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The Last Bookshop - The Man in the Bawdy House

The Last Bookshop - The Man in the Bawdy House

It is time for Harry to understand the Cremorne's intent, its demands unsettles them all.

Wisps of steam rose from the inky black and he looked into the swirling void.  Its juxtaposition with the anodyne white made it look more brooding and malevolent.  He wondered back to those dangerous days and how adversity threw them together. 

The teaspoon clattered against the saucer and he checked his wristwatch.  Yvette Piper was late and he had no idea why.  It did not take much these days to rile him into a heightened state of alertness.  Billeted near the door, Delilah sat at a table in a nondescript summer’s dress.  Pretending to read a book, sunglasses hid her eyes.  He could not see Esmerelda sat behind him.  Facing the door, she watched the wide glass frontage of the coffee shop.

Strains of jazz fluted its way above the chitchat and bounced off the minimalist half-tiled walls.  He hated jazz and he chided himself for choosing this place.

The ironic tinkle of the bell jarred his nerves and he looked to the door instantly.  A woman in a slender dark-grey dress made her way hesitantly through the islands of busy tables.  Carrying a tan document satchel, she looked into his eyes impassively.  Pretty in a plain conventional way, her lack of make-up suggested it might be her.  Her penchant for rough sex with total strangers suggested that it might not.

“Harry Coulter?”

He smiled, “Yes, and you must be Yvette Piper?”

“I am.”

He stood and offered his hand; she squeezed softly in a business-like handshake.  Attracting the attention of the waitress, she took Yvette’s order.

His arrangement with Yvette Piper was a distant memory until her telephone call yesterday.  Searching for Esmerelda months ago, he deconstructed the Cremorne for its names and places.  Turning to genealogy, he was no expert and quickly confused himself in an overload of information.  He needed the assistance of specialists.  Quickly, he learnt that the crème de la crème were the heir hunters – their expertise linked descendants to their rightful fortune.  It might have been a ruse as such but Harry was desperate.

Her warnings that results might take time were an anathema to his instant always-on world.  Yvette studied the research at his flat and quickly picked up the scent of a trail.  Happy to take it on, he paid her a retainer and she started work.

Finding Esmerelda, the tumultuous events of the Black Miasma, and their Communion pushed Yvette furthest from Harry’s thoughts.  Esmerelda needed help finding someone to manage the shop.  He absorbed himself with his new situation as a devotee of the Cremorne.  Delilah and Esmerelda recounted more and more stories as they searched for clues.  They fucked too, eager to sate each other and reduce themselves into a blissful contented haze.

At first, Harry did not recognise the effervescent voice on the other end of the phone.  He struggled to contain her enthusiasm.  Yvette emailed her report that described the disappearance of a ‘Mrs. Peabody’ and the discovery of her lady’s maid diary in the archives of a local museum.  It amused Delilah greatly and she requested a copy of it. 

Unwittingly, Yvette became the person on the outside to help them.  Her request for more funds was readily accepted and for weeks, a steady flow of information dropped into Harry’s inbox.  It added to the pile of unanswered questions.  What was clear from the diary was the interloper in the Peabody household.  ‘He’ corrupted them all, the diary tailed off with an entry that read remarkably like Chapter Sixty-One of the Cremorne: a chapter of guile and seduction.  His voraciousness only added to their concern.

Yvette’s phone call yesterday was terse with a hint of stress in her voice.  She requested a meeting as soon as possible and Harry acquiesced reluctantly.  It did nothing to alleviate the growing anxiety between the three of them.  Hastily, they agreed a plan, and each played to their strengths.  Mindful that ‘he’ could be poised to strike, they need a populated venue to deter any trouble.

Now, Yvette sat before him, apprehensive with a forced smile stuck to her face.  Harry looked at the thick sheaf of papers on the table.  This would require more coffee and perhaps even lunch.


