“He’s going to run, guv.”
“Where’s he going to run to, Ricky?”
“Dunno, but he’s going to try. I bet you a tenner.”
A handshake sealed the deal.
“There he goes,” Ricky Knight spoke with the pleasure of a man ten pounds richer as he launched into a sprint.
“Oh God, I bloody hate it when they run,” Pat Cage manoeuvred his considerable bulk into a trot, then thought better of it and yelled, “Get him, Ricky.”
Cage stood wheezing for a moment, lit a Marlboro and listened to the sounds of pursuit echoing round the warehouse. Footsteps faded into the distance then stopped. The sound of a scuffle then Knight called out, “Got him, guv.”
“Good lad,” Cage muttered to himself as he lumbered around shelf after shelf of packing cases. Around a corner he found Knight pinning the man to the ground. Cage glowered. “Why d’you run, Smith?” He emphasised his question with a kick to the ribs. The man groaned and Knight clipped him round the ear.
“Shut it, you slag,” he hissed through gritted teeth, then grinned up at Cage. “So where’s that tenner then, guv? Reckon you owe me a pint too for catching the bastard. He’s pretty nippy.”
Cage grunted dismissively. “Get him up, let’s have a look at him.” Knight hauled Smith to his feet, shoved him roughly against the wall.
The man stood rubbing his side, and grimacing. He stared balefully at Knight.
Cage fumbled in his pockets for the cuffs. “Anything to say for yourself before we nick you?”
Smith switched his gaze to Cage, then over Cage’s shoulder. His eyes widened and he raised a quivering finger to point behind them.
Instinctively both men turned to look and Smith burst between them, sending them sprawling and swearing. Cage rolled helplessly on his back, waving away Knight’s attempts to help him up.
“Just get him, you daft bastard.” Knight took off again while Cage pulled himself up and followed. Knight was waiting by a tall shelf. He put his finger to his lips and pointed upwards. Cage nodded and moved to the other end of the shelves. No way past them now.
“Come on down, smart arse,” Cage growled. “Make it easy on yourself.”
The sound of shuffling from above. The two men glanced at each other and tensed themselves, ready to pounce.
The sound of scrabbling then Smith launched himself from the top of the shelves, landed lightly and darted to a large case in the corner. He ripped the door open, turned to give a lazy salute, then ducked inside, slamming the door behind him.
“Christ on a bike, why do they never make it easy on themselves?” Cage sighed then yelled. “Come on out of that box and let’s get you back to a nice warm cell at the nick.” No response from the packing case.
Knight stared up at the shelf. “Did you see that, guv? He must have jumped thirty foot and just got up. He should have broken his legs jumping from there.”
“Yeah, very impressive, Ricky lad, but can we just nick him now and go home? Open that box.”
Knight grappled with the door but it wouldn’t budge. He grabbed a crowbar and jammed it into the frame and pulled. Wood splintered and the door swung open, revealing darkness inside.
They both peered in. “Bigger than it looks,” Knight frowned.
Cage shoved him. “Get in there, you soft bastard.” They stepped through.
Their footsteps echoed eerily and the dark was total. Cage flicked his lighter but nothing, not even a spark. He jumped as Knight yelled out. “Stop playing silly buggers, Smith.” Was that a note of fear in his voice? And where the hell was the door?
They edged slowly onwards, listening intently, only hearing each other’s breathing. A line of light appeared and they headed for it. A door, made of smooth cold metal but no handle. They pushed together and the door flew open, spilling them into the light.
“Passport.” The voice was polite but firm. Cage squinted up, his eyes adjusting. A tall figure loomed over them. “Passport,” it said again.
“Alright, mate, heard you the first time, didn’t I? But I ain’t got me passport, have I? Are you alright, Ricky?”
“I think so, guv. Where are we?”
“Beats me. Where are we, mate?”
“Look, I haven’t got my passport. You got yours Ricky?”
“No, we don’t have our passports.”
“No, no passport. Aaaaarrrrgghhhhhhhh,” Cage screamed as a hand gripped his shoulder.
