The owl gazed at Dr Beck with eyes as inscrutable as time itself. For his part, Beck stared back with his one open eye full of confusion and sleep. He propped himself up on his elbows and blinked a few times. The owl sitting on the back of his chair failed to vanish and instead stared coolly back him.
“Erm, hello?” Beck mumbled. The owl blinked once very, very slowly. “You’re one of the Mayor’s owls, aren’t you? One of his messengers?”. Blink. Beck stood up and gingerly walked towards the owl as if it were a fiver pound note on a windowsill in danger of blowing away. The owl just sat and watched him. “Do, er, do you have a message for me then?”. Blink. Beck waited. The owl watched him. Beck shuffled his feet a little. The owl tipped his head almost imperceptibly in such a way as to make Beck feel decidedly nervous. “If you do, may I have the message, please?” he asked. The owl did nothing for a very, very log second before tucking its beak under its wing and pulling something small out from its feathers and flicking it towards Beck. The still sluggish doctor missed it and it fell to the floor at his feet. He bent to examine it and saw it was a small, folded piece of paper roughly half an inch square and one eighth of an inch think. “Thank you. Does the Mayor expect a rep…?” he stopped as his hair was ruffled a sudden breeze and he looked up to see a small cloud of soot fall from his chimney as the owl left. “…ly. I’ll take that a no, then” he completed to himself. He looked at the paper in his hand for several seconds before unfolding it. It was a letter from the Mayor himself, handwritten in his swirling spidery script…
To: Dr. R. Beck.
No. 13 Shamian Alley, Shanghai, Stlhd.
Following your rather vocal appeals to the citizens and civic leaders of New Babbage over the recent incident involving one Captain Kuroe I have been visited by a representative of Mayor Tenk who wished to discuss the matter as well as possible solutions.
To cut a long tale short the accused will receive a fair trial in a location still to be decided (although I favour Steeltopia, it is possible that Caledon may be chosen). In the meantime, and following rumours not only of limb amputation but also of beatings meted out to the prisoner, I have agreed you will travel to the William Wilde Hospital in New Babbage and act as his personal physician and, after a fashion, his guard until the trial is completed and justice seen to be done.
I realise you are a busy man and therefore I have booked you on the noon steamer from Steelhead Harbour to Clockhaven.
Travel well and I know I need not remind you to uphold the proud reputation of our city at all times and be the best ambassador we can expect, so I won’t.
Mayor of Steelhead & Environs.
Beck read and re-read the letter several times as the full weight of its message sunk in. He had to go back to Clockhaven. Today. Now. He had to pack. He had to be ready and on that steamer in time, Steelhead was counting on him. “Oh God, I need a cup of tea,” was all he could say.
Half an hour after the Clockhaven Queen had paddled away from Steelhead and out to sea with a nervous Beck onboard a tall, worried Chinese man was knocking on the locked surgery door. He was scared and upset. Back at home his wife had sunk further in to the darkest places of her mind and had become all but lost to him. He was sure she was in danger from herself and he needed the English doctor to come and help. The doctor had been so good to his wife since their child had been snatched and killed. The doctor would be able to help. The man knocked louder, “Dr Beck! Dr Beck! Li Fe father! You come help Dr Beck! Please come help!”
To be continued…
All the “Snatched From Steelhead” posts can be read here.
Links to other blogs and stories:
1) The background to the Ashiko Kuroe case can be found here.
2) Captain Kuroe’s letter to Steelhead can be read here.
3) The appointment of Mr Byron Wexhome by Mayor Tenk can be found here.
4) Mr Wexhome’s initial investigations can be read here and here.
5) Mr Wexhome’s proposed Plan can be read here.
6) The terrible tale of poor Li Fe can be read here.
7) Dr Beck’s near-fatal last trip to Clockhaven is journaled here.