Chapter Thirty One
Tel sat up and moved both hands to his aching head, clenching at his temples in a bid to rid himself of the incessant buzzing. He had been barely conscious of being dragged out of the van, briefly inspected by an oversized smug white blob and then bundled into another room. He rubbed his chest where the electrodes had implanted themselves.
“Stop playing with your nipples.”
“Sky! You’re okay.”
“Not exactly – I got the electric shock therapy too. Now I know why you advised me to bring spare undies. You could lose all control with that thing firing into you.”
“No permanent damage though?”
“My hair might take a while to calm down, but apart from that no.”
“Darren, are you okay?”
“I’ve been better. Do you really know what you’re doing?”
“Not entirely, but I’m trying my hardest.”
Tel took stock of his surroundings, which transpired to be a small room, decorated with nothing but a radiator and with only a little grill in the heavy door by way of a window. A dishevelled looking Sky was sitting on the floor opposite him, with her equally dishevelled looking brother next to her. A fourth cell mate was sat behind them, grinning nervously.
“Meet Clive,” Said Sky, “It seems that he sniffles no longer.”
“Your cure worked a treat.” Said Clive.
“Clive,” Said Tel, “I saw you being kidnapped outside the chemist. What happened? Who kidnapped you? Where are we?”
“Wish I knew. This fat bird and her skinny little gimp jumped me and brought me here. I think it’s some kind of factory – lots of geezers in white outfits mincing about the place. They showed me to this fat Chinese bloke – Li something they called him.”
“Li Ping – the demon!” Exclaimed Tel.
“Some kind of bastard more like. He made me run my arse off on a treadmill, do star jumps and all sorts of silly buggering about. Then at the end of it all he complained about my feculence! I don’t know what that is, but it sounded quite offensive.”
“It’s nothing to do with sounding offensive – it’s about smelling offensive. He wanted you for your…special olfactory qualities.”
“But because of Sky’s cure, you’d lost them. So he tried to get them back.”
“You mean my ailments? Sky got rid of the lot – housemaids knee, lice of the lower regions, dropsy, itchy particulars. All gone. If he wanted my diseases then this place must be a laboratory or something.”
“Or Something I think.”
“Anyway, after deciding that my feculence wasn’t up to snuff he chucked me in here. That was days ago, and I’ve been here ever since. I get some food shoved through the door a couple of times a day by one of the white coats but apart from that I’ve not seen a soul until you arrived.”
“What about escape?”
“Solid walls, concrete floor, heavy locked door with a tiny barred window. There’s one way in and one way out – and a couple of white coats are permanently stationed beyond that door.”
Sky stood up and stretched.
“Sod escape for now,” She said, “I want to know what’s going on. There’s obviously more to this than music promotion, and I want some answers.”
“I’ve told you what I can,” Pleaded Tel, “It’s complex.”
“Piffle. It looks like we’re stuck in here for a while, so you’ve got the time to explain.”
Tel looked at the three innocents imprisoned with him, and knew that they deserved to know the truth. However, this in no way persuaded him to tell it to them. He quickly prepared a diluted version.
“Okay then, here goes. I don’t fully understand it, but music is more important than charts and record sales. It’s a fundamental need of this planet. Without it, the world will fail. There are forces at work fighting to control music, forces stronger than you can imagine – stronger than armies, more powerful than nations. Bubb, and I suppose our captors here, are working to destroy it. They are instigating bland, soulless music that floods the world and stifles all that is good. Doctor Why and Bob, and I suppose myself, we stand in the way of that. We fight the good fight, try and keep their bland drivel from infecting too many ears.”
Sky looked at him intently.
“There’s more to it than that. Spill it.”
“No,” said Darren, shaking his head, “Think about it. A conspiracy theory – powerful agencies in secret battles. Stronger than governments or armies! It must be true!”
“I admit that all we’ve been told by TV and the media over the years points at a conspiracy. But what has Clive got to do with music?” Asked a sceptical Sky.
“That’s the bit I still don’t understand. We need to get out of here quick – I don’t think we have much time before something big is going to happen.”
