A large ruddy faced woman strode out into the yard and took hold of the horses harness.
I awoke after what felt like several hours of deep satisfying sleep. I was wrapped in a warm blanket still sat near the stove. I removed the blanket and went up in deck. The morning light was creeping reluctantly over the horizon. It was a misty cold morning that showed little promise of improvement. I checked my pocket and was astounded to see that it was only a quarter past five o’clock. The captain stood at the tiller silently. The land to the starboard side was flat marshland. There were isolated farm buildings and the occasional windmill. It was a mysterious, haunting landscape that looked not in the least bit inviting. However given the events of last night, this would be the perfect hideout.
“On our way to Queenborough harbour. Beyond the harbour is Deadmans Island. They used to bury the dead french prisoners from the hulks on there. Its a god forsaken place and that’s for sure” The captain said not once turning to look towards me.
Templeton emerged from the lower deck and stood next to me looking out.
“I trust you are rested. That was a close thing last night Travers. We are found out and now are fugitives from the lawless. They will not cease till we are disposed of. You showed great fortitude Travers. Your uncle is sleeping down below deck. We shall be mooring at Queenborough. There is a public house near the harbour. We shall go there this evening after the cargo has been unloaded. My contact will meet with us and take us to more spacious quarters from there. It would be advisable if you were to stay out of site below deck today. Try and catch up on some more sleep” Templeton said with the air of one who was giving an order rather than a suggestion.
We rounded the headland and Sheerness was to our port side. The town of Queenborough and the harbour came into view beyond. The garrison on the mouth of the harbour stood watch over the mouths of the rivers Medway and Swale. The barge slowly and steadily manoeuvred to the quayside. The town was a quiet unimposing settlement. There was little movement on the street adjacent to the quay. I noticed a brick built public house some fifty yards from our mooring. A cart trundled slowly up the street with its driver staring vacantly into the distance.
I retired to below decks where a freshly made mug of tea and a much welcome bacon sandwich awaited me. Templeton moved around the galley with consummate ease, cleaning up and tidying away.
After my meal, I settled down and pulled the blanket around me again. I put my feet up on the bench and lay back. Sleep came easily again.
I woke some hours later with Templeton anxiously stood over me.
“Quick! we must move now” he said. I gathered my coat and followed him and Uncle Harold up on deck and then
The vaulted chamber was illuminated with flashes of bright light as shells pinged off the roof and barrels. I could make the faces of the mob baying for our blood. Templeton returned fire and floored one of the doorman from the club. He grabbed Harold and I and threw us against the end wall of the chamber. In an instant, we were flung backwards and down a wide slope into some canvas covered bales. It appeared we were in a Thames barge moored at the quayside. The barge rumbled and swung out away from the quayside towards the open gates and out onto the river. I felt bruised, winded and my head was spinning. Uncle Harold sat upright and dusted himself off, whilst I remained laying flat on my back. The cold air bit at my face with flecks of snow wafting across my visage. The riverside was dark, only lit up by taverns, houses and factories. The buildings jostled for frontage even as we drifted down stream towards the open estuary.
“You two! Get down here and warm up, now!” said the now familiar tones of Templeton.
He was standing at the hatch, in front of the wheel. We made our way towards Templeton, passing two crewmen who were setting the sails. The vast dark canvas billowed as it unfurled and the barge lurched forward in response. We passed other vessels moored along the embankments next to other wharfs and quays.
Templeton led us down a few steps into a small galley and dining area lit by hurricane lamps. We sat at the table as Templeton produced a bottle of whisky from a cupboard behind him. There was a small but glowing pot bellied stove in the corner of the room radiating much need heat to the cabin.
“So where to Templeton? I assume we have a plan. I have been dragged along in a state of perpetual bewilderment ever since that fateful morning at home all those weeks ago. You have recruited me, lied to me, nearly had me killed not to mention half frozen and hidden like a common criminal. I cannot fathom the logic as to why me?”
