For those of you who missed the opportunity, today's blog post is the the first three chapters of Leap of Faith, my latest humorous, adventure e-book for Young Adults of all ages! It's the first in the Temporal Detective Agency series. The second, Trouble with Swords will be out in October.
If you like it, then please buy it on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, or Barnes & Noble.
Hope you enjoy it and rest assured I'll be posting my usual blog posts as well.
Blog on, Dudes!
Leap of Faith
A Temporal Detective Agency Novel
A bit at the front
The Temporal Detective Agency
Camelot started to fizzle out when Arthur and the lovely Merlin went off to the island of Avalon for an extended honeymoon. Bless!
Okay, so Merlin was a woman…Yawn! …and the fantastic disguise I helped her with every day fooled the whole of Camelot for years, including a very confused Arthur. But that’s another story and this one’s about me and my friends in the Agency.
Let’s start at the beginning.
The Knights of the rather worm-eaten Round Table drifted off one by one until there was no one capable of helping Arthur look after the country, and even my friend Galahad was too busy setting up his Olé Grill restaurant chain to be a politician. Of the others, Tristan moved to Cornwall and opened up a tea shop with scones to die for; Iolanthe, Bors, and Mordred were busy inventing a machine that could calculate; Gawain vanished one day on one of his adventures chasing the evil Black Knight; while others just got lost and were never seen again. I even heard Guinevere went back to her father’s place in North Wales with a besotted Lancelot hanging round her like a faithful puppy. though to be honest there wasn’t much point in staying round Camelot any more.
So we didn’t.
The day after Merlin left, my cousin Unita (Neets to me), Marlene, and I started the Temporal Detective Agency, opening for business in the wizard’s old cave. We reckoned it was only right and proper considering we were Merl’s last apprentices and Marlene was her younger sister. I say younger, but she was thirty if she was a day and getting really old and frumpy.
I suppose we could have moved to another part of Britain and opened up shop, but as we’d done a bit of time traveling with Merl and sort of inherited her Time Portal along with the cave, we decided to base ourselves in the 21st century where the cases promised to be more interesting than just finding missing pets. We also suspected the toilets would be much better than smelly holes in the ground half full of used leaves and wood ash. We even persuaded Galahad to join us so we could use the Olé Grill restaurant as a cover and besides, he made great coffee.
What we found was that the sanitation and smells certainly improved, but the cases were still mostly dull because good, interesting crimes are few and far between, if not actually nonexistent. Business was pretty slow, but the retrieved felines kept Neets’s cats company and the odd goldfish kept them from getting hungry. We even left business cards in carefully selected centuries knowing that Temporal would only mean On Time to most people. After all, who on earth really believes in time travel, but the only improvement was that we were asked to find a pet saber-toothed tiger and the odd snake.
Neets and I thought it might be because we sounded a bit old-fashioned coming as we did from fifteen hundred years in the past, so Marlene enrolled us into college until we learned how to fit in and like rap music. No one knew where we came from, of course, but people seemed to sense we were slightly older than them by a few hundred years, and that can be quite off-putting to a young lad who thinks his luck’s in. Still we did our best.
Nothing changed much until one day...
Statues, Tunnels, Cellars, and Knights
One minute I was munching on a bread roll in the 21st century Olé Grill and the next I was in London standing on top of Nelson’s famous Column, spitting out crumbs like confetti at a baker’s wedding.
That’s a bloody awesome view! I thought, and it was. Then I looked down and thought Oh piddle! and I nearly did. I swore some more because Nelson’s statue wasn’t there and I was a hundred-and-fifty-feet above the ground covered in pigeons. My legs turned to rubber and I lay flat out on the platform gripping its edges with my hands and feet as all sorts of gut-wrenching thoughts came to mind. Like, what if Nelson decided to make a sudden return and I got squashed? Like, what if no one noticed I was way up on the Column for weeks and I starved to death? Like, where was the bloody statue anyway and what was I doing replacing it? Like, there’s never a spare pair of knickers around when you want them. And lastly...HELP!
Way below, a man was stammering through some sort of loudspeaker and I reckoned the odds were he was shouting at me. Gritting my teeth and fighting down the remains of the bread roll, I moved my arms and legs one at a time until I was in a sitting position as near to the middle of the plinth as possible. I gave a thumbs-up sign, though I don’t know whether he saw it or not because there was no way I was going to look vertically down.
While things got sorted out below I chatted to the pigeons...anything to take my mind off where I was because four square feet is loads to dance around on when you’re on the ground, but sweet nothing when you find yourself a hundred-and-fifty-feet up in the air without a net.
The birdy conversation was getting a bit one-sided when a cage on the end of a long arm appeared with the loudspeaker man crouching inside. With my keen detective insight I could tell he wasn’t at all happy with life, mostly because his face was green and he was looking very sick.
“Hello.” I probably said it too loudly considering he was only a couple of feet away, but his attention was definitely elsewhere. He opened an eye, looked at me sitting cross-legged in front of him and gagged. Okay, so I wasn’t at my windswept best, I was wearing a robe covered in weird symbols, was in my low to mid-teens, and sitting exactly where Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson’s statue had stood for more than a hundred-and-fifty years. But I’m not that bad looking for a time-traveling girl and yet the stupid man closed his eye again.
“Oi, you! Wake up.” I clapped my hands because nobody goes to sleep when I’m talking or I soon become their worst nightmare. “It may be a great view from up here, but it’s bloody chilly. So if you’d be so kind as to open the gate on that box thing I’ll join you and we can both return to solid ground.” I carefully stood up, wobbled a bit to give the folks below something to gasp at, took a short run-up and launched myself across the two-foot gap, or to be more exact the one-hundred-and-fifty-foot drop into a sickening void, and grabbed the top of the cage. I swung inside and tapped the man on the arm.
“Hi, I’m Tertia from the TDA. What’s your name?”
“Smollett.” It wasn’t all that clear because he was throwing up as he said it. I pitied those below.
“Inspector Smollett.” It didn’t look like he was going to tell me his first name, not that I was really concerned because I knew enough about police ranks to realize that an Inspector could make life very difficult. On the other hand, so long as we were suspended in the cage and the copper was losing his breakfast, I had the upper hand.
Inspector Smollett muttered something that sounded like, “Where’s the bleedin’ statue? You nicked it, we know you did. Retch. Where’ve you bleedin’ hidden it? It’ll go easier for you if you tell us. Retch.” I ignored him because he was obviously delirious. Besides I don’t think his heart was in it and his stomach was certainly otherwise occupied.
“So, where do you come from, Inspector?” Small talk seemed a good idea. “Somewhere nice? Been on vacation this year yet? Did you fly?” The cage gave a lurch. “Sorry, wrong time to ask that. Still, you can see a lot from up here.” I was standing by the open gate, holding onto the mesh roof with one hand and pointing to various buildings with the other. After the fright of the plinth I was beginning to feel a whole lot better. “What’s that place?”
Inspector Smollett opened one eye. “Buckingham Palace.” Retch.
“Nice! What’s that one then?”
I pointed at another.
“Houses of Parliament.”
“Really? Looks different from up here. What’re those two big holes over there?”
“Marble Arch,” he muttered. “Oh Gawd!” Any remaining color disappeared from his cheeks almost as completely as Marble Arch had from Hyde Park. We both stared at Speakers’ Corner where there were two perfectly good rectangular holes but definitely no arch.
I tapped him on the shoulder. “You can get up now, Inspector.”
