When people look down at me they see a beggar, all wrapped up in rags. I keep my face hidden but nobody really sees me anyway. A beggar, they think and look away in disgust. That is how it must be for now. I have to hide. I’m not ready for the final moment yet. However much I hate hiding, however much I want to wreak my vengeance on this city, on this world, I must hide and wait and feed.
Morris stood on McPherson’s veranda, careful to keep his face in the shadows, and gently puffed on his pipe. The others were all inside reading Bimbashi’s books on Atlantis and leafing through the Wilmarth manuscript. Morris wasn’t in the mood to join in. He’d known Bimbashi McPherson for a long time and had heard all his Atlantis theories before. Whether this manuscript, the pendant, the box, all the deaths, were finally going to prove any of them, well only time would tell. And not that much time. Morris could feel it, the same way he could feel when he was closing in on a criminal. The end game was coming. Soon, one way or another, all this would be over.
He’d be glad of that. Glad to see London again. Glad to see his old colleagues. Glad to be back at his mind numbing desk job, although after this he thought he might do as his wife had been nagging all this time and take a posting out of London, go be a rural copper chasing poachers until retirement. Which wasn’t all that long away now. All this was predicated on there being a London, an England to go back to. From what little they could glean from the Wilmarth manuscript, that was no longer the certainty it always had been.
Whatever it was, Atlantean or other, it was coming soon...
Apep sat amongst silk cushions, eating a last piece of Umm Ali. The sweet milky dessert had worked its usual magic, enabling him to clear his head of personal concerns and to focus on what needed to be done. He brushed pastry crumbs off his front and ate a few stray pistachios and sultanas.
He looked through the smoke at Saleem, a man most knew to be simply the qahwagi of his coffee shop, in reality the most trusted of his trusted men. The man who saw the plans as well as merely hearing the orders. Saleem had stood by his side through many years, both poor and rich and had no doubt been offered many riches and prizes beyond measure to betray his master. These offers had never been accepted.
“Call off the riots.” Apep said eventually. “Cairo has felt the measure of my rage, few will risk turning against me now. Now I need to concentrate my energies against this stranger. Tell everyone to get some rest and make sure they’re ready to go at a moment’s notice. They should use this time to fix their weapons and mend their defences.
“That means you too Saleem. I’m closing the Qawha.”
Saleem never questioned his master’s orders but could not help a look of astonishment crossing his face. Closing the Qawha?
As the riots died down, Katrina slipped out of the hotel where the Duchess was staying and crossed Cairo to where Kenton was imprisoned, a basement in an abandoned building, utterly anonymous in an anonymous part of town.
Kenton was looking close to the end of his will. The riots had kept her from coming over to check on him and he had obviously run out of water some hours previously and she knew he hadn’t eaten in over twenty four hours and even then she wasn’t exactly feeding him three square meals a day. Although the basement was cooler than the outside air, still to be trapped without water or food, especially an American, Katrina almost felt sorry for him.
After checking that his wrists were still securely tied - although he appeared to lack the strength to fight back, Katrina wasn’t going to underestimate another man - she knelt close to him and poured a little water into his mouth. After he had swallowed, a grimace as his dry throat worked, she gave him a little more to drink.
“I need to get your strength up. You need to be able to walk across the town. There’s been a change of plan.” she told him, continuing to slowly give him water to drink.
Morris, Taylor and the Ministry men also took advantage of the lull in the violence and prepared to leave McPherson’s house and head back to their hotel in the policemen’s case and the Embassy for the two government men. Thurlwell’s knife wound had been thoroughly cleaned and well bandaged. Although still very painful and causing him to limp, it was, even he agreed, as good as if he’d been in hospital in London. The only thing for it now was rest and they all knew there’d be none of that coming soon.
D’Huberres they would leave under the watchful eye of Bimbashi McPherson. After Thatcher had rather peremptorily instructed McPherson that D’Huberres wasn’t to leave the house and wasn’t to be trusted, Morris took the opportunity of his goodbyes to modify Thatcher’s instructions somewhat.
“You know what’s what better than he does.” Morris said to his old friend when they were alone in McPherson’s kitchen, ostensibly tidying the food stuff away. “Thatcher’s a good man, but you know the Ministry, no shades of grey.”
