Book of Watts and the Dwat
Copyright Carolyn Horn 1993
All Rights Reserved

Chapter 20.

"So this is what you do when my back is turned," Arkwright was shouting at Cicely, "a slight disagreement, and-"
        "Slight! Ha! `Better if we split,' you said. `Not a sound basis for commitment,' you said. And you think a bunch of sodding roses is enough to-"
        "-sleep shamelessly with every Tom, Dick or-"
        Bryarus looked at Arkwright, and then at Cicely. Then he strode to the sitting-room, and peered inside. There was nobody in the room.
        "How dare you!" Cicely picked up the roses, which matched her red face, and flung them at her fiancÚ. "Oww!" she said, and sucked a finger, "You've got a filthy mind, Arkwright Pottle, and I never want to see you again."
        "That's fine by me," Arkwright started to splutter through the roses, and then his eyes glazed over; pound signs flickered behind them, through his brain. What little chin he possessed flapped about a bit, and made gagging noises. At last he managed: "Umm, Cicely - dear,"
        She stamped her foot, and broke the heel of her shoe. "Don't you `Cicely-dear' me, you overgrown calculator-" she began.
        Bryarus spoke. "I hate to interrupt this loving get-together," he said, "but I'd like Cicely to let me past. I have to get back to my room and scream a little. I can't work out whether to sell the house and work my bollocks off for the rest of my life, or just to give up now and go to a debtor's prison for ever." He stalked up the stairs.
        Arkwright looked after him, and then back at Cicely. "What's he talking about?" he said.
        Cicely remembered the letter in her hand, and shook it at him. "Your `brilliant' idea about tax; I tried it, in the end. And look what's happened now!"
        The council had produced a masterpiece. "Dear Madam," ran the letter, "Thank you for bringing the matter of tax avoidance to our attention. The shop which operates from the museum at Lower Postleton is to be taxed, as from this date, at business rates; a standing order form is enclosed, to facilitate payment of your half of the account. "However, there is a further matter of outstanding back-tax for the past 49.5 years. A lump sum is therefore due to us, calculated on the mean business rates for the period involved, and including compound interest as appropriate.
        "Finally, there is an additional charge which is mandatory in cases of long-term tax avoidance.
        "Please send your remittance as soon as possible, to prevent further build-up of charges. If we can be of any further assistance to you, please feel free to contact us; yours sincerely etc etc."
        Arkwright read the letter; and did a double-take at the accompanying bill, over which zeros trailed like streamers. "Oh," he said, and wiped a few rose-petals from his jacket. He smiled vaguely, and hurried back down the path. Cicely threw her prized, art deco hat-stand after him.

