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Flood: TWELVE

...Cosmo Pinkerton was still slightly surprised that he was now engaged upon a mission that had brought him across the Atlantic from their offices in Chicago to the streets of Bradfield.
He had arrived that morning from Liverpool and had been impressed by the town's newly completed railway station, with its pedimented porticoes and Corinthian columns. As another admirer had observed, it had the appearance of a stately home for railway engines...

Cosmo, newly arrived from America, has come to town asking after Robert Dyce.

Emma Cookson continues her novel of love and revenge set in the 19th Century.

Cosmo Pinkerton's chest puffed like a pigeon's, his waistline bulged and his legs were short and stocky. His trousers were stretched and taught and fastened beneath leather-toed cloth boots, that were each decorated with a row of mother-of-pearl buttons.

At five feet and two inches in height, he might have been judged too short to wear a frock coat with elegance but he certainly wore one with style.

It nipped neatly, where his waist might have been expected to be, and the skirts were short and necessarily full over his hips. The colour was grey and the lapels were edged with braid and he wore it with a silk waistcoat, that was as bright and as blue as a budgerigar's breast, and a yellow cravat that was held by a pin whose stone was of the size and colour of a cherry. An eyeglass was suspended from his neck on a black ribbon.
Pinkerton's hair curled from beneath his tall hat and he had cultivated his side whiskers to grow almost to his chin in an attempt to define his jawline as his face was unremittingly chubby and amiable. He carried a stick with a carved head in one hand.

He was 43-years-old and liked to believe that his appearance was deceptive and that it was to his advantage for people he met to believe him to be nothing more than a gentleman of ineffectual business acumen. In fact, he possessed an intellect of reasonable quality and a fine sense of humour but tended to over-compensate for his self-perceived defects with an armoury that included verbosity and occasional pomposity.

His cousin, Alan, was younger, but Alan had the gravitas - and height - to be taken seriously and it was he who was the moving force and managing director behind their fledgling enterprise.

Cosmo Pinkerton was still slightly surprised that he was now engaged upon a mission that had brought him across the Atlantic from their offices in Chicago to the streets of Bradfield.
He had arrived that morning from Liverpool and had been impressed by the town's newly completed railway station, with its pedimented porticoes and Corinthian columns. As another admirer had observed, it had the appearance of a stately home for railway engines.

Liverpool had been chaotic although, to be fair, he had only stayed in the port long enough to recover from the voyage, during which he had been sea-sick every day without fail. Once on terra firma, he had found himself wondrously restored after a substantial dinner and a good night's sleep in a bed that had remained motionless.

He had travelled by railway that morning and booked a room in a modest inn. In comparison with the hectic port, he had gained the impression that Bradfield was orderly and serious about business.

It was also lively and robust, he discovered, as he made his way through the stalls of the Market Place. He paused to listen to the peroration of a gentleman in a stove pipe hat and worn suit who was standing beneath a market cross of ancient origin to rail against injustice in his own land. The gentleman offered, as an example of equality and edification, the independent nation of the United States of America, which had based its constitution upon the revolutionary idea of government for the people, by the people.

As long as you are not black or poor, thought Pinkerton, for money still talked, even in a democracy. Particularly in a democracy.

Pinkerton was part of a small crowd. He noted a man with a hump upon his back, who was avidly enthralled by the promise of a new world into which he would never gain admittance. Immigration laws, whilst extremely lax, denied entry to anyone suffering from a deformity. Two women carrying baskets assessed the speaker's entertainment value and one murmured, "He's not as good as him that talks about fish."

A grocer's boy on his delivery rounds rested the hamper he had been carrying and stared vacantly and two farmers in smocks smoked clay pipes and watched and considered the concept of government by the people. One carried a live hen by its feet.

"'Ees not from round 'ere," said the other. "Talks funny."

An inebriated man on the wooden balcony above a row of shops leaned dangerously far out to engage in debate.
"Bollocks," he shouted.

The farmers laughed and the speaker ignored the remark and continued to deliver platitudes and promises and Pinkerton put his hand on his purse as he noted the bare-footed street urchin sidling nonchalantly in his direction and, with his other hand, surreptitiously tweaked the crotch of his tight trousers to alleviate an itch.

He moved on, smiling at the thrust and riposte of political debate whose quality appeared to be the same on both sides of the ocean, and continued his stroll along High Street in search of the offices of Hypolite Baines.

Pinkerton had taken directions as to the location of the lawyer's offices at the inn where he was accommodated and he found them above a tea and coffee emporium. He climbed the stairs, enjoying the smells of coffee from below and tobacco from the cigar packing company in the adjacent premises. He knocked on a door and entered. A young copying clerk, who had ink smudges on his forehead and fingers, stopped work and looked up, pen in hand.

