EPISODE THREE: FORTESCUE’S FICTIONAL DETECTIVE AGENCY
A chat with the wizened walnut man in charge of the tobacco shop proved most enlightening with regards to the habits of his tenants upstairs. Rodrigo, he informed us, generally left the office by 5pm at the latest and would not return until late the following morning. Felicity Fortescue, however, would prove a tougher proposition to contend with. It seemed she rarely left the office until well after dark and indeed the tobacco shop man suspected she often stayed up there all night. “I think the lonely English senora buries herself in her work,” our new friend mournfully informed us.
“Well, that’s just where you’ll have to come in then Redgrave,” I announced cheerily to Michael.
“Me?” he responded blankly.
“You’ll have to take her out for a drink, won’t you? Get her out of the way for an hour or two.”
“I’d offer to do it myself but something tells me she’ll be more receptive to an invite from you.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Michael worriedly ran his hand through his hair.
“C’mon, she was practically salivating up there.”
“I’m not sure I’m up to it, to be honest,” he protested. “It’s been quite a while.”
“It’ll all come flooding back to you,” I insisted. “Offer to show her a bit of your dashing Orlando.”
Michael scowled. “I don’t think so.”
“I’m sorry but what exactly is your purpose on this trip?” I demanded, reluctantly resorting to emotional blackmail. “Is it not to assist me to track down Sturridge by any means possible? Maybe I ought to have a word with these ‘powers that be’. See if I can’t trade you in for Laurence Olivier.”
Michael continued to glower unhappily. “C’mon, you’re only asking her out for a drink,” I said, softened by his hurt look. “I’m not asking you to marry her or anything.”
There was an uncomfortable pause. I looked at the tobacco shop man, he looked at me and then we both looked appealingly at Michael.
“I’ll give you an hour and no more,” Michael reluctantly agreed. “You had better get those details.”
I beamed. The tobacco shop man beamed. Michael merely scowled more ferociously than ever.
We loitered in the relative cool of the tobacco shop until just before five o’clock when we heard Rodrigo’s unexpectedly lively feet dancing down the stairs. Michael and I just had time to duck down behind the shop counter before he emerged in the doorway. He hesitated briefly before plunging out into the steamy late afternoon. We waited a good ten minutes to ensure he was long gone and then Michael reluctantly ventured up the stairs in order to invite Felicity Fortescue to come out and have a drink with him.
He took so long about it that for a moment I feared that the lonely English senora had proved to be more lonely than we had anticipated. I had visions of a harassed Michael being pursued, Benny Hill style, round her enormous desk in endless circles. However, eventually they emerged in perfect order, Felicity Fortescue beaming radiantly on Michael’s arm. I peered over the tobacco shop counter in time to see Michael dart a withering glare in my direction before they too headed off down the street.
Although my walnutty friend assured me there was no chance of anyone else now being left in the building I skipped as lightly up the stairs as I could and listened carefully at the door to the outer office before I tentatively tried the handle. To my relief it swung easily open onto an empty room. I immediately stole across to the door of Felicity Fortescue’s office and tried the same procedure there. Unfortunately this time I hit a snag. The door was locked.
I took a second to consider my options. I didn’t reckon it would take a great deal of effort to smash through the frosted glass but I was reluctant to cause any damage unless it was absolutely necessary. I figured I had time enough for a quick search of the outer office before committing myself to any rash acts. Rodrigo, at least, I imagined was probably just the type to leave a set of keys lying around. And so I set to digging amongst the papers and mess strewn all around Rodrigo’s desk.
I had made a complete scan of the top of the desk and was just burying my head in the first of its drawers when I was disturbed by a familiar voice.
“You are looking for something Senorita?”
I jumped so suddenly that I almost slammed the drawer shut on my own hand. Looking up I found myself facing Rodrigo, who was standing with his arms crossed and a playful smile on his face.
“I thought you’d gone home,” I complained indignantly.
“I saw you hiding in the tobacco shop as I left,” said Rodrigo smugly. “I thought I might find you up here.”
“Yeah, well, I think I might have dropped something when I came here earlier,” I began unconvincingly. “I was just…”
“You don’t have to lie to me,” interrupted Rodrigo with a shrug. “But there are no valuables in this office.”
“I’m not here to steal your valuables,” I protested.
Rodrigo continued to regard me with a wry smile.
“I just wanted to get a look at Felicity Fortescue’s books, that’s all,” I eventually confessed. “I need to get hold of Sherlock Holmes.”
Rodrigo waved away my explanations indifferently. “You are from the same world as Senora Fortescue, are you not?” he asked, lightly changing the subject.
I nodded cautiously.
“So what are you running away from Senorita?”
“I’m not running away from anything. I just came here to find a friend.”
Rodrigo appeared to find this idea particularly amusing. “And you will scour the landscape for them, will you?”
“Senora Fortescue, she came to the landscape to find someone.”
“She told us – her character, Lord Jeremy Tinsdale.”
Rodrigo shook his head and laughed. “No, no. He was just the consolation prize. First, she came to scour the landscape for someone lost from her world.”
