Beryl Flies High

The sewer outlet, when they eventually reached it, was obstructed by heavy wrought-iron bars through which they could see the London River and on the far bank make out the Rotherhithe skyline.

“Oh, no!” exclaimed a heavily soiled Ferdy, “what do we do now?”

“Out the way,” growled Zelda, splashing to the fore. She flicked off the safety on her SPAS-15 and fired two rounds from the hip while everyone else waded for cover. Brick chippings and cement dust flew in all directions. There was silence for a moment and then three of the bars toppled outwards with a clang.

“Zelda!” protested Slasher. Yet the geek’s rash action had facilitated their egress.

The tide was out when the gang dropped down from the culvert onto a muddy foreshore strewn with plastic bottles, shopping trolleys and old car tyres. Gathering their bearings they turned up stream and trudged along the stinking beach until they reached the ladder at the back of Bozzys Den. As they entered through the French windows the back room cleared, its nip-addled clientele rushing the door.

“Oh phew!” Sam left off playing Got My Mojo Working. “Hot baths all round by the looks. D’you want those clothes burned or do you expect some poor sod to wash them?”

“I’ll make my own arrangements,” said Slasher, departing by the front door. “See you all in the morning.” Dark Flo rang Beryl.

Scrubbed up and luxuriating in fresh clean clothes the gang met up again at their table in the bay window. Flo descended the stairs, pristine in a slinky black satin gown, raven hair combed over her left eye, marched over to the Amplion 4 M Carbon Spring Microphone that stood alongside Sam’s piano and launched into The Moon and I, pitched low to match her sultry voice. At the end of the number, rewarded with a subdued ripple of applause and a couple of wolf whistles, she brought a bottle of Absinth over to the table. “Beryl will be down first thing with the DoX. I’ve just rung the Local Friends in Salmon Lane for a Chinese takeaway. It will be here shortly.”

Next morning saw them sitting at the same window table. The den was all but deserted. A few of the girls, who had no homes to go to, slumbered on chaises longues, Flo was washing up behind the bar. Boz piled up the breakfast plates and put them on a neighbouring table as Slasher walked in. The masked cat sat and Zelda produced the chart that she had brought out of the nubble universe. A curving dotted line from Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia to an area of sea just north of Le Havre showed the carrier’s great circle track. A series of red dots with hour and date indicated the ships estimated location at given times.

“What’s the other bit of paper?” asked Phoebles.

“It’s the centre spread from a recent Eagle comic,” said Zelda unfolding a full colour cutaway illustration of their target. It was titled Ro8 Supercarrier and showed the interior layout in considerable detail.

“Handy,” said Slasher.

“And what are those?” asked Boz, pointing to several grey pods labelled (2).

Zelda read the blurb, “Phalanx Sea-Whiz radar controlled anti-aircraft/missile close-in weapon systems.”

“Bugger,” said Boz.

“No probs. They’re my department,” called Flo, opening the French windows so they all heard the distinctive drone of the Dornier flying boat’s twelve engines. “That’ll be Beryl now.

They gathered on the balcony in time to see the DoX drop anchor and a small launch head for the Den. A startling apparition mounted the ladder. Blonde dreadlocks poked out from under her flying helmet. She was wearing a floral Afghan Kuchi frock under a thin grey cardigan and striped woollen socks with huaraches sandals.

“Beryl?” said Flo, “What’s got into you?”

“Stress not, girl. I’m great. Rotskagg’s crew liberated this amazing stash after the Jersey Zoo debacle. You wouldn’t believe… Try some.”

“Black coffee might be a better idea,” replied Flo.

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TAXI

“THE SPACETIME TUN…NEL IS PROGRAMMED,” announced the Analytical Engine faintly in the distance. Zelda ran round. “AT THE FA…R END YOU WILL FIND AN INTER…DIMEN…SIONAL CHAM…BER AND BE…YOND THAT THE SEW…ER. TURN LE…FT AND FOLL…OW THE FLOW. THE DR…ONE CAR…RIER WILL BE… …”

There followed a zip zip sound from the box beneath the horn. Zelda rummaged around in her tea chest and emerged clutching a freshly inscribed foolscap sheet of paper. She rushed back to report and was met half way by the gang.

