Tim and Adric arrived at the facility whilst Nicky and Bracken were chatting in the mysterious room the guards referred to as The Chamber.
Through the blind fold Time could make out that it was some sort of building with more than one floor. Not the highest vantage point he’d ever had, but it was something. There’s nothing worse than having your blindfold removed in a dingy room and discovering on your escape that you’re on a boat, or in the middle of a volcano. Sometimes, just knowing you’re in a normal building which will contain some stairs and possibly a lift, puts you in a position of great mental strength.
Tim didn’t have much time to enjoy this inner calm, though, because the heavies had parked in their allotted spaces in The Facility’s car park and were roughly manhandling him and Adric out onto the concrete.
“Alright,” he said cheerfully, “I’m going.”
He pretended to stumble so that El Nombre’s companions wouldn’t realize he could see where he was going, and stole a quick look at Adric. He was still completely out of it, his gangly frame propped up by the guy who was preoccupied with sausages.
They formed a convoy and entered the building, each balaclava-wearing figure stopping to have his or her retinas scanned and fingerprints checked. In actual fact, none of this information was relayed anywhere, or even backed up onto a floppy disc (remember them) or pen drive. It was all set up to create the illusion that The Facility was a fortress, with unbreachable security. ‘Nobody ever gets out or in without our say-so,’ the scans seemed to imply. But if you wanted to, you probably could, Tim suspected. He wondered whether El Nombre knew, and was merely playing the game.
Once inside, Adric was whisked away to a cell a couple of doors down from Nicky's and put to bed by the nurse with the scarred face. Being the kindest of the guards, and the only one with actual nurse’s training, she was required to deal with all the new arrivals.
Meanwhile, El Nombre secured Tim in a basement room. Well, that was what he told his colleagues. In actual fact, he only walked Tim down to the basement. No securing occurred, as such. He merely removed the blindfold and said
"I dunno which cell they'll have put him in to sleep off the effects of the sedative, but all those rooms are on the second floor."
Tim nodded his thanks. El must have known the whole time that the guy they were kidnapping was the guy he wanted to rescue.
"Want to chum me on this one, for old time's sake?" he asked hopefully.
"I can't," El replied regretfully, "I'm busting out of this joint, right now. It's time to do what I set out to when I became a mercenary."
"Pack it all in for a life of leisure?" Tim joked, like the jokey joke-maker he often was in times of stress.
"Find and destroy Wizard Chinnigan," El Nombre explained, missing the humour like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator movies.
"If you'd only hold on a couple of hours for me to rescue my friend, I could come with you," Tim offered, partly for old time’s sake and partly to repay the debt he had accrued by getting El to bring him here.
El shook his head no.
"This is something you need to do alone, huh?"
"What if you get yourself killed? He's tricksy, that wizard."
"Tim, I know his ways better than no one. No, wait. Nobody knows the ways of that wizard better than I. You know this to be the case.”
Tim nodded reluctantly, feeling his hair swoosh against the back of his neck. It was getting too long.
“However, if anything in the way of mortality does happen up in my grill, I will expect you to avenge my death.”
“In the usual way?”
“In the usual way,” he agreed solemnly. “Death by cupcakes.”
“That isn’t the traditional – oh, I see. El, I do believe that you just cracked a joke.”
El smiled, and his perfectly white teeth dazzled out of the darkness of his balaclava till Tim was nearly blinded.
“I have been practicing, since that first quest. It was funny, yes?”
“Oh yes, very funny. Although death by cupcakes is too good for that old goat.”
“It is,” El agreed. “But in actuality I suspect that it will not be the way the wizard will go.”
They hugged awkwardly, in the manner of men who became close under extenuating circumstances, lost touch for a couple of years, then met up again just briefly, only to be parted once more by further potentially life threatening circumstances. There were a lot of complicated emotions at work in that hug, and it was a beautiful and touching thing.
“Give me a ten minute head start,” El muttered into the hug, “then head for the second floor. You will find your young man there.”
“Thanks, El, I will. Good luck with finding and murdering Chinnigan.”
“It sounds so distasteful when you put it that way,” El realized, pulling out of the hug. “And yet, it is what it is, and what it is must be done. The badger must kill the fox before it can truly find peace.”
“Is that an old Chilean saying?”
“No, I saw it on Autumnwatch.”
And with that, El bounded off up the stairs, wearing two balaclavas, never to be seen again. Probably.
Tim leaned against the wall and looked around him.
It wasn’t one of those interesting cellars that you hear about in some books, like ‘The Kid in the Cellar’ or ‘Get Me Another Chianti’. It had never been used as a dungeon, or a gym, or a place to keep wine. In fact, it was all but forgotten about by the people who owned the building, truth be told, even though it wasn’t plagued by damp or rats or unusual smells. It just sat there, quite a nice space, albeit a bit on the dark side, almost entirely empty apart from an old wheelchair with a broken seat and only one wheel; and several enormous piles of dust.
“Passing ten minutes in this place is probably going to be my biggest challenge yet,” Tim told himself with a chuckle. A mouse inside the wall rolled its eyes, and proclaimed him a goner. The mice had the run of the building, and knew how the owners perceived intruders, adventurers, and people who thought they were funny when they weren’t. It didn’t look good for someone who ticked all three of those boxes.
He heard footsteps above and to his right, and moved towards the tiny, grimy window to peek outside.
Dawn had broken, bathing the outside world in a pinky blue hue that would have made quite a nice colour for something that would look good in pinky blue. Tim enjoyed it for a moment, before remembering the footstep situation.
