"Things that go bump in the night Seem so uncertain So filled with fright. Things that go bump in the night send shivers down our spines Shivers of delight. But beware the bumps in the night that hover and swell for they spell the end of life and a dark, dark trail." from Sheridan Holmes, son of the late Sherlock Holmes
Chapter One The coal black night was as thick as a river of ice caught in the throat of the ocean. It hovered and clung to the land, fogging it with a cold and shivery mist that caused the hackles on the back of the neck to rise and pay attention. It was neither the time of day, nor the time of year to be out alone. Especially for a fair young maiden who was recently betrothed to a sailor of strong persuasion.
He had courted her as such men were wont by dancing and by romancing her beneath the full moon, telling her of his journeys to the India Islands, to the ranging colds of the Artic Circle, where strange monsters lay in wait for the unwary sailor. He had charmed her by playing what he called an enchanted pipe that had once as legends tell been the famous pipe of Circe who led sailors to their deaths on the Emerald Islands, causing them all to fall into the shape of pigs and serve as chops for the meals of Circe's maidens.
Yes. He had been a good story teller. A charming man and a likely rogue as well, but her parents, poor as they were, considered him a strong suitor for marriage. They had no prospects of ever having more in their life. The father was a chimney sweep and dying from the black lung, a disease that afflicted all those associated with coal and its black tars. The mother had caught a venereal disease before her father had tamed her and brought her into the circle of his family, where she had rose in dignity and self respect.
Their daughter, thank God in heaven, was born clear of eye, sharp of purpose, but free of the crippling venereal disease which takes the lives of so many young innocents and not so innocents every year even in the more modern London that was these days filled with the wonders of electric cards, transmission of living images and miracle drugs that could vanish a hangover with a simple pill or two. Yes, these were marvelous times and marvelous days.
But London was London, no matter its technology and wonders. Dark was still dark and that which was begotten in darkness laid in wait in the darkness for those foolish enough or arrogant enough to come its way.
So i was that Mary Margaret Mastery, or Triple M as her father fondly called her, found herself hurrying home from a rendezvous with her sailor companion at the Wharf and Steak Tavern, an eating place and pub near Downstreet and Puddington, a poor section of town that had been modified since the last war to become the dwelling place of thousands of the poor.
It had been constructed from the vast wealth of Mary, Queen of Scots...a good and proud queen, who loved her people more than her pounds and shillings. She did good deeds on an almost daily basis, securing homes for the homeless, raising the standards for the poor, but one brave soul such as she can never be enough for so many millions.
So Mary found herself not only rushing home from her rendevous, but ignoring her father's advice to come straight home and instead go to a job she had seen posted on the tavern wall in bold scrawling letters. "Whomsoever reads this, be she pretty and comely of grace, come to 4325 Downstreet, Flat B and ask for Mister Dark, Frederick for employment. Pay is reasonable, as are the hours. Available for interviews from six in the evening to six in the morning. Ring the bell and wait until asked within."
She had found it strange that such a wealthy man did his work only during the night hours, but then London was a twenty-four hour town, and as such had many jobs that ran the gauntlet of times that were strewn between dusk and dawn. Like vampires, much of its citizens thrived in the dark, where their deeds...theft, prostitution, drinking and adultery...were less likely to be considered by the Scotland yard and London Bobbies.
Her long black tresses were damp at their tips from the growing fog, but she didn't worry. She was dressed in her finest white satin gown with the frilly collar and sleeves. She had even worn her mother's silver cross as a token of her faith. Who could not like a religious man or woman was not someone she would want to work for.
Mary froze for a moment in her quick steps at the sound of something falling behind her. She stiffened, fearing the worst. Slowly, she turned about as a shadow grew past her to see a tall man with a cape over his right shoulder. He was smoking a pipe and gazing at her with the kindest of eyes.
"Not a good time to be pursuing business, young lady." He told her.
She smiled at him, thankful for his kind words, but..."Oh, I'm in no trouble at all with this. I travel often by night."
He gazed at her dress a moment, then her shoes, then her face. "I see you've been at the Wharf and Steak Tavern. You had two pints of ale with a sailor, who stands about a foot taller than you."
She was startled by his comment. "How dare you know such things, sir?"
"It's my job." He replied.
"But how could you possibly know all of that without following me?" She insisted.
"First, your shoes have a reddish mud upon them which comes from the salt stains at the piers where the metal cargoes are unloaded and stacked. Many sailors track that into the taverns. But because you are so pretty and apparently going for a place of employment..."
"And you know this how?"
"Because even with the stain of ale on your pretty white gown, you have managed to draw more attention to your face with the addition of rouge and cake and you were clean gloves, to show you are above the common herd that might be seeking the employment."
"Who are you, Sir?" She demanded.
"Sherlock Holmes at your service." He replied and handed her a card.
"Now." He whispered into her right ear as he neared her. "Hurry home. For this is not a kind night for one such as you."
"But the job." She demanded. "I need the money."
He stopped and looked into her face. "Life does not often give us second chances."
With that further word of advice, he walked past her, opening up an umbrella to keep the mist from dampening his cloak and jacket.
She watched him a moment, then heard another sound from a different direction. A man's scream of terror.
Without thinking further, she ran like the wind...not towards 4325 Downstreet, Flat B...which probably saved her life that night, for even as she fled the dark of the night, another young woman, equally as desperate to find employment of highest caliber knocked on the door of Flat B.
She was tall and buxomy. She had pushed up her breasts by cinching the front of her dress upwards, thus pushing them to look twice as big as they were. She wore heavy rouge and eyeliner. She was an itinerant worker of the night. A night goddess as some of the sailors referered to the prostitutes about London. But a night goddess who sought the sanctuary and peace of normalvy oftentimes failed to find them because of their first choices.
Just when she thought no one would answer the dreaded dark door with the red streaks that coated its side panels and the dark brass metal that edged its wall, it began to creak open. A hand slithered out from the opening like some kind of venomous serpent winding its way to strike down the weak and unwary.
"Yessss!" Came the voice from withing, face and body hidden in shadows.
Bonnie Maxwell, the young woman, almost fainted when she heard the voice. A voice so terrible and horrible to hear it made her teeth grind and her heart quake and shiver.
"You're here for the employment?"
Bonnie was frozen like a deer caught in the lights of a hunter. "Ye...yes."
She caught the hint and relaxed a bit. "Bonnie. Bonnie Maxwell."
The door opened wider to admit her, but still she could not see his face, only the pale white hand that almost seemed disembodied the way it gestured her inside.
"The job is still open?" She inquired as she hesitated a moment to enter.
"Is." He replied, gesturing again.
For a brief moment her heart stopped for she could finally see the eyes, the horrible, fascinating, hypnotic, terrible eyes, then without thinking, like a puppet pulled by the strings of its master, she was drawn inside and the terrible door slammed shut behind her.