“I can’t. You don’t understand, I hate heights.” He wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
“I know and I do sympathize, but we’re back on the ground and there are lots of people looking at you. People with notebooks and pencils mostly and some with cameras.” I’d picked up a thing or two about journalists on my travels and already knew what the headlines would be on Monday morning.
‘Marble Arch disappears!
Leaves big hole in the ground!
Inspector Smollett says:
“Police are looking into it”!
I patted his hand, smiled and prepared to give the first interview of my life. I turned to the reporters, gave a genteel cough and began.
“Well, it all started like this...”
I decided not to tell the whole story. To be honest no newspaper in the world would have printed it and anyway my friends wouldn’t have been impressed. That meant I had to leave out about ninety percent, but the rest was pretty good stuff and stubby pencils scratched away busily. All the time I was talking, Smollett kept pulling at my sleeve trying to interrupt and using the words loved by all coppers, “You’re booked, kid.” I smiled at him sweetly.
As the last scribble ended, I took out an old metal cup and spoke into it, ignoring the thermos of tea and handcuffs offered by my Inspector as well as the astonished looks from the crowd of journalists. A muffled reply came from the cup and seconds later an ultraviolet archway materialized in the middle of the column’s fountain. It wasn’t the most convenient of places, but with a wave and a smile I splashed into the arch followed by the Inspector’s increasingly distant words “Stop in the name of the Law. Oh, bugger... where’s she gone?” and disappeared.
Going through the Time Portal is a bit like flying through a tunnel…bloody narrow and best done in films. Looking back I could still make out the shrinking Inspector sloshing around in the Trafalgar Square fountain trying to arrest a ghost and, at the other end, my friends were coming towards me like a train. I’d used the Portal loads of times, but when I ended up on Nelson’s Column it was the first time I’d literally been sucked through it to somewhere not of my choosing. Come to think of it I wanted to know where Nelson’s statue had gone and whether Marble Arch’s disappearance was a fluky coincidence. The copper obviously didn’t think so and had me pegged as a statue and monument thief. I was well out of it and dead pleased to be on my way back home to the pleasures of a hot cup of tea and dry clothes.
It was then that things went all fuzzy as I shot off on a sort of temporal branch line and ended up sprawling on a cold stone floor. I lay very still in case I was on yet another column and slowly opened my eyes half expecting to see more pigeons, but it was less than twilight dark and there were no birds, just stuffy darkness.
I was in a room staring at a boy, which seemed a promising start. He was crouching down behind a moldering packing case and mumbling what sounded like “Stop, stop! Oh, please stop! Lords above, what have I done? Oh, crap!” He didn’t seem in control of things and by the look of it I wasn’t the only unexpected thing to have come out of the Portal. Damaged wooden boxes and smashed pottery littered the place while dust rose into the air as though there’d been a mini-explosion. After a minute of silence, the boy peeked out from behind his crate, inched forward on all fours towards a candle and swore as he burned his fingers on the still-smoking wick. He fiddled with flint and tinder and eventually managed to relight the candle stub.
The room was small with a solid-looking oak door, had no windows and hardly any light to speak of other than the dim shimmer from the boy’s candle and an unholy ultraviolet glow coming from the Portal archway. I never really liked that glow. The brick walls were bare and dripped with what looked like green slime, or really cheap hospital paint, but aside from the odd packing case and bits of broken crockery the room was empty and held nothing of interest except me lying on the floor covered in white dust.
The boy walked nervously towards the archway, ignoring me for some reason, and put out a hand to touch the switch that still glimmered to one side of the ultraviolet Portal. He pushed it up and dived full length across the cellar floor sliding to a halt by the door with his eyes shut and his hands over his ears. He probably thought the Portal was going to explode, suck him into some hellish netherworld, or slit his body down the middle and turn him inside out so his guts would slither over the floor like half-set red jelly. Which I suppose considering what had just happened to me and Nelson wasn’t so crazy. All the boy got was silence as the Portal’s whine wound down to a stand-by hum and the ultraviolet light blinked out.
He got up and by the remaining light of his candle stared at me as though he was trying to see if I were a statue, or just dead. I thought he was going to have a pants accident when I sat up, rubbed my eyes and said, “Where am I?” Understandable, I suppose. I coughed, beat at my robes causing billowing dust clouds, then held out both arms at full stretch as though magic were going to ripple from my fingers, as he hesitantly approached again.
“Stay where you are, boy.” I stood up and gave him a threatening prod with my forefinger. “One more step and I’ll turn you into a rabbit. I can do that you know, because I’m a wizard. Or pretty well nearly a wizard.” Amazingly the boy seemed to believe me, or at least he decided to stand back. “Tell me where I am and be quick about it. It doesn’t do to keep Tertia, the nearly-wizard, waiting,” I glanced at my clothes, “even when I look like a used duster. If you’re going to open and close your mouth like a fish, then for pity’s sake get some words out and answer my question.” I looked around. “Ok, this is not Merlin’s cave, or the Olé Grill, so where am I and what do you know about disappearing statues?”
I made the last words a stinging command and the boy sprang to attention although he managed to stop short of saluting me. “Y-you’re here.” He spread his hands wide. “You’re in my father’s cellars and we’ve no right to be here. He’ll skin us both alive if he finds us down here, especially after what I’ve done.” He looked as though he expected to hear his father’s footsteps at any moment. “Honest, I don’t know anything about statues. I only pulled a couple of switches and this devil’s machine went mad. Things went flying round and all sorts of garbage got spewed out. Present company excepted,” he added quickly and very wisely.
So far I hadn’t actually made any attempt to turn him into a rabbit and he was probably feeling slightly braver, so I decided to seize the initiative back. “Enough of your tomfoolery, boy. How dare you talk like that to a nearly-wizard member of the Temporal Detective Agency? I’ve a mind to teach you a lesson you’ll never forget.” Giving him the choice between an angry father and a vengeful me seemed to have the desired effect as a bead of sweat trickled down his forehead. “However, as you seem to know where I am and presumably how I got here I shall let you off and trust that your manners will improve. In consideration of my leniency, boy...”
“Bryn,” the young man said quietly. “My name is Bryn, not boy.”
I ignored his mumbled resentment. “...you’ll tell me where we are and what you’ve got to do with Nelson’s missing statue and Marble Arch.”
Bryn looked at me suspiciously. “You’re not from round here are you? I can tell. If you’re from the Tax and Excise people the best thing you could do would be to jump back through that archway thing.”
“I told you, boy,” (there was a muttered “I’m Bryn”), “my name is Tertia. Actually I’m not sure if I did mention it, but it is,” I waved dismissively as though names were unimportant, “and I have no interest in taxes of any kind. I try to avoid them like any sensible person.”
“Oh, so you’re a girl then,” said the boy called Bryn with remarkable insight, “which round here would make you quite acceptable if you weren’t English and appeared out of my father’s Time device. Personally, I’ve got nothing against girls, even if you do think you’re a wizard and wear strange clothes. I’m quite open-minded and after all, this is the eighteenth century.”
“Twenty-first,” I said without thinking. “This is the twenty-first century. You’ve got to add a century onto the actual year, not take a couple away. A lot of ignorant people make that mistake.” I was busy brushing dust off my robes when I noticed the look on Bryn’s face, which roughly said I’m getting out of here. This girl’s a loony or I’m an Englishman! I watched him edge back against the wall and realized almost too late that he was feeling his way towards the door.
“Where do you think you’re going, young man?” I was watching Bryn like a one-eyed lizard. “Either you help me get out of here, or I take you with me through that infernal archway to whatever fate awaits us.” I flicked the switch on the side of the Portal and spun a small wheel with numbers on it that made the thing hum. I smiled when the archway started to shimmer as the familiar whine reached a point just above human hearing and the ultraviolet pulsing glow throbbed into life. “Amazing! I’m not normally very technical. I usually leave things like this to my cousin. Now, boy, the decision is yours.”
