My Dearest Sebastian,
Please forgive the delay in my latest correspondence. Things have been quite...interesting of late on this end. I know how much you love to hear about the latest escapades of our most unusual group, so I will attempt to bring you up to date...
In my last letter from Milan, I believe I told you that we were going to the opera that night to see if we could find out more about the mysterious disappearance of the famous soprano we had become friendly with. The chameleon that we had captured the previous evening showed no signs of having that famous voice...I had originally thought that perhaps her very essence/spirit had been transferred to this creature. But that has proved untrue. Oh well, it gives Baldrick something to take care of...probably to the poor creature's detriment. He actually tried to catch a taxicab and bring it into the lobby of the hotel last night. Can you believe that? He's rather sweet, all the same...remind me of Uncle Matthew. Remember when he thought that an angel lived in one of the potted plum trees and tried to have it bronzed? They had to shave his head to get it all out, as I remember...
Anyway, we went to the opera to see what could be discovered. Right in the middle of the first act (by the way, it was Aida) we heard that famous voice sing out behind us...I turned around and several rows behind us saw the old men and woman of our previous day's adventure. Coming out of the old man's mouth was Catarina's beautiful voice. I immediately left to follow them, along with William, a stalwart and hearty Scotsman, brave to the core though somewhat intelligible in speech...Reginald was helping Tommy through what appeared to be some sort of sudden emotional reaction to the opera itself...strange man that. Tommy is very knowledgable about guns and whiskey and reminds me of an old western character, yet breaks down in tears at his first opera. Oh well, you never know about some people. He did lose that arm, you remember, in a very strange manner. I think it's affected him more than we know...he seems to be slightly unhinged these days. Reginald is good for a laugh and a drink, often fooling you into thinking he has no distinct skill altogether until he does something completely out of his usual behavior that saves the day...as you will read shortly. His man Higgins is an absolute jewel...
So...William and I were following the old folks, with Captain Blackadder close behind. Remember my telling you in my last letter about trying to find the other part of the statue and his leap from the catwalk? Quite heroic, that. An interesting man, Blackadder. I shall have to revise my earlier opinion of him, somewhat. He comes off as a bit conflict avoidant and a bit of a...shall we say cad?...with the ladies. But there is a streak of bravery in there somewhere, as we saw that day. Though, as with most englishmen, he does tend towards a bit of pretention. (Daddy always said that an ounce of pretention was worth a pound of manure...)
We had discovered that the torso was the piece of the statue to be had here, and were following these people in the hopes that we would be able to acquire it as well as save poor Catarina...we all ended up in an alley fighting a car full of these people...I had neglected to bring my gun, so wasn't much use at that time. My, but you should have seen Blackadder. Daddy would have been proud of his throwing style. He somewhere acquired some empty bottles and was wielding them with a skill not previously seen outside of a seedy back-alley pub....everyone was fighting fairly well, though there were some injuries. William had gotten hit in the face and was quite bloodied up. It reminded me of that time when Aunt Mabel got that black eye and went to feed Daddy's hunting dogs with that bit of steak tied to one side of her face...
Anyway, we all ended up in one of the cars chasing after those men and that woman in another car. You should have seen Reginald...he jumped onto the other car ( not an easy task as William was driving) and proceeded to wreak havoc on the occupants. Reminded me of that man we saw at the zoo...everyone was shooting, throwing and doing their part. I would like to tell you in more detail but there was so much happening I don't remember all of who was doing what. We ended up with the statue of the torso, Katarina and the old man. It turns out that he had cast some kind of spell on her that prematurely aged her body and stole her voice for the old man. After interrogating him in my suite on the train, he was able to reverse the aging process but sadly, not her beautiful singing voice...so we threw him off the train.
Higgins was back with us at this time, having followed the other two men and gotten lost and attacked along the way. He and Betty are having a nightcap as I write this letter. Which brings me to my next bit of news...Higgins and Betty have gotten engaged! I cannot think of a better match for the two of them. They are both wonderful people, charming, discreet and with n uncanny ability to anticipate the group's needs...(thank you for the hot rum Higgins, I was starting to feel a bit cold...) He always pulls us through, that Higgins...
Well, I must retire for the evening as it has been an exhausting day....give my love to my family and friends. As to your azalea problem, the deer manure will provide adequate nutrition but I've always supplemented with coffee grounds. Please remember me to your dear mother and I hope her bunions are not giving her too much trouble these days...
Love, Caroline Bouvier
My Dear Sebastian,
Thank you so much for your last letter and package...the macaroons were delicious, the port wine exquisite; Baldrick wants me to thank you for the special doggie treats andasks for the recipe...
Where to begin? We are now in Venice, a most beautiful city, full of some rather wonderful bits of artwork, music and cafes. I have not had as much chance to explore though, as our group's search continues on. When we arrived at the station, there was a bit of a commotion with another passenger as we were disembarking. A rather attractive woman a few cars down from us was accosted by some black-shirted men whom, I am told, are Fascists... a rather sinister-looking bunch of men, if you ask me. They were with some pudgy little man in a suit who was obviously their leader. Anyhow, it turns out that the woman's (whose name is Maria) father was a political leader of sorts who was adamantly opposed to this man's politics. It also happens that he is rather enamoured of Maria, though she does not return his affections as she is in love with Georgio. (A very good-looking Italian man, rather reminds me of Uncle Gerald before that unfortunate incident with Aunt Marilla's "special facial cream"...) So this Georgio attempted to come to the rescue of his love who was being dragged off by these Fascist cads...of course, all the men of our party had to come to her rescue...there is a bit of chivalry in them all, I suppose. We saw her safely to her home, where she thanked us profusely for our assistance. It also turns out that her father died just a few days ago, poor girl.
Our hotel is called The Gritti Palace...the reason for the name escapes me, unless they are referring to the texture of their scrambled eggs...they were distinctly "off". After resting a bit we all went down for dinner where we were met by Georgio, who conveyed his gratitude for our assistance. We all indulged in a few drinks before retiring for the evening. Baldrick has been out walking Spot, (the name he gave to the chameleon) since we arrived. By the way, I took a peek at his little book where he keeps notes of his schedule with the creature. Here is an excerpt...
Monday the ayth
7:71 pm took spot for a wok to pub
7:81 pm tryd to teech spot triks by doing them myself
7:89 pm spot tryd to eet my shews wen i playd ded
7:93 pm put spot on cownter at pub to hav a bowl of beer
7:94 pm spot drinking another bowl
7:97 pm spot drinking another bowl
7:98 pm spot got sik on bar
7:99 pm got kikd owt of pub
8:03 pm spot got sik on my shews
Wensday the tenth
8:67 am bak from wok
I haven't read anything so amusing since Uncle Henry's "Journal of my Digestive System"...by the way, you would be rather impressed by William's repertoire of drinking songs. He has the most uncanny ability to learn new ones all the time. I haven't the heart to tell the poor man that he sounds like a cow giving birth...
Anyway, after some discussion on who was going where the next day to do research (we are looking for relatives of Gremanci, the man who originally purchased the statue, in hopes of finding thenext piece) we retired to our rooms for the night. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, Higgins saw a woman running screaming into the fog-shrouded city screaming "death!" at the top of her lungs. (I heard this from Betty who, purely by coincidence, happened to be with Higgins at the time). Higgins gave pursuit but saw nothing further. The news in the next morning's papers said that the girl had been taken into custody after apparently being traumatized by the evening's experiences. Evidently this girl's lover had been found impaled on a ten-foot gate of some sort, with his body completely drained of blood and apparently ravaged by something...shall we say, not human?...Higgins, Reggie and Blackadder are going to investigate that later on.
By the way, Maria sent us a note at breakfast inviting us to her father's funeral to see and thank us once again. Myself, William and Tommy went to the hall of records to do our research. (After Tommy taught Blackadder to say "do you do it doggy-doggy" in Italian. The meaning of it escapes me - every time I ask what it means they all cough and look somewhere else...)
We found a rather promising lead in the name of Antonio Gremanci, who apparently owns a doll-making shop here in town, so we went off to investigate. I must say, they need to take better care of their canals...the water has risen noticeably and has a rather odd color and smell. Anyway, we found a rather darling little shop, filled with many wonderfully-detailed dolls of all shapes and sizes. I purchased a small one dressed in a kilt for Baldrick, who promptly took it's kilt off "to see if it were a boy orgirl"... After explaining that we were in search of this statue's pieces for a private collection, we received an invitation to dinner to discuss it further with Antonio's nephew, Sebastiano (yes, I know, it IS a lovely name).
