The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. Verbal Kint, The Usual Suspects
Sir Reginald Hobbs stepped down from the hansome cab, turned to the driver and paid the fee. As the cab pulled away Sir Reginald looked around at his neighborhood. It was a once prosperous collection of three and four story apartment buildings that had settled into a comfortable and eccentric dotage. A few blocks to the east the neighborhood had evolved into a retail district: tea rooms, quaint antique shops and flea markets, book shops. Well to do young people liked to spend time there ducking in and out of the shops, soaking up atmosphere. A few blocks to the west the neighborhood had not fared as well: seedy pubs, flop houses, dark alleys and smoke filled rooms where sellers and users of dangerous drugs transacted their business. It was not a place to be alone after dark.
Sir Reginald entered the street level door of his building and climbed the single flight of stairs. The landing at the top extended left and right. Two steps to the left was his door. Two steps to the right was the door of his neighbor, a young man who liked to portray himself as a poor artist or writer as the situation called for. Through that door passed a steady cavalcade of attractive young women who were impressed with young men who liked to portray themselves as poor artists or writers.
Sir Reginald turned and faced his door. There was an almost imperceptible crack between the door and jamb. He placed the handle of his umbrella on the door and gently pushed till the door was standing wide open. Two men stood in the center of his parlor. The one on the right was 5’9″, clean shaven, trim and athletic looking. He had a mischievous smile on his face. His overcoat was draped over the back of a chair by the fireplace.
The man to his right was well over six feet tall and muscular looking, at least two hundred and seventy-five pounds. He had full and elaborate sideburns that went all the way to his jawline. There they turned and traversed down his jaw, up and over his upper lip and met under his nose. He still wore his overcoat.
“Good morning Hobbs. Welcome back.”
“Thank you Dr. Wilson. Good to be back. Are you comfortable? Got everything you need? I apologize for my lack of hospitality but you see, I was not here.”
“Quite alright Hobbs. Apology accepted.”
Sir Reginald turned to the stranger. “Who is your friend?”
The man took a step forward. “Good morning Sir Reginald. If we could I would like to remain nameless, at least for the time being. I am captain of a secret task group that is responsible for protecting the name and reputation of the royal family. And we need your help.”
“A secret task force? Interesting”. Hobbs glanced at Wilson. He stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. “Should we sit?”. Hobbs gestured to the sofa and chairs behind his guests.
“I think not. I mean… What I mean is what I have to say will not take long and I would prefer to stand.”
The man stood with his arms at his sides. There was a tension about him that was unnerving. Hobbs wondered if Wilson had thought to check him for a weapon.
“So we remain standing. And we dispense with a personal introduction. Would you care to share your problem with us or are we to deduce that as well?”
“No certainly not. We would not expect you to do that. The problem concerns a distant cousin of Her Majesty, a young man in his mid-twenties. There have been indiscretions in the past that we have been able to keep out of the public eye. This time though…”
“He ran off with a sixteen year old girl, the daughter of a chambermaid. To Paris.”
“Considering the mission of your…”. Hobbs smiled grimly. “Your task group, I imagine you have resources to handle something like that without our help.”
“The girl turned up dead. The French authorities are demanding an investigation. They want answers. If we become involved our task group could be brought into the light and our effectiveness would be hampered. Due to the international nature of the incident we think you could be an asset. Nobody would think twice about you snooping around.”
“I expect that you have an opinion of who did this.”
“It could be anarchists. It could be communists. It could even be agents of a foreign government who want to create an international incident. We have an idea why but not who. There are many possibilities.”
“And of course it could be the young man himself. Passion gotten out of hand.”
“If so you want it covered up.”
The stranger met Hobbs’ gaze with a steady one of his own.
Hobbs looked at Wilson and then back at his guest. “So you want us to investigate, discretely, what could be a simple crime of passion. Or what could be an incident planned to foment insurrection or war or revolution. And if this blows up you want us to be in the middle instead of your ‘task group’.”
The visitor looked uncomfortable. “Yes sir. That’s correct.”
“I believe I see the hand of Moriarty here.”
Dr. Wilson looked embarrassed and hurt. “Oh Hobbs.”
The stranger looked mystified. “Moriarty?”
“Professor Moriarty. He is a shadowy personage, clever, diabolical, resourceful, and the very definition of evil. He is my nemesis. It has been my life mission to thwart his plans, to defeat him at every turn. Yes I see his hand in this.”
The stranger nodded. “Yes I’ve heard of him. Nobody seems to believe he exists except you.”. He smiled. “No I don’t think Professor Moriarty is…”
Hobbs sensed movement to his left. Out of his peripheral vision he saw a pistol appear, aimed point blank at the visitor.
Copyright © 2012 by Angus B. Lewis
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