The Twilight Circus (2 page)

BOOK: The Twilight Circus
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His appointment as head of NightShift had followed shortly after, and Crone had hit the ground running. He hadn't even had time to take off his coat on his first day before he had been called out to investigate a nasty poltergeist infestation in Putney.

Not for the first time, Crone wondered what the devil he had been thinking of by accepting the appointment in the first place. He had never even heard of NightShift, for a start, until he had been contacted by an old colleague, a Professor Robert Paxton. According to the professor, the covert agency code-named NightShift had been operating
for a number of years, quietly exterminating evil beings or forces without too many humans getting shredded.

The professor had shown Crone disturbing new evidence that supernatural events were on the rise, the threat to humans from malignant forces was now greater than global warming, and vampires and werewolves had overtaken human terrorist activity. In light of recent events (and an unexpected vacancy), Professor Paxton had convinced Quentin Crone he was just the man for the job. An unheated office in Middle Temple Lane was the NightShift headquarters, where Crone was to spend his days and nights making lethal decisions, drinking tea, and counting the dead bodies.

BBBBRRRRRRRZZZZZZ
.

Crone's heart almost leaped up into his throat as the old-fashioned intercom on his desk made him jump.

For heaven's sake, man, get a grip
, he told himself sternly. “Yes?” he rasped, sounding more bad-tempered than he felt.

“Cuppa tea, boss?” a bright female voice crackled through to his office.

“I'm awash with the stuff, Fish,” he groaned, his voice
sounding echoey and insubstantial in the cavernous room, “but if you're making hot chocolate with sprinkles and marshmallows, I'd be glad of some company.”

There was a knack to opening the heavy, studded door to his office, and Crone waited patiently until the sounds of someone grappling with the handle stopped. A slightly built girl tottered across the ancient carpet on the highest, shiniest pair of platform shoes that Crone had ever seen, plonked a tray with two steaming mugs onto his desk, and arranged her skinny body in the chair opposite him.


Woohooo
, you're looking a bit rough,” blurted Agent Alexandra Fish, studying Crone's features with her beady eyes.

“Not sleeping,” said Crone bluntly, distracted by the pile of red files she had also brought with her. Someone had scrawled
Really REALLY Urgent
across the top in thick black marker. “What are those?”

Fish looked down at the folders she'd carried in as though she was surprised they were there. “Oh … uh, more cases, boss.”

Crone groaned and leaned forward again, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger.
Fish had only known Quentin Crone for a few days, but she could see how worry and tiredness had drawn lines onto his craggy face. She fervently hoped he wasn't going to quit on them, or worse. Dear old Freddie Alton, the last head of NightShift, had cracked under the incredible pressure of running the agency. The last Fish had heard was that poor Freddie was currently in a high-security facility for the chronically insane, locked in a windowless room with walls made of mattresses, wearing a very tight jacket with lots of buckles and no armholes.

“We have more cases than we have agents,” said Crone wearily, gesturing to the pile of red files.

You can say that again
, thought Fish, impressed that Crone had already caught on to the freakish trend that was keeping her sleepless: Since she had joined NightShift, there had been a worrying increase in werewolf goings-on, not to mention vampire activity and the number of people affected by demonic possessions and hauntings.

“So, like, things are getting hairy”—she grinned—”if you'll pardon the pun.”

At last Crone smiled, his tired eyes crinkling at the corners. “We're learning all the time,” he said, “but, as
you know from experience, we're only human.”

“Obviously!” said Fish in surprise. There was something in Crone's voice that made her look at him more closely from behind her glasses. “What are you getting at?” she queried.

“Well … do you not think that perhaps we are at a disadvantage?” asked Crone.

“Huh?” Fish mumbled.

“We're only
human
,” he stressed. “Humans investigating supernatural and paranormal activities. Not exactly a fair fight, is it?”

“We do OK.” Fish frowned, still not sure what her new boss was going on about. “And NightShift is growing. We've got ten fully trained agents and two trainees.”

“Remind me again why NightShift was formed,” said Crone, steepling his fingers.

