January 1890 Horror on the Orient Express

One morning a cab showed at my door. The driver said Julian had sent him to collect me. We had to meet in Cheapside, though he did not give a reason. I told him to wait outside while I got ready. I met Julian, Nigel, and Blimp. Apparently one of Julian's friends, Professor Julius Smith, was in trouble, and his house had burnt down the previous night. [Blimp: I should elaborate here. The previous evening we had attended a talk from Professor Smith. Apparently his was an infamous debunker of the spiritual mumbo-jumbo currently very popular with the gullible in London, claiming to use science to refute some of their esoteric ideas. I attended with high hopes, but alas, the gentleman was a fraud. While he did indeed pour professional scorn on some the more outlandish theories, his efforts were only to confirm his own outlandish theories, to wit, something a fool might consider a spiritual manifestation was in fact only an echo, or image, of something that happened on another dimension. Pure poppycock! According to Professor Smith there are hundreds of dimension, each with their own slightly different versions of our "own" dimension. What I particularly objected to was that he mocked the theories of the spiritualists for lacking any proof, yet could provide none to support his own. He asked us only to "believe" his theories, to which I riposted that belief required faith and therefore denied any certainty, their acceptance therefore existing solely in the realm of an individual's credulity and beyond the scope of scientific proof, which is what he had the gall to claim. Or at least that was my understanding of his talk; he droned on for almost three hours and I fell asleep. Tweeny was not party to this information as his behaviour at Mr. Bidwell's gathering the previous year, and subsequent incarceration for arson, had seen him somewhat understandably excluded from such social events.] I am not sure what was going on but Nigel had brought his shotgun with him. Inside the house Smith was lying in bed. He had been badly burned. He said he had been on the trail of an occult statue of great power, a sedefkar simulacrum. [Blimp: Hah! My thoughts about the man the previous evening as being a charlatan and on equal standing with those whose own theories he was so dismissive about because they lacked scientific proof were confirmed.] In the 18th century it had been taken apart and scattered. He planned on finding the parts and destroying them. [Blimp: if he truly believed this antique was dangerous and had been scattered for good reason, a theory I need not mention I believed as delusional as the man himself, then one has question the wisdom of embarking on a quest to gather all the pieces again.] The previous night he was attacked by mad Turks who burned down his house. [Blimp: my time in the Crimea, although only a boy, revealed to me that will the Ottoman was a ferocious fighter they were also very prone to maladies of the brain.] The statue was owned by a Counte Fenalik, and was lost just prior to the French Revolution, having been dismantled in Paris. A piece was sold to an Alvise de Gremanci. A part went to Trieste. A Johann Winckelman in the museum there might know more. A piece might be in Serbia, the Belgrade museum might know something about it. One part was lost, possibly buried, near Sophia in the Bulgarian war of 1875. The final piece was in circulation in Paris and sold to someone from Milan. To destroy the statue the pieces must be taken back to the shunned mosque in Constantinople. A ritual to destroy it is described in the Sedefkar scrolls. He had booked tickets for us on the Orient Express. [Blimp: as I suspected, the man was as mad, if not madder, than the Ottomans he purports attacked him. However, if he were reckless enough to purchase tickets for all of us on that most hallowed and luxurious of trains who was I to refuse him, particularly as he was extremely agitated and only calmed down once we had acquiesced, even it would require spending a few days in France.] The following morning Blimp, Nigel and Julian showed up at my house with some stage magician called The Great Mafonzo [Blimp: an infuriating man who insisted we all address him by his ludicrous stage name. I baulked, and when he refused to tell him is proper name I replied that I would address him as Mr. Smith until informed to the contrary.]. Apparently he wanted to investigate someone who spontaneously combusted. Blimp had found him somewhere, though I did not think he was the sort of person Blimp would normally associate with. [Blimp: I had seen him performed, and despite his vanity, he was a first class performer. I must confess I have a weakness for performing types, probably as a result of my frequent trips to the theatre. He was a fellow member of The Travellers' Club and was travelling to Constantinople to perform for the Ottoman. I suggested he might like to join as, seeing as we were embarking for the same destination. It was only the polite thing to do.] We went to an antique shop which belonged to a Mr Makryat, the person who the papers had reported has having been killed 3 times a few nights ago. At least 3 bodies with his identification had been found, stabbed through the heart. Mafonzo thought there would be a connection because Makryat had sold a toy train to the guy who had alledgedly combusted. The antique shop was closed but a neighbour gave us an address of the person who rented out all the shops. Mafunzo persuaded him to give us the key to the antique shop on the premise we were interested in renting it and wanted to look round. Mafunzo found some account ledgers under the counter. I looked round upstairs but it looked like someone had packed their bags and left. Nigel looked through the ledgers and found the entry of the train set. It was the only one in the ledgers. Everything else was foreign antiques. We went back to Nigel's place as he and Julian wanted to research the person who had sold the train to Makryat. I sat on his veranda with Blimp drinking Pimms while they read their books. The train set had belonged to an occultist called Randolph Alexis who had died in 1867 in a train derailment. His son was murdered in 1887. His wife had sold the train off recently. They found the address and so we headed off to Chelsea. Mrs Alexis said she had been selling off her husbands occult book collection. Makryat had come to buy some books and had also taken an interest in the train. We looked around another room of stuff she was selling. Blimp pulled the leg off a desk and pulled out a rolled up manuscript from inside the desk. [Blimp: an old trick I learnt from a Maharaja in the Punjab.] When he pulled it out a silver amulet fell to he floor. The manuscript was written in German by Vilhelm Sphingien and was titled Sphingien Manuscripts, also known as the Book of Abominable Bondage [Blimp: such a book could have only be written by a German.]. Julian took it to read it later. The amulet had Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight written on the back in Latin In the evening Julian and Nigel went to the British Library to read their manuscripts. Mafunzo came to the theatre with Blimp and myself. Nigel found someone slumped dead at a desk. He had a Library index open with a piece of human skin on it. [Blimp: really, standards are slipping the British Library.] Written on it was 'the skinless one will not be denied'. When his hat was removed Nigel saw the man's skin had been removed. [Blimp: you would expect this kind of thing at the Natural History Museum where they let any old riffraff in, but not the British Library!] When he showed me the skin later I pointed out the text had been scribed into the skin using acid before it had been removed from the body. In the morning we took the train to Stoke Newington where the man who bought the train set lived. The cabbie who took us to the house said it was a queer business there. Outside the house was a chalk sign reading 'see the death room, 6d'. We looked at the room of death. There was some evidence of soot. Mafunzo seemed to think the markings looked like they had been made by a train. What a stupid idea, there is no way you could have got a train in that room. [Blimp: I concur. I was starting to regret inviting Mr. Smith to accompany us on our journey.] We went to the police station to see the toy train. Under the track was a handkerchief with RA in a corner. (Randolph Alexis??). On the underside of the train was scratched some indecipherable symbols. We took the train back to Nigel's house. I availed myself of Nigel's drinks cabinet. [Blimp: I rather sensibly decided to go to the theatre.] Julian took the handkerchief off the base and found more symbols beneath. Nigel looked up the symbols and identified them as representing numbers 1 to 8. He seemed to think the layout of the symbols had something to do with a gate and the train was a magical conduit for a spell. The brandy helped me understand all this rubbish. In the morning we took a train to Dover where we caught a boat across to Calais. Mafo spent the crossing in his cabin being sick. We then took the train to Paris, arriving about 5:30pm. We took a cab to the Savoy hotel where we had rooms booked. We went to the Moulin Rouge in the evening. [Blimp: the food was appalling. They failed to a single piece of properly cooked meat on the menu.] When we got back to the hotel I played cards with Blimp and some French men. Julian went off with some hooker. We met in the hotel restaurant in the morning for breakfast. Julian looked rough and seemed to be suffering the effects of some sort of drug. Julian went off to some French library to do some research while the rest of us went to see the sights of Paris. [Blimp: Paris is quite an interesting city but obviously pales into comparison with London.] We went to the Eiffel tower and climbed the stairs to the top. At the top Mafo did some trick where he appeared to jump off the tower and appeared on the far