DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
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And then it went ‘Bang!’
The Brotherhood of the Hand, a small society, dedicated to mystery, consists of four elderly men, in equally elderly grey suits, who correspond to the fingers of the human hand. Simon and Annie, brother and sister, have become members of the Brotherhood, as have their friends, Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko. There is also Adrian the seagull and Sniffer the dog, the eyes and nose of the Brotherhood. A new member is Morag, half-policewoman, half-faery. Together, they are fighting a war against their arch-enemy, Doctor Wrist, and his new associate, Venoma The scene is the seaside city of Brighton.
A column of smoke still hung in the air over the small café down the small street in the centre of Brighton. It was the end of April, just before the Brighton Festival was due to start. The windows of the small building had been blown out. Firemen crunched to and fro across the fragments of glass, and stepped carefully over the lumps of wood and brick that littered both road and pavement. There was a burnt, acrid smell in the air, combined with the flavour of old dust. The café owner, a small, middle-aged woman, sat, sobbing, on the step of the back of the ambulance, her face still covered with blood and bruises. The paramedics were looking after her, carefully tending her wounds.
The police had already cordoned off both ends of the street with long yellow and black tapes. The front of the shattered café was blackened by smoke, its interior almost unrecognisable. Broken tables and chairs lay everywhere. Inside, more firemen in yellow helmets were busy damping down any further flames that might arise from the wreckage.
‘Did you see anyone at all, who might have left something behind? Any suspicious bags or packages?’
Simon and Annie shook their heads, still rather shocked by their narrow escape.
‘No, nothing at all’, replied Simon. ‘Annie and I just went in for a cup of coffee, and when we finished, we paid. We were just walking out, and down the street to the seafront, and then it went ‘Bang!’
‘Well, that’s all for now. One of our drivers will take you home. Are you sure you’re both all right?’
Simon nodded, and Annie said resolutely, ‘We’re fine, but what about that poor lady?’ she glanced across to Mrs Beeton, who was being guided into the back of the ambulance.
‘She’ll be looked after. It’s a good thing you just missed it, and she was in the back, doing the washing-up’. The police inspector paused.
‘We might need to talk to you again later. Best for you now to go home. We’ll contact you if necessary. Can you see them to a car, PC Wren?’
They said nothing on the way home.
Their mother and father were waiting on the front doorstep, anxiously. They thanked their police driver, and went up the steps. Their parents hugged them.
‘Thank goodness, you’re all right!
Annie hugged her mother rather coldly, Simon thought.
His father put his hand around Simon’s shoulders. ‘Go up and have a rest’, he suggested practically. ‘Mum and I will do lunch in a while’. Simon noticed his mother looking after Annie with a kind of misery in her eyes. He knew Annie no longer trusted her parents, and felt deeply troubled.
Upstairs, Annie pointed to her bedroom. They went in and sat down on her bed. Unlike his, Annie’s room was neat and tidy, with everything in its place. Books were carefully lined on the bookshelf, and her clothes hung up carefully. A collection of small china miniatures stood on her bedside table. The only exception was her desk, which was covered with notes and files. Annie sighed deeply.
‘Simon, someone’s out to get us again’.
Simon thought of all the battles and struggles that he and his sister had gone through over the last year. Ever since they had joined the secret detective society of the Brotherhood of the Hand, they had been in trouble, helped at least by their friends, also members, and by the faeries and the dragons, with whom they had formed a close alliance. Together they had fought and beaten many enemies, but this was something different. This attack had been vicious, without regard for anyone else who might have got hurt. Simon thought of their old enemy, Doctor Wrist.
‘Do you think it’s him?’ he asked quietly.
Annie knew immediately whom he was thinking of.
‘Perhaps. It’s his style, isn’t it? But, Simon I am not happy’.
‘I do not like being nearly blown up, and I don’t like the fact that poor Mrs Beeton should have been hurt. That makes me angry, Simon. Very angry. I think we should have an urgent meeting with the Brotherhood, and Sisterhood’, she added with emphasis. ‘Tomorrow morning. We need to know if they have any ideas about it’.
‘I’m with you on this, definitely. It has offended my honour’. Added Simon, loftily.
‘Since when did you have any honour?’
‘Since someone we know got hurt, and had her café wrecked as well’.
Annie grinned at him. ‘That’s true. We must go and see her in hospital tomorrow, to see how she is’.
‘We’ll take her some flowers. We can pick some up tomorrow, before we go to see the Brotherhood’. I’ll give them a call now, to arrange it’.
‘Thanks, Simon’, Annie turned towards her desk.
He hesitated, his hand on the doorknob.
‘Annie. Please don’t pass judgement on our parents. Not until we know anything more’.
‘I’ll see you downstairs, Simon’.
Annie stared at the papers on her desk. She had no real reason to be suspicious of her parents. It was just an instinct. She should try to make an effort this evening.
Supper passed without incident. They talked about various things, none of them related to the bomb in the café. But at the end of the meal, Annie got up abruptly.
‘I’m going to bed. It’s been a bad day. See you all in the morning’. She disappeared through the door. Simon and his father looked at each other helplessly. His mother bowed her head over the plate. There was nothing more to be said.
Next morning was a bright, sunny, warm day, warm even for late April. Simon was performing his usual culinary feats with breakfast, frying bacon and eggs, throwing slices of bread into the toaster. Annie had got up late again, after a sad, sleepless night. She watched Simon, who finally laid a large cooked breakfast in front of her. She realised she was very hungry.
‘Simon, I somehow feel you’ve missed your vocation in life’.
‘As a short-order breakfast chef. You could have your own show on television. Watch out, Jamie Oliver’.
‘Did I detect a compliment there, buried deep underneath the sarcasm? I’m going to try kedgeree next’.
‘That reminds me. We must go to the hospital first to see Mrs Beeton. It’ll be visiting hours soon’.
Annie shook her head in bewilderment. A year ago, Simon could barely lift a saucepan. Now he even did the washing-up.
‘I see the trauma of past battles has brought out the best in you’. she said, without remembering.
Simon looked at her, and then away again.
‘I’m sorry, Simon. That was uncalled for’.
She had just realised that Simon, like herself, was also deeply affected by the past conflicts. It was his way of coping.
She got up from the table and carried her plate to the kitchen sink.
‘Let’s go!’ she said abruptly. ‘We’ve got a lot of things to do this morning’.
