FDC presents "The London Larcenies"
Mick Murdock rifled through the mail which had been dropped through the slot at the front door of his flat, furrowing his brow at a small, square envelope which seemed to have been slipped in with the rest of the mail. He walked quietly up the staircase to his second floor, pausing by the open door of his bedroom.
He'd once heard someone say that a body's scars illustrated the story of their life; certainly, the embattled life he lived had left its share. But in comparison, the body of the man he looked at now was an epic novel, or, he ventured, an overlong fantasy trilogy. He had spent hours tracing each scar and burn mark, wondering at the hard life which had left them. It was not a young man's body, but solidly built in a way that carried its shape through middle age. "Archer?" he said quietly.
Archer Dawe opened his eyes, in a way that suggested he was already awake. Mick had not once succeeded in sneaking up on or surprising him. Seeing the other man, Archer smiled and stretched his neck. He patted the bed next to him. "Breakfast is ready?" he asked, with a tone of exaggerated hopefulness.
Mick shook his head. "Who knows you're here?" He walked over and sat down next to the man, compulsively running his hand over the other's bare shoulders.
Archer mmmmed. "The Soldiers, obviously ... a few of the folks I'm closest to at Camberwell & Chancy know in a vague sort of way although they'd be unlikely to track you down ... if Margo and the Major know, it's because you told them. Why?"
"It looks like someone left you a message." Mick handed Archer the envelope, on the front of which was a drawing of a crossed bow and arrow.
Archer furrowed his brow, and held the envelope to the light, sniffed it, and finally opened it. Inside was a small business card, on which were drawn a series of identical symbols. "Three bells?" he asked. He handed the card to Mick. "Does that mean anything to you?"
Mick thought for a moment. "There's ... a pub on the docks called The Three Bells ... my old band played there once ... "
Archer nodded. "I don't think any of the Soldiers would be this coy about arranging a meeting ... granted I don't know the three new kids so well, but this doesn't seem their style. Come to think of it, I doubt Tom or Tina could even legally enter a pub."
"So it's a mystery. And someone's followed you here. Are you going to investigate? It's probably a trap."
"Of course it's a trap! It always is. Hadn't the Batman taught you that? This sort of thing happens to him all the time, I imagine," Archer laughed. He slid out of bed and reached for his carrying bag, pushing the civilian clothes which had been folded and draped atop it onto the floor and opening the bag up to reveal a hidden compartment, in which he kept the uniform and the armaments of The Bowman.
Mick sighed as he watched the other man getting dressed. "Are you going to call the Soldiers?"
"The note was meant for me. No reason to involve the others."
"I'd feel safer if you did. Or at least let me contact the Bat Squad and meet you there."
"That's really not necessary."
"You ... " Mick scowled, and pressed his finger hard into the other man's chest, " ... are no longer a single man, Archer Dawe. You're not free to take the sort of risks you used to when nobody cared what happened to you."
Archer sighed, but his expression softened. "All right, you win," he said. He sat back down on the bed and pulled off the identity-concealing hood he had donned moments before. "Give me a consolation kiss, at least."
Mick leaned in, pressing his lips to the other man's. "Oh, I definitely win."
Later that evening, Bowman and the trio of midnight-clad adventurers descended on the Three Bells. Glancing at the man's face in the dim light, Bowman noticed, not for the first time, how at certain angles and in certain light Mick Murdock bore a powerful resemblance to Cyril Sheldrake. The Batman had very definite tastes, it seemed, making Bowman wonder about the man's own proclivities.
"I'm going to investigate the interior of the pub," Bowman murmured. "I need the Bat Squad to scout out the exterior. I don't want anyone sneaking up on me, and I need clues about whatever they might be planning."