“What’s that in your hand,” asked Boz.

“It’s a chart,” replied Zelda, “with the carrier’s predicted course marked out on it.”

“Good,” said Augusta, “let’s crack on. Back down the pipe everyone.”

“Remaining with the machine I will be for now, retrieving further data,” announced Master Dorje, “Perhaps a visit to Shambhala in order would be.”

“Well, be careful,” replied the countess.

Linking arms in an attempt at a more orderly transportation than had so far been the norm, the rest of the group stepped forward.

“Whoah!”

“Watch out!”

“Cripes!”

They emerged, precipitously, into a Portaloo that had never been conceived as having to contain nine heroes at any one time. Conditions were cramped. Squeezed hard up against the side of the cabin Slasher struggled to work a hand free and reach the lock. He cracked the door open and cautiously peeked out. As he expected they were in an Atlantean branch tunnel. Set into the far wall, some yards away, was a steel watertight door. Stencilled red lettering proclaimed:

DANGER OF DEATH

NO CHILDREN

NO PETS

NO SMOKING

The tunnel was not however entirely deserted. Parked alongside the door was a bright yellow DeSoto Sky-View taxicab and nearby a lone Chat Souterrains stood with his back to the Portaloo, his attention taken up with eating a Big Mac takeaway.

“Wait here,” whispered Slasher as he stepped out and shut the door behind him onto muffled protests. “I’d give it ten minutes to clear if I was you,” he said, closing the gap between himself and le Chat at speed. “Is this cab taken?”

The startled Chat dropped his hamburger and spun round, reaching for his PPSh-41. “I’m not a taxi driver I’m a sentr…” But Slasher had pulled a blackjack from his trench coat pocket and the Chat’s world had gone black. The unconscious sentry’s body crumpled to the ground. Never one to pass up a gift horse, Slasher retrieved the discarded Soviet sub-machine gun.

“Come on everyone. Let’s get this door open before his mates turn up.”

“Nice car,” said Phoebles as he passed the DeSoto.

The hinges of the little used steel door were rusted, but by bracing their feet against the tunnel wall and pulling steadily Boz and Slasher managed to gain access.

“Quick, inside!”

‘Inside’ proved to be a room, a roughly ten-foot by ten-foot by ten-foot cube, almost entirely filled with junk.

“This is an Inter-dimensional Chamber?” asked Aunty Stella. No one was particularly impressed. Steel shelves, stacked with cartons and box-files and defunct technical gear, lined the walls; corroded pipes and perished rubber cables hung from the ceiling; stained, uninspiring grey paint pealed. The floor was littered with more boxes and unidentifiable pieces of equipment and light from a green glass sphere, that seemed to float independently above their heads, illuminated the scene. The air smelled musty and a thick layer of dust covered all about them.

Ahead was another door, identical to the first. To one side a fuse box, its contacts exposed, and on the other side a wall clock ticked away the seconds, backwards. This second door proved to be equally rusted up, but with the whole gang pushing, it finally gave way and dumped them into chest deep shit.

“Did anyone else feel a bit weird as we came through that last door?” asked Ferdy before the experience of being immersed in excrement drove the thought from his mind. Down stream, in the far distance they could make out a glimmer of light.

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The Analytical Engine Speaks

It was gone teatime when Zelda and Master Dorje appeared wheeling a shopping trolley piled high with junk. Dorje cautiously isolated the readout mechanism and digging out a box of gears and worms began to ferret around in that section of the Analytical Engine’s mainframe immediately behind the blue boy. Meanwhile Zelda, utilising a watchmaker’s screwdriver, detached the lad’s writing hand. She then produced a medium sized tea chest, the contents of which were to remain a mystery to the surrounding, fascinated company.

“What does all that stuff do?”

“What’s in the box?”

“Is it safe?”

A large Papier-mâché ‘morning glory’ gramophone horn protruded from the top of the box and a twangy spring steel strip stuck out of a hole in the side. Zelda donned Chat-style goggles and pulled a welding torch from the supermarket trolley.

