by Brian K. Asbury
“And stay out!“
Rough hands pushed the Beefeater out onto the patio, and the door closed behind him. Seconds later, it opened again, and the same constable roughly shoved the golden sceptre of power into his hands.
“You can’t treat me like this,” he muttered. “This is England, not bloody Soviet Russia. I’ll have you know, I’m a personal friend of the Mayor of Brixham — well, the wife is, anyway…” His words trailed off as he realised that the constable had gone back inside.
He turned over the sceptre in his hands. “This is all your fault,” he scolded. “You and that stupid bitch-queen I married. I told her. Didn’t I tell her? I told her not to put you in the dishwasher! But would she listen? Oh, no. ‘If you must make a fool of yourself, Michael, at least make sure that toy of your father’s is clean.’ Clean? Clean? For God’s sake, woman, did General Glory make care if my father’s sceptre was clean when he was rescuing him from Hauptmann Über and his marauding Panzer Maidens?“
He made his way down the steps, pausing at the famous rotating New Scotland Yard sign and aiming the sceptre at it.
“Typical. Absolutely bloody typical. It’s probably half full of bloody Fairy Liquid!” He shrugged and carried on down to the sidewalk, still ranting.
This did not go unobserved. A man swaddled in a voluminous raincoat and leaning against a lamppost a little way down the street visibly started as he saw the costumed man coming down the steps from the Yard.
“What the hell?” he muttered, backing off involuntarily. His heart sank. This couldn’t be happening. A new country, a new city, new cops to confound with his ingenious taunts — and no super-heroes. No super-heroes.
“This is crazy. There aren’t supposed to be any super-heroes in London. No Batman, no Green Arrow, no Justice League — just a lot of dumb cops.”
The costumed man was definitely coming toward him and seemed to be shouting. He looked ridiculous as hell, but he’d just come out of Scotland Yard, and that golden stick he was waving about seemed to be some sort of weapon. And what was he shouting? “I’ll get you! See if I don’t! I’ll make you pay!“
“Geezus H. Christ!” swore the man in the raincoat. “He’s recognised me. But how? I’m not even wearing my mask!”
Even as it occurred to him how stupid that sounded, he made up his mind. However this weirdo Limey super-hero had recognised him, he wasn’t just going to hang around and be picked up. He started to back away in the direction of Northumberland Avenue; then he decided discretion was the better part of valour and broke into a run.
“Yes! You wait and see! I’ll melt you down into scrap, you worthless geegaw. God, I’d be better off carrying a broken bloody bottle as a weapon — hello?” The Beefeater caught sight of the running man. Had the fellow took flight at his approach? It seemed so.
“By God, he’s wearing some sort of costume under that mac,” he said out loud to no one in particular. Indeed, as he ran, the back of the fleeing man’s raincoat flapped up, revealing that he was wearing boots, and that tucked into them were spandex leggings.
“A super-villain!” the Beefeater gasped. “And I’ll bet he was hanging around to launch an attack on the police. Well, Mr. High and Mighty Bloody Hanson, we’ll see who isn’t a super-hero. No evil-doer is going to escape from me. This is a job for…” He posed dramatically. “…the Beefeater!“
The fugitive ran around the corner, tugging at his coat in desperation. Oh, hell, he thought, why did I have to buy a coat with so many goddamn buttons? He looked around for somewhere where he could duck out of sight long enough to stop and remove it. If he could only get it off, he could reach the weapons attached to his costume underneath. But without them, he was helpless.
Meanwhile, the Beefeater had also broken into a run. He had no idea who the other man was, but that scarcely mattered. No normal person wore spandex under a raincoat. And the fact that he was running away spoke volumes. All right, so he hadn’t been committing any obvious crime, but if he was running away, it stood to reason that he was guilty of something, didn’t it?
For the first time today, Michael D. Fecktiffe was enjoying himself immensely.
