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The D.O.D.O. Affair

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"Minerva's Menagerie" was painted on the door of the shop in bright blue letters. Bells jangled as Steed opened the door, and the sound set off the screeches of what seemed to be hundreds of birds, large birds and small birds, domestic and exotic. A brightly colored parrot near the door screamed, "Stand and deliver! Stand and deliver!" while a mynah bird began trilling the 1812 Overture. An owl hooted.

The shop seemed deserted. Steed set his bowler and umbrella down and tapped lightly on the bell atop the counter. Steed could just discern the sound of someone moving about in the back, and then the curtains leading to the back of the shop parted, and a young woman emerged.

"Yes, sir, how may I help you?" She was a lovely young woman, although her loveliness was severely harnessed behind a heavy tweed skirt, tight hair twist, and heavy black glasses. The only bright thing about her apparel was the small silver pin on her turtleneck, a small, squat figure of a dodo.

"Yes, I'm in the market for a bird," replied Steed.

"You've certainly come to the right place." She smiled, moving out from behind the counter. "We have a variety of birds available: budgies, canaries, cockatiels, cockatoos, finches, parakeets and lovebirds—"

"Ah, lovebirds."

"—also, macaws, parakeets, and a variety of parrots. Song birds of all varieties, of course. What sort of bird do you favor, sir?"

"Actually, my interest is in unusual birds, birds of a different feather, you might say."

"We don't carry rare birds as a general rule, sir. Of course, with proper notice we can order whatever kind of bird you're interested in from our distributor—"

"I'm looking for a dodo."

"Sir?"

"I said I understand that you can put me on scent of a dodo."

The girl's eyes narrowed. "I'm afraid dodos are extinct, sir."

"Perhaps the original, yes." Steed smiled and leaned on his umbrella. "However, I understand there's a new breed of dodo bird operating these days, something a little more.lively. Of the two-legged variety—bright colors, a streak of independence?"

"Really, sir, I'm afraid I have no idea what you're—"

"Emily." Another woman came out from behind the curtains. Shorter, squatter, rather like the bird gracing Emily's lapel. "Emily, I'll handle this gentleman. Perhaps you could bring us some tea?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Emily? Some of the Indian, dear."

"But, Miss—" The sales girl caught herself. "Yes, Ma'am. Right away." Emily went back behind the curtain.

"Now, how can I be of service, Mr.—?"

"Steed. John Steed. Miss—?"

He didn't hear anything but he certainly felt the blow, heavy and blunt, on the back of his neck, and then everything went dark, and he fell.


"Extraordinary crimes against the people and the state have to be avenged by agents extraordinary. Two such people are John Steed, top professional, and his partner Emma Peel, talented amateur. Otherwise known as...

THE AVENGERS."


THE D.O.D.O. AFFAIR

Steed is threatened with extinction.
Mrs. Gale ruffles some feathers.
Mrs. Peel takes up bird watching.

"Excuse me—where might I find Mrs. Gale?"

Mrs. Gale looked down from her vantage point on the catwalk in the Rare Books Reading Room of the British Library. What she saw was rather like British Colonial meets Carnaby Street—the woman resting her foot on the bottom rung of the elaborate wrought iron spiral staircase stood out among the tweed jackets and worsted waistcoats in a bright silver dress that shimmered in the light from the banker's lamps illuminating the long reading tables. Even if she hadn't been distinctive in dress, she would have held Mrs. Gale's attention, with her pretty, intelligent face and direct gaze, her slim figure, and the confidence with which she breached this bastion of elderly academics.

She closed her book and returned it to the shelf. "I'm Catherine Gale. And you are?"

"Peel. Mrs. Emma Peel."

She turned back again. "John Steed's associate?"

That got a wry grin. "Unofficial partner."

"I see. And how can I help you."

"Steed's been taken."

Mrs. Gale raised an eyebrow. "Taken?"

"Kidnapped."

"Someone's snatched Steed?"

Mrs. Peel smiled. "Purloined him. And before his tea."

"I see." Mrs. Gale descended the stairs. "Why do you think I can help?"