Bryarus slumped into his chair, and more of its stuffing seeped out onto the floor.
        Djehuti looked up from the books which riffled around him in the corner, and raised his eyebrows. The ibis-head, which dangled from his shoulder, flipped another page over and carried on reading. Ra, nostrils plugged, was holding Uraeus out of the window and feeding him on titbits of decayed, writhing meat. It was very humane, really; the maggots asphyxiated quickly.
        Bryarus groaned, and put his head in his hands. Djehuti came over, ignoring the indignant squawk from his ibis, and patted the man's shoulder. "He'll, ah, finish feeding Uraeus soon."
        Bryarus gave a crack of laughter. "It's not that," he said; "I'm getting quite used to holding my nose. No, I'm trying to work out what the hell to do with an impossible bill for half a million." The door slammed, and Cicely's shoes clacked away, down the path. He jerked his head and gave a wry grin. "She's the one that dropped us in this; at least she's got caught in it, too!" He caught sight of the drinks cabinet, which was snoozing in the corner. "I could do with a drink, come to think of it - here, Boozo, here!"
        Half a glass later, the doorbell rang. The vicar stumbled up the stairs behind Bes, and popped into the room. He glanced around with an eager light in his eyes, which dimmed slightly when he noticed the absence of the goddessly twins but brightened again when Bryarus offered him a drink.
        "I'm drowning my sorrows, Bingo, mingling my tears," said the host.
        "My dear fellow! What is the matter?" Willey lowered himself onto a pile of cushions, and read the letter. "Whatever is Derek Hartman up to?" he said, "This seems quite out of character." He paused, and tapped his cheek with the envelope. "Well, I'm sure there is a way around this; I'm quite an expert in my small way. Why don't you phone Derek, while I think about it, and ask him to give you time?"
        Bryarus drained his glass and stood up, nodding. "It can't hurt, anyway," he said, and bounded down the stairs.
        When Derek answered the phone, his voice sounded embarrassed. "I'm so sorry that you've been bothered by this, Mr. Watts," he said, "the secretary was only supposed to send a copy of that bill to your sister. We really don't intend to take it further, but I did want to see what she would do next. We've had a little difficulty with Miss Watts, you understand. She keeps phoning us, and, well, I did hope that a brush with bureaucracy would get her off our backs."
        Bryarus grinned at the wall in relief. "I know the feeling, Mr. Hartman." He said. "I don't think I'll bother telling her about this call. It'll be nice to have her on my side, even if for only an hour or so!"
        An hour and a celebratory drink later, Bryarus listened to Willey weave his way down the stairs. Cicely bounced in through the front door just as he reached the hall. "Ah, Reverend," her voice had lost some of its crispness, "perhaps you will know someone who can help me? Arkwright won't even try; and Barney & Loophole don't want to know. Have a cup of tea, do, and look at this..."
        Bryarus grimaced to himself as her voice faded into the sitting-room. He wondered which of his ingenious - and increasingly outrageous - solutions the vicar would offer her.

That Monday's crisp, sunlit morning reflected a rare Effingham-Luton mood. He bounced into his office, just as Cicely had finished wiping the rat-shit off his desk. He rubbed his hands. "I hear that you'll be selling the museum?" he said, and chuckled.
        Cicely bit her lip, and frowned. She shovelled the droppings into a paper bag. "We would have had to; and everything else," she said.
        "Ah, well, that's life," E-L sat in his chair and leaned back, hands behind his head. He beamed. "That brother of yours - what did you say?" He sat upright with a jerk.
        "And everything else?"
        He flapped his hand so hard that the rings jangled. "No, no, that bit's okay. You said: `would have had to'?"
        "Yes," Cicely closed the bag, looked up, and smiled, "we were very lucky - dear Reverend Willey found a way out for us. Something about the shop being `incidental use' only. Of course," she pouted and walked toward the door, "it does mean we've still got that ghastly museum." The door clicked shut on her last word.
        E-L sat still. He thought for a minute and began to drum his fingers on the desk. He glowered out of the window, and the sun scurried behind a bank of clouds. After a few minutes, he growled to himself, nodded, and muttered: "That's the answer. Show this upstart film-maker how we beat him on contacts; depress him, and buy him out. See if I can't buy the roof from over his head, too. There's more than one way of killing..." He smashed his fist onto the buzzer. When Cicely poked her head back around the door, his mouth cracked into a grin. "How would you like to get rid of the place?"
        "The museum, E-L, sir? Oh, sir, if you could only get Bryarus to sell!" Cicely stepped forward eagerly.
        "Emily's throwing a party; fancy dress, all that rubbish, tomorrow night. Bring him along. I'll get him to sign, for sure." He wriggled his pudgy fingers. "Bring any friends of his, too; that film-making idiot, for instance."
        Cicely's face was one huge smile. "Oh, E-L, sir, thank you! Yes, yes, of course I'll tell Bryarus." She floated back to her desk. She hugged herself - a chance to mix with the cream of society; not just Arkwright's polo-playing accountants... She day-dreamed for the rest of the morning.
        E-L, however, got down to some serious telephoning. At least, he tried to, and spent a frustrating hour or so. In the end, he had to leave his number and wait. He stomped over to the window and glowered at the naked trees. When the telephone finally rang, he pounced on it and barked out: "Yes? Ah, Visect," his voice calmed into an oiled confidentiality, "You were complaining about drug-testing restrictions, the other day-"
        A burst of angry twittering erupted through the earpiece: "-Hamstrung by a bunch of moralistic idiots-"
        E-L grinned. "-Well, I think I can help you. It's a new project - hush-hush, you know, absolutely. Yes, well; there's a VIP, we won't mention names here, who wants to see a field test done; they want an obedience drug."
        The telephone twittered with little squeaks of excitement, and a flow of long words.
        E-L frowned. "Motor neurone whatever - yes, yes, I'm sure that'll be the one. The idea is to see if an enemy spy, at, say, a party, can be made to do something against his wishes. No, you don't have to create the conditions; just come along to a party at my place tomorrow night. Bring the stuff - oh, and by the way, it's fancy dress."
        E-L put the handset down, and his chins wobbled to a chuckle. His rings clattered as he rubbed his hands. It never entered his head that Bryarus might refuse to come with his friends.
        In fact, he was correct; Bryarus' words, when Cicely passed on the information, were: "Something free out of the old miser? Wouldn't miss it for the world. Hey, gang, it's a come-as-yourself party! Er - all except you, Min; you'll have to wear a loin-cloth or something."

