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…"

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