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The Strange Case of the Dastardly Replicas

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The Strange Case of the Dastardly Replicas

By krisser

Morris Antiquities
Thames docks

 

Lady Walsh entered without a knock or by-your-leave. She almost appeared out of breath. "George, we may have a problem."

Mr Bodie looked over to his partner, Mr Doyle, with a sceptical expression, and rolled his eyes.

Mr Cowley ignored both the men's antics as he followed Lady Walsh's voice to the area immediately in front of the antiquities shop. Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle dogged his heels all the way.

Before them all, lying at the feet of the unflappable Mentah, Lady Walsh, was a contraption of unknown origin or function. It could manoeuvre of its own accord for the wheel-like devices made it possible to roll. What was propelling them was not obviously evident. Neither was its purpose.

"Fetch Messrs Macklin and Murphy. Bring more light as well," Mr Cowley ordered.

Messrs Bodie and Doyle moved in unison to comply.

As they traversed the twists and turns of corridors to Mr Macklin's laboratory, Mr Bodie's thoughts digressed. Not moments before they had been discussing their affaire de cœur and interregnum of repose. Now they were surely embroiled within a new adventure, and without a proper night's rest. To make it worse, there had been no opportunity for adequate repast, nor his preferred nocturnal activity, all of which would guarantee that proper night's rest.

Mr Bodie sighed loudly. At least life now was not to become tedious--maybe frustrating, but not tedious. He looked at the primary reason it would never be so and saw his partner's look of inquiry.

"I'm famished, and I'm sure we will lose the chance of a robust meal. A meal I was quite looking forward to, by the way." Mr Bodie's look conveyed he was truly lamenting the loss of time alone but his stomach growled to lend credence to his complaint.

Mr Doyle reached into the internal fold of his frock coat and produced a bag of biscuits that he tossed to his partner. Mr Bodie's beatific smile was recompense enough for hauling around the additional snacks.

Entering the laboratory in haste, both men missed the wonders of rotating gears that glided their feet across the building. So commonplace in this building of wonders, they took it as routine. Their eyes were busy in search of the scientists who never appeared to need rest or sustenance.

Mr Bodie grew impatient and called out, "Murph!"

Two heads popped up midway across the back of the gear row. "Here," Mr Bodie's mate of long standing answered.

"Mr Cowley needs both of you out front and you need to bring extra light." Mr Bodie relayed the orders given.

"Whatever for?" Mr Macklin asked, bewildered.

"We don't know." Mr Doyle shrugged with his palms up.

Mr Bodie interjected, "You lads will be particularly gratified to view the new curiosity." He added a smile that his old mate recognised and that hurried his actions.

Mr Macklin gathered aether illuminate sticks and two orbs that appeared to glow, but then didn't when Mr Doyle leaned in for a closer look.

Messrs Macklin and Murphy moved so quickly that Messrs Bodie and Doyle could only follow in their wake. Curiosity won out and they quickened their steps so as not to miss a thing.

Mr Murphy was down on one knee examining the mechanical contraption as Mr Macklin hung the orbs above them, suspended from rectangle poles that had been implanted in the wall exterior.

Mr Bodie wondered how he had missed this innovation as Mr Macklin shook a vial of aether around the orbs. The two spheres seemed to absorb it and shone brightly, throwing enough light for all to see by.

Mr Murphy had turned the contraption onto its side and peered into the inner workings. "There are gears spinning with no key wind obvious. I would bet with myself that it has none. This is truly a remarkable marvel."

The large blond man turned to his commander, "Mr Cowley, what do . . ."

As soon as the name Cowley was uttered the machine interrupted Mr Macklin with whirling sounds the internal gears emanated. A long knife popped out of its side and it wobbled back and forth on the suddenly usable roller balls.

Mr Macklin and Mr Doyle moved Mr Cowley well out of range as Mr Bodie moved into position to block the device from further advances.

"Very curious," Mr Cowley uttered quite calmly. "Do not destroy that. Make of it what you will and see if we can trace its origins." Mr Cowley turned and made for the building interior.

As soon as he was out of sight of the windows he turned to his men. "Mr Bodie, while pretending to gather your conveyance, check the perimeter for any persons or evidence of persons waiting nearby. Mr Doyle, head to the pub and listen for any stranger or strange doings, while Messrs Macklin and Murphy get me answers about the contraption itself." The unflappable Mr Cowley issued the orders without a backward glance as he headed to his office.

Mr Bodie gathered his carryall and joined Mr Doyle as he walked out. They passed Messrs Macklin and Murphy as the two carried the machine contrivance between them.

Mr Doyle waved to Mr Bodie as though nothing untoward had transpired and headed for his assigned pub duties.

Mr Bodie watched him leave, never shirking the opportunity to view the sight of his lover's bum. His whole person moved with the rhythm of an exotic cat. Mr Bodie caught himself; he'd be waxing poetical in a moment, and focused on his task at hand. He turned toward the shelter Mr Cowley had provided for the horses and conveyance storage. He walked his horse as he surreptitiously checked the avenues for signs of recent activity.

Mr Bodie checked the entire area surrounding the warehouse. He had no feeling of being watched. He returned the horse to the shelter but left the bridle on as they were leaving within the hour. At least he hoped they were. The sun's light was waning, and so were his energy reserves. He walked with purpose to join Mr Doyle at the pub.

Back in Mr Cowley's office an hour later, Mr Doyle repeated what he had discussed with Mr Bodie. "No one that stood out as sinister or just out of place had been frequenting the establishment. To be fair to the regular patrons, they get a steady amount of strangers in for midday meal."

Mr Bodie had little else to add. "I checked around our building and the ones on either side. No obvious signs to indicate someone had been waiting around an inordinate amount of time. I'm sorry, sir."

Mr Cowley waved away the apology. "Ach, a contrivance of that sort doesn't need someone close at hand. That speaks to the confidence of the creator as well."

"I wish to draw the likeness of that machine so we have something to compare it to if needed," Mr Doyle requested.

"Check with Mr Murphy. Act on anything he finds." Mr Cowley shook his head. "I know this bodes ill for her Majesty. The threat that Coogan started has yet to reach its culmination."

"He's dead, sir," Mr Doyle reminded him.

"Blown up, if I recall," Mr Bodie added for clarification.

"You recall adequately. The man and his organisation may have perished but the original plot against the Queen has not. Remember that. Time is of the essence." Mr Cowley waved them away.

"Time is always of the essence," Mr Doyle muttered as they left the office just loud enough for Mr Bodie to hear.

"Then why he ever goes on about times of calm is a mystery. I don't recall having to endure that as of yet." Mr Bodie shook his head in bewilderment.

"Less than twenty-four hours if memory serves."

"Yes, and even less to celebrate our affaire de cœur," Mr Bodie reminded him primly.

"Your French needs work."

"You understood me just fine." Mr Bodie pouted.

"Ah, but a Frenchman wouldn't." Mr Doyle smiled and it lit his face.

Mr Bodie nudged his Mr Doyle against the corridor wall playfully before stepping upon the moving walkway.

Mr Murphy noticed the men immediately. He waved them over to his workbench. "The only identifying markings I could discern were the craftsman's mark, blacksmith most likely. Church of All Saints. It's located in the heart of Derby."

"Derby." Mr Doyle recognised the church moniker immediately said the town name impatiently at the same time as Mr Murphy finished his sentence.

"You know Derby?" Mr Bodie asked as he turned to look at Mr Doyle directly.

"You could say that." Mr Doyle sighed deeply. "Have family there."

Something in the way his partner said the word family stopped Mr Bodie from teasing. He'd wait until they were alone. "Should make it easier to locate the Cathedral of All Saints then," he said instead.

"Hopefully, this one is still standing when we arrive." Mr Doyle tried for levity, appreciating his partner's lack of probing questions. At least for now, he reminded himself ruefully.

Mr Bodie rubbed his hands together with anticipation. "We go on a choo-choo."

Mr Doyle rolled his eyes so hard that Mr Bodie was sure he could hear them spin.

Mr Murphy placed the odd contraption in a wide vise that made all sides visible. He clamped it tight. He hung an illuminary stick down inside and pointed to the craftsman mark.

Mr Doyle produced a drawing pad of hard paper and placed it on the workbench. He pulled a drawing pencil from the same pocket and began to copy the image of the machine in its entirety. He drew the craftsman mark on a separate sheet. No need to give away descriptions unless essential.

"I have yet to discover what drives the movement," Mr Murphy said as he scratched his head. He peered down inside once again as if he'd missed it on the first viewing. His preoccupation with his perplexing problem had made him oblivious of news of Mr Doyle's connection to their next destination.

"I have faith that you will, Murph. Now, I need to refresh my weaponry before we leave again." He looked to Mr Doyle and shrugged lightly. "We'll leave in the morning." Mr Bodie headed toward Mr Macklin and the side room that had become the armoury.

Mr Murphy remained with Mr Doyle a few minutes longer, admiring how much detail he captured on paper. When he finally turned to leave, he placed his hand gently on Mr Doyle's shoulder. "It is never easy visiting home when one must keep secrets." He disappeared among his beloved gears.

Mr Doyle paused in his drawing and watched Mr Murphy vanish. The man was more aware of events about him than he let on.

Mr Doyle looked back down at his drawing. If he was lucky they could get in and out of Derby without familial contact.

If wishes were horses.

 

Spring Street
Building Seventeen

 

Mr Bodie awoke from sleep that he didn't remember falling into. He didn't open his eyes, just let awareness happen. He didn't move a limb, just took stock where and with whom he was . . . that being the easy and best part . . . he was with his Ray Doyle. He was washed with wonder afresh.

His hand rested on his lover's thigh, his fingers sticky but not yet stuck. After a deep breath, Mr Bodie relaxed deeper into his pillow. The musk scent of their interlude lingered still and it was welcome. Even weary, their passion had burst forth and they had yielded to the extraordinary sensations. Spent, they remained close, entwined, nonetheless.

At this very moment, he felt safe, contented, but then memory invaded. Alarm suffused him, it was still just a short time ago that his mate had almost been lost to him. Mr Bodie knew he was lucky; he would not take for granted their time together.

Amid thoughts sublime, sleep claimed him yet again.

 

 

Great Western Railway
London en route to Derby

 

"The plot against the Queen is not at rest. That's what he said. Which plot? Coogan is dead, most of his men are dead. Culbertson is in gaol. What does he know?" Mr Doyle puzzled aloud to his partner as they stood along edge of the rails separating cars.

"Mr Cowley sent Mr Jax to collect Lady Walsh, and a missive to Major Howard. He's scheming again." Mr Bodie waved his hand across the space in front of him.

"Or never finished the first case according to Mr Cowley." Mr Doyle's frustration was evident in his voice.

That they were venturing into an unknown with very little information again seemed to be the very description of their daily occupation, Mr Bodie could help chuckling to himself.

The two men moved inside to the first class carriage. They were dressed as gentleman of fine breeding. They each wore dress trousers in a dark colour with a side stripe in a toning shade, practical yet elegant. Their cutaway coats over side-button shirts had many hidden pockets so they could carry their armaments without detection. They sat furthest away from the door as possible and still carried on with their conversation in a softer tone.

"If we were to put our days down on paper, we are too busy to be believable," Mr Bodie answered lightly with hand dramatically to forehead.

"If you put down what we do daily to paper, we might go crazy," Mr Doyle answered in the same style.

"Might go crazy? We already are. The day we accepted the job offer, little did we know, was the day we lost our minds." Mr Bodie's tone very fait accompli.

"Since the day we accepted the job offer have we had more than two days off in a row?" Mr Doyle asked contentiously.

"No! Only those two days off when we went without a case. No days off since then, none. But I imagine that his good job lads is supposed to be recompense enough." Mr Bodie bowed, right hand across his waist, the left extended.

"Oh, he said that?" Mr Doyle was surprised. He did not recall the comment.

"I think you might have been asleep!" Mr Bodie cocked his head and smiled.

"Oh, and when does the 'time of calm' begin? He goes on and on about staying fit, but we don't even get the chance. On another bloody assignment, aren't we?" Mr Doyle parroted many of Mr Bodie's previous comments.

"Maybe he thinks an evening in is the same as on holiday," Mr Bodie gave by way of explanation.

"You could bloody well be right!" Mr Doyle exclaimed.

"Feel better now?" Mr Bodie asked with an impish smile.

"Yes, quite," Mr Doyle answered with polished manners.

"I'll send me bill along shortly."

Mr Doyle felt all imaginary pockets for coin. "I have none it seems."

"That wasn't what I'd planned on charging anyway." Mr Bodie exaggerated his brow-wiggling to appear quite lascivious.

Mr Doyle batted his eyelashes before he turned to look out of the window.

Mr Bodie watched Mr Doyle's posture of playfulness give way to growing seriousness as the train chugged closer to the destination. "You know Derby?"

"Well enough, yeah. What are you asking?" Mr Doyle's voice was one of resignation.

"What are you telling?" Mr Bodie knew that his partner had to talk willingly.

Mr Doyle sighed, and his shoulders sagged a bit as he spoke. "Church of All Saints is in the heart of Derby, on Iron Gate, facing the Clock Tower, can't miss it, really. Don't actually have to venture into the church if we find what we need with the blacksmith." Mr Doyle continued to look out of the window at the passing scenery, not really noticing what was there, more lost in his own thoughts. He sighed deeply. "If we must enter the church, we will surely encounter my brother."

The solid stream of hedgerows gave way to open patches of woods. Soon after the open landscape faded as the outskirts of a town made itself known. Mr Doyle never moved a muscle. "Mum's an alrighter, but my brother is a sanctimonious muck snipe. To be fair, he stepped up after dear ol' dad died, right into his shoes and narrow way of thinking. Only thing he didn't do was hit Mum. My sisters were young when I left. Went back a few times, but dear brother was more hateful with each visit. It hurt Mum to see it, so I stopped going." Mr Doyle remained facing the window even after it fogged up from his breath on the glass.

"Still sounds better than mine," Mr Bodie said seriously. "I could knock his teeth out if you wish," Mr Bodie added as Mr Doyle finally turned away from the window.

"Going to impart your story?" Mr Doyle cocked his head as he latched onto the first remark, more out of curiosity than wanting to change the subject.

"When we find ourselves visiting my native town." Mr Bodie's tone conveyed 'over my dead body.'

"And that would be where exactly?" Mr Doyle leaned forward eagerly.

Mr Bodie was saved from answering by the clamour of arrival at station. He stood, gathered his things, passed Mr Doyle his belongings, and led the way out the door before Mr Doyle could finish his full breath.

 

Church of All Saints
Derby, Derbyshire
East Midlands

 

They hired a hansom cab to convey them from the train station to the Church of All Saints located in the heart of Derby. Mr Bodie took care to memorise the route in case they had to return on foot. In less than a quarter of an hour they arrived. Mr Bodie took care of payment.

Mr Doyle stood quite still as he looked over the old church. The only original section of the 1530's church that remained standing was the tower. It was weathered with age and the elements, but Mr Doyle found an odd comfort that it was still the same. A few good memories to hold on to. The rest of the church had been rebuilt to a neo-classical design and was revered for its austere plainness. He'd never really cared for that look. In contrast, his brother loved it. He switched his thoughts to the task in hand.

They knew that the signature markings belonged to the All Saints' smith. They walked the perimeter but didn't locate a blacksmith's stall inside the churchyard walls, then looked about for anyone who could be of help. It seemed fairly deserted for a Thursday.

Mr Doyle pointed to the gardens and they trekked across the immaculate lawns until they spotted a solitary grounds-keeper tending three fruit trees, the only trees visible.

"Good man, could you direct us to the local blacksmith?" Mr Bodie asked in his patient voice.

The grounds keeper stared hard at Mr Doyle and never even looked at Mr Bodie when he answered his query. "Just to the left of the Iron Gate." The man continued to stare at Mr Doyle, and finally asked. "Do I know you, guv?"

"No, I don't believe that I've had the pleasure," Mr Doyle replied as he hurriedly turned away from the man.