Mick gave a rueful salute, and he and the others quietly began their reconnaissance. Bowman sighed heavily, watching them, never at ease with the idea of civilians engaged in the sort of dangerous life he led. These, at least, had received some training from one of the best. Reflecting on that thought as he used a lockpick arrow to break into the back of the Three Bells, he wondered at some unconscious hypocrisy on his part: what special training had some of the Soldiers received, before they began their careers? He as well as many of his ilk had a tendency to assume degrees of competence on the part of anyone who donned colourful tights to battle crime, when there was no rational justification for that bias. His own intensive course of study, under Brother George North in the branch of the Jesuits begun by Brother Honestus in honor of the Fellowship of the Black Arrow, was the exception rather than the rule.
So lost was he in his internal reverie that he almost didn't hear the telltale whistle of air through an arrow's fletch. He rolled out of the way, notching an arrow into his own bow seamlessly as he hit the ground, aiming for his estimation of the direction of the attack. A green-clad figure rappelled down from the winding stairwell which led to the pub's second story deck. "I'm so glad you could make it, Archer Dawe," said a familiar voice.
"The Green Archer." Bowman did not lower his weapon. "I had wondered who was using the name. If I'd seen any vids of you in action I'd have recognised your style, Kalesque."
"It was so frustrating having to stifle my natural personality and work alongside Ffogg and those nitwits in London's Guardians," Lord Kalesque's smile broadened, "but it was all part of a greater game."
"And I suppose that summoning me here was all part of this 'game' of yours?"
"Only partially. I was paid to infiltrate the group, but I used the opportunity to see whether I could impersonate someone else right under Ffogg's nose ... he knew me since I was a child, and if I could do that, I stood a good chance of impersonating you and infiltrating the Soldiers."
Bowman stifled a reaction of surprise. He'd assumed Kalesque's targeting of him was predicated on the same reasoning that had prompted the man to travel to the States and target Green Arrow ... some incomprehensible rivalry of arrowcasters. "But if this attack was only means to an end, what was behind it? You've never even crossed paths with the Soldiers."
"I haven't, true. But the Knight was complicit in the death of my cousin in Goatswood after the John Ryder caper. Once I'm done with him and that Squire of his, I'm going to start venturing abroad and tracking down the rest of them."
Bowman thought to himself of Limehouse Larkin; the two of them as well as Kalesque were among Brother George North's students, though the cousins had turned their skills to the dark side. He remembered Cyril Sheldrake's account of how Larkin had vanished during an investigation by the group of then-teen adventurers known as the Eyrie, of Sheldrake's first exposure to the icon known as "The Pain of the Goat," and how it had led the Seven Soldiers to the cloudy depths of Demhe and their fierce battle against the mole men known as the Tylwydd Têg. "You realise that the Knight had nothing to do with that, don't you?"
"I realise the official story," Kalesque sneered, "but blood must be paid in blood."
At his words, Bowman rolled again, re-oriented and fired. He felt a stab in his side and his eyes tracked his opponent through the blur of pain, praying his own arrow had flown true.
"His 'needs' are ploys to keep us out of the action," Mick grumbled to his teammates. "He's trying to protect us."
"I think it's sweet," Margo said with a grin.
"I was investigating cases when he was still in diapers," grunted Major Dabney, "but I have better things to worry about than judgements from your romantic entangelements, Mick." Mick felt the typical combination of amusement, resignation, and annoyance that he always did when the Major discussed his relationship; he knew the man from an older generation had never felt completely comfortable with Mick's orientation. Nevertheless, the trio had successfully worked closely as a crimefighting unit for years, since they'd initially been gathered together by the Batman.
It was Margo's typically sharp eyes who spotted the boat with its curiously arrow-themed design. "I'm sure this isn't Bowman's," Mick said, "and even if he had a sport boat like this, he'd have told us when we reconnoitered here."
The Major nodded, "It's not a resource he'd have kept to himself, you're right. But what could it mean? There's more than one costumed archer investigating the Three Bells?"
"It sounds like a convention," Margo said.