At dinner, we found out a bit more of the history of the shop itself. Apparently, it was acquired in the late 1700's by a rather strange man by the name of Alviz. He was reputed to have been some kind of sorceror, with rumours that the dolls he made were really containers for human souls. Can you imagine? Rumour also had it that he made voodoo dolls of real human bits, and automatons that were so lifelike they made you wonder...it was said that he used "magical powers" to create these wonders. Evidently most of his customers were French, as his dolls were fashionable in all the Parisian nurseries at the time...rather creepy to think of such things around babies and small children. Sebastiano invited us back to the dollshop to look around their storage rooms to see if we could find anything else that might aid us in our search. Although it was rather fascinating to see "behind the scenes" as it were, I was rather spooked by the doll limbs and heads and whatnot laying around. Remember that time we went snuck into your Grandfather's secret basement rooms? All those mannequin parts laying around everywhere? Sort of like that, without the lingerie...
Anyway, we found quite a significant number of special tubes with old records and such in them. We didn't have time to go through them as it was late, and as we have the funeral tomorrow we agreed to return after that.
Meanwhile, Higgins, Reggie and Blackadder had gone to the jail to see if they could speak to that poor unfortunate girl whose lover had been murdered. From their accounts, she was quite distraught, saying "I've seen Satan!" over and over again, long with "there is no salvation...Satan is all around...he's everywhere, everywhere.." Did you ever? It makes my blood run cold...in opening the cell door to go in, she ran out and tried to escape or something...after restraining her, they found that she had chewed her own tongue off! Higgins sedated her with something from his bag (the man is a wonder, I tell you, there hasn't been much he isn't prepared for.) and helped her to the doctor there, though there wasn't much more to be done for the poor creature.
We met late that night for drinks and to fill each other in on the day's events...Tommy evidently met some "friends" of his to acquire a different sort of gun as he can no longer operate the one he had with only one arm. He said that during the...er..."exchange" that he saw some more of those Fascist guys down the street. They seem to be everywhere...anyway, you should see him practice drawing his gun. The really amazing thing about it is that he never seems to put down his drink in order to do it...
Time to retire for the evening. I am simply exhausted and William's drunken warbling over with the bartender is more than I can take right now...
Give my love to the family and do try to find that book "History of the European Lawn Gnome".
Your Loving Friend,
My Dearest Sebastian,
Please forgive my delay in last week's letter, I know how you like to keep up-to-date on what is happening here. However, it simply could not be helped. I have been in jail. Jail!!! Did you ever? Please do not let the family know...father would be furious and it would just kill Grandmother.
Remember in my last letter I told you we were going to that funeral the next day? Well, that morning the papers were full of the most gruesome news. Evidently there was a gondolier found dead in his boat, his body savagely mangled and completely drained of blood. Sound familiar? The servants were heard to say that they saw "Death" steering the boat down the Grand Canal...and that the statues at St. Marks were weeping blood. Can you imagine? Weeping tears of blood...
Anyway, we hired a boat and went to the funeral. The canal waters smell worse than ever - I had a hard time not retching - and they are rising into some of the houses and churches...there is a rumour going around that a child who had been playing it has fallen ill with the Black Plague. Makes me shudder.
The funeral was like most. The coffin was very ornate, the flowers spectacular...that awful Alberto was there, and Georgio was glaring at him throughout most of the service. I was afraid there might be an altercation of sorts, but all behaved themselves. ( I suppose William playing the bagpipes really doesn't count. As to the quality of his playing, well, let's just say there's not enough aspirin in the Northern Hemisphere for the experience to bear repeating). Maria invited us back to a reception at her house in her father's honor.
Now here's where the trouble began.
After being in the boat for a while, we realized that the gondolier was not taking us to our previously agreed-upon destination. After repeatedly asking him what he was doing and receiving no real answers, we became understandably suspicious and demanded he dock the boat at once. He took us to a small pier in a rather dark and dismal looking industrial area. He immediately disappeared. At the same time, we saw about 6 or 7 of those horrible black shirted Fascist men running toward us. They jumped in our boat, yelling and pushing at us in a very hostile manner. I had no idea what they wanted and I was scared to death they were going to kill us or kidnap us or something else equally as terrible. As I had my Luger with me, I shot and killed one of them. The rest of them jumped out, and we steered our own way back to the hotel, overcome with shock, dismay and confusion as to exactly what was going on...
As bad luck would have it, the Italian police came to the hotel the next morning and arrested me. Can you believe that? After I was the one accosted by seven men?!! It was an outrage! Evidently Higgins felt the same way, as he was arrested alongside me for slapping one of the officers in my honor. Dear man! So at least I had some company...Higgins has taught me to play an amusing little card game called Go Fish, which took up some of the interminable time, as well as distracting us from the bleak surroundings, terrible food and worse cellmates. I was extended an invitation to become the "bitch" of a rather hostile-looking, alarmingly large woman. I asked Higgins what that meant. He said he "really couldn't say", though advised me to decline the kind offer posthaste, which I did...the woman simply smiled disappointedly, which frightened me even more...how do people eat with only three teeth, I wonder...
Anyway, from what I heard while I was incarcerated, the rest of my stalwart companions had gotten the American and British embassy to do their best in expediting Higgins and myself out of jail. Meanwhile, they got wind that Alberto and his Fascist thugs were holding Maria hostage in her own home, evidently hoping to force her to marry him against her will. European cads! Not that they are the only ones to try to force a woman into matrimony, but honestly! ( Yes, I was thinking of Uncle Herman and Aunt Atossa...though that really doesn't count. I mean, by the time the police had him untied and all the blue paint off, it turned out that the whole thing was consensual! Daddy had a terrible time keeping that one out of the papers, as I remember...he virtually HAD to marry her after that...)
So...Georgio had evidently been beaten by the blackshirts in an effort to save his beloved...sigh...doesn't it just make your heart go pitter pat? Of course, our companions went to rescue her. From what I heard, they succeeded admirably, though there were some serious injuries. Evidently, Tommy was a pistol-whipping whirlwind, despite his one-armed condition, and Reggie was defending himself with a whip of all things!! He really didn't do any damage to the blackshirts, and ended up with accidental self-inflicted whip injuries, but from all accounts was snuffing out candles with the whip like a madman!!! He really should lead safari in wild jungles...he'd probably fit right in! Georgio and Cpt. Blackadder took quite a beating and Blackadder ended up unconscious with serious injuries...Tommy took quite a few punches and managed to blow the head right off one of them.
So, they rescued Maria and took her and Georgio down to the nearest pier, found a priest who married them on the spot and off they went, somewhat bruised but happy and effusive in their thanks to the guys for all their assistance...
Shortly after that, Higgins and I were released from jail, though I was told that I could not leave town until their investigations were complete. That was the source of some consternation within our group, as the Orient Express was due to continue on to Trieste in the next couple of days. We all met back at the hotel to rest, recuperate and exchange information; with the exception of Tommy, who left to meet with an attorney by the name of Luigi Vercotti...he was deliberately vague about the whole thing, but it will come to light later, as you will see...
The next morning was gray and wet outside. The air smelled of burning houses as there had been riots in the city due to all the recent unsolved murders, as well as the city's general air of malaise. It's like the whole city is suffering from depression! There were no newspapers printed that day, and the hotel manager cautioned us against leaving the hotel as they could not guarantee our safety on the streets. Higgins decided to throw a staff/servant's part in one of the ballrooms on the 12th floor, aided and abetted by my own dear Betty. What a wonderful match they make together!
In spite of the manager's warning, we knew we only had a limited time to locate the leg of the statue, as the train was leaving soon. We had found out that it was supposedly on a statue in the courtyard of the Palazzo Rezzoriani, so off we went. The floodwater in the canal by that time was thigh-deep, dark and smelly. I noticed that the midmorning masses in the churches we passed seemed to be absolutely filled with people, which added to the sense of impending doom that hovered over the city. It made my skin crawl...
The Palazzo was a beautiful old building, wonderful architecture and cleverly appointed towers, gardens and courtyards...though to our dismay, it is only open by appointment in the wintertime, which it is here. When we knocked on the door an old man, obviously the caretaker, answered. Higgins bribed him with 500 lire to let us in...when we entered the courtyard, we made the unfortunate discovery that the courtyard was in fact filled with hundreds of statues, none of them standing out in the slightest. All we had to go on was the paltry information in an old newsclipping that said the leg had been affixed to a statue so cunningly that one could not tell it was not part of the whole. How discouraging that was! We searched and searched and could not find any trace of it in any of the statues in that courtyard. The caretaker then returned, telling us he was closing up for the night, and we had to take our leave. So we left the palazzo, discouraged and more than a little wet, as it had started raining in earnest.
As we left, the clock in the clocktower struck the hour. As it did so, we heard the faint grinding sound as of several machine wheels turning, metal sounds...it was the noise that the automatons in the tower itself made as they turned on the tracks. I think it occurred to all of us at the same time that the limb we were looking for was probably on one of these strange, life-like machines, especially considering the history of the man who created them.
