The memory of that short journey, a matter of a few miles, remains branded upon my mind forever. I could not shake an anxiety that had landed on me and remained on my shoulder like an albatross around my neck. The horses pulled reluctantly into the gale, which no matter how the road wound, was for ever head on and the slow moving landscape seen through the little window was more like the grey Atlantic in the grip of a storm. We three had the coach to ourselves and I fancy that my unspoken dread was passed in contagion to my friends, for we sat in silence. The well padded plush of that coach was to me, nought more than a straw-strewn tumbrel shaking over the broken cobbles of lawless Paris, carrying us off to our doom.
“Japanese drink. question mark: Three letters, middle one’s an ‘ i ’.” said Bananas, suddenly looking up from his paper.
Ayres was holding a hand in front of his face, closely examining it with each eye alternately.
“Everything’s blue with this one, and utterly red with this one, and totally blurred with both!” he said miserably.
He had been staring straight at the sky when the lightning had struck and was still without his full visual acuity.
“How can you sit there toying with crosswords when who knows what awaits us at that dread castle?” I exclaimed, “I hope you at least, have brought your service Webley, Ayres.”
“Show him our armoury,” said Bananas encouragingly.
Ayres threw open a small satchel and rummaged for a moment among some undergarments, letting fall to the floor a small jar of ointment and a packet of pills.
Retrieving them I read that the embrocation was for the treatment of…the jar was snatched from my grasp, the packet of pills followed too, but not before I read that they were ‘Perkin’s Tonic. The Gentleman’s Friend’.
“What is it?” I asked puzzled. “Do we put it in their tea and then rub on the unguent?”
“Wrong bag Maroon. Ayres can‘t see properly yet.” Said Bananas, “Look in that Gladstone on the seat there.”
Sure enough, inside was a flask of water marked “Souvenir des Lourdes” (BBE 1891), a string of white Italian garlic, and a particularly realistic crucifix.
“How will these help?” I asked.
“They are the traditional weapons against the Undead,” muttered Ayres, wrapping his medicines in some woollen drawers and stuffing them forcefully to the bottom of his bag.
“Are they Catholics then?” I asked Ayres.
“The Undead” I answered.
“I fail to see why that…”
“If they are not Catholic, what power will these symbols have over them? What if they’re Orthodox? They are from the east you know.” I explained.
“They are from America.”
“They could be Anglicans then. Or Lutherans, or Dutch reformed. They could be Jewish. Have you thought of that?” I argued reasonably.
“Professor Van Hellsing has proved that when it comes to this sort of stuff, nobody does it better,” said Ayres with conviction.
“They will suffice.”
Remarked Gorilla Bananas, putting an end to the discussion, but not my misgivings.
I felt the reassuring bulk of my own weapon concealed in my trousers and kept my peace.
* * *
Up at Castle Alucard, Miss Lindy also had her misgivings. At breakfast that morning she had been surprised to find a message no bigger than a business card, wrapped in greaseproof paper, under a fried egg on her plate. With a practiced deftness, she had slipped it into her sleeve ignoring the yolk on her cuff.
“See me in the kitchen. Bring the Book,” it had read, and now she stood in that cavernous hive of preparative activity, conferring in whispers with Mrs Cat the housekeeper.
“I have trained with burly men of six-foot-three from the Yukon,” explained Mrs Cat, “Master Hing has told me all about you, I shall be your trainer for the dark battle to come.”
“Vol-au-vents for 40!” Called M Barnee. “How am I expected to work in these conditions?”
“Did you bring the book?” asked Mrs Cat
Miss Lindy handed it over. ‘Japanese for Dummies’
Holding it up, Mrs Cat bent back the spine…
“You shouldn’t…” protested Miss Lindy.
At that, a strip of rice paper slid from its hiding place. On it, three ideograms.
The dawning of understanding was creeping across El Barbudo like a cold fever. He had talked through most of the night with Glark and had learned much about Doctor Evil’s Organisation. He was now in a more comfortable ‘treatment room’ still tethered but at the same time strangely cosseted. Reading the various charts and advertising bills on the walls of his cell;
‘Phrenology, Bumps and your character‘. ‘Water treatment for hysteria‘. ‘Dr E Scientist’s patent steam therapy for depression’ ‘New for 88, electro-aversion techniques’…
He felt his fear being replaced by a red anger he had never known.
“Blistering Barnacles!” he screamed, “I’ll get you for this Bananas, you festering fish-hook you!”
A dawning of understanding of a different sort was creeping over the meddlesome Inspector. He was now tethered against the familiar wall, his trousers somehow removed through the night.
“You’ve had quite a shock,” said Eater, “I told you not to touch those switches. Never mind, a member 27 inches long is some compensation surely.”
“But I don’t have a member 27 inches long.” wailed the Inspector
“You will, when we’ve finished with you.” grockled Glark.
Eater smiled: “Bring forth the weights!”
* * *
The carriage came to a crunching rest in the howl. We had arrived!
“Nip” said Ayres.