Simon said nothing.
They set off down the road. Annie pointed. ‘We need flowers for poor Mrs Beeton!’ Barry’s got loads!’
They crossed the road near to Five-ways, and walked into the greengrocers, which was also a florists. Barry came out from the back of the shop when he saw them.
‘Hi, there! What are you after this morning?’
Barry was a tall, rather gangly young man, in his early twenties, who had recently taken over the shop, after the previous owner had got too old to manage it. They both knew him. A wide, open face, with a shock of red hair, and very cheerful.
‘I ‘ere you nearly got caught up in that bomb yesterday. ‘Ope you’re all right’.
‘Fine, thanks Barry. How about some flowers to take to the hospital?’
‘How about those tulips there? They’ll be fine’.
‘Great, Barry! Thanks’.
‘Don’t mention it. Mind you, you look after yourselves. There’s no knowing what might ‘appen these days’.
They thanked him, and caught a bus to the general hospital. Mrs Beeton was sitting up in bed, large pieces of gauze and plasters festooning her face. She was delighted to see them.
‘Ooo! Thank you for the flowers. That’s real nice of you! Still, got to get on with things, hasn’t one? I’m insured, but I don’t know when I’ll ever be able to get the business back together again! It’s going to take ages to clear up, and I bet my customers won’t want to come back to a place that was bombed!’ She wiped a tear from her eye. ‘Eight years I spent, getting that place going, after me husband died! I don’t know what I’ll do now!’ She wiped another tear.
‘Don’t worry, Mrs Beeton. My brother and I have some ideas. Don’t we, Simon?’ She kicked Simon under the bed.
‘Definitely, Mrs Beeton. You can rely on us’.
‘But tell me, Mrs Beeton’, Annie resumed, in her best detective mode, ‘Did anyone else come in before us, that you know of? Someone who might have left something?’
‘No, no-one I can think of. Mind you, I did think I heard the bell on the door a few minutes before you came in. But there was no-one there. You were my first customers. ‘Ere, you don’t think they were after you, were they?’
‘I can’t imagine why. But, look, Mrs Beeton, here comes your family. We’ll leave you in peace’.
‘So they are! Oh, thanks, my dears, for the flowers!’
‘Goodbye, Mrs Beeton. We’ll think of something for you’.
‘Goodbye, and bless you’.
As they sat on another bus going towards the centre of Brighton, Simon spoke.
‘What are we going to do to help her?’
‘I don’t know. You’re the chef’.
Simon stared at her. She was looking down, clasping and unclasping her hands. He pulled one of her hands away, and held it. After a moment, she clasped his hand back.
‘They were after us, weren’t they?’
Annie nodded. ‘I’m not letting anybody else get hurt because of us. But we need to find out who it is. I don’t know how’.
‘We need some advice’.
As they tramped down the pebbly beach, they saw the Four Fingers of the Brotherhood at their usual table outside the beach café, where they often met. Their friends, Indira and Pei-Ying were there too, as was Adrian the seagull, and Sniffer the dog, looking even more like a filthy hearth-rug. None of the many people passing by remarked on this strange meeting of four elderly men in grey suits and dark ties, a sea-bird, an old dog, and four children of mixed nationalities. If you lived in Brighton, with its tradition of street-theatre and characters, you simply accepted the bizarre as normal.
They all got up as Simon and Annie approached, concern written in their faces.
‘Are you both all right?’ asked Little Finger, anxiously. He was, of course, the shortest of the Four Fingers, and usually the most talkative.
‘We’re fine’. Said Simon as they settled down at the table. ‘But we would like to know who’s responsible, and why’.
‘Who would have known that you would be in that café at that time?’ asked Indira.
‘Yeah, it’s a bit strange, innit?’ said Adrian, his head cocked on one side.
‘Well, I suppose a number of people’. replied Annie thoughtfully. ‘It’s an open secret that Simon and I go there after school on a Friday afternoon for a chat together. But why now? Is there some new assassin in town?’ Annie could never quite pronounce the word properly.
‘Is there anyone in particular, that you might have annoyed recently?’ asked Pei-Ying.
‘Apart from teachers, no, and I can’t think that even they would go that far’. Suggested Simon, scratching his head.
Sniffer raised his head and gave a loud belch. They all looked at him.
‘The way I sees it, you were definitely the target. Apart from the lass who runs the caff, you were the only ones in there. Second, it’s someone who knows how to make bombs, probably timed to go off. Third, it’s someone we haven’t come across before. Fourth, is he working for somebody else? Fifth, it sounds like he was either tipped off, or he already knew where you’d be. That, everybody, is cause for concern. Because who else but someone who knows you well, would time it to catch you? That means one thing to me. There’s a traitor somewhere’.
Everybody was silent, taking in what Sniffer had just suggested.
‘I can’t believe that anyone we know, would try to blow us up!’ Annie said indignantly.
‘Facts are facts, love. I reckon, from now on, you don’t tell anyone where you’re going, or what you’re doing. Just keep it quiet’.
‘Sniffer is right. We will all have to keep our eyes and ears open’. Commented Index Finger. ‘We must look out for anything out of the ordinary, anything that might give us some clue’.
‘In this city?’ scoffed Adrian. ‘Anything out of the ordinary?’
‘You know what I mean’. Said Index Finger, stiffly.
But they all felt uncomfortable at the idea of watching each other, though it was left unsaid. The meeting broke up, with everyone promising to report back to the Brotherhood.
‘It’s really unsettling, isn’t it?’ Simon commented rather dolefully, as they walked home.
‘That is an understatement! But I think that’s what this…bomber… wants to happen. To make us suspicious of each other. To undermine our confidence. Even if he, or she, failed to blow us up, it still has an effect on us’.
‘What I don’t like’, said Simon, who considered himself a man of action, ‘is that there’s nothing to follow up. No leads at all’.
‘Which is why we need to get home, and draw up a list of suspects. It’s not a nice thing to do, but we don’t have a choice. After all, we are detectives, aren’t we?’
‘I suppose so’.
Back home, Annie spread out some sheets of paper on the kitchen table. She wrote “Possible suspects” at the top of one of them, then looked at Simon expectantly.
Simon sighed. ‘All right, let’s eliminate some first. The Four Fingers?’
‘Very doubtful. No motive, unless they’re jealous of us. But they’re too grateful for our help, and they’re loyal to us, and the Brotherhood. Next?’
