Ghostly Shadowy Ghost-Shadow
by O Yardley
(almost a sequel to 'Shadow of a Ghost' and 'Ghost of a Shadow')
NOTE: Contains scenes of sex and violence which may be upsetting to those of a nervous disposition. There can be no polite disclaimer with this story since the author is offensive purely by intent.
Murphy jumped, dabbed at the fresh cut on his chin and swore.
It was the fourth time this morning he'd felt that whisper-soft caress around his bare legs, the sliding rub of a whiskered jaw, and he was fast becoming paranoid. If it happened one more time he'd move out, he promised himself plaintively; bad enough finding phantom-tracks in the abandoned litter-tray, but being assaulted in the privacy of your own locked bathrooms was just too much. Besides, think of those claws and his own unprotected body... He shuddered.
And moving into Cowley's flat (now preserved as a shrine and just as its owner had left it down to the empty Glenfiddich bottles stacked six deep in every cupboard) had seemed so practical and obvious, assuming the upper-middle-class respectability of the late Controller of CI5's background along with his job and--more importantly--his salary. Murphy was well aware that his appointment to the high position had considerably more to do with the death of almost every other experienced agent than with his own suitability for the job, Cockney accents grating unpleasantly within the upper echelons of the Civil Service.
He sighed, a long, pathetic inhalation, and stared despondently at his reflection, a handsome image marred only by the blob of hair-clotted shaving cream which had shot from razor to looking-glass and appeared to decorate his nose like an onion gracing a cocktail. His mouth quivered rebelliously.
Just when everything was looking up too, fate having kindly removed first Bodie and then Doyle from his life and thereby freeing him from his obligatory positions as rejected lover, first seducer, broad shoulder and all-purpose three-seater sofa; even that bloody cat had apparently walked off into the night, making his happiness complete.
And then, one night as he cuddled down as comfortably as he could upon the meagre mattress of the narrow ex-army issue bed (which had been indignantly rescued by Cowley from the totter's cart carrying it to its last resting place when the safe house had been closed down due to Government spending cuts, and installed with the pride of one who had saved good money into his rent-free flat), his head pillowed luxuriously on the balding stomach of his adored Teddy Gruesome, he had felt... IT! Up and down his spine it ran, kneading him with fervent paws and every sharpened claw unsheathed. He'd shot up, shrieking, Teddy Gruesome thudding to the floor, and looked about him wildly only to behold... NOTHING! Nothing save a grubby suede sole upraised in mute appeal.
Instantly remorseful he leant down to rescue the ejected ursine with a whispered word of apology, temporarily forgetting the instability of his Government surplus couch which promptly grabbed its opportunity to reject him. Fortunately he made a soft landing.
Gruesome stared up in baleful resentment. What did the big oaf think he was up to now, using him as a landing pad? And if he was kidding himself that his life-long companion and comforter knew nothing about those two arrivals he had hidden away at the back of his wardrobe he had another think coming! You could hear 'em a mile off, Gruesome thought disdainfully. At it like knives, they were, every chance they got. Some people didn't know the meaning of the words restraint, dignity, decorum, or even British stiff-upper-lip; the world had gone to the dogs since his young day. In that far-off, halcyon time a god-fearing bear had conducted himself sedately and kept his charge in proper order, saw that he washed behind the ears and kept his mind off the illicit pleasure of solitary vice; but standards like that had long been forgotten.
He growled, protesting as his charge's hand dug into his stomach. Trust the clumsy great so and so to use his faithful friend as a prop to lever himself upright!
"Sorry!" Murphy murmured contritely, picking up the abused bear and tucking it into the crook of one arm as he searched the room for the intruding cat, the thumb of his other hand stealthily finding its way into his mouth as he slowly realised he was, in fact, quite alone.
Murphy shivered, coming back to the present with a jolt, and finding little comfort there either as yet again the tip of a ghostly tail weaved a path between his legs.
Betty looked at her boss and frowned. It was no good, she would have to speak her mind sooner or later on the subject of his scruffy appearance and sooner was better than later. Her ordered brain rejecting any suggestion of putting off what could be done today, she followed him into his office and shut the door firmly behind her.
Twenty minutes later, when Murphy finally managed to slide a word in edge-ways, he said: "I'm sorry you disapprove of my appearance, but..."
"Disapprove?" She was off again, tanking along at a steady ninety-five words a minute. "Perhaps a better quality razor is indicated, one that will not lose its effectiveness with the job only half done. In Mr Cowley's day you did not find him coming to work having failed to perform even the most perfunctory ablutions. Indeed, on the contrary he was quite meticulous about personal hygiene, often making use of the facilities here three or four times during a day to be sure he was fresh, dainty and smelling ever so faintly of roses."