side. [Blimp: despite my dislike of Mr. Smith I have to confess that it was a very impressive illusion. He was all over the headlines of the Parisian newspapers the following day.] I got bored watching Mafo play up to the crowd and went off to find a book shop that sold 'art' books. I met up with Mafo and Blimp in the evening. We went to watch Mafo perform his tricks. [Blimp: alas, this performance was a poor reflection of his exceptional performance atop the Eiffel Tower.] The following day Julian went off to research again. The rest of us went sightseeing again and we visited the Louvre. [Blimp: very tedious and not a patch on the National Gallery.] In the evening we met up with Julian.. He still looked unwell. He had found out about the Counte Fenalik who had been socialising with the queen until she got upset and had his house burnt down. The Counte was committed to an asylum called Charenton. The following morning we went to Charenton. We had read in the paper that the director, Dr Leplace, had died in an accident a couple of days ago. Julian was complaining that he had not slept well again and had had vivid dreams about being in a train with a bunch of people wearing unfashionably old clothes. [Blimp: Mr. Fitzpatrick has always been of nervous disposition and prone to flights on fancy. Tweeny and myself had long learnt just to ignore him.] We were shown into a room. There were boxes of records belonging to Leplace. Mafo chatted up the secretary and distracted her while Julian looked through the records. He found a journal written by Leplace. It told of someone found in the cellar who spoke in old Greek and Latin of cities crumbling and other darker things. He also spoke the names Marosh, Gorgynia and Sofia. We were introduced to the new director who was rude and refused to answer any of our questions [Blimp: how typically French!], so Mafo bribed one of the orderlies. He had found a nurse Guimart in the cellar with a serious wound on his wrist. Guimart was now being treated as a patient. He also said Leplace was trying to research something called racial memories. Another bribe got him to agree to let us into the asylum at midnight. Julian went to find a catalogue of stuff the queen obtained from Conte Fenaliks mansion. It mentioned a statue which was broken into 6 pieces, one of which had gone missing. He also found a diary mentioning a piece of statue being carried to Venice during one of Napoleon's campaigns. In the evening we went back to the asylum and met with the orderly Paul Mandrin who Julian had bribed. He took us to Guimart. We asked him what happened in the cellar. He replied “spiders and slugs and a gold ring. I was chasing the girl then I saw the gold then it grabbed me” The girl was called Channel. What grabbed him was cold and sharp. He also talked of breaking down a wall. Clearly the man belonged in the asylum. [Blimp: quite so.] We went to the cellar. We found a doorway which had been bricked up and subsequently broken down. Julian found a tiny ruby on the floor. There were a few dead insects scattered about. We then went to where the previous director died. We looked round but found nothing. While we were looking there was the sound of a loud thud outside in the corridor. When we looked we found the body of the orderly slumped on the floor. His head was partially crushed and his neck was broken. He had also been thrown down the corridor with enough force to break his back and arm. [Blimp: I gather lunatics have been known to perform deeds of phenomenal strength.] We ran for the exit but I was grappled by a couple of the orderlies who had came to investigate the noise. Julian ran past me as I fought to escape. Finally I managed to break from their grips and get to the door. Mafo fired a shot which sent them cowering to the ground, allowing me to escape to the cover of the woods. The following day I went looking round the local museums to see if any had pieces of a statue. Mafo went to the library and got a description of the statue. It was made of marble and had an intricate design on each part of the statue. The following morning we took the train to Poissy where Counte Fenalik had is mansion. I talked to the train guard about the Conte's mansion. His English was appalling [Blimp: most of the French people we meet spoke appalling English. They are unlikely to ever be considered a great nation until they rectify this deplorable oversight.], but Julian spoke to him in French and he said the mansion had been built on and there would be maps at the town hall. At the town hall they spoke better English and we got some maps of where the mansion was. Another house had been built on the ruins and belonged to a C. Loriens. We hired some horses and rode out to the house. Mafo could not ride, so Blimp's manservant drove him on a horse and trap. [Blimp: this was another indication of Mr. Smith's poor upbringing; no one claiming to be an English gentleman would be unable to ride; even Mr. Fitzpatrick could ride, for heaven's sake!] We knocked on the door and were let inside. There was a certificate on the wall identifying the owner as a practicing doctor. He had a bad scar on his left hand. There was also a young girl called Quitterie in the house who seemed very excited. She ran up to Blimp and seemed to want him to entertain her. [Blimp: damn children! How tedious that they need constant entertainment these days. It was never the case in my day.] Mafo started doing tricks for her. The doctor said his wife was upstairs but suffered from arthritis. His scar had been caused by catching it while pruning roses and had then got infected. When Mafo talked to the girl she said she had had bad dreams about black roses, and hands which tried to grab her. She had also dreamt about skeletons in the grounds. Blimp told the doctor we were archaeologists and wanted to look at the ruins of the old house. He said someone had written to him recently asking about a statue. The letter was from an Edgar Wellington who lived in Lausanne in Switzerland, and had arrived six months ago, but he had never got round to answering. We went outside and looked round the garden. We located where the cellar entrance should be from the maps we had, and started digging. It took a couple of hours to dig down until we hit a step. We continued to dig down and hit a steel door. I took a crowbar and forced the door open. Blimp had to cut through some tree roots before we could get through the tunnel. We found rooms which looked like prison cells. Some had skeletons inside, and others had instruments of torture scattered around. [Blimp: I believe these features were present in most French chateaus of that period. This is the nation that produced the Marquis de Sade after all.] At the far end of the cellar we saw a light ahead. It was coming from flowers which were hanging from rose vines and the thorns were oozing a black ichor. The rose vines were growing through several skeletal remains. The glow came from an arm of a statue at the base of the pile. When Blimp picked it up it stopped glowing. A strange mist started forming which seemed to spook Julian and Mafo, who ran out of the cellar. [Blimp: really, it was just some mist. My colleagues, with the exception of Tweeny can be such an embarrassment. I was only glad there was no one to witness their very effeminate display of emotion.] They seemed to be making a lot of fuss though and it dissipated as we walked out. We stayed the night in the house at their invitation. Mafo played his card tricks throughout dinner. Afterwards Mafo and Julian went out to get the arm. I stayed inside in the warm with Blimp and the doctor to have a brandy. We heard Mafo shouting so went outside to see what was up. Mafo was lying on the ground by a tree. Julian was picking up the arm. From their conversation it sounded like Mafo had tried to perform a trick and it had gone wrong. He claimed something had picked him up and threw him at the tree. A poor attempt to cover up his failure I thought. [Blimp: I could agree more. Despite his obvious talents, Mr. Smith suffered from that condition that affects so many creative types: an inflated ego.] After some first aid he admitted to running into a tree in the dark. In the morning we travelled back to Paris and arranged to catch the Orient Express leaving that evening. Mafo disappeared off somewhere saying he had arranged to give some performances in Paris and would catch us up later. We travelled on the train overnight. In the morning we got off at Lausanne, Switzerland. We booked into the hotel there. We then got a cab to take us to Edgar Wellington's house. There was a sign outside which said Wellington Fils Taxidermy. Blimp rapped on the door and a man answered. The look of his eyes made me think he might have some drug dependency. Inside I could smell formaldehyde. Blimp pretended to be interested in getting animals from an African safari stuffed. [Blimp: quite a clever ruse I thought.] The conversation moved to the fact Edgar had a brother William. When he went to get him we had a quick look round the kitchen. I found an empty syringe which had contained morphine. William was disabled and could not talk. He had sustained injuries in the war and had metal plates holding his skull together. When asked about the statue, Edgar aid he was interested in purchasing parts to sell them on. He had a scroll about the statue which he was selling. We arranged to meet him at at the Chat Noir at 7:30pm to inspect the scroll. As we were getting ready to leave someone else arrived. A large man who Edgar addressed as Duke. He was also interested in purchasing the scroll. He was a collector of antiquities and was interested in the occult. He offered to give us a tour of the city. I made some excuses and left them to keep watch on Edgar. [Blimp: I, on the other hand, would never be so impolite as to turn down an invitation from a Duke.] I watched the shop during the day. Edgar did not leave. [Blimp: how utterly tedious. My tour of the city, conducted by the knowledgeable