Sunday, 30 January 2011

Weekly Wordzzle 139 and 140

Work pretty much scuppered my writing of a Wordzzle last week but, in order to remain true to my challenge never to miss one, I've combined last week's and this week's words to create a kind of bumper edition: 2 minis and a 20-word episode of Harold.

The words were really hard to fit into Harold's story both weeks, so please excuse the utterly ocntrived nature of some of the writing.

Go here to see other players' contributions and next week's words.

A Mini (athlete, trading places, launch, ownership, trample )

“Imagine trading places with someone completely different from yourselves,” boomed the voice of motivation “guru” Alvin Allbright from the TV set.

“I’m imaginin’, but it ain’t ‘appenin’” Jeered Big Bob. Every man there laughed, apart from a well-fed-looking blond man, who just looked scared, his eyes darting around the room nervously.

“Imagine being an Olympic athlete,” Allbright continued, “Tensely crouched in the starting blocks, maybe, or an astronaut sitting in the space shuttle about to launch. You could be an explorer or mountain-climber…”

“I did some explorin’ once, that’s how I ended up ‘ere!” Bob continued. His friends bellowed their appreciation at his wit. The blond man picked up a newspaper and pretended to read.

“I’m willing to bet” Allbright went on, “that not one of you imagined for yourselves a life of accountancy, retail sales or road-mending, and yet these are the very lives you all have. You should take full ownership of your dreams before life comes along to trample on them with the hob-nailed boots of economic expediency and safe routine. My Programme – Seven Steps to Success…”

Bob reached up and switched off the TV with a muttered expletive.

“I never dreamt of ending up banged up in ‘ere, neither,” he growled, snatching the newspaper out of the blond man’s hands. “An’ I bet you didn’t neither, did you, Alvin!”

Another Mini (ambition, charter, bug spray, business as usual, cheap )

It was more or less business as usual that Wednesday afternoon. My two o’clock had cancelled (this was happening more and more of late what with the recession and all) so I was looking forward to giving the old plane a little leisurely overdue TLC. So who should come wandering in, reeking of an aftershave that smelt worse than cheap bug spray, but Ernie Poxmeyer. A ‘businessman’ of soaring ambition, limitless greed and complete moral vacuity. He wanted to charter the plane, however, and well, beggars can’t be choosers, so I took his money and we were soon in the air. Once out over the lake, he suddenly slid open the little window on his side, threw out the little briefcase he’d been cradling in his lap the whole time and slammed the window shut again. He turned to me and growled into his mike. “That never happened, right?” I nodded. Right.

A 20-worder (sunset, open sesame, spectacles, icicles, chanting, proposal, jade carving, earphones, growing old, parallelogram, kissing cousins, macaroni and cheese, chasm, orange glow, bucket list, eucalyptus, charged, handy, superior)

New to Harold? Catch up here

It was past sunset when Agent Moon opened the heavy glass front door to his apartment block and stepped into the porch. As he fished about in his pocket for his key to the door leading into the entrance lobby proper, he caught sight of a movement reflected in the glass in front of him. Tugging out his earphones (the soundtrack of Kissing Cousins would have to wait), he turned round to see a rather scruffy-looking man of about his own age approaching, toting a large sports bag. The man's unfashionably long black hair flopped over his spectacles with every step as he bounced up the steps. He pushed open the outer door.

“Excuse me,” the newcomer gasped, “I’ve gone and left my building key in my apartment. Do you mind if I come inside with you? I'd really appreciate it.”

Moon wasn’t keen. He didn’t know this man. Granted, he didn’t know many of the people in his building, but he thought he’d seen most of them around at least. This fellow he had not seen, and didn't quite like the look of, although he didn't seem to be drunk or whacked out on drugs or anything. Anyway, in the confines of the porch, it was going to be difficult to stop him if he really wanted in. Moon shrugged.

“Sure,” He applied his key to the lock.

Open Sesame!” said the stranger, theatrically..

“What?” Moon turned, frowning. This guy was beginning to creep him out.

