Monday, 31 December 2007

Episode Two: The Crimson Kipper

Kings Cross can be a forbidding place at any time of day. At eleven o'clock on a Friday evening, it is positively unnerving. Gaudy neon lights flashed over darkened doorways. Green-eyed, snarling dogs scavenged among the litter. Dark, human-like shapes cackled and hooted from the depths of the labyrinthine alleyways.

At first Chelsea had assumed that her unknown admirer might be planning a tryst on one of the overnight sleeper trains departing from Kings Cross station. But there was no departure at eleven o'clock. The first train after the specified time was the 11:03 to Chipplestoke-in-the-Mire, but that had no dining carriage. She had next turned to the restaurant listings of Yellow Pages. Within moments, she had discovered precisely what she was looking for.

In a narrow passageway leading off a side-lane, deep within the maze of sordid little alleyways which sprout like fungus around the diseased heart of Kings Cross, Chelsea now stood in front of a squalid little fish restaurant named The Crimson Kipper.

A dismal light shone through the greasy, steam-streaked windows of the restaurant. As she pushed open the front door a small bell tinkled harshly and a large dog growled in a back room. Aside from a few fat bluebottles buzzing around the desiccated scraps of food on the bare-topped tables, the Crimson Kipper appeared to be deserted.

But appearances can be deceptive.

"You lookin' for something, love?" - the voice rumbled out of the darkness in tune with the growling of the dog.

"I believe I have a dinner appointment," Chelsea said uncertainly.

A large man in impressively stained off-white overalls emerged through the door connecting the restaurant to its kitchen. "We're closed," he snarled and then, eyeing her slowly from head to toe, added, "But I might be prepared to see what I can do for someone as lovely as you, my dear."

"What you can do," said Chelsea, delicately seizing the man by the neck and pressing her thumb against his artery using a secret Aikijitsu death grip, "Is tell me everything you know, and quickly. In two seconds you will lose consciousness. In five seconds you will be dead."

"Ggggghhhhhh…" said the fat man. Chelsea loosened her grip slightly.

"OK, OK," he said, rubbing his throat and wincing, "Gawd luv-a-duck, where did you learn a nasty little trick that?"

"You'd be surprised what you pick up in hairdressing," Chelsea said.

"You," rasped the man, "Must be Miss Bunn. Miss Chelsea Bunn. You should have said. If I'd known, I'd never have given you no bother. Fat Frank knows better than to mess around with an homicidal hairdresser. I got a parcel for you is what I got." He took a small brown-paper package from an inside pocket. Chelsea brushed off a piece of battered fish and examined the package closely. There was no writing upon it. But there was perfume. It smelled quite strongly of sandalwood and coffee.

"Who brought this?" she asked.

"Just a courier," he said, "Some fella on a bike. Something a bit funny about him, there was."

"Hooked nose, black leather, dark glasses?"

"You know him?" asked Fat Frank.

"No," said Chelsea, "Just a lucky guess." - She tore open the envelope and discovered, inside, a small paper package wrapped in a single piece of vellum upon which was written a message in lilac ink. It said simply: "You disappoint me, Miss Bunn. I deliver you a victim, but you pursue a red herring. Your incompetence has already cost one life. Tomorrow it will cost another. Ah well, if it doesn't rain it pours."

She saw now that the package contained a half pound of Arabica coffee beans wrapped in glossy red paper. It bore the label of "Hiram Hartleberry-Smythe's Malabar Emporium (Coffee Purveyors, By Appointment)". At the bottom edge of the label, someone had written: "Two wrongs for Two Rites?"

"How very intriguing," said Chelsea…

Sunday, 30 December 2007

The Case Of The Poison Kipper: Episode One

It had been a hard day at the salon. As Chelsea Bunn unlocked the door to her luxury apartment in Tipplestone Mews, she was dreaming of a hot bath and a cold Singapore Sling. But Destiny had other plans for her. For, though she did not know it, she was about to embark upon the most perilous adventure in her entire career as hairdresser and detective.

Chelsea locked the door behind her, kicked off her shoes and was just sinking into the sumptuous comfort of her Chinese opium couch when there came a knock at the door. Peering through the security peephole into the passageway, she saw a tall figure wearing dark glasses, a motorcycle helmet and an unusual quantity of black leather. Chelsea, who had always suffered from a weakness for black leather, flicked off the safety chain in an instant, opened the door and sighed languorously, "Good evening, what can I do for you?"