Murphy, who had all too often seen that white-slug shapeless form flashing about clad only in a towel, nodded a glum assent. But it wasn't, he protested mournfully, Betty having paused to draw breath, that he objected to bathing, only that he did not care for doing so with a spectral cat in attendance.
Betty drew in a sharp breath, lungs now filled to capacity.
"A cat?" she enquired, as Lady Bracknell might have said: "A handbag?"
Too worn down to be evasive, Murphy came clean.
To his surprise, Betty evinced no sign of incredulity, hanging on his every word, her pencil automatically flying over the pages of her short-hand notebook. When he faltered to a halt she closed the pad with a decisive snap and said firmly: "That settles it. I must act."
"This is no time to embark on a new career," cried Murphy in dismay. "Have you no sense of loyalty, girl?"
But Betty was not listening to him. Crossing the room with incisive tread she took firm hold of the hatstand and, lowering it, seated herself thereon demurely sidesaddle.
"Come along, hurry up. It's getting impatient," she said peremptorily. "Are you armed?"
Was he armed? Insulted--a CI5 agent without a gun is like a skunk without a smell--Murphy said: "Of course I'm..."
"Then get the ammunition. No, not that rubbish," she ordered sharply, casting the clip aside. "We need silver bullets."
"Silver bullets?" Murphy echoed, bemused. "What do we want silver bullets for?"
Betty clicked an exasperated tongue. What did they teach these agents of they omitted the most basic information?
"How else can you kill a wer-cat?" she demanded reasonably. "Here, hold the hatstand. Tightly! It'll get away if you don't."
Indeed, that recently sedate object was bucking and curvetting as heartily as any Western bronco; Murphy hung on to it grimly while Betty rummaged in the drawers, emerging at last with a small tobacco tin which she handed to Murphy for safe keeping, hopping aboard the restive steed.
"Come along then," she ordered crisply. "Get on behind and hang on tight to me. We don't want you falling off as we go over the Palace, it could be embarrassing trying to explain what you're doing in the grounds."
Murphy did as he was bade, happily snuggling up to her.
If only Bodie or Doyle were alive to see me now, he thought gleefully. Neither of them had ever got this close to the Cow's delectable secretary, and it hadn't been for want of trying either, despite their obsessive interest in each other and in him. Every CI5 orgy--held monthly on strictly therapeutic grounds-- had found them valiantly vying with each other to get to first base with the ice-maiden of Whitehall.
"Eeek!" The thought ended in a squeal of fright as the hatstand rose beneath them and took off, only to batter vainly at the window like some gigantic bumble-bee.
Betty tut-tutted primly at her forgetfulness and opened the pane.
They soared out.
Murphy gulped and clutched harder, wondering how it was that in all his years at CI5 he had never suspected Betty was a witch. With hot summer night clearly about to fall where a second ago it had been 9.32 on a cool June morning he observed: "Doesn't time fly when you're having fun!"
The hatstand swooped after a passing sparrow, almost shaking him off.
"Now then!" Betty gave its curling tines an admonitory pat. "Behave yourself. We have serious work to do tonight." She looked over her shoulder at Murphy. "We are in the half-world now," she told him, "where ordinary rules no longer govern us. And that reminds me... I'll have to do something about your form."
"What?" Murphy squealed in protest. "What did you have in mind?" he added nervously.
"Some suitable creature," she murmured vaguely. "Yes, that'll do nicely."
Wondering for a moment whether he was about to be translated into an American Express card, Murphy let out another shrill "Eeek!" as he caught sight of the hairy wrists enfolding Betty's trim waist and went to pull them away only to discover they belonged to him all the time. He studied a wrinkled black palm gloomily.
"Couldn't you have made me something a bit sexier than a ruddy chimpanzee?" he demanded querulously, already having problems in coming to terms with his new self-image. Nothing very macho about a chimp, especially one wearing a jacket and trousers several sizes too large.
"You will need to use your gun so therefore you must have hands," Betty told him tartly, bringing the hatstand to a screeching halt outside the late Controller's residence. "Now-- open the door carefully while I cover you. We don't want him slipping out and getting away, do we!"
"Don't want who getting away?" asked Murphy, by now totally confused.
"The cat!" Betty summoned up every last stitch of patience. Mortals! Had there ever been a dimmer species in the whole of Time? "Now, have you loaded the silver bullets yet? Oh! come here, give it to me. We'll be here all night if you carry on dropping things."
