THAT DARN SQUID GOD Pollotta & Clay
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CHAPTER TWO

Clear and strong, the mighty Big Ben began to chime the midnight hour as somewhere in the gray mist, a muffled foghorn moaned in warning to ships on the Thames River.

Inside the jostling carriage, Lord Carstairs reclined in the sumptuous leather seating. "That was a spot of good luck to locate a cab so quickly on such a poor night," he commented. "Perhaps it is a good omen for our journey?"

"Nothing of the sort, lad. I had it waiting for me," Einstein remarked, checking the time on a gold Beugueret pocketwatch.

"How unusual," Carstairs noted, stretching out his legs. "You must pay the driver exorbitantly for such a service. Or is he part of your staff?"

"Merely professional courtesy," the professor corrected, showing an ornate signet ring on his left pinky.

Arching an eyebrow, Lord Carstairs studied the unusual bit of jewelry. "You're a member of the Cab Drivers Guild?" he asked incredulously.

"The Coalition of the Street we prefer to be called, but yes, I am an honorary member," Einstein said, breathing on the ring before polishing it on a trouser leg. "Quite often in my work I have found it highly useful to belong to as many private associations and restricted clubs as possible. One can never tell when the assistance of a fellow member will be highly desirous."

"That certainly seems to make sense," Carstairs replied politely.

Resting the ebony cane across his lap, the professor smiled ruefully. "So far, the only society that has totally refused me admittance is the Daughters of Lesbos."

Unsure if that was a joke or not, Lord Carstairs leaned back and reached inside his coat to produce a gold cigar case. Snapping it open, the lord politely offered an assortment of hand-rolled Cubans to the professor. Einstein stared at the leafy cylinders with dismay.

"An imported Havana mixture," Carstairs said encouragingly. "My own private blend."

Recognizing the futility of arguing health with a confirmed smoker, the professor relinquished his usual adamant position and joined his associate in lighting a slim panatela. Soon, the atmosphere inside the cab was as thick as the air outside, and in spite of his scientific abhorrence of the practice, Einstein was forced to admit that it really was a damn fine cigar.

From the front of the carriage there came the crack of a whip, a horse whiny, and the vehicle angled sharply about for a tight turn. Almost losing their seats, both men grabbed hold of the convenient leather straps set next to the door and fought to stay upright.

"Incompetent bounder," Lord Carstairs muttered angrily.

"Evasive tactics," Prof. Einstein corrected.

"Are we being pursued, sir?"

Inspecting the end of his cigar, Einstein said nothing.

Allowing the pungent smoke to trickle from his mouth, Lord Carstairs turned to glance out a window. Even through the dense river fog, he could see the vast halls of Parliament, the great stone building still encased in a maze of scaffolding.

"Appears they're almost done with the repairs," he remarked in pride, the smoky words momentarily visible in the air.

Puffing contentedly, Prof. Einstein nodded. "A nice job too, considering how much damage it received in the-"

"Troubles," Carstairs interjected, gesturing with his cigar.

Furrowing his brow, Einstein scowled in irritation. "It was war, damn it. War! Why can't anybody just admit that?"

"Tact," the lord replied simply.

As politeness was the backbone of civilization, the professor had no possible retort to that. Angrily, he flicked cigar ash out the window just as the fog briefly parted admitting a wealth of silvery moonlight into the cab.

Gesturing with the smoldering stub, Einstein indicated the misty sky overhead. "Well, is polite society willing to talk about the moon?" the professor demanded. "Or is that also something else people decline to discuss?"

"Not a bit of it," Lord Carstairs replied, shifting the cigar to a new location in his mouth. "I heard about the phenomenon before I left the continent. The Royal Astronomical Society is completely foxed about the whole thing."

"As so they should be, lad," Prof. Einstein said, blowing a smoke ring at the crescent. The fumes joined the fog and moon was gone again. "By celestial mechanics beyond our understanding, the moon is revolving to show us its long hidden face. What do you think of that, eh?"

