Tue
Sep 24 2013 3:00pm

The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes (Excerpt)

George Mann

The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes George Mann Check out The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes by George Mann, available now from Titan Books!

This collection of short stories details the supernatural steampunk adventures of detective duo Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes in dark and dangerous Victorian London. Along with Chief Inspector Bainbridge, Newbury and Hobbes will face plague revenants, murderous peers, mechanical beasts, tentacled leviathans, reanimated pygmies, and an encounter with Sherlock Holmes.

 

 

 

 

 

“The Dark Path”

 

I

“I make a point of only smoking Guinea Gold cigarettes and drinking French brandy, Benson. I fear nothing else will do.” Templeton Black exhaled slowly, smoke pluming from his nostrils. His cigarette drooped languidly from his bottom lip.

“Then you, sir,” replied Benson, striking the billiard ball with the tip of his cue, “are nothing but a frightful bore.” He stood back, admiring his handiwork as two balls clacked together and a red one tumbled into a pocket at the far end of the table. He took a swig from a near-empty whisky bottle he’d left resting on the raised lip of the billiard table.

Black raised a disapproving eyebrow. “You understand, Benson, that it’s terribly uncouth to drink from the bottle like that?”

Benson laughed, nearly spluttering on his drink, and Black chuckled heartily, reaching out his hand. “Oh go on, give it here, foul stuff that it is.” He took the proffered bottle and downed the last of the caramel-coloured spirit, shuddering as it hit his palate.

“A drink’s a drink, Templeton,” said Benson, placing his cue on the table. “And a win’s a win. That’s a guinea you owe me. Unless you want to up the stakes for a rematch?”

Black shook his head, taking another long draw on his cigarette. “No,” he said, hopping down from where he’d been sitting on a window ledge and blowing smoke from the corner of his mouth. “I must find Newbury. Apparently there’s something he wants to discuss.”

“Hmm,” murmured Benson, unhappy to be losing his playmate. “I’m not sure why you bother attending these house parties, you know. You’re never here for more than five minutes before you go and get yourself caught up in another ridiculous investigation. You should tell Newbury to keep his mysteries to himself.”

Black laughed, slapping Benson heartily on the back. “Now you’re being drunk and petulant,” he said, warmly. “Go on, go and find someone else to beat at billiards.” He looked up at the sound of footsteps to see a pretty young woman in a black, floor-length gown enter the room. “Jocasta will play, won’t you?” he said, laughing.

“In this dress?” she replied, with a winning smile.

“Oh, come on, old girl!” said Black. “Otherwise Benson will lapse into another of his foul moods and spend the rest of the party scowling at everyone. You know how he is.”

Jocasta laughed as she closed the gap between them. She put a hand on his arm. “Do you like it?” she asked, demurely. “The dress, I mean.”

Black grinned. “Oh, come on, old girl. You know you’re not my type.”

Jocasta rolled her eyes. “Yes, well, more’s the pity. I suppose I shall have to make do with Benson and his billiards.”

“I can hear you, you know,” said Benson, with mock hurt. “And I think your dress is terribly pretty,” he added.

“There you are, then,” said Black. “Benson has someone to beat at billiards, and you have someone to appreciate your dress. The world is a happy place.”

“Go on,” replied Jocasta, sighing, “go and find Newbury before I change my mind.”

Black started toward the door. “Play nicely,” he called over his shoulder.

“You still owe me a guinea!” bellowed Benson, behind him.

 

II

Sir Maurice Newbury was lounging on a sofa when Black found him in the drawing room a few minutes later.

He was a handsome man in his late thirties, with a pale complexion and a square-set jaw. He wore his raven-black hair in a neat side parting, falling in a comma across his forehead, and tended toward black suits with starched white collars and colourful silk cravats.

Now, he was nursing a half-empty glass of claret, and appeared to be deep in conversation with an older man who sported an impressive set of white whiskers.

Newbury looked up when Black entered the room, and beckoned him over with a wave of his hand.

Dutifully, Black made a beeline toward them, ignoring the two other conversations that were taking place in the large drawing room: a cluster of four women had gathered on a seat beneath a tall, mullioned window, while two other men spoke in hushed tones across the far side of the room, standing before the fire. Black had been introduced to them all, of course, but he was damned if he could remember their names. He realised this was something of a weakness in a Crown investigator, but he seemed to get by.

“Ah, Templeton, have you been properly introduced to our host, Sir Geoffrey Potterstone?” said Newbury, as Black joined them.

