Posted by: Chris Wright | January 13, 2010

Pigeon Post

“I can hear the sound of the great unwashed, thundering over the horizon, Peregrine, fortune favours the brave, what!”

Theobald Tanqueray Thompkinson, leaning unsteadily forwards, jocular and rotund; rubicund, reckless and implausibly optimistic. A glass of gin cradled carefully in one hand, the other carving swathes through the alcoholic fug.  A Prince of Wales checked suit a size too small, offset by a vast paisley handkerchief exploding from the breast pocket. Two flies perform aerobatics around his gleaming pate, while Patience, a cat, fixes them with a trained killer’s eye.

Peregrine, perplexed, plays for time. Carefully twirling the ends of his mustache into ever finer points he tries manfully to make any sense whatsoever out of the proposition. It seemed to have gone on for hours. On the table in front of him a slip of paper, damp and smudged, but he could just make out the characters

“@Peregrine gldn boy Kempton 2.30”

“Theobald old chap, I can hear the words, not sure about the order….”

He tails off, Theobald is one of his oldest friends, fiscal fiascos a speciality, a bankrupt born and bred.

If he understood it correctly and he was by no means sure that he did, Theobald proposed to sell something called a service for a fixed price of nothing? There had been talk of value nets and revenue adjustment, outsourcing, insourcing and intellectual capital had all wandered onto the stage, beamed magnanimously and exited, leaving an uncomfortable feeling that here was a proposition that was simply too clever for mere mortals to understand. Peregrine turned his attention, as he often did under such taxing circumstances to Patience.

The cat was lying on his side in the sunshine, exposing an unfeasibly vast belly to the warming rays.  Peregrine’s thoughts turned to food; the cat’s languid movements suggested a devotion to idling that rivaled Peregrine’s own, his tail flicked with insouciant disdain, seeking balance as he pawed feebly at the air recently vacated by the acrobatic flies. Dismally failing to make contact he rolled, yawning wide and succumbed once more to sleep.

“Monetising the mecosystem” Theobald blathered, “extend the value proposition, core competencies create cash rich commitment free conurbations…partnership models proliferate non essential services spawning new opportunity…”  Peregrine tried to follow, but this was a leap too far. What the hell was a mecosystem?

“Theo old chap, we’ve known one another for what? Twenty years? We’ve talked a lot of bollocks in that time, well, you have, mostly. This bollocks really takes the biscuit. Mecosystem? Monetise?”

Patience opened an eye, fixing Theo with a basilisk stare.

“Virtual networks exchanging value free platitudes? Twaddle rich content creating truncated taxonomies?”

Theobald leans forward conspiratorially “I see the skies dark with a thousand birds, mass communication on a scale hitherto undreamed of.  The cocktail party is dead Peregrine, this is the age of free speech and we’ll make it sing. We’re going to revolutionise communications…”

Patience had heard enough. Advancing on Theo’s plus fours, he reached up and carefully spreading his paws, inserted four razor sharp claws into the area betwixt the nitwit’s legs.  A terrible shriek rent the air and the cat jumped, nimbly avoiding a wildly flailing mitt. If there was to be talk of darkening skies, one thing was for sure, Patience would face the fiasco on a full belly. He stalked from the room with tail aloft, a palpable air of affront hanging in the ether for fully five minutes after his exit.

Posted by: Chris Wright | December 30, 2008

God Rest Ye, Merry Gentleman..

The ram lowers its head and charges.

Pieces of sheep soar majestically into the air as I gun the motor, throw back my head and roar my defiance. The whey faced shepherd stares, horrified as the legless trunk loops into the passenger seat, the satanic yellow eyes still open, the image of the onrushing Bentley insignia etched permanently on the cold dead retina.

I reach Oatenshaw Towers shortly before nightfall, greeted by Lucinda lurching unsteadily across the gravel, a half empty bottle of Calvados clutched in one hand, what appears to be a rib of beef in the other.

“What ho! Lucy…”

The amiable greeting dies in my throat and I duck as the joint comes sailing through the air.

“Peregrine! You bastard…”

She slurs, offering me the bottle. I drink long and deep, savouring the burn, the fire moving through my veins. The right hander takes me unawares and I’m sitting on the gravel, the salty taste of blood in my mouth, looking up just in time to dodge the hob nailed boot hurtling towards my unprotected visage. Seizing the foot I viciously twist and Lucinda collapses giggling into the gravel. Leaving her there, I rise to my feet and advance on the porch. A peremptory rap is followed by a crescendo of barking as the Doberman twins hurtle from some dark corridor, the scent of blood inflaming their finely tuned instincts.

A muffled curse, the sound of a boot thudding into canine ribs. A yelp and the sound of the bolt being drawn back. Placing my Oliver Sweeney boot carefully against the door, I explode into the room, Soames the butler hurled like a rag doll into the shadows. The sickening sound of bone on tile. The great hall – a roaring inferno blazing in the grate, the leaping shadows not quite hiding the corpulent forms slumped over the table, mighty snores rending the night. My great uncle Aldermaston Algernon Oatenshaw; a dangerous maniac when awake, thankfully, in his cups, as threatening as a new born lamb. Taking a flaming brand from the fire I set fire to his brilliantined coiffure and gleefully watch as he chaotically capers, thrashing the blazing edifice with the Darlington & Stockton Times. Flaming tales of rural misdemeanor fall hot from the press to the carpet, where the embers sink smoky and deep into the remnants of the threadbare pile.

I pour myself a generous tumbler of Glendronach, stand sneering in front of the fire as the cantankerous colonel awakes with a curse and raising his fist brings it crashing down on the table, scattering bone china and cutlery; Colonel Meridew Musters hauls himself to his feet, shouting at the top of his lungs

“SOAMES!”

A feeble whimpering from the shadows as the hapless butler, reluctantly regaining consciousness, registering broken bones, bruising and battery, responds.

“Sir?”

“What are these damn people doing in my house? I will not have this prancing buffoon and his fawning acquaintances on the premises one second longer – d’you hear me!”

“Ah, if I may be so bold sir….”

“Spit it out man!”

“You’re at Oatenshaw Towers sir..!”

“Good god, so I am….”

The colonel subsides, glaring ominously across the table at the still snoring head of the Oatenshaw clan. Marion Malfeasance Oatenshaw, ninety five years viperous and vicious, sits at the head of the table, bolt upright, eyelids blinking like lizards. The head turns towards me, the body motionless. The thin lips move, silence. A tongue rasps across the arid bottom lip.