“And D’Huberres is a shade of grey?”
Morris listened to check that the others were all still in the living room and lowered his voice anyway. “You didn’t hear this from me, but he’s the one that shot Sir Archibald Wakely.”
“Really?” McPherson smiled, “And you want me to keep him under house arrest? I’d rather give him a shot of my best whiskey and the keys to the city!”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear you say that.” Morris said dryly. “What you or I thought of Wakely aside, he was a British citizen and therefore officially I should be arresting D’Huberres for murder, but times are strange and last night I know we wouldn’t all have made it if it weren’t for him. As far as I understand it his employer was killed last night so he’s currently a bit of a loose cannon. Could go either way. I’d like him to go ours if you see what I’m saying.”
“I’ll see what I can do Morris. Leave it to me.”
“Thanks Joe.” They left the kitchen and walked back through to the dining room. “We’ll be off now. Come along Sergeant.”
I hear footsteps. I crouch back into the rubbish, hiding out of sight. As the footsteps come closer I realise it is just one man. I risk a look out. A European! Perfect! I reach out as if to beg for loose change. The man reaches into his pocket for a few small coins, his face showing a revulsion that makes me long to rise up and reveal my true self. The European reaches down to drop the coins in my outstretched hand. I grab him by the wrist and begin to feed. The European cries out he is well outside of the tourist areas so there are no policemen around. Soon he no longer has the strength to scream. I take it all. I can feel his life essence flowing through my veins, buying me more time, staying the day when my will ends. Each new kill brings me a little less strength than the one before. Time is against me, but for now I must wait. To rush would be to fail. I need to acclimatise to the new freedom away from the Mother. To get used to the rhythms of my own body again and to consider the revenge I will have over the man who would dare to stop me. I reach down into the corner to retrieve the box and the key and consider my next move. First hide the sack of liquid that was the European man. That done I reach inwards, considering my heart and nerves, the strength in my muscles and bones. I reach outwards, considering the rhythms of the city. I sense that my enemy is regrouping, readying himself for the battle to come. And I know I must do the same. I need to feed slowly to avoid the disasters of before. To digest each new person’s essence as it were, before taking on another one. But with each I shall be a little stronger. I must find a place where people will pass unsuspectingly and where others will not notice the missing people.
The Duchess stood at the window of her hotel living room, watching the street below, waiting for Katrina to return with Kenton. She wondered how she was going to persuade him that they were on the same side. Having kept him locked up in a basement, she suspected that he would not be feeling particularly favourably towards her right now.
She could claim that they had hidden him away for his own protection... No, he’d never buy that and anyway, it would be an affront to his masculinity. For once, she thought, honesty might actually be the best policy. Not total honesty of course, just enough to be convincing... Ah! There they were!
“Henry? I see them. Go down to the lobby and see that the hotel staff don’t make a fuss would you? I very much doubt Kenton is dressed appropriately.”
Once Kenton and Katrina had arrived at the Duchess’s suite she sent Kenton off with Henry to get cleaned up and fed. She hoped it might make him more amenable to helping her.
One hot bath and large breakfast later, Kenton joined the Duchess and Katrina in the living room.
“Why am I here?” he asked.
“Because you no longer have the pendant and I think you could be useful to me in a different fashion. I would like you to talk to the Police Inspector for me.” If he wanted to get straight down to business, the Duchess thought, she would oblige.
“You no longer have the pendant.” she repeated. “I do not know where you had hidden it, but it is not there now. The Chinaman has both it and the box. And I should like you to help me get them back.”
Kenton had gone pale. “The Chinaman?” he said slowly.
His apparent shock worried the Duchess and she called for Henry to bring the good whiskey.
Kenton knocked the shot back. It had the desired effect and brought the world back into focus. “I have to go.” he said, getting up.
Katrina quickly rose and blocked his way.
Kenton turned to the Duchess, his panic clearly showing on his face. “You don’t understand. I left the pendant with a good friend, my niece actually, if the Chinaman has it then she’s been hurt. I have to find out.”