“Oh, nothing,” said the stranger with an apologetic little laugh. “Sorry. Just something my old Dad used to say." He glanced at his watch, "It was really handy you turning up when you did, I didn't fancy having to hang around till morning.”

Moon grunted, turned the key and pushed the door open.

At this hour, the lobby was dim and quiet, and smelt faintly of floor cleaner and eucalyptus. A long polished oak counter ran down one side where, during the day, the concierge sat grumpy sentinel. Behind the counter was a bank of pigeon holes for residents’ mail.

Moon skirted the counter and collected his letters – two bills, yet more junk mail from Bucket List Superior Holidays (how he wished he’d not left his details on their website!) and a poor photocopy of a proposal by the building’s residents committee on tackling the rats in the basement, detailing who much everyone would be charged for their eradication.

When he turned around again, the stranger was strolling towards the building’s single elevator, his heels clicking on the polished black and white parallelogram-patterned tiles. Moon followed. He was not entirely happy about having to share the elevator car with this odd fellow, but there was only the one car and he didn’t fancy the stairs.

The stranger pushed the call button. The elevator emitted a soft bong, the doors slid open and the two men got in.

“Which floor?” asked Moon, hand hovering over the button panel.

“Oh, er, seven, please.” replied the stranger.

Moon jabbed seven, then his own, six. The doors wheezed closed and the car began its groaning and rattling ascent. Not being the most modern or rapid of transports, the journey took the best part of a minute, which both men spent in slightly awkward silence. The stranger glanced at his watch again, Moon noticed.  At last the elevator stopped and Moon was able to step out into his familiar hallway. He hurried along to his own door and, with some relief, heard the lift doors close and the machinery start up once more. Once safely inside his own appartment, Moon relaxed.

"You're growing old and paranoid," he said to himself as he dropped his keys into the conveniently-shaped lap of a jade carving of the Buddha which sat on the hall table. "That guy was just a guy that got locked out, nothing more."

He wandered into the kitchen area.

There was nothing in the freezer but a few icicles and a macaroni and cheese ready meal which had been there for some time. With a sigh, and a promise to himself to go shopping the next day, Moon extracted it, removed the packaging and tossed the unappetising thing into the microwave to heat before flopping onto the couch and turning on the TV.

A documentary about some volcano was showing, and over the sound of ritualistic chanting, the narrator was just describing how the mountain had been sacred to the locals, who would make sacrifice to their gods by hurling people and animals into the fiery chasm at the mountain's heart. The man's face was sweating and flushed, bathed in the lurid orange glow coming from the crater behind him.

The hum of the microwave mixed with the chanting and the smooth tones of the presenter in a pleasingly soporific way, and Moon soon felt himself slipping toward sleep, only to be startled awake by the shrill beep of the microwave, alerting him to the fact that his dinner was ready.


In the stairwell leading down to the sixth floor, the black-haired stranger knelt down, placed his sports bag carefully on the floor and unzipped it. At once, a small grey shape clambered out of the opening.

"About perishing time, too!" grumbled Teatime, "I was almost suffocating in there."

"Nonsense," laughed Harold, "You were fine. Anyway, we're in!"

"Hmph, well, anyway.  Do you think he suspected anything?"

"Nope," said Harold proudly, "I think I convinced him I was some oddball living on seventh." He pulled off the black wig and glasses, and allowed his face to resume its usual shape and colouration. He'd worked hard all afternoon on a suitable disguise but, with his limited abilities, had just about managed to get to the stage where he could only reliably hold his new face for a short period of time – hence the incessant clock-watching. As hair had proved too tricky a proposition altogether, a wig had been found, and the spectacles were added as an extra layer of distraction, just in case.

"Right then, old Sock, let's get busy," said Teatime.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Magical Tech. Support

Digging out some of my old cartoons a couple of posts back seems to have ignited something in my head, as I went on to have the idea for a new cartoon.

When I had the initial idea for this (on the bus, where all the best ideas come to me), I had an image of a cute-looking young witch, complete with headset and computer and she would be saying the “Have you tried….” line. This seemed quite amusing to me, but maybe a little too bland and inoffensive.