“What haven’t you got in that workshop of yours, Dorje?” asked Augusta with a mixture of exasperation and admiration.

Soon Zelda had firmly affixed the steel strip to the wrist tendons of the automaton. The resultant fire damage to its blue sleeve and the writing desk were deemed to be repairable if and when the opportunity presented itself.

“Ready,” she announced.

Master Dorje threw the Readout lever again. An unnerving whirring and grinding emanated from the mainframe, the lad’s arm quivered and a tinny voice issued forth from the trumpet.

“WOW…TK…AN…OY…DOF…OR…YOW?”

“Hm, just needs a little tweak,” said Zelda delving into the tea chest.

“…YEOW

“…YIEW

“…YOU?”

“There,” she said, “ask it a question.”

“How?”

“Ah, you’ll have to type into the teleprinter input port.”

“But that’s ten minutes walk away, round the other side,” said Lady Augusta.

“Am I supposed to think of everything?” The geek was becoming petulant.

“With me, your ladyship.” Slasher stepped up. “We’ll be in charge of the input. Zelda, you and Master Dorje look after your contraption. The rest of you spread out, shouting distance apart, relay messages back and forth.” The exact positioning of the gang round the perimeter of Augusta’s machine was hotly debated, resulted in one minor scuffle and was finally resolved when Aunty Stella took charge. All were in place by the time Slasher and Mrs King had reached the teleprinter terminal.

“What shall we ask it?”

“Something straightforward,” suggested Slasher.

Augusta typed, WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND OUT SO FAR?

The machine whirred. “DO YOU WANT THE GOOD NEW…S OR THE BAD NEW…S FIR…ST?”

“It’s being sarcastic,” shouted Phoebles.

“Just relay the message, Phoebs,” shouted Aunty Stella.

“Is that the message?”

“No.”

“Look,” shouted Augusta. “Can we have some discipline please?”

GOOD NEWS FIRST.

“THE…RE IS NO GOOD NEW…S.”

“Great!” AND THE BAD NEWS?

“YOU A…RE ALL GOIN…G TO DIE.”

“This is going really well,” muttered Slasher.

“Can we junk your machine and go back to making it up as we go along, please?” shouted Phoebles.

“When? Where? Why?” shouted Boz.

COULD YOU BE A LITTLE LESS APOCALYPTIC? typed Augusta. MAKE A SPECIFIC PREDICTION.

“OK. PREDIC…TION: TOMO…RROW LUNCH…TIME – E S T – FOXNEW…S WILL RE…PORT THAT – IN AN AMBI…TIOUS EXPERI…MENT, A 70,600 TONNE…S, 280 METRE…S (920 FT) LONG DRONE CAR…RIER LA…DEN WI…TH LAS…ERS, CAME…RAS AND OTH…ER SEN…SORS – BUT WITH NO ONE’…S HANDS ON THE WHEEL – HAS BEEN DE…PLOYED BY THE WEB-BASED UB…ER TECHNO…LOGIES INC ON…TO THE CHA…LLENGING SEAS OF THE NOR…TH ATLAN…TIC – STEE…RING ITS…ELF TO PRESEL…ECTED CO-ORDI…NATES OFF THE EURO…PEAN SEA…BOARD — AUTON…OMOUS DRON…ES – PRE-PROG…RAMMED FROM THE SAFET…Y OF UBER’…S SAN FRAN…CISCO HEAD…QUARTERS WILL BE DIREC…TED AT STRA…REGIC TAR…GETS WI…THIN THE ROGUE AN…ARCHY.

“THEN …YOU …DIE!”

Everyone rushed round to join Slasher and Augusta.

“What on earth is it this time?” said Boz.

“CIA black ops again,” said Slasher. “They’re still in with Les Chats.”

Ginsbergbear puffed on his briar. “Zelda, can you hack an aircraft carrier that’s on autopilot?”

“Not remotely,” replied the geek. “I’d need to be onboard.”

“Good as done,” said Dark Flo. “I’ll alert Beryl.” She took out her smart-phone, looked disappointed, tried holding it above her head. “No signal. We need to get back to the Den.”