Inhaling deeply, Carstairs gave the matter a few minutes of somber thought. "Be a nice change, I dare say."

"What? Is that all it means to you?" the professor asked staring agog.

The lord shrugged. "Honestly, sir, considering the state of the world, I don't see how this development can be of any real importance. Except perhaps to poets, and a few painters."

"Indeed," Einstein said sounding disappointed, his fingers drumming on the coach seat. "Lord Carstairs, how familiar are you with the mythology of the Dutarian Empire?"

Lord Carstairs thoughtfully puffed on his cigar before answering. "Only vaguely," Carstairs replied honestly. "It was small secluded city/state in the Sumatra region, founded around 3000 B.C., or so. They were a rather vigorous empire with a pronounced reputation for bloodthirstiness. They were on the rise for slightly over a hundred years until they suffered some sort of natural disaster and completely disappeared."

Tapping the excess ash from the glowing tip of the cigar, Carstairs replaced it to savor another deep puff. "As to religion and myths, they worshipped some sort of fish, I believe. Don't remember anything about the moon." He focused his attention onto the professor. "I assume there is a connection."

Although he tried not to show it, Prof. Einstein was extremely impressed. Most university scholars would have had to consult numerous volumes to unearth the information this man had so casually tossed off. Obviously, Einstein had made the correct choice in an associate.

"Absolutely, there is a connection. And the Dutarians did not worship a fish, per se," Einstein corrected. "But a giant squid. The Squid God, they called it, although demon might be a more accurate translation. It was supposed to be a horrific beast that had a thousand tentacles, a dozen mouths and was totally invulnerable to man-made weapons."

"And it fed on human blood."

His cigar drooped as Einstein eagerly leaned forward in the smoky cab. "Great Scott, you've heard of the creature?" he demanded.

"No, but it would have been a rather unusual deity for a warrior state to revere if it didn't," Carstairs said puffing away steadily. "Rather reminds me that Aztec god of war, Huitzilopchtli. He required massive amounts of the stuff to make the dawn come."

"Ah, but in the sun god aspect of Tonatiu, he was perceived as a bringer of life," Einstein noted, with a raised finger. "The Squid God was known only as a destroyer, just barely controlled by the Dutarian priests who summoned it, and in the end, not even they could do so."

"You're talking as if the thing really existed," Carstairs chided, flicking the cigar butt out the window. "And that is patently absurd, sir."

"As absurd as Noah's Ark?" Einstein asked quietly.

The British lord closed his mouth with an audible snap and for the next several seconds conflicting emotions battled for supremacy across his handsome face.

"Oh, at least as absurd," Carstairs conceded with a smile. "However, sir, you actually saw my proof."

"And soon," the professor said, leaning back into the seat to gaze out the window, "you shall see mine."

#

In a clatter of hooves on cobblestone, the brougham carriage came to a halt at the curb in front of a simple brick mansion bordered by a high wrought-iron gate. Exiting the cab, Prof. Einstein tried to pay Davis, who adamantly refused. Sensing a battle of wills was in progress, Lord Carstairs took the opportunity for a good stretch after his confinement. The lord was still in the same position when the professor joined him on the sidewalk.

"Something wrong?" Einstein asked taking the fellow by the arm.

"The International British Museum for Stolen Antiquities?" Lord Carstairs said reading the huge sign above the front door. "Good lord, professor, isn't that laying it on a bit thick?"

With a cavalier gesture, Prof. Einstein completely dismissed the matter. "Purely advertising, lad. It gives the patrons a vicarious thrill. You should have seen the newspaper headlines on the day we opened shop."

"But still," Carstairs hedged uncomfortably.

"And it's not entirely true," Einstein continued, unlocking the front gate and holding it open. Carstairs walked through and the professor securely locked it again. "Well over 20% of our exhibits have been legally purchased."

Quite impressed, Lord Carstairs gave a whistle. "As many as that? My apologies."