And meanwhile again, back in his office in the New Scotland Yard building, Ken Hanson was watching the street from his window. “Sergeant Harris,” he said to the man who had just brought him the report on the recent shootings at Heathrow Airport, “it looks as if our looney-tunes Beefeater is chasing someone.”
“Take somebody from Uniform branch and find out what he’s up to, will you?”
Elsewhere, the running man glanced over his shoulder. His costumed pursuer was just rounding the corner and shouting for him to stop. No way, he thought. I’m not giving up that easily. Ahead of him on the next block were some shops, and between them a narrow alley.
OK, he thought. That’s where I’ll make my stand. That costumed clown will regret the day he took on — the Cluemaster!
Cluemaster raced into the alley, tearing at his coat. “C’mon, unfasten, you goddamn cheap rag. Oh, for Christ’s sake, if I’m beaten ’cause I can’t undo a few buttons, I’ll never live it down!”
At last the buttons came free, and he practically ripped the raincoat from his back, only to hear: “Right. Don’t move, you, you… you villain, you. And put your hands up.”
“Put my hands up what?” Cluemaster said, slowly turning.
“That isn’t funny, you Colonial nitwit. Raise your hands above your head!”
“OK, OK. I just wanted you to say please. I thought you British were supposed to be polite.” Raising his arms above his head, the costumed villain completed his turn and found himself looking down the end of a hollow golden sceptre. “Uh… is that thing loaded?“
“It certainly is,” said the Beefeater. “Now, who are you?“
The Cluemaster was nonplussed. “Who am I? Don’t you know?“
“Just answer the bloody question, you scurrilous knave!”
“It’s the mask, isn’t it? The outfit isn’t complete without it. Look, can I just put it on, so…”
The sceptre twitched. Geez, thought Cluemaster. This guy’s edgy. But maybe I can use that to my advantage. If I can just rattle him long enough for me to reach one of my sleep gas capsules, it’ll be goodnight Vienna, and I can high-tail it out of here.
“Anyway,” he said. “Never mind who I am. Who are you?“
The Beefeater spluttered with rage. “Who am I? Who am I? You bloody ignorant Yank, who do you think I am? Look at the uniform. Who the hell else do you expect to be dressed like a Yeoman of the Guard? Does Batman wear blinking Tudor roses on his boots? Eh? Does the Flash wear a red hat with flowers round it?”
The Cluemaster shrugged.
“Oh, I see, that’s the score, is it?” growled the Beefeater. “I’m not good enough, eh? Perhaps you were expecting Superman, were you? Or Green Lantern? I know, I tell you what — I’ll let you go so you can wait for the Legion of Super-Heroes to arrive from the thirtieth century and battle you. Would that be more to your taste?”
“I only asked who you were,” said Cluemaster. “C’mon, gimme a break, here. I’m just a confused tourist from the other side of the Atlantic. I’m clearly no match for your superior British intellect. You want to give me a clue? I’m good at clues.”
“A clue? Look, chummy, I’m in no mood to play games. You’re face to face with the Beefeater, all right? The Beefeater — defender of this sceptre’d isle, this blessed plot, this Earth, this…”
“Sceptered isle — sceptre. Yeah. Not much of a clue, but I’ll buy it. I’m the Cluemaster, pal. Nice to meet you.” Cluemaster started to lower his hand to offer it in greeting.
“D-don’t move, you… you… you…” The Beefeater fumbled with his sceptre, almost dropping it. As he tightened his grip, he accidentally pressed the trigger button.
The two men stared at each other.
“Gaaa-aaa-aah!” screamed the Beefeater, throwing the sceptre into the air in frustration.
That’s it, he’s lost it! thought a delighted Cluemaster. He scrambled to pull one of his sleep-gas capsules from the velcro that secured it to his costume. Say goodnight, Gracie, he thought.
The sceptre, meanwhile, struck the wall of the alley, just below the rainwater guttering at the top, startling an elderly pigeon that had been taking a nap on the roof.
