No One Really Knew
I’d love to turn you on
“The motion for adjournment is passed!” The gavel rap’s punctuation put full stop to the afternoon’s uncharacteristically intense proceedings. Also uncharacteristic was the hubbub that arose as documents were hastily straitened away into portfolios.
“Lord Welldown, Lord Welldown! They will obtain the documents directly if we don’t act at once. What shall we do?”
It was, of course, Lord Durrett, the second-in-command my faction had unfortunately expedited into that position based on familial position. His robes were aflutter and wig askew and a most unlordly sheen of perspiration shone forth from the wrinkles of his worried brow. His rotundity was never a joy to behold and his annoying manner particularly off-putting now, when action was called for, protocol and tradition farthest from my mind.
“We must make for the archives at once, man!” I said. And it was true. The dissidents would soon get the goods on us otherwise and the tabloids would have our names in the gutter soon after. “To the underground at once!”
Still wigged and robed, we made for the elevator, a pair of lesser Lords from our faction in tow. The quiet and utter solitude of the private station jolted my memory as soon as the elevator doors began to open. “The maintenance work!” I knew it was scheduled, but in the frenzy up on the floor, the fact had eluded me.
“Rats!” Lord Durrett cursed — his most frequent and annoying epithet. “What shall we…can you call for an auto?” He looked from me to the lesser Lords with bluster and fluster and, as I’d come to expect, not the least show competence.
“No time,” I said dismissively, as I struck at once for the private station’s maintenance port. “We’ll take the work trollies.” Unfortunately there were two of them in the short tunnel that junctioned with the main line — there’d be no ditching of our pair of supernumeraries, whom I decided, in any case, to put to good use. “Quick! Man the switches,” I ordered — and, good fellows who knew their place, the robed pair set to work aligning the side-rails to the mainline.
The trolley’s floor sat on a base of storage batteries, else we’d not have been able to move at all while the underground’s motive power was shut off, but, I presumed that was the nature of such vehicles. Rather lucked out there, actually. Stationing myself in the prow, as it were, I commanded Durrett to operate the controls. “Just push forward on the handle,” I said in a steely voice of command. “And look for a switch for the headlamps while we still have light.”
The trolley’s lamps were quite strong enough to blind the lesser lights, causing them, to their good fortune, to retreat from their position astride the rails as my lordly pilot lurched us, with complete lack of finesse, out onto the main tracks. I had hoped we’d seen the last of the pair — the fewer people who actually saw the documents in question the better — but soon, a second pair of headlights shone down the tunnel behind us.
“Rats!” Durrett exclaimed.
Having had enough, I turned from my watch to chastise him, but saw him pointing fearfully toward the tunnel walls.
“Oh Lord, no!” his face crumpled most unattractively in fear and dread. “God, no…I hate rats.” He was, of course, correct. The rats, apparently taking advantage of the absence of speeding coaches, were indeed out in numbers, cascading out of our path like the Red Sea parting before the Children of Israel.
“Buck up, man. At least it’s not crocodiles.” My sympathies were remote. As long as he kept the control handle pressed firmly forward, there was nowhere for him to go. Besides, I was beginning to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. We were approaching our station.
Getting up to the platform here was a bit problematic — especially in robes — but we clambered up from the tracks as best we could. I even deigned to give Lord Durrett a hand up. The sweat of his brow, no longer a mere sheen, was now beading and his complexion was less than hardy. Our tag-alongs could fend for themselves. We must make haste for the stairs — make for the archives straight away.
We stopped in our tracks, however. Not only were the stairs suddenly flooded by a motley crowd of hoi-polloi; among them were members of some paramilitary group dressed for all the world like Franco’s old Guardia Civil, tan uniforms, caps and Sam Brown belts, who fell into ranks right on the platform. It was a relief to note, however, that they took no interest in us at all — though suddenly I was acutely aware of how out-of-place our robes and wigs must surely be — especially as our lesser companions had chosen that moment to do their own clumsy clambering from track to platform.
Suddenly, an otherwise empty coach arrived from the opposite direction. I was almost certain I caught a flash of lordly wigs and robes within, but what I beheld actually stepping onto the platform were a group of brown bears.
They walked upright but made good headway nonetheless, especially since the mobs still thronging down the stairs parted for them so willingly.
“Forward!” I commanded, and we rushed into the now closing wake of the bruins.
The ornate foyer of the archives was deserted, and the great doors shut and locked. Our pounding thereupon produced nothing save for reverberations from the tilework of walls and domed ceiling. As we retreated to one side to regroup. I fished about under my robes for my phone, though I had not the slightest who I might hope to call.
Directly, the brown ones made an exit, throwing off their apparitional aspect to reveal robed figures beneath wigged heads. They carried under their arms portfolios stuffed with official documents, as plainly evidenced by the riband-ends protruding from their seals. We were doomed.