"Are you familiar with the Dodo?"

Mrs. Gale frowned and crossed her arms. "The bird? We're hardly on a first name basis."

Mrs. Peel's look clearly indicated that she was not amused. "Steed was supposed to meet me this afternoon at the reception for the British Mycological Society. He never arrived and he didn't ring."

"Perhaps he was waylaid by an impatient Stachybotrys chartarum. Or a roving band of mushrooms."

"I went over to his apartment. Someone had broken in. His desk was completely ransacked, the contents strewn everywhere. They were searching for something, probably this." Mrs. Peel held out a plain white folder, with the words TOP SECRET emblazoned across the cover.

"They ransacked Steed's desk and missed this?" She took the folder.

"It was in his breadbox. Look inside—Steed jotted down a note."

Mrs. Gale opened the folder and rifled through several very blurry photographs of a small man—or was it a large woman? Mannish dress, but the hair? She found a note, in Steed's handwriting.

Dodo—Dodgson?? Ask Mrs. Gale.

"Did Steed talk to you about this?" Mrs. Peel was watching her intently.

"No. No, I haven't talked to Steed in several weeks."

"Hmm. Who is Dodgson?"

Mrs. Gale shrugged. "The only Dodgson I know is Margaret Dodgson. She was Professor Emeritus at Oxford, Ancient Studies." She pulled out one of the photographs again and studied it intently. "I suppose, possibly.She always was a bit athletic. Still—Steed was investigating Professor Dodgson? What can he possibly imagine she's doing?"

"We haven't had a chance to discuss it any detail but Steed's been working on this for days. Do you know where to find her?"

"No, no—Professor Dodgson retired several years ago. But," Mrs. Gale considered, "I do know how we might find her."

"And that would be?"

"Dodgson had a.friend. A rather close friend. At university." Mrs. Gale hesitated, then seeing she was understood, continued. "Eloise Hampton, another one of the professors. She has a house just outside the university grounds. She may know how we can get in touch with Professor Dodgson."

"Then I suppose that's where we start." Mrs. Peel looked down at her flashy finery. "I'll need to go back to my flat and change."

"So do I." Mrs. Gale began gathering up her things. "Why don't you pick me up at mine in an hour? 14 Primrose Hill."

***

Mrs. Gale opened the door.

"Are you—" Mrs. Peel began, only to fall silent.

The two women regarded each other from across the doorway with interest. Black leather and black leather, head to toe.

Mrs. Peel smiled and raised an eyebrow. "Are we ready?"

***

"Cathy Gale! Thank you, Suzanne." The woman who approached them from across the study was in her mid-forties, long-limbed and graceful in a man's suit straight from Savile Row. She nodded to the young female student, who took up her position again at a smaller desk in the large office. "Cathy, it's marvelous to see you. It's been ages." They embraced briefly. "And your friend is very lovely," Professor Hampton said, turning an appreciative eye toward Mrs. Peel.

"Professor Hampton, this is my colleague, Mrs. Emma Peel."

Professor Hampton smiled. "Colleague? Ah, Cathy, you were always so correct. Never mind. It's lovely to meet you, Mrs. Peel. Can I offer both of you tea? Sherry?"

"Tea would be fine," Mrs. Peel said, sitting in one of the two chairs Professor Hampton indicated. Mrs. Gale took the other. The professor lifted the phone and order tea for three.

"Now how can I be of service?" she asked, coming back from around her desk and taking a seat opposite the two of them.

"Professor Hampton, we're interested in getting in touch with Professor Dodgson. We understand she's left university to conduct her own research, and I thought perhaps."

"You thought perhaps since Margaret and I were once so close, I might know where she's hidden herself." Professor Hampton smiled and extracted a slim cigar from a gold case she took from her breast pocket. "I'm afraid I haven't any idea. Margaret began pursuing some very unconventional avenues of research before she left here. Frankly, I thought some of her ideas were preposterous, and I told her so. She didn't take it kindly. I've since found.friendship elsewhere," she concluded, with a brief glance toward the industrious Suzanne.

"And what were those unconventional avenues of research, if I may ask?"