So, back we went, quickly and quietly to the front gates, which locks I picked with the same ease and skill I used to use on Daddy's gun and liquor cabinets. ( I knew that skill would come in handy some day. I must remember to tell Aunt Atossa this and thank her for passing it on...) We went down another corridor that ended in another locked door which took a little longer to pick; I was by this time, rather nervous, as it was dark and cold and not a little nervewracking with the storm picking up in earnest. We opened the door to discover an old room with the central focus being a flight of stairs which ended at the roof of the tower. They were unusual stairs, five flights of them, with each step being a foot taller than the last, and the whole thing as rotten as philodendrums in the fall...of course William had to go charging up the stairs head first, with everyone following. He tripped, or something and everyone nearly came tumbling down backwards if I hadn't somehow managed to brace myself against them.
Anyway, there was a locked trapdoor in the ceiling of the tower, as well as a large landing filled with lots of machinery and those eery automatons. I swear, they looked so real I almost expected them to cry out at any time...and you know, it may just be me, but I could swear that they bear a striking resemblance to those 7 people who flew out of that crack in the ground back in Laussane. There was the same number of them, the ones I remember being the Lad, the Lass and the Turk...just then the automatons sprang to life, rotating on their tracks like they had only been asleep and were just then awakening, frightening the daylights out of the rest of us. At the same time, the trapdoor flew open and we saw a figure standing there in the shadows; he turned to look at Reggie and fell backward through the trapdoor and supposedly off the roof, though I never saw a body there later...
We all began to check the automatons for signs of a leg made of an unusual material and design. Reggie looked at the Turk and noticed the paint coming off one of the legs. At last some luck! Blackadder detached the leg; as he did so, the clockworks starting grinding again, the machinery starting breaking apart so we decided to get out of there as fast as possible. In the process, we were hit by some of the automaton parts and escaped with minor injuries (with the exception of Blackadder, who, due to his previous severe injuries, had wrapped his entire body in some strange, translucent material he called "bubblewrap"). We heard some slow, shuffling footsteps coming toward us - most like the old caretaker - and ran back to the pier where we steered the boat back to the hotel. The rest of us crated the leg up and rested with drinks in the lounge, Higgins going back to his party with Betty and the rest of the staff and servants. (By the way, do ask your granny if she knows of a way to get dried mashed potatoes out of a cravat - evidently Baldrick had an "accident" in the kitchen with a bowl of the mashed tubers...) Tommy was still gone, and it wasn't until the next morning that we found out why.
Evidently, Tommy had instructed his attorney to forward a letter to the Italian police that stated it was he, in fact, who had committed the murder, not me. He took full responsibility for it and then left town. It turns out that he hired some drunken pilot to fly him to the next train stop where he will be meeting us, unbeknownst to the police here. Good old Tommy! A little rough around the edges but the perfect person to have on your side!
Anyway, I received a call from the chief of police telling me that I had been exonerated and was free to go. Which was an excellent thing as the train was leaving that afternoon. You'll never believe who we ran into at the train station as we were boarding - Georgio and Maria! Evidently they had decided to spend their honeymoon traveling on the Orient Express as a special treat. I am so glad! We will have a chance to rehash our adventures and get to know them a little better. The only other person I noticed boarding was an old man bundled up in a wheelchair; I wonder why someone would choose to travel that way on a train...oh well, curiosity killed the cat.
Well, it's time to meet for drinks in the lounge. It will be nice to rest for a bit. Give my love to the family and thank you for the book on Lawn Gnomes. It was sweet of you to send the pop-up version for Baldrick. Oh and by the way, do you know what it means to "take it up the old chocky star-fish"? I overheard Blackadder talking about it to William when he was drinking last night...
My Dear Sebastian,
I hope this letter finds you in continued good health and spirits. I am most grateful for your latest shipment of goodies, particularly the sedatives. If our current adventures continue in the same manner they have thus far, I will be needing them to sleep on a regular basis. Please thank Granny Mabel for the bottle of special cleaning fluid, though I need to ask for a replacement bottle. I gave the first one to Baldrick to clean the stains from his cravat, but he mistook it for hair tonic and used the entire contents of the bottle on his head. I've never seen anyone's hair quite that color before, and it's completely gone on the left side, I'm afraid, but that's our Baldrick...
Now let's see, where did my last letter leave off...oh yes, we were headed to Trieste.
We pulled into the station that evening at 7:45 pm; there was the most terrific storm in progress when we disembarked at the station. The wind was blowing so fiercely we had to tie a rope around poor wounded Blackadder to keep him from blowing away! We went by cab to our hotel, the Palace De La Ville, where Tommy had already taken up residence and was recuperating nicely. Higgins checked our baggage in and we met for dinner. We have arranged for two nurses to help Tommy and Blackadder recuperate, though Tommy seems to be faring better than Blackadder. I must admit, Tommy was a little miffed at the choice in nurses; it seems that Blackadder has an attractive, nubile young one, while Tommy has an older, larger and haggard one who seems to be missing quite a number of teeth and goes by the unfortunate name of Helga...the hotel, though an older one, is quite large and luxurious, with beautiful architecture and a most efficient staff. Though no one, of course, takes the place of our own dear Higgins and Betty!
We had an uneventful evening, though the storm continued throughout the night and was quite unabated the next morning. The wind was still blowing fiercely and howling like a pack of hellhounds...the morning papers from Venice were full of the news of Tommy's confession to the Fascist murders. On another interesting note, the papers also stated that the clocktower had been badly damaged and that strangers were seen running away from it on the night in question - though they were no strangers to us!!!
We set out to find this elusive Johann Winckelmann after having a wonderfully hearty breakfast at the hotel. Blackadder decided to stay behind, as his health was still not much better. (Frankly, I think he was enjoying the company of his nurse too much to leave, while Tommy seemed more than eager to leave his!) We found the museum we thought he might be working at - the Plaza de Harte - which boasted a sizable section of Egyptian sculpture and art. We asked the guide/docent if he could direct us to Mr. Winckelmann; he looked at us strangely, laughed, and told us we would find him out in the terrace garden. So out we went. It was completely deserted and very cold, as the wind had not let up much. Dominating the center of the room was a large sarcophagus with a marble base. On closer inspection we noticed the cover had a beautifully worked rendition of a winged being holding a medallion with a man's head etched into it. You'll never believe who is buried there! That's right, Mr. Johann Winckelmann! No wonder that man looked at us funny when we asked for directions! Can you blame him? Inscribed on the side of the base of the sarcophagus was "VIII. IVN. AD. M. D.CC. LXVIII" We decided to go to the local library to find out more about this Johann character, who lived and died quite a long time ago. Here's a short synopsis of what we found:
Johann Winckelmann was actually born in 1768, right here in Trieste. Although he was the son of a humble cobbler, he became quite educated in his own right, studying both theology and medicine. He had quite an interest in the Greek arts and worked as a librarian for a Count von Bunau. He also wrote Reflections on the Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks, which was published and eventually translated into several languages. He later became librarian of the Vatican and moved to Rome for quite some time. It turns out that he was murdered on one of his trips to his home in Stendal, by some thief named Francesco Arcangeli who tried to steal a number of medals that Johann had with him. Evidently Johann had unexpectedly turned back for Rome at Regensburg, though his traveling companion of the time - an art dealer by the name of Cavaceppi - tried to insist they make it at least to Vienna. Johann had written to some friends that "I am not what I would wish to be," and mentioned a strange melancholy which had overtaken him.
Johann had time to make out a will leaving most of his worldly goods to some waiter named Andrea at his hotel. How strange! The medallions went to the Museum of Art, whild his papers and personal diary were sold at auction to a local historian by the name of Giovanni Termona.
Isn't that a strange story? Very mysterious...I am reminded of Great-Aunt Herria, who left her collection of gallstones and ingrown nail clippings to that sheepherder in Oklahoma, though, granted, they were of no value to anyone...
Anyway, after spending most of the day at the library, we decided to return the next day to see if we could track down the obituary of this Giovanni to see if the diary and papers went to his relatives when he died. Upon our return to the hotel, we were surprised to find it very dimly lit. Evidently the wind was so powerful that it had torn down some of the powerlines and so the hotel was lit with only candles and lanterns being carried around by the staff.
We all met for drinks and dinner; Blackadder did join us, but is so medicated with laudanum that he was not exactly at his most coherent and was drooling slightly...Tommy was still upset about the choice in nurses. Evidently he has tried to persuade/trick Blackadder to switch nurses, but Blackadder refuses...
