Discounted Books


Yes, it’s Shameless Plug again.

From now until the end of Monday 21 July, Lulu.com are offering 15% off the purchase price of my latest novel, The Revenge of the Purple Puffin (as purchasable via the following link – http://www.lulu.com/shop/martin-crookall/the-revenge-of-the-purple-puffin/paperback/product-21693281.html ). All you have to do is use the following Code at checkout – DOGDAYS14 – to claim your discount.

Indeed, you don’t have to restrict your buying to The Revenge of the Purple Puffin as it applies to everything I have written that’s available from Lulu.

Go mad, take the chance to grab a bargain, there are two trilogies out there that you can purchase whilst the cost is even righter than usual.

You know how happy it would make me…

*New Book!* – My Brilliant Sporting Career


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With a cover courtesy of StreetWorm, for whose site see the adjoining link, I have now published my ninth book (discounting omnibuses). This time, as the title suggests, it’s a Sporting Autobiography. If you’re wondering how an overweight buffoon such as myself can have had any kind of Sporting Career, I suggest you read the book’s Preface, below, to discover exactly what kind of book this is…

PREFACE

I was on my own on the right, running with the ball, no-one coming to challenge me.
There was a big gap into the penalty area, and I had team-mates inside of me, running in on goal, ready for the crisp, low, diagonal ball that would invite them to score.
There was also a big gap between the keeper and the post, vulnerable to the low, hard shot, giving me the option. Which was it to be? The good of the team or personal glory?
In football, moments like this happen all the time. Sometimes, there isn’t the time to think, and instinct takes over, pushing the buttons and selecting between the cross and the shot, the lay-off and the piledriver, the team or the player. Other times, there is the luxury of thought, and then it’s down to the personality, the experience, the demands of the game. I saw Paul Ince go through on goal once, run half the length of the field with only the keeper to beat, round him miles out from goal and facing only the man on the line: it was the Cup Final, it was injury time, United were 3-0 up with the Double in their back pockets and with an unselfishness above and beyond the call of human nature, he laid it off to give Brian McClair a tap-in.
There was nothing that important riding on my choice. It happened 40 years or so ago, a Games Period on the Top Pitch at Burnage Grammar or High School in the First or Second Year, and I was 11 or 12. I’d never scored and I desperately wanted to put one in, but I was afraid of the digs and snipes I’d get if I bogged it up through being greedy.
The point of all this is that, although this kind of choice, and even these very circumstances crop up time and again in all levels of football, the choices are the same, and the player brings the same factors to bear deciding what to do.
Except I didn’t.
When I said I was running with the ball, what I meant was that I was kicking it ahead of me and running after it until I caught it up, and then kicking it ahead of me again. I was afraid of what my team-mates might say if I went for goal, because I knew, already, just what kind of a footballer I was.
So I decided. If I went for the goal, or I pulled the ball back for the cross, it didn’t matter, since I couldn’t kick it straight enough to save my life. Instead, I aimed very carefully halfway between the cross and the shot, and left it to fate and my ineptitude how it would turn out.
If you have guessed that, on this one occasion, my accuracy could not be faulted, then you will have already sensed what kind of book this is.

Those who are devotees of Australian literature and/or Australian cinema will immediately recognise the title of this book to be an hommage (or, as most Australians would put it, rip-off) of the famous and moving novel by Miles Franklin, which was made into an equally famous and moving film starring the famous and talented Judy Davis.
Sadly for devotees of Australian literature and/or Australian cinema, there is little or no connection between either of those proto-feminist works and the life and fumbling times of a hopeless sportsperson. Indeed, it is doubtful that devotees of Australian literature and/or Australian cinema would find their way anywhere near this dog of a book, but since they are Australian, and a disposition towards sport appears to be an indelible genetic trait, one can but hope.
If they do read this book, it will probably go a long way towards confirming their impressions of bloody wingeing effete hopeless Pommy bastards. If I had any illusions about things like that, I couldn’t have set down this chapter of accident, disaster and occasional but exceedingly limited triumph.
So what’s the point of this book? It’s very easy to write a sporting biography if you’re a superstar: people are more likely to buy your book, for one thing, which means publishers are more likely to want to print it, believing that they can pay you substantial amounts and still live in the lifestyle to which any of us might want to become accustomed.
If you’re a journeyman, you can sometimes break into the charmed circle of attention, by being witty and perceptive about what sport is like on the margins, where the game is accepted as being more ‘real’, though I have never found myself falling through the seats at Old Trafford because they only exist in the imagination.
If you are a total nobody, who has never achieved anything, never laid claim to private let alone public attention for his exploits in sport, in short a total and utter amateur, in thought, word and deed, you can regard yourself as having no chance.
The thing is, I’ve had a sporting career too. It hasn’t taken me to the heights, it hasn’t given anyone else lasting memories (though that lad I backheeled the ball past to score probably thought about it for several days), and you can scour even the smallest of local papers without ever finding my name in a match report, because it hasn’t been that sort of sporting career.
It also hasn’t been confined to one sport, not football, not cricket, because I never had the talent to concentrate upon any one sport and make it my life’s work, my profession. Inability is so wide-ranging, a true amateur can fail at as many sports as takes his fancy.

What My Brilliant Sporting Career is about is the sporting life of someone who was never ever, even in his wildest dreams, going to be called in at the last minute to salvage his Country’s sporting pride. In fact, to be truthful, I have doubts about my chances of being called in at the last minute to salvage my street’s sporting pride.
Not that that ever stopped me.
For years and years I played all manner of sports. Some more often than others. Some more adeptly than others, but not by the kind of margins observable without an electron microscope. All with the same kind of limitless enthusiasm that asks only for small amounts of realistic gratification, which has been delivered surprisingly often.
Long ago, I decided that it’s the complete amateur, and preferably the most hopeless of all, who gets the greatest satisfaction out of sport. Whatever your game, be it cricket, football, squash, pool or any of the others represented in these pages, if you play it often enough, long enough, time enough, there will come – however long removed or, however fleeting – that moment of magic. That moment when muscle, bone, sinew, tendon, hand, eye, everything that goes to make up a motion comes together perfectly, when you do something gloriously, unexpectedly right.
Professional sportsmen are professional for many reasons. Some of them are because they possess the dedication and determination to exclude from their thoughts and lives everything that is extraneous to the vision of them playing, being possessed of and by their sport. But mostly they’re professional because they can call upon these moments at will. The instant of sweet power as the boot draws back and delivers the rising shot from thirty yards that arcs beyond the reach of any earthly goalkeeper. The flowing drive that speeds the ball, almost without effort, past the despairing dive of the fielder and to the rope. The accuracy of touch and strength that sends the cue ball around uncountable geometric angles to rest in precisely the spot you would have placed it had you been able to pick it up and set it by hand.
They can do that all the time, you see, and whatever state of mind it produces in them, be it arrogance or humbleness or merely relief that it still happens the way they want it to, that the body has not yet begun the decay beyond what they ask it to produce, it cannot match the emotion of the man – or woman – who knows they lack that skill, but who for a disbelieving instant, find their bodies obeying to a degree of precision that will never ever come again.
Well, not in this game again.
Sometimes it’s like that. Most of the time it isn’t. Most of the time, it’s the way I describe it in here. Those of us who play for the fun of it have to make the most of what we get, and if it gets as good as this, we’re lucky.
If you saw me as I am – 5’10” of straining waistband, perspiring myopically through glasses slid permanently down a nose – you wouldn’t immediately take me for an athlete. If you saw me in the middle of one of my sporting endeavours, you’d congratulate yourself on how right you were. Take it from me, there is a lot of modesty on show, and precious little of it is false.
But, like you, I have had my triumphs, and I count them dear, because the rest of the time I’ve nothing to look forward to, nothing to look back on and, now I’m in my 50s and laid up with a dodgy ankle, a dicky knee, a suspect back and a groin that sometimes feels the strain, not a great deal of present.
But I consider myself to have paid my dues. Read the book and pay me some of them back.

Now you’ve read the extract, you’ll obviously want to know all the inglorious details, so here’s the link to Lulu.com for the paperback edition, priced £6.99 + postage and packing – visit http://www.lulu.com/shop/martin-crookall/my-brilliant-sporting-career/paperback/product-20607032.html

Details of the Kindle edition will follow when the book is published there.

Happy reading!

Tempus Expletive – The Tempus Trilogy Book 3


Available in paperback from Lulu.com £6.49

http://www.lulu.com/shop/martin-crookall/tempus-expletive/paperback/product-20290017.html

Available from the Kindle Store £1.91

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tempus-Expletive-The-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B009MQM9XE/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1349644752&sr=8-2

and it starts like this…

“I’m thirsty,” I announced to no-one in particular.
Without for one second allowing her binoculars to waver away from the Lancashire dressing-room where, at any moment, Steve O’Shaughnessy might wander past, wearing only his jockstrap, my wife extended her left arm in front of my face, rotating her wrist elegantly to permit me to focus upon the dial of her watch.
“I can’t drink that,” I observed, which I thought was a quite reasonable thing to say.
Alison smiled and, with an equally eloquent gesture, swung her hand so that she hit me on the nose with the back of her forearm (an part of the body that ought to have a specific name of its own).
“Ow!” I said, more for the look of it than anything else. “So that’s it, the honeymoon’s definitely over then. What happened to Love, Honour and Obey?”
“Check the contract, darling,” said my wife, at last lowering her binoculars. “Love and Honour, fine, Obey you agreed we left out, but I remember nothing that bars me from bopping you on the nose when you’re being a bit of a pratt.”
“You’ve changed,” I said, with mock bitterness. “I blame you going into the private sector, it’s made you hard. It’s that boss of yours.”
“Oh yes?” Alison said, raising an eyebrow at me for good measure. “Who didn’t fancy living in Oldham? Especially on the money I got for working for the Council.”
“Ah, the Great God Mammon,” I proclaimed. On the pitch, Clive Lloyd punched a powerful drive through mid off, the ball taking approximately three seconds to hit the ropes below us, in front of H Stand. An appreciative ripple of applause ran around Old Trafford, to which we contributed heartily, several times over if we’re being technical.
Whilst Alison was distracted, I surreptitiously removed the binoculars from her lap, resisting the temptation to stroke her thigh in passing. “What shall it profit a woman,” I orated, “if she shall lose that air of loving sweetness towards her lawful husband and start battering him at every opportunity? And I’m still thirsty.”
“Alright, what’s the time?” she asked, referring to a dog-eared notebook open in the top of her bag. Grateful for the excuse, I seized her wrist and twisted it round – gently – until I could focus on the tiny dial.
“3.24pm.”
“Precisely?”
“Of course, precisely. You don’t get approximately twenty four minutes past three.”
“You’ll have to wait.”
“Are you sure?” I said, hopefully, knowing that Alison is twice as likely to be right about such things as Roland, but not half so irritating.
She gave me a look that would have been more impressive if she’d first had to raise those old triangular mirror shades of hers. “Until 3.26, you’re at the bar behind the Wilson Stand, getting four lagers, which you take back to the ringside seats at the Warwick Road End, arriving at 3.28. When you’ve sat down, you can go and get another two lagers, provided you don’t hang around until after 3.50, when you’re queuing for four lagers again, which we drank when we were up the back of the Wilson Stand itself.”
I knew she was right, in fact, I banked on it. But just to tease her, I leaned across and looked at the book. Its pages were ruled off neatly with rows and columns: a minute by minute timescale ran down the left hand side of each spread whilst both pages were covered with columns, blocked off by different coloured bars. Purple bars meant the bar under the Wilson Stand: one extended all the way down to 3.26pm.
“Satisfied?” Alison asked.
I shrugged. “You want a can as well?”
“Good boy. Now give me those binoculars back.”
Damn, she’d noticed. “Not until I get a snog.”
“During a Roses Match? What kind of heathen are you? That’s dangerously like enjoying yourself.”
“It’s alright. We’re allowed to enjoy ourselves during Roses Matches, it’s the Tykes who can’t.”
I got my snog, with Alison briefly but deliciously sticking her tongue halfway down the back of my throat, which almost had me suggesting we went home now. After all, we could always come back any time we wanted. But anticipation lends an altogether more delightful glow to going to bed, which is not something I’d ever imagined about married life, so – after checking that we’d just successfully used up the missing time – I levered myself out of my seat and headed for the aisle. She was already directing her glasses towards the dressing room.

Now, if I know my readership correctly, which I flatter myself I do, you’re already getting comfortable about my habit of starting in the middle of things and clattering on as if we all know what we’re talking about. My regular readers do, of course, and put up with my little stylistic flourishes – we call it in media res, incidentally – but each time I hope for more interested faces, for whom a few words of explanation must be inserted, before they lose the thread.
It doesn’t matter so much if I lose the plot, but the paying public need to be acknowledged once in a while.
What you are currently reading about is a surprisingly typical evening in the life of Jack and Alison Warrington, a married couple just approaching their mid-twenties, with eighteen months of connubial bliss, and the odd row, behind them. Yes, despite any impression to the contrary that you may have formed, this is all taking place in the middle of the evening. I grant you that we not only appear to be but are in fact enjoying a hot afternoon at the cricket, the Roses Match to be precise, on the afternoon of Tuesday 26 August 1980 (Lancashire are going to win, trust me). But this is actually happening on a Monday night in January 1985.
At the risk of undermining any dramatic tension you may already be feeling, Alison and I are Time-Travellers. Neither of us are a slightly bewildered young man in Edwardian cricket gear (nor for that matter a deep-voiced loping man with long curly hair and an attachment to overlong scarves that borders on the obsessive), but we are Time-Travellers nevertheless.
It’s just that we don’t go in for high drama with the Universe at stake – not if we don’t have to, that is – we just enjoy our cricket and have found a really convenient way of indulging ourselves in it.
Mind you, in the right light, Geoffrey Boycott can look uncannily like a Dalek.
So, with this vital piece of information made readily available, let us return to this simultaneously blazing September afternoon and freezing January night. If you happen to be fair-skinned, bring suntan lotion.

