by Stewart Wilson
Darkness crept over the city of Edinburgh. Streetlights cast their orange glow down over the people making their way to any number of drinking establishments, and up to bounce off the low clouds that marked the early March evening.
One part of the city was lit up beyond everything else, threatening to dwarf even the night-time illumination of the Castle itself. This was the Caledonian Brewery, decked out in finery beyond anything that had adorned the structure in its many years' service. Tonight, it had an extra-special task. The city council had spared no expense in readying the brewery for a reception of epic proportion. For tonight, it was to be the venue of an awards ceremony for none other than the mighty Artemis Hemingway himself.
Of course, not all was perfect for Hemingway. The council, in its infinite wisdom, had dictated that this be a black-tie event. As our hero's stalwart companion James Stamforth was finding out, this was a challenge in and of itself. They should have set off a good half-hour beforehand, but still he found himself in Hemingway's flat, helping the great man face his newest challenge — a tuxedo.
"Honestly Jim, I don't see why I can't just wear what I usually wear. It's not like people are going to be shocked, is it?"
"I'm afraid that they will. You see, people know you as you, but they expect you to, ah, scrub up for such important functions."
"I still don't see the blasted point of this penguin suit. No room for my Hell-pistols. What if some Science-zombies try taking everyone hostage? Or the return of the Thaddeus Q. Weetabix and his spambots? It wouldn't be the first time..." Artemis' tone was almost petulant.
"We've been over this, Artemis. The police will be on the scene, and I'll be co-ordinating things from their headquarters. If anything goes wrong, we'll know and we'll be able to handle it. This is your big night, you can enjoy yourself without having to worry."
"I always worry."
"I know. But there's also the fact that the council will be none-too-pleased about having the glitterati of the city around anyone with guns, even if he is a hero. And there'll be plenty of women there."
"Thank heavens for small mercies at least."
"And you without me to get in your way. Just try to enjoy yourself. It's a night in your honour, after all."
The doorbell interrupted the pair's protracted argument. Stamforth turned back to Hemingway. "That's your car. Remember, I'll be in the police station, watching everything. Nothing will go wrong."
What Stamforth didn't know is that his last sentence was entirely and unequivocally untrue, in every sense of the word. He believed his own words even as he grabbed his ever-present pack and ran for a taxi to the police control centre where he would oversee the party.
* * *
James Stamforth watched in wonder as he walked into the police station with his omni-rifle on his back. It's just like T. said, he thought. Were anyone else to walk among so many men of the law whilst carrying weapons he would certainly be shot, or at least detained. And yet, they merely asked that they hold my rifle with the other police weapons. More and more, this strange unrealty pecks at the edges of my consciousness.
The police control room took his mind off such matters. One wall was covered in closed-circuit television monitors, covering the area around the brewery out to the Water of Leith. Three officers monitored these screens, another two of higher rank sat around a desk at the back of the room, checking over the plans and procedures. One, obviously in charge, looked up.
"Your man's late." He was possessed of that peculiar Morningside accent that contrived to sound more English than the Queen.
"For which he has asked me to apologise profusely. We're both unused to such situations, and did not anticipate the time it would take us to prepare." His words were close enough to the truth, and once more Stamforth found his silver tongue coming to the fore, smoothing things out between his partner and the city's constabulary.
"Well, it's given us a chance to go over the plans again. Just in case anything goes wrong, you understand."
"Though now's one of the fun parts. Watching all the celebrities trying to make small-talk and pretending that they don't hate each other."
The celebrity rivalries were unfortunately common. Too many of the glittering stars had their differences, whether from following crazed religions or feuding for the front page of gossip magazines. The latest couple were in the middle of a marriage widely predicted to last 24 hours at the most, and the policemen had a bet on when they would break up. There was another bet on how long it would be until a fight broke out, but the bet on the first one to throw a punch was called off after James mentioned Hemingway was a hundred to one on.
Eventually, Hemingway's car pulled up to the red carpet leading into the brewery. The great man stepped out, his mighty beard freshly conditioned and his powerful chest straining at the seams of his rented tux. He flinched instinctively at the sight of the cameras. After all, he was too used to saving his city — or indeed the world — and only being rewarded with the stench of dead bodies and one more nemesis who had fled into the night. The idea of people wanting to photograph him was an alien one.
Stamforth watched the cameras and the policemen both, the latter now vigilant as the star of the show was under their care. Like many police operations there was nobody on the scene. Too many crimes, not enough coppers, went the lament. James wasn't sure if he believed it, but given the manpower they had available for a celebrity bash it certainly seemed plausible.
Artemis strode through the double-doors without waiting to be announced. There was only so much formality he could take, after all, and there was a rare opportunity for him inside: A piss-up in a brewery. This would be a first for the great man, a chance to accomplish one of his dreams — and at the council's expense.