The Duchess considered the possibility that this was a lie and discarded it, his shock and panic looked genuine to her. She nodded. “Go.” she said. She would just have to find another way to contact Inspector Morris.
Morris, Taylor and the two Ministry men made their way cautiously through the centre of Cairo. They didn’t know the town well enough to stick to back streets and their advantage was arguable at a time like this - less chance of being noticed, more chance of being swiftly knifed without so much as a by-your-leave if you were seen.
Back in their hotel Morris and Taylor went off to their separate rooms for a much needed wash and shave.
Feeling much more civilised and like he’d had a good nap even though he hadn’t slept in over a day, Morris headed down to the hotel’s dining room. He ordered some tea and toast from one of the waiters and joined Taylor at a table sensibly well away from the windows. Taylor was reading a letter.
“What’s that Sergeant?” Morris asked.
“Letter from Sergeant Goodwood sir. You remember? The local bobby from New Brighton.”
“Ah yes. A reliable chap you said. Does he have anything interesting to say?”
“I should say so.” Taylor replied vehemently, “Strange doings in New Brighton since we left. Ships underground, more of those weird beetles we saw, some kind of big alien woman thing. And a visit from Sir Bernard Spilsbury himself. Honestly everything always seems to happen when I’m not there.” Taylor grumbled.
Morris snorted. “The events of the past twenty four hours haven’t been enough for you eh? Pass the letter over when your done. Sounds like it’s all linked in with what’s going on here.”
On leaving the Duchess’ hotel suite, Kenton ran through the streets to Outhwaite’s flat where he had last seen Anadil. How could he have been so stupid as to leave the pendant with her? He should have known they’d be able to find it! The mystical forces at work here meant that the Chinaman could probably sense where the pendant was being hidden.
He dreaded what he would find there. The chances that the Chinaman had asked for the pendant and, upon being given it, had said thank you and left were slim. The best result for Anadil would have been a swift death. From what Kenton had heard of the Chinaman, he wasn’t above a little torture just to pass the time. There was no way this could have ended well, he could only hope it had ended quickly.
Kenton pushed through the broken door to Outhwaite’s place, looked briefly at the horror within, turned around and ran out again to vomit outside in the street. Long after he had thrown up the entire contents of his stomach he continued to heave, the horrific tableau caught on his retinas, seeing it when he blinked, seeing it when his eyes were open, the image overlaid on the Cairo street scene in front of him.
“So Monsieur D’Huberres, can I get you anything? I would like your stay here to be as comfortable as possible.”
D’Huberres couldn’t tell if the old Scot was being serious. Probably not, he decided, the British rarely were in his experience. So difficult, conversing with a Briton, always having to read between the lines, they never came right out and said anything. Infuriating! He decided playing along would be the best option.
“Well, you could get rid of these guards and get me a plane out of Egypt.”
“Sorry. No can do son. Morris told me to keep you here and I make it a practice never to get on Morris’s bad side.”
“He’s that fearsome is he?” D’Huberres said sceptically.
“He can be, laddie, he can be. Another cigarette?”
The two men lit their cigarettes and sat back, smoking in silence for a while.
“So what are you going to do now?” McPherson asked, “Assuming Morris lets you go I mean. After all your employer is dead now isn’t he? I hope you got paid in advance.”
“Always. You don’t think I trust the people I work for do you? And now? I don’t know. Wait for my opportunity and then run I expect. Morris won’t shoot me in the street, something that I wouldn’t say for those Ministry boys, but he will arrest me when this is all over. Assuming we’re both still alive of course.”
“Up to Morris and Thatcher I would think. I’ll keep quiet, try not to get killed.”
“You could go to work for me.”
D’Huberres sat forward.
“You have work?” then he sat back again laughing derisively, “And what would you pay me with? Your pension cheque?”
“I have something more valuable than money.”
D’Huberres scoffed, “What is that then?”
“Influence. You do a job for me. I’ll help you get past Morris and Thatcher. Assuming you’re still alive of course.”
