I was enjoying a breakfast of
kippers and fried potato when I head my wife call out from the hallway of
small apartment - "Postalgram for you Boswell, hand
She skipped into our parlour and kissing me on the
forehead she dropped the 'gram with the other post on
the table and
made a comment about leaving some breakfast for her as she would be done
with her morning
ablutions in a few moments.
attention from her departing form to the telegram sitting before me I had
one brief moment of
still pleasure - my wife's kiss still damp on my
head, my stomach full and the early morning sun dappling
the table -
before I recognised the handwriting on the envelope as belonging to my old
and dearest friend
I shall for decorum's
sake pass lightly over the scene that followed as I made my excuses to my
suffering spouse and - not 15 minutes later was scrubbed,
dressed and hailing a handsome cab from the
doorway. The missive had
been blunt - 'Boswell, meet me at The Warehouse Bar and Grill by the docks
this morning no later than eleven.' No protestations of doom or hints
of danger, but anyone who was
familiar with Esterbrooke would know
that for this singularly private man to have left the confines of
Caecus College where he makes his home was enough to make me urge the
cabby to quicken his pace.
It had been some time since I had been
at the docks, a year or two at least since the Terrible Case of the
Boy Who Ran Backwards had taken Esterbrooke and myself to the narrow
streets of this disreputable area.
Checking my timepiece before
tucking it back securely into my waistcoat I saw it was but a quarter
ten and I had made good time.
The docks were little
changed - the sights and smells were unpalatable but honest and the throng
surrounding me were mostly engaged in the good natured
labouring that marks most sea ports. I made my
way amongst them and
towards the doors of the eating establishment mentioned in Esterbrookes
small concern for my wellbeing.
I was jarred from my
overconfidence when as I began to open the door of the bar towards me it
fast in place with the butt of a stave thrust against the
jam. Twisting around to berate the fellow who had
impeded my progress
the words of scorn dried on my lips as I was faced with a wretched
creature with no
The stench from this unfortunate was
enough to make me regret my kippers. Covered head to toe in a
of rags made all of a sameness of colour by their encrusted layers of
grime. A swathe of cloth
covered the mans head leaving only a cavern
of shadow where his face should be. This hint of a head
in the direction of the alley running alongside the bar and from within
the recesses of his
garments hissed the single word
The walking ruin shambled off towards the alley, his
weight supported on the short -staff which in a
bizarre bout of
fashionable co-ordination also had rags and twine covering it's length.
After a moments
pause where I feared for my life and nose I made the
presumption that this unfortunate must be an emissary
Esterbrooke and I strode off after him into the damp confines of the
The walls either side of me blocked out most of the light
even at this early hour and the hard packed earth
was slick underfoot
with what I preyed was rainwater. Ahead by a dozen paces the bent figure
tattered tramp glanced back to ensure I was following and then
cut down a cul-de-sac into a tenement
building about which the kindest
thing I could say was that it was in better shape than he was.
stink hung in the confined space like a living thing while he stood facing
me, a silhouette in the back
door of the building: again once sure
that I was pressing forward he vanished on into the
"Garden" was far too grand a word for the desolate area of
scrub-land behind the building - a patch of
wasteland with walls
towering around it - filled more with broken glass than plant life and
there clinging to
the sole of my boot what looked suspiciously like a
pair of bloomers.
I fixed my eye on the figure
before me, mercifully downwind. "Look here my good fellow…." I began in
the best authoritative tone I could muster before he interrupted me
with a jab in my chest from his rag-
potato for breakfast again old man, I thought your charming wife had you
on a diet?"
The voice from beneath the hood was soft and filled
with suppressed glee. Immediately I realised that not
for the first
time I had been duped by one of Esterbrookes' many disguises. "Dear God
Avram!" I retorted,
"I understand you feel the need to go about your
business unobserved, but the stench is beyond the pale;
you smell like
a tinkers toilet!" He chuckled at this and settled himself down on a
nearby barrel, pushing
his hood of rags back and exposing his slender
ghostly pale face to the breeze.
"As always Boswell you are my
litmus test: for if I can fool a mind as keen as yours with my disguise
I have no fear that it is good enough for my purposes." His
flattery was by way of an apology and I took it
string of "what's" and "why's" followed which he patiently waited through
with his trademark stoic
silence and when I had paused long enough for
Avram to fix me with his cold grey eyes.
"Mr and Mrs Silen
Opanhause," he began "their daughter is missing - follow me" With this he
me in a trail of stink and was off back the route we had
travelled, his hood firmly in place once more.
Knowing my friend I
followed in some puzzlement - for in all our long years of association I
had seen him
turn away several dozen lost person researches and could
not begin to speculate as to why he would have
agreed to compile
information on a missing girl. As our steps led us up from the docks and
into the reaches
of level one Esterbrooke enlightened me as to what
had piqued his curiosity.
"It's an odd tale Boswell and no mistake,
the young girl in question had started to behave in a sullen and
belligerent manor towards her family some months ago. Staying out
'till all hours of the night and often
not coming home at all for days
at a time. Perfectly average behaviour for a female of her age.
Some weeks ago she woke early, came to the dining room to partake
of breakfast with her parents where an
argument ensued with her father
regarding her recent comings and goings. She left the table having hardly
begun her meal - was followed through the house by her Mother who
tried to soothe her and begged her to
return to speak with the father.
They had some small words in the kitchen where the girl drank of some
soup from the stove and then left the house by the rear exit. She has
not been seen since."
Avram paused in our upward climb and looked
at me again with his unreadable eyes, I knew better than to
questions at this juncture, I could tell that the quirk in this tale that
had gripped his attention was soon
to be forthcoming.
Boswell, the mother noticed after her daughter had left - and the cook at
the house confirms it -
was near to boiling point and the girl fished
a cup of broth out of the pot and drank it down as if it were a
of cold milk."
He tuned slightly away and strode on, I could hear
his muffled voice under the rags as he murmured to
himself again "Near
boiling Boswell. Near to boiling."
To be continued