“Peregrine, dear boy, there you are. Do put Algy out, there’s a good chap. And when you’ve quite finished simpering like an imbecile, I have a Christmas present for you.”

Emptying the fire bucket over Algernon’s blackened scalp I approach the table warily – Marion’s last present had been a carefully wrapped biscuit. Dry and crumbling, accompanied by a rasping sound reminiscent of vultures clearing their throats. This was what passed for laughter in Marion’s hellish household.

“Now Peregrine, I want you to pay attention, this  present I am about to give you has been in the family for seven hundred years. It is quite possibly priceless and you are only to sell it in the direst emergency.”

I groan, Marion saw priceless heirlooms everywhere, where others saw woodworm infested tat, fit only for firewood, Marion saw intricate craftsmanship from a byegone age. Her attempt to auction her dead husband’s false teeth had ended acrimoniously with an entirely predictable failure to reach the £5,000 reserve she had placed on the fetid gnashers. Defiantly she had decided to adopt them herself, the disfiguring results terrifying the horses and frightening the local children.

It was rumored that one poor waif had its hair turn completely white upon being suddenly confronted by Marion’s stretched and grinning features looming out of the darkness in the stables. The leathery rustle of her movements, the reek of sulphur and the panic induced in the occupants of those ghastly stalls suggesting something accursed from the netherworld had passed that way.

Draining my glass, I approach the table. Marion eying me with ill concealed contempt. An elaborately wrapped parcel the size of a shoebox is produced and shunted across the table at me. I dive to stop it falling, my hopes rising in spite of everything. As I unwrap the box, my pulse quickens, I’m a child again, unwrapping a succession of broken toys and half eaten treats. Inside the box, a singular piece of footwear. A vast sock, moth eaten and hideous. I gingerly hold the grisly exhibit aloft. Marion’s delighted features….

“You can have the other one next year!”

Without a backward glance I stalk from the room, determined never to darken these terrible acres again. Pausing only to jettison my wooly companion, I spin the wheel; opening the throttle, I head east towards Whitby. Between fresh white sheets to sleep a while, dreaming of happier days.

Posted by: Chris Wright | December 12, 2008

Love Me, Love, My God!

Miss Lavinia Letitia Lamont, ‘Topsy’ to her friends. I roll the name around my tongue, savouring the clipped consonants and flowing vowels. Never has a daughter so graceful, been born to a father so dull. The Major as he was known to every Tom, Dick and Harry in the shires, liked to brag of his influence in military circles – a claim so palpably spurious as to bear comparison to an overripe banana – infirm, unsound and on close inspection messy.

I open the throttle on the Bentley, and, sending the rooks skywards over the encircling woods I roar through the archway and onto the gravel, a rapid application of the handbrake sending a hail of pebbles lashing across the front of the Hall.

Inside, Lavinia twinkling a welcome across the room. I survey the competition. Algernon Alabaster Anderson, the half wit huntsman, grinning like a mental patient. Sebastian St.Clair Savage. A prancing poltroon, hysterical and half baked. Lavinia approaching, her smile lighting up the room. I catch a glimpse of myself in the glass, an imposing sight, darkly handsome, sideburns greying, giving a measure of gravitas, the scar on my right cheekbone hinting at some devil may care tomfoolery in my mysterious past.

Good god in heaven! She appears to be nursing a rat!

“Topsy, how very good of you to invite me along – I fancy a dish of tea, and may I enquire, the little friend? acquired whilst visiting the henhouse? Hmmm?”

My lupine smile, a wolf in sheeps clothing. Lock up your daughter Major Lamont, for the Oatenshaw charm has a powerful gravity.

“Why Peregrine, you are dreadful!”

Lavinia giggling coyly, the rat gazing at me with limpid eyes.

“This is Bugsy! Introduce yourself to the little chap..”

Playing along with this ridiculous charade, leaning forward, gripping a tiny paw between thumb and forefinger. The creature blinks and cocks its head, a pink tongue licking its lips. For all the world it could be smiling.

I make for the tea trolley, pausing only to ensure an abrupt collision with the hapless Hugo, balancing one too many teacups aloft. A very satisfactory crescendo of breaking china. A movement on the edge of my vision, Bugsy, gazing big eyed across the room at me, head cocked to one side, tongue hanging out, a repulsive creature only to be endured in service of the lovely Lavinia.

Helping myself to an Earl Grey, a robust confection, lightly perfumed, easy on the palette. Casting my eye around for the drinks cupboard, where I fancy an Amontillado or even an Armagnac may be found. Tipping my tea into an unattended handbag, I slide across the room, checking my visage in the glass as I do so, a double fronted cabinet, surely housing the sherry, my goal.

The rattle of claws on the parquet, it’s Bugsy, positioning himself between the drinks cabinet and me, he looks at me, head cocked, lips drawn back, tiny teeth bared – a high pitched rattle issuing from the tiny throat. Around me the conversation dies, people turn around and stare.

“I say Oatenshaw! You’re not going to be bested by a Chihuahua are you old chap?”

The laughter rolls around the room like fog. My mood perceptibly darkens – its time to deal with this bloody dog. Bending forwards, I loom out of the clamour towards the animal. My hand, palm inward, outstretched. A peaceful emissary I want him to think – in a minute I’ll have him, then curtains for Bugsy…

The dog gazes at me, drops its head to one side and begins to trot towards me, its  head down, eyes fixed on mine, panting. Is the bloody animal drunk I think, wondering now if this ghastly charade is a price worth paying for an audience with the lovely Lavinia.

Just six inches away now, the crowd, silent now, engrossed in this display of animal magnetism – “He can charm the birds out of the trees” I hear somebody whisper. Soon Bugsy will be within my grasp, a quick flip, a broken neck, such a terrible shame Peregrine, the two of you were getting along so well…

I bend lower, hand outstretched, Bugsy motionless, those limpid globes gazing up at me, head to one side – I swear the beast is smiling!

I freeze, Bugsy with a low growl, darts forward and clambers onto my leg, front feet clasped tightly around my calf – and to my horror begins a twitching of the hind quarters and a rhythmic nudging against my calf. Mortified, I spring to my feet, reaching out for the poker, Bugsy in seventh heaven, pumping vigorously against my brand new calfskin boot. The howls of mirth form the assembled audience enraging me, I raise the poker high above my head, and …

“Peregrine, what on earth are you’re doing?” Lavinia’s horrified face.

Dragging the lovestruck hound, still fastened, limpetlike to my leg I scramble for the safety of the sofa , the guffaws ringing in my ears. Livid, I club Bugsy viciously across the head, succeeding only in cracking my own kneecap. With a ghastly groan the beast completes his amorous mission and with dignity scattered to the four winds, I barge past the cackling cronies and make crab like for the door.

