Friday, March 28, 2014
'I had a think about it when I got home,' went on the undertaker. 'And I believe there's a chap who might give you some more on it. He came to one of our meetings too. Last year. Gave us a talk on the Black Death. His name is Kinlock, Dr Christopher Kinlock. He's a medical historian. He lives somewhere in the docks area - the bit they've all smartened up. You should be able to find him all right.'
Dr Kinlock himself answered the door. There was an oddly shaped knocker. 'This house,' he said, 'was used by an apothecary two hundred years ago. I'm very pleased to have it now.' He indicated the curved steel knocker. 'That,' he said proudly, 'is a third-generation artificial hip, a prosthesis; makes a wonderful bit of door furniture, don't you think?'
Davies said uncertainly that he did. The doctor led the way through a panelled hall, beyond glass doors into a room where a gas fire was burning boldly.
Around the walls were showcases containing items of human anatomy. Davies could see a library through another door with an encased skeleton grinning at nothing. There were other skulls, bones and nameless things in jars. The death mask of a bald man occupied another container. 'Unusual room,' mentioned Davies, accepting the doctor's Scotch.
'An unusual facet of Dockland development,' smiled Kinlock. 'It's not all fancy former warehouses.' He was a small Scot with ginger eyebrows. 'It's been a fine opportunity to gather interesting specimens from medical history. I'm adding to it all the time. The death mask is of Mikhail Bakunin, the father of modern anarchy, one of only twelve made. One day, I would love to buy Napoleon's testicle.'
'That,' agreed Davies vaguely, 'would be worth having.'
'Now, you had a little poser for me,' said Kinlock. 'Not much of one because, even from your telephone conversation, I think I know what we are talking about.'
These,' said Davies. He had taken a further two screws from Lofty's box and reclaimed the first from Walter Pitt. He held the three wooden screws out in the palm of his hand.
Kinlock picked up one with a musing smile. 'Cunningly made, aren't they,' he said. 'You'd have a job having something like this turned today. They needed to be the hardest wood, and of course, non-toxic'
'What,' asked Davies, 'were they for?'
'Orthopaedic,' said Kinlock brightly. 'Screwing together bones.' He twisted one of the screws as he turned and led the way into the further room. From a shelf he eased a heavy red book and, perching a pair of rough glasses on the ridge of his nose, turned the big pages. 'Developed,' he paraphrased, 'in the nineteen twenties. A revolution in orthopaedic surgery.' Once more he twirled the wooden spiral. 'Cunning,' he said again.
Davies asked cautiously, 'How ... common were they, at the time?'
'Not so very. It wasn't long before a stainless steel screw was developed, obviously an advantage because this little lady was very finicky and very costly to make.' He looked quizzically at Davies. 'I have, incidentally, only a very vague idea why the Metropolitan Police should want to know. Is it very secret?'
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Nothing alarming happened on the Tube on my way home that evening, except for the fact that, owing to a “work to rule” by the drivers, the train gave up work at Victoria and I had to walk the rest of the way home to Froxbury Mansions in the Gloucester Road. The shops and their windows were full of glitter, artificial snow and wax models perched on sleighs wearing party dresses. Taped carols came tinkling out of Tesco’s. The chambers meeting had been the last of the term, and the Old Bailey had interrupted its business for the season of peace and goodwill.
There was very little of either in the case which I had been doing in front of the aptly named Mr Justice Graves. Mind you, I would have had a fairly rough ride before the most reasonable of judges. Even some compassionate old darlings like Mr Justice “Pussy” Proudfoot might have regarded my client with something like horror and been tempted to dismiss my speech to the jury as a hopeless attempt to prevent a certain conviction and a probable sentence of not less than thirty years. The murder we had been considering, when we were interrupted by Christmas, had been cold-blooded and merciless, and there was clear evidence that it had been the work of a religious fanatic.
The victim, Honoria Glossop, Professor of Comparative Religion at William Morris University in East London, had been the author of a number of books, including her latest, and last, publication Sanctified Killing—A History of Religious Warfare. She had been severely critical of all acts of violence and aggression—including the Inquisition and the Crusades—committed in the name of God. She had also included a chapter on Islam which spoke scathingly of some ayatollahs and the cruelties committed by Islamic fundamentalists.
It was this chapter which had caused my client, a young student of computer technology at William Morris named Hussein Khan, to issue a private fatwa. He composed, on one of the university computers, a letter to Professor Glossop announcing that her blasphemous references to the religious leaders of his country deserved nothing less than death—which would inevitably catch up with her. Then he left the letter in her pigeonhole.
(From 'Rumpole and the Christmas Break')
Friday, March 07, 2014
Thursday, March 06, 2014
Monday, March 03, 2014
People disappear every day. Most of them choose to. Have you ever been tempted? Slip on a coat, pick up your bag and walk, or drive, or run. Turn your back on home, family, friends, work.
Why do people do it? Because they can? Because staying feels harder than leaving? Because they are angry or desolate or simply, deeply, mind-numbingly bored with the life they have? Because their heart is breaking and their mind fragmenting? And the grass is greener, the flowers smell sweeter. And if they stay they might be truly lost.
Back in June, the same week that I'd just found one person, two more went missing. None of them related. The only connection was me; Sal Kilkenny, my job; private investigator. And finding people seemed to be the flavour of the month.
Saturday, March 01, 2014
I took a wrong turning in Manhattan this morning and stumbled across a book stall selling a copy of Zamyatin's The Islanders for four dollars. When I looked online for a copy of the same edition a few months back the cheapest copy available was $52!
Being a 'the-glass-is-half-empty' kind of guy, I know I'll never find that book stall again.