‘ATTENTION ALL LEADS.’
The intercom above my desk wakes up with a static crack. ‘Report to the briefing room immediately.’
I grind the end of the cigar I’ve just lit into the ashtray. Another royal decree, no doubt. Maybe someone’s been careless, stepped out the boundaries. Did it myself once, told some broad in a bar who I really was. Fortunately for me, we were both seventeen sheets to the wind and she took it as a joke.
I wish the same could have been said for the Secret Police. Even though I don’t need to eat or drink, being locked up in the tower in solitary for a month wasn’t exactly up there with a trip to Pleasure Island. By the time I was let out, my joints were so stiff I had to oil them for hours.
I pull on my jacket and step out my office. The big arrows pointing to the briefing room are flashing. I nod a hello at one of the Jacks. He ignores me, in a hurry to get there and take prime position at the front, no doubt. As one-dimensional as all the rest of them.
‘How ya doin’, P?’
Baby looks like he’s just woken up, his fur sticking up at all angles. He yawns, baring baby teeth.
‘Just right,’ I say, flashing my polished teeth.
He growls. ‘Y’know, every time I hear that, it just gets funnier and funnier.’
I resist the temptation to ask him if someone’s eaten his porridge again. He’s alright, really. All grown now, almost as big as Daddy. Still acts the runt sometimes though.
The briefing room’s packed by the time we get there. Baby and me take places at the back. I can feel the eyes of the Secret Police guys near the door, like they’re drilling into the back of my head. I’m seen as a loose cannon, a risk. If it wasn’t for my special relationship with Blue, they’d likely sand me down and make a walking stick out of me.
Just my luck. Struwwelpeter’s right in front of me. It’s like sitting behind a hedge; I can’t see a goddam thing.
I can hear well enough though. SB’s voice is like cut glass.
‘Thank you all for coming. I’m glad so many of you could make it.’
‘Like we got a choice,’ Baby grumbles. I nudge him to keep quiet. He’ll end up in quarantine if he’s not careful.
‘I imagine you’re wondering why I’ve called you here today,’ says SB. She’s spinning things out a bit. Obviously going for maximum impact. ‘I know most of you are very busy.’
I’m glad of Struwwelpeter’s hedge hair now. If I wasn’t hidden by it, I’m sure SB would be looking right at me. I can picture the row of Jacks sitting at the front, nodding vigorously.
‘I’m afraid I have some rather upsetting news,’ SB continues. It goes deep dark wood silent. ‘You may have noticed that one of our number is not with us today.’
All I can notice is the back of Struwwelpeter’s mangy head. I’m sure there are things living in there.
I only know her vaguely. Nice-looking blonde, but a bit too serious for my tastes. I know she’s got issues, but then so do we all.
‘It upsets me greatly to have to inform you that Gretel has defected.’
A Jackful of gasps from the front row. Even I’m surprised. There hasn’t been a defection for over a hundred years.
‘Yes, I’m afraid it’s true.’ SB sounds more angry than upset. ‘Miss Humperdink has left us for the Wickeds.’