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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Chapter Five - Red Sky At Night, Stokes' Delight

Ricey sprinted down the back-alley, feet slipping and sliding on the wet concrete as he went. The sound of a gunshot echoed off the walls and he instinctively ducked, almost falling to the ground. Reaching the end of the passageway, he turned left and then right, zipping around one bend after another, trying to put as much distance and as many corners between himself and The Spread Eagle as possible. He crossed traffic-less streets, passed featureless blocky buildings and paid no attention to any of it. Rain streamed into his eyes and plastered his hair to the top of his head. It passed through his thin blue shirt as if it wasn't there and before long he felt his body sagging and shivering. He popped out of a narrow lane and into the wider expanse of a main street. Gradually, he came to a halt, panting and puffing, his heart-beat throbbing in his ears. He looked behind him, but there was nothing. No-one was following.

Ricey turned in circles, trying to get his bearings. There were no landmarks of any kind, just the same faceless blocks lining the road. Up above, the rain began to recede, but the pulses of electric blue energy continued to slip stealthily across the sky. The only sound was a low throbbing that seemed to be coming from 100 yards up the road. At the source of the sound was a faint red glow emanating from an opening between the buildings. Ricey tentatively stepped towards it. As he walked, his conscience began to grumble. Should he really have run away? As odd as Rusty Shackleford and his friends were, at least they seemed to know where they were and what they were doing. And Shackleford had bought him a drink. It was rude to run off without returning the favour.

No, said a calmer voice in his head. Old Blue Lady had told him that he was the target for these 'moderators'. Billy Ocean and Owen Paul had come for him. In reality, he was doing everybody a favour by running away. Wasn't he? That made sense didn't it? Ricey wasn't so sure, but then he hadn't been entirely sure of anything since he'd woken up. At least, for the moment, he had time to think.

He reached the opening and poked his head around the side of the building to look. He had to squint to make it all out. At the end of the passageway was a enormous circular red glow, twenty foot in diameter, like the opening to some diabolical tunnel. In front of the opening, sillouetted by the light, were people, maybe ten or so, standing with their arms stretched out by their sides, swaying slighty as if buffeted by an invisible tide.

Ricey lowered his head and shielded his eyes with his hand. He walked down the passageway, welcoming the slow heat of the red glow, feeling his sodden clothes drying as he went. He'd been on holiday to a Greek island last summer and this reminded him of stepping off the plane and being hit by the Ionian sun for the first time. In spite of his confusion, he found himself smiling, as if somehow everything was alright again.

"Excuse me?" he said to the nearest figure. "Excuse me?"

"Hmmm?" said a dreamy voice.

"What is this? What is this light?"

"Erm..." said the figure in a Sunday morning lay-in kind of way. "It's....God, I don't know. But it's nice, isn't it?"

Ricey waited for more information, but with nothing forthcoming, he pressed on, closer to the glow. He approached the figure who he deemed to be wavering the least and introduced himself.

"Excuse me? My name is Ricey. Who are you?"

"Stokes," said the figure gently. "I'm Johnny Stokes."

"It's good to meet you Johnny," said Ricey in the benign voice he usually reserved for the immensely drunk. "What is this?"

"This?" smiled Stokes. "This is the Red Tube, my friend. Isn't it beautiful?"

"Red Tube?" smiled Ricey. "That's the website with all the free por-" He stopped and took a pause. "Erm...that is to say, a friend of mine told me that it's a website with all the free pornography."

"I don't know all the details, but I know you won't find a more compelling view anywhere in the Shrimper Zone."

"I've never looked at it before," lied Ricey shamelessly.

"Look now, my friend. Gaze upon the wonder."

Ricey dared to peer out from under his hand. In the centre of the glow a pattern of shadows and lights played out an intricate dance, twisting and turning, becoming ever more...alluring. Faint shapes and half-imagined memories swirled in the maelstrom, a confusing kaleidoscope of subliminal erotica that he could barely look away from. Ricey felt the dryness of his clothes pushing against him for a moment, before realising that he himself was pushing against the dryness of his clothes.

"Crikey!" he exclaimed, quickly looking away and dropping his hands in front of his groin.

"Don't fight it, Ricey," burbled Stokes deliriously. "Let it take you over."

Ricey wavered in the beam, wobbling between two positions, like a pale holidaymaker dangling his toe above a swimming pool, knowing that to jump in would be wonderful, but being too scared to commit.

"I'm going in!" yelled a shrill voice from behind him.

"No!" shouted Stokes. "You can't!"

"You can't stop me!" screamed the figure, pushing his way to the front, his perpetual tumescence all too visible "I'm going into the tube!"

"Tarquin, no! You know what happens!"

"I don't care! I don't care, it's sooooo beautiful!"

There was a slurping noise, like a fat child finishing off a milkshake and Tarquin was pulled off his feet and sucked into the glow.

"That's sad." said Stokes. "He hadn't been here very long. They never come back, you know."

"This," said Ricey, now turning his back very firmly on the glow, "is the weirdest thing I've ever seen. All I want are some answers, for Christ's sake."

"Answers? You don't come to the red tube for answers, my friend," said Stokes, still staring at the glow. "You come here to forget the questions. You want to talk to Osymandus."

"Osymandus!" laughed Ricey. "Of course, why didn't I think of that! He'll have some answers."

"He certainly will," said Stokes. "It's getting them to match up with the questions that's the tricky bit."