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Spawn of the Red Hoodie

by T. P. Keating

Dear Jo-Beth,


“The reason I've arranged this meeting is self-evident. Only you can stop this evil spawn of the Red Hoodie, Miss Duncan. Though you'll require detailed local knowledge. Which is where our associate, Mister Fairfax, comes in.” Malcolm Fairfax smiled somewhat self-consciously. “Jolly good show,” he said, tapping his furled black umbrella on the floor.

The lights in the small conference room dimmed. An agreeable country mansion appeared on the screen behind the speaker. “That's Theakston Priory, Gloucestershire, which the spawn have made their headquarters. I regret that the owner is amongst their number. Needless to say, all previous attempts at gaining entry have ended in failure.”

“You mean death, don't you?” As the high-flying CEO of the ruthlessly expanding New Emperor Coffee chain, I'm never one to mince my words.

Bridget Walne, Head of the Special Missions Team at New Emperor Coffee, nodded her agreement. “Quite so. We will deposit you here, by the outer wall, where operatives stationed at our branch in town have dug a secret tunnel. Once inside the grounds, locate Charles Markham and get him out. The freedom to taste the coffee we want depends on it. The authorized level of force is Triple Espresso.” That meant deadly force. The image vanished and the lights returned. How can I describe Bridget to you, Jo-Beth? Older, efficient, never smiles. Yep, that's her. Quite scary.

“He must be quite a barrista,” Malcolm observed, in his usual, quiet way.

“The very best. The majority of our company's cutting-edge trade secrets reside in his head. Which is why the world's most anti-werewolf outfit has kidnapped him. We anticipated an imminent demand to exchange him for you, Miss Duncan, as their actual lupine quarry. News of their master's defeat at your hands spread quickly. We couldn't arrange protection before they struck. Apparently, he was very close to perfecting your new product, the Kimberccino. This way.”

She guided us through the French windows to the garden. “See that decorative urn, on the high wall across the road? The tunnel entrance is located in the bushes beneath it. Do keep your wits about you.” She retreated indoors, closed the windows and lowered the blind.

Leaving the garden, Malcolm and I briskly crossed the quiet road to the perimeter wall of Theakston Priory. Malcolm dug around the undergrowth with the tip of his umbrella. “Here's the tunnel,” he whispered. “Though neither your pantsuit nor my understated pinstripe are going to survive crawling through the dirt.”

“You have an alternative?”

“When Lord Theakston was still alive, we often took an evening shortcut to the village pub in Lower Theakston.” He strode up the road, counting his paces as he did so. When he stopped, his hands quested over the wall. “Victory!” A section of the structure opened inwards on hidden hinges. “17th century craftsmanship, it's never been beaten. Tally Ho!”

He stepped through first, and then motioned for me to follow. Once in the grounds, he made the wall whole again. We lurked to the rear of a sizeable Henry Moore statue. Sort of a large duck-like thingy with a hole in it. You know what Henry Moore's like, Jo-Beth. “Kimberly, there's a conservatory close by, which leads directly to the servants' kitchen. I recommend we go that way.”

“A pantry raid. That'll be a first for me. Come on.”

The conservatory door was unlocked. Likewise the door to the servants' kitchen. Inside, dazzling lights flared on. Before us stood a 6-strong phalanx of red-hooded people. The nearest pointed a crossbow while we blinked. The nails on her dainty hand were painted red.

“Welcome to Hoodie camp,” she sneered, with a regal voice. “I trust your stay here will be an unpleasant one. Guards!” A further 6 spawn overwhelmed us. “Consider yourselves privileged. I'm taking you to the under-dungeon myself. You're lucky for the delay too. Because, without our leader, we must take a vote to decide your unpleasant fates. For those who befriend the werewolf are as much our enemy as the creature itself. This way. All of the stonework in Theakston Priory is original. Mind your heads on the low ceiling.” We were bundled down a narrow stone staircase. “Notice how the staircase has been beautifully carved.” Then shoved into a damp, stone cell. “The under-dungeon was added two years ago.” The door slammed and a key turned loudly in the lock. Despite my best efforts at subtle reconnaissance, I hadn't glimpsed any faces beneath the raised hoods.

“My rescuers, I presume?” Though he kept his tone lightly ironic, still the disappointment clearly showed on the face of Charles Markham. A medium-built man in his early twenties, he sat at a plain wooden table, reading an old telephone directory. Water could be heard dripping nearby.

“We've got a resource they're not aware of,” I explained, retouching my peach lipstick with the aid of a pocket mirror.

“Bags of patience?” He shrugged and carried on reading. I noticed that he was at the surnames beginning with L. “I'm sorry that I never finished the Kimberccino prototype. You were right, Kimberly, it could've been a great success.”

“Now now, Mister Markham, Kimberly here spoke the truth about our hidden resource.”

Mister Markham ignored Malcolm Fairfax and turned a page. “Ah, M, goodie,” he deadpanned.

Malcolm glanced at his watch. “The full moon will rise within 5 minutes.”

Charles looked up. “Don't tell me, you're New Age witches, and the escape spell requires moonlight? Please don't suggest that rubbish those hoodie weirdos spouted was true. Because for a werewolf, Ms Duncan, you're mightily calm.”

Malcolm shrugged at me. But already I could feel the pull of the nearing moon on my chemistry. Humanity receded and a world of unchained animal power replaced it. I loathed it. I owned a silver talisman and herbal painkillers that could help me deny it. But tonight, because deadly force had been authorized, I embraced it fully.

“Grrrroar!” After smashing the door asunder with a single blow, I loped out. “Grrrroar! Grrrroar!” Compared to this rush, caffeine was a snooze. The only memory I have of the next few minutes is a red haze of blood and breaking bodies.

Then I'm lying on a sofa. Malcolm and Charles are chatting nearby.

“Is Ms Duncan always so aggressive?” That was Charles.

“By George, that was nothing. You should see her when her plans for New Emperor Coffee are thwarted.” I raised my head to see him give me a wink.

“The crazy fact is, Mister Fairfax, the coffee buying public can never be told of the continuous efforts we make on their behalf.”

“It's a crazy fact that makes a crazy world that little bit more palatable. Like triple espresso.”

With both the Red Hoodie and his evil spawn eliminated, Jo-Beth, I can at last make plans for my return to New York. You really should visit London one day. Despite its picture postcard reputation, when you turn the postcard over, you'll find that it drips with blood. With such a major selling point, you'd think that their tourist board would make more of it.

Yours truly,



Copyright T. P. Keating 2006

Kimberly’s prior adventures can be found in issues six, seven, eight and nine (double issue) of Lost Souls. News about T. P. Keating is available at www.tpkeating.com

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