The grounds keeper snapped his thumb and index together. "You looks like him." He threw his thumb back at the church. "I didn't catch your name?"

Mr Bodie interceded, "We are grateful for the information. Good day." He guided Mr Doyle ahead of himself and they walked away at a steady pace.

They faced the clock tower as soon as they exited the gate and looked to the left as directed. The glow from the forge was easily visible, and as they drew closer, the air about the shop was considerably warmer than elsewhere. Mr Bodie stepped in briskly to take advantage of the heat. Generally the blacksmith was the most important craftsman in the area, and the forge was the hub of spirited discourse. Mr Bodie knew that their entry had interrupted one or many discussions.

The smith never ceased his hammering, even when the other men grew quiet.

"Looking for some work," Mr Doyle announced to the room at large.

"Can't stop this minute, got to work while the metal is still pliable," the blacksmith explained over his shoulder, never taking his eyes off his work. "I need thirty minutes, then my time is yours."

The other men had sauntered out at the mention of commissioning work.

Mr Bodie nodded. "We will return then."

Mr Doyle led the way out, and turned toward the square. Mr Bodie instead guided him back the way they'd come. Mr Doyle resisted.

"Don't want us to be seen, just in case there was someone watching the warehouse. The church grounds were quite deserted, and we could remain out of view there." Mr Bodie had quickened their pace as he spoke.

"I see your point," Mr Doyle said very reluctantly.

Mr Bodie kept a watch on those who might have watched their exit and withdrawal from the square. Mr Doyle, shoulders slumped, stared at the ground. Neither man looked ahead until a booming voice descending the church stairs alerted them to the presence of another.

"Raymond!"

Mr Doyle uttered, "Bollocks."

The man had a passing resemblance to his partner but it ended there. This blow-hard was wide as well as large and his gait was more of a wobble than the aggressive stride of his partner. He reminded Mr Bodie of a puffed-up pickle. He looked a blighter, and removed all doubt when he spoke.

"I don't know how you can show your face about town, you sodomite. It will surely get back to mother. Don't you even care how you and your subversive ways maim her reputation? You are the vilest of obscenities, and cause nothing but mayhem and ill where ever you go. No one here wants to see you or that marred face of yours in our town, least of all your family. You are abhorrent to us all, you nancy-boy. You piece of pusillanimous slime."

Mr Doyle was not really listening to the litany of his faults, but was instead watching the myriad expressions that flitted across his partner's face and knew the exact moment when his dear Mr Bodie decided to hit his brother. The ill-mannered buffoon deserved it. So Mr Doyle leaned back against a tree with a smile and watched as Mr Bodie knocked his brother hard to the ground. He was sure his brother made a dent in the dirt.

Mr Bodie, red-faced in anger, pointed his finger down at the man. "No one says that about Raymond Doyle and remains standing. Unless you plan to apologise immediately, I would remain where you are in the dirt until after we depart," Mr Bodie yelled to the prone miscreant. His chest was heaving with his controlled anger, and murderous rage was in his eyes. Not even the mutton-headed Victor Doyle could miss that.

"Doesn't change. . ."

Mr Bodie bent over the man and slapped him hard across the face. "Hope we never meet again." Mr Bodie dusted himself off right above Mr Doyle's brother, then stepped over him as if he were nothing but rubbish.

Mr Doyle turned to join him as they left Victor Doyle behind.

"Sorry, Ray. I couldn't contain myself." Mr Bodie started to apologise.

"Don't even think of apologising! It was magnificent. He is nothing but an old windbag." Mr Doyle nudged Mr Bodie shoulder to shoulder and said sincerely, "My hero."

Mr Bodie's face may have reddened a bit, but he was pleased that his mate wasn't angry. They decided to wait just outside the blacksmith's stall for the remainder of the time.

When Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle re-entered the blacksmith shop thirty minutes later the smithy had indeed finished his work, and extended a cleaned hand to the pair.

"James Norton," the smith introduced himself. The rough, and work spotted skin took nothing away from the firm handshake he gave each man.

Mr Doyle took the lead. "We found your mark on an exceedingly interesting piece of metal and were hoping you could duplicate it." He hoped to get the information without revealing their ignorance of the object.

The eager smith said, "What piece do you speak of?"

Mr Doyle withdrew from his inner cutaway coat pocket the drawing he had copied, and showed it to Mr Norton. The man backed away.

"That was not my design, only my metal-work." The smithy's eyes looked around as if he feared something.

"This was used for malice and we need to find the source." Mr Bodie's tone challenged the blacksmith.

Offended that he would be considered accountable in the matter the blacksmith volunteered quietly, "The man had me form many pieces from his designs."

"Many pieces? How many?" Mr Bodie exchanged a glance of worry with Mr Doyle.

"Twenty to be sure. I had to refortify many seams mid-way through construction." Mr Norton co-operated fully as the men became more congenial.

"May I have a look at these designs?" Mr Doyle asked.

Mr Norton nodded and disappeared into the back of his shop. He returned with a large pile of thin-paper drawing sheets and spread them out on his table. Mr Bodie looked through quickly, seeking a complete product. He memorised the shapes but no image was forthcoming. They seemed familiar in concept to the contraption sitting back at the laboratory in London.

Mr Doyle removed his tablet of drawing paper. "May I copy these?" he asked.

The blacksmith nodded. "There is more room in back." He swept up the drawing sheets and led the way. Mr Doyle followed him.

Mr Bodie left it to his partner to make copies and extract as much information as likely from the smith. He knew that metal components such as the drawings indicated would need a cart or wagon to transport. He surmised a visit to the wheelwright's in order.

Mr Bodie located it along the outer wall of the square and stepped into the wheelwright's shop with purpose. He recognised the craftsman as one of the blokes that had been in the blacksmith's shop. He changed his questioning tactic accordingly. "Mr Norton suggested that you would be able to augment wheels in order to carry excessively heavy loads. Was he wrong?"

"No, he wasn't wrong. I'm your man. Bob Chipping. Pleased to make your acquaintance." The wheel-worker stepped forward.

Mr Bodie shook the extended hand, another firm handshake. "Do you have any work on view?" He asked, as he looked about the shop for anything that could aid in their search of odd metalworkings.

"I had to fortify two cart wheels to hold the weight of two dead horses. Alas, the wheels travelled to Oxford two weeks past."

"I see, well, I will check how my partner is coming along with Mr Norton and I will get a time frame from that." Mr Bodie didn't commit while allowing the possibility of a job. "Thank you."

Mr Bodie exited the shop but didn't immediately head back to the blacksmith's. Earlier in the day, Mr Bodie felt he had made a blunder of gigantic proportions and was unclear how this would affect his lover's life. That Mr Doyle's mother was sure to have heard about the altercation by now was a foregone conclusion. Mr Bodie knew from his own experience that small towns spread gossip faster than disease.

No matter what Mr Doyle said, he was indeed fond of his mother. That Mr Doyle's brother named him a sodomite aloud was troubling for assuredly that would bring shame to their mother. That he hit Victor Doyle, though he richly deserved it, was not his finest moment. Mrs Doyle would surely side with her injured son. Mr Doyle might want to distance himself, and Mr Bodie knew he would allow him that. For most, a mother held a special place in their hearts. He could not further a chasm in that relationship. Shoulders slumped and heart heavy, Mr Bodie remained unsettled as he walked toward the blacksmith's shop.

--

Mr Doyle sat in the far back of the storage room crammed with bellows, horseshoes and branding irons as he worked diligently on his copies. He didn't allow himself the luxury of time to ponder what was being created, just acting the scribe. His fingers moved furiously over the papers, recording everything to create the most accuracy. He was extremely quiet all the while. Mr Norton, on the other hand, was moving nervously about, not talking but fidgeting with items here and there.

Mr Doyle all but ignored him as he continued to copy. He did think of Mr Bodie and was surprised that his partner had not yet returned and hoped that he was successfully gathering information and not brooding. He paused in his work when he heard the blacksmith move frontward and greet someone. He was ready to call out when he heard shouting. Mr Bodie would have no need to do that. He moved closer but kept well out of sight.

"Heard that blokes have been asking after me. What you tell them?" a loud voice yelled.

"Nothing. They left already." Mr Norton sounded nervous to Mr Doyle's ear.

"Get all my plans. I'm done with you," the voice dictated arrogantly.

"They're in the back. No need for the gun." Mr Norton's voice quivered.

Mr Doyle crept along the back of the shop floor, stepped over the loose boards, and picked up a hammer. He could see without being seen. Mr Norton entered first while the second man walked behind him, gun extended, and trained on Mr Norton's back. The blacksmith looked about quickly with just his eyes and the relief at not seeing anyone present was naked in them.

The man with the gun spied his designs and used his gun to wave the blacksmith away from the table. "I don't need witnesses." He pointed the gun at the blacksmith's chest.

Mr Doyle threw his hammer at the gun and sent it flying to the ground. The interloper yelped in pain as he drew the injured hand close into his body before he turned to search for the fallen gun. He spied his weapon and reached for it with his good hand.

Mr Doyle jumped in before he could retrieve it and they scrabbled for the weapon. Mr Doyle retrieved it, rolled left onto his hip, and came up onto his feet. The assailant grabbed for his papers with his injured hand as he threw the forge pokers like spears. As Mr Doyle and the smith ducked to avoid being hit by the pokers the assailant escaped out the back.

"BODIE!" Mr Doyle yelled at the top of his lungs.

Mr Bodie speeded up his running pace the last few steps to the blacksmith's shop. He burst in and yelled back, "HERE!"

"Out the back, man with the paper rolls, running." Mr Doyle pointed and Mr Bodie just ran straight through and out in pursuit of the assailant.

Mr Doyle ignored the smith as he flipped over an already used drawing paper to capture the likeness of their assailant while it was fresh in his head. He scribbled fast and furious.

Mr Bodie returned before he was done. "Nothing or no one to be found fleeing, injured or breathing hard. I lost him." Mr Bodie looked his mate over and could see no marks of injury.

The blacksmith spoke for the first time. "He took all the plans with him."

Mr Doyle shook his head, "Not the copies. I had already stowed them away." Mr Doyle double-tapped his breast pocket. His expression became intense. "Now, please, what is his name?"

"Scott. Don't know his given name. He was going to shoot me." The blacksmith was horrified and offended at the same time.

"I think it would be wise to make yourself scarce for a week at least," Mr Doyle suggested. "Scott did say he didn't want witnesses."

"But where would I go?" The smith seemed bewildered at such a request.

"Somewhere not in this town. We will try to locate him, but to be sure, leave the area for a bit," Mr Bodie added.

"You the law?" The smith asked, his voice a cross between relieved and suspicious.

"Something like that," Mr Bodie answered with a half-smile.

"If it helps, he had me load it on the wagon and the driver said he was bound for Oxford," the blacksmith volunteered as he closed his shop for the remainder of the day. He pulled out a sign to hang on the door – Back later. The smithy pulled his cap down low and headed out opposite the town centre.

Mr Doyle pointed to the open park area across the shop square. They walked shoulder to shoulder, on high alert, as they made for the far end of the park. Mr Bodie sat on a well-used bench as Mr Doyle paced to and fro in front of his partner.

"How could he know that we were asking about the plans unless he was there at Cowley's place?" Mr Doyle was talking to himself aloud, not really directing his thoughts to the seated Mr Bodie.

Mr Bodie spoke out anyway. "He may have seen us and rushed off here to tie up loose ends. We weren't followed." He was most emphatic over the last statement.

Mr Doyle stopped his pacing and faced Mr Bodie. "He didn't appear to recognise me or even expect me as a matter of fact. Hummm. . . there must be more people involved."

"Of course there are! A plot to take down the monarchy is not a one-man job." Mr Bodie stood. "We should return to London."

Mr Doyle nodded. At least they had a name for Mr Cowley. They headed in the direction of the train station. As they finished crossing the park, at the end of the lane, there stood an older, softer, female version of Mr Bodie's partner. Mrs Doyle.

Mr Doyle stopped in his tracks. He didn't seem tense or unduly worried. He cocked his head and smiled. "Hello, Mum."

She walked toward them, apron with flour dustings rustling in the breeze. She opened her arms and hugged Mr Bodie first. "You are always welcome in my home for defending my boy against the likes of his bullying brother." She smiled at he son. "Can you stay for supper?" She reached out and hugged him close.

Mr Bodie felt waves of relief at a mother's love unbroken, and hope at the prospect of a home-cooked meal.

"Yes, Mum, we can. I'd like to introduce my mate, William Bodie. Likes to be addressed as Bodie, but I bet you can call him anything if you promise him one of your meals." Mr Doyle's voice was full of mirth, relief, and love.. He should have never worried about visiting his mum.

"My sweet Bodie, we will have a feast!" Mrs Doyle held on to both men's arms as they walked to the Doyle cottage.

 

Great Western Railway
Derby en route to London

 

The return trip had been full of childhood remembrances. Mr Doyle's mum had been a delightful storyteller herself. That all mention of the brother and father had been completely avoided had been obvious but not awkward.

It had really helped his partner to over-hear his giggling sisters say, "Why he's not like Victor at all. Hope he comes back soon." They had chanted come back – come back several times as they were leaving. His mother had added a similar request in her final hug. All in all, it had lifted Mr Doyle's spirits considerably. Mr Bodie could admit to himself that a great worry had been removed from his own shoulders. His partner's family had not been damaged by the brother's tirade, and his Ray had even gained back the family he'd thought he'd lost.

The best part beside the scrumptious meal had been how relaxed his partner had become after the unexpected visit. They had avoided any mention of the original reason for their journey in case the outré Mr Scott had any lackeys about.

Though the day had been long it had been productive on several levels. They arrived in London at Victoria station just passed midnight. The train station was lively even at such a late hour.

They elected to walk to the docks to stretch their legs. As they neared the warehouse they could see the lights on at the antiquities shop.

"How does he know when we have information?" Mr Bodie wondered aloud.

"I think he expects us to each time we show up, quite frankly." Mr Doyle said dryly.

"Shouldn't he be home in bed by now?" Mr Bodie's tone made it quite clear that he would like to be at home in bed.

"Not with the Queen and Londinium to save."

Mr Bodie rubbed his hands together, "Let's go impress the Mentah."

"We'll need much more than this." Mr Doyle shook his head.

"We should have brought him some of your mum's cake," Mr Bodie quipped wisely.

 

Morris Antiquities
Thames docks

 

Hot tea and biscuits awaited them on Mr Cowley's desk. Even after the food on the train, a small repast was welcome to Mr Bodie.

Mr Doyle pulled out the drawings of the metal designs and the likeness of Mr Scott, as Mr Bodie filled the Mentah in on the days findings.

Mr Cowley rubbed his chin. "So the blacksmith's mark was a chance discovery that worked in our favour. One that could prove deadly for that blacksmith."

"We suggested a holiday away from Derby for a bit," Mr Bodie explained.

Mr Doyle interrupted, "That Scott fellow had already planned to eliminate him. He had a gun."

"The smith has been adequately warned." Mr Cowley shuffled through several pages of notes. "Oxford will be your next stop." Mr Cowley waved them away with the back of his hand.

Mr Bodie held his spot. "Want to take the airship, so we need to wait until dark."

"We have other avenues of information to explore as well," Mr Doyle added.

Mr Cowley perked up. "Might you find time for a session with the sensei then?" Mr Cowley appeared to be asking but it was actually an order.

"Yes, sir. Mid-morning would suit." Mr Bodie didn't allow any of his disappointment to show.

"We have blowers to contact." Mr Doyle clarified.

"Aye, mid-morning is fine. I'll alert Sensei Sachio." Mr Cowley resumed the reading their arrival had interrupted.

They exited to find Mr Cowley's conveyance was already hitched and driver waiting for them. The weary men accepted gratefully. His own conveyance was missing and Mr Bodie was overjoyed that Mr Murphy had finally gone home.

"Where to?" the driver asked.

Mr Doyle forestalled his partner's request for home and said instead, "High and Whitechapel.