"Hello, laddie," said Pinkerton, raising his hat a fraction and then replacing it.

"Good afternoon, sir."

"I am here to see Mr Baines."

His accent was a drawl with a hint of Scottish burr, delivered with deep intonation, which was yet more compensation for his lack of height and rotundity of feature.

"Oh." The clerk put down his pen and looked puzzled. "I'm sorry. He isn't in. Was he expecting you?"

"Do not worry, laddie. I have no appointment. My visit was of a speculative nature."

"Oh." He rubbed his forehead and left a new ink trail. "Shall I say who called?"

"Indeed you shall, but, first, perhaps, you can be of help to a stranger in a strange land."

"Pardon?"

"Is there anyone else in the office?"

"No, sir. Only me."

"Never say only, sir. You are quite sufficient. Now, laddie, what is your name?"

"Joshua Turnside, sir."

"Joshua. A fine name. Meaning Jehovah is generous."

Pinkerton smiled and wondered, now he had impressed the youth with the strength of his personality, whether he would have to go any higher than a florin to persuade him to tell him what he wanted to know.

He was unaware that he had captured Joshua Turnside's attention so completely, not through personal charisma, but because the youth, who was a patron of the music hall, assumed, from Pinkerton's size, girth, appearance and manner of speech, that the small man was probably a theatrical.

"Does it, sir?"

"Indeed, it does." Pinkerton tossed the florin in his hand and the clerk watched it intently as if he were to witness a feat of prestidigitation. Pinkerton began to worry in case he inadvertently hypnotised the young man. "Very generous."

"I didn't know that."

"Then tell me something you do know, laddie. Do you know Mr Joshua Rowntree?"

He said it as if expecting a roll of drums.

"No, sir."

"Do you know Mr Robert Dyce?"

Another drum roll.

"Oh yes, sir. Of course, sir."

Pinkerton grinned and said, "Give that boy a prize," and threw the coin to him. The clerk caught it in both hands. "How apposite that I came in here today," said Pinkerton. "What say you, laddie?"

"Pardon?"

"How apposite, indeed. For Mr Dyce and myself are old friends from America." He now began to toss another florin in his hand. "Old, old friends from America." The clerk's eyes were riveted on the new coin and Pinkerton said, "America?" to confirm that the young man knew where he meant.

"Oh yes, sir. America."

Joshua Turnside remembered that Professor Letart, the Great Magician, had come from Paris, and Pedanto The Ceilingwalker from Serbia, wherever Serbia might be. America did not surprise him as a home of theatricals.

"That's right, laddie. Friends and business partners."

"Yes, sir."

"So I would consider it a very great favour if someone were to tender the relevant information as to the whereabouts of Robert Dyce, whereby a reunion could be manufactured of a surprising nature, that is, in a way that would remain a surprise to Mr Dyce himself until the meeting was affected."

All the time, Pinkerton tossed the coin and the clerk's eyes went up and down to follow its flight. The little American now stopped throwing the florin and held it between thumb and forefinger.

"Do you think, Joshua Turnside, that you could live up to your name and be generous enough as to supply me with what I require?"

"Pardon?"

"Where is Mr Dyce?"

"In town, he stays at The Pack Horse. In Helston, it's The Old Aquaintance."

Pnkerton was taken aback at the unambiguosity of the information.

"Give that boy another prize," he said, and tossed the coin to the clerk with the uneasy suspicion that he could just as easily have obtained the information by simply asking without the expenditure of four shillings. "Helston?" he said. "Is that nearby?"

“Eight miles by road but quicker by the railway."

"He has friends in this place of Helston? Business interests?"

"Both, sir. And family."

"Family?" Pinkerton laughed. "At last I shall meet his family. The family Dyce?"

"No, sir. The family Pallister."

"That branch of the family? Of course. A double delight awaits me in Helston." He tipped his hat again. "My grateful thanks, Joshua," he said, and added, "and do not forget that this is our secret." He tapped the side of his nose. "Tell no one or you will spoil the surprise of a meeting of two old friends."

Joshua tapped his nose and smeared it with ink. Now the small man was going, the clerk grinned.

"You'll probably see him tonight, anyway," the youth said. Robert Dyce's fondness for the music hall now making sense to Joshua. "He's at The Shed every night he's in town."

"Indeed." Pinkerton smiled to cover his confusion. The youth mentioned The Shed as if he expected him to know what he meant? "The Shed?"

The clerk laughed and said, "You know. Mr Burke's Music Hall. The Shed."

"Of course, laddie, of course. The Shed."

Pinkerton left the office and descended the steps, taking advantage of the privacy to scratch the itch in his trousers. Why on earth had the stupid boy thought he would know about a music hall called The Shed?


**

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