"Well, it was self-indulgent, really—I suppose that's why I objected. Academic research needs to be ruthlessly objective, above scrutiny. Margaret was too involved, too emotionally attached to the work. It made her unreliable."

"And the work she was so attached to—?" Mrs. Gale prompted.

Professor Hampton smiled. "Well, it's going to sound preposterous. Margaret was determined to prove the existence of Amazons."

"Excuse me, Professor, but that sounds like a perfectly valid field of inquiry for someone with an interest in Ancient Studies."

"I'm afraid it went a little beyond that. Margaret wanted to bring them back to life, create a new breed of Amazon."

"Create a tribe of she-warriors?" Mrs. Peel sounded slightly amused.

"Precisely. Margaret wanted to discover and exploit the 'untapped, seething fury of womankind.' She said a tribe of strong, dedicated women could rule the word, bring peace and prosperity, and save it from the 'desolation wrought by men.'"

"After killing everyone who stands in their way first." Mrs. Peel said wryly.

"Precisely. Margaret became quite obsessed with bringing the tribe of Amazons back to life, as a fully functioning army for woman's equality," said Professor Hampton. "It was ridiculous--not that I wasn't in full sympathy with her goals, of course, but really--Amazons? In this day and age? The idea is entirely absurd."

"Well," Mrs. Gale looked over at Mrs. Peel, "thank you for your time, Professor Hampton."

"You're quite welcome, Cathy. You should visit us more often. You would add much to our little society here." Professor Hampton smiled.

"Thank you, Professor. If you should hear from Professor Dodgson—?"

"You shall be the first to know. Oh!" Professor Dodgson snapped her fingers. "There is someone you might talk to—Doctor Phineas Applebee. He used to collaborate with Margaret in her research. He's recently retired—a funny little man but a brilliant academic. Just one moment, let me get you his address."

***

"Tell me more about Professor Dodgson." Mrs. Peel's hair flew about her face as she steered her car along the rode to Leeds. "What is the significance of the Dodo?"

"Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." Mrs. Gale was tying her own hair up into a scarf. "Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He taught mathematics at Christ Church in Oxford. Dodgson—Charles Dodgson—had a terrible stutter, and when he would try to introduce himself, he would stumble over his name—Do-do-dodgson. Dodo. He even put a Dodo in one of the books—"

"The Caucus Race, yes. I remember."

"Margaret Dodgson loved the absurdity of Carroll's books—she would say Alice's Wonderland could easily stand in for Oxford. I suppose she felt as out of place as Alice." Mrs. Gale shrugged. "She took the name as a pet name. All of her special students called her Professor Dodo."

"I see." Mrs. Peel looked sideways at Mrs. Gale. "And were you one of her 'special' students?"

"She was on the review panel for my thesis." Mrs. Gale looked directly at Mrs. Peel. "We were very close back then."

"I see." Mrs. Peel smiled, and shifted into a higher gear. The Lotus picked up speed with a swirl of leaves.

***

Doctor Applebee had retired to the serene countryside outside of Leeds. They parked the Lotus in the gravel drive and rang the bell.

The door was answered by a short, tuxedoed man. A doughboy helmet sat rather incongruously on top of his head. "Yes, madam?"

"We're here to see Doctor Phineas Applebee. Mrs. Cathy Gale and Mrs. Emma Peel. It's a matter of some urgency." Mrs. Gale tried not to stare.

"Yes, madam." The butler usher them into the hallway. "This way please." They followed him down the hallway to a set of double doors.

Shelves lined the wall outside the room. On the shelves were displayed a variety of safety equipment, including helmets, boots and safety harnesses. "It's a slow day today," said the butler, selecting two helmets similar to his. "I think helmets will be all that are necessary."

He waited patiently while Mrs. Gale and Mrs. Peel donned the helmets, then knocked twice.

"Come in, come in." The voice from the other side of the door was impatient. Once inside, they saw an enormous excavation in the center of the room, shored up by the usual scaffolding. Inside the pit, a man was carefully using a Vernier gauge to measure the dimensions of what appeared to be a small animal fossil. Smaller than the butler, he had a head of shocking white hair, standing up in all directions, and was decked out in khakis and a waistcoat, pockets filled with a variety of brushes and magnification lens.