Murphy submitted with a meekness that surprised even himself, mutinously excusing the lapse as due entirely to his inexperience at handling things with chimpanzee fingers.
"Do you mean you want me to kill a poor defenceless little cat?" he queried uneasily, having no desire to bring down the full wrath of the RSPCA about CI5's ears.
"Kill or be killed," Betty said sharply. "It's dog eat dog in this business. Right!" She hustled him into position. "The minute I tell you, shoot. Understand?"
"But you can't see it," Murphy reminded her plaintively. How the hell was he supposed to kill an invisible cat?
"Never mind about that--just shoot when I tell you. Now--open the door!"
Tripping over the trailing legs of his best cavalry twill trousers, Murphy's entrance was less of a shoulder-roll and more of a graceless sprawl, fetching up with a jolt at the leather Chesterfield beyond the open sitting-room door.
"Shoot!" screamed Betty. "Quickly. There."
"Where?" Murphy yelled, spinning like a tee-to-tum on one hairy foot, tangling himself hopelessly in the recalcitrant nether garments.
"There! There! On the lamp. By the vase. On the fruit bowl. Quick, you fool, or it'll be too late."
Furniture and fittings were going down like ninepins, few of them bounced, and over the crashes and thuds was the yowling scream of an infuriated feline.
Closing his eyes Murphy aimed in the general direction and pressed the trigger. He went on pressing it until there was silence in the room.
Had he killed Betty as well? Panicked, he wondered what the penalty was for killing a witch. He opened his eyes.
"Stuart?" The name left his lips in a horrified whisper. "Stuart?" Oh god! I've killed him. Betty, I've killed Stuart. Oh, merciful heaven, he's dead. Dead! And never called me 'sir."
Somehow, that hurt more than all the rest.
Laying his hirsute visage upon the still form Murphy wept as though his heart were breaking, tears coursing fatly down his wrinkled black cheeks.
"Still as soft-hearted as ever, I see," a well-known voice said close at hand. "Look, Ray, isn't that sweet--he's crying all over that blighter Stuart."
"You never understood him, either of you," Murphy sobbed, holding the still frame to him tenderly.
"Never wanted to," was the drawled reply. "Was all I could do keeping track of the way Doyle's mind worked."
"Cheek!" snorted a second familiar voice, "a bit too complex for you mate, that's all," and you could hear it smirking.
Pulling himself together preparatory to sitting up Murphy suddenly remembered something rather important.
The owners of those two voices were dead. Emphatically, unquestionably and indubitably dead. He sat up.
A large black, short-haired, powerful yet sleekly elegant cat loped into his line of vision, seated itself beside the defunct Stuart's head and licked coolly at its already immaculate white chest before raising heavy-lidded blue-tinted eyes to Murphy's face. It swallowed a couple of times, blinked sleepily and said: "Long time no see, eh!"
"Bodie?" Murphy mouthed the name incredulously. "Bodie?"
"Of course," the animal said languidly, yawning largely and running a lithe tongue over its pink-tipped nose. "Who were you expecting?"
Murphy's gaze swept on, resting at last on a scruffy, hair- shedding tortoiseshell, leg stuck straight up, head right down, tongue vigorously at work upon its hindquarters.
"Doyle?" he said, eyes starting from his head.
"Who else?" Bodie said, resigned, adding severely: "Sit up and behave yourself, Ray. It's not nice, licking your behind when you're in company."
The tortoiseshell unkinked its back and stared their way, flicking its ears once or twice before it condescended to lower the leg.
"Just doin' a bit of freshenin' up," it said engagingly. "You know 'ow it is after a heavy night," and it winked in a lecherous manner, thereafter stretching down every rangy inch, shaking tiredness out of its hind-paws and the tip of its burr-laden tail, bringing its face close to Murphy and sniffing delicately at his crotch. "'ello!" it said in a friendly way, "surely I know that pong of old?"
"It's me," Murphy said eagerly and ungrammatically. "Murphy!"
"Well we can both see that," Bodie told him.
"It's just that Betty's turned me into a chimpanzee," Murphy explained, not having taken in the reply.
"You look just the same as ever to me," Bodie said, shrugging carelessly. "Doesn't he, Ray?"
"'asn't changed a scrap," Doyle responded. "Just the same old Murph. 'ow's tricks?" he added gravely. "Life treatin' you OK, is it, mate? Still gettin' your oats nice an' regular now you 'ave to do without us?"
