The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 24 – Adoration & Terror

Copyright David Bezzina, 2017Chapter 24 – Adoration & Terror

One floor from the top the lift halted. The doors opened and Smith looked out onto an open-plan office. Right in front of him several office workers, young and old, male and female, waited for the lift. Horrified at the thought of them all squeezing into the lift with him, Smith stepped out. The office workers piled in. As the doors closed a middle-aged woman with permed hair said, ‘Oh, it’s going up.’

Smith looked around. The office ran the length and breadth of the building, the work space divided into cubicles by chest-high partitions. Doors opened on a stairwell at the far end, windows formed the walls on either side. Smith stood in an open space in front of the lifts. A water cooler stood between two vending machines. Smith thumbed the button to recall the lift then refilled his water bottle from the cooler.

Low conversation came from behind a partition, a man and woman talking. Smith listened attentively.

‘Still working, Heidi?’ the man said.

The woman sighed. ‘I’m getting there, Mr Abercrombie. Some of the accounts just won’t balance.’

‘How long–?’

‘Another day if it goes well. If not…’ The woman’s voice tailed off. Smith liked her voice, it made him think of smooth things like velvet and double cream.

‘Heidi, this is very important. Can you stay on a bit?’

‘I suppose so.’

‘I’m so sorry. You have plans.’

‘No, Mr Abercrombie, not this evening. I can do another hour or two.’

‘Thank you very much. I won’t forget it.’

Smith’s fingers were wet, his bottle was overflowing. He put the bottle away and ineffectually rubbed his foot over the damp spot on the carpet.

The lift pinged, the doors opened to reveal a stocky man of middling height in a blue boiler suit and paint-spattered boots. He had untidy greying hair, two day’s stubble on his seamed and friendly face and a pencil behind his ear. A battered yellow metal toolbox rested beside him on the floor.

‘All right, Lofty?’ The workman beamed. ‘Get out too early did you?’

‘No,’ Smith lied and immediately felt guilty. ‘Yes. Maybe.’

Smith entered the lift. The workman peered up at him. ‘This your first day?’

Smith nodded.

‘Thought so. Tell you what, you stick with me. I’ll show you round and you can give me a hand. How about that?’

Smith nodded again, wondering how this had happened.

‘Smashing. Right, I’m Ralf, Mr Tuppence if you want to be formal.’

The lifts at the top floor opened into an enclosed foyer. Smith followed Ralf through a pair of doors and discovered the rest of the floor was a single open space without partitions and cubicles. It was occupied by a small army of carpenters, plasterers, electricians and fitters.

There were step ladders, trestle tables, rolls of carpet, stacks of boxes, reels of electric flex, two scaffolding towers, sections of air-conditioning ducts, a pyramid of paint cans, a double row of bubble-wrapped chairs. Right in the centre dust sheets covered an enormous table.

It was organised chaos and there was noise, lots of noise.

Some of that noise came from power tools, saws and hammers. The rest pf the racket was shouting from the workmen swarming across the room. Smith wasn’t sure exactly how many there were because they kept moving round – climbing the towers, disappearing into gaps in the floor, peering into the ceiling void, carrying things from place to place, jumping up and down and clutching a thumb and swearing, or wandering about with a mug of tea and laughing at the state of some half-finished job.

The workmen up the ladders shouted to the ones on the floor, the ones on the floor shouted at the ones in the floor void. The ones in the floor void probably shouted too, but nobody could hear them. The only time any of them stopped moving was when they leaned against something and watched everyone else with a superior air.

‘Here you go, matey,’ Ralf said, offering Smith a mug of tea. Not knowing what else to do, Smith took it although the level of liquid was far higher than looked safe.

Ralf pulled a rumpled scrap of paper from his back pocket and studied it intently, his lips moving as he read. ‘Finalise partition in front of rest rooms. That’s the Gents to you and me. Righty-ho and off we go.’ Ralf scurried away through the room swinging his yellow toolbox. Smith followed, carefully carrying his mug. It seemed there was little choice, much like the times his mother decided he need a bath or a haircut. He was being organised. This time he didn’t mind. It looked like fun.

The room was fascinating. Patterns were forming, things were happening. Stuff was being put together and occasionally, accompanied by muttering, shaking of heads and rolling of eyes, taken apart again. And always shouting. Lots of shouting.

Smith decided he loved it.

‘Oi, matey!’ Ralf shouted at Smith. ‘Pop your mug on the floor and cop hold of this.’ He offered Smith the end of a long piece of two-by-four. ‘That’s it, hold it steady.’ Ralf ran a tape measure along the wood, licked his pencil and made a mark. He measured again. ‘Lovely.’

‘Lovely,’ Smith bellowed.

Ralf gave him a look then laughed. ‘Measure twice, cut once, that’s the trick. Come along, can’t stand here all day.’

Time passed. Ralf measured, sawed, tenoned, bevelled, drilled and screwed. Cold and empty tea mugs were replaced with brim-full hot ones. Smith tried a sip and found it was strong, hot and very, very sweet. ‘I like tea.’

‘Pukka, this is, matey,’ Ralf agreed.

In no time the partition was up with plaster board screwed to one side while the electricians added fittings to the other.

Ralf yelled across the room. ‘Oi! Bert, what’s left?’

A pot-bellied, slope-shouldered man in a check shirt, braces and jeans pointed to a stack of two-foot-square aluminium grills with his mug. ‘You could stick those somewhere useful.’

‘Yeah, and I could think of somewhere,’ Ralf guffawed. He turned to Smith. ‘Clip them into those air vents down by the bottom of them walls.’

Smith worked his way round the room. It was easy, the grills were light and just clipped on.

‘That’s us done, Lofty.’ Ralf drained his mug. ‘Quick wash up, down the tavern for a swift one, then pick up a fish supper on the way home for me and the missus.’

‘Blimey,’ Ralf tapped the washroom sign as he went through the door. ‘This is for both men and women.’

‘That’s a bit modern,’ the man behind him said. He looked round nervously to make sure no females had secretly joined the end of the queue.

‘It’s how they do things in Finland,’ Ralf pronounced sagely. ‘I’ve heard they’re all Scandinavian over there.’

The entire room had been transformed. The carpet was down, the chairs unwrapped and placed around the uncovered table. All the ducting had been fitted into the overhead void, the scaffolding towers were parked against one wall beside a heap of dust sheets.

‘Still here matey? Don’t forget to clean up.’ Ralf exited the washroom, hands scrubbed, his spikey grey hair slicked back.

‘Righty-ho, pukka, cheers!’ Smith walked into the washroom just as the last of the other workers pushed out past him.

With the exception of a waste bin overflowing with used paper towels the workers had left the room spotless. Toilet cubicles stood along one side, white enamelled basins and mirrors along the other. At the end of the room three windowless doors opened onto shower cubicles.

Smith’s head hummed with the sights and sounds of the evening – sawing wood, banging in the nails – bang, Bang BANG! Tea, piping hot and sweet. And all the shouting, with nobody going hush or shush, nobody telling him to keep his voice down.

For the first time in several hours he thought about what he should do next. He filled one of the basins with warm water. He was tired and very hungry. He stood motionless for a moment with his hands in the water then washed and dried his face and hands and went back into the main room.

The side walls were glass from waist-height to ceiling and black with night. Smith looked down on the streets of Brighton. Lines of traffic moved along the neon-lit roads, parallel ribbons of lights, one red and one white. A maroon and cream double-decker bus halted at a stop. Condensation from his breath clouded the glass as he counted the passengers embarking and disembarking. Five people off and eight on. Interesting.

He began to calculate how many stops it would take before the bus was full, but to do that he needed to know how many people were on the bus to start with. Assume none. No, if it were none then five people could not get off. Assume five. He drew the calculations in his breath on the window. His tummy rumbled, he was starving.

He wiped away the sums with his sleeve. Come on, he told himself, this needs some Good Thinking.