 

Whitechapel and High Street
Sweep confluence
London

 

Due to the late hour when they arrived at the sweep confluence it was rather slim pickings if they were actually seeking help. Most were out working while some might even have been done for the night. Benny Porter was on hand though, as one of the senior sweeps he had many regular bookings and he stayed back to help with the newer sweeps.

Mr Doyle signalled Benny with his hand that he needed to talk. The senior sweep parted from his group, and headed straight for Mr Doyle.

"What can I do for you, guv?"

Mr Doyle leaned in close to the sweep, and kept his voice low. "There's talk of a plot against the Queen and London. This is big and it won't be the rough boys on the corner."

The sweep nodded his head, he knew what the guv was asking.

"And any talk of mechanical contraptions," Mr Doyle said for his ears alone.

"Mechanical contraptions?"

Mr Bodie wanted desperately to quip contraptions made out of metal, but rendered himself silent as he was quite sure his at-times proper partner would disapprove.

"Anything with large metal workings, or moving such things. Some pieces can be very heavy. We really don't have much to work with at this point," Mr Doyle elaborated.

Mr Bodie stood at his side. This had always been his partner's blower, it was best to let him do all the talking.

"Check the drawings, guv." Benny turned away and rejoined his group.

"Home, finally?" Mr Bodie asked like a pleading puppy.

"Home it is."

 

Spring Gardens
Building Seventeen

 

Both men were almost too weary to remove their clothes. Mr Bodie tossed his upon a chair while Mr Doyle let them fall as he walked toward the bed. Mr Bodie draped his arm over his lover, but was asleep before he could feel him snuggle in. Mr Doyle's last thoughts commended himself for remembering to leave a mark on the board outside their door indicating that they needed bath water in the morning.

Morning came much too soon. Mr Bodie wanted to connect with his lightning thief, and there were weapons to gather. So a lie-in was out of the question, again, but as his fingers did a little investigating of their own, he found his lover's cock at attention. As he grasped it said lover turned onto his back to allow him full access. Mr Bodie could not possibly turn down such an invitation.

He flipped himself sideways so that his mouth could gain the best position. He drew in a deep breath of his lover's musk, then quickly swallowed the thick cock. He knew what to do and how fast to do it to create the pleasure that would drive his love over the edge. Mr Bodie was quite proud of his ability.

Turn about was fair play and Mr Bodie found himself in a like wise position. With no complaint, he gave himself up to the wondrous sensations of anticipation, and then flying higher than the stars. He hugged his Ray close to kiss him.

Kissing was as personal as it got and each man put all things left unsaid into the action. The kiss left them each panting as if at the end of coitus.

Too soon they heard the knock at the adjoining door and knew the day must begin in earnest. They each took a turn using the bath water to rinse off the debris of the past day and the evidence of their morning activities.

Mrs Jax knocked at Mr Doyle's door just as they completed their ablutions in Mr Bodie's side. "Hot meal waiting," she said through the door.

They gathered what they needed for the day and headed downstairs to the parlour to join their mates for a meal.

The other residents of the house were already seated, and in various stages of digestion. Mr Doyle looked about, and realised that this was the first time since hired by Mr Cowley that they were all gathered together for a meal. On the table against the wall there were plates that held devilled kidneys, poached eggs, bread and butter, and a jar of thick honey. A plate with bacon rashers still remained and Mr Bodie smiled at the sight. Mrs Jax had outdone herself.

Mr Jax wiped his mouth and placed the napkin alongside his plate with the napkin ring on top. He turned to the other men. "Have any of you noticed two men lurking about the warehouse and general area of the pub over the past two or so days? Light hair on one, some curls on the taller bloke?" he asked of the assembly.

"Ja, I have on more than one occasion. They did not seem troublesome." Mr Anson shrugged slightly.

Mr Murphy nodded several times in recollection.

"I've seen them, but same as Mr Jax, they didn't seem to pose a threat. Should we detain them?" Mr Macklin asked as he straightened in his seat.

Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle turned to face each other and a smile lit both faces. "They came," Mr Doyle said.

Mr Bodie nodded toward Mr Doyle seated across from him. "He's gone recruiting," Mr Bodie said with a lilt.

"They aided us in Canterbury," Mr Doyle explained. "Mr Lucas and Mr McCabe."

"I will alert Mr Cowley," Mr Macklin announced as he put down his teacup and stood to take his leave.

Mr Bodie leaned closer to his partner to utter sotto voce, "Mr Cowley will put you on permanent recruitment duty." He leaned back and raised his cup of tea to hide his smile.

The steam-powered clock's arm struck eight. The steam released sounded eight little chimes, each with its own distinctive sound. All the men paused as if mesmerised, then with the final surge, the clock settled back to its normal routine.

Mr Bodie grabbed the last of the buttered bread and pointed to the stables all the while staring at his partner.

Mr Doyle primly wiped the corners of his mouth with the cloth napkin then threw it haphazardly onto his plate. "Thank your Missus, she's an excellent cook. Mr Bodie always has a smile on his face after one of her meals."

"Mister Bodie has a smile after any meal," Mr Murphy commented to the room at large. "No offence to your Missus," he directed that last to Mr Jax.

Mr Jax just shook his head at the jocular men.

 

Mr Bodie stepped outside and noticed the drastic temperature difference. He had quite forgotten how nicely the steam-heated building insulated them from the harsher conditions out of doors. He pulled his frock coat tighter as he turned the collar up against the wind. He headed to the coach house and found a conveyance already fitted out. "Thank you, Steven," Mr Bodie called out to the invisible coachman. As he waited for Mr Doyle he looked about the place and noticed the changes. Two horses stood next to his one. A two-person and four-person carriage had been added alongside his specialised hansom that allowed two to sit atop, and double the tack could be seen hanging on the walls. Mr Cowley was true to his word. If Messrs Lucas and McCabe joined the ranks their building would be at capacity.

Mr Bodie climbed up top and waited for his partner to come along. He usually enjoyed the ride unless it was raining. This morning the air was brisk, especially brisk. He was quite pleased when Mr Doyle joined him. The ride was so much better with his partner seated beside him.

"We need to see a lightning thief." Mr Bodie signalled the horse to move.

 

London Bridge
Old Swan Pier

 

Mr Bodie avidly looked for every pothole that he could bounce into without harm to the horse. He loved seeing Mr Doyle bob this way and that. Mr Doyle's undignified language was well worth the jostling he put his own body through.

Mr Bodie pulled up along-side the pier and Mr Doyle jumped down immediately. Mr Bodie joined him on the ground and had to quickly duck as his partner feigned a right, then left punch to his mid-section.

The barge had just nudged the dock and they walked down the merchant's ramp and waited for the ship to come to rest. Ropes came flying over the sides and Mr Bodie caught them as he always did, and lashed them to the pilings.

Then in an age-old routine Mr Bodie cupped his hand next to his mouth and called out, "Permission to come aboard?" His voice had a sing-song quality about it.

"Permission granted," rang out in a similar sing-song voice in answer.

The gangplank gears turned anticlockwise so very smoothly, no steam emerging, that Mr Bodie was impressed at how well kept this barge actually was.

"So, you haven't done him in yet?" Mr Martell asked of Mr Bodie's partner with a broad smile upon his face.

"I've been tempted, " Mr Doyle answered with a smile of his own.

"I'm sure Bodie has been more than tempted by you." It was clearly in his voice that Mr Martell knew of Mr Bodie's proclivities. It was also clear that Mr Martell didn't seem to mind either way.

Mr Doyle realised that his partner had a wide range of mates, who indeed knew him well.

"Enough of that!" Mr Bodie said with mirth. His voice changed to serious in a heartbeat. "Marty, we are seeking information about mechanical devices that can move seemingly of their own volition. Whatever you can discover would help us discern their purpose. And of course, anything you hear about a plot against the Queen. Yes, again." Mr Bodie read the expression of the captain's face. "As commonplace as this may seem, the Mentah is taking this one very seriously. He is deeply concerned."

Mr Martell might have indiscernible ethics, but Queen and country trumped inaction. "I'll see what I can discover."

"Oh, and Marty, a double order of canisters, please." Mr Bodie bowed as he placed his order.

Mr Martell hand signalled a crewmember behind him. Men moved about quickly.

Mr Bodie withdrew a pouch of money from an inside pocket and handed it to his old mate. "For the possible inconvenience to other customers."

Mr Martell accepted with a head bob.

Mr Bodie left with four lightning canisters.

 

Hyde Park
Westminster
London

 

Next stop, before their appointment with the sensei, was chimney sweep Benny Porter, performing his day job creating elaborate chalk drawings for the amusement of the park patrons. Mr Doyle sat next to Mr Bodie atop the conveyance. The only passengers were the four lightning containers procured from Mr Martell.

"I just have a feeling that there is information to be collected," Mr Doyle explained the request for a detour. "Too much is happening at the same time, and I just don't believe in coincidence. . ."

". . . Coincidence!" Mr Bodie said at the same time. "I am happy to accommodate your feelings. They've yet to steer you wrong."

Mr Bodie pulled to a stop as close to the pedestrian quay as he could manage. Mr Doyle jumped down and strode to where the chalk drawings were located. On a brisk day such as this only two vendors were present.

Mr Doyle buttoned his tweed frock coat completely to his chin before he perused all the drawings, searching for a possible message within the sketch. He found one quickly. The kite flying above the fog was just one of many possibilities informing him that the sweep had information. There were a few folk about and the sweep broke away after a wave from Mr Doyle.

"Somethin' I can do for you, guv?" Benny asked, the same as he always did.

"Yes, some private work," Mr Doyle said loudly for the curious.

The sweep moved closer to where Mr Doyle pointed, which was closer to Mr Bodie, and turned his back away from the other folk.

"You have something already?" Mr Doyle asked once the three were out of earshot.

"I do, Mr Doyle. Talk of plotting against the monarchy is not all that uncommon, but what is going round now is different. It's amongst the staff. There is a lot of discord with the new staff at the palace. Some are said to be acting really odd, and that's a quote, sir. Really odd. They are said to be keeping to themselves which you know is not how it's done downstairs."

Mr Doyle wasn't sure what to make of this information, but had faith that Mr Cowley might. "Thanks, Benny, if you can get descriptions of the new staff or more about the discord, I appreciate it. The Mentah feels we are in grave peril once again." Mr Doyle dropped some coin into the sweep's hand.

"Thanks, guv!" Benny said loud enough to be heard by those waiting for him to continue drawing.

Mr Bodie turned away and Mr Doyle joined him as they returned to their conveyance.

 

Morris Antiquities
Thames docks

 

Young Master Mark Jax was on hand when they arrived at the antiquities warehouse, and Mr Bodie gladly tossed him coins for the proper treatment of his horse. Both men hurried inside. Mr Cowley would be sure to note if they were tardy.

Mr Doyle passed on the information they had gained from the chimney sweep. Mr Cowley made notes, and double underlined the really odd behaviour part of the reiteration.

 

Sensei Sachio was meditating on the mat in the room that seemed to have been permanently converted into a training room when Messrs Bodie and Doyle entered. Both bowed in courtesy to the master and then to each other. They had changed into workout clothes before entering and now kicked off the slippers that were kept here for this purpose.

The martial arts master bowed, straightened and started immediately with a strike at Mr Bodie and a kick at Mr Doyle. He put them through their paces searching for lazy or haphazard responses. He received none.

Over the head, across the back, with hand and with sticks, he tested the men and found them sharp and methodical in their combined co-operative fighting style. The sensei stepped back off the mat to signal the end of the bout.

"You are adequate." His slight upturned lip could be construed as a smile. "I believe we should work with unconventional weapons." His movement made them aware of a table laden with potential weapons.

Mr Bodie saw his swing-gear knife, kendo staff, luminiferous aether tubes, a retractable rope, and multiple daggers.

"Many things that we carry about our person can be transformed into something dangerous," Sensei Sachio said as he walked behind the table. "Now we discover possible ways to improvise."

----------------------

A very hot bath was waiting for each man. The rising steam was extremely inviting and they sunk into the hot water with appreciative thanks. Away from their flat they were always on professional behaviour, but never let it be said that Mr Bodie didn't take every available moment to admire his partner's physique. And naked he was quite glorious.

Mr Bodie ignored his cock's reaction to his more than lascivious thoughts. Proper or not, they certainly did not curtail his appreciation of the view. Curves and angles that held power were far more erotic for him than the rounder curves of most females.

Next stop upon donning fresh clothes was the laboratory, including a visit to the inventors. Sensei Sachio had some inventive ideas for modifications.

They left the pair of inventors with the new designs for some augmenting some of their existing weapons. They exited the building with a meal in mind. Mr Doyle stopped his partner with an arm across the chest mid-street and then pointed wordlessly to the pub entrance.

Messrs Lucas and McCabe, from the Canterbury adventure, were now inside the pub. Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle looked at each other and found they both wore the same mischievous expressions. They quickened their step as they beelined for the establishment. They stepped inside, adjusted to the darker interior, and looked about, surprised at who now seemed to be absent.

"They must have ducked out," Mr Doyle commented as he finished searching the back area.

"We could hunt them down, but after we eat, I'm famished." Mr Bodie patted his stomach with a pout on his face.

Me Doyle laughed. "You are always famished."

Mr Bodie headed to the counter to place an order as Mr Doyle found an open table. Mr Bodie turned with two ales in hand only to bump into the very men they had been seeking.

"Looking for someone?" Mr Lucas asked with smile.

"Fancy meeting you here," Mr Bodie answered. "Please join our table." He walked to the table where Mr Doyle sat and said to the raised-brow expression that his partner wore, "I've collected a couple of strays, can we keep them?"

"I can't keep you fed, let alone two more mouths," Mr Doyle replied with a serious expression.

Mr Bodie turned immediately and said to the men behind him, "Sorry lads, won't share the meagre portions that he doles out." He put the glasses down and shrugged with regret.

Mr Doyle stood up and extended his hand. "So glad you two made it here. Sit down, join us." He turned to Mr Bodie. "Don't worry, they'll get their own food."

Mr Bodie smacked Mr Doyle across the shoulder. He sat beside him and he pushed a couple of chairs with his foot so the other men could sit.

Mr Lucas sat, Mr McCabe went to order food.

"Tell us about Mr Cowley."

Mr Bodie leaned forward and answered. "Why he's a mentah that protects the Queen, Londinioum, and all of Britianna."

------

An hour later, Mr Doyle led the two who were sure to become the newest protectors into the antiquities warehouse.

Mr Bodie knocked on the Mentah's door as he leaned into the room. "The men from Canterbury have arrived, sir."

"Mr Doyle's recruits." Mr Cowley nodded. "Send them in." Mr Cowley had two seats ready for them.

The two men entered and Mr Bodie made sure the door closed behind them. Mr Lucas sat in the chair furthest from the door, but turned the chair at an angle to keep his eye on the door all the while. Mr McCabe sat in the other vacant chair and pulled it closer to the desk. He leaned forward ready to listen.

"I have heard about the aid you rendered my men for no other reason than that you are concerned for the welfare of others. That happens to be the very quality I look for." Mr Cowley opened with what he knew rather than platitudes of civility.

"For what reason?" Mr Lucas asked simply.

"I wish to employ you, if you are so minded," Mr Cowley stated baldly.

"Doing what exactly?" Mr McCabe asked.

"Saving London and the Queen, of course." The tone was one of a foregone conclusion.

You don't know us," Mr Lucas said, confused by his certainty.

"I know the ilk of your kind of men. It's what drove you to help my men in Canterbury, it's what brought you here. You are men of honour with a need to serve. Here, you will do just that." Mr Cowley sat back and watched the two men closely.

They shared a look that said the man was right. "We are so minded," Mr Lucas answered for both.

"Excellent. First, the usual business when obtaining employment. Your pay will be issued weekly. Vital expenditures will be turned in monthly. Second, I also have a building of individual living quarters. You will each have your own flat. Spring Gardens, Building Seventeen. Your recruiters will show you men where it's located. And third, you each will receive specialised training, just as Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle have. You will be provided with more than standard weapons as well."

"Thank you, sir." Was said at the same time. The men stood as Mr Cowley stood, and shook hands with their new employer. Both men appeared gobsmacked and bewildered, as indeed they were.

