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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Rankin Robert
 

«The Brentford Triangle», Robert Rankin

Иллюстрация к книге

The second book in the Brentford series, 1982

Prologue

The solitary figure in the saffron robes shielded his eyes from the glare and squinted down the glacier to where the enormous black vessel lay, one-third submerged, in the floor of the valley. Allowing for the portion lost below the icy surface of the frozen lake it was easily some three hundred cubits long, at least fifty wide and another thirty high. It had, overall, the appearance of some fantastic barge with a kind of gabled house mounted upon its deck. Its gopherwood timbers were blackened by a heavy coating of pitch and hardened by the petrification of the glacier which had kept it virtually intact throughout the countless centuries. A great opening yawned in one side; several hundred yards away lay the door which had once filled it, resting upon two huge rocks like some kind of altarpiece.

The solitary figure dropped the butt of his Wild Woodbine, ground it into the snow with the heel of his naked left foot and raised his field glasses. His guides had long since deserted him, fearing in their superstition to set foot upon the ice pastures of the sacred mountain. Now he stood alone, the first man to breast the glacier and view a spectacle which many would gladly have given all to witness.

He whistled shrilly between closed teeth and a faint smile played about his lips. He slapped his hands together, and with his orange robes swirling about him in the bitter winds of the mountain peak, he girded up his loins and strode down the frozen escarpment to survey the ancient wreck at closer quarters.

1

Neville the part-time barman drew back the polished brass bolts and swung open the saloon-bar door of the Flying Swan. Framed in the famous portal, he stood yawning and scratching, a gaunt figure clad in Japanese silk dressing-gown, polka-dot cravat and soiled carpet-slippers. The sun was rising behind the gasometers, and in the distance, along the Ealing Road, the part-time barman could make out the diminutive form of Small Dave the postman beginning his morning rounds. No mail as usual for the Four Horsemen, more bills for Bob the bookie, a small brown parcel for Norman’s corner shop, something suspicious in a large plain envelope for Uncle Ted at the greengrocer’s, and, could it be-? Neville strained his good eye as Small Dave approached – tunelessly whistling the air to “Orange Claw Hammer” – a postcard?

The wee postman trod nearer, grinning broadly. As he drew level with the part-time barman he winked lewdly and said, “Another!” Neville extended a slim white hand to receive the card, but Small Dave held it below his reach. “It’s from Archroy,” announced the malicious postman, who greatly delighted in reading people’s mail, “and bears an Ararat postmark. It says that our lad has discovered…” Neville leant hurriedly forward and tore the card from his hand “… has discovered the remains of Noah’s Ark upon the mountain’s peak and is arranging to have it dismantled and brought back to England.”

Neville fixed the little postman with a bitter eye. “And you could tell all that simply by reading the address?” he snarled.

Small Dave tapped at his nose and winked anew. “I took the liberty of giving it the once-over,” he explained, “in case it was bad news. One can never be too careful.”

“One certainly can’t!” The part-time barman took a step backwards and slammed the Swan’s door with deafening finality upon the dwarfish scrutineer of the Queen’s mail. Neville took a deep breath to steady his nerves and turned away from the door. His long strides took him with haste across the threadbare carpet of the saloon-bar.

His first drew him past the pitted dartboard, the chalked scores of the previous night’s play faintly aglow in the early light. His second brought him level with the aged shove-halfpenny table, and a third took him past the first of the Swan’s eight polished Britannia pub tables. Two more soundless strides and Neville halted involuntarily in his tracks. Before him stood an object so detestable, so loathsome and so mind-stunningly vile that the postman’s irritating habits paled into insignificance.

The Captain Laser Alien Attack Machine!

Its lights blinked eternally and a low and sinister hum arose from it, setting the part-time barman’s ill-treated teeth on edge. Installed by one of the brewery’s cringing catspaws the thing stood, occupying valuable drinking space, and as hated by the Swan’s patrons as it was possible for any piece of microchipped circuitry to be hated.

Neville caught sight of his face reflected in the screen and surprised even himself with the ferocity of his expression. He addressed the machine with his regular morning curse, but the monster hummed on regardless, indifferent to the barman’s invocation of the dark forces. Neville turned away in disgust and slouched off up the stairs to his rooms. Here in privacy he poured milk upon his cornflakes and perused Archroy’s postcard, propped against the marmalade pot.

A rooftop view of Brentford.

It was a great pity that Archroy, in the interests of economy, as he put it, had chosen to take a bundle of local postcards with him when he set off upon his globetrotting. Rooftop views of Brentford were all very pleasant of course, but they did tend to become a little samey. After all, when one received a card postmarked “The Potala, Lhasa”, or “The East Pier, Sri Lanka”, it wouldn’t hurt to see a bit of pictorial representation on the front once in a while. It did tend to take the edge off, having read the exotic details of a Singhalese temple dance, to turn over the card and view the splendours of two gasometers and a water tower.

Neville sighed deeply as he squinted over to the row of identical postcards which now lined his mantelpiece. Certainly, the one view was so commonplace as to be practically invisible, but each of these little cards had been despatched from some far-flung portion of the great globe. Each had travelled through strange lands, across foreign borders, over continents, finally to return, like little pictorial homing pigeons, to the town of their birth. Certainly there was romance here.

Neville plucked up the card and turned it between his fingers. “Noah’s Ark, eh?” That one took a bit of believing. Each of the postcards had boasted some fabulous deed or another, but this outdid them all.


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