The Return of the Purple Puffin – Day 26


In the time before he could extend his investigations further, Declan went to visit Lissy again. Sitting and playing with his daughter was more than a world away, it was a transfer to the Perseus Arm of the Milky Way. Alex stayed downstairs, her face still set against him. There was nothing in that room to connect him to the lineation of his life; just a bubbling little face with dark eyes and an expression trying to practice anything she saw. It was sobering to the depth of him. He could win battles against everybody who had pissed on him so profusely this last couple of days, but the only battle worth a moment’s consideration was to share the love of this bounteous little being in whom he was perpetuated.
“Do you think…” he tried, but got no further than Alex’s rapidly turning head and her refusal to talk to him. So he went out, visited the Estate Agents to pick up the keys for his new flat, and spent an hour there, moving over the stuff he’d taken to Mickey’s and, for all intents and purposes, moving himself in.
Declan had planned to conduct a private raid on Johnson’s offices, but he had a new priority after the afternoon. Given the importance Regina Tyler was placing on the Manchester element of her Empire, it clearly demanded inspecting for the kind of documents, plans,models etc. that even the oleaginous Adrian Jepson might have trouble glossing over.
First, though, he took a few precautions. It was one thing to easily evade the security of the Town Hall, and even the more resolute version employed at the Land Registry, whilst it was a near certainty that nobody from the Switchboard had even taken a bus past Companies House whilst it was having it’s repository rifled, but Declan had the feeling that it wouldn’t prove half so easy with Regina Tyler. Funny how personalised things got around her.
Come dark, Declan set off. From the sanctity of a ring of pockets, surrounding the boundary walls and fences, he studied the external security: cameras, lights, motion detectors: not all of them new since the previous Monday. Funny that: all the time he’d spent since them grounding himself in Regina Tyler’s plans, and he hadn’t even ventured back to the site to look. Suspicious that, with all this security, nothing had come out to evidence the presence of either the Biker or his doppelgänger.
But there would certainly be no crossing the compound to the main building. Of course that wasn’t a handicap, but instead of sailing in with his usual confidence, Declan chose to stay where he was and check his route.
Hmm, yes. That would get him into the lower ground floor, but at that point the chain was pinched shut. From this direction, so far, a little further, but no: a sonic trap that would shatter his hearing. Try again: barricaded before I’d even reach the building. Yes, someone has anticipated non-corporeal access and done a damned good job of deflecting it. What of further in? Oh yes: yes. All these stages are one-shot traps. The route’s not destroyed, it’s simply not possible to go further along it. But you can go round it. If I emerge here, and re-enter here: no, better yet, that’s a free route there, I’d get into the third floor from there, but there’s no way of accessing the fourth floor at all, it can’t be fully protected, no wait. Does that upline get higher? It does, but how to get into that. Move down again, and I can see an entrypoint there, but there’s no access to that quadrant except from above?
Slowly, like playing a three dimensional game of Snakes and Ladders, Declan traced lines into and out of holes in the fabric of the building, and not just the building but the whole compound. Some lines of advancement seemed promising but petered out, others looked too easy and direct,too clearly traps designed to lure any visitor into a pre-planned spot in which he could be handled.
Gradually though, using the skills that had served him so well in his well-worn Asterix SNES game, he found a path there. A narrow one, a tentative route, that spun and rose and dropped and   looped about itself until it was almost impassable, but trod with care, and with the White Knight’s well known skills, it presented the only feasible route into Regina Tyler’s personal offices.
Should be something really good in there if she’s prepared to go to such lengths to keep people like me out.
So, treading at a deliberate speed that was almost the complete opposite of his normal progression, Declan manoeuvred through the maze, moving carefully to points before blocks had been inserted, dropping out into reality to cross to other lines, avoiding internal monitors on one place and superhuman protection on the other, until completing his journey by melting through the door of Regina Tyler’s office.
Visions of the spider at the centre of the web thus traversed were almost inevitable, as were the black stockings his imagination insisted on applying to Miss Tyler .