Before Bryn could answer we both heard footsteps approaching the cellar. They sounded strange. They weren’t the confident steps of a man who knew he had every right to be there, but they sounded aggressively loud enough not to be friendly. “My dad!” Bryn sprang away from the door and grabbed me by the sleeve. “Are you really a wizard?”
I gave half a nod. “Apprenticed to the world’s best. Merlin herself.”
“And you’re really from the future?”
“If I’m from the twenty-first century and you’re from the past then I must be in a way I suppose. But originally I’m from long ago.”
“You’re mad! And you reckon you can change people into rabbits?”
“Well I exaggerated slightly there. That comes in year four with Merl I think.”
“Then I’ll come with you if I may. I like a bit of an adventure and if you’re really a wizard where you come from it’ll be more interesting than staying here and meeting my dad. You haven’t seen him when he gets really mad. Actually neither have I, but after what I just did I don’t want to either.” He shuddered and glanced at the door.
The footsteps had stopped and though I couldn’t see it I sensed the handle was turning. Bryn grabbed my arm and hurried me towards the welcoming archway. “So tell me then, if you’re not from around here, how come you’re a female wizard dressed in those funny clothes and covered in dust?”
The handle was definitely turning now.
“Okay, if you want to waste time.” I stood still and faced him with hands on hips. “Firstly these are my wizard robes, and secondly I was on top of a column somewhere in London and the next thing I knew I was here, for which it looks as though I can blame you. There was lots of dust up there, there’s lots of smashed pottery down here and if you hadn’t noticed I’m soaked up to my knees.”
The door was inching open now on well-oiled hinges.
“That’s fascinating, Tertia,” Bryn hadn’t been paying attention to a word I’d been saying, focused as he was on his father, “I’d like to leave now, please.”
I hung back. “You haven’t told me where we are yet.”
“Haven’t I? You’re in Port Eynon in South Wales in the year 1734...”
I uttered words like “Dang it!” and “How the bloody Hell!” which is most unlike me, because I know how to really swear.
“...and I strongly suggest we leave now.” He pushed me into the archway and grabbed my hand. “I know my dad uses this thing so I know roughly what it does, but where are we going to end up? In the village square?”
As if I knew.
All he got in reply was, “Home I hope, but really I’ve absolutely no...” As we walked through the archway I glanced at the opening door and caught a fleeting look at the man entering the cellar. I recognized him instantly as a murderer, a fraud, a thief, and the man who ruined my parents and nearly killed them and half of Camelot. I thought he’d died centuries earlier when Sir Gawain defeated him and I still hated him. I ran.
A Case of Knights
I ran out of the Portal archway into the Temporal Detective Agency office and nearly fell over my own feet. Bryn tumbled after me, pointing at the archway and mouthing off about tunnels, infernal machines, and statues of wizards. Sweet boy.
“Get your cases packed, girls. We’ve got a bag!” I spat out the words. “I mean we’ve got a case. A real one, with real mystery and a real villain.” Neets and Marlene stared at me open-mouthed because sometimes when I get excited I tend to forget people may not know what on earth I’m talking about.
“Come on in, dear,” Marlene, the Agency’s senior partner, was sitting on the edge of her desk looking powerfully dumpy. “Don’t hang around dripping all over the floor just because your feet are wet. Take your shoes and socks off, grab a towel and dry yourself properly.” The sister of the more famous Merlin watched as I got myself ready, then took the towel from me and threw it in a corner where I’d have to pick it up later. After all it was my turn for clean-up duty.
“Cup of calming Merl Grey?” Marlene poured me a mug of Merlin’s favorite own-blend tea and sat down behind her desk. She arranged non-existent papers into a non-existent pile, then leaned back, pushing her fingers through her startlingly orange fright-wig of real hair. “Finished? Now, Tertia, tell me what happened and who this fine looking young man is. Then I’ll decide if the Agency has a case or not.” Marlene smiled at Bryn, who took a step backwards as though she’d sworn at him. “You know the rules about bringing home waifs and strays. Cats are one thing, but boys are definitely a no, no. By the way, I saw some of what you did through PortalVision, but the picture faded after you left the column. I have to admit I was worried for a moment and Unita was all for going to give you a hand, weren’t you, dear?”
My cousin drew herself up to her full five-feet-eight inches, beating me by four. “I considered it for a second or two, but there’s no way both of us would have fitted on that high pillar thing so I decided to stay here.” Neets was a lot less impetuous than me, as well as being older by two whole years, and unlike me suffered from vertigo, whereas I only hated heights.
Bryn stared with his mouth wide open until our conversation ceased and we all looked at him, mostly with our arms folded. He shuffled his feet and gave a nervous smile, because after all he wasn’t used to time travel let alone being in a room full of women who assumed they were in control and thought they could turn him into a rabbit.
“I would still like to know who this young man is, Tertia,” said Marlene, pressing her question, “and why on earth you decided to bring him with you. I would also like to know more about this wonderful case and especially about your incredible villain.”
“I couldn’t leave the boy there, could I?” I said. “I mean, I saw the man and from what Bryn said I reckon he must be his dad.” I tried the ultimate objection. “I bet you and Neets would have brought ‘im...being sensible adults. Anyway, it was definitely ‘im!” I was still excited, in spite of the Merl Grey tea.
“She didn’t bring me,” Bryn said without much conviction, “I brought myself. I’m quite capable of making my own decisions, you know. Besides I like my dad. It’s just that this time I did something really stupid and he’ll skin me for it.”
“You may be right, Tertia,” said Marlene, totally ignoring Bryn. “If we’re to find out what happened to Nelson’s Column, Marble Arch, and you, it looks like the lad could be very much involved, if not the unwitting cause.” She emerged from behind her desk and started pacing like Sherlock Holmes, but without the pipe and violin.
“Hang on,” I said indignantly. “I’m the one who was sucked through space and time. It’s me that got landed on top of a column. It was me that got shoved into a cellar with this lad. It was me that ruined a perfectly good pair of shoes in that water fountain and it was me that saw the man.” I felt people were ignoring my last point. “The Man!” I repeated just to reinforce it.
“A case worthy of the Agency, I admit. No missing pets to find for a start.” Marlene stopped pacing up and down her office and perched on the edge of her desk. “Actually, which man are you talking about?” I stared at her and continued to drip on the carpet, while Bryn stared at all three of us with his mouth agape and probably wished he were back home. If I had my way he soon would be and if Marlene had hers he wouldn’t have left in the first place.
“The Black Knight, that’s who!” I was nearly shouting. “The bastard that tried to murder my parents and nearly killed Merl and Arthur. He was in Bryn’s place.”
Marlene gave an adult’s superior smile. “It can’t have been him, Tertia. Arthur had the Black Knight executed after Sir Gawain defeated him, so how could he have been in South Wales, let alone in the year 1734?”
I mouthed a few expletives of frustration and Neets came to my rescue.
“We didn’t actually see him die,” she reminded us. “We were just told he’d been executed. If Tersh saw him at Bryn’s place maybe he didn’t die.”
“She’s right,” I said. “What if the bastard escaped from Camelot? He had enough supporters inside the castle and I bet Arthur wouldn’t have boasted about it. Let’s say he did get away and got to South Wales through a Time Portal.”
“Impossible,” said Marlene. “There are only two Portals, ours and the spare back in Merlin’s old cave in Camelot. And that one doesn’t work anymore,” she looked thoughtful, “unless of course Merlin kept others for spare parts in her old castle workshops. It’s quite possible, knowing my sister.”