Murdo Goshawk's instincts were twitching. Plenty of weird things had been happening lately, and he wanted to know why. There had been that wave of strange posters and that MI7 man. He had a hazy recollection of the Watts' house full of something disgusting; also, there was this new TV film director who shacked up in the worst part of town. The journalist had a feeling that the government was trying to keep the wraps on some amazing story. He nosed around Lower Postleton. He was searching for dirt. He was in the right place; Marco's cafe was just the same.
        Or rather, it was slightly different - it sported a gaily checked set of new table-cloths. However, only the foolhardy would try to lift the cloths and see what lay beneath.
        Prosperity had been dragged along to Lower Postleton by Dwish's filming activities, but the tramps treated it with caution. As Nathan said: "Giving old Dwish a hand with things now and then is kinda fun, and you get a few perks. But money, now, that's complicated stuff; it drops out through the holes in your pockets, and where are you then?"
        Joe and Nellie nodded their heads in agreement; they were sitting around the table and stuffing themselves with the latest "perk" - a free meal.
        Murdo yawned as he plied his tramps with beer. They chatted. Five pints later, the journalist was wide awake, his mouth wide open in shock. He choked on a few flies.
        He brushed them away. This was it. The scoop of the decade. Aliens and gods, no less!

Olwyn was enjoying a relaxing half-hour, before getting ready for Emily's party. She grinned as she imagined E-L's reaction to her arrival; he couldn't throw her out, though. Kind little Emily had asked her. She sank into a furry purple chair, and stroked the arm of it. It began to vibrate, and she settled back to read a short story. She looked up and frowned, as Bast waddled across the room toward Codswallop and boxed his ear; the goddess was definitely too fat, Olwyn thought. Bast's temper didn't seem to be improving, either - her ears flipped back and she spat when Codswallop gave an exploratory sniff. He pulled his head back, and sat with a surprised tilt to his whiskers. Bast glowered around the room and stalked back into the kitchen. Olwyn shrugged and got on with the book.
        Two minutes later Bast streaked across the room, leaped onto Olwyn's lap, yowled loudly and gave birth to three kittens.
        Olwyn gazed down at the mewling, heaving mass on her skirt. She felt something wet dribble through it and between her legs. She gulped and said: "I thought cats were supposed to give birth in dark cupboards or something? And um, Bast - I hate to disturb you and your babies, but I do have to get ready... Bryarus said seven-thirty..."
        Bast blinked at the woman; she washed her babies and purred.