Getting in was lucky. If he went home now he wouldn’t be able to come back. This adventure was a real one, not dangerous but far too exciting for it to end now. He would have to hide, but where? The floor below was open-plan. Assume the other floors were the same. There would be no Good Hiding there

Smith took in the great empty space around him. Hide under the table? No, that was silly, even with the sheets over it he was bound to be spotted. He considered the suspended ceiling, still incomplete and with gaps through to the void beyond. The scaffolding towers would give easy access but the roof tiles would not take his weight. Then an idea came to him that made him laugh and clap his hands. It would work but first he would need supplies.

#

Down the vending machine Smith used the money he’d taken from his mother’s purse to buy chocolate, crisps, and bourbon biscuits. He was busily stashing everything down the front to of his fleece when a mellow female voice behind him said, ‘So you had to work late too?’

It was Heidi. Smith felt desperately awkward and big and acutely conscious of the crisp packets poking out the top of his fleece.

Heidi was neither short nor tall and possessed what Smith’s mother called the fuller figure. Her straight, shoulder-length hair was a rich glossy red. She wore an ankle-length blue-black skirt and a long-sleeved black woollen top that Smith couldn’t help notice was filled with female bosom. Chins were two, her eyes grey-green. Her bottom lip and left nostril were pierced with small silver rings. For the first time in his life Smith experienced the simultaneous emotions of adoration and terror.

He beamed inanely. ‘Yes indeed. Correct. Carry on.’

‘I thought I was the only one,’ Heidi sighed. ‘I’ve only been here a couple of weeks, I’m not sure I like it. Mr Abercrombie keeps asking me to work late.’ She whispered conspiratorially, ‘I don’t think he’s got a first name.’

Abercrombie. Useful information. She was really close. Smith’s anxiety grew, he felt the Hand stir. It wanted to come out but Smith didn’t want it to. He wanted to talk to Heidi or run away. Ideally, both. He clenched his fist, took a step back and bumped into the vending machine.

‘Are you new too?’ Heidi said.

‘Yes, today.’ Smith winced at the sudden, high pitch of his voice. His face ached from grinning, he blew out his cheeks. ‘Started today.’

Heidi held out her hand. ‘Welcome to Kylma Kala. I’m Heidi Tollund.’

Trapped. Her nails were the same deep blue as her skirt. Seeing no other option Smith shook her hand. Her grip was firm, her skin cool. ‘Measure twice, cut once,’ he blurted and stuffed his hand back into his pocket.

That was me, the Hand protested in Smith’s mind. I can get you out of here.

Heidi gave a good-natured laugh. ‘That’s good advice. What’s your name?’

Argh, she was good at this. ‘Derek.’

Hand, the Hand grumbled. I’m the Hand.

‘Well, Derek, I’m going to finish up and get the hell out of here.’

‘Get the hell–’ A trickle of sweat ran down the back of Smith’s neck. ‘Pukka plan.’

Heidi stepped away. ‘Nice meeting you, Derek.’ She waved with her fingers. ‘See you around.’

Smith fled to the lift and thumbed the button for the top floor. The doors slid open, he tumbled inside and slumped against the wall as the doors closed behind him.

The Hand came out, swung round and stared Smith in the eye. ‘Lucky escape,’ the Hand said.

‘Yes,’ Smith wasn’t sure who had escaped from whom.

Back on the top floor Smith cleaned his teeth and topped-up his water bottle in the washroom. He pulled a dust sheet from the pile and carried it to one of the ventilation grills he’d fitted earlier. He unclipped the grill and squirmed feet first into the vent and pulled the dust sheet in behind him.

Smith lifted the grill back into position and snapped it closed. He backed into a wider space, it was a tight squeeze but there was room to turn. Oblong ducting ran left and right, wider than it was high. Dim light spilled in at intervals from the wall vents. Smith squirmed down the ducting on his elbows, the metal thrumming and bonging as he went. Midway between two grills was a safe and cosy spot. He wriggled out of his fleece and arranged his chocolate, biscuits and crisps in a neat row along one wall. His toothbrush, water bottle, torch, notebook and pen went along the other. He shook out the sheet and kicked it down over his legs, folded his fleece for a pillow, laid his head down and shut his eyes.

For a few minutes he could not sleep. What an adventure this was! Had anyone ever done anything so daring? Not himself certainly. Smith had discovered he was a daring man indeed. The ducting was cosy, secure and safe. There was food in the machines, toilets and washbasins, water, and safe places to hide. He could live here almost indefinitely.

He yawned and snuggled into his fleece. Sleep claimed him as he thought about Heidi, how nice her voice sounded, and how she had little dimples across the backs of her knuckles.

To be continued…

Science for Fiction – Calling all UK SF Writers

The brilliant Science for Fiction event curated by Dr. David Clements at Imperial College London is back!

Where else can you spend a day and a half with friendly NASA scientists, and university researchers  and professors talking about their work – and then ask them your SF-questions too?

Last year was brilliant. I blogged about it here. I am sure this year will be just as fascinating, inspiring, and informative. And it’s always good to meet new people as well as writer friends I’ve not seen for too long.

Here’s what David has announced so far:

We now have dates for Science for Fiction 2018!
They will be 4 and 5 July, starting after lunch on 4th, and all day on the 5th.
Cost will be £30 as before, though some funds are available to help those in need of support.
Registration is by email to me. I will be advertising this more broadly as we have a nice lecture theatre this year.
Please also let me know any subject requests and any dietary requirements.

David’s email is davecl (at) mac (dot) com.

I shall definitely be going again. I hope to see some of you there!

~

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 23 – Alive, But Sleeping

Chapter 23 – Alive, But SleepingCopyright David Bezzina, 2017

There she was. Tim saw Foxy in the early evening light. There was something different about her and after a moment he realised she wore her hair over her shoulder in a great golden plait. It was her sole concession to practicality for she still wore her tight knee-length skirt, green jacket and heels.

Tim considered his own ensemble: blue jeans, a faded maroon cotton shirt and old leather jacket. He tried to imagine himself in a variety of more stylish outfits. A Saville Row brown and mustard three-piece gave way to a zoot-suit and homburg, then a leather trench coat, high boots and monocle. He discarded them all, this was who he was and he had no inbuilt desire or indeed talent to wear clothes other than the ones he felt comfortable in. Also, accessories were problematic. A trench coat and monocle demanded a half–track armoured staff car with uniformed driver and motorcycle outriders. Considering the turning-circle, parking in Brighton would be a nightmare.

‘Hi,’ Foxy said, arriving with a small jump and a bright smile.

They looked at each other for a moment.

‘Well, here I am,’ Foxy said. ‘What do we do now?’

Tim’s guess about the number of people who would be around at this time of day was wrong. The sky was overcast but the streets still thronged with people walking home, waiting for buses or gathering in animated groups before heading off for an early drink.

‘Take a walk and have a casual look around,’ Tim said. ‘And try not to be noticed.’

‘OK. How about this?’ Foxy slipped her arm through his. ‘Two friends out for a walk.’

It was worth it just for this, Tim decided.

‘What’s up?’ Foxy said.

‘It feels strange to be here just because a pen made a hole in a map.’

‘That’s down to you. When I first came here I didn’t think men were good for much of anything, but you’re not like those guys, you’ve got some real talents.’

‘Foxy, where exactly did you come from?’

‘A place where all the men are fat, lecherous bores. Just like that Troy Jarglebaum.’ Foxy briefly hugged his arm. ‘You wouldn’t fit in at all.’

They walked in silence for a moment then Tim said, ‘One or more of these buildings will have a car park. We’ll check them as we walk past.’

‘What does the car look like?’

Tim told her.

Foxy nodded. ‘Big, old and black.’

‘Big, old, black, and beautiful,’ Tim said.

‘Only ships can be beautiful. Other machines are just things.’

‘This car will prove you wrong.’

‘We’ll see.’

The first car park was at ground level under a concrete cube of a building on concrete stilts. Foxy and Tim strolled past. All the cars were modern ones.

The next car park was in the basement of a large and featureless office block. A concrete ramp descended from the street and ended in a metal roll-door. A security camera on the wall covered the approach. As they passed by the door clanked up, a car exited up the ramp and the door rolled down behind it.

It was going to be difficult to get in there unnoticed. Although there were long glassless windows at pavement level they were only about eighteen inches high.

‘Let’s try further on,’ Tim said.