“But we know there’s another Portal, Marlene.” I pointed at Bryn. “I saw it in the boy’s cellar and we used it to get back here. That means someone from Camelot must have taken it to South Wales and as I saw him plain as day it must have been the Black Knight.” I looked at the boy who had hardly moved since we‘d arrived. “Is that evil man your father, Bryn?”
Bryn stiffened. “My dad’s my dad! He’s not evil.” I don’t know why I’d expected him to do anything but defend his father. After all I’d have done the same, except of course that my dad had been a farmer and was nearly killed by the Black Knight. “He does the odd bit of smuggling like everyone,” Bryn continued. “The odd barrel of brandy, some bales of silk, and a few crates of tea, but he’d never hurt anyone and he’s not even a bit bad really. Who is this Black Night anyway?”
I reckoned Bryn deserved an explanation, but Marlene beat me to it. “Back in Camelot… I take it he knows about Camelot?” I nodded, “... the Knights of the Round Table looked after King Arthur and protected his kingdom. One of them, called the Black Knight - they all had silly names - wanted Guinevere and the kingdom for himself and tried to kill Arthur and take over Camelot. He nearly did it too, because lots of the best Knights had either retired, or were off on stupid quests. Only Sir Gawain, the White Knight, had enough sense to get together a band of soldiers and attack the Black Knight’s small army before it reached the walls of Camelot, but unfortunately not before it laid waste to most of the farms and villages and killed many of the peasants. Unita’s and Tertia’s parents got away with their lives, but everything they owned was destroyed. The Black Knight was captured by Gawain and taken to Camelot castle and was only seen once after that, when we all thought we saw him executed. Now it seems he may have escaped and somehow may be your father.”
“That’s crazy!” said Bryn with a splutter and I had to admit I wanted to agree with him, except I’d seen the proof with my own eyes. The man coming into the cellar had definitely been the most hated man in Camelot.
“That murdering bastard’s behind all this, I know he is, and we certainly can’t send Bryn back alone to a father who’s a murdering bastard.” I paused. “Marlene, we have to go back there with him. The Agency has to go and sort this out, statues and all.”
Marlene ran her fingers through her shock of flaming ginger hair. We looked at her expectantly, because quite honestly there was nothing else for us to do. “If you’re right then I agree it’s almost certain the evil thug’s behind it all and we have to do something about it. But there are things you don’t know yet. Like what exactly is that statue doing in the middle of the Olé Grill?”
Marlene slid off the desk and led us out of her office into the restaurant’s dining area, which because it was Sunday morning was empty. In the middle of the room and surrounded by tables was an over-sized conversation piece that was beyond words. Well, mine anyway. It was definitely made of stone, looked extremely well-weathered and as a statue was vaguely familiar.
Neets walked up to it and examined the figure like an expert. “If I didn’t know better I’d say this was from Trafalgar Square. Not that I’ve seen it up close of course, just from photos. It’s about the right height and a very good copy.” She walked round the statue. “So good in fact, it’s covered in pigeon droppings.”
“What, you mean real ones?” I asked, getting interested.
“Want to taste some?”
I wasn’t sure if Neets was serious, but I shook my head anyway.
Marlene coughed. “I don’t believe in coincidences,” she said. “Nelson’s statue being swapped for Tertia, Tertia ending up in South Wales in 1734 then coming back here with the boy through an illegal Portal, Marble Arch completely disappearing, and behind it all it looks as though we’ve got the Black Knight in the wrong country let alone the wrong century, way after he should have died. Interesting, don’t you think?” Marlene had a massive grin across her face. “Like Tertia said, we’ve got a case to solve and there isn’t a missing pet in sight. The Temporal Detective Agency is in business and we’ve got a real villain to bring to justice.” She looked thoughtful. “The fact is though, girls, we’re still amateurs and need a professional to get us on the right track.” She marched back into her office and fiddled with the sleeping Time Portal’s mass of knobs and dials, while Neets and I looked on in puzzlement. Bryn still sat in Marlene’s chair looking understandably dazed and trying not to be noticed.
Marlene thrust her arm into the archway and we watched it disappear until only her shoulder was left. She was obviously blindly searching for something and from the intense look of distaste on her face it could well have been down the S-bend of a toilet. She gave a grunt of satisfaction and pulled as hard as she could as a terrified Inspector Smollett sailed through the Portal, landing face down on Marlene’s desk, water pouring from his shoes onto the carpet and adding to the pool I’d created earlier. Of course his feet were several times larger than mine so he dripped longer and more thoroughly.
Marlene pursed her lips and examined the Inspector with detached interest. “Girls, this is our professional,” she walked up to her desk and prodded the trembling figure, “though he looks more like a wet fish and I’m inclined to throw him back.”
Smollett was lying on his stomach, but managed to shake his head vigorously.
Marlene patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t take on so. Do you really think I’d have gone to all the trouble of bringing you here, not to mention getting another soaking for my carpet, just to send you away with a flea in your ear?” She laughed and gave him a none-too-gentle shove. “Come on, get off my desk and take off your shoes and socks. Tertia, pass him your towel, dear. It’s in the corner over there.”
Inspector Smollett did as he was told and pushed himself into a sitting position on the edge of the desk. I handed him my towel and grinned. “So we meet again, Mr. Inspector Smollett, and while I’ve got the chance I suppose I ought to say thank you for getting me off that pillar thing, even though you were trying to arrest me for the theft of a statue. I was getting a bit bored up there. Great view and all that, but when you’ve seen one vertical drop you’ve seen them all.” Smollett winced and I suspected anything over six feet made him feel sick and that included his own body wearing four-inch stacked heels. Smollett dried his feet on my towel and tried to squeeze as much water as possible out of the bottom part of his pants.
Neets turned to Marlene. “Nice person I’m sure, but I don’t see how he’s going to help us. He’s just a copper.”
“But that’s the point,” explained Marlene as though that said it all. “Mysteries like this are bread and butter to guys like him.” Smollett was shaking his head now and trying to mouth the word No! but none of us took any notice. “You’ll see, he’ll take to this little lot like a duck to water.” She looked at the pool spoiling her treasured carpet. “Besides he was close to hand when we wanted him.”
“A bird in the hand...usually makes a mess all over your palm,” I said, but no one laughed.
Marlene took Smollett by both hands and pulled him upright, partly because he didn’t look as though he could do it by himself, but mostly because I knew that sitting on the edge of her desk was her privilege and anyone else doing it was taking a liberty. She patted him on the shoulder, smoothed his hair, and adjusted his tie like the concerned mother of any schoolboy.
“There you are,” she said with a final flourish and pecked him on the cheek, “as good as new.” She clapped her hands. “Now, I’d like to get this detective agency doing what it’s supposed to do. Let’s go and solve Tertia’s mystery!”
Neets saw the only flaw in the whole thing; who exactly was going to pay us? But as we hardly ever got paid, even as a flaw it was flawed. Besides, anything we made would now have to be split between Marlene, us two girls from Camelot, a very confused young lad from some Welsh seaside village we’d never heard of, and a London detective with a terrible head for heights. I could have included Neets’s cats as a back-up, but Galahad would have made a better reserve on the basis he didn’t leave unpleasant surprises in the corner unless they were chargeable plus tax.
Inspector Smollett was the first to comment by leaping to his feet and making a run for the restaurant’s cave entrance. Dodging round the tables he slipped, bounced off Nelson’s statue, tripped over my outstretched leg and landed in a heap in front of the smiling Galahad. The knight gently picked him up and led him back to Marlene’s table like any good restaurant owner with a client who hasn’t paid yet.
