Mr Paddy’s Portal Chapter 12 THE MAD HATTER’S PARTY

CHAPTER 12

THE MAD HATTERS’ PARTY

At the Victoria and Albert Museum on the appropriate date, Pippa Louisa Robbins and Nigel Patrick Moloney presented themselves at 6.30 p.m. precisely.  The occasion was the Moet and Chandon fashion tribute to hatmaker Tony Lacey. Lacey was an Irish boy from County Sligo who had become a world-famous milliner. They walked in together, a striking couple, not looking furtive but with a sense of total assurance, ready for whatever lay ahead.

‘Aren’t you excited?’ Pippa asked Nigel. ‘I can’t wait to get inside.  Tonight’s the night!’

‘No, I’m not excited. I am worried about what you might do.’  Moloney’s heart was beating a pattern of rat-a-tat-tat.

It was a likely venue for Lady Alicia Allways and so, here they were, unsure of what would happen  to them in such a dangerous place. Pippa and Moloney managed to avoid the press and pass the security guards and make an undistinguished entrance just as they wanted.

On the way into the party they passed kaleidoscopic window displays consisting of models who looked illusory.  Their extraordinary hat creations were displayed in all the colours of the rainbow. On a pre-arranged signal all the models turned, exhibiting their hats from a different angle.  Pippa realised as Moloney hurried her past the intriguing display that they were all very much alive. One extraordinary blonde mannequin wore a beautifully tailored black evening suit with trousers and a gleaming white shirt.  Her head was tilted provocatively and, as Nigel whisked her past, Pippa was sure the model winked at him.  She certainly waved her silver-topped cane and tilted her shiny top hat.  Pippa wanted to see more of this astonishing feature, but Moloney was determined to move her along.

Moloney was quite certain about his role and about what he was doing. Having reached this time in his life he had no intention of surrendering his heart to anyone, particularly anyone as coquettish as Pippa. She was definitely not his type.  There was definitely something intriguing about Pippa.  He wanted to know more about her but for the moment they were here and business it had to be.

Pippa had an open interested air about her, one of total self-assurance as they entered the party room. The Victoria and Albert Museum’s capacious entrance hall and displays had been transformed for the occasion. It was the ‘Hats Night Out’. One couple Pippa noticed particularly. They both presented in totally white ensembles shimmering and shining their way through the party.  They declined Pippa’s friendly overtures at conversation seeing someone they knew who was obviously more important over the top of her head.  They moved on in a flash of white lightening.

The real stars were the hats themselves.  They exhibited a life and verve of their own.  One was an explosion in black feathers, another a cloche pulled down right over the eyes in brilliant lipstick pink.  There was even a Homburg or two to be seen amongst the extraordinary crowd.  Outrageous collections of feathers seemed to be the most popular by far, each one outdoing the other in their colours and length.

The waitresses were dressed as geishas, providing a studied contrast to the hats. They glided amongst the guests offering culinary delights.  Pippa noticed the harmony in the designs that surrounded the brilliant array of guests who had paid to be there, something in the order of 1000 pounds per couple. It reminded her of a film set. The dress code had stated ‘white tie, diamonds and your favourite hat’

She whispered behind her hand to Moloney. ‘Did you know that the advance publicity declared that  75,000 pounds worth of vintage champagne was going to be provided to keep us all smiling.’

Moloney looked at her and lifted his curved eyebrows even further.  He knew she did not require an answer. Their drinking would be illusory.

Extra police officers were available to keep out the public and any unwanted press attention.  Those members of the press who had been invited to attend were mingling with the guests without necessarily showing their true colours. Through the crowd Pippa  glimpsed a host of famous faces, all come to pay homage to the talents of the Sligo boy who had become an integral part of the London social scene.

The stage manager of the Mad Hatters’ Party was a big surly strongman in his late fifties.  Pippa did not like what she saw and neither did Moloney.  The manager’s mean little yellow eyes splayed all around the assembled company until they lit on Pippa when they seemed to take some spark of recognition with them, before moving to roam the crowd before him ceaselessly.

Pippa did her own survey of the crowd wondering to herself why she was making this sacrifice.  And then it came to her in a flash that it was really, on a deep and personal level anyway, for Louisa.  It was so obvious to her once she thought about it all.  It was as if her life flashed and she could see it in a range of vibrations, colours and patterns.  Pippa had always wanted to be acceptable to the establishment.  Since she had been a small girl she had tried to conform, to be a ‘goodie goodie’. At school she had managed to harmonise most of the time with the rules and regulations. It was only when she began to realise there was a great deal more to life than being a total conformist that a new world had opened up for Pippa. – a new world of imagination, creativity, innovation – all those things she had craved for so long.  She thought about this in a flash whilst Moloney was away getting her a drink.  The waiters could not reach their particular sinecure in the crush.