By the time they reached the end of Trafalgar Lane the commuter crowds had thinned to a few lone individuals. The rest of the office buildings either had no parking at all or open lots where it was easy to see all the vehicles. There was nothing that looked like the Imperial.

Tim looked doubtfully back at the basement car park. ‘If the car’s anywhere, it’s in there.’

Overhead the clouds lowered, flinty grey. A cool wind started and moments later a few fat drops of rain spattered the pavement.

Foxy slipped her arm free from Tim’s. ‘Keep an eye out, I’m going to take a look.’

A stronger gust of wind blew a flurry of rain and litter down the road. Foxy crossed to the other side. Tim looked up and down the road, saw it was deserted and hurried across to join her.

Foxy dropped to her knees beside one of the long low openings and peered through.

Tim looked left and right. A lone man exited a doorway, raised his umbrella and hurried away.

Foxy pulled her head back. ‘It’s too gloomy, I can’t see anything.’ She shrugged out of her jacket, lay flat on her stomach and wriggled in past her shoulders.

‘I can see seven, eight cars, more further back. My body’s blocking the light.’ She slid a little further in then went still.

Tim crouched beside her. ‘Foxy, are you all right?’

‘Yes,’ came the muffled reply. ‘My eyes are getting used to the light.’ More of Foxy disappeared into the low gap. ‘The floor’s not that far down. I think I could… Eeek!’

Before Tim could move she vanished. All except for a single aqua-blue mid-heel pump. The street was still empty. Tim lay flat on the pavement and called into the gap. ‘Foxy, are you all right?’

After a moment he heard her moving, then a low laugh. Foxy’s fingers wiggled at the lip of the sill ‘I’m fine. Where’s my shoe?’

‘Here.’ Tim dropped it down, along with her jacket.

‘Nobody’s here, it’s very quiet. I think everyone has gone home.’

It looked like there was just enough room. Tim took off his own jacket and pushed it into the gap. ‘I’m coming down.’

He wriggled in head-first and saw the floor was about five feet below him. He swung his legs round and dropped down.

Foxy was right there, her eyes bright, her smile mischievous. She swung her jacket over her shoulder. ‘This is fun.’

The cold air smelled of damp concrete and exhaust fumes. Tim looked around anxiously. If they were caught it would not look good, they’d have few excuses. Once again he’d be forced to ask Troy Jarglebaum for help. ‘Let’s keep the noise down.’

Dim light seeped in from the street behind them. Further back scattered pools of illumination came from a sparse scatter of wall lights. To their right the steel shutter closed off the exit ramp. In the far corner a green ‘Exit’ sign glowed above a door. Most of the parking bays were empty, a few dim silhouettes of vehicles showed here and there.

Foxy’s heels echoed on the walls as they walked forwards. A small green hatchback emerged from the gloom, a large saloon straddled two bays further back. A couple of the wall lights were out, Tim walked through a pool of darkness and found it empty.

‘Well, at least we…’ Tim began and the words died in his mouth.

‘What?’ Foxy said, then, ‘Oh.’

In the furthest corner of the garage was an alcove wide enough for three cars. A glint of reflected light shone from the centre bay. Tim took a step closer, then another. A twin rail front fender with chrome over-riders gleamed, above it a tall grill fronted a high, black bonnet.

Tim and Foxy walked slowly forwards, the scuff and click of their shoes on the dusty concrete the only sound.

Twin headlight cones, white-wall tyres, chrome disk hub caps. Glistening black bodywork deep and dark as midnight water. The glorious, grand sweep of the front wheel arches and running boards revealed themselves as they approached.

Foxy stood still. ‘You were right, it is beautiful, like it’s alive. Alive, but sleeping.’

‘Single-piece curved windshield,’ Tim whispered. ‘Wind-tunnel designed streamlining. Both firsts. Chrysler was the first company to realise that cars were, up until that point, essentially built back to front.’ Unbidden his hand reached out to touch the liquid black paintwork.

‘Don’t.’ Foxy’s hand was on his arm. ‘You’ll leave prints.’

‘Have you done this before?’

Foxy’s eyes glittered in the quiet gloom. ‘No, but I wish I had.’

Seeing her standing in the half-light beside the Airflow the thought came to Tim that she was a woman from another time, another world.

Foxy shifted under his gaze. ‘What is it?’

‘We did it, Foxy. We found the car.’ He could hardly believe it himself. ‘The divining worked.’

Suspension creaked softly as Foxy stood on the running board and peered through the side window. ‘Empty. It’s so clean it could be new.’

Tim took a long admiring look at deep-buttoned red leather upholstery, carpets, chrome fittings and walnut trim on the dash. Then he made his way round the back. ‘She’s definitely the one. There’s an old FN badge on the rear fender.’

Foxy offered Tim a tissue. ‘Try the boot.’

‘This is better.’ Tim removed the handkerchief with the ‘MK’ monogram from his jacket. ‘It belongs to the owner.’

Foxy studied the embroidered material as it lay in his hand. ‘I don’t like it,’ she said. ‘Use my tissue.’

‘It’s just a handkerchief.’ Tim wrapped it round the handle. With a soft clunk the boot opened, a dim bulb lit the interior.

The boot was lined with a plush burgundy carpet. A cardboard stationary box sat to one side. Taking up most of the space beside it was a large hessian sack bulging with something bulky and heavy.

Tim looked down at it with cold dread. Foxy’s hand crept into his. Gratefully he held it tight.

‘What do you think it is?’ Foxy whispered, her eyes as round as saucers.

‘I don’t want to know.’

‘I know what you mean. I want to close the lid and walk away, forget we ever saw it.’

‘We can’t.’

‘I know that too.’

Gingerly Tim reached into the boot and prodded the sack. He pushed it again, harder. ‘I don’t think it’s a body.’

‘Are you sure?’

Tim swallowed. ‘Fairly sure. Also – the smell.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘There isn’t one.’

‘You need to take a look.’

‘Me?’

‘Yes, you.’

‘Right,’ Tim said.

‘Well, go on then.’

Tim squared his shoulders. He took a moment to memorise how the sack lay, then opened the neck and looked inside. Relief flooded through him. ‘Oh, thank goodness.’

‘What– What is it?’ Foxy asked.

‘I don’t know. It looks like a bit like coal, a bit like black, knobbly potatoes.’ Tim reached into the sack and extracted a dark, round lump a little smaller than his own fist, a squat and bumpy ovoid heavier than stone. The knobbled surface was smooth in some places, pitted elsewhere.

Foxy took it and turned it in her hand, puzzled. ‘That’s very strange. I’m sure I’ve seen this before.’

Tim took it back and slipped it into his pocket. ‘Let’s see what’s in the box.’

As he lifted the lid the stairwell door banged open. Footsteps moved crisply across the car park.

Foxy and Tim crouched down. The boot light shone on their faces. Tim reached up and eased the boot lid down. The strange lump lay cold and heavy in his pocket. Whatever it was, what reason could there be for a sack of it lying in the boot of such a beautiful old machine?

A starter motor whined, an engine burst into life. Transmission whined briefly as the vehicle moved across the car park. The metal roll-door noisily clattered up on its chains, the car drove up the ramp and the door rattled down again.

‘We should go,’ Tim said.

‘Wait.’ Foxy pulled some printed sheets from the box and quickly looked them over. ‘They’re all the same. OK, let’s go.’

Tim replace the box lid and refolded the top of the sack as best as he could remember. The boot closed with a soft clunk, the light went out.

Back where they had come in Foxy slipped off her shoes, reached through the gap and put them on the pavement.

‘Here’. Tim cupped his hands and made a step. Foxy stepped up into his hands, her foot warm, muscular and strong. He took her weight, she slipped neatly through the gap.

‘Come on,’ Foxy had her shoes back on. All Tim could see of her was her feet and ankles. ‘I’ll help you.’

Tim put his hands on the sill, jumped up, and fell back. The skylight was too narrow, he couldn’t get enough leverage to push himself through. He tried hooking up one leg but it was too high. He lost his grip and fell hard onto the concrete.

‘You all right?’ Foxy peered through the gap.

‘Yes, but I don’t think I can get out.’

‘Try again.’

