Once the deal had been made, I felt a lot better. Decisions, even the wrong ones, help put things in motion. You know you have to be somewhere and that shapes your day. Can’t be sitting on the loo with an iPad, got to get stuff done.
Of course, it would be best if you were the sort of proactive person who didn’t need a full itinerary and people pushing you from behind before you got off your backside, but you have to play the hand you’re dealt. I am not an atheist. I believe God made man, made me (also technically a man), with flaws and handicaps. Some of us are plagued by doubt, some of us struggle to do good, and some of us are cursed with having to support The Arsenal. We all have our crosses to bear.
I don’t actually belong to any particular religion, I just choose to believe there’s an invisible creator who is responsible for all this unintelligent design. Even a random universe wouldn’t have produced this many fuck-ups in a row.
God made man in his own image, they say. Now look at man. A long hard look. Eh? Proves my point, right?
Now that Lillian’s pockets (and everywhere else — and I mean everywhere) had been emptied, Jenny allowed her to have her phone back.
“Is this all spy stuff?” I asked, toeing the items on the floor — a gas mask, some kind of extendable baton, a packet of Tic Tacs, knuckle dusters — you know how it is when a girl tips out her handbag.
“It’s what I normally carry,” said Lillian.
I picked up a hairbrush folded in half. There was a button on the side which I pressed. A six-inch blade sprang out.
“That’s for shaving my legs,” she said.
I dropped it, horrified. It might still have some of her leg hairs on it.
“How long before we can go?” asked Jenny.
“I’ll get a call when they’re ready to proceed,” said Lillian. “In the meantime, perhaps you should do something about your face.”
“Maybe I should do something about your face,” said Jenny. It was nice to see her snap at someone who wasn’t me.
“I just meant it might attract less attention,” said Lillian. “We’re going to cause a bit of a stir once we challenge Orion directly. I expect he’ll call in the media, his lawyers, state department officials. The whole thing will be very public. We’re going to try to keep you two out of the public eye, but the girl with half-a-face might end up a bit of an internet sensation, if we aren’t careful.”
She made a decent case for putting a paper bag over Jenny’s head.
“I’ll wear a hoodie,” said Jenny.
“I was thinking we could give you a makeover,” said Lillian. “A bit of makeup, natural, nothing tarty.”
“Oh, yes!” said Mandy. “Brilliant idea. I’ve got everything we need upstairs.” She shoved her beloved child into Cheng’s arms like she had no further use for either of them, and hurried Jenny out of the room.
“Odd, isn’t it?” I said. “I’m going back there to take over, and you’re doing the same thing here.”
“I’m not going to take over,” said Cheng, bouncing the baby up and down.
“Neither am I,” I said.
“Then why did you agree to go back?” said Cheng.
“You know how it is,” I said. “Easier to just agree with them and let them down later. Doubles the intensity of the disappointment, but you’re only exposed to it for half as long.”
Cheng nodded. “Yes, true.”
When Judgment Day comes around, I think you expect an early start. Everyone up and ready to start the judging by breakfast time. There’s going to be a lot of people to judge, so there’s no time for dilly-dallying. Continental breakfast, no time for a full English. It’s Judgment Day, not Judgment Week.
By the time Lillian got the go-ahead from her people, it was mid-afternoon. Meant the schools would be out and traffic would be chocka. I thought about telling them to wait till tomorrow but I was pretty sure that would only aggravate the situation. Everyone was ready to go; Jenny was dolled up so she looked like she’d had a botched facelift or a very aggressive stroke, and there was a train of cars with tinted windows waiting in the drive.
As we were about to leave, the demons stopped rummaging through the cupboards for biscuits and came flapping into the hall. They had no intention of being left behind. Lillian ran two steps up the stairs like she’d seen a mouse and was afraid it was going to run up her leg.
“They can’t come,” I said. “If your face was going to draw attention, I’m pretty sure BTS: Behind the Makeup aren’t going to go unnoticed.”
The demons glared at me, which can be quite intimidating when you’ve got glowing red eyes. I kicked the nearest one and it slammed into the wall by the stairs, sending Lillian scrambling up a few more steps.
The demons didn’t mess with me for some reason, and none of my attacks on them did any harm, so we were in a comfortable relationship where we meant nothing to each other. It was nice.
I could see Jenny was reluctant to leave her brood. What mother wouldn’t be? Once you make that bond, it’s very difficult to let it go, even when the other side is desperately trying to cut the umbilical cord with a hatchet. They cut off the one you have at birth, but you have to snip all the others yourself.
If Meryl Streep had been asked to choose between her kids a few years later, I’m sure the older one would have been fine with a little less time with the clingy parent. I mean, Auschwitz is bad, but some mothers are worse.