Whatever was going on in the Lancashire dressing room must have been pretty fascinating, because Alison hadn’t even noticed how long I was gone. I dropped back into my place at her side, handing over a lager that she accepted sweetly, placing it on the seat between us. I carefully opened my cold and lovely can, all the time keeping an eye on her face. She reached for the notebook, retrieved her little gold pen – cousin Elsie’s wedding gift – and looked at her wristwatch.
Her brow furrowed.
“You’ve been fifteen minutes!”
“This I know.” I took a long swig.
“What were you playing at? You could have got another one, probably two lots of drinks into that gap, and you’ve pretty nearly used it all up. What were you doing all that time?”
“Open your drink.”
“Tell me why you were so long.”
“Open your drink. You’ll need it when I tell you.” Alison hesitated for a moment, then hooked a finger under the ring-pull. The lager foamed briefly on the rim of the can. I gestured with my can, and she took a less-extensive mouthful herself.
“Well?”
“I met… someone,” I said. “And we had a bit of a chat.”
Her face fell, which was instructive. I didn’t know they could really do that. I wondered if the kiss of life could be of assistance, but on reflection it maybe wasn’t the right time.
“Oh no! You didn’t! Oh Jack, and I thought we were being so careful.” Alison took a slightly bigger drink from her can, which I thought was a sensible response. She was so going to need it when I’d finished.
“How on Earth could that happen? I was sure I’d been so careful, right from the beginning. I recorded all your booze trips.” She sighed. I savoured the way her chest moved when she did that, almost as much as the momentary advantage I held in knowing something that my very-well organised bride didn’t. Alison shook her head and frowned at me. “Have you come here on your own and not let me know? That’s just asking for trouble. If you don’t know just where you are, you could keeping walking into yourself all round the ground.”
I lifted my hands in the universal gesture of innocence, then brought the one with the lager back into reach. “Believe me, Alison, the only time in my life I have ever been here on my own was the Saturday of the very first time, before you came in at lunch.”
“Then it must be something that’s yet to happen as far as we’re concerned. Maybe we can prevent it from happening. You did ask him when he’d come from, didn’t you?”
I deliberately took another cold gulp, and let it ease past my Adam’s Apple. “Who said it was me?” I asked, looking away from her, over the pitch, where Bernard Reidy had just biffed another one for four. The score was coming along nicely, but then we knew that, didn’t we?
Alison frowned, not getting it. “It wasn’t you…? It couldn’t be Roland? No, he’d not be seen dead at a cricket match, and besides, California’s too far away, and he gave us the Time Machine. Who else?” She stopped abruptly. I could almost hear the penny bouncing, and then rolling away under the mental equivalent of the cupboards. “You don’t mean me?!”
I indicated with an indolent tip of my can – now sufficiently emptied that there was no risk of spilling any of it – that this was indeed so. Alison looked at me in flat-out disbelief.
“That’s not possible,” she said. “You must be mistaken. I just wouldn’t be so stupid. I couldn’t be.” Sensibly I said nothing, whilst trying to project the kind of look that suggested I was deeply hurt That she could even think I might be capable of not recognising my dear wife of eighteen months standing (and large chunks of it lying down).
She pursed her mouth in a show of denial that was decidedly adolescent. “Well, if it was me, I must have told you when I came from and how this could possibly have happened. We can still put it right, I can make sure I don’t come here that time. We can stop this from ever happening.”
It would have been interesting to see how she could actually change something that had already happened to me, though the explanation would probably have been incomprehensible, at least up to the inevitable you-just-don’t-understand-circular-causation. But I had a bubble to burst.
“Have another drink,” I suggested. “And don’t be so hard on yourself. You haven’t made any mistakes, not now or in the future. You’re not the problem. Or, rather, you are the problem but you’re not it, if you get me?”
“Which I don’t. Will you just tell me what you’re talking about?”
“Ok, at the risk of bringing up unpleasant memories. You remember how we met here, the first time we came, and I fixed up a date with you and then broke it?”
“For which I have almost forgiven you, but don’t push it, Jack.”
“Then, out of the blue, I just happened to bump into you at Ringway, great big coincidence, all excuses and talked you into giving me another chance, which led in due course to our marrying?”
“Which at the moment I’m holding against you.”
“Don’t be like that,” I said, reproachfully. “Just cast your mind back to that date you allowed yourself to be talked into. What did you discover?”
“Two of you. And it wasn’t even you that had tried to pull me again, it was your parallel world double from Earth-2…. Oh.”
Don’t need to hit my girl over the head too often before she catches on. “So the woman you met was actually Alison2?” she said, enlightenment dawning like Ian Botham battering his way to another century. “Oh dear.”
“Yes, oh dear.”
“And that means that, just like you got confused with Jack2, there’s too many mes in the same place at the same time.”
“Hey, I was going to say that! We’ve jumped back here so many times, the barriers between us and the nearest parallel worlds are starting to soften, and it’s getting a bit dodgy trying to keep the dimensions separated.”
Alison closed her eyes. When she re-opened them, there was a new expression in them. “Unfortunately, darling, much as I’d like to, I can’t fault your reasoning there.”
“If you were Roland, you’d find a way. I do so miss him.”
“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.”
“But I am not being sarcastic, sweetheart. I am merely being deeply and bitterly ironic. Irony, that’s what it is.”
“It’s sarcasm and you’re talking bollocks. Anyway, Roland probably wouldn’t be any use if he was here. Last time he visited, he’d definitely moved on from Time Travel and Parallel Worlds. Officially, at least.”
“You mean you understood what he was talking about?”
“Apart from it being about computers, of course I didn’t understand a thing. He’s forgotten all about the stuff he was doing back here, now he can play with real machines and not just jumped-up Meccano. Which leaves us stuck where we are. And it’s Tea.”
We broke off to stand and applaud the players off the field, with Lancashire’s innings in remarkably good stead, of course. I glanced over to our right, to the gentle sprinkle of folk on the Warwick Road End, two of whom – clearly visible with their shirts off – were our younger, browner selves. The only pair of us in the ground today who didn’t know what the result would be.
“We’d better jump back home,” Alison said, thoughtfully, but also with a great deal of sadness in her voice.
“What, already?” I asked. “Why can’t we stay for the end, like we always do?”
There was an odd softness about her eyes as she turned and looked round the ground, casting a rare glance towards her bikini-topped junior away over there. “I just don’t think we should take any more risks,” she said, closing her notebook. “If it’s already broken down so much that Alison2, and pretty obviously Jack2, are here, then we’ve already stayed too long, and I don’t want to do any more damage. We should go before we find the way out is through somebody else’s Earth.”
“But.” That was as far as I got. I knew she was right, or anyway, I knew she was going to be right after I’d stopped huffing and puffing and trying to get out of it, so why should I waste time making a fuss? Don’t get me wrong: we don’t argue that often, and when we do I immediately apologise, even when I’m in the wrong.
“God, I’m gonna miss this,” I said, helping her gather our things up.
“Me too,” my wife said, with a catch in her voice. “It just seems impossible that we’re not going to be able to come here again.”
“Not ever?”
“….not ever.”
“Shit,” I said, putting an arm round her as she fumbled out the remote, ready for the hug I knew we’d both need in a moment, “but let’s remember, really it was impossible that we got here more than once anyway.” She lifted the remote. “Oh,” I added, “I don’t know if it makes any difference, but it wasn’t actually…”
There was a lurch forward, and things looked very very different as our bedsit formed around us.
“…Alison2” I finished, just before Alison1 burst out crying and disappeared into my chest for the next long while.

And now, just like the multiple mes had turned Headingley 1981 into a one-stop place for all Jack Warringtons around, the presence of a couple of dozen Alison and Jacks had done the same for Old Trafford 1980. So we had had to fly away home, into cold and dark January 1985, and dark and cramped Heaton Moor, where Alison was crying in my arms at suddenly losing our secret little bolthole, and I wasn’t so sure I could go without a bit of comforting myself.
“What did you mean,” she asked me, between sniffles, “ it wasn’t Alison 2?”
“Let’s sit down,” I said, intending to make myself comfortable before realising that there had been a profound change of not only scene but also temperature. “Bloody hell, it’s cold,” I said.
“What do you expect? It’s not August any longer. I’m going to get a warmer top on,” said Alison, scampering for the bedroom. I called after her to bring me a jumper or something: t-shirts are not the ideal clothing for January.
She came back wrapped in her old and voluminous red dressing gown, and threw me mine. Whilst I pulled it on, Alison arranged herself on the sofa, drawing her legs up beneath her so that they too were covered. I was all set to manoeuvre myself alongside her when she instructed me to make her a cup of tea, so things were put off whilst I filled the kettle and boiled up a couple of cups, mine being coffee of course.
“Ok,” said Alison, once I was seated again and she was warming her hands around her cup. “Now you’d better tell me the whole thing, from the beginning. Maybe we’ve reacted prematurely. Maybe you’ve got it wrong.”
“Oh, gee, thanks! Are you Roland in disguise, all of a sudden? What’s up, you don’t trust me?”
“Of course not, darling,” she soothed me. “I’m just clutching at straws, that’s all. Go on, tell me all that happened when you sneaked off to meet this other woman behind my back.”
I was all set to get outraged, but she’d buried her face in her cup and was looking just that little bit too innocent, so I made a mental note to bring that up again later, if she wanted to start anything when we went to bed.
“It was nothing at first,” I said. “There was this guy being served at the bar, and two others waiting, so I was just enjoying the sun for a bit, when this woman behind me said ‘What are you doing here?’ Naturally I recognised the voice, but I couldn’t for the life of me think why you’d followed me down to the bar, nor why you were asking me a stupid question like that, because apart from the fact I was stood in front of the bar, you knew damned well why I was down there.”
“And you didn’t realise something was wrong, then and there?”
I smiled sweetly and, with my free hand, reached out to cup her cheek. Alison leaned into my hand a little, and I was just starting to draw her mouth a bit nearer mine when she said, “Details, Jack! Go on.”
“Ok. Well, I turned round and said I was getting the beer, just like I said I was, and she frowned at me and said, ‘But why are you here right now, you’re not supposed to be here now.’”
“And that’s when you realised it wasn’t me, because she was wearing…?”
“Exactly the same t-shirt and skirt you’ve still got on now. I assume you’ve still got that on? You look bloody good in that skirt.”
“Excuse me, concentration? So you’re staring at her legs like you do mine?”
“Of course I am, love. But then it’s my turn at the bar and she has to wait whilst I got our cans. And I step aside, and she gives me this look. Like you do.”
“This look? What look? Are you saying I give you looks?”
“A lot of the time. But sometimes they’re nice looks. This was was your Where Do You Think You’re Going? look. But I was just making room whilst she bought her booze, because I knew something had gone wrong and I figured I’d better find out what, because you’d only ask me when I got back to you.”
“Good boy. I can’t think why Roland thought you were so dumb. So, go on.”
“Well, she’s got her cans and we’ve stepped off to where they can’t overhear us at the bar, and the first thing she does is make the same assumption you did, that somehow your notes had gone wrong. Only she thinks that I’m the one from further in the future than her, and I know it has to be her who comes from further upline than me, because otherwise you’d have told me about meeting me if it had happened first. You’re good about things like that.”
“So I take it this was where you traded dates of when you’d come from, and…”
“Exactly! And she came from 28 January 1985 as well, and that’s when she started to look a bit bilious.”
“I know how she felt. I’m still feeling a bit sick myself. But, come on, why did you tell me she wasn’t your other Alison?”
“Because she wasn’t. I mean, I assumed straight away that it must be Alison2, but when I said that she started shaking her head and saying she was Alison1, and I should stop talking crap, because Jack had sorted it all out that time when he’d temporarily got sent to Earth2. At which point I stopped her and asked a few quick questions, and it turns out that she lived through the same experience as you.”
“As in, I get dumped, then a year later you come talking me into seeing you again, except it’s Jack2, not you, and that’s how I found out about Roland and the Time Machine?”
“You said you wouldn’t say dumped any more.”
“Ok, darling. Jilted do you?”
“You are never going to let me forget that, are you?” Alison shook her head very deliberately and with a deep grin which meant that if she’d only have finished her tea, we’d have been rolling onto the cushions without further notice. I ground a tooth or two, then nodded.
“Yes, that was more or less it. So if she’d had your experience, that makes her Alison3, or something like that, and so there’s a Jack3 out there somewhere.”
“And a Jack4, if you think logically.”
“I don’t do logic. I leave that up to you, dear.”
Alison drained what was left of her tea, giving me the chance to tale a welcome pull at my coffee. After an explanation like that, a young lad’s thoughts turn to Rich Tea Finger Biscuits to dunk, but I probably wasn’t going to be allowed into the kitchen cupboards tonight.
“Well well,” my wife mused. “I did hope that you might have gotten something arse about face, but it seems like you were spot on.” She looked glum, and for a moment there it looked like the tears would return, but instead she took a deep breath and wriggled herself into my arms, not that I was making it difficult for her.
“No more Old Trafford,” she said mournfully, from somewhere about my clavicle.
I stroked her hair, since all other more interesting places were being pressed up against me, albeit through the less than conducive medium of an oversized dressing gown. “It’s not that bad, surely?” I said. “We’ll have to give up this game, but there are others we can still go to. David Hughes? Cometh the hour, cometh the man?”
“We’ve already been there three times,” Alison mumbled “How many more times can we go there and not have it happen again. And this time is it going to be Jack4 and Alison3, or is it going to be another pair of us? I mean, Roland thought you got involved with Earth2 because it was the most contiguous parallel…”
“Why you just can’t say closest, I don’t know.”
“…but now we’re interacting with a totally different Earth.”
“Can’t be that different if the same thing happened there as here.”
Alison shook her head without removing it from my chest. “Urgh,” she said, drawing it out like someone practising to be sick. “This is going to make everything different. We’ll have to think about other ways to get the best out of the Time Machine. Urgh. Not now though, I can’t think straight.” She pushed herself up straight and looked me in the eye. “There’s nothing else for it,” she said.
I looked at her, considering a quick dash in for a snog, but she was holding me at arms length. “You’re just going to have to take me to bed and shag my brains out,” she said.
“Ok,” I replied, trying to sound cool. “As long as you don’t start wimping out and wanting to give up after three hours.”
“Promises,” Alison said, sliding her legs off the sofa and standing up.
This is one of the big reasons I really prefer to do my Time Travelling with her.