Tim jumped again. Foxy grabbed his collar and pulled. His head and shoulders emerged through the gap. Foxy pulled again. Tim swung a leg up, wriggled, twisted and rolled. Scraped and dusty, he was through. Tim stood up and brushed himself down. He looked at Foxy’s broad, yet feminine shoulders with renewed respect. ‘You’re pretty strong.’

Foxy dusted off her hands. ‘I do a bit of swimming.’

Trafalgar Lane was deserted. Wind gusted fitfully, a tattered white plastic bag spiralled into the air then rolled along the street. While they had been underground the sky had darkened, Thunder rumbled over the hills of Ditchling beacon.

Foxy gazed at Tim, suddenly serious. ‘We did it, Ace. We found the car.’

‘We did.’ Tim was more than half amazed himself. He thought back to the pen and map, Foxy’s unquestioning support. His life was changing for the better and she was the reason. ‘I couldn’t have done it without you.’

‘Thanks.’ Foxy smiled. Hesitantly she lifted her hand. ‘You’ve got a smudge on your chin.’

‘So have you. On your nose.’ He thought it made her hotter than ever

He reached out. Foxy bobbed her head and ducked away. She produced a tissue from somewhere and dabbed the smudge away. Her comb appeared in her hand and with three strokes, left, right, and down middle her plait fell apart and her hair rearranged itself into cascades of loose, bouncing curls.

Self-conscious at his own scruffiness Tim ran his fingers through his hair. A few drops of rain spattered down. Tim took a chance. ‘Let’s go for a drink.’

‘Sure,’ Foxy said, then froze. ‘Damn. My jacket.’

‘I gave it to you,’ Tim said.

Foxy looked down into the car park. ‘I must have left it in there. Dammit, I can’t remember–’

‘What’s in it?’

‘Nothing. It’s just a jacket.’

‘I’ll fetch it,’ Tim said.

‘No, don’t bother.’ Foxy looked up at the darkening sky. ‘Let’s go for that drink.’

‘I don’t think we should.’

‘Oh, yes, I see what you mean.’

‘Wait here and help me back up.’ Tim lay flat and swung his legs back into the gap.

With a rumble of thunder, the heavens opened. Foxy shrieked as a deluge of rain poured down drenching everything.

‘Don’t worry,’ Tim shouted over the thunder, ‘It won’t last.’

‘I love it!’ Foxy cried.

Tim looked back and saw her in the middle of the road with her head thrown back and arms wide.

‘You’ll get soaked!’

‘I don’t care.’

Then she looked down at herself and gave a panicked cry. Saturated by the rain her blouse was near transparent. Her arms covered her chest, she turned away. ‘I have to go.’

‘No, wait, your jacket,’ Tim cried. He rolled to his feet, slipped on the wet pavement and barked his shin on the kerb. He clutched it in agony. ‘Wait, Foxy. I can’t get out on my own.’

But she was running.

‘Wait.’ Tim rubbed his leg, trying to hop and run at the same time.

Foxy turned the corner.

The rain stopped as suddenly as it had started. Dark clouds parted and the evening sun shone down, the air filled with the oddly pleasant smell of wet pavements.

‘Foxy.’ Tim called. He ran to the end of the street. ‘Foxy.’ It was no good, she had gone.

Rainwater dripped off the end of Tim’s nose and trickled down the inside of his collar. The elation he felt at finding the car vanished. Despondently he began to make his way home.

Then he slowed as he remembered something and the spring returned to his step. Foxy Bolivia had called him ‘Ace’ and she’d said it like she meant it. It was a good feeling.

To be continued…

Tesla Powerwall 2 – Full Winter Sun

Graph 1 – Sat 24 Feb

I’ve been waiting for a couple of days of consecutive sunny weather and finally they arrived. The news was as good as i hoped it would be. There are several ways to show this, so lets start with Graph 1, the full 24 hours for Saturday.

The graph shows mains draw in white, Solar generation in yellow and battery charge and discharge below and above the line. It was a beautiful clear and cold day, the Solar generation is almost a perfect curve. Mains draw fell to zero as the Solar took over, and stayed there except for some tiny blips throughout the day.

 

Graph 2 – Sun 25 Feb

Once the sun set the Powerwall took over, and ran and ran. There was still around 12% charge on Sunday morning, another clear day. Graph 2 shows the next day and does include mains draw, but there is virtually none. Graph 3 shows mains on its own, and it is tiny, only 0.2 kW from midnight to 4pm.

The Sunday charge ran through until Monday morning. By the then the weather had changed, and it’s now cloudy, cold, and snowing. Before that happened we were effectively off-grid for 48 hours.

In February.

Graph 3 – Sun 25 Feb. Mains only

 

That’s not all. Part of the installation was an additional switch to divert current to the hot water tank immersion when there was sufficient charge. We’re having our bathroom refitted, that fat spike in Graph two around 8:30 – to 9am is the immersion heater kicking in after a long hot bath, the first we’ve had for a few days. No gas was used to heat that water, just sunshine.

There are a couple of things I don’t understand: why there is that mini draw from the mains when the Powerwall is charged, and what the rules are for the immersion discharge. I’ll talk to the installers and report back. I’m not concerned, these two days have really proved the functionality of the system.

Can’t wait for the summer now!

~

 

 

 

 

 

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 22 – The Eunuch

Chapter 22 – The EunuchCopyright David Bezzina, 2017

Robbed, humiliated and threatened Asklepios wandered through Brighton heedless of direction. His fists involuntarily clenched and unclenched, impotent anger burned his insides. That woman had seen the pendant for what it was. Somehow she had manipulated events so he looked like a thief. He replayed the encounter in his mind again and again but could not work out where things had slid out of control. For some reason the young man had believed the golden-haired woman in preference to Asklepios.

Asklepios sighed deeply and his anger drained from him. Of course the man would believe a pretty woman in preference to a scrawny old man. He would have done the same himself because in most cases he would have been right to do so.

He had always thought of himself as a lucky man and he realised with bone-dry amusement that he was lucky now. In his own time he would have been fortunate to keep his hand.

His flight had brought him to a broad plaza, a rich merchants quarter. The shops were grander than those in the narrow bazaar he had fled, the goods looked expensive and the people around him were better dressed.

Gulls wheeled and cried overhead. The far end of the plaza was open, the sky clear and blue. Asklepios realised the sea was only a few hundred paces away.

In the opposite direction a short street ended in a high white wall and an intriguing white onion dome. The architecture was elaborate but the style was familiar. A small crowd milled by the entrance, Asklepios’ heart surged, it must be a temple or the palace of a local caliph. He could ask for help.

A shaven-headed man sat behind a kiosk, most probably a palace eunuch. The people ahead of him paid the eunuch a donation, Asklepios dug in his pocket for the money Tim had given him and offered it all. The eunuch made some questioning comment. Asklepios grinned and offered his hand again. A sly look came into the eunuch’s eyes, he divided the money between a compartmented box and his own pocket and waved Asklepios on.

An hour later Asklepios emerged from another door dazzled and amazed. Even the caliphs from his own time would be hard pressed to match such magnificence. Delicate stone columns supported fluted, onion-dome minarets, friezes of perforated stone flanked magnificent doors. Each room was more incredible than the rest and culminated in the awe-inspiring opulence of the dragon room.

Back out on the street Asklepios wandered towards the sea in a daze. The building was a pavilion fit for a prince or a god, but there was no lord and no deity. As far as he could determine the palace had been built for no other reason than that it could be built. His head spun, he simply did not understand. These people had wealth yet some dressed in rags, thieves were allowed to run away, and they built with such magnificence. What kind of people were they?

He was penniless and completely lost. Crowds thronged around him. Strange traffic flowed along the road. He had never felt so alone.

To be continued…

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 21 – Kemp Street

Chapter 21 – Kemp StreetThe Girl from a Thousand Fathoms. Cover art by David Bezzina (c) 2017

‘Log me in please,’ Persistent Smith boomed as he took a seat in the internet café. ‘I don’t like that bit.’

The chubby young man with a peach-fuzz beard smirked as he leant over the keyboard. His fingers rattling across the keys. ‘There you go, mate,’ he said and waddled back behind the counter.