"Think nothing of it," Einstein said, unlocking the front door and swinging aside the heavy oak portal.

Entering a vestibule, the two men dodged round a group of velvet ropes set to direct patrons to a ticket booth, and continued past a sturdy brass turnstile. The foyer was lined with various old world maps; some on parchment, others on papyrus or sheep skin. Each was highly illustrated with imaginative renderings of the creatures that supposedly lurked in the deep waters, hoping to devour anybody rash enough to venture beyond the safety of land.

Proceeding through a curtained alcove, brilliant light washed over them and Carstairs gasped in astonishment, while Einstein snorted in disgust.

"Owen must have forgotten to turn off the bloody lights again," Prof. Einstein complained. "Damned gas bills are going to bankrupt me. William Owen is a bright student and a good lad, but he has no sense of propriety."

"Indeed?"

"Well, he's Welsh, you know," the professor added, as if that explained the matter.

Looking over the museum, Carstairs dumbly nodded in agreement. The building was a single colossal room that stretched the length and breath of the property. The entire Explorers Club could have easily fit inside the cavernous structure!

Everywhere there rows of exhibit cases and display racks of a thousand different types. Rainbow colored tapestries lined the walls and precious Ming vases stood secure inside a row of gleaming glass pyramids. Dominating the entire west wing was the elaborately carved skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, poised as if ready to attack. Next to it stood a squad of brightly lacquered Oriental armor in proud formation, guarding a gilt edged sarcophagus, its glass top displaying a perfectly preserved Egyptian mummy inside.

In the east wing was a completely restored Viking long boat, Roman galley and an Imperial Chinese barge, each resting in stout mahogany dry docks which sported delicately engraved brass plates detailing their histories and attributes.

Adorning the ceiling was a painted panorama of the Milky Way, with round glass skylights depicting the eight known planets, plus two theoretical worlds. Directly below the panorama, hung a huge pair of feathered wings joined together by an ancient leather body harness. Even the floor seemed to be an exhibit, the black fleck marble underlain with strange runes and geometric patterns. In somber deference, Lord Carstairs removed his hat.

"I am speechless, sir," he finally managed to croak, throat tight with professional admiration. "It is totally unlike any museum I have ever seen before!"

Busy tying the curtains closed, Einstein glanced up at that statement. "What, this rubbish? Bah. Mere baubles to amuse the idle tourist. The real museum starts of the other side of that brass door."

Lord Carstairs turned. The door in question was located alongside the mammoth Tyrannosaurus, set into a hinged section of the wall that obviously served as an access portal for the larger exhibits.

"Might we take a moment?" Carstairs asked eagerly.

The professor gave a bow. "Certainly. It's on the way to my office."

"Splendid!"

Walking side by side, the two men briskly strode across the museum. Prof. Einstein noted that the cases were properly cleaned, while Lord Carstairs observing the bewildering assortment of material. Stacks of ancient coins, jeweled hairpins, golden whips, plus an array of highly ornamental crowns from as many countries as centuries. The riches of a hundred kingdoms were on display with no apparent guards or protection of any sort.

"Professor, don't you have much trouble with thieves?" the lord finally asked.

"Not at all," Einstein remarked. "The glass in every exhibit case is specially tempered and veined with hair-thin steel wires, quite invulnerable to anything short of a sledgehammer. Plus, at night the grounds are patrolled by Hans, Dolf and Inga."

Carstairs nodded sagely. "Ah, pit bulls no doubt, or perhaps you utilize mastiffs. Nasty dogs. My ghillie makes use of them for my country estate."

"Dogs?" Professor Einstein said as if he had never heard the word before. "Nonsense, lad. Even the most vicious Canis Familaris are far too gentle to serve as protectors of my establishment. I use the much more brutal and bloodthirsty Felis Tigris."

"B-bengal tigers?" Lord Carstairs gasped, coming to a halt.

"The biggest you have ever seen," the professor added with a touch of pride.