You'll never believe what happened at the dinner table! You might think I am joking or going insane, but hear me out - I am in complete seriousness. In between the soup and fish course, the dinner table began to rise up in the air and then abruptly slammed back down onto the floor! Then, after the chicken divan dish I had ordered arrived, as I was cutting into it, I saw maggots spilling out of it! When I screamed and jumped up from the table and looked again, they were gone! At the same time, Reggie's glass began filling up with what appeared to be red wine, and rose up to hover in the air. His hand shot up in the air with his steak knife in it and began waving around; he appeared to have no control over it! Of course, in typical Reggie-fashion, he simply called the waiter over and reordered more wine - white, that is...Higgins and Betty were off having a romantice moment at a table in the corner, though immediately came over to assist. Nothing could be done by then, it was all over except for the waiters and other patrons looking at us as if we had gone insane! I swear, it happened exactly as I've written it. Have you ever heard or seen such an episode? (I mean, outside of Grandmere's little seances, that is?) I had to have Higgins administer a sedative to me later, to help me to sleep as I was so shook up! Thank god the rest of the evening was relatively quiet, though with the lack of proper lights and the howling wind, there was an eerie, haunted feeling to the whole hotel...I swear, Sebastian dear, I am going vegitarian after this, I cannot get the picture of that meat out of my head!
And would you believe it? The next morning that damned wind was STILL blowing like mad! So, off we went back to the library to look up Giovanni's obituary. We were lucky and discovered that his son actually is alive and still living in Trieste, about a 15 minute drive. It was a nice, one-story house. The door was answered by an older, rather distinguished-looking gentleman, Giovanni Termona's son. We told him that we were researching his father's memoirs, and needed some of his time and information. He was very courteous and helpful, inviting us in to his home. It was very comfortable looking, lots and lots of books and a big roaring fire. The amazing thing about him is that he's missing his left arm, just like our Tommy! Isn't that a marvelous coincidence? Mr. Termona did lend us Johann Winckelmann's diary, which he had, although he told us to please not let it out of our sight. As if we would, after all we've gone through! Unfortunately the diary is in Greek, and so we could not immediately read it. Mr. Termona recommended a translator to us - a Marco Montinelli - and so we left to meet him to begin the process immediately.
As we left, I overheard William telling Higgins that he saw the end of the stump of Mr. Termona's arm wiggling underneath the shoulder of his sleeve. Did you ever? How grotesque!
We hired a cab, as Mr. Montinelli lives on the outskirts of town. The door was answered by an old man in a wheelchair - get this - missing his left leg! Do you see a pattern here? Gives me the shivers...anyway, it turns out that Marco actually speaks Greek, German, English and Italian, so we had no problem making our request to him understood. The only problem was that it would take the better part of two days to complete the translation, so Reggie volunteered to stay with him while translating, as we are not willing to leave the diary in someone else's hands.
Back to the hotel we went, where Tommy tries once again to persuade Blackadder to switch nurses with him and fails miserably. As we stepped out of the cab to enter the hotel, I saw the most amazing set of lawn gnomes across the street! I immediately set Baldrick out after them, as you know how I adore the little creatures. Of course, they ran when Baldrick started trying to climb the wall after them...
Meanwhile, my companions had noticed an old man huddled in a doorway across the street staring at us and decided to see if he needed some assistance. William tried to offer him some money, as he thought perhaps the old man was simply a beggar. The old man would not take the money, though he may not have understood the offer, as William is hard to understand even on the best of days...Higgins tried to speak with the man, but all he seemed to do was make strange noises. Now here's the part that makes my blood run cold...the man seemed traumatized in some way, and while Higgins was trying to assist, discovered that the man had an old wound. His left hand had been chopped off quite some time ago, and his tongue had been ripped out, which explained the lack of any verbal communications.
Higgins arranged to have the doorman alert us if the man showed up again, and we then proceeded to go into the hotel. After dinner (by the way, Tommy was finally successful - he decided to approach Blackadder's nurse personally, and persuaded her he needed her considerable nursing skills much more) we retired upstairs to our rooms. As we were walking down the hall, Reggie (who was walking ahead of us) was suddenly lifted up into the air and slammed against the wall! At the same time, William heard a voice whisper close to his ear "targabush", which, as it turns out, means 'diary'.
We all felt the temperature in the corridor dip sharply and the air became suddenly freezing cold. No one wanted to be alone after that, so most of us camped out in my large suite. I don't think any of us were successful in falling asleep quickly, as our nerves were just too frayed. The only exception to this was Reggie, who fell asleep almost immediately. Which is odd, considering he is the one carrying the diary...
I must finish this quickly, as I am becoming frightened all over again just recalling it...as we were retiring all hell broke loose! All the candles were suddenly snuffed out, the flames in the fireplace leaped up and filled the room with ash and smoke; the doors were slammed open as if by a strong wind, the pillows were exploding - it was complete chaos!!! We were all suddenly thrown from our beds...the candles all suddenly lit at the same time, the windows were slamming open and closed repeatedly. We all were basically flung out into the hall, where we saw Blackadder slumped down against a wall, with, presumably, a staff member checking on him. Oddly enough, when we went back into the room, we discovered that Reggie was still in his bed, sleeping peacefully! When we woke him up and told him what had just happened, he was completely shocked, having been aware of none of it.
At this point there was a knock on the door. Before Higgins could answer it, in walks in a small man with a peculiarly gray face and black clothes...the spitting image of the dead man, Johann Winckelmann!
My dear Sebastian...I hate to close the letter on such a suspensful end, but Betty tells me the mail is going out in just a few minutes. I will write you a continuing one in the morning, when I have rested and my nerves have recovered somewhat, but I did want to get this one to you as soon as possible. I hope you understand. Look for another letter shortly following this one.
And now off to bed, aided by Higgins and Betty ministering a sedative...please God I hope I don't dream tonight...
Your Loving and Frazzled, Caroline
P.S. Baldrick is still outside, not having managed to climb the wall yet...
Here is the continuation of my last letter, and I do apologise again for leaving it where I did as it simply could not be helped. Let's see, we left off with the dead Johann Winckelmann walking through my hotel suite...
Well, I must tell you, for a few moments we were all absolutely paralyzed with shock and fear! All of us with the exception, of course, of our own dear Higgins who, true to form, offered the man a drink. Though he declined, we all had a strong one to fortify us while we studied this amazing man...I noticed that he had a large gash across his throat, presumably the wound he had previously died from. As we stood there watching, he spoke up, telling us to follow him as he would take us "to something useful". So we did. As we were walking out behind him, he spoke again, telling us about some strange beings in nearby caves that attract/procure magical artifacts, and that they want in particular a curious medallion which Johann told us we would "be finding soon". I tell you, dearest friend, my heart was pounding so loudly I felt sure it could be heard by everyone!
Once out in the hallway we were joined by Tommy in his wheelchair, assisted by his nurse, and the man who had been helping Blackadder. It turns out that his name is Inspector Clouseau, sent by some General to be of assistance to Blackadder in this case. Poor Blackadder is doing that poorly, that we had to leave him at the hotel. We quickly explained the circumstances of the situation to the Inspector while we hurried along behind Johann. We went downstairs and outside where the wind was blowing fiercely enough to knock myself and William down to the pavement. The curious thing was that the wind affected Johann Winckelmann not at all!
A few blocks away, Johann paused in an alley in front of an old, boarded-up villa and went in through the door. Sebastian, I do mean that he went right through the door itself, without opening it at all! We, of course, had no such undead talents, and struggled to open the locked door. William and Reggie had to throw themselves against it several times before it suddenly opened, throwing us into a room where we saw the image of Johann standing in the hallway. Reggie actually stumbled right THROUGH the apparition of Johann - I nearly fell to my knees in amazement! As the door slammed shut behind us, the room became pitch black. Fortunately, several of us had electric torches (bless my faithful Betty for her thorough packing!) so we were able to see, albeit dimly. It had apparently been a hotel of some sort at one time, but was old, dusty and cold...we continued to follow Johann down some stairs, ending up in the oddest room. It was quite large, and had seats ascending up to the ceiling, like some kind of old amphitheater. Johann walked to the far wall and pointed to a patch of dirt by the wall, making a digging gesture...so after some discussion, William volunteered to dig. We found an old stone floor, with a loose section which William pried up. Underneath it was an old rotten leather pouch; inside was a golden medallion. It had a winged being carved on the front of it, and heiroglyphics of some unknown language inscribed on the back. As William touched it, he cried out, saying he had felt some sort of electric shock! All of a sudden there came a strong wind in the room; in front of us was a parody of a human form, seeming to shift and flow in a most curious manner...when it was gone, so was Johann Winckelmann. Curiously, William commented on the fact that he wasn't cold any more - having something to do with touching the medallion, I suspect...
On the way back to the hotel, Higgins mentioned that he had done some reading on the sights and attractions of the area. Evidently there were a large group of caverns just on the outskirts of Trieste, by the name of Postumia. Rather a creepy name, don't you think?