Smollett turned to me, looking like a startled rabbit. “I arrest you for the theft of this statue and me as well,” he squeaked and I almost felt sorry for him.
“Don’t be silly,” said Marlene in a suddenly very businesslike voice.
The detective looked around nervously as Galahad smiled, watching the Inspector who without thinking was nibbling on a small bread roll. The knight told me once that he found people tend to get a weird thrill from experiencing any outrageous charge, especially when they’re not actually going to have to pay it. I reckoned my Inspector was munching on a theoretical fiver at least.
“Can I go, please?” Smollett muttered through a mouthful of crumbs.
Marlene gave him a guilty smile. “Sorry, Inspector, I’m afraid I need your help. The facts are one thing, but I need your deductive powers as a copper and who knows, I might even need to borrow your handcuffs depending on how we get on.
Smollett sat down and finished off his vastly expensive roll. I reckoned it could now be a tenner from the look in Galahad’s eye.
Marlene looked at me and tapped her chin again. “Tertia, when you left the cellar was Bryn’s father in the room? I mean, I know you saw him, but could he see you? Think now, this is important.”
I thought long and hard. “Yes...he’d just come through the door when we disappeared.”
“And the Portal was still switched on when you left?”
“Yes.” I wasn’t sure where this was going.
“So Bryn’s father could follow you here just by looking at the Portal dials and seeing where they were set to.”
“Oh yes!” I saw where this was going, got up and padded in my bare feet into Marlene’s office, avoiding the stubborn pools of water. The familiar whine started up as the dull ultraviolet glow lit the small room when I switched on the Portal and with great care studied the dials, checked some numbers, made fine adjustments, then crossing the fingers on one hand, slid the other into the shimmering archway. I felt around and with a smile of satisfaction, found what I was looking for and spun the dials three seconds after Bryn and I left so that no one on the Welsh side would know where we’d gone and be able to follow us to the agency’s cave, especially the Black Knight.
When I returned Marlene picked up a small traveling case and handed it to me, together with a small remote-control box. “Right, get packed, girls. You’re going to the seaside. I’m sure Galahad will lend you some clothes, Inspector. Bryn, you look fine as you are. Personally I’m staying here to coordinate things.”
I glanced at Marlene wondering if I’d heard right, but she was whispering urgently to Bryn. It wasn’t like her to take a back seat, but I presumed she had her reasons and I didn’t ask what they were.
Galahad reset the tables and patted Nelson’s statue for good luck, then disappeared through the Portal to open up the Olé Grill restaurant in all the other centuries where he had a franchise. Before he went, I saw him look under Marlene’s saucer by force of habit for a non-existent tip.
Half-an-hour later, four figures disappeared through the Time Portal. Bryn wasn’t looking forward to going home, Neets asked why I was taking suntan lotion to work, and Smollett knew his Sunday lunch was ruined.
Destination...Port Eynon in 1734.
Purpose...to solve the statue mystery and beat the evil Black Knight.
Big bonus...no dull cases like missing cats and dogs.
Cellars, Towers and Vicars
“Tersh,” Neets spoke quietly, “you remember when we turned up in the Sheriff of Nottingham’s dungeons and were in pitch darkness with the skeletons?”
“Yes, looking for his bloody cat,” I whispered back. “Why?”
“You don’t think we’ve landed back there, do you? Wherever we are has a tremendously unlit dungeonish feel.” Unita bumped into me blindly coming the other way and gave an ear-splitting screech before recognizing me by touch and my own scream.
“Where’s Smollett, Neets?” My heart had returned to something like normal speed. “Come to that, where’s Bryn?”
“Damn!” said a Welsh voice from floor level. “I know I dropped it somewhere round here.” There was the sound of scrabbling and scratching. “You could help me, unless you’re too proud and ladylike to get your hands and knees dirty where you come from? Oh, I forgot you were both born in Camelot.” There was more mumbling and then a grunt of satisfaction. “Got it. You can stay where you are, your highnesses. I’ve got everything in hand.” After several seconds there was a sudden searing flash of light, which soon dimmed down to the guttering glow of a candle stub.
“Bryn, is that you?” Neets called out stupidly.
“Of course it is. Who else would it be?” Bryn snapped at her. “And keep your voices down, or you’ll have my dad on our backs.”
“Are we in your cellar then, Bryn?” continued my very clever cousin Neets.
“Duh…of course we’re back in my father’s cellar,” he said trying to imitate Neets’s voice, but so badly that none of us noticed. “That was always the point, wasn’t it, to come back here?”
“Yes, of course,” Neets rallied. “It’s just I’ve never been here before and Tertia was only here for a few minutes before your father nearly caught her.” She looked around. “It’s just a room with some crates in it, like you said, Tersh. Dingy, dusty and cellary.”
“And one we need to get out of pretty darn quick,” I added, “or being found by the Black Knight may become an end-of-a-lifetime experience.”
Smollett was sitting in the corner of the cellar staring at nothing and having what sounded like a losing argument with himself. He also had a worryingly silly smile on his face that had nothing to do with humor. I prodded him with my foot. “We need your copper’s flashlight, Mr. Inspector. I know you’ve got one.” He didn’t look at me, but at least he stopped the mumbling. I dug around in his pockets and found a small pencil torch. “Are you okay Mr. Inspector?” I shone the light in his eyes and decided it was only a bit of delayed time-travel shock and there wasn’t much wrong that a good slap wouldn’t put right. Smollett leaped to his feet and pointed at the pulsating Portal archway, spluttering words that involved a deep knowledge of swearing and flecks of spittle, so I slapped him again for good measure. “Pull yourself together man. Anyone would think this was your first trip in time.”
“You hit me.” Smollett sounded almost normal, at least for a time-traveling copper. “I arrest you for kidnap and assaulting statues.”
“Shut up and follow me.” It was as good as a third slap.
“Fair enough, but can I have my flashlight back, please.” My Inspector seemed to have gotten over his temporal shock as I handed him his light, and he meekly followed me.
Neets had ignored my conversation with Smollett and was more interested in watching her Welsh boy wonder who in turn was more interested in listening for his evil father. Bryn walked up to the cellar door, but stopped just as he reached it. “We didn’t think. My dad’s bound to have locked the cellar after we left. What do we do now? Go back?”
I pushed past him with an exaggerated huff. “Boys!” I turned the handle and opened the door, which hardly gave a squeak. “People don’t think to lock doors after the event, only before.”
“I was about to do that,” Bryn protested. “Honest. Anyhow, that door always squeaks when my dad opens it and it certainly did when I tried it earlier, so how come it opened quiet as a mouse for you?”
“Because I open a door as though I really mean to open it.” I swung the door a few times to prove my point. “Not so slowly that it’s almost an apology. Doors are like boys; they appreciate authority. Remember that, Neets.” I walked out into the corridor linking the cellars, followed closely by Smollett who probably had no idea what to make of me, then made my way up the stairs leading to the ground floor.
“How on earth did you know it was open, Tersh?” Neets followed close behind, dragging a reluctant Bryn by the arm.
“I didn’t.” I was near the top of the stairs and was very slowly opening a door that presumably led to the hall. Squeak! “But I reckoned it was a good bet that Bryn’s dad wouldn’t have locked it. After all, we’d disappeared so what was the point. Never lock a door if you don’t really, really have to and especially if there isn’t an intelligent woman nearby to tell you to do it. It’s a man thing, Neets.” I paused as I looked up and down the hall to make sure the coast was clear. “And of course I guessed. But don’t tell Bryn, he’d be so disappointed. He thinks I’m wonderful!”