Surging, his limbs struggled against the restraints.  Losing the fight against gravity, she took her fill, her heavy-lidded eyes closed, and her succulent full lips pouted.  A casual shuffle of her hips mashed the heat of her loins against him.  Esmerelda groaned deeply and bit her top lip to constrain herself.  Inhaling through flared nostrils, she stared at him determinedly, her eyes full of wonder as she squeezed his rampant girth.

Instinctively, electricity jolted his hips, and as she rose, he pressed his rigid flesh deep into her silken folds.  Confidently with slow undulations of her hips, she pressed firmly to defeat him. 

 “Just take it Harry, let it build…” she paused for a soft whimper, “let it build, be still.” 

Esmerelda enjoyed his expression of helplessness and with the spring in her thighs made her message clear.  Sinews tightened against his bonds and he stilled with a groan of frustration.  Softly caressing his face, she felt him yield to her intuition.  In this airless room, her hot skin caught a wisp of cool air.  Without further words, she steered herself upon him.  Writhing slowly, she nurtured the pressure that tightened her grip of his shaft.

Frantically, he pulled at his restraints and tightened himself taut as a board.  Collapsing into the bed, he turned to see Delilah watching them avidly.  Reclined in a chair, her legs propped on the low armrests, a solitary elegant finger rifled her sex.  Naked, she idly clasped her full breast and toyed with the erect stub of its nipple.

“Harry, you look fit to burst.  Explode inside her, despatch your essence and take your path to the Cremorne.  Your reward will be magnificent.”

With a fixed expression of incredulousness and intense arousal, Harry groaned in frustration.  He flailed against his bonds, the device to provoke his savage arousal, and the means to contain his reaction to the Cremorne’s intent.

Esmerelda leant in and brushed her body against his.  Reaching out, the headboard felt warm in her clenched fingers.  Braced on outstretched arms, her exertion warmed the floral notes of her perfume and she lifted her hips.  Pushing down, his whole length grazed her swollen muscles and forced out a tirade of soft yelps.  Her nipples swept against his body and fed that longing ache for an intense climax.  

Denied for four long days, he felt so hot and thick between her thighs.  His abstinence was her abstinence and as she writhed above him, she plunged down to fill her sensitive sex.  Whatever the Cremorne was, Harry’s prone body would be a living sacrifice.  Esmerelda would deliver him personally to its intent as a majestic offering to please the enchantment they endured.

His shallow breaths and heavy groans matched her soft whimpers.  The wet friction of his smooth pubis threatened to unlock the tension in her loins.  She reached out to him with her thoughts, at that moment of release; they would visit the Cremorne together.  The soothing comfort of Esmerelda’s embrace would ease his lingering concerns.

She felt the swell in his girth and took him again completely.  Its hot swollen flesh pressed snugly against all the engorged nerve endings of her sex.  Her knuckles whitened as she gripped the wizened dark oak of the headboard tighter.

That coiled pressure, pulsating and aching felt so familiar; the deft nuance of her self-control put it on a collision course with Harry’s own climax.  She would steer herself upon him to release everything in one exultant moment.  Behind closed eyelids, tiny explosions of light matched the deep throb of every heavy heartbeat. 

Blurry at first, her eyes focussed and Harry’s eyes widened.  He looked upon her in awe, “I… I love you Esmerelda.”

A slow lingering kiss opened his mouth.  She took him fully to provide the inspiration for release; their tongue slid against each other and stifled their moans.  The hard jolt from her core broke their kiss; unable to constrain it any longer, it brought her to a juddering halt. 

“I…I love you Harry.  Do… do it, fill me and embark on your voyage.”

Seized muscles laboured with every jagged undulation of her hips.  Soft convulsions rose in amplitude to seize his shaft.  Her staccato yelps grew in volume as her release rushed forth. 

His gaze did not leave hers as the waves of tension juddered through him like a rock dropped into a still pond.  A heavy wail followed as his lurching spasms fought the vice-grip of her sex.  On her haunches, its latitude made him cannon his twitching penis into her.  Groaning deeply, Esmerelda convulsed, this tumultuous ebb and flow instinctively crashed their bodies against each other.  Dropping down hard on top of his flailing body, she shook and held onto the headboard like a piece of flotsam in a stormy sea.