Persistent Smith didn’t mind computers but he didn’t like the internet one little bit. He didn’t like the way it was so disorganised, so higgledy-piggledy. You could never tell what you were going to find. Or rather, you could, and it was rude. In fact it was more than rude, so much more that it needed a whole new word to describe it. Smith didn’t know what that word was but it was extremely rude and the temptation to look was hard to resist. His mother would not have approved. ‘Oh Derek,’ he could hear her say. ‘That was not Good Looking.’ He was not entirely sure she was right.

Smith sucked at his water bottle. The internet was very naughty and he was determined not to be diverted, not to take even a quick little peek at whatever. He typed in the name Clive Barnett had given him:

Markus Koponen.

He sucked anxiously on the bottle again and discovered it was empty. He asked the man behind the counter for a refill, returned to his seat and began to read the search results.

They quickly became very interesting.

Some time later he typed ‘Kylma Kala’. Soon after that he startled the other customers with a great guffaw of laughter. Shuffling his bottom on the seat, Smith extracted the pen and pad from his fleece and carefully copied down an address.

A shadow fell across the screen. ‘All right, mate?’ The café assistant peered suspiciously at the screen, bemused that anyone might find multinational company information so hilarious.

‘Finished now, thank you!’ Smith clicked the window closed and logged off. ‘Finished, haha. Finished with the Finnish.’

#

Despite his fascination with timetables Smith disliked public transport and walked whenever he could. It gave him an excellent sense of direction, shoes that need frequent re-soling, and knowledge of the streets of Brighton that any taxi driver would have sold their soul for.

It didn’t take long to walk to Kemp Street and find the right office block. Smith carried on past and looked back. Even if there were no armed guards, attack dogs, laser-droids or air-tight blast doors, a building like that would at least have a receptionist.

Receptionists asked questions, they looked at you and everything. Smith would rather confront laser-droids.

Low in his belly an uncomfortable pressure grew.

Smith knew he only had one chance to bluff his way in. If it didn’t work the first time he was bound to be recognised if he tried again. One of the many things Persistent Smith knew was that he was no Master of Disguise.

He paced up and down at the corner of the street, anxiously sucked on the nozzle of his water bottle and considered his options:

  1. Pretend to be making a delivery.
  2. Pretend to be there for an interview.
  3. Pretend to be a meter man.
  4. Rush in. Shout ‘Look at that!’ Point outside, then hide.
  5. Sneak in on hands and knees.

The water bottle was empty again. Smith slipped it back in his fleece.

The pressure in his body continued to grow. Smith realised he rather urgently needed the toilet. He gave a small whimper of frustration. This was not Good Planning and Foresight.

Pressing his knees together Smith waddled towards the building. The pressure grew to an insistent agony. Idea! Smith galumphed knock-kneed along the pavement, lolloped up the building stairs, pushed through the revolving door and staggered across the marbled foyer.

‘Can I use your toilet?’

The reception desk was deserted.

A wide, grey-panelled foyer lay ahead. Stick-man and stick-woman signs were on the doors to one side, lift doors on the other. Smith hurried into the men’s room.

None of the urinals were occupied. Moving to the far end, Smith did what he had to do, huffing and puffing with relief. As he stood there a dark-haired man dressed in dark trousers and white shirt, tie and jacket entered and stood at the next but one place[1].

Smith noted the breast-pocket badge and epaulets. This was the security guard. He stood where he was as the man washed his hands left the rest room. Once again he was alone. He stifled a giggle. By sheer luck and, he had to admit, yet more luck, he was inside the building.

He washed his own hands and checked his watch. It was late afternoon, people would be leaving soon, he didn’t have much time. He eased open the door and peered down the corridor. The uniformed man was sitting behind the reception desk swivelling on his chair smiling and talking into his mobile phone. The lift on the opposite wall pinged, the doors slid open and half a dozen staff emerged. Smith crossed smartly into the lift and pressed the button for the highest floor. The doors hissed shut and he was whisked upwards.

To be continued…


[1] Urinal occupancy follows fixed rules: Adjacent urinals are never used until every alternate one is taken. Only then will the intervening ones be used. It’s a bit like electrons filling atomic orbits.

 

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 20 – Perfect Cover

Chapter 20 – Perfect Cover

Troy Jarglebaum’s card lay on Tim’s desk front and centre. Tim looked at it with the same affection he would have for his own tombstone. His hand hovered over the phone. He picked the receiver up, put it down, drummed his fingers on the desk and paced the room.

‘Damn it.’ Tim dropped into his chair. ‘Morse, where are you? I need some non-critical company.’

Tim had been an unorthodox policeman but Morse was a standard-issue cat. Food was equally likely to be sniffed at or eaten, the occasional small rodent was presented for admiration, he was a past master of the ‘wrong side of the door’ game and he hunted and killed old paper bags with enthusiasm. He also sat on Tim’s lap, purred like a small motorbike and magically erased all stress from his soul.

The phone was on the desk, Jarglebaum’s card beside it. Something had to be done. Tim either needed to call Troy Jarglebaum, endure the mockery and accept his help, or come up with some brilliant right-brained intuition.

He covered his right eye and tried conceptualising his problems as different coloured polyhedrons, medieval armies, and finally as mushrooms pushing up paving stones. No radical insights arrived.

He forced himself to make the call. To his vast relief Troy was away from his desk. The voice mail tone beeped. Tim said, ‘Troy, it’s Tim. I could use some advice. Call me.’ He hung up. It was a lot easier to ask a machine for help than Troy Jarglebaum.

Even so, he hoped Troy called before Imelda and Electra returned and he had nothing to tell them.

As if on cue, the doorbell rang, a single firm ring of assurance and self-possession. Tim went down the stairs cracked open the door and peered through the gap.

There she was, in an open necked blouse, a short jacket and a grass green hip-hugging skirt.

Tim’s heart gave a jump. ‘Foxy.’

She looked at him through the gap. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘I thought you might be someone else.’

‘Are you hiding?’

Tim pushed the door wide. ‘Me? Nah. Come in.’

Tim led the way. Foxy paused at the splintered frame, went to touch it then jerked her hand away. ‘You should mend that.’

He was so pleased to see her. He did his best to be professional. ‘How can I help you, Ms Bolivia?’

Foxy folded her arms. ‘The cats.’

‘Well, I’m sorry about that. I haven’t had much time and after you walked out of the shop I thought–’

‘They’ve gone.’

‘They have? All of them?’

‘Every single one.’

‘Oh. OK. Good.’

Foxy’s eyes narrowed. ‘How did you do it?’

‘I don’t–’

‘Don’t give me that stuff about professional secrets, I want to know.’

‘Didn’t you fit the cat scarer?’

‘The cats went first.’

‘It didn’t work?’

‘I don’t know. Yesterday the cats were still there. This morning they were gone.’

Something didn’t add up. ‘When did you fit the scarer?’

Foxy shifted evasively. ‘The day I bought it.’

‘Then you did it, not me.’

‘No. I–’ Foxy hesitated. ‘Promise you won’t laugh?’

‘OK.’

‘I forgot to turn it on.’

He couldn’t help himself.

#

Tim looked up at the cracked ceiling. The little flies were back under the shade. Three of them, alternately cruising their square circles and indulging in brief, dizzyingly fast dogfights.

The carpet was actually quite comfortable.

He wondered why he was lying on it. And why the side of his jaw hurt.

Foxy knelt beside him, her eyes filled with worry and guilt. ‘I’m so sorry. Are you all right? I honestly didn’t mean to hit you–’

It all flooded back. He had laughed, Foxy’s fist floated towards him, the room tipped onto its side.

‘–so hard.’

Tim sat up. He worked his jaw. It was actually still quite funny. ‘You forgot–’

Foxy raised a warning finger.

‘All right, I promise.’

Tim put his back against the settee. Foxy sat beside him, her legs tucked under her. It seemed easier to stay on the ragged old carpet than get up. He found himself telling Foxy about his work, his time in the police. How he had his big idea.

‘There was a missing child. Days went by and we were getting nowhere. Then this woman phoned in, she said she was clairvoyant and could help. And the Inspector went for it, he invited her in and she became part of the team. We found the child, it was her who did it too. I knew then that we could solve crimes by combining old ways with new.’