A fit of coughing and the sound of male shins being kicked told me that Neets and Bryn were just behind me. I smiled because Bryn wasn’t all that bad looking in a hunky sort of way if you forgot how thick he was. And he didn’t seem to mind that in theory Neets was more than a thousand years older than him. Perhaps he likes older women was my last thought before Neets caught up with me.
“All clear?” Neets was peering over my shoulder. “Bryn reckons nobody’ll be around at this time of day. All the servants will be out and his father doesn’t usually come into this part of the house unless he’s going to the cellars.”
I considered all this and shook my head. “What a load of bunk. How on earth can he know the time? Sundials in cellars are as useful as an ice frying pan. He’s trying to impress us just like any boy with a crush.”
“I can tell from the angle of the sun coming through the window,” said Bryn with what could have been a sneer. “It’s late morning, probably about a quarter to twelve, so all the servants will be in the Sunday morning service, as will my father. It’ll be finished soon.” He sounded as though he should have finished with a Nah! but he didn’t.
“What makes you think it’s Sunday, smart guy?” I pressed, peering out the cellar doorway into the hall. “It could be a Wednesday for all we know. Just because you and I left here on a Sunday doesn’t mean a thing as Marlene would tell you if she were here.”
“I know it’s Sunday,” Bryn said smugly, “no shadow of a doubt... smart girl!”
“There’s a calendar on the wall over there and it definitely says it’s Sunday,” added Neets meekly, pointing to the opposite wall. “Sorry, Tersh, but he’s right.”
“I knew that!” I said a little bit too loudly. “I just wanted to check. So, coast’s clear and we can go. I don’t know what you two are waiting for, but I’m parched. I’m going to find somewhere I can get a drink and something to eat, then it’s down to work with my Inspector. That is if you two have quite finished messing around trying to prove how clever you are.” I was in a huff, and as huffs go this was quite a good one.
“Master Bryn!” A door at the other end of the hall opened and a boy about Neets’s age stared at us in horror. “You’re not supposed to be here. I mean, I thought you were out at church.” He looked really flustered.
Bryn looked with equal horror at the boy. “David! I thought you’d be in church too.” He turned to Neets. “He’s our kitchen boy. Don’t worry, he’s dead stupid. He won’t say anything.”
“Will that be two extra guests for Sunday lunch then, master Bryn?” asked the stupid kitchen boy with what seemed to me to be a most sensible question. I could have devoured a good roast in minutes.
Bryn put a finger to his lips. “Shush, David. This is a secret and you mustn’t tell anyone we’ve been here. Nobody, you understand? Not even my father.” The boy’s face broke into a stupid grin.
Especially not his bloody father, I thought.
Before Neets could object, Bryn took her by the hand and marched through the hall and out the front door into the world of 1734. I trailed behind and in spite of myself couldn’t help feeling that for someone as cruel and nasty as Bryn’s father, this really was quite a nice house. It was airy and for some reason the word cheerful came to mind. Through the stained-glass windows the sun made colorful patterns on the floor and the whole effect looked intentional, as though someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to create a feeling of calm. It wasn’t the sort of place you would expect a murdering thug to want to live. Back in Camelot my original home had been an old farmhouse with no heating or running water and the place had been destroyed by the Black Knight soon after I joined Merlin. In comparison Bryn’s house was to die for and if his father had his way that’s probably what would happen. I hurried after the other two.
As we walked down the mansion’s driveway, I glanced to my left and saw a tall heavily built figure riding a horse as though he were fighting it rather than enjoying the experience. He stopped at the top of the road leading into the village and stared at us as we made our way down the lane towards the bay and even at that distance I could see the look on his face was one of disbelief and hatred, mostly hatred. I admit I wanted to hide as he pointed at me and sneered. He wiped the sweat off his forehead, pushed his long, lank hair out of his eyes and savagely pulled back his horse’s reins making it rear onto its hind legs, before galloping round a bend at the top of the road. The Black Knight had never liked horses. I grabbed Bryn’s arm, but by the time I had his attention his murderous, hairy thug of a father had disappeared.
We walked on, because there was nothing else to do under the circumstances and our arrival was no longer a secret. Splitting up always seemed to work in Hollywood, a place I thought one day would suit an outstanding talent such as mine, so I decided to take my inspector and explore the village, while Neets followed Bryn through the village towards the Salt House.
“We need to find a library if they have such a thing,” I said as Smollett fell into a copper’s stroll beside me. If he was still suffering from the horrors of time travel he wasn’t showing it and Bryn seemed to be handling the whole thing like a veteran. But then he had a father who was a seasoned traveler and that undoubtedly helped.
“Or we could have a look at the church archives,” Smollett suggested.
“Or we could look at the church archives,” I muttered. “I was just going to say that!” I hate people being one guess ahead of me when I’m on a guessing roll.
“In my spare time I’m a keen genealogist.” My Inspector added by way of explanation.
“I don’t care if you are a part-time doctor. We’re here to find out about people. I want to know when The Black Knight actually arrived and why he chose this place.”
Smollett shot me the look of a perplexed puppy, but remained silent.
The church was halfway up a hill leading out of the village and the building itself probably hadn’t changed for hundreds of years. The grass in the graveyard was kept tidy by a small flock of sheep; so much quieter than noisy mowers ruining a restful Sunday afternoon snooze. I banged on the church door.
“There’s no need to knock,” boomed a voice from behind us. I jumped a foot into the air beating Smollett by several inches and nearly knocking him out. “We’re always open to people who wish to visit for whatever reason. Many come here for our brass rubbings, others like to make a small donation towards the church restoration fund.” A small collection tin appeared miraculously out of nowhere and hovered under our noses. “On the other hand maybe you want to book my church for your wedding?” said the voice hopefully. “We haven’t had a good wedding for some months now. Though looking at you both...perhaps not.”
The vicar was seven-foot-six...well, at least six feet and had the body of a well-built gorilla. He was totally bald, without even eyebrows, though he did have a bushy beard that hid the lower part of his face. He had a ruddy complexion and the wicked grin of a man who enjoys life and knows he shouldn’t. Even his clothes weren’t those of a vicar and he looked as though he’d just returned from a long walk to the pub. With a smiled apology he leaned over me and pushed the doors open with what looked like the flick of a finger.
“Come on in,” said the vicar, his voice louder than a megaphone and very, very Welsh, “come on in and tell me how I can assist you.” He led the way inside and sat on a pew in the small church’s central nave. “I’m sorry I can’t offer you anything more comfortable, but as you can see this is hardly a cathedral and we have very few amenities. Though of course a donation...” The tin appeared again and was rattled suggestively. Smollett automatically reached into his pocket, but mumbled an apology as he pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose. The tin disappeared and we sat down. “Please excuse my clothes.” He must have seen me looking at his lack of vicarish attire. “I went for a walk after the morning service to clear my head.”
“Vicar, we need your help.” I peered closer at the bald gorilla. He looked vaguely familiar. “I take it you are the vicar? You can’t be too sure these days...or any days for that matter.”
“I know what you mean,” said the bearded giant. “It’s amazing the sort of people you get in here. I see all manner of confounding things and hear all kinds of weird stories. And now I hope I’m going to hear yours.” He crossed his legs, folded his arms, and leaned back in his chair with a comfortable smile. Had there been a cup of tea nearby he would have sipped from it, though probably not with his arms folded. “I’m waiting.”