“Who?” I couldn’t help asking.
Rodrigo shrugged. “Ah, that she will not say. But at one time she promised herself she would trek to the ends of the landscape to find them.” Rodrigo paused and smiled that devilish smile of his again. “But she found instead something that scared her. So she hurried back here to hide amongst her detectives. And try to convince herself that she no longer cares.”
“How do you know all this?”
“The senora, she likes a drink,” replied Rodrigo matter-of-factly. “Perhaps you will be the same if you fail to find your friend.”
I glared defiantly at him. “I’ve no intention of failing to find my friend.”
Rodrigo smiled, as if pleased with this response. “Ah, perhaps you are not as easily scared as Senora Fortescue.” He paused for a moment, regarding me intently. “You do not need to steal any books. If you want to meet with Sherlock Holmes you will find him at the Copacabana nightclub on the waterfront. One of their dancers has gone missing and he is asked to find her.”
I watched Rodrigo closely for a moment, trying to ascertain whether I could trust his information, but he stared frankly back at me.
“Thank-you,” I said simply and moved towards the door.
“Good luck with your search Senorita,” he called out as I headed down the stairs.
For once I was glad to be outside, despite the still sweltering heat of the late afternoon. Rather than returning to the tobacco shop I found myself pacing up and down the colonnade. I didn’t like to admit it but the conversation with Rodrigo had left me with an uncomfortable tingling in my spine. I couldn’t work out whether I was right to be spooked by his melodramatic pronouncements or whether he was just a silly kid trying it on with a stranger. I still hadn’t quite made up my mind over an hour later when Michael finally returned from his ‘date’ with Felicity Fortescue.
In the twenty minutes it took us to wind our way through the sultry streets to the waterfront Michael regaled me with all the details of his brief encounter. I soon gathered things hadn’t gone well. It transpired that Felicity Fortescue had succeeded in putting away at least three drinks for every one that Michael had consumed. So it could be no surprise really that, despite Michael’s best efforts to keep things light and jolly, the encounter had ended with a diatribe upon the iniquities of men in general and Felicity Fortescue’s cad of a husband in particular. I did my best to adopt a suitably sympathetic expression and not giggle too much as Michael shuddered at the recollection.
It took us a further twenty minutes to scour the jumble of buildings around the docks before eventually we located the Copacabana nightclub, sandwiched between the offices of a shipping company and some kind of factory. Entry was through a narrow doorway beneath a gently humming neon sign. The sun was just beginning to dip beyond the horizon as we approached the burly doorman who guarded the entrance like a chubby Cuban Cerberus. He lifted his sunglasses and looked us up and down with a rather disdainful glare.
“You’ll have to leave your weapons at the coat check,” he eventually said with a nod to Michael.
This marked the first time since we had left Salzburg that anyone had remarked upon the souvenir from the Hohensalzburg Castle that Michael chose to carry with him. After our encounter with the sisters of the Abbey it had seemed wise to keep ourselves armed and Michael had become rather attached to the instrument with which he had succeeded in despatching the nun in the kitchen. I had worried this may cause all manner of trouble in our day-to-day travelling but apparently in the landscape of the imagination men in tweed suits carrying large medieval swords were a thing scarcely worthy of comment.
Michael reluctantly handed his treasured possession over to the bored coat check girl and we were swept into the club itself by a delightfully oily man who introduced himself as Senor Delgado, the maitre d. The room we entered was broad and low ceilinged, with a number of tables circling a large dance floor. There was a stage beyond the dance floor, set up to accommodate the band, though the musicians’ places were as yet empty. The club was for the most part discreetly ill-lit but for a bar along the far wall that dazzled beneath an array of brightly polished mirrors. At this early hour the room was mostly empty, populated only by a thin smattering of disaffected businessmen and the occasional waiter prowling mournfully in search of occupation.
Senor Delgado ushered us to a table on the far side of the dance floor which offered a good panorama of the entire room. He clicked his fingers and a short, shiny waiter instantly appeared at his elbow. “Mario, cocktails for two,” he ordered with a waggle of his thick moustache. Mario promptly vanished but reappeared seconds later with a tray containing two luridly coloured cocktails which he set down before us. “Now Senor, Senorita, you enjoy,” insisted Senor Delgado with a suggestive wink before slithering away in search of new patrons.
“So, where’s Sherlock then?” asked Michael as soon as we were alone.
I glanced around the club with a mildly anxious eye. It was true that the place, with its gaudy furnishings, didn’t strike me as a particularly appropriate location for a bout of Sherlock-spotting but I refused to be discouraged.
“He’s probably sniffing out clues out back somewhere,” I said in a tone somewhat breezier than I actually felt. “He’s bound to show his face sooner or later.”
Michael merely raised an imperious eyebrow and settled back in his seat as a rather pointed indication that his money was on later rather than sooner.
