A Jar Of Thursday: an adventure featuring Sherlock Holmes

By Liz Hedgecock

Crime & mystery, Sci-Fi, Action & adventure, Historical fiction

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321
4 mins

 

CHAPTER 1: A Job Interview

I checked the address on the letter once more and looked at the townhouse looming over me. Upper Wimpole Street was very grand. Perhaps too grand for the likes of me. I took a deep breath, straightened my tie, and reached for the ring in the lion’s mouth.

The door opened noiselessly, as if it didn’t want anyone to know. Behind it was a tall, thin man in a jacket and striped trousers. ‘Mr Hargreaves, I presume?’

I bobbed my head, uncertain whether I should bow or not. ‘That’s right, sir.’ The man’s eyes rested on me till I wriggled. ‘I’m here about the advertisement for an assistant?’

‘Yes, yes.’ The door’s jaw opened wider. ‘Do come in.’

The hall was beautifully furnished, but gave me no clues to the house’s occupants. I took off my bowler hat and held it in both hands to keep from fidgeting.

The parlour was as anonymous as the hall. ‘Please take a seat.’ The man indicated a wing-back chair. ‘Now, there are some formalities to complete. Your name is John Hargreaves, commonly called Jack?’

I swallowed. ‘That is correct, sir.’

‘You are an orphan?’

‘I am.’ What sort of job required an orphan to undertake it? Then again, I was not in a position to be choosy.

The man scanned my face until my skin pricked. ‘You appear younger than your letter suggested.’

‘I am of age,’ I said, perhaps a little defensively. It was the truth, though.

‘You have never been in prison, and are not known to the police?’

‘No, sir.’

Sharp blue eyes bored into me. ‘Most satisfactory,’ said the man, after a pause. ‘Now, are you fit and well? Can you run, and jump?’

‘Er, yes.’

‘Are you able to swim?’

I gulped. ‘I cannot.’

‘You will need to learn…’ The man frowned and sat back while I wondered what he would ask me next. It was the strangest job interview I had ever had. ‘And you can start straight away?’

‘Yes.’

The man’s face cleared. ‘Excellent. Congratulations.’ He stuck out his hand and I shook it, thoroughly bewildered. ‘Welcome to the household. My name is Mr Snell, by the way.’

I paused mid-shake. ‘I … I thought you were Mr Molloy. The person advertising for an assistant.’

Something like a smile twitched at the corner of Mr Snell’s mouth. ‘Good heavens, no. I am merely a factotum. We will go and meet Mr Molloy now.’ He rose and brushed his knees. ‘Come, Mr Hargreaves.’

‘But aren’t you going to ask me about my previous work?’ I blurted, thinking of the sheaf of testimonials in my coat pocket.

Mr Snell raised an eyebrow. ‘It will not be necessary.’

We descended a flight of stairs at the back of the house. The crimson carpet was so thick that our steps were noiseless, but I couldn’t see what lay at the bottom. Mr Snell must have sensed my footsteps faltering. ‘I am aware that this is somewhat unorthodox,’ he called back. ‘Mr Molloy has his own way of doing things, to which you will grow accustomed.’

The bottom of the stairs revealed a long corridor. Wall-lamps cast infrequent pools of light, but I spied several doors leading off. The hairs on the back of my neck rose. ‘I’m not sure I —’

Mr Snell put a finger to his lips. ‘Bear with me.’ He shuffled along the corridor and I followed him. What else could I do?

The door at the end revealed a small sitting room, like a housekeeper’s room, crammed with furniture. ‘Sit, please.’ Mr Snell indicated an overstuffed sofa. ‘Mr Molloy will arrive shortly.’ He waved a hand at the easy-chair opposite. ‘That is his chair.’ He took a wing-back chair half-way between the two.

Why would Mr Molloy choose to meet us in the basement, instead of the parlour? My uneasiness grew deeper. But Mr Snell sat calm, hands clasped on the table. ‘He’ll be here in, ah, thirty seconds.’

I watched the hands of the ormolu clock on the mantel, and as the second hand reached the bottom I heard a sound like the opening of a huge stiff door. I cried out, and in that instant a man appeared in Mr Molloy’s chair, a small, weaselly man holding two wires. On his lap was a box covered in dials.

‘Afternoon,’ he said. ‘You must be the new chap. I’m Fingers Molloy.’ He let the wires fall from his hands, and beamed. ‘Pleased to meet yer.’ He extended a hand, which was small and none too clean.

‘Jack Hargreaves,’ I said, getting up and shaking his hand automatically. My mind was in a whirl. ‘What — what just —’

‘Say hello to my time machine.’ Fingers chuckled and patted the top of the box. ‘Don’t ask me to tell you how it works, I ain’t got a clue.’ He felt in his pockets, and drew out two slim black velvet boxes. ‘Here, Snell, put these in the safe for us.’

‘Of course, sir.’ Mr Snell made to take the boxes, but Fingers Molloy snatched them away so that his hand closed on thin air.

‘Fancy a peek, Jack?’ he said, grinning. He opened the lid of one box and snapped it shut, but not before I had caught a glimpse of a necklace set with diamonds and emeralds. Inside the second box was another necklace less ornate in style, but set with a pearl the size of a pullet’s egg.

‘Are those real?’ I gasped.

‘Oh yes.’ Fingers put the boxes into Mr Snell’s twitching hands. ‘When you’ve locked these beauties away, Snell, take yourself for a turn in the park. I’ll see you in an hour.’

‘Very good, sir.’ Mr Snell inclined his head and glided away.

‘Come and sit by me, Jack Hargreaves.’ Fingers Molloy indicated Snell’s chair. ‘I bet you’ve got a lot of questions for me, eh?’

‘Well yes, Mr Molloy, I —’

‘I’ll answer your questions, if you answer one of mine first. Game?’

I put my hands on my lap. ‘Game.’

‘Right.’ Fingers Molloy leaned close, and said, in a low voice, ‘Why are you pretending to be a feller?’

My mouth dropped open.

‘Oh yes, I knew pretty much from the moment I landed. Men don’t yelp, nor put a hand to their chest. Watch that in future.’ Fingers nodded. ‘Otherwise, you weren’t bad. You fooled old Snell, anyway.’ He selected an apple from the fruit bowl at his elbow and took a huge bite. ‘So you’ve still got the job.’

I decided I had nothing to lose. ‘I ran away.’

‘Go on.’ Fingers watched me over his apple.

‘I grew up in the workhouse, but as soon as I was old enough they sent me to be a maid. The servants bullied me because I was such a child, and I vowed to find a better life somehow. One of the lady’s maids walked out with a clerk, and that gave me the idea. I practised my round-hand and sums, and talked to the clerk, though I got my ears boxed for it. I studied the newspaper for situations when I was meant to be blackleading the study grate. As soon as I had enough money saved, I got the train to London on my next half-day. I bought a second-hand boy’s suit, supposedly for my brother, and cut my hair off. And I found a job as an office boy. The work was lighter, the money was better, and no one looked at me twice. Then, well, I kept going.’

Fingers whistled. ‘You’ve done all right too, judging by your suit. Why’ve you left all that behind to come and work for me?’

I laughed. ‘I answered your question. Now answer mine. What exactly is my job, and where did you get that jewellery?’




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