“Get your hands off the guv,” Knight leapt up but was plucked out of the air by another hand. Both men dangled as the figure turned and walked slowly to the wall. A third hand reached out and touched a panel, the wall slid up and through they went.
There were two men in the room. One sat behind the desk, his hairless head sunk on a neck thick with fat that jiggled perceptibly as he looked up at the group coming through the door. In front of him, on the desk, a tiny man sat crossed legged, his owl-like face impassive.
The figure stopped in front of them. “No passport.”
The fat man leaned back and nodded. The figure dropped Cage and Knight to the floor and went back through the wall, which slid shut behind it.
“Please sit down.” The fat man’s voice bubbled like thick porridge. Two chairs rose from the floor. Cage and Knight looked at each other then sat cautiously.
“Welcome, intruders,” said the fat man. “I am Oolian Jellis, Level Two Inspector, Border Enforcement. This is Talex Omlin, Most Honourable Level One Inspector.”
The small man blinked slowly.
“Alright, wee fella,” Cage held out a hand. Omlin regarded it solemnly. Cage leaned back and looked at Jellis. “Christ in a motorised sidecar, and people say I’m in bad shape. You know, I’ve seen some ugly bastards in my time but you, my son, you take the fackin’ crown.”
“What crown is this?” Jellis asked politely.
“It’s a figure of speech, innit?”
“Explain figure of speech, please.”
“Look, never mind. Just tell us what’s going on.” Cage looked round at the featureless room. “Where are we?”
“So you don’t know? This is the City of Makapi, on the planet Fajeejus. Where are you from?”
“We’re from Walthamstow. In’t that right, Ricky?”
“Uh, yeah, guv.” Ricky was pale. “Well, I’m from Bethnal Green, really, but my mum moved when I was eight to be closer to her job at the dogs.”
“Alright, Ricky, they don’t need your life history.” Cage reached into his jacket and slapped a photograph on the table. “Gentlemen, we’re looking for this man. Have you seen him?”
Jellis looked at the picture then sharply back at Cage. Omlin blinked slowly and said in a hoarse voice, “Voskitt.”
“You what?” Cage asked.
“Pik Voskitt,” said the fat man. “He is wanted for serious crimes in our jurisdiction. Why are you looking for him?”
“Stealing cars, forging cheques, impersonating a priest for financial gain, you name it, he’s done it.”
“You are enforcement officers?”
“Yeah, DI Patrick Cage, DC Richard Knight of the Met.”
“And you wish to find Voskitt?”
“If that’s what you want to call him, yeah.”
“Please give us a moment to discuss this.”
Omlin and Jellis closed their eyes. Knight looked at Cage. “Guv?”
“This is a bit weird, innit?”
“Don’t worry, Ricky lad, it’s all under control. Could do with some grub though.”
Omlin and Jellis opened their eyes. “We can work together on this,” they said together.
Cage grinned and winked at Knight.
They travelled along suspended in a glowing beam of light that deposited them in what looked suspiciously like a multi-storey car park. Jellis led them to his vehicle, a translucent bubble adorned with lights, and squeezed into the front seat. Omlin perched on the passenger seat and Knight and Cage climbed in the back. With a quiet popping it lifted a few feet off the ground and moved smoothly off.
Cage whistled appreciatively. “Nice motor.” He leaned forward between the seats. “So what you after Smith for then?”
“He has stolen the federal reserve of flumparium.”
“Flumparium, eh? What’s that when it’s at home then?”
“Flumparium is the most valuable and dangerous substance on Fajeejus. It can be injected as a drug, moulded into super-precious jewellery or used as a mind control device,” explained Jellis. “It is also most useful in removing stubborn stains from clothing.”
“We have to get it back. If we do not, Voskitt will become the most powerful being in the universe. No one will be able to stop him.”
“Right. Where we going then?”
“Voskitt has a woman. She may be storing the flumparium for him. We will arrive at her residence shortly.”
“Right.” Cage nodded wisely and watched immensely tall, glittering buildings blur past. Beings of every colour and shape flashed across his vision. Three burning orange suns shone through the car roof. Enormous insects smashed into the windshield and were quickly rinsed away by jets of water. “You got any food in here?” he asked.