I hate them all. Their banal evilness tastes sickly sweet, like fruit turned to rot. I am brought to this, feeding off the poor, the venal: thieves, prostitutes, beggars, cripples. Occasionally I gorge on a lost tourist, who taste no better but provide greater sustenance. I see it in their faces, their lips curled in disgust at the filthy beggar shuffling towards them. I will kill them all. I have to maintain my disguise for the moment for I am not yet strong enough to reveal my true face. But I get stronger with each body I kill.
Kenton sat outside Outhwaite’s home and cried. He hadn’t cried since being a small boy but now he couldn’t help it. He had spent the past few days being alternately starved and tortured, locked up in a basement while the beautiful little girl he had saved all those years ago was lying, rotting on the floor of her home, her neck twisted, her body swollen and flat as if everything inside had turned to liquid.
Despair engulfed him. He was exhausted, he wasn’t sure he could find the strength to do what had to come next and so, for now, he sat in the street and cried, remembering the eight-year-old girl he had known.
The Duchess was at the dining table eating breakfast and considering this new turn of events. Katrina was fast asleep in the spare bedroom having finally agreed to go get some rest. Initially she had resisted, insisting she was fine, that there were things to be done, but the Duchess and Henry had persisted and eventually prevailed.
The Duchess was still sure that she needed to be in contact with the Inspector somehow. Although the current problem was the Chinaman she knew all would not be finished when he was defeated. Unless they were all dead of course. Kenton had seemed the perfect go-between, trusted by the Ministry men and the policemen. But she had had to let him go. More than simple compassion for the bereaved, she knew that he would have run off at the first opportunity anyway so why waste time.
Katrina couldn’t be used, Morris knew her by sight. There wasn’t time to get any of her other girls to Cairo. A solution occurred to her. It would mean risking everything. Was this worth it? She thought of her father and her husband. Yes it was worth it.
“Henry? Contact the Embassy would you? I want to have a dinner dance. Tonight. And make sure Mr Thatcher and Inspector Morris are invited.”
Kenton sat, head in hands, outside Outhwaite’s front door, his emotions deadened now. He ran his hands through his hair and stood up. He had things to do. First he had to protect Anadil’s body from further desecration.
He stood and watched the fire burn for a while, making sure that the body would burn fully. He had wrapped her body, reduced to a sack of liquid, in sheets from the bedroom. Making a pile of her and Outhwaite’s books and other flammable possessions he had lit the pyre and prayed for Anadil.
He had to go and see Apep. Tell him what had happened to his only niece, his only relative in this world. With luck Apep would kill him. Death, he felt, was the only way he would rid his mind of the memory of this morning. The first sight horrible enough but picking up her liquefied body, feeling the liquid inside move as gravity took it. But mostly just seeing the eight-year-old he remembered and the twenty year old he had met only a few days ago. So beautiful, so full of life.
But that morning had one final horror in store for Kenton as Anadil’s body exploded on the fire like an unpricked sausage. There should be dignity in death, Kenton thought as he ran from the scene. This had been far more than a murder. Either the Chinaman had done all this deliberately knowing that those who loved Andy would have to deal with the horror that he had left, or he just didn’t care. Kenton wasn’t sure which was worse.
Catching a horse drawn carriage, Kenton made his way over to Apep’s Qawha. He was dropped off outside the end of the alleyway and made his own way to the entrance where he was surprised to find the door locked. The Qawha closed? Did Apep already know of Andy’s death? Was Apep also dead? No, it couldn’t be.
He banged on the door. The door opened and he was yanked into the dark interior and thrown to the floor. Fists and boots reined down and questions were yelled that he didn’t have a chance to answer. Who was he? Why was he here? Who did he work for? Mostly the men just yelled about his being a foreigner and kicked and beat him, venting the anger that had been generated and then forcibly repressed during the riots and their sudden end.
Kenton hadn’t the strength or the will to fight back. Consumed with sadness over Anadil’s death and guilt over his part in it and the death of the maid back in England whose name he couldn’t even remember... How could he have forgotten her name? He was responsible for her death and, though he hadn’t really known her long, surely he should be able to remember her... Charlotte! That was it. Strangely he felt better for having been able to remember her name. He couldn’t bring these women back. Couldn’t reverse the actions that had caused their deaths, all he could do was remember them.