Templeton sat back and took a long drink of his whisky.
“Contrary to your belief of your father, he sees great promise in you. We have been friends for many years and he has always highlighted your potential and innate bravery. He recounted the tale of you rescuing Digby from an icy river. He spoke of your selfless assistance to the estate workers in all weathers, to help save livestock and crops. He is very proud of you Cathcart” Templeton said. Harold nodded fervently showing family solidarity.
“As to your question, we are headed out towards Kent and the Isle of Sheppey. We have friends there who can hide us very well” he continued.
The heat of the stove and the whisky had a soporific effect. My eyelids suddenly felt heavy, my limbs became leaden and then
‘Quick in here!’ Uncle Harold said as he forced me off and ran towards an open doorway in the warehouse. I turned briefly to see Lee Ho, Cobain and two other oriental gentlemen were running with guns in hand. As I jumped through the doorway, bullets pinged against the warehouse door. Thankfully the pursuants determination was not matched by their accuracy of shot. Templeton led myself and Harold through the warehouse to the rear of the building. He reached into a small crevice in the brickwork and fumbled. Suddenly a trapdoor opened in front of us with a steep staircase leading into a gloomy underworld.
‘Follow me, I will light a lamp at the bottom of the staircase’ Templeton said.
We descended into the darkness as the trapdoor closed behind us. A hurricane lamp flickered into life casting yellow shafts of light into what looked like a vaulted cellar. There were wine barrels stacked neatly along the far wall as far as I could make out. Evidently the warehouse owners were keen to not divulge its contents to the customs men. Templeton lit several lamps to further illuminate the full extent of the cellar space. There was a very large wooden table in the middle of the floor with a map spread out over much of the table top. On closer inspection it showed Bengal and the port of Calcutta. The synapses started to fire. Mr Desai the merchant. My original destination. This was all too much of a coincidence.
‘I should imagine there is a lot of money in your little store down here Templeton. On the side venture is it?’ goading Templeton into a reply.
‘This store is owned by Nappers of London. Some of these sherry casks have been here since the Crimea. Nappers happens to be part owned by your father Cathcart. He did not make his millions by weaving wool oh no. His first job for the company was uncovering a financial scam run out of the Iberian peninsula. He did very well out that little operation’ Templeton replied.
‘Do you mean he has worked for the secret service as well? Is nothing as it seems?’ I said.
‘There’s money in textiles but not as much your parents have spent over the years. There’s much you don’t know about Arthur’ Uncle Harold replied.
‘The opium is coming through the Indian subcontinent and we have tracked it down to an export company in the port of Calcutta. Mr Desai, our contact, has been keeping tabs on the operation for some time but needed reinforcements to arrest the gang. They are tricky customers this lot. You have met Messrs Cobain and his lycanthropic colleague Dalglish. They work with Mr..’
Suddenly the trapdoor was peppered with what sounded like gunfire. I retreated to the shadows instinctively with Harold following rapidly. Templeton gestured to us intently.
We fled along the cellar plunging into darkness again. I could hear the trapdoors crash open and then…
The wolf man gripped me in his gaze. Was this Dalglish or even Cobain. My money was on the former given the beast had a reddish glow to his fur. I could tell that his menu may at some point include me, a fact which caused me to react instinctively. I drew a revolver from the breast pocket of my coat. I pointed the weapon at the werewolf. It bared its massive teeth glinting in the candle light of the booth. I leaped to my feet whilst discharging my weapon. The beast slumped over the table instantly returning to the human form of Dalglish in the process. My employers had thankfully equipped me silver bullets ( to cover every eventuality?). Cobain at that point, rushed out of the shadows towards the slumped,still, body .
‘Lee Ho seize that man instantly. We must not let him leave the club!’ he yelled.
The servant moved briskly towards me but stopped short as I pointed the gun in his direction.
I began to back away from the assembled onlookers moving my gun across the highly receptive congregation. I had rarely retained this many peoples attention before.