Foxy considered Tim’s words. ‘Is that what you did for me?’

If Tim wanted Foxy to be more than just a client he would have to trust her. What better time than now to tell her about the amazing, magical and more than a little scary events that had happened to him?

‘I tried, but it was too difficult. I wasn’t properly prepared. I didn’t do anything that could have worked. I fell asleep, I–’ Tim took a breath. ‘I had a dream, it sounds impossible–’

Foxy leaned close. ‘Try me.’

Tim related the events as best as he could, ending with Asklepios’ appearance in his room. Foxy appeared completely unfazed by the revelations.

‘Some things are waiting to happen. If you don’t believe, they can’t flow.’

A strange thrill ran through Tim. ‘An eerie thought.’

‘Where is Asklepios now?’ Foxy said.

‘He went for a walk.’

Foxy’s mouth twisted. ‘What does he look like?’

‘About fifty and quite thin, scrawny really. Straggly hair and beard, a bit of a nose. I gave him some of my clothes, they were pretty baggy on him.’

Foxy became still.

‘I’m amazed you believe me,’ Tim said.

‘It’s not as hard as you might think.’

Foxy moved the conversation on to inconsequential things. Somehow this let them discover more about each other. The sun moved across the window, Tim let down the blinds and fetched a bottle of red wine and two glasses from the kitchen.

‘Wine is really such a good idea, don’t you think?’ Foxy said. ‘I never drank it before I came to Brighton.’

‘How come?’

‘Too… difficult.’ Foxy went still for a moment then shivered her shoulders and raised her glass. ‘Cheers.’

Tim clinked his glass against hers. They both drank.

‘Now, tell me what you’ve been doing to find that car.’

Tim gave a brief summary of his lack of progress.

‘Well, there’s your mistake,’ Foxy said. ‘You’ve been acting like an ordinary copper, making phone calls and doing interviews. In your head you’re still pounding the beat. Mine was an unusual case and you solved it in a very strange way. If you’re serious about being alternative you’ve got to start acting a little weirder.’

She was right. This was not only her challenge to him, it was his own challenge to himself. ‘Right.’ He knocked back his drink. ‘All right.’

‘So, what’s the plan, Mr Detective?’

Tim didn’t have any clear ideas. ‘Let’s try divining, it’s how the missing boy was found.’

He took the map down from the desk and spread it on the floor. Foxy became enthusiastic. ‘Put the ruler over the edge of the desk and stand the wine bottle on the other end. Hang the pen from the ruler.’

It was makeshift, but looked like it might do the job. Foxy and Tim crouched beside the map and watched the ballpoint pen swing across the paper.

Tim studied the construction critically. ‘The pen’s not hanging straight. The string’s too thick.’

‘Use one of my hairs.’ Foxy teased out a strand.

‘I’ll get my scissors.’

Foxy was emphatic. ‘No way. I never ever cut my hair.’ She wound a hair around her finger, tugged it free and handed it to Tim.

It lay across his palm like a yard of spun gold.

‘Now you can cut it,’ Foxy said.

Tim found he didn’t want to. He tied the pen to the hair and the hair to the ruler, looping the excess around the bottle. The pen hung absolutely vertical and steady as a nail.

‘Now what?’ Foxy said.

Tim prodded the pen with his finger and it swung in a wobbling, chaotic ellipse. ‘Concentrate. Think about the car.’

Heads together, they intently watched the pen move over the map.

Slowly the motion of the pen steadied to a pendulum swing. Slowly the arc reduced, oddly less on one side than the other. Silence potent with anticipation filled the room. It was happening, something was actually happening.

The pen came to a halt, not hanging vertically but unnaturally, impossibly, to one side. Foxy and Tim looked at each other, their faces inches apart.

‘Tim, it’s–’

‘Yes.’ Tim was lost in the deep green pool of her gold-lashed eyes, the scent of her breath filled his mind with glass-green, foam-flecked waves and wind-torn skies–

A loud hand-clap followed by Troy Jarglebaum’s cynical laughter sent Tim leaping to his feet shocked half out of his skin. Beside him Foxy swept to her feet in a single smooth movement.

Jarglebaum could move quieter than a spider wearing socks. The office door was still be broken but the front door had a lock on it. A damned good one.

Furious, Tim confronted Jarglebaum. ‘Troy, damn you, how did you get in?’

‘I’ve got to admire your technique, son.’ Troy grinned and continued his slow handclap. ‘It’s unique, damned unique.’ He jerked his thumb down the stairs. ‘How did I get in? The door, kiddo.’

‘You’re using skeleton keys.’

Troy tapped the side of his lumpy nose. ‘It’s an idea, Ace. I couldn’t possibly comment. Why am I here, I hear you ask? You called, remember? I got your message and here I am, the answer to your prayers.’

His eyes swept Foxy from tip to toe. ‘Ms Bolivia, I presume.’

All that Foxy could manage was a nervous smile. The overweight detective both repelled and fascinated her with his beefy neck and solid stomach, gaping shirt and black tasselled slip-ons.

Jarglebaum looked down at the map and the slowly swinging pen. ‘Oh, this is good. The Ace Patent Car Locator and Bird-pulling device.’ He winked at Foxy. ‘Looks as if one half of it is working properly.’

Tim clenched his fists. ‘Troy, I don’t care why you’re here, just go home.’

Troy grinned. ‘I could help deliver those leaflets.’

‘I don’t need your help,’ Tim said.

‘Oh, I think you do, Ace. I think you do.’

Foxy found her voice. ‘His name is Tim.’

Jarglebaum’s eyes fell on her like shards of cold flint. ‘I know that, love. Good old Tim Wassiter who never solved a case. Tim and Yours Truly, the partnership with the lowest clean-up rate since records began. That’s why we called him Ace. So, Miss Foxy Bolivia, please allow me to introduce you to Tim Wassiter, a.k.a. Ace Timewaster.’

‘You’re a nasty, bitter man.’

‘No, love. It was all a joke. Coppering’s just a job to me. We were having a laugh, weren’t we Tim?’

Tim felt primeval: he wanted to knee Jarglebaum in the groin, bash his face in and kick him down the stairs. He didn’t often get angry, but when he did, he felt it down to his bones. He growled and took a step forward.

Troy held up his hands, grinning. ‘Not in front of the lady, son. It’s undignified.’ He spied the bottle on the desk. ‘Finally, a proper drink in the office.’

He lifted the bottle. Ruler, pen and string tumbled to the floor as he eyed the two inches of wine in the bottom. ‘Skol.’ Troy poured the wine down his throat and thumped the empty bottle down on the desk. ‘Well, this has been lovely but duty calls.’ Once more his eyes roved across Foxy like envious hands. He straightened into a clumsy salute. ‘Evening, all.’

And he was gone.

‘I’ll kill him,’ Tim fumed.

‘He’s not worth it.’

‘I mean it. I’m going to kick his teeth in.’

Foxy stood in front of him and held his shoulders. ‘No, you’re not. He’s bigger than you. He’s a better fighter.’

‘Oh, thanks.’

‘Well, I’m sorry to say it but he is. He’s also half lard. He’s smug and he thinks he’s special. Men like that are common as mud and they’re all jerks.’

Tim was taken back by her vehemence.

Foxy laughed grimly. ‘I’m right. You’ll see.’

He knew it too. Tim released a long slow breath and let the anger flow through him and away. He could live with this. After all, Foxy was not only on his side, she was right here at his side. ‘All right. So, let’s finish this divining.’

Foxy looked down at the map. A look of awe spread across her face. ‘I don’t think we have to.’

The ruler lay where it had fallen, the strand of hair strewn in loops across the carpet. The biro stood point down in the map, stuck into the carpet like a little spear.

Tim carefully tugged the pen out of the paper and examined the hole. ‘Trafalgar Lane, between Kemp and Tidy Streets. It’s all office buildings.’

‘And under the offices?’

Tim snapped his fingers and grinned. ‘Car parks.’

Foxy brimmed with excitement. ‘When do we take a look?’

He wanted her to come. He thought about Electra Vaughan. ‘It might be dangerous.’