The doors crashed shut behind him, and Hemingway let out a mighty cry. Quickly grabbing a pair of drinks and consuming them to get to grips with the situation, he soon found that his booming tales of his adventures — from thwarting the blood-fuelled Murder Barge to his discovery of Atlantis and his stopping the Slaughter Barons before they could turn Edinburgh into the world's largest morgue. Hemingway found that he was enjoying himself in the presence of numerous young ladies in attire that flattered their figures, and they delighted in his tales of the strange things he had seen
Hemingway noticed something was wrong mere seconds before the man in black burst through the door. Behind him, goons with revolvers quickly fanned out to cover the crowd. The man stood tall, ever the image of a 1920's American police detective. His jaw was square, and even in the cavernous hall of the Fountain Brewery his hat remained atop his head, casting a shadow over his eyes.
"Your entrance was good, Hemingway. I think you'll agree that mine was better." Even the intruder's voice had a certain edge; the upright American lawman tone.
"Who are you, man? Why have you interrupted this gala dinner?" Hemingway didn't roar, but his voice still carried above the crowd. A steely note underlied his final question: "And what have you done to the booze?"
"I'm Elliot Einstein, and these are my Temperance Templars. And you've just proved that my plan worked!"
"What plan? What are you raving about?" Hemingway upended his pint glass into his mouth, but there was no alcohol to be found.
"I've got roadblocks covering all the approaches, and snipers covering the rooftops. And in my pocket is the original document of the Eighteenth Amendment."
Hemingway got to his feet, one hand groping for a Hell-pistol that wasn't there. "You fiend! The Prohibition Amendment turns all the alcohol around it into water."
"Exactly. And where better to demonstrate it's power than at a boozy party to celebrate the degenerate Artemis Hemingway?" Einstein mounted a table, drawing his revolver.
The guests cowered before the armed Templars, some of those with experience of their situation looking to the giant form of Artemis Hemingway himself to save them. But in the presence of the Eighteenth Amendment, even the alcohol in his system had vanished - the only bonus being a lack of hangover for the great man. Some others started divesting themselves of their valuables.
"Don't bother!" Einstein snapped, firing his revolver once into the air. "I'm not here for your money. I'm here for your hearts and minds. I'm here to make a statement! For too long, booze has helped the ugly, the socially retarded, and the sub-normal to breed. Because of cheap cider, teenage subhumans are procreating at a ludicrous rate. They are retarding the development of the human race! Booze is a shackle that we must shake off if we are to go any further. Beer has helped ugly people to have sex for too long, it's time to put an end to that.
"And you, Hemingway, are going to be the sign of my new world order."
* * *
Chaos reigned in the police control room. Stamforth had to shout to make himself heard, but nobody was taking any notice. Policemen ran to and fro, calling up files and trying to find anything that they could give them a clue as to who this Elliot Einstein was. One manned a computer, trying to get assistance from the American authorities, but in true form they were being slow and unco-operative. Only Stamforth was watching the cameras.
"Gentlemen! I need a map and an idea of where all of these cameras are located."
"What? Why on Earth would that matter? A gun-wielding nutcase is going to shoot the most influential people in the city!"
James sighed. "I will have no man make a fool of me, sir, let alone a policeman. Your ignorance of situations like these is no reason to assume that I suffer an equal disability. Artemis and I have fought hundreds of madmen in similar situations, and a truism is that the fiend likes to grandstand, to make sweeping gestures. And to do that, they want an audience."
"What're you saying?" One of the senior policemen was looking ot Stamforth now as a man of authority. The others would come around soon enough.
"The gliterati are an audience for whatever this lunatic's ultimate plans are. As long as we play along, they'll be safe. We have to look like we're giving in to his plans, while orchestrating our masterstroke."
"How do we do that?"
"I'm not yet sure. Artemis and I rarely make our plans so far in advance. Have those Americans got back to us yet, or are they still being obtuse colonials?"
"Here you go, sir." A junior officer handed a printout to Stamforth.
"And get me those maps, damnit!"
* * *
Hemingway frowned as he and the guests were forced outside. Even if he had his Hell-pistols with him, he was too sober. The numbing effect of booze normally steadied both his nerves and his hand, and granted him the freedom to concoct the bizarre schemes that had saved so many lives. He had to play for time. Stamforth was his only hope now.
"What are you going to do to me?" The great man demanded.
"We'll have to wait a while for the television cameras to override the country's regular viewing, and then the spectacle can begin. Where more fitting a place for the great alcoholic wreck to die than the Water of Leith itself?"
Elliot Einstein then turned to address the celebrities and important people who had gathered for the gala dinner in recognition of Artemis Hemingway. "Fear not. You are not victims, my friends. You are witnesses! Witnesses to the new age that will dawn upon first Scotland, and soon, the world! You will see me strike down the ultimate sinner, the degenerate Hemingway, and you will go forth to spread my message. Things will only go badly for you if you try to disobey me."