Tempus Infinitive – The Tempus Trilogy Book 2


Belatedly, I know, but…

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and it starts like this…

“Hey, Roland,” I said, breezily, “can I borrow the keys to the Time Machine?”
My big brother lifted his eye from the microscope and regarded me, not fondly I thought. “It doesn’t have keys,” he said, pedantically.
“So, ok, figure of speech, man,” I said, trying to maintain my pose as the insouciant teenager trying to cop off with Dad’s T-Bird. It’s not that unreasonable a line; I may be twenty, but I play younger.
“Well, well,” said Roland. “And to what do we owe this change of heart? Correct me if I’m wrong, but are you not the Jack Warrington who stood in that very spot last September, telling me he wanted nothing more to do with me or any of my works again? You’ve shown no urge for time-jumping for at least five months – don’t think I don’t know about your little jaunt last February – so what’s behind this sudden rush of enthusiasm?”
I shrugged, trying to keep it all casual.
“Oh, nothing really. It’s just that it’s such a nice day, the kind where you don’t feel like hanging round the house, I just thought it might be nice to go for a quick spin.” Roland said something I thought it better to pretend I hadn’t heard.
“And why just now?” he asked. “Mum will have tea on the table any minute now. You’ve only just got in yourself.”
“That’s not a problem,” I said, offended. “You know as well as I do, I can do a short hop and be back inside a minute, no matter how long I’m in the past.”
“Funnily enough, of all the measures possible for my intelligence, I’d never previously thought of using you as a yardstick,” Roland said. He’s like this a lot, but we do get on really well most of the time – ok, most of the time that he wants me to do something and I do it, which, as he’s pointed out, hasn’t really been the case since September last year. That state of affairs is a direct result of the invention of Roland’s semi-legendary Time Machine and the fiascos attendant upon its testing run. Roland was right: I did swear not to let myself get caught up any of his coils again, but this was different, and I was always prepared to let bygones be bygones when they can get me something I want.
“Why is it so important for you to use the Time Machine this very minute?” persisted the mad scientist.
What the hell, he was going to need to know anyway for the co-ordinates. “You may or may not have heard the news from Headingley, Roland, but England won!”
“Headingley?” he said, both looking and sounding blank.
“Cricket,” I prompted. “The Test Match. It’s been in all the papers, Roland, and we won!”
“Cricket,” he repeated, savouring the word like Jilly Goolden with a mouthful of cough syrup. “England have won a game of cricket, and immediately you have to rush off and see it. This,” he added, “I take is a rare occurrence.”
“Do you mind!” I protested, even if he wasn’t totally wrong. “This was more than just a win, you know. Bob Willis took 8 for 43 and we got the Aussies out for 111, they only had to make 130 in virtually a full day, and it’s only the second time ever a Test team’s won after following on.” I paused for breath: it was pearls before swine, and we both knew it. “I was in the off-licence at half two, getting a coke, and I heard it on the radio. It’s unbelievable.”
“I’m sure it is,” said Roland. I may be wrong, but I got the impression he meant something different.
He stood up, abandoning the microscope, and whatever he had on the slide there. I have no idea where his ceaseless testing of the boundaries of back street garage technology is taking him these days, but he’s been making pretty free with my old Gardner Fox comics recently, especially my complete collection of The Atom.
“So you want to see this no doubt epoch making occurrence,” he said, his voice pregnant with sarcasm like a woman on fertility drugs.
“If you don’t mind,” I offered, politely. “But, as the technology is available, and you did promise me all the bugs were ironed out, and I can be assured I will find things as they actually did happen and not some mad adolescent’s idea of a bad joke, yes please.” I contemplated doing Bambi eyes but they don’t work on Mam, or young Mary – especially on Mary – so I didn’t think Roland would be affected. Not that he can see much with hair like that.
Like I’ve always said, give my science pioneer brother half a chance to lecture, pontificate or simply show off and you’ve got him in the palm of your hand, though you’d better be prepared with a very strong disinfectant for immediately afterwards. A few more grumbles, mainly for the sake of his image, were to be expected, but already Roland was ferreting along the shelves of his laboratory (aka the Warrington family garage) for the boxes in which the Time Machine had been laid to rest.
Life around the Warrington household is often one long round of surprises, thanks to Roland’s insatiable curiosity about how things work, why they don’t work better and what he can do to bridge the process, usually by cannibalising domestic appliances and Home Electronics Kits. By means that are not so much mysterious as a State Secret, my brother funds his scientific adventuring with a day job as an Electrical Draughtsman, and a closely guarded connection to the National Grid that still has NORWEB baffled. I have long since given over pointing out that the smallest commercial exploitation of some of his inventions – the smokeless oven, the non-stick butter-knife, the collapsible pen, to name but three – would enable him to both finance and power his schemes purely legitimately, as well as help to stave off Mam’s inevitable nervous breakdown. But then, I have always been the lone voice of sanity in the Warrington household: both parents would die rather than be exposed as the progenitors of the man who invented the soybean blancmange.
One regrettable side-effect, I’m sorry, I mean one of the many, indeed uncountable side-effects of Roland’s fertile mind is a concentration span that would make a fruitfly appear steadfast. Inventions come and go, one minute the most important development since sliced bread, the next minute nothing more than a flat surface on which to slice bread. Even the Time Machine, the ultimate piece of throw-it-together-in-a-converted-garage science, stopped being flavour of the month.
Once an invention reaches the end of its atomic half-life, Roland stashes it away on one of the hyperdimensional shelves on the back wall of the garage. I call them hyperdimensional because that makes the shelving’s capacity to absorb outmoded equipment sound like something a rational mind is capable of comprehending (given a sufficiently long run-up). The far end of the shelf is up in the north-eastern corner of the garage, the area that no visitor to Roland’s workshop dares approach to closely since I have my doubts as to which Universe he’s got out there.
So the Time Machine came down off the shelf, Roland plugged it in, dusted it down, warmed up the transistors, checked the central chronometer against his wrist-watch, ran a circuit test, tuned in Radio Luxembourg (joke, Roland, joke) and generally carried out all those little exercises and disciplines so important to ensure that the unwary time jumper bound for earlier this morning doesn’t find himself halfway up 1967 with the backside hanging out of his jeans.
Whilst he was at that, my mind engaged in some non-mechanistic time-travelling of its own, rolling back eleven months to the root of my long-held antipathy towards Roland’s Infernal Device.
For those who insist upon the full details, there is an earlier volume of my memoirs which records the adventure in embarrassing detail (under the title of Tempus Fugitive. Available at good bookshops, supermarkets with slow return policies or, in the last resort, send money here). There you will learn all you wish to know about the science and theory of time travel (or all I understood of it, anyway), together with the reason why I shudder on meeting anyone who bears the baleful name of Gerald. Those with greater patience may rest assured that anything relevant to what is to follow will be mentioned at the appropriate time. And, in case you are one of those Philistines to whom great moments in English Cricket history means nothing, the year, month and date is 21st July, 1981. And the sun is shining exceedingly brightly, both physically and metaphorically. Ok?
Whilst he bothered himself with setting up the Time Machine, I peeked over his shoulder to see what it looked like now. It no longer looked so much like a hi-fi system without speakers, the bank of faders having been replaced with an array of watch dials, their contrasting faces the result of some uneven scrap collection. I knew from my illicit trip in February that these had to be set precisely in order to identify the exact temporal co-ordinates, whilst the impressive LCD’s dealt with spatial trajectories, and the digital clock had nothing to do with time, not that I had any idea what it was for. But no substantial redesign since February: Roland was obviously working on something else now, and I congratulated myself on not knowing a thing about it.
Roland’s preparations were brief but, presumably, thorough. It seemed he’d forgotten nothing of how to programme the Time Machine to deliver a given subject to a particular location in the Space-Time Continuum. By a lucky chance, he’d never gotten around to dismantling the field projector, which still hung from the rafters of the garage, like the detached sunray lamp it had started out as being: a couple of minutes wiring up the connections and the old Time Machine was pronounced ready for use.
“6 o’clock,” said Roland. “You want to be sent back to 11.30am, for an intended jump of approximately three hours, short hop, with a minimum delay here at Time Zero. You’re absolutely certain you don’t want to wait on this, do you? There’ll be much more time after tea, you could make an evening of it, take a picnic.”
“No, thank you, Roland, I shall travel light. You have still got the handset, haven’t you?”
Roland raised his eyebrows, not that you can see them anyway. He hasn’t cut his hair in nearly a year and sometimes you can’t even see his eyes. Hell of an improvement.
“What a prodigious feat of memory, Jack. You must really have been concentrating to recall that.” He handed me the remote. I eyed it carefully. It looks like a video recorder remote control, only infinitely more complex, but it also doubles as the beacon to which the Time Machine responds when returning you to the present day – or Time Zero, as Roland insists on terming it. Lose this, and you might as well prepare yourself for a very slow journey back.
“Before I go anywhere, I want you to tell me you haven’t totally redesigned the handset,” I said.
“I’ve totally redesigned it,” said Roland.
“Oh Christ, can you never leave well alone?”
“Progress cannot be geared to the comprehension of the intellectually challenged.”
“Yer wot?”
“Shut up, Jack. The red button is still the one to press when you’re ready to return. As for the rest, just leave it alone. You never understood how to work the remote before I upgraded the system anyway.”
“I got there and back in February. On my own.”
“More by luck than good judgement.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I’ve met you before.”
“Minor detail.”
“It’s all set. Headingley, Leeds, 11.30am. I still think it would be more sensible to postpone your jump till after tea.”
“What difference does it make to you?”
“None, I suppose. Just make sure you’re not late back. I have no intention of making any excuses for you if you’re not sat down at the table by the time…”
He was interrupted by an ear-shattering sound. Not the knock at the garage door but the childish tones of Mary outside, shouting, “Mummy says to come in, now! She’s just putting tea out.”
“There you go,” said Roland, reaching out to pull the plug. “Beaten to the punch. You’ll have to save it until this evening, after all.”
“Sod off,” I said, impatiently. “We’re all set to go and I’ll only be gone a minute your time, so let’s get on with it.”
“Whatever for?” asked Roland, genuinely puzzled. “Why are you so impatient?”
“I’ve been looking forward to this since half past two,” I said. “And if you’d had the same kind of day I’d had, you’d want a spot of enjoyment as soon as possible.”
“Did you hear me?” demanded Mary from outside. “I said Mummy’s putting tea out.”
“Come on,” I urged. “Get me sent.”
Roland paused for a moment, then shrugged. Sometimes I’ve wondered if it would all have been different had he not decided to give way. I mean, would waiting until after tea have altered what happened to me at Headingley? Roland is adamant that it wouldn’t, that the theory and practice of time travel, of which I have such a limited and indeed faulty understanding – his description, not mine – dictates that everything would have fallen out the same, but I still ask myself the question. Everyone would.
Roland cut the circuits that maintain an electronic silence about what happens inside the garage and called out, “Tell Mum we’ll be in in a minute, pet. We’re just tidying up.”
“Pet,” I said, disgusted.
“Alright, Roland,” said Mary. We heard her skip off.
“On your head be it,” said Roland, switching the Time Machine on.
As things turned out, this was a fair assessment of the situation.

I like Headingley. There are reasons not to, not least the preponderance of Yorkshiremen about the place, but I do. True, half the ground you can’t get at unless you’re a Member of their County or, preferably, your own, and the other half barely offers a decent view, thanks to this enormous concrete running track round the outside of the playing area. Either you sit on a plastic bottomed school chair hunched up against the boards or, if you retreat to the stands you’ve got all the restless folk of the County perpetually perambulating in front of you.
And if you go further back, trying to gain some height, you come up against the fact that the stands have a camber only slightly greater than Blackpool beach, so that by the time you’re at the top of the Western Terrace not only are you square of the wicket but you’re thirty feet short of the Bradford border. Admittedly there’s the top deck of the Winter Shed, at the Kirkstall Lane end, but even that’s only at wide long on.
But Headingley has atmosphere. It might be full of Tykes but they’re there for the cricket, and when it’s a Roses Match, you don’t half know about it. And anyway, if it gets boring after lunch, there’s always the ice cream seller: “Choc ices, lovely choc ices, yum-ah yum,” with all the relish of Fanny Craddock contemplating a dead cat.
Mind you, there is a way to get a decent view in Headingley when you still haven’t reached the age when your Dad will spring for that all-important Membership. The Football Stand – named for the fact it’s shared with the Rugby ground on the other side – lies within the protected zone (bloody stewards), and you actually get into its upper regions through the back, and sit yourself behind the bowler’s arm for the best views in the ground. But don’t think you can just walk down the side and round the back because they’ve got that blocked off. On the other hand, you can, with perfect legitimacy, go in the Gents down the side of that Stand, and, after you’ve done your business and washed your hands, if you leave through the other door, well, there you are, overlooking the Rugby pitch and all you have to do is to walk up to one of those doors in the back of the Stand… don’t look at me like that, it was Neil Montague’s Dad who showed us how to do it, first time he took us.
And I don’t like time-jumping, though anything that can get you into Headingley without going through Leeds first can’t be all bad. The transition, from the moment you step onto the launch pad, under the generator and are enveloped in the field, to when you arrive at your chosen past point, is instantaneous. One minute it’s strip lighting and Roland’s ugly mug, the next it’s summer sun and “Choc ices, lovely choc ices, yum-ah yum.”
But when that switch gets thrown and I get bounced off, it feels like falling over backwards on the spot and it makes me want to throw up. Roland always used to tell me it was psychosomatic, and it’s evidence of my total lack of any brain power, but then he’s always had a kind word at the right moment.
It had been almost a year since I’d last moved through time in this direction, but as I wasn’t travelling more than six or seven hours, the effect was minimised.

I opened my eyes to find myself in front of the old Pavilion, and gleefully within the Member’s cordon sanitaire. A prolonged ripple of applause greeted me which, for a moment, I found unnerving, since one  of the many functions build into the Time Machine by its inventor is some minor but invaluable circuit that convinces spectators that the new arrival has been there all the time: I know it works, I’ve seen Roland come as no surprise, and that takes an effort.
Needless to say, the applause was not for me but for the English batsmen, clear of the Pavilion stairs and walking across the sunlit turf towards the middle. Botham flexed his shoulders and twirled his bat like a gladiator with a morningstar (see, I do know what the knobbly thing on a chain is called). Willis simply hunched along, making no attempt to pretend his bat was anything more than a piece of wood.
Headingley sparkled with anticipation, only not much. It didn’t take long to work out why: the big electronic Scoreboard opposite spelt it out. England 354-9, Lead 125. We were potentially one ball away from the end of the innings, and any time Bob Willis is batting, that one ball is not far away.
True, Botham had made sure of being on strike for the first ball of the day, but then he’d done a damned good job in keeping himself on strike as long as he had the day before. Willis had been in for twenty minutes last night and barely faced a ball, thanks to the hero of the hour who, along the way, had managed to carve another 31 runs out of the dead-on-its-feet Aussie attack.
But let us be realistic about this. Flying in the face of any Fifth Day attendee – who are drawn in any event from the ranks of the terminally keen, the old, the rich, the unemployed and those schoolkids whose main interest is an impromptu knock-up at lunch, as close to the square as the Stewards will allow – all anyone was here for were Last Rites. At least the body would be interred with dignity. Up till the middle of yesterday afternoon, Australia had owned this game. At 135-7, still 92 runs away from making them bat again, we were on our way to ignominious defeat and two down in the series. Then Botham and Dilley, Botham and Old, even Botham and Willis blasted England into a wholly improbable lead. I got in last night, switched on the TV, saw the Scoreboard reading 326-9 and refused to believe my eyes. 226-9, yes, I couldn’t have been seeing straight, could I?
But, like I said, let us be realistic. Yesterday was for pride only. It was about making the Aussies work for their money, nothing more. Of course, if Botham could, improbably, farm the strike all morning, maybe eke out another 40, maybe 50 runs, then and only then might the impossible become thinkable.
Which was why a surprisingly full Fifth Day crowd was being so noisily appreciative of the last pair. Be generous to those who, even in defeat, have rescued reputations, especially the recently resigned-but-would-have-been-sacked-anyway-sorry-what-do-you-mean-by-dignity? Ian Botham. At least it was a beautiful day.
But I knew what was coming. That is to say, I knew the outcome but not the specifics. I knew England’s innings didn’t last long, because I’d been walking past a TV shop just before twelve o’clock and the Aussies were already batting, but I didn’t know how and when the last wicket had fallen.
In fact, Kim Hughes took the new ball immediately, handing it to the refreshed Terry Alderman. Beefy added another four to his tally, 149 not out, but he couldn’t prevent Willis facing the bowling forever: Alderman had him caught at slip by Border for his sixth wicket of the Innings, though I’ll bet he hasn’t often conceded over 100 runs getting there.
Whilst the teams changed over, I went in search of a Scorecard seller and settled down to copying up the bowling figures. I knew Roland would frown upon such interference with history and I suppose I shouldn’t countenance it myself, not after last year’s shenanigans. But, just for once, I was determined to have a souvenir, and whilst it’s true that the slightest deviation from history can have incalculable consequences for the future, some old bugger selling one extra Scorecard would have to work flat out to make a difference in the six and a half hours between here and Time Zero.
As Scorecards go, it was an improvement over the Headingley County Championship version which, though printed with nice, non-smudge type on good smooth card, does not change or update over any of the three days. The Cornhill Test Match Scorecard was smudgy and had bitty type, but it had everything up to last night on it. I decorated it with a day 5, underlining for good measure the date: as I said, July 21st 1981.
Umpires Meyer and Evans strolled out, carrying the bails. Old Professor Greyhair Brearley led his men down the far steps on the Pavilion, to warm applause from an already warm crowd. Graham Wood and Johnny Dyson, coming down the other set of steps, got a more respectful greeting.
Brearley invited Botham to open the bowling from the Kirkstall Lane end. A fortnight ago, this man had resigned the England captaincy one jump ahead of the sack after an almost unblemished record of defeat, with one 50 and nary a five wicket haul to his name as captain and you wouldn’t have had him bowl a hoop down a hill. But the skipper was clearly betting on the Force being with Beefy.
Two balls into the innings, that didn’t look a good bet, the left-handed Wood dispatching both to the boundary. Dilley, blond hair waving, pounded up the hill from the Football Stand end, arched his back, pointed his leg and hurled the ball down with no greater success. 13-0: when defending small totals over long hours, the best theory is not to give your opponents ten percent of their target off the first two overs.