“What is this? What’s going on here?” The men stopping kicking. Kenton didn’t move for a moment and then slowly stood. Saleem stood before him, though Kenton could barely see him, his left eye, only recently begun to heal from it’s previous injuries, completely swollen shut, the right nearly so. His nose and face were bleeding from a variety of places, it hurt to breathe so he’d probably cracked a rib or two, but other than that Kenton thought his injuries were on the surface only. He would endure a lot of pain for the next few weeks but it would pass. He would never get his good looks back though, he thought with an inward smile.
“Kenton.” Saleem’s voice was cold. “You are not welcome here. The Qawha is shut.”
“I need to see Apep. It’s about Anadil.”
Kenton was led into the back chamber where Apep was waiting for him. The Egyptian crimelord looked haggard despite his great weight. And Kenton knew then that Apep already knew of his niece’s death. How could he not? Nothing happened in Cairo without Apep knowing about it. So it had been for years, why would it be any different now?
“I’m sorry Apep.”
Apep nodded. “It was the Chinaman?” he asked.
“Yes. So I’m told.”
“You took care of her body?”
“As well as I could.”
The two men sat in silence. Kenton watched the fat Egyptian thinking him to be remembering his niece. Then Kenton began to feel the room shake and he knew that Apep wasn’t just mourning. Kenton felt the hairs on his arms stand up on end. He could feel the power emanating from Apep, the anger radiating outward. Kenton didn’t dare move as Apep began to scream, a primal yell of grief and rage, the noise building with intensity as did the heat in the room. Suddenly all the wall hanging were ablaze. And then just as suddenly the noise, the heat, the fire stopped. Apep took a deep breath, controlling his emotions and looked at Kenton.
“I will destroy him if I have to take all of Cairo with me.”
Morris and Taylor were sat in the main drawing room of their hotel waiting for Thatcher and Thurlwell to arrive from the Embassy. Morris had read Sergeant Goodwood’s letter and was pondering it’s implications. He felt frustrated at being so far from England, unable to directly talk to the witnesses. Sir Bernard Spilsbury, as a scientist, was sure to have some interesting observations to make on the whole affair.
He was also, once again, wondering at their involvement. This was no longer a murder inquiry and hadn’t been for sometime. In fact as time went on he found himself suspecting more and more that solving any of the many murders that had occurred was of the lowest priority here. In many cases, they knew full well who had done the killing.
But if they weren’t here to solve murders, why were they here? What was the case? One thing was for certain, there were forces at work here stronger than any of them had previously believed. And a lot older. Maybe Bimbashi’s theories about Atlantis had some merit after all.
Thatcher and Thurlwell joined them at their table. Thatcher handed Morris a white envelope.
“I hope you have formal wear with you. We’re going dancing.” he said.
“What?” Morris opened the envelope and found the invitation to the Embassy dinner dance. “Oh this is ridiculous!” he spluttered, “We can’t go dancing. Not now!”
“Special request of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, old man. Can’t say no. Not if you want a job to go back to when we’re done here.”
Morris and Taylor shared an incredulous glance. The Dowager Duchess of Norfolk? Here? Inviting Morris to a dinner dance? Should be interesting.
I grow stronger. I can feeling the city breathing. With the box and the pendant nearby I grow from their power too. Using up some precious strength I reach out across the city again and am hit by a thunder wave of energy blasting out. The sheer force of it almost scares me. This is a power almost equal to my own. I must reassess my enemy. It is not time yet.
Morris felt uncomfortable in his borrowed dinner suit. Of course he hadn’t dinner dress with him! He was a policeman and this was Cairo, too bloody hot for formal occasions. Too bloody hot for Thatcher’s condescension as well. Treating him like some copper from the sticks, like he had no manners or schooling at all. Morris’s blood was beginning to boil. He was all ready to storm out, to hell with polite society when the Duchess arrived on the arm of the British Ambassador.
Thatcher took Morris over to the receiving line. God this was awkward and no mistake, Morris thought. She must know, surely, that we have a file on her at the Yard an inch thick. How does one behave in such circumstances. Morris couldn’t help but think that ‘You’re nicked’ would be frowned upon. Besides if it were as easy as that they’d have done it years ago. Proof was a bugger. Without it you could know something for a fact and be unable to do anything about it. It wasn’t like they could have brought her in and sweated a confession out of her, not a Duchess!
