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Chapter 21

Willy Sung had lain doggo all afternoon. Now that night had finally fallen he sidled up to the outside wall and, catlike, jumped up to flatten himself along the top. Anyone watching from the courtyard inside would have seen merely a brief thickening of the wall’s silhouette against the night sky before it detached itself to drop lightly down the other side and into the courtyard. The security guards, however, were in a huddle in front of the main entrance, enjoying a cigarette and unaware of the sudden addition to their numbers. Sung crouched at the foot of the wall, becoming a deeper shadow, with his black balaclava pulled down well over his face.

One of the guards tossed away a cigarette end which bounced across to smoulder at Sung’s foot. Willy lifted his toe and quietly ground it out. Then the patrol resumed its round. Sung waited until the prowling guards had turned the corner of the main building and then crept softly from his hiding place to flit silently across the courtyard and gain the deeper shadow of the Gate House. There he wedged himself into the gap between the wall and a water butt …and wondered what the hell to do next. Forward planning had never been Sung’s strong point.

At the other end of the courtyard, however, planning was occupying Harris’ thoughts to the exclusion of everything else except, perhaps, how he was to smash Freddy Lappit’s face in without exciting the attention of the security people. He had been secreted in his hidey hole for hours, smouldering revenge and waiting for Freddy to take his after-dinner constitutional. He was late tonight. With so much planning to do for the next evening’s Grand Opening, dinner had obviously been served late. He watched the patrol round the corner of the building with bile. That was an added complication. But with a circuit taking fifteen minutes on average there should be time to sneak up behind Lappit, give him the quick once-over and be away before the guards showed up again.

Just as Harris was beginning to despair that Freddy had decided to forego his walk that evening the courtyard was illuminated by a wedge of light as the main door opened and Freddy stood outlined in the doorway. He took a quick look around and then gestured to someone behind him and, with a curse, Harris saw that Carmen had joined him. Together they stepped out into the courtyard and door swung shut again.

By the Gate House, Sung could hardly believe his luck. He had hardly been inside the place three minutes when his target chose to present itself on a plate. He took out his knife and tested the point on the palm of his hand. Tony Kwan would have cause to thank Sung this night, he thought.

Carmen grabbed hold of Freddy’s hand. “Why out here?” she said, in a stage whisper that carried to both watchers.

“It’s hardly the place inside, tonight, is it?” Freddy whispered back, switching on the torch he carried. “I don’t want your dad finding us things to do. The Stable Block is just the place. Everyone’s finished in there until tomorrow morning. No-one will bother us. Come on.” He slipped an arm around Carmen’s waist and gave her right buttock an urgent squeeze. Carmen squealed and hurried forward, dragging Freddy with her, the torch beam dancing crazily across the cobbles of the courtyard.

The Stable door had barely closed on the pair before Carmen was on Freddy, smothering his face with eager lips.

With difficulty he held her off. “Not yet. Further in. There’s a couch in the office. Come on.” The torch beam showed a very different picture of the Stables than Carmen had been used to seeing. The bales of straw and horses tack were now replaced with sparkling tiles and gleaming stainless steel vats. A far cry indeed from the scene of her earlier exploits with Harris.

Harris, peering in through the window, was also remembering his rolls in the hay with Carmen. In fact, it had been the only thing on his mind since Freddy’s arrival, and he pursued revenge now with the same single-minded purpose. As the torch beam wavered away up the length of the Stable, he slipped open the door and followed surreptitiously.

Sung, meanwhile, emerging from his hiding place had quickly slipped back again as he saw another dark shadow pursuing his quarry. This was getting more complicated by the minute, he thought. Swearing softly, he let Harris enter and then tip-toed quietly after him. Sung was a practising exponent of the ‘Way of the Shadow’, with the emphasis very much on practising - he had not yet got beyond page 53. So far, he had been lucky. It could not be expected to continue. He slipped into the Stables like mist and crouched behind the door, watching Freddy’s dim figure sneaking up the aisle towards the overseeing office at the far end, from which muffled gasps proceeded at regular, thrusting intervals.

As Freddy moved forward again, Sung mirrored his actions (remembering the instructions on page 25 of the manual) and tensing himself for the panther-like spring which would normally have been the culmination of the exercise, with the quarry grasped around the throat in a death-grip from which there could be no recovery. Unfortunately he was so intent on mimicking the clumsy gait of a Harris whose limbs had stiffened through hours of crouching in wait, that he didn’t notice the stainless steel bowl teetering on the edge of a table where Harris had knocked it in his creaking progress down the aisle. Sung’s slowly sweeping arm nudged it the last fraction of an inch necessary to explode it onto the tiled floor like a box of knives tipped into am empty bath.

Harris jumped as though shot and spun round. Quick as Harris was, Sung was even quicker and the Chinaman’s lightning reactions took him on top of a huge machine to his right, where he hunkered down inside a metal hopper, out of sight. Already tense from the strain of stalking Freddy under the continual threat of discovery, the sudden noise broke Harris’ nerve and he immediately fled, banging the door behind him whilst the steel bowl span with ever decreasing momentum until it clattered to a stop.