Fish gave him a quizzical look, kicked off her unfeasibly high platform shoes, and curled her stockinged feet underneath her.

“To kill monsters,” she said without hesitation.

Crone grinned.

“These are dark days, Fish. The events in Somerset last
summer, proving that werewolves really do exist, meant I had to ask myself a very important question.”

“Like, if werewolves really exist, what
else
is real?” Alex Fish said solemnly.

Crone nodded. “And NightShift answered those questions for me. Investigating the paranormal has always been seen as a bit of a joke for those not in the know.”

“If the public knew what
really
happened …,” began Fish. “Like, if they knew what was
down there
…”

Both Crone and Fish allowed their gaze to slide toward the floor. Underneath the faded red-and-gold carpet that covered the mammoth room was a giant trapdoor. If opened, it would reveal seventy-seven steps, each one painstakingly hand-cut into the granite many centuries before. The catacombs beneath were stuffed with more fabulous secrets and priceless artifacts than those allegedly held in the Vatican and Area 51 put together. Crone allowed himself a small shudder whenever he stopped to think about the strange and often terrible things stored
down there
…
in the dark
.

“And since you mentioned Somerset,” said Fish, running a hand through her sticky-up hair, “anything new?”

Crone hesitated and chewed on a marshmallow, watching Fish's nimble fingers flick through one of the more urgent files. Although Fish looked as wholesome and shiny as a kindergarten teacher, Crone knew she was shaping up to be one of their toughest and most efficient operatives. She fought dirty, and played dirtier. Just last month, she had successfully trapped and dispatched the Highgate Cemetery Zombies with a simple but brilliant combination of pulleys, string, and trash bags. It had been a scheme of pure genius. On NightShift's last case, she had single-handedly dealt with the Blackwall Tunnel Banshee and sent it screeching back to the underworld where it undoubtedly belonged. Traffic now flowed through the tunnel beautifully, all thanks to Agent Alexandra Fish. Crone considered her sharp little face as she flipped briskly through the file on her lap.

“What do you know about Nat Carver?” asked Crone casually.

Fish dropped the file as if it had suddenly got hot. She stared at Crone, the firelight reflecting in her glasses.

“Not much,” she admitted. “Only what I've been
allowed
to know. Why?”

By way of an answer, Crone hunched over his keyboard, his face turning vomit-green as it reflected the screen. He tapped some keys and waited a second for the site to load. Fish watched the big screen on the opposite wall load the site Crone had requested.
BBC News London
flashed up before them. An unremarkable scene unfolded. There appeared to be about forty unremarkable people sitting in the middle of an unremarkable road. There was a lot of chanting about radiation; the crowd seemed to be demonstrating about cell phone towers. Most of the demonstrators were about Fish's parents' age, except for the two people at the front who looked vaguely familiar: a young boy and a woman with the same dark hair and wide, dark blue eyes. Fish narrowed her eyes as the slightly built boy looked directly at the camera with what seemed like acute embarrassment.

“Is that …?” she exclaimed in wonder.

“Nat Carver,” confirmed Quentin Crone. “As far as I know, this video, shot a couple of years ago, is the only footage in existence of Jude and Nat Carver.”

Crone loaded another site: World's Most Wanted. He scrolled through the usual suspects: the terrorists, the
murderers, the pirates, the thieves, and the criminally insane. Then their gaze rested upon a more recent, but hazy, photograph of the same boy, who now looked about thirteen. Nat Carver.

“This photograph was taken on a cell phone,” Crone stated. “No other footage of That Night survived.”

Fish swallowed hard. She had seen the picture before. According to a witness, Nat Carver had been attacked and his throat almost ripped out by a mutant government agent, Lucas Scale, who mercifully was now deceased.

Uh-oh
, thought Fish,
I think I know where he's going with this
!

“Nat Carver's still alive, isn't he?” she gasped. “Where is he?”

Crone smiled thinly. “If I told you that … I'd have to kill you.”

Fish stared at Crone, wondering if he really would kill to keep the secret. Bright girl that she was, she had already suspected her new boss was privy to more information about Nat Carver than he let on.

