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Slipperduke

The Camden Cad
Joined
Aug 24, 2004
Messages
4,333
Location
North London
Chapter Six - South Of The ShrimperZone? At This Time Of Night?

Ricey edged away from Stokes, carefully keeping his eyes shielded from the Red Tube. As tempting as it was to allow himself to wallow in the intense glow of some very, very naughty thoughts, he knew from...well...erm, first hand experience, that he'd never get anything done that way. The similarly named and regularly visited website on his laptop had taught him that lesson, but it had taken an extensive and thoroughly enjoyable period of tuition.

He turned his back to the warmth and grudgingly quick-stepped out of the alleyway and back into the dark street. The rain had completely died away, but there was no sign of breaking daylight in the moody sky. Those pulses continued to writhe above him and it was concerning that he couldn't even begin to think of what they were. Perhaps Osymandus would know, but finding him was going to be a problem. He tried to remember the route he'd taken through the alleyways that had led him here from The Spread Eagle, but the unharnessed fear of being shot at by Owen Paul had blurred his memory.

As he stood in the gloom pondering his next move, he became aware of a roaring noise in the distance, coming from down the street. A pair of bright headlights came into view and Ricey slipped back into the mouth of the alleyway, anxious not to be spotted. The lights drew closer and the roar grew louder and soon Ricey could see that they were coming from a large, boxy yellow taxicab that had been tinkered, souped and pimped up to sound like a juggernaut. Well, thought Ricey, if you want directions, you may as well ask a cabbie.

"Taxi!" he yelled and flung his hand up into the air.

The cab throttled back hard and dropped through the gears with all the grace and finesse of a rock garden being hurled down a flight of stairs. Catching the edge of a deep puddle, it aquaplaned and screamed into a violent skid, spinning round three times before juddering to a halt, steam rising out of the engine like a once-dormant volcano blearily coming to on a Monday morning.

"Where to, matey?" shouted a chipper voice from inside.

"Erm..." mumbled Ricey quietly.

"Speak up, son. It doesn't do to be dawdling in these parts."

Ricey opened and closed his mouth, but nothing came out. Where was he going? He didn't even know where he was.

"I tell you what, mate. Why don't you climb in and we'll discuss it on the way, eh?"

Ricey tentatively stepped forwards and climbed into the backseat of the cab, which smelt faintly of cigarette smoke and strongly of spilled coffee. The driver spun round in his seat and grinned at him. He seemed safe enough, grey hair and glasses, an affable face, like your Dad's friendly mate. He certainly didn't look like a diabolical 80s popstar.

"I'm Firestorm," he beamed. "Where can I take you?"

"Firestorm?" said Ricey. "Shouldn't you be riding a motorbike?"

"You're absolutely effing right, I should be riding a motorbike. They're a lot quicker and a lot more fun, but they don't half make it difficult for a punter to get his change out of his pocket before we reach the destination. Lost a lot of punters before I figured that out."

Ricey looked at him carefully, but he couldn't figure out whether or not he was joking.

"Where you going, son?"

"I don't know," admitted Ricey. "I'm trying to find someone called Osymandus."

"Ossie?" laughed Firestorm. "Blimey, you must be looking for answers. Mind you, the problem with Osymandus is getting-"

"Yeah, I've been told that already," interjected Ricey.

"Ha ha! I bet you have. He's a bit of legend in these parts. Lives over on the south side of the Zone. There's wisdom there, but you have to blow hard to get the cobwebs off. Let's go then, chop chop."

With a flatulent grunt, the taxi lurched into life and choked its way up the street.

"So, what do you do then, squire?" asked Firestorm

"I...erm...I don't do anything. I've only just got here."

"Only just got here?" said the cabbie, taking a more cautious look at his fare through the rear view mirror. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, I only just got here. Just woke up in an alleyway a few hours ago."

"That's not usual," mused Firestorm. "We've all been here for....well, I don't know. We've all been here. That's all there is to it. Come to think of it, I don't remember how I got here myself"

"Where is here?" Ricey said, staring out the window at the dark streets.

"This?" grinned Firestorm. "Right now, you're on the edge of the Shrimper Zone at the Red Tube, but you don't want to go hanging around there, if you don't mind me saying. We're doubling back now, going to take the quick route past the vidiprinter and-"

"The vidiprinter?"

"Yeah, the vidiprinter. Haven't you seen it? Oooh, it's a marvelous sight. 100ft high, just sits there spitting out football results all night long. I'd love to go to a game one day but...well...I haven't really figured out how, if you know what I mean. I'll take you past it if you like?"

"That's fine, thanks, I just need to see Osymandus."

"Right you are, son. Yeah, so there's the vidiprinter, there's the Red Tube, there's the Shrimper Zone and way out over on the west-side, there's The Messenger."

"What's The Messenger?"

"I don't really know, to be honest with you. Just a big bloke who stands on a hilltop, ringing a bell and reading out strange messages. Hence the name, y'see?"

"What kind of messages?"

"Well, I don't know, No-one really understands them, it's all gibberish to me. 'CU Nxt wk, Rcy!', that's what he says. Or 'Lol! Lol! ROFL!', whatever the bloody hell that means. Funny bloke really."

The car rumbled on through the streets and Ricey let his head slump against the sidewindow. If this was a dream, it was a really comprehensive one. Singing assassins and incomprehensible messages. A higher state of porn and football results. Dark streets and electric pulses. If he learned one thing from this whole experience it would be to avoid cheese-heavy meals before bedtime.

"Why are all the streets so featureless and what are those lights in the sky?"

"Couldn't tell you, mate."

"What about the 80s pop stars trying to kill people?"

The car screeched to a halt in the street, flinging Ricey out of his seat and up against the glass partition like a sparrow hitting a set of patio doors.

"Ouch!" yelled Ricey as he slid to the floor of the cab. "Whaddya do that for?"

"What 80s pop stars?" grimaced Firestorm, still looking forwards and gripping the wheel so tight that his knuckles were growing pale.

"The ones that have been chasing me. Billy Ocean and Owen Paul. What's that all about?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." said Firestorm slowly, refusing to look at him. "We're almost there, let's not say another word, eh?"

The car started moving again, slower this time as if Firestorm was trying to creep through the streets under the shadows, attracting the attention of no-one. No-one at all.

"Why won't you-"

"Leave it. I don't want to know. I'm just a cabbie and I don't want to know."

They crawled on through the dark, taking one turning to the left that led down a slowly curling gradient to a small cottage, set back from the pavement. The cab stopped.

"If you want Osymandus, you want this place."

"Right," said Ricey, rubbing his head. "Erm...thanks." He rustled in his pockets looking for money before remembering that he had none. With a start he glanced up hopelessly at Firestorm, staring back at him through the mirror. A cold sweat broke out on his back.

"I haven't got-"

"Don't worry about it," said Firestorm. " If you're in the position that I think you are, you've got bigger problems than being broke. Consider it payment for you forgetting that you ever saw me, eh? Now get out."

Ricey opened his mouth to thank him, but thought better of it. Quietly and quickly, he got out of the cab. No sooner had his feet touched the asphalt, the cab burst into life and shot back up the hill, its tail-lights vanishing into the distance.

Ricey looked at the cottage. It was small and cold-looking, with an unkempt garden and rubbish littering the pathway. A single light flickered in a downstairs room and at the window a lone figure stood staring at him through the glass.
 
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