by Brian K. Asbury
“Turn left here to get to the seafront,” said Sandie Bremmer, studying the road map on her lap.
“You been here before?” asked Sergeant Dennis Harris, who was driving.
“Only once, when I was a kid. My family were on holiday in Torquay, and we came down here to Brixham for a day. I remember being pretty disappointed because there was no beach, just a harbour with lots of fishing boats and some antique warship or other that had been used in a TV series in the ’60s. The ice cream was pretty good, though…”
“If you don’t mind!” came a voice from the back of the car. “We’re not here to indulge in either childhood nostalgia or ice cream. The local police have called us in because of reports of a crime involving meta-human activity. We’re here to assess the situation and investigate if necessary.”
“You sound doubtful, Ken,” said Sandie, turning to look at her boss Ken Hanson, who was catching up on some paperwork in the back seat.
“Doubtful is the word, Sandie. Why do you think I didn’t call in the rest of your team? Given who lives at one of the addresses on that list you have, this could all turn out to be one total waste of police time. And if it is, a certain somebody is going to have the book thrown at him!”
Sandie — who, besides being the forensic investigator for Hanson’s department, was also the super-hero known as Cameo — looked over the list. “According to the map, the hotel is the first of these addresses we’ll be coming to, sir.”
“Good. That should give us some idea as to whether there’s any truth to these stories, or if they’re just something that moron has made up to get our attention!”
A few minutes later, the unmarked police car pulled into the driveway of a hotel on a hill some half a mile away from the town itself. “Looks a bit run down,” commented Sandie.
“Much like its owner,” was the grumpy remark from behind her.
The car stopped, and the three police officers got out and made their way to the front door. Inside was a not-unpleasant vestibule, although to the left was an archway that looked only half-complete and ready to cave in at any moment. Next to it was a sign announcing that this was the way to the dining room. “Doesn’t bode well, guv,” said Harris.
“No…” Hanson stepped up to the reception desk and was just about to slap his hand down on the bell when a woman emerged from the office behind it. She was wearing a blue twin-set and pearls, and her hair was dyed a very unlikely looking peach colour.
“My God, it’s Maggie Thatcher’s even more evil sister,” whispered Harris into Sandie’s ear. The Afro-Caribbean girl stifled a giggle.
“Welcome to Fecktiffe Manor,” said the woman, her voice dripping sugary sweetness. “I am Lisa Fecktiffe, the manageress and co-owner. Have you reservations?”
“Not exactly,” said Hanson, producing his warrant card and waving it under her nose. “We’re the police. I’m Detective Chief Superintendent Hanson of the Department of Crimes Involving Non-conventional or Exotic Means or Abilities. My colleagues are Sergeant Harris and Dr. Bremmer. We’ve been called here because–”
“About time!” said Lisa Fecktiffe, interrupting him. “You know, I have made sixteen separate calls to you people since yesterday afternoon, and this is the first response I’ve had.”
“If I can ex–”
“The trouble is that he’s made so many reports about the most trivial of things that they don’t take him seriously anymore. Like those German tourists whom he accused of trying to start World War III? Or the young Australian lady he wanted arresting for soliciting on the premises, just because she wanted to share a room with her boyfriend? And, of course, because I have the misfortune to be married to the great long streak of pomposity, it rubs off on me. Well, I don’t think that’s very fair, do you? But it’s typical of Michael, I have to say. Everything he touches turns to… well, you can see for yourself.”
She pointed to the precarious-looking archway. “I told him not to use that cowboy McFeeney, but would he listen? Of course not. Never listens to a word I say to him; I don’t know why. I told him to hire a reputable builder, but no. McFeeney is cheap. Yes, of course he is. And you can see the result, can’t you? Now we’re waiting for the firm I wanted to use in the first place to come and put the drunken Irish layabout’s botch job right, and it’s going to cost three times as much as it would if he’d got them in in the first place instead of going behind my back.”
Hanson seized on a fortuitous pause for breath. “Mrs. Fecktiffe, we’re not here about dodgy builders. We’re here because–”
“Because of my husband. I know.”
“Of course. Michael Fecktiffe. My husband. You know him as the Beefeater, God help us. And he’s been abducted by an alien monster!”