Omlin hopped down, slid a panel open and handed Cage two plastic-wrapped packages.
“Diamond, cheers mate. Here Ricky, you wanna bite? Here, you alright, lad?”
“Feel a bit sick, guv.” Knight stared weakly at the ground speeding by beneath their feet.
“I’ll have yours then. Don’t puke in the car, eh? There’s a good lad.” He unwrapped a package and sank his teeth into it. “Christ in a souped-up Honda, that is disgusting. Tastes like gone-off dog food.”
Omlin clicked and tutted indignantly.
“Those foodparcels were made by the Most Honourable Level One Inspector’s most honourable woman-for-life.” Jellis explained.
“Jesus, man, I hope she’s got looks, cos she’s bloody useless in the kitchen. I’ll eat it but only cos I’m fackin’ starvin’. You sure you don’t want a bit, Ricky?”
He waved the package under Knight’s nose. Knight retched and put his head between his legs.
“Suit yourself.” Cage took another bite and muttered, “Must be a Maccy Dees round here somewhere. Oh, hello, are we here?”
Knight leaned against the car, the colour returning to his face while the others stared up at a tall white building.
“There is Voskitt,” hissed Jellis. “Quickly, look like tourists.” He skilfully unfolded a large map and they all gathered behind it as Voskitt and a woman walked past and through the entrance to the building.
Jellis lowered the map. “Let us wait a few moments then we shall go in.”
“Who was the bird?”
“The chick, totty, bint. The woman.”
“Chamvakis,” rasped Omlin.
“Tarlette Chamvakis,” elaborated Jellis. “Voskitt’s woman. The most desirable and deadly female on Fajeejus. Legend tells that she has seduced and killed a thousand males. Grandmaster at the ancient art of Ko-Nekfah. Has her own clothing and scent range. A formidable specimen.”
“Nice arse,” Cage commented. “Are we going or what? Come on, Ricky.”
“Chamvakis’s residence is on floor forty-two,” said Jellis.
“There’d better be a lift,” retorted Cage. “Come on, Ricky, up and at ‘em.”
They entered a high atrium, lined with mirrors. Statues of semi-naked, many-limbed creatures stood on plinths. Cage looked round. “No lift?” he asked.
Omlin raised his arms above his head. Jellis did likewise. “Do this,” he said.
Cage and Knight held their arms up uncertainly. Something grabbed them by the wrists and hurled them upwards. Seconds later they were standing on solid ground in front of a door. Knight crouched down, head in hands, moaning softly. Cage clapped him on the back.
“You ready, Ricky?”
“Give me a minute, guv.”
“Stand back please,” warned Jellis.
Omlin stood in front of the door, breathing deeply, his small chest rising and falling. He closed his eyes and opened his mouth. Nobody moved for a moment. Omlin’s eyes snapped open and a high pitched scream emanated from his jaws. Nothing happened for a moment, then the door slowly toppled inwards. They peered inside.
“No one home,” Cage remarked. “Let’s go get some lunch.”
Jellis shook his head, setting off ripples of fat down his body. He took out a small tube, pressed a button and flicked it into the room. With a light hissing it emitted a fine spray falling on the chairs, table and the outline of two figures standing by the window.
“Gotcha,” Cage whispered.
With a dramatic flourish, Voskitt flicked his arm and reappeared, clad only in a pair of glittering boxer shorts. The light flickered off his muscled torso. Beside him, Tarlette Chamvakis held a sheet over her nakedness.
“Bloody hell,” Knight gawped.
“Close your mouth, Ricky, you seen naked birds before, ain’t you?”
“But guv, she’s... she’s beautiful.”
“Don’t get soppy on me now, son. Start thinking with your brain and let’s get this scumbag.”
“Scumbag?” Voskitt’s voice resonated with indignation. “Maybe you’ll regret saying that when I rule the universe.” He threw his head back and laughed.
“Are we nicking this clown or what?”