They quietened slowly, their groans eased until only the sound of hurried breathing filled the room.

Through Delilah’s eyes, she bore testimony to a carnal act far beyond that of the push and shove.  She witnessed two devout lovers that sought to protect everything they revered in each other.  She understood now why he was the rightful presence that gave balance to the powers of the Cremorne.


An acrid smell of coal and sulphur lingered in the close humid air.  Awkward feet traversed mortared cobbles and the bilious sound of pressure hissed and wheezed into the distance.  Clipped sounds of heavy heels announced each step and the ripe smell of organic waste rose on the swirling breeze.  He skipped to the kerbstone, eruditely fashioned by steam chisels to the evenness of new stone slabs. 

Walking through the ornate ironwork entrance, he lingered to sample the perfume of cut grass as the perfect antidote to the vapours of this sooty mechanical world.  A whistle of gas and a hirsute man in a stout woollen jacket grappled with his short ladder.  He paused and watched the naked flame on a long copper rod ignite the streetlamp. 

His own tight-fitting jacket and waistcoat provided little flexibility to wave his arms in a more confident stride.  The courteous nod of a passer-by with a finely presented lady on his arm compelled him to reciprocate their felicitation.  Tipping the stiff brim of his hat, it jolted uncomfortably back onto his head.  He felt unused to it, stiff with starch and its wired lining.

Looking forwards, the gardens opened out to its attendees and this pageant of London fashions.  Pastel dresses and worsted suits enjoyed an evening’s promenade.  Bodices trimmed with lace shaded many a décolletage of milky white skin.  Cinched waists flared into ruffles of silk and fine cotton lace.  He walked amongst the planeurs, furtive and aloof, the observers and artists.  Scattered amidst the respectable, the demi-monde, ladies of a dubious social standing available for more than an evening’s walk. 

Stoutly, his spine stiff, he walked above reproach through the attractions.  Cremorne Gardens was a place to meet and a place to seek carnal adventure.

He saw her, strikingly beautiful as the possession of a redoubtable man.  A gentleman, tall, unyielding, and steeped in the probity of his high status.  Her elegant fingers visible through a cuff of pearl lace rested on his arm.  Her rouged lips did not falter, yet he knew they barely contained her whimpers.  Her eyes, vivid and fresh betrayed her demeanour.  He knew them as the windows to her blackened soul.  Under the watchful eyes of the planeurs, she walked passed him unnoticed.  She stared through him as he walked on, their secret designs for each other intact.

The faintest crease of his lips barely altered his aloof poise.  She might contain her urges beneath a veneer of respectability, yet he knew different.  For six tawdry months, he corrupted her whilst maintaining his own façade of propriety.  She gave him everything he craved and endured everything he desired with relish.  A sixpenny whore was harder to convince.

He felt for her a hostile weariness; she was not the first nor the second and there was no thrill in the sport any more.  He did this merely out of boredom and a need for corruptible fresh meat.  He enjoyed how he poisoned their intuition, gloried in how they flailed in turmoil, and then revelled in their tailspin towards self-destruction.  At that moment, he would take their souls as ammunition to exact his revenge. 

His hackles rose so powerfully that he made a fist with both hands, those treacherous bitches: the one that he jilted and the other he sought to train as her successor.  He frowned momentarily and seized on his sense of decorum.  Still, he knew now to keep a closer eye on his students and keep them at the teat, compliant and addicted to his wicked poison. 

Attracting the attention of two ladies, he smiled as they sauntered passed with their parasols raised.  Outwardly, they looked respectable, inside; their harlotry provided only a crumb of satisfaction.  He craved the noxious tinctures of perversion to sate the growling voice within.  Answering its call, he eschewed the bothersome need for careful seduction.  Tonight, he would alight a taxi to an upmarket bawdy house.  Young and compliant, the procurement of another soul to mentor and corrupt would sate his ire and banish his boredom.


