The Return of the Purple Puffin – Day 23

There wasn’t much left, just enough to show that the semi-destruction of the warehouse had been an accidental by-product of the effort of hero to frustrate villain, and now villain would retreat with tail between legs, to his hidden lair, to lick his wounds – none, so far as Declan could see – whilst hero returned to the anonymity that protected him from those who were trying to attack, frustrate and bring him down, and also his enemies.
Just how the Monster Biker got away was a continuing mystery to Declan, given that he was seven foot tall, covered in swathes of blue and orange fur and apparently couldn’t afford suppressors for his hog: try merging into the crowd looking like that.
But he wasn’t interested in the Biker’s getaway, the Police could worry about that, it could keep Sammy Norton and Steven Hooper occupied. Declan wanted to know where the so-called White Knight went, and if there was anyone who could successfully track a person slipping in between reality, he was the man.
With nothing but, again, a single wall half standing, the job looked done. The White Knight burst out of nowhere to land a devastating haymaker that knocked the Biker fully a dozen yards off his bike. That’s what it would look like at the distances the Police were gathering from the scene: only Declan was near enough to see that the punch hadn’t landed at all.
But the sudden distance between the protagonists proved decisive. The bike roared into life, crashed through mounded debris, spewing bricks in every direction, causing further damage to everything within reach and, fortuitously, causing a momentary screen between hero and villain, which villain used to his advantage by leaping onto his bike, roaring at the site entrance and leaping his mechanical steed into the air to clear the barricades by at least eight feet. The Doppler Effect of his receding engine faded rapidly.
Declan only had eyes for the Knight, who’d reacted to the bricks hurled into the air by throwing his arms up for protection and checking, all of which seemed eminently reasonable to anyone not aware that bricks meant bugger all to someone who could walk through the space surrounding them.
He moved sideways, emerging only a few feet to the rear of the white-clad figure. This was going to be the tricky bit: he had to be close to the pseudo-Knight to see what he next did, and that meant fully entering the natural plane, but he also needed, desperately, to not be seen. Not merely by Knight, but by any boys in blue watching from the periphery: Declan had no mask, and he was familiar enough to too many of the cops to risk being seen.
Ok, yes, there was a point to masks, but still no justification for costumes.
The Knight was hanging around far too long. There was no point in pursuing the Monster Biker now, even if there had ever been any intention of capturing him, but he was still here, and Declan couldn’t understand why. He shifted himself two Moves, keeping as close as he could, always out of the sight-line of those moulded eye-holes in the white helm. The plume waved lazily as the air disturbed in the brief but aggressive battle settled.
Then he moved.
To the watching Police, he seemed to simply disappear, the way the White Knight always did, instantly and inexplicably. Declan knew that, instead, in a form of sleight of hand that would have had Tommy Cooper busting a gut to add to his act, the White Knight would leap into one of the plethora of interstices around, making his way, Move by Move, to a place where he could remove the costume and resume his real identity.
Declan was going to follow him. Follow him and find out who he was, and where he could be found, and stick to him until he was contacted by whoever was paying him – although Eric Johnson, the man who had been the driving force behind the abortive Canalside Leisure Scheme was a very high favourite – and follow he leads back to all the various places they stemmed from: one of them being George Masters’ office, if he was any judge.
Watch him go, follow his trail, always a Move behind him.
And now he had started. Declan threw off his cover, leapt for the point where the imposter had vanished, and stopped dead.
There was no crack, no fissure, no gap, no sliver there. Nothing for a White Knight to fold himself into when walking around the known Universe. No entry way into the underland of existence. No trail to follow.
Declan stared aghast. Where the hell had he gone? And if he hadn’t ducked through any of the gates clearly visible around the point he once stood, then how had he disappeared.
And where the hell was he?
His thinking was interrupted by the strident, and unmannerly, cry of “Oi, you! Stay where you are!” delivered by the first of two policemen advancing on his. Declan had no intention of staying, and stepped out through a gap that involved both ducking into a shadow, and turning his  back on the authorities. Time to not be here.
Three moves later, he emerged a mile and a half away and thinking. This was sloppy of him: in future, he would have Plan Bs prepared in advance. But if he couldn’t follow his imposter, that left one useful source who were bound to have kept tabs on this new manifestation. Swallowing yet another fresh-brewed glass of pride, Declan made a ninety degree turn into a shop doorway, but didn’t arrive in the shop: since it was a ladies’ lingerie emporium, this spared him irrelevant questions.
From the Space,he dialled the Switchboard again. “ Code 7413 Alice, this is the White Knight, urgent assistance needed, Barrymore.”
“White Knight acknowledged. This is becoming almost a regular event. If you are proposing a return to full-time action, we shall have to look at updating your status.”