Omlin stepped forward. “Pikford Voskitt, I am apprehending you in the name of the Most Esteemed and Great Emperor Zinglewort, for the heinous crime of flumparium theft. Hand over the material and come with us peacefully.”
Voskitt gazed evenly at the little man, then laughed even louder, slapping his thigh and whooping. He whipped the sheet quickly from Chamvakis, spinning her naked onto the floor.
“Bloody hell,” gasped Knight
Voskitt threw the sheet into the air, settling it neatly over Omlin, who chittered helplessly beneath it. Voskitt grabbed for something on a side table but Jellis knocked his arm away and a small box bounced to the floor. Knight ran to Chamvakis.
“Pick it up,” grunted Jellis to Cage, wrestling with Voskitt.
“Pick up the flumparium,”
“That little box?”
“Yes, get it quickly,” Jellis gasped as Voskitt hoisted him above his head and bounced him into the corner. He scooped the box off the floor then turned to face Cage, grinning wildly.
“Not so fast, son. You and me got unfinished business.” Cage took a step towards him, his feet tangled in the sheet and he pitched headlong into Voskitt, knocking the flumparium out of his hands and falling on top of it. Desperately Voskitt strained to roll him over, but a sharp click made him look up, directly into the barrel of Omlin’s gun.
A pause. Knight put his jacket round Chamvakis’ bare shoulders and surreptitiously smelled her hair. Jellis moved round behind Omlin, who steadied his finger on the trigger. Voskitt looked longingly at the box beneath Cage’s prone bulk as he struggled weakly to rise. He sighed and looked around, then smiled.
“Voskitt.” A warning note in Omlin’s voice.
“Well, guys, it’s been great, but I’ve got to be going,” Voskitt glanced at Chamvakis. “Sorry, babe, maybe catch you later, yeah?”
“You slimy son of a space-rat,” she spat viciously. Knight stepped protectively in front of her.
Casually Voskitt reached out and flicked on the overhead lamps and spun round, the light reflecting dazzlingly off his underwear. Everyone threw their hands over their eyes and Omlin fired blindly. Blinking, Jellis waddled to the door and looked out.
“He’s gone,” he said grimly. “But at least we have the flumparium.” He helped Cage to his feet and took the box from him. “Good work.”
“Have you considered joining the Makapian Enforcement Service? A man of your character could do well here.”
“Thanks Oolian, mate, I appreciate the thought but me missus would kill me. And no offence, but the food’s a bit ropey. I’m heading back for pie and chips. Can we get back now? I’m bleedin’ Hank Marvin. Starvin’.”
“That it is a pity, but may I thank you on behalf of all Fajeejians for what you have done here. I will take you and your colleague back now if you are both ready.”
“Ricky, get your arse in gear, we’re off.”
“I’m not coming, guv.”
“I’m not coming, guv. I’m staying here.”
“Don’t be daft. What about the footie on Saturday?”
“You can sell my ticket. I’m staying here with Tarlette. I love her.” He gazed into her eyes. She smiled back.
“And I love you, skinny earthman.” They started to kiss, Chamvakis unbuttoning Knight’s shirt and Cage looked away in disgust.
“Gordon Bennett you guys, get a room.”
“Are you ready?” Jellis waited at the door with Omlin.
“Yeah, I guess so. So long, Ricky.”
Knight waved a hand distractedly with a muffled, “See you, guv.”
“Looks like I’ll be needing a new partner,” mused Cage. “Well, Oolian me old mucker, I’m ready. Back to East 17 if you please.”
“Of course. Hold the end of this.” Jellis held out a long, thin pole. Cage eyed it dubiously then gingerly grasped the end.
“Do you require any particular destination?” Jellis enquired .
“Outside the Fat Bull. I could do with a pint or ten.”
“Outside the fat bull,” Jellis repeated into the device.
A noise like a straw sucking the last of a milkshake and Jellis and the world around him disappeared. The sound of hooves thundered in Cage’s ears. Something blotted out the light and he looked up into huge red eyes blazing below razor sharp horns.
“Christ in a camper van,” he just about managed to say before everything went black .