“Peregrine!”

I’m through the door and onto the gravel, humiliated and broken, banjaxed, a chihuahua’s pitiful paramour. I haul myself painfully toward the Bentley, thinking bitterly that compared to this, even France was not so bad.

Posted by: Chris Wright | October 11, 2008

The Race – Part III

My rage gets the better of me at times, and as the Bugatti careens across the South Circular, attracting the attention of what transpires to be an unmarked police car, my temper twitches and churns. My two fingered response to their frantic hand signals prompts the attachment of a blue light to the top of the saloon, my foot slamming down hard on the throttle, a siren, and the expulsion of a foul cloak of oily smoke from the Bugatti’s exhaust chamber, followed by a slow deceleration to a dead stop at the side of the road.

I wrench the goggles from my head and hurl them to the ground. My attempts to vent my spleen by stamping viciously upon the twisted frames are interpreted by Kent’s finest as an attempt to destroy vital evidence and I quickly find myself clamped in a head lock by a burly constable, swinging wildly, my fists failing to connect until we collapse in a heap on the tarmac.

“Not thinking of going anywhere this afternoon, I hope sir?”

The sledgehammer wit grates on my already tenderized sensibilities like a coarse grained sandpaper, I glare at the sergeant, who, oblivious to my plight, extracts a tattered notebook from his breast pocket and begins turning the pages with all the speed and deliberation of an orangutan examining its miserable hide for lice. Occasionally licking his finger for traction, he continues this infuriating task for several minutes until, an empty page finally being located, he begins rummaging in his pockets for a pen. I watch this farrago with dismay, the minutes are ticking away and my chances of repairing the Bugatti and rejoining the race seem to be receding into the distance along with the competition.

“Now sir, you would appear to have a malfunctioning tail light” The Bugatti had no tail light that I was aware of and my mouth hangs open in astonishment at the buffoon’s next words..

“A vintage model like this, shouldn’t be left unattended in this particular postcode sir – I’ll send the tow truck down…address?”

“Brighton!” I shout, I could kiss the man, instead, I give him an address just around the corner from the finishing line and administration being complete, gratefully accept his offer of a lift to the nearest station.

Ensconced in first class, a bottle of Krug to the good, my mood is considerably improved by the attendance of a winsome beauty disguised as a waitress by the name of Victoria. The Krug and her cheerful mangling of the queen’s celebrated english warming the cockles of my heart. As the train speeds through the countryside. I can see the racers bent double over the wheel, scarves trailing behind, faces pulled into a ghastly rictus by the wind. With savage glee, I pull down the window and hurl the empty bottle at the cream and tan Porsche driven by Count Luciano La Ronde, the resulting swerve creating a tidal wave of chaos that entangles the traffic all the way back to London within minutes.

Yawning, I click my fingers airily at my glorious Victoria and demand a second bottle, Bollinger, chilled this time and snappy. She extracts the gum from her mouth and presses it firmly into my eye before swaying seductively up the aisle. “Little minx!” I murmur appreciatively, removing the gum and admiring the delectable sway of her hips as the train clatters through the outskirts of Brighton.

As I sprint from the train as quickly as the bottle of lukewarm fizz will allow, I trip and fall heavily into an outfit from the shires, carefully unloading a bath chair from the train. Barging them aside, I seize the chair and use it like a scooter, sailing through the entrance hall with an airy doff of the cap and out into the cobbled street. To my horror I find myself hurtling at breakneck speed down the hill towards the finishing line, a large crowd flanking the road, hurling their caps in the air at my sudden appearance.

I’m determined to make the best of what is clearly developing into a very bad day indeed and so with no further ado and for reasons that are mysterious at best, I elect to perform acrobatics on the chair; poised on one foot, the other extended backwards, leather coat tails streaming in the draught I place one hand over my eyes to shade from the glare of the sea and to the great amusement of the crowd sail majestically through the tape and onto the pier. The end is as sudden as the water is cold. As I clamber out of the sea, mustaches detumescant and spirits dampened, I am greeted by my erstwhile ally the Sergeant.

“Assault with a deadly weapon, taking and driving away of a Bath Chair, driving the aforementioned Bath Chair at speeds exceeding those laid down by the municipal council as safe limits for the…”

“Shoot me now” I interrupt. My life is in ruins, Broke, a busted flush. I think of poor Hattie, her coy smile and marvelous meringues, of the estimable Bog Mahoney, who, I have no doubt, is even now shouldering his way through the crowd with terrible intent, of the twins trained to kill and of aunt feverishly polishing the twelve bore in preparation for my empty handed return. I turn, and diving into the waves, strike out at a brisk pace for France.

Posted by: Chris Wright | September 21, 2008

The Race – Part II

“You’re looming again Peregrine, I will not tolerate being loomed over…”

Great Aunt Augustine, as grimly determined to hang on to her vast fortune and crumbling estate as she is reluctant to see her only living heir prosper. One hundred and seven years old, patrician, perfectionst and practically blind, she is equipped with a monocle screwed into the socket of her one good eye. She fixes me with a basilisk stare.

“You want to drive an automobile to Brighton…and what, pray, has that to do with me?”

“I thought, Dearest Aunt, you might be prepared to sponsor…?”

“Sponsor! You mean lend you money?”

It was not going well, the old girl was tighter than a cat’s withers and it was going to take more than warm words to prise the requisite monies from her vice like grip. Desperately I considered my options, Bog Mahoney had taken to following me everywhere, cracking his knuckles meaningfully. He was even now to be seen crashing through the shrubbery, peering in through the windows of the drawing room.

“Well, more of a gift….”

“A gift!..” she raised an eyebrow as if the concept was entirely original, “..and what would I get from this…gift?”

“A fridge magnet and a special commemorative biro?”

As the words fell foolishly from my palsied lips, the temperature seemed to drop by several degrees. From the corner of my eye I saw Bog, peering through the glass, drawing his finger, with menace, across his throat.

“You there!”

The old girl had spotted him, the afternoon was unraveling faster than tuesday’s favourite at Kempton Park

“Yes you..” Bog with comical bad timing was gurning horribly “I simply cannot abide these lower orders…” she muttered, beckoning him towards the french windows. The brute shambled into the drawing room, pausing to remove the bowler from his head. My spirits rising at the prospect, this was going to be good, there was only going to be one winner and it wouldn’t be the estimable Bog.

