Tuesday, 14 October 2008


Rain pattered down as steady as a girlfriend who still thinks she's got an exclusive, making soft splattery noises on the leaves of the hot-house plants. There was a large hole in the glass ceiling that I'd made five minutes earlier when my grip on a gargoyle's tongue had slipped and I'd fallen. Luckily for me the compost pile had broken my fall. I'd pulled myself back to my feet, checked that I still had all my teeth, and limped over to the door. As I'd expected for a hothouse filled with rare tropical plants the door was locked; what I wasn't expecting was that the door was chained and padlocked shut. From the inside. The chains were shiny and new, and the padlock looked like no-one had tried to force it, so I reckoned that I ought to be discrete. I looked around for the key, and saw miles and miles of fleshy green leaves, tendrils as thick as my ex-wife's tonsils, and bright coloured flowers and blooms that gave me a brief flashblack to an afternoon in a psychiatrists office doing tests intended for a four-year old. I got paid handsomely for that by his parents. He's locked up in a maximum security mental hospital now.

I figured that the key was probably in with one of the plants so I picked up a gardening trowel and smashed a few more panels of glass near the door. I smashed a bit more than was strictly necessary, but I didn't want to risk cutting myself getting out. The owner of this little plant haven also bred Doberman Pinschers, and I didn't want to leave an obvious scent.

I paused there for a moment and sniffed. I smelled strongly of compost, which was either the compost I'd fallen into earlier, or an indication that my aftershave was past its expiry date again. I wish I were joking when I say that. Never buy aftershave from a Filipino with a pushy attitude and a hand-cart filled with rotting squid.

Outside the greenhouse it was wetter, as more of the rain could reach me, and darker. The sun was setting, and I realised that the greenhouse must have artificial lighting; it seemed like a lot of effort to go to just for some squelchy plants. I could understand it if they were papavera somnolens or cannibis sattiva, but the ones in there reminded me of old cheese and horse chestnuts. I looked off to my left, and sure enough, there was the hedge-maze, grown in the shape of a flutterby. It had taken me all of my skills of persuasion to find out what was at the heart of the maze, and that means all of my patience too.

I groped in the long pocket of my raincoat, the one that starts at mid-chest and descends to mid-knee and found the spray-gun of Agent Orange and the machete. I'm only good at puzzles that allow lateral thinking. I had a set of Quantifiers to find, and what lay at the heart of the maze was going to go a long way towards retrieving them.

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