The next morning at breakfast, we went through some pamphlets we found in the lobby about the caves. Evidently the only tour was at noon, so we made plans to go then. We also got the opportunity to speak more to our newest addition, Inspector Clouseau, as he helped Blackadder to the table. A rather distinguished-looking frenchman, intelligent and not in the slightest bit taken aback by what he had seen thus far. I know, give him time, he'll be as loopy as the rest of us...he also has an assistant himself, named Cato, whom Higgins was familiarizing himself with.
As the train to Postumia departed at 9am, we decided to take the next day's tour so as to give us time to decipher the heiroglyphics on the medallion and whatever else was in the journal, which meant another trip to Marco Montinelli. We gave Higgins and Betty the day off to play tourist and have some personal time together. The wind was not so bad as the previous day, so we all took advantage of it.
At the end of the day, we received translated excerpts from the Winckelmann journal, which we read together over dinner. The excerpts covered the time from May 2 to June 7. Johann speaks of a "tablet" of some sort which he believed "to be correct", having traveled to Regensburg and spoken with what he refers to as "the Things there"..He goes to another enclave with an amulet to some other beings; he states that the plans for the amulet are dark indeed...Johann speaks of being afraid they will use the amulet to "release that which they serve from It's frozen Arctic prison...brr...makes me shiver! He speaks of Beasts and horrible dreams and losing his very taste for life...he had hoped that when he handed over the amulet that his dreams would cease. He talks of meeting the very scoundrel that later killed him, Arcangeli, whom he suspects only wants the amulet for his own dark aims with the Beings...he talks about not being able to reach "Them" without doing some terrible ritual which he does not describe. A couple of days later he writes that he "weakened" and made the ritual, speaking with the Thing that came, and where it came from, and was made ill as a result. At the end, he speaks of a cult which worships these Beasts, stealing artifacts as offerings to them...the journal ends soon after. My dear Sebastian, if I survive this adventure - and it is not at all a certainty - I will never again read anything after dark any more scary than Aunt Martha's Island Memoirs! Thankfully, dinner was rather uneventful and we then retired for the night. Now, after putting everyone's stories together, this is what happened later that night:
Blackadder heard a crash coming from William's room. After opening the door, he sees two men in black going into William's room, looking decidedly suspicious! I hear this, at this point, and open my own door to see Blackadder and the Inspector going into the room as well. As I saw the men in black, I screamed "fire!" at the top of my lungs, hoping to bring hotel staff and thereby frighten the men into leaving before they were seen by others. It did not work well. In the room, one of the men in black shot out a grayish-green tentacle out of his mouth at Blackadder, who dodged it. There was a huge battle which is rather fuzzy, as I was in a state of shock at seeing this horrible visage in front of me. Eventually, the hotel staff came in and the Inspector placed the men under arrest, and they were taken in by the local policia, though not before some of the other hotel guests also saw the tentacle...Reggie seems in total denial, and I suspect he is either stark raving mad, blind or incredibly sane...Tommy didn't even wake up until the very end...the rest of the night passed without incident, though I doubt any of us slept very long, or very well.
Once again, dearest friend, I must end here as the mail is once again going out and I want you to have this portion. Expect another one the very next day.
Your dearest friend,
My Dearest Sebastian,
Here is the second part of my letter, as promised. I believe I left off after we all tried to go back to sleep that terrible night, not very successfully.
The next morning after breakfast, we took the 9 am train to Postumia. While we traveled the 3 hours there, the Inspector passed on what information he had managed to get from the police that morning. Evidently one of the men "can't" talk and the other one "won't" talk, so there was not much worth repeating...
We arrived at Postumia around noon, and from there took a tram a further 1 hour trip to the entrance of the caverns. Our guide, Carlo, pointed out the sights as we went. A river ran alongside the trail to the caverns, rather pretty though the general air was not at all cheerful. The caverns seem to be comprised mainly of limestone. The lighting in the caverns itself is very dim and often plain dark; the formations themselves look very much like teeth and one gets the distinct impression one is walking straight into the mouth of a horrible prehistoric beast. Not at all helped along by the names of some of these formations, like Deadman's Bones and the like...some parts of the caverns are flooded, giving the formations around them an eerie look. The water is very cold.
After an hour's ride, we found ourselves on a footpath that led into the caverns. Carlo announced that we are able to walk around and explore on our own, though we are not to take or touch anything, and that we would meet back at the entrance in an hour. So in we went, separating ourselves from the main body of the tour group, of course. We went left after the entrance, past two large pools of water that appeared to be very deep, dark and wide. Makes you wonder what lives in those depths...about twenty feet down, the lighting on the trail just went out, making my heart pound and my blood run cold, though we did have our torches with us. William and Tommy just then said they heard the sound of footsteps behind us, which we rapidly heard as they got closer. Thinking that they were perhaps part of the group, we did not run right then.
It was a group of about 8 men, if you could call them that, some in suits, some in ragged clothes, some old, some young and all of them with very dead looking eyes...some of their body parts appeared to have been sewed on! We of course began running as fast as we could, though we had to push Tommy in the wheelchair and eventually just drag him along as best as he could on his feet. The men behind us had no apparent lights, though it did not seem to slow them down at all. We slid down a small passage only wide enough for one at a time, ending up in a huge grotto with a small underground lake dominating it, with strange formations on the shores of the very black and still waters. Our legs began to tingle strangely and at the same time we heard a very loud voice coming from our very heads "so, you brought it at last"...we all felt a resulting depression upon hearing this, but it slowly seemed to dissapate for all of us but Reggie , who was severely affected and even suicidal! He sank to his knees, crying and pulled out his gun. I managed to knock it out of his hand.
The grotto was filled with old books, scrolls, columns of amulets, medallions and other odd-looking artifacts. Underneath the edge of the pile, William and I saw a pair of legs to a statue, which we immediately made for and began digging out. Meanwhile, Reggie, still affected, began running toward the lake, presumably to throw himself in, though he did not succeed as the Inspector tackled him to the ground. William and myself finally got the leg out; it had strangely oxidized, giving it the gruesome appearance of having been severed from a real body! At the same time, we heard another loud, mental voice saying "give us the medallion!" The lake started shimmering and the form of a huge dragon appeared above it. We ran for the nearest exits, William saying that the medallion is cold and strangely burning. He later stated that at that time he had felt a very strong urge to head North, though he successfully resisted. Again came the voice demanding we give it the medallion. The dragon was reaching for us and appeared quite solid in nature; we were not eager to take it on. Just then, the previous group of weird, undead-looking men burst into the grotto from one of the two exits and began chasing us. We fired guns and threw rocks, managing to wound one before we got away. Fortunately, the further away we got, the more Reggie recovered from the strange malaise that had overtaken him. We came out the side of the mountain, not far away from the train, absolutely covered in blood, dirt and dust. We managed to clean up a bit with some very cold snow outside the entrance, and headed back to the train. We spent the return trip in discussion and partly silence, as we are still reeling from all the things we have seen here. Can you blame us?
And now, my dear Sebastian, I must end this letter to get some sleep. I see Betty with a mug of Higgins wonderful hot toddy drink to send me off into sleep. Perhaps tomorrow I will regain some of my old humour back...
I remain your faithful friend,
My Dear Sebastian,
After Betty administering a few of Higgins' wonderful hot toddies, I feel my nerves have recovered sufficiently to enable me to tell you the rest of what happened that fateful day...there was much I did not tell you in my last letter that occurred; I was half-insane from what I'd heard and frankly, I was unsure of the letter falling into the wrong hands. Let me start with walking back from the caverns, as we did not make it back without incident as I had previously written...
We were all much bloodied and muddy, if you'll remember, from our adventures in the caverns. We tried as best as we could to clean ourselves up with snow and the like. Unfortunately, when we returned to the tram, we discovered that it had left us, which meant we had to walk the three miles back to Posthumia to catch the train to Trieste. After we had been walking a short while, Higgins stopped, saying he was hearing a sort of sub-sonic thumping noise coming from William. (If you remember, William was the one who was carrying the medallion back). We watched in shock as the air around William began to swirl around and become distorted; his nose began to bleed. Higgins was attempting to wrest the medallion from William, who, strangely enough, seemed reluctant to let it go despite the horrendous situation he was in. He shouted that he was feeling as if knives were beginning to pierce his body all over. Higgins and William were by that time surrounded by a strange, whirling vortex, and their very clothes began to shred. Cuts began appearing on their skin.
