Having done ample justice to an excellent late supper of mutton chops and new potatoes, Ayres and I retired to the snug with two quart flagons of foaming ale, a speciality of the house. There we met with our friend Mr Gorilla Bananas, settled in a fireside seat (where he had repaired earlier with a luxury fruit selection basket) busy cracking nuts in his hand, discarding the shells in the grate.
We three sat then in silence thus, each with his own considerations, the only sounds in the room being the rustling of the fire and the wind building up steadily outside on the Moor and the first drops of rain now hitting the glass, as if trying to get in, out the pitch black night.
The loud crack of another walnut, broke my reverie.
“My old friend,” I addressed the great detective, “now that we are, I believe, approaching a crisis that I may find beyond my nerve, can you not tell me more of what we are facing, that I may prepare such meagre means as are at my disposal into some rudimentary battle array for the approaching conflict? ”
“Come again?” he said.
“What’s going on?” I entreated, “please, I beg you, what can you say of these vampires, The Redheaded League, Doctor Evil, Mr McShae and Barbudo! Yes, what about Barbudo? What part is his, in this affair?
The mention of Barbudo’s name brought forth a remarkable response from my two companions.
Both suddenly looked the other in the eye, and with much eyebrow twitching, (a curious form of silent semaphore peculiar to those who spend too much time in the other‘s company), they conversed in telepathic empathy. This time it was obvious from their facial expressions, that I was NOT to be party to all the circumstances surrounding their brave agent.
It fell to Ayres to offer the lame explanation, a sop to my pride:
“There is a delicate matter of professional confidentiality Maroon, that we cannot breach. Do not press us on this.”
“As to the rest,” continued Gorilla Bananas, “it will unfold itself, never fear. Stout-hearted fellow!”
* * *
Finally, gratefully, at last alone in her bedchamber, complete with four poster, en-suite and good view, Miss Lindy, lately of Salem Massachusetts, ran through her drill for the umpteenth time.
“Right,” she said “lets try it blindfold.”
She was dressed in baggy oriental pyjamas, a gift from a kindly old Japanese called Hing Wan Onyi, her sensai in the art of combat.
Standing blindfolded at the furthest corner of the room, she suddenly leapt in the air and somersaulted backwards. Landing on her hands, she immediately sprang up again, cartwheeling across the floor making little ‘hiyah’ sounds. As she passed her dressing table, she grasped a sharpened wooden stake from the clutter of ladies acutriments, and in one fluid movement plunged it straight through the four inch thick oak door. Standing, breathing freely, she removed the blindfold. The stake had struck dead centre at the heart of a figure she had chalked upon the inside of her door.
“Bingo!” she smiled.
Outside in the corridor, the butler Eater, his hand raised in the act of knocking, looked in horror at the stake’s point, now just an inch from his own beating heart.
“I’ll maybe try again tomorrow” he thought, “yes, probably not a good time right now” And off he went to kick the cat.
For Miss Lindy, the whole evening had been odd.
Dinner had been odd:
Oh, the Master of the house had been effusive enough in his greeting, saying how “classy” it was, to have a real librarian in the house, researching his books, just like “the old money“
The other guests were odd:
There was the famous Lilly Redhead. Lindy had watched from her room, as she arrived in stupendous splendour, her coach brought to a skittering arrest in a shower of gravel.
“Delighted dahlink,” she’d said on introduction, ”vatt a beautiful nekk you haff.” kissing the air near Lindy in the manner of the famous.
There was Mr McShae: a Scotsman come down with the singer in her coach, who followed her everywhere like a collie and who, even in the warmth of the hall, kept a tartan scarf suspiciously tight around his neck.
“Michty me! What a bonny lass ye are! And strong too!” he said shaking her hand.
There was Mrs Andraste the governess: “Charmed I’m sure.” she sniffed.
And there was the daughter Sarah: “Hi” she’d said, with a bland wave, looking out the window.
These then were her companions at table.
