I’d been certain we were being followed, and now I knew who by. Miss Smallbone stood still and quiet, looking at David Beckham, who was trying to pretend he wasn’t disconcerted by her sudden appearance and struggling to remember where he knew her from. ‘Who are you?’ said the red-haired girl, her foot shifting on Johnny Depp’s neck. ‘They were waiting for us. Only Johnny knew enough about our plans to tell him enough in advance.’
‘You have to believe her!’ I said.
‘What? Why, who is she?’ demanded the red-haired girl and her fellow angels. I wanted to tell her that Miss Smallbone was the Teacher, who they worshipped and who had saved their lives and millions of others many times over, and that whatever she said was to be trusted, but I also knew that Miss Smallbone was crazy with love for Johnny Depp, which might have forced her into the terrible mistake of coming into the open too early, just to save him, and if she had made that mistake then I wasn’t going to compound it by revealing her super-secret true identity, because that would be an inevitable total disaster.
‘I’m the Teacher,’ said Miss Smallbone.
There was a disbelieving moment, and four thocks as a collection of tranquilliser darts peppered the ground near her feet, bouncing off the transparent neopropylene walls of the cage. ‘Mary Sue knows who I am, and so do you, deep down, Mr Beckham. Who else would be standing so precisely out of the firing lines of your clumsily concealed sharpshooters, and who else would be aware that… Wait a moment.’ In a single, flowing movement, she whipped a pistol from under her jacket, stepped to the right, crouched and shot into the darkness over my shoulder. A body plummeted sixty feet to the ground. ‘Pardon me, he was moving.’
‘She IS the Teacher,’ I said. The red-haired girl began to lift her foot. ‘She saved me when I was in Los Angeles.’
‘You were one of the maids at Harrison Ford’s mansion!’ said David Beckham, his face clearing. ‘I knew I’d seen you before. You’re good. I wonder if you wouldn’t mind telling me…’
‘Nice try, Mr Beckham,’ said Miss Smallbone. She tumbled to her left, shot again, and another body fell from the shadows. Everyone was looking at it as it tumbled, and by the time they turned back to Miss Smallbone, she was gone.
‘I cannot believe the Teacher’s a woman,’ said Johnny Depp, rubbing his neck.
‘Why?’ said the red-haired angel.
‘Don’t be angry with me, Red. You were just as surprised as I was.’
‘Fascinating as this is, to be sure,’ said David Beckham, ‘I have things to do. Johnny, the fact that you managed to fool the Teacher as well is interesting to me.’
‘Nice try, Mr Beckham,’ I said. ‘They don’t believe you now.’
‘Nice try, Miss Park,’ he replied smoothly. ‘You hate the thought your precious Teacher might have been wrong, but everyone makes mistakes, even the Teacher. I really do think I want Depp out of there unhurt, so stand away from him.’ One of the angels stepped in front of Johnny and immediately collapsed with a little red dart in his neck. ‘This will be much easier if you cooperate, don’t you think? Stand away from the door.’ David Beckham came to the door as if I was nothing to be afraid of, and opened it. At first Johnny stayed with the others. David nodded and another angel fell. ‘The next time,’ he said, ‘it won’t be a tranquilliser.’ Johnny emerged. David was careful to remain at a distance from him, ignoring me again as he ordered Depp over to the largest of the pipes. A row of crude but effective looking shackles had been freshly welded along the pipe’s side. The shackles were each attached to sort of doors which looked as if they opened into the pipe. Two huge, silent, grey-suited men emerged to bind Depp to one of the doors. David Beckham said something to him, and he replied furiously, and they hissed an angry exchange, but they were too far for us to catch what they were saying. It ended when David Beckham took a foot-long metal stanchion from the floor and swung it into Johnny Depp’s side with a sickening thud. Then he brought it down on Depp’s forearm, which cracked like a dry branch and hung at an appalling angle. David Beckham looked at us with a horrifying light in his face that I hadn’t seen before, and he said, ‘Well, do you know, I think I’ve had an idea.’
‘Don’t listen to him,’ pleaded Johnny, his voice coming in ragged gasps. ‘Don’t listen to anything he says.’
‘Since I KNOW Depp is a traitor, and since the Teacher is so blind to it that she foolishly revealed herself – and a certain kudos attaches for playing on our sexist assumptions that you were a man, Teacher – I can’t help but think she has been blinded by Depp in the same way that some of you, Mary Sue for one,’ and here David Beckham smirked coldly, ‘have always been. It’s pathetic. I myself am immune to love, now.’ He patted the huge pipe. ‘In here, top scientists controlled by us have produced a stable entity extremely like a black hole. Since the only way of killing demons or angels permanently is to put us in a black hole or cut off their heads with your father’s magic sword, this is a very useful thing, don’t you think? But we really do have to test it. We THINK it will kill by ripping the brain apart strand by strand in a way that is objectively fairly instantaneous but will feel like a subjective eternity of slow pain. But who knows? We should certainly test it, and since no one likes a traitor, maybe we will use Johnny. Unless anyone else wants to step forward. Anyone?’ He moved to a control panel. ‘Well then,’ he said, ‘all I have to do is press this big green button, and…’
‘No!’ said Miss Smallbone, standing next to me again. ‘Don’t do it. You can have me.’