‘Sniffer and Adrian?’
Annie snorted. ‘Hardly likely!’ Sniffer hasn’t got rotatable thumbs, like us, and besides, he’s too lazy. As for Adrian, can you see him making a bomb? He wouldn’t have a clue!’
‘What about Sister Teresa?’
Annie looked at him, pityingly. ‘Simon, she’s a nun!’
‘True. I had noticed. A flying nun, as well. What about Pat?’
Simon thought for a moment. ‘Because he’s in our world, one of us. He’s only just come into the Brotherhood. We know he’s Irish, a really good scholar, and he’s been a good friend. But what else do we really know about him?’.
Pat was indeed a great scholar, with an enormous knowledge of Irish kings and queens, and who had helped them before, in their dealings with the faeries, through his knowledge of Celtic languages.
Annie hesitated, and then wrote “Pat” as the only name on her list.
‘That’s it, then’.
‘What about Mum and Dad?’
Simon slammed his mug on the table.
‘Are you mad, Annie! Do you really think that our parents would blow up their own children? I’m going to bed’.
He stormed out of the door, as Annie buried her face in her hands. She heard the telephone in the hall, and Simon answering it. A minute or two later, he came in again.
‘Believe it or not, that was Pat. He asked us if we wanted to go out on a picnic with him tomorrow. He says he’s got the Four Fingers to lend him the Fingermobile’.
Annie raised her head. ‘Why not? We need a break’.
Simon came back. ‘He said meet up outside Sister Teresa’s at midday tomorrow. He wants to see her about something’.
After Simon had gone, Annie cupped her face in her hands. She was still troubled. Why am I so suspicious, she thought. Then she got up and rinsed her mug, and went upstairs to bed.
It was late morning on the Sunday. Annie and Simon walked along the Ditchling road and turned off towards Sister Teresa’s bungalow. There they saw the Fingermobile standing, throbbing, with its own mechanical pulse. It was tied to a small tree with a rope. Annie gazed at it, admiring its huge gray powerful shape, tapered at the back, with a huge radiator grille in front, flanked by enormous chrome headlights that were each bigger than her own head. She admired it, but she was also afraid of it. It was like a wild animal, barely under control. But the Four Fingers seemed to be fond of it, and spoke to it as if it were a real person. What did they call it? Caliban. As in Shakespeare’s play,The Tempest. A wilful creature, or motor-car, in this case.
Pat was standing on the front step of Sister Teresa’s house, in his usual crumpled cream-coloured suit and light-brimmed hat with a blue ribbon around the crown. He waved, and shouted. ‘She’s not in, I’ve got to leave a note! Hold on, let me undo the rope, then we can get off straight away! You two get in the back’. He ran back up the steps to the front door, scribbling a note as he went. So Simon and Annie climbed into the back of Caliban.
They suddenly looked at each other. Something was not quite right. Caliban was throbbing even more loudly, the vibrations making their leather seats shake.
‘Come on, Pat’. Annie muttered. They both bent down to check that that the contents of their backpacks were safe. Then Simon raised his head, and froze.
‘Annie!’ he cried.
‘What?’ said Annie in a muffled voice, still checking her backpack.
‘What!’ she sat up and stared at the houses and bushes gliding past. Caliban’s engine was now rising in volume, and as they came to the main Ditchling Road, it roared. Behind them, through the rear window, she could see Pat running after them, gesticulating wildly, his face a mask of horror. Caliban suddenly swerved wildly right, narrowly missing another car, and then roared again, as it began to career northwards along the main road!
Simon began to climb over the front seats in a desperate attempt to reach the steering wheel. As Caliban crashed into the kerb of the pavement, he lost his grip, and toppled forward, head-first, into the driver’s seat. Annie fell backwards onto the rear seats. All she could see were Simon’s legs waving wildly. Caliban roared on, unaware of cars coming towards them, drivers swerving wildly and sounding their horns!
Simon struggled to get back up, and eventually found himself, the right way up, in the driver’s seat. Desperately jabbing with his left foot, he managed at last to reach the brake pedal. He pushed it hard. Nothing. He pushed harder. It felt soft. He pushed harder until it was down to the floor. Still nothing.
‘Annie!’ he shouted. ‘Put the hand-brake on!’
But Caliban hit another roadside kerb and Annie, who was halfway over the front seat, screamed as she was pitched forwards. Caliban was shuddering and vibrating from the impact, sliding across the road into the wrong lane! Another car squealed past, narrowly missing them by a few inches. Simon grabbed the enormous wooden steering wheel, nearly two feet in diameter, and pulled hard to try to steer. He glanced down at the speedometer, a large dial on the dashboard. Nearly fifty miles an hour! He looked up in horror. They were just entering the most difficult bend in the road!
Simon spun the wheel desperately. Caliban careered from one side of the road to the other. It tilted wildly to one side, throwing Annie against the passenger door, and almost costing Simon his grip on the steering-wheel. Caliban’s engine screamed. Then they were on the other side, but with more curves to come. He was dimly aware of valleys and hills each side, the golf-course and hill-fort far behind on the right.
‘Get the hand-brake, Annie!’
Annie, still crouched on the floor, grabbed it. The lever came off in her hand.
‘No use!’ she yelled.
She looked down at the talisman on her hand, It was glowing, but nothing else. It was not going to be of any use in this situation. They were on their own.
‘Try to crash us into a ditch or a hedge or something!’ she screamed at Simon. But Simon’s face was set ahead. They were fast approaching the junction with another main road, full of traffic, that crossed the road they were on. He struggled with the oversize steering wheel, peering through a windscreen that he was hardly big enough to see out of. Then they hit the junction at nearly seventy miles an hour.
Cars screeched to a halt, their drivers frantically hitting their brakes. An articulated lorry slewed sideways, blocking the road. Car horns and yells filled the air. Caliban slid sideways, roared again, tore off downwards and then slid again, into the small road that led to Ditchling, and began to pick up speed.
‘At least, this is a reasonably straight road’. Muttered Simon, still wrestling with the steering wheel. ‘Annie, where are you?’ Annie began to climb painfully onto the front seat. ‘Where are we?’ she gasped.
“I can’t stop it, Annie, I mean, Caliban! All I can do is try to steer him! But once we go past Ditchling Beacon, we’re down hill! It’s like, hairpin bends, down there!’