It was a spacious office, carpeted wall to wall in the kind of stuff that you could imagine Regina reclining back upon, and luxuriously tossing her head back, with elegant leather-covered sofas on which she would sit, entertaining her guests,her evening dress slit daringly along one thigh, and a drinks cabinet of such size as to ensure she could befuddle the senses of anyone who she might brush up against: Declan gathered himself together abruptly. Surely he was being got at? He’d never been that bad about Pauline Watson: in fact he tried to re-imagine the scene with Pauline draping herself across it beguilingly and Regina still pressed herself into his view.
Interesting form of defence, Declan thought, shaking himself and dispelling the images with the equivalent of a self-applied cold shower, though I’d like to see you get away with that against Pink Triangle. Maybe that thought of her in a set of skintights wasn’t so far off the mark, eh?
He began on the set of black-trimmed woodgrain filing cabinets at the end of the room. They were locked, but unpicking locks was just a Knight’s Move in miniature, and he was soon fingering through various papers, looking for material primarily about Ardwick, but also for anything pertinent to overall plans. And associates.
“I am somewhat disappointed in you, Mr Cuffe,” a voice said, unexpectedly, from near the desk. Declan hardly paused in his rifling but, his back still turned to Regina, lines began to form on his face, tracing first the outline and then the colouring of a face-mask.
“You realise that, upon top of the disappointment of probably losing your position with the Council, this extremely silly attempt at a break-in will expose you to quite serious criminal charges,” she went on. Declan merely shrugged but otherwise ignored her.
It didn’t affect the tone of her voice. “I cannot imagine what you thought you could possibly discover from intruding on my company’s private documentation in this manner, given how open Tyler Chemicals has been towards the Council with regard to our plans.”
Declan smiled but still didn’t turn round.
“And, before this new Government takes office after the foregone conclusion of the Election,it will be a useful demonstration of the corruption inherent in the Public Sector and it’s quite hysterical response to the possibility that it cannot control every aspect of people’s lives.” She had left the desk and was advancing on him, unhurriedly.
That was worth turning around for. Declan extracted a file from its drawer and held that by his side. “Is that what all this is about, Miss Tyler? An Ideological campaign, instead of the traditionally sordid motives of profit and power?”
“The mask is of no use to you, Mr Cuffe, and it will not prevent you going to your just desserts.”
“Oh please, call me Edward,” Declan said.
“And why Edward?” Regina asked, stopping in the middle of the room.
“It’s such an thoroughly English name,” he said. “And as close to my real one as your mistaken implications are trying to suggest.”
Regina smiled, and put her head to one side. “Tautology,” she said. “Implications. Suggestions. A triple denial. You could simply admit it, and have done with it. Declan.”
“Or you can admit, Miss Tyler, that you are engaged in a genuinely criminal conspiracy, involving criminal damage on a grand scale, reckless endangerment of the public, encouraging acts of public threat, breach of the peace and general distasteful megalomania. Not to mention that you’ve encouraged that evil little scrote the Monster Biker to show his hairy arse in public again.”
“You are really quite amusing,” Regina said. “You will excuse me whilst I take a little wine, or may I offer you a glass?”
“You may offer, but I’m sure a businesswoman of your calibre will have already anticipated that I will refuse.”
“Of course. Some petty moral objection to drinking with someone you regard, with characteristic simplicity, as a villain,no doubt.”
“Or an aversion to being drugged,” Declan suggested. He tucked the file he was carrying under his arm. “But do feel free to indulge yourself before I leave.”
“Leave?” Regina decanted a modest portion of red wine into a glass and raised it to her nose to absorb its aroma. Holding it in her left hand, whilst her right clasped her elbow, she turned half towards him. “Now that is taking simplicity far further than is warranted. You surely don’t think you’ll be permitted to leave, other than in the custody of my Security.”
“Your Security did not,” observed Declan, still enjoying himself, “prevent me from coming in here in the first place. Every system has a loophole, and where access can be gained, egress will certainly follow.”
“That doesn’t always follow,” she said. “You no doubt thought yourself extremely clever in sneaking in, but perhaps your pride in your ability to find a loophole in a nearly, but ultimately not quite foolproof system may have blinded you to other possible explanations of how you achieved your goal?”