“How will we possibly find this drone carrier in the middle of the Atlantic?” said Ferdy.”

“No problem,” said Lady Augusta. “I’ll get Mr Doom and Gloom here to calculate a Latitude and Longitude for it.”

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The Blue Boy

“What just happened?” Aunty Stella tried to straighten her turban where it had tipped forward over one eye and dislodged her spectacles. “What’s this place?”

Lady Augusta took a deep breath and began to blurt out an inadequate explanation. “It’s not really a tunnel as such. It bends space-time back on itself so that where you are and where you want to be are next to each other. That results in a bit of a multidimensional vacuum that kind of sucks you in and spits you out again. Not entirely unpleasant.”

“Mostly though…”

“Yarrooo!”

Boz was ejected onto the Carrara floor, with Phoebles clinging to his knees. They were closely followed by Phoebles’ waders and a strong smell of catnip. Ginsbergbear emerged holding his deer-stalker on with both hands, his Peterson glowing flame red and pouring out more black smoke than a Greek tramp steamer.

“I’m flying!” Ferdy shot out of the tunnel and into the far wall. “Oh.”

Unruffled, Master Dorje and Zelda, old hands at spacetime travel, stepped into the room. Slasher McGoogs was on his hands and knees heaving noisily. He coughed up a huge fur ball. “Oh dear.”

“Is Flo here?” asked Boz.

“I am.” She was squatting, panther-like, where she had landed by the Analytical Engine.

“Welcome to my bubble universe,” said Augusta. The little party gathered their wits whilst the great engine loomed over them, clattering, whirring and clanking as it continued to analyse the data Zelda had fed into it on her previous visit. “Let us see what the miraculous beast has to tell us. Come round to the output terminal.” The countess patted the bronze framework affectionately as she led them to the far side. Five minutes walk down the length of the machine a small boy in a blue velvet suit sat at a vintage school desk. With expressionless face and vacant stare he held a cheap Biro poised above a scroll of printer paper.

“Would you do the honours, please, Master Dorje?”

The monk threw a lever labelled ‘Readout’. With a jerk the child put pen to paper and painstakingly inscribed a copperplate ‘a’. Its hand moved along and wrote another letter, and another, and another. Unseen within the torso of the automaton a programmable wheel, with the alphabet inscribed about its rim, began to rotate. A column of irregular discs stepped up and down to align with steel arms, sprung to follow the contours of each disc as it turned. Each time the scribe reached the end of a line the paper inched up and the process continued.

“Is this as fast as it goes?” Phoebles was looking concerned. “Les Chats will be ruling the world long before we get an answer at this rate.”

“It’s very elegant though, isn’t it,” said Ferdy.

“Aesthetically pleasing,” added Ginsbergbear. “Does it do poetry?”

“Bloody useless,” said Boz.

“Oh…” Lady Augusta was downcast.

“I might have an idea.” Said Zelda cheerily. “Have you got a box of bits?”

“In my workshop.” Master Dorje replied.

“Come along then, Master D. You lot stick with this antediluvian contraption while me and the magus work on an upgrade.”

Underground

“Which way did the caretaker say?”

“Right fork… I think,” replied Ginsbergbear absently.

“Probably doesn’t matter so long as we’re headed upstream,” from Boz, “He’d no idea what we were looking for anyway.”

This branch of the sewer soon began to narrow, the brickwork was old and weathered and the stuff they waded through becoming deeper. The air was thick and treacly with a hint of ammonia, the heat oppressive and the darkness, alleviated only by the skittering beams of their headlamps, was unsettling the reluctant heroes. An eerie mist, faintly glowing a bilious green, hung above the ‘liquor’ that rippled about their knees. There was a splash from up ahead, the mist swirled and a low bow-wave swept towards them. Something large and slithery brushed between Phoebles’ legs. Lady Augusta jumped, shrieked and then looked embarrassed.

“Keep moving,” said Slasher.

‘I’m really not enjoying this a lot,” said Phoebles after a while.

