The alarming tale of the girl who had soup for breakfast.

A tale of Avram Esterbrooke, by Boswell Hardwick

I was enjoying a breakfast of kippers and fried potato when I head my wife call out from the hallway of our
small apartment - "Postalgram for you Boswell, hand delivered"

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.

Turning my 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
Avram Esterbrooke.

I shall for decorum's sake pass lightly over the scene that followed as I made my excuses to my dear long
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 after
ten and I had made good time.

The docks were little changed - the sights and smells were unpalatable but honest and the throng of men
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 note with
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 was held
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
shamble 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
twitched off in the direction of the alley running alongside the bar and from within the recesses of his
garments hissed the single word "Follow."

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
sent by Esterbrooke and I strode off after him into the damp confines of the alley.

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 of the
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.

His 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.

"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-
strewn staff.

"Kippers and 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 than
I have no fear that it is good enough for my purposes." His flattery was by way of an apology and I took it
as such.

A 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 swept past
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
ask questions at this juncture, I could tell that the quirk in this tale that had gripped his attention was soon
to be forthcoming.

"The soup 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
glass 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 ….