As I said, I knew the outcome, but I had taken extreme care not to know anything else: well, Willis’s figures aside. All I knew was that we won, but until the score reached 111, I didn’t know how. There would be no looking at the scoreboard, anticipating that the next wicket must be coming up. Of course, it would have been ideal to know as little as the few thousand real-time customers, but to have achieved that state of happy ignorance would have required scientific and philosophical contortions so great that even I could have come up with several, unassisted.
The Aussies had made a racing start, but the Botham Effect wasn’t totally exhausted, Wood edging to the beatific Bob Taylor to give us the breakthrough with no further runs to the score. In came Trevor I-Know-Very-Well-Who-My-Brothers-Are-Thank-You Chappell. Dilley bowled another over from below me but having conceded eleven runs all told, was taken out of the attack in favour of the hero to come, Bob Willis.
It wasn’t happening. Willis toiled up the hill, runs steadily accumulated, nothing fancy but nothing fancy needed, they had virtually all day to get them if they wanted to. How Willis got eight wickets in these circumstances seemed unlikely: maybe he changed ends? The score passed 30, 40, 50, Willis came off and the Venerable Brearley even tried Peter Willey’s dobbly little spinners for a few overs, but that was apparently only to get Willis round to the Kirkstall Lane End – score one for my percipience?
Trust me: if Willis was going to start taking wickets for fun, which he was going to have to do pretty pronto, unless that illiterate, illegitimate, interfering, Godless bastard Gerald had escaped from the prison of a collapsed timeline and was interfering with history again, he was cutting it fine. And what was the point in getting myself behind the bowler’s arm if all the action was going to start coming from the other end?
Any fears I might have had on the Gerald score started to disperse when Willis got one to rear up at Chappell’s face, off short of a length. Chappell got his glove in front, the ball looped in the air and Taylor came trotting forward like a friendly beagle scenting a bone to take the simplest of catches. 56-2: they’d gotten halfway to their eventual total just on those two wickets.
This was going to be some collapse, if it was ever going to start, but it started in Willis’s next over.
In the space of four balls, he snaffled Kim Hughes and Graham Yallop, both to cracking catches, Botham going low to his left at slip for Hughes, Fatty Gatting taking the ball at ankle height at short square leg to the left-hander Yallop. Suddenly it was lunch, and England were in the game again.
My secret knowledge was not very welcome at that point. We’d taken three wickets in the space of as many overs, creating a momentum, a roll, steaming through, crushing the enemy inexorably under your wheels, they’re on the run, haven’t a minute to think, and, oh yes, we’ll just stop for forty minutes now. See you later. If you’re taking wickets with that kind of abandon, you don’t want to be interrupted. But I knew it continued, which drained the situation of a little of its tension. None of your think-about-that-one-over-your-egg-sandwiches-and-shiver for me.
Speaking of egg sandwiches; I thought I’d better get myself something to eat whilst I was here. Tea would be waiting for me when I got home, and woe betide if I spoilt my appetite, but on my personal timescale, I was an hour overdue any grub, and ninety minutes away from a ham salad with thin brown bread slices, this being Tuesday. The only serious question was between burger bar inside the ground or chippy outside the Kirkstall Lane gates, and provided they let me deal with the issue of ketchup, fish and chips sounded good.
I hadn’t actually been joking with Roland about the kind of day I’d had. Last summer, I’d had my arm twisted into accepting a summer job in Roland’s office, basically being a gopher. Mam would have settled for me doing the same again, but I had a better idea. If you must do a summer job, you should try to make it pertinent to your future career, even if only to find out that some occupations are so deadly dull, you’d run away screaming.
Like architectural draughtsmanship. I’m sure there are people doing a Graphic Arts course with a personal bent towards pencil and paper who would kill, or at least cause actual bodily harm, for the chance to draw buildings and elevations all the livelong day, but I personally would rather gouge out my left eye with a 2HB. Yes, I’m still doing nothing better than gophering, but I’ve seen enough to know that if I wound up in that as a profession once I qualified, I would willingly embrace the chance of being Roland’s guinea pig in perpetuity. Without parole.
Actually, I have very little idea what I want to do with my life once I leave College, apart from the obvious things like earning enough to afford a front-loading video-cassette player, buy retrospective box-sets of albums and go to away legs if United qualify for the UEFA Cup.

Back to the Test, licking surplus vinegar and ketchup from my sticky fingers. The ground was significantly fuller as the teams came back out than it had been when I first arrived. There were a lot more suits about: the word had presumably spread that something might just be going to happen, and commercial Leeds had responded. There were also more than a few blokes my age dotted about the expanding crowd, helping to balance out the escalating average age.
As before: Willis from the Kirkstall Lane End, Chris Old bowling from the Football Stand. I wavered about returning to my seat and, given that I couldn’t get behind Willis’s arm without taking up station on the field, did the Loo shuffle to get back to my former seat. Alan Border had joined the somewhat adhesive Dyson: this was the last pair of front-line batsmen in the team, and they didn’t last long. I’d barely made my seat, and Border hadn’t got off the mark when Old had him play on. Then Willis nabbed Dyson, going to an easy snick to Taylor, who was leaping about nearly as much as I would have been doing if I’d been out there.
England were on a roll. Rodney Marsh could have pulled something out of the bag for Australia, but he hooked Willis, the ball sailing out towards Dilley, running backwards, eyes fixed on the ball, taking the catch and looking round to make sure he hadn’t run over the ropes. Lawson, a single, and then another nick to Taylor, his sunhat fairly glowing with pleasure.
In came Dennis Lillee, with 55 wanted, and the odds suddenly having swung round in our favour. What a brilliant bowler to watch, and not a mug with the bat either. He took Willis on, uppercutting the ball deliberately, sending it high over the slips and away for boundaries. The game was wavering back the other way again, they’d reduced the target to only 20 and Willis pitched one up, Lillee mistimed his shot, the ball spooned up towards mid on, Gatting was fielding there, he ran, and dived and came up with the ball, another fantastic catch.
Out came Alderman. Professor Greyhair brought Botham back at the Football Stand End, and Bright foolishly accepted the offered single, first ball, giving Beefy five balls at Alderman, a batsman for whom the word hapless could have been invented. Unbelievably, Botham found the edge of Alderman’s bat twice that over, and both times he was put down at slip, by Old. Any other player (and we shall draw a veil over the memory of Keith ‘the Gnome’ Fletcher) would have been crucified for dropping one, let alone two. But Alderman survived the over, leaving Bright facing Willis again.
And that first ball smashed through the wicket, knocking middle out!
The ground erupted in cheers, and hundreds of people came over the fencing, running towards the England team, themselves racing to get off the pitch to celebrate. Stranded as I were in the Football Stand, I had to be much more genteel, and queue myself out through the back before I could hurdle the barriers and join the throng, but what a win! What a performance from Willis! I was bloody glad I’d come. At least, at that moment.

I stayed for the ceremonies, with my old buddy from 1956, Jim Laker, awarding the least surprising ‘Man of the Match’ to Botham for “a Captain’s performance one match too late…” while Willis the star bowler glowered like he’d love to knock someone’s teeth down their throat, only this time without a ball in his hand.
Eventually, though, my stomach started reminding me, with all due deliberation, that it was time for a serious meal. Reluctantly, I detached myself from the crowd and walked back across the turf, towards the Electronic Scoreboard. I was fumbling for the handset when I received another urgent message, this time from my bladder.
I could go when I got back, but then Mary had been yelling that tea was on the table, and I’d have to go upstairs so, what the heck, I’d use the facilities here before going home.
So I vaulted the boards, jogged up the steps and down again and round the corner into the Gents. From where, natural functions concluded, I stepped back out into the sun, behind the aforementioned Scoreboard, a couple of minutes later.
The party was breaking up and there were people leaving now, streaming through the gate onto Kirkstall Lane, busily telling each other what a day it had been. Ay, lad, and ah were theer too, I thought. Roland did come in handy sometimes.
No-one was looking at me, except that to my left, in front of the Souvenir Shop, two youngish blokes were talking to one another across a gap of three or four yards. One kept turning and looking at me, the nosy sod. I avoided his eye, looking only to check when he’d turned away. Weirdos and Tykes: same thing really.
I withdrew the handset, automatically checking it for changes. Nothing that met the unskilled eye, though no doubt it was wired up totally different under the plastic surface. Roland has never learned to leave well alone but as long as I never needed more than the red button, what did I care? Mentally preparing myself for the lurch forward, I pressed it.
Nothing happened. I opened my eyes upon Headingley’s brick perimeter. I hit the button a second time. Nothing happened again. With a mounting sense of panic that I nobly tried to ignore, I tried it a third time, followed by a fourth, a fifth and others, in natural sequence. Nothing. Nada, zip, bupkiss. I remained rooted to the temporal spot, three hours and the odd few minutes from home.
Oh great, just what I needed. He spends all that time checking the something circuits on the something else Machine and just chucks me the equally obscene remote control without even making sure the incredibly obscene batteries are working. What was I going to say to Roland when I got back? Don’t even try guessing.
I was stuck here.
Well, I wasn’t going to put up with that. I stormed towards the gate, passing one of those two blokes on the way. He was looking at me strangely and I was almost tempted to stop and hang one on him, on the grounds that he wasn’t Roland but he was handy. His mate had buggered off, I didn’t know where, or care, come to that. I left him to gawp, swept out, queued for the phone box outside the gate and dialled home, intent upon giving my big brother a piece of my mind, with added vocabulary.
“Hello?” said Mam.
Immediately I replaced the receiver on the bracket. Something something pratt, what was it, 3.00pm? Roland wouldn’t be home from work for another two hours at least, and it was still another hour from then before he’d be jumping me up to here. Mad as I was, even I knew I couldn’t contact him until he’d sent me here, in case I set off the kind of temporal paradox even the mad scientist couldn’t dismiss.
I was indeed stuck here. You may imagine my despair.

Alright, you tell me what you can do on a cricket-less Tuesday afternoon in Leeds? In fact, what can you do in three hours in Leeds that you can’t do in ten minutes and get just as much out of it? By the time I’d walked up Kirkstall Lane to the main road, all the sandwich shops had long since shut, and I was damned if I was springing for a fried chicken from round here, you’d never know if what you were eating had ever seen the inside of a suit of feathers. So I walked back to the ground and then, remembering where Neil’s dad used to park, walked up Headingley Mount to the road at the top, where there was a park. It offered nothing but grass and trees, so I sat on one, under the other and contemplated things like the mysteries of the Universe, the fragile construction of the human form and how to disrupt it to maximum but not fatal effect. Just wait till I get home, Roland Warrington. A few minutes before 6.00pm, I walked back to the phone box and waited for the distant chimes to toll the knell of off-peak rates. In the manner of the already legendary ET, I phoned home.

Tempus Fugitive – The Tempus Trilogy Book 1


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It all started the day my brother invented his Time Machine.
I know: Roland will be at his pedantic worst at that statement. First he’ll point out that large parts of what follows took place, necessarily, long before the day in question (Tuesday August 26th 1980, to be precise), and then he’ll draw my attention to the fact that this was only the day I had this profoundly wonderful new invention revealed to me, not the date it was brought into being. And all that will precede his ranting at me about what I’m doing letting outsiders in on his secrets, betraying his privacy, abusing the privilege I enjoy as his lab assistant and general dogsbody, etc. etc. etc.
But this is my story as much as it is his, and for more reasons than just my proximity to the action, and I intend to tell it. I saved the world, you know, not that anyone cares or, apart from Roland, even knows. Look what it cost me. And yes, I am aware his criticisms are justified.
As for the first, I will merely say that any attempt to organise this story according to the calendar  will only leave everyone – and I don’t just mean the readers – totally confused. As anyone who’s ever had dealings with a Time Machine will agree, the order in which things happen is the order in which they happen to you. In any other direction lies madness.
And as for the claim that Roland came up with the Time Machine before he broke the news of it to me, I say, so what? There’s ever been a story yet that’s started from the very beginning without some sort of flashback involved. But Roland will explain, such as he does, the genesis of his invention. After all, it’s his Time Machine.
But I suppose if I have to choose somewhere to start, it really should be a couple of days further back, on Saturday: August 23rd 1980. So let us begin at Old Trafford, which is only appropriate in all the circumstances, and let us begin with the start of the Roses Match.
The Roses Match? You don’t recognise a reference to the twice yearly clash of the County Cricket Clubs of Lancashire and Yorkshire? Once upon a time, back in the Fifteenth Century, the Red Rose of Lancaster and the White Rose of York did vie for the throne of England. Unfortunately, the Tykes won, but they went down at Bosworth Field in the then equivalent of a Lords Final to Henry Tudor. I’ve had a soft spot for Glamorgan ever since.
Saturday, August 23rd 1980. One of the few dry all day Saturdays of the season, even if it were cold enough to stay wrapped up against the breeze. Six and a half hours of cricket, no rain, and her.
Call it the calm before the storm, if you like.

Yorkshire won the toss, elected to bat and scored 346-7, innings closed after 100 overs. Boycott and Lumb put on 178 for the first wicket, Sir Geoffrey going on to 135, Bill Athey chipped in with 70 and Graham Stevenson was promoted up the order for a late slog. By the close, we had scored 30 for the loss of David Lloyd.
I was in my usual spot on the Warwick Road End, seven rows up from pitchside and diametrically opposite the stairs to the Ladies Pavilion, surrounded by the shell of my sandwich box (I always eat my tea sandwiches at lunch, having eaten my lunch sandwiches by 12.00). For my 21st, Dad’s promised to buy me Membership but I don’t think I’ll spend much time in the Pavilion – I mean, who wants to watch from square leg?
I first noticed the girl in the middle of the afternoon. She was sat six or seven rows behind me, to my right, long fair hair trapped in the sheepskin collar of a blue reefer jacket, framing a slightly rounded face dominated by silver shades. By careful practice, I found that by turning more than my head to look at the Scoreboard, I could see her as well. After tea, the shades came off. Her eyes were blue and sometimes she was looking at me.
After the close, I was gratified to find her walking ahead of me into Warwick Road Station. Given that she had to fold up her scorecard, cap her pen, finish her coffee, pack the flask, tie up her bag of fruit, collect the peels and cores, deposit these in the pitchside litter bin, deflate her cushion, shoulder her bag, open it again to check she had her ticket, close it and button her jacket whilst I had to shut my sandwich box, it wasn’t easy to ensure she left first.
We waited five minutes for a train, stood not really together, and just happened to get into the same carriage. We also just happened to compare notes on the days play and the prospects for Monday, and just happened to mention I was coming that day too.
Monday was August Bank Holiday. Traditionally, the family goes out for the day, unless Roland has anything else to do or Lancashire are at home so, after making my sandwiches with her customary good graces, Mam saw me off to the station and turned her attention to her, Dad and little sister Mary and their trip to Southport (well, Blackpool would be too busy, wouldn’t it?). Tiddles was already in it’s travelling basket. Tiddles is the family cat: Roland is 24, I’m 19 and Mary is 8; guess who’s cat it is?
Unusually, the Bank Holiday was a spectacularly hot and sunny day, and the cricket was just as good. Lancashire’s First Innings closed on 310-5, Frank Hayes left high and dry on 94 not out, and we captured three quick wickets to reduce the Tykes to 65-3, though they’d extended their lead to 139 by the close.
I bounded up the steps, looking around to see if the blonde was there, and was considerably surprised to find her already waving me over to her. Ten minutes conversation, from Warwick Road to Piccadilly, had been enough for me to decide I fancied her but this enthusiasm for my company? The Universe doesn’t work like that, at least not in my experience.
By the time she returned from the Ladies at lunch wearing a triangle and string bikini top, I was in love. Not even the way she followed Steve O’Shaughnessy around the field with her binoculars could make me doubt her.
Her name was Alison, Alison Davies. She was twenty, which was good because I’ve always had a thing about older women, not that any had let me get this close before. She lived in Oldham, which would mean I’d have to learn to drive now, and had been a secretary in the legal department of the Council since leaving school. Her dad was an assistant Museum Director and she was an only child.
In return, I told her my name was Jack Warrington, that I live in Didsbury with my parents, that Dad was a senior manager with W.H.Smith in Stockport and that I’m about to start the second year of a Graphic Design course at Stockport College. I told her about Mary and how well we don’t get along, I told her about Tiddles and I also told her about Roland.
Well, I told her Roland existed. Beyond that, I gave almost nothing away. There’s a lot I could have told her about my big brother, not all of it classified. For instance, I could have contrasted my modest and reasonable height with his freakish tallness. I could have contrasted his skinniness and general air of famine victim with my comfortably solid and modestly muscled frame. I could very definitely have contrasted his long, lank, brown hair with my own fair locks, not punk, more New Wave – and I don’t have to tie my hair back out of my eyes.
I could have contrasted Roland’s archaic choice of music – progressive rock and heavy metal in 1980? – with my own instinctive good taste, which found a corresponding spark with Alison over Elvis Costello, if not The Jam or The Undertones. And then there’s my well-rounded, balanced and thoughtful interest in cricket and football whereas Roland… Well, Roland is an obsessive. And not in a good way.
Alison didn’t need to hear any of this, not now, not at any time. In fact, I had no intention of ever letting her meet him. It’s not that I would have any fears about him pinching my bird, I just don’t think it’s good for my reputation to be seen to be related to a mad scientist.
When Roland was 7, he built a working computer out of a Meccano 5 set (at least, he claimed it would have worked if I hadn’t flushed the key to the clockwork motor down the loo). For his 9th birthday, Aunty Ethel foolishly bought him his first Chemistry set:  we have suppressed the photos. On his 15th birthday, Roland got a home electronics outfit and promptly took over the garage as his workshop. Ever since, Dad has parked on the drive, to the confusion of  his insurers, but as long as he gets the benefit of things like the only Video Recorder that runs on EMI C60 Soundhog cassettes, he’s happy to pay the additional premiums.
Mind you, we’re the only family in South Manchester that periodically gets raided by NORWEB, who can’t work out why we seem to use no more power than an HB6 battery. Roland assures us they never will but we all suffer because Mam gets nervous and we have nothing but packet meals for a fortnight after.
I didn’t keep completely mum about Roland. I did tell Alison how, on the strength of having seen fifteen minutes more of one particular game than I did, he calls himself a Manchester United fan, even though he doesn’t know what the ground’s called, he can’t name any of the players and it was 1977 before we found out he thought we play in all blue.
Alison’s not really interested in football either: she supports Oldham Athletic.

