Can she find out just who has it in for him?
Can she hold onto her job?
And can she crowbar even a smidgen of respect from a world that seems determined to show her none?
Who The Hell Is Dominic Pine? can also be found in my short story collection Adventures By Moonlight.
WHO THE HELL IS DOMINIC PINE?
By Stephen Walker
My name is Liz Sanford - and my boss is a complete and total moron.
I can say that without fear of contradiction because, seven o'clock Sunday morning, he's just barged into my bedroom, rifle in hand and declared, 'Liz Sanford, you have to save Dominic Pine!'
Leaving aside the fact I don't have a clue who Dominic Pine is, I don't have a clue what my boss is doing in my bedroom.
'I'm in here demanding you save Dominic Pine!' he retorts.
'And who the hell is Dominic Pine?' I'm sat up in bed, glowering at him, my fists' knuckles embedding themselves into the mattress.
My boss is Lou Ferman and how he got that job is something I'll never know.
Then again, how I got my job is something I'll never know. A woman of my qualifications, I should be lecturing in some university somewhere. Instead I'm the government's official occult investigator and getting dumped on by life, from every conceivable angle.
'I don't know who Dominic Pine is,' says Lou, 'but The Minister insists and that's good enough for me.'
'And would you like to explain how you got into my flat?' I ask him.
'I have a key.'
'Since MI5 made me one. The Minister reckons there might come a time when you turn evil and I might have to burst into your bedroom and shoot you in the back.'
That's it! I fling aside the duvet. I climb out of the bed. I stride across to him. I grab the rifle from him...
...and I hit him over the head with it.
Once Lou's recovered consciousness, and finally stopped complaining about how's he supposed to know if I've turned evil when I'm horrible at the best of times, he gives me an address. It's the address where I'll find whoever Dominic Pine is.
Normally, this is where I'd round up my flatmate Alison for added sarcasm but she's on holiday in Sunderland, visiting her parents, which means I'm going to have to do this one alone.
This is good news, as it means I won't have to spend all my time worrying about keeping her alive. As well as being my flatmate, Alison Parker is my sidekick and she likes to flounce around in black. Sometimes she flounces around in black and purple. Sometimes she flounces around in black and red. Sometimes she flounces around in black and white. Whatever she wears, it mostly involves flouncing.
Well, in her absence, it looks like there'll be no flouncing going on during this case
According to the sheet of paper Lou gave me, this Dominic Pine person's to be found in a mansion on the fringes of Surrey – though, given the size of the mansion, it'd be truer to say that Surrey's on the fringes of it.
At the gates, I press the intercom. I tell them what I'm here for and, with a clunk and a hiss, I'm allowed in.
Two minutes later, I'm in the office of a woman called Livia Dalrymple.
One minute later, I'm sat facing her across her desk.
Thirty seconds later, she's saying, 'Isn't he magnificent?'
Arms folded, I frown across at the object of her admiration. He's stood facing the wall, a pasty youth who looks like he'd blow over in a strong breeze.
'Who is he?' I ask.
'Who is he?' she says. 'My dear young lady, that is Dominic Pine.'
'And who the hell is Dominic Pine?'
Her eyes narrow at me. 'How old are you?'
'Well,' she says, 'if you had any contact at all with youth culture, you'd know that Dominic Pine is quite the hottest singing sensation on the planet right now. There's not a young lady in this land who wouldn't kill her own mother to be the first Mrs Pine.'
Still frowning at him, I say, 'Is there something up with him?'
'Up with him?' says Dalrymple. 'Why on Earth should there be something up with him?'
'Well, the fact he's been stood facing the wall since I got here and only seems to have two phrases in his vocabulary.'
'Oh, don't worry about that. All superstars have their quirks. I can assure you though that he's as sharp as razor blades. Isn't that right, Dominic?'
'I'm not gay,' he tells the wall.
'That's the spirit,' says Dalrymple.
'I love my fans,' he tells the wall.
'That's the spirit,' says Dalrymple.
Now that he's used up his allotment of two stock phrases - for the third time since we got here - I return my attention to Dalrymple. I tell her, 'As we've established your client's intellectual range, how about you tell us what I'm actually here for?'
'This, Miss Sanford, is what you're here for.' Dalrymple tugs open a desk drawer, yanks an object from it and plants it, with a smack, on the desk, in front of me. 'This, Miss Sanford, is the root of our problem.'
I pick it up. I look at it, back and front. I look at it one way up. I look at it the other way up. Whichever way up I look at it, the result's the same. It's a long thin strip of paper covered in odd markings. 'What is it?' I ask.
'Miss Sanford, do not play games with me. We both know full well what it signifies. That strip of paper was posted to my client. And I demand you do something about it.'
'Catch the perpetrator.'
'You do know I'm an occult investigator?'
'Which is why I summoned you.' She rises to her feet, turns her back on me, heads for the far window, plants her knuckles on the windowsill and gazes out at the building's surrounds. 'My dear young woman, don't think you can pull the wool over Livia Dalrymple's eyes just because she's no more than a visitor to the strange and murky world you inhabit. Runes! That is what this is about. For I, like many people, have seen the motion picture the world knows as Night of the Demon.'
'Actually,' I point out, 'the world knows it as Curse of the Demon. It's only us in the UK who know it as Night of the Demon.'
'Regardless,' says Dalrymple. 'I know, from having seen said motion picture, that to receive such a slip of paper, with such symbols on it, is to be faced with death at the hands of a foul fiend from hell. That slip of paper, Miss Sanford, was sent to my client by one who wishes him nothing but ill. And unless you track down the sender... ...we both know Dominic here will be dead within days.'
'-Dalrymple, these markings don't look like any runes I've ever seen.'
'In that case, you've not seen enough runes. I say they're runes - and more importantly The Minister says they are.'