and erudite Duke was singularly more interesting.] His brother seemed to be doing the taxidermy work. In the afternoon Blimp and Julian showed up again, and Blimp took over watching the shop. I went to the nearby cafe for coffee and food. After a couple of hours Julian went to swap with Blimp. At about 6pm we saw the Duke heading towards the shop. We followed him in, he had gone upstairs. Julian called upstairs then headed up. [Blimp: I should clarify a small gap in Tweeny's account, relating to an incident that occurred during our tour of the city with the Duke, thus one to which Tweeny was not aware; an incident that explains why we followed the Duke into Mr. Wellington's shop. During the course of our tour it became apparent that the Duke was also interested in purchasing the aforementioned scroll, thus his presence at the shop in the morning where we encountered him. Once it was clear that we were potential professional rivals the Duke remained the most pleasant and cordial of hosts, as befitting a man of his breeding. He was also to meet Mr. Wellington at the cafe Chat Noir at 7:30pm. Thus our suspicions were aroused when he arrived at the shop at 6pm. We feared that he might try to make Mr. Wellington an offer prior to our meeting; an act entirely out of keeping with a gentleman of such breeding, but we could see no other purpose to his unscheduled visit.] Up stars we found Edgar dead on his bed. He appeared to have died from a massive overdose of morphine. He had only been dead a few minutes. He had many injection marks on the left arm, and one fresh mark on the right arm. My conclusion was that the Duke had given him an overdose. There was a voice coming from the bathroom, but when Blimp kicked down the door there was no one inside. We searched but could find no trace of the Duke. [Blimp: I was beginning to suspect that this "Duke" might not be a member of the nobility as we first assumed. A real Duke would have sent an underling to perform any underhand deeds.] There was a diary lying on the floor, a receipt on the writing desk and a bottle of green liquid with a label Dream Lucanne. Under the bed was a scroll tied up with string. Blimp told William his brother had been murdered by the Duke. [Blimp: a small assumption on my part, but the facts clearly pointed to that conclusion.] William went mad, grabbed a knife and rushed off. He ran to the Duke's mansion where he battered at the door until the police arrived and arrested him. Julian looked at the scroll we had found and declared it a fake. The diary talked of taking a drug the Count gave him [Blimp: Mr. Wellington was referring to Count Fenalik.] which allowed him to go to a dream version of the town Lucanne and take anything he held with him. Clearly he had been taking too many drugs and had written about a load of hallucinations in his diary. We decided to go to the Chat Noir to see if anyone showed up. We had been sitting at a table for a short while when an individual introducing himself as Maximillion Von Vertheim. He said the Duke would be a little late. He insisted on giving us the story of his life. He was born in Prussia and had an evil brother called Otto who stole all the money when their father had died. He travelled Europe looking for work and met the Duke who employed him. [Blimp: it was a very tedious story, particularly when spun over several hours.] We waited a few hours but the Duke did not show up. Blimp plied Max with wine and got him drunk. [Blimp: it was clear he had been sent to try and keep us at the cafe, for reasons unclear to us. He clearly liked his cups so it seemed sensible to try and use that to our advantage.] We persuaded him to take us to the Duke's house to check if he was ok. The Duke's house appeared empty. There was no furniture at all on the ground floor. I spotted some tracks in the dust which lead upstairs and ended at a closed door. I listened at the door and got an overwhelming feeling of dread and an irresistible urge to flee the house. The fear was short lived however and I returned to the house. [Blimp: Tweeny occasionally has flashbacks to an incident in India involving the Thugees to which I try to remain tolerant. Mr. Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, was a gibbering poltroon.] In the meantime Blimp had opened the door and found an empty room beyond. The tracks stopped at the doorway. When I looked in the room I got the feeling there was some form of energy like electricity in there. Max had fallen asleep outside this room. I took off his shoe and threw it in the room. It appeared to vanish in mid air, though it must have been a trick of the shadows.[Blimp: the entire mansion was poorly lit. Again, more evidence: a real Duke would have been able to afford candles.] We went outside and hailed a cab. We borrowed some lamps from him and asked him to wait for us. We then went into the cellar. The cellar was empty but we found some loose floorboards. Beneath were the skeletal remains of three people. They had been dead a few years. There was evidence of blunt trauma on the back of the skulls and there was evidence of cuts on some of the bones. We went back upstairs and found the door to the room was shut. The wind must have caught it. Blimp opened the door again. When it was open there appeared to be some carved Renaissance figures (Homer, etc) on the door which were not visible when it was shut. Must have been a trick of the light. [Blimp: I thought it prudent not to further humiliate Tweeny, who was feeling a little sensitive after his fleeing incident, by pointing out that Homer was a Classical poet and was long dead by the time of the Renaissance. Keeping an army healthy does not really require such knowledge.] Blimp walked into the room and vanished. [Blimp: an utter fallacy: I did not vanish at all. I would have been the first to notice myself vanish!] I followed him to see where he had gone. He was just standing in the room. I am not sure how he did it. He must have been hidden in the shadows somehow. The light in the corridor was flickering. [Blimp: I refer our readers to Tweeny's fleeing incident to help establish whom has the more reliable narrative.] Julian stepped in the corridor and found where the oil lamp had been was a burning torch. Max was not in his room. He must have swapped them to try to scare us. We went outside. The cab driver was not there. He must have got fed up waiting. The sky seemed to have a purple tint to it. I saw what looked like a body hanging at an intersection in the road. I went over to it and found it was a metal gibbet with a body inside. I followed Blimp and Julian down a street. There was what felt like an earthquake and a fissure opened up across the street blocking the way. We went into a house just as a strange clod wind blew up. We went to the back door of the house and found the weather had subsided again as quickly as it blew up. We continued down a road towards Wellington's shop. A group of people were coming in the opposite direction. They were masked and dressed in strange costumes. They all had whips and were striking themselves. They ignored us and walked past. We heard bells in the distance, and two of the costumed figures, a lion and a soldier appeared to grow wings and fly off. Julian said the winged lion was a symbol of Venice and Napoleon had conquered Venice. [Blimp: the apparent strangeness of these events were starting to make sense. Clearly there was some festival taking place in Lausanne, something along the line of All Hallows Eve.]We continued on and started to smell garlic. There were a number of garlic plants growing on a wall. I also noticed none of us cast shadows. Another strange trick of the night. Blimp saw a hunched figure next to a cauldron beckoning us. Blimp gave the woman some money and she ladled out a bowl of food from the cauldron which appeared to contain human limbs. Blimp ate some and grimaced. [Blimp: it reminded me a little too heavily of army rations.] She waved down the street and we saw the shop. We headed towards the shop. We saw Mafo standing outside. When we got closer we saw it was not Mafo but another street magician. He did some trick which made it look like his limbs had fallen off. [Blimp: this chap was much more talented than Mr. Smith]. We went into the shop. The deer William had been working on was no longer there. We searched the shop. I found the scroll rolled up inside a stuffed bear. There was the original manuscript and an English translation. We then followed Julian back to the Duke's house. Julian started playing with the door to the room. We all fell asleep and woke in the morning inside the room. [Blimp: I was exhausted after our experiences of the nocturnal festival, but it was a remarkable experience and well worth the effort.] Max was still asleep in his room. We went to the police station to report the bodies in the cellar. We then returned to the hotel as we had missed the train which left about 7am. The Duke showed up during lunch. He demanded the scroll and Julian gave him the fake one we had found under the bed. [Blimp: he failed to specify which scroll he wanted, so more fool him!] The following morning we boarded the Orient Express. The journey was mainly peaceful though Blimp had one argument with a yank after he insulted the queen. He backed down however when Blimp called him out, and hurriedly left the carriage. [Blimp: damn upstart colonials. It's bad enough they rebelled in the first place without trying to insult Her Most Gracious Majesty. Like a cowardly colonial he fled at my request of a duel.] We arrived at Milan at about 1pm. The station looked like it had been hit by a bomb. There was rubble and dust everywhere. I questioned one of the porters who muttered something about the new government blowing it up and rebuilding it. All the porters seemed apathetic. [Blimp: how characteristically Italian this all seemed to me.] We managed to get a cab to take us to our hotel. When we arrived Mafo was at the bar, having arrived the day before. Most