The food was also odd:
In the first place, it had been served by a young blond girl, dressed in a black and white waitress outfit that was too frilly, too short (her ankles showed!) who teetered on high heeled patent boots, and had a huge black bow in her hair. The whole effect was subtly wanton to Miss Lindy‘s eyes.
The food itself, although tasty and satisfying, was difficult to identify, a sausage based hotpot perhaps, and Miss Lindy was sure that it moved out the corner of her eye.
Alone of their assembled guests, the Master and Lilly Redhead did not partake of this fare, preferring tall draughts of a thick, bright red liquid, which they drank with much relish, from huge jewelled cups.
At one point as she took a long slurping swig from her great goblet, a drop fell onto Ms Redhead’s snow white breast, resting next to the ruby. At the sight of this, Doctor Evil’s eyes popped, and his tongue flickered about his thin lips like a viper. Both Ms Redhead and Dr Evil then laughed in a rather lewd way, that made Miss Lindy’s blood run cold.
The daughter Sarah, only toying with her plate, (making ribald shapes with the sausages and vegetables), muttered: “Geez, get a room.”
She had made her excuses at that point, on the pretext of an early start in the library, and had retired to her chamber to practice her Fang Fu.
Downstairs in the cellar, Barbudo, in mental turmoil, had been strapped into an easy chair with one hand free to eat his dinner. He was finding the whole experience mind numbing. There had been the brief jolts of electric prodding, whenever he got an answer wrong, interspersed with periods when his welfare was enquired after, (he assumed sarcastically).
“How are you bearing up? Comfortable? Want to tell me a magic word?” asked Sarah.
“No that’s not it”
And then just as suddenly the ill treatment stopped.
“How’s the grub?” Asked Glark with a crockle.
“It’s good!” Said a puzzled Barbudo
“Usually is, on a Tuesday," gurgled the little monstrosity, “our last patient, sorry client, loved his hotpot he did…”
“Patient?” asked Barbudo, spoon halfway to his lips.
“Client!...” said Glark with a snorkely gulp.
In the heat of the castle kitchen, Mrs Cat was staring at the newly arrived caterer in dawning recognition.
“Meester Barnee, my bloody eye!” she accussed, pointing, “I know you! You’re just plain Barney from Dublin, or I’m a Dutchman.”
“Now Cat don’t let on, this is a good berth, and with a pencil moustache, and a French accent, you can go far in this world.”
“Well I’ll be watchin’ you Barney me boy, and the silver!”
In the rambling castle attics, a safety inspector now totally lost has found a lever. Reaching out a helplessly inquisitive hand…
“Wonder what this does?”
* * * *
This morning (Thursday 9th February 2006) I received an extraordinary electronic communication or E Mail. I reproduce it here for reasons that will become self explanatory:
To: Dr AHK Maroon.
From: Renfield and Goldfrappe S.A. Zurich.
Gothic. A Tale of mystery and suspense etc.
We, acting on behalf of the heirs and beneficiaries, holders of the world copyrights and devices thereof, valid in perpetuity, of the late Arthur Conan-Doyle, are instructed by those heirs and beneficiaries, to invite you to meet with them on 11th inst. at their domicile in Austria to discuss your proposed future use of this theme. Consequently, I have reserved travel arrangements for Friday 10th February, the electronic tickets of which may be collected at the airport of your choice.
Our research shows you to be a keen climber. You may be interested to know that the Rickenbach Falls are located not two hours from Schloss Vlad, where the family are currently in residence, and a sightseeing visit has been arranged for your benefit for the Sunday. All being well we shall return you late on Monday.
Our senior partner, Old Mister Renfield will meet you; in the meantime, in the interests of family propriety, we ask that all further communications should be avoided. Such is the nature of the mountain topography in the region, that further communication by you will be impossible until Tuesday (St Valentines Day) at the earliest.
So that’s that! My bags are packed. Can’t wait! See you all again on Tuesday!
* * *
Long after Maroon had left for the airport, the bell rang, the lights flashed, and a brief addendum came out the slot. It read:
“Addendum, Please insert a comma between the words ‘late’ and ‘on’ in the last sentence of the second paragraph.”
No one could ever fault the Swiss on their attention to detail.