"Sir." The butler bowed. "A Mrs. Gale and Mrs. Peel to see you, sir."

"Hmm? What? What? Visitors, did you say?" Dr. Applebee lifted his head so that it was possible to see he wore magnification glasses, which made his pale eyes seem three times their natural size. "Where? Visitors? Dash it all, Mansfield, where are you?"

"Here, sir." The butler edged closer to the pit and bowed again.

"What? Where? Oh! There you are! Dash these glasses—forgot that I had them on." Dr. Applebee took off the glasses and looked about the room. "What? Say there, and who might the two of you be?" he asked, catching sight of Mrs. Gale and Mrs. Peel.

"Visitors, sir." Mansfield repeated. "A Mrs. Gale and Mrs. Peel. They said it was a matter of some urgency."

"Just so, just so. Just give me a moment please." Dr. Applebee pocketed his glasses and negotiated the scaffolding, climbing up and out into the room. "Pleasure to meet you, pleasure to meet you both." He took Mrs. Gale's hand. "My pleasure, Mrs. Peel."

"Mrs. Gale," Mrs. Gale corrected him.

"Yes, yes, and Mrs. Gale," he said, taking Mrs. Peel's hand. "Well, this is a jolly surprise—shall we have tea? Tea, Mansfield?"

"Thank you but no, we really don't want to take up too much of your time. We can see you're very involved."

"Yes, yes—fascinating project. Bought the place to retire, you see, and then one day I realized I was sitting, just sitting, on top of what could invaluable evidence of the Palaeolithic era."

"And so you dug up your parlour," Mrs. Peel said with amusement.

"Precisely, precisely—well, actually, it was originally the library but no matter—we've long since relocated that, haven't we, Mansfield?"

"Yes, sir."

"Excellent, excellent—that will be all, Mansfield. Now, Mrs. Peel," he said, turning to Mrs. Gale, "how can I be of assistance?"

"Mrs. Gale. Dr. Applebee, we're trying to get in touch with Professor Margaret Dodgson. We understand you did some field work with her several years ago. We were hoping you might have stayed in touch."

"No, no. No, sorry—can't help you at all, I'm afraid, can't help you at all." Dr. Applebee tried to smooth down his errant hair. " Ah, Dodo, Dodo—brilliant scientist, you understand, brilliant, yes, but set in her ways, yes, set in her ways. Couldn't see eye to eye after a while, couldn't see eye to eye at all. Some dashed notion about not working with men—as if that made any difference to a dig, I ask you—but set in her ways, she was, set in her ways. Haven't heard from her in years, in years. Although—" The stream of words stopped abruptly and Dr. Applebee pursed his lips, thinking.

"Although?" Mrs. Peel prompted.

"Yes, yes, Mrs. Gale—my apologies. Just thinking, just thinking. Mind not as sharp as it used to be, heh, heh. I seem to recall—yes, yes, there was a small piece I saw in one of the local gazettes. Shrewsbury was it? No, no, Sheffield, Sheffield it was. New study she was beginning, amazons or suffragettes or some such thing. Yes, yes, Sheffield it was."

"Thank you, Dr. Applebee," Mrs. Gale said.

"Pleasure, pleasure. Pleasure is all mine, Mrs. Peel."

***

The Sheffield Daily Ledger was just a step above a country gazette. There were no indices available, but Mrs. Gale and Mrs. Peel were welcome to go through past issues.

Mrs. Gale looked at disorderly shelves with some dismay. "I'll take 1963, you take 1964."

"Fine." Mrs. Peel pulled down the first ledger. It was covered with a thin film of dust. She blew on it forcefully, scattering particles into the air.

Mrs. Gale sneezed.

"Geshundheit," said Mrs. Peel.