of the people around the hotel appeared to be lethargic. We had planned on going to an opera in the evening, but found all the newspapers were reporting Katerina the lead singer had gone missing. She stepped off the Orient Express into a black carriage and had not been seen since. We decided to go sightseeing to Il Domo, the local cathedral. We spoke to a priest there who talked of the Milan Malaise and believed the locals idolised famous people rather than the Lord. He also said it had been around for a couple of years but had got worse recently. [Blimp: all typically Catholic.] The priest seemed to scratch himself incessantly. I heard a strange clucking noise behind and went to have a look. I found an old man on his hands and knees making clucking noises and looking for something. When I addressed him he dropped a glass jar full of dead butterflies and moths. He tried to run away so I grabbed him. He started shouting in Italian and would not answer my questions about what he had been up to. Mafo and Blimp came over to see what the noise was about. When I let the man go he stormed off. A few minutes later he came back with two policemen and accused me of assaulting him. His name was Mr Facia. After some arguing with the police they gave me a warning and left. They did not seem interested in questioning the old man about his strange behaviour. [Blimp: I had heard stories in the Travellers' Club of the rampant corruption within the Italian police. Clearly this Mr. Facia had bribed the two policemen. Such an outrage would never occur in England!] Blimp asked me to look at the priest who was suffering from a rash. He said it came and went, and cleared up while he was visiting Rome. I advised it was probably caused by something he was in contact with, or eating, and gave him some lotion to rub on it. We went on to Le Galaria, a shopping arcade nearby, then onto Le Piazza del Scala, an open square with a statue of Michelangelo in the centre. Off the square was the La Scala opera house. Mafo bribed someone on the door to let us in. Inside was someone dressed as an Egyptian reading a newspaper. It had a story about the missing opera singer Katerina and tried to make connections with ghost voices and other recent accidents. While we were inside there was a crash and a wheel came rolling down the corridor. Blimp and myself stopped it. Following it came a load of actors all made up as wounded and dead figures. They started arguing until Blimp shouted at them. They were arguing about who was at fault and saying it must have been a ghost and that the place was cursed. [Blimp: more superstitious Catholics!] We went on and found ourselves on the stage. I nudged Blimp and suggested he gave a few verses. He responded by a reasonable rendition of “God Save The Queen”. [Blimp: I had a passable tenor voice when I was younger man, although sadly the years have taken their toll.] We got directions to the Costumers where the costume maker Louisa should be hoping that she would show us round Katerina's dressing room. When we found her Mafo started trying to court her. He persuaded her to take us to look round Karerinas dressing room. Mafo asked her about curses. She said there was a curse of the Costumers Department. The opera house had not kept a Costumer for more than three months except the three old ladies who were costume designers and had been working there for 50 years. They all fell ill and left. We had a look round Katerina's dressing room but found nothing. We then went to the Stage Manager's office. There was an argument in Italian which apparently was the Stage Manager refusing to help us or tell us where Katerina lived. We then went to look round the cellar. I saw something being covered up and wheeled into a props room. It looked a bit like the arm of the statue we found previously. Mafo distracted the workmen while I unlocked the door and looked inside. I found the torso of the statue under some drapes on a trolly. I wheeled it out with Blimp, up the stairs, and out the back door of the opera house. No one challenged us so we hailed a cab outside and took it back to our hotel. I spent the evening playing cards in the hotel lounge with Blimp. Mafo went off on a date with Louisa, and Julian went to the local newspaper publisher to try to find out more information about Katerina's disappearance. He got a description of the man who had picked her up from the station, drew a picture and went to the police. They said they recognised the man as Binito, who worked for Mr Facia. When Mafo and Julian got back to the hotel we all went to bed. As we were getting undressed Mafo called all of us. He had taken the arm and torso out of their cases and put them together in his bed. He then claimed we must have done it as a practical joke. He refused to touch them and went to book another room. I put them back in their cases with Blimp's help then we moved the cases to Blimps room. [Blimp: it was another example of Mr. Smith's singularly humourless attempt at a jape.] The following morning we left for the station. The porters looked a bit more active than when we arrived. Julian met us art the station after having gone with the police to see Mr Facia. They found him in a warehouse with an old woman who claimed to be Katerina the missing opera singer. She also claimed he had stolen her voice. A young upset looking Italian woman called Maria was getting on the train. Julian started a conversation with her. Her father had died and she was travelling back to Venice to arrange the funeral. When we arrived in Venice the church bells were ringing in the distance. They sounded like the bells we heard in Lausanne. [Blimp: during the nocturnal festival, to be precise.] A group of men met Maria when she left the train. The one in charge was called Alberto Rossini. Another man in the crowd seemed to be paying her particular attention. Mafo said something to them and the group left. Maria stayed with Mafo. We escorted her to her house and left her there, returning to our hotel. [Blimp: Mr. Smith's relentless pursuit of the fairer sexy was both wearying and degrading.] The following morning we went to see the sights with a couple of people Blimp had met the previous evening. First we went to the church. Blimp asked after birth records for Alvise de Gremanci. They said it would take several hours to find, so we found a cafe and had lunch. We returned to the church and the priest said he had found a family who had had an ancestor called Alvise de Gremanci. The family were automaton manufacturers, and were now doll makers. He also said there was a suggestion Alvise had been involved in the occult. [Blimp: why does this sort of poppycock seem to follow us about?] We hailed a water taxi to take us to the doll shop. The guy running the shop was old and senile, but suggested we speak to his son Sebastiano. He knew of Alvise. He was from their family but was not a direct relative. He showed us round his factory. There was a room full of records. Julian was right at home and started looking through them. [Blimp: how tedious.] We went to the theatre in the evening [Blimp: that was my suggestion.], leaving Julian to his records. In the morning there were reports of a murder in the papers. A woman had been found screaming. Her lover had been impaled on a metal spike with his throat ripped out. The police were holding her for questioning. Julian did not show for breakfast. While we were eating breakfast Maria's maid showed up with a letter from Maria. It was inviting us to her fathers funeral. [Blimp: I found this singularly strange behaviour after a brief acquaintance made on the Orient Express. I put it down to the mercurial Mediterranean character.] We went to the doll factory to see if Julian was still there. The murder had taken place near the factory. When we got to the factory we were told Julian had left at 11pm the previous evening. I suggested he had probably gone to some bar and got drunk. We took a water taxi to Maria's house. We chatted until lunchtime, then returned to the hotel for lunch. When we got to the hotel Julian was already there. He looked completely wasted. [Blimp: this was not the first time Mr. Fitzpatrick had disappeared overnight and returned looking dreadful, thus we were no duly concerned.] In the evening we went to Sebastiano's house for dinner. Julian had found a record about a stone leg, but when he asked Sebastian about it he had not heard of it. The following morning there had been another murder. A gondolier was found torn to pieces in his boat. One of the waiters said his brother had seen a monster in a boat and said death was walking the streets of Venice. [Blimp: how these Italians were ever able to overcome their peasant superstitions and actually unify remains a mystery to me!] Julian went off to the Bibliotheca Marciana to do some more research. I went to buy a new suit for the funeral. In the afternoon we all went to the funeral, except Julian who remained at the library. After the funeral there was a wake. After a boring half an hour I left with Blimp to do some sightseeing. [Blimp: we only attended the funeral because Mr. Smith was insistent.] After a while I noticed 3 people following us. When they realised we had spotted them they headed off. We followed but they tried to jump us from round a corner saying Rossini had said we should receive a good kicking. I stabbed one in the neck and Blimp smashed one in the head. The 3rd ran away. [Blimp: I despair at Tweeny's obsession with knives. These thugs were unarmed yet he still assaulted them with lethal force. If only he had been raised as a gentleman.] We went back to the wake to warn Mafo then to the library to warn Julian. On the way to the library we spotted another three people following us. We confronted them and beat them up. Two were knocked unconscious and the 3rd ran away. [Blimp: my remonstrations after our previous encounter had achieved some positive effect on Tweeny's behaviour, although I found myself wonder how long he would heed my