Mr Cowley said, "You men will make worthy additions to this group."

The newly recruited Messrs Lucas and McCabe looked quite pleased as well.

-----------

 

Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle arranged with Lieutenant Crane for a pick up time for Messrs Lucas and McCabe. once they'd been properly outfitted and their weapons case filled. Mr Bodie knew the two men didn't have much in the way of possessions as they had just travelled up from Kent, but he was sure they would be pleased with the accommodations, and accoutrements.

Mr Bodie chuckled to himself as they headed to the laboratory. The Mentah would have to acquire additional accommodations if he was planning on collecting more of his Inscrutables.

They removed their frock coats as they entered the considerably warmer laboratory. They wanted to ready their ship for the nocturnal journey. Sensei Sachio had put a creative idea into their heads. How beneficial it would be to possess weapons that could be used for other than their conventional purposes. The partners decided they could start with the airship.

"Murph!" Mr Bodie yelled out as he stepped onto the moving walkway. The gears glided smoothly over one another effortlessly, the sounds were dampened by the sleek uniform wood coverings.

"Here." Mr Murphy popped up from behind a huge table filled with the plans that Mr Doyle had procured from Derby.

"Figure out what they do?" Mr Doyle asked as he perused the designs covering the entire tabletop. He bounced his finger back and forth between the sheets of paper.

"Not exactly, but they appear to be a full-body armament in the shape of an exceptionally large man." Mr Murphy aligned the sheets and drew an outline in the air above the plans. "Shoulder and chest plates along with leg and feet plates as well."

"A Trojan horse of sorts?" Mr Bodie proposed as he looked them over yet again.

"Your guess is as good as mine at this point, old friend," Mr Murphy answered as he continued to study the designs intently.

"Murph, before you get distracted again, can we talk airship weapons?" Mr Bodie asked seriously.

"What more do you want? It's been less than two hours." Mr Murphy looked up as he switched mental gears and was curious anew.

"Augmenting weapons for the airship. Possibly drop smoke bombs, or liquid fire?" Mr Doyle asked, thinking along the same lines as Mr Bodie.

"Splendid idea." Mr Murphy beamed with pleasure at being able to create something new. "Let's take a look."

Mr Bodie held back as Mr Doyle joined the inventor as they made for the airship bay. He wanted to study the plans as a whole. He didn't accept that this was just outside armament. The weight must be immense and such as no horse was capable of carrying, person or not inside. He committed the plans to memory before he descended the stairs to the airship bay.

Mr Doyle was the weapons man of their ship, and he worked with Mr Murphy to enable the bomb dispensers to now drop liquid fire, glue or smoke. Mr Doyle turned with exuberance to his partner. "Bodie, with your piloting skills we can drop what we want where we want it."

Mr Bodie grinned broadly in reaction to his partner's delight.

"I'll augment the other ship as well," Mr Murphy volunteered. "Mr Anson is developing into a pretty good pilot."

"Where are you practising?" Mr Doyle asked as he looked about at the crowded interior.

"Oh, forgot to mention that Mr Cowley had Brian purchase the warehouses adjacent to this one on the south side and the one directly across from this building. So we've been practising in the one next to us," Mr Murphy explained excitedly. "He plans to install an underground walkway to all the buildings. Doesn't want outsiders to realise we use them all."

"Crafty old bastard," Mr Bodie commented admiringly.

"Not so much of the old, laddie," Mr Cowley said as he came upon them silently.

"Yes, sir. Meant it as a compliment, sir," Mr Bodie said as if he were a caught-out schoolboy.

Mr Cowley waved the comment away. "The young Master Jax is pacing outside. He has a missive for you and will only give it to you." Mr Cowley's voice held both irritation and admiration.

Mr Bodie could see the Mentah was amused and impressed by the young man's steadfastness to his mission.

"Thank you, sir. I'll go see what he wants." Mr Bodie stepped onto the moving walkway, but not alone as Mr Doyle joined him.

"Silent and deadly he can be," Mr Doyle said as he nudged his partner. His head indicated the man they'd left behind.

"We'd best not forget it," Mr Bodie agreed.

Outside, the youngest of Mr Jax's sons, Arthur, waited impatiently, kicking at the dirt and watching the rocks fly. He ran straight at Mr Bodie as soon as he emerged from the building.

"The man with the floating house said I was to only give this to you, Mr Bodie," young Arthur Jax said in one breath.

Mr Bodie accepted the note from the exuberant lad and exchanged several coins for it. "Thank you, Arthur. Good job," Mr Bodie added.

The lad beamed. "Mum says I help with important work."

"Indeed you do," Mr Bodie called after him in agreement. He looked down at the paper and read it aloud for Mr Doyle. "Large product. Low price."

Mr Doyle shook his head affably. "Your mate likes his code, doesn't he?" Mr Doyle replied as he waited for translation.

"He has a lot of information, and he wants us there now." Mr Bodie pointed to the conveyance as he moved to retrieve it.

Mr Doyle loped inside to let Lieutenant Crane know they'd be back shortly to pick up their cargo of Messrs Lucas and McCabe.

 

London Bridge
Old Swan Pier

 

Mr Martell was waiting for them on the bridge overlooking his floating home. They quickened their pace to join him.

"Bodie," Mr Martell started in with no pretence of greetings as soon as they were in earshot. "You do embroil yourself in odd matters." They were completely alone on the bridge.

"My speciality!" Mr Bodie bowed. "What have you discovered? Only asked this morning?" Mr Bodie added.

Mr Martell looked at Mr Doyle standing as impatiently as his mate. He cocked his head to the side. "You really are the same as him."

Mr Doyle grinned. It was jovial, it was man-eating.

Mr Martell took a deep breath. "Well, there has been a great deal of metal pieces leaving London for Oxford, and large metal work arriving here from there, as well. Some though have been commissioned here in London and moved somewhere else. And I do mean a great deal of metalwork." Mr Martell paused before lowering his voice. "One of the blacksmiths said it felt like he was outfitting an army of very fat men."

"Well, that tallies with some information gained from another source, and some items that we've discovered ourselves," Mr Doyle said thoughtfully.

Mr Bodie nodded in agreement.

"They've been using the canal from Oxford for deliveries to the King's docks. The metal buyer seems to be the designer and he has three barns that he has supposedly connected all together. The smith has been so wrought up over what he's been asked to create his mouth runneth over." Mr Martell shrugged both shoulders, palms up in a what-do-you-do gesture.

"Marty, you have given us a lot to work with, thanks. I'm sure we are now headed to Oxford. If you get anything imperative tell the lad to give it to his father, he is trustworthy," Mr Bodie assured him.

"Like you as well, then?" Mr Martell asked seriously.

"Indeed." Mr Bodie nodded.

"Oh, probably better," Mr Doyle said good-naturedly.

Mr Bodie snapped his fingers. "Or the Mentah. Have the lad deliver there. His father may be with us. Thanks, Marty."

"Stay safe, there are not many of us around anymore." Mr Martell waved as he headed back to his barge.

 

Morris Antiquities
Thames Docks

 

Messrs Bodie and Doyle returned immediately to Mr Cowley's office to relay Mr Martell's information. Mr Cowley had all the operatives join them in his newly formed information room.

All four walls held board that could be used to create puzzle boards, tack pictures, plans, or even place messages. It was a way for information to grow and show its pattern. All the necessary supplies could be located on the tables in the corners. A round table stood in the room centre surrounded by chairs. The door had been modified by Mr Macklin to ensure privacy and protection.

The room filled up with Mr Cowley's Inscrutables. Along with Messrs Bodie and Doyle, already seated, Messrs Jax, Murphy, and Anson were followed in by the newest members, Messrs Lucas and McCabe. Mr Macklin closed the door behind him. All turned to face Mr Cowley. He had his men repeat what he'd been told.

"There is obviously more going on in Oxford that we realise, lads. You two," Mr Cowley addressed Messrs Bodie and Doyle, "will need to travel conventionally this trip, and leave immediately," dashing Mr Bodie's hope of flying the airship again.

"You will need to thoroughly check the roads for heavy cart travel and the canals. Find and track this Mr Scott." Mr Cowley waved them away. "Tempus fugit." He turned to address Mr Jax. "Mr Jax, I would like you to travel to Oxford, and work at the canal docks where the deliveries from London come in. I will send both Mr Doyle and Mr Bodie ahead. They will investigate the deliveries from Derby. You can arrange amongst yourselves where you will meet."

"Yes, sir. About Lady Walsh?" Mr Jax asked as he had been guarding her of late.

"Good, lad. Never fear." Mr Cowley turned to Mr Anson. "I need you to shadow Lady Walsh. She has a meeting with the head of staff at palace, and must attend. She is ever in danger during this threat." Mr Cowley pierced the Prussian with his stare and nodded at what he saw in his eyes.

"Major Howard will accompany me to the palace," Mr Cowley added.

Mr Macklin interrupted. "Sir, I should be with you."

"The Major is more than capable of seeing to my welfare. Brian, you and Mr Murphy have expertise that is needed here and essential to winning this battle," Mr Cowley stated earnestly. "Those metal contraptions are the key and only you two will unlock it." He turned to his newest men. "You must finish your initial assessment. Mr Macklin will finish enhancing your weapon supply with some of our unconventional weaponry. Then, please keep the Mentahs Howard and Walsh safe in this building when they return here." He nodded his head and waved the lot of them away. He studied the boards for a pattern as he waited for Major Howard.

 

Great Western Railway Station
Oxford
Oxfordshire

 

There was a lad standing on the train station platform holding a wood plank with the word Doyle on it.

Mr Doyle looked to his partner, "Must be a message from Mr Jax." He stepped off the train and headed for the boy. "I'm Mr Doyle."

The lad handed him a paper he pulled from dirty pockets. Mr Doyle dropped several coins into the lad's grubby hand. "Thank you."

Mr Bodie waited for his partner to open and read the note. "What's it say?"

"We're to meet at the Under-the-Bridge Pub." Mr Doyle held the note for Mr Bodie to see but he didn't even bother looking.

Mr Doyle hired a carriage while Mr Bodie carried their bags. Mr Doyle did hold the door open for his partner after he elected to keep his luggage with him. Mr Bodie's satchel was full of weapons, as was Mr Doyle's. Didn't seem prudent to leave those up top, ripe for exposure, so it was easier to act the eccentric and wish to keep all bags close by.

Mr Bodie had suggested that they head straight to Derby, but Mr Doyle was insistent that they go to Oxford first as Mr Cowley ordered. Mr Bodie surmised that his partner just wanted to avoid family; not always a bad idea.

The carriage dropped them off on the street across from the pub. Mr Bodie lifted the bags out and dropped Mr Doyle's at his feet. Mr Doyle picked his bag up without a word.

Mr Jax sat at a window table and waved the men in. He had arrived a scant two hours before them and he had already secured a position of employment working on the canal locks of the Upper Fisher Row.

Mr Bodie sat as Mr Doyle fetched them all a drink.

"I have yet to be spot our elusive Mr Scott." Mr Jax seemed apologetic.

"It's only two hours. I think you should at least be patient till this evening." Mr Bodie smiled, hoping Mr Doyle's mate knew he was teasing.

"I would prefer that he walk in here and present himself, but alas, I dream." Mr Jax may have had a twinkle in his eye.

Mr Doyle placed the glasses on the table and pushed Mr Bodie to make room. "Doesn't appear to be anyone showing undue interest in us." Mr Doyle lowered his voice.

"I think we are quite interesting," Mr Bodie remarked.

"I think that is more suspicious. Have you looked at him?" Mr Jax pointed to Mr Bodie. "He looks very interesting and suspicious." Mr Jax smiled into his drink.

Mr Doyle looked to his old mate. "I leave you alone with him but a few minutes and he has corrupted you already."

"I am that good." Mr Bodie bowed his head.

"Leave off. Dim-witted louse." Mr Doyle chuckled.

"I think since you have this area under surveillance up close, we should go to Derby and follow the path to here. May find some other stops or people involved. With what, I don't know but we may find out something." Mr Bodie looked to both men.

"Sounds logical. Until we spot something that fits we are rather guessing what is involved," Mr Jax admitted.

"I did leave you alone with Mr Bodie too long, Derby it is." Mr Doyle shrugged and finished his drink.

 

Great Western Railway
Oxford en route to Derby

 

As the train neared the station, the men changed their gentlemen's dress to all-front trousers and fundamental work shirts. They carried their cutaway coats over their arms in case they needed to act at a higher station. Still, both men made sure they were adequately tooled up. They walked to the opposite side of the All Saints square, bypassing the church and anyone they might recognise altogether.

They started near the smith's shop, which was still closed, and searched for the cart marks that were sure to still be visible if they truly had carried such a heavy load. It wasn't too far from the market place that Mr Doyle noticed a deep groove rut on a direct path to the canals. Mr Martell's information had been correct once more, and not really a surprise.

The ruts were uneven and the grass badly smashed which made it easier to retrace the path taken by Scott or his underlings. They reached the canal itself in short order. They were just above a lock that was not currently in use. It was a simple two-side and the water was still full on the north side. Neither man wanted to venture down to read the schedules, fear that they could be recognised paramount in their minds.

Railway tracks ran along side the canal on the opposite bank. Scattered trees blocked the views of the fields and few houses further out. Two canal boats were up river, anchored and with planks connecting them to the shore.

But according to Mr Bodie, "There is nothing to see or do."

"You should know that's what a watch and follow is all about." Mr Doyle was checking the boats up river with his spyglass.

"I could think of something to do," Mr Bodie suggested.

Mr Doyle whipped around quickly. "Never in public."

"I said think!" Mr Bodie clarified. He knew his lover was right. "So, we set up surveillance."

"We set up surveillance." Mr Doyle sighed. "We will need supplies."

"Allow me to procure what we will need." Mr Bodie bowed at the waist, both arms extended on the left.

"Fetch and carry for me." Mr Doyle waved him away.

Mr Bodie placed his leather headgear on first then followed it with his goggles secured on top. Then he touched two fingers to his imaginary hat brim as he walked away.

--------

Travelling out of sight of the main road, Mr Bodie returned with two horses outfitted with bedrolls, and cargo bags filled with food for the two- and four-footed. Two canteens apiece were hanging over the cargo bags.

"We have the illuminate sticks, and the luminous light. Those canal boats don't travel much faster than a horse's walk. We know the route so one of us can ride for more supplies if necessary and I got the tea you liked." Mr Bodie ended with the purchase he thought was the most important. He picked off the bit of leaves and sticks that had landed on his clothes as he entered their hideaway through the overhanging trees.

"You have been busy." Mr Doyle's soft smile was for his partner's thoughtfulness.

"I telegraphed the old man," Mr Bodie announced unexpectedly. "Told him Auntie was sick and we would tend to her. Didn't wait for an answer."

"He'll love that." Mr Doyle shook his head. "We're on our own. Can't send for back-up."

"Told you we should use pigeons," Mr Bodie said blithely. He held his hands up, "I know, I know, I deal with the pigeon poop," he said to forestall the automatic rejoinder that Mr Doyle's mouth had already opened to utter.

Mr Doyle settled for rolling his eyes.

-------

Luck was on their side, just a few hours into their surveillance, and just when Mr Bodie was sure he would die of boredom, they heard the creaking of a laden cart moving towards them. They pulled back out of view and waited under the same trees as their horses.

Mr Doyle retrieved his spyglass from his saddle hook and extended it to its fullest. He aimed it at the pathway and moved it along the path backwards. He encountered two men pushing an obviously heavy cart. Their heads, shoulders, and hands were near even with each other as they pushed the cart from behind, grunting with each step.

Mr Doyle passed the spyglass to Mr Bodie who spent more time trying to see what the tarp flap exposed each time the wheel came out of a rut than their faces.

"Shiny metal," Mr Bodie confirmed as he kept his eye peeled.

"Neither one is the Scott fellow."

"Figured as much," Mr Bodie said as he passed the spyglass back to Mr Doyle. "You'd have been more excited when you first spotted 'em."