***

Three hours and twenty dusty minutes later, they had an address for "Minerva's Menagerie", in Hull. The sound of jangling bells was startling as they opened the door, although it was immediately offset by the sound of a hundred shrieking birds. A brightly colored parrot near the door screamed, "Stand and deliver! Stand and deliver!" Mrs. Peel took a quick turn around the shop, stopping to listen to a mynah bird trilling. She smiled at Mrs. Gale. "The 1812."

The curtains to the back of the shop parted, and an earnest young woman emerged. She settled her thick black glasses more securely on her nose and smiled. "May I help you?"

***

The meeting had been called to order with the ringing of a large brass gong.

"Amazons. The pinnacle of our past, the best hope for our future."

Professor Margaret Dodgson commanded attention, tall and powerful with blazing copper hair, her beauty accentuated by the not quite historically accurate Amazonian warrior battle dress, the short chiton and girdle, the cloak, a quiver of arrows strapped to her back, and a bright crescent moon decorating the Minerva helmet.

"For too long women have lived in the shadow of inferior Man, forced by social mores to cater to the whims of this shallow and weaker sex."

"I thought the Amazons were a myth?" Mrs. Peel 's question brought a hush to the room. They were seated in a circle of some twenty-odd other women, dressed similarly, if without all the embellishments, wearing simple face masks in place of Dodgson's helmet. The room itself looked remarkably unsuitable for a tribe of Amazons, decorated in soft pastels and French antiques.

Margaret Dodgson didn't look troubled, or at all displeased at the small challenge. "I'm glad you brought that up, Emma. The nonexistence of the mighty Amazon tribe is a lie perpetrated by the oppressive male society in which we women currently find ourselves trapped. But the D.O.D.O. Institute is currently involved in precedent-breaking research that will prove once and for all that these magnificent women did exist, and when we take back that history, we will take back our power as warriors, and win back our rightful place."

There were murmurs of agreement now from around the group.

"We are a small group of dedicated warriors today." More nods from around the circle, one or two bobbing beehives. "But someday we will be legion; someday the world will tremble before the onslaught of our forces. Someday, women will rule the world."

Several women broke into applause.

"What is our motto?" cried Professor Dodgson.

"Dedicated and Organized to Dismantling Oppression!" they cried at once. Mrs. Peel glanced surreptitiously at Mrs. Gale. Mrs. Gale gave a small shrug.

"Excellent, girls. As you can see, our membership is growing. Tonight, I am pleased to say we are initiating two new members." She gestured toward Mrs. Gale and Mrs. Peel, who rose from their chairs. "Catherine and Emma. Please come forward and let our tribe welcome you properly."

Mrs. Gale and Mrs. Peel stepped forward into the ring of women. Their fellow "Amazons" rose from their chairs and came forward, and Mrs. Gale and Mrs. Peel accepted solemn kisses from each woman. Margaret Dodgson nodded approvingly. "And now each other."

Mrs. Gale turned to Mrs. Peel. Mrs. Peel arched her eyebrows and a corner of her mouth quirked.

Mrs. Gale leaned forward and kissed her. She felt the lips under hers part slightly, then quiver with a sudden inhalation, and then she felt the playfulness of tongue. She drew back and smiled.

"Lovely, lovely. Now, onto the business of our meeting. I'm afraid an outsider has learned the truth about our organization and through artifice has discovered our secret and most sacred society." Murmurs of discontent rippled through the group. "Of course, he was no match for our members, and we secured him safely, pending our meeting tonight. Now, we will bring him forward and he will face the justice of our council."

This was apparently a signal to several of the women to rise and move a table to the front of the room. An enormous chest was brought in and set atop it. The gong was struck again, and curtains at the entrance to the room were pulled back, revealing Steed, flanked by two Amazon guards bearing bows and spears, his hands tied securely in front of him.

"Ladies," he said, nodding his head politely.

"Silence." Margaret Dodgson cleared her throat and solemnly struck the gong again. "Mr. Steed, you stand accused of trespassing on the sanctity of our society, of creating mischief and general mayhem, and of being a man. How do you plead?"

"Oh, yes, certainly," Steed said with a smile. "I mean, guilty. Definitely guilty. Particularly of the last."

A cry arose from the assembled. Mrs. Peel smiled.