words.] We met Julian at the library then went to a nearby cafe for coffee. Julian had found reference to a statue in the courtyard of the Palazzo Rezzoniani that had a leg broken by lightning and was replaced with another of a strange ceramic material. We went over there to look. The place was closed but we made an appointment to see it with the help of a bribe. The palace was very cold and the courtyard was covered in ice. There were thousands of statues covering every wall. As we were searching the clock tower struck 5pm. As we looked at the tower we saw a procession of automatons moving round the clock tower. We went to the clock tower to have a closer look. It was locked but I quickly opened it. It was dark inside so we tried to get a lantern. The caretaker said the did not have any lanterns though he kept looking at Julian when he said it. Blimp had seen one upstairs. Mafo went to get it but came back saying there was mist. [Blimp: not that damnable mist again! The mere mention of it had Mr. Smith and Mr. Fitzpatrick cowering like Frenchmen.] I went up with Blimp and got it. We found no mist. In the meantime the caretaker had produced two lanterns. We went up into the bell tower. At the top was a trap door. In the room was a mass of gears and machinery to drive the automatons. Mafo said he saw something on the clock face but there was nothing there. [Blimp: hardly surprising after his panic with the non-existent mist!] We searched about and found the turk had a leg which matched the other statue parts we had found. Julian claimed someone was coming but I could not hear anything and told him he must be imagining things. [Blimp: at this stage both Tweeny and myself were largely ignoring anything the other two said as they were jumping at shadows like little French girls.] We suddenly heard the caretaker scream and a thud. I looked outside and saw the caretaker lying on the ground of the inner courtyard in a pool of blood. It looked like his arm had been ripped off in the fall. Mafo pulled the leg off [Blimp: the leg of the Ottoman statue obviously.] and the machinery made a horrible tortured noise. We climbed back through the trapdoor with sounds of the machinery breaking apart above us, and quickly left the building. The following day we spent in the hotel playing cards until mid afternoon. Then we took a taxi to the station to catch the Orient Express to Trieste. At the station there was a disturbance when one of the porters dropped a case and broke his leg. Fortunately the case was not badly damaged and the conductor said he would make sure the porter was fired for his carelessness. [Blimp: this was at my insistence, and quite right to.] After dinner Mafo put on a performance. I read the paper. There was a story saying the body found at the British Museum had been identified as a Mr Beddows. He was the butler of Professor Smith. We arrived in Trieste at about 8pm. It was very windy and cold when we got off the train. The wind was so strong that I got blown off my feet when I got out of the taxi at the hotel. One of the locals called Dr Blackman said the wind was called the Bora and was not unusual at this time of year. He had also heard of Johann Winckelman, who had been murdered some 100 years ago. He worked for a count Von Brunel who lived in Stendal, a town about 100 miles away. In the morning Dr Blackman said he would show us round the city. Julian said he was feeling ill and stayed in the hotel. [Blimp: probably as a result of his nocturnal excursions.] The rest of us went to the museum with Dr Blackman. There was a sarcophagus for Johann Winckelman in the museum garden, within a Roman mock temple. On the wall was a painting of him. We carried on in our cab towards the castle and I noticed there was another cab following us. We pulled in and it passed, then we started following it. We followed it to a farm where two men got out and ran into a barn. I saw another men in a position at an upper window with a rifle. We tried sneaking up to the barn but he saw us and shot Blimp. [Blimp: damned lucky shot.] I returned fire and killed him. We followed a ditch up to the barn. I crept round to the back door with Blimp. Blimp burst in and shouted "give up you are surrounded". Several seemed to hesitate but one opened fire and shot Blimp. We both shot back, killing him. Another of them started shouting and fired, and Blimp was hit again. I shot him and Blimp finished him off. [Blimp: I was badly injured at this point, having been shot three times, but I had to soldier through to the end of the battle. It was a great comfort having Tweeny to hand, the finest Surgeon the British Army has ever seen, to patch up my wounds. There were two people left who surrendered. Mafo then finally came round to the back when the gunfire had stopped. They both had scars and it looked like they had major skin grafts, though how they could have survived such operations I do not know. Mafo looked round the barn. He found a load of equipment, including manacles, solid silver surgical instruments and a book. We searched the two men and found they had a set of cards with drawings of us, with our names and hotel rooms on the back. They did not speak English. We decided they looked Turkish. Blimp went back to Trieste to find a translator and go to hospital. [Blimp: my man, Jennings, did a sterling job of getting me into a proper hospital and not one of the local disease infested cesspits.] I started examining the bodies of the dead and Mafo watched the surrounding area while we waited. Mafo saw 4 people on the road outside a carriage watching the farm. I continued examining the bodies. It appeared that their eyes had been replaced, which would be impossible. I removed them for further study. I used the silver instruments we had found. They seemed to be of exceptional quality. Mafo reported 5 people had got in their carriage and were approaching. Two appeared to be missing an arm. We hid and waited for them to come into the barn. One spotted Mafo and said in a variety of languages including English "come out and we will not kill you". Mafo shot and wounded him. I shot another in the head, killing him. They threw knives back but missed. The two missing limbs threw some sort of tentacle. One hit and wrapped round me but Mafo just killed him. After a brief gunfight only their leader remained alive, and he had multiple gunshot wounds. He was Austrian. I practiced removing the bullets from him with the silver instruments. They did a good job. He said the Turks belonged to the Brothers of the Skin and they were looking for the statue. They were occultists. He said he belonged to the Dragon Kings and they were after a medallion that belonged to Winkleman. Winkleman also belonged to the Dragon Kings. I went and searched their carriage. I found some food and a telescope inside. Jennings came back with a translator. We got him to listen while the Austrian asked him questions. They said that Saleem told them to come to Trieste. The right leg was thought to be there. They were to watch ourselves and the Lloigor cult. Mafo said that was another name for the Dragon Kings. The translator said the book was in Greek and called the ritual of skin grafting. I examined one of the people with the tentacle. It seemed to be from some other creature and had been grafted where the arm had been. The tentacle had some sort of muscular spasm and wrapped round me. I pulled it off and shot it to stop it moving. We left the Dragon Kings with the Turks and went back to the hotel. Blimp went to the local hospital to get his wounds seen to. The following morning Dr Blackman met us for breakfast. He had found out more about Winkleman. He had been travelling with an art dealer called Cavaceppi but left him to return to Trieste. He met a thief called Francesco Arcangeli who fatally stabbed him and attempted to stael some medals. He was later arrested and executed. Wincleman's will left most of his estate to Andrea, a waiter at the hotel where he stayed. The medallions eventually went to the Museo di Storia e d'Arte, and his papers were sold at auction to Giovanni Termona, a local historian. We found where Giovanni's decendants lived and paid them a visit. They still had the diary and let Julian read through it. Half the library was taken up with a description of how to contact the Lloigor. The diary described him having met with 'things' in Regensberg and was given an amulet to take to another enclave near Tergeste, Austria and deliver it to the Caverns at Postumia to deliver the amulet.He feared it would be used to release something they served from a frozen arctic prison. He suffered bad dreams. He had hid the amulet because he feared Arcangeli would steal it, then could not recover it without him noticing. [Blimp: after all this ludicrous nonsense I was almost wishing I was back lying undisturbed in hospital.] We went back to the hotel as Blimp and Mafo wanted to get an early night. I stayed in the bar with Julian. When Mafo went to his room he found the remains of a Turk spread all over the room. There was a revolver and some bullets lying on the floor. Mafo reported it to the porter then came to the bar for a drink. The police came and interviewed him, and the hotel got him a new room. Julian seemed unwilling to go to his room and fell asleep in the bar. I got woken in the night by the porter saying Julian had gone outside and was in danger. I got dressed. When I went outside I met Julian and Mafo coming back from somewhere. Julian looked fine, but Mafo looked half frozen. I don't think he was dressed well for going out in the cold night. Julian had some story about a ghost leading him to the hiding place of a medallion. It seemed a very far fetched story, but he had found a medallion somewhere. [Blimp: the porter had also knocked on my door but I sensibly sent the man packing. Mr. Fitzpatrick's nocturnal wanderings were no concern of mine.] I had a lie in the following morning. Julian seemed keen to go to Postumia to deliver the amulet he had found. He