‘We’ve got to try to crash him in some way! Just to stop this! Someone else is going to get hurt!’
‘Just like us!’ Simon wrenched the steering wheel to try to keep Caliban on the road. ‘I knew Pat was trying to kill us!’
‘It might not be him!’
They shot past the entrance to the Ditchling Beacon car park.
The road turned to the right, sharply, Simon just managed to keep Caliban through it, crashing from one side to the other. As they came into the next bend, they saw a whole line of cyclists in front of them, heads down, pedalling hard.
He pulled the steering wheel over, willing Caliban to miss them. As Annie looked back, she could see the whole line of them falling over, some of them standing and waving their fists. But there was no time for apologies. It was just at that moment that the steering wheel came off in Simon’s hands. It was loose in his hands. He stared blankly at it for a moment and then desperately tried to push it back onto the steering column.
‘Simon, what are you doing!’ Annie cried frantically, as she crouched on the floor, trying to push the brake pedal. They came to the last bend, both of them scrabbling to try to find any control. Caliban smashed into the bank on the right, veered across to the left, both wheels finding a hidden ditch. Caliban crashed over, wheels still flailing, rolled over once, twice and finally stood upright, in a field. His engine ground to a halt. There was no sound from inside.
‘But what on earth happened, Pat?’ spluttered Little Finger into the telephone. ‘What do you mean, that Simon and Annie have had an accident in Caliban? Where were you?’ He listened to the voice on the other end of the phone, looking around at the strained faces of the other Fingers. ‘I see, Yes, I see. We’ll be down there straight away’. He replaced the receiver. ‘There’s been a terrible accident’. he said quietly.
‘Let’s go through this again!’ Detective Inspector Melrose slapped the table hard with the palm of his hand, his face red with anger. ‘According to you, the car just started off on its own and went hurtling off just by itself! You expect me to believe that! I think that you two just decided on a little bit of joy-riding! That’s what I think! I don’t believe a word of it! Now, again!’
Across the table, Simon and Annie groaned. Once more they cast their minds back to the crash. ‘Not again’. Simon muttered.
There had been silence when the car had finally stopped. No noise, just the sound of birdsong, and the slow tick-tick of a cooling engine. Then the driver’s door opened slowly. Simon’s hand pushed it outwards. His head ached, and he could feel a large lump beginning to swell on his forehead, where it had made contact with Caliban’s steering wheel. He looked around, still slightly dazed, and then remembered Annie. He plunged back into the dark interior of the car.
‘Annie! Where are you!’
‘I’m not deaf, thank you!’
The voice came from the floor. A small human form dragged itself itself up, and materialised into the form of Annie, bruised and bedraggled, but extremely angry. She crawled across the seat, and slammed the door behind her. ‘Wretched car!’ She yelled, and aimed a vicious kick at Caliban’s side.
‘I told you before. It’s probably armour-plated’.
Annie sat down on the grass, rubbing her toes. ‘What’s that noise?’
‘Police sirens, probably an ambulance too’.
That was where they finished their story. After being looked after by the paramedics, while the police checked Caliban over, they had been driven to the police station in John Street, where they were being interrogated by Detective Chief Inspector Melrose, who was still frowning. There was a light knock at the door, and Police Constable Wren came in.
‘Something you should know, sir’. She leant over and whispered in his ear. The redness left his face, and he began to read the piece of paper she placed on the desk in front of him. He looked at it for a few moments, and then at Simon and Annie.
‘The brake cables were cut’. He said flatly. ‘The screws connecting the steering wheel were removed. Can you think of anyone who might want to harm you?’
Both Annie and Simon shook their heads, though they knew otherwise.
Detective Inspector Melrose spread his hands on the table. ‘That’s all. If you can think of anything else, let me or WPC Wren know. You could hardly be joy-riding in a car that was interfered with. And’. he added, ‘we’re interviewing your friend Patrick O’Donovan, at this moment, who apparently, swears his innocence. But we are pursuing further investigations. Don’t leave town’. He said this with a hint of a smile.
‘WPC Wren will make sure you get home safely, this time!’
They walked out of the front door, the policewoman following them. She suddenly put a hand on each of their shoulders. ‘Do you want a lift home’. she asked.
‘No. No, we’re fine, aren’t we Simon?’ They had a lot to talk about.
Constable Wren suddenly lowered her head between them, after glancing right and left.
‘I know about the Brotherhood’.
Simon and Annie stood, transfixed. WPC Wren was still clasping their shoulders. ‘I am a friend. Don’t be afraid of Melrose. He is a good man, but he is human, and concerned with police matters. If I can, I will help you. You are well-known. You will always find friends, even if you do not know them’. She spoke rather formally, and awkwardly, as if she wasn’t quite sure what to say.
Annie found her voice. ‘ How can we trust you? We don’t know who we can trust anymore!’
‘You are wearing a talisman’. She reached into her pocket. ‘This is mine’. She slipped it onto her finger. It was exactly like the one that Annie was wearing. The two rings glowed in recognition.
‘I cannot wear jewellery on duty. But, I have this. My mother gave it to me’.
Annie looked at her. The policewoman’s brown eyes had suddenly turned grey.
‘Are you a faery?’ she asked, bluntly.
WPC Wren hesitated, then said quietly, ‘My mother was. My father was human’.
‘That makes you half-faery. What’s your first name?’ Simon said abruptly.
‘Morag. My mother’s name was Moran. She was killed’. Her voice was cold and hard.
‘I am very sorry’. Annie said, gently.
‘She was also a policewoman. She was shot in the line of duty’.
Annie and Simon stood in sad silence. Then Morag suddenly grinned. ‘Strictly off the record, of course’, she lowered her voice, ‘if you need any help, contact me either here at the station, or at home. Unofficially, of course. This is my phone number and address’. She scribbled on a piece of paper torn from her notebook, and handed it to Annie. ‘From one bearer of a talisman to another’. She turned and went up the steps back into the police station, pausing at the door to give them a cheerful wave.
‘Well’, said Annie at last. ‘That’s the first piece of really good news we’ve had for a while’.
‘And a bearer of a talisman! With yours, and Princess Jezuban’s, that now makes three! We’d better tell the Brotherhood!’
‘I think so too. They’ll be only too pleased to have some good news, what with Caliban being bashed up, and a potential traitor in their midst’.
