Mist and Mischief

We were both startled by the crack of a loud noise ripping through the fog near us, our unknown assailant taking blind shots through the mist.

Loque clasped a hand over my mouth and pressed me back against the wall, even as my eyes widened with the primal urge to flee.

‘That ought to have ‘em,’ an oafish voice chuckled from somewhere nearby. Loque’s eyes snapped shut at the voice, his head cocking slightly to the side.

‘Scared ‘em off like rats, we did.’

Another figure grunted in response to the first. Loque’s eyes slide open with a wolfish grin and he released me, slipping away into the mist before I could gesture my confusion.

‘So what’s this about ducted heating repairs? Canberra or somethin’?’ the first thug asked loudly.

‘Boss says it was all just a distraction for that one we’re chasin’ here,’ thug number two replied. ‘A way to keep him off our scent while the boss runs his real business, sneaky-like.’

‘Ah… so we’re not going to Australia then?’

‘Why would you want to go to Australia?’

‘We’d be able to see in front of our noses, for starts,’ the first thug grunted, followed by the unmistakable sound of shattering glass.

‘Rolf?’ the second voice called out. ‘What is it?’

Rolf didn’t reply.

‘What the–’

A loud thwack echoed through the fog, and the second thug gave a stifled groan, then crumpled to the cobblestones.

A dark silhouette stalked confidently towards me from the fog – could it be?

‘Loque!’ I cried.

Dusting his hands, Loque gestured for me to follow him.

‘Is it true?’ I asked.

‘You’ll have to be more specific, my dear Radcliffe,’ Loque murmured, pipe produced once more.

‘The Canberra heating repairs?’ I offered. ‘Is it truly a bluff within a bluff?’

Loque struck a match and raised it to his pipe. I realised much later he must have pilfered a matchbook from one of the thugs, to replace his own, missing one.

Loque took two deep pulls from his pipe, the embers making his eyes sparkle.

‘The game is afoot,’ he whispered.

The Canberra Incident

‘How many times do I have to tell you?’ Ser Loque burst out, in one of his usual mid-case rages. Our landlady, Ms. East – who had rapped me on the knuckles for calling her “Mrs.” on the day of my moving in – hastily reached for the tea tray that sat beside Loque’s armchair.

‘No sugar, no sugar,’ she mumbled to herself as she rushed past me out of the room. I heard her murmur something about where Loque could place the sugar if he detested it so much, but felt it best not to listen too closely.

‘Tough case, old boy?’ I called out, tossing my hat onto the stand and unbuttoning my waistcoat.

Loque, predictably, didn’t hear me, glaring into the fire over steepled fingers.

Suddenly, he shot to his feet with a cry of triumph. He spotted me, and his grin spread wider at having an audience.

‘Radfcliffe!’ he beamed. ‘Who would be administering affordable ducted heating repairs near Canberra?!’

‘Canberra?’ I gaped at him. ‘Why Loque, I thought your case was in London?’

‘It is!’ he chuckled as he sped past me to his vast library. ‘But as usual, you’ve grasped at the tail of the problem – not the hound itself!’

He skidded to a slipper-aided stop in front of the wall of books, muttering to himself as he deciphered his incomprehensible organisation system, running his finger along the spines.

‘Ah-ha!’ he crowed, snatching a volume from the shelf, his finger sliding down the page even before the book was fully open in his hand. ‘Heating services, Canberra,’ he repeated to himself, eyes black with concentration.

His finger came to a stop a few lines from the bottom, and a change came over the man. Ashen white, even more so than usual, he put the book back on the shelf, eyes cloudy. Whatever they were focusing on, I sensed it wasn’t in this room, but rather the problem in his mind.

‘Loque?’ I asked, rushing to grasp his elbow. ‘What is it?’

Those dark eyes locked onto me, as he slowly shook his head. ‘The gramophone, Radcliffe,’ he rasped. ‘How did I miss the gramophone?