went off to do some research on the caverns there, and on the medallion he had found. Blimp and Julian had been careless and left the safety catches off their pistols and both managed to discharge them in their holsters. [Blimp: I blamed my man, Jennings, as he cleans my "bulldog" every morning.] Julian said it was the fault of 'the ghost' which seemed a very poor excuse for such a lapse. Obviously we got thrown out of the library after the incidents. Julian said the ghost had told him to go to Postumia today. We took Julian to the local church to get him exorcised. [Blimp: I should clarify that I don't believe is such nonsense but Mr. Fitzpatrick clearly did, and it did have a calming influence on him, which kept him quiet for a while. He is extremely tedious when agitated. I've never met a man more in need of time in the Army.] Afterwards we went back to the hotel. Julian seemed happier to wait until tomorrow before travelling. In the morning we caught the train to Long Gatio, a village about half a mile from Postumia. We hired horses and rode out to the caves. We hired a guide there to take us on a tour. We went on a small train halfway into the caverns then got off to walk the rest of the way. [Blimp: I think there was a tour of the caverns but I must have nodded off.] As we did so a group of people came out of the darkness. Some were carrying knives, the others had guns. In the fight that ensued we killed three of them and knocked the other three unconscious. I was grazed by a couple of bullets as was Julian. Blimp and Mafo suffered stab wounds. [Blimp: the Austrians were proving to be extremely violent people.] Shortly after we heard sounds of more people coming from deeper in the caves. We got the little train moving to take us out, but it did not move much above walking speed. We had another gunfight and killed them. Julian claimed some of them had been attacked and killed by mist, but he has not served in the Army and was probably affected by the gunfire. [Blimp: more blathering from the borderline lunatic Mr. Fitzpatrick.] I am sure it was Mafo's shotgun which was causing them to appear to be ripped apart. We left the caverns and interrogated the guide. He admitted to belonging to the Dragon Kings. We told him we would exchange the amulet we had for any pieces of the statue they might have, and they should come to Trieste in a week. We then left quickly. We decided to find a farmhouse rather than returning to the village. We spent the night in a farmhouse we found. We were well fed but had to sleep on the floor. I did not sleep well. In the morning we heard a scream from outside. We found the farm wife in shock. There was a torso lying on the ground. Its head and limbs had been ripped off, and a leg from the statue had been rammed into it. The leg had "leave" written on it in Latin. We took the leg and torso and rode back to the village. we dumped the torso in a ravine on the way. When we got to the village we took the train back to Trieste. [Blimp: quite why they couldn't have just left the leg is a mystery. The rather grusome details of its delivery now strike me as being peculiarly Austrian based on the willingness of its inhabitants to take arms.] We rested in Trieste for a few days, no one came to collect the amulet so Julian kept it. After resting we caught the Orient Express to Belgrade. We arrived at about 9am. We booked rooms in the Hotel Excelsior then went to the museum. We took a guided tour then had lunch before returning to the museum to meet the curator, Dr Todorovic. He gave us the name Father Filopovik, the priest in Orasac, as someone who could obtain artefacts. We would need a permit from the Bureau of National Treasures to take any artefacts from the country. [Blimp: as if we were going to bother ourselves with local trivialities. We are English gentleman! We would not have crafted the mightest Empire the world has ever seen if we had been bothered with tiresome local laws or traditions.] In the evening I stayed in the hotel with Blimp and played bridge. Mafo found a couple of girls and took them to watch some Serbian folk dance. Julian tagged along with them. [Blimp: much to Mr. Smith's obvious displeasure. I believe he thought his success with the ladies was hampered by the presence of a fawning slackjaw like Mr. Fitzpatrick. For once I was inclined to agree with Mr. Smith.] The following morning we took the train to Orasac. The train was completely packed with peasants and it was an unpleasant journey. [Blimp: It was hell! There was no First Class and they wouldn't even allow us to book a carriage to ourselves. There were hardly any seats, and I had to man handled some Serbian elder harridan out of her seat in order to sit down. I swore at that point never to return to Serbia again. I was beginning to understand why the Ottomans hadn't fought particularly hard to keep it in their Empire.] Half way we had to change to another train which was tiny and ran on narrow gauge track. Mafo did some magic tricks on the train and was given a black cock and a pig by some of the peasants. [Blimp: he seemed extremely pleased with this, no doubt as a result of his poor upbringing.] The train stopped at a village several miles from Orasac and we had to hire some horses and ride there. We were offered accommodation with the village leader. Mafo gave him the pig and the cock. After dinner we went to visit the priest. He said there was an old woman living in the woods to the North west. She had many pieces she was willing to sell. I spent the night in the church with Blimp as the priest had a couple of spare beds. The other two slept on the village leader's floor. [Blimp: the fools. To them the hellish train journey and the prospect of sleeping in some peasant's filth was an exciting adventure. Once again their lack of Army training made itself apparent: the first rule of soldiering is always sleep in the best bed available. Battles have been lost as a result of the quality of the sleeping arrangements between opposing armies.] During breakfast the following morning the priest's wife gave me a comb which was made of bone and decorated with a pattern of blossom and vines. Then she made gestures like throwing something on the floor. I have no idea what she wanted. When Julian and Mafo came back to the church I showed them the comb. Julian said he thought it was an ancient Byzantine artefact which would ward against forest spirits. That boy has some imagination. [Blimp: or he is a lunatic!] It sounds like it is quite valuable though. We rode out to the woods. The priest led us as far as the edge then gave us directions to continue. It got darker as we rode further into the wood. We reached an area surrounded by a thick hedge. Mafo pushed through to look. He said there was a naked woman inside. I went to have a look but there was no one there. [Blimp: another of his humourless japes.] We continued through the hedge and found another clearing with a cottage in the centre. We could hear the sound of a woman singing. Inside was a young woman called Kersia. She said her grandmother was out in the woods and would be back soon. She offered us some herbal tea that smelt horrible, and some food, though it was not that long after breakfast. There were loads of pieces of statue inside, but none looked like the one we were looking for. Mafo chatted Kersia up and took her outside. [Blimp: how typical - always thinking of the same thing.] We searched the cottage thoroughly and found the arm we were looking for tied up in the rafters. I went outside to check what Mafo was up to and heard a cry of pain from the rear of the cottage. When I got there Mafo was lying on the ground covered in blood and she was naked and leaning over his body with a knife. I shot her but she just turned and charged at me wielding a knife and stabbed me twice before I could react. I decided the sensible action would be to run. Blimp had been following me and ran with me. Julian appeared from inside the cottage with the arm we wanted, plus another which he was waving around wildly. [Blimp: Mr. Fitzpatrick struggled to accept Tweeny's version of Mr. Smith's demise, as presented here. That is because he is an idiot who has had no experience of death. He seemed to find it hard to comprehend that a mere woman had stabbed Mr. Smith to death, or forced a hasty retrreat from Tweeny. I, on the other hand, always believe Tweeny without question, and I have also seen what an enraged woman is capable of. I suspect that Mr. Smith tried to force himself on the poor woman and she reacted accordingly, perhaps fearing that the rest of us were similar blaggards. Whatever did happen, it my mind, the results are a cause of Mr. Smith's insatiable and inappropriate libido.] We rode back to the village, then continued on to catch the train back to Belgrade. I spent a few days in hospital. Julian reported Mafo's death to the police. They seemed concerned as they had already brought tickets to see him and would not get their money back. Blimp went round the local bars asking whether anyone would be interested in taking Mafo's place in our little group. [Blimp: our tickets and accommodation had been paid for so it seemed foolish to leave them going spare.] He found a big game hunter called Frederick Selous. [Blimp: I was hoping to find a proper Englishman, but alas they were scarce in Serbia. The best I could manage was a French Canadian. Still, he was well armed with an impressive collection of various firearms.] We took the Orient Express to Sofia. It was a 2 day ride. The train stopped on the way as the track was blocked by snow. Fred went out to look round. He climbed the side of the cutting but fell and injured himself badly. He started shooting at the top of the cutting and claimed someone had attacked him at the top. He then went back out to find a gun he had lost. While he was out he was attacked again. I saw his attacker and fired at him, driving him off. Fred staggered back towards the train then collapsed in the snow. He was dragged