Higgins finally succeeded in ripping the amulet off William and we began to run. Looking back, we saw that the medallion was being sucked up into the vortex, which disappeared with a loud noise, leaving a very deep crater in the ground. I tell you, dear friend, I thought I was going to die! We wasted no time in getting to Posthumia after that, I can tell you! We made it back to the train station, and took the train back to Trieste. At the station, we split up into to cabs to return to the hotel; Inspector Clousseau, myself and Higgins in one, William, Reggie and Tommy in another. As the other cab was headed back to the hotel, they saw a group of men in an alley surrounding another man on the ground being assaulted. The cab stopped and William got out, followed by Clousseau. Higgins got out and began blowing a whistle, in the hopes of raising the police. As he did, one of the men looked up at him. He had a knife, and the other one was stooped over the figure on the ground, holding a dripping object! I was sickened with fear at what it might be! The two men began to run, with William and Clousseau giving chase. Higgins went to see to the man on the ground. You'll never guess who it was! Remember that old mutilated beggar man outside the hotel Higgins tried to help? It was him - only in a terrible state! His entire face had been completely cut off, and the poor man was still breathing, if you can believe it! Higgins tried to help, though said he suspected there had been significant internal injuries.
Meanwhile, Clousseau and William were chasing the two men, helped along by the fact that they left a trail of blood from what presumably was the mutilated face they were carrying. The trail ended at a nondescript apartment complex, 3 stories high. As he stood there looking at it, he heard a blood-curdling scream, followed by a horrible crunching sound as the scream was abruptly cut off! The following was recounted to the rest of us later, as we opted to go back to the hotel and wait for their return. Higgins stayed at the murder site to wait for the police...
William and the Inspector ran into the building and up a flight of stairs, still following the blood trail, noticing all the residents peeking out of their doors. On the landing of the third floor, down at the end of the hallway, a woman was sitting on the floor only a few doors away from where the blood trail went into an apartment. She seemed frozen in fright and could only point down to where a door stood partly ajar. William and Clousseau slowly opened the door and went into what appeared to be a one-bedroom apartment, following the trail of blood to the back room. (Meanwhile, Higgins had been questioned by the police and then released. He then headed to the apartment complex to help our two brave comrades...)
The walls of the back room were so saturated in blood that at first glance they appeared to have been painted red. There was blood all over everything! (My dear Sebastian, I have always considered myself stout of heart, but I believe I would have fainted dead away!) There were two bodies in the room. One had had it's head and spine ripped off and both the legs appeared to be broken...the other body appeared to be missing the entire torso, until our friends noticed it - along with the intestines - had been ripped out and spread out around him. Leaning over the body was a figure making slurping sounds! Tell me that doesn't make you want to run screaming into the night! As the figure looked up, it hissed and jumped out of the window, breaking the glass as it did so...
After witnessing this gruesome spectacle, the Inspector becam violently ill - all over poor William - who became ill as well. (Can you blame them?) Higgins showed up just then, took one look and became the third person to be sick, though he did it with a more considerable amount of decorum than our other two friends...Higgins had noticed that the body with no head was clutching the mutilated facial skin of the old beggar man, and that the man with no torso had one of those awful tentacles coming out of it's mouth....did you ever?! From what I was told, all three of our friends spent some time sitting in the hallway, covered in vomit and whiskey, rocking back and forth...Higgins decided to wait there for the police, and meet up with us at the train later, as we were departing that day. The Inspector and William came back to the hotel and cleaned up, told us what had happened as we packed for the train and departed for the station...
And that, my dear friend, is what really happened. You know, the more time that goes on in our search for the parts to this statue, the more unsure I am that I will survive this journey...pray for me, Sebastian, not only for my safety but my sanity as well...I am not sleeping much or well these days...
My Dearest Sebastian,
I hopte this letter finds you in good health and spirits; unfortunately, I cannot say the same for me and my companions, as you will see. Now, where was I when last I wrote...oh yes...
We were boarding the Orient Express to leave Trieste. Our departure itself was relatively uneventful. We enjoyed another of the train's fine dinners, and contrived to forget some of what had transpired earlier...helped along considerably by an enormous quantity of alcohol! Afterwards, we were enjoying a rather excellent bottle of port when we noticed that the label on the bottle was completely unfamiliar, and not one we had ordered ourselves. It was in French and translated it read, 'Dream of the Sap'. In asking the waiter about it, we were told that an unfamiliar gentleman had sent it to our table as a gift, with his compliments. Well, after all we had been through thus far, we were understandably suspicious, and asked our waiter to identify the man. As you might have guessed, by then the man could not be located anywhere on the train. As we had suffered no ill effects from the find drink, most of us decided to finish it. William was the exception to this, as he had become quite paranoid and decided to finish out the evening by drinking whiskey until he became impressively ill! As there seemed to be nothing else forthcoming for that night, we all decided to retire; our dear Betty and Higgins had a rousing game of cribbage with some of the other staff members.
In the wee hours of the morning, William was awakened by the night porter telling him that he was fulfilling William's previously-arranged request for a wake-up call to disembark the train. We were all awakened shortly thereafter in a similar fashion. Of course, none of us had arranged anything , and we were all terribly confused. Just then, we felt the train come to a stop as the porter told us we had arrived at our station. In spite of the confusion, we dressed and stepped out to see if we could figure out what on earth was going on...
It was quite eerie, let me tell you. The station was completely shrouded in fog, and not a sound was to be heard except for some bells ringing off in the distance. To our amazement, there was a man standing on the platform holding a skull staring at Higgins! My dear friend, at that moment I felt that strange sensation of my heartbeat speeding up and my stomach tying itself into an all-too-familiar knot! With a growing feeling of dread, I noticed that all of our luggage was piled at his feet...we were obviously "meant" to disembark here...
The man said something difficult to understand about showing us something, following him...so we all disembarked and prepared ourselves to follow. Dear Higgins, as was his wont, was serving tea on the platform while Betty looked after our luggage. As I stood there sipping tea, I noticed a crumpled piece of paper on the ground. Curious, I picked it up and discovered a note, which read as follows:
"I have noticed that certain experiences are allowed to languish in the corners of life, are not allowed to circulate as freely as others. My own, for example. Since childhood, not one day has passed in which I have failed to hear the music of graveyards. And yet, to my knowledge, never has another soul on earth made mention of this phenomenon. Is the circulation of the living so poor that it cannot carry these dead notes? It must be a mere trickle!
"Two tiny corpses, one male and the other female, live in that enormous closet in my bedroom. They are also very old, but still they are quick enought to hide themselves whenever I need to enter the closet to get something. I keep all my paraphernalia in there, stuffed into trunks or baskets and piled quite out of reach. I can't even see the floor or the walls any longer, and only if I hold a light high over my head can I study the layers of cobwebs floating about near the ceiling. After I close the door of the closet, it's two miniature inhabitants resume their activities. Their voices are only faint squeaks which during the day hardly bother me at all. But sometimes I am kept awake far into the night by those interminable conversations of theirs."
Did you ever hear anything so strange? It sounded like the ramblings of a madman! But wait, the worst is yet to come...we began to follow the man with the skull, Higgins leading. I took the opportunity to observe the town itself. I was not heartened by what I saw.
We were in a town by the name of Zagreb, capital of Bosnia. (That's what's in my notes; I hope it's accurate.) The sky over the city was a dark, slate gray, with no visible lights, no noises that would indicate human occupants, nothing of what you would expect a town to see or sound like. The only thing I could hear was the sound of rushing water coming from the river. The platform itself was surrounded mostly by water...dark, murky, impossible to gauge it's depths. The cobblestones of the streets were broken, cracked and missing in places...the buildings a dull, uniform gray. In the distance, in what appeared to be the center of the town, was a tower several stories high with one very tall spire decorated with a distinct star pattern. There were no street signs, no store signs, no people at all. It seemed a place utterly forsaken and forgotten...
There was a bridge leading off the platform. At the end of it, we saw a hooded figure, though when we reached the end he had disappeared. So on we went. Just then we heard what seemed to be a man cackling from above...looking up, we observed a very life-like stone gargoyle who, to my astonishment, snickered and moved back! At the same time, we heard another peculiar sound, that of feathers rustling and the hissing of snakes. We kept going though I tell you, dear friend, the hairs on the back of my neck were standing straight up! Then we saw the most hideous statue of a serpent and a griffin locked in mortal combat...I understand the noises, now...a couple of blocks away, we found another crumpled, torn note:
"After serving out the hours of a night in which sleep was absolutely forbidden, I went out for a walk. I had not gone far when I became spectator to a sad scene. Some yards ahead of me on the street, an old man was being forcibly led from a house by two other men. They had him in restraints and were delivering him to a waiting vehicle. Laughing hysterically, the man was apparently destined for the asylum. As the struggling trio reached the street, the eyes of the laughing man met my own. Suddenly he stopped laughing. Then, in a burst of resistance, he broke free of his escorts, ran toward me, and fell right into my arms. Since his own were tightly bound, I had to hold up his full weight.
'Never tell them what it means,' he said frantically, almost weeping.