Declan shrugged. “You mean the subtle way that you warded off every possible angle of approach except one that would guarantee me arriving at the one spot by a predictable point in time? Lady, you will have to try a little harder than that after they let you out of prison.”
Regina smiled, though there was a certain something to the expression that smacked of the sour. “Such bravado! Such nobility. Such…” Her low, mellow voice skidded to a halt as Declan vanished.
To reappear, instants later, immediately behind her, saying, “Boo!” in her ear.
He was gone before she’d swivelled in shock, back to the wall with the filing cabinets, opening a drawer with casual ease, then disappearing once more, with another file in hand. “Hmm, no keys,” he mused by the door, testing the handle, and was out of sight again before she’d properly focussed on him.
“Never leave a whole in an otherwise perfect system,” he said from behind her left ear, and “You just never know what sort of short-cuts people can build into it,” from the other side. As she whirled about in confusion, Declan popped in with his face bent over her neck: “Darling, you smell divine,” he woofled, an arm round her waist suddenly pulling her back against him. Hardly had she yelped in shock than he was before her, a hand resting on her hip, her hand in his other hand. “Shall we dance?” he murmured, before dissolving again.
“Or shall we talk seriously?” he continued, in a detached, almost ironic voice. “About your part in this sudden wave of destruction sweeping across my city, your plans to extend your complex into something resembling the basis of a private enclave, the pecuniary advantage for you and your business associate, whose name I am looking forward to having you confirm. And not to mention the blackening of the name of a once respected hero, formerly of this parish, who would like you to know that he bloody well resents it.
She recovered her self-possession admirably, putting a hand to her hair to tease a few black strands back into their perfectly positioned place, and sipping her wine.
“Yes, that’s what has really offended you, isn’t it? Given you the most personal affront. Not that you’ve been branded a renegade among your supposed peers, or that the job in which you took such pride in your authority has not only been taken from you, but demeaned by Mr Masters’ abject urge to crawl to my every whim. It’s that your pathetic secret identity, your so-noble creation has been used to do so.” She smiled, a rich and loaded smile. Declan felt the urge to drink her in, to repeat those precious moments of physical contact, the desire to sink his mouth upon her lips, oh yes, she had something beyond the natural, but he had protection against outside interference and he wasn’t distracted by her glamour.
“How do you do it, Miss Tyler?” he asked. “Is it pheromones, or a degree of mental domination? You’re that bit powered up yourself, aren’t you. But you’re one of the ones who thinks it just confirms their right to have what they want when they want it, instead of actually doing anything useful with it.”
“Useful?” she mocked. “That’s just a teensy bit rich coming from someone who, for no better reason than his own personal embarrassment, gave up using his powers for anything five years ago. Such a shallow argument from such a shallow man.”
Declan’s eyes narrowed. “What’s this about personal embarrassment?” he asked. “You think you know something about me, lady?”
“I do know rather a lot about you, Declan,” she said, “but on this particular detail, I am reliant on the evidence of another.” A sweat broke out on Declan’s back. Regina smiled faintly, aware of and enjoying his discomfort.
“You said you were eager to meet my business associate,” she said, impishly. “Eric, perhaps you would like to come out and greet your old friend?”
Declan’s eyes turned towards the door, which slid smoothly open. In the gloom of the corridor, he could see little but the outline of a male figure: a perhaps rotund figure given how his silhouette belled out about the waist, but as he stepped forward, Declan could see that he wore boots and leggings of a distinctly violet tone, that his arms supported sweeping wings of deep black above a similarly tinted chest and that across his head was stretched a full-face mask, with a black skull cap behind a curved, projecting multi-coloured beak.
“Oh Jesus Christ, no, oh God no,” said Declan, unconsciously aping the intonation of Sergeant Neil Howie on his first sight of the Wicker Man.
“Thank you, Regina dear,” the figure spoke, awkwardly around his beak, “but when I’m wearing my work outfit, perhaps you could address me as the Purple Puffin.”

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