There were iron bars on the outside of the window which were totally in the way, but he was pretty sure he could make out the figure of Aloysius advancing towards the door of the building along with some sort of animal. Tim wasn’t all that great with nature, but was moderately sure that this one was a sheep dog of some sort.
“What is he doing,” he groaned, watching as Al strode purposefully towards the front door, “they’re gonna get him! And apparently, they’re gonna get his little dog, too!”
Tim grabbed the wheelchair and pulled it over to the window, intending to try and force his way out or at least attract Al’s attention so that he would not pursue this hideous course of action.
Unfortunately he wasn’t quick enough, and from his precarious position atop the rickety frame all he saw was the door closing behind Al as he entered the building.
Tim jumped down with a ker-thunk.
“That’s probably been ten minutes anyway,” he reasoned aloud, one assumes for the benefit of the mouse as there was nobody else present to hear him.
He bounded up the well-worn steps and out of the cellar as El had done some moments before, pulling the door open with a careful yet enthusiastic creak. Once out in the relative brightness of the corridor he made to travel back in the direction he had come, which wasn’t too difficult as he’d had years of practice at going back the way he had come.
To begin with he pressed himself against the wall like people do in action films, but then he decided there was little point, as there was nothing to shield him if someone did come the other way. He stuck out like a sore thumb against the holographic underwater scene they had used to decorate the place. It was an interior design nightmare, he thought to himself, not even a child would find this appealing and their taste in décor is bizarre.
Up ahead there was an archway, which he remembered led to a lobby area at the front of the building. Now at least he could hide behind something if the need arose, he thought with a satisfied nod.
He could hear voices a little way further, and recognized one to belong to Al, but the other was unfamiliar.
“If you’ve got to go,” Al was saying sympathetically as Tim drew nearer to the sound of their jibber jabber, “then you have to go, that’s all I’m saying.”
“I can’t go here,” the other voice said, “there’ll be hell to pay.”
Tim risked a look-see around a pillar that conveniently stood by the archway.
Al was the only person there, and his only companion was the dog from outside. That breed was called a collie, Tim remembered now. They got their name due to something about only eating cauliflower.
‘Talking animals, eh,’ he thought to himself. ‘The plot thickens.’
“I’m not talking,” the dog said patiently, looking in Tim’s direction as if waiting for him to come out of his hiding place. “I’ve set up a telepathic link between myself and anything living within a half mile radius. Heard you coming before we even got here, your thoughts are that loud.”
“Sorry,” Tim said, not really sure whether an apology was required but deciding to err on the side of politeness.
“It’s eaten the amulet, before you say anything about me mucking up the quest,” Aloysius told him defensively.
“I wasn’t going to slag you,” Tim replied, “I’m sure you did your best.”
“But my best wasn’t good enough.”
“Well, we’ll see. This thing isn’t over yet, there are four days left in November after all.”
Al looked confused, but didn’t say anything for fear of humiliating himself further.
“I’m not an it,” the dog said suddenly, “I’m a he. My name is Brian, actually.”
“Nice to meet you Brian,” breezed Tim, “I’m Tim Mahogany-Barnes, and this here is Aloysius Hunkington Smythe.”
“Tim Mahogany-Barnes,” Brian said, or thought, if you want to be pedantic (in which case, why are you here? Go and do something less first draft-y.) “why do I know your name?”
“Not sure,” Tim reported, scratching his nose.
“You’re not a relation of Cassius Mahogany-Barnes, by any chance?”
“Why yes,” said Tim, “he’s my uncle. Do you know him?”
“Know him? He was my owner, till I was dognapped a couple of years ago. Best old man I ever knew.”
“You’re the dog that went missing? Well that’s great, I’ll tweet him and say you’ve been found! He’s never given up the search, you know.”
“I know,” Brian said with a mixture of pride and sadness, “I saw the reports on Crimewatch. But he’ll never take me back now.”
“Whyever not?” Tim puzzled, “he misses you dreadfully. Never got another dog after you were taken from him.”
Brian’s lip trembled, which for those of you who’ve never seen a sad dog, was simultaneously the most adorable and the most heart wrenching thing you are ever likely to see.
“Because I’ve been a bad dog,” he moaned mournfully.
“I’m sure he’d forgive you,” Tim replied dutifully, although he wasn’t really sure. He didn’t know Cassius brilliantly well, as he was an eccentric old chap who liked to keep himself to himself.
“No,” Brain asserted with his tail between his legs. “Ever since the clan of the cape recruited me… Well I don’t want to go into it, really. But it’s been dark times.”
“Well how about you redeem yourself now, by giving us the amulet instead of letting the clan of the cape take it?”
This was Al speaking, using his famous logic to manipulate an animal into doing what he wanted. How like a human.
“I can’t,” Brian quaked, conflicted like a girl choosing between the sexy bad boy and the safe, dependable husband type. “They’ll kill me if I do. Or worse.”
“So the clan of the cape have a penchant for inflicting fates worse than death, eh,” said Tim, stroking his chin as if this information had in some way made him think. It hadn’t. “That’s no good at all. We must stop them, Aloysius.”
“How are we going to do that?” Al asked, logic to the forefront once more. “We know literally nothing about them, other than they want that magic amulet, and they have a base here. We don’t know how many there are, we don’t know whether this is their main HQ or just a holding place, we don’t know whether they’re sanctioned by any authorities in this country…. We’d be going in totally blind, with no weapons, and no idea whether they want to kill, maim, or let us go.”
“Well, I think it’s about time someone got you guys that information,” pealed a tiresome voice from one of the doorways.
“And as usual, that someone is probably me.”
And that was how Tim and Al were introduced to Jeremy Kyle.