The inscrutable men went silent as the cart drew near. It came, it passed, the men huffing and puffing with each step. Mr Doyle kept his eye on the moving cart as Mr Bodie kept a general watch.

They followed far enough behind that they couldn't be seen. They trod lightly across the grass and dirt, mindful to remain unnoticed. They elected to stay silent even though both were quite sure that the cart hauliers were too preoccupied with just moving it along to be concerned with what was around them.

The men left the cart at the canal edge as they walked a bit further up river where they had a canal boat moored and a horse in waiting. They spent the better part of the next hour loading several pieces of large, formed metal into the canal boat. The weight of their cargo snapped two gangplanks in half. The men had more on hand and must have had the problem before. Once complete, the men began the long journey to Oxford. One man stayed on the deck and the other led the horse that pulled the barge.

A horse could pull a river barge weighing one hundred tons with relative ease. The hauliers must have kept the cargo within that perimeter to make the horse travel at an even pace. They changed out for a fresh horse at each lock passage. There were eleven alone on the Trent and Mersey section of the canal.

Messrs Bodie and Doyle knew they didn't need to change up their horses, as they didn't face the same gruelling demands. They did maintain a slower pace and kept a fair distance back. The clever craftsmanship of their spyglass made their being closer and possibly detected unnecessary. They watched in silent monotony, both concerned that their voices would carry over water even if they were a fair bit from their quarry.

Mr Doyle signalled Mr Bodie along with a wave. He held the drawing paper up so Mr Bodie could see it clearly. Mr Bodie nodded his understanding. Mr Doyle wanted to get down the faces of the transporters.

Mr Doyle waited for the barge to travel down the river and navigate the sharp bend before he took out his drawing supplies. Meanwhile he pulled out a chunk of bread and broke it into pieces. He ate the smaller bits as he waited for the plodding labourers to move from view.

Mr Bodie sat upon his horse very still as he watch his partner break a bit of bread off and he followed its journey to the very mouth that gave him such outstanding pleasure. He shifted in his saddle and pouted instead of allowing his imagination to disgrace him in public.

Mr Doyle chose to interpret the pout as hunger, and tossed a chunk of crust to Mr Bodie. He caught it skilfully and bit off a mouthful. Through his munching he gave Mr Doyle a smile.

Mr Bodie moved his boot against the horse's flank to let it know he wanted to move forward as slowly as they were able. Mr Bodie found his horse was as spiritless as he was. He patted the horse's neck in empathy. In the short time that he had partnered with Mr Doyle, it had been that very voice that had removed most of the tedium of the job, so the loss of it, even temporarily, was devastating.

Mr Bodie's meandering thoughts did nothing to dim his awareness of what was about him, including the return of his partner. Mr Doyle pulled his mount up close to Mr Bodie and handed him a copy of the likeness of the two men. They approached the next lock with the same diligence as the last.

Mr Bodie wanted to scream, but he settled for a dramatic but silent sigh.

 

Six hours later, the transporters were forced to stop for the night. The wait to pass through the lock wouldn't resume until daybreak. They were fourth in the queue and no amount of bribing seemed to alter the outcome. The men moored on the left side, well within sight of Mr Doyle's spyglass. He signalled Mr Bodie that he would take the first four-hour watch.

Mr Bodie nodded and set up his bedroll atop a drop cloth. He removed his saddle and placed it at one end. He combed his horse, moved him close to the water, and set food close to where he was tethered. He did the same for Mr Doyle's horse. He returned to his bedroll on a path that would bring him close to his partner. He paused next to him, brushed his hair gently and smiled before he settled in for a kip.

 

Mr Bodie, no longer on watch, relaxed a bit as he sat with his back on the saddle, bent his head to place his chin on his chest and fall asleep. Immediately! Or that was the way it seemed to Mr Doyle, who was surprised, impressed, and a little miffed all at the same time. He couldn't help but admire the ability, but he would have liked to have had the silent company. He knew realistically that they needed to be on twenty-four-hour eyeball patrol, but he found it was indeed lonely this way. The big oaf was conked out.

Mr Doyle held the illuminate close to his paper. He'd rather have light to watch his drawing emerge than view the model. He knew the model so well in his mind's eye that it wasn't even necessary to have him on hand. Of course, he chided himself, his model was sound asleep beside him. Mr Doyle resisted the impulse to make noise, even though his fingers wanted so badly to smack him somewhere on his body. He forced them to draw instead. He finished the project faster than most. He studied his work, picked at it, and decided to add a bit more to his posture.

After he placed the last touches to his drawing, Mr Doyle returned it carefully into his inner pocket. Then he replaced his supplies with care in his satchel. These were items that he carried with him most of the time now. He pulled out his goggles, the ones with the enhanced long-range vision for use at night. He clicked the appropriate lens and settled in to duty.

 

The sound of light footfalls creeping closer was lost in the wind to Mr Doyle's hearing, still focused on watching their quarry intently, but they were very noticeable to Mr Bodie, who had awakened when the air about them altered. He felt a peril approaching and tracked the miscreant with his senses wide open without moving a muscle. As the slopsucker's entry was thoroughly furtive, Mr Bodie knew the intent was neither peaceful nor friendly, just nefarious. Once the man was close enough to do his partner harm, Mr Bodie withdrew his laser pistol and aimed centre chest at his target.

A man in clothes too big for his frame dropped his long knife as he fell to the ground dead. Mr Doyle whipped around as the weapon clattered against a rock, his own laser pistol extended. After he witnessed the collapse of his would-be attacker, he looked to his partner and saw he had his gun extended as well.

Mr Doyle stared intently into the eyes of his partner. He held the blue stare longer than usual, willing the fear to fade, before he nodded his head. "Thanks."

Mr Bodie paused a few seconds longer before metaphorically shaking off the dread and fear. "It's quite disappointing that manky knobbers can be found anywhere." The voice was filled with relief.

"Is he with that crowd?" Mr Doyle asked as his head bobbed in the direction of the canal.

Mr Bodie moved over to the dead man and toed him over carefully. "His clothes don't match his body, I'm guessing, but I think he rolls travellers and steals their belongings."

"A common thief." Mr Doyle turned back to his job at hand.

"Not so common if he kills the mark." Mr Bodie bent and grabbed the corpse under the shoulders. He dragged it to the water's edge and dropped him into the canal. "Rubbish placed properly," he whispered.

"Your mum taught you well," Mr Doyle rejoined softly.

Mr Bodie shrugged. He pointed to the night goggles. "My turn."

Mr Doyle didn't argue.

 

Next morning, with ablutions complete, Messrs Bodie and Doyle eagerly awaited the resuming of the journey, greyhounds straining at the leash.

Three locks later the inscrutable trackers looked forward to the long stretch between Coventry and Rugby. It was straighter than most of the canal journey, and allowed the men they followed to make better time. In addition, the dense foliage along the banks made it easy for Mr Doyle and Mr Bodie to follow even more unobtrusively.

South of Rugby, the canal passed through rural scenery and doubled back on itself for several miles until it headed southwards again. They passed a silent and uneventful day and both were quite pleased that the morrow would be their last full day on this doldrums of an odyssey. The night was just a repeat of the day, and equally exciting.

The last leg of the seemingly endless journey was through the Banbury canal. It had a remarkable number of moorings on both sides of the canal which make it exceedingly difficult to guess which side the cargo boat would anchor. Mr Doyle signalled that he would cross with the lock bridge and ride along on the other side until they established where they would stop for the night. The men had been able to travel well after dark the night past as the lack of locks meant there had been no one to regulate them.

They choose Mr Bodie's side and Mr Doyle took a longer, slower route back to join him. He knew that Mr Bodie was experiencing bouts of boredom, and he was no different. He continued to ponder the drawing and not being of the inventor mindset was to his disadvantage. He knew it meant trouble for all of Londinium, but exactly how remained a mystery to him. Mr Bodie had explained his thoughts of armoured men too large and heavy to ride before they started this infernal journey. Unfortunately, he had not been able to indulge in speaking his thoughts aloud to his partner, which, for some reason, helped them both to put oddities into perspective.

Mr Doyle signalled his partner with a low whistle that he was approaching. Otherwise he would find the red light dead centre, tracking his every move.

Mr Bodie relaxed and smiled as Mr Doyle came into view. He waited until he drew close then indicated his bedroll and left Mr Doyle to continue the watch.

Mr Doyle complied with a silent sigh.

 

The morning dawned and both were quite elated that this would be the last day of silence, tracking boring men, and sleeping on the hard ground. Mr Bodie would have a lot to say about the lack of food, but he couldn't grumble too much as Mr Doyle had provided a delightful digestive each evening.

The Banbury canal gave way to the Oxford canal. Mr Cowley's men knew they had to play leapfrog now. This area was crowded with people at work, on holiday, or just visiting. They split up at the canal fork. Mr Bodie went ahead while Mr Doyle kept the canal boat in sight.

At Oxford, the canal had two connections to the River Thames. The first was three miles north of the city where Duke's Cut led to King's Lock; the second just a few hundred yards from the city centre by the Oxford railway station. Once it became evident that the second option was the intended destination Mr Bodie rejoined his partner. They would no longer stand out if they were close.

They pulled into the Oxford mooring in the late afternoon. Messrs Bodie and Doyle nudged their horses into the first canter of the journey. They wanted to be on hand when this particular canal boat docked. They slowed the gait and walked the remainder of the distance. That Mr Jax was on the dock as well was not all that surprising. He had been following the other side of this transaction and must have gained success in locating the elusive Mr Scott.

Mr Bodie rode to the front, acting as though he were searching out his cargo from the multitude of boats already moored. Mr Doyle made his way around to gain Mr Jax's attention.

Mr Jax moved his horse close to the watering trough and made it obvious that he had to wait for his cargo to finish docking. Mr Doyle brought his horse to the same trough.

"Been working the route on the Thames from Oxford to London through Reading and back again. Your men are not the only transporters. Mr Scott has other blacksmiths doing his bidding. I am here to receive whatever was on that canal boat from Derby." Mr Jax said without turning his head to face Mr Doyle. "He never receives the cargo himself," he added as he straightened his horse's bridle.

"So you do know the London destination?" Mr Doyle said, covering his mouth as if coughing.

"All I know for certain is Mr Scott is situated near the Bodleian Library," Mr Jax clarified before he returned to await his cargo.

 

Bodleian Library
Oxford University
Oxford, Oxfordshire

 

The English Gothic architecture was evident in the pointed arches, vaulted roofs, buttresses, large windows, and spires. But for Mr Bodie it was the feeling of academia that prevailed over the buildings. Great scholars of the past had walked the floors in search of knowledge. He knew that there were an estimated two hundred twenty thousand books and some twenty-one thousand manuscripts in the library’s collection. The Bodleian also housed pictures, sculptures, coins and medals, and ‘curiosities’ that he knew included a stuffed crocodile from Jamaica, the land of pirate kings. It was the stuff of which dreams were created, and Mr Bodie dreamed of being allowed time to wander the rows of shelves filled with books from all over the world. Some books and scrolls were older than one could grasp, and some from countries that no longer exist.

He was so close, yet so far.

"We can find a creative way into the Radcliffe Camera and have a more than adequate view of the Bodleian Library and surrounding area." Mr Bodie said aloud. His partner didn't need a recitation of the library's contents, he'd already heard it before.

"Camera? It was library the last time you spoke of it," Mr Doyle deadpanned.

" It must be so easy to sleep without all those thoughts cluttering your mind. Remember, last month, the Radcliffe Library was taken over by the Bodleian and renamed the Camera, meaning room in Latin." Mr Bodie fell into the trap before he could stop himself. "You knew that, you ratbag!"

Mr Doyle smiled indulgently. "Feel better?"

"No, but I'll send you the bill anyway!" Mr Bodie replied, no trace of a sting in his voice.

They approached the circular building with purpose, as though they had done it a million times. The few people about never questioned their right to be there. They slipped around the back to the outside stairway.

The narrow steps, barely able to accommodate their feet, were a remnant left over from the original building of seventeen forty-nine. Goat-like, both men ascended easily. They stepped with care as they moved around the rooftop walkway that afforded a magnificent view of the entire university.

The cupola itself provided an adequate lookout for their purpose. As the Radcliffe Camera building itself was south of the Bodleian, they situated themselves on the north side of the circular walk. They shimmied up a leaning balustrade onto a thinner railing, and squatted down out of sight. They placed their goggles on over the leather head caps and tracked the body heat signatures.

The sound of a heavy cart moving along the footpaths more than gave away the position of their quarry. Mr Doyle removed his spyglass and found their canal boat transporters pushing the heavy cart much the same way they had in Derby. They tracked the progress as the cart moved along High Street onto Market Street. They drew closer to the Bodleian site when they completely disappeared after a few steps seemingly into nowhere.

Messrs Bodie and Doyle raced down the narrow steps. Mr Doyle descended the way they'd come sprinting all the way. Mr Bodie pulled his retractable rope from his frock coat and shot it across the quadrangle into a tree. He secured his end of the tool, pulled the goggles over his eyes and used his leather cap to slide down the rope. He jumped to the ground and raced to the place they had lost sight of the pair of men and cart.

Mr Doyle joined him as he came across Market Street following the cart divots in the dirt. They disappeared when the earth became gravel and pebbles. No obvious entryway, no building to hide within, save the library itself. They would have seen that entry.

They moved back into the shadows of the building created by the waning sunlight, far enough away from the road not to be easily noted. They had not yet the time to discuss their perplexing predicament when a pavement stone next to the library was pushed up and placed aside before two men of dubious character emerged. They were not the same two men who delivered the cart. They seemed to move with nefarious purpose, and as the answer as to how the cart could enter so small a stairwell was not forthcoming, they decided to follow the men.

The immediate problem was that the men they were to follow were relativity the same height and had the same hair colour, which made them difficult to tell apart.

With that in mind, Mr Doyle tapped his partner on the arm, and pointed to the man closer to them. "See, that one has a scar on his face near the left ear."

"Our own Irish rabble-rouser." Mr Bodie smiled, trying hard not to laugh.

"Come on, your turn." Mr Doyle goaded.

Mr Bodie studied the pair intently. "Well, the other man has definitely had military experience. Look at the way he walks. That's from training."

They stopped by the entrance and waited until their quarries had put some distance between them.

"Their manner of dress is more than just lackeys, but they are far from upstanding gentlemen."

"Takes one to know one," Mr Doyle commented to the sky.

"Which do you liken me to?" Mr Bodie asked airily.

"Your choice." Mr Doyle ducked the half-hearted blow that his partner threw. "Okay now." Mr Doyle pushed him along. "Come on."

They were headed to the train station. They watched as the two men stopped at a street vendor and picked up a parcel without paying for it.

"It's the size of a pistol," Mr Bodie commented as he turned his head closer to his partner.

"I concur," Mr Doyle agreed.

"Assassination? Murder for hire?" Mr Bodie guessed.

"What's the difference?"

"Intent."

They followed as their quarries meandered through the vendor stalls onto the railway platform, purchased tickets for London and moved to stand in the far corner of the platform.

Mr Bodie approached the same ticket window alone and paid for two tickets to London as well. He returned to his partner, who now was standing out of the direct line of sight of the malefactors. Mr Bodie passed Mr Doyle a ticket as he moved himself where he could keep an eye on both men. He watched whom they watched and anyone who earned their interest.

They had but twenty minutes to wait for the train and nothing of interest happened. That did not deter the two inscrutable men from continuing their intent observations. These malefactors meant certain peril for some poor wretch and Messrs Bodie and Doyle intended to prevent that from occurring, and that demanded they remain alert.

The whistle announced the train's arrival. The passengers swarmed the already crowded platform filled with people there to greet the off-loading travellers, and well wishers for those London bound. Every one of them was potentially a target and the two inscrutable men recognised no one.

Mr Doyle moved around to place himself behind their quarry, while Mr Bodie remained the same distance from them even as the culprits approached the train to board. The two men did not try to separate, but worked to stay close together.