I moved towards the club entrance covering any slight movement forwards. I noticed there were two gas lamps lighting the corridor. I put my hand on the doorknob, opened it behind me and fired at the wall lamps as I stepped out into the cold night. The club was plunged into darkness as I slammed the door, turned and ran into the docks. The night was cold in that sharp almost painful manner. I felt the warmth of adrenalin coursing through my veins enabling me to flee rapidly. I ran and ran towards the direction of the warehouse. Templeton would be able to help me surely? As I rounded the corner of the warehouse building, I noticed two figures stepping out of the doorway.
What looked like Templeton was remonstrating furiously with a thicker set, older man.
‘He could be dead by now for all we know. We sent him to confront supernatural creatures on the premise that he was helping his country. You of all people, should hang your head in shame’ he said.
The older man still with his back to me, faced Templeton.
‘My brother Arthur has always wanted his bloody hopeless sons to make a go of their lives. I knew nowt good would come of our Cathcart. He’s a soft, woolly headed lumucks and frankly Arthur and Constance would be more proud of a dead hero than a living liability’ Uncle Harold boomed into Templeton’s face from close range.
What in Gods name was he doing here?
I ran towards the two men, Harold turning quickly as I approached.
‘Cathcart lad, we were worried about you. Have you cracked the case down at the club?’ he said hurriedly
I grasped him firmly by the forearms and shoved him against the warehouse door. He appeared alarmed by my forthright handling.
‘Soft and Woolly Uncle? is that your character assessment? This was a set up wasn’t it? well WASN’T IT!’
I heard running footsteps behind me and then………………
…..Misser Dargleesh, Misser Dargleesh “
We turned as one towards the source of the noisy and urgent interruption. Another Oriental gentleman advanced hurriedly towards our table.
“Ah, Misser Dargleesh, your table reddy, plivate room as usaual, number free on door, follow me Misser San….. Oh more than two…. it no problam…but you now free to dine ? I lay nother place ? ”
“No that is fine LeeHO, Mr Waters was merely joining us for a drink….Whisky Sun Down LeeHO, Whisky Sun Down ”
LeeHO smiled broadly and bowed towards me
“WhiskyZunDarn” he repeated several times simultaneously turning to lead his charges towards their private dining room.
Dalglish turned towards me and offered his hand. ” I am confident we will meet again Mr Waters” I hesitate to suggest an air of menace veiled his words.
” I will look forward to it Sir” I replied with as much enthusiasm as I could summon without appearing false.
Dalglish and Cobain disappeared from view, as they slipped into the shadows
I sat down, perplexed but relieved. I drained the Scotch from the glass and took the liberty of re-filling a generous measure from the decanter abandoned upon the table. I reached within my coat pocket for my cigarette case. As I lit the cigarette I noticed my trembling fingers. I looked around to see if I was being watched. There were others within the premises: but they were paying me no account. I drew in the smoke deeply and tried to relax. I glanced this way and that, noticed the boothed seating areas of dark velvet and darker wood, and how the ceiling lights spaced at random intervals left some of the booths in near darkness. I sipped at the whisky feeling it burn as it gravitated and idly took notice of my surroundings. I watched as waiters hurried back and forth, bringing drinks and offering menus. It was then that I saw LeeHO again, emerging from the direction in which he had led Cobain and Dalglish. He walked towards the darkened booths. At a point on the edge of darkness he stopped and bowed three times before producing a menu and passing it into the recess of the booth, an area that however lit afforded comfort and seclusion. I was amused to imagine somebody sitting in such gloom. I could see LeeHO fumbling for some object, and then realised he had found his matches as for a fleeting second the area turned from near dark to a yellowish daylight.
In that fleeting second I saw the visage of something otherworldly that shall haunt me for the rest of my mortal span.