“And what the devil do you think you’re playing at, lurking in my shrubbery?”

“To be sure, mum, I’m only after seeing Mr Oatenshaw.”

“Don’t you ‘mum’ me you impertinent cretin! Well, here he is, what have you got to say for yourself?”

Bog mumbling, distractedly tearing the rim from his bowler.

I shrugged “I’ve never set eyes on the fellow”

“Be quiet Peregrine! Now you..” she jabbed at the hapless Bog with her parasol “..I want you off my property in one second’s time or I’ll set the dogs on you. Do you understand? Now bugger off!”

Bog backing nervously away trips over the footstool and arms flailing like windmills begins the slow descent. Grabbing the tablecloth as he goes down, Bog sprawls across the parquet like a felled ox, Earl Grey dripping down his rubicund features. Scrambling for his broken bowler and the shredded remains of his dignity, a ferocious barking and clattering of claws on the parquet as Timmy and Tessa, the Doberman twins burst into the room, skating across the polished surface. I draw my finger meaningfully across my throat as he turns and sprints across the lawn, the twins tearing at his flying coat tails. With a creditable leap he reaches the top of the garden wall, Timmy, teeth fastened firmly in his capacious haunch, snarling and tearing at the overfed flesh.

“What an absolutely ghastly little man…a friend of yours Peregrine?”

“Good heavens Aunt, I hope you don’t think I….”

“Be quiet! Now fetch me my chequebook..”

I leaped to my feet, the chequebook and pen relayed to the old girls side in a second.

“Now, the truth – how much do you owe these men?”

I blanched, the old girl was sharp as a tack. “About ten, give or take a couple of hundred…”

“Well you’re a complete dead loss Peregrine, but I suppose you know that. You remind me ever so slightly of dear Bertie…here is my cheque for one thousand pounds – if I see you here again without that money, plus interest at twelve and one half percent, I’ll set the dogs on you myself, do I make myself clear?”

Timmy, head cocked, blood smeared across his frankly unfriendly features, issuing an unmistakably hostile growl.

“Now tell Seward to bring me my scotch on the way out – I’ll take the Laphroaig with a dash of water.”

As I walk across the lawn, the precious cheque folded neatly into my pocketbook I look back, the old bird is knocking back the scotch like a trooper, and good grief, that’s Bertie’s twelve bore she appears to be vigorously cleaning. I pick up my pace, step briskly onto the gravel, the race is on.

Posted by: Chris Wright | September 13, 2008

The Race – Part I

This splendidly chilly Autumn day, sun wearily lighting the cobbles, the mews ringing with the sound of a powerful engine spluttering into life. The type 35 Bugatti, painstakingly restored, coughs, chokes and dies. The clatter of spanners flung and bastard bloody Bertie red faced and foul phrased, venting his spleen.

Sliding into ‘The Royal Oak’ for a snifter, “Morning Mr. Oatenshaw”, simpering Soames, uxorious and crafty, the hard faced witch of a curtain twitching wife homing in.

“I’ll take a glass of your finest malt, stick it on the tab, there’s a good chap”

Soames wincing as the wife goes for the jugular “The tab” she hisses, “Ask him about the tab”

Coughs, glances back, the evil eyed scold urging him on. I knock back the Glendronach, slam the glass on the bar, spin on my heel and make for the door. She darts out from the bar and plants herself in my path.

“Mr. Oatenshaw, there is a matter I’d like to discuss…” She is grinning like a fool, the gombeen hand outstretched as per bloody usual.

I wearily reach into my coat, extracting the calfskin wallet, peeling a wad of tens. She shuffles them like a croupier and stretches out the hand once more. I stare in disbelief at the fingerless misers mittens, at the finger and thumb rubbed quickly together.

“One hundred and thirty eight pounds you’ve drunk in here…”

“My dear Mrs. Soames” I turn up the charm, effecting my most winning smile “Would you send a man to work without a drink in his belly?”

Flinty eyed and stone cold sober she stares straight back at me “Don’t you dear me, you ponce! I’ll have another fifty before you leave my pub..”

I reach once more into the coat, the wallet, which, somewhat lightened yields a further twenty, snatched from my fingers without ceremony. “Thirty pounds before you’ll have another drink in this pub..” Puffed up like a natterjack she marches across the room and rings the cash into the till, offering a handful of IOU’s for my inspection. I peruse the scrawled signatures, marvelling at the penmanship and count the cost of my extravagance, the Pauillac Grand Puy Lacoste had been a particularly fine companion to an excellent roast lamb only a couple of weeks ago.

With a flourish, I bowed low – “Well good day to you Mrs. Soames, I shall, as ever, look forward to our next encounter with eager anticipation, the sap shall rise…”

“Bugger off” she replied.

I’d put five hundred down with the Chinese in Soho and another five in covering bets with various bookmakers around town. My turf accountant Scannion had estimated my deficit at nine; Bog Mahoney, as he called himself had visited me last evening, his frame blotting out the light as he issued graphic descriptions of the bodily harm he had visited upon Scannion’s defaulters in the past – I’d stopped him as he described the sound of an eyeball collapsing under the pressure of his horny thumb. If the Oatenshaw visage was to grace another womans chamber, I was damn sure it would be with both eyes intact.

The cobbles contusing my feet through paper thin soles, I contemplate incipient ruin for a few seconds before striding briskly out to beard Bertie on the thorny subject of the Bugatti. He emerges oil streaked and red faced, offering a grimy paw which I pointedly ignore.

Bertie blathering about crankshaft torsional vibration, primary and secondary balance. My head was reeling, the words lining up but in the wrong order – I hadn’t the faintest notion what he was talking about. The nitwit rambled on, a veritable torrent of bad news.

“Its the camshaft” he offered, “crankshaft whip too…”

“and in plain english that would be….?”

“We’re buggered….Sir”

Posted by: Chris Wright | September 7, 2008

A Winter’s Tale

The Stilton, pungent and creamy, melted into my palate like mist, crackers roughing up the tongue, a generous slug of Cockburn’s clearing the stage for a second, prolonged assault.

“Ghosts!” I roared, “Never heard such bloody nonsense – the only spirit I know is the one that disappears …down Merry’s gullet!”

Laughter rolled extravagantly round the table, it had been an excellent dinner, Muster’s cook Benedict certainly knew a thing or two about pheasant, the rich meat still moist, rolling the shot around the tongue. Hattie’s bread sauce, cloves adding just a suggestion of continental brio, potatoes roasted in goose fat, crisp and succulent, a gravy fit for kings. Outside, the wind howled like a banshee around the house, inside, log fires roared defiantly, warming the cold flag floors and keeping the spirits high.

