Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER III. Up in Flames.
The flames had run up the baseboard on both sides of the hall, and one doorframe and a patch of wall were already on fire. Worse still, irregular lines of fire crossed the floor in both directions, blocking any hope of an exit. The heat was intense, and the smoke was becoming a serious inconvenience. It was hard to see anything more than two feet ahead of us.
“Is there a fire extinguisher?” Weyland asked.
I pointed to the fire extinguisher on the wall. It was on fire.
“Nuisance,” Weyland said. “Their usual technique, though. Weeks before they torch a place, they replace all the fire extinguishers with wooden replicas.”
“How did they know they would start a fire here?”
“The Devil King is very forward-thinking,” said Weyland. “Well, Peevish, it looks as though we’re trapped. I’m not one to give up easily, but perhaps it’s time to admit defeat. I’ve got a couple of very good cigars I’ve been saving for an occasion like this. You wouldn’t happen to have a lighter, would you?”
“Sorry,” I told him. “I’ve never smoked.”
“Ah, well, not meant to be, I suppose. As the French say, that’s life. If only— But wait a moment! What’s that?”
He was pointing at a rectangular box on the wall a few feet away, just barely visible through the thickening smoke. As we approached, we saw that it was a box with a glass front, through which we could see an axe suspended from a bracket. On the glass in large red letters were the words IN CASE OF FIRE.
“A fireman’s axe!” Weyland exclaimed. “Oh, if we only had some way of getting it out of that box!”
I pointed out a smaller glass-fronted box to the right. Behind its glass we could see a hammer on a hook. On the glass were red letters spelling out the words IN CASE OF NEED FOR AXE TO LEFT.
“Splendid!” cried Weyland. “Peevish, give me your shoe.”
I removed my left shoe, and with one smart rap with the heel Weyland shattered the glass in front of the hammer. He removed the hammer from its hook and swung it at the glass in front of the axe. Meanwhile, I slipped my foot back into my shoe.
“Now we’ve got something to work with!” said Weyland, hoisting the axe. “Follow me, Peevish!”
He swung the axe at the base of the flames blocking our way in the hall. The sharp blade sliced through them neatly, and the amputated flames clattered to the floor, stone cold now that they were cut off from their fuel.
“Nothing like a fireman’s axe for dealing with a fire,” said Weyland as he chopped his way down the hall. The cold severed flames crunched under our feet as Weyland cut a broad path through them, and in short order we made it to the door at the end of the hall.
“I suppose I ought to have asked this earlier,” said Weyland, “but should we be trying to rescue some of the other tenants?”
“No worry there,” I told him. “I’m the only tenant. For some reason the rest all moved away after the last time you visited.”
“Oh dear,” said Weyland as he used the axe to scrape the flames off the door. “I hope they didn’t blame you for the flood and the musk oxen and the skunk cabbage. That was all my doing, I’m afraid.” He opened the door to the garage.
Fortunately the flames had not yet reached my car, a dark grey Nash sedan that tended to blend into the shadows.
“There’s the old girl,” said Weyland—“the most unremarkable car in the city. If any car can get us to the Archbishop’s palace undetected, this is the one. Peevish, get the garage door open, and——”
The garage door suddenly caught fire and rapidly burned to ash.
“Oh—well, that’s convenient. Into the car, then, and let’s get going.”
I unlocked the passenger side door first and held it open for Weyland; then I walked around to the driver’s side and sat down behind the wheel. We started forward and drove out of the garage just as the roof was falling in.
“Well,” said Weyland, “it looks as though Kun’s dastardly little plot is foiled. To the Archbishop’s palace, Peevish, and don’t spare your straight six—we need all the velocity we can get.”
“Which way are we going?” I asked.
“Up Palace Road to the top, then down Palace Boulevard, right on Palace Street and left on Palace Avenue, then turn in at Palace Drive.”
“Sounds easy enough,” I said as we started up the long grade at the beginning of Palace Road. “So how does the Archbishop fit into all this?”
“Kun needs a power base in our country. How better to gain one than by taking over the one organization that permeates every layer of society in the consolidated metropolitan statistical area? The Archdiocese, Peevish—control that and you control every parish, not only here but in the suffragan sees as well. Control every parish, and you control every parish festival. You see now why the Archdiocese is the key to the whole Mid-Atlantic region.”
“Good heavens! I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
“That’s because you’re not an Andorran, Peevish. Andorra is ruled by two princes, and one of them is a bishop. It is natural for an Andorran to think of an episcopal see as the seat of all power. And I shudder to think what Kun might attempt if he has the Archdiocese under his thumb.”
“But surely the Archbishop would never cooperate with him,” I said.
“Ah, Peevish, you have led a sheltered life, except of course for the musk oxen and the skunk cabbage. So you have no idea how easy it is to make unwilling men cooperate. A simple appeal to his baser instincts would never work, since of course archbishops have no baser instincts. But what cannot be accomplished by cajoling can be accomplished by threats, and what cannot be accomplished by threats can be accomplished by—for want of a better word—potions.”
“Some of them controlled substances with trademarked names. Kun is both a licensed pharmacist and a doctor of osteopathy with prescribing privileges.”
“Good lord,” I mumbled, once again astonished by the sheer breadth of our adversary’s evil.
“He is also a world-class badminton player, an accordion player of international repute, an amateur cobbler of some skill, and a professor of macrame at the Community College of Andorra la Vella. It is difficult to find a discipline in which he does not excel, and in every endeavor he seeks only the advancement of the Andorran race, and its entire domination of every other nation.”
By this time we had reached the top of the long hill, and I turned right on Palace Boulevard and began the equally long descent.
“That includes the accordion?” I asked.
“Especially the accordion. He is without doubt the most devious tactical accordionist in the world. It is a branch of the martial sciences not much studied by the current generation of military planners, but now that Kun and his Andorran hordes have erupted, they ignore it at their peril. —I say, Peevish, aren’t you going a bit fast?”
“You did tell me not to spare the straight six.”
“Yes, but don’t forget there’s a sharp curve at the bottom of this hill, and directly behind it is the Palace Boulevard Lava Pit, that famous local curiosity.”
“True,” I said. “I’ll slow down a bit.”
I stepped on the brake.
The pedal went all the way to the floor, my foot meeting no resistance. The car continued to accelerate down the hill. I tried again and again, but with no more effect.
“Not that I want to criticize your driving, Peevish,” said Weyland, “but that lava pit is rather hot, from what I’ve seen of it.”
“The brakes won’t work!” I told him, stomping on the pedal.
“The fiends! They must have cut the lines! There’s no hope of missing the lava pit at this speed! Well, Peevish, I hope you can swim.”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode: