Battleshed Diaries

Saturday, 3 June 2017

The Warehouse: conclusion

Akhenaton uses Clouds Men's Minds on Mohan Singh

Lord Curr adjusted his large calibre Holland & Holland hunting rifle and aimed again. The luminous cross hairs of the monocular targeting array focused on the foreign woman as she stood over Cartwright's drugged, motionless body. There was another loud rumble of thunder, the rain intensifying into a deluge. The image in the sighting reticule blurred from rain water smearing the lens. The Peer quickly wiped it with his thumb before refocusing on the woman. But she was gone. Cartwright's unmoving body was still lying in the wet but the woman had disappeared.



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He lifted his head from his rifle and looked around. Doctor Newel was still standing forlornly a few yards away over the crumpled robes of his assailant as if oblivious of the melee around him. Dakota was noisily and fervently darting around the bodies of two more dead cultists. Both Lord Curr's manservant, Mohan, and the British captain were similarly troubled, the latter pale faced and backing away, twitching his rifle at an invisible assailant. There was no sign of Lady Felicity. Then his gaze fell upon a mysterious dark suited, glabrous man with distinctive oriental features. He was staring intently back at Lord Curr with a self-assured scrutiny. Then the Peer heard footsteps shuffling close by.
      The source of the sound was his apprentice Murray Straw, his face a rictus of anguish. His rifle discarded somewhere and in his quavering hand he tightly gripped a knife, as if straining against the rebellious appendage. And he was coming straight for the Peer. Lord Curr sensed there was something manifestly wrong with the lad. He chanced another glance at the foreign man but he was no longer watching Lord Curr. Instead, he was advancing towards Mohan. And the woman had reappeared, turning her wicked toxic blade mercilessly towards Captain Smyth.
      He switched his gaze back to Murray just as the young man attempted a clumsy, stilted lunge towards him, which he easily brushed aside with the heel of his hunting rifle. The lad seemed almost ponderous, in a slough of befuddlement. Lord Curr quickly deduced that something had happened to the lad. A blow to the head possibly? Whatever it was, Murray had inexplicably turned on his own employer. Lord Curr easily dodged another ungainly strike, sidestepping Murray. He then implacably jabbed the butt of his hunting rifle at Murray's head. The lad bobbed slightly on the spot as the weapon's solid metal butt plate connected. Then the lad's legs folded underneath him and with a grunt he toppled to the ground. It's definitely a blow to the head now, thought Lord Curr offhandedly. After quickly checking the lad was merely unconscious, Lord Curr stepped over Murray's prone body, glowering reproachfully at his party's adversaries.
     He grudgingly accepted that he had inadvertently led his party into a calamitous trap set by these esoteric strangers. It may have already cost lives. From what Cartwright had reported regarding professor Chuffnell's original kidnappers, these foreigners were definitely not from the same criminal stock. There were powers and plots at play here beyond his immediate comprehension. Presently, though, his priority lay with saving his people. Beyond the oriental man and the intriguing woman who was tormenting the stricken British captain like some circling huntress, the Peer could see two more men in the distance hurrying away from the warehouse.
     One was unknown to him the other he recognised as his man, the luckless professor Belfry-Chuffnell, still attired in his distinguishing white laboratory coat. The professor was being bustled away by the other man beyond the warehouse, no doubt under duress. Lord Curr's options were diminishing and he felt bitterly compromised. He had no idea if there were more of these foreigners concealed in the surrounding buildings waiting to finish off his crew. His quarry was lost and pressing this undertaking was not worth any more risk. The Peer put his fingers to his lips and blew twice, the high pitched whistle piercing the sheeting rain. Dakota immediately responded with a deep, booming bark, the hound reluctantly withdrawing from the dead cultists. But instead of returning to Lord Curr's side, the wolfhound abruptly angled towards the oriental man advancing on Mohan.
     Akhenaton checked his stride as he heard the low growl of the wolfhound stalking towards him. He appraised the louring beast with detachment, as if the animal was inconsequential. Then, the pharaoh coolly regarded Lord Curr with a wry smile as the Peer sighted his rifle straight at him. Akhenaton said something barely audible and after a short pause the woman scowled and reluctantly backed away from Captain Smyth, returning to the pharaoh's side. Akhenaton stepped forward a couple of paces as if presenting himself to Lord Curr, completely undaunted by the Peer's large calibre hunting rife pointed directly at his head. The rain continued to lash down, carried on a bitter, faltering wind.
      "This may not end well...Lord Curr," stated Akhenaton confidently, in precise but accented English. The Peer is nonplussed by the mention of his name. He keeps his face close to the rifle, hiding a his surprise and dismay at his complete ignorance regarding the nature of this whole debacle.
      "We have an impasse, Sir," replied Lord Curr steadily, not taking his aim from Akhenaton.
      "Impasse? Not so. I have the professor, you do not. Nevertheless, I offer you a boon. Take your people...and this animal, and leave. There is no need for more bloodshed this day. It is time we all retreated from this torrent do you not think?" Akhenaton peered implacably at Lord Curr, his words laced with tacit threat. Dakota continued to pace menacingly behind Akhenaton whilst Mohan, seemingly partially recovered from his earlier disorientation, started to raise his Gatling gun.
      "Hold fast Mohan!" ordered Lord Curr. Mohan glanced peevishly at the Peer but he obeyed. Lord Curr warily lowered his rifle a coupe of inches and surveyed his company. Doctor Newel was watching the discourse fixedly from a distance, still standing above his victim. Burton and Murray were down, the latter groaning a few paces away. Captain Smyth was struggling to recover from his own demons but had rallied enough to have his own rifle pointed uncertainly between Akhenaton and the devilish woman. There was still no sign of Lady Felicity. A sharp pang of foreboding struck Lord Curr. He raised his rifle again.
      "What have you done with Lady Felicity?"
      "Ah, the Lady...Felicity? I know not of her... condition. But I demand you make your decision now, Lord Curr. I will allow no more time. Leave with your people or I will finish this here," replied Akhenaton solemnly, his ultimatum implicit. Lord Curr profoundly understood the man would carry out his threat.
      "Who are you, Sir?" he asked, hoping to delay whilst he grasped for alternatives. But he had nothing.
      "That is of no concern. Decide now Lord Curr," insisted Akhenaton with the finality in his response palpable.
      "My people will be left unmolested, Sir?"
      "If you leave."
      "I think...I think that would be wise," called out Captain Smyth apprehensively. Lord Curr winced at the British officer's unsolicited interruption. He instinctively distrusted this mysterious adversary. There was something masked, unseen. He exuded a cryptic aura of ill omen. As if he was merely a human marionette in the hands of something far more primeval. Lord Curr quickly suppressed his disquiet. Whoever he was, he held all the cards. And one should always accept a bene when offered, no matter how unpalatable. Or when one had no choice, he concluded ruefully. His peoples lives, especially Lady Felicity, Tess! were at stake. Discretion is the better part of valour, and all that. He lowered his rifle.
      "Then I accept your proposal, whoever you are Sir," replied Lord Curr evenly. Akhenaton bowed slightly, almost mockingly, and slowly turned away. Dakota continued to close but Lord Curr curtly commanded the hound to return to his side. Dakota sheepishly obeyed. The woman hissed at Smyth, causing Smyth to recoil in trepidation. She grinned scornfully and lowered her knife. Lord Curr watched as Akhenaton and his female companion retreated confidently towards the warehouse without so much as a glance backwards or any regard for their fallen comrades. Then, like professor Belfry-Chuffnell and his custodian, they rounded a corner and disappeared from sight.
Professor Abir leads Professor Belfry-Chuffnell at knifepoint