Framed in my mind like the supernatural work of some demonic painter, In that instant I saw The Oriental lit by Vestas and more importantly… the object of his attention. Even now I can hardly bring myself to believe in what I saw ; it must have been a trick of the light, the effect of shock, or whisky….. No, I know what I saw.
I Saw A WereWolf with a Chinese Menu In His Hand…
.gestured to me to step forward into an entrance hall, a dimly lit space between two large and heavy doors, the one I had knocked on, and the one I was now faced with…presumably the entrance to the club.
I gave the oriental the card that Crispin Osborne had given me. He inspected it at length, and noted the hand written address of the club on the cards reverse. He gestured to me again to follow him. My theory about the second door was now confounded as he reached into the darkness, and pulled back a rather heavy drape, revealing a candle lit passageway. I followed the man through the half light, my eyes growing accustomed to the gloom, whilst my other senses now rallied from their temporary collective stupor.
I could hear the distant murmur of conversation, detected the odour of dampness and tobacco smoke and increasingly felt the prescence of others unseen.
The passageway emerged via a further heavy drape, in to a large, in fact enormous space. My disorientation was now complete, here was the source of the distant conversation, the smell of cigar smoke and brackish water. I was in a warehouse; a warehouse with what appeared to be a canal terminating in its midst. The canal had two “Butty” boats tied up on iron rings fixed to the granite slabs that made up the floor – a floor partially covered in stacked wooden packing boxes, all marked in stencilled lettering, Shanghai/Skipton Trading Co.
A voice rang shrill from my left.
“You Laddie….Yes you laddie, stand still laddie”
I turned to address the source, and immediately gave mental thanks that the semi darkness, had hopefully hidden, the reaction my face must have betrayed to the speaker of those words.
I walked towards the speaker in defiance of his demand. This area of the building, to which I now advanced,was furnished as any good club should be. The granite floor giving way to at first, a planked floor, and then deep rugs dotted with Chesterfield chairs, oriental screens and various potted palms and the like.
I gathered my courage and momentum and approached the man.
“Do I know you sir” he quizzed.
” I regret that we have never met sir, you mistake me for another”
I knew who he was though, and now the anxiety started to rise within me. Digby and Crispin would arrive shortly, how would I extricate myself from this situation.
“Well Sir since you are alone, please honour me, and my colleague and take a drop of cheer with us… This is Mr Cobain, an American associate
” ” well I am due to be meeting some colleagues of mine very shortly but….”
“Have some Whisky” Cobain snarled
I nodded in the affirmative, and gingerly sat on a small armchair. My host
proffered the glass.
“I apologise for shouting across the room at you, and for my colleagues somewhat brusque nature: he can be rather curt. I’m sorry, I did not hear your name “
I offered up the first crazed suggestion that entered my mind, ” Waters Sir, Roger Waters….”
and your name sir ?
I shook his hand, noting the signet ring bearing compasses on his small finger, and knowing within my heart that this man was none other than my fathers own arch nemesis, criminal mastermind Auberon St. John Pithivier. Would the next few minutes prove to be my final cut? I knew that underneath the facade of dignity these men were animals, relics of the dark side of society.
I really wish you were here Templeton, I thought to myself….. and then
Digby was staring at me.
‘What on earth are you doing here Cathcart? I thought daddy was sending you abroad. Surely you should be heading to Southampton to get the ship to India?’
‘More importantly what are you doing here? didn’t have you down as working for a living especially not in commerce’ I replied
‘I am invited to a special club. I met my friend in Heckmondwike at the Sidebottom’s. He was up from London spending time with his Aunt Violet. Crispin is such a nice, kind friend. We share many interests. He is very big in the Foreign Office’ Digby said turning glossy eyed.
A tall well set man with an immaculate sense of dress walked briskly over to Digby and I.
‘Is he bothering you Dig? I can get a constable to move him on’ the gentleman said.
‘Crispin this is my brother Cathcart. He is going to work in India for father’ Digby said. I am glad that he did not ask me as I would absolutely refused to do so’ he added.