‘We’re only going to walk down a street and look for a car.’

‘Any other vehicle and I’d agree. I’m serious, Foxy.’

‘Then you’re going to need a lookout. Isn’t that what people do on a stake-out?’

‘We’re not going to stake anything out. We’re just going to take a walk down a road, remember?’

‘Then it won’t be dangerous. Besides, I’ll be the perfect cover.’

Of course. If you want to avoid attention there’s nothing like walking down a street with an amazingly attractive woman with hair second only to Rapunzel.

A second set of thoughts grabbed him by the throat and tried to shake some sense into him. What are you doing trying to put her off? Stop being an idiot. ‘A pair of jeans might be more practical.’

‘This girl does not wear trousers.’

‘This evening, about six. Most people will have left work and it will still be light. I’ll meet you at the end of Trafalgar.’

‘Great.’ Foxy’s eyes danced with excitement. Picking up the strand of hair she wrapped it round her finger then slipped it in her bag. ‘Don’t want to make a mess,’ she said when she saw Tim watching. ‘See you there.’

Tim felt like he might levitate. ‘See you there.’

To be continued…

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 19 – Red-Handed Thief

Chapter 19 – Red-Handed ThiefThe Girl from a Thousand Fathoms. Cover art by David Bezzina (c) 2017

Asklepios lay on Tim’s settee with the blanket pulled up to his chin and a glass of water on the carpet beside him. He mournfully rubbed his stomach. ‘I believe I have a small indigestion.’ He sipped water and suppressed a quiet belch. ‘I hope to recover shortly.’

‘You ate all the marmalade?’

‘Just one pot.’

Tim wondered if his life was already beyond his ability to impose control.

Asklepios groaned and pulled the blanket over his head. ‘I do apologise.’

‘Forget it.’ Tim knew Asklepios to be a man driven by passion rather than foresight. It explained both his stomach ache and how he ended up in Brighton.

Tim went to his desk, took out the handkerchief with the MK monogram and spread it on the desk.

Suddenly Asklepios flung back the blanket and sat up. His complexion was pale, pasty and tinged with green. Tim pointed mutely to the bathroom, Asklepios lurched to his feet and staggered away with his arms wrapped round his belly.

Feeling entirely unsympathetic, Tim waited for him to return. ‘Feeling better?’

‘Yes, thank you. I am sorry to be such a nuisance.’

Tim needed some space, some peace and quiet. ‘Why don’t you go for a walk? Fresh air will do you good.’

Asklepios was immediately enthusiastic. ‘Oh yes indeed. I would like to see the wonders of your city very much.’

Tim gave him the free map, showed Asklepios his own street and circled it with his pen.

‘Giving every alley and street its own name is a remarkable idea but for me it would only confuse.’ Asklepios touched his enamelled pendant and pushed away the map. ‘I can understand the spoken word, not the written. Do not be concerned, I have an excellent sense of direction. I shall walk to the sea and return before sunset.’

Tim gave Asklepios some coins from his pocket, a ten pound note from his wallet and explained their relative values.

Out on the pavement Asklepios took a deep, satisfied breath and looked around. ‘I will see you later.’

#

To Asklepios the city was very fine. The streets were broad, the houses elegant and well-proportioned. He was even getting used to the strange vehicles these people rode in. Apart from the bitter smell they gave off they were marvellous things, rolling effortlessly along as fast as a galloping camel.

And the people. More specifically, the women. Some of them wore hardly anything at all, tops with no backs, skirts with no bottoms. Bare arms, yes, but bare legs too! Yet everyone appeared to accept their dress without comment and he quickly realised his stares drew hostile looks.

Lowering his gaze Asklepios determined to behave with more dignity. This was their way, he was the visitor and it was his responsibility to act according to the norms. He made his way downhill into a region of narrower streets packed with pedestrians and found himself in a kind of bazaar.

All the races were here. Mainly pale skinned, but also the brown black and yellow peoples. Everyone mingled together harmoniously, it was impossible to tell rich from poor. There were no grand processions, no ostentation, and only a few beggars.

This was further proof he was in the most ancient past. He had been brought to one of the great cities before the fall, when magic was commonplace and all men lived without rancour.

It just wasn’t quite how he had imagined it.

These people were so wealthy and content they had no need to display their riches, no need to assert their station. It was confusing. The women wore earrings and necklaces of silver, the men bands and chains of gold, black beads or silver crosses, but they also seemed happy to dress in the simplest clothes, even torn and ragged ones.

A sudden pulse of happiness filled him. This was the time before the great rivalries, before jealousy and discontent threw mankind down and so much had been lost. It was the Golden Age, and he was part of it.

‘Greetings,’ Asklepios accosted a young man in a flowing black coat, long black hair and eye shadow.

‘Hi, man.’ The stranger walked on by.

‘Hi, man,’ Asklepios said to a broad-shouldered man with a black goatee and ponytail, wearing baggy trousers and a sleeveless striped vest.

‘How’s it hanging, ancient dude?’

The man raised his palm. Hesitantly Asklepios did the same. The man slapped his hand against Asklepios’ palm and walked on.

Laughing with happiness, Asklepios walked through the lanes.

Out of the crowds emerged a young woman with fair skin, golden hair and eyes of green. A band of freckles dappled her cheeks. She was the most beautiful woman Asklepios had ever seen. He couldn’t help himself. ‘Blessings be upon thee, oh golden one.’

Before he could even squeak she had him pinned against a wall. ‘Poseidon’s hairy arse. How is it you know my tongue?’

Asklepios’ smile slid off his face. ‘Forgive me, golden one. I was enchanted by your beauty, I–’

The woman’s green eyes burned with emotions closer to panic than anger. ‘Don’t talk to me like that. Answer my question. How can you speak my language?’

Instinctively Asklepios reached up to touch his pendant.

The woman grasped his fist, enfolding his hand and the pendant. ‘This? What is it?’

‘Let go!’ Asklepios wrenched his hand free along with the pendant. The cord round his neck snapped. Desperate, he held the pendant tight.

A crowd quickly gathered around.

‘What’s the problem?’ It was the bearded man who had earlier slapped Asklepios’ palm in greeting.

‘A misunderstanding, I–’

The man glowered at the two ends of the cord hanging from Asklepios’ fist. ‘What’s that?’

‘It’s mine. I found it.’

The man was strong, he forced Asklepios’ fist open and pulled the pendant from his grasp. He held Asklepios against the wall and showed the pendant to the woman. ‘Is this yours?’

She gave Asklepios a quick look of guilt tinged with fear. ‘I– Yes.’

He dropped it in her hand and she hurried away.

‘No, it is mine!‘ Asklepios struggled helplessly in the man’s grip. ‘Please–’

The bearded man clenched his fist. ‘You’re lucky I don’t–‘

The pendant’s magic faded, the rest of his speech was gibberish. All around the crowd babbled excitedly. Several people held up small multi-coloured tablets. Something distracted the beaded man and he loosened his hold. Asklepios took his chance, twisted free and fled through the crowd.

A narrow alley opened nearby, he dodged into it, ran through another busy lane, turned left and right, sometimes uphill, sometimes down. The angry shouts behind him faded. All around came words he did not understand, and hands pushing and clutching. Weeping with fear and the injustice of his treatment, he ran on.

To be continued…

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 18 – Ffwch

Chapter 18 – Ffwch

Copyright David Bezzina, 2017Tim detoured past the local flower shop, bought a bunch of yellow and purple freesias and headed straight to Mrs Woosencraft’s house. Once again the front door was off the latch. He pushed it open and went into the hall.

‘Hello? Mrs W? It’s me, Tim.’

The house was silent, and strangely so, for there was no thump and scurry of cat paws hurrying downstairs to see who the visitor was. Nor was there a rattle of crockery in the kitchen or the sound of a badly-tuned radio.

‘I don’t pay any attention to what they’re on about,’ Mrs W once told Tim as he adjusted the dial. ‘It’s the company, see?’

Tim listened to the silence. The steady tick of the clock on the mantle in the front room only emphasised the stillness of the rest of the house.