Musters beaming at the head of the table, whiskers bristling with pride, a man in his pomp. The Reverend James Montague Rhodes, thin lipped, ascetic and drawn, wiping his mouth fastidiously with a napkin. He spoke, tremulous at first.

“You may mock sir, but there are things we understand and things that we do not, never say never. I have myself some experience of the inexplicable…”

“You’ve seen a ghost?” I banged the table “Well let’s hear it sir! Out with it man!” The others joined in, a tribal drumming, rising in volume and intensity. Rhodes raised a hand “Very well then, but first let me assure you, every word of what I am about to tell you is true – ghosts? Who knows, I have my opinions, you will have yours.”

“Twenty years ago, when I was at Cambridge, it was my habit to take an early morning stroll before prayers, clear the sleep from my head, prepare for the day. I’d walk down by the canal, enjoy the birdsong, the quiet before the city woke up. There was a towpath, besides St. Bartholomew’s, it was said on a hot day that the smell of the dead found its way through the stones of the wall beside the path. One thing was sure, in the old days, the horses refused to go through that path, the barges would have to be pulled through by hand, the horses led up the hill and rejoin the canal at the next lock. The gypsies used to charge a pretty penny for manning the ropes – of course, most people thought it was the gypsies that spread the story.

Goes without saying, it was absolute rot about the smell. I suppose it was the stories and the fact nobody was around at that time in the morning, but I’d always imagine it was colder and hurry through that little bit faster. It might have been my imagination, but there was a sadness, a sense of desolation about the place, I never could explain it.”

A hush had descended upon the table, the reverend had our attention, the clink of glass on glass as he carefully poured a measure of water into the crystal tumbler beside him. The Stilton suddenly seemed a lot less inviting. He drank, wiped his lips and continued.

“One morning in particular, I suppose it must have been April or May, sunshine breaking through, but still cold at that hour, I made my walk as usual and got back to the church to prepare my lesson for the service. As I walked down the aisle I heard, quite distinctly, a sob – there was nobody in the church and I didn’t hear another sound, but I tell you, the hairs on my neck stood on end – there is no doubt in my mind about that sob, I can hear it now.

Anyway, I searched the church from top to bottom, not another soul in the place and so I marched outside to see if I could see anybody in the grounds, don’t know why there should have been, there was ample time for somebody to make the short walk from church to road while I had been inside. Couldn’t see anybody in the graveyard or on the road and feeling a little puzzled, returned to my books. The morning service went without a hitch and I was relieved to feel quite better afterwards as I conversed with the congregation on their way out of the church. Of course I was tragically premature.

As the last of the congregation filed through the graveyard towards the gate, there was a terrible commotion, the wall beside the towpath collapsed, without warning, burying a small boy, who had by all accounts been seen prying stones out of the wall with a clasp knife and pitching them across the canal, we all rushed down and started pulling the stones away. The boy was killed of course, but here’s the odd thing – there was a second body found, quite mummified, a baby wrapped in a shawl. Must have been there for years.”

There was a deathly quiet around the table, somehow the wind had been removed from our sails – bloody nonsense I’m sure, but nevertheless it cast quite a chill onto the gathering. Musters coughed after a second or two and we made our way through to the drawing room, rejoining the ladies.

Musters busied himself with the fire, rearranging the logs, coaxing a welcome blaze out of the smouldering pyre, sparks spitting and roaring up the chimney, soon the party had perked up. I was unusually quiet, there was something about that story that had spooked me, I don’t mind admitting and I took very little part in the rest of the evening’s gaiety, preferring to refill my glass and drink. It must have been two or three o’clock when I found Musters, shaking me violently by the shoulder. The storm was still blowing and rain lashed against the windowpanes, the fire had died down and the other guests had made their way to bed.

“Oatenshaw! time for bed old chap”

I made my excuses and taking a final balloon of brandy, made my way up the butlers stairs to the west wing. The lights flickered and cursing my thick head I hurried along the passage wondering if the lights would stay bright – I got my answer almost immediately, a mighty clap, a fizz and a splutter and then darkness. I froze, my heart racing. There was a still, and in that split second before the lightning I swear I heard a single, solitary sob. I gasped and reached out for the wall for support – the flash lit the passage up like daylight and in that flash I saw, quite clearly, the reverend, standing by the window, his face ghastly, his thin lips spread in a rictus as he gazed out at that terrible storm.

The thunder rolled and I stood absolutely still, the drink had left me now, I’ve never been more sober – in a second, the lights flickered and came back, I can’t say how delighted I was and draining the balloon in one, I started forward, of the reverend there was no sign, and if I say so, I was quite relieved – I’d had enough of the bloody man and his scaremongering for one night. Reaching the sanctuary of the bedroom, I built up the fire and snuggled deep into the linen sheets, dreaming of Hattie, her pert backside and mischievous giggle.

Waking around eight o’clock I found a pitcher of steaming water had been prepared and pouring it into the bowl I happily shaved, working up a splendid lather, the cut throat gliding across my taught skin, I reviewed my progress periodically in the glass and as that handsome fellow stared back, winked conspiratorially. Dapper and in high spirits, I made my way downstairs anticipating the froth of battered eggs and grilled tomatoes that Muster’s house parties enviable reputation was built upon.

I found Musters in the hall, his raised hand stopped me in my tracks.

“Oatenshaw old chap, rather a rum do. The Reverend…. I had a telegram this morning, from his sister – seems the rectory was struck by lightning last night – roof caught fire and well, his wife and daughter… “

Posted by: Chris Wright | August 30, 2008

The Case Of The Limehouse Golem Pt III

After pausing for a restorative brandy at the Turks Head in Marylebone High Street, I found myself ascending the stairs at Baker Street somewhat later than I had anticipated – the page boy had long since departed for bed. On opening the door, the sight that awaited me left me reeling in shock – the place was in tatters, contents scattered willy-nilly, furniture upended. I rushed to the telephone and called the operator – the line was dead and remembering Holmes stern instruction to have Lestrade meet him at Butlers Wharf I was plunged into a blue funk. It had all gone horribly wrong and it was my fault – Holmes, hopelessly outnumbered, was probably being held captive in some ghastly dungeon while Moriarty went about his infernal business. The room seemed to reel about me and I staggered to the chair and sat down, my head in my hands.