‘Delighted to meet you Cathcart. Your darling brother has told me much of you. We are going to the Oriental tonight. You would be most welcome to join us. I would politely suggest however that you dress more appropriately. The Wetherton is a very select club if you understand me’ Crispin said looking me up and down intently.
‘You referred to the Oriental. Is that another club?’ I said casually
‘No the Wetherton has a rather exotic clientèle from the East. It is in dockland as many of the far eastern members have business interests around here. It is known in social circles as the Oriental. You will have a very pleasant evening I assure you. Where are you staying?
I panicked. The plan would have to change rapidly. I needed to contact Templeton before tonight.
‘I am staying at the Northern Exiles in Aldwych. You give me the club address and I will meet you there instead’ I hastily replied.
‘If you insist. Here is the clubs address. When you arrive, mention you are a friend of Crispin Osborne. Till tonight Cathcart!’
‘What a pleasure Cathcart. We will have such fun. Its a fabulous evenings entertainment’ Digby added smiling and winking at the same time.
I hurried back to the warehouse and knocked on the door till Templeton opened up.
‘Why are you here Travers? Have you forgotten something or lost your bottle?’
‘Neither. I ran into my brother Digby and his friend Crispin Osborne . Osborne is a member at the Wetherton and he insisted I accompany them tonight’ I replied
‘Right, I will lend you some clothes. I will be 40 minutes tops’ Templeton said.
He left hurriedly. He returned as promised and I changed.
I left and made my way to Blackwater mews.
The club was unassuming on first glance. I knocked on the door. A large bald oriental man opened the door and then
I was holed up in the warehouse for what felt like weeks. I grew accustomed to the smells of imported spices and tea. The temperature dropped markedly over the days that followed and I sheltered in the office near the only fireplace in the building. Snow began to fall steadily on the fourth day of my incarceration, leaving a clean white carpet over the warehouse courtyard and surrounding buildings. Templeton was relentless in his teaching, constantly going over the plan of the operation. I would present myself at the mission under the name of seaman Herbert Grant. The mission acted as a front to the opium import business, using homeless ex sailors as couriers and messengers. Templeton’s intelligence suggested that the drugs were distributed through a gentleman’s club in Holborn but the mission sent out invites via these destitute sailors.
I was conscious that this would be my first and possibly last Christmas not at Travers Nook. I would miss the parties and lavish dining. I longed to hear carol singers and smell plum pudding and mince pies. I yearned for those things that felt familiar, whilst knowing the discomfort and danger to which I was entering.
The day arrived. I dressed in some old clothes that although grubby, were in fact warm and well fitting. My dishevelled looks could have fooled any close relative or friend. I opened the door inside the gate of the warehouse. As I stepped out into the cold crisp snow, Templeton grabbed my arm and spun me to face him.
‘Travers, you know the plan. Stick to it and no heroics. Meet me at the Wetherton Club on the 23rd at 11pm. Don’t let your country down Travers!’
‘I hope that my country appreciates what I am doing. I understand that drugs attract the wrong sort but am frankly struggling as to why the drug takers are so important’ I answered.
‘These men represent so many of the upper echelons of society and make decisions that affect all of us. We cannot allow their judgements to be clouded by narcotics and corruption. We have suffered under those whose minds are addled by drink in the past as well as those bribed by the criminal underclass’ Templeton said.
‘Do your job and don’t let me down’ he added.
I turned away and trudged off through the snow towards the dockside. As I neared the river, I could see several large vessels moored by the docks. Men scuttled on and off vessels whilst cranes lifted boxes and containers off ships to waiting carts. I wandered through the hustle, side stepping. I could hear the sound of carol singing coming from an alleyway.
A small uniformed group sang heartily. I stopped to admire the rendition of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman’ when I noticed a small sharp eyed man watching me intently. Retiring quickly to the dockside I turned to see if I was being followed. Suddenly I felt a firm hand on my shoulder and then