Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Adventure of the Scarlet Garter

In a previous post, Cowtown Pattie and I seem to have started spontaneously exchanging story
chapters in the comments section. The plot, already incomprehensible to any but the trained reader, is taking any number of unlikely turns. I've decided not to waste perfectly good material (as though I had any other material that was perfectly good), and to reprint The Story So Far below. A few cosmetic changes, mostly to extricate ourselves from plot contradictions that proved beyond even our capacity to reconcile or boldly ignore, have been made with surgical skill. Any grammatical errors have been left -- I mean, deliberately inserted -- as consistent with period stylistics and point-of-view narration. I expect that further additions, if any, will be made in the comments box here, where upon accumulation they will be posted as another thrilling installment. Whether the story will peter out from narrative exhaustion, or whether the whole thing will transform, some years hence, into a Victorian-dada-bodice-ripping-mystery-triple-decker -- or whether it will fall leadenly somewhere in between -- only the future will tell, and the future isn't talking.

We begin after the Pete Best nonsense, which rather compromises the historical setting, even if the historical setting is far from clear at this point.


Mrs. McGinty's stepsister, Clementina "Buttercup" O'Shaughnessy, was relieved at the disappearance of her meddlesome relative. She never knew why her brother, Neville, had insisted on keeping that woman around. Buttercup had her suspicions that Neville's death was far too convenient and neat. Found slumped in his favorite wingbacked chair with the Times rugby results lying scattered over the floor, a cup of half-drunk Earl Grey gone cold on the lamp table, and his spectacles no where in sight. Very odd; Neville was blind as a bat and certainly wouldn't be reading the paper without them.

Buttercup hoped the Constable would demand an autopsy, but she wished in vain. The coronor said Mr. O'Shaughnessy had died of heart failure. "Heart failure, indeed", thought Buttercup, who knew for a fact her husband's heart was perfectly sound, as need be that of any man she married.

Mrs. McGinty -- who was this "McGinty" and why had they never seen him? -- was left with 100,000 £'s. Buttercup just knew there was murder afoot. -Cowtown Pattie

Lemuel Tupperware sat cross-legged on the mat in Oriental fashion, his brows knitting as he sucked at his water pipe. "Mrs. -- O'Shaughnessy, is it? -- pray take a seat," he muttered abstractedly between puffs. Clementina gathered her skirts and nestled her bustle on the wooden stool that seemed to be the sole piece of normal furniture in the exotic appointments of this bachelor's room.

"You see, sir," she began as she unpinned her hat. Her eyes drifted nervously over the wall's paintings of ancient foreigners in odd positions doing unspeakable things.

"I have not yet indicated I will take your case, madam," interrupted Tupperware, tipping his pipe over impatiently with his bright yellow slippers as he stood and began to pace the room. "As I see it," he continued, there is not merely the question of foul play here, but a multilayered conundrum that could lead to the palace itself. If you haven't the stuff for it, ma'am," he sniffed, "I suggest you abandon this line of inquiry right away. But if I decide to take the case, and I am by no means sure that I will, there can be no turning back." He paused and fixed her with a glittering eye.

"But, sir," said Clementina, beginning to have grave doubts, "I haven't said a word about why I am here."

"Nor have I," spake Tupperware in a clipped manner, facing her abruptly. "This is London. You are a woman. The rest can be easily deduced." Upon which he lowered himself to the floor and was soon fast asleep. -Bleak Mouse

Now thoroughly agitated, Clementina pulled her worn but well-stitched kid gloves from her drawstring velvet clutch. Whenever faced with unpleasant decisions, she found a calming sensation in donning her best gloves, meticulously smoothing the glove over each finger.
Suddenly, her nostrils filled with the horrid odor of Tupperware's hookah gurgling dry. The stemmed mouthpiece had slipped from his hand onto the persian rug and the last ribbons of smoke curled like ghost snakes around his yellowed fingers. Jumping up from her perch on the wooden stool, Clementina gingerly picked up the pipe with her fingertips. Sniffing closer, she recognized the scent of blackberry var, more commonly known as "Lady's Garters"."No wonder the fool is higher than the bell tower on Winchester Cathedral." She quickly tapped the last of the burning var and its remaining dottle out of the pipe bowl and into an empty brass cuspidor.
With her host most likely out for the night, Clementina took advantage of the opportunity to inspect the rest of the strange quarters. Padding over to a narrow red lacquered shelf adorned with oriental dragons, she noticed a small green leather-bound notebook. -Cowtown Pattie

Every fiber of her being warned Clementina not to explore the leatherbound volume. (Yes, this is the same fibrous being that yearned with unutterable longing; that thrilled with strange sensation; that shuddered with dire apprehension; and that longed with unutterable yearning. Clementina's complete historical adventures are available in e-bookstores everywhere.) She knew that the book would hold dire secrets of vast import, as did most small volumes lying about in plain sight nearly everywhere she went. Accounts of secret assignations by persons of quality; plots to kidnap the Queen and replace her with a lookalike airhead; lists of murdered prostitutes written with the cold eye of a medical man; ancient maps of lost treasures in darkest Africka; long-suppressed Biblical writings that would shake the foundations of the Church were they ever to become known; secret rites for invoking Satan -- all these and more were to be found in seemingly innocuous volumes just such as these.