Emily Effingham-Luton was looking forward to her party. She flushed with excitement as she put the finishing touches to her makeup. She stepped back from the mirror and twirled; laughter gurgled up from her throat. The slim form which smiled back at her with sparkling, black-rimmed eyes, shimmered in an Egyptian queen's dress. She swirled out of her room and cannoned into her husband's bulk. She stopped, her skirts swinging loosely about her ankles; the smile trembled on her lips and died.
        When the Watts party arrived, it was received by an Emily who drooped - a dead-eyed Cleopatra - near the cocktail-lounge door. She knew that her costume hung in limp folds around her, and she'd had to rouge her pale cheeks into bright patches. At the other end of the sparkling room, E-L's voice thundered and grumbled over the babble of sound; her eyes darted toward him and flickered away again at each shout.
        Heat beat outwards from the upper-crust bodies and the rancid smell of dripping grease-paint slithered along with it. E-L's "Henry 8th" silks showed great dark patches of dampness already, and his chins were streaked with powder.
        Emily glanced back at her guests and she smiled. "Olwyn dear," she said, "I'm so glad you came." Her hand went to her mouth. "Oh but - do keep away from Jarrold, he's still mad at you..." She glanced around nervously, and Olwyn smiled.
        "You look beautiful; all ethereal and regal," she said.
        Emily's lips twitched. "Thank you dear, but I know I look awful; Jarrold told me. I feel like a washed-out rag."
        "That brute! Oh, I'm sorry - I know he's your husband, but why do you listen to him?" She turned to Min and grinned at him. "It's all rubbish, isn't it? You tell her, Min."
        E-L's voice sounded louder and closer, and Emily jumped. "Drinks; do help yourselves..." Her hands fluttered; one was caught in a firm grasp, and she glanced up into Min's warm gaze. She could feel her eyes dilating.
        "Is beautiful, yes, Olwyn. Is sad too. Is priestess, yes?" He nodded. "Yes. Is true priestess. Is sad, so sad." He lifted her hand to his lips, still holding her eyes with his. Emily felt herself blush.
        Through a mist, she heard Bryarus' voice say: "Hold it, Min - this lady's married. Min! Oh, hello, Mr. Effingham-Luton..."
        She glanced around; her husband ignored her. His arm was flung around Bryarus' shoulder, pulling him away from the group. Her eyes snapped in rebellion. She turned to the god and smiled. "A priestess, you say? Exactly what would my duties be?"
        Min's eyes laughed back at her. "Is somewhere quiet for us to discuss, yes?"
        It seemed the most natural thing in the universe, to lead him out of the room and into her own warm conservatory. Jarrold hated her flowers.