'Swear!' he demanded.
But by then his pursuers had caught up with him. As they dragged him off he began laughing just as before, and the peals of his laughter, in the early morning quiet, were soon devoured by the pealing of several church bells. Poor lunatic. This was one of the most malignant conspiracies I had ever witnessed; the bells, I mean. (They are everywhere.) This was also what made me decide that I had better keep the madman's secret after all."
Needless to say, I was not getting a good feeling about where we were heading at all! At the next intersection, we heard a wet, slapping sound...which turned out to be a fish on the street, about the length of a forearm. It appeared to be dying. We threw it back into the water.
Though we could see the tower, we kept having to navigate around and through and over...we saw the hooded figure on the next island and headed in that direction. Suddenly, a group of children ran by as the church bells rang five times in the distance and then stopped. Now brace yourself, Sebastian...the children all had white eyes! every last one of them! And they were smiling...if such a joyless grimace could be called a smile...one of the children let fall another crumpled piece of paper. It read:
"I had just finished a book in which there is an old town strung with placid meandering canals. I closed the book and went over to the window. this is an old town, if medieval counts as old, strung with placid meandering canals. The town in the book is often mist-shrouded. This town is often mist-shrouded. That town has close, crumbling houses, odd arching bridges, innumerable church towers,and narrow twisting streets that end in queer little courtyards. So has this one, needless to say. And the infinitely hollow sounding of the bells in the book, at early morning and sullen twilight, is the same as your sounding bells, my lovely town. Thus, I pass easily between one town and the other, pleasantly confusing them.
O my storybook town, strange as death itself, I have made your mysteries mine, mine yours, and have suffered a few brief chapters in your sumpous history of decay. I have studied your most obscure passages and found them as dark as the waters of your canals.
My town, my storybook, myself, how long we have held on! But it seems we will have to make up for this endurance and each, in our turn, will disappear. Every brick of yours, every bone of mine, every word in our book - everything gone forever. Everything, perhaps, except the sound of those bells, haunting an empty mist through an eternal twilight."
I felt slightly ill pondering this, as we went on to the next little "island." The path we were on led to a courtyard where - you're not going to believe this - a young man was on his hands and knees inspecting the cobblestones. He kept saying "It must be here, it must be here!" He said this over and over as we watched; the church bells then rang four times in the distance...
Just then we saw the hooded figure again and began to head towards him. On the way, we saw what appeared to be a small garden to our right. There was a peculiar wall in the middle of it, with what appeared to be a tree sprouting from the middle of it! The tree itself was heavy with a dark, purple fruit...dangling from one of the pieces of fruit was what appeared to be a freshly severed human hand! I really began to feel ill at this point! Inspector Clousseau threw a stone at it, but the fruit did not come off. At the base of the tree was another note. This one read:
"Out of sheer absent-mindedness I had stared at my reflection in the mirror a little too deeply. I shoud say that that mirror has been hanging from that wall for more years, I would guess, than I have been on this earth. It's no surprise, then, that sooner or later it should get the edge on me. Up to a certain point there were no problems to speak of: there were only my eyes, my nose, my mouth, and that was that. But then it began to seem that those eyes were regarding me, rather than I them; that that mouth was about to speak things I had no notion of. Finally, I realized that an entirely different creature was hiding behind my face, making it wholly unrecognizable to me. Let me say that I spent considerable time reshaping my reflection into what it should be.
Later, when I was out walking, I stopped dead on the street. Ahead of me, standing beneath a lamp hanging from an old wall, was the outline of a figure of my general size and proportions. He was looking the other way but very stiffly and very tense, as if waiting anxiously for the precise moment when he would suddenly twist about-face. If that should happen, I knew what I would see: my eyes, my nost, my mouth and behind those features a being strange beyond all description. I retraced by steps back home and went immediately to bed.
But I could not sleep. All night long a greenish glow radiated from the mirror in triumph."
Words fail me, dear friend. I only knew a growing feeling of dread as we continued on...
As we walked across yet another small bridge, we saw a woman at the end of it. She stood there, with her head lolling like a deranged, senseless lunatic. She was speaking crazy things, like "I've seen a man, a head" and started weeping, saying something about finding "him"...her lips were bloody...from what, I dare not speculate on. We continued walking, and found more pieces of a note on the cobblestones:
"There is a solitary truth which, whether for good or ill I don't know, cannot yet be expressed on this earth. this is very strange, since everything. outward scenes as much as inward ones suggests this truth and like some fantastic game of charades is always trying to coax the secret into the open. The eyes of certain crudely fashioned dolls are especially suggestive. And distant laughter. In rare moments I feel myself very close to setting it down in my journal, just as I would any other revelation. It would only be a few sentences, I'm sure. But whenever I feel them beginning to take shape in my mind, the page before me will not welcome my pen. Afterwards I become fatigued with my failure and suffer headaches that may last for days. At these times I also tend to see odd things reflected in windows. Even after a full week has passed I may continue to wake up in the middle of the night, the silence of my room faintly vibrant with a voice that cries out to me from another universe."
After reading that latest bit of cheer, we continued on. To our shock, we noticed that the cobblestones of the lane to the left were seeping milk. Milk! Did you ever? All except for one lone cobblestone, which appeared to be "drinking" it up...we pried up the stone to discover a ring underneath. A silver ring. A ring which should have been dirty, wet and black, but was bright and strangely untarnished...
Thinking of the poor lost soul on his hands and knees searching for something, we retraced our steps to him in the hopes that this ring might be what he was searching for. After giving it to him - he said it was his - he said something about finding "the one who knows, find his proper name...he who knows great men's secrets"...and on and on about death being his lover, or lord, or bride, or somesuch horror...he ran off then, though as he did so, a piece of paper fell out of his pocket. It read:
"As a child I maintained some very strange notions. For instance, I used to believe that during the night, while I slept, witches and monkeys removed parts of my body and played games with them, hiding my arms and legs, rolling my head across the floor. Of course I abandoned this belief as soon as I entered school, but not until much later did I discover the truth about it. After assimilating many facts from various sources and allowing them to mingle in my mind, I realized something. It happened one night as I was crossing a bridge that stretched over a narrow canal. (This was in a part of town fairly distant from where I live.) Pausing for a moment, as I usually do when crossing one of these bridges, I gazed not down into the darkwaters of the canal, as I also usually do, but upwards through the branches of overhanging trees. It was those stars, I knew that now: certain of them had been promised specific parts of my body; in the darkest hours of the might; when one is unusually sensitive to such things, I could - and still can, though just barely - feel the force of these stars tugging away at various points, eager for the moment of my death when each of them might carry off that part of me which is theirs by right. Of course a child would misinterpret this experience. And how often I have found that every superstition has it's basis in truth."
At this point, Sebastian, I tried to entertain the notion that we were following the trail of a certified madman, writing of his delusions, but I was no longer so sure. As I was no longer sure of where we were heading, only that it was a path pre-appointed for us...and so we went on.
Up ahead, we saw what appeared to be one final bridge that led from this island to the tower we had observed earlier. Just before reaching it, we found yet another note:
"From the earliest days of man there ahs endured the convictions that there is an order of existence which is entirely strange to him. It does indeed seem that the strict order of the visible world is only a semblance, one providing certain gross materials which become the basis for subtle improvisations of invisible powers. Hence, it may appear to some that a leafless tree is not a tree but a signpost to another realm; that an old house is not a house but a thing possessing a will of it's own; that the dead may throw off that heavy blanket of earth to walk in their sleep, and in ours. (Like I was going to sleep tonight, anyway) And these are merely a few of the infinite variations on the themes of the natural order as it is usually conceived.
But is there really a strange world? Of course. Are there, then, two worlds? Not at all. There is only our own world and it alone is alien to us, intrinsically so by virtue of it's lack of mysteries. If only it actually were deranged by invisible powers, if only it were susceptible to real strangeness, perhaps it would seem more like a home to us, and less like an empty room filled with the echoes of this dreadful improvising. To think that we might have found comfort in a world suited to our nature, only to end up in one so resoundly strange!"
As we crossed into the last courtyard before the bridge, we were met with another horrifying sight. A statue of the Madonna, at the foot of which had been lashed an emaciated woman...we tentatively approached, and asked her about "he who knows"...to which she replied, "he waits for you."
Just then the church bells rang six times in the distance.
As we found another note:
"Last night I visited one of the little theaters and stood at the back for a while. Onstage was a magician, shiny black hair parted straight down the middle, with full prestigitorial regalia about him: a long box to his left (moon and stars), a tall box to his right (oriental designs), and before him a low table covered with a red velvet cloth littered with diverse objects. The audience, a full house, applauded wildly after each illusion. At one point the magician divided the various sections of his assistant into separate boxes, which he then proceeded to move to distant areas of the stage, while the dismembered hands and feet continued to wiggle about and a decapitated head laughed loudly. (No midnight snacks, then, either) The audience was at great pains to express it's amusement. 'Isn't it incredible!' exclaimed a man standing beside me. 'If you say so,' I replied, and then headed for the exit, realizing that for me such things simply do not hold much interest."