Cerberus poked at the door and it swung open without resistance. He stepped inside the house and then paused, listening for the sounds of inhabitants. Confident that no-one and nothing was moving around the property, he beckoned to Bubb.
“Not a soul, Boss.”
“Where are they? There’s no sign of anyone breaking in here,” Bubb paused to stroke his chin, “So they had a key, so it must be Thelopius’ house. Why would they abandon the van here and leave the place open?”
Bubb walked through the house, rifling through papers, checking behind chairs and under tables.
Cerberus watched this for a moment. He then proceeded to follow Bubb around, ripping up papers, smashing chairs and overturning tables.
“Cerberus! What are you doing?”
“Copying you, boss.”
“I was checking for clues as to their whereabouts.”
“Oh. I was just busting stuff up.”
“Well, stop it. We might miss something”
They had progressed to the kitchen and Bubb looked around.
“Three cups and three bowls on the draining board. They’ve definitely been here.”
“Maybe they’ll come back soon. They might have gone for a walk.”
“No. The door was ajar – they left in a hurry. But where to?”
He looked back out into the hallway and jumped back in shock.
“Er, hello.” Said the little old woman who stood there.
“Who are you?” Demanded Bubb.
“I’m Ethel Shrub. I live next door.”
“Well why don’t you go back there, dearie.”
“How rude! I came to tell you about it.”
“The three people. But I don’t know if I should now. You’re obviously very busy.”
Bubb put on his most charming face.
“So sorry, my dear. I’m just worried you see – the door was open, no-one was here. I fear the worst for my friends. Come, sit down and we’ll make you a cup of tea.”
Ethel Shrub stamped into the room and plonked herself down upon a kitchen chair.
“White, exactly half a teaspoon of sugar, and some biscuits. Not chocolate though, they give me the runs.”
Bubb motioned to Cerberus with his hand.
“Hello, boss.” Said Cerberus, waving back.
“I meant make the tea.” Sighed the Lord of Hades.
Cerberus busied himself while Bubb took a seat beside Ethel.
“So, Mrs Shrub – or may I call you Ethel.”
“You can call me Ms Shrub. I’m an independent woman.”
“I can see that you are. What about these three people you saw?”
“They were in a van.”
“Yes, a camper van.”
“No, a yellow one. It left.”
“No, a camper van. It’s outside.”
“No, a yellow one. It left.”
Bubb began to think that his visitor was not quite all there.
“Are you not quite all there?” She asked him.
“The yellow van. It came and took them away. The camper van’s been sitting out there all the time, it hasn’t gone anywhere.”
“I see,” Said Bubb as the light dawned, “They took another van.”
Bubb frowned as Cerberus handed Ms Shrub her tea.
“What do you mean no? You said they left in a yellow van.”
“Too much sugar, not enough milk, but it’ll do,” She said, “And no I didn’t. I said that they were taken away in another van.”
“A funny little fellow with one of those tosser guns.”
“You know – all electrodes and wires and making folk wobble.”
“A taser gun?”
“That’s what I said. They were taken away by a bloke who had one.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’ve got one in my handbag. Do you want to see it?”
“No thanks.” Bubb waved his hand nervously.
“It’s really powerful. Mr Chunky was never the same again.”
“My cat. He’s buried by the aspidistra.”
“Oh. I’d rather not know. What happened to the three people?”
“The little fellow shot them with the gun, and they fell over and wriggled about a bit. He got them into the back of his van, and drove away.”
“What did you do?”
“I mean afterwards – did you call anyone.”
“Yes, my friend Annie. She said it sounded quite exciting.”
“Yes. I called Mabel, and Bet, and Mr. Benson who went a bit funny since his wife had that incident but we tolerate him because he’s lonely, although last week he went to the Butchers without his trousers and we….”
“What about the police,” Interrupted Bubb, “Did you call them?”
“No, of course not – I mean, it’s none of my business, is it.”
She sipped her tea and dipped a digestive into it.
“Where did you watch all this from?”
“My spare bedroom. I’ve got a chair by the window.”
Bubb stared at Ms Shrub.
“You didn’t call the police or do anything when you saw these three people electrocuted?