The pigeon took flight, dislodging an old tennis ball that had been lying in the gutter for several days.
The ball tottered out of the gutter and fell two storeys to the ground.
It hit the floor of the alley and bounced right into the face of the startled Cluemaster, who dropped his sleep-gas canister at his own feet.
“Oh, my God! No!” he howled, backing off and trying to hold his breath. However, it was too late. Having already taken in some of the gas, he slowly keeled over backward among a pile of garbage.
The Beefeater also backed away from the spreading cloud, straight into Sergeant Harris and a uniformed constable. “What’s going on here?” demanded Harris.
The Beefeater drew himself up to his full height. “Just doing my job,” he said haughtily. “Another sneaky American evil-doer brought to justice by the might and cunning of England’s greatest defender — the Beefeater!”
“And pigs’ll fly,” muttered the constable.
“What was that?”
“Is that some sort of gas?” said Harris.
“Looks like it’s already dispersing, Sarge,” the constable said. “Want me to investigate?”
“All right,” said Harris. “But be careful.” The constable started forward.
The Beefeater waved a hand in front of Harris’ face. “Excuse me? Excuse me? Am I actually here, or is this a red kryptonite delusion? I have apprehended this felon, you know. Or would you have preferred Superman to do it? God, what does one have to do to get any respect around here?”
“Yes, yes, all right,” said Harris. “Well done, OK? But just tell me one thing — who have you actually caught?”
“I think I can answer that one,” said the constable, who was dragging the fallen villain into an upright position. “I recognise this bloke’s outfit from the wanted files. He’s the Cluemaster. He fought the Batman.”
“Oh. That’s all right, then. Well done, constable.”
“‘Well done constable’?” spluttered an outraged Beefeater. “And what about me? What about the hero who actually caught this dastardly rogue, eh?”
“Er… yes, all right,” said Harris. “Well done you, too.” He helped the uniformed man to get the groggy Cluemaster, who was already coming round, to his feet.
“D’d anybody get the number ‘o’ that uru hammer?” slurred the half-conscious villain drunkenly.
Harris handcuffed him. “Come on, let’s get this clown back to the Yard. The Super will be pleased about this.”
“I should think so, too,” smarmed the Beefeater. “I’ll come with you. I’ll enjoy rubbing this in his face.”
“Uh-uh,” said Harris. “Sorry, mate, but the Super has threatened to chuck anybody who lets you back into the Yard into a pit full of live scorpions.”
“I’ll put in a good word for you, though,” said Harris, as he and the constable departed with their prisoner.
“Bloody cheek!” said the Beefeater to no one in particular. “However…” he added, “…I did it! I took on a perishing super-villain and I beat him. Me. All by myself!” He jumped up and punched the air.
“Now, where’s that blasted sceptre of mine,” he said, suddenly remembering that he’d thrown it away. He looked around and found it a few yards down the alley. “Hmmm… dented a bit, but not too much the worse for wear.”
He picked it up and peered down the barrel. “If only I could get the confounded thing to work,” he muttered, fiddling with the controls.
Some time later, Tommy O’Devlin wandered down the alley from the opposite direction, looking for somewhere to bed down for the night. Tommy was a well-known figure on these streets and well-respected among London’s homeless, as he had been sleeping rough since long before Margaret Thatcher’s government had made it fashionable.
He suddenly caught sight of an object lying on the floor of the alley. Bejesus, he thought, ’tis me lucky day. I could use a new shoe.
He meandered over and picked it up. Well, maybe he wasn’t that desperate. The shoe looked as if it would fit him, but it was bright red and had a Tudor rose attached to it. It also smelled strongly of smoke. He felt inside. Yeuk! There were bits of a scorched white sock in there.
Nah! he thought, tossing the shoe aside and wandering back to the garbage in search of a good, warm cardboard box.