We finally reached the bridge leading to the tower. At the end, the hooded man awaited.
At the risk of not all my correspondence reaching you, dear Sebastian, I will end this letter here. I pray that you will receive this one, and hopefully another will be forthcoming. I have not the strength to continue at this time.
All my love,
My Dear Sebastian,
I have rested and recovered somewhat, and am ready to continue my story. I believe that we were about to cross the final stone bridge to the tower...
That horrible hooded figure was waiting for us at the other end of the bridge, beckoning for us to follow him into the tower, which we did. I tell you that I was not at all certain we would make it out alive, let alone back to the train with our bodies in one piece and our sanity intact!
We went through two massive double doors which had strange engravings the likes of which I did not recognize and do not wish to see again...the receiving area of the tower was huge, dark and dank, smelling of mold and things best forgotten...following our ghoulish guide we went up a large spiraling staircase, up and up until we had reached the uppermost turret of the tower. From the top we could look out over the entire city, which was laid out in a vague, rectangular shape. To the east was the river; in all other directions was a thick fog that obscured and muted the edges of the buildings, giving me the impression that the city itself was not even anchored to this earth, but instead floating purposelessly through the cosmos...
The hooded figure took the skull and sat down on a stone bench, indicating that he wanted us to join him for a time. He peeled back his hood to reveal - a skull! I thought I might faint on the spot, but the worst was yet to come...he began to speak, telling us to stay...he kept going on and on, speaking of "he who knows all men's secrets"...he began telling us these "secrets"...I cannot repeat the words that he used, but they sank into my brain like long black worms, rendering my very spirit with soulless thoughts...of death, decay...I felt the tendrils of insanity wrap themselves around my brain, probing the innermost of my thoughts, dreams, desires until I felt myself go quite mad, for a time...quite mad...
I understand more, now...
From the later recollections of my comrades, they experienced similar feelings; we only became aware of ourselves again as we heard the train whistling off in the distance...fearing we would be left behind in that hellish place, we began to run back through the town as fast as we could...unfortunately, the Inspector was left behind as he was unable to keep up...I am unsure if it was because he was injured or too crazed...my memory of the whole thing is as foggy now as the air of that place...
We boarded the train, went to our suites and discovered, much to our amazement, that our bodies were on our beds, apparently sleeping...that horrible, wandering place had evidently been another dream state/place, likely induced by that bottle of port, no doubt...I shall never accept a drink as a gift again, Sebastian, I don't care how charming the giver...at this, we all woke up back in our physical bodies once again. We of course rushed directly to the Inspector's room to find his body there, apparently deeply asleep. We were not able to rouse him no matter how hard we tried...
One full day passed. the next day, early in the morning, Tommy was awakened by a piercing scream coming from the Inspector's room. Rushing in, he discovered a rather distraught Inspector, though he calmed down after talking a while with Tommy. We did discuss our journey, or attempted to, though our memories of it were already fading and even now are quite difficult to recall...
We arrived in Belgrade, a rather charming, old-world sort of place, though full of seemingly homeless young urchins, all begging to carry our bags, run errands for a few pennies, that sort of thing. Thankfully, our dear Higgins, aided and shadowed by the ever-faithful Betty, arranged the services of of the best of them, a young, 12 year-old boy by the name of Petar, who promised to act as our guide in the city. They arranged for our bags and us to be transported to a lovely little hotel with the name of the Excelsior. Higgins and Tommy managed to make an appointment with the man at the museum we wanted to question, a Dr. Milovan Todorovich. The appointment was set for the following day at 10 am.
As we had some time to spend, and I really wanted the opportunity to do some shopping (after all, I did come on this trip initially as a holiday!), we all went to the famed Turkish Bazaar...so many colors, sounds and smells, Sebastian, you would have loved it. The atmosphere was generally fairly jovial and bustling, though a fight would occasionally break out as the Turks and the Serbs do not always see eye to eye...I saw the most beautiful scarf and attempted to buy it, but unfortunately the trained monkey who was wearing it seemed rather loathe to give it up...
We did have a rather interesting experience with a fortune teller, though it did put a bit of a damper on our little shopping expedition...we could not resist having our fortunes told, so into her stall we went. She had a black hen in her basket, along with some eggs. For each fortune read, she reached into the basket and brought out an egg, pierced it on three sides, blew it out and then examined the contents. Did you ever?! It made me so homesick for Auntie Ethel's midnight spiritual soirees...minus the whiskey sours...do you remember?...anyway, here are our fortunes as they were told to us:
Inspector: "There is one who greets you who is as old as Man."
Tommy: "You will never retrieve what you have lost, but what you gain will be far greater."
Higgins: "The man you think your friend is your enemy. Beware the unseen one."
Myself: "There are three who oppose you."
Reggie: "There is one who seeks you who wishes to take what is yours; there is one who follows, neither male nor female but all of these things."
William: "You have the visage of death."
At this, the old woman seemed strangely agitated and upset and asked us to leave, which we of course did immediately. Gave me the shivers!
So Petar led us on, down a windy path through the bazaar to a statuary stall, which we perused with great interest, hoping we might find some clues or the leg itself...Reggie actually saw an arm in a pile of statue pieces which looked just like what we had been looking for! Tommy and I, however, were distracted by the most amazing collection of lawn gnomes I have ever seen! And they were all for sale! I could not resist buying one, which I will ship to you at the earliest convenient time...just when Tommy was about to negotiate the buying of another, two large men ran into the stall, snatched the leg that Reggie was looking at, and took off running through the bazaar!
Well, we were all horrified at the sight of our prize disappearing, so we all gave chase. When I caught up with them, the Inspector had just punched one of them. But the real prize was Reggie! He took out his whip and you should have seen him wield it! The thieves were completely obliterated! Remember when Father took up with that cowboy who promised to teach him roping? Like that, only Reggie actually hits them...
So we rescued the leg just as the vendor showed up. We of course wished to purchase the leg, and Tommy wanted to buy some of the lawn gnomes, so he decided to haggle with the vendor over the price. The following is an excerpt of the negotiations:
Tommy: "I'll give you 100 dinars for the leg and a lawn gnome."
Vendor: "100 dinars?! I would sooner eat camel dung than to give away such a priceless artifact! One thousand dinars!"
Tommy: "One thousand?! I'll eat my hat if that piece of junk is worth more than 300! 500 and two lawn gnomes!"
Vendor: "500? You american dog! 800 dinars and two lawn gnomes!"
Tommy: "700 dinars and three lawn gnomes!"
Vendor: "700! You are taking the food out of the mouths of my 5 wives and 19 children! 750 dinars for the leg and three lawn gnomes!"
Vendor: "You must never tell anyone of this business or I will lose my reputation as an honest merchant!"
I tell you, dear friend, I had to feign a coughing fit to disguise my laughter! Especially after the business was transacted and we discovered that the leg was, in fact, NOT the one we were looking for. Such a disappointment! Though Tommy did get three marvelous specimens of lawn gnomes, and William did buy him a blackjack, so Tommy did fairly well...one rather amusing result of the whole fight with the two men is that now all the little street urchins absolutely worship Reggie and his whip, treating him much as a revered elder!
After that, being hot and tired, we went back to the hotel for drinks and dinner, and passed a blessedly uneventful night...for the most part, that is...around 3:30am the poor Inspector woke up screaming. William ran into his room, slapped the Inspector in an attempt to wake him up. The Inspector awoke, attempted to slap William back, missed William, hit himself and knocked himself out for the rest of the evening...poor Inspector, he has been sleeping rather poorly these days...even worse than the rest of us...
The next morning, after an excellent breakfast, we departed for the museum. William had already gone ahead of us to "check things out"...we met him in front shortly before 10 and went in. After speaking to the secretary, she led us to the Dr.'s office. We were greeted by the doctor, a pleasant and mild-mannered gentleman who served us the most wonderful Turkish coffee, though it was a bit strong. The Inspector had about 5 cups...As it turns out, the doctor could not help us out with any information, though he was able to refer us to a priest by the name of Father Philip Filopovic, who lived in the small town of Orzac, some distance away from Belgrade. We made arrangements to take the train that morning...
Dearest Sebastian, my hand is quite cramped from all this writing, and Betty is waiting for the morning posting, so I will end this here. Expect another letter shortly. All my love to the family, and as to advice on what to do about Cynthia Hawthorne, well, she can't expect every man she sleeps with to marry her, can she? But find out if her father is a good shot, before you let her down gently...
All my love,