Here she was with the social upper crust not at all interested in their parade, particularly when it covered the tracks of a hardened criminal like Lady Alicia Allways.  Lady Alicia was part of this group and always had been.  Pippa intended to deal with her that very night rather than becoming another of her tame little victims.

Pippa continued to scour the attendees with her eyes wide open noticing the range of extraordinary colours in the multitude of people milling around.

She joined one small group and introduced herself.  They were talking about the changes in English society.

‘That’s a pretty big subject,’ said one dainty woman who was so tiny that she only came up to Pippa’s elbow. The veil on her saucy hat hung over her eyes, but they seemed to twinkle nevertheless.

‘Society as a whole was a lot more rigid then.  There was no room for divergence.’  Her opinion stated she looked up and smiled at Pippa and shook her head, saying with total certainty.  ‘People don’t change, do they my dear.  There are all sorts of people now and there always have been.’

Pippa smiled, shook her head slightly and said with total certainty.  ‘People don’t seem to change.  They don’t even seem to want to change.  Holding the line against change only seems to bring pain. I just cannot understand why they don’t at least try some new things.’

The little woman nodded her head in agreement.  She was impressed by Pippa’s challenge.

Pippa moved on drifting gently amongst the marvellous range of faces and features and outfits. In that maelstrom of activity she saw Nigel easing through the crowd towards her and felt gratitude towards him.

‘Thank you for rescuing me,’ Pippa said to Nigel in a low voice.

‘No trouble, Miss Robbins,’ he teased her unmercifully.  ‘What I actually came to say was, Lady Alicia is here.  Do you want to handle her yourself?’

‘Yes.  Listen, I’ve decided to face her one to one.  You just keep anyone else away from us when it happens.’

Moloney handed her a drink and then left again to scout around. As he walked away Pippa’s target, Lady Alicia came into view.  She was stylishly dressed, a fact almost superfluous to observe because of course she always was.  Lady Alicia was a larger, more imposing figure than Pippa had expected. Her feathered cloche dangled around her face in ways that the males at the reception were obviously finding suggestive, even provocative.  Pippa was fascinated staring into her large eyes even from across the crowded room. They were mad eyes, enlarged, differently shaped and a simply beautiful grey with unusual proportions.

‘The eyes have it,’ Pippa muttered to herself turning away as this was not the right time or place for a confrontation.

Pippa had been told to keep Lady Alicia under surveillance and to notice the people with whom she seemed communicative.  She was going to go over the top tonight, she could feel it. She was going to exceed her instructions. In that instance Moloney was back, his eyes gleaming with the hint of battle.

For the first time Pippa noticed how clear the irises in Moloney’s eyes were.  As she looked at him, probably properly for the first time, his pupils sharpened and glittered.  The irises shone independently of the rest of the eye.  But there was no time for dilly-dallying.  As his button brown eyes gleamed there was a signal of mutual agreement between them.  They knew what had to be done.

‘I keep having these fantasies about rescuing you,’ he said quietly into her ear.  Pippa decided that the only way that she could deal with comments like that was to ignore them, so Nigel walked away unable to get a response.

The hats certainly had a life of their own.  A catwalk show in the middle of the party brought even more outrageous designs to the fore.  The fiddles stopped for a short while to allow the musicians to circulate, as they were all maestros in their own right.  It was a mingling night and the vibes were high.  Talk was of tours, displays, and forums for the beautiful hats to be shown internationally.  Pippa listened as much as was possible with Moloney breathing down her neck from time to time, never knowing what she might hear that could be useful for the cause.

Suddenly Pippa felt a cold shiver move down her spine from top to toe.  A silky voice spoke quietly into her left ear.  ‘Leave here now and follow the staircase to the next level where you will be met and there will be talk.’

Pippa felt there was no option really.  Moloney had not noticed.  His expert eyes were busily raking the far reaches of the crowd to see if there was any form of unwelcome activity.  Consequently he missed what was happening to Pippa. Despite his earlier disapproval, he was dipping into the caviar and champagne as Pippa moved silently away.

She mounted an extraordinary staircase.   It was moving, swaying back and forward and from side to side, as she climbed.

A striking female voice from behind her said ‘Miss Pippa Louisa Robbins’ almost as if her presence was being formally announced to all those at the function.  But that of course was not it.  This was her face to face with absolute evil and she had to make an account of herself and stand up and counter it at all costs.  Pippa turned, feeling unaccountably unnerved.

The woman’s stylish red hat obscured much of her face as she whispered fiercely.  ‘I have a message from Lady Alicia. She wishes to meet you.  In the gallery upstairs in five minutes – and be alone!’  Another one of Lady Alicia’s unknown acolytes was directing Pippa to her fate.

‘Having a criminal record in this company would be a positive,’ she thought to herself as she followed the instructions and climbed the next set of sweeping stairs to the upper level.