Through narrowed eyes, drunk on lust and brandy, the rump of a maiden provided the perfect antidote to his indifference.  Feeling his loins surge, he looked down to the delicate mouth that comforted his rising penis with a slow languid rhythm.  He liked her talent as she looked into his eyes adoringly, this one showed promise.

The riding crop smacked on the maiden’s behind and forced out a yelp.  He watched the pink welt blush her porcelain skin.  Tapping with the crop, she opened her thighs obediently.  Lifting her derriere, it tightened the taut flesh of her behind and revealed the flush of her unsullied vulva.  Dragging the crop up and down her slit, she flinched with a whimper.  Her sex glistened in the diffused light of the chandeliers and he instructed his favourite to make her ready.  He cared not where she placed that scarlet pointed tongue but he enjoyed their Sapphic encounter nonetheless.

Looking across the room, the low light rippled against the sea of flesh and the slow rhythm of its many carnal acts.  The boudoir groaned and sighed as the harlots indulged the vices of every patron.  For six guineas, he could suckle the breasts, fuck, and bugger some of the freshest new whores that the Bawd had to offer. 

He looked into the soulless eyes of their keeper, a thin wrench dressed in the finery of a lady sucked dry by the exertions of men.  Gazing at the coins, he lingered at their lustre and their crested decoration.  Their hue lit his fingers as he pondered his avarice.  The growling inside shook him from his distraction and he handed twelve coins into her grasping hand.  Looking into her eyes, she had better spend them quickly; he would be back to retrieve them soon.

Revelling in the vexed expressions of less wealthier men, he kept all the immaculate whores for himself.  Fresh as virginal brides on their day of matrimony, their elfin bodies would be a circus of depravity.  All of their predilections revealed to him with one gaze into their moonstruck eyes – he despised them all.  He demanded that they stripped themselves naked and tested their sense of shame immediately.  One stood out above them all - his new favourite.  A pretty blonde-haired girl, slight with a taut frame, lithe flanks and candy pink erect nipples on two perfect full breasts.

Raised to its sturdiest ire, the full tilt of his erection swayed between his legs.  Impeccably, his favourite stroked it first, and then guided it into the maiden’s liquid cunny.  With a swish of the crop on her behind, the maiden twitched and bore down on his half-embedded length with a squeal.  Taking her virginity so callously, his intuition roared with pleasure.  The reflex of his hips sampled her tightness and she squealed when he impaled her fully.

He firmly fucked the virginity out of her.  Enjoying her whimpers, he tired of her passivity and sense of awe.  The pucker of her last unsullied hole looked too inviting and the summit of his deviancy challenged him.  Instructing his favourite, her long pointed tongue obediently wettened it. 

Withdrawing his penis, another whore promptly addressed it with her slight mouth.  Barely able to take its swell, he enjoyed the stifled choking noises she made.  Thrusting harder, she retched and gagged on it as a lesson in oral pleasure.

His favourite looked into his eyes and smiled with approval.  Taking him in hand, she squeezed his resolute erection to end her ordeal.  The slight creature gasped for air and fell from her haunches to cough and retch on her hands and knees.  She might be in the perfect position to take from behind; she would not be so lucky yet.  No, he looked to his favourite, a comely slender thing with his length in hand, and he felt her desire.  She relished this line of work and he spoke to her without words; she accepted her position as his new courtesan.

Hot muggy air heated by fevered bodies clung to his wet skin and a sickly sweet incense filled his nostrils.  Smiling wickedly, his favourite adjusted their charge to the perfect position.  Holding his fully erect shaft, she squared it to deflower her second hole.  With a squeal, she reared up and yelped for quick snatches of air.  Tight as only virgin could be, he plundered her snug anus with a casual rhythm. 

