Charlie spark villain.., p.29
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       Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire, p.29

           J M S Macfarlane
 

  “Without a doubt, Chief – and that’s just as well because from the look of some of the ladies, it would be very easy to lose them.”

  What he really thought, however, was the exact opposite : all of the women were far too arrogant not to wear anything but the genuine article at such an important gathering. And if anyone’s jewels were recognised as duds, the owner would forever be a laughing-stock.

  After the bride and groom joined the high table, during the next four hours, exotic dishes and wines from all over the world were served as the waiters rushed through each course before some of the guests had even finished.

  Charles was so nervous that he had to stop himself getting drunk. It was only the sight of Bob King who was almost inconspicuous in the folds of a French tapestry directly opposite them which stopped him from gulping down any more champagne. A frown from the Scotsman in the shadows made him break out in a cold sweat as it hit him then and there with full force, that their party of the last few days was over : the die was cast and whatever concerns Sir Harry might have had, there was positively no going back.

  Chapter 79

  The Wedding Breakfast

  At the first lull in the dashings here and there of the servants, a clang of silver against crystal was heard and Sir Staynesford Loathbery rose to welcome the guests.

  "My lords and ladies, distinguished friends, ladies and gentlemen, there was a time when this young woman, my niece, was a babe in arms..."

  And for the following forty minutes came a succession of family reminiscences, each more vacuous and soporific than the rest. Everyone was in too much of fuddle to listen to him and were spilling their their wine and in raucous conversations so that he couldn't be heard.

  At last, Sir Staynesford's droning came to an end and the lights were dimmed. Three hundred candles were lit on the banquet tables, giving off a warm and hazy light. At the end of the room, a group of musicians struck up an exotic tune. Seven female dancers, barefoot and in Turkish or Arabian dress, ran out into the middle of the hall and began wriggling and writhing while discarding their veils and squirming and twisting like tree snakes in the monsoon season.

  "Good Lord," said Sir Harry, espying the ornamented figure of one of the dancers, "she's got a ruby in her navel."

  "Extreemely enlightening," said Chief Obobo.

  "I've got to get her telephone number…" murmured Spark.

  All at once the musicians ceased playing then Maxi Spark introduced the second act – Eric Terrapin, Master Magician Extraordinaire.

  In the middle of the performance, the magician needed a volunteer from the audience and turning to the banqueting table, pointed to the now skin-headed Cadwaller, to a perceptible groan from his father-in-law.

  During the following half hour, the Cad was sawn in half, placed in a box into which sharpened swords were thrust, levitated twenty feet in the air and finally made the target of fifteen knife throws some of which narrowly missed his head and groin by a whisker. At the end of it all, he staggered back to his seat and sat mute, staring into space for the remainder of the event, even during the toasts.

  The feast of delicacies continued to be served and ranged from lobsters caught near the Camargue nuclear power station, Kalahari steak, buffalo beefsteak and a French variety of jellied eels.

  After the round of toasts was endured, the bride and groom brushed away the wasps and cut their wedding cake. Everyone who hadn’t fallen under the table (and there were a fair few who had), was shepherded into an adjoining reception room for dancing and music. A twelve piece orchestra struck up an old fashioned polka which only the most wrinkled guests could recall and the bridal waltz was hurried on ahead of schedule to liven things up again. At the far end of the room, there was steaming, hot brandy punch which made everyone's hair stand on end after a few sips.

  It wasn't long before the music had worked its effect along with the punch and soon everyone, precocious or decrepit, portly or rakish, was casting self-respect to the wind and jumping or whooping and japesing about on the dance floor without knowing what they were doing or what fools they appeared in a spectacle of their own design.

  "I say," said Lady Moutonne, "haw, haw, who the devil is that absurd fellow over there, stepping all over his partner toes ?"

  However, Spark cared not a whit – he didn't even know who he was dancing with as his eyes were rivetted on her diamond necklace. It was sheer bad luck that his feet kept squashing her toes as his fingers caressed the clasp without her realising it.