I have no idea how long I sat there, hours, days what did it matter? My doleful countenance stared back at me from the mirror over the hearth, how long had it been since a smile cracked that haggard visage? Rubbing my hand across my cheek I was startled to find a rough beard scratching my tender fingers – examining myself anew, I was encouraged to note an air of some dignity had attached itself to me in a quite inexplicable manner. I pulled a face, swept the hair back across my brow, there was no doubt. The beard lent me an air of magisterial authority – excitedly I rushed to the cabinet and pulled out a selection of inks, razors and brushes; working the lather to a froth, I softened the hair on my top lip and applied the razor, leaving a small square of moustache, directly beneath the nose. The hair, I swept left to right across my forehead, applied ink to the eyebrows and stared back at myself, I raised my right arm as if in salute. Wild eyed and with ink smudged across my cheek I resembled nobody more than the music hall comedian, Charles Chaplin. The air of authority had been nothing more than wishful thinking; I sank feebly onto the linen basket, put my head in my hands and wept.

I awoke to find Mrs. Murgatroyd, busying herself with breakfast, tottering into the drawing room I found a table laid for one, a bowl of steaming porridge, piping hot Kippers and if I’m not mistaken a splendid pot of Assam tea.

“By Jove! Mrs. Murgatroyd that’s a sight for sore eyes!”

The portly housekeeper turned, screamed and dropped the teapot, “Mr. Oatenshaw! Whatever ‘ave you done to yerself?”

“Why Mrs. Murgatroyd, nothing that a plate of your estimable kippers won’t cure!”

“But… you look a sight sir!”

“Yes well, that’s as maybe Mrs. Murgatroyd…”

“What were you thinking of, that silly moustache, and blimey what ‘ave they done to yer eyebrows, I’ve never seen such a show – wait till I fetch Maisy!”

“That’s quite enough thank you very much, Mrs. Murgatroyd”

“Was it fancy dress Mr. Oatenshaw? My word!, wait till I tell Bert…”

“Mrs. Murgatroyd!” I snapped, “You will not tell Bert, Maisy, Uncle Tom Cobbley or anyone else for that matter – I’m engaged in a most important investigation and I’ll thank you to keep your opinions to yourself in future.”

“Whatever you say Mr. Oatenshaw sir!” she bustled down the passageway and I heard whispering and ill concealed giggles from the stairs. A few seconds later Maisy knocked at the door.

“Yes, Maisy, what is it?” I said crossly, tucking the napkin into my shirt collar and reaching for the cream.

Speechless with mirth, Maisy was doubled up in the doorway, hands clutching her sides, face scarlet with the effort. Grimly I ignored her and poured the cream carefully over my plate of kippers. The sight was too much for Maisy, who collapsed breathless to the floor, pointing a shaking finger in my general direction. It seemed I was a figure of fun to everyone these days, not just Holmes and Lestrade but half the domestic staff in London were apparently queuing up to enjoy a good laugh at my expense. I’d show them. Hurling my napkin to the floor, I strode past the helpless Maisy and descended the stairs.

Outside in the street, the sun shone and I began to feel better about myself. I hailed a passing cab and eyed the cabby suspiciously as I gave directions to Butlers Wharf, but he was sour faced and irascible, not a glimmer of mirth crossed his features and reassured I climbed into the cab and settled back to read the News.

“Limehouse Golem strikes again!” I read. With mounting horror I read of a chase in the area surrounding Butlers Wharf, Police had been called to a disturbance involving a woman of ill repute and a stevedore, in the confusion, the doxy had vanished and it was not until the stevedore had been subdued that the police noticed the blood, dripping from a pair of legs, swinging gently in the Thameside breeze. Following the legs, the police had discovered a fresh atrocity had been committed, the torso suspended from a dockside crane. The head was nowhere to be found. It seemed the police were now looking for a woman with a thick European accent and a blood soaked wig.

In despair, I alighted at Butlers Wharf and made my way down to the dockside. The bloodstains were still fresh on the quay and looking up I could see the chain where the poor devil must have been suspended, high over the Thames. What kind of a monster were we looking for? I was certain this was Moriarty’s doing, But where the devil was Holmes?

Walking back to the bridge, the sound of a violin rent the morning air, As I entered the subway I saw a young woman, sawing away at the instrument, playing a tune that was oddly familiar. I groped in my pocket for a florin, and prepared to issue a stern lecture to the waif. As I came abreast of the girl I made to toss the florin into her violin case but was startled to find my wrist caught in a vicelike grip before I could release the coin. In thickly accented tones, the figure spoke “Mr. Oatenshaw at last. It is my pleasure…”

My blood ran cold and I saw a vision of myself, grinning ear to ear, hoisted high above the Thames, my blood thundered in my ears and I must have staggered. The next thing I heard was high pitched giggles before a moist linen pad was pressed across my mouth, the fumes invading my breath and I fainted clean away.

I was awoken by a sharp pain, there was salt water, lapping at my face – I was lying on a strip of sodden sand, a curious seagull pecking at my head. I shooed the creature away and looked around me – the crepuscular gloom yielded little detail, but I appeared to be surrounded by water, lights glimmering who knows how far away to my left, hinted at some human settlement, but of my captor there was no sign. I got to my feet and set off towards the lights, the water slopping over the top of my shoes and as the minutes passed, rising steadily up my legs – I surmised that the tide was rising and that I would drown if I did not reach the lights soon. I picked up my pace and half swimming, half walking, eventually made dry land. Shaking a shrimp from my sodden breeches, I made my way to the high street, determined to find a police station.

It seemed there was some kind of carnival going on, soon I found myself in the thick of a merry throng, a marching band and a gang of tumblers, lascars by the look of them. Girls on horseback exposed alarming expanses of thigh, my attention was drawn hither and thither and when a painted hussy presented me with a glass of amber fluid I felt that refusal would be churlish and knocked it back with gusto. Several hours later I found myself dancing the light fantastic, the roar of the crowd, the sawdust and the lights blending into one another as I leaped and twirled. I felt larger than life and appreciated for once. My new friends made me feel at ease and as I eagerly accepted another glass of the mysterious amber nectar, I resolved to leave the city and stay with the circus. The warmth of these people compared to the froidure of life in Baker Street made me realise there were alternatives and exciting ones at that.

When I awoke, I was quite alone in a deserted field, a horse nuzzling at my ear. Of the circus there was no trace. Unsteadily I got to my feet, a blinding headache making it difficult to focus. Gazing down I saw two feet clad in monstrous shoes, surmounted by a vividly checked ensemble that appeared to have been made for a giant. Yellow braces held up the trousers, whose circumference could easily have encircled my waist twice and the tails of the coat appeared to drag along the ground several yards behind me. Upon my head, a miniscule bowler completed the outfit. I groaned and the horse snickered and cantered away.