“As I said, none of my business. I’m not a nosy person by nature.”
“Just by practice.”
“Nothing. Can you describe the van?”
“Very van like.”
“So I gather. What about the make or model?”
“Did it have any writing on the side?”
“Didn’t see any.”
“Distinguishing marks or dents?”
“Not really. I see it around Swindon a lot, always whizzing about the place.”
“I suppose so. Though why you’d drive a silly little van with three wheels I don’t know.”
“It’s a bright yellow three wheeler?”
“Oh yes. Didn’t I mention that?”
“They’re not flinching,” Said Tel, “It’s as if they can’t even hear me.”
He gave a few more raps on the little window before giving up and pressing his eye to the glass. The two sentinels were standing exactly as they had been throughout Tel’s ten minutes of knocking, banging and shouting. Staring at the back of their heads revealed nothing but the wire running from a little radio receiver lodged in their ears.
“Give it up,” Said Darren, “It’s not worth the effort.”
As he spoke Darren rapped out a little ditty on a radiator pipe with his knuckles.
“He’s right,” Said Clive, “They won’t respond.”
Clive slapped his thigh in time with Darren’s beat.
“Sit down and wait like the rest of us.” Said Sky.
Stretched out in a corner, Sky opened her mouth and flicked at her cheek to produce a popping sound.
“Ba-da-da-da.” Said Clive unexpectedly.
“Ba-da-da-da.” Responded Sky with a little smile.
Darren’s beat had picked up and now included a little melody strummed out from the radiator grill.
“Bloody hell,” Said Tel, “They’re moving.”
“Bit early for lunch.” Said Clive, ceasing his slapping as Darren continued his tune.
“Maybe it’s a shift change.” Said Sky.
“Wait a minute,” Said Tel, “They’ve stopped again.”
He stared at the immobile figures outside the door.
“Pick it up, Darren.”
Darren complied, making his tune more complex with his whirring fingers.
“Clive, slap it.”
A puzzled Clive did as he was bid and used both hands to slap out a rhythm on his thighs.
“It’s the music,” Exclaimed Tel, “They’re responding to it! Take it away, Sky.”
“Ba-da-da-da.” She sang, clicking her fingers.
“Ba-da-da-da.” Responded Clive.
“Ba-da.” Tel joined in.
The tune picked up and soon all four prisoners were slapping, popping or clicking and singing.
“It’s working – they’re turning.” Called Tel at the window, before stepping back to perform a complex fill by flicking his teeth.
The cell door suddenly swung open and the doorway was filled by one of the drones in white coats. His dull eyes flickered occasionally as he stared into the room, and one of his feet trembled as if a dance was waiting to burst forth. His colleague stood behind him in similar fashion, drooling slightly.
“Take it to the top!” Shouted Tel.
The rhythm speeded up once more. Darren’s fingers whirred across the radiator grill to pluck out a maddening melody, Sky and Clive harmonised as they slapped and clapped, and Tel continued his dental riffing.
The two drones plodded into the cell, and without breaking the beat Tel strode behind them. Segueing to a single hand incisor solo Tel reached down and pulled the keys from the outside lock then swung the door shut with his foot.
“Jump them!” He called.
Clive gyrated wildly round the cell, slapping the walls, the doors and even the white coats of the two new arrivals. He came to his senses as his hand landed on a part of Sky that he had no right to touch.
Sky rubbed furiously.
“You will be you perv…”
“BLOODY JUMP THEM!”
Tel leapt on the foremost guard as he began to shake off the effects of the tune and reach dumbly for the taser gun lodged in his belt. With a parting glance at Clive Sky joined him, while Darren and Clive pulled the other down. The two white coats were strangely unresisting and were easily overpowered, and in a few moments their white outfits were being pulled from them.
“Me and Sky will take the disguises, and escort you two around – we’ll keep out of sight where we can, and this gear should fool any more of these slack jawed yokels who spot us.”
Within minutes Tel and Sky were disguised, and Clive was vibrating slightly where Sky had taken revenge with a taser gun.
“What’s the plan?” She asked Tel.
“A recce first of all. We need to find out what this place is.”