As we cautiously sipped at our cocktails the club slowly eased its way into life. The tables began to fill up with an assortment of grandly moustachioed men and desperately over made-up women; musicians drifted up to the stage in ones and twos to fiddle noiselessly with their instruments for a few minutes before retiring to the bar; a couple of dancers attired in no more than a trio of strategically placed dairylea triangles of material and a surfeit of feathers sashayed across the dance floor before disappearing tantalisingly behind the stage. And all the while waiters slipped silently between the tables, filling drinks and lighting cigars.
But still there was no sign of anyone even remotely Sherlock Holmes-like. The longer we sat there the more the sly grin of Rodrigo began to play on my mind and the more I began to doubt our purpose. Michael tactfully refrained from making any comment. But he somehow managed to adopt an expression that quite plainly announced that he thought I was solely responsible for leading us on a wild goose chase and that it would be a very long time indeed before he would be prepared to forgive me for inflicting upon him an hour of Felicity Fortescue’s company for no good purpose.
Eventually I could take it no longer. I raised my hand and snapped my fingers and was rewarded with the instant appearance of Mario at my elbow.
“More drinks Senorita?” he said cheerfully.
“No thank-you,” I replied. “I just want to know if there is a man named Sherlock Holmes in the club this evening.”
The waiters at the Copacabana nightclub were clearly well drilled in the understanding that discretion was the essence of their business. Their tactful silence was a code of honour that should not be broken for any price. Names were never to be bandied, whereabouts absolutely, positively not to be revealed to anyone.
Fortunately for our purposes though Mario was a pretty appalling actor. The flash of recognition across his face and the sharp intake of breath had been giveaway enough but even so his feeble attempt at a nonchalant shrug was pretty unconvincing. “I know of no-one of that name,” he said uncertainly.
“We just want a brief word with him,” Michael gently explained.
“Senor Holmes is engaged on urgent business, not to be disturbed,” said Mario quickly. Then, realising, this rather gave the game away, he gave a short gasp of horror.
I laid a reassuring hand on his arm. “How about you go and tell Mr Holmes that we would like to speak to him and we won’t let on that you were the one who revealed his presence here?” I suggested.
Mario hovered uncertainly for a moment. “I will ask him, that is all,” he eventually muttered and scurried away unhappily.
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” I remarked triumphantly to Michael.
It was a good ten minutes before Mario returned, appearing out of nowhere while the band warmed up on stage. He leaned in close. “Senor Holmes offers apologies but he is too busy to see you right now,” he murmured in a low tone.
I looked at him in dismay. “Oh come on, you can do better than that,” I complained.
Mario shook his head insistently. “More drinks?” he hopefully suggested instead.
“Now what?” Michael looked at me expectantly.
I glanced around rather desperately for a moment. Then an idea struck me. “Pass me that napkin,” I instructed.
Fishing a pen out of the depths of my bag I hastily scribbled a note. Dear Mr Holmes, I need to see you urgently on a most pressing matter. An impenetrable mystery presents itself requiring the sharpest, most agile mind. Yours, Natasha Everingham. I signed it with a flourish and showed it to Michael.
“There. I think I’ve read enough Sherlock Holmes stories to know how to pitch it,” I said confidently.
Folding up the napkin, I handed it to Mario. He stood and looked at it unhappily for a moment.
“You’re sure you wouldn’t prefer another drink?” he tried.
I shook my head and shooed him away.
I sipped my cocktail with a confident smile whilst the band began their set with a few easy-going numbers. In a few minutes Mario returned. He presented me with a folded sheet of notepaper and then stepped back as though he had yet to convince himself the notepaper was not coated with dynamite.
I opened the note and smoothed it out on the table so that Michael could read it at the same time.
Dear Miss Everingham, My apologies but I am fully engaged with another case and so unable to spare your matter any attention at present. May I suggest you apply to Fortescue’s Fictional Detective Agency, 33 Calle San Miguel for assistance. Yours, S Holmes.
Instinctively I slammed the table in frustration, almost spilling my cocktail in the process. I had been convinced my note was perfectly calculated to draw his interest.
“More drinks Senorita?” suggested Mario optimistically.
I ignored him and turned to Michael. “Now, what do we do?” I complained. “I suppose we could always try to ambush him. There must be a back entrance to this place.”
Mario suddenly busied himself with wiping away an imaginary stain from the table, determined not to hear any more.
“No, there has to be an easier way,” said Michael. “What was it that Sherlock Holmes was supposed to be doing here anyway?”
I cast my mind back to the conversation with Rodrigo. “It was something about searching for a missing dancer,” I recalled.
“Okay, pass me the pen.” Michael took up a fresh napkin and wrote a very brief note. He passed it to me for inspection.
Mr Holmes, I have urgent information regarding the missing girl. Come quickly. M Redgrave.
“Oooh, sneaky,” I remarked, not without a note of admiration.
Michael folded over the napkin and passed it to Mario. Mario looked at it unhappily. “Are you sure you I can’t get you some more cocktails?” he asked regretfully.
I gave him a gentle shove and he trod wearily away with the note.
“Now, we’re in business,” said Michael.