Shortly before the close, Alison retired to the Ladies to restore her modesty, to my deep regret. We caught the train to Piccadilly together. It had been an extraordinary day. Even more fascinating than Alison’s willingness to remove her clothing in my presence was her willingness to listen to me talk, and then talk back. We never stopped: considering we’d sat together for seven hours and I’d told her several of my best jokes, it had gone well.
I had intended to ask her out since before lunch, but something held me back. I think it was cowardice. Even though I was sure she would agree, I wasn’t used to things like this. But we were both coming to the last day, and I could ask her then.
Perhaps I should have spoken whilst I could. The next morning I was virtually out the door when Mam summoned me back to accompany her into Didsbury Village to the supermarket. Appealing that I would miss some of the cricket would have cut marginally less ice with Roland. Tell her I going to meet an attractive blonde young woman who, I was sure, would agree to go out with me, and I’d have been sent on my way without hindrance. With several questions mind, such as what’s her name, where’d you meet her, what’s she like and seventeen others, most of which I wouldn’t have got round to yet. You may understand why I kept my mouth shut.
I’d missed an hour when I got to Warwick Road Station. I could see from the train, via the Board of Control Stand Scoreboard, that Yorkshire had already added a hundred, without loss. Alison was in her place, binoculars trained on O’Shaughnessy, but only because she thought I wasn’t going to turn up, or so she said. And she only laughed once when I explained what kept me.
It was even hotter and brighter than yesterday. Jackie Hampshire declared ten minutes before lunch, with Jim Love 105 not out, as soon as Yorkshire had posted a 300 run lead. We argued the prospects of a Lancashire victory. Alison pointed out how fast Yorkshire had scored that morning. I pointed out (incorrectly as it happened, for once) that David Lloyd and Andrew Kennedy were not the fastest of scorers.
Alison cut short the argument by departing for the Ladies. My silent prayers were rewarded when she returned wearing not merely the bikini top but also a pair of denim shorts. This brazen display was enough to tempt me into removing my shirt and begging some of her Ambre Solaire.
At tea, Lancashire were 102-2, and Clive Lloyd was batting. Alison repeated her confidence in victory, rubbed another layer of suntan lotion into her legs and suggested promoting O’Shaughnessy in the order. I pointed out, unnecessarily but jealously, that he hadn’t got to bat in the First Innings.
Another seventy two runs were added, and Frank Hayes had given way to Bernard Reidy when the last twenty overs started at 5.00pm. There were 110 runs wanted to win, which was one-day stuff and well within our grasp. Lloydy cut and hooked and pulled, Reidy biffed and banged in his wake. Lloydy put up his ton but then was bowled off his boot by Sidebottom in the next over. As the sun lowered, and the clock ticked past 6.00pm, it began to get cold. Alison was shivering but she refused to go and change.
Four overs to go, 12 to win. Three overs to go, still 12 to win, Reidy lbw for 70. In came Fowler, hitting quick runs. Last over, two wanted. Hughes got a single off the first ball, Fowler caught and bowled off the second. In came O’Shaughnessy at last, raising goosebumps on Alison’s gooseflesh, scores level, four balls left. I no longer envied him.
He blocked the first  and drove the second through mid-off for four. We had beaten the Yorky bastards for he first time in eight years!
Alison was in the Ladies, getting dressed before the teams had left the field. Ever the gentleman, I guarded her belongings until she returned, and we caught the train to Piccadilly together.
I could have stayed on the train all the way to East Didsbury, but that wouldn’t let me ask Alison out. We walked down the Station Approach and were halfway up London Road before I realised time was running out. I asked if she’d like to go out with me.
“Of course,” she said. I had a date for Friday night.

If there’s one thing in the Warrington household that’s sacrosanct, it’s tea-time (and tea around here is the evening meal: dinner is what you eat in the middle of the day). Woe betide the son who keeps everyone waiting, though it could have been worse. I got a bus down Wilmslow Road instead of having to walk it back from the station.
“Where have you been?” said Mam. “No, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know. Your Dad’s tea has been going cold waiting for you. Now take your shoes off, wash your hands and tell your brother to come in. I’m putting tea on the table.”
I blame Roland myself. Before he converted the microwave to fold out as an auxiliary sunbed, Mam would have been perfectly happy to stick my plate in there whilst they sat down and ate.
The Warrington’s live just off Wilmslow Road, in a four bedroomed house round the back of Didsbury Park, on a tree-lined street in the only Conservative constituency in Greater Manchester (boo, hiss). Dad bought the house not long after his promotion, when a large part of its appeal was the big detached garage at the side. Since Roland moved in, the double doors have been blocked off from within (all bar a glorified cat flap for emergency access) and he had the side door moved so it was no longer opposite the kitchen window: he said it was something to do with privacy.
My big brother need have no worries about that. We are probably the only family in South Manchester with a garage that locks from the inside, but after the incident with the Carbolic Stink-Bomb, even Mam agreed it was better for Roland to control when he could or could not be disturbed.
I opted for summoning the mad scientist first and let myself out again, signalling my presence at the door by rattling the handle loudly. I refuse to ring a doorbell that plays Led Zeppelin chimes. Not that it does any good: the security buzzer plays the riff from ‘Paranoid’.
I entered the portals of the cutting edge of back street science, without wiping my feet.
Roland was sat on his barstool by the workbench, a long handled screwdriver inserted deep into the workings of something that looked uncannily like the remote control off the video recorder.  I craned my neck to look at what invention might be shaping itself for release upon an expectant public but to my disappointment, the three foot by four foot wedge of black plastic squatting on the worktop looked like nothing more than a hi-fi mini-system, albeit one equipped with more than  its fair share of LCD’s and digital counters, not to mention a bank of faders looking like a serious graphic equaliser. I hoped he wasn’t working on 3D sound again.
As is customary on such occasions, Roland completely ignored me, so I scoped out the current state of play in the garage. Down one side are a million shelves of components: pipes, wires, valves, screws, nails, transistors, circuit boards, thermometers, instrument panels, clock faces, socket sets and even a dozen assorted cigarette lighters ripped from the dashboards of a dozen cars (I still have vivid memories of standing guard at the junkyard gate). Along the other side are the detritus of past and discarded inventions: the R-1 Rocket that used an old stand-up Hoover (how he got it to blow instead of suck, I don’t want to know but we never saw the guinea pig again), three dead televisions and the interior of a radiogram pillaged in the quest for colour-it-yourself TV, the Space Invaders game constructed from a bagatelle board.
All these things and more have their stories to be told, and I, to my eternal regret, have been intimately acquainted with all of them, mainly because of Roland’s unparalleled skill at blackmail and plausibility with suggestions to Mam about who upset Mary this time. His latest monstrosity accordingly aroused equal amounts of curiosity and distance.
I broke the silence. “Mam says she’s putting tea out so get your dirty paws washed and come in.”
“She said nothing of the sort.” he said, distractedly.
“You just have to know how to read between the lines.”
He put down the screwdriver and looked at his watch. “We should have had tea half an hour ago. You’re late.”
“As I’ve already been told that by an expert Roland, I know that.”
“If you’d been on time, I could have broken off. Now I need another ten minutes to finish this.”
“Suit yourself,” I laughed. “I’ve delivered the message, and it’s up to you what you do with it. I merely point out that I am in bad odour for delaying tea, and that her Elvis Presley film has already started, but don’t let me save you from getting into trouble.”
Roland cocked an eye at his handiwork, picking up a slim bladed knife and using it to prise two wires apart. Then he gave me that Hughie Green grin, the one that means he’s thought of something inconvenient for me.
“Tell her I’ll be in in…” he checked his watch, the one with the Francis Rossi hands, “in one minute.” He gave me the grin again.
I returned to the house,

I went back inside, conveyed Roland’s message, started washing my hands and was followed by Roland pretty much as he’d said. And still grinning.
Tea, both as a meal and as a family gathering, was pretty awful. I was not allowed to expound upon the day’s play, even if Dad was courteous enough to ask after the result. Other events of the day, such as my specific reason for being so late in the first place, were not touched on. Well, Alison was none of their business: young men whose mothers have already suggested several young women they could ask out if only they’d stir themselves and go out and meet people for a change grow up keeping their cards close to their chest. After all, it saves endless embarrassment when you turn up the next day to find that of course you’ve got it all the wrong way round and they didn’t mean it like that  at all, and then what do you tell your family and close friends and several unrelated strangers in whom you’ve confided that you’ve got a new girlfriend? Silence is not just golden, it’s armour plated.
At the end, Roland and I paired off to do the washing up. A ferocious argument developed over whose turn it was to dry: he who washes finishes first and misses chapped hands and wet tea towels.
When he’d done, Roland surprised me further by heading upstairs instead of out to the garage. Over his shoulder, he said, “When you’re through, just slip out and get me a Phillips Head Screwdriver from the workshop.”
“Bog off and get it yourself,” I retorted.
“I’m afraid I have pressing demands upon my time in my room. You’ll have to fetch it for me. Key.”
He threw the key. Automatically, I caught it. “What did your last slave die of?” I enquired sourly.
“Mam finding out who hid Mary’s Bunty last week. I lose more lab assistants that way,” said Roland, and then he disappeared.
“Lab assistant, slave, same difference,” I grumbled, recognising a fait accompli when it kicks me in the kneecap. Then again, getting to explore the garage without Roland breathing down my neck doesn’t arise as often as Manchester City from the Second Division. I live in hope of one day getting some dirt on him that doesn’t implicate me.
Dry the pots, stack them in the cupboard, dry the cutlery, stick it in the knife drawer, hang up the miserably wet towel, dry my hands properly. Outside, sort out the key, unlock the garage door. How thoughtful of Roland to have left the light on for me. To my surprise, he had also put his feet up on the workbench and was doodling on his ideas pad.
“About time,” he said, looking up. “I’m getting really hungry.”
“What?” I said. “You’ve just eaten.”
“Not me,” Roland said, swinging his feet down onto the floor.
“What are you doing down here? Did you sneak out the front door or something? And what was the point of asking me to get something for you if you were coming out here after all.”
“Ah yes. This is what you’re looking for.” He handed me a green handled screwdriver and picked up the remote control from the workbench. “And I haven’t left the workshop since you got home this evening.”
“I have news for you then, Roland. Your evil twin’s just eaten your tea”
“Har har. That wasn’t my twin, that was me. And as I’m hungry, I shall go and eat now. Don’t forget to bring the screwdriver up to my room.” Roland flashed me the grin again, and then he disappeared.
No, this time I mean it. Suddenly there was only one person in the garage, and I was scared.