Then I thought about having an angry and frustrated-looking Gandalf-type wizard on the phone and he would be hearing that line from the person at the other end.

Better, harder-hitting, but still not quite right.

So, how about having something going horribly wrong in the background – a monster climbing out of the grimoire or a massive explosion which has trashed the place?

Now this seemed like the way forward. When I started sketching, however, I just couldn’t seem to fit in the background detail and get it to be completely obvious what was going on whilst at the same time having the enraged wizard in the foreground. And where to put the speech balloon so it did not obstruct the image but still remain easily visible?


It was when I began to draw a few try-outs for the monster’s head that I hit on the idea of the disaster already having happened and there being not much left of the hapless wizard (saves me having to draw him!). Now, if the creature could be munching on what was obviously an arm or leg, the message would be clear enough, I thought.

So that’s what I went with, adding a few touches like the torn hat, glasses, broken wand, etc. for extra gruesomeness.

There are a few technical prblems (OK, loads, probably) but it's turned out pretty much how I wanted it.

So there it is. That’s how things get done in my brain.

Don’t worry, this is not going to turn into a cartoons-only blog. I just thought it would be fun to share the picture and thought processes that went into making it.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Weekly Wordzzle 138

Well, well, another weekend rolls round and it's Wordzzle time.  I am resposible for this week's words (I sent them to Raven ages ago, so had completely forgotten them).  Go here to see next week's words and this week's posts. 

On with the motley!  Note: once again the tired and cheap device of using newspaper headlines to get rid of words crops up - you have been warned.. 

The Mini (article, blind, watery, leap, crescent)

It is late and I am late. A thin crescent of silver moon is watching through the window as I scurry down one mental blind alley after another, trying to get my article finished for tomorrow’s edition - today’s edition now, I suppose I should say. But, when it comes down to it, what on earth is there to say about a pair of young newlyweds who suddenly decide to hold hands and leap from a local bridge to a watery grave in the rain-swollen river below? My editor is demanding 300 words, but I can only think of one.

The 10-Worder (newspaper, empty plate, tiger, box, chewing gum, heating, traffic, books, canary, shoe)

New to Harold? Catch up here

“If Moon is our traitor,” sighed Mercury, “I suppose it would explain a lot. We weren’t being particularly secretive about our investigations when we were operating out of Aunt Bessie’s, were we? He could easily have overheard what we were up to, and he would have access to our files as well." He shook his head sadly, "I still find it hard to believe, though.”

“The thing is, what can we do about him?” said Othello.

“We could grab him and threaten him till he sings like a canary!” suggested Prada, “Only kidding,” she continued hastily, “but we could maybe confront him.”

“He’d just deny everything and act all innocent, and it would be our word against his.”

“We could tell Director Opal our suspicions,” suggested India. “He might be persuaded to launch an official investigation.”

“He’d want more proof than just our suspicions, and all we really have is circumstantial stuff.” replied Mercury. “We really need to get something more concrete if we’re to get rid of him.”

“Are we sure we actually want to, as you say, get rid of him?” said Teatime.

“What do you suggest?”

“Well, our traitor’s biggest advantage has always been that we didn’t know who he was. Now we do – or think we do - and he doesn’t know that we know, if you take my meaning.”

“So the question then becomes, what use can we make of this situation?” said Othello. “Hmm, We need to know exactly how he’s connected into all this – is he just naively passing information or is he actually organising things. I, for one, would definitely like to know whether he knew about the bomb in the Osprey building.”

“OK, so let’s think about how we can de-claw our tiger then,” said Mercury, relieved to have something concrete to focus on, “Box? Do you have any ideas?”

“Well, there’s one that springs to mind,” replied Box, “You could follow him around, see where he goes, who he talks to and so on. If he doesn’t realise he’s been rumbled, he won’t be taking too many precautions against that kind of thing.“

“Maybe you could plant one of those clever little tracking things on him.” suggested Harold who had been quite impressed with this particular piece of technology.

“That’s actually not a bad idea,” said Othello.

“We should do both,” said Mercury. “Someone should be close enough to Moon to get pictures – both for our own investigation and also for evidence to show Opal if needs be.”