“You should try it from down here,” said Ferdy, whose lack of length in the leg department was, yet again, proving a disappointment.

A pair of turquoise eyes, on stalks, popped up to stare at the interlopers, and Zelda blasted them with her shotgun. Everyone ducked as slime splattered in all directions and the booming discharge echoed up and down the tunnel.

“For…” Slasher howled, “We could have brought the Dagenham Girl Pipers if we’d wanted to make sure everyone knew we were here. Don’t do that again.”

“What’s this?” said Aunty Stella. She was pointing to a semi-circular arch just above head height in the tunnel wall. There was a broad arrow chiselled into the capstone, a grill hanging awkwardly where it had rusted through and a little stream dribbling from the orifice. Dark Flo went over to inspect.

“It’s not sewage, it’s fresh water,” she observed.

“You been tasting things again?” asked Phoebles.

“Glamour it is,” said Master Dorje,

“Eh?”

“A disguise. Making the tunnel a working outlet to look like, it must be.”

“Eh?”

“And it’s not on the map,” noted Ginsbergbear.

“Good enough,” said Slasher, “we’ll check it out.”

Dark Flo yanked the corroded grating off the wall and they were lifting Dorje and Ferdinand into the side tunnel when Ginsbergbear noticed a pair of beady crimson eyes piercing the darkness up the main sewer. There was a squeak.

The two eyes became six and the squeaking increased, attracting Bozzy’s attention. He nudged Slasher. By the time everyone was aware of the situation there were dozens of tiny, perfectly round red eyes with pinpoint black irises peering at them. Flo reached for her katana. Zelda loaded a flechette cartridge into the breach of her SPAS and fired up the tunnel. Blood curdling shrieks filled the air, died away and the eyes were gone. Indescribable shreds of matter flowed past. Phoebles shuddered.

Slasher’s ears were ringing, his hearing muffled.

“I thought I said… Just stop that, Zelda! Now, everyone up into the hole. Quick.”

The side tunnel’s stonework was ancient. Its barrel roof, barely five foot high, forced all but Ferdy to bend over and waddle inelegantly.

“I hope this doesn’t go on long, it’s murder on the knees,” said Phoebles.

They tottered on, with the occasional ‘Ouch’ as someone banged their head. After ten or so painful minutes they came to a small pool where a spring bubbled playfully.

Dorje pointed with his staff. “The source of your stream this is.”

“Hmm,” said Boz, “I think we’d worked that out.”

A low, stone sill just beyond the pool ensured the crystal water flowed in the desired direction and after a few paces the passage took a sharp turn to the left. It began to open out until they could all stand upright at last. Then the tunnel ended, in a solid wall of bedrock. A Minoan Labrys had, long ago, been incised into the rock and picked out in gold leaf.

Master Dorje began to search.

“Let us see. Ah yes.” He was scraping away, with one sandalled foot, at the dried mud that obscured the floor of the passage, revealing a pentagram of Tyrian purple glazed tessera set into a plain mosaic. He thrust his staff into a two-inch diameter hole at the centre of the pentangle and began to rummage in the folds of his yak-hide overcoat. To the amazement of all he produced a soprillo saxophone and handed it to Phoebles.

“Dressed most appropriately for this task you are. When I call for it, a ‘B flat’ you will give me.”

Phoebles fingered the instrument without much confidence.

Dorje placed one hand on each blade of the carved pelekys and began to press.

“Now, Mr P.”

Phoebles blew hard on the sax and the rock wall, like a stretched rubber sheet, began to give.

“Again,” cried Master Dorje.

Note:

The Minoan Labrys, also known as “pelekys” or “sagaris”, was a double headed ritual axe, found in ancient Minoan depictions of the Mother Goddess. Its symbolism is related to the labyrinth and it is believed that the meaning of the word labyrinth is the ‘house of the double axe’. The Labrys was used by female priestesses only, for bull sacrifices. The shape of the double axe (referring to the moon) and the belief that it was used in battle by the Amazons make it a symbol associated with female empowerment to this day.

Representations of the double axe are found in Africa, in Old Europe and in Minoan Crete among other places.

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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