Thatcher stepped forward to greet the Duchess and to introduce Morris, who was fairly sure he outranked the Ministry man and should have gone first. He tried to remember that he didn’t care about that sort of thing and concentrated on not handcuffing the Duchess or punching Thatcher in his obsequious mouth. He took the Duchess’s hand and bowed slightly.
“Oh please, Inspector,” the Duchess said laughing, “I feel I have known you for years. Please, call me Margaret.”
Morris almost choked. Thatcher looked about as astonished as Morris at the Duchess’s reaction.
“How do you know the Inspector?” he asked. Morris watched the Duchess, wondering what on earth her answer would be.
“The Inspector’s wife and I belong to the same bridge club.” the Duchess replied, as if there were nothing untoward about the association at all. “Oh these receiving lines are so tedious. Morris, would you do me the honour?”
Morris, left in a position where he could hardly refuse, simply held out his arm and escorted the Duchess out on to the dance floor.
“So, Margaret,” Morris said, carefully enunciating each syllable of the woman’s name, “Care to tell me what the hell is going on here?”
“It’s simple. I need your help. Now remember Inspector,” The Duchess’ voice turned to steel, “You’re waltzing with the guest of honour at the British Embassy at the invitation of the British Ambassador, so do remember to smile.”
Kenton’s wounds had been treated by two older women in Apep’s employ. Ex-prostitutes, having survived to the ripe old age of thirty they now looked after the other girls and served as nurses for Apep’s men. They his cleaned his wounds and bandaged his ribs tightly to give them some support. There wasn’t time for stitching the cuts in his face, assuming he lived long enough he was going to return to America unrecognisable from the clean cut, good looking man who had left. No bad thing, Kenton thought.
Apep had sent him off while he planned the next move with Saleem. When Kenton returned to the back room, clean and dressed in fresh clothing they were eating dinner.
“Ah, Kenton, sit, sit, have some food.” Apep seemed to have thrown off the grief and rage of earlier but Kenton could see it lurking behind the man’s eyes.
Knowing Apep’s hatred of mixing business with food, Kenton said nothing during the meal except to agree that he felt a lot better after his bathing and that the women had done a very good job.
The meal was a huge spread of fabulous food both sweet and savoury. Kenton ate as if he hadn’t eaten for days, which what with one thing and another he hadn’t really. All too soon the meal was over and Apep clapped to servants to clear the dishes. Down to business.
“What do you know?”
Kenton recounted all he knew, including the news from the Duchess that the Chinaman now had both box and pendant.
“So the Duchess is involved is she?” Apep asked, speaking in his usual ponderous fashion, “What is her next move, do you know?”
“She wanted me to talk to Inspector Morris for her so I assume she will find a different go-between.”
“She wants to talk to the Inspector? Hmm.” Apep paused, considering. “I want you there Kenton. I need the Chinaman stopped and I don’t care who does it or why. It may take all of us to stop him. I’ll work my way, you help them do it their way. And keep me informed. Although they cannot know of my involvement, we must be allies in this”
“Your will is mine.” Kenton replied.
“Pint?” Thurlwell asked.
“All right then, thanks.” Taylor and Thurlwell were in the Embassy bar downstairs from the dinner dance.
“Cigarette?” Thurlwell offered after they had both taken a good long drink of their pints. Taylor took one and leaned forward for a light.
“Well this is a fucking mess isn’t it?”
“I’ll say.” Taylor agreed. “Do you have the slightest clue what’s going on?” he asked.
“Some, not much more than you. The world’s about to end is the impression I get. Thatcher’s not big with the details. Just goes on about how the gate should never be opened and a terrible power being let loose on the world.”
“McPherson reckons it’s got something to do with Atlantis.”
“Atlantis? Isn’t that something from books? What the heck’s that got to do with some box in Egypt?”
“Don’t ask me,” Taylor replied, taking a long draft of his beer. “He’s an old friend of the Inspector’s though, so he’s sound.”