Quincy Purcer lounged idly in the cramped cab of the armoured steam omnibus, his polished French leather boots resting on the brass and wood steering mechanism, drawing contentedly on a cigarette. The hot, clammy air was filled with a dense haze from the cigarette smoke and issue from the furnace plate. The view ports were misted with condensation, except for the one Quincy had deigned to be opened, lest he be overcome by fumes. Nevertheless he was content to at least enjoy his few moments of welcome reprieve from Mitch McCraken's incessant and mostly impenetrable prattle. And he was buggered if he was going out in that deluge without a rain-napper. The Scottish engineer was outside somewhere, fiddling with his tools no doubt.
     Although Quincy had quite looked forward to the prospect of getting acquainted with the fetching engineer, he soon discovered that Mitch was profoundly adverse to any hint of hedonistic sensibilities. Must be all that Fire and Brimstone they have up there. Mitch had fled into the rain. Disappointing, but what could a chap do? Quincy sighed, and continued to contentedly draw on his cigarette, the rhythmic drumming of the rain on the metal cabin and the fizzling machinations of the boilers induced a calm, restful ambiance.
Rap, rap, rap!
The noise jolted Quincy from his reverie. No doubt it was that bloody Mitch banging some mechanism into submission again. Quincy settled back, letting his eyes rest again.
The cab door suddenly swung open, a blast of cold, wet air billowing inside. Quincy dropped his cigarette.
      "Mitch you damn zounderkite! You could at-" Mitch McCraken's head loomed in the doorway as he clung to the exterior access ladder. His face was partially hidden under a luxuriant beard and a dull brown slouch cap drawn tight over his head in a vane attempt to keep out the rain.
      "They're coming back. There's trouble." Then his head disappeared from view. Quincy sighed resignedly again. Just when I was bloody getting comfortable too! As Quincy descended the short metal ladder from the omnibus cab and stepped into the wet street he could see figures hurriedly emerging out of the gloom in their direction. Mitch already had his rifle raised.
     Arriving at the awaiting omnibus, Lord Curr bellowed for the driver and engineer to help. Quincy immediately started to open the doors and unfold the access ramps to the main van whilst Mitch quickly shouldered his rifle and, with a sudden pang of concern, rushed to help the Indian and Captain Smyth who were struggling to haul his obviously unconscious friend, Burton Cartwright. Doctor Newel, hatless, soaking wet and wearing a drawn haunted expression was close behind. The Indian strongman was taking most of Cartwright's weight but his cumbersome Gatling Gun, hanging heavily from a thick leather baldric was making the task difficult. Mitch helped the Indian offload the weapon. Cartwright's heavy feet slipped gracelessly out of Smyth's grasp as the officer, cursing, almost slipped on the slick wet ground. Doctor Newel urgently brushed past them as they reached one of the metal ramps leading into the omnibus van.
      "Get him inside, quickly," said Newel in a flat tone. "I'll need some light too." Quincy bustled inside to light the carbide lamps whilst Mohan and Captain Smyth dragged Burton unceremoniously up the ramp. They were soon followed by Murray Straw who was sluggishly rubbing his head with one hand whilst being guided by McCraken. Neither the engineer or Quincy said anything. Given their colleagues demeanour it was apparent something catastrophic had happened. There would be questions later, but for now they busied themselves with getting the men out of the rain and into he safety of the omnibus.
     Outside, Lord Curr looked anxiously back towards the hanger and warehouse complex. Both Lady Felicity and Dakota were missing, the wolfhound having surreptitiously slunk away whilst the rest were retreating from the encounter with the foreigners. The Peer turned back to the van and called for Mitch McCraken.
      "McCraken, you're with me. We're going to find Tess and Dakota," he said firmly, noting the engineer still had his rifle.
      "Aye, Sir," replied Mitch.
But just as they were about to set off, excited barking could be heard emanating from some buildings off to their right. Then, Dakota bounded from an alleyway, closely followed by the outline of Lady Felicity. She had a shambling gait, as if she was inebriated. Lord Curr and Mitch hastened over to her and, grabbing her arms between them, half carried the Lady back to the waiting omnibus. Dakota continued to circle enthusiastically around them, the hound's fur soaking wet, his muzzle stained with bright red blood. At the omnibus, Quincy helped them ease Lady Felicity up into the private cuddy in the forward section of the van, followed by Lord Curr.
      "Get us out of here!" he shouted unequivocally to the two men outside. Mitch glanced at Quincy,
      "But what about the professor Sir?" asked Quincy.
      "Just get us moving!" growled Lord Curr.
      "Aye sir," replied Mitch, both men rushing to retract the ramps and seal the omnibus doors.