Of course, these days, struggling women don’t even have the compensation of having Meryl play them in the movie version of their life. Nowadays, the only choice for an actress (I know, I know, they’re called actors now, there’s no differentiation, Hollywood has been reformed) is which superhero would you play in the MCU — which comes down to how well you fill out a bustier and lycra outfit — or which superhero’s mother you would play in the MCU. Wow, feminists, look how far you’ve come.
“I’ll leave the big ones here,” said Jenny, “and take a couple of the smaller ones.” Choosing between her kids without needing even a second to think about it. That would have made a very different movie, if Sophie had been a working-class mum from South London.
“You vill choose between your children or they vill both be killed.”
“Okay, I’ll take the oldest. You can have the other one and good luck to you. He’s a bloody handful. I’d have had him rinsed out if I’d known he was going to be this much trouble. Always shittting in my handbag and breaking the heels off my shoes. You’re welcome to him. Just don’t give him any orange Tango after six.”
“How can you take the small ones?” I asked Jenny. “They’re still demons.”
Five minutes later, Jenny had put two of the smallest demons in tiny sweaters with their wings strapped down, and put diamond collars on them. They now looked like very ugly dogs belonging to someone from Croydon who had moved to Chelsea. It was a Jenny-Mandy supercombo.
I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to take two demons with us, but nobody asked me. There was the outside chance I’d get to see them go crazy and eat someone famous or, failing that, some youtuber, but I tried not to get my hopes up. That might seem harsh but eating dead people is a victimless crime. Obviously, killing them first isn’t, but there’s no point conflating two entirely separate events.
Goodbyes were said, promises to keep in touch, etc. I wasn’t really paying attention. Cheng would do his thing and be fine. Mandy would ride her meal ticket as far as it would take her. The kid would survive despite the both of them. Just another middle-class family getting by in Hampstead.
We got into one of the cars with Lillian and a driver who was ginger with a fat neck. He turned round and looked at the two demons, who were sitting on their haunches on the backseat, one with its legs crossed, and said, “What the fuck are those?” Frightened men with deep husky voices are great to listen to. Very soothing.
“They’re a rare breed,” I said. “Don’t worry, they’re very well behaved, as long as you don’t feed them after midnight.”
Our cavalcade set off with two cars in front of us and two behind. As soon as we exited the gates, all the other cars and vans that had been ordered to keep an eye on the house, fell in behind. It was a ridiculous procession of secret agents and undercover cops.
“I think we’re being followed,” I said.
“Yes,” said Lillian. “There’s no way to stop them. You’ve become the centre of attention for the intelligence community.”
“First time for everything,” said Jenny. The demons sniggered. The back of the driver’s fat neck started sweating.
We got across London surprisingly quickly. At the end of the road, two police motorbikes joined us and our train didn’t stop for no one; no lights, no pedestrians, no roadworks pretending to be essential. Probably not the most discreet way to travel, but 8/10 would ride again.
We reached Canary Wharf, location of Orion Pharmaceuticals, and were met by a huge circus surrounding the tall building, which was on fire. Flames were spewing out of a couple of high windows. There was a police cordon, fire engines, journalists and cameramen, and various other interested parties. All the cars spread out looking for somewhere to park. Driving across London at top speed hadn’t managed to shake them off, but looking for a legal place to pull over to avoid getting slapped with a ticket in under five minutes proved to be the undoing of our expert tailers.
The place was ram-jammed with people. Canary Wharf was out of the way enough that there weren’t too many members of the public present, but this was bad enough. We were bound to end up on the news.
A large man dressed in black combat gear with a bushy moustache that meant he was very gay or very violent (those are the only two options for this particular ’tash, although occasionally you can get a twofer) came to the window and looked at Lillian with respectful deference. You might think, is there any other form of deference? Isn’t deference respectful by definition? But ask any female boss and you’ll learn that no, it isn’t.
“Ma’am. They’ve refused to comply with the papers we served them and our team is being held on the seventeenth floor. They’ve called in their lawyer. We’ve sent out lawyers to intercept them.” He made it sound like there would be lawyer-on-lawyer class action in some alley.
“Okay,” said Lillian, sounding much more authoritative and in charge than she usually did. “I’ll take care of it.” The guy nodded, like this was good enough for him, and went back to his men, all of whom looked identical to him.
“We’ll have to fight our way up to the top floor,” said Lillian. “Our first problem is to get into the building without the press seeing you two.”
“Should we split up?” asked Jenny.
“Why?” I said. “Because we have a hollow sham of a relationship?”
“No,” said Jenny, “not for that reason. If we go in separately, we might not get spotted.”
“Nobody will notice me,” I said. “They never do. I could walk in naked, singing a medley of Bon Jovi’s greatest hit, and no one would even look in my direction.” No, that wasn’t a typo.