The week passed uneventfully. The weather was mild and sunny. The trees were budding, and more flowers began to appear in the gardens around their neighbourhood. The month of May approached, with its promise of growth and luxuriance. Saturday dawned, bringing with it, however, the prospect of a Brotherhood meeting, that neither of them looked forwards to. It was on this bright Saturday morning, that Simon and Annie walked down towards the seafront at Brighton, along with others, intent on enjoying the warmth and delight of a cloudless sky, and a sparkling, glimmering sea.
‘I wonder what the news will be?’
‘Not very good, I expect. We’ll soon find out’.
As usual, there were the Four Fingers of the Brotherhood, together with their friends, Indira, Pei-Ying, and this time, their Japanese friend, Mariko, who had fought so many battles with them before. Sniffer was slurping away at his bowl of Guiness, and Adrian was perched on the end of the table, hungrily eyeing any left-overs.
Unusually, Little Finger ran towards them. ‘Are you all right? Oh dear, I seem to be saying that all the time at the moment’. He looked at them anxiously.
‘Don’t worry. We’re fine as usual. But, is Pat coming?’
‘Oh, yes, he is. In fact, here he is now’.
They turned and saw Pat walking across the beach to their usual table. But it was not the laughing, lively Pat that they knew. His shoulders were hunched under the white fedora hat that they recognised immediately. His head was down, and his hands were buried deep in his jacket pockets, which flapped backwards and forwards as he walked towards them. All the spirit had gone out of him, and he made his way towards the table, like a broken man.
He sat down heavily, his eyes down. Then he looked around at Annie and Simon. ‘I swear I did not do it’. He said huskily. ‘I would not harm you for all the world. The police let me go, because they did not find any fingerprints, and they had no proof. But I swear to all of you. It wasn’t me!’
‘You untied the rope, Pat. The one that was stopping Caliban from dashing off’. Annie said quietly.
‘I know. But I didn’t know that was going to happen! I went inside to Sister Teresa’s, because I have a key, to leave her a message, and then had to go back again, because I’d forgotten to leave another one. That’s when I untied the rope. Whoever tampered with the brakes on the car and undid the steering wheel must have done it when I was inside, and before you came! I was terrified when I saw the car moving, and I ran after you, but by then it was too late!’
He looked down again at the table in misery.
’I would never harm either of you!’
Index Finger pushed some photographs across the table towards him. Simon and Annie craned to look. There was poor Caliban, badly dented and scratched, it’s roof flattened slightly. One huge headlight was smashed. The other hung off by a piece of electric wire. A front wheel lay on the ground.
Index Finger stood up. ‘Pat, until it is proven otherwise, we hold you responsible for this’. He hesitated. ‘For the time being, you are suspended from the Brotherhood, until further investigation. We will not communicate with each other, while this matter is being resolved. Good day’.
Pat sat still, hunched up. Then he got to his feet, and walked away without another word, his hands still in his jacket pockets. They watched him disappear towards the promenade above. Index Finger sat down again, to an ominous silence. Even Adrian was quiet. ‘I think’, said Index Finger, at last, ‘that this meeting is closed’.
‘Do you think he did it, Simon?’
They were on their way home.
‘’I honestly don’t know’. replied Simon. ‘Part of me thinks that he wouldn’t do it, but all the evidence suggests that he did’.
Simon shrugged his shoulders.
‘I know’, Annie said decisively, ‘Let’s go and see Mrs Beeton on our way home, and put our ideas together about how to rescue her business. We can do something positive today, at least’. They knocked on her door, in one of the smaller streets of terraced houses, near Fiveways. Mrs Beeton opened the door, and beamed at them. ‘Well’, she exclaimed, ‘It’s good to see you. I hope you have some good news for a change’. Her eyes were still red with weeping. ‘We’ve got a suggestion for you, Mrs Beeton’. Annie said, sympathetically. ‘Hopefully, we might be able to pull off a rescue operation’.
‘Come in! I’m all ears!’ They followed her inside.
Half an hour later they emerged from the front door. Mrs Beeton looked radiant. ‘I’ll get all the family on to it! Thanks so much!’
‘We’ve got to make a few more arrangements first’. Annie grinned. ‘And of course, I’ve got to use my natural charm to pull a few more strings’.
‘What natural charm?’
‘Be quiet, Simon. Leave it to me’.
Back home, Annie noticed that her father’s briefcase was at the foot of the stairs. ‘I’m going to see Dad. Just to tie up a few loose ends’. She went into her Dad’s study. Simon sat down and began to look through their mail, that his dad hadn’t bothered to look at. Halfway through the pile, he stopped, and looked carefully at a small white envelope addressed to “Simon and Annie”. He began to open it.
Annie came in through the kitchen door. ‘No problem. I persuaded him to pull a few more strings, since he knows everybody’.
She looked at Simon. ‘What is that?’ she said sharply’
‘Read it for yourself’.
Annie unfolded the note on the kitchen table. It was written in a strange way.
‘This is someone who doesn’t know how to use the computer, properly’.
Annie stared at the message. ‘Is this the bomber?’
‘I think so’.
‘This is today. He’s getting worried. Simon, I think we need to keep this appointment. To find out what he, or she, is up to’.
‘I don’t like it. This could be a trap’.
‘How else are we going to find out? We’re going alone. That way nobody else gets hurt, if it is a trap’.
‘Well, fine. That comforts me a lot!’
‘Look, Simon. I’m not going to turn on the girly stuff with you, because we both know what’s at stake. This is serious. We’re not playing games. We both realised that when we became involved in all this. Are you with me? Please!’
Simon nodded. ‘Let’s go for it’.
‘Thank you, Simon. Look, I’m going to take a bath. If anything goes wrong, I’d rather be clean and have nice underwear. Let me know if you hear anything’.
She left. Simon sat for a while, at the kitchen table, got up and went to the telephone in the hall. He picked up the receiver, and dialled a number. ‘Hallo’. He said.
That evening they walked down towards town. ‘Simon, ‘I’m very sorry. You don’t think this is a good idea, do you?’
‘How many times have we walked down this road to something that we don’t know anything about, Annie?’
‘Quite a lot. And it’s always been my idea, hasn’t it? Always getting you into trouble as well’.
Simon stopped in the middle of the pavement. ‘Annie’.
‘What’s the matter?’
‘We will always go into the jaws of hell together, if need be. I don’t think this is a good idea, but I want to see this through as much as you do. Give me some credit for that’.