“Most of me doesn’t care what it’s all really about. Grey was a good friend of mine and I’d worked with Jock and Baker for years. One night in this God forsaken hole and all three of them are dead. I just want to kill a few Arabs in payback and then get the Hell back to England. This whole place can rot for all I care. Another drink?”
“My round.” Taylor said getting up.
The time is close now. I am growing ever stronger. I can feel the gate calling. The box and the pendant hum with power. I am no longer at risk from being subsumed by the personalities I consume. I am my own master now and I will have my way.
“You need my help? What the... what makes you think I’ll be willing to give it?” Morris asked, trying to keep his face calm, pretending to the other guests that they were just making small talk, catching up on old times.
“Because, for the moment my dear Inspector, we are on the same side. You don’t want the Ministry to have the box and pendant any more than I do.”
“You’re being a bit presumptuous aren’t you? The Ministry doesn’t have either item. This Chinese fellow has them.”
“And if he uses them then this whole discussion is moot because we’ll all be dead. So I am discussing what will happen if he doesn’t use them. May as well look on the bright side don’t you think Inspector?”
“They’re that powerful?” Morris asked, as the waltz came to an end.
“Oh yes Inspector, had you not realised? Not quite end of the world, but certainly the end of Cairo. Now, take my arm and walk me over to the Ambassador. And do remember to smile,” her voice hardened, “And say nothing.”
“Mr and Mrs Ambassador, how lovely of you both to accede to my desire for a party. Have you met Inspector Morris from the Yard?”
Meanwhile downstairs, Taylor and Thurlwell were getting steadily and determinedly drunk. Initially planning to stick to just one or two, the pair had abandoned this plan, in the face of, as they saw it, an almost certain death. The reaction from the unexpected and bloody run through Cairo, so much death, closer to than they’d ever experienced, had set in.
“Wakely was an old tosser.” Thurlwell pronounced, sitting down with the latest pair of pints. “I’ve worked with him of three other cases and the fucker never spoke to me. Acted like I wasn’t there. Beneath his notice I was.”
“I wish I had been.” Taylor replied, “He was always looking to make me and the boss look like idiots. Did you hear about the curry incident? I’m sure that bastard planned it.”
“Nobody in the service liked him.” Thurlwell revealed, “He’d have been put out to pasture years ago but he was too bloody good at his job and knew where too many corpses were buried. Did you meet that Asian companion of his. Freaked me out, never saying anything like that. Do you think he really was mute?”
“Who could tell? I wouldn’t trust Wakely if he told me A came before B in the alphabet.”
Thurlwell offered Taylor another cigarette. They both took a deep draw and exhaled the smoke slowly.
“Wankers.” they both said.
Some polite chit-chat later and Morris and the Duchess walked over to one of the unoccupied tables to the side of the dance floor. Two waiters came past, one offering canapés, the other champagne. The Duchess took both, the Inspector stuck to the fluffy pastry and salmon concoctions and steered clear of the alcohol. He was clearly going to need his wits about him talking to the Duchess.
“So,” Morris said resuming their previous conversation, “If we manage to stop this Chinaman?”
“Then we’re still going to have the problem of what to do with the box and the pendant. We cannot trust the Ministry with them.”
“Well, leaving aside the fact that I do not believe they should be trusted with so much as a toasting fork, and I think you agree with me on that, with Europe in the state that it is in at the moment, do you want to hand that kind of power to the government? Do you really think they will be able to keep from using it in a case of national security?”
“But surely if they’re using it for good?” Morris asked.
“It is too powerful. You cannot use it for ‘good’, you can only use it. And that can never happen.”
“Now, wait a minute, if you’re not going to use it, what’s your interest in all this?”
“Keeping it safe. Keeping it out of the Chinaman’s hands, keeping it out of the Ministry’s hands. Trying to ensure that no-one ever gets the chance to use it.”
“But why? Where’s your profit?”
“You may laugh, but I am doing this for King and Country my dear Inspector, for King and Country.”
I walk through the streets carrying the box and the pendant. I can feel the power thrumming through my veins, better than life itself. I reach out to the city, sensing the people, their hopes and fears, their plans for the following day. A day most will never see. Oh well. It is time. Back to Table of Contents