The Return of the Purple Puffin – The End


“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” said Alex, at which Declan roared with laughter.
“And what is that one thing you don’t understand, Lady Constance?” he enquired with the air of a detective who has gathered everyone together in the library.
She grinned sheepishly. “Pretty much all of it, I suppose. Just go over it again for me, will you?”
It was ten days later and already the case showed signs of being buried in the Press, as John Major had finally succumbed to the inevitable and requested the Queen to dissolve Parliament. Both parties had swung into full Election mode and, although the outcome seemed foreordained, New Labour were campaigning as if their very existence depended upon it and the Conservatives were busy warning everyone who would still listen to them about the absolute disaster it would be if their hands were forcibly ripped from the wheel.
They were in an obscure but well-appointed hotel in Devon. Alex had been there, with Alicia, for nine days, but Declan had only arrived that afternoon, slipping in by Movements unseen. Although emphasis had shifted more than somewhat from the Regina Tyler scandal, the lady’s photogenic looks ensured a level of tabloid attention robust enough to have lasted thus far.
Miss Tyler had escaped custody, thanks to some formidable lawyering and, it has to be said, an undue emphasis on the fact that most of the evidence in the case had been procured by not merely a costumed figure, but one who was wanted as a criminal himself.
“Yes, Declan said. “Not that I regret for one minute frying Eric Johnson’s brain, I mean, do unto others as they would do to you, but get it in first, they should make everyone who decides to do this stupid, and may I say, unpaid job learn that off by heart before they’re allowed to even design a costume. But whilst it doesn’t leave me filled with regret that someone who’d decided to dedicate his life to destroying mine has ended up the way he is, it does rather take the edge off thins to have given the Queen Bee something with which to belabour the evidence again her.”
“Is he really going to be incapacitated for life?” Alex asked.
Declan shrugged. “Never say never. Not with the kind of stuff some of my colleagues can do, and with what science is desperately trying to reproduce now it knows there’s some of us trying to do it. It was a complete surprise to discover Regina Tyler’s efforts were all focussed on trying to duplicate my powers.” He looked pensive. “I retire for five years because I’m disgusted with the whole business and, I don’t know, I’m still distorting the world all the time I’m trying to avoid using my powers.”
“You took to them again pretty quickly though, didn’t you?” said Alex with a queer note to her voice.
Declan looked at her along the length of the sofa. Arms folded around her stomach, knees drawn up to her waist, body language set to defensive, that’s what he’d have expected to see with that voice, but she was sat casually, one hand supporting her face.
“Alex, you can accuse me of being a lot of things, and a lot of them will be true, but I am not stupid. When you take the decision to put on a mask and put yourself out there, you either learn to be smart, or you don’t get to sit there and talk about it ten years later. The moment I realised that I was up against a combination of two very rich, very successful people who seemed to be behind a scheme that involved fake battles being organised to destroy public buildings, I knew I couldn’t tackle this alone. I’ve always been a loner, never joined any teams, very rarely teamed up with anyone, and never deliberately, but I’ve always been a realist. You do what works.”
So, and without going into details by so much as it’s name, he explained to Alex that he’d enlisted the Switchboard to provide him with full operational assistance. Surveillance devices, remote and personal – he had had both audio and video recording equipment, supplied by Barrington, woven seamlessly into his costume – linked to Police units waiting just off-site for the call-in. Electronic depressors, baffles and penetrators overcoming the majority of the site security, especially the really scary crap protecting the laboratories. Aid from his peers: Icecapade, who had the best relationship with the authorities of all of them, to broker the approach to the Police, including the incidental news that these two masterminds were attempting to smear a guy called Declan Cuffe, who’d gotten in their way over Planning issues: Doctor Star, who’d recently retired from active duty but was now working closely with the Switchboard on providing supporting services to any costume needing specialist equipment to achieve things they couldn’t alone: Hyperwoman running interference for the London Raid and the Labrat conducting a sweep of the computer systems of both perpetrators’ organisations and clearing out any references to the White Knight.
Which had no doubt gone no further than the information banks of the Switchboard itself, but whilst he would once – say, about a fortnight ago –  have gone apeshit about that, Declan was more sanguine than he had ever been. A lot of people now knew his secret, not just him and Harry, but the most important thing was that the authorities firmly believed that Declan Cuffe was not involved with the White Knight in any way.
Of course, that didn’t stop Regina Tyler from getting his name into the Press, which was why Alex and Alicia, asleep in her cot on the other side of the room, had spent the last week and a half in one of the Switchboard’s protected locations, away from the press. Declan had faced up to it and rode the storm.
“But how can you be sure they can’t connect you to this?” Alex pleaded. “I mean, you are the White Knight, unless you were lying to me about that, and you were there without your costume in front of them. And why were you so stupid as to go and do a thing like that?”
“Firstly, they created their own White Knight, thanks to Eric Johnson’s mind. I mean, ok, he was right, he did have a superpower after all, which is another good reason that I’m not losing any sleep over his having had a stroke, because that means he can’t do that any more.” Declan shook his head.”Just think how dangerous he could have been with that. I mean, that not-me that he created wasn’t just a thought construct, he was solid, through and through.
“But by producing him, and trying to make me come out of the woodworks in time to have my name blackened, they gave me alibi after alibi. The White Knight kept appearing when I was provably somewhere else, and, with the aid of Doctor Star’s fabulous Chameleodroid to go visit Sammy and Andy a couple of hours before it all kicked off, and stay there weeping all evening, they don’t have any doubts whatsoever.”
“I hope you’re right, but that doesn’t mean the Press will shut up, does it?” Declan noticed that Alex had been a little tight-faced over the reference to his weeping, which he thought augured well.
“No, but they’ve other fish to fry, and the public’s losing interest. I reckon we can all go home next week without worries.”
Alex let that pass. “And what are you going to do?”
“Well, given all the publicity about me being victimised, not to mention that the Tyler scheme is now officially dead in the water, George has been forced to rescind my suspension and take me back. Of course it’s had to have been formally reviewed, and I’ve had a severe slap on the wrist over my pissiness that day I walked out, just to make them feel better, but I start back at the Town Hall on Monday, and everything goes back to normal.”
“Everything?” she asked. He should have spoken then but chose not to, spoke instead of what he believed she first needed to hear.
“I’m not doing that again,” he said, shaking his head firmly. “It was a one-off, and I didn’t have much choice in the end, but it’s only told me what I already knew: that I’m not cut out for living that kind of life. I don’t believe in it, and it doesn’t help anyone.”
Alex inclined her head. “So, what was Hillsborough?”
Declan closed his eyes. “A nightmare,” he said. “One I plan to wake up from. No,I’ve made it plain, officially this time, there is no more White Knight, and there never will be again.”
They sat and looked at each other. Maybe they were each waiting for the other to begin,hoping that neither of them had to take the responsibility for whatever might happen. The longer he waited, the harder Declan knew it was for him, and it was so awkward already, but if Alex wouldn’t offer him a sign, then he had to walk into the dark to try to find her.
“It’s over,” he repeated. “and it’s never going to happen again. And I want to come home. To you, I mean, not just to Lissy.”
“Come over here,” she said, and he was in her arms on the instant, kissing her, passionately, feeling her responsiveness, moving together in ways that were familiar yet startlingly new. Her face was wet, and so was his, tears of relief and release, as his hands pushed in under her top, ran across the soft, smooth skin of her back, touching and drawing, her mouth eager for his as he began to unhook her bra, and the tears became sobs and her mouth fought to escape his, to give way to great heaves that pressed her into him in a way he found wonderful, but which halted as she put her hands to his face and held it away.
“I’m sorry,” she said, repeating the words many times, as he wrapped his arms round her to comfort her in whatever this meant, as stones began to churn in the pit of his stomach.
It should have been dark. It should have been evening, with dimmed lights the only illumination, where they could talk with faces half-hidden in shadows and expressions impossible to decipher, but it was afternoon and the sun streamed in through all windows, pin-sharp and unforgivingly cheerful.
“I’m sorry,” Alex said again. “It’s not that you lied, though that hurt me so badly, knowing I could never trust you again. It’s not even necessarily what you lied about, though you don’t seem to understand that it isn’t over and it never will be, as long as that Tyler woman knows who you are. You turned Alicia and me into targets, and I can’t cope with that.”
“But isn’t there a way to try to handle this? We have so much to talk about. We love each other, we’ve got to be able to find a way to let that work.”
“Declan, I… I’m sorry, I know it’s a lousy thing to say, but I don’t know, at the moment, if I love you or not. But one thing I do know is… that I don’t think you love me any more.”
“What are you saying? Of course I love you!”
“You love Alicia, I know. But me? When I asked you to go, Declan, what did you do?”
“I went. Because you wanted me, and because we needed space at that time.”
“Yes, but what did you do?”
He thought about it. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re getting at.”
“You didn’t fight. You didn’t argue with me. You didn’t try to get me to change your mind, or plead with me to give you a chance, or tell me you loved me. You didn’t even wait to see if I thought better of it. You took out a six month letting on a flat.
“I don’t think you do love me any more, Declan. I’m sure you think you do, but if you look a lot closer at yourself, maybe you’ll see that most of it is a reflection of Alicia.”
He was stunned, crushed. He wanted to fulminate, to jump and shout and swear and deny, but instead he was paralysed. “And are you really sure you aren’t cut out to be a superhero?” Alex gently quizzed him. “You seemed to have no difficulty handling it again.”
Declan shook his head. “That’s over,” he said, firmly. “But surely you and I aren’t?”
Alex lowered her eyes. “I’m afraid we are. I’m sorry, Declan. But even superpowers can’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Don’t feel too bad. You saved everybody else, after all. Isn’t that what the White Knight does? Save people?”
Save people? But who had he really saved?