The giant of a man stared at me for a full half-minute as though trying to come to some weighty decision, then threw back his head and laughed. Tears were wiped away with a small lace hanky that I couldn’t help feeling looked rather out of place when used by such a powerful man, and in a church.
“This?” The vicar saw where I was staring and held up the lace handkerchief which had the initials GP monogrammed in one corner. “Oh, I know it looks strange, but it was a present from an old friend of mine and I suppose it has sentimental value. Let’s face it, as a vicar I don’t have many material possessions and it’s only for a bit of show.” He put the handkerchief away with a flourish.
“Thank you, Mr. Vicar.”
“Call me Illtydd. Named after the saint.”
“Ok. Ill Ted,” I said. “Sorry to hear you’re not feeling well. Anyway my friend here is very much into local history.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so,” Ted the vicar offered with enthusiasm. “I’ve been here now for more years than I care to remember and have made a special study of the village’s history. What would you like to know? Go on, ask me anything.” Ted closed his eyes and waited with an I know it all, test me, test me smug look on his face.
“Well, Mr. Ted,” I said it very quietly because we were in a church. “I want to know everything about a certain Mr. Lewis. I believe he’s a smuggler amongst other things. My friend on the other hand,” I pointed to the inspector trying to involve him somehow, “is interested in architecture.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” mused Ted. “The name Lewis is very familiar to me, after all it’s one of the most common names in Wales and I also happen to be a Lewis. There’s one though that might interest you. He’s a nasty piece of work; a notorious smuggler, murderer, and ship wrecker by all accounts.” I looked at my Inspector triumphantly and mouthed the words our Black Knight. “As for architecture, come with me and I’ll show you what we have from an ideal viewpoint.”
Motioning us to follow, Ted strode towards the far end of the church and opened a small door that allowed one very small person to enter at a time. Even I had to bend down to avoid cracking my skull, which meant that Ted looked like a cork desperate to get back into a bottle.
The tower was no more than forty-feet high, but because the church was on a hill the view overlooking the village was spectacular and I was becoming an expert on views by now. I walked to the tower’s low wall from where I could see every building in the village itself and for a mile either side on the coast. Ted joined me while Smollett hung back by the entrance to the spiral staircase and pretended to scan the horizon, crouched down with eyes closed.
“I take it your friend doesn’t like heights,” observed Ted. “It’s going to make it difficult showing him the important buildings he wants to see.”
“Never mind him.” I gave Smollett the most fleeting of glances and tugged at Ted’s sleeve. “He’ll be fine. Tell me all about what’s down there and I’ll fill him in later.” In more ways than one, I thought. A fat lot of good Smollett was proving as the professional lead detective. “So what have we got?” I hoisted myself onto the wall and leaned on my arms to get a better view.
“Do be careful.” Ted put a hand on my shoulder. “Accidents happen and we’ve had one or two people fall from up here in the past.”
“It’s amazing,” I said, totally ignoring the warning. “The way it’s all laid out like a map. You almost feel you could fly.”
“That’s the temptation,” said Ted tightening his grip on my shoulder. “Please resist it if you can.”
“I’m fine thanks.” I shrugged off his hand because I had the strangest feeling it was either there to hold me back or push me.
“Over there to the left,” Ted pointed, “is the public house where they serve strong liquor to people with weak spirits. Sorry, that was a vicar’s joke! The place is very old and I believe they have rooms for the night if you’re interested. Way over to the right is the Salt House.” Ted pointed towards where the rocks and grass met on the far headland point, and where Bryn and Neets were probably still rummaging. “They make salt there from seawater but word has it the building is used for other, less legal purposes. If you look over to our right behind those trees you’ll see the manor house. A family called Lewis lives there.” Ted paused theatrically. “Wait a minute, wasn’t that the name of the people you want to know about?” I nodded. “Well there we are then. We have the house, but where are the people I wonder? Could they be hiding? Could they even now be creeping up on you, because you won’t leave them in peace?” The last words were said as though he was telling a children’s spooky story. The only bits missing were the hands in the air and the stupid ghostly Wooo, Wooo noises.
I turned and stared at Ted. “That’s a strange thing to say and an even stranger way of saying it.” I dropped down from the wall and nervously brushed stone dust off my robes. “I have a sneaking suspicion there are things you’re not telling me. What’s more I’m probably not going to like hearing them.”
The bald giant smiled at me without humor. “You don’t recognize me do you? I met many of your friends years ago and have every reason to resent your presence in my village. Prove me wrong and tell me why you should live. You have...oh, let’s say ten seconds.” Ted started to count.
“Because I want to?” I said it with just the hint of a tremor in my voice as I edged away from the giant. It was time to take the initiative. “Let me guess. You’re not the real vicar are you?” It was a wild guess, if a bloody obvious one, but I hoped it would be enough to stop the man for at least a second so I could work out an escape plan.
“Very good,” said the fake vicar, all traces of a Welsh accent gone. He easily cut off my retreat. “You’re right, of course, the real vicar is down in the church trussed up like a chicken. Oh, he’s not hurt, well not much. However please think of me as your worst nightmare because you will not be using the stairs to go down, whereas I assure you I will.”
I was slowly being backed into a corner of the tower where there was only the unpleasantly quick way down to the churchyard. “I’ve done nothing to you.” I protested, but Ted shrugged his shoulders, grinned devilishly and continued to advance. “Or maybe I have?”
“Girl, I’ve been watching for you ever since I saw you in the cellar with the boy...”
Ah! and Oh piddle!
“... and I can’t allow you to disrupt my life for a second time. I can’t allow that for two reasons.”
“Please tell me both reasons in the greatest of detail.” I said it in a verbal rush playing for time, in fact the very time of my life. I looked round desperately for any means of escape. “Take as long as you want.” Leaping around on Nelson’s column was a walk in the park compared to trying to stay alive on this church tower.
“Very well. Firstly I’ve built up a very profitable enterprise in this little village and secondly, a long, long time ago you and your friends caused me considerable trouble.”
“Not enough detail...Mr. Black Knight Lewis,” I mumbled to myself, guessing like crazy as the giant of a man advanced again picking up a handy piece of wood as he did so. “Tell me all about your little enterprise here and I’d be fascinated to learn how we met in the past though I suspect I already know. Moreover, I ought to point out that I’m a fully qualified wizard and could easily turn you into a rabbit,” I looked around, “or at least I could if I had my blasted staff. Bother!”
Ted picked up his stick and swung it experimentally, testing it for balance and head-denting qualities. “Be quiet, silly girl. I wouldn’t bother shouting for help either. You could scream up here and no one would ever take notice.” To prove his point Ted bellowed at the top of his voice. “The interfering brat is up here, but soon she’ll be down there!” He put his hand to his ear and pretended to listen intently. “No, not a peep. You see no one cares, so you’ll just have to die alone and in silence.”
My back pressed against the low wall and I began to think that the great days of Tertia the temporal detective and apprentice wizard could be over before they’d even started. Worse still, this was my first vacation in ages and it had to end so badly when it wasn’t even raining. As a final humiliation, Ted took out the small lace handkerchief and offered it to me.
“Perhaps you’d like to wipe away a tear or two before you fly, or would you like to have a little blow? It’s time to depart I’m afraid.”
I took the piece of lace but decided it was probably too small to be effective as a parachute. I was at a loss for anything else to do, then read the monogrammed initials that confirmed at last I was right. I pointed at Ted. “I know who you really are. GP is Guinevere Pendragon. You’re that thieving, murdering bastard that almost toppled Camelot and nearly killed my parents. You’re the Black Knight!”
“How astute and that’s even more reason for you to die.”