The silence that followed was deafening. Then there were urgent noises from the office as of clothes hastily being pulled on and Freddy and Carmen cautiously emerged, dishevelled and panting and hurriedly followed in Harris’ wake, passing beneath Sung hidden in his hopper. No sooner had the door ceased swinging and Sung was preparing to leap lightly from his hiding place in pursuit, than it again burst open and all the lights blazed on. Sung swore and dropped back inside the stainless steel vat.

He crouched on the bottom and waited for whoever had come in to go out again. But whoever it was started a cheery tuneless whistle, punctuated by heavy chopping noises and when a radio blared out, mercifully drowning the off-key chirruping, Willy knew he was in for a long wait.

After a while he decided to risk a quick look over the edge of the vat and rose to his feet only to be knocked off-balance again as a chain rattled above his head and a loaded cauldron, hauled from the unseen floor below, appeared on the lip of the vat and cascaded him with its contents. Spluttering, Willy sat on the bottom of the vat, dripping with what was evidently the consequence of the chopping, rending, noises he had heard and, horrified, realised too late what it was as another load of liver and lights descended on his head.

Too late he made a grab for the lip of the hopper as the unseen operative below pulled a switch and Melsham’s new venture ground into bone-cracking operation. Willy immediately lost all interest in pursuit - or, indeed, anything at all - as he was sucked, fighting, into the grinding maw of the high-tec mincer amidst a horrible, slurping sound that would have been almost libidinous had circumstances been different. But, by then, he was past caring – his ying had finally been yanged, although somewhat more painfully than his training had led him to believe.

As Willy poured out of the nozzle of the coarse chopping machine, the night baking shift, poured into the pie preparation area, greeting the early arrival who was still chirrupping off-key “Evenin’ guv” he yelled to the Cook-in-charge above the noise of the blaring radio. “I’ve set it off already. That vat there’s for the big bugger. Individual mixes coming up now and he settled down to chop at more animal carcasses with his big knife.

Willy, meanwhile, settled down viscously to the bottom of the mixing bowl.

As Harris fled home, secretly relieved that blows had not been exchanged, Carmen, suffering a severe bout of coitus interruptus sought to find her own relief and clung to Freddy’s body like an overcoat. Wearing her, he stumbled down the corridor towards his bedroom hoping against all hope that cousin Archie would not suddenly appear around the corner. He burst through the door and collapsed against it, gasping. “Stop it! If you dad finds us like this he’ll sling me out!

“Who cares?” slobbered Carmen, enveloping his ear with her lips. “I’ll come with you. Take me away from it all, big boy.”

In desperation Freddy fended her off at arms’ length, then stiffened as Melsham’s voice bellowed down the corridor. “Freddy. Are you in there? Get yourself out here. There’s work to be done.”

Flinging open a closet door, Freddy stiff-armed Carmen into it. With a gasp she fell to the floor and Freddy slammed it shut just as Melsham gave a peremptory knock on the door and burst in.

“There you are you skiving bugger. Where have you been? Never mind! Just follow me, we’ve still got stuff to do - and get yourself straightened up man, you look like you’ve just gone ten rounds.”

With an anxious glance at the closet door, Freddy hurried after Melsham, relieved at the reprieve. Inside the closet Carmen was far from relieved, and fumed at the iniquity of it all. When she found that she could not get out she gave a petulant kick to the door panel and squatted down on the floor to await Freddy’s return rehearsing in her mind the precise manner of her release.

The household was lined up in the dining hall when Melsham and Freddy entered. Slipper had a clipboard in his hand and was moving up and down the line like a general, giving orders here, issuing instructions there and sending staff about their several duties. Despite the occasion, he found that he was actually enjoying himself. It had been more years than he cared to remember since he had organised a function on this scale.

Lady Melsham stood in the corner looking on with an expression nothing short of adulation. Her emotions were also experiencing a revival, if not an actual awakening - she could hardly remember feeling this way about anyone ever, even in those far off heady days when Archie had swept the naive young girl that she had been off her feet …and then all but dumped her. Life, Lady Melsham reflected in the prosaic manner to which she was rapidly accustoming herself, was a fucking bitch!

Freddy’s ‘job’, he found, was simply to sit down to listen to Melsham’s speech. Lady Melsham too was dragged in. “Oh, God,” she complained, “everybody’s heard it a hundred times. It’s not going to improve any with repeating it again!”

“Listen. It may not mean much to you but this is going to be the icing on the cake for Melsham’s Pies and Sausages,” Melsham replied, mixing a revolting metaphor. “It’s going to knock all those other cock-eyed bastards off their perches” he said, referring to his competitors who had recently been slagging off his project in the Trade press. “Nobody’s going to touch Melsham’s Pies and Sausages from now on. Anyway, you want to play the Lady of the bloody Manor so much I should have thought that you’d want it to go off all right. Even bloody Slipper’s putting his weight into it.”

Lady Melsham slumped into a chair with an air of resignation as Melsham launched into his speech for the umpteenth time.