The Return of the Purple Puffin – Day 28


Take it outside, that was what went through Declan’s mind instantly. Five people in a room, even a big room, with all sorts of as yet hidden security: no place for the kind of slam-bang action that he suddenly welcomed. Regina Tyler’s office became a sudden mass of fissures, exits in every direction, and Declan Moved through one. One White Knight disappeared at the same moment.
Two steps later, one White Knight burst into the courtyard. The Purple Puffin floated down, wings spread wide, landing ten paces in the Knight’s rear. Regina Tyler detached herself from his grasp. There was an oddly-shaped pistol in her left hand, with a fat barrel and two spikes projecting forward from its muzzle.
“Where is he?” the Puffin screamed. “Has he run again? Don’t tell me he’s run again!”
“Don’t worry,” she assured him, crossing over to a position to the Knight’s left, scanning the area. “We know who he is, we know where he lives. I can drop a word in a tabloid journalist’s ear any time.”
“Why wouldn’t he just admit it? We caught him, fair and square. Why’s he lying?”
“You just don’t get it,” said another White Knight, stepping through nothingness into the space behind the Puffin and hammering him across the back of the neck with an arm encased in white mail. The Puffin stumbled forward, using his wings to balance himself, and shaking his head. Metal backed mask, Declan thought. Lunatic, but well-organised with it.
The false Knight had blinked out. Declan, now safely encased in the helm, wrapped once more in his old costume, the costume he’d had poised, ready to step from the Space, as if an independent being, saw three entries around him, but the false Knight came at him from a fourth direction, ramming a mailed fist into his kidneys. Sickening nausea shot through him, even as he Moved sideways, across the Courtyard, appearing fifteen yards distant.
“Your man’s gone,” he shouted, Moving diagonally as the false Knight apparated, arm raised. The blow fell on nothing, and Declan hit Regina Tyler across the wrist with the edge of his fist, sending the gun flying out of her hand.
“He was never here,” he called, avoiding a sweeping kick from the false Knight, zooming in from the left, Moved behind the Puffin and chopped his legs out from under.
“No more phoney enemies!” he whooped, appearing clinging to a ledge on the second floor, then back to the round and kicking the gun hard across the ground before Regina, her eyes tearing with pain, could scrabble for it with her right hand. “Sorry, did I hurt your wrist there?” he sympathised, stopping long enough for the false Knight to wrap his arms around Declan’s shoulders. Elbows into the other’s ribs loosened the grasp just enough to allow him to wriggle free and Move before the false Knight could come back at him.
“You’re facing me now, not a civilian,” he roared. Adrenalin pulsated and he sprang into the air, Moved and descended on the Puffin’s head, knocking the other to the ground. “Pathetic obsessive loser,” he added as he sprang away, only to find himself Moving into the path of the false Knight, who hammered two quick punches to the helm, Declan landing a kick on the other’s thigh at the same time but getting no weight behind it.
“Bring it on,” he said, and increased the pace. Twenty White Knights appeared, momentary flashes, vanishing as soon as they were seen, charging in to hack, slash, kick or hammer upon the false knight and the Puffin, sometimes all at once, others in little relay strikes, sending them one after another. Regina was left alone, cradling her wrist – broken or merely fractured, it didn’t matter – but her eyes followed every movement with the speed of the expert fencer who can see the individual motions of the Master’s attack. And if there were twenty Knights, there were a half dozen more, dealing out shattering blows, clubbing and sweeping other Knights. Some fell, vanished a last time, others stumbled and disappeared as well, though the false Knights were thinned out too, only not so quickly.
The Puffin fluttered about the edge of the combat, trying to intervene with kicks and punches, swinging into the swirling mêlèe. When he hit, he usually hit Declan, who was leaping and whirling through gates and cracks that he was faster than the eye can see, creating the impression of a band of gladiators, and not the false Knight, who didn’t seem to be duplicating himself through a trick of the eye, but rather by actual multiple location.
He’s already not Moving like me. He hasn’t used a single entrypoint to get himself anywhere. Block a fist, kick and Move. So whoever he is, he’s not using my powers, only something that looks like it. Scythe a boot out from beneath him, Move to the other side and kick him in the ribs before he hits the deck, bastard trying to rabbit punch me in the neck and Move. Why’s Regina here instead of somewhere safe? She’s not fighting, but then the bloody Puffin is a waste of space… Move: there’s that gun, wonder what the bastard thing does, try to grab it or at least stomp it flat when I next. Move: roundhouse into the face, knee in the groin, shit, that hurt! Move. No security guards are coming to see what’s going on. There was site security when I canvassed the place to find Regina’s offices, what’s happened to them? Move.
Whatever lay behind the false Knight, it was damned effective. There was never a moment to breathe, never a second to relax, to plan anything. Just hit, rush on, try to knock the Puffin down every chance you get, see where Regina is, but time to shift again before that pseudo-me arrives again.
Hit and run and hit and run and try to vary the pattern, try to change the Move before this becomes nothing more than a series of endless repetitions, because both of us have a power that encourages us to sneak attack and we’re too good at getting away and rebounding from another angle.
So break the mould, Cuffe, demonstrate that you’ve not totally forgotten how to deploy this power. Show that you learned something from Harry, he used his power over time in s many different ways, never at a loss, that lad, take a blow and roll with it and return a kick from close range instead of Moving, only watch out for that Purple Twat, christ, that costume’s fucking stupid but that beak is sharp, that actually cut me, oww!
And Declan had a thought, Moved instantly to an aerial position, fixed the whereabouts of everybody in his mind and, before the pseudo-Knight could spring at him,Moved again. Regina Tyler gasped and immediately began to struggle, but the Declan-Knight had her gripped, arm around the waist and pulling her back against him, and against the wall.
“Wait!” the Purple Puffin called desperately, waving the false Knight down. The silent figure   dimmed, as if he was about to do whatever he did when he Moved, but resolidified, fists clenched.
“Get your filthy hands off me!” screeched Regina. “What are you doing, let me go, now!” And she struggled in his grasp, trying to squeeze his arm away from round her, scratching at it with her nails, trying to slash at his legs with her heels. Declan caught one of her ankles with his free and, snapped off the heel, his eyes fixed on the purple and white figures standing less than en feet away.
“Naughty girl,” he admonished, “and I don’t know what on Earth’s so filthy about a friendly cuddle like this? It’s not like I’m trying to get my hand inside your bra or anything, although if we an et rid of these gooseberries for the evening and sit down perfectly civilised, a couple of glasses of wine, some friendly conversation, a signed confession on behalf of yourself and your associates, and we could find ourselves getting into something a little more comfortable.”
Her nails squeezed into him where the puffin-beak had dug a gash along the forearm. Blood dripped from his arm and spattered down her skirt. Declan winced.
“Now that’s not nice, Regina,” he said, tightening his arm around her. “Sorry about your skirt, but at this point, any well brought-up young lady would already be tearing strips off her hemline to bind up the hero’s wounds, so it’s not like the stains will really show.”
“You bastard, Cuffe!” the Purple Puffin spat out. “You let her go! She’s nothing to do with this!”
Declan roared with laughter, whilst swivelling his captive more towards the silent Knight, who had moved a step or two closer.
“Get him back, Puffin, now! This is a stand-off, and any movements from your side and it’s not going to go well for the lovely Miss King here.” The Puffin gestured and the false Knight stepped back.”And go on, tell me another,” Declan said. “I could do with the laugh. Nothing to do with this? Bollocks.”
Regina was still struggling to free herself from his rip. She’d reached above and behind herself, trying to find his eyes, but the helm frustrated her, and Declan paused for a moment to bend over her and whisper something in her ear that made her face darken, but caused her to lapse into stillness, albeit a shaking, breathless stillness.
“Yes,” Declan repeated. “Stand-off. If you’d ever been anything remotely like a self-respecting supervillain, Puffin, you’d know that there comes a time when the fighting isn’t getting you anywhere, so you start to talk. So let’s do that now, whilst everyone’s still on one piece, ok?”
“I have nothing to say to you,” the angry Puffin shrilled.
“I didn’t say both sides had to talk,” Declan said, his eyes continually flicking from one to the other. “You’re a loser. A completely pathetic, useless, ignorant waste of space, with the worst delusions of grandeur that I have ever seen. Look at you! You think you can be a villain, can dress up in a costume and go out there and be the big man doing damage all around him? Cheating and lying and thieving and beating up all the big kids who used to pick on you at school and nick your Dinner Money? And you’re going to tower over them and show them who’s the really big guy dressed as a Puffin? A fucking Puffin! A short-arse bird that dives into the water and eats fish? You really, truly, seriously expected to be treated with respect, dressed like that? And in Purple, too!”
Declan shook his head. “Oh yeah, they were right mate, I did quit because of you. Because as soon as I saw you, I thought, I can’t go on like this. I don’t even know if I’m doing anyone any damned good any more, wearing this costume and now, because I’m wearing this costume, some great stupid zebe thinks he can seriously get away with dressing up like a Purple Puffin! Jesus, even football mascots don’t look as stupid as you, and they don’t go around pretending to have superpowers!”
“Who’s pretending?” snapped the Puffin. Regina was suddenly torn from Declan’s arms, as if she’d not been there. The false Knight jumped at him and, instinctively, Declan Moved, clean across the courtyard. Regina stood in front of him, her left hand cradled defensively across her midriff, the hand hanging loose, and the gun raised in her right hand.
“Fucking bastard,” she said, and pulled the trigger.
The first thing he was aware of was the heaviness of his head. Raising it, and blinking, he was grateful to find his sight enhanced by transparent lens,which meant his helm was intact and unbreached. His arms were bound, to something heavy by the feel of it, and his legs clamped. Extending his field of vision, he was perturbed, but not surprised to find he could not see any fissures. No Moves on the table, then.
“You’re awake then,” Regina Tyler said, from somewhere to his left. She sounded surly, and there was none of the implied seductiveness to her voice. Perhaps she didn’t appreciate a companionable cuddle, he thought. Might have blown my chances with her, now I’m a single man again.
“Don’t start playing games any more. You’re not funny and this is no longer the time for your disgusting attempts at levity.”
Declan shrugged lightly, or did as best as he could in the circumstances. “Congratulations are in order, I see. You’re thinking at this moment that you’ve neutralised me, and that I can’t go anywhere now, so your boyfriend’s probably going to come in at some point and rant at me again about how I ruined his life. Fair enough, I’ll sit and listen. But you might warn him that I’m going to be wanting equal time to explain to him my theories about how far beyond the reach of psychiatric treatment his complexes are.”
He twisted his head on his shoulders a little, feeling cramped muscles unwind stiffly. “Couldn’t get the helmet off, mind, could you?”
A resounding blow on the back of his head snapped it forward, crushing his forehead into the inner part of the helm. Declan grimaced, and carefully explored the inside of his mouth with his tongue, which was already swollen where he’d bitten it. A little gingerly, but no less brightly, he addressed the stern-faced Regina. “Unfortunately, it appears we’re not alone. Who brought the wallflower?”
He was ready for the second blow, but his forehead was still tender, and he’d have bruising there, for days if he wasn’t careful. “Still think I haven’t got superpowers, you sanctimonious cretin?” the Purple Puffin demanded.
“Give over. It was Regina’s magic gun that got me, not anything you did. Don’t worry though, it’s the first thing that’s getting broken the moment I’m out of your fancy chair. Unless you’re in the way, of course.”
“It’s incredible! Your egotism is unbelievable! Do you seriously imagine that, having gotten you to this point, we would actually let you go?”
“You’re not listening, Puffin old pal. Maybe you should take that stupid mask off, stop the feathers mucking your ears up. I shall be leaving under my own steam, and I’m sorry Regina, but under the obligations placed on me by reason of being a feminist, I shalln’t hesitate to punch the lights out of you if you make it necessary. You shouldn’t have dragged that other guy in to this. You made a very big mistake there.”
The Puffin laughed. “No, it’s you who have made the mistakes here. The mistake of thinking that you were cleverer than me, that I wasn’t a force to be reckoned with, that I was just something to be spurned and trodden on. No, my friend, if you want me to remove my mask, I will, always providing that you have done me the courtesy of first removing your own.”
“Not quite this minute, Eric.” Declan laughed. “I suppose you think you’ve been a bit on the clever side,you two. Getting up that impersonator to play me, knocking down first the only bit of your complex that wasn’t already devoted to experiments, like this room. It’s a wormhole project, isn’t it? You’re trying to find a way into them, get them under control, accessible. All sorts of advantages to you, being able to travel the way I do.
“But you’ve got exactly nowhere with it except that you can shut them off, clog them up,divert them away. That generator I can see, churning out all that energy, it’s reversing their polarity somehow, so they fall in on themselves.
“Don’t look so bloody surprised. I may have been out of touch for five years but once you wake up and find that someone with his eye to to wreak havoc for you is trying to work on your powers, you make sure you catch up.”
The Puffin was fuming ever more at everything Declan was saying, but there was a trace of concern on Regina’s face, the merest suggestion of a line on her otherwise perfect brow. “It doesn’t really matter to you either way. Within this room, there simply is nowhere for you to exercise your peculiar abilities. There is nowhere to go, no Move for you to make, and you cannot break those shackles. You can issue whatever threats you like, it simply will not wash. You are powerless.”
“I’m sure that saying that makes you feel happier, Regina, but it’s not going to make you any more secure. Except on that deep, psychological level that we don’t usually go to the NHS to try to get straightened out.”
Declan pointedly grinned, though it had no effect on anyone but himself.
“You really should choose your boyfriend’s better, Regina. I mean, when it came to that first magical moment, when the wine was fine and the night full of stars, and he took you in his arms and whispered those words you’d been longing to hear, ‘Darling, let’s take over the world’, deep inside you should have trusted that little voice that said, dammit, I really wanted him to ask me if I would take my knickers off.”
“You filthy bastard!” she shouted, moving forward and raising her left hand, as if to deliver a sweeping slap to his face. Declan could see that she’d changed her clothing, replacing her skirt with tailored dark trousers, and adding a plaster-reinforced bandage to her wrist.”
“Careful,” he warned. “You’ll hurt yourself more than me if you do that, especially with that hand.”
“Regina, don’t fall for it,” the Puffin said. “He’s trying to provoke you into something foolish because he has no other cards to play. He’s trapped, and he’s just trying to get under your skin by being crude.”
“Crude?” Declan said in tones of mock-amazement. “When you give me feed-lines like that, it’s almost a duty to be crude, but I shall rise above that. And I’d blame your bird, not me, Eric. If she wants to manipulate people by sexual stimulation, she’s got to expect some people actually take that act for more than face value. It might not be that much, but at least it is a superpower.”
The Purple Puffin stared at him, little beady eyes above the gaudy beak. “Oh, but I do have a superpower,” he said, very quietly. “You keep doubting me, trying to make out I’m beneath your notice, but I have a power, and it’s a much better power than yours.”
“I’ll bet you think you can piss higher, too,” Declan taunted.
There was a flash between them and the false White Knight appeared, tall and silent.
“So much for your wormhole free environment, Regina,” he called to the sullen-faced woman. “Your science isn’t so cutting edge as you think.”
The false Knight stepped forward, towering over the real one. He seemed to expand, upwards, outwards. He did expand, his helm rising up towards the overhead lights, his plume, moving artificially in the absence of any wind, spreading widely.
“That would only be true if my White Knight used the same powers as you. But he doesn’t need to. He doesn’t come and go where he pleases, he comes and goes where I please. Because I created him. With my mind. A perfect replica. And I know he’s perfect because I remember every stinking inch of you, and I could from him in my mind until I could draw him out and make him do things, completely independent things. That’s when I knew I’d finally got the means for revenge against you.”
“You don’t say?” Declan drawled. That explained a lot, an awful lot. For everybody’s sake.
He looked up and around. “I hope you got all of that, Sammy, because I’m going to bash them now.”
And then he stood up, ripping the chair in half along with him, no matter that it was steel, as a surge of power unfolded through every limb. The Puffin snarled and the false Knight leapt at him but Declan, hoarding a second reserve of power for all this, slammed a right fist into the chest of the White Knight: into and through, shattering the construct and sending a wave of psychic backlash into all the nerves of the Puffin, who shrieked and collapsed, his mask and beak spinning off his head with the force that his head snapped back.
Regina Tyler’s eyes rolled in shock and at the sight of her associate collapsing like spaghetti she screamed. Declan was across the room to grab her arm. Desperately, she tried to bring the gun to bear on him, but with a very precise motion, he kicked the gun very solidly out of her hand, sending it spiralling across the room.
“Sorry,” he said, in tones of apparent regret.”Did I break your other wrist as well? The problem is, Regina darling, and before I forget to mention it, I’ve already arranged for your pheromones to be blanketed out, you’ll find you get more joy with Lancombe rather than your natural, ah, assets, now where was I? Oh yes, the problem is that if you focus your attempts wholly on neutralising someone’s obvious abilities, you can kinda overlook the less obvious ones.”
“What less obvious ones?” she gasped. Declan, considerately holding her by the arm, turned and surveyed the mess he’d made of the room.
“Well, I should think that at least one of them is a bit less hidden by now. Ahh, DCI Norton, good evening. It took some time to gather admissions on all scores, but I hope I’ve handed you enough to put a crimp in these two birds’ careers.”
Sammy Norton shouldered her way to his side, looking coldly at Regina, and not so warmly at the White Knight. “We’ve got all your broadcasts, audio and visual, plus I’ve got the Met raiding Miss Tyler’s head offices in London at this moment, but we’ll wait and see the extent of what can be proved.”
“That’s nonsense, and you know it!” Regina burst in. “You’ve no right to be here at all, Inspector! This is private property, and you have no warrant, and besides, this man has no legal standing whatsoever. I demand my Lawyer! I’ll be taking action against this, this, White Knight for assault, trespass, forced entry, criminal damage. My God, what has he done to Eric? And my arms, he’s broken both my arms!”
“Guilty as charged,” the White Knight said, happily. “In the purely moral sense, of course. Should any criminal proceedings result from this, I will naturally plead self-defence, and introduce in evidence that rather nasty gun over there, the moulds and blueprints for you might want to accidentally destroy when you’re conducting a thorough search of this building.”
“You’re not searching anywhere,” Regina yelled. “These are private premises. There are commercial and industrial processes being conducted here, research worth millions to this company that you simply will not be allowed to compromise.”
“That will be a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service, madam,” Sammy Norton said. “But after what I’ve seen you and your friend doing, not to mention the wide-ranging damage and destruction you’ve admitted to being jointly responsible for procuring, I don’t think there’ll be much objection to our ferreting out what else you may have been doing from this site.
“And I see that your associate is Mr Eric Johnson, a prominently known local developer, who will face similar charges to you as a joint enterprise, but who will also face enquires as to the exact reason he has chosen to dress as a purple bird, of some unknown species.”
“Puffin, Officer,” put in Declan, who had, almost as a matter of course relogged onto the shifting patterns of fissures that had begun to populate the room once the generator had been powered down.
“Shut up you,” ordered Sammy. “We still have to question you about your part in all this, not to mention your legal standing.”
“He has none,” Regina said, coldly, and calmly. Declan looked at her askance. She had started to recover her self-possession. “But if you want to question him, it’s easy to find him. His name’s Declan Cuffe, and he’s a Senior Officer with your Council, in Planning ad emergency Reconstruction. I’m sure he has a long record of law-breaking that you should discuss with hi. Don’t forget to tell the Press you have a suspect. I know I won’t.”
“Ms Norton?” Declan said, quizzically. “Is this true what she’s saying about me?”
“Hardly,” snorted the DCI. “Miss Tyler, I know Declan Cuffe. I don’t know what your motive is in trying to drag him in to all this, but when I left to supervise this operation, Declan Cuffe was drinking tea on my sofa, and crying on the shoulder of my partner about his marital problems.” It wasn’t easy with a blank ceramic helm, but Declan tried to radiate beaming innocence.
“So I think we’ll just start dealing with this down at GMP HQ. Is that man in the purple pyjamas ready to talk, DS Hooper?”
“Doubt it very much, boss,” Stephen Hooper said, speaking into his radio. “We’ve got an ambulance coming. Don’t know what’s happened to him, but he looks like my uncle did when he had that stroke, so I don’t think we’ll get that much out of him immediately.”
“Stroke, eh?” said Morton, turning back to the White Knight. “I don’t know what you’ve been up to, my lad, but if you’ve caused that gentleman any harm, that helmet’s coming off right now, and we’re off to the station now.” Regina Tyler was standing there, mascara running as big tears drained down her face.
“I’ll probably have to pass on that,” Declan said. “But I can promise you that the helmet’s not a problem. You won’t be seeing it again, and this time that’s for good.”
He Moved.

