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Extract Part 4 of LEAP OF FAITH
Extract 3 was put on my blog last night and all previos extracts are still available on my blog still available.
Part 4 takes you through chapter 2. I'll hopefully be posting parts twice a day up to the end of chapter 3 at least.
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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.