"Members! Members, you have heard his admission from his own lips. What say you? What is the penalty for this arrogant interloper?"

"Death!" cried one of the members. "Death!" cried out another. The call was taken up. "Death! Death! Death!"

"Do I have a volunteer to carry out the sentence?"

Mrs. Gale looked at Mrs. Peel. Mrs. Peel nodded slightly.

"I volunteer." Mrs. Gale raised her hand. "I'll take care of Mr. Steed."

"And I'll assist Mrs. Ga—Catherine." Mrs. Peel rose to her feet as well.

"Excellent. It's encouraging to see such enthusiasm from our newest members." Margaret Dodgson beckoned them toward the chest. Inside rested several weapons: axe, rope, knife. "As his executioners, you may choose the method of Mr. Steed's death."

Mrs. Gale made a show of examining each instrument of death in turn. She hefted the axe, tested the strength of the rope, the edge of the knife. She looked up at Steed. "Knife, I think." She stepped up to him purposefully, without hesitation, nodding dismissively at the closer of the two guards, who stepped aside. "Mrs. Peel, if you will hold him steady."

The other guard stepped aside as well at her instruction, and Mrs. Peel moved into position on the other side of Steed.

"Death to the male oppressor!" cried one of the women.

"Death to the male oppressor," Mrs. Gale repeated. She moved behind Steed, one arm around his shoulders, holding the knife against his neck. She looked at Mrs. Peel.

"Now!"

Mrs. Peel kicked out and back, knocking the woman behind her to the floor. Mrs. Gale brought the knife down, slicing through the ropes on Steed's wrists, before she whirled and dispatched the two women coming towards her.

"Thank you, Mrs. Gale," Steed said, and then turned to do the same to two others.

"Are you all right, Steed?" asked Mrs. Peel, as she forcefully brought two women together. Their heads collided with a solid thunk, and they slid to the floor.

"Hardy and hale, Mrs. Peel," Steed replied, and then called out, "behind you, Mrs. Gale!"

Mrs. Gale turned and brought the edge of her hand down on the side of the neck of the woman sneaking up behind her. "Thank you, Steed." She grabbed the last two "warriors" standing by the backs of their cloaks. "I'm afraid class is over, girls."

"Steed!" Mrs. Peel tossed another woman over her shoulder, then pointed. Margaret Dodgson had opened up a hidden panel in the wall, and was headed towards it, cloak flying. Steed looked around, seized up one of the spears, and tossed it in her direction. The spear flew quick and low, but just missed, and Dodgson was gone.

Mrs. Peel and Steed reached the door just as it slid shut again, and they frantically searched for the hidden seam.

"I think I found the switch," called Mrs. Gale, pressing the crescent shaped button at the edge of the desk. The door slid open again and they raced into the corridor.

It was empty.

"Well, Steed," Mrs. Peel crossed her arms, "I believe the bird has flown."

***

"They picked Margaret Dodgson up in Victoria Station." Steed smiled as he held the chair for Mrs. Peel at a table in the small tea shop. "She was on her way north."

"I thought birds flew south," Mrs. Peel said with a smile.

"Ah, but Mrs. Peel you forget—the dodo couldn't fly." Steed narrowed his eyes and picked up a small envelope lying on the table.

"Hmm. So that closes the Dodo Affair?"

"That closes the Dodo Affair. This appears to be for you, Mrs. Peel," he passed her the small note. "Shall we have tea, Mrs. Peel? India or China?"

Mrs. Peel was reading, a small smile on her face.

"Mrs. Peel?"

"I'm sorry Steed, but I must fly." She stood and gathered up her things.

"But Mrs. Peel!"

"Sorry, Steed—this can't wait! I'll ring you tomorrow."

Steed watched Mrs. Peel walk away. Once she was out of sight, he leaned over and picked up the note.

Mrs. Peel, You're needed. CG

He looked out the window just in time to see Mrs. Peel fold herself into the cab of Mrs. Gale's Triumph motorcycle, before it went roaring away.

"Ahhh." Steed smiled, set down his bowler and umbrella, and ordered tea.