Five: Morning Has Broken.
There's an awful lot of people who believe that you should love the morning, on the basis that it begins what they cheerily term "the first day of the rest of your life". Then there are far more sensible folk who believe that the morning is a largely dreary affair, allowing you to slowly come to terms with the fact that the blissful release of death hasn't descended upon you, and that this is, unfortunately, the first day of the rest of your life. I fall firmly and painfully into the second category.
This was going to be a very interesting day. At some point soon, Blackwood would be knocking at my door like a pagan Postman Pat, ready to yank me out into his entourage of other strange people. And then, for God-alone-knew how long, I would have to keep my eyes on a girl who had the potential to be the magick world's equivalent of the Dalai Llama. Blackwood had been right in contradicting me on the height of Kingsley's power; neither I nor the druid could ever have gone toe-to-toe with the wizard. If ol' man Crowley himself had taken an interest, then Kingsley was top-notch stuff. In the wrong hands, his power would be a magickal weapon of mass destruction. That was why I was going to have keep these enigmatic, oncoming cultists at bay. However, the morning ritual would always have to come first; it was time to wake up.
With the enthusiasm and vigour of Frankenstein's monster, I slid out of bed and onto the disturbingly organic carpet, fending off both the affects of my dream and the echoes of pre-slumber whiskey. I checked the mirror to make sure I was still me (you'd be surprised how many people discover, upon waking up, that they are no longer who or what they were when they went to bed) and to my unending delight realised I was. Same Walton Taylor – same cocky eyebrows, the same deathly grey eyes, and the same trainee facial hair. And at the very least, that much was right with the world.
I stepped out into the hallway, just in time to see Isaac emerge from the bathroom with my favourite towel lapped generously around his broomstick-like frame. The hippie saw me, and nodded in his usual fashion.
"Mornin' Walt." He smiled. "Sleep well?"
"You know what my dreams are like, man." I answered. "Might as well have not slept at all – reality just doesn't stop once I stick my head on the pillow."
"Reality's an executive buzz-word, dude." Shrugged Isaac. "You should do what I do; hop an express train to the psychedelic highway and let the machine fairies carry all your troubles into the rainbow dimension."
"As appealing as that sounds, comrade of mine, I need to be fully compos mentis for the next few days. When are your lady-friends coming round? I take it you've already brought in ridiculous amounts of squirty cream and cherries?"
The look of glee on his face said everything.
"Got the chocolate body paint as well man. I'm telling you…"
"Don't tell me anything, my little hirsute Don Juan. The thought of your body covered in dairy products obviously gets me excited, but excitement is something that'll have to step aside during my nearing endeavours."
"Sure thing Walt. I used your shampoo earlier, but my new bottle's still full on the windowsill."
"Smooth. Catch you in a tick."
I've always enjoyed showers. Some people believe that they're only really good if you're having sex in one, but I find something deeply spiritual about sticking my head under torrents of falling water. Probably the Irishman in my blood marvelling at this modernised, indoor rainfall. That and the fact they forced me to wake up. If there was one thing adolescence had taught me, it was that no mental distraction could defend itself against the primordial temperatures of a cold shower.
However, magick has annoying ways of working its way through our psychological barriers. As the water cascaded down my back and shampoo ran (predictably) into my eyes, my mind began casting itself to the events of the previous night. Although I had a particularly important task in front of me, a life in the magickal business had given me a few very solemn instructions about the nature of cause and effect. Somewhere, there was an annoyed young man with shards of glass up his arse. Whilst my inner need for schadefreude and a cheeky balance had been satiated, nevertheless there was some tiny little creature at the back of my head that made feel…well it wasn't so much guilty; more apprehensive. I had ruined his chances of getting it on with his target – and in the great scheme of things that was fine, as he was being dishonest by going after in the first place. However, my particular brand of punishment might have been viewed as a bit over-bearing by the cosmos, and things were now working their way so as to jump up and bite me in the arse. Never have I watched a plughole with so much dread (apart from when I'd watched my dad's copy of Psycho at six year's old).