Blushing furiously albeit invisibly Murphy changed the subject. "What are you doing here, the pair of you? I thought you were dead."
"Us?" Bodie said, clearly affronted. "Never felt better in my life. Do I look dead?"
"Well, no, but..."
"But what?" Bodie demanded, staring at him huffily.
"But you don't look like Bodie either," Murphy blurted out. "You're a cat."
"Of course I'm a cat," Bodie said, mortally offended. "Never said I wasn't, did I?" He got to his feet about to stalk away but his path was barred by Doyle, sprawling langourously upon his back, one foreleg held up with its paw curled in a beckoning gesture, green eyes slitted. He was purring.
Bodie stopped. "Oh, very subtle I must say!" But there was a gleam of interest in his eye.
Doyle purred a little louder and extended hind leg.
"Randy little toad!" Bodie said, pouncing.
Averting his eyes Murphy found Betty busily putting the room to rights, resettling chairs and fire-irons, shattered pottery and light-bulbs rejoining and becoming whole once more like a film being run in reverse. He blinked, hoping against hope that Stuart's body would have disappeared when he looked again.
He turned a pleading face on his secretary, gums drawn back in a rictus of distress exposing yellow tombstone teeth. "Can't you do something about Stuart?" he begged.
"No, he's dead in the real world as well," Betty said. "You killed him, remember?"
"But that's Stuart," Murphy protested.
"Yes, bit of a surprise, that," she admitted candidly. "I'd no idea he was a wer-cat. I'd've done something about it if I'd known."
"A wer-cat?" Bodie paused in what he was doing, evoking an anguished yowl from the abruptly abandoned Doyle. "You mean that was Shadow?" He flicked a whisker towards the recumbent form. "D'you mean to tell me Doyle and me 'ad of all the nerve," he added disgustedly as Betty nodded. "No wonder 'e always seemed to be able to look after himself every time I 'ad to go off at a moment's notice and leave 'im on 'is own for days on end. Did you hear that, Ray?"
"What?" enquired a sulky voice buried somewhere around a tortoiseshell waistline, Doyle having retreated from an unkind world to this feline foetal haven.
"That bloody Stuart was spending half his time being Shadow and living off us," Bodie said forcibly. "Cor! talk about getting yourself a free meal ticket!"
"'e was doing what?" Doyle slid to his paws in one lithe and menacing movement. "You're 'avin' me on."
"Straight up," Bodie assured him. "'e's a flamin' wer-cat."
"Was a wer-cat," Betty put in. "Murphy's just shot him. Silver bullet," she added succinctly.
"Good old Murph," Doyle said in silken-voiced approval. "It doesn't bear thinkin' about, the number of times that ruddy animal shared a bed with us."
Bodie stiffened, ears flattening dangerously. "So he did, the nasty-minded little peeping-tom."
"'ere, you leave us toms out of it," Doyle told him flatly. "Voyeur's the word want you want."
"I don't approve of it whatever you call it," Bodie retorted. "Plain bloody nosy, I'd say. Perverted too."
Vividly recalling Bodie's lack of any apparent inhibitions whatsoever Murphy opened large brown eyes in surprise and pensively scratched the back of his left armpit by reaching around the back of his neck with his right hand.
"Didn't he use to like licking your toes, Bodie?" he asked; a sight that had always turned his stomach.
"Yes, he bloody did!" Doyle flared, ears going back and a set of white teeth, in excellent condition save for a chipped incisor, appearing, "and anything else 'e could get at too. Let me get at the rotten bastard, I'll 'ave the bugger's throat out, taking advantage of our good natures like that."
"And I'll help," Bodie approved, and the two cats pounced, hackles raised, upon the luckless corpse, only to be fended off by Betty wielding a skilful hatstand.
"Now then," she scolded over the furious spitting and hissing, "you mustn't do that, boys. Behave yourselves nicely or I'll put you both out."
For a tense moment it looked as though the animals would defy her, but after a brief exchange of glances the arched backs slowly subsided and the lashing tails were once more curled peaceably downwards.
"She doesn't change either, does she?" Bodie said soulfully. "I can remember her telling us that last time around."
"Last time around?" Murphy was puzzled.
"Yeah. You know, last time we were 'ere. When we were fellas like you."
"A new form is given at each reincarnation," Betty explained.
"Oh!" Light was dawning. "You mean you're not like... like him." Murphy nodded towards the body.
"Certainly not!" Bodie sniffed.