Bryarus had been trying to shake Min's arm, when his soft and sweaty host had bumped into him.
        "Ah, Bryarus!" E-L heaved an arm across the man's shoulders and drew him away. "Jarrold, my boy - call me Jarrold. Come in; have a drink. Which of these," he jerked his head toward the small group of gods which was already heading thirstily into the room, "is the film johnnie?" The host thrust a double malt into his captive's hand.
        Bryarus raised it to his mouth to blot out the stench of sweat and halitosis, and took a deep gulp. His ears began to thunder with the waves of chatter which beat against them. "None of them, Mr, er, Jarrold. Dwish couldn't come, I'm afraid."
        E-L frowned, and his arm tightened before relaxing again. Bryarus wondered whether the smell of the other's sweat would ever wash out of his own skin. E-L pinned the smile back on, and continued: "I've been meaning to talk to you. This museum nonsense; who is this pipsqueak who's making films there? He's not got a gnat's chance of surviving. Let me explain, my boy. In the television business, you need contacts; it's not just a matter of making films, you see, you have to know the right people. Now, if he were to come to us, learn a bit from us... Throw him out of the museum; you'll be doing him a service."
        "No," said Bryarus.
        "Now, look here..."
        Bryarus let the words flow past his ears. His gaze wandered around. Nearby, two honeyed voices caught his attention. The twins were sitting on a sofa, on either side of a Harlequin. Isis carried a bowl of fruit, and Nephthys had got hold of a bottle of wine. She was re-filling his glass. The man grinned, and looked from one filmily-clad goddess to the other. He was the type to pride himself on his way with women and horses. "Ladies," he began, and then choked as Isis popped a grape into his mouth.
        She rubbed her hand on his thigh, and leaned across to her sister: "This one would last longer, don't you think?"
        Nephthys felt his biceps. "Hmm," she said, and nodded; "I'm sure this one wouldn't scream when we pulled."
        His eyes took on a puzzled expression. This approach was obviously new to him. He finally swallowed the grape, and managed to say: "Ladies," before the breath was knocked out of him. Isis sprang onto his lap, and bounced up and down.
        "Yes," she said, "he'll do..."
        Drivula had backed a florid young man into a corner nearby. He was dressed as Pinocchio, and the hand which held his glass shook. He had a bad case of hiccups.
        Drivula's tongue flickered over her lips. She picked up his wrist and took his pulse. "Your blood-pressure is high," she said; "have you ever tried leeches?"
        "Hic," his voice squeaked, "no."
        "Blood-letting is an age-old treatment; it's my - speciality..."
        "Really?" he said, and cleared his throat. "Hic, warm in here, hic, isn't it?"
        Bryarus could feel for the man. He dragged his attention away; E-L was still burbling on in his ear: "So, you see, with the whole area improved, expansion and so on, people like your friend would have more opportunity. You owe it to them to sell-"
        "No," Bryarus said, and took another sip.
        E-L glowered. He stomped off, yelling: "Visect! C'mere!"

A rat was foraging under the buffet when E-L tracked his quarry down. The scientist was alone, gorging himself on expensive food; caviar juice dribbled down his chin. He had come dressed as a laboratory scientist. His artistic imagination was a bit limited.
        "Well?" E-L said, and grabbed the plate out of his hands. "Come along, we haven't got forever. Watts has to be given the drug now, he won't suspect a thing. Well, have you got it or haven't you?"
        "Hush!" Visect was pale, and he glanced around. "People can be so narrow, yes, narrow; why they won't let me experiment on criminals, yes, criminals, I'll never know. I admit, yes, admit; there have been some - difficulties. Half of our rats did indeed go mad, yes, mad, but-"
        "Yes, yes," E-L shook the man by the shoulders, "but you have the drug? We can put it in his drink?"
        The men moved away, and the rodent beneath the table twitched his ears. He sat up and washed his whiskers thoughtfully; then he shook himself, and disappeared into the private rat passageways.

Emily's eyes widened as she looked at the magnificence which swung between Min's legs. "Oh!" she said, "how - I mean, it's very big, isn't it; won't there be a problem..."
        "No problem," said Min; he unclasped the brooch at her breast and slid the soft fabric from her body.
        Her breath quivered. "Oooh!" she said. "What about, well, protection?" She held out a little packet which she'd snaffled from Jarrold's bathroom. "
        `Protection'? Is new love-toy?"
        They sank down onto the soft moss amongst the passion-flower stems. Shortly after, a god's wild laughter rang out, followed by a nervous giggle: "I don't think you're supposed to do that with it!"

Bryarus was puzzled. E-L had come back, his face wobbling with smiles again, and plied him with more drink. What did the old fool want?
        The room tilted, and Bryarus blinked. There was a roaring in his ears; he wasn't hearing so well. Somebody was holding his hand, leading him across the heaving floor, through a door which pulsated alarmingly. Someone kept telling him to do something, and he wanted to do it, he couldn't bear not to. There was a paper in front of him and a pen in his hand; where had they come from? Never mind. Whoever had given it to him knew best.
        His hand was guided to the space at the bottom of the museum-sale authorisation, and he smiled up at Visect and E-L.
        "Your name! Sign!" barked the latter; Bryarus nodded, and looked at the pen. He was going to sign away his livelihood...

Go on to Chapter 21
Book of Watts and the Dwat
Copyright Carolyn Horn 1993
All Rights Reserved