“Don’t act too fast, Barrington. I’m not doing this under anything except necessity, and once I’ve gotten to the bottom of things, I shall once more fade into the shadows. Or as far back as I can get, with your magic eyes no doubt focussed on me.”
“You made it plain before that you were withdrawing entirely from communication with our community, White Knight, and your privacy has been respected. It was you who emerged from cover to contact us.”
“And you told me then that you knew I was alive, so don’t pretend you’ve just wiped me off the books and haven’t a clue what’s happened to me, Barrington. You keep your fingers in as many pies as you can lay hands on.”
“As it happens, White Knight, we don’t need to in your case. There is an… interested party who furnishes us with occasional reports, denuded of significant detail, and thus we are kept aware of your current good health.”
“Who’ve you got watching me, Barrington? I think I should know.”
“We have no-one watching you, although I must warn you that that is a subject under debate after the events of the last week. We merely have a mutual acquaintance who is connected to you.”
“A mutual acquaintance? I want a name, Barrington.”
“In the immortal words of Number Six, you won’t get it.”
A face came into Declan’s mind. “Harry White,” he said.
“No names, White Knight. Never any names without sanction.”
“Don’t worry. If it’s Harry, I don’t mind.” Even if it means the old bastard’s been keeping closer tabs on me than I knew, but that’s not important now. “Wait a minute. What was that you said? You’re talking about putting me under surveillance? What the hell for.”
The lack of emotion in the electronic tones grew, if anything, more pronounced. “A figure dressed in the White Knight’s costume, and utilising the White Knight’s powers and techniques has, after five years absence, been highly visible for the last seven days. As a consequence of his actions, considerable property damage, and concomitant economic deprivation, has been incurred, without the halting of any criminal activities or the arrest of any seeming culprit. It is being questioned in some areas as to whether we may have another Solomon Situation on our hands.”
Declan roared in rage. “Solomon? You seriously mean you’re wondering if I’ve gone renegade?! Jesus bloody Christ, Barrington, it was me who alerted you that the guy was an imposter the moment he first appeared!”
“Which would be a sound tactical step if you were proposing to turn your coat, deflecting attention and suspicion away from you, and enabling advancement of your plans without outside scrutiny.”
“Fuck me, you don’t half talk some shite at times, Barrington.”
“As was said, and if I recall correctly, in the exact same words by Megabomb when it was first mooted that the late Wisest Man in the World had lost the wisdom to eschew acting in his own interests.”
“Oh, great! I contact you, needing your help to take down some imposter who is definitely assisting some scammer, and you accuse me of being the villain myself. Gee, thanks, Barry! In the last twenty four hours I may just have lost my marriage and my baby daughter, and my job on top of that and when I decide to do something about it, at the cost of forswearing myself on one of the mostly deeply important decisions of my life, I’m under a black cloud from the very people who know best of all how clean I am. Way to go, Barry.”
“Fortunately for you, we do not invest in emotional flights of fancy here. There are some who are considering if extra surveillance is required to eliminate that possibility, and we never rule out possibilities until they are dispelled, but such possibilities are not used to withhold assistance. How can we help you, White Knight?”
Declan found it hard to come down from his anger at the mere thought of being treated as a renegade, but, with the occasional prompt and nudge when he seemed to be veering off-topic, he recounted his suspicions over the series of events in Ancoats, and it’s possible relation to Tyler Chemicals.
“Intriguing. We have on record your previous explanation of your powers and your ability to transport yourself over distances. Theories are inconclusive, but mainly centre upon the assumption that you were transformed into a natural identifier/conveyor of wormholes in space. All attempts to duplicate your abilities have failed, as have attempts to detect your passage. When you vanish off our radar, you vanish.”
“That’s good to know at least,” Declan said, cautiously. “Can’t say I appreciate the theory though.”
“But you’re confirming that your doppelgänger, whatever and whoever he is, isn’t using the identical method. This being so, we’ll re-analyse the information we’ve already gathered on his appearances with this in mind, and look for alternate conclusions. Trace his whereabouts and we can begin to neutralise him. Oh and White Knight?”
“It might be in your interests to contrive to be seen with him on his next emergence. Just to eliminate other theories.”
Declan made no overt comment upon this, but did consent to wear a mobile connection which would enable instantaneous transmission of information to him. Then he broke the connection and settled into some serious brooding.
Emerging again into reality, he found a text message on his phone from Sammy Norton, inviting him – actually, more like commanding him – to meet her for a drink at 6.00pm. Presumably she’d heard of his temporary job difficulties and wanted to sympathise with him. In the intervening couple of hours, he would attend to some personal issues.
First among these was a visit to the house to collect a suitcase of clothes and some immediately essential personal items. Alex greeted him coldly, refused to talk to him, but did not prevent him from spending a quarter hour in the nursery, simply standing and looking at the sleeping Sissy.