"Wouldn't be caught dead bein' a flippin' wer-cat," scoffed Doyle. "Scum of the earth, they are. We're real, mate. Real as you are. Probably more so," he added in thoughtful parenthesis, taking the opportunity to stir up the colony of fleas around his neck by the vigorous application of a hind foot.
"But how come you can talk? Real cats don't talk." Murphy's head was beginning to spin as he tried to make sense of it all."
"When you are in the half world anything is possible," Betty told him. "Come then, it is time to be gone for list, the real world is calling."
Murphy cocked an ear but could hear nothing. "What about Stuart--aren't you going to... er... tidy him up as well?"
"No need. What's one body more or less to CI5?" Betty shrugged. "Are you leaving now, boys?" she asked Bodie and Doyle.
"Not yet," Bodie said. "Since the door was open we just popped in to visit an old friend. I expect he's been keeping out of the way, the racket you lot have been making."
"An old friend?" Murphy asked. "Who's that?"
"Cowley, of course. Who d'you think? Still reckons we're the sons he never had, you know."
"And never like to either," Doyle put in with a cattish snort of amusement. "'oo'd risk reproducin' Cowley, for Hecate's sake?"
Murphy looked nervously over his shoulder, expecting to see the irascible Scot glowering at them, but there was no one around. "You mean he lives here?" he demanded, going cold at the thought of what the Old Man would say to his moving in and using the place as his own. "Hang on a minute--he is dead. Betty and I laid him out ourselves." He repressed a quiver of repulsion at the memory and turned to the witch. "Didn't we!"
"His last body, yes," she agreed. "But in his new form Cowley is still residing here, his spiritual home with its karma ties."
Indifferent to Cowley's old school, however famous its neckwear, Murphy gulped. "Oh my gawd!" His voice cracked noticeably and his painstakingly acquired new accent slipped a couple of notches. "Where is 'e, then, for gawd's sike? 'e'll bleedin' kill me if..."
"Oh, there he is," Bodie said in satisfied tones. "'ello, sir, good to see you."
Murphy spun on his hind feet and stared about him wildly, still seeing no one but watching in panicked stupefaction as the tortoiseshell and black toms padded soundlessly across the carpet. Then his jaw slackened, sagging in disbelief.
From a tiny crack in the skirting board a large sandy-coloured cockroach was advancing to meet them.
"Had a hard day at the office then?" Bodie called from his comfortable lair on top of the garden wall as an exhausted Murphy, now safely returned to his own handsome self, tottered up to his front door and fumbled for his keys.
Murphy jumped visibly at the sound, mewing cats having become one of his least favourite noises.
"'e doesn't understand you," Doyle said indistinctly around the unlovely object he held in his mouth, emerging from clinging honeysuckle to lay the gift he had brought at his mate's feet. "'e only understands soppy man talk these days, you great wally."
Bodie surveyed the three-days-dead pigeon with a jaundiced eye; any fool could see it had been run over by a double-decker bus. Still, the thought was all, and he accepted it courteously, nibbling daintily upon a toothsome morsel of bone.
"Just being friendly," he said loftily. "It's a poor world if you can't pass the time of day with an old friend."
"So long as you don't start givin' 'im ideas," Doyle muttered sourly, flicking aside a spider that had had the brass to begin spinning its web right next to his favourite perch. "Don't want you goin' sleepin' on 'is bed for instance," he added darkly, "suckin' up to 'im for saucers of milk and things like that."
"As if I would," Bodie said, wounded.
"You!" Doyle butted at him with his head. "You're anybody's for a plate of cold chicken. 's a good thing I love you, innit!"
"Do you really?" Bodie said shyly, enjoying the tongue that rasped its way around his ear.
"Come 'ere an' I'll show," Doyle said, his purr distinctly husky.
Upstairs, Teddy Gruesome winced as his charge pounded him furiously into the pillow, employing language that made his mentor blush for shame. Honestly, one of these days he was going to have to speak severely on the subjects of respect for his increasing age and frailty and cleansing that mouth out with a couple of packets of Persil. Outside, the caterwauling began again, rising to a shrill crescendo.
Murphy wailed piteously. They'd been at it for hours and still showed no sign of letting up; bloody cats, would they never allow him to sleep? It was no good, he was going to have to do it. He'd had it up to here with the entire feline species.
Getting out of bed he tiptoed to the open window to pick up the weapon he had thoughtfully laid beside it earlier in case of this desperate need, and as the two voices below were raised yet again in ecstatic duet he leaned out and let them have it... the whole bucketful.
Silence descended upon the night.
-- THE END --