"Delivery for Miss Bunn," a thin, high voice said over the sound of creaking leather.

"At your service," Chelsea said, somewhat less languorously than before.

"Then, Madam, the delivery would seem to be for you. Good heavens! Hon-Sing!"

"I beg your pardon?," said Chelsea.

"The Opium Couch," said the bike-boy, "I assure you, Madam, it is an authentic Hon-Sing. The ball-and-dragon-claw legs are quite unmistakable."

An expert on Opium couches? thought Chelsea, How very curious.

The bike-boy moved with the mincing grace of a predatory bird tiptoeing around a fresh cadaver. With his large, hooked nose, he looked remarkably like an effeminate vulture.

"A Hon-Sing?" Chelsea said, "I say! Is it awfully valuable?"

"Valuable?" the bike-boy laughed, "No, no, not at all. It's a complete fake. Hon-Sing is one of the best forgers in the business. Sells to collectors in Hong Kong and Beijing mostly. His real name's Ron Smith. Has a workshop in East Grinstead. Makes a small fortune out of carving authentic Yuan and Qing Dynasty artefacts and flogging them off to anyone gullible enough to stump up the cash."

Chelsea said nothing. And she said it pointedly.

"But I digress," went on the bike-boy, "I've come here to deliver a package for Miss Bunn and deliver it I shall. Sign here please."

Chelsea signed her name on a slip of paper embossed with the heading:

"Hiram Hartleberry-Smythe's Malabar Emporium
(For the gentleman who has given everything)"

The parcel was about two-feet square and wrapped in waxed brown paper. "I do hope you like it, Madam," squawked the bike-boy.

"Thank you, I'm sure I shall," said Chelsea, "Good night."

"Good night, Madam. If there's anything else you require, just say the word. We aim to cater for all tastes…."

Chelsea smiled noncommittally and closed the door. As the sounds of creaking leather echoed away down the corridor, she took a paper-knife from her desk and carefully cut open the parcel. Inside was a cardboard box bearing the ornate logo of the Malabar Emporium. Chelsea took off the lid. The box contained a small and exquisite carving of a boat with a long, thin prow like the neck of a swan. The spicy smell of the wood struck her at once. It was undoubtedly sandalwood.

She lifted the carving out of the box. Resting on the deck of the boat was a single, glossy white flower which Chelsea recognised as the bloom of the Frangipani tree. Whoever had sent the gift was clearly familiar with her groundbreaking work in the science of follicular emollients. Chelsea's fame had begun with her influential paper on 'The Essential Oils of Frangipani (Plumeria rubra) and Their Efficacy in the Treatment of Split Ends' and had culminated with the recent launch of her exclusive range of Bunnz Salon Specialities hairdressing products.

Chelsea took the flower out of the box and tucked it behind her ear. It was only then that she noticed the small folded note in the bottom of the boat. Opening the note she discovered a message written in a spidery Copperplate hand and a peculiarly lurid shade of lilac ink. "Dinner for One," it said, "Kings X. Eleven. No kippers for Miss Bunn."

Chelsea smiled to herself. "Kippers at King's Cross," she mused. "How very intriguing…"

Saturday, 29 December 2007


As the biographer of Chelsea Bunn, the world famous hairdresser and detective, I am inevitably privy to information which, were it to enter the public domain, would rock nations and cause empires to tremble. You will understand, therefore, the solemn duty of discretion which must seal my lips and still my pen at certain moments in the narratives which I shall shortly lay before your eyes.

If, from time to time, I introduce a name or a location which is at variance with the truth of the events themselves, I trust that you will forgive me. Such fabrications, I assure you, will be slight and they will have no bearing upon the drama of the momentous events which I shall unfold.

There can be no doubt that the career of Chelsea Bunn is uniquely dramatic and remarkable. That she should have gained world renown in the unforgivingly competitive world of hairdressing is, in itself, an extraordinary accomplishment; that she should also have risen to the apex of excellence in the arts of criminal detection is an accomplishment unparalleled in modern times.

It is with due humility, then, that I offer such small talents as I have at my command to bring to the general public the hitherto unknown facts of some of the most extraordinary adventures from the casebook of Chelsea Bunn.

I shall commence with the one of the most extraordinary adventures of all - the Case of the Poison Kipper...