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Vernon and Harverd: As the Singers Do

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    Vernon and Harverd: As the Singers Do

    Chapter 2: As The Singers Do.

    Vernon stared at the space where the face should have been, still struggling to grasp the fact that no head actually sat, perched upon shoulders. They sat now in an old, abandoned warehouse, somewhere in the Thames Dockland. Vernon had heard stories. One or two of his disreputable friends had visited here in the past; none had emerged without a story to tell of the ghastly sights that awaited those with moral sensitivities. People working, manual labour. The thought was too sickening to think about for protracted periods. It was… unpalatable.

    Around Harverd and he stood ten large men. There was something unusual about them as well. Something not entirely human… Their bodies fluctuated. At one time a hand may be perfectly distinguishable, then it faded into a sort of translucent haze, while another limb came startlingly into focus. Vernon felt the beginning of worry. Perhaps he shouldn’t have followed this strange creature that now stood before him. Harverd though, as normal, was utterly unperturbed by this decidedly fear inspiring turn of events, and, for this staunch defence of the stiff upper lip, Vernon attributed a آ£5 reward. He placed his faith completely in Harverd to extricate him from this dreadful matter and merely waited for the work of rescue to begin.

    “So,� spoke the creature. The voice rattled in invisible lungs, like pebbles, rolling tediously along a dry seabed, barely distinguishable for words, the intonations being the only signal that the speech had ended. The inflection placed upon each word made it all the more difficult to translate, “The Man in Rags and Patches visited you today,�
    “You, I am given to believe, are the Man in Black and White?� asked Vernon, drawing himself up and preparing to inflict one of his infamous withering glances upon this impudent personage. To his credit, he managed to gaze into the hollow vastness of the cavernous hood for a moment, before he turned. The creature laughed, a slight gasp of hastily drawn breath,
    “Indeed I am,�
    “Did we have to come to such a dank place as this, couldn’t we have gone to the Athenaeum?�
    “Tell me,� posed the Man in Black and White, “Had we gone to the Athenaeum, would my friends have been allowed in?�
    “Hmmmm, I would have had to pull a few favours, I’ll grant you, but I reckon I could have wrangled it, Old Horse, if you’d asked,�
    “Tell me, your grace, do you have in your possession, a certain trinket? It is quite valueless to you, but to the right person, it would be priceless, I know that right person. Give it to me,�
    “Forgive me for interrupting you, I’m sure, but you haven’t specified the trinket,�
    “You are quite correct, your grace, the trinket I speak of is an unassuming thing. It is, a small stone. About the size of a fist, yellow and mottled green. It belonged to your Uncle Charles, I would surmise, who found it in Africa, during the Boer or Zulu wars,�
    “I say, Old chap, you seem to know an awful lot about old Uncle Charlie, more than I bally well do myself,�
    “I am merely a trader, your grace, I deal in information, and your uncle similarly was in my line of business,�
    “Yes, well, my Uncle Charlie wasn’t very popular amongst my family in the latter days of his life, so, as it happens, I only met him once, and, I must admit, he never gave me any stone or the like,�
    The creature rocked back in his seat. Vernon began to feel quite relaxed, forgetting the team of highly efficient guards who surrounded them. He was a bit strange looking, but this bloke in Black and White wasn’t a bad sort of chap. Harverd remained taciturn but deeply engaged in the exchange, storing away every detail into his extraordinary brain.
    “So you do not have this stone then,�
    “Sorry, I must confess it was never bestowed upon me old chap, they never trusted me in my family, every one seemed to think I was an imbecile!� he snorted with merriment, “Don’t know where they got that idea from!� The creature ignored this digression,
    “It is imperative that I get this stone, vital for both you and the world!�
    “Tell you what,� he whispered conspiratorially, leaning in to speak in a confidential manner, “I’ll ask my Aunts and that about it and get back to you,�
    Again, there was a pause, as a strange hissing fit seemed to overtake the Man in Black and White’s ability to talk, Vernon took it to be humour.
    “That would be most useful, I thank you your grace,�
    “Don’t mention it, old boy, don’t mention it,�

    “Well Harverd,� breathed Vernon, “What did you make of that?�
    “Most disturbing, sir,� agreed Harverd with a modicum of emotion.
    “Fetch me the telephone, I think I shall ring old Aunt Thora, she might be able to shed some light onto the mystery of Uncle Charlie,�
    “An excellent proposal sir,�
    Vernon grinned somewhat gormlessly, it must be recorded, before adding,
    “Well, we Winbury’s are revered for our intellect,�
    “Of that sir, there can be little doubt,�
    Vernon paused momentarily, just analysing the past sentence to see if he could detect any impudence in it. He failed and so contented himself with adding,
    “Fetch hither the telephone, Harverd,�
    “At once, sir,�

