In between pressing university business I have just received a call from Darren’s mum, reminding me that there hasn’t been a peep out of Darren since he went to the crypt last week to look for Shiny. She ended the call by intimating that she will cut off the entire Taizhou internet from her underground laboratory in Geneva if he is not soon found alive and well.
Dear Reader. Darren has obviously not inherited his mother’s gene for ruthlessness.
I collect what I need: two torches,* one ancient cat toy (much loved), one girl-guide pocket knife, Janice’s mouse, and my staff, who has been volunteered for the mission by Freya on account of his considerable experience dealing with trouble in the portside bars of the world.
Salty Bob and I enter the Vice-Chancellor’s wine cellar, dear Reader. I press the beak of one of the vultures carved into the Lovage family crest** on the wall, and a slab of the floor moves aside, scraping dreadfully across the cold marble.
We peer down the stairs that lead into the darkness below.
Salty leans in, holding his torch at shoulder height and flashing its pencil-thin beam around the dusty, cavernous space below.
‘FBI!’, he shouts. ‘Put your hands in the air, landlubbers!’
We hear nothing but echoing ubbers, dear Reader, and then, a familiar rumbling sound.
Dear Reader, I place the box on the ground, hold Shiny’s favourite soft toy to the holes of the box, whisper a word of encouragement, and release the catch.
Janice’s tiny mouse sniffs at Shiny’s toy, then skitters down the stairs into the darkness.
‘Follow that mouse’, I say to Salty.
Salty and I head into the depths. Once our eyes adjust, dear Reader, we see, in the corner of the vault, a soft velveteen cushion.
Shiny is asleep on the cushion, snoring gently. The mouse sniffs at her, triumphantly.
And next to Shiny, dear Reader, tied to a radiator, is Darren. He is lying on a bed of old copies of the Daily Wind Instrument (Chinese edition), and next to him, on the radiator, is a strange, elongated fingerprint.
‘But what fiend has done this to Shiny, Darren?’, I cry.
Darren is too overwrought to respond. He merely stares at me, his eyes glinting.
Salty examines the knots in the rope more closely.
‘Call these reef knots!’ he exclaims. ‘These are more like slip knots, and of the most amateur kind!’
But I pay his prattle no heed, dear Reader, for I notice that Darren’s Iron Maiden t-shirt is rumpled.
‘You do look a sight, dear Darren’, I say, as we climb back up the stairs to the Vice-Chancellor’s wine cellar. ‘Change your t-shirt, won’t you, and take one of those bottles over there for the welcoming party’.
Darren brightens a little.
‘The welcoming party?’ he says.
‘Why yes,’ I say. ‘We are all to foregather on the helipad without delay. Ser Basil is about to land’.
*Trans. Flashlights (circa 1989, Mulder and Scully, dear Reader).
** Depicting two vultures picking at a lamb’s carcass, dear Reader, with the motto obruentibus symbolismum beneath.