“The best place to hook up with him again will probably be at Aunt Bessie’s,” said Prada.


Dr Flowers finished off the last of her bagel, pushed aside her empty plate and picked up the newspaper. She always liked to have a few minutes alone with some carbohydrates and the daily news as a way to re-focus after the nightmare of the morning traffic and the tedium of the morning checks. The headlines were full of a mixture of gloom (Tensions Heating up in Middle East) the promising (Seventy-Year-Old Inventor Patents Non-Stick Chewing Gum) and the frankly odd (Sotheby’s Declares Hitler’s Shoe A Fake). There came a brisk knock at the door and Haynes walked in. Flowers folded up the paper with a small sigh and tossed it on top of a pile of medical books.

“Sorry to disturb you, Doctor,” Haynes said, “the computer’s finished analysing the last batch of readings and I thought you’d be interested to see.” He held out his clipboard. Flowers took it from him and inspected it carefully.

“Looks like we’re finally getting what we need.” She said.
“We’re double-checking, but if these numbers are confirmed, we could move to the next stage as early as tomorrow.”

“I think so, too. Give RolexBoy a call and tell him we’re almost ready for him.”

Friday, 14 January 2011


Back around the time when dinosaurs first roamed the earth (the mid- to late nineteen-eighties in fact), I went through a phase of drawing a cartoon strip. For fun, I thought I'd share a few of the least terrible ones in the first of an occasional series.

Sadly, I loaned all the original drawings to a friend to look at, but he split up with his then partner, left them behind at her house and then had the bad manners to die suddenly (yes, Sam, I do mean you, wherever you are!).  All I have are photocopies.

As I was seriously into Dungeons & Dragons and all things fantasy-related in those days (still am, as a matter of fact), the strip naturally got set in a typical fantasy world.

Jubal is our eponymous hero and he is a wizard who is not incompetent as such, but doesn't always think things through, and to whom strange things tend to happen.

His sidekick is Osric whose profession is completely unknown – even to me. He just seems to hang out with Jubal sometimes.

In this strip, named with staggering imagination, Pictures in the Fire. We see Jubal (on the left) and Osric out camping.

This next one is one of my favourites. I called it Rocky (oh, the wit!).  I think I like it because I took a bit more care with the drawing and lettering than usual. I like Jubal's irrascibility in it, too.

Note the odd-shaped frames. All the Jubal cartoons were enclosed in these originally (I removed them from the above strip as it looked really messy after scanning). The frames were made by drawing around a promotional coaster.

Hope you enjoyed.  I'll see if I can dig out some others and scan them in.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Poerty Bus - A Calculated Revenge

I wasn't going to ride the bus this week (and after you've heard what I've posted, you may well wish I hadn't!)

Anyway, Lydia of Emerging Writer fame, offered such a delicious prompt that I just could not resist.  I chose the option of writing a Tim Minchin-style revenge song.  Actually, I don't know what the other prompts are because she had me at revenge, if I'm honest.  To see the prompt and watch a video of how these things really should be done, go here.

You can listen to my song by scrolling down to the last track in my ReverbNation doo-hickey over there on the right sidebar.

Or, if you value your lug-holes, you can just read it....

O Miss Chapman

When I was just a spotty kid
New in my second year
There was a certain teacher there
Who filled my heart with fear.
Miss Chapman was this witch’s name,
Maths teacher, heartless cow!
Though thirty years have come and gone
I’d love to meet you now.
Oh, Miss Chapman
How did it come to be
That you should take such grim delight,
Making life so hard for me?

From minute one, it all went wrong
To this day I see you frown.
And all because I wrote my name
On your desk plan upside down.
My eyesight wasn’t good enough
The blackboard for to see.
Would it have really killed you
To write it out for me?
O Miss Chapman
I was really keen to learn.
But you always thought the worst of me,
Marked me down at every turn.

Now I know I should forgive you
Forgiveness is divine.
But I am just a sinful soul
Wishing vengeance would be mine!