    The phone buzzed discordantly for several moments, before a crisp, somewhat severe voice spoke,
    “Yes, who and what is it, I’m a very busy person, I’ve got this blasted fete to organise and my husband has gone to bally Africa on one of his wild expeditions and…�
    “Aunt Thora,� interjected Vernon inauspiciously, careful to moderate is tone to one as inoffensive as possible,
    “Yes,� she snapped suspiciously,
    “It is I, Vernon,�
    “Oh,� she sighed with exhausted resignation. “Yes, What do you need now. I’ve told you, I’m not paying another police fine,�
    “Look, old bird, that was simply a misunderstanding,�
    “I’m sure the dozen heavily muscled officers, wielding truncheons, the ten dogs and two horses all thought so too,�
    Vernon moved the receiver away carefully from his ear, so as to prevent his eardrums being perforated by yet another remorseless tirade from his indomitable relative. In her youth, Aunt Thora had once considered being a General in the army, and if not for the regulations concerning female recruits, her temperament and ferocious glare would probably have rendered her prime material.
    “Yes, aged relative, I have actually called for a reason other than hearing your soothing, dulcet tones,�
    “And to waste my valuable time, listening to a half-wit poltroon,�
    “What do you know about Uncle Charlie?�
    There was a sudden and significant silence. Vernon halted in mid-sentence, surprised by the absence of sound.
    “Hello,� he said hesitantly,
    “Yes, yes, I’m still here,� said his Aunt recovering herself quickly, her voice returning to the lustful, boisterousness it had been prior to his question.
    “So, anyway, flesh and blood, tell me something of Uncle Charlie,�
    “We do not talk of Charlie, I’m surprised that you know of him. Obviously my older Brother was not as careful with his tongue as he ought to have been. I can’t say I’m surprised, he never was the most quick witted of fellows, loyal, warm, courageous, but sadly rather woollen-headed,�
    “Glad, I’m not like him, what?� chortled Vernon with some hilarity,
    “Hmmm… yes,� replied Thora with little confidence.
    “Well, it’s no good ticking of my padre, he’s well and truly buried, but, it wasn’t actually him who mentioned U. C. it was some funny looking blighter I met in the street. Took me down to the docks, odd experience. He was asking after a stone or some such. Dashed odd it was too,�
    There was an ominous intake of breath at the other end of the line,
    “I say, Auntie, you alright, spot of wind?�
    “So, it is you! This may wreck all! Just a little more time, it was all we needed! Damn!�
    “I say, that’s a bit strong for a Lady of refinement such as yourself,�
    “Oh be quiet,� remonstrated Aunt Thora with a tone of murderous desperation. “Here’s what I want you to do, follow it to the letter. More than your own worthless neck may lie upon your actions. Do not leave your house, as soon as my driver arrives, go with him. Quickly. When you arrive, say nothing to any of my servants. Not all of them can be trusted. Do not speak of any Stone. At all! You understand?�
    “Well of course, I’m not some sort of thick headed dull-wit you know!�
    “That truly is debatable, now be a good lad and put your marvellous butler on, he to is involved in this, though, I must admit, I’m not sure how, about either of you!�
    Vernon passed the phone to Harverd with a glower of reproach for the good impression Harverd had made upon his Aunt’s. One he himself had failed entirely to make. Even as a small, mewling, babe in arms, he had managed to vomit over Aunt Yvonne’s new dress, sneeze in the bowl of punch which Aunt Clara had been attempted to feed him and inadvertently walloped Aunt Thora herself in the nose. He was also rather incensed at the low opinion of his intellect. All in all, he felt his standing in the family tree was deteriorating with a worrying rapidity. Harverd’s face had creased into a frown, evidencing the obvious level of thought that Harverd was devoting to this, blatantly tricky conundrum. Usually, Harverd extricated the Duke of Winbury from any unwelcome nuptial arrangements with a swift fleeting lowering of the eyebrows. A frown could only mean an immensely difficult puzzle. One Vernon was quite happy that his limited mind did not have to tackle. Harverd was murmuring answers every so often, careful to distance his answers so as to prevent any suggestion of impertinence. Vernon could merely marvel at his sense of propriety. Finally, Harverd, the grimace of concentration still forcing his features into something resembling a constipated duck, replaced the receiver and took his rightful place next to the Duke of Winbury’s right hand.
    “Well Harverd, old fellow-me-lad, what did my erstwhile ancestor confide in you during you closeted conversation?�
    “I fear, sir, that for the most part, I cannot divulge the information related by Her Ladyship, being sensitive to her wish to prevent any word of her good self being expressed in an ill light,�
    Vernon nodded, sagely agreeing with his relative’s excellent sense,
    “Hmmmm, very true, stout fellow, stout fellow.� He pause for what he considered ample time, “Anything you can tell me,�
    “Well, sir, perhaps this would not be breaking Her Ladyships trust, she told us, sir to: Do as the Singers do. Reveal the truth of all, in the poetic majesty of song,�
    Vernon considered deeply, musing for some time upon the profound import of these sensitive and relevant words,
    “Dashed rummy thing to say that,�
    “Indeed, sir,�
    “Fetch me a B and S, would you Harverd, old thing?�
    “Without delay, sir…