The Dark Stranger moved darkly and strangely through the back streets of Soho. He was searching for James Philips.
“This seems familiar!” he mused to himself.
He felt a connection to this mortal, not just because he should have been the Chosen One from the Scrolls of Um but also because it was partly his fault that James’s brother and wife were now lost in another Cosmos.
Those crazy old men at Botolf-almost-Oxford had sent young James off on a pointless mission, the kind that was normally left for the Dark Stranger’s own underlings, but he guessed that James needed the distraction and being away from the dusty college would do him good.
“Fancy a good time guvnor?” asked Sheryl from a doorway, as the Dark Stranger passed, deep in concentration.
“I haven’t had a good time since the Black Death,” came the reply and he moved conspicuously inconspicuously on his way down the lane.
“Miserable bastard,” said Sheryl. She only had those words out of her mouth when she came over all peculiar with thoughts and emotions she’d never felt before. Sheryl had an overwhelming desire to change her life completely; she would travel the world, help people, what kind of people she wasn’t sure yet, but she was pretty certain that it wouldn’t be Japanese business men looking for executive relief. She would help people who needed real help; sick children, famine victims, war victims, dark strangers who were lost in Soho and needed directions without being offered overpriced sex.
Sheryl’s thought process was disrupted by a tall man dressed in black standing in front of her.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Yes my dear,” said the Dark Stranger, he felt a little silly asking the question but he needed to find James, “Do you know where I could find the gentlemen’s speciality club … Vaginas R Us?”
“Oh,” replied Sheryl, “wouldn’t you rather go to Somalia and give comfort to dying victims of civil war?”
“Not really,” said the Dark Stranger impatiently.
“What about working at a soup kitchen for the homeless?” asked Sheryl as she edged her way out of the doorway and into the street; she knew she would never stand in a doorway again, selling her body for profit. If she had to sell her body again, it would be for charity.
“I’m rather in a hurry,” snapped the Dark Stranger. Mind control was all well and good but sometimes it had unpredictable results, “Could you just tell me how to get to the Vagina place? Please!”
“Feeling a bit lonely are we sir?” asked Sheryl as she desperately adjusted her clothes so as her knickers were not quite as visible as she had previously wanted them to be.
“No, I’m looking for a man,” stated the Dark Stranger.
“Well you won’t get one there, you need the other R Us …Coc…”
“Yes,” snapped the Dark Stranger, “I think we had a slight misunderstanding. I’m looking for a particular man, who happens to be in that establishment, probably drunk and confused.”
“They all are!” commented Sheryl, wondering to herself if should she find God and become a street preacher.
“That’s a terrible idea,” said the Dark Stranger loudly, who could see through her like she was tissue paper in a bus station loo, “Now can you please help me? I need to find James Philips?”
“You mean Philip Philips?” spoke Sheryl.
At this the Dark Stranger’s left eyebrow raised (the right one usually got there first but it had fallen asleep on The Tube), “You know Philip Philips?” he asked.
“Yes, dirty bast…”
“Yes!! Can you tell me where …”
“It’s down there love, first left, third door, down the stairs.” Sheryl strode off indignantly to begin again.
The Dark Stranger watched Sheryl round the corner toward Piccadilly and on to a new life. He wasn’t sure how she’d fare but it had to be better than her old one. He took the first left, found the third door and fell face first down the stairs into a strip bar that, if the owner really cleaned it up and out, could have aspired to be a real shithole.
There wasn’t much action this afternoon in Vaginas R Us. The music was loud, a lone stripper was unenthusiastically parading around a small stage and only three customers were seated at the tiny round tables. Two of the customers were old men dressed in long black coats who glared at the Dark Stranger as he rose from the floor and brushed himself off, nodding to him as he did so, as if he were one of them. The Dark Stranger felt dirty, as if he needed to take a long shower. The third customer, shadowed beneath the DJ box, was James Philips. He was drunk and confused. The confusion was nothing new to him, he’d been confused most of his life, his brother confused him, women confused him, other academics confused him (especially when they turned out to be keepers of supernatural secrets), but right now what was confusing him was his sudden and irritable urge to come to this seedy titty bar and drink himself into a stupor.
