still air, the sound of clanging cymbals and subhuman howls drifting from behind the bike sheds.

“What in hell are you up to, Slasher?” demanded Boz.

“That nutter is doing more damage to his own side than he is to ours. I have been manipulating him.” Replied McGoogs.

“Well it’s got to stop.”

They reached the big cat enclosure and stared, stunned into silence. The cage had only one occupant, Nimitta, bound and gagged. There came a whisper from somewhere behind them.

“To me. Now.”

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