Shadows In Darknes

Shadows In Darkness is the second book in the series with Dynamic Skull.
Bert now has an assistant who isn't quite normal...

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8. This Evening's Entertainment

     The gunshot stopped the music.  Everybody stopped talking, and just stared in absolute astonishment.  Marlena couldn’t quite believe it.

     The guest with the claws spoke up. “You’re…you’re here to rob us?”

     “Yeah!” The leader of the gang said.  Then he faltered. “What’s up with your hands?”

     One of his friends, a man in a red ski mask, was already panicking.  He held his gun in a tight grip, and even from where he was standing, Marlena recognised the dirty fingernails of the waiter who had offered her champagne. “I told you Larry, this isn’t right.  Look at these people.  They’re not right.”

     Someone in the crowd started laughing.  Someone else joined in.  Within moments, practically every one of the assembled guests was doubled over with laughter.  Larry and his ski-masked friends did not appreciate the joke.

     “Shut up!” Larry screamed. “Shut up!”

     Marlena was barely able to keep track of what happened next.  The air rippled, taking one of the ski-masked men off his feet.  A ball of yellow light sped towards Larry and exploded.  He was flung backwards, into a wall.  Streams of different colours criss-crossed around the other members of the gang, slamming into them and spinning them around.  The man with the dirty fingernails was the last one standing.  Shudder stepped out of the crowd beside him and took his gun away.  Reverie Birch, dressed in an exquisite white gown, tapped her arm and an ornate symbol glowed on the surface of her skin for a moment, and when she touched the man he screamed and toppled over.

     Everyone cheered, the music started up again and the guests got back to chatting.

     Birch approached. “Valkyrie,” she said, “You look beautiful.  I always knew there was a pretty girl underneath all those bruises.” She saw Parafang and raised an eyebrow. “Dexter Parafang is back in the country.  All we need is Nazi Mischeivious and Saracen Rue to show up and we’ll have a dead men reunion right here.”

     “Hello Reverie.” Parafang said, leaning forward to kiss her on the cheek. “Have you got over your love for me yet?”

     “I take each day as it comes.” she replied and he laughed.  The orchestra settled into a waltz.  Reverie held her hand out towards Bert. “They’re playing our old song.”

     “Bert looked at Marlena. “If you’ll excuse me…?”

     She smiled. “Go right ahead.”

     Bert took Reverie’s hand, and led her to the only open space in the vast room.  Marlena watched him look into Reverie’s eyes, and they began to dance, moving over and around the unconscious forms of the ski-masked gang like they weren’t even there.  They danced like two people were meant to dance – with strength, grace, and passion.

     “He sure can dance can’t he?” Parafang said.

     Marlena peeled her eyes away from the dancing and smiled. “He told me he could.  I was a fool to doubt him.”

     She looked back.  She could see Reverie’s lips move as they danced, and she wondered what they were talking about.

     “I taught him everything he knows, of course,” said Parafang with a nod. “Before he came to me, he had all the co-ordination of a turnip.  I turned him into the dancer you see before you.”

     Bert dipped Reverie, and swung her up and she pressed against him.

     “But do I get any thanks?” Parafang continued. “Do I get even a nod of appreciation?  No, I do not.  It’s quite fortunate that I don’t need other people’s approval to feel good about myself.  But it would help.”

     Shudder appeared between them. “Are you still complaining about that?”

     “I’m not complaining,” Parafang corrected. “I’m merely voicing my displeasure.” He frowned. “By the way, all joking aside, do I call you Olaf or Elder Shudder.”

     “You can call me whatever you like.”

     Vex nodded. “Thank you Gladys.  Where’s Mischeivious tonight, anyway?  Don’t tell me that miserable sod is in that equally miserable hotel while the party’s on.”

     “I’m afraid he is.” Shudder said. “You know Nazi isn’t one for small talk.”

     “The years were meant to mellow the man, didn’t you tell me that once?”

     “I was evidently wrong.” Shudder conceded.

     Parafang suddenly smiled. “Remember how Larrikin used to wind him up.  We’d be sitting around in a ditch or something, waiting for the order to strike, all of us tense and humourless, the enemy a mere stone’s throw away… and then Larrikin would whisper something to Mischeivious.  Remember that?”

     A grin formed on Shudder’s face. “I remember Nazi’s birthday.”

     Parafang laughed and Marlena had to join in.  It was so infectious.

     “We were huddled in a field in France,” Shudder said, while Parafang snorted at the memory. “This was, I don’t know, 1970 or so.  We were all there, all seven maembers of the Manic Gang – Bert, Larrikin, Dexter, Nazi, Hopeless, Stormed, and me.  We hadn’t moved from that spot for three days.  Apart from Bert, we were all cold, wet, and starving.  Anyway, Larrikin decided on the third day that it was Nazi’s birthday, and there was nothing that Mischeivious could do to convince him it wasn’t.”

     “The problem,” Parafang said, picking up the story. “Was that it was getting close to Go Time.  There was a squad of Stynes’ men we’d been tracking for days, and we had to take them down without raising the alarm.  But now, suddenly, Larrikin was insisting on a birthday cake and a sing-song.  The rest of us were focusing on not cracking up, but Nazi was taking it seriously, and couldn’t understand why he wanting to do something so dangerous.”

     “We were sitting in a hole we’d dug,” Shudder said. “with the wind howling and the rain falling, and Larrikin squirmed up beside Nazi and kept trying to hug him.”

     “And Nazi’s not a hugger.” Parafang said.

     “It developed into an extraordinarily quiet wrestling match,” said Shudder, grinning. “They rolled over and over in the mud, Larrikin with this enormous smile on his face and Nazi silently furious.”

     “Larrikin then went off for a few minutes after the fight had come to an end, and when he came back, he produced a crumpled loaf of bread about the size of a large brioche…”

     “And it was very crumpled.” Shudder added.

     “Yes, seeing as it had been in there for several days.” Parafang went on, “He then stuck three candles into the crushed loaf, before realizing that he didn’t have a lighter.”

     “So we ate the bread and Nazi blew out the never-lighted candles, just to go back in Larrikin’s pocket.”

     “Good days,” Parafang mumbled. “Good days.”

     “Did you ever catch that group of men?” Marlena inquired

     “No, funnily enough, they caught us.” replied Shudder.

     “Hah, how ironic!” Marlena exclaimed.

     Then the night grew tired and the guests slowly left one by one.  That was until a man walked up to Marlena and said there was a man outside that wanted to see her.

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