"Ahh, obedience. The old saw of a truly demented mind. Your megalomania is showing, and it's not a pretty sight." Even unarmed and sober, Artemis Hemingway still cut a dashing figure.
Einstein laughed. "Is this the point where you attack me, proving your truth with blind violence?"
"No. I've done many things, but I'm no fool. I'll take whatever you're giving like a man." Hemingway took one step forwards, into the Water of Leith.
Einstein's Templars had brought television cameras and were hurriedly cabling them together. One thing was plain: Hemingway didn't have much time.
* * *
Stamforth's voice rang out loud and clear from police radios across the city.
"All officers! Find as many bottles of vodka, gin, and vermouth as you can. Say again: vodka, gin, and vermouth. We will pay later. Bring all bottles to the Water of Leith upstream of the Caledonian brewery and empty them in."
He leaned away from the desk-microphone. "That should do it. I just hope we have enough time for the booze to flow downstream."
The sergeant looked at him in awe. "What have we done?"
"We've just made the largest vodka martini in history.
* * *
It was time. The cameras were on and tested, the broadcast ready. Elliot Einstein smiled and his face shone from televisions across Scotland.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said. "I'm afraid I must interrupt your scheduled viewing. Today is a momentous occasion."
The camera panned back, showing the scene. "Behind me is your hero, Artemis Hemingway. He stands for so many things in this country, but the one thing he doesn't encourage is temperance."
Another pan, over to the assembled celebrities. "He knows that if he tries to escape, I will kill these celebrities — the people you love."
Pan back to Einstein and Hemingway. "It is in his name that your children go out and consume White Lightning while ganging together in bus shelters, threatening decent people. He is the reason your husband wreaks havoc after closing time, reeking of Tennants Super and Buckfast. He is the cause of the alcoholic fathers, the delinquent mothers, the impossible children.
"But I have come to save you all. The Eighteenth Amendment saved America, and now it will save Scotland."
Einstein drew a large revolver. The long barrel and wide cylinder were mockeries of Hemingway's own, much smaller, firearms. "Say goodbye to Artemis Hemingway."
Three shots rang out, impossibly loud. Blood flowered from Hemingway's chest, great sticky gouts flying from the wounds underneath his mighty beard. Our hero had been stripped to the waist to avoid any claims of a fake.
One more shot. Another bloody wound. The great Artemis Hemingway collapsed, the Water of Leith rushing to carry away his blood and fill the new holes in his chest. Unfettered by self-preservation, the water flooded his mouth and nose.
Elliot turned back to the camera. The faint wail of sirens could just be heard in the background. "Your police will think me a murderer. But I have freed you. I have shown you the path of righteousness!"
Dead silence. Even the siren had cut out.
Einstein smiled at the assembled celebrities with a manic gleam in his eye. "Isn't anyone going to cheer?"
Nobody noticed a single olive, floating down the river.
There was the usual commotion as Einstein worked through a pre-written speech on the benefits of never drinking, but only the Temperance Templars could really get into the swing of things. Everyone else had just seen a powerful, dangerous madman murder Edinburgh's greatest hero.
Three Templars stepped towards the body in the water, ready to drag it out. It would form the figurehead of a victory parade, culminating at the castle. Once they had got close enough to lift Hemingway's massive form from the water, their bodies straining under the great man's bulk.
As soon as his head was above the waterline, Hemingway righted himself. With a mighty roar, he grabbed one Templar and proceeded to beat the other two back with their own comrade. Others came rushing, guns drawn, but using their compatriot as a weapon, the mighty Artemis Hemingway set about himself with gusto, breaking arms and bruising bodies.
Three steps brought him to Elliot Einstein. Grabbing the American's shirt-front in one fist, the great man lifted his enemy clean off his feet. "Your trickery cannot kill me. I am in every pint of ale and every drop of whisky that this country consumes. While there is alcohol in this land, I will live. And while I live, you can not win."
Hemingway dropped Einstein as the police raided the area, arresting Einstein and his Temperance Templars. Only after killing the broadcast from the cameras did he slump down, a shadow of his normal self. Seeing Stamforth's approach out of the corner of his eye, Artemis smiled.
"How'd you do it, Jim?"
"The Amendment doesn't work on all booze. I realised that if I could turn the Water of Leith into an alcoholic drink, it'd be like the gin in the Prohibition-era speak-easies. Theoretically illegal, but more potent for that."
"Well done that man." Hemingway gasped for breath. The bullet-wounds had scabbed over, a side effect of his alcohol-enhanced metabolism, but he still needed some medical attention. "I just need to get my breath back."
"Of course. Come on, we should sort things out before we celebrate you being alive after all."</lj-ccut>