  Chapter 80

  Bob King In Readiness

  Sir Harry stood on the sidelines near the bar, chatting to some of the guests, after taking one or two whizzes around the dance floor with the ladies. He was secretly watching their jewellery and admiring how it glittered as it floated around the room. Some of it looked expensive but was Hatton Garden manufacture while certain pieces were of an astronomical value.

  Around and around he followed them with his keen blue eyes, picking out the biggest and most brilliant in readiness to spring at them as soon as the moment arrived, just as a wolf selects the fattest sheep in the flock and waits for the shepherd to nod off.

  Out of breath and sweating profusely, Spark joined Sir Harry at the bar. "Should be just about time for the fireworks," he said.

  "I did not know there was to be a display," piped Chief Obobo who had only just procured his seventeenth Napoleon brandy and crawled out of the shadows.

  "Really ?” said Sir Harry. “There definitely will be fireworks – of that I can assure you," and at the same time, turning to the French tapestry and giving a wink. The signal was unfortunately returned by Lady Birch who was by this time staggering from the day's events as she looked for someone or something on which to anchor herself.

  In desperation, Sir Harry moved into the crowd to blend in with the guests who were all visibly flagging.

  Meanwhile, behind the moth-eaten tapestry of Charlemagne’s victory over the Saxons, Bob King, like a schoolboy, peered through a hole in Charlemagne’s eye, from an alcove in the wall. Time had been called by Sir Harry who had sent up a flare so there was little use waiting any longer.

  "Come along, noo, ma beastie friends," he said, quietly addressing a cage large enough to house a small dog. "Come along, ye derty wee beasties an' go tae werk for Uncle Bob…" and with that he wrenched open the cage door and quickly stood aside.

  Chapter 81

  The Rat Hunt

  Across the room, Sir Thirkston Chettle who was ninety seven not out, adjusted his thick bi-focals, swivelled his cummerbund and turning to Antoinette Loathbery said : "I say, my dear, you know.... (cough gasp) you know you should…. (cough) you really should keep.....(cough cough) your little pets in their kennels….(gasp), my dear.....in their kennels at night....instead of running (cough gasp) running hither and thither about the dining hall..."

  And before he could gasp any further, at that precise moment, out of the corner of her eye, Antoinette half noticed something dark and furry with large ears and a hideously long tail, go bounding past her feet and into the crowd.

  "’ods blood," screamed someone nearby, "Look out, there's a blasted rat on the loose running around in here. Get it someone."

  As if there were an army of rats on the march, a shrill chorus of screams went up from around thirty women.

  "Aaarrrgghhh ....Rats....Rats ....There's a rat in here. Ugghh.... I saw it. It was dis-gust-ing...."

  Suddenly, there was a mass stampede with everyone jumping on chairs and tables and upsetting the Meissen porcelain ware.

  "Ugh, look there it goes...." screamed Antoinette Loathbery.

  An old general in dress uniform of the Royal Fusiliers came back with a revolver which he’d procured from Lord Lothbury’s butler.

  "Just like the famous rat hunt we had in Indrapore in '47. I remember it so well. In the middle of a dinner party it was too – just like this one. They're such cunning rascals, are rats. Don't you worry m'dear, we'll get the bl
ighter, now where the devil did he trot off to ?"

  "Over there," yelled several voices and a group of swells with sticks and cricket bats, led by the general advanced en masse to the table where the wedding cake stood. One of them thought he saw the rodent biting its way through the cake and smashed his bat straight through the middle of it.

  "That'll bring bad luck for the newly-weds," announced Lady Birch from on top of a table after having nattered at length throughout the wedding that the match was doomed from the start.

  In a flash, something black and furry, scooted out from under the table bearing a huge chunk of cake in its mouth and went galloping across the room in a thirty yard dash. The general fired his pistol, a burst of bright yellow gunfire flashed across the room, everyone hit the deck and dived for cover, then there was the most gigantic explosion which rocked the mansion on all its foundations, upsetting tables with people and plates of food on them and instantly, all the lights went out.