Black turned to regard the older man, extending his hand. “I believe not, although I do fear I’ve rather been taking advantage of your hospitality, Sir Geoffrey.”

Potterstone laughed warmly. He was ruddy-faced man, in his late fifties, with narrow blue eyes and the scarlet nose of a heavy drinker. He took Black’s hand in his own, giving it a firm squeeze. Black resisted the urge to grimace in pain. “You’re most welcome, Mr Black. Most welcome indeed. Any friend of Sir Maurice is a friend of mine.” He finally released Black’s hand, adding, “And besides, he speaks most highly of you.”

“Does he, indeed?” replied Black, with a quick glance at Newbury, whose expression was giving nothing away. “Well, it’s both a pleasure and an honour to be considered a guest at your impressive house, Sir Geoffrey.” Black glanced at the empty chair beside Newbury. “May I join you?”

Sir Geoffrey waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, don’t mind me, Mr Black. I’ve been ignoring my other guests for too long as it is.” He planted his hands firmly on the arms of his chair and pulled himself up. He was not a large man, but portly, and was clearly having some difficulty with his right foot. Probably gout, considered Black, given the overall appearance of the fellow and the evidence of his most comfortable lifestyle.

Sir Geoffrey turned to Newbury. “Regarding that other matter, Sir Maurice...?”

“In hand, Sir Geoffrey,” replied Newbury. “Say no more.”

“Excellent,” replied the other man. “Then I’ll ask the two of you to excuse me while I mingle for a while.” He turned and tottered off in the direction of the four women by the window.

Black turned to Newbury. “What was all that about?” he enquired, searching out his silver cigarette case and withdrawing another Guinea Gold. He lit it, leaning back and taking a long, pleasurable draw.

Newbury watched him for a moment, smiling. “A little problem he’s asked me to look into,” he said, after a moment. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I rather fear I’ve volunteered our services.”

Black laughed. “I imagined you might.”

Newbury grinned. “I could use your help. And besides, I thought you might find it interesting.”

“Don’t I always,” replied Black, with a chuckle. “So, go ahead, enlighten me.”

“It’s the valet,” said Newbury. “He’s missing.”

“Missing?” enquired Black.

“For three days,” replied Newbury. “No one has seen hide or hair of him. He requested the morning off on Wednesday, claiming he had a personal errand to run. Said he was heading into the village. He never returned.”

“And no one here has any idea where he might have gone?” asked Black.

“Apparently not. Sir Geoffrey says he’s a very private man. Keeps himself to himself, spends most of his free time alone in his room, reading novels. His name is Henry Blakemore.” Newbury shrugged.

“Family? Might he have received word of an emergency and taken off without notice?”

“Hardly the actions of a dutiful valet. Even if he’d been called away by an emergency, it’s been three days. He’d have sent word by now.” Newbury took a swig from his brandy. “And besides, he has no family left. No parents, no siblings. No one to run to.”

Black smiled. “A real mystery.” He exhaled another cloud of cigarette smoke. “So, where do we start?”

“Apparently the servants are saying all sorts of fascinating things about the haunted woods on the edge of the estate,” Newbury became more animated as he spoke, and his face seemed to light up at the very prospect, “but I imagine our first port of call should be to search his room in the morning.”

Black laughed. “Don’t think for a minute that you can pretend you didn’t know about these so called ‘haunted woods’ before we set out for this party. I can see now that’s the only reason we’re here.”

Newbury looked scandalised. “I’m shocked that you’d think that, Templeton.” He leaned forward, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “I had heard that Sir Geoffrey has a rather impressive and plentiful wine cellar, too.”

Black shook his head in mock dismay. “You’re incorrigible. I’m turning in. I suppose I’ll see you at breakfast?” He stood, crushing the stub of his cigarette into a nearby ashtray.

“Indeed,” confirmed Newbury. “And then our investigation can begin.”

“I can hardly wait,” said Black, with as deadpan a tone as he could muster.

 

III

Breakfast consisted of a small portion of bacon and eggs, followed by copious amounts of black coffee and cigarettes. Black had risen early, unable to sleep, and having eaten, he decided to take a stroll around the extensive grounds of the manor.

It had rained during the night and the air smelled damp and earthy. Water droplets glistened on the immaculate lawns as the sun attempted to break through the canopy of grey clouds, spearing shafts of brilliant light onto the ground.