into the train and I performed emergency surgery to keep him alive. [Blimp: I was immediately regretting my decision to recruit this madman: he was determined to venture out to recover his lost weapon despite being a death's door, and it took all of our persuasion to keep him on the train.] The rest of the journey was uneventful. The snow was cleared and we arrived in Sofia 2 days later. We relaxed in the hotel for a few days while Fred recuperated. I asked after museums. The receptionist said there was a university of Sofia. He also said it had been robbed a few days ago. Fred found another newspaper article about a local farmer that had ploughed up a statue's head and a bag of coins. The head in the photo looked like the one we were looking for. It had been taken to the local university for further study. We went to the university. Un-surprisingly when we asked about the head they said they no longer had it. The head curator said two colleagues had been murdered and the head stolen. A 3rd worker was in hospital. One of the dead had been beheaded and that also had been taken. They had broken in through a window on the 1st floor. We went on to the hospital to find the survivor. The hospital staff were quite rude but we found him eventually. He was asleep and I had to wake him up to question him. There were 3 attackers. They were dressed in black. They had come through the window using a grappling hook. He thought they might be Turkish. We went to speak to his wife and search his house. [Blimp: we could discern no reason, and he could provide no reason, as to why he had been spared and his colleagues murdered. This made us extremely suspicious and we decided to investigate further.] He lived on the first floor. His wife was not at home. I found a woman's fingernail in the sink and some dead skin in the bath. There was a woman and child in the house below. They did not speak English so we had to take them back to the university to find someone who could translate while we questioned her. She had heard some noises from upstairs a couple of days ago and assumed they had been arguing. We went back to the hospital. He admitted they had threatened his wife if he did not help them. He had a contact name Krassimiara. There is a small harbour on the bank of the river Iskur, to the north of Sofia. The following morning we rode out to the harbour with one of the professors from the university. We found a hut by the river with a horse tied up outside. Fred gave me his elephant gun to give him cover while he crept up to have a look. As he approached someone fired from the hut. I blew a hole in the hut where the shot came from, and Fred also fired at the hut. A figure leapt out the window and charged Fred wielding two swords. Fred's elephant gun was very cumbersome and took an age for me to reload. Two more shots came from the hut, hitting Fred. I fired again and hit the sword wielder. Amazingly the elephant gun slowed him down but did not stop him. Blimp rode out to rescue Fred. [Blimp: I've no idea why I risekd a perfectly good mount for this suicidal Canadian.] Fred jumped on his horse but got shot badly. [Blimp: at least they were gentleman enough to shoot Mr. Selous and not the horse.] As they rode away the sword wielder turned and ran back to the hut. As he jumped through the window I shot him in the head, spreading his brains over the hut. [Blimp: an overly graphic description, for which I apologise to our more sensitive readers. You must excuse Tweeny, and remember that tact does play any part in his character.] I operated on Fred and healed some of his wounds, then gave him back his elephant gun to cover myself and Blimp as we approached the hut. There was a short fire fight and we killed the last two in the hut. [Blimp: Tweeny and I used regulation Army tactics for approaching and securing a covered position, and were successful. Mr. Selous, with only his game hunting experience had failed and was again at death's door.] We searched the hut. I found a map of the Iskur river. It had a point marked which was a couple of hours travel away. We went back to Sophia so Fred and Blimp could rest and heal up. A few days later we set off to follow the map. We took boats and rowed down the river. The map had been marking a cave opening. As Fred walked into the cave he was attacked by two dogs. [Blimp: what is it with this man!] Julian shot one and I stabbed the other. We crept through the tunnels until they opened out into a huge cavern. In the centre was six figures chanting around a pyramid. I crept down a side tunnel with Blimp to flank them. Fred and the professor opened fire, killing two of them. [Blimp: I add that our agreed plan was for Mr. Selous and the Professor give us time to get into position, flanking the figures down the side passage. We had barely left them when they opened fire; and I have no doubts that Mr. Selous was responsible. It was a fine plan ruined by amateurs.] The others started waving their arms about. Another figure detached from the pyramid. I crept up to the pyramid with Blimp and took the statue head which was at the top of the pyramid. Fred, Julian and the professor fired on the figures who were charging them. After a prolonged fire fight we killed them all. [Blimp: entirely unnecessarily. If the original plan had been adhered to there would have been much less loss of life, or risk to ourselves.] We then returned to Sofia and caught the Orient Express the following day. We travelled overnight and arrived at Constantinople at midday. Fred got a local paper that had a story about local children being kidnapped by Greeks. He also found someone willing to be an interpreter for us. Finally Jennings got us a cab and we went to our hotel for lunch. [Blimp: Jennings has always been utterly dependable but he excelled himself on our European sojourn. I believe I shall have to give him a raise when we return to London.] The translator had never heard of the Shunned Mosque, so while Julian and Blimp went to the library, I went to look round the local bazzar with Fred. [Blimp: I should add that I had no interest in the books, and instead went to keep an eye on the flighty Mr. Fitzpatrick.] Julian found a reference to the Sedefkar scrolls being in the Topkapi palace, which was a museum and mosque. In the evening I played bridge with Blimp, and Colonel and Agnes Harding who were staying at the hotel. Fred and Julian went out on the town. [Blimp: I had made the acquaintance of Colonel Harding previously on the Orient Express. He was a delightful man; congenial company and emboding all the traits of a true Englishman. Quite why he had married his mouse of a wife leaves me at a loss.] The following morning during breakfast someone approached us saying the British Ambassador, Sir Douglas Rutherford, had some matter he wished to discuss and felt could only be resolved by English men. We took a cab to the British Embassy. [Blimp: we went immediately; this was indeed an honour.] Sir Douglas said he believed his 9 year old son, James, had been kidnapped. He did not trust the Ottomans and wanted English men to help find him. [Blimp: quite right too.] He believed it might be connected with recent criminal activity at the Red Mosque. Fred asked about the Shunned Mosque. Douglas said it sounded familiar and thought he had heard one of the staff talking about it. Fred went to look round the garden with Julian. He found some tracks which lead to a locked gate. He climbed over the gate and followed the tracks until they appeared to have got in a cab. I interrogated the foreign workers with Blimp. We interrogated one of the servants with scars on his face. After a while he suddenly broke down and shouted "The brothers have the boy and all the children, you are doomed, the skin beast will come. Soon you will be in the arms of the skinless one." [Blimp: for a lackey I was surprised at his command of English.] He then tried to throttle Blimp. I hit him over the head with a marble bust of Sir Douglas that was nearby. It was a good blow but he remained conscious. I then kicked him in the head before grappling him and pinning him to the floor. Blimp then called for the guards who came and tied him up. Blimp continued the interrogation. Suddenly his face started melting and he started choking. I performed an emergency operation to keep him alive. Blimp forced paper into his hand. He wrote down the name "Saleem", "Shunne Mosque" and "ritual" before convulsing and dying. [Blimp: Tweeny had administered some liquid that we found in order to revive him. I suspect that it had been mislabelled and the poor man had been given acid, thus his face appearing to melt. I made sure to point out this clerical oversight to the Ambassador.] Sir Douglas returned and said he had found the servant who spoke of the Shunned Mosque. It was also known as the Red Mosque, and was no longer used. We questioned the rest of the servants and got directions to the Red Mosque. We took a cab to the Topkapi palace to meet professor Azap. He was a rude foreigner. Blimp stormed off. [Blimp: the man was a complete xenophobe; there was no reasoning with his ignorance and I left before I felt compelled to call him out.] I decided it was a waste of time and went looking round the museum. Fred stayed with him and offered him money in return for looking at the scrolls. We left Julian to look at the scrolls and took a cab to the Red Mosque. There were several rough looking men sitting on the front steps. Fred went up to them but they intimidated him and he backed off. We looked round the temple. There were no other doors and the windows were high up. We went back to the hotel and met up with Julian. He said the scrolls had been stolen from the museum, and all that was left in their case was a note saying they had been taken by the skinless one. Fred's translator said he knew of Beylab the perspiror who was a good source of information. We asked him to arrange a meeting with Beylab for the following day. In the evening I played bridge with Blimp, and Colonel