"Given the mysterious way we were summoned here, it won't be a coincidence," Mick said, his voice troubled. "Major?"
"You're quite right," the Major judged. "We need to investigate." The trio stepped down to the dock, and noiselessly boarded the watercraft. Blacklight torches traversed the surfaces, and Mick stayed on deck while Margo and the Major descended below.
After several minutes, the silence was broken by Margo's hushed whisper. "I found a lockbox; Mick?"
He and the Major joined the distaff member of the Bat Squad in what appeared to be a storage room. "I was picturing something the size of a safe deposit box, not half a volkswagon," Mick said wryly. Margo removed a set of lockpicks from her purse, and handed them to him. Minutes passed tensely as he set to work, until he heard the releases unlatch. With a grin, he opened the case, to reveal a set of small carved boxes, of a variety of designs, some apparently ancient and some modern in design, as well as a number of multicoloured ovals. Mick looked over at the Major, bewildered.
"Buggeration," the Major said under his breath. "That's the Queen's collection of snuffboxes; they were stolen from her private museum at the royal Buckingham Palace a week ago ... and jewelled Russian easter eggs from the gallery of the Easterland House."
Mick tugged at the safe experimentally. "We're not going to carrry this offboard ourselves. Major, maybe it's time to call in Scotland Yard?"
The Major nodded. "I'll go updeck, where the reception will be clear." He left the room, only to return a minute later. "Someone's severed the boat's mooring line. We're floating free." He flipped open his cell phone, then blinked in alarm as the lights in the room were switched on, blinding him for seconds; long enough for a blow to strike the phone from his hands.
He whirled around, and saw a petite woman with blonde hair cut into a pixieish style. She held a pair of immense guns locked in aim at the trio, and on her face was a broad, predatory smile. "My name is Lady Vic," she said, "and I think your names are mud."
Lord Kalesque's voice floated, sing-song fashion, over the otherwise empty pub. "When is Archer Dawe a harper? When he's sent to heaven ... "
Bowman stilled his breathing. His shirt was damp with blood. He remembered his opponent had always outdone him in practices, and was far more ruthless. His only advantage was if he could find a way to use Kalesque's irrationality and obsession with venality against him. He released his grip on his bow, and fingered the arrow's sharp tip.
The tools of his trade clattered to the floor of the pub. "I'll ... I'll let you have the Knight. He rejected me once too often. Just spare the rest of the Soldiers ... you have no grudge against them ... "
"It's a good thing you never tried to get into my pants, if that's how you get when you're spurned." Kalesque laughed. "Throw down the rest of your arrows ... and that collapsible bow I know you keep as a back-up ... and we'll talk."
Bowman hesitated, but soon the remains of his armanents joined his bow and arrow. "All right. You'll need the access codes or you'll never be able to approach the island. The Blackhawks left a lot of automatic defenses b-behind ... " His voice began to trail off, lack of blood making him light-headed.
Kalesque walked over, shaking his head. "Be a shame if you bled to death before you managed to wrack your revenge," he said and knelt down next to Bowman. "So, tell me what I need to know and maybe I'll get you to hospital, so you can read the headlines when I kill off the remains of the Eyrie." Soon to be followed by all the former members of the International Association of Masked Archers, starting with this one, he thought to himself.
"Help ... help me sit up ... " Bowman said. Kalesque reached down, and Bowman's hand lashed forward, slashing the other man's face with the pointed arrow tip which he had swiveled off its shaft. Kalesque shouted in alarm, temporarily blinded, and kicked at Bowman's wounded side. Bowman managed to curl up, grunting in pain at the effort, so that the foot caught him on the shoulder. He grabbed at Kalesque's leg and grappled with him, pulling his opponent down to the floor and pressing his forearm down against his throat, until finally he stopped struggling.
"Damn. Damn damn damn." Moving slowly he stripped Kalesque of his weaponry, and bound him in place. I'll have Dabney make the call on what to do with him, he thought to himself.