Black paused for a moment on the stone terrace at the front of the house, surveying the horizon. There, on the far edge of the estate, were the ‘haunted woods’ Newbury had mentioned the previous evening. Black didn’t put much stock in talk of ghosts and ghouls but, he had to admit, the dark, spiky stretch of woodland did not appear particularly inviting. The leafless trees seemed somehow threatening as they clawed at the sky with their jagged fingers. He could see why they’d attracted such a sinister reputation.

He turned at the sound of footsteps on the terrace behind him.

“Ah, there you are,” said Newbury, coming to stand beside him. “Your friend Benson said you’d be out here.”

“Benson?” asked Black, surprised. “I’m astonished he’s managed to rouse himself so early.”

“It seems he couldn’t keep away from the bacon and eggs,” replied Newbury, deadpan. “And I gather he’s smarting from losing at billiards.”

Black almost snorted as he attempted to fight back a guffaw.

Newbury smiled. “I must say, Templeton—you do seem to have a fondness for rather raffish company.”

Black grinned. “We are here for a party, Sir Maurice.”

“Well, some of us, perhaps,” replied Newbury. “Are you ready to assist me in examining Mr Blakemore’s room?”

“Mmm,” mumbled Black, taking a final draw on his cigarette and stubbing out the still smouldering butt on the stone balustrade. “Yes. Coming.”

He turned to find Newbury was already holding the French doors open for him, but he couldn’t resist one final glance over his shoulder at the brooding, ominous woods in the middle distance.

 

IV

Henry Blakemore’s room was immaculately kept, ordered to an almost military precision. The furnishings were sparse and functional: a bed, a wooden nightstand, a small gentleman’s wardrobe. The man’s belongings appeared just as minimal, with very few personal effects, save for a hairbrush and toiletries, a handful of neatly shelved novels and a drawer full of papers and old photographs. A few carefully pressed suits hung in the wardrobe. A small window looked out upon the gardens. To Black it seemed more like a prison than a home.

“It seems he lives a rather spartan existence,” he said, picking out one of the novels and turning it over in his hands. He read the title on the spine: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. It looked well thumbed, with some of the page corners turned over. He returned it to its place on the shelf.

“A military man, I’d suggest,” said Newbury, glancing around. “We can confirm that with Sir Geoffrey, of course.”

“You think it’s pertinent?” asked Black.

Newbury shrugged. “Anything could be pertinent at this stage. It would certainly explain why he doesn’t appear to place much value in material acquisitions. Perhaps also why he leads such a private existence, and why he might have chosen not to share his problems with the rest of the staff.”

Black nodded. “Makes sense.” He crossed to the dresser. “There’s little here that might help us to discover what’s happened to him, though. The whole place seems devoid of personality.”

“Hmm,” murmured Newbury, distractedly. Black turned to see him folding back the bed sheets and lifting the pillow. “Ah-ha!” exclaimed Newbury a moment later, fumbling beneath the pillow for something small and blue.

“What have you got there?” asked Black, joining him by the bedside.

“A small bottle,” replied Newbury, holding it up the light. It was corked and no more than six-inches tall. A dark liquid sloshed around inside as Newbury turned it over in his hand, searching for a label. A little square of brown paper had been pasted on the side, with a handwritten legend scrawled upon it. It read: WARNER’S LUNG TONIC.

“Quack medicine,” said Newbury, with distaste. He handed the bottle to Black, who took it, bemused. He shrugged and pulled the stopper free, bringing the vessel up to his nose, before recoiling in abject disgust.

“Who the blazes could even consider ingesting such a foul concoction?” he asked, quickly forcing the stopper back into the neck of the bottle. He fought a brief wave of nausea, hoping that the oily, acrid scent of the tonic would soon clear from his throat and nostrils.

“Someone who was very desperate,” said Newbury, thoughtfully. “Someone who had nothing to lose.”

Black placed the bottle on the bedside table and glared at it balefully as if it were a living thing. “Someone with an iron stomach and no taste buds,” he said.

“Nevertheless,” said Newbury, “it gives us something to go on.”

“You think he might have disappeared because of an illness or affliction?” prompted Black, when it seemed clear that Newbury was not going to elaborate. “What if he simply collapsed somewhere by the side of the road? He could be lying in a hospital, or even dead.”

“Quite,” replied Newbury. “But let’s not alarm everyone just yet. We don’t know anything for certain.”