‘I know. Thank you, Simon. I really understand that’. She squeezed his arm, affectionately.
Simon felt suddenly moved. For no reason at all that he could realise, he gave his sister a hug, not caring, for once, about what his friends, if they had seen that, would think of him. Then they set off again, without having to say a word. They reached the Dorset Arms, full of tinkling glasses and the noise of laughter. They turned aside and walked into Orange Row, a small, silent road, that was barely wide enough for a car to drive along. It was once part of a slum area of central Brighton, and it was still a narrow single road. Here, it was dark, and very quiet, as they passed along, until Annie stopped by a gate that stood open.
‘This must be it’. she whispered. They slid through the gate into a small back yard. On one side stood an old, tumbledown small building, roofed by broken slates. ‘That must be an old outside toilet’. muttered Simon. They stood facing a back door, with a small, barred window just above the ground. Silently they went in, shining torches to try to find the door to the right. There it was, an old broken wooden thing, also open. They could see steps leading down into the cellar.
‘Here we go’.
They moved cautiously down the narrow, dark stairs, until they found another door, much bigger and more solid. It stood ajar. Simon shone his torch cautiously into the room beyond. ‘I can’t see anything much’. Simon said. Very carefully, they stepped in. They found themselves in a damp room, about twelve feet square, paved with old broken flagstones, some of which were jutting upwards by an inch or so. The only light came from the dim barred window.
The door slammed behind them with a CRASH! Simon turned and tried the handle. ‘It’s locked!’ he cried. They looked around them. The ceiling was low, no more than about eight feet high. There was no other way out.
‘Well, I never!’ said a voice.
It was one they recognised. They turned their torches to the little barred window. There was a face at the bars, grinning at them. They both knew it at once.
‘Hallo, Barry’. Annie said in a steady voice. ‘What brings you here?’
Barry, the grocer and florist, leered at them from between the bars.
‘Don’t you know? The master told me to get you here. And here you are. There’s no way out. It doesn’t matter, anyway. In about’, he paused, ‘three minutes, you dirty little middle-class brats, you’ll be in tiny little pieces. They won’t even find enough to know who you are’.
‘Barry, what’s this about?’
Barry took no notice. His face took on a dreamy expression. Then he sniggered. ‘Come closer’.
‘ You try anything, and you’ll have a few broken fingers, Barry’.
‘Don’t you want to know who I really am?’ He grinned at them again. Then he told them.
‘I might have known it’. Annie snapped.
‘You won’t have much longer to know it’. Barry giggled, in a very nasty way. ‘I didn’t get you when I fixed the car, but now I’ve set one of my little explosive devices again. You won’t be able to do much about it. I’ll see you just before you die. I’m really looking forward to it’. His face disappeared from the window.
Simon and Annie shone their torches helplessly around the room. The ceiling was smooth, and so were the walls.
‘It must be under one of these flagstones!’ Simon yelled. He shone his torch onto the floor. In the middle, one stone looked as if it had been moved. They both grabbed it and heaved it over, and looked inside, at the hole that it covered.
Inside the hole lay a bomb. A cluster of sticks were bound together on one side. A maze of wires, red, green, brown and black, led to a small box, on top of which lay an ordinary little alarm clock. The red finger on it’s face stood exactly at 10-00 o’clock. The minute and hour hands pointed at two minutes to ten. The second hand was moving jerkily around, ticking away the time. Annie would always remember how harmless it looked.
Simon stared despairingly at it. ‘There’s no way we can dismantle it’. He groaned. ‘It might be booby-trapped! I don’t even know which wire to cut! If we touch it, we’re blown up!’
Annie was struggling with the door. ‘Can we pick the lock?’ she shouted.
‘There’s no time!’
‘Just try it!’
Simon desperately tried to insert a ballpoint pen into the lock. It was no use. They stood up and looked at each other. Then there was a sudden thump. Something had come through the window, between the metal bars. It was cylindrical, but as they stared at it, it suddenly sprang open to form a five-pronged hook. As they watched, it was dragged backwards back towards the window by a long rope attached to it. It fastened onto the bars. They heard the roar of an engine outside. The thing, which they now realised was a grappling iron, heaved and strained against the window grille. Simon darted back to look at the clock face. ‘Forty-five seconds!’ he gasped.
Suddenly the barred window disappeared with a shriek of metal and stone. It stood open. Another rope appeared, snaking through the gap.
‘Get out of here, Annie! Hold on to the rope! I’ll push you up!’
Annie clambered up the rope and disappeared outside. Simon began to haul himself up. The door flew open and Simon looked around, quickly enough to see Barry’s face, swollen with red fury. He ran, with amazing speed, and caught Simon’s legs in a tight grip. Simon struggled desperately. His hands slid down the rope, burning his palms. He did the only thing he could. He pulled his legs up, despite Barry’s grip, and kicked backwards with all his strength.
Both Simon’s feet hit Barry hard in the face. He fell backwards, and Simon was free. He felt hands hold him firmly, and drag him away, into a car. He dimly felt it roar, and then lost consciousness.
‘You can’t escape me! The master will see to that!’ Barry screamed through the gaping window. He turned back, and saw the bomb still ticking away placidly. Three. Two. ‘Oh, no’. he said softly. One.
Annie saw the explosion a second before the noise. A great torrent of flame leapt out from the yard door, blowing it off its hinges, rolling it to one side. Then the sound, a huge muffled Whumph, that shattered window-panes, cracked walls, and sent a great shudder through Caliban, who recovered himself, and continued speeding along the narrow street. He turned right and left, and they found themselves driving along the seafront, in the direction of the marina.
Simon woke up, coughing and gasping. Annie was cradling his head in her lap. He sat up, and realised where he was. Index Finger was driving with Little Finger beside him, looking back, anxiously, over the passenger seat. Middle and Third Finger were sitting by them in the back. Middle Finger held out a plastic cup to him. ‘Have some water. That will help’. Simon gulped it down gratefully.
Annie asked the obvious question. ‘How did you know where we were?’
‘I told them’. Simon said, gently feeling the palms of his hands, which were raw with the pressure of the rope.
Annie glared at him for a moment, then her face broke into a smile.
‘What would I do without you, Simon?’ She burst out laughing. ‘So you all came along after us and rescued us. Is that it?’
They all began to giggle. ‘Of course’, said Little Finger. ‘We can’t afford to lose our best detectives, can we?’
