It was a cloudy, moonless night. It was the kind of night that sends photographers home with unused film and empty memory cards. The countryside was silent, which was rather odd because there was usually some rustling in the undergrowth from the more camera shy creatures that inhabit the small island of Bubble Britain. Hawzley Hall (an imposing country house miles from anywhere) didn’t notice the absence of noise from the local wildlife and neither did the occupants who were safely tucked up in bed. Nobody heard the crunch of boot across gravel or the muffled cursing of someone dropping something on their foot. If anyone had the sense to ask the house what was happening it would have suddenly become very sensitive about unspeakable acts involving a crow bar and a scullery window. The occupants remained blissfully unaware of all of this. However, when they awoke, the discovery of footprints in the custard and chaos in the study left them in no doubt that they had been visited during the night by ‘ne’er-do-wells’. Their collection of rare art collected from around The Bubble had been stolen!
Chapter One: You’re Hired
The sign on the door was faded and hard to read, “Blue Bird Detective Agency – We never close” . Behind the door the office was small and crowded. It wasn’t really that small but the piles of folders and boxes sucked up most of the space. By the blinded window was a desk that had clearly seen better times. The leather top was scuffed, torn and also strewn with folders and a small green reading lamp provided the only visible source of light, its puny bulb insufficient to clear most of the shadows from the room. Neon light routinely spilled in from the street outside to give the room an unearthly hue. The phone, a heavy Bakelite antique broke the silence, its bell piercing. Four rings and the jerry-rigged ansaphone cut in,
“You’re through to David Snelling at the Blue Bird Detective Agency. I’m sorry I’m not here right now but if you leave your name and number then I’ll get back to you…” A beep, a click and the tape started to record.
“Snelling you SOB you’re two months behind on your rent, pick up the phone you little weasel… dammit!” Burrrrrrr…
The darkness behind the desk was lifted briefly as a small flame erupted from a cigarette lighter, the face of the figure was tired and worn. Size six skin on Size four bones. Either the owner had been sleeping rough recently or just hadn’t been sleeping at all. The glow of the cigarette dimmed and a heavy cloud of smoke floated across the desk, its tendrils playing in the lamplight.
“Shit, I thought Lucan was off my back!” whispered the man in the shadow.
A knock at the door broke the moment. The cigarette was extinguished in an overflowing ashtray.
“Whoever you are, I don’t know where David Snelling has gone! I’m looking for him myself!” the man in the shadows shouted across the room. The door pushed open and there, silhouetted by the hallway light, was trouble. She had dangerous curves and legs that went all the way up. Hers was the kind of body that had men rushing off to find a cold shower. For once, he was rather pleased to have a dodgy lock on the office door.
“Hi there, I’m looking for the Blue Bird Detective Agency.” she asked breathlessly “I have a job for them.”
Either he had suddenly acquired more stairs to the office or this woman had a bad case of asthma. But what the woman had said gave the Blue Bird a way out of debt.
“Come on in and take a seat.” he said, moving from behind the desk to move a pile of papers from an old, beaten up leather sofa. “Can I get you a glass of water or perhaps an inhaler?”
The bombshell appeared confused. The figure in front of her looked like a tramp and smelled like one too, and this room certainly wasn’t what she was expecting. Her brain was picking over what she saw and the answer it was reaching was that she had made a terrible mistake. The deadbeat in front of her was smiling, his eyes keen.
“Umm… I’m in the right place aren’t I? Only the door says that this place is the Blue Bird Detective Agency?” the breathless edge to her voice had vanished.
“Yup. You’re in the right place. David Snelling PI at your service” he perched on the corner of his desk and took in the view.
This seemed to put her a little at ease and her breathless voice returned. “I need your help, Mr Snelling. I want you to find something stolen from my family.”…. David smiled, finally a case! With a bit of luck he would be able to pay off Lucan and all the other people he owed money too.
She continued “My aunt lives alone in Hawzley hall, recently she was burgled and along with my deceased uncles collection of rare art were some papers that are of great importance to my aunt.” The breathless way of speaking had again disappeared. “Whilst the insurance payout will cover the value of the art the papers are quite unique and a little sensitive.” Her grip on her clutch bag tightened, her knuckles whitening, her body language was screaming out mixed messages to David, she was asking for help and at the same time she clearly didn’t want to admit to needing help.
David had heard enough and now it was time to bring out the big guns and show her why the blue bird detective agency was right for this job“okay Miss Cranmer heiress to the Hawzley fortune which is currently held in trust by your Aunt, the widow to Arthur Bertele the 15th lord of Hawzley, would be shipping magnate. I have read all about the Hawzley case in the Red Bubble Tribune and via friends have seen the Police dispatches covering the case. I do find it odd that no mention of any stolen papers appeared in the crime sheet! Therefore I can only surmise that they formed part of Lord Hawzley’s research papers into the original pictures of the Bubble.” His guest sat there lost for words, her mouth slack and tears welled at her eyes. David continued, whilst he was a good detective he had a nasty habit of getting caught up in showing the world just how good he was “I appreciate that many saw his pursuance of this mythical piece of art as utter folly and a waste of money that could have been put to better use…” The sobs of Miss Cranmer heiress broke his rhetoric. “Uncle Arthur was a lot of things to a lot of people, to me he was a wonderful guardian, his stories about his pictures, but his one true love was the origin. It’s what killed him, and now all of his research has been stolen! Mr Snelling oh please, please take my case” she wailed as she sobbed.
David handed her a tissue. “Sure I’ll take your case” he whispered “but it won’t be cheap.”
She looked up at him, hope filled her eyes “Oh thank you, thank you, here take this” she passed a small envelope to him “its two thousand dollars and travel instructions to get you to Hawzley hall, in there you’ll find a key to a safe deposit box, there you will find some documents that will provide you background.” She stood up and hugged David, her perfume filled his head whilst her final tears landed on his shoulder. “I have to get back to see my Aunt Elanore, we will talk more when you get to Hawzley.” With that she was gone, the click click of her high heels retreating down the stairs. All that remained was the envelope, a soggy tissue and her sweet perfume mixing with the stale stench of the now empty office. David dropped the envelope his body sagged, sleep was catching up with him, his last thoughts as he hit the sofa were filled with Hawzley hall and the thrill of a case.