Black nodded. “Of course, if he is seriously unwell, then someone must have noticed. No matter how private a man he might be. You can’t hide things in a house like this. Not from everyone. We should speak to the servants, see if anyone has observed any change in his behaviour.”

“Yes, you’re right,” said Newbury. “Sir Geoffrey told me he’d spoken with them all, and that no one knew where Blakemore might have gone. But this is a different question entirely, isn’t it?” He smiled brightly. “I’ll start with the footmen if you begin in the kitchens.”

“Excellent,” replied Black. “That way I might be able to charm the cook into rustling me up some elevenses.”

“It’s not even ten!” said Newbury, with a disbelieving shake of his head.

“Details,” said Black. “Mere details.”

 

V

It was the cook—the portly and generous Mrs Braddock—who turned out to be just the mine of information that Newbury and Black had been searching for.

Black had spent the two hours following their brief search of Blakemore’s room enjoying varied and enlightening discourse with the four women who inhabited the kitchens, sitting on a stool by the fire while they buzzed around him, readying a cold buffet for lunch and making early preparations for dinner. The pungent scent of herbs and spices filled his nostrils, causing his stomach to rumble.

Mrs Braddock had a colourful turn of phrase—one that might have caused a less worldly man to blush—but Black could tell she had a kind heart and, rather than embarrassment, he derived a great deal of enjoyment from her outrageous asides.

“I’d always considered him a bit of an arse,” she said of Blakemore, when finally she found time to take a short break, joining Black by the fire for a cup of tea. She was red-faced and hassled, but still smiling. “Bit aloof, if you know what I mean. As if he didn’t want anything much to do with the rest of us. Up ’imself, like.” She fixed him with a stern gaze, gesturing upward with bunched fingers as if mimicking something unspeakable. “But I was wrong. Very wrong.”

“You were?” prompted Black.

She faltered slightly. “Well, I don’t think that I should say any more…”

“What’s the matter, Mrs Braddock?” asked Black in his most reassuring tone.

“It’s just… well, I’d be betraying a confidence, is all. That’s the problem with bloody secrets, ain’t it? You’re supposed to keep ’em to yourself.” She looked rueful.

“Ah. I see your dilemma. But then, there are secrets, and there are secrets, if you follow me?” said Black, conspiratorially.

“Not really, love. No,” replied Mrs Braddock, with a frown.

Black sighed. “Mr Blakemore is missing, and quite possibly in need of urgent assistance. Surely, if it results in his safe return, he won’t hold it against you if you’ve told me in confidence whatever it is you’re keeping secret for him?”

Mrs Braddock slurped noisily at her tea. “Oh well, when you put it like that,” she said, hurriedly, “then I don’t suppose I have a choice!”

“I’d say not,” encouraged Black, stifling a laugh.

“It was last week, it happened. It was late in the evening and I’d popped down for a tot of rum.” She cupped her hand around her mouth and leaned closer to Black, as if worried that someone might overhear. “I’m in the habit of takin’ a small measure before bed, you see. Just a snifter.” She sat back, straightening up on the stool and acting as if her little aside had never occurred. “Well, he was bent double by the back door, hacking his guts up. Bloody disgusting, it was. Literally. It was all over the floor.”

“What did you do?” asked Black.

“What do you think?” replied Mrs Braddock, incredulous that he should even ask such a thing. “I went to offer my help. He was flushed and disoriented, so I loosened his collar and opened the back door to let in some fresh air. The place stank.” She took another swig of her tea, which, Black decided, must have been tepid by this point. “The cold air seemed to bring him round a bit and his coughing subsided. I got him up and walked him through here, to the kitchen, where I cleaned him up. At first he was all apologetic, a bit sheepish, like, but he thanked me for my efforts, once he realised there was no need to be embarrassed. So I fixed him a hot toddy and dragged out a bucket and mop to sort out his mess.”

“I take it he hadn’t simply over-indulged at the village pub?” asked Black.

Mrs Braddock shook her head. “Not the way he was carrying on. You should’ve heard him. Sounded like he was about to expire. His lungs were giving him gyp. And all that blood…” She trailed off. “Well, it was clear as the day is long that he was in a bad way.”

“Did he talk to you about it?”

Mrs Braddock nodded. “Aye, and in truth they might have been the first real words we’d shared since he joined us over a year ago. Possibly the last, too.”

“And?”

“He told me it’d been going on for weeks. That he’d been to see the doctor, who explained there was nothing they could do. He has a lung condition, you see, and it’s only a matter of time…” She looked stricken at the memory, and Black remained tight-lipped while she composed herself.