His harlots surrounded him, their hands, soft and warm caressed his body and marked him with tender sucking kisses.  Novices they might be but well taught in all the places that gave a man stimulation.  His first release would be a quick and blessed affair. 

Sodomy and the lash he remarked with another deft snap of the crop.  Driving into her firmly, she squealed louder and her involuntarily muscles squeezed on his entombed length.  Another smack from the crop and she bore down on him helplessly with a yelp.  With each thrust, he punctuated it with a lash until his cries joined hers.  Fully penetrated, the welcoming pulses of his orgasm rushed forward.  His favourite pressed her mouth against his, her eager tongue musked with the virgin’s juices tipped him over the edge.  Stuttering from pulsing loins, he evacuated his boiling sperm into her behind.

The night young and his ardour temporarily blunted, he collapsed into a chair.  Waving his hand, they bathed him with soft damp towels and sought to calm his intemperateness.  Another simple gesture carried its powerful message and the harem took to each other.  The soft graze of their lips and their caress quickly descended into a voyeuristic spectacle to please their master. 

She caught his gaze, the wilful one, so youthful with a lust that belied her years.  Their stare lingered as her lips pursed around her lover’s clitoris.  Her tongue thrashed like an eel, her eyes sparkled as he witnessed the birth of a new disciple.  His gaze bore into her and unlocked her infinite abilities.

The blackness came suddenly as if snuffed out by an demonic wind.  Screams and the fear that only pain could deliver shook at his state of unconsciousness.

“Once you were like him and now you are redeemed.  Summon the fellowship; it is time to end his perversion.  In the pages of my book, you will know the words for they are numbers.  The Guardian and the Muse are at your service; protect them both for they are blessed.”


Yvette turned the page of her notes, “After Constance Peabody disappeared, Mr. Peabody passed away only a few years later.  His will bequeathed everything to a Mr. Burne-Jones.  He is listed in the census of Eighteen Sixty-One as a preacher’s son.  I can only conclude that Mr. Peabody left everything to the Church.”

“A preacher’s son? Oh.”  Harry’s expression flickered and he inhaled sharply to compose himself.

Yvette sensed his concern, “There’s more Harry.”

Her lower tone seemed to empathise and he paused for a moment to organise his thoughts. 

He demurred to her and gestured with his hand, “Please Yvette, continue.”

Solemnly, she recounted a story - a trial at the Old Bailey.  Witnesses reported him leaving ‘a house of ill-repute’ with a young woman.  Hearing dreadful screams from its open windows, they went to investigate.  They found over fifty souls lifeless where they fell, all dead through asphyxiation.  Held by the crowd, the Police later found him in his possession of forty guineas and sixty crowns.  They arrested Nathaniel Burne-Jones, the son of a preacher, and charged him with robbery and murder.  The subsequent trial scandalised London.

Harry forced himself to blink, his leaden body felt suddenly cold.  It matched the intent of the Cremorne precisely.  He had a name and his modus operandi too; Yvette had found ‘him’, Nathaniel Burne-Jones.  He reeled inside yet he would not flinch and reveal his feelings.  Putting down his cutlery, his stomach lurched and a swell of melancholia swept through him.  Sickened with dread, he felt a second cold pall wash through his body.

“Carbonic gas,” she muttered lowly.

He frowned, “Sorry?”

“His defence contested that nobody could suffocate so many people so quickly and without a single mark on any of them.  During that time, workers digging foundations and tunnels regularly died through exposure to these gas pockets.  Close to the, erm, house, there were foundational works being dug.  The jury agreed and acquitted him.”

Harry stuttered, “Oh… Oh I see.”

“I know, quite a shock isn’t it?”

He shrugged and tried to hold a smile, “Phew, yes it is.”

Her look of reverence seemed heartfelt, “It ruined Mr. Burne-Jones’ reputation, easily done in Victorian times.  It was a time of extremes.  On one hand, many young women in London were there for only one reason, on the other; a societal need existed to keep it all out of sight and out of mind.  I imagine this conflagration is the original source of your family’s dispute?”