Suddenly staring into the darkness, for a split second Lord Carstairs was back in wild bush of Africa, with the thunderous purring of the huge killer cats coming from every side at once.

"Is this prudent, professor?" the lord asked nervously, fingering the area on his chest where a bandoleer of shells would be on a safari. "Bengal tigers are notorious mankillers!"

"Oh, they quite happily eat ladies, too," Einstein grinned. "Although, that is pure conjecture on my part. Occasionally, I find the gnawed bones of some burglar strewn across the floor when I open shop in the morning. No way in Heaven of ever telling the gender of the would-be thief by then."

"Egad. Whatever do you do?"

"Notify the cleaning staff and don't feed the cats any lunch that day. By Gadfrey, there's nothing lazier than a fat tiger."

"I shall take your word on it, sir," Lord Carstairs demurred, surveying the labyrinthine museum. Loosening his collar, the man started to walk forward once more, this time with renewed vigor. Bengal tigers as house cats? Interesting idea, actually. He wondered if they might like the English countryside?

Reaching the brass door, Prof. Einstein strolled on through, while Lord Carstairs was forced to duck to achieve passage. Fumbling on the wall to his left, Einstein threw a large switch and there was an audible clunk as electric lights in the ceiling crashed into life. Lord Carstairs was braced for anything, but despite the grandeur of the artificial illumination, in contrast to the glitter and polish of the show place they had just left, this room seemed drab and almost utilitarian. It was a plain square brick room with a concrete floor. Several large marble tables were covered with a mishmash of old junk, and dusty objects lined the wall shelves.

However, catching the lord's attention was a massive stone slab, slightly cracked and covered with several lines of deeply carved figures in some kind of a flowery script.

"Fascinating," Lord Carstairs mused, studying the stone with great interest.

"Ah, we're particularly fond of this exhibit. Can you read any of it?" Prof. Einstein asked, with a hint of teasing in his voice.

Sensing a friendly test, Carstairs applied himself with fervor, struggling to dredge up the most obscure languages at his command, until at last the cryptic symbols began to make sense and sentences slowly unraveled. Why, it was a modified form of Hellenic! "Contribute? No, deposit, your money...in the Bank of... Atlantis! We are...as firm...as the...ground ...you stand on. Good Lord!" the explorer cried, rocking back on his heels.

"It was probably true once," Prof. Einstein sighed, sadly running a finger across the proud facade of the bank lentil. "Behold, how the mighty have fallen."

"Pity about the crack," Lord Carstairs added after an appropriate moment of silence.

Einstein shrugged. "Yes. Well, nothing's perfect."

Turning about and hoping for more artifacts from the lost continent of Atlantis, the British lord slowly arched an expressive eyebrow as he drank in what else was on display. Over in the corner was a shimmering steel sword thrust into an anvil atop a moss-covered boulder. No, impossible. Suspended from the ceiling was the skeleton of a winged human infant still clutching a tiny bow and quiver of pink arrows. In a small alcove was a crimson book positioned under a weighty glass bell jar, its fluttering pages held closed with an iron C-clamp. Beyond that was a five meter tall, copper coin embossed with the face of a recently assassinated American president and an impossible date. Then came another glass jar holding two fig leaves marked 'His' and 'Hers' in ancient Hebrew. Followed by a pillar of salt in the shape of a woman sticking her tongue out at somebody. A battered sailor's sea chest with the name D. Jones on its lid barely visible beneath a coating of barnacles. An iron pot of gold coins that shone with a rainbow effect. Plus, more and more items, ad infinitum.

Soon, Lord Carstairs felt his head began to swim and he was forced to call a halt. Taking the big man by the arm, the professor courteously escorted him towards a second door partially hidden behind a coat of many faded colors.

"Forgive me, Carstairs, but I've had a lifetime to ponder the revelations this room represents," Prof. Einstein said. "To ask anyone to try and comprehend it all in a single viewing was sheer foolishness on my part."

Pushing aside an Oriental screen, Einstein ushered Carstairs into a narrow room pungent with the tangy smell of carbolic acid.