Mr Bodie jumped up onto the train first and skilfully situated himself to watch for their quarry's entrance. The malefactors had no luggage to stow and were seemingly headed for the dining car, but they stopped just short of the first-class carriage. The scar-faced man walked slowly along the corridor and looked into various compartments while the other man passed by to cross the gangway connection through the next vestibuled door to do the same. They worked their way through to end up just inside the dining car. They appeared to be searching the passengers, not for oddities but for a particular face.

Mr Doyle entered considerably behind the men and moved directly to the dining car without even looking at his partner. Mr Bodie remained where he was.

The whistle blew once more, signalling the train's imminent departure. The last of the luggage was stowed, ticket inspection was underway and the train began pulling away from the station. The journey was just under two hours including two stops where new targets could board and find their lives in danger.

The trip was not relaxing for Messrs Bodie and Doyle, but one would never know from looking at their posture. It would claim just the opposite. Mr Bodie never sat, acting as an excited restless passenger to allow him to move closer to the scar-faced man.

One hour into the journey, the scar-faced man moved. He passed through the dining car and back into the first class carriages. Mr Doyle followed him as Mr Bodie stopped to keep an eye on the military man who remained where he was in the dining car.

Mr Doyle, while keeping an eye on the progress of the scar-faced man also checked the face of each of the passengers in the various compartments to see if he recognised any one famous or important. Some of the first class passengers might have boarded through a different section. Mr Doyle's eyes rapidly searched back and forth between the passengers and the suspected assassin.

The scar-faced man stopped his forward progress, pulled the parcel from his coat pocket and ripped off the paper. It contained a pistol just as they had guessed.

Mr Doyle yelled, "BODIE!"

The assassin jerked at the shout but didn't waver from his mission. He aimed the gun at an older gentleman whose eyes were open wide in fear.

Mr Doyle had his laser pistol out and fired accurately before the scar-faced assassin could finish pulling the trigger.

The older gentleman stood and checked the car. People whispered amongst themselves but no one interfered. He turned to Mr Doyle. "I imagine you are one of Cowley's men," he said complacently with the aplomb of a man in the know. "Thank you, thank George." He stuck his hand out. "I'm Mr Pymar."

"You're most welcome." Mr Doyle nodded, and neither confirmed or denied the man's statement as he returned the handshake.

Mr Doyle was only partially focussed on Mr Pymar as he fully expected Mr Bodie or the other assassin to burst into the fracas. Neither had appeared. Mr Doyle admitted to himself that this was worrisome and needed to search them out.

Mr Doyle leaned into Mr Pymar, "Have his body taken to the luggage carriage. We'll take care of him from there." He retraced his route in search of his partner.

 

Upon hearing the cry of BODIE, the man Mr Bodie had been watching turned and made for the exit. Mr Bodie wanted to go to the aid of his partner but he knew that he was more than capable of controlling his situation. His job was to pursue this culprit and he was fast in his wake. Instead of rendering aid to the scar-faced man, his runner headed up to the roof of the first-class carriages.

Mr Bodie followed. He climbed the thin metal steps to the top and looked both ways to determine which way the man had gone. He seemed to be moving in the direction of the engine along the top of the front carriages. Mr Bodie took but a moment to secure the magnetic strips that Murphy had made for his boots before he pulled himself up on top. He made more noise than he would have liked but as the wind noise was deafening coupled with the actual train wheels squealing on the tracks he didn't really stand out.

The assassin noticed him and turned back to intercept him. Mr Bodie hadn't been wrong in guessing that he was army trained. He attacked just as Mr Bodie had been taught. The grappled each other, neither wanting to fall overboard. They fought hard, landing kicks and punches when able. Mr Bodie brought his knees up and kicked the man mid-body with both his feet. The magnets added their own danger as they were sharp and sliced the man across his chest. He scrambled away, clutching his mid-section, trying to stand.

Mr Bodie rolled onto his side and pulled his ankle laser pistol out of his boot and fired at the oncoming marauder. The man fell where he stood. Mr Bodie pushed himself up onto his knees and was hit hard from behind by a railway sign-bar. He fell flat onto his face and rolled over the edge. His velocity was stalled a moment by the magnetic strips holding fast to the roof, but his body's momentum ripped him out of his boots and carried him over. Throwing his right arm up he caught a top metal bar with his fingers, and held on for dear life.

Mr Bodie had a precarious purchase and knew he didn't have the strength to pull himself back up to the roof. Likewise, he didn't have the strength to make it to the station. He looked downward to see if luck was with him and there would be a patch of water below. No luck, no water. He forced himself to be still but his fingers were tiring. He wouldn't let go willingly but he knew that soon he wouldn't have the choice.

Mr Bodie looked down, then closed his eyes. He took a deep breath as he thought of the one he loved most, when he heard a cry of "BODIE" above, and felt a hand grasp his arm tightly.

He looked up into the worried eyes of his beloved partner. All would be well now.

Mr Doyle heaved and pulled Mr Bodie back up on top. Mr Doyle fell back as Mr Bodie tumbled on top of him.

"Here I was worried about you, and you were just hanging around," Mr Doyle said playfully, words not matching the look in his eyes, or the hands that checked him over.

Mr Bodie wrestled with Mr Doyle gently, wishing he could just hug the stuffing out of him. He rolled off instead. He sat and replaced the boots that had been stuck to the top of the train.

Together, they dragged the dead man off the top and lifted him down. They carried him between them as though he was inebriated all the way to the luggage carriage. The placed him next to the scar-faced man, deceased as well. They searched the pockets and all they could find was the torn paper that had been used to wrap the parcel. At least it had a name. Charles Scott.

 

London
Morris Antiquities
Thames docks
Information room

 

At the London station, Mr Pymar had the two dead bodies dealt with and assured Messrs Bodie and Doyle that he would report it to Mr Cowley, himself.

They hired a carriage and requested best speed to the docks.

At the warehouse, all but Mr Jax seemed to be assembled in the information room awaiting them. How Mr Cowley knew to have them all there baffled them but they waved it away.

Messrs Bodie and Doyle imparted everything they had learned since the journey to Oxford. The name Charles Scott meant nothing to anyone in the group. All they had truly gained was that Mr Cowley's belief in the peril was confirmed.

"Messrs Bodie and Doyle will return to Oxford." Mr Cowley pinned the two men with a stare. "Find the location of the metal deliveries, and find out how the Bodleian Library fits into this madman's plans." He turned to Mr Anson. "Take Messrs Lucas and McCabe and meet Mr Jax when he docks tomorrow. Follow and apprehend whomever takes delivery." Mr Cowley took off his glasses and wiped them clean. "Brian and I will attend to Mr Pymar at the palace. Mr Murphy, make the plans available to the Mentahs." He smiled at his fellow Mentahs. "Work some magic." With those orders he waved everyone away.

The men filed out, all hurrying to their assigned tasks. Mr Cowley exited immediately with Mr Macklin by his side.

Mr Bodie followed Mr Doyle as they trekked to the armoury to replenish their supplies once again. A quick turnaround to Oxford was not Mr Bodie's favourite game plan but the situation was rapidly reaching critical point and he knew it was necessary. His stomach rumbled. He was hungry.

Mr Doyle pulled an apple and a biscuit from his pocket. "We can eat on the train," he said as he handed the food over to his partner.

Mr Bodie favoured his partner with a smile that only he ever received.

-----

Mr Murphy delivered copies of all the plans that had been discovered and placed them on the table of the information room. He headed back to his laboratory.

All left save Lady Walsh and Major Howard. They reassembled the drawings and plans onto the table to begin a re-sorting.

"Well, Major, let's see if we can work out just who is behind this," Lady Walsh said as she sat at her new desk.

Major Howard nodded as he pinned papers to the new boards.

 

Bodleian Library
Oxford University
Oxford, Oxfordshire

 

Mr Doyle stepped off the railway platform with his hand raised to catch the eye of a hansom cab driver. Mr Bodie walked backwards beside him speaking animatedly of horses while he actually scanned the crowd for anyone interesting or anyone interested in them. He discovered the latter.

"Do you see them?" Mr Bodie questioned as he turned away from the men in question.

"One exceedingly fair, about the same height and walks like the two we dispatched this morning?" Mr Doyle answered.

"You see 'em."

"Nah, just a guess." Mr Doyle gave a full smile to his partner.

They approached the cabby as he drew the carriage close. Messrs Bodie and Doyle were very specific on their directions to the driver. They climbed up inside and sat back so they weren't seen. The driver pulled out to leave at the same time as three other drivers. He switched caps immediately as requested and was handsomely paid to do. He stayed level with two other drivers and followed their same route until they were sure they were no longer being followed. Only then did the driver head to the Bodleian Library.

They entered the Bodleian Library courtyard via the Smith Gate and past the Clarendon house. That route allowed them to approach from the north, and bypass the obvious entry from the Divinity School and the impressive Tower of the Five Orders. Buildings that both Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle would love to visit came into view once again, but this wasn't the time for those dreams. Mr Doyle made a promise to himself to make sure that Mr Bodie would see it properly one day.

"Mr Scott or whoever is on alert this trip," Mr Bodie whispered as he pointed to the roofline behind him.

Mr Doyle shaded his eyes as he turn slowly to each side, seeing exactly what Mr Bodie had seen. Men lying in wait for unwanted visitors. He signalled that he would follow

They moved along the rough stone walls, and could fully see the ambush awaiting them. Mr Bodie removed his ray gun, laser pistol, and particle beam long pistol to place them in his coat for easy reach. He kept his laser rifle by his side. Mr Doyle had done the same before he hand signalled that he and his laser rifle would move to the opposite vantage point.

Mr Bodie watched him leave, not a sound did he make. He counted thirty before he inched into the quadrangle and waited in the shadows as he tracked the ambushers hiding behind the library's spiked spires. He slowed his breath to enrich his oxygen as he waited for Mr Doyle's signal of tossed pebbles to begin his run. His faith in Mr Doyle's aim and timing never doubted.

Once the pebbles lay still, Mr Bodie sprinted across the courtyard in a zigzag pattern that varied on each turn from the south entrance to the North Gate. It was as he crossed the halfway mark he had set for himself that he heard the first thump of a body collide with the pavement. It was immediately followed by a second and third thump. Mr Bodie didn't pause his feet but his brain logged that he had missed sighting that third shooter.

"Clear on this side," Mr Doyle called down in a focused whisper.

Mr Bodie halted just inside the North Gate and slowly peered around the edge to determine what was in store here. He tossed three small rocks behind him to indicate three more men lying in wait. Mr Bodie knew that his partner would skirt the perimeter of the quadrangle while he made his way around the wall to doorways, keeping to the shadows. He wanted the north east corner. He knew that Mr Doyle would enter through the west.

As if on cue, his partner made enough noise to raise the dead and attracted the attention of the three remaining ambushers. All three turned to face the opening door. Attention off his position, Mr Bodie stepped out, aimed his laser rifle, and quickly removed the number three man. The number two man was eliminated equally fast as his partner dispatched the one closest to him.

Mr Bodie smiled and tipped two fingers off the imaginary brim of his leather cap to his partner. Mr Doyle thoroughly checked the area behind him before he answered Mr Bodie's smile with one of his own.

The stood silently as they waited to see if any other vermin emerged from the cracks. After five minutes passed, and no further signs that anyone was in the area, Messrs Bodie and Doyle relaxed their hyper-vigilance and surveyed the fallen.

Mr Bodie's arm swept right to left as he pointed to all the dead. "These men have all been trained fighters." He paused a moment, "I think it's Grenadier Guard's training, actually." Mr Bodie nodded to himself.

"How can you tell that?" Mr Doyle scoffed incredulously.

"It's an infantry regiment, and a very distinctive fighting style." Mr Bodie's tone implied it was obvious.

Mr Doyle pursed his lips as he thought it out. "So, Mr Scott has recruited ex-Grenadiers. That's against all they had been trained for."

"More than likely, they must be very loyal to someone." Mr Bodie spoke with the assurance of one who'd felt such loyalty.

Together, they started an active search for the entrance that had eluded them yesterday. They retraced the pushcart's path into the quad from Market Street. Mr Doyle located the deep ruts in the dirt easily. The abrupt switch to gravel made it more difficult to track but the difference this time was the ability to stick with it and not chase anyone.

Though, after a quarter hour, Mr Bodie would have loved to chase something. A step by step search for a secret entrance was much like seeking a needle in a haystack, but the perseverance paid off when Mr Doyle kicked a rock out of frustration and an entire section of dirt below the wall opened to reveal a sinking ramp. Mr Bodie pulled out several luminiferous aether tubes and led the way down. He stopped next to the cart located at the top of a stairwell and waited for Mr Doyle to join him.

"Explains what we did see this morning, or was it yesterday? I'm not sure at the moment, but all this seems empty now." Mr Doyle grabbed one of the tubes from Mr Bodie's hand and kept going.

"By the distance travelled, we are under the Bodleian Library. If memory serves, these little rooms were useful during Bodley's time but as the library grew and expanded, few of the Bodley's ruinous little rooms had remained after the man's death. The new construction atop them had rendered them superfluous."

"Well, the few that did, Scott has obviously put them to his use. Feel this," Mr Doyle said as he placed his hand on the pipes running along the wall. "I bet this hot water piping in the floor made the space liveable, but the room still smells musty."

Mr Bodie followed the trail of rubbish bits to what must have been the main laboratory for lack of a better word. "Look here, one might say this is more than a workshop, but nothing so grand as what Mr Macklin has." Mr Bodie walked into the middle of the room and sneezed. "Musty."

They each took a side of the laboratory and searched for clues as to the end game that Mr Scott was aiming at. Mr Bodie inspected some of the metalworking left behind. It was evident that Mr Scott had vacated in a hurry and left behind any incomplete work. Mr Bodie picked up what looked similar to chest plate armour, and held it out in front of him. It looked capable of covering a horse's chest, but no human was that large. Mr Bodie also found remnants of plating that was more man sized, and was curious despite himself.

Mr Doyle searched through the written work. The original plans that he had copied while in the blacksmith's shop were scattered over the table. He flipped through the entire lot, looking for any that were different from what he had given Mr Murphy, and put them aside. After looking through all he could find, he rolled up several and slipped them inside his coat alongside his rifle.

"I think the Mentahs would like to see all this," Mr Bodie commented. His hand indicated the whole room

"Mr Cowley for certain. Mr Murphy will like the additional plans." Mr Doyle patted his coat pocket. "Shall we bring home gifts?"

"We'll set a new trend with his," Mr Bodie dead-panned as he pointed to the metalwork.

"My life's passion."

 

Morris Antiquities
Information room

 

Mr Cowley remained sitting after he ordered Messrs Bodie and Doyle to rest on cots in the sensei's training room. The information they brought was sure to shed some light, but would it be soon enough? He leaned back in his chair, eyes closed, as he tried to rearrange all the information into an organised pattern.

Mr Macklin soon returned with a hot cup of tea. "I've sent Mr Anson, along with the new recruits Lucas and McCabe to assist Mr Jax at the docks. They intend to bring the cargo and Scott, if possible, back here."

Mr Cowley nodded. "Though in all likelihood, he won't be at the docks."

"No, just as Mr Jax has reported several times." Mr Macklin turned to leave.

Mr Cowley asked, eyes still closed, "Bodie and . . . "

"Asleep, they're not needed for this run," Mr Macklin assured his friend.

"Thank you, Brian." Mr Cowley sipped his tea, thoughts already back on the enigma at hand. He could hear his fellow Mentah, Lady Walsh, busily working the puzzle board she so excelled at.

Several hours passed as Mr Cowley contemplated the whole conundrum through its tributaries. He sorted all the threats palace directed and knew without a doubt that though the threats had come separately, the underlying foe remained within the palace walls yet.

Lady Walsh noted that her friend and fellow Mentah had finished his introspective sojourn. She arranged a few papers on the table making more noise than usual before she interrupted him. "George, do you remember Conroy?" she asked as she placed more pins on the board. She turned to face her fellow Mentah.

"Sir John, yes, he's dead. I believe, six or seven years ago," Mr Cowley recalled. He cocked his head to the side as he waited for Lady Walsh to make her point.