Hanson’s brain did a series of flip-flops that would have put a Russian gymnast to shame. “Er… that isn’t quite what we were told, Mrs. Fecktiffe. The crime reported involves the theft of a–”
“Yes, yes,” said Lisa, waving him to silence. “Let me get you a nice cup of tea, and we can talk about it in more civilized surroundings.”
She stepped out from behind the desk. “Jesus! Jesus!”
“What’s she doing?” whispered Sergeant Harris to Sandie.
“Well, it sounds to me like she’s calling to Jesus.”
“You reckon she’s some sort of religious nut, then?”
“I dunno. Maybe she’s hoping that a pot of tea and cups will miraculously appear.”
“Well, that’d certainly put the hotel on the tourist map, San. ‘Come to Fecktiffe Manor in sunny Brixham and witness the Miracle of the Holy Teapot’!”
Sandie sniggered in response, but a withering glance from Hanson silenced them. The senior officer was about to speak when a short, bowlegged, mustachioed figure dressed as a waiter ambled out from beneath the archway. “Si, Missus Fecktiffe?”
“Ah, there you are, Jesus,” said Lisa. “Tea for four in the lounge, por favor. Chop chop!”
The waiter scratched his head. “¿Que?”
“Oh, dear.” Lisa mimed pouring tea. “Tea-o? For quattro?” She held up four fingers. “In lounge-o?” She pointed to an area off to the right of the reception desk.
The waiter looked doubtful for a moment, then light seemed to dawn in his eyes. “Oh, si. Si! Righto away, Missus Fecktiffe, innit!” And he scuttled away toward the lounge.
“Thank you, Jesus, dear,” Lisa called after him.
“Jesus?” said Sandie. “Er… excuse me, but shouldn’t that be pronounced ‘Hey-zoos’?”
“I don’t know, dear. He’s from Lisbon. Who knows what sort of things they get up to over there? One simply can’t get good British staff these days. This way, please.”
She started toward the lounge. The three police officers followed after her, Hanson shaking his head in exasperation. “Why me?” he said.
The lounge was at least comfortable, although the fabric of one of the chairs had a strange fraying that Sandie thought looked suspiciously like rat bites. The hyperactive Jesus buzzed around, issuing each of them with a cup and saucer and spoon, and only after some urging from Lisa remembering to pour any tea into the cups. As Hanson reached for the milk jug, Jesus shoved a plateful of sticky-looking, half-melted chocolate biscuits under his nose.
“No thank you,” he said, trying to wave the waiter away.
“No, por favor. Or whatever. Go away. Vamonos!”
“Ah, si. I go, innit?”
“Now, this is more civilized, isn’t it?” Lisa was saying. “I always say to Michael, there’s nothing that can’t be solved by just sitting down and talking it over with a nice cup of tea — but, no, he has to rush, rush, rush around all the time, losing his rag at the slightest provocation and thinking he can solve all the world’s problems by just patching things up here and there and hoping nobody will notice the join. I blame that father of his, you know — mad as a hatter, he was. The things I could tell you about him…”
Hanson slammed his cup down on a coffee table that had mysteriously appeared at his elbow. If he didn’t get down to business soon, he was going to lose his grip on reality. “Mrs. Fecktiffe, if we could get back to the reason we’re here. We have a report of a missing boat, apparently stolen by person or persons exhibiting unusual abilities. Nothing has been said about alien monsters!”
Lisa glared at him. Sandie decided she had better step in. “Mrs. Fecktiffe, you say your husband has been abducted by aliens? Would you care to elaborate on that?”
Lisa smiled at her. My God, thought Sandie, it’s like being smiled at by a praying mantis!
“Of course, my dear. It all began two days ago. My husband, as you know, was injured back in December trying to play one of his silly super-hero games. (*) Well, our doctor has advised him to take things easy and stay at home, but Michael never could listen to advice…”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: The Beefeater: What’s Your Beef?]
Twenty hours earlier:
The rain drizzled down over the deserted Brixham quayside — deserted, that was, except for one man who mournfully dangled a fishing line into the water. Michael Fecktiffe might have been considered either ridiculously optimistic or woefully stupid for trying to catch fish in the polluted harbour, but in fact he was motivated by neither optimism nor stupidity. It was simply his way of getting away from it all — or rather, getting away from his wife and the hotel for a while. It was infinitely preferable to sit here in the cold and wet with more hope of catching a polar bear than a fish than to spend any more time than was necessary in the company of the Iron Lady of Torbay.