Listening outside the door Slipper permitted himself a dry chuckle and unfolded the piece of paper he had so painstakingly written. It might as well have been Melsham’s death warrant - he would no more make that speech than Helga make the front cover of Vogue.

Helga would, at that moment, have settled for making the front cover of Dalton’s Weekly: anything, in fact, but what she was doing. Since being virtually banished from the company of the household over the past few days she had gradually grown more and more bored and was beginning to wonder if everyone had forgotten her existence. Mr. Slipper, it was true, came to sit with her now and again and to bring her meals, but being shut away in the East Wing to redecorate the bedrooms was hardly, she thought, what she had been taken on for.

“It’s only for a little while” Mr. Slipper had said “Until Lady Melsham is better and Milord can get his feelings under control.” Helga was used to taking orders, being of Teutonic stock, but this isolation was really getting on her nerves. It came as something of a pleasant surprise to her, therefore, when Mr. Slipper came up on a visit of inspection and complimented her, with the aid of a phrase book, on the good work she had been doing with the bedrooms.

“I think, perhaps, that Milord has got himself under control now, Helga. Would you like to resume your duties?”

“Ja,” she said, “I haff paint enough!”

Slipper coughed. “Yes, well, there is just one more job before you start your normal duties, Helga. Follow me.”

Helga threw down her paint brush with eagerness. Anything but painting would be a blessed relief. She followed Slipper down into the main house, using the servant’s stairs and waited nervously while he struggled with a locked door adjoining the scullery. Her heart was pounding at the thought that her ‘noddy liddle boy’ might at any moment walk around the corner. She didn’t know what she would do if he did. Mr. Slipper and the lady Doctor had told her that she must be patient, but the thought of her liebling suffering the pangs of unrequited love twanged her heartstrings like a harp.

The rusty lock finally gave and the door creaked open heavily to a set of steep and daunting steps, illuminated only dimly by a feeble light bulb. With trepidation she followed Slipper down, steadying herself on the whitewashed walls. At the bottom there was another door, with an equally rusty lock but, when it was finally opened and Mr. Slipper had thrown the light switch inside, Helga thought that her eyes were deceiving her.

The array of instruments inside made Miss Lillian’s ‘special’ room back at the masseuse parlour look like a baby’s nursery. Slipper effected not to notice her reaction. “These are the dungeons, Helga he said, sweeping his arm. “Lord Melsham wishes them to be clean. What I want you to do is to polish all these instruments before tomorrow night until they shine.” He saw her incomprehension and tossing his phrase book aside in disgust said slowly, and loudly, “Is for a special purpose,” he said “Lord Melsham wishes it. You …polish …hard. Tomorrow … Lord Melsham come.” and Slipper mimicked a rubbing motion with his hand.

The look on Helga’s face as she grappled with what Slipper was trying to tell her, and as the import slowly dawned, was almost frightening and Slipper felt his testicles involuntarily draw up into his body. He backed away, unconsciously, and made the polishing motion again. “You polish. Lord Melsham …he will come …to see …tomorrow.”

Helga’s face lit up. “Ja! I vill polish. I vill polish gut!”

Slipper gave Helga a pile of cleaning cloths and a litre of metal polish and left her to it, locking her in for safety’s sake. Later, when he judged that it was safe to let her out, and having whetted her appetite with the strange implements, he did so urging her to go straight to bed as tomorrow would be a “Busy Day.” Closing the dungeon door behind him, Slipper leaned on it, watching Helga tiredly climb the stairs. So far so good, he thought. The next step was to get Melsham down here.

Before that, however, there was one final touch.

The manikins had arrived early that morning, by arrangement, in readiness for the revelation at the banquet. Stashed away in the store-room adjoining the dungeon they simply awaited installation in the allotted positions and Slipper set to with a will. When he had finished and had liberally coated them with theatrical blood, they were guaranteed to bring anyone’s supper up - if the sight of Melsham and Helga at their cavorting didn’t do it first.

Slipper checked the passage to the Dining Room again. Hinges and fastenings were greased and oiled and now swung open and shut with ease. The dingy cobwebbed steps leading from the Great Hall threatened dire consequences at the bottom of them. By the time they came to be used the next evening, Slipper hoped that Melsham’s screaming echoing up them might fulfil the promise.

Again, Lil had proved to be an honest broker in the matter of the manikins. They were not easy to find in quantity at short notice. So Lil had come up with the next best thing, of which she could find supplies in plenty. Consequently what adorned the walls and appliances of the dungeon resembled not so much a Haberdasher’s nightmare as a Bacchanalian orgy, replete with surprisingly life-like inflatable bed-mates contorted into impossible positions by the constriction of the chains and implements twisted around them. Slipper looked at one particularly repellent specimen and wondered what enormity of the human condition might warrant the insertion of such a sensitive part of the anatomy into it. But, with any luck, Melsham might find out.

Taking one last, lingering look around, he closed and locked the dungeon door and went, exhausted, to bed - as did Freddy who, when Melsham had finally released him, suddenly remembered Carmen locked in the closet upstairs, and released her.

Whereupon she released herself …on Freddy.

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