"In eighteen thirty-seven Conroy was expelled from Victoria's household." Lady Walsh stared pointedly at Mr Cowley.

"When Victoria became Queen. Yes." Mr Cowley nodded his head. He hadn't been in the country at the time, and the story had been long over by the time he'd returned.

"Conroy remained in the Duchess of Kent's service for several more years, George, then was given a pension and baronetcy. Conroy may have retired but he was a bitter man and by the time he died twelve years later, he had been in substantial debt."

"I do remember that after study the old accounts were found to contain huge discrepancies." Mr Cowley tapped his pursed lips with eyes partially open, and nodded in remembrance.

Lady Walsh pinned a likeness of Sir John Conroy to the board. She continued her tale. "His younger son, Henry, was just twenty at the time when his father had been so abruptly shut off from Her Majesty. Most likely, Henry must have felt the full extent of his father's bitterness. Sir John had counted on having the ear of the monarch. His grandiose plans of becoming regent were foiled." Lady Walsh pinned a likeness of Henry Conroy to the board.

Mr Cowley turned to study the board, then back to the Lady Walsh. "Elizabeth, I take it that you presume that this is linked to our current dilemma." Me Cowley waited expectantly.

"Yes, George, I do. In fact it's the base motivation for all the current troubles." Lady Walsh seemed very sure of herself.

"I'm intrigued." Mr Cowley sat at his desk, his complete attention focused on Lady Walsh.

Lady Walsh pulled a stack of papers closer to her as she selected the one on top. She pinned the drawing of Scott under Henry Conroy's likeness drawing. "Henry Conroy served with the Grenadier Guards as aide-de-camp to the commander of the forces in Ireland."

"Mr Bodie had commented that he thought the men they fought in Oxford were Grenadier trained. Mr Scott most likely did as well. Yes, Elizabeth, I think you have found the unifying thread." Mr Cowley sat up, alert, campaign strategizing already.

"Major Howard is doing more research as well. Lieutenant Crane accompanied him."

Mr Anson burst into the antiquities warehouse yelling, "Mr Cowley. You need to see this." He ran back to aid Mr Jax and Mr Lucas as they dragged in another metal contraption.

All were alerted by the yell and burst forth one by one into the warehouse foyer.

"Messrs Anson and Lucas were waiting and acted like dock hands aiding in the mooring. When no one came to pick up the cargo we looked inside." Mr Jax ripped off the loose lid and picked up with the help Mr Anson, a metal replica of Mr Cowley.

Most people there stepped back in surprise.

Mr Bodie stepped forward and examined it closely. "Rest assured, sir, the animated you is much more lifelike." Mr Bodie turned so his smile was not that obvious.

Tension relieved, Mr Cowley's voice was not all that sharp. "Och, when I want an aesthetics edification I'll ask." Mr Cowley moved forward to examine more closely.

Mr Murphy came running with Mr Macklin in his wake. They went to open the second box. Mr Macklin pried it open with a lever and Mr Murphy pulled the packing off. Messrs Lucas and McCabe grabbed either side and pulled up the metal person within. A female dressed in a maid's uniform.

"Does anyone know her?" Mr Lucas asked.

"Not specifically, but she could be any one of the maids at the palace," Lady Walsh clarified.

"Mr Scott must have planned to replace me with that." Mr Cowley pointed behind him. The disdain in his voice reflected his offence at the very thought. "He must also have plans to replace actual staff at the palace and may already have done. The staff have spoken of scullery staff acting out of character."

"Would not someone notice? They couldn't possibly move like a woman." Mr Anson asked.

"People see what they want to see unless it effects them directly." Lady Walsh said the words as if she spoke from experience.

"Point taken." The Prussian remembered all too well the few who offered real help when he searched for his lost sister.

"We need to send word to the palace staff," Mr Cowley directed.

"What can we say that would be believed?" Lady Walsh asked.

"We get the message to Mr Pymar, he will believe." Mr Cowley looked to Mr Jax who left to dispatch his son immediately.

"Mr Murphy, figure out how they work. Brian, make sure they are restrained in case they are turned on remotely or by inadvertent command," Mr Cowley directed. "Ready yourselves, the battle is almost here." Mr Cowley could feel it in the air.

Less than two hours later events proved him right.

 

Church bells started ringing throughout all of London. Cathedrals and small church steeples alike pealed out warnings. It almost sounded joyful, but the time of night coupled with the unexpectedness created more fear than calm. It was deafening and the people took to the streets to see what the cacophony of sound was alerting them to.

Mr Cowley heard the first of the bells begin. He cocked his head and listened. There was another sound, a continuous sound the bells couldn't mask. Misgivings arose immediately as he discerned the direction the sound was travelling. He hurried halfway to the laboratory before he yelled out to Mr Macklin, " Get those aether illuminated lights out here, it's too dark. I hear a sound much like your walkway. Hurry." The urgency in his voice alerted everyone on site.

Mr Macklin stopped only long enough to hear the command before he spun around and rushed off to comply.

Mr Cowley moved outside and cocked his head again, to the left this time, eyes closed, and listened intently. Mr Bodie moved to place his body in front of the Mentah while Mr Doyle, too, stood still, listening. It was an ominous droning sound, unlike anything they'd heard before, yet it rang familiar as well.

Mr Macklin rushed out, arms laden with his illuminary apparatus. Mr Murphy was close on his heels, Mr Anson at his side. First they hung the aether soaked orbs above them suspended from rectangle poles that had been implanted in the wall exterior to give them area light. Then they worked quickly and efficiently together as they assembled the illuminate sticks into two large, separate bundles. They faced the bundles of illuminates toward the sky in the direction of the sound. The lights criss-crossed in the focus area resulting in a region that was brightly incandescent.

The deafening sound of the bells was enough to make them cover their ears, but it didn't stop the others from joining the Mentah outside. Messrs Jax, Lucas, and McCabe, were joined by Mentahs Howard and Walsh. Lieutenant Crane came out last. All had eyes on the illuminated sky.

Now vivid in the night, the droning objects took shape. Elongated machines above them flew like lumbering birds. When the light captured the first one clearly the machines seem to mimic the human form, two arms at their sides, two legs perpendicular to the ground below them. They appeared to be lit from within, and it cast an eerie glow in the surrounding clouds. There were four in all, travelling in the direction of the palace.

"To your aircraft, lads. Not a minute to lose. It matters not if you're seen. If they destroy the palace or harm the Queen, all is lost. Polish your goggles, lads, and be off," Mr Cowley directed. His men reacted immediately. Mr Cowley readied himself to attend to the Queen. He turned to Lady Walsh and Major Howard. "You must direct from this place, no harm will come, everything here is reinforced. Use the portable talkers, you can communicate with the men on the ground." Mr Cowley headed out where Lieutenant Crane waited with a conveyance.

Lady Walsh followed him out. Mr Cowley stopped with her with his hand held up. "Elizabeth, you best stay here. If I fail, you still have the big picture."

"Yes, George, but George, would you like to guess who Sir Conroy's god-daughter is?" The Lady asked full knowing that he would want the answer.

"Someone significant to this situation?" Mr Cowley asked, puzzled.

Lady Walsh nodded her head once before revealing the name. "Geraldine Mather."

"Thank you, Elizabeth. Very significant indeed." Mr Cowley stepped inside the conveyance. Lieutenant Crane signalled the horse forward.

 

Mr Macklin watched him leave. He wanted to attend Mr Cowley, but he knew his commander was correct, he could do more here.

Mr Bodie, with Mr Doyle at his side, sprinted for the laboratory, and their flying craft. Mr Murphy did the same but his airship was located in the bay opposite. He motioned with urgency that Mr Anson should follow.

Mr Macklin shouted, "I will initiate lift-off for you both, then Messrs Jax, Lucas, McCabe and I will fight from the ground. We will protect the Mentahs."

The men scrambled about but with organised precision. Protective suits, and goggles were donned, armament gathered both old and new, then winged feet carried them to the gleaming airships.

The surface of the airships had been upgraded since the Coogan battle and now gleamed an iridescent black or grey, depending where one stood. "It will now deflect all of the smaller weaponry and most of what else there is," Mr Murphy yelled as he gathered his own gear. He was quite proud of the new enhancements.

Mr Bodie nodded his head in acknowledgement as he flipped levers on the left side. It had become an automatic habit, and the airship hummed to life. He did the same to the right levers, and they lifted the airship off the ground. It hovered in place until Mr Doyle announced he was set.

Mr Bodie knew the pedals were connected to aneric gas that allowed him to control how fast to move and when to glide in silence. The long journey to Devonshire had afforded him an opportunity to test the ship's limits and he was speculating that they would need to be even more creative to combat this enemy. That the steam re-collected itself meant the airship would not tire and they could expend all their energies into fighting.

"Explosives set," Mr Doyle said through the tubing.

Mr Bodie knew that Mr Doyle wanted to drop the three rigged explosives on top of the flying machines and blow them to smithereens, but bombarding the city below might not be the best answer.

Mr Murphy ran swiftly to his side of the craft. "I have fastened tubes for the retractable ropes. They are five times as long as the original. They can be shot out same as the guns." Mr Murphy's voice was even more excited as he explained the embellishments.

Mr Doyle looked for the additional trigger and gave the inventor a thumbs up. "All set, Bodie," he said for his partner's ears alone. He lay supine with his arms and head fitted into glass pockets that allowed him to move his hands, and head with ease. The magnified top half of the split glass had become Mr Doyle's favourite viewing point. It made for optimal aim and he would be able to see inside of the surely deadly flying machines.

Mr Murphy ran to his own dolphin shaped ship and assumed the same position as Mr Doyle. Mr Anson was the pilot. He had been practising each night when possible since the Coogan explosion. If Mr Murphy trusted him, then Mr Bodie did as well.

The laboratory's dome ceiling opened on its gears rapidly and the airships lifted up, first Mr Bodie's lifted with ease, then Mr Anson's. Up and away they flew. Tracking their prey was not difficult but all were filled with apprehension as the flying monsters moved from their horizontal flying positions to perpendicular stationary objects that were landing feet first, fire spitting out the bottom of the feet. They closed the distance as fast as they could, all four men watching in horror as the mechanical beasts began walking through the streets ahead of them, crushing all they trod across. The palace seemed their only objective.

Mr Doyle started with the conventional weapons, and soon graduated to unconventional. Wave after wave of bombardment and yet the laser beam seemed as ineffective as the gunpowder based weapons. Mr Bodie knew the mechanical automen would destroy all they stepped upon. He quickly pondered options. They were large, bulky, and probably clumsy. . . if it were an animal he would take their legs out and that was the answer here.

Into the tubing Mr Bodie spoke: "Ray, shoot the retractable rope into a leg seam. Pull it taut, keep it taut, and hold on tight. Signal when ready." Mr Bodie knew, rather than ask useless, time-burning questions, his partner would do as requested now and ask questions later.

"Ready."

Mr Bodie piloted the airship down to the knee height of the walking machines so that Mr Doyle could position himself optimally. "Shoot." He hovered at a slight angle that gave his partner the best view.

"Away!" Mr Doyle yelled, then added, "Bulls-eye!"

When it hit directly on target in the lumbering beast's leg seam, Mr Bodie flew an anticlockwise circle, first to anchor the rope, then to tighten the circle. Around and around Mr Bodie flew, as fast as he could, tightening the circle on each pass, which hobbled the step length of the beast until it could not manage a full pace. It tumbled flat onto the ground, with no arm extension to break its fall, the feet just continuing to move even as the movement tuned it on its side. Gears inside started to smoke until fire broke out. Smoke belched out joining the clouds in obscuring visibility.

Mr Anson, watching all what Mr Bodie's ship had accomplished, asked Mr Murphy excitedly, "Can you do the same."

"Yes, it's a brilliant idea. Let's go." The inventor quite liked this new adaptation of his invention.

As he watched. The Messrs Anson and Murphy team began their attack that mirrored what he'd done, Mr Bodie asked his partner, "You ready to take out another?"

"You bet. Ready now," Mr Doyle answered, already gripping the second retractable rope grip in his hand.

Mr Bodie descended and they worked efficiently to take down the third machine. The retractable rope cinched tightly about the legs, the lumbering beast fell head-first and fires started almost instantly. More smoke spewed into the air.

Mr Bodie flew upward hard as the explosion of the first downed beast shook the ground and air. He looked out to the fourth beast still trudging toward the palace unaware of the loss of the rest of its fleet.

"Bodie," Mr Murphy yelled into the short-range talkers. "We only had the one rope. We have nothing to destroy it with." His disappointment was almost tangible in his voice.

"We got this," Mr Bodie assured them, but he had no immediate idea, just the confidence.

Mr Doyle looked about for an idea. He spied the liquid fire he had insisted on bringing. He moved the rope device aside for he knew he could fit the canister of liquid fire through the opening and drop it down on top of the metal beast.

"Bodie, bring me level with its shoulder," Mr Doyle directed. "I'm dropping the liquid fire."

Mr Bodie smiled as he did as directed. His partner had thought of something.

Mr Doyle pushed the release knob and watched as the liquid fire device dropped straight down. He knew that it was virtually impossible to get the container inside the chest plate of the mammoth automan, but he hoped it would burn through the metal encasement.

Mr Doyle looked at the explosion drop doors and had another idea. He tapped the talking device. "Bodie, bring the ship directly above the beast and I will drop out the away doors and land on its other shoulder." Mr Doyle positioned himself, ready to leap on the cue of his partner's signal.

Mr Bodie did as asked but a panic gripped him. He didn't have the time vial with him, but he kept his fear silent though in the face of the greater good, besides, he knew that his partner would object if he became one of the protective sorts.

Once Mr Bodie was hovering above the beast, keeping an even speed, he gave the signal. "Go."

Mr Doyle dropped out flawlessly and landed on the shoulder wide enough to drive a carriage. Mr Doyle crouched low as he moved, and happily, the beast was completely unaware of his presence. He tossed the explosive device to the centre neck area and it bounced inside and down the front chest plate. He counted ten to its detonation. The eruption began deep within the automan's centre and Mr Doyle knew he had but seconds to live. He took a running jump off the machine through the smoke-filled air. His arms and legs were stretched to their fullest, spinning wildly. He prepared for a long drop, only to immediately collide with the top of his own airship.

Mr Bodie's face through the glass dome was a welcome sight even if his expression was one of horror and fear. It quickly switched to relief and satisfaction, but his eyes told the whole story from naked loss to manifest joy.

Mr Doyle gave a brief nod of his head before he slapped the glass dome and yelled, "What kept you?"

"Stopped for tea, then just waited for you to move faster," Mr Bodie quipped back light-heartedly. He pointed to the handles. "Hold on," he yelled as he veered out of the way of the exploding mass behind them. Mr Bodie turned the airship so they could watch the fireworks.

The sky lit up but it was only half the light show in comparison to the Coogan ship and dock explosion. That mattered not as they headed back to the warehouse victorious.

 

Morris Antiquities
Thames docks
Information room

 

The men and lady reassembled in the information room almost immediately upon their return. The camaraderie of a victorious battle filled the room, but no one there believed the war was over. It was time to regroup and plan for the next engagement.

"No one made an attack on us here," Major Howard stated.

"No men were on the ground to aid the giant metal men. We spent most of our energies helping those that had been the fall-out victims of the automen attack. Many were killed when they were stepped on," Mr Jax explained.

"Lots of property damage, but Londoners know how to regroup," Mr Macklin said as he recalled the cheers as the behemoths fell.

"Then this could not have been the primary attack," Mr Bodie concluded. "He had qualified fighting men in Oxford, no reason to believe that he doesn't have more men here."

"None at all Mr Bodie," Lady Walsh agreed. "Ready your weapons." She sounded like the goddess Athena come to life. All obeyed.

As if the call to arms was a portent Mark, the middle Master Jax, ran into the warehouse yelling, "There is trouble at the palace." The boy bent over, hands on knees, as he caught his breath. Everyone gathered about him. "Mr Cowley sent me. Hurry!"