and Agnes Harding again. Fred sat at the bar drinking. Later that evening after I had gone to bed I was suddenly disturbed by a loud shotgun blast. It had come from Fred's room. He had shot and killed 3 men with his shotgun. It turned out he had a woman locked in his bathroom who was going to poison him, and the 3 men had burst into his room with swords. It was not entirely clear exactly what had happened, but Fred had somehow identified the woman in the bar, and tricked her into coming to his room where he had overpowered her. The 3 men had followed them up and burst into his room shortly after. The police took Fred away to question him. [Blimp: and there was I thinking that our problems caused by the weaker sex had perished with Mr. Smith.] He showed up at the hotel the following morning with some story about the police taking him to the Red Mosque and questioned him about the statue and where it was. He then managed to escape from the temple and was chased through the streets before loosing them and hid until the sun rose. [Blimp: I suspect he bribed the police to release him and then constructed this elaborate fairy-tale in order to maintain his, largely self held, image as a fearless big game hunter.] Fred's room had been searched during the night and everything of value had been taken. We got a few cabs and took all our luggage, including the pieces of statue to the Embassy. [Blimp: our enemies knew where we were residing and as long as we remained at large the lives of innocent people were at risk. We thus took the remarkable decision of seeking refuge at the Embassy.] Someone tried to follow us but we threw some coins into the road to cause a crowd behind us, blocking those following. [Blimp: excellent quick thinking by Tweeny.] We got to the Embassy and convinced Sir Douglas to let us stay there. We went to the Turkish baths to meet Beylab. Blimp waited outside as he did not want to get undressed. [Blimp: quite right, too. Undressing in public places is the behaviour of louts or Frenchmen.] He told us we could get into the temple through underground water systems built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian. He also said he did not like the Brotherhood and would be happy if we could destroy their organisation and their leader Saleem. He went to draw us a map and we waited in the steam room. While we waited we were attacked by a couple of people. Fred got stabbed and throttled. The other tried to garrotte me but I managed to break free and killed them with the knife I had concealed in my towel. [Blimp: how like Tweeny; and it fairness how sensible of him given our recent experiences; and how foolish of Mr. Fitzpatrick and Mr. Selous to enter the meeting unarmed.] Due to our nakedness at the baths we noticed we all had mysterious growths on our backs. Beylab came back with a map. He claimed to have known nothing about the attack but his body language showed he was hiding something. We went to the market because Julian wanted to find someone to make make silver bullets. He seemed to think they would be better, so I got some shotgun cartridges refilled with silver pellets. [Blimp: I understandably poured scorn on this ridiculous notion]. We then rested for a day and set out to sneak into the temple the following night. The map described a secret way of getting onto the secret passageway by raising a stone slab at the base of a column in the water cistern. We found our way into an ante chamber full of scrolls. When we opened the door we were attacked by a guard inside. He was very strong, but Fred and myself managed to hold him down while Blimp bashed him unconscious. I dragged him into a corner and silenced him more permanently. [Blimp: a fact I was unaware of at the time and only came to light in my later reading of Tweeny's journal.] Julian could not find the scroll we were looking for in the room. We continued up the stairs. We came to another room which appeared to have been used for surgical procedures. Julian found some vials containing acid. There was another closed door behind which we could hear voices. Fred opened the door a little. Beyond we could see a large hall with at least 100 people worshiping. Fred crept into the hall to explore. As we watched a procession of about half a dozen children were led in followed by someone being carried on a litter. He then started sewing the children together. [Blimp: I should add that this was Mr. Selous' description. He had already demonstrated his flair for the fantastical in relating his exploits so I remained largely skeptical of his version of what he had seen.] We took the opportunity to sneak into the hall and up the stairs of the tower to the top where we found a locked door. I unlocked it and we went into the office beyond. We spent time searching the office for the scrolls. Julian said there was nothing magical in the room. [Blimp: as he would, and how characteristically unhelpful of him. Perhaps he thought fairies had taken the scrolls!] Obviously that is the case as there is no such thing as magic, but we humoured him. Julian used the acid on some other scrolls and books we had found. We went back down to the 2nd floor where there were some cells. In one was a figure without arms or legs. Fred killed him. [Blimp: in fairness to Mr. Selous it was a mercy killing. I would have done exactly the same myself.] On the body was a business card for Professor J Smith. In another cell was some children. Downstairs I found a store room with Blimp. We took some rope and other supplies to help us escape after ambushing Saleem. We then went back up to his office to wait. After a short while Saleem and two others came up. We opened fire, I blasted the figure in front with my shotgun, killing him. The second man drew a sword and attacked Fred. Saleem started shouting something, and the figure I thought I had killed started getting up. Obviously the shot had not been as good as I thought. I reloaded and fired at Saleem, hitting him and knocking him back. I hit him again as he fled down the stairs, but we then had too flee before the crowd below came to investigate the gunshots. Fred started climbing down the rope we had thrown out the window. Blimp and myself opened fire on the guards below, killing two and sending the others running to cover. We then followed Fred down the rope and disappeared into the surrounding streets. [Blimp: we were slightly disappointed that our attempts to capture Saleem had failed. However, with Professor Smith now dead I no longer felt bound by our contract to him and was insistent that we return to London before we sustained any further injuring. Rather than destroying the statue as originally requested we decided to throw it into the Channel on our journey home. All of us agreed to this plan apart from Mr. Selous who, in characteristically mercenary fashion wanted to sell the statue. I had to argue with him that this had never been mentioned as part of our contract, and that technically he had only helped us retrieve the head and was therefore entirely to one quarter of the head. I offered that if he could find a way to quarter the head before we reached the Channel then he could freely sell his quarter. Needless to say, this irrefutable logic shut him up.] We made our way back to the Embassy and told the Ambassador what we had seen. He was not overly grateful and seemed to think we could have done more to save his son. [Blimp: as an ex-Army man I made it perfectly clear that it would take a detachment of troops to assault the Red Mosque. I suspected approaching the Sultan, who was unlikely to be best pleased on discovering what was essentially a private army of fanatics in the heart of his Empire but Sir Douglas' judgement seems to have deserted him on learning of his son. Still, the final decision was his; we were done with the affair.] The following morning we took the Orient Express back to London. The following night Julian came knocking at my door blabbering on about taking the statue somewhere and assembling it. I told him to go back to bed as it was 2:30 am. [Blimp: a similar occurrence took place outside the door of my compartment.] The following morning he had some story about being visited by mist the previous night. The mist had apparently talked to him and told him it was really Cont Fenalik and demanded he give the mist the statue or it would kill someone on the train. Clearly he had had a dream. [Blimp: I had been quietly pleased that there had been no mention of the mist since we left Austria; I should have realised that Mr. Fitzpatrick's flights of fancy were long term affairs.] The following night Fred also started going on about mist. Apparently it told him someone would die and shortly afterwards the porter was found decapitated having leaned out of the window. Blimp suggested we assembled the statue just to shut them up. We did so and while waiting with the statue, some mist did start to form. Julian seemed insistent that we should leave the carriage. To keep him quiet we waited outside the door for a couple minutes then Blimp went back in. The mist seemed to be billowing round the statue. [Blimp: I have to admit that even I can find no logical explanation for this phenomenon. I was utterly perplexed by this sight.] Fred suddenly pulled out his pistol and shot the statue. Blimp did likewise. [Blimp: at the time it seemed wise to provide some kind of support to Mr. Selous.] I ran into the carriage and pulled the head off the statue. The carriage started shaking so I ran back out. A bright orange light came from the carriage behind me. When we went back the statue had disintegrated. [Blimp: this truly was incredible. At the very least the best I could do was apologise to Mr. Fitzpatrick for the scorn with which I greeted his mention of the mist the previous night. I still think of his has an effeminate poltroon, but it was the gentlemanly thing to do.] The rest of the journey was uneventful and we finally arrived back in London. [Blimp: huzzah!]

Last updated: February 27, 2014