This episode is number 30 in my ongoing web serial, updated weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, or have missed an episode, you can find a full index of the episodes here.
The watery morning sun was just peeping over the roof of the church when a black Jaguar with tinted windows glided quietly into Gallows Close, ignoring the street signs declaring the street a pedestrianised area. Coming to a stop outside Goddess Rising, the car sat for a few moments, brake lights glowing like a pair of rubies in the early dawn, exhaust pipe quietly belching clouds of grey fumes into the crisp morning air. The engine shut off and a grim-faced chauffeur climbed from the driver's door. He stood silently next to the car, scanning the street in both directions before striding over to Rev Beresford's front door where he rang the bell. His passenger's presence announced, the chauffeur returned to the vehicle and opened the passenger door, extending his arm to offer assistance to the black leather gloved hand that gripped his wrist.
Exiting the car, His Grace, Septimus Barclay, Bishop of Rosedene, paused momentarily to allow the stiffness from the journey to work itself out of his spine and legs before he marched purposefully to Rev Beresford's door and, finding it unlocked, stepped inside. His chauffeur returned to the Jaguar and backed the car slowly out of Gallows Close to find a parking space that would afford him a good view down the length of the street. Can't be too careful, he thought.
Taking the stairs two at a time, Bishop Barclay called out, 'Austin? Where are you?' as he reached the landing.
'I'm here, Your Grace. In the kitchen,' the chink of china betrayed what Rev Beresford was up to. 'Go into the Study, Your Grace. I'll be with you as soon as the kettle boils.'
Stepping into Rev Beresford's study, Bishop Barclay made straight for the fireplace, gratified to see that even at this early hour a roaring blaze sat in the grate. Removing his gloves, he rubbed the feeling back into his chilled fingers then sank into an armchair, holding his hands out in front of the fire.
The Bishop had just begun to loosen the buttons of his heavy overcoat when a rattling and clinking announced Rev Beresford's entrance with the tea tray. Setting the tray down on a side table, Rev Beresford hobbled over and took Bishop Barclay's hands in his.
'Good to see you, Your Grace.'
'And you, Austin. I was intrigued by your telephone call but,' he paused, 'Why don't we have some tea before you show me the video footage. Sit yourself down, Austin. I'll be mother.'
Rev Beresford shuffled slowly over to his armchair by the fire as Bishop Barclay rose and poured the tea, adding a good tot of whisky to each cup from the decanter next to the tea tray.
Setting the cups down, Bishop Barclay slurped his tea.
'That's a decent drop of malt you have there Austin,' said Bishop Barclay, an approving look on his face, 'even your appalling taste in tea can do little to detract from its flavour. Wherever do you buy that foul stuff?' He chuckled. 'Now then, Austin, where's this video you rang me about?'
* * *
Pogmorton had been moved to the hospital and, following a tearful reunion with Rushalka, was tucked in the next bed to hers, snoring softly. Swazzle had checked on the Night Packer while he'd been there, only to find the creature still in the grip of a fever. The remainder of the evening had been spent with Salkeld and the Goblins, the upshot of which was that Swazzle had a draig cage on order and a very thick head from rather too much Goblin ale.
Sitting in Mistress Botchett's kitchen, Swazzle rubbed his sore head and sipped his tea. As he'd filled Mistress Botchett's huge teapot, the draig had stuck its nose out of the firebox and made him jump. Hot water had splashed on its snout, but rather than injuring the creature as Swazzle had feared, the draig just shook the last sizzling drops from the end of its nose, narrowed its eyes at him and crawled back into the fire.
Swazzle was wondering whether his sour stomach would benefit from sustenance when Jamieson appeared in the kitchen, his face a mask of worry.
'What's up?' asked Swazzle, wincing as the words rang in his ears.
'Shush!' Jamieson flapped his hands. 'The Bishop's just arrived,' he hissed, 'He's upstairs now. We need to keep totally silent. If he realises we're here, we're done for.'
Not entirely sure what Jamieson was wittering on about, Swazzle held up his hand. The urgency in Jamieson's voice was making his hangover worse. After a few moments the throbbing began to subside.
'So who exactly is this Bishop?' asked Swazzle in a whisper.
'He's in charge of the ORG that the Master's a member of, ye ken?'
'No, I don't ken. ORG? What's one of those?'
'The Occult Research Group, O...R...G. Studies magical phenomena, creatures and such. Tries to find ways to use them for their own ends.'
'I thought it was a bit odd a vicar owning an occult bookshop.'
'Oh, there's more to it than tha...'
A beautiful, unearthly song was drifting out of the firebox of Mistress Botchett's stove. It sounded like choirs of angels, harps and flutes all rolled into one eerily beautiful refrain. For a moment Swazzle and Jamieson were frozen to the spot as the melody rose and fell like a heartbeat, their cares and worries drifting away, carried aloft on the notes of the song.
Suddenly, Jamieson shook himself.
'Och, shite!' he muttered.
This week also marks the release of the thirteenth episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 13 over at Adam Byatt's blog A Fullness of Brevity. Don't forget to follow the #GtChocCo hashtag on Twitter for more updates on this project. For more information, and to read from the beginning, please go here.