It should have been so different, he mused sulkily. He should have been out there in the wider world, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Superman and Green Lantern, not stuck here in a dead little corner of England watching a nylon line droop mournfully into the grey April sea. Why did everything he tried have to go so horribly wrong? Why couldn’t he have enjoyed the success his father had had in the hero business?
He sighed. He knew what it was. Maurice Fecktiffe had had the advantage of being caught up in a war — in the War — World War II. He had met a renowned Yankee hero and become his partner-in-derring-do, sweeping across Europe together and bashing the Nazi swine wherever they found them — even at one point confronting Hitler himself in his bunker, according to Maurice.
Michael paused in his reverie. Well, that particular story did seem a bit far-fetched even to him — but Lisa said it was rubbish, so it must be true. That was what England needed, though — another war. Oh, there had been that Falklands nonsense a few years back, but that hadn’t been a proper war. How could it have been, when the armed forces had refused to let him join up and go over there and fight? Oh, Mrs. Thatcher (God bless her) had called it a glorious endeavour. But let’s face it, he thought, who were we fighting? The Argies, for Christ’s sake! A bunch of corned-beef-munching dagos with no stomach for a real fight! Not foes worthy of a real hero like himself.
In fact, he mused, that was probably why the Army had turned him down. Nothing to do with his bad knees, of course — that was just an excuse. What they really meant was that the likes of Michael D. Fecktiffe were too valuable to waste fighting against low-grade enemies like the Argentineans. Second stringers were good enough for them: why else would Prince Andrew have been the only member of the Royal Family sent out there? Surely, in a real scrap, the Queen (God save her) would have insisted on Charles mucking in?
Of course, that was before he had found his father’s old golden sceptre of power, much less got it to work, and long before his decision to follow in Maurice’s footsteps.
But even then, it had gone horribly wrong. Nobody would take him seriously. It didn’t help that the bloody sceptre never seemed to want to work when it mattered, but even when the chance came to really make a name for himself during the invasion by the Alien Alliance, he had been treated with scorn and derision by the very people he had been trying to help. Well, he mused, at least the girl who had handed him back his sceptre when he had dropped it had been pretty — very pretty, in fact. (*) He found his thoughts straying into… No! he scolded himself. Pretty she may have been… pretty, young, blonde, smooth-skinned, lithe, slim, full-breasted, and… Stop it! Heroes should not have such thoughts!
[(*) Editor’s note: See Titans West: Where Were You During the Invasion? Chapter 4: Hawk and Dove’s Stories.]
She was nice, though, an inner voice thought. Ah, yes, another part of his personality cut in, but remember her voice? A Yank, for sure. Probably a student. Even worse.
He sighed and forced his thoughts back to more recent events and his last couple of attempts to establish himself as England’s number one hero. He still could not fathom why Mrs. Thatcher (long may she govern) had turned down his offer to be her bodyguard, but then even more incomprehensible was how perhaps his best opportunity to date to get into the big time had gone so badly pear-shaped. He had faced a real super-villain in London and triumphed. All right, so it was only the Cluemaster, but he had stopped him. He, Michael Fecktiffe, on his own, unassisted.
Yet nobody knew about it. The bloody police had stolen all the glory, and he had ended up in the hospital suffering from multiple burns and contusions after that godforsaken sceptre had discharged in his face and thrown him the length of the alley, where he had confronted the Cluemaster and into the path of a taxi. (Thank God, he considered, it was a London taxi and therefore by definition moving at a snail’s pace.)
Which brought him to the present, four months later, his wounds healed but his super-heroic career still not off the ground. His costume and sceptre were sitting in the boot of his car only a hundred yards or so away, but any chance of winning glory for himself seemed much more distant.
He looked up at the gray, soggy sky and raised his fist. “You bloody hate me, don’t you? You know I deserve better than this, but you just won’t let me have any of it, will you, you vindictive swine? You know, my old dad told me ‘never trust a bloke with a beard,’ and now I know why!”
Oh, but he’d show God — and Lisa, and that prat of a copper at Scotland Yard, and that lovely, lovely blond Yank girl (ahem) — what he was made of, if only he could get the chance. If only someone would try to rob Barclay’s Bank in the High Street while he was around. If only some super-villain looking to enhance his reputation would appear and challenge him to a fight.
And at that moment, a hand clamped tightly upon his shoulder. “At last! I’ve been looking for you everywhere!”