“He said he’d tried everything. Tonics and potions, the lot. But nothing was working. So I… I told him about Martha.” She shook her head and issued a long, heartfelt sigh. “Look at me, ruddy fool that I am. Getting all maudlin.”

“Tell me about Martha,” said Black. “Tell me what you told Mr Blakemore.”

Mrs Braddock frowned. “I should never have said anything. I shouldn’t have given him hope. It’s just that…”

“Go on.”

“Martha’s my sister-in-law, annoying bat that she is. She told me a story, about a woman who can heal people, using the old ways. Claims she knows a man who was brought back from the brink of death.”

“The old ways?” asked Black.

“Magic,” replied Mrs Braddock, in a sepulchral whisper. “Funny stuff. Rituals with herbs and plants. That sort of thing.”

“Herbs like the ones you’re using in your kitchen? They smell delightful,” said Black.

Mrs Braddock frowned. “No.” She paused. “Well, perhaps. But it’s all about how you use them,” she said, a little defensively.

“I see,” said Black, trying to keep the scepticism from his voice. “And you think Mr Blakemore might have gone in search of this woman?”

“Wouldn’t you? If you’d run out of options, if you’d tried everything else. Wouldn’t you at least want to try?”

“Yes. I rather think I would,” conceded Black. “Do you know where I might find her?”

Mrs Braddock shook her head. “I told Mr Blakemore to ask in the village.”

“Then Sir Maurice and I shall do the same,” said Black. “My thanks to you, Mrs Braddock. You’ve been most helpful.”

“Do you think you’ll find him?” She asked suddenly, her guard slipping.

Black shrugged. “We’ll try.”

She nodded, getting down from her stool and smoothing the front of her apron. “Was there anything else?”

“A crumpet, perhaps? Or a piece of that rather spiffing looking pie?” chanced Black, with a grin.

“You cheeky bugger!” was her only response.

 

VI

The village, it transpired, was little more than a hamlet: a cluster of small stone cottages around a central square, with a single inn—The Saracen’s Head—and an old, decommissioned well. It was picturesque and welcoming, but Black couldn’t help thinking that, if forced to remain in such environs for more than a few days, he’d be at serious risk of dying from boredom. Quite literally, in fact, given there was nothing to do but ensconce oneself at the inn and drink. And he did like a drink.

Save for the gentle wisps of curling smoke that rose from a handful of chimney stacks, the village appeared utterly devoid of activity. No figures could be seen on the quiet lanes; no sounds of chatter or toil from the surrounding fields.

Given this apparent paucity of life, Newbury and Black settled on The Saracen’s Head as the most obvious destination at which to glean the information they sought.

Inside, the inn was an austere, functional sort of place, with roughly-hewn wooden tables and stools, and a spitting open fire. Two rust-coloured spaniels lounged luxuriously before the hearth, warming their bellies, and a gaunt-looking man with a balding pate was propped against the bar, apparently engaged in deep thought.

Black hovered by the door and lit a cigarette while Newbury approached the man, coughing politely to gain his attention.

The man—evidently startled by the unexpected arrival of customers—turned to Newbury with a surprised smile. “Oh, ah, hello gentlemen,” he stammered. He moved smoothly around to the other side of the bar, looking at Newbury expectantly. “What’ll it be?”

“Oh, well…” began Newbury, as if to explain to the man that they were only there to ask a few questions, but Black cut in when he saw the crestfallen expression on the barman’s face.

“A gin and tonic, please,” he said, taking two strides forward to join Newbury by the bar, “and whatever my colleague is having.”

Newbury glanced at him with a raised eyebrow. “Well, I don’t suppose a small brandy would do any harm,” he conceded.

The barman nodded, shooting a grateful look at Black, and reached for two glasses.

“Gin and tonic? At this hour?” whispered Newbury when the man’s back was turned.

“Trust me,” replied Black, with a cheery smile. “Buying a drink will help loosen his tongue.” He took a pull on his cigarette, expelling the smoke from the corner of his mouth. “And besides, I’m thirsty.”

Newbury sighed and reached for his wallet.

“There we go, gents,” said the barman as he placed their drinks on the wooden counter. He glanced at Black. “Sloe gin. Made from local berries.”

Black took his glass and peered at it for a moment, then took a swig. “That’s very good,” he said, enthused. “Do you cultivate the berries yourself?”

