I came to in another dank basement-like room. The walls were a strange green color, and I noticed that there were black runes painted on them. A steady dripping noise came from somewhere behind me, accompanied by a heavy breathing and wheezing. It had been a long time since I had been on a farm, but I thought I recognized the smell of a cow. I started to turn around when a voice from somewhere in front of me said, “I wouldn’t do that, old boy. You’ll upset him.”
I looked straight ahead and said, “Mffrmmmgl.” Then I realized that, this time, I didn’t have a ball gag in my mouth and said, “Where am I?”
“You’re in the University’s labyrinth,” said the voice. The man who stabbed me in front of the Missing Link stepped into a small circle of light coming down from the ceiling. I looked up and saw that there was a break in the roof and a small bit of sunlight was streamed through.
“No I’m not,” I said. “The labyrinth’s that shitty pathway near the footpath—this is underground. Where am I?” I thrashed in my chair. Though they didn’t gag me, they still made sure to tie me up.
“You utter prat,” said the man, walking up and slapping me in the face with a package of uncooked spaghetti noodles from Sainsbury’s. (Sainsbury’s, taste the difference.)
“Silence,” said the man. He snapped his fingers and an Irish Wolfhound padded into the circle of light. It had a padded seat—the sort you can rent at a baseball stadium—tied to its back. The man sat down on the dog. “Your CABAL has another task to complete.”
There was a sneeze from behind me and my neck was coated in a fine layer of sticky saliva. I groaned.
“Bless you,” said the man.
There was a grunt from behind me.
“What’s behind me?”
“Why, the minotaur, of course,” said the man. “Judging by that colorful expression, you don’t believe me. Very well. Minotaur, show yourself.”
A third being then entered the circle of light. It moved from my back brushed past me, and stood next to the giant dog. It was a minotaur. The black bull’s head sat on top of a tall, extremely muscular man’s body. In his hands, he held a large Viking axe. The sort of thing with one sharp edge and then a big hunk of iron on the back that could only be used for blugeoning what didn’t die of fright from seeing the sharp bit. Greek lettering went down the edge of the blade, and, for some reason, I memorized the letters to ask Zaf what they meant. Seemed like a good idea.
“There,” said the man in the bowler cap. “The University has a minotaur and a labyrinth. Proper labyrinth. Not that £50,000 piece of shlock on the hill.” He shook his head. “What these people do in order to stand out is downright shocking sometimes, do you agree?”
“Right,” he said. “Minotaur, you may go back to your original position. If he tries to make a break for it, decapitate him.”
The minotaur nodded. Ites red eyes looked at me and, at that moment, I figured that, if they wanted to, bovines could make for a terrifying carnivorous species. It walked out of the light and resumed its previous position of standing at attention with an axe at the ready.
“So,” said the man, scratching the wolfhound’s ears, “as I said, you have a mission, you and your CABAL.”
“No,” I said. “You got it wrong. I’m not the guy you’re looking for. I’m not The Stalker. The Stalker’s the one who be—”
“Will you please be quiet?” asked the man. “It doesn’t matter if we have the right one, the wrong one, or the kind of okay one. What matters, you ignoramous, is that we have, simply, one.” He leaned forward. “Do you agree?”
He stood up off the wolfhound, walked forward, and backhanded me across the face. “Do you agree?”
“Is my dog the best little puppy pupperton in the world?”
He backhanded me again. “Is he or isn’t he? This is of paramount importance!”
“Jesus! Yes. He’s the best widdle puppy pupperton in the world. Lookit him, being a widdle pup pup pupperton.”
The man smiled and folded his hands behind his back. “Good. Excellent, even. Now for your mission.” He walked back to the dog and sat down again, scratching its head this time. “You are to join the play Fiddler on the Roof. You are to be—”
“You asshole!” I shouted. I thrashed about in my chair, but stopped when I felt the cool blade of the axe graze the back of my neck. “I’m in the fucking play! You kidnapped me for no goddamn reason, shit for brains.”
The man blinked. “Terribly sorry, I don’t think I caught that. You mean to say that you—you’re already in the play. As in, you’ve been given a role.”
“The role. I’m Tevye. Yaidle-deedle daidle, daidle dum. If I were a rich man, to life, to life l’chaim, do you love me, fucking Tevye!”
The man scratched his chin. “I see. Well.” He sat up straight and took out a black notepad and a quill pen from his jacket. He scribbled something and then put them both away. “It seems there has been a slight delay in intelligence on our end. Agent Zed will perish for this, I shall assure you. Yes, perish terribly.”
“You’re going to kill someone?”
The man blinked. “Oh, heavens no. We’re going to let him go without a pension. What do you think we are, old bean, the Mossad or the CIA? While we can’t have dead weight—not in our organization—that would be no cause to kill a man. Well, now what to do about this little misunderstanding?”
“You could untie me and dismiss the circus freak at my back.” This was probably not the smartest thing to say, as the minotaur swung with the axe and gave the top of my head a much-needed haircut. Oh well, all the more reason to wear a hat. “That,” I said, “may have been a slightly out-of-line thing to say, and I apologize.”
The minotaur grunted.
“No,” said the man, “I’m afraid we can’t let you out right now. You might do something rash and get your head lobbed off. Then what good would you be?”
The dog barked. The sound bounced off the walls of the room and gave me an instant headache.
“Brilliant idea, Delphi,” said the man. “We shall continue as normal—except for Agent Zed, who will be sacked as soon as I return to headquarters.”
“Where is that, exactly?”
“Deep within the Registry. Anyway. You will be in this play, and you will report upon the actions of all of the cast and crew. We have an interest in a few of them, and you will be our source of information.”
“Information for what?”
“Leave that to us. You will report, we shall decode, and a certain wager shall be solved. And, hopefully, the world will continue much as it has for these past four hundred years—since our inception, you might say.”
“What the hell is going on?”
“You leave that to us and don’t worry your pretty little head about it.” He dismounted the dog and made his way to me, He reached into his jacket, pulled out the needle again, and said, “And now for baby’s medicine.”
“I’ll sue yo—”
Then I blacked out.