She had not gone shopping. The one concession Mrs Woosencraft made to security was to lock the front door whenever she went out. At the far end of the hall the doorway to the back room acquired the aura of the entrance to a mausoleum. A sweet waft of scent came from the freesias. Tim’s imagination ran away with him: a pathetically motionless huddle under the blankets in the bedroom; stockinged feet among a scatter of baking trays behind the kitchen table. Bracing himself, he went into the back room.

Mrs Woosencraft sat in her upright chair. Her head was tipped back, her eyes were closed and her mouth hung open. A tangle of knitting lay on floor, a cold cup of tea sat on the nest of tables.

Tim had seen death several times when he was with the police, it had never been someone he knew. The flowers in his hand felt like cruel anticipation. He took her hand in his, it was cool but not cold.

A low organic grumbling came from the nether regions of the chair, Mrs Woosencraft let out an impressively sustained fart. Her nose twitched, she lifted her head, closed her mouth and opened her eyes. Her gaze swivelled towards Tim. They looked at each other uncomfortably. Tim let go of her hand.

‘Hello, Tim. Catch me having forty winks, did you?’ Mrs Woosencraft said.

‘I was worried. After yesterday I thought…’

‘Oh, don’t be so maudlin, I’ve a good few miles in me yet.’ Mrs Woosencraft wrinkled her nose. ‘Those cats and their digestion. I think it’s all that meat. Let’s get some fresh air in here.’

Mrs Woosencraft pushed herself out of the chair, took the step down into the kitchen with a roll of her hips and opened the kitchen door. ‘It’s brightening up and about time too. It’s not like me to drop off during the day.’ She spooned tea into the pot, filled the kettle and clanged it down on the hob. ‘Time for a cuppa.’

Tim held out the freesias. ‘I thought you’d like these.’

Mrs Woosencraft’s eyes almost disappeared among the wrinkles as she smiled. ‘Bless you, pet, I do. Let’s get them into water.’ She buried her face in the blooms. ‘Freesias are my favourite, a little old fashioned but so am I. Let’s be posh and put the tablecloth out for them.’

The cloth was old, heavy white linen hand-embroidered with violets, and roses in the corners and centre. Tim helped her smooth it out.

There.’ She put the vase on the table and looked at Tim. ‘Such a strong fresh scent.’

The sound of the kettle coming on was the only noise in the house. ‘Where are the cats?’

‘Oh, they’re here and there, looking for this and that like cats do.’

‘Mrs Woosencraft, your angina–’

She waved her hand dismissively. ‘It comes and goes–’

‘I was worried.’

‘I know, and I’d rather you didn’t. Now, tell me how things are going?’

‘I haven’t found out who MK is yet.’

Mrs Woosencraft became brisk. Cups and saucers clattered onto the table, teaspoons rattled, milk and sugar appeared in jug and bowl beside a plate of honey flapjacks. The kettle sang. She picked up the teapot, turned and knocked the pot against the corner of the oven. The spout detached itself from the pot with a musical clink and skittered across the worktop.

‘Blast and bother, look what I’ve done now! I’ve had that pot for ages. We’ll just have to have mugs and tea bags instead.’

Before long they were sitting at the table. One by one the cats appeared. Pedwar the Manx leapt onto the top of the dresser while others just seemed to materialise under the table.

‘Any news of Morse?’

‘No.’ Tim picked up the broken teapot spout and turned it round in his fingers. ‘I’m still looking for your cat too.’

Mrs Woosencraft patted Tim’s hand. He seemed so despondent. She subtly adjusted the position of her mug in relation to the freesia jar and tried a little cantrip. ‘In the last five years I’ve lost four cats, three came back, two are still with me so that just leaves the one. Now, tell me what happened since we last met.’

To his own surprise Tim found himself telling Mrs Woosencraft all about this girl with the long golden blonde hair and how she was so suspicious and distant. How she had needed help and he had tried to give it. That they had argued and for the life of him he couldn’t work out why, or what he had done wrong.

‘Of course you can’t, and there’s a perfectly simple explanation.’

‘There is?’

‘Yes, bachgen, and it’s this – you’ve done nothing wrong. That’s why you can’t work it out, see?’

‘Really?’

‘She likes you, she just hasn’t got used to the idea. Now tell me, when are you going to see her again?’

Tim’s shoulders slumped. ‘Never, probably. I don’t know where she lives.’

‘Well, that is a bit of a problem. Do you know where she works?’

‘I don’t even know what she does.’

‘Never mind. I’m sure something will happen.’

Tim idly matched the broken spout to the pot. ‘I don’t know.’

Mrs Woosencraft took the spout from him. ‘Here’s something we can fix straight away.’ She ducked under the sink, shooed an inquisitive cat away and emerged with an ancient and over-sized pot of contact glue with a crusted-over lid. She handed it to Tim. ‘Uncrack that will you?’

Tim twisted off the lid. Pungent vapours emerged, the pot was filled with white glue like viscous cream. Mrs Woosencraft handed him an old wooden spoon. He used the handle to smear glue on the two sides of the break and left them to dry.

All the cats pricked up their ears and turned to look at the kitchen door.

An enormous bumblebee with a furry black body and orange bottom zoomed through the open door and circled the kitchen. Down on the floor cats danced on their hind legs and patted the air with their forepaws. Up on the dresser Pedwar followed the bee with rapt fascination.

Droning like a saw the bee battered against the window and swung back towards the flowers. Pedwar leapt off the dresser, landed on the tablecloth and swept the flowers and teapot towards the edge.

Mrs Woosencraft snatched the flower vase away to safety.

Tim grabbed the pot and spout.

‘Glue!’ They both darted forward. And they both stopped to let the other one go first.

Cat, tablecloth and glue pot tumbled onto the floor.

The bumblebee looped around the room then zoomed through the outside door. The drone of its wings faded into the distance.

Mrs Woosencraft gingerly lifted one edge of the tablecloth. Tim peered past her arm. A pair of feline eyes blinked up at them from a small cave dripping with white glue.

Ffwch[1],’ Mrs Woosencraft said with feeling. She turned to Tim. ‘I’ll deal with this best on my own, pet. Get yourself home.’

It took some persuading but finally Tim was out the house. Mrs Woosencraft looked down at her glue-covered cat and swore at length and with admirable creativity. Accidents like this should not happen in her house and she was not happy at all. They should not happen because she had effective protection against such chaotic mishap. Which meant somebody was deliberately dicking her around. And to do that they must be using magic.

To be continued…

[1] Bother. (cough)

Tesla Powerwall2 – One Month On

Having the Powerwall installed has made two things very obvious. First, just how much solar energy is available even on a short sunny winter day. And second, how much of that goes to waste with just a solar PV array.

Chart 1 – Friday

The days are slowly, slowly getting longer, and just four weeks after solstice there is a noticeable difference in generation. Last Friday was a day of clear blue skies from dawn to dusk, my 3.8kW solar PV peaked at 2.5kW generation, and by the end of the day the Powerwall had reached 50% charge starting from empty.

Chart 1 Shows PV generation (yellow) starting about 8am. Soon after grid draw (white) drops to zero and stays there for the rest of the day. (How excellent is that?) While the sun shines the PV runs the house and also charges the Powerwall (green). When the sun sets the Powerwall runs the house for the rest of the day.

Chart 2

 

That’s not the end of it because a 50% charge is enough to (almost) run the house through the night until the morning. I say almost because you can see four little blips between about 2am and 6am where there is a very small draw from the grid. The Powerwall will be at a very low charge state by then and I’ve seen before how discharge appears to gracefully decline rather than just stop.

I’m still not sure what those 1kW spikes are at night. I suspect the chest freezer but am not sure how to prove it.

That 50% charge very nearly carried the house through a full 24 hours. Had the next day been a sunny one that would have carried on and we’d have as near as dammit been off-grid in January. This being winter in England there’s been nothing but grey skies, sleet and rain since then, with very little PV generation.

Even so, I’m impressed. 50% is not quite enough, but 60% should do it. Give it another few weeks and cold clear February skies, maybe a 60% charge, and we should be there. It’s going to happen and I now believe it will be much sooner in the year than I first expected. A 100% charge is some way off yet, but when that happens I am excited to see how the other gadget I had installed along with the Powerwall behaves.

Watch this space.

~