He looked up and into her eyes, “Well, it certainly explains a great deal.  Do you know what became of him?”

“Well, he did not disappear like Mrs. Peabody.  He seemed to have shrugged off his misfortune and spent the rest of his days as a metals trader.  Gold made the world go round and he did very well for himself.  He died a rich man, his probate cited as much.”

“He left a will then?”

Yvette smiled, “Yes, although I have bad news.”


“Yes, sadly, you are not an inheritor of either the Peabody or Burne-Jones estate.”

Harry worked hard to feign surprise, “Oh I see.”

“Yes, I kept investigating and Mr. Burne-Jones is listed in the Eighteen Seventy-one census as a metals broker.  He travelled extensively, he appears in many passenger manifests of the time and he was certainly quite well-off.  He came back to London at the turn of the twentieth century and passed away shortly afterwards.  He must have known because his affairs were very tidy, very efficient.”

“Thanks. I feel like I have wasted your time.”  Harry tried to infer a sense of disappointment.

Yvette smiled, “Don’t be, ‘bona vacantia’ happens more often that you think.  Without the diary of the lady’s maid, this would still remain a mystery.  If you go back far enough, probate records provide the start of the trail.”

“Yeah, it was a bit of a long shot.  Memories fade, facts become lost in time.”

“Well, to make absolutely sure, I checked all the probate records right up to the present day.  The current inheritors are still in London.  If you are really into your family history, you could always get in touch.”

Harry shook his head, “I’m not especially,” he paused, “No offense.  I’m sure they are too busy for that anyway.”

Yvette met his eyes, “Fair enough.  Well, if you want to know, money did not seem to bring them much in the way of happiness.  They bequeathed their estate outside of their families because they had to.  All of them died childless and alone.”


She paused, “I see this sometimes, and money comes between people.  The last executors in Nineteen Ninety-Two dealt with an estate worth just over four million pounds.  The current inheritor lives alone too.  You could well be right, it might be best to leave this alone.”

Harry took a sip of water, “Thank you Yvette, you have been very thorough.  Finally, I can lay some old ghosts to rest.”


On a close day in the balmy summer heat of mid-afternoon, the half-opened velvet curtains laid still.  They dared not open the windows any further.  A tall antiquated fan span lazily in a vain effort to move the air.  Harry took a gulp of frigid liquid from his heavy crystal tumbler.

In the sitting room, each of them read a piece of Yvette’s research; it gave them a scintilla of hope in understanding what to do next.  Its timing was fortuitous; the intent of the Cremorne placed a strain on their dynamic.  It had spoken and Harry had to complete its instructions or he would not be able to join them.  It churned up past events and emotions with a visceral intensity once forgotten. 

Of course, they had all used the same trick described in Yvette’s research, and they both told him it was easy.  Obtain a birth certificate of somebody who died very young.  Assume their identity, live your life and many years later, obtain a death certificate.  Bribery or fraternisation with the criminal community worked very well for a price.  Submitted to the authorities, the subsequent will bequeathed everything you owned to yourself under a new identity.  It would be irrelevant how many aliases you had in your lifetime; you always revealed your identity when you collected on our own estate.  It left a trace as a matter of public record.

Nathaniel Burne-Jones was their man, until only a few days ago, neither Esmerelda nor Delilah had ever heard that name.

Delilah put the page back in its folder, “Mmm, I admit Ms. Piper is very thorough.  Of course, we all got away with it until they closed the loophole about ten years ago.”

Esmerelda shrugged, “Now I know who he was and who he is now, I do not like this one bit.”

She tried not to look too alarmed at the discovery laid out in these pages.  Trying to hide it, it was a brave act when they could both sense her fear.

Delilah smiled sympathetically at her, “Esmerelda, we know who he is and he’s stuck just like us according to this.  Unmarried, fifty-seven and a commodities broker.  He is unmarried, that part is true, but he is really twenty-five and a mass murderer.  If Harry does not stop him, he cannot join us.  The Cremorne’s intent was clear enough on that fact.”