The armoured omnibus rattled and shook as it gathered speed. The steam- electric engine rumbled, whined and hissed, belching vapour and sooty smoke from hidden exhaust manifolds. Lord Curr dragged on his cigar as he stared absently through the open view port as the industrial landscape sped by. Inside the small cuddy, the air was a dank blend of wet fur, cigar smoke and the iron tang of drying blood. Dakota sat tightly curled at the Peer's feet, the loyal hound's head in his master's lap, watching with concern. Opposite Lord Curr, Lady Felicity sat slumped indecorously and ashen faced, her lilac dress stained with muck and wet. In her hand, whiskey slopped from a glass as the omnibus rocked along the uneven, pot-holed streets. She had hardly imbibed any of the restorative spirit, even with Lord Curr's encouragement. She was in shock. That was obvious to Lord Curr and the Lady had said very little since their escape from the warehouse a good hour or more now.
      "Edward?" Lady Felicity's voice was indistinct with the noise of the omnibus. Lord Curr, leaned over and took away her glass.
      "Tess? Are you well, recovered? Are you hurt?"
      "No, yes...I'm fine. Really. I just had a... situation ... back there." Lord Curr scrutinised her waxen face.
      "What happened, Tess?" he asked carefully, softly.
      "I, I don't want to talk about it just now. Lets just get back first. I need to get cleaned up."
      "Yes, yes of course. There will be time later to, ah, discuss matters," replied Lord Curr resignedly.
      "Are the men well back there?" she asked, glancing towards the larger van section behind the cuddy. "Did they all get back safe?
      "They are all safe. Although Cartwright's in a poor state. Took a nasty knife wound. Doctor Newel says it was poisoned. That damn dirty puzzle! He's doing all he can back there," his voice full of chagrin.
      "What about-"
      "Murray too," he sighed. He took a large sip of Lady Felicity's whiskey.
      "By God that was a damn fine mess! I cannot understand how we got hoodwinked by that outfit, whoever they were. Foreigners! Using black-hearted mind tricks and who knows what else. They took the professor you know?"
      "Mmm? Oh, yes."
      "And there's not a chance in hell that I'm going to let this matter rest! I'll track them down wherever they scurry off to. I'll find them. And I'll get the professor back. And when I do-"
      "We're going to need better weapons," said Lady Felicity pensively.
      "Hmm? What? Better weapons? Indeed. Oh yes, you can be sure of that." Lord Curr was thoughtful for a moment. "But at least there's been one good thing come out of this mess-"
      "What?"     
      "I've found the perfect location for my new manufactory."


The End