“They're on the move,” said Crone. “The Wolven—Woody—is currently off our radar. A few weeks ago,
though, I received intel that Nat Carver is very much alive and, at present, still here in England.”

“Intel from who?” asked Fish suspiciously.

“From
whom
,” corrected Crone. “Not government—a safe source. Don't worry.”

Fish looked relieved. “So
whom
is going to deal with it … I mean, the intelligence?”


We
are,” said Crone. He got up, stretched his long limbs, and walked stiffly to the far end of his room, where the wall was covered by a faded twelfth-century tapestry of King Richard the Lionheart during the time of the Third Crusade. Fish knew that what interested her boss the most were the animals at the monarch's feet. The first time she had seen it, she had assumed that the pure white canine creatures were wolves. But on closer inspection, she had noticed they were much bigger than ordinary wolves, and that their white fur grew long down their necks, almost like the flaxen mane of a horse. The dozen wolflike creatures were gathered around the king in a protective circle.

“The Wolven dude—Woody?” said Fish. “He's descended from the King's Wolven, right?”

“Right,” agreed Crone.

“So he's valuable, but Nat Carver is just a kid, right?”

“Wrong.” Crone smiled. “He's very special. I've been told he has enhanced senses, telepathic skills, possibly the ability to change shape….”

“How?” demanded Fish. “The Wolven can shape-shift, but how would Nat Carver get such gifts?”

“Never mind,” said Crone mildly. “I shouldn't have said anything.”

“You
so
can't leave it there,” said Fish menacingly.

Crone took a deep breath. “Nat Carver should have died the night Lucas Scale ripped out his throat,” he said. “What wasn't included in my final report of what happened That Night was that he was taken to a safe house and given a blood transfusion that saved his life. Not any old blood, mind you. The blood was a gift. From the Wolven.”


Oh
!” squeaked Fish. “Wolven blood? But how d'you know all of this?”

“Intel,” Crone said again, tapping his right temple with his finger. “Right now, I know that Nat Carver is experiencing many more changes than a normal thirteen-year-old boy. He's struggling to control his supernatural
senses, increased strength, and the potential to communicate telepathically.”

“So he
is
as valuable as the Wolven,” said Fish. “But why are they on the run? Surely there were other witnesses to testify—”

Crone shook his head. “The web of deceit spun by the government spinners resulted in Nat Carver and the Wolven being blamed for everything,” he said. “And as you see, ending up on the World's Most Wanted.”

“They were framed like an oil painting, stitched up like a pair of kippers!” cried Fish.

“Woody remains a very valuable commodity,” said Crone. “And, since his blood transfusion, so is the boy. They're officially fugitives.” He opened his mouth to say something else, hesitated, and closed it again.

“What?” demanded Fish.

Quentin Crone pursed his lips. “You might as well know something else,” he said grimly, “but it's for your ears only. Lucas Scale was shot, according to my source, but his body was never found.”

Fish, who had seen sights that most humans had only dreamed of in their most horrific nightmares, turned an
interesting shade of pale green. When she had seen the images of Lucas Scale contained in the pages of the ultra-secret Proteus files, she had physically recoiled.
That's one sick puppy
, she had thought to herself. The photographs must have been taken sometime before his mutation into a hybrid werewolf, but Alex Fish had been struck by the absence of humanity in Lucas Scale's icy stare. His lights were well and truly off and there was definitely no one home. If he had somehow found a way to cheat death … She shivered. She didn't want to dwell on what would happen to Nat Carver or the furry Wolven dude if Scale got hold of them again.

“You mean he may not be dead?” she whispered when she had regained some of her composure.

“Oh, he's dead all right,” said Crone grimly. “Part of our job here at NightShift is to find a body to ensure he
stays
dead.”

When Fish had gone, Crone got busy. He got a good old blaze going in the fireplace and poured himself a glass of the finest malt whiskey, admiring its topaz glow as the firelight caught the crystal. He sat warming his bones with the pile of red files unopened on his lap, watching
thoughtfully as the flames flickered upward, making the grotesque faces of the stone gargoyles gurn and writhe as though they were alive.

BOOK: The Twilight Circus
7.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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