'He and I happen to be very good friends and I can tell you right now that he agrees and that Dominic here is far too important to the balance of payments to be allowed to die. Therefore, Miss Sanford, no matter the risk to your own personal safety, you will do everything you can to keep him safe.'
I wish I could claim right now to be on close personal terms with, 'The Minister,' bearing in mind he's the one with ultimate responsibility for the department I work for. That way, I could walk into his office and punch his stupid face in.
Unfortunately, I don't have the slightest clue who he is.
I've asked Lou. I've said, 'Is he the Home Secretary? Is he the Minister for Defence? Is he the Minister for Agriculture?' but, according to Lou, I don't have the right level of clearance to find out. Up until the conversation with Dalrymple, I'd always suspected he doesn't even exist and Lou's just made him up to avoid taking responsibility for all the stupid orders he gives me.
As for our endangered pop star, that's all I need, to be lumbered with some wimp with no social skills.
My meeting with Dalrymple over, I'm stood outside the gates to her mansion, Dominic Pine in tow. Because he can't go anywhere without being mobbed, he's in disguise. Because I can't go anywhere without being abused, I'm in disguise. Right now, he's telling the front gates, 'I'm not gay,' which I'm sure comes as a huge relief to them.
Now we're back at my flat.
Ever since we've got here, Pine's been stood in the far corner, telling the wall, 'I love my fans.'
I've offered him a sandwich.
'I'm not gay.'
I've offered him a drink.
'I love my fans.'
The sooner I get this sorted out and get rid of him the better.
That's why I'm knelt on the floor, ploughing through my extensive collection of occult books, the ones Alison always reckons I should bin because they take up too much room.
And wouldn't you know it? I can't find anything in any of them that even vaguely resembles the symbols on the strip.
I try the Internet.
And I get no more luck from that.
George Bickersley's my man.
No he's not, because it turns out even a visit to Yorkshire's foremost expert on occult symbolology, can't help me.
So now we're in the British Library, in London and I'm at a table, scouring Rownstone's phone-book thick Forgotten Occult Symbols. If this doesn't contain what I'm after, nothing will.
Dominic Pine's two metres away, stood treating a bright white pillar to his two stock phrases.
That's when another voice enters the fray.
It says, 'My dear Miss Sanford! What a coincidence my bumping into you here.' But then, for no good reason at all, it adds, 'Or is it?'
I don't look up from my book. I don't have to. I'd recognise those conceitedly jaunty tones anywhere. It's Astbury Charlemagne.
Astbury Charlemagne is a complete and total idiot who claims to be my arch-enemy, despite never providing any reason for me to think he is. According to him, that's because he's too clever for me to see through his web of intrigue. Personally, I think it's because he's an idiot.
'What are you doing here?' I say.
'Well now, that depends on what one chooses to believe. Either I popped in to this library, hoping to access a copy of Rownstone's Forgotten Symbols – only to be informed, “A young lady's already reading it,” - or I knew in advance that you'd be here and I decided to pop in on you.'
'And how could you possibly know I'd be here?'
'Miss Sanford, both of us travel in arcane circles. You'd be surprised what a man in my position could know.'
'You don't know anything.'
'OK,' I look up from my book, lean back in my seat, fold my arms and look at him. 'If you know so much, why don't you tell me what I'm here for?'
He pulls out a chair, sits across the table from me and places his Homburg between us. 'Miss Sanford, a man in my position must never reveal to his arch-enemy what he does and does not know.'
'You are not my arch-enemy.'
'Keep telling yourself that and, who knows, one day you might actually come to believe it. But let me guess. That figure over there, so thoughtfully keeping inanimate objects updated as to his status, is a crudely disguised singing sensation mankind knows as Dominic Pine. You too are disguised - badly. Therefore you are together. A woman such as yourself would never willingly mingle with a man like Dominic Pine – you being over the age of thirteen and notoriously intolerant – therefore you must be acting as his bodyguard. As you're an occult investigator, he must be facing a deadly paranormal peril.'
'OK,' I tell him. 'You think you've got it all sussed? Then try telling me what this might mean.' I plant Livia Dalrymple's mystery strip of paper on the table, between us.
He reaches out, picks up the strip, takes one look at it, chuckles and lightly tosses it back onto the table. 'Seriously, Miss Sanford, do you not have a real test for me?'
'That is a real test.'
'For a child perhaps but not for Astbury Charlemagne.'
'In that case, perhaps you'd like to tell me their significance?'
'Their significance, my dear, is a place called Roswell.'
I narrow my gaze at him. I say, 'Roswell?'
Charlemagne gets himself comfortable in his chair then explains. 'As I'm sure you're aware, in 1947, something crashed to Earth in New Mexico. The US military initially claimed it to be a downed flying saucer. They later claimed it to be no more than a military balloon.
'But they weren't the only ones making claims. For a man named Jesse Marcel Jr claimed to have seen wreckage from the spaceship. As part of his testimony, he drew pictures of the strange alien markings he saw on that wreckage.
'Now, I assume your strip of paper was sent to Mr Pine and you're trying to ascertain its meaning. Well, the markings on that strip exactly match those drawn by Jesse Marcel Jr. Conclusion; the strip was sent to your Mr Pine by a fan, due to the singer's publicly stated interest in the Roswell Incident. As a specialist on the occult, you completely failed to recognise a reference to the not always related field of UFOlogy.'
'And you know he has an interest in Roswell how?'
'In this life, Miss Sanford, it's not what one knows that matters, it's who one knows and, just as I make it my habit to always bed the most beautiful woman in the room, I make it my habit to attend every opening and awards ceremony this land has to offer. Hence, I have previously met your Mr Pine and thus know, from his manageress, of his deep and stated interest in the matter of UFO lore.'
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