"My work shop," the professor announced, guiding the British lord to sit on what appeared to be some sort of weird porcelain throne.

Strangely, the place felt like home to Carstairs. It was nearly identical to the workroom at his estate. The floor was strewn with excelsior packing with stacks of wooden crates shipped from around the world standing about waiting to be opened. In the center was a battered table covered with bits of an alabaster urn laying on a white linen cloth, along with a dozen brushes, two notebooks, a magnifying glass mounted on a brass stand and a glue pot that looked infinitely older than the urn itself. The walls were lined with shelves crammed to bursting with ancient bric-a-brac, rusty lumps of metal, books and loose papers. Across the workshop was a chemical laboratory occupying a granite-topped bench. To Carstairs' surprise, there was no mysterious bubbling experiment in progress.

Going to a locked cabinet, the professor returned with a pair of laboratory beakers containing an inch of swirling, caramel colored, liquid.

"Napoleon Brandy," Einstein said, handing the lord a glass. Then the professor took a seat in an overstuffed chair. "My own private stock."

"How interesting," Lord Carstairs said, looking at the liquor dubiously. "I was of the opinion that every drop had been lost in The Troubles."

"Not every bottle. I managed to save a few."

After a first hesitant sip, Carstairs nodded in full approval. "Exemplary, sir! Well, sir, after seeing this museum, if you were to tell me that the mythical Realms of Fairy were about to invade Scotland, my only question would be...when?"

"Tomorrow at noon," the professor snapped.

Caught in the middle of a swallow, Lord Carstairs gagged at the news and sprayed brandy into the air.

Feeling a bit sheepish, Einstein handed the dripping lord a handkerchief. "Sorry, lad, I couldn't resist. Besides, I need your mind at its sharpest, not befogged with awe. Feeling better?"

"Ah, yes, thank you," the lord murmured demurely.

Securing the bottle of brandy once more, Einstein refilled the lord's beaker to the very brim this time in apology.

Lord Carstairs took a fresh sip and carefully swallowed before speaking. "Now tell me more about this Dutarian god."

"I'll be brief," the professor said in a somber voice, placing aside the bottle. "Sometime around 3000 B.C., the priests of the city of Dutar summoned forth a magical protector to aid them in their battles against the local hill people who were constantly stealing their goats. The monster responded as requested, eating the hill folk, and the goats, but then it refused to depart. Indeed, it threatened to consume the people of Dutar unless other food, human food, was provided. Obtaining these, ahem, 'provisions' was the reason behind Dutar's 200 years of conquest and expansion. The forging of the Empire was a mere side effect."

While Lord Carstairs chewed that over, the professor took a sip from his own beaker. He would need a drink for the next part. "Eventually, the population grew tired of endless battles and tried to destroy the demon. But even with the entire military might of a warrior empire to draw upon, the fight went badly for them. Their doom seemed certain until the descents of the very magicians who had summoned the monster in the first place, cast a spell that they had been working on for the last two hundred years."

"And," Carstairs prompted, swirling the brandy in his glass beaker to savor the lush bouquet.

Leaning forward, Einstein spoke rapidly. "And it damn well worked, after a fashion. A volcano erupted directly under the Squid God's temple, shattering it to pieces and destroying the city of Dutar. This marked the end of the Dutarian people as a force to be reckoned with, and the end of the Squid God. Or so it was thought. At the height of the eruption, the Squid God and its temple vanished. The priests were trapped inside and everybody assumed that they had also been killed. But some ten years later, one of them reappeared. He was quite mad, but coherent enough to reveal that the Squid God was still alive, though horribly burned. Even more terrifying was the information that the monster was undergoing a bizarre regeneration, leaving its damaged old body for a fresh new one, supposedly even more powerful than the first. The priest was a bit vague on when this miracle would occur, but he swore that the unmistakable warning sign would be given by a new face on the moon."