Esmerelda shrugged.

Harry handed Delilah another sheet of paper, “This is what I obtained yesterday.  Two changes of name by deed poll and here is his last entry on the electoral register and a search on the land registry.  It’s from last year; we are as close as we will ever get to him.”

She peered at the sheet, “Ah, the Queen of the Suburbs, he always liked it around there, town for whores, country virgins for new disciples.”

She huffed, shook her head, and took a sip of her drink, “Y’know, I’m actually disappointed in him.  Dominic Carshalton, what a name, he sounds like a quack doctor.”

Esmerelda put down her glass, “Don’t be Delilah, I saw what Harry saw and heard what the Cremorne said too.  He is the most evil filth.  To think I have laid with him makes me feel deeply uneasy.  I just wish we understood what the Cremorne meant by ‘words for they are numbers’.”

Delilah raised an eyebrow at her, “Laid with him?  I wish I just did that, I helped him procure new victims.  I did everything he demanded and you were in love with him.”

“I do not need to be reminded of that.”  Esmerelda’s tone carried a hint of irritation.

Harry looked down at the report on the coffee table and a printed location map of Carshalton’s address, he stared at its top right hand corner.

Peering in closer, he put down his glass and picked it up, “Delilah?”

The two of them were bickering.


She did not hear him; the bickering was close to another argument.


“Harry! What is it!?”

“What was the last message from someone seeking communion?  Can you remember it?”

Delilah scoffed, “What do you want to know that for?”

“Please,” he shifted to a pleading tone; he had no desire to join in with the brooding row, “What did they say?”

Delilah paused for a moment and mouthed the words, “Dearest Lady, we shall see the performance together at the theatre of seagulls.  The carnation seller will be there to help me choose a pretty flower for your hair.”

“Is that exactly it?” asked Harry

“Yes, word perfect.” snapped Delilah.

He left them to their bickering and grabbed a sheet of paper.  He muttered the words under his breath and scribbled them down.  The bickering did not escalate as they watched Harry spring from his chair and grab his laptop.  He picked up his copy of the Cremorne still muttering to himself.

He wrote it out again and screwed up the previous sheet of paper, “Ok, not the adjectives or verbs.”

The pencil flew to circle words and he tapped on his laptop.  Smiling, he left it perched on his lap as he picked up the Cremorne.

Harry thumbed through it, “Tell me Esmerelda, when the fellowship scattered.  What was the only thing they had in common?  What was the one thing they all had?”

She stopped mid-sentence in a retort to an increasingly vexed Delilah, “Erm, they were devotees, they understood and followed the teachings.  Why are you asking this now?”

Harry smiled, “How did they understand the teachings?”

Still bewildered, Esmerelda shrugged, “They followed the…” she paused and her eyes widened, “the book… the book!”

Delilah rose from her chair, “What have you found Harry?”

“Well, the message is obvious if you know that words can be numbers.  Whoever it is, he is seeking a woman.  Consider just the nouns, lady, performance, theatre, seagulls, carnation, flower, and hair.  You don’t need to understand the message.”

He paused as he tapped on his laptop and then picked up the Cremorne.

“Okay, page six, chapter three, row six, word forty-eight.”

He wrote it down, “When I scanned the images for my folder, I kept the files.  It took a little mucking about but I transposed it in the end.”

Delilah screwed up her nose, “In English please?”

“I can search the Cremorne on my laptop and then use the actual book to double check.”


He ran through each of the words, scribbling down numbers for all of them.  He tried different numbers until he looked at them both, his mouth open and his eyes wide.

“I’ve got it.  Look!”

He wheeled his laptop around for them to see, “Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris.  It’s the number of the word on the page, it’s the nouns.  You just choose a noun to start with and flick through the book until you find where it appears first, then count the nouns until you find the next noun and so on.  It’s longitude and latitude.  It’s not all that precise and that is when you need to understand the message.”

