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The Ace-Team

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"How are you getting on?" Ray asked, glancing nervously round.

Mel straightened up and took the electronic probe out of her mouth.

"It's a very sophisticated design," she said. "A Steinitz-Waldbaum Mark III. They're uncrackable."

"How uncrackable?"

"Two more minutes, at most."

One hundred and fifteen seconds later, the lock gave a despairing electronic squawk. The reinforced door swung open, revealing a cavernous vault. In the centre of the huge empty space were the other two members of their team, sitting back to back in metal chairs.

"And about time too," Ace said. "Where do you lot think you've been?"

"I wish I could say I was surprised," Ray said, crossing the room. "Why is it every time I let you two out of my sight you end up handcuffed to something?" She dug into her pocket and pulled out her trusty Allen keys. "Pipes, railway tracks, ladders, chairs..."

"Bombs," Shou Yuing chipped in, from the other chair.

"Bombs?" Ray knelt down and looked. Sure enough, dangling between the two prisoners was a bundle of dynamite sticks with a circuit board attached to one side. A countdown was showing 047; as she looked, it decreased to 046.

"Mel?" she called. "Hang onto the bomb while I get the handcuffs off these two."

Mel hurried to the far side of the chairs and gingerly put her hands around the bomb.

"So did you find out who's behind those snakes turning up all over Ealing?" she asked.

"Some chick called Gwennie Pritchard," Shou Yuing said. "Don't ask me why she's doing it. She's crazy. How come we always get the crazies?"

"Not a clue. At this rate it'll be the Riddler next time. Or the Joker."

"Hey, we've already had Catwoman," Ray said. "Or a catgirl, at least."

"You lay off Karra!" Ace protested. "She wasn't evil. Not really. She just wanted her tummy tickled. And hurry up with those handcuffs."

"All right, all right." The handcuffs snapped open, and Ace jumped to her feet.

"Right," she said. "Let's take a look at this bomb."

Ray briefly glanced at the countdown, which read 012.

"Better hurry up," she said, and started work on Shou Yuing's handcuffs.

Ace took her place beside Mel, glanced over the bomb, and flicked a switch on it. The countdown, which had just skipped from 011 to 002, went blank.

"Nice of her to leave this for us," she said. "You can never have too many bombs."

"We've still got to get out of here," Mel warned her.

"Don't worry about that," Ray said. "There's a garage on the ground floor with about three-quarters of a minibus, a load of scrap steel, scaffolding, barrels of petrol and I don't know what else." The second set of handcuffs clicked open. "I reckon I could have an armoured car for you in forty minutes, tops."

"Wicked." Shou Yuing rose to her feet, and glanced around the other members of her team. "Let's go, then. I love it when a plan comes together."