‘Welcome, Miss Robbins!’ The chilling timbre of the voice that greeted Pippa as she came to the top almost made her turn and run.  But not quite.  This was no time for cowardice.  The fate of the sacred map project and the city of London itself were reliant on her.  And then she was there, face to face with Lady Alicia Allways after what seemed like months of waiting.  It had really only been a few short weeks that had changed her life forever.

Pippa’s uncharitable first thought when she saw Lady Alicia was that she had obviously undertaken some age reducing work.  Her skin was as smooth as the proverbial baby’s bottom.  Irreverently Pippa noticed it was stretched more tightly than normal under Alicia’s chin. It looked, as the light shone on her in a white streak, as if she was wearing a mask as well as her unbelievable hat.  Her slightly mad eyes glittered menacingly in the half-light. However there was no doubt that the woman gave off an aura of confidence mixed with sensuality.  Her body was well proportioned and her hair and makeup created an aura of slightly mad power.

Pippa felt the comfort of the weapon Mr. Paddy had given her at the Holy Alliance meeting.  It seemed to take on a life of its own as if it felt the danger too.  It moved under her stylish dress; Pippa was on an eye to eye level with Lady Alicia.  She noticed that Alicia’s lips were luminous yet thin, as if she heartily disapproved of Pippa, but then she would anyway.  But then a wonderful thing happened to Pippa. She found as the two combatants representing good and evil faced one another, that she was not frightened anymore.

‘It’s connuppance time, Miss Robbins,’   Lady Alicia hissed venomously through tight pearl white teeth.  And with that she raised her hand in the air.  But before she could strike Pippa with the tiny knife she held in her raised right hand, Pippa opened her feather boa, lifted her eye out and pressed its starting  button.  As she directed  the eye directly at Lady Alicia. a curious  thing happened.  Alicia shrank.  In front of Pippa’s eyes she simply became smaller and smaller.  In the space of less than half a minute she had shrunk to under the size of Pippa’s thumb.  And with scorn in her every step Pippa simply turned and walked away.   Victory had been achieved

Moloney ran up the stairs to meet her as Pippa walked slowly down, quietly now in aftershock.  He took in the scene at a glance and dealt with the remains of Lady Alicia.  And then, rather than fussing over Pippa he simply placed a warm and comforting arm around her and took her back in a large familiar black London cab to the sacredness of Mr. Paddy’s Bookshop.

‘Not a bad night’s work,’ were the only words he uttered.

Once there Moloney swooped on Pippa and took her into his arms lifting her off her feet and whirling her around three times. They told the STT the incredible news, although news had reached them on the bear network long before Pippa and Nigel returned.

‘I knew it would work,’ was all that Big Ted said, but his eyes gleamed in a knowing way.

‘It certainly did.  Thank you so much everyone!’  Pippa felt momentarily immensely strong. She laughed and struggled half-heartedly in Nigel’s arms to regain her feet.

‘I never thought you would pull it off, Pippa.  I really did not.’  Nigel thought he would tease her just once more, but then as she returned his gibe with a cheeky wink he became serious.

‘You are really part of such a scheme here Pippa – divine or mundane I really don’t know which.  All I know is that everything hinges on you.’

‘You mean you don’t mind working with me after all?’ she quizzed him.

‘Yeah, I guess you could say I really like it.’

Pippa felt her heart bouncing inside her chest so she went to each member of the STT in turn hugging them all down the line.  Pippa dazzled Nigel with the undreamed possibility of love, joy and friendship as he watched her with the bears. And then he left.  He still had work to do.  He thought he had gone too far. There was no possibility of anything between them.  She had warned him straight away with her body language that all was not as simple as he hoped. There were other members of the gang still at large and they had to be found.  After all, Pippa had done the main part of the work necessary to rid them of evil.  It was all he could do not to run from  the bookshop because he had an idea of how to find the others.  He left the bear party in full swing and went out into the cold and fog of a typical London night.

Much later that night Pippa walked back to her London flat.  Big Billy strolled beside her.  ‘I love walking in the streets of London, Billy,’ she said to the big brown friendly bear walking beside her.  As she said it she could not help wondering whether anyone could actually see Billy, or was it only her with her heightened sense of imagination.

‘You’re kidding, right?’   Billy was a bear of few words.

‘Not at all.  And I have to tell you walking with you makes it even nicer.’

There was no reply from Billy but Pippa did feel that he stood up straighter as he walked along, so her words had meant something to him.
Ben, the barrow man and Milo the caretaker, her guardian angels, watched her arrive from their shadowy positions.  Aggy, the homeless woman had signalled ahead that Pippa was coming. She did not even notice their existence.  Big Billy, however, was very much aware. In the sanctity of her own little flat Pippa went to sleep curled up in a tiny ball, in order to move the old horrors out of her mind, at least for a time.  She had Big Billy sleep at the foot of the bed.  But he still kept one eye open just in case.

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