He rose to his feet and exited the rear of the pub, making his way towards his Arrowcar and its medical kit. "Dabney?" he called out in a whisper. "Mick?"
"Wakey wakey," he heard a voice say, followed by a girlish giggle. “Welcome back to the land of the living ... for now, anyway.” Mick Murdock woke first, testing his chains, and looked across at Margo Cantrell and Major Dabney who were similarly secured. The trio were attached to what appeared to be some mechanical device, though from his angle it was difficult to detect exactly what sort. He was apparently somewhere outside, still in London given the evident presence of the Thames beneath them.
Lady Vic finished off her pint and, dipping the empty pint glass into the water, splashed it over the Bat Squad. Mick turned his face to the side, while the others spluttered into wakefulness.
“What was that,” The Major asked, “knockout gas?”
She giggled again, and brandished a handful of fog pellets in his direction. “Aren’t they pretty? Gift from the boyfriend, wasn’t it, he’s so thoughtful.”
Mick glared at her. “Lady Vic, why did you bring us to this ... this ... “ He looked around, trying to get his bearings.
“This, the world's largest winch?” she asked. “Just doing a bit of touristing at the Tower of London and thought to check out the bridge. It seemed like a nice place to arrange a little tete a tete with a trio of tresspassers, before we go through, well, what I suspect will be a parmanent parting of the ways.”
Margo gasped, “You tied us to the winch? When it next opens the bridge for naval traffic we’ll be torn to pieces?”
“And I will surely miss the three of you,” Lady Vic continued, “but we’re on too rich a winning streak to be interfered with now. Oh look, here comes lover boy!”
The arrow-themed boat motored slowly towards the bridge, and a man clad in green and carrying a bow climbed up on to the front deck, waving at the mismatched foursome. A series of bells clanged, announcing the opening of the bridge, and slowly the winch began to move.
Margo screamed in fear, and Lady Vic turned and shushed her in annoyance. “You’re going to spoil our reunion.” She climbed a bit lower, to approach the boat, when the archer fired an arrow which attached itself to her shoulder, sonic vibrations paralyzing her muscles and causing her to fall into the water. The man kicked a flotation device off the side of the boat towards her, then fired another arrow at the winch, which landed and began to emit a noxious liquid which seemed to cause the metal to instantly rust, resulting in it freezing in place.
“Archer?” Mick gasped. The masked man nodded, and then dove into the water, securing Lady Vic before he clambered up to free the Bat Squad.
“Sorry for the deception,” Bowman said, “but I needed to get close enough to her to take her and her guns out of action, before I used my Antimechanical Arrow on the winch.”
“Thanks Archer,” Margo said, leaning up to kiss his cheek as the Major nodded his agreement. “I don’t think the emerald suits you, so well.”
“How did you manage to locate us?” the Major enquired.
“It didn’t do it alone; it involved a hasty phone call to the Soldiers’ HQ, where the Spider used the base’s computer to figure out your location.”
Mick pondered his partner’s stubborness in not involving the Seven Soldiers in the first place, and how much this might have been avoided. He contemplated briefly what the other members of the team were doing at the moment.
The rich scarlet of the boy's tunic made a stark contrast to the grey of the skies as he landed outside the stately mansion. He rang the doorbell, and waited skittishly until a dignified-looking man in livery opened the door. "Yes, young man?" he said.
"They call me TNT Tom, Sir," the boy said. "I received an invitation?"
The butler smiled. "Of course. You are expected. This way, please."
TNT Tom followed the other man, through an interior richly decorated, though the decor was tastefully designed to reflect the owner's taste in modern artwork. Finally, he was led to a sitting room, where he was greeted by an older, mustachioed, grey-haired man.
The man rose to his feet, "TNT Tom, is it? Pleased to finally meet you in person. I am Lord Marmaduke Ffogg. So tell me, young man ... do you love your country?"