Annie giggled too, and then her face became serious. She turned to Simon.
‘Was Barry still in there? When the bomb went off, I mean?’
Simon looked back at her.
‘Yes, he was. He’s gone, Annie’.
Annie looked down, and did not say any more. Then she looked up.
‘We have some things to tell you’.
‘So do we’. replied Index Finger. ‘But now, we need to take you home’.
It was Saturday, and already the beach on the Brighton seafront was filled with families, groups of young teenagers and skateboarders, their wheels rumbling along the sea walk and promenade, as their riders scooted along. It was another sunny day, the deep blue surface of the sea gleaming, below a cloudless sky. As Annie and Simon tramped noisily over the pebbled beach, they saw the Brotherhood, gathered around their usual table. They all stood up as they approached, with greetings of relief, particularly after the event of the last few days. The Four Fingers were there, as were Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko. Adrian was perched in his usual place, on the end of the table, and a matted hump of hair revealed Sniffer, slurping contentedly at his bowl. Another figure in a crumpled white suit, and a yellow fedora hat, sat in a deckchair to one side.
Pat grinned at them as he shook hands. ‘Yes, I’ve been reinstated. Its good to be back’.
‘I’m sorry if we misjudged you, Pat’. Annie said sincerely.
‘Well now, If I was in my position, and I looked at myself, then I would doubt me as well. Sorry, that doesn’t make sense, does it?’
‘Never mind, Pat. Its good that you’re back with us again’.
Index Finger spread a newspaper out on the table. ‘You might all be very interested in this’. He began to read aloud.
“A police team, headed by Detective Chief Inspector Melrose, of the East Sussex CID force, yesterday discounted any foul play concerning the death of a man, killed in an explosion, whose remains were found in a house in Orange Row, Brighton, some days ago. The man has been identified as Barry Winslow, 25, of Preston Drove, Brighton. It was first thought that the man had terrorist connections, but police have now discounted this possibility. It is thought that the man had been preparing a bomb for potential use in a robbery, which was accidentally detonated. Police are still pursuing enquiries as to whether there were criminal intentions, but have suggested that it was a case of accidental death, due to handling explosives. Any further developments will be made public”
‘Poor Barry. We never suspected him for a moment’.
They were all quiet.
It was Little Finger who broke the silence.
‘We are also here to have an election. We have a potential new member of the Brotherhood, and Sisterhood’, he added hastily, as he caught Annie’s eye. ‘Here she is’.
A small, slim figure was treading over the pebbles towards them. Simon and Annie gasped together. It was Morag, dressed in a dark two-piece suit with a white shirt, her dark hair flowing down to her shoulders. She looked unbelievably pretty, out of her uniform. She stopped, uncertainly, before the table.
‘Please sit down and join us’, said Little Finger, gallantly.
Morag looked around, and recognised Simon and Annie. She smiled at them, gratefully.
‘Let me introduce you. Simon and Annie you already know, and you know who we are’. The other Fingers bowed gracefully. This is Indira, Pei-Ying, and Mariko. This is Pat’, who reached over and shook her hand warmly, ‘Down there is Sniffer’. Sniffer raised his head.
‘How de’do, love’.
Morag’s jaw dropped open in shock.
Annie reached over and held Morag’s hand. ‘Don’t be afraid. We all talk to each other. Remember you’re a faery, as well as a police officer’.
They all watched as different emotions crossed Morag’s face, as she tried to come to terms with the situation. She suddenly remembered her mouth was open, and closed it quickly. Annie breathed a sigh of relief. The worst was over.
Morag forced herself to speak. ‘No disrespect…Sniffer… but you do rather smell a bit, don’t you’.
‘No offence taken. This is me camouflage. Melt into the background, I do’.
‘And this is Adrian’.
‘Right! Now we’ve got ourselves a tame copper, ‘ave we?’
Two angry spots of red appeared on Morag’s pale cheeks.
‘Listen, bird. I may be a copper, but I’m not tame. I would really, really like to have you sitting in the corner of my office, on a perch. Stuffed, of course’.
Everyone burst out laughing. Adrian gave an indignant squawk.
‘Order, order!’ cried Index Finger. ‘Detective Constable Morag Wren is here for some very good reasons. May I continue? Before anything else, perhaps Simon and Annie can recount the events of the past few days, for Morag’s benefit’ Simon drew a breath, and began. Annie was content to let Simon tell their tale, and observed Morag carefully. She seemed pale and shy, but she was listening intently, occasionally biting her lip. She wants to tell her story, Annie thought.
‘And then it went “Bang!”’ Simon finished.
They all gasped and applauded. ‘Well done!’ cried Pat.
‘There are some other very important things we need to tell you. But I think Morag should tell us about her side of the story. I think it will be very relevant, to all of us’. Annie said, with an encouraging look at Morag.
Morag looked down at her clasped hands on the table. ‘Firstly, I’ve been kind of, promoted. I’m Detective Constable Wren now. No more uniform’.
‘Shame!’ squawked Adrian. Everyone glared at him. ‘Oops!’ he muttered, and fell silent.
Morag continued as if she hadn’t heard him. ‘When my Mum got…killed…I decided I’d join the police force , as well, to sort of, carry on where she left off. I was nineteen, with some qualifications, the right height and so on. So I worked my way up, which was quite hard. Good old Melrose took me under his wing a bit, because I think he felt sorry for me, and because he said I reminded him of his own daughters. My Dad died, or at least disappeared, when I was five, so Mum and I were very close. We were faeries together, in a way’.
She stopped, bit her lip, and then carried on. ‘The night Mum died, she’d gone into this house where there was apparently a burglary. She wasn’t armed. From what the lads in the police told me, she was shot twice in the chest with a handgun, and the bloke who shot her ran out. They could never find him’.
Annie reached across and clasped her right hand over Morag’s. The two talismen glowed together.
‘Morag’, asked Annie quietly. ‘Did anyone see this man?’
‘There was only one eyewitness, and she was a frightened old lady. She said that the man had red hair and a bushy red beard, but because it was dark, she couldn’t be sure. The police there decided it was probably a disguise’.
‘Perhaps it wasn’t’. Annie muttered to herself. ‘Morag, was there anything else?’
‘I’ve been through the case files over and over’, Morag replied wearily. ‘The only other thing was that she said she heard him laughing as he ran off. Not an ordinary laugh, a kind of cackling laugh. But she wasn’t a reliable witness’.