Only the ticking of the clock on the mantle could be heard as the professor took a long pull of the brandy and emptied the beaker. "It seems to have taken a bit longer than anybody had expected," he said placing it aside. "But to a demon, what's a few thousand years, more or less, eh?"

In wry rumination, Lord Carstairs mulled over the story. "And this is the foundation for your belief that the world is about to be destroyed?"

"In a nutshell, yes."

Still holding his beaker, Lord Carstairs rose and began pacing about the room. "A truly fascinating story, sir. But if apocryphal stories are what you want then the procreation myths of the Uldon lizard tribes would keep a man happy for years. Surely, there is some material proof to back this theory."

Hesitantly, Einstein stood. Here we go. "Only circumstantial evidence, at best, I must admit," he said, going to a shelf containing numerous papyrus scrolls. Choosing a specific scroll, the professor unrolled it with a crackle.

"Read this," Einstein instructed. "Third section down."

Placing aside his beaker, the lord peered at the scroll. "A thousand armies of a thousand men each were naught but toys to the dire squid," he read slowly. "Interesting. Hyperbole by a fanatic priest?"

Moving closer, Prof. Einstein pointed to a purple seal at the bottom of the page. "Military report from a enemy general."

Lord Carstairs gave a slow nod. "A good start. Anything else?"

"Yes, but brace yourself, lad." Reaching under a worktable, the professor brought forth a large object wrapped in linen cloth.

Carefully, Prof. Einstein placed it on top of the table and folded back the covering. As the stone tablet was unwrapped, Lord Carstairs went pale and dropped his beaker, the laboratory glass shattering on the floor.

Covering the upper part of the tablet, Prof. Einstein said, "There is an inscription under the, ahem, picture."

Summoning his pluck, the lord forced himself to look once more. "The mighty Squid God at its noon feeding of...blind orphans. Souvenir of Dutar City." Carstairs swallowed with difficulty. "Don't miss the b-baby d-d-decapitating festival in the spring."

Slowly, Einstein started to folded back the next cloth to reveal the next section.

"Enough!" Lord Carstairs cried, averting his eyes. "This is an abomination against man and nature!"

"Absolutely," Prof. Einstein agreed, quickly wrapping the tablet again and tucking the artifact away. "And we must do everything within our power to see that such a hideous occurrence is never repeated."

"Yes, yes, we must," Carstairs said with growing resolution and straightening his shoulders. "Sir, I must confess that I am not wholly convinced of this danger. As you said, only circumstantial evidence at best. But to protect the world from that!" He gestured at the empty table where the tablet had just been. "I will gladly join you on any expedition, even if it be a fool's quest."

"Thank you," the professor gushed in relief, his voice shaking with emotion. "I can ask for nothing more."

"So what is our first step?" Carstairs asked, reclaiming his throne. "If this creature is as powerful as believed, than even a modern battleship might mean nothing to it."

"Well spoken, lad," Einstein grinned. "But the monster has an Achilles' Heel. It has yet to be born!"

"I beg your pardon?" Carstairs asked with a profound frown. "What was that again, please?

"Not born yet," Prof. Einstein repeated slowly. "The Squid God will not be re-born until the new face of the moon looks upon the earth. I estimate that we have slightly more than two weeks in which to find and destroy the temple in which the creature rests."

"Which will spoil the magical spell and prevent the creature from regenerating," Lord Carstairs finished in a rush of excitement. "But that is simplicity itself!" Defiling sacred relics was something British explorers were especially good at doing. "I'm surprised that you asked for assistance on such a trivial matter. So where is the temple anyway? Ceylon? Tibet? The South Pole?"

Under the lord's honest gaze, Prof. Einstein squirmed uncomfortably. "Ah, well, that is the hitch, lad. Because, you see, I have absolutely no idea."

But then, the professor leaned forward eagerly. "However..."

-END OF SAMPLE CHAPTERS-

THAT DARN SQUID GOD
by Nick Pollotta & James Clay
Wildside Press, ISBN: 1-59224-097-6, $24.95 hardback

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