  There were shouts from the general of : "Stay calm everyone. We'll have everything right again in no time at all," but of course, the exact opposite happened.

  There was a further shout in the dark from Antoinette Loathbery.

  "It's them.... I told you so....You stupid, stupid men, I told you to listen to me, but oh no, you wouldn't have it..." and the diatribe continued unceasingly in the blackness and confusion yet still there was no-one taking any notice of her.

  Chapter 82

  Open Sesame

  While everyone was feeling their way in the dark amidst the predicament in the west wing, across in the east wing, Rourke, Rooney, Riley and King were dusting themselves down after the explosion had thrown the furniture across the room.

  "Hee hee," sniggered the Scotsman. "A dram too much naytro, eh ? Well, that's what comes o' nay practise for three months. Noo, let's get the dooer open quickly, they'll be heer in a few minutes."

  Using the light of a hurricane lamp, they levered the massive cast iron door off its hinges so that it fell away with a tremendous crash. As the dust cleared and the rays of the lamp seeped through the smoke-filled darkness, there were mounds of confetti scattered inside the vault, some of which bore Her Majesty's portrait in red, blue and purple engravings.

  "What have we got here ?" said Rourke to King as he stepped across the debris in the vault. Rays of light revealed stacks of banknotes, piled from floor to ceiling high. All of it was newly minted and had the unmistakeable smell of new paper money, fresh from the bank.

  A trained expert might have noticed that the paper was a little too oily and that the different coloured inks had smudged in places but in their excitement at the discovery, the villains had no time to notice this.

  "Will ye set yer chooks on all this lot. There must be mullions an' mullions o' poonds just sittin' here – and it's all fer us, boys. Hee Hee hee..."

  Then the Scotsman grabbed a bundle of notes, tore off the wrapper and threw it in the air so that it rained money over them.

  " 'Oi, get on with it – and quick," said Mick Riley from the doorway. "We've got just seven minutes to get it shifted till the cozzers are on their way so put your backs into it...."

  Which was precisely what they did. Rourke held open two coal sacks at a time while the others threw in every wad they find, all the while laughing dementedly like tickled hyenas.

  Soon the safe was empty. Each of the coal sacks was thrown down a makeshift rubbish chute to Clifton Earls, Tony Valenti, Griffey and Taffey who were catching the haul and depositing it in wheelbarrows. It had all been too easy with no interruptions from the constabulary or anyone in the Manor House.

  After all the sacks had disappeared, the four cracksmen jumped down the chute and ran to their cars which were parked near the stables. The Bolter and the mare had been saddled earlier and Bob King left a note and a small pouch for Charlie Spark in one of the saddle bags. After throwing the loot in the back of the cars, they were shortly speeding along the country lanes at eighty miles an hour, the wind flying madly past the Teuton which was followed at the same frenetic pace by the Garrard. All of the villains in both of the cars were watching each other for unexpected detours.

  As the sacks of loot were spirited into the night, little did the villains know, that only that morning while everyone was at the wedding, the vault had been opened by someone else who had removed its stacks of gold bars. They had, however, been rather careless and overlooked one item in particular.

  Chapter 83

  Escape

  At the same moment, in the darkness of the banqueting hall, a gale force maelstrom was brewing.

  The lights had failed to come on again after ten minutes in the pitch blackness. (Taffey had disconnected the electricity supply from the mains and had made doubly sure by severing the cables and smashing the junction box.)

  Everyone had remained calm but inevitably, howls of indignation could be heard as the sozzled guests groped and felt their way about, trying to find the door handles, all of which were mysteriously locked. Matches and cigarette lighters were lit but soon went out – there were no candles in the reception room as these had been cleared away by the waiters in the dining hall after dinner.

  Sir Harry and Charlie Spark were wearing infra-red goggles which enabled them to see in the dark and to move easily amongst the guests unseen.