It didn’t take much drink; a few of the club’s ‘special’ cocktails and he felt like his insides had become his outsides. He’d also lost all feeling in his toes, which, if he were sober, would have worried and confused him even more.
In his drunken haze of thoughts, James supposed that he was trying to find some connection with his lost twin brother. This had been the club that Philip had taken James to on James’ ill-fated stag night. He had a feeling he would be getting his stomach pumped again.
“James,” said the Dark Stranger as he sat down next to him.
“Oh it’s s’you,” slurred James as he looked up from his special cocktail, which appeared to fizz and change colour of its own accord.
“You’re needed back at Botolf, there have been some interesting developments,” spoke the Dark Stranger.
“Is Lizz back?” asked James.
“Then bugg’r off.”
A nipple poked into the Dark Stranger’s ear as he spoke the next words, “We may be facing a crisis. The pathway between the other world and ours is not yet fully closed.”
“I don’t care,” answered James as he sipped his cocktail which had turned into some really strong coffee, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“Fancy a dance?” asked the owner of the nipple poking into the Dark Stranger’s ear. He ignored it.
“You have been chosen, you must answer the call James,” said the Dark Stranger.
“Well, un-shoes … un-choosen me.”
“What about a private booth?” said the owner of the nipple, which was exploring the Dark Stranger’s ear thoroughly.
“No thanks,” replied the Dark Stranger, “James, we still have hope to save Philip.”
“And what about Liz?” shouted James. His emotions were real, she was the only person who, outside of Botolf, had ever showed any real interest in him. He wasn’t sure if that was ‘love’ but it was better than nothing, he knew that.
“I can’t answer that,” said the Dark Stranger honestly, “but if Liz can return to this world then coming with me now is the only chance we have”.
“You can come back to my place, I won’t charge you or nothing,” pleaded the owner of the nipple, which had now moved on to ruffling the Dark Stanger’s hair.
“I’m very flattered, but no thanks,” said the Dark Stranger to the nipple at eye level, “I’m trying to talk to my friend here.”
“He can come too!” said the nipple’s owner.
“Oh!” exclaimed James.
“No thank you!” stated the Dark Stranger, “we’re fine, just the two of us.”
“Alright then,” said the owner of the nipple and wobbled off to poke it in someone else’s ear, someone’s ear who would appreciate being poked by a nice nipple.
“Now, will you come with me to Botolf?” asked the Dark Stranger.
“Yes, alright,” answered James.
The two men stood up to leave, James needing to lean on the Dark Stranger for support. Just as they were about to make their way to the stairs, James suddenly remembered something. “The sack!” he said loudly.
James rushed back to where he had been sitting and retrieved a large brown sack which rustled and seemed to punch out as if whatever was inside wanted to be outside.
“I’d forgotten about that,” said the Dark Stranger, “how on earth did you catch it?”
“It wasn’t easy,” answered James as he raised the sack, spurring more activity. By now the other two customers in the club were beginning to show a positive uneasiness at this unusual behaviour (things in sacks were normally only revealed in private booths).
“In the end I had to coax it out with some Easy Single cheese, it seems to like that,” said James.
“I’d better take it,” said the Dark Stranger taking the rustling sack from James and placing it under his cloak where its bulk appeared to disappear instantly.
As the two men turned to leave one of the customers at a round table near the door said, “How’d you do that, just make it disappear like that?”
“Ask the nipple in your right ear,” was the answer as James and the Dark Stranger vanished up the stairs into the streets of London.
“What’s he mean?” …. “Oh!”
The Dark Stranger never did find out what happened to Sheryl, until her excommunication (twenty years later) from the Catholic Church’s Order of Saint Wilma the Wantful for, among the many charges prosecuted, a topless all nun charity calendar to raise funds for ‘milk for babies’. Sheryl left the sisterhood and later became a successful divorce lawyer …in Japan.