Quack the Quipper.
Through the wet clinging fog down a cobbled side street, sounds the flatly flapping flop of small flat feet and a slight panting.
Another handful of rain sprinkles the rustling satin skirt.
A muttered curse. “Oh it be dark in here, need to bring a candle.”
Then the high pitched scream bouncing between the rain soaked brick walls. A thud. Spitting. Dancing in the air with the raindrops, a phrase: What do you get if you churn a duck in a quart of milk?*
Inspector LeStrudel peered over the desk at the knee. Clearly delineated were the double hemispherical marks of the upper and lower jaw with the gap where the top left incisor should be.
“Madam,” he deduced, “you have been bitten.”
“I know,” she said, “it don’t half hurt. Have you got something to take away the pain?” She put her head on one side coquettishly. “Ow?” she suggested.
LeStrudel reached into his top right hand desk drawer. Fingers flitting across the phials he stopped at the red stoppered rack. Selecting a tiny tube he retrieved, uncorked and tipped three drops into the cup of tea sitting on the blotting pad. She raised her eyebrows. He added a fourth drop. “Tincture of Laudanum.”
“Mmm. Cheerio!” She downed half the cup in one go, patted her lips with a gloved finger and enquired, “What you going to do about it, Peeler?”
“I shall refer to and enlarge upon, the notes of my constable, constable Constable.” He flipped the notebook open. “It says here you are a lady of the street.”
“I am a boot tester for Harridges, yes.”
“Constable Constable indicates that may be a euphemism.”
“No, regular job. Evenings and weekends mostly.”
“I see. Do you frequently frequent Freelove Lane in the course of your, boot testing?”
“I do. It’s handy for the back door of the Castle with access to refreshments between boot tests, I also keep spare laces in the Ladies.”
“I put it to you that being bitten on the knee may be a usual hazard of shall we say, boot testing.”
“I refute that completely. I have trudged around in sandals, low-heeled court shoes and even slipperettes and never had a nibble anywhere but quite suddenly there was a commotion in my under petticoat and I was bit.”
“There was no next. He quipped and ran. I was left in great distress with a third rate conundrum and no punch line.”
“My honour? More laudanum?”
“Neither, Madam, my constable will show you the door, please return if there is a repetition of the incident.”
“I’m having a cast iron frill welded to my peplum, Thursday week, as a precaution. More laudanum? At all?”
“Go away.” LeStrudel sat at his desk and pondered. Through the open window floated fog and assorted brief screams. Le Strudel smiled to himself, popped a pip of spirits of Opium in his pipe, donned his hat, cape, mittens, gauntlets and night stick and, stopping only to fortify himself with 200ml. of Ether of Ouiskey, slipped out into the midday gloom.
Easily he fell into the measured stride that never left the seasoned Peeler even when his patrol was the top of a desk. He was proceeding in an easterly direction, rain light, wind variable when a piercing scream rent the air followed by a loud clang and hurried footsteps flapping on the rain soaked cobbles in a westerly direction. Prudently LeStrudel withdrew into a handy doorway and was about to extend a wary leg to trip the unwary oncoming, when he caught his heel in the fulsome flounces of of a silk satin overskirt and barely saved himself a rapid descent under the ungentle auspices of gravity by jamming his elbow in the chesterly valley of a short lady with a low dress and an abundance of natural padding.
She screamed, “Aah!” and then, peering at him, asked, “Are you my twelve o’ clock?”
“Madam I am nobody’s twelve o’ clock! Are you another boot tester?”
“Certainly not! Oh, righty ho, is it you Inspector LeStrudel?”
“It is I.”
“Well then I am a boot tester. And InShoe Sockettes. ’Ere, what are you going to do about this midget roaming the streets biting the girls, I mean the boot testers, on the knee? It don’t half hurt, look! I bin bit twice last week. On different knees! What choo going to do about it?”
LeStrudel peered at the proffered knee and then at the other proffered knee. Both bore the same hemispherical denticular marking with missing incisor.
“Hmm. From the placement of the injuries, I deduce that the biter is either wonderfully supple and therefore able to bend underneath your undergarmentry in order to render the attack, or else he is,” and here LeStrudel struck a declamatory pose with one finger aloft, “a midget!”
“I said that. I said, midget. Midget I said, don’t you never listen, cloff ears?”
“Kindly present your self at the yard this afternoon and bring both of your knees with you. Ask for me by name. My name is LeStrudel.”
“I know, I called you that, by name, cloff lugs.”
“That’s Inspector Cloth Lugs to you, Madam.”
Back at the yard a slightly impressive line-up was lined up, in a line. Looking both up the line-up and back down it again, Le Strudel felt well pleased with his efforts. He had assembled six bitten boot testers, a midget, a juggler, a lion tamer with a small fluffy cub and the famous short, huge-footed artist, Marseilles LowTech.
LeStrudel steepled his fingers, dropped his cane, steepled his fingers again, fumbled his pipe which fell on the floor and, finally, rolled back his sleeve ends, took off his gauntlets, removed his under mittens and steepled his fingers again.
The juggler coughed politely, “Ahem, want some help?”
LeStrudel frowned, “No, you just stand there with your, things, what are they, Indian clubs?”
“Yes but they’re made in Wolverhampton actually. Nice and light. Want a go?” he watched as LeStrudel picked up his pipe and popped it in his pocket.
LeStrudel adjusted his deerstalker fiercely, “I am not here to juggle, unless it is with words. I am here to reveal to you the identity of the Boot Tester’s knee biter and dazzle you with my perspicacity.”
“It was him what did it!”
“Him, that midget with the missing tooth!”
“Yeth it wath me, I’m very thorry. I jutht can’t help mythelf. It rainths, I find thelter, I thee a knee, a delithuth knee and I bite it. I try to do it gently, I’m thorry if I hurt you. I’ll pay you for any damage. I’m having therapy.”
LeStrudel pounced on the midget, “Aha! It was you!”
“Yeth, I jutht thaid tho.”
As LeStrudel paused, thinking a bit, his pocket burst into flames. Helpfully the juggler beat out the flames with a club.
“Ow, stoppit, ow, thank you. That’s enough.”
“Ow, Enough. Stop. So. Ladies! Do you wish to prefer charges?”
“Not if he’s going to pay us, are you going to pay us?”
“Yeth, my pleasure. I’ll give you a thovereign each and a free ticket to the thircuth.”
“Lor love a duck, ducks, I love a circus. Are you all in it?”
“Yeth. Frank here doeth juggling and cannonth, Charlie and Leo are the animal act, I am the high wire artitht, clown and duck handler, Quack the Quipper and my cousin Martheilleth painth the pothterth. We’re due to begin the matinee at three. Would you all like to come?”
“Thank you kindly!”
“I take it back, you’re a right gent.”
“Inthpector LeThtrudel? Do you with to accompany uth?”
“No, no, if no one wishes to prefer charges I’ll just stay here and, I’ll stay here and, solve crimes.”
“Ath you with. Your pocket’th on fire by the way. Come along girlth, I thall find you front row theatth.”
Le Strudel strolled into his office, took the proffered glass of water from constable Constable and poured it into his pocket. He picked up the newspaper and began to scan the Situations Vacant column.
“You could,” hazarded constable Constable through the steam, “always run away to join the circus.”
“I think not,” opined Le Strudel, putting his feet up on the desk and missing.
JaneLaverick.com – slightly failed literature from fairly long ago.
* Queam quackers.