Esmerelda smiled, “She’ll wear a carnation in her hair.”

Harry looked at Delilah, “Was that a recent one and did anyone reply?”

She smiled, “It was last month and yes, someone did, very cryptically.”

“What was it?”

“Hang on… okay.”  Delilah paused, “She is there because the river does not flood the road.  Take me to see her tomorrow and we can enjoy lunch as we watch the boats sail by.” 

“She, river, road, tomorrow can be a noun; lunch can be a noun, picnic, and boats.”

They paused silently as Harry studiously wrote down more numbers.

“Rue Paul Riquet, Beziers, France.”

“Notre Dame, Paris, lunchtime tomorrow! Probably walking over one of the bridges to get there. A bridge close to a café or restaurant!” exclaimed Esmerelda.

Harry leant in to kiss her, “It’s their way of checking that the person replying is a legitimate devotee.  Walking over the bridge might give them a way to check who it is before they meet them.  How many of these messages do you get Delilah?”

She shrugged, “About one a week, I used to write them down but we gave up years ago trying to understand what they meant.  Do you think ‘him’, I mean Dominic, can understand them?”

Harry shrugged, “Well, they did not tell you this code did they?  And you could not break it could you?”

Delilah frowned, “No, they did not.  They thought we were his accomplices.”

Harry blew out his cheeks, “Well, it’s possible he might.  I think if the devotees keep a list of where people are they can check as they move about by sending messages to each other.  They can communicate and have been for years.  You could seek a communion, warn others, or just call in to say they are fine or even if they have moved address.  How long have you been getting these kinds of messages?”

Delilah shook her head, “A very long time, ever since they fled in the Eighteen-Sixties.”

“I should take a look at them.”

Esmerelda looked at them, “We should send our own message first.  The intent of the Cremorne was clear; we have to assemble the fellowship.”

Delilah smiled, “Yes, we should.”

They needed to agree where they would meet; the safest place was here at Delilah’s house.  Her power as Guardian made this a sanctuary.  Agreeing quickly, they worked together diligently for hours.  They needed to construct the semantics and the nouns to convey the nuances needed.  They needed to work their location into the message too.

They worked and reworked it until dusk; they stared at it, and looked at each other.  Smiling, they nodded their heads silently - it was agreed.

Esmerelda still had her doubts, “Really? You think they will understand the literal meaning of the word ‘nought’.  It doesn’t appear in the Cremorne.”

Delilah sighed, “They’ll have to, there is no way of showing ‘zero’ in the code.”

Harry flicked through the messages that Delilah wrote down many years ago, “They used it to denote London, and it is on zero degrees longitude.”

“But what if they think it’s Carshalton?” asked Esmerelda.

Delilah smiled, “Then we will not get a single reply, and we try again.  We need to think of one thing that we know and he does not.”

They stopped as Harry read through more of the old messages.

Esmerelda fidgeted and fizzed with excitement, “I know what we can do, I know! The cellar door in the garden! He never went down there, he… oh I’ve got it! I’ve got it!”

Harry reached out to her, “What, what is it?”

“He hates rats and never went anywhere near the cellar.  We used the cellar door to avoid approaching the front of the house.  We had a special knock, a tap, four taps, two taps, then three taps.  All of us knew that.  We can refer to it in the message!”

“Okay, I’ve got it, just let me rework it a little.”

Watching Harry, he found a noun and then worked it through.

“There,” Harry slumped back into his chair, “now they will know it is us.

Esmerelda peered in, “For the secret knock on the door, bring your ears.  The time of thinking has passed.  For nought, the woman on the island speaks for us all.”

Delilah leant in to read it, “Perfect.”

Esmerelda nodded, “Yes, perfect.”

Harry looked to Delilah, “Ready?”

A wry smile creased her lips, “Oh yes Harry, I’m ready.  Let’s do it.”




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