Clementina did not hesitate, for much was at stake. Sweeping the oriental dragons from the shelf, she noticed with disgust that her gloves were now hopelessly stained with that hideous red. With the same swift motion that had caused consternation in the highest quarters, she flipped the book's cover open, and it was as she had feared: the dark etching clearly portrayed the leg, the stocking, the hand -- the stigmata of the Order of the Scarlet Garter. And below, written in a florid hand that, with a sudden intake of breath, she knew to be strangely familiar, was the single, impossible signature: "Buttercup."The sudden scream was not her own. -Bleak Mouse

With shaking hands, Clementina snapped the dusty tome closed and shoved it roughly into her small traveling valise, the one poor Neville had given her as a birthday gift just last year.

She had not been terribly thrilled with the present, thinking Neville was quite the boring spouse; a husband who couldn't see with his own two eyes how she had coveted the fox fur stole with the mink tail that graced the mannequin in the shop window of Lillicrapps and Davies on Dowgate Hill. Odd thing though; upon unwrapping the unimaginative present, Clementina had noticed a lone stray garter tucked neatly into an inner side pocket, its red silky lace looking quite incongruous with the grey flannel lining of the traveling case. Most likely a nearsighted shopkeeper had inadvertantly left the garter there by accident as Neville most assuredly did not have that kind of kinky taste.

Or did he? What if the shopkeeper was not old and moldy, but young and lithesome? Had Neville been secretly meeting his little tart amidst the cases and leathergoods at Spitalfields Market? Was there more to Neville than met the eye?

"Oh, crumb and biscuit, what have I gotten myself into?" Clementina lamented as she shut the image of a fornicating, but dull-as-dishwater Neville from her mind.

The wretching scream seemed to have originated from below Tupperware's quarters, towards the rear of the house. Clementina edged around the room, opened the smoke-stained door and stepped out onto the landing. The hallway was eerily without sound, except for the loud deliberate ticking of the grandfather clock one floor below in the foyer. Making her way carefully down the worn carpeted stairway and stepping sideways so as to keep her ample backside to the wall, Clementina groped her way slowly to the front door. With one hand gripping the balustrade and the other holding her valise and its valuable contents, she failed to notice the shadow creeping along the bottom of the stairs, keeping pace with her every step. -Cowtown Pattie

Clementina's instincts had been finely honed by the many adventures during the course of which she had had to make her way with perfect stealth and utter silence down stairways; that these narrow escapes were often preceded by a woman's screams served to sharpen her already-keen senses now. Slowly, deliberately, feeling her way with delicate fingers and ample backside (a gratuitous anatomical reference to which we shall return), she descended.

Mr Lemuel Tupperware had proved to be something of a disappointment, as had most of these "amateur detectives" that had sprung up like weeds in the nurturing fertilizer of the cult of the gentleman, the high atmospherics of nocturnal London, and the elaborate fictions of the penny dreadfuls. Now every dim younger son of a minor aristocrat was sporting a deerstalker hat, improbable pipes, a variety of false noses and moustaches that were laughably obvious, and an interest in "exotic" forms of knowledge that was highly questionable insofar as Clementina could see. She had had momentary qualms about leaving Tupperware in the state of intoxication so common to the type, but she couldn't be responsible for the sobriety of every fop in a smoking jacket with pretensions to deductive ratiocination.

Still, the green volume she had purloined from Tupperware indicated a connection, however unlikely, to herself, and to her country childhood, where she had been raised in health and natural splendor by her dear father, and had been known to one and all as "dear little Buttercup" -- until certain secret machinations had taken away her childhood home, reduced her father to a wreck of a man, and set her prematurely to make her way in the world, without a penny, as best she could.

When the hands grasped her, she faced her shadowy attacker as experience had taught her, and gave a swift upward kick with her right knee. The strangled groan that followed immediately was highly gratifying, but it was too late: the handkerchief had already been pressed to her face, the noxious fumes penetrating her mouth and nostrils; and, at the center of a howling spiral that appeared from nowhere, she saw a black pit, which in seconds had expanded to encompass everything.

Then she knew no more. -Bleak Mouse