  There were elbows bumping into ribs, boots stepping on toes squeezed into stilettos and quick fingers slipping bracelets, necklaces, brooches, wallets, rings and anything that glittered and could be slipped into swags and sacks.

  At last, Spark found himself standing face to face with Simon Cadwaller, so close that he could almost pinch his swollen nose. The moment to wreak his revenge on the despisèd one had at last arrived and carefully, he began drawing out a gold watch and chain from the Cad's waistcoat pockets. This was quite a tricky operation but he was determined to have them, come hell or high water.

  Just as the watch was dangling in mid-air, the lights came on for a split second and went off again – downstairs, the lackeys had found a diesel generator for the west wing in the basement and were trying to get it started. This was long enough for Cadwaller to see his watch in the hands of his arch-enemy and immediately he tried to grab hold of Spark in the darkness – and succeeded.

  Some of the other guests also realised that they were being robbed and in the blackness and confusion, with arms lunging to grab the villains, came a thunderous "Soooo....Get them everyone..."

  As Spark was being held tightly but wriggling furiously to try and free himself, he aimed a well-directed blow straight at Cadwaller’s nose which had the desired effect and made good his escape.

  Sir Harry began yelling, "Thief, thief," to distract attention and instantly both of them looked for a way of reaching their bolt-hole at the back of the tapestry.

  As quickly as the situation allowed, they pushed their way through the disorientated guests in the darkness to reach the alcove used by Bob King. In the commotion, they slipped behind the tapestry and through a small door to an old tunnel used as a shortcut by the lackeys to go from the west wing to the east wing and stables.

  Through the narrow, chalk-walled corridor, they ran as fast as they could while brushing aside cobwebs and dust as the light from their torches flashed around the walls and the floor. With every step, the jewellery and loot in their pockets and bags, jingled and clinked.

  "Slow down for a moment, lad," gasped Sir Harry. "I’m out of breath."

  "There's not far to go," said Spark," but if we don't get moving, you’ll be getting all the rest you need – in a nice cool cell in Brixton."

  At the mere mention of prison, Sir Harry was rejuvenated and they both ran until they emerged into the open air at the end of the tunnel. Everything was almost as black as the inside of the dining hall but with their infa-red glasses, they found their way to the stables where the Bolter and the chestnut mare were saddled and awaiting them.

  "You know the way,” said Sir Harry, “straight thr
ough the forest at a fast trot. It's a good twelve miles and by the time they get after us with the bloodhounds, it'll take them twice as long to go all the way around by car."

  They extinguished their lights as they led their horses out of the yard and into the adjoining paddock bordering the woods. As they rode, the moonlight streamed through the gaps in the trees and the night wind chilled them.

  Back in the blacked-out west wing of the Manor House, a few of the swells had seized a heavy oak banqueting table and were using it as a battering ram to crash through the doors, just as the servants were unlocking them.

  Chapter 84

  Pursuit

  By the time the toffs had broken through the mortise lock and staves, the lights came on again and a side door was opened by the lackeys. This produced an apoplectic reaction from the now sober Lord Loathbery who was marching furiously up and down, glaring evilly at his baroque carved doors lying smashed to pieces then at the toffs who had caused the damage and then at the inebriated hacks disguised as servants.

  It was the prelude to a monumental, volcanic harangue of everything in sight, just when many of the guests discovered that their baubles and sparklers had gone missing. Everyone could be seen turning out their pockets or rifling their dinner jackets to find their wallets or digging frantically in handbags or looking under tables and chairs.

  Cries of outrage demanded the perpetrators be hung, drawn and quartered – but before all of that, they should also be flogged. The calls for vengeance were heard most loudly from Piers Loathbery and the injured Cadwaller and supported by more than a hundred others. There was a great deal of whimpering and wailing from the ladies who couldn't decide whether they should faint due to the handiwork of the thieves or whether they should prime their painted fingernails and hunt the felons down as all of the men were useless.

 
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