All these years I’ve nursed a grudge
It’s not healthy, this I know.
But I think I finally see a way
That will help me let it go.
‘Cos I learned some maths In spite of you
Oh how useful it will be!
When it comes to calculating
A bullet’s trajectory.
O Miss Chapman
Who knew maths could be such fun!
And had such a useful bearing
On the aiming of a gun.

Other useful formulae
That once to us you showed,
Let me calculate the Semtex needed
To make your car explode.
And trig, it has its uses
Though you made it seem so dull.
I worked out the perfect angle
For my axe to split your skull.
O Miss Chapman
I solved it, dare I boast?
The quantity of petrol
That will turn you into toast.

Now I know that on that Judgement Day
My soul it will be weighed
And I’ll be held accountable
For all these threats I’ve made
But in my own defence I’d plead,
I’d try to make them see
I wouldn’t have these murd’rous thoughts
Had you ONCE been kind to me.

O Miss Chapman
You really were a pill!
You still evoke the urge in me
To hurt, to main, to kill.
O Miss Chapman
I know I’ll burn in Hell
But I don’t give a flying fig
‘Cos you’ll be there as well!
‘Cos you’ll be there as well!
‘Cos you’ll be there as well!

I have yet another sneaking suspicion I've nicked that last stanza off somebody.  Apologies to whoever it might be.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Weekly Wordzzle 137

Yes, it's back from its Christmas holiday! 

If you would like to play along with us (and you really should consider it if you're interested in giving your creativity a kick-start) then go to Raven's Nest for this week's words and players plus next week's words.


The mini (research, insane, clarity, toy mouse, lottery)

When I stumbled into work this morning, I was surprised to discover a toy mouse on my desk. A bit of water-cooler research amongst my colleagues revealed that no one owned him or would admit to leaving him for me to find. He was a jolly little fellow, dressed in orange pantaloons and a little striped shirt, complete with matching neckerchief. He had a distinctly cheeky look on his face and (bizarrely) an eye patch covering his left eye, like some kind of fuzzy mini-pirate. Liking the look of him, I propped him up next to my computer screen for company.
“Heh! Maybe you’ll be able to give me some clarity when I get stuck on the Mortensen Contract,” I said to him, just for fun.
“Sure,” he replied, almost causing me to knock over my coffee in surprise. “but my experience of contract law is pretty limited, if I’m honest, so taking my advice would be a bit of a lottery.”
I thought I must be going slightly insane (probably from overwork), imagining the mouse replying to me like that. I gave him a long hard look, but he just stood there, still and silent –a simple toy mouse leaning against my screen. I shook my head, smiling ruefully to myself.
“As if a toy mouse could help.” I murmured, “what was I thinking?”.
“I told you!” the mouse cried indignantly, “I don’t do contracts. Now, if you’re needing some advice on maritime law….”

The 10-worder (celebrate, doctor, shipping, choice, stake, time flies when you're having fun, secrets, disaster, back down, clouds)

New to Harold? Catch up here

High summer clouds against a dazzling blue sky, the raucous cry of seabirds and a seaport busy with shipping. The pungent smell of fish…

The Listener clutched at this wisp of recollection as it floated by, and pulled it into itself, adding to the small ball of self-awareness which was coalescing in the dark nothingness. Where had it seen this before? What disaster had befallen it that it had no choice now but to float here in darkness and silence, trying to remember? There had been a time when choices were possible, the Listener was sure, a time before this relentless impotence.

Time flies when you’re having fun. A flash of laughing blue eyes, the scent of roses...

Now where had that come from? There was no time here and no way to measure it if there had been. Nor was there any fun.

Suddenly (it could have been seconds or years after) the tinny, distorted voices were back once more.

“It sounds like we’ve got some good news to celebrate then, Doctor,” said the lower-pitched of the two. “We’re not as badly compromised as we might have been by the looks of it.”

”So it would seem,” replied the mosquito-whine of what the Listener now recalled as being a female voice.

“But there’s too much at stake here for us to start getting complacent. Box and his cronies may not know all our secrets, but they could still cause trouble and they will start digging around now that they know about Infinity Recycling. That address I gave you, have you found out anything about it yet?”