Mr Bodie gathered up his satchel of weapons once again as Mr Doyle grabbed Mr Anson to help unharness the horses for them to ride individually.

"We go in the servants' entrance, send the others that follow the same way," Mr Bodie yelled over his shoulder as he ran to follow his partner. To Stephan, Mr Jax's oldest son, Mr Bodie directed, "Unharness all the rest of the horses, saddle up as many as you can, the others will be out to help shortly."

Mr Bodie's horse stood ready. He vaulted onto the saddle, pushed his satchel to his back and prodded his horse into a gallop. He was followed closely by his partner and Mr Anson. The three men raced through the London streets straight to the palace.

------

 

Back at the laboratory Messrs Murphy and Macklin had to contend with the sudden animation of both the replicas come to life. Thankfully, the original contraption had been dismantled. Even though restrained, these machines were still quite capable of doling out damage. They moved about the small room they had been confined within by ramming the door and walls. The noise was deafening and annoying. Mr Murphy looked through the small window in an attempt to ascertain what powered them. Finding nothing overtly discernible, Mr Murphy unlocked the door. Mr Macklin came up behind him with a thick wooden staff and knocked the two mechanical beings into each other and the wall. Off balance they struggled to right themselves

"Listen, tap, tap, tap, it's like a telegraph sound." Mr Murphy cocked his head, concentrating. "It's coming from the head area."

"Stand aside. Ill smash the head," Mr Macklin commanded. He put action to words. The metal crumpled in on itself as the head dented inward.

"It's still running," Mr Murphy cried out as he rolled to his left side to dodge a lunge by the metal contrivance now righted.

Mr Macklin grabbed the fire axe off the wall, then swiftly came up from behind and sliced the Mr Cowley replica's head clean off. All movement ceased from the metal gadget.

Mr Murphy used the sledgehammer he grabbed from the cupboard, but even that half caved-in chest did not alter its movement. Mr Macklin whipped completely around and hacked the head off the handmaiden replica as well.

Panting from exertion, Mr Murphy turned and said, "Brian, they need to know how to defeat them."

Mr Macklin was already on his way. He collected a second and third axe on the way to his horse. His steed was fast enough to catch him up with Messrs Jax, Lucas, and McCabe enroute to the palace. Through the streets of London they raced.

-----------

They leapt from the panting horses before they had quite stopped near the servants' entrance. Palace servants opened the door wide as Messrs Bodie, Doyle, and Anson headed straight for them.

"Mr Pymar said to show you the fastest path," a tall man of calm demeanour told them as they passed by him. He indicated that they follow the young lass who stood at the end of the corridor. "Your horses will be fine," he called after the men who were solely intent on saving the Queen.

Mr Doyle called back, "There will be more coming," not looking to see if he were heard.

The young lass took them through a cupboard and under a stairwell that led them to a passageway between the walls near the Queen's quarters. "Her Majesty is safe away. All of the palace guard are with her. Mr Pymar's friend saw to that. He told us you would be helping as well. The fighting is here because they still think she's here." The girl pointed to the Queen's personal section of the palace. She beckoned them closer. "Mr Pymar's friend is the only one that knows where she is." She smiled and left the way she'd come.

Messrs Bodie, Doyle and Anson withdrew their particle beam rifles and laser pistols. Mr Bodie gave each man a lightning cylinder as well. Two steps left and they entered the fray. Six human men were trying to bust down the Queen's anteroom door with sledgehammers and axes.

Mr Doyle yelled a battle cry that froze everyone in place. Mr Bodie's eyes opened wide at the startling sound but used the opportunity to aim his weapon. Mr Anson, struck dumb at the caterwauling, shook it off and readied his weapon. The Inscrutables took them out with laser dots that hit each man in the chest; two apiece with little arm movement. The weapons of the palace attackers clattered against the floor before the dead men hit the ground.

Mr Bodie moved swiftly over to the dead and kicked the weapons aside. "Just standard firearms."

Pounding feet behind them had the men crouch down by the walls of the corridor, weapons raised. Four men rounded the corner, yelling and screeching, arms holding an assortment of weapons. Battle axes, clubs and different sized maces were no match for the silent laser beams that felled each man where he stood.

They checked the Queen's anteroom door for damage. It had taken a lot of superficial battering but still stood strong. The attacking horde was sure to believe that the Queen still resided safely behind it.

The heard familiar voices yelling through the walls. "We're coming."

"I will stay and meet up with our reinforcements. The attackers will continue to come here. We take care of that. You two go find Mr Cowley, do what you do." Mr Anson nodded. He knew they handled the oddities well.

Mr Bodie nodded. Mr Doyle clasped Mr Anson's shoulder before the two men sprinted away together in the direction of the most noise.

They ran down several hallways following the sound of clunking metal. When they heard actual shouts they had to double back until they found Mr Cowley and Lieutenant Crane at the end of the third corridor, who were battling a smaller sized automan that was more human shaped and looked quite like a handmaiden seen about the palace. As with the giant automen they battled in the streets of London, conventional weaponry could not harm the outer shell of the contraption. The particle beam took too much time and here the human replica refused to stay still. The handmaiden replica continued to attack by lunging at Mr Cowley with its body, but it never made contact as Lieutenant Crane pushed it off balance with a shove to its side each time. It would take a moment to readjust just before it would try again.

Both Messrs Bodie and Doyle swiftly donned their full arm gauntlets and secured them tightly. They each withdrew their newly procured gun-blade swords. A heavily serrated blade was designed to run along the barrel of the particle beam rifle that enabled them to cut into metal and then hit it with the beam. Mr Murphy had added it to their arsenal just prior to the palace cry for aid.

They ran into the battle silently, coming in from behind. Mr Doyle veered off left at the last second to catch its attention and as it turned to face Mr Doyle, Mr Bodie continued his trajectory and hit it at back of the head. He slashed downward at the least protected area, the neck. The automan turned with great force and threw Mr Bodie against the wall. Mr Doyle repeated Mr Bodie's mode of attack and slashed down into the neck area. Mr Bodie bounced up and joined his partner in the attack. The machine turned from side to side but with less force as the damage took its toll. Once an entry was cut Mr Doyle fired his rifle point blank. Both men held on to the robotic structure until the wires inside were melted. It finally ceased moving and fell to the floor.

No accolades or words of acclamation were forthcoming. Mr Cowley barked instead. "There are at least two more of those metal machines. One resembles the Queen herself, but she is safe away." He moved over to Lieutenant Crane. "Mr Scott is here and he has plenty of men."

"Ten less at last count, sir," Mr Bodie quipped.

"Reinforcements were right behind us," Mr Doyle assured him.

"No less that I expected." Mr Cowley's voice was extremely neutral.

"We will deal with the replicas," Mr Bodie stated as he moved toward Mr Doyle and the exit. "You find Scott," he added without thinking as they sprinted away.

"Aye, Commander," Mr Cowley called after him, not as put out as one would have expected. "Come on, Jack."

 

Messrs Bodie and Doyle ran into the main hallway and paused. Heads turned one way then the other as they listened for activity. A woman's piercing scream directed them to the right set of corridors. The female voice seemed to argue until the screaming would resume. It made the trail easy to follow. They burst into what was must have been a sitting room to find a woman on the floor. Dressed in country finery, they knew she wasn't a servant. Mr Doyle bent down to check for life and found her chest stained red. He recognised her from Mr Cowley's puzzle board.

"Geraldine Mather," Mr Cowley supplied from behind them. "Killed by her own co-conspirators." Mr Cowley's face wore a disgusted look. His hand swept all about his head. "She set all this in motion with her treachery. All of it, from the very beginning, her plan to take over, only to end up dead on the floor, alone." Mr Cowley's face wore a war-weary expression as his shoulder sagged for a moment. After a long moment, the military-trained man threw back his shoulders to fight on. "We must finish this."

Lieutenant Crane burst in, "She has a replica robot scurrying about."

Messrs Bodie and Doyle took their cue and left to hunt down two replicas, the Queen and Mather. They followed the scurrying sounds of moving metal. They were trotting to keep up with the machines.

"And to think I thought the stakeout dull," Mr Bodie said as he tilted his head for direction.

"Be careful what you wish for." Mr Doyle smiled.

"Don't have to, mine's already come true," Mr Bodie stated as he withdrew his laser pistol and fired at the man turning the corner.

Both men sprinted forward to chase down two more humans and hit them silently with their weapons. They collected the dead men's weapons more to keep them out of their confederates' hands than for their own use. High-pitched screams and indignant yells sent them to the stairwell cupboards of the servant quarters. Several servants were battling with the two machines. Servants were yelling both 'hit the Queen' and 'don't hit the Queen.'

Mr Doyle yelled louder than all of them put together. "We've got this! Go to safety!"

The servants, used to obeying orders, did as told. Messrs Bodie and Doyle were left alone with two fast-moving robot replicas to fight. Mr Doyle followed the Mather replica and Mr Bodie took off in search of the Queen replica. Both were out of sight immediately. It sounded very much as if they were close together if the unique noise were any indication. Metal grinding against the floor, odd meshing gears and a sound much like the moving walkway of Mr Murphy's laboratory gave them an easy path to track.

They turned into a salon, and standing by the window stood the Queen replica robot. The pose might have been a try for regal, but it was far more menacing than welcoming. The Geraldine Mather replica stood behind a table as if it were pouring tea. Both were larger than their human counterparts and far, far stronger.

Mr Bodie moved to get closer the Queen replica when he heard human footsteps approaching. He rolled to the floor as he yelled out a warning to his partner. "Watch out!"

The elusive Mr Scott emerged through an opposite doorway with his gun extended, and shooting it wildly. Mr Bodie counted the shots then stepped out and rushed him with his kendo staff filled with sleeping draught.

"Mr Cowley may want him alive so they can chat," Mr Bodie commented as he resumed his pursuit of the Queen replica across the salon, where it stood its ground. He pulled his gun-blade sword out and prepared to attack.

Mr Doyle withdrew his own gun-blade sword. "I'm sure he will be pleased that you organise his free time," Mr Doyle answered as he engaged the Mather replica in a fight.

Getting close enough was the most difficult part. Their weapons were only effective in close quarters. Reinforcements arrived just as they were truly needed. Messrs Jax and Anson ran into the salon to join them.

"Mr Macklin says beheading is the most effective way to disable them,." Mr Jax announced, axe in hand. He headed for Mr Doyle's side as Mr Anson and his axe rushed to aid Mr Bodie.

Mr Bodie smiled a macabre sort of smile and said, "A beheading it is!"

Using Mr Anson as a distraction, Mr Bodie was able to get close enough to run his serrated blade across the neck, exposing the wires. He shot his particle-beam full blast inside and continued until smoke billowed outward. Mr Anson stepped in and whacked the head clean off. The arms still moved on their own for a bit longer, then all motion ceased.

Mr Doyle dispatched the Mather replica in much the same way with his blade hitting the neck with his full angry force. He stepped back and let Mr Jax strike the final blow.

Servants emerged from all sorts of nooks and crannies undaunted by the carnage and began the arduous process of cleaning. They worked with the chaos created as though it were a common occurrence, dead bodies and mechanical contraptions alike. Mr Cowley and Lieutenant Crane entered to a busy room. Mr Doyle was securing Mr Scott with the handcuffs he still carried.

Mr Pymar joined them at last, and looked past Mr Cowley to the Queen replica. "She always hated that dress."

 

Building Seventeen
Spring Street

 

Mr Doyle slammed the door behind them. He pushed Mr Bodie against the wall and held him there with just his stare. The look of lust was enough to keep the captive captivated.

Mr Doyle pulled the shirt out of his lover's trousers as he nibbled his chin. This man right now was not the adventurer, Mr Doyle thought to himself as he released the buttons on his lover's shirt and caressed the skin beneath the cloth. Nor was he the street knight, Mr Doyle mused as the shirt hit the floor. And he certainly was not the protector of all sundries, he thought as he splayed his hands from front to back enjoying the freedom to explore the naked skin.

Mr Doyle found a great deal of contentment in that, although this man was sometimes acted like his personal protector, in this moment in time this exquisite man was just his lover. Mr Doyle knew that without a doubt as his mate's trousers and under garments surrounded his ankles. This man was the milk in his tea. He was the missing piece of his life puzzle, and he was a glorious sight. Bodie's cock was thick and leaking and the only solution was to suck it deep into his throat. He was quite certain that Bodie's moan was not of dissatisfaction.

"Ah, Ray," gasped in a breathy voice was the signal to finish fast and hard. His lover's body arched and he held him pressed against the wall until the quivers subsided for both of them. Only then did he sink down on bent knees.

Mr Bodie's hand reached out to the damp patch on his beloved's crotch. "Ray?" was hardly stronger than his last utterance of the name, but it was curious.

"You can be very exciting to watch." Mr Doyle might have tried for sheepish, but his expression still registered complacency.

Mr Bodie wore a smug smile as he arched his neck. "They wanted to officially register me."

"Who did?" tone incredulous.

"My adoring public, of course." Mr Bodie said with exaggerated modesty

"The loony bin more like." Mr Doyle's smile belied the sentiment stated.

Mr Doyle tilted his head up slightly to look Mr Bodie in the eyes. "I know in our lives harrowing adventures will abound, but at the end of each adventure, together alive is the only requirement I have."

Mr Bodie looked the recently ravaged lover, naked, bum cheeks resting on his heels, knees cushioned by his crumpled clothes, but his expression was that of very proud and happy man. "My only requirement as well."

Mr Doyle leaned forward slightly to rest his forehead against Mr Bodie's and was content.

 

 

Morris Antiquities
Thames docks
Information room

 

Mr Cowley looked about the room with satisfaction. His vision of creating a group that would selflessly protect Queen and country sat realised before him. Men and lady, drinking tea, rehashing the latest escapade, never questioning the life-threatening moments they had just lived through. His first recruits up through his newest acquisitions. These were people that he was proud to work with, though, those words not need be said aloud. It would diminish it all somehow.

"Murph, that retractable rope extension worked a treat." Mr Bodie slapped his old mate on the back as he passed by to take his seat beside Mr Doyle.

"I think your creative use may have had more to do with the outcome. But it was quite something to see the behemoth fall to the ground, useless." Mr Murphy smiled at the intended compliment anyway.

"You and Macklin saved the day at the palace," Mr Doyle added.

"I think you all had figured out what to do before I arrived." Mr Macklin was as pleased as his old friend. These men were up to par.

Mr Lucas carried a cup of tea for Mr McCabe, who was deep in conversation with Mr Anson. Mr Jax unwrapped a box of confections. "My wife sends her regards."

The box was swarmed until every last one of the group had a fresh titbit to call their own. All resumed their seats as Mr Macklin triggered the door to close and seal.

Mr Cowley held his hand to quiet the room. He wanted to sum up what had triggered the latest wave of panic and dread. "Conroy's disgruntled ramblings during his military service set the path to this current destruction. He confided in Scott, a madman who thought himself a scientist, and feigned incredulity that he would set to revenge his imaginary slight. Couple that with the political aspirations of a woman no better than a dollymop and we have been fighting a long campaign due to her delusions that she should be queen."

"Death was too fine an ending for her. She should have been remanded in chains and left to die, forgotten." Mr Macklin was clear on how he felt.

"I don't disagree, Brian, but it's safer this way, for the Queen and all of Britannia." Mr Cowley paused before he asked thoughtfully, "Who felled my replica so viciously?"

Mr Macklin wore a wide smile. "I did, sir!"

Mr Cowley raised an inquiring brow before he stood and placed the last of the drawings and plans into a folder. He tapped the folder thoughtfully as he walked it over the new file cabinet. He turned to face all the men he had collected. Yes, a fine gathering, if he said so himself. But not aloud, any complacency within these walls would not be tolerated. He walked back to his desk and sat down before he addressed them, "Now that we have put all of this to rest, finally, I believe that we have now reached a time of calm and ..."

Mr Bodie turned his head to face Mr Doyle. They shared a look that conveyed that they most certainly knew better. Calm times, indeed. Mr Bodie rolled his eyes. Calm times for the Inscrutables? He thought not!

fin