The Return of the Purple Puffin – Day 27


“Certainly,” Regina said, and turned to her other guest. “Mr Cuffe, I believe you have met the Purple Puffin before. I’m delighted to reunite you in this manner.”
Declan’s head was ringing. Once, in his fledgling days as the White Knight, he’d Moved the wrong way during a battle against Ironmaster, and had walked into a massive, and entirely metal, right fist that had nearly torn his head off, and it would not have gone well for his nascent career if, at the same time, the Red Devil hadn’t been making a largely successful attempt at unscrewing Ironmaster’s own noggin. The experience had always stood out in Declan’s memory as the most disorienting thing that had ever happened to him. Until now.
The Purple Puffin?
Here?
The Purple Puffin!?
Back again?
She called him Eric. Jesus, that’s got to mean Eric Johnson! He’s a certified supervillain? He’s the Purple Puffin?
The Purple fucking Puffin. Take me now, God.
“What a shame, Regina,” the man in the purple costume said. Declan refused to let the name cross his lips and would have done much to ensure it had never even crossed his mind. “Our guest seems to have temporarily lost his voice. And he was so obliging with his comments only so short a time ago, wasn’t he?”
“Indeed he was,” Regina said. “To listen to him, you’d think he was the perfect advertisement for the clean living, ultra competent hero, but he doesn’t seem to be so confident in his superiority over such figures as ourselves any more. Mr Cuffe – or should I begin to call you the White Knight at this point? – you don’t seem prepared to greet the Purple Puffin after so long a gap in your shared history. That’s most unmannerly of you.”
“History?” croaked Declan, amazed to find his voice still working, even if it sounded like a swinging chain in an abandoned shipyard.
“Well, yes,” the figure in purple said. You look at him and your eyes want to both run away somewhere round the back of your head and want to gape even wider so that you can assure them that they are indeed beholding the spectacle of a grown man wearing an action costume based on, indeed, the puffin. “Surely you can’t have forgotten our last meeting? In that jeweller’s warehouse? It certainly seemed to affect you. After all, you retired immediately after our encounter, didn’t you?”
Unfortunately, Declan did remember. He could have gone to Brainshaver and had the offensive memories sucked out of his head, so he’d never have to remember that moment of utter loathing, the lowness of discovering that, far from being the big go-to-guy that protected the weak and seriously duffed up the imprudently strong, he had only helped to invent new ways for people to try to force their greed on everyone around them. His presence only forced them to greater and more desperate lengths to try to get their own way. That there were no depths of inanity to which people wouldn’t stoop to be noticed as they beat their own heads in against the defensive ramparts of a cadre of supposed heroes, seeking to protect society, even as Government denied its existence. That he was standing in the path of a mass of people whose values of taking, demanding, wanting and grabbing he could no longer distinguish from the ethos of those who were supposed to demonstrate to them the value of life accessible to everyone.
Unfortunately, he still remembered the absurdity, the humiliation, the moment of nihilistic despair when he was brought face to face with the understanding that, instead of acting as a bulwark, a protector, a shining White Knight providing a living example to those in need of inspiration as to their lives, all he had done had been to create a situation where an otherwise ordinary, self-centred creature found it appropriate to dress up as a Puffin.
And a Purple Puffin at that.
“You remember,” said the man in the absurd costume. “Of course you remember. You wouldn’t fight me. You wouldn’t even look at me! I was standing there, ready for you. I’d planned for your tricks carefully, I was ready, I was going to beat you, and you just turned round sand walked away!” His voice rose. “Just what the hell was the matter with you? Fucking superhero, turning your back on me, me! Like I was nothing at all, too insignificant to be bothered with.”
Declan tightened his fists, his nails grinding so far into his palms that he began to think he was cutting into the bones. He couldn’t trust himself to speak. Normally, this wasn’t a bad idea, since most of the mad bastards could be relied upon to come out with enough waffle to cover up any number of gaps in the conversation, but this horrific re-emergence of a nightmare that had sent him fleeing was too much of an enormity for him to handle it.
“And then you disappeared. And nobody knew where you’d gone, White frigging Knight, but everybody said it was me, it was down to me, I’d gotten rid of you, and we were all well rid of you. But I didn’t get any credit. They weren’t praising me, they weren’t respecting me, they were… laughing!”
Declan looked up at that. There was something extra to the voice there, something more than megalomaniac rant, the ego spilling out and getting on everybody’s clothes. This had really meant something to this guy. Who he still couldn’t believe might be Eric Johnson. And who he seriously couldn’t believe was acting in concert with someone like Regina Tyler.
“No!” the birdhead foamed. “No, they didn’t respect me, they didn’t look up to me for getting rid of one of you sanctimonious cretins, they were laughing. At me. Behind my back. And to my face. Saying that you’d quit because you just couldn’t face the humiliation of being seen fighting someone so pathetic and feeble as me!”
A slow grin began to spread on Declan’s face. “What if I did?” he asked, relieved to hear his voice operating somewhere in the vocal range he was used to.
“You were a coward! You wouldn’t fight! You walked away from me! It was you who was pathetic, not me! They should have been laughing at you! Coward! You never gave me the chance! I would have shown how much faster than you I was, and stronger, and cleverer, and stronger too. You cheated me, and then you ran away and hid so no-one would see you, but you couldn’t hide from me! Oh no, I found you. I always knew I’d find you.”
“Ok, Johnson,” Declan said. The other man’s ragged anger inspired confidence in himself. So the Purple Puffin, the embodiment of all his doubts and fears about this whole life, should be a very successful businessman in real life? Or a property owner and developer like Eric Johnson should also be such an ineffectual supervillain? Somewhere, his contempt shifted, the balance of the scales tipping away to where it should have been all along.
“So you went looking for the White Knight, to try and get over your little self-humiliation,” he said, his voice getting clearer and more contemptuous with every syllable, “and you didn’t even get it right. You fixated on some poor innocent that you decided was your fantasy enemy and now you’re trying to make his life a misery because you can’t get your hands on the real thing.”
“Oh, Declan,” Regina cut in it exasperation. “We’re not complete idiots. Stop trying to pretend that it’s someone else beneath that mask. Or that it isn’t the same person behind the helmet of the White Knight.”
“And what makes you sure of that, Regina?” Declan asked, turning her direction but keeping more than half an eye and a great deal of focussed power trained on the purple clown. “Only, given this poor fool’s less than glowing track record, I wouldn’t put much weight on anything he claims.”
The Purple Puffin fluttered his fake feathers aggressively, but Regina Tyler stepped across to him, laying a soothing hand on a wing. She smiled sweetly at Declan, and a look of concentration entered her eyes.
A figure began to form in the air between them. At first it was transparent, a collection of lines and shades like a particularly uninspired abstract. But it grew more solid, developed a shape. It looked like a hoodie from the back, in the exact shade of the one Declan wore, and at his exact height. When it solidified, the figure turned on absent legs, and it’s hood fell away. Declan’s own face stared at him, lacking the mask he had drawn upon himself.
“Impressive,” he said. “You should paint that on a wall somewhere, someone might mistake it for a Banksy and pay you a lot of money for it. But where’s the post-modernism? Where’s the irony? And who’s the artist?”
“Does it matter?” Regina said. “You can see that these are the same people. The ridiculous mask doesn’t hide who you are.”
“Yes, I’ve looked you in the face, Declan Cuffe, and I know who you are. You sat opposite me in meetings about Canalside, blocking everything I did or said, at every turn, frustrating every move I tried to make, getting my project thrown out, and I kept wondering, who is this man, the little, petty man, who couldn’t build anything, couldn’t make anything stand up, and what has he got against me, such meagre resentment.”
“You have one of the worst cases of galloping paranoia I’ve ever come across, and you know nothing about Local Government if you think a single Council Officer blocked a scheme of that size,” Declan said, watching carefully.
“And it wasn’t until after, until we spoke, face to face, after that decision, when you gloated over me, that I realised who you really were. That I understood where I knew that voice from. That you hadn’t been able to beat me when I wore this suit, and you knew that I was your better, you just lied and planted stories that made people think you’d hidden for any other reason than that you were scared of me. And now you’d seen a way, a dirty, indirect, sneaking way to frustrate my plans,  to enable yourself to pretend you weren’t my inferior.”
The Puffin face was expressionless, but the mask was an inadequate cover for the naked hatred in the voice. “That’s when I swore I’d destroy you. That I’d take away from you everything that went to make up your sad, limited life.”
“Good luck to you,” Declan said. “I hope you’ve got enough money, to pay damages to this poor sod you’ve dragged in to your warped ideas. Because, for once and for all, I am not your Declan Cuffe. I’m not even the White Knight.”
And upon this enormity of a denial, the air at the end of the room shimmered like an acid curtain, and the tall, lean, muscular figure, in it’s white casing, leggings and boots, and the high, blank, ceramic helm with the flowing plume, stepped into Regina Tyler’s office and eased Declan out of the way.
“This meeting’s overdue, I think,” the White Knight intoned, in a voice not dissimilar to, but clearly different from Declan’s.
The Purple Puffin drew back, wings raised, an odd, barking shriek erupting from it’s beak and its feathers rustling. Regina Tyler, however, remained utterly calm.
“Oh, you have a White Knight, do you?” she said, stepping aside rapidly, as the wall shattered inwards, showering the office with bricks, none of which so much as grazed her. A tall figure dressed in white emerged unhurriedly through the rubble, a flowing plume depending from a blank ceramic helm.
“So do we.”

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.”

The Return of the Purple Puffin – Day 25


Refreshed, physically at any rate, from a sleep in the Space, Declan planned his day. He had two viewings for flats in the morning, the second of which ended with his signing signing a contract for a six month Assured Shorthold Tenancy. This left him three hours before the meeting he intended attending.
Without Barrington’s information, the picture was frustratingly unclear. His instinct was that Eric Johnson was behind the Ardwick demolitions, clearing the ground for a re-run at the Leisure complex project that had been rejected, though the dispersed site ownership didn’t immediately support that.
He’d met Johnson twice over the months the development had been progressing, but once had been enough to recognise the developer as someone intent on having his own way, and not accepting of obstacles or challenges to his vision. Just another self-centred bastard, incapable of understanding that other priorities might exist, or that his schemes – which inevitably meant the gathering in of large sums of money at one point or another – might not be as important as others’ proposals.
All Johnson could see was the East side regeneration schemes centring on the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and the stadium construction, and he wanted in by providing a gateway leisure complex, offering all the latest sporting equipment and opportunities for people to participate in the very activities that, in five years time, they would (hopefully) be flocking to watch the World’s top athletes carrying out.
Commercially, sound and sensible, and there had been a very strong political faction within the Council that wanted to take advantage of the opportunities it provided to further the regeneration of a sector of the City that had suffered badly from the decline in manufacturing industry over the past twenty years of Thatcherite government.
But at the same time, Johnson had devoted too little attention to statutory regulation – rather like Regina Tyler today – and his proposals for costume-proofing were far from inadequate. On top of the unwillingness of too many Elected Members to create too large a corridor devoted to Sport and little else, there were genuine concerns for the City’s reputation, and prospects in the run-up to 2002, if a hero incident should be aggravated by corner-cutting.
Declan had been privately sorry when the scheme was voted down, but with his professional hat on, he had recognised that a lot needed doing to make the scheme acceptable. Not that Johnson had ever agreed that for a moment, campaigning, scheming, wheedling and pressurising, when it would surely have been cheaper to have revised the plans and get his own way legitimately.
They’d all been surprised when he seemed to accept the reversal, when he didn’t lodge an appeal, and when rumours started to spread that he was selling the site off, taking his ideas somewhere else, to a city more grateful to have him improving facilities for everyone. And then he was gone, and the Evening News, which had always been for the Canalside Project, stopped printing stories about him.
So: Regina Tyler this afternoon, and tonight Declan would go on another forage, among Eric Johnson’s papers, wherever they were.
Eavesdropping on George’s room was not going to be easy. Accessing the room was going to be no more difficult than it had been last night, but the trouble was the the Knight’s Move took you around or through space without it being there. That meant you neither saw nor heard it, which made it useless for earwigging, without coming out of whatever fissures led to the Director’s Office.
Diffusion screens seemed to offer a solution, but diffusing light away from himself so as to obviate others’ seeing him had the unfortunate side-effect of diffusing away from himself the very light he wanted to see himself. Invisor could turn invisible at will, but like Declan she had always been a loner, sharing little or nothing of herself and her techniques. Flatpack could fold himself up, something to do with accessing a whole new set of dimensions, so he could turn sideways on from reality and be there but not detectable. Harry would have just walked in five minutes after the meeting ended and lifted a chronal snapshot from the walls that he could take home and watch over a pie and a fag.
Superheroes whose power was to turn reality into a Swiss-cheese of transport routes weren’t cut out for eavesdropping on anything quiet.
It needed a dose of thinking.
Funnily enough, when Declan got an idea, it came from the pre-Red Skies week bunch, the old American heroes who’d vanished, never to be seen again. There’d been one who had superspeed, like Hyperwoman, and he was always going on about controlling the vibration rate of the molecules of his body.
Apparently, objects that vibrate at different rates can occupy the same physical space without damaging each other in an irreversible manner, and objects hat vibrate at a certain pitch can let not just physical objects pass through them, but light also. Maybe Declan could accelerate his bodily vibrations to a point where he could not only let light through him but remain coherent enough to hear what Regina Tyler was saying at the same time.
It wasn’t easy though, and a few extra hours to practice would have been welcome, but after a dozen or so test runs in front of Mickey’s big mirror, fine-tuning each time his image began to waver, Declan thought he was getting somewhere, and besides, it was time to go. There was still a faint after-image that might be noticeable if someone was looking directly at him, but if he didn’t stay too long in the same place, or walk into a coat-stand, he should be able to get by in George Master’s office.
He Moved into place ten minutes before the meeting was about to start. Masters was talking with a smartly dressed man, sharp suit and gelled hair, whilst Davina was preparing his papers and taking orders for drinks in readiness for the almost Papal visit. Declan stayed on the balls of his feet, moving quietly about, amused as anything by how close he could stroll to the Director without giving away his presence at all. He wondered who the dressed-up pillock was: no doubt the external Reconstruction expert they’d had to hire to piss all over his work.
In this he was right: Regina Tyler swept in with her legal, architectural and engineering entourage and decorously occupied the four chairs in front of George’s desk, and was promptly introduced to “Adrian Jepson” – well, he certainly looked like an Adrian – who had come in to take over Miss Tyler’s case on behalf of the Council.
“And I think we should congratulate Adrian on the speed and thoroughness with which he’s mastered his brief.”
Certainly, Declan thought, listening to the ultra-smooth Mr Jepson deliver a verbal massage of praise as to the forward-thinking, revolutionary and inspiring scheme that he had taken over. That is, if you interpreted Mastering One’s Brief as rolling over for every idiot and unsupported element of an over-ambitious, inflated and practically unsafe scheme that would render future development of the area for any of the purposes of the City Development Plan. Guess that’s why you call it the Private Sector: you only worry about what benefits you privately.
“I’m certainly glad to see Mr… Jepson, was it?” Miss Tyler said, going on to ignore the slickster’s invitation to call him Adrian, not all bad, this woman then, “Mr Jepson has a clearer appreciation of the benefits of this proposal to the City Council, and of course to the City in general terms. I’m very grateful that you have listened to my representations about your Mr Cuffe.”
No doubt you are, Declan thought, carefully maintaining the correct pitch, and rounding the end chair to take up a position where he could see Miss Tyler to his advantage. Definitely an advantage: her dark, glossy hair was again brushed in a perfect curve above her right eye, and she was dressed in a chicly tailored dark green suit with piped lapels and hems. All in all, a classy little number wearing a classy little number.
“I’m only sorry that we all had to be delayed in this manner, though I rather anticipated from the moment I was advised of who my proposals had been assigned to.” What’s this? Declan thought, switching from Miss Tyler’s legs to her face, with its expression of earnest innocence. “You may not be aware of this but Mr Cuffe does have something of a reputation in the Business Community as a hindrance to development. A business associate of mine was prevented from moving forward with an extremely valuable and publicly desirable project primarily because of the objections created by your Principal Officer.”
Declan turned his back and prowled away into anther part of the room whilst he fumed. We call it the Public Sector because we’re supposed to think of the benefits to the Public,not of greedy, rasping developers like you, lady. Business associate? I’d like to know who you mean by that.
Meanwhile, Masters was being profusely apologetic, and the indubitably commercially minded Adrian was snaking his tongue in the direction of Miss Tyler’s no doubt immaculately groomed arsehole, but Declan’s consideration of Tyler Chemicals’ CEO’s charms was depreciating with the Stock Market.
He was also distracted at that moment by sensations that almost caused him to lose his control of his vibrations. Thankfully, he was out of everyone’s eye-line except George’s, and the Director was preening himself at his immediate reversal of the Council’s fortunes and wouldn’t have recognised any spectre that didn’t announce itself with at least a severed head.
It was obviously the Switchboard responding, and Declan faced a hairy moment or two of balancing between the manipulation of his atoms and the diversion of contact into some metaphysical equivalent of an answering machine. He wanted to hear what else George and Regina had to say: Adrian and the stooges could go hang.
In that, he was disappointed. Miss Tyler had got her way, Masters had folded like a cheap suit, Adrian was there to give the ‘expert’ aides whatever answer they wanted, and it was all technical issues that betrayed everything Declan had already identified as stumbling blocks, technical issues that Regina Tyler leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs upon, steepling her fingers and watching proceedings with the eye of a snake contemplating a particularly white mouse.
She was still pretty fit, though. Give her some fairly innocuous superpower, like, well, giving a really hot massage, and he’d happily watch her working away in a skin-tight costume. But it wasn’t anything like lusting after Pauline Watson, who was taller and slimmer and who he’d long since imagined taking to bed: with Pauline, he would have wanted to do it at least a second time.
Nothing more to learn, except curious insights about sexuality, which wouldn’t do anything for his situation, but Declan stayed till the end. He would have to collect his own copy of Jepson’s work, to add to his investigation, which had now expanded to include public exposure of the iniquities of the private sector, but which still had as one of its primary goals the ritual slaying of George Masters’ career.
He Moved away, to neutral ground on the first floor of the Central Reference Library, and from there into the Space. His files had integrated the Switchboard’s information: company registers, list of Directors and Shareholders, property lists, share transfers, the total absence of any dividends being declared. Very intricate stuff, already given the fine tooth comb treatment by the invaluable Barrington.
The patterns were subtle in themselves, but they were inescapable once every piece extracted from Companies House had been sorted, linked and cross-referred, and overlaid on the Property Registers he’d liberated from Lytham last night. More than two hundred transactions: changes of ownership of land, changes of ownership of companies, subsidiaries acquiring holding companies and switching them into other company’s portfolios.
It was a money-launderer’s wet dream, with cash purchases  being wiped clean in property and share transfers, and the money going in and around, but somehow never relating to where and to whom it went out again.
And well, well. Some of those companies were owned by companies who didn’t appear anywhere in the whirligig, and they, in turn were owned by other companies, and a familiar name started to peep shyly through the afforestation when you started getting to the mesosphere. Nice to see you again, love. Now I really do wonder who your business associate is.