I reached Baker Street that evening at ten o’clock. To my great surprise, Holmes was sitting smoking a pipe in his favourite chair, and I excitedly rushed into the room, my outsized shoes causing me to trip and fall, “Holmes!” I exclaimed from the floor.

“Ah. Oatenshaw, whatever kept you?” Holmes enquired, one eyebrow raised, a cup of tea poised inches from his lips.

“I’ve had the very devil of a day” I began, struggling to regain my composure.

“I should say you have” replied Holmes “if I’m not mistaken, that costume you are wearing belongs to the travelling circus run by one Franklyn Smart. His principal act if my memory serves me correctly is a trapeze artist – Ellie Monterey?”

My spirits sank to my oversized boots – another voice spoke up, I had not seen Lestrade, warming his breeches by the fire.

“No, I think you’ll find, Holmes, it was the tumbler, Ollie Mantar…”

“Eh! My dear chap, I think not…it was the….

“Never mind the bloody circus” I roared “What happened to the Limehouse Golem?”

For once Holmes looked startled, I had had enough, standing there in Baker Street dressed as a clown, I wanted an explanation and wanted it fast.

Holmes languidly raised a hand, “The case of the Limehouse Golem” he began

I sank exhausted into my chair and poured myself a cup of Mrs. Murgatroyd’s excellent Lapsang Souchong, Helping myself to a portion of fig cake, I snuggled down into the chair. The room was warm and I was tired. As Holmes mellifluous and self congratulatory tones outlined the capture of the Limehouse Golem I realised that the outcome really didn’t matter, what mattered was here, in Baker Street, clown shoes or not, I was home and amongst friends. My head felt heavy and I rested my chin on my chest. Soon I was fast asleep. The last thing I recall was the sound of a violin playing an oddly familiar tune.

Posted by: Chris Wright | August 23, 2008

The Case Of The Limehouse Golem Pt II

I reached the Police station by way of Marylebone road in less than an hour, and announced myself to the desk sergeant, rubbing my hands in gleeful anticipation – if I could convince Lestrade of the merit of my findings, then we could apprehend the villain and perhaps even spare some unsuspecting soul from an excruciating end.

“Thank you Mr. Oates, if you’ll just take a seat, the inspector will be with you shortly.”

“eh? The name’s Oatenshaw, Peregrine Percival Oatenshaw”

“We have no Inspector Oatenshaw sir?”

“No, the name is Oatenshaw” I replied testily.

“I’m sorry Mr. Oates, sir, I thought you said Inspector Lestrade…”

“No!” I shouted “The name is Oatenshaw, I want to see Inspector Lestrade…”

The constable looked at me, one large hand scratching his head, pushing his cap to one side, giving him the appearance of a music hall turn, eventually he opened his mouth, closed it, then with a look of sly cunning, leaned forward across the desk.

“Now Mr. Oates, there’s no need to get excited sir, we’ll soon find your Inspector Oatenshaw.” Turning away from me, he appeared to touch his forehead with his index finger, making some curious gesture to somebody I could not see, deep inside the police station.

“Good grief man! Can’t you understand plain english?” I yelled, poking a finger deep into his serge clad chest “My name is Oatenshaw, I have come here to see Inspector Lestrade!”

I straightened up and suddenly found my arms gripped by two white coated orderlies whose presence I had not previously been aware of. I found myself being dragged at speed along the corridors, my feet unable to keep up, the toes of my shoes scraping along the floor, my spats snagging on every unseen obstacle. My impatience began to get the better of me and I started to kick up a fearful din.

“Lestrade!” I screamed, “call off these idiots immediately!”

The sound of a robust iron door being opened and I suddenly found myself weightless, hurtling through space into a darkening void. As suddenly as I had begun to analyse the situation, I was brought to a shocking halt by what I later deduced to be the police station wall. As I sank towards the floor, I heard the sound of a heavy bolt being drawn to and with that I must have lost consciousness.

I was woken by a bright light shining into my eyes, blinking owlishly, I raised a hand to ward of any further intrusions upon my dignity and was startled to hear the voice of Inspector Lestrade, as if from a considerable distance.

“Well I’ll be blowed, Oatenshaw – what in the name of god has brought you to this pretty pass?”

“Thank heavens!” I mumbled, my lip thick from the impact with the wall, “Inspector Lestrade!”

“You poor old chap” he replied jovially “wait till Holmes finds out about this!”

My heart sank at the prospect of Holmes’ supercilious and condescending manner, the relentless ribbing I would suffer, occasioned by this latest downturn in my fortunes. I could see him now, in my minds eye, murmuring reproachfully in Latin, a raised eyebrow and the hint of a cruel smile playing across his saturnine features. I groaned.

“My dear fellow,” responded Lestrade, “Are you quite sure you’re alright – why don’t you come along with me and we’ll sort this out in no time at all…”

Several hours later, I was sitting in front of a roaring coal fire in Lestrade’s quarters nursing a cup of the finest Darjeeling, a tea I find preferable to almost any other between the hours of three o’clock and four thirty – save for the possible exception of a Lapsang Souchong or even an Earl Grey. I was able to demonstrate to him the crossword puzzle, ending triumphantly in the answer “Southend Pier”

“But don’t y’see man – Moriarty is letting us know the location of these heinous crimes in advance – there’s absolutely no time to lose…”

Lestrade looked pensive for a second, his back to the fire, he rubbed his head and spoke.

“Do you mean..” he said “That Moriarty is inventing that damn puzzle in the News?”

“Precisely” I responded, helping myself to a slice of Mrs. Madison’s splendid fruit cake, “it’s quite clear that Moriarty has taken over the Evening News crossword, with the express intention of making a monkey of the forces of law and order!”

“Well it’s a damn difficult puzzle” Lestrade replied after a few seconds thought.

“For a man of my highly developed deductive powers…” I began.

“Five across, yesterday’s edition – don’t mind admitting, got the better of me!” he continued happily, seemingly oblivious to the import of my revelation.

I became dimly aware of a peculiar smell, and I dare say if my wits had been about me I would have acted rather sooner than I did. I wondered for a moment how Holmes would have responded to Lestrade’s extraordinary stupidity.

“It is devilishly cunning” I continued, taking a sip of the Darjeeling and closing my eyes in order to concentrate “..only a man of considerable and specialized knowledge would have been able to decipher his infernal mission. The fact of the matter is that the sophistry brought to bear upon this apparently innocent puzzle has turned it from a harmless pastime into a potentially lethal…Great Scott!”