He left without a word in the car, promising to return it after dropping his things off at Mickey Bannon’s. It would all have been so much easier using his powers, but that would have been provocative to his wife, alarming to his mate and a sign of laxity to himself: some standards had to be kept.
At 6.00pm on the dot, he was walking into the Red Lion. DCI Norton was already installed at a table to the right of the bar, drinking from a small glass of clear liquid, and frowning, but then again she was ever the most sunny of creatures. She had changed in out of uniform, was dressed in a heavy yellow shirt and pinstriped slacks. She saw Declan on his way over to her and drained her glass.
“Ahh, there you are, Sammy,” he greeted her. “Had a good day, have we? I can’t remember the last time you bought me a drink.”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Norton said. “It’s you that’s buying me one. You know my usual.”
“I see,” Declan said, still striving for bright and breezy. “So this is not a social occasion. What can it be about?”
“Get the drinks in,” Norton said, with a tilt to her head that would have Dis and below jumping.
It was getting busy. Declan took five minutes to get served, enough time to put himself on guard. “Vodka and tonic for you,” he said, returning to the table, “Half a lager for me, and what can I do for my favourite lady of the Law?”
Sammy shot him a glance that burned that one down in flames.
“I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to the news this afternoon, or whether you’ve just been simply too busy, but you may not have heard that there’s been another incident in Ancoats with your friends the White knight and the Monster Biker.”
“What? Another?” Declan cried. “That’s, what,” and he paused and pretended to work it out in his head, “four now. Five if you count the Tyler compound. In just a week. What are these clowns on?”
“Interesting,” Sammy Norton said. “And that’s the first you’ve heard of it today?”
“Well, yes,” Declan said. “You may be aware that I wasn’t working today. The fact of the matter is, that I’ve been scapegoated for trying to deal with Regina Tyler’s plans on a statutory basis, instead of immediately lying down and inviting her to further extend her little empire in whatever way she chooses, and they’re trying to undercut the arguments by suspending me.”
“I heard it as Garden Leave,” Norton commented.
“PFW,” he said.
Norton inclined her head with a modicum of enquiry. “PFW?” she prompted.
“Posh Fucking Word,” Declan supplied.
“I see. So what have you been doing today instead of working.”
“The usual things you do when you’ve also had a barney with your missus. Fixing up a gaff for tonight, looking at flats or in case this is going to be serious. Keeping myself busy.”
“So busy, you’ve had no time for news.”
“Indubitably,” he said, airily.
“So when Peter Haldane rang you at 1.40pm to tell you that the White Knight had been seen on site in Ancoats again, the significance of this didn’t register with you? Even though you’d specifically asked him to warn you as soon as he got wind of this very thing happening.”
Declan took up his glass and drank from it very deliberately. Setting it down, his manner changed.
“Yes, I did know. I told you otherwise because Peter’s not supposed to be speaking to me whilst I’m suspended and I didn’t want to drop him in it.”
“Instead, he’s already dropped you in it, and good and proper. According to one of my men,who’s seen you often enough to know who you are, you were on the incident scene immediately after the attack ended. You refused to stop when instructed to do so by a Police Officer in the execution of his duties and instead fled. Do you deny this?”
“Are you accusing me of anything, Sammy?”
“Not at this moment in time. Not when you’re buying me the drinks, and I’m ready for another, just as soon as you’ve satisfied my curiosity. Are you going to deny you were there, Declan?”
“No, I’m not,” said Declan, who made it a rule never to deny anything that could be proven. “Three attacks in Ancoats, clearing three adjacent sites, Sammy? All three of which comprised in a multi-million pound rebuilding scheme refused by Planning not two years ago? All featuring one of our old costumes who hasn’t been seen for years, until a week ago today, and is now causing havoc every day? Come on, am I the only one who thinks that stinks on ice? Of course I wanted to get in there and see some of this myself.”
“Why? Is it your job? What has a potential criminal scheme to do with the Council? That’s for us to think about, and for us to investigate, not you going around turning up on sealed incident sites and leaving any manner of false evidence.” She paused, and then very deliberately drew out a cigarette, lit it and took a long draw from it. Smoke poured from her nostrils as she exhaled.
“Not that you seem to have left any physical evidence on this occasion, Declan. Which intrigues me even more, and which is why we’re meeting here as opposed to Bootle Street.”
Sammy Norton leaned forward, lowering her voice, not that anyone was listening in. “You disappear from a sealed site that you shouldn’t have been able to get on in the first place, and the only evidence you were there is that someone saw you, and there’s nothing there that forensics can find that suggests anyone was on that spot at all.
“So, Declan, I have one question for you, and I think you should think very carefully about the answer you give.”
“Are you the White Knight?”

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