“It’s a very tasty residence owned by one Elroy Jackson.”

“That name sounds familiar, who’s he?”

“He used to run Baron Samedi’s club – back when there was such a thing.”

“Interesting. Now why would Box have that man’s address in his notebook, I wonder.”

“Maybe he thought Jackson could give him some information about Samedi’s disappearance.”

“Perhaps,” the mosquito-voice agreed, “Fortunately for us, he’s as much in the dark as everybody else. Your people did a thorough job on the club - the police and the fire investigators still have nothing to go on, it seems.”

It was not yet itself entirely sure why, but a tiny pinpoint of anger began to form at the very centre of the Listener’s being.


To the row of printed photographs looking back down at them all, Harold added that of Agent Moon – retrieved by Othello in his third successful access of the OGS system. Now that his picture was set side by side with that of Agent Wood’s, the family resemblance was clear to see.

“According to Moon’s records,” said Othello, reading from the screen in front of him, “He was the only son of one Rebecca Bailey – a nightclub waitress in Reno. The father’s name is not recorded. Ms Bailey died when Moon was five years old and he spent his childhood in foster homes. He was academically gifted, it seems, and got a scholarship to study particle physics at MIT. After graduating, he travelled around Europe for a year. When he returned, he joined OGS”

“Astonishing,” remarked Teatime, “I have to say the boy struck me as rather dim. Awfully nice and all that, but about as bright as a 5-watt bulb. Particle physics indeed!”

“Not to be rude or anything,” added Harold, “but why would someone so bright want to join OGS? I mean, what you guys do is interesting and all, but I wouldn’t have thought you needed a degree in rocket science to do it.”

Several pairs of unimpressed eyes stared at him.

“What?” he protested, “It’s true! I really don’t mean to offend, but being an agent seems to be a lot of running around, followed by long periods of waiting about, with occasional bouts of dressing-up. I still haven’t figured out what that was all about, by the way.” This last bit was addressed to India, who tutted irritatedly and turned her back on him.

“Well done, old cork!” hissed Teatime, sarcastically, “You’ll have them eating out of your hand in no time at this rate. Just you carry on!”

“It is a valid question,” said Othello, “Most of our recruits do come from a more, shall we say, practical background and OGS doesn’t advertise, so it begs the question of how Moon would have known about us in order to apply in the first place.”

“No mystery there if Agent Wood was Moon’s father“ said Prada.

“OK, so we’ve possibly uncovered a past indiscretion of Agent Wood’s,” said Mercury, “But how does that –“

Box’s voice interrupted from the speaker on the table.

“Moon can’t be Wood’s boy,” he said, “Wood once told me that he couldn’t have kids – he had mumps and it messed up his fertility. My guess would be that he’s Jonathan’s kid - Wood’s nephew.”

“OK. Son, nephew, whatever,” said Mercury, “what does this mean, if anything?”

“Well, if he’s got ties to the Rainbow family,” said Othello, “he might have access to all kinds of stuff – the kind of resources we were thinking our so-called traitor might have.”

“Oh, no, I can’t believe Moon is our traitor,” said Mercury, “I’ve known him since he joined. He’s clean, I’d swear to it.”

“Well he hid his brains pretty effectively,” said Teatime, “who knows what else he may be hiding?”

Monday, 3 January 2011

Still Not a Wordzzle

Wordzzles will be back next Saturday, but before that.....this!

New to Harold? Catch up here

Pleased with her afternoon’s work, Dr Flowers dropped the used syringe into a sharps bin and headed down the corridor towards the exit of Mercy Hospital.  It had been a good afternoon for two reasons.  Firstly, she had been able to have a nice long chat and catch up over a coffee with her old colleague, ’Aunt’ Sally.

After the usual pleasantries, Sally had been somewhat inquisitive about Flowers’s patient, which was only natural, given that Flowers had contacted her out of the blue to get him put in a private room out of the way. She had repeated the lie she had used on the phone - that he was a participant in one of her research projects, but that commercial confidentiality prevented her from saying any more.