Lestrade was staggering about the hearth, flames leaping up the tails of his coat – jumping to my feet I thrashed inexpertly at him with the rolled up newspaper, to little avail, succeeding only in fanning the flames to the point that the newspaper combusted – hurling the damn thing into a corner I seized the teapot and poured the contents into Lestrades collar – the flames died down and Lestrade sank exhausted into the armchair, a raised finger pointing feebly to the corner where the blaze had now spread to the newly papered walls. Calmly I rang the bell for Mrs. Madison and sank with some relief onto the ottoman. In a crisis, a calm head and decisive action are called for. The housekeeper would know what to do.

Later, as we stood outside the smoking ruin that only hours previously had been a fully functional Police Station, I turned to Lestrade, who, wrapped in a tartan blanket, looked for all the world like a romany gypsy. I passed him my flask, filled that very morning by Mrs. Miggins with a rather superior imported Armagnac and remarked

“Well Lestrade, it was deuced fortunate that I happened along, what?”

His response, as he was led away by the nurse was indistinct, but I could have sworn I picked out the word “Imbecile”. Shrugging it off as the untrammeled babbling of a mind gone haywire I reflected for a moment on the catastrophic impact that such a shock could have on even the most finely honed intelligence. Shaking my head sorrowfully, I made my way back to Baker Street, determined not to let this minor setback deflect me from the job in hand….

to be continued….

Posted by: Chris Wright | August 16, 2008

The Case Of The Limehouse Golem Pt I

The family’s connection to the famous Sherlock Holmes is something we usually keep under wraps, so to speak. The facts, involving as they do, the most unspeakable crimes, do not reflect well on Uncle Perry and his involvement quite frankly did little to accelerate the eventual capture of the infernal perpetrators.

The story begins with the Limehouse docks, that it ends on the Southend pier is testament to the inefficiency and boneheadedness of the constabulary, in particular Police Inspector Lestrade, whose inability to entertain any except the most fatuous advice led him to team up with Uncle Perry and devote extraordinary amounts of police time to the increasingly obsessive solving of a crossword puzzle in which Uncle Perry had convinced him, Moriarty was leaving clues. It is at this point that we should hand over to Uncle Peregrine Percival Oatenshaw – I can no longer trust myself to write impartially of this blemish on the family’s good reputation…

March 13th 1897

I have by some stroke of good fortune, come across a daguerreotype depicting a woman whose countenance is strangely familiar, the piercing eyes and aquiline features remind me of someone…damned if I know who… The Times today featured another article on the so called Limehouse Golem , the monster has dispatched another poor soul to an end they can scarcely have deserved. The body was found, as were the others, in a state of evisceration, the insertion of a length of copper piping sideways in the mouth producing an unnatural leer, stretching like a jack o’lantern from ear to ear. Ghastly business. I wonder what Holmes would make of it?

Only one clue remaining in today’s crossword – damned if I know the answer! ‘Light of my life, James? (4, 1, 7)

March 14th 1897

Splitting headache today, don’t mind admitting I may have had one over the eight last night. Mrs. Miggins gin surprise certainly struck the right spot. I do wish Holmes was here, this accursed Limehouse Golem has struck again, Lestrade was here at the crack of dawn this morning, brandishing the ‘News’, for all his bluster, the poor fellow hasn’t a clue.

Speaking of which ‘Giant Domesticated Citrus (9, 5)’

March 15th 1897

An early morning stroll in Regents Park, to clear my head, the first faint shoots of green are breaking out on the elm, a leisurely promenade with only the crossword for company. I wondered where Holmes had got to, his sudden disappearences were becoming more frequent and to my chagrin, never explained.

Armory half time anag. (8)?

Moriarty! The damned impudence!

Breaking into a trot, I made good time across the park and it was only 10 o’clock when I reached Baker Street once more.

“There’s been a lady asking for you, sir” said the page-boy as I stumbled breathlessly into the hall, “I showed her up to your chambers.” I slipped the boy a sixpence and climbed the stairs. Upon entering the chambers, the first thing that struck me was a foul stench reminiscent of burning dishclothes, I deduced that our visitor was a char and that she had been caught in a downpour.

The figure ensconced in my favourite armchair was bone dry and puffing contentedly on a Meerschaum, exquisitely carved and if my eye did not deceive me strangely familiar. The long thin fingers suggested an academic bent and I reluctantly abandoned my initial theory as to her occupation.

“My dear Professor Meerschaum – “ I began. She looked up from the crossword, a flicker of irritation crossing her handsome features. “My names not Meerschaum and unless I’m very much mistaken, yours is not Holmes?”

“Peregrine Percival Oatenshaw, at your service” I blustered, unsettled by her curt rejoinder. She glanced at me, a pair of sharp grey eyes fixed me to the spot. Blowing a perfect smoke ring, she watched it carefully as its wreathes gradually coiled and faded. Finally she spoke: “Of the Stomach, intestinal, ten letters beginning with ‘a’.

“Alimentary!” I cried, “Holmes! You’re back!”

“Indeed I am back Watson, and not before time!”

He sprang from the chair, tearing the dress from his perfectly toned frame.

“If I’m not mistaken, the games afoot! Come on there is no time to lose – we will need fresh provisions, perhaps one of Mrs. Miggins’ Pork Pies, we’re off to the docks!”

Irked as I was by his casual failure to even remember my name, I was startled to see that he had taken his disguise so far as to sport a garter belt and brassiere, Holmes was always extraordinarily thorough in his preparation, if not in his appreciation of my companionship.

“I say, Holmes!” I began, eager to test my new theory on the great man. I picked up the paper, discarded by Holmes, running my eye across the clues he had filled in…Jack O’Lantern, Limehouse Golem, Moriarty….

“Never mind that Watson” Holmes interrupted, “Get yourself across to Marylebone post haste and see Lestrade, tell him to meet me at Butlers Wharf at precisely thirteen minutes past three o’clock!”

Suddenly downcast, I sat down, Holmes had solved all of the clues bar one, the theory I had taken three days to construct had taken the detective less than five minutes. I gazed at the one remaining clue.

Peter on top of the world ? (8, 4) – Southend Pier!

Could it be possible that the great man had missed the most vital clue of all? I resolved to keep this to myself, in truth, the years of being the butt of Holmes’ tiresome practical jokes and constant, grating failure to remember my name had become irksome and I yearned to show him my true mettle.

It was with a fresh spring in my step that I set out towards the police station, there to meet with Inspector Lestrade….

to be continued

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