“Don’t get cocky,” said Jenny. “Not with what you’re bringing to the table.” She looked at me like the stuff in the reduced section of the supermarket, the damaged cans that you put back because they aren’t worth the risk even though they’re only 10p. “You’re already borderline arsehole, you don’t want to push it.”
“That’s rich coming from you,” I said. “You’re the one who had sex with me a couple of hours ago.”
Dastardly and Muttley covered their ears.
“I know,” said Jenny. “I don’t understand it, either.”
“Look, it’s easy getting in,” I said. “Got a large piece of card and a marker pen?”
Lillian made a call and a few minutes later a flattened cardboard box and a packet of markers were passed through the window. I wrote a message on it.
“Here,” I said to Lillian, giving her the sign I’d made. “Go hold this over by the press. And take off your jacket.”
She looked at the sign and frowned. “You think this will work?”
“Yes,” I said. “This is the level of discourse we’re at.”
Lillian took off her jacket, put on some makeup and undid a few buttons.
“More cleavage,” I said. She obliged.
Then she exited the car and went and stood by the media and held up the sign. It said:
Stop the Rape #RapeIsBad #Orion
No specifics, no one in particular named; it was just a girl with a sign standing outside a burning office building. The cameras went crazy.
Meanwhile, we got out and walked through the police line with the two demons walking on all-fours. No one batted an eye, not even the police. The ginger driver led the way and they all seemed to know him. Must be nice to have a social circle. As for the other nations, they were probably somewhere in Ladbroke Grove by now, still looking.
Once we reached the foyer, we were in a large crowd of people in a variety of uniforms, milling around. There were some shouts and loud bangs from somewhere above us, but no one seemed too bothered.
“What now?” said Jenny.
“I think the stairs are blocked,” I said. “We could take the lift.”
“In a burning building?” said Jenny.
“I know, it’s against the rules. But what’s the worst that could happen?”
“We could plunge to our deaths or get set on fire or both,” said Jenny.
“Alright, I didn’t ask for a top ten.” Some people always need to be right about everything.
“The lifts automatically stop working when there’s a fire,” said Lillian. She was standing next to me, back in her clothes. “You were right. They couldn’t get enough of me with that stupid sign. Then they lost interest.”
“Not worried people will know what you look like now?” I imagined being in the papers wasn’t really helpful to being a secret agent.
Lillian shook her head. “This isn’t what I look like.”
“How do we get upstairs?” asked Jenny.
“Can we get rid of all these people?” I said. None of them appeared to be doing anything.
“I’ll see what I c—”
There was a loud series of clicks and the glass doors at the entrance shuttered themselves.
There were a series of pings and the lift doors opened. Men came out with gas masks on. They threw smoking canisters ahead of them, rolling them into the crowd. There was some confusion, some yelling, people banging on windows. The foyer quickly began filling up with smoke and people falling over.
Lillian looked cross, probably because she had her own gas mask and Jenny had taken it off her. Jenny looked cross, but that was pretty normal. She was mostly angry at herself for repeatedly sleeping with me and liking it.
She pointed at the men. “Go.” Then she slumped to the ground.
The demons sprang into the air and burst out of their little sweaters, which was an adorable sight.
I, as you might have noticed, was unaffected. The smoke — some sort of sleeping gas I would guess — tasted a bit like vinegar, but that was about the extent of it.
The demons attacked the first guy they found and brought him to the ground, ripping his mask off with their teeth.
The smart thing to do next was to take off the masks of everyone else, but the demons decided they would rather eat this guy’s face. He screamed quite a lot in protest.
The others stopped where they were, then they fired Tasers at the demons. They were accurate, three hits on each. Didn’t have any effect. The electric shocks probably just tickled a bit.
None of the men rushed to the aid of their fallen comrade.
I bent down and picked up Jenny. It wasn’t easy, but she wasn’t very heavy so I managed. That’s why I prefer short girls — easier to carry. That probably makes me sound like a serial killer, but you’d be wrong. Serial killers don’t choose their victims based on reason and logic. They choose who to hate based on their mothers, like all incel twats.
“Stop shooting and hold the lift.”
They stopped and looked at me through the fogged-up windows in their masks.
“Why aren’t you unconscious?” said one of them in a distorted voice.
“Because I’m special,” I said. “It’s great, I can vape without dying and everything.” I heaved Jenny over my shoulder and staggered a little. “Now, I want to go up and you want me to go up, so let’s go up.”
I headed for the lift, swaying a little from side to side. Clearly, she hadn’t been doing any intermittent fasting while we’d been apart.
The guy spoke into a crackling walkie-talkie.
They let me into the lift, then got in with me.
“Hey, you two coming or what?” I called out. The two demons came bounding over, bits of flesh hanging from their mouths.
Everyone got out of the lift and decided they’d wait for the next one.
“Press the button,” I said.
Dastardly and Muttley pressed every button on the panel. Fucking demons.
Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino