It was a balmy Brentford evening
Calm and clear of sky.
Sirius, brightest star of Heaven
Gazed down from on high.
And a zephyr, lightly blowing from the
Gardens, south at Kew
Brought the fragrances of lilies
And of antique roses too
All across the Thames to Brentford
Where the borough, bound for night,
Breathed in the sacred perfume
Dum de dum de dum delight.
There was no delight to be found on the face of Dr Druid. He sat in the waiting room of casualty, being comforted by a pair of nurses dressed in the kind of medical style that you just don't see any more. Consisting, as it did, of white high heels, fishnet stockings, short slashed skirt and tightly fitting blouse with several buttons missing from the top. The dress code had been instigated by Dr Druid, who held a lot of clout at the cottage hospital.
At the arrival of Derek and Kelly Anna, Dr Druid waved away the nurses. The taller of the two, the bearded one called Gavin, said, 'Call us if you need, us, Dr Druid.'
'Thank you,' said the doctor, and he gave Gavin's bottom a pat.
'Outrageous,' said Kelly.
'I know,' said the doctor. 'But what good is having power, if you don't abuse it every once in a while?'
Derek shook his head and Kelly began to tease at her hair. 'Do you want to tell us all about it?' Derek asked.
'In confidence,' said the medic. 'And on the understanding that no blame whatsoever attaches to my person. I want it to be made clear that I did everything I could for those patients and that no trace of fault can be laid at my door. I am innocent of all charges.'
Derek took from his pocket one of those miniature tape-recording jobbies that newspaper reporters always carry in their pockets, and which have an uncanny habit of switching themselves on and recording incriminating information when the reporter has sworn upon the life of his ancient white-haired old mother that all he is being told is 'strictly off the record'.
'I assume you want this strictly on the record,' said Derek.
'Absolutely,' said the doctor. 'And none of it's my fault.'
'Yes, I'll make that very clear. Now what exactly happened?'
'They vanished!' shrieked the doctor, his face turning pale and his eyes growing round as those of the owl known as Tawny. 'Right in front of me. They just faded away. Then they were gone. Gone, I tell you, gone.'
'Gone?' said Derek, shaking his head. 'They really just vanished? Right in front of your eyes?'
The doctor now spoke in the whisper known as hoarse. 'I know what it is,' he whispered. 'I'm not stupid. I know what it is.'
'Go on,' said Derek.
'This is off the record,' said the doctor.
Derek made a show of pressing tape-recorder buttons. Strangely the recorder continued to record.
'Go on,' Derek said once more.
'The Rapture,' said the doctor, round eyes darting upwards, head upon his shoulders going nod, nod, nod.
'The what?' Derek asked.
'The Rapture,' said Kelly. 'The Fundamental Christian interpretation of several texts from the Book of Revelation. They have it that at the time of the Tribulation, when the Antichrist comes to power, the righteous will be carried aloft to Heaven. Bodily. One moment they will be among us and the next moment, gone. Vanished.'
Derek stared at Kelly and then he stared at Dr Druid. 'You have got to be joking,' he said.
'No,' said the doctor, shakily shaking his head. 'They went, whoosh, gone, vanished. They might be the first, but they won't be the last. But people won't believe the truth. People never do. They'll blame other people. They'll blame me.'
The doctor, now shaking terribly, buried his face in his hands.
'He's taking it well,' said Derek.
Kelly shot him the kind of glance that suggested that his remark was at best indiscreet and at worst, something far more ghastly than that.
'Sorry,' whispered Derek. 'But come on now. This is clearly getting ridiculous.'
'And the waiter's sister? This would be a coincidence I suppose?'
'Could we have a look at the ward?' Derek asked.
Dr Druid unburied his head. 'The ward?' he asked in return.
'Where the patients vanished. There might be clues.'
'Clues?' Kelly whispered.
'Clues!' Derek whispered back. 'There will be an explanation for this.'
'There is,' said Dr Druid. 'It's The Rapture. They vanished at precisely eight minutes past eight, I looked at my watch. I'll just bet that means something, like the Beast 666.'
'Possibly an explanation that does not involve the Coming of the Antichrist and the onset of Armageddon.'
'All right,' said Dr Druid, hauling himself into the vertical plane. Til show you the ward. But it won't do you any good. It's The Rapture for certain and I am not one of the chosen. And if anything, that's what upsets me the most about this. I've spent my life in the service of others. If there was ever anyone deserving of being wafted up to Heaven, then that person is-surely me. It's all so bitterly unfair.'
'Perhaps they're being taken in shifts,' said Kelly. 'I'm sure that if it is The Rapture, you'll be getting exactly what you deserve.'
'That's a comfort,' said the rattled doc. 'I think.'
'Come on,' said Derek. 'Show us the ward.'
A lady, looking pretty in pink, now entered the waiting room.
She tottered on preposterous Doveston holistic shoes with nine-inch platform soles. The platforms of the shoes appeared to be transparent, little pink lights twinkled within, and lit up tiny plastic busts of a guru called Hugo Rune.
The lady in pink came a-tottering up to Dr Druid.
'What have you done with my husband?' she demanded to be told.
'Your husband, madam?' asked the doctor.
'Big Bob Charker, I'm his better half.'
'Ah,' said Dr Druid and his round eyes flickered at Derek.
'He's sleeping,' said Derek. 'He's under sedation, you'd better come back in the morning.'
'Oh,' said Minky Charker. 'So he's all right then? He'll live?'
'Absolutely,' said Derek. Kelly shot him another terrible glance.
'And who are you?' asked Minky.
'I'm a specialist.'
'Really? Are you?'
'Yes, I am.'
'And what do you specialize in?'
'Bullshit apparently,' whispered Kelly. 'I do love your shoes, by the way.' And she smiled upon Minky.
'They're the very latest fashion. Made of poly-synthacarbon dextroglutimatacide. They channel Earth energy right up the back of my legs. I've lost five pounds since I started wearing them this morning.'
'That is surely impossible,' said Derek.
'No, really. I had it in my purse, but I think it must have fallen out. Still, my impetigo's cleared up and my nipples are as hard as a pair of aniseed balls.'
'I'd better have a look at those,' said Dr Druid.
'We should be getting along to the ward,' said Derek.
'Yes we really should,' said Kelly. 'Goodnight to you, Mrs Charker.'
'Couldn't I come to the ward too?' Minky asked.
'Er no,' said Dr Druid. 'I'm afraid not. You can go to my consulting room and disrobe, if you want to.'
'I'm not particularly keen,' said Minky.
'Then goodnight to you madam.'
Dr Druid turned and led Derek and Kelly away to the general ward.
'Oh doctor,' called Minky. 'Just one thing before you go.'
'Yes?' said Dr Druid, turning back.
'Nurse Gavin is my sister,' said Minky.
'Oh,' said Dr Druid, in a low deep long and terribly sorry sort of way.
'Yes,' said Minky. 'And she rang me five minutes ago to tell me that Big Bob has been carried away in The Rapture.'
'Oh,' said the doctor, deeper and lower still this time.
'So one of you is lying,' said Minky. 'And I don't think it's my sister. Bearded women never he; it's a circus sideshow tradition. Like eating quails' eggs when the moon is new, and posting early for Christmas.'
'Oh,' and 'oh,' the doctor said again.
'You'd better come with us,' said Derek.
'I think I better had,' said Big Bob's better half.
Derek gave the general ward a specific looking-over.
He peered under beds, he peered into bedpans, he peered behind curtains and into cupboards. He peered and then he poked about and then he peered some more.
'He'll ruin his eyes with all that peering,' said Minky. 'I had a brother once who used to peer. The wind changed twice and he was stuck with the kind of moustache that only comes off with turps.'
'I'm sure I've heard that line somewhere before,' said Derek, looking up from his peering and poking.
'There's nothing new upon God's Earth,' said Minky. 'Except for The Rapture, of course. That's new, but it has been expected.'
'You believe in it then, do you?' Kelly asked.
'Well you have to believe in something, don't you dear? My uncle used to believe that he was the reincarnation of Jesus. He was a Buddhist, you see. So he had the best of both worlds. He had the stigmata and when we were kiddies, he used to let us put our fingers through the holes in his hands. When he fell asleep we'd fill his holes with plasticine. You don't see plasticine around any more, do you dear? It's gone the way of crazy foam, Potty Putty and X-ray specs. Not to mention the see-back-oscope.'
'The see-back-oscope?' Kelly asked.
'I told you not to mention that!'
'Sorry,' said Kelly, twisting her hair into terrible knots.
'That's an awful nervous habit you have there,' Minky observed. 'You should see a specialist. But not that one doing all the peering. He'll soon be needing glasses.'
'Excuse me for saying this,' said Kelly. 'But you do appear to be quite untroubled about the possibility that your husband has been carried off by The Rapture.'
'It's the way he would have wanted to go.'
'Well, he did mention once about wanting to be shot by a jealous husband when caught making passionate love to a twenty-year-old lap dancer, during the celebration of his ninety-third birthday. But men will say anything when you have one of their vital parts held tightly in your hand, won't they dear?'.
Tm sure your husband has been yearning for The Rapture,' said Kelly. 'I know I would.'
'You're too kind. So young man, with all your peering and poking, have you come to any conclusions?'
'I think I might need glasses,' said Derek. 'But there is some stuff on these sheets here.'
'Don't look at me,' said Dr Druid.
'Some residue,' said Derek.
'I said, don't look at me.'
'I'd like to take some samples. To get them analysed.'
Tm a doctor,' said Dr Druid. 'I could analyse them.'
'An independent analyst.'
'Spoily sport,' said the doctor.
'Just one thing,' said Minky. 'Just one. Where do I stand regarding my husband's life insurance policy? Will I be able to claim the money without a body? I mean, well, with him being taken bodily into Heaven. That's an Act of God, isn't it? And Acts of God aren't covered.'
'Good point,' said Dr Druid. 'There'd have to be a test case. I'll bet the insurance company won't pay up. They'd have to pay up on millions of policies, if they did.'
'That's most unfair of God,' said Minky. 'Rapturing away my husband and leaving me penniless. I've a good mind to change my religion. And come to think of it, how come God chose to Rapture up my Big Bob? I'm much nicer than he is. I'm the one who should have been Raptured.'
Kelly turned to Derek. 'I think we should go,' she said. 'There's nothing to be found here.'
Derek produced a pocket camera. Til just take one or two photographs,' he said.
'That seems sensible.'
'Yes it does,' said Minky. 'Do you want me to take my top off?'
Kelly looked at Derek.
Derek shook his head. Rather sadly, it seemed to Kelly.
'Oh go on,' said Dr Druid. 'You know that you want to.'
'And to think,' said Kelly. 'I almost liked you.'
'What?' said Derek. 'What?'
They sat in the bar of the Flying Swan, Brentford's finest alehouse. Eight premier hand-drawn beers on pump and an ambience that said that here was well and truly, truly, truly and most truly once and for ever again, a pub.
'You behaved like a total prat back there,' said Kelly. 'You lied and you connived and you actually had that woman take her top off.'
'I'm sorry,' said Derek. 'I went into newspaperman mode. But there is a story here, there's no doubt of that.'
'Not The Rapture. That doctor's up to something.'
'I've no doubt at all about that.'
'I don't believe in vanishing patients. There's a more logical explanation. Medical malpractice probably. The illicit selling of organs. Things of that nature.'
'I've misjudged you,' said Kelly.
'No, I mean you are a total prat. No doubt whatsoever about it.'
'Come on now. Be fair.'
'Something happened in that hospital. Something bizarre. Something paranormal.'
'Rot,' said Derek. 'I mean, well, I disagree.'
'Come off it,' said Kelly. 'No doctor is going to make up the story that his patients vanished in front of his eyes. He could have said that they discharged themselves. He could have said anything. But not that. He called you because he didn't want to be blamed. He made that clear enough. No money was involved.'
'People don't just vanish,' said Derek.
'They do,' said Kelly. 'There have been cases, the Earl of Bathhurst, Kasper Hauser, Amy Johnson, Glenn Miller, Lord Lucan, Richard Branson
'Unexplained disappearances. That's not the same as just vanishing. And you seem to know a lot about this sort of business. You knew about The Rapture and everything.'
'I read a lot,' said Kelly. 'These things interest me.'
'Well they don't interest me. And although they might interest the readers of the Weekly World News, they won't interest the more sensible folk who purchase the Brentford Mercury.'
'This is a very nice pub,' said Kelly, looking all around it.
'And it's full of history. Pooley and Omally used to drink in here.'
'Oh yes?' said Kelly. 'This would be Pooley and Omally, the mythical heroes of Brentford, who thwarted the invasion of the borough by beings from the lost planet Ceres and numerous powers of darkness who chose to set foot in the borough?'
Derek grinned. 'Every borough has its folklore and its heroes,' he said. 'There are people in Brentford who claim that they actually knew Pooley and Omally.'
'And do you believe them?'
'No, of course I don't.'
'So, what are you going to do about what Mr Holmes might well refer to as "The Singular Case of the Vanishing Bus Men"?'
'Actually I've had second thoughts and I'm going to pass on it,' said Derek. 'Because I don't want to make a total prat of myself by writing it up and then have them come wandering home.'
'I see,' said Kelly. 'Then would you have any objections to me following it up?'
'It's neither here nor there, with me. You can do \vhat you like. But don't expect Mr Shields to print anything you come up -with.'
'I think this might prove to be rather important.'
'And I think you'll be wasting your time. Same again?'
Kelly looked into her empty glass. 'No thanks,' she said. 'I think I'll call it a night. I've got digs in Abbadon Street, I think I'll go back now. Pick up a chicken and mushroom pie and a bag of chips on the way back.'
'But I thought you were a vegetarian.'
'And I might well have been. But I'm not. And I made a mistake by accepting your invitation to dinner.'
'You invited me, I recall.'
'Listen,' said Derek. 'You really have me all wrong. Let me buy you another drink. The chippy stays open late, you won't miss your chicken pie.'
'I'm missing it already.'
'Just one more drink. Then I'll walk you to your door.'
'Just the one then.'
Derek took himself off to the bar, leaving Kelly alone with her thoughts. Her thoughts were in some confusion at the present time. Something was happening here. Here in this little suburban backwater of Brentford. Something bizarre and something paranormal. And she was an outsider, an out-borough type. She was a stranger here. But she was here and if something was going on, she really truly meant to get right to the bottom of it.
At the bar counter, Derek bobbed up and down trying to get some attention. 'Over here, please,' he went. 'I say, over here.'
The professional barman went about his professional duties in a highly professional manner.
He served the regulars first.
'Oh come on,' called Derek. 'I was here before him.'
'Coming right up,' called the barman, serving somebody else.
'The service here is rubbish,' said Derek to an ancient gent a-seated on a bar stool.
'I never have any trouble,' said the ancient, whose name was Old Pete. 'Have you tried ordering your drinks in Runese, that would help.'
'Are you sure of that?'
'Sadly I don't know Runese,' said Derek. 'In fact I think the entire concept of a universal tongue of forty words to be utter rubbish.'
'You'll be a long time getting served then.'
Derek sighed. 'Do you speak Runese?' he asked.
'Like a native,' said Old Pete.
'So how do you ask for a large red wine and a large vodka and tonic?'
Old Pete studied the glassy bottom of his empty glass.
'All right,' said Derek. Til get one for you too.'
'One for me first,' said Old Pete.
'All right, first. So what do I say?'
'Say "Large dark rum over here for Old Pete,'" said Old Pete.
'That isn't Runese.'
'But it will work, trust me.'
Derek sighed. 'Large dark rum over here for Old Pete,' he called to the busy and professional barman.
'Coming right up,' called the barman. And Old Pete's rum came right up.
'That will be one pound, two and sixpence,' said the barman.
'Pay the man,' said Old Pete.
'And a large red wine and a large vodka and tonic.'
'One pound, two and sixpence,' said the barman once more.
'Pay the man,' said Old Pete. 'Then I'll tell you how to do yours in Runese.'
Derek paid the man and once the barman had turned away to the cash register, Old Pete spoke certain words in Derek's ear.
'Ah,' said Derek. 'Thank you very much.'
The barman returned. 'Your change, sir,' he said.
'Ravata nostromo, digitalus, carberundam,' said Derek.
'Pardon me?' said the barman.
'Ravata nostromo, digitalus, carberundam,' shouted Derek.
'That's what I thought you said,' said the barman, and drawing back a mighty fist, he swung the thing forward and punched Derek right in the face with it.
Derek fell down to the bar-room floor in a bloody-nosed confusion.
An elderly gent seated next to Old Pete chuckled into his ale. 'Although I must have heard you do that at least a hundred times,' said he, 'it never fails to crack me up.'
'Cheers,' said Old Pete, raising his glass.
Kelly helped Derek up from the floor and helped him back into his chair.
'He hit me,' Derek mopped at his bloody nose. 'That barman hit me in the face.'
'I'm not surprised,' said Kelly. 'I'd have hit you too if you'd said that to me.'
‘I thought Runese was the Universal tongue of Peace.'
'That wasn't Runese. That was Brentford Auld Speke and you really don't want to know what you said.'
'You're laughing,' said Derek. 'You're laughing.'
'I think we'd better go,' said Kelly. ‘I’ll treat you to a chicken pie and chips and then I'll take you back to my digs and you can make sweet love to me.'
'Can I?' said Derek. 'Can I really, please?'
'No,' said Kelly, laughing some more. 'But I will treat you to the chicken pie.'