It was then that Isaac knocked on the door, shuddering me out of my dampened meditations.
"Walt," he called, "druid bloke's here to see you. Says you've gotta get dressed and skip breakfast. Something's come up."
I quickly dried myself off and belted into my room, effectively diving into my usual clothes, which I had left strewn around the room before going to bed. Whacking my jacket on as I thundered down the stairs, I nodded a goodbye to my flatmate and went to meet Blackwood outside.
"Taylor." He grunted, acknowledging me gruffly with his usual air of superiority. "I assume you have everything you need?"
"Your wallet? Your mobile telephone?"
"Never leave the house without 'em, boss."
"Keep them in the most secure part of my head. What's up, Cedric? Isaac mentioned you'd said something had come up."
"Get in the car. We need to go to the airport."
"The airport? Look Cedric, I'd need to make arrangements if we have to head abroad…"
"We're not going abroad, fool!" Snapped the druid, making it clear that this was a very urgent matter. "There's been an incident at the airport and my agents within the police have reported it might have something to do with our current interests. I have already asked that your colleagues for this mission meet us there."
The two of us clambered into the back of the Rolls once more, and Blackwood's driver zipped off at a speed which made me want to cling to the druid and ask him to hold me. Luckily, I didn't.
"I don't get this…what's up with the airport?"
"After you were dropped off last night," began the druid, "I returned to my base of operations in order to prepare things. I had my associates browse records and databases to see if we could find anything of Kingsley's which we hadn't already yet collected. Oddly enough, we came across a store-house in New York City which was registered in the wizard's name, but he had apparently specified that his estranged family were not to inherit the contents. I immediately contacted my friends within the area and ordered them to pick up anything they could find, and then have it flown in on the earliest flight across the Atlantic. Luckily this was done fairly speedily, but it would appear that someone else has had inside information…"
"Yeah. I had a bit of a weird dream last night; a bloke with whom you might be familiar gave me some important details."
"It was Aleister Crowley."
This silenced the druid. But two seconds later he was back in Columbo mode again.
"And what did he tell you?"
"Said he'd picked up some strange resonances and synchronicities recently. According to him, there's been a bunch of odd murders in the surrounding area, all of them performed on relatively prominent magick practitioners. It'd seem that they're acting out the killings with the number twenty-one in mind – a number which has a lot to do with Walpurgisnacht, as well as connections with the founding of the Church of Satan. And each string of killings occurs in concentric circles, which are slowly closing in on Kingsley's granddaughter."
"Ritualistic killings…doesn't surprise me." Muttered the druid. "Such groups are usually prone to such behaviour. I will have to think on this."
"But…what did you say you had brought over from New York?"
"I won't know until my associates inform me." Grumbled Blackwood in reply. "For you see, Taylor, the cargo plane carrying the goods in question was lost around four a.m. this morning. According to the officials, it simply disappeared off their sonar machines…"
"Radar machines, having flown for roughly two-and-a-half hours. As of yet, I have no idea who else could have predicted our movements, nor had the resources to act so quickly and decisively."
This was naturally a bit disconcerting. It looked like someone had wanted to flip us the finger, and they'd done so by – somehow – getting rid of Blackwood's plane, with Kingsley's secret stuff on board. This meant either some other bugger had their hands on whatever the plane was carrying, or had blown it out of the air completely.
"I've had this entire thing covered up." Sighed the druid, looking out of the windscreen. "According to both the authorities and the media, no such cargo plane ever left John. F Kenneally…"
"…airport. There certainly was no involvement with a Manhattan safe-house owned by one Mr Kingsley, and there is absolutely no record of flight…."
His pause unnerved me.
"What's up, doc?" I enquired. "There was absolutely nothing senile in that sentence."
"Twenty-one…" He mouthed, almost silently. "The plane left on flight twenty-one…"
Ah. The plot thickened.