Sally had updated Flowers with all the gossip from Mercy and, when Sally’s pager had gone off,  they had parted with the usual insincere promises to keep properly in touch.

The second reason for Flowers’s good mood was Box.  Under the influence of the barbiturate she had administered, the man had been most forthcoming.  It seemed that he and his cohorts had only the vaguest idea about what she and her team were actually up to, which was good.  Unfortunately, he now knew the name Infinity Recycling, which was not so good, being a possible lead for his team.  She wasn’t too worried about that, though, as the company did genuinely exist and did carry out scrap metal recycling, but the staff there had no idea that their company had other interests – the parent company had been most careful about that.   Eventually, the drugs had taken full effect, rendering any attempt at further questioning pointless, and she had allowed Box to drift off.  A quick rifle through his things had turned up a notebook with an address on Mountainside Boulevard in it.  This she had quickly copied in case it turned out to be useful.

All in all, a most productive afternoon.


Next morning, after a hearty breakfast provided by Mr Teeth, the group assembled in the room Mr Teeth had set aside.

Othello and Mercury had not been able to speak with Box the previous day, as he had been deeply asleep the whole time they had been there.  When visiting hours had finished they had left him a note to let him know they had called in.

He was wide awake now, however, and had dialled into the meeting.

Box filled the rest in on what had happened the previous day and they did the same for him. Finally, everyone was up to speed.

"So, before we were so rudely interrupted," said Mercury, "We were looking into the backgrounds of staff and agents to see if we could uncover our mystery snake in the grass."

"We also started exploring the links between Rainbow Industries and project Dynamo, seeing that Agent Wood, who worked on it with Box, is Jonathan Rainbow's younger brother. We now have another lead in the name Infinity Recycling."

"I can do some research on them this morning," offered Othello.

"OK, good.  What about our five potential snakes in the grass?  Does anyone have any ideas how we can progress with them?"

"I think we should definitely strike Agent Ruby from the list," said Prada, "He's only on there because he's from a wealthy background and if that's all it takes to get on the list, you might as well put me on there!"

"Well, ok," conceded Mercury, after a moment's thought   "That still leaves four.  Why don't we set up a war-board and start collating our findings and ideas.  Othello, can you print off pictures of everyone we're interested in?"

The room was quiet for a short while apart from the whir of the laser printer.

Harold decided to make himself useful and pin up the pictures as they came off.

Agent Cobalt - whose family were in mining - was revealed to be a middle-aged man with greying hair and a broken nose.

Agent Sabre - of the unaccounted-for six month gap in her history - was a young chinese woman of striking good looks.

Agent Oak - the one-time soap actress - was an ageing barbie doll.

Agent Callisto - whose military service had been in explosives work - was a hard-eyed, square-jawed young man in his mid-twenties.

All these, Harold pinned up on the board without comment.

The printer whirred one more time and Harold reached for the page to pin it with the others.

"Who's this?" he said, looking at the round, rather innocent-looking face.

"Agent Wood," replied Othello "or Mark Rainbow if you will.  Box's former partner."

"Nice watch!" said Prada admiringly, looking at the timepiece that could be clearly seen on Agent Wood's left wrist.  "If that's a genuine Rolex Daytona - and since he's a Rainbow, it probably is - it's worth a small fortune!"

"Yeah, he was always dressy," Box's voice came crackling from the speaker on the table, "But I'm still not sure whether it's worth including him - I can't imagine he's up to much after his accident."

"Nevertheless, we'll keep him in for now - he could be getting others to work for him." said Mercury.

Othello was staring at Wood's picture again and frowning.

"What is it?" asked Prada, noticing his expression.

"I'm sure I've seen him - or someone very like him - recently, in the past few days.  If I could just figure out who it is."

Harold looked at the picture with renewed interest.  Human faces were all a bit of a muchness unless they had some reasonably distinctive feature or other - which this one did not.  Nevertheless, Othello was right, there was something about the face now that he looked at it properly.  A certain innocent eagerness that reminded him of...

"Agent Moon!" he said, brightly, "That's who he reminds me of."