“No,” replied the barman. “They grow wild in these parts. Wild things seem to flourish here.” He glanced at Newbury, who passed him a few coins. “Will you be requiring accommodation?”

Newbury shook his head, reaching for his glass. “No, thank you. We’re not planning to stay.”

The barman gave him a quizzical look. “If you don’t mind me saying, gentlemen, you make an unlikely pair of visitors to these parts. Are you guests up at the big house?”

Newbury grinned. “Guilty as charged.”

The barman laughed. “It’s not often we receive patronage from the manor, but you’re the second in as many weeks. There must be something in the air.”

Newbury glanced at Black. “Well, that’s actually why we’re here. We’re looking for someone.”

The barman narrowed his eyes. “Now don’t go expecting me to get involved in anything nefarious. I prefer to keep my nose clean.”

Newbury put his drink down and spread his hands in a placatory fashion. “Oh no, nothing nefarious. It’s Sir Geoffrey’s valet from the manor. He’s gone missing. No one has seen him for three days, and we’re trying to help. We were led to believe he might have come this way to enquire about the location of an old woman, a healer?”

The barman’s shoulders sagged. “Not been seen for three days, you say?” He dashed his hand against the counter in obvious frustration. “He didn’t listen to me, then. The damn fool.”

“So you did speak with him?” prompted Black.

“Oh, yes. I spoke with him. Warned him off. Told him to give it up. But the dogged idiot didn’t listen, and now he’s missing.” The barman’s voice raised in pitch as he spoke, as if the anxiety was physically strangling him.

“Warned him off?” asked Newbury. “From what?”

The barman grabbed a bottle of brandy from beneath the counter and poured himself a generous measure. He swallowed it in one, quick slug, gasping as he dropped the glass on the bar. “He’s not coming back, you know.”

“Tell us,” said Black, levelly.

The barman raised his head, meeting Black’s gaze. “The old woman,” he said. “No one’s seen or heard anything of her for months. She used to be a familiar face around these parts. She lives in a cottage in the woods, and people would go to see her with their ailments, pay her a few coins for her help. She’d recommend herbal remedies or find ways to heal people. Some of the methods she employed were… old fashioned. Ancient ways, handed down through the generations. Always worked, though. Whatever she did, she always found a way to help.” He paused to pour himself another brandy. “Some people—superstitious types—called her a witch and wanted nothing to do with her, but most of us know her as Old Mab, and she’s a kindly sort. A little eccentric, perhaps, but harmless.”

“And this is the woman Mr Blakemore, the valet, came looking for?” asked Newbury.

The barman nodded. “Yes. He said he needed her help.”

“Then why did you warn him off?” said Black. “It’s sounds as if this ‘Mab’ character might have been able to help him.” He glanced around for an ashtray, and finding none, extinguished his cigarette in his now-empty glass. Newbury shook his head in dismay.

“As I said, no one’s seen anything of her for months,” replied the barman, draining his second glass.

“What’s become of her?” asked Newbury, his brow furrowed. “Has anyone been to search for the woman?”

“That’s exactly the problem,” said the barman, quietly. “They have.”

“And she’s missing?” asked Black.

“No. They are.” He looked from Newbury to Black, as if judging their reactions. “No one who’s gone into those woods in the last four months has come out again. God knows what’s become of them. Whatever fate has befallen Old Mab has befallen them, too. There’s something in there. Something unnatural.”

“The ‘haunted woods’ that Sir Geoffrey spoke of,” said Newbury. “That’s why you warned Mr Blakemore against searching for Mab.”

“Precisely,” said the barman. “No matter how desperate he was, he should never have gone near that wood.”

“How many people are unaccounted for?” asked Black.

“Half a dozen, including Mab,” said the barman. “And the local bobby, too. He went in looking for some of the missing village folk. Never returned.”

Newbury pulled his pocket watch from his jacket and popped open the cover. He consulted the dial. “We still have a couple of hours of light,” he said to Black.

“You can’t be serious!” exclaimed the barman, clearly taken aback. “After everything I’ve just said, you’re considering going in there?”

Newbury shrugged. “Someone has to get to the bottom of what’s going on,” he said. “And I do enjoy some old-fashioned haunted woods.”

“You’re mad!” said the barman, shaking his head.

“Quite possibly,” said Newbury. “Are you with me, Templeton?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” replied Black, clapping Newbury on the shoulder.

“Then God help you both,” muttered the barman, dramatically. “God help you both.”

 


The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes © George Mann, 2013

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