Morag looked down at her hands again, seeming to draw some comfort from the two talismen.
‘Annie?’ You and Simon have something to add to this?’ asked Little Finger, anxiously.
Annie’s eyes met Simon’s ‘Yes we do. When Barry was gloating at us through the bars of that horrible window, he told us his real name’.
‘What was it?’
‘He said, “ I am Leonard Wrist. I’m the nephew of the master. He sends his best wishes’.
To any member of the public, strolling along, it would seem as if the small party had turned to stone. The cheerful noise of the carousel sounded in the distance. Children squealed and laughed. The sea rose and fell gently, small white waves lapping on the pebbly beach.
‘He sends his best wishes?’
‘Exactly. Note the present tense’.
‘What is it?’ asked Morag uncertainly. She could feel the tension between them.
Annie looked at Index Finger, who nodded.
‘Morag, I’m not sure how to tell you this, but we think that whoever…murdered your mother, was, is, a kind of arch-enemy of ours. There’s no evidence or proof, but…’ Annie realised she was floundering. Simon came to the rescue.
‘Morag, he said sincerely, ‘we think your Mum was killed by a man called Doctor Wrist’.
Both Simon and Annie saw it. Morag’s eyes suddenly, in an instant, turned from warm brown into a hard grey. Her hands clenched, and her mouth tightened.
Morag swallowed hard. ‘At least, I now have a name’.
Index Finger coughed gently. ‘I think we should draw this meeting to a close. Morag, we will, of course, give you all the information we have on this infamous enemy. You will not find anything in police files. As far as they are concerned, he does not exist. It is only through us that you can find information. I will say this to you, on behalf of everybody, that you must keep this side of things to yourself. You have a duty as a policewoman, that we all recognise, but there are situations when you might need to be discreet, and, perhaps, suspend your own beliefs. You are a member of the Brotherhood of the Hand now. It will not, in any way affect your police work. You have our word on that’.
‘In other words, you want me to keep my mouth shut’. Morag paused. ‘That is no problem for me’.
‘Good. Then this meeting is closed’.
As they dispersed, Morag stayed at the table. Annie and Simon said goodbye to Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko.
‘We have to go home now’. said Indira. ‘See you at school’.
Pat shook Morag’s hand. ‘Look after yourself’.
Sniffer padded up to her. ‘Sorry about your Mum, lass’. He mumbled.
‘Thanks, Sniffer. But you do smell’.
Last of all, Adrian waddled up to her. ‘Listen, Sorry about what I said earlier. Didn’t realise about you and your Mum. Know what I mean?’
‘No problem, Adrian. No hard feelings’.
‘Yo’. Adrian soared off into the sky.
Simon and Annie looked back at the table. Morag still sat there, her shoulders hunched. They walked back and stood each side of her. Morag was crying. Not obviously, but a tear ran down each side of her nose. She was grieving.
‘Morag. There’s someone we’d like you to meet. Come on’.
Annie looked at Simon. Then she realised. ‘Of course! Right, Morag, you come with us, now! No arguments!’
‘Secret. You’ll find out’. They pulled her to her feet, and led her off.
THE “SECRET” FEAST AT THE BOMB BLAST CAFE
As they walked up New Road, towards the Theatre Royal, they had to push through crowds of people. All of Brighton seemed to be here. Eventually, they saw what they were looking for. Just ahead of them was a huge stall, among so many. Above it hung a long sign.
It read “BOMB BLAST CAFE LIVES!’
There was Mrs Beeton, shrieking and laughing as she served the enormous throng of customers. Her stall was right in front of the Unitarian Church, a stalwart building, that looked down between its austere Doric columns with grave disapproval on the merriness below. Simon led the way towards the side of the stall, calling out.
‘Mrs Beeton! Mrs Beeton!’
She saw them, at last. ‘Simon! Annie! You came!’
She hurried over to them. ‘ Oh, we’re doing so well! It’s going to pay all my expenses, before the insurance comes through! You must be hungry! My special explosive hot dogs all round! Who’s your friend? Oh, never mind! Oh, thank your dad for me, won’t you? He certainly pulled a few strings for me to get me in ‘ere! And for the Festival, as well!’
‘So that’s why you went to see Dad’. Simon whispered to Annie.
‘Well, parents do have their uses’.
‘Hot dogs all round! On the house! Oh this is Michelle, my daughter!’ A thin girl, with a ribbon wrapped around her rather sweaty forehead, grinned at them, rolling her eyes as she did so.
‘That’s my son, Jonathan, over on the stove! Jonathan, say hello!’
Jonathan, also thin with dark hair under a baseball cap worn backwards, looked up and smiled. ‘Vegetarian or real?’ he called.
‘Veggie!’ shouted Annie and Morag at the same time. They giggled together. Jonathan grinned again and began to cook on another stove. ‘Meat for me!’ shouted Simon. They giggled again.
‘Must get on! I’ve got so many customers! Here we are! Help yourself to mustard and ketchup! Lots of salad, too!’ Mrs Beeton bustled back into her stall.
They leant against the standing benches that ran along the road, eating hungrily. Morag bit into her hot dog and tomato spurted out onto her clean white shirt.
She looked up at Simon and Annie, and was shocked. Their eyes were on her shirt where the tomato had spilt down. She saw the pain and grief in their eyes. What have these children gone through, she thought.
She decided to change the subject.
‘Do you know the faeries’ she asked.
Simon and Annie looked at each other.
‘Yes, we do. Very well’. Simon replied. He seemed to have lost his appetite. He looked down at his hot dog, but without seeming to see it.
‘This is about your mother, isn’t it, Morag?’ Annie asked gently.
She didn’t tell Morag about the sudden painful reminder of Mr Cuttle’s blood, running from his mouth, down onto his clean white collar, after the battle with the daemons.
‘You’ll meet them, soon’. Simon bit into his food again.
‘Morag, because you’re with the police, you ought to have a codename, whenever we contact you’. Annie said. ‘What do you want?’
Morag stared at them for a moment. She said, finally, ‘I want you to call me……Nemesis’.
They leant in silence against the bench, amidst the chattering, laughing crowds, in the bright spring afternoon.
Frank Jackson (29/03/10) Word count – 10027.
This was the house in Orange Row, Brighton, where the final bomb exploded. It has since been rebuilt.