“But you had hair in Camelot, lots of it, and here as well. I saw you on your horse less than an hour ago and you were definitely hairy then, but now you’re bald except for the beard.”
“A minor accident in Camelot.”
“But the man I saw come into the cellar had hair and no beard.”
“A major wig. Time to fly, girl.” He pulled off the false beard and cast it to one side. Evidently there wasn’t much about the man you could trust.
“But you galloped away when I saw you in the lane.”
“Not away, girl. I doubled back and followed you. When I realized where you were headed I dealt with the Reverend Lewis and waited for you.”
“But why disguise yourself as the vicar and try to kill me?”
“It’s partly because I love the theatrical side of life and let’s face it, I’m the Black Knight with no name. However mostly it’s because you’re completely unknown here and your fall from the tower will be another tragic accident soon forgotten; you’ll just disappear as will your little friends when they come to find you, because I will be waiting. And now prepare to die.” He made a lunge for me and I tried to dodge to one side, but gorillas aren’t easy to avoid.
I kicked, gouged, and scratched using every dirty trick I knew and stood back as the Black Knight gave a groan and slowly collapsed in a heap, clutching the growing lump on the back of his head. Inspector Smollett put the police truncheon back in his pocket, wiping his hands in satisfaction.
“I’m not really supposed to carry this thing anymore,” he said almost apologetically, “but I like to for old time’s sake. Just as well, as it’s turned out.”
I grinned and ran my fingers through my hair. “Mr. Inspector, right now I think you’re the most wonderful man in the world.” I grabbed his head in both hands and gave him a massive and very noisy kiss on the forehead. “Come on, let’s get down those stairs before you remember you hate heights and baldy here wakes up.”
Half way down the stairs Smollett not only remembered he couldn’t stand heights, but that he also became a quivering wreck in confined spaces. He descended the remaining steps in seconds and erupted through the doorway into the church nave with a half-suppressed whimper. I followed at a more sedate pace and locked the door after me.
A sound like a cat with a sore throat reminded me we weren’t alone. I ran to the rear of the church and cautiously peered round a screen just in case the Black Knight had a noisy accomplice hiding there, but the figure in front of me was no threat and had definitely been the victim of a knot-and-gag expert with an excess of rope. The man was the absolute opposite of the unconscious impostor. He was short, thin, had a full head of dark, bushy hair, and was almost completely covered from head to toe in a bell-rope.
I grabbed Smollett by the arm and between us we managed to unravel the little man until he was almost recognizable as a vicar. The gag came off last which was just as well because some of his words were decidedly unvicarish and more navy bluish.
I waited patiently. “Finished?” The verbal flood died down and I got a reluctant nod. “Good. The nasty piece of work that did this to you is fast asleep at the top of your tower.” I paused and cocked my head to one side. “However, knowing him he won’t lie down for long and I may have locked the door, but if there’s another way down he’ll find it. Er.. is there?”
The vicar snorted. “Of course not, it’s a church tower, not a public thoroughfare. There’s only one way up and the same way down. Unless of course he uses the ivy and can climb like a monkey.”
“More like a gorilla!” I said. “You mean he could climb down the outside of the tower all the way to the ground?”
“I suppose he could, but he’d need to be incredibly agile, extremely brave and very stupid.” The vicar laughed. “Probably all three, so I would think he’s safe up there.”
“Rule out stupid,” I said, “because he certainly isn’t, but two out of three’s not bad, which means he’s probably already down and gone.”
“Who’s got away?” asked Smollett as he paced like a good copper. “I’d like to know who we’re chasing, or more precisely who’s been trying to kill us. Before I hit him over the head you told the gorilla you knew his name, but Black Knight is not a name, it’s a colorful title. What aren’t you telling me?” He stabbed the air with a stubby finger.
“I will, but not in front of the Rev.” I gave the tiniest of nods towards the vicar who was concentrating on massaging circulation back into his bloodstream. “Don’t fret, Mr. Inspector. There are some things he really shouldn’t know and the truth about the man who bopped him is probably one of them. Meanwhile why don’t you go and check the tower and make sure the creep isn’t escaping.”
As I watched Smollett stomp out of the church I wondered why on earth Marlene had insisted he should come along. To save my life... ok, that worked, but Marlene couldn’t have foreseen him doing that, so there had to be some deep inner purpose as yet hidden from a dimwit like me. His sharp, incisive, analytical brain and devilishly clever insight? Do me a favor, I thought, and turned to the vicar.
“Your name isn’t Ted by any chance, is it?”
“No,” said the vicar, “whatever gave you that idea. My name’s Frank... Frank Lewis. Not very Welsh I know, but I’m Frank by name and frank by nature.” He rubbed his hands together to make sure I didn’t miss his little joke. I gave a polite grin and then realized what he’d said.
“You’re a Lewis? A real Lewis, like the sort that lives in the manor house?”
“Why, yes, we’re not related though. It’s amazing how many Lewises there are around here. I can trace my family back...oh, let’s see now, well a hundred years. Why?”
I put my arm round the Reverend’s shoulder. “Reverend...can I call you that?” He nodded. “Thanks, Rev. You didn’t see who clobbered you by any chance, did you?” He shook his head. “That’s what I thought.”
Smollett burst through the church door. Or at least he would have except the thing was so big, so heavy and its hinges so rusty that with all my Inspector’s strength it only creaked open a foot at a time, which made the finger flick by the Black Knight all that more impressive.
“He’s escaped!” He paused for affect as he stumbled amongst the pews. “At least I think he has. Either way you’re going to need some more ivy, Reverend, because the whole lot’s come away from the tower, top to bottom and I reckon if he came down that way he had a bumpy landing and serves him bloody well right. Still, I reckon he’s fled.”
“Good,” I said, much to Smollett’s astonishment. “Well, we certainly don’t want him hanging round here. I wouldn’t know what to do with him for one thing, and he’ll almost certainly go back from where he came now he’s given us a warning. It may not have been the permanent one he was hoping for, but he’ll believe it was effective.”
“And was it?” asked Smollett.
“Not at all,” I said with a grin. “Most bullies like him forget that people like us don’t like threats. We won’t hide in a little hole, we’ll come up and smack ‘im one. Come on, let’s go and meet the others.”
It was low tide and the beach was deserted with only three sandcastles for me to jump on, and as one looked just like a roughed-up Camelot I couldn’t resist smashing it into a million grains of sand. Smollett tried to keep up with me, leaping from mound to mound and giggling in a most un-copper-like way, but there wasn’t much left after I’d finished bouncing on the castles. The Salt House loomed ahead, looking like a pile of rubble surrounded by a number of random walls. It reminded me of a Camelot farmhouse after one of the Black Knight’s raids, but without the dying screams and choking smoke.
Neets waved as she and Bryn walked towards us on the low coastal path surrounding the bay. We waited for them to join us because the Lewis mansion was going to be far more interesting than the Salt House, if only from the Time Portal point of view, and the mansion was on the other side of the village.
“Anything worth looking at, Neets?” I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be.
“Not really. Bryn says the place has a couple of hidden cave rooms he remembers from when he was a kid and he’s pretty sure one of them had two iron rings fastened to a wall. He says people reckon the wreckers round here tie people they don’t like to the rings and watch them drown as the tide comes in.”
“And if they really hate someone, Neets, they probably do it twice!”
We’d only been in 1734 for an hour or so and already I’d nearly been murdered, found out for certain the worst villain in Camelot was living here, and found out how the bad guys got rid of their enemies...and I had good reason to think I was one. Things were definitely looking up for the Agency.
It was time to go on the offensive and put our plan into effect, which only needed us to do one thing. We badly needed to think up a plan.