I got down from the night train. The long journey had completely exhausted me. As I crossed the dull platform, I saw only one being in sight, standing near the main building. A gust of wind made me shiver, and I pulled my jacket closer, in hope of warmth. My stomach felt heavy after the five-course meal aboard the train. My watch showed half past eleven.
None of the stores were open, and I sighed as I walked past them, feeling nostalgic for a magazine. It had been my childhood habit of demanding one, on any journey whatsoever. However, time and place has deprived me of that joyful glee.
As I ascended the stairs, I could sense the person (who looked quite hefty), following me, and caught him eyeing the surrounding marshland, from which arose the shrill chirps of crickets.
“Oh dear Lord!”, I thought, “ one push is all that it will take”. My revolver lay in my suitcase, impossible to reach at short notice, if the need arose. It was a .44 Colt, a faithful companion in most of my assignments,but utterly useless without pressing the trigger. He caught up with me before I could finish my train of thought.
“The boss needs to see you about a case”, he said, through gritted teeth.
“ Well, I do not accept clients before meeting them myself”, said I, putting on a most apprehensive look.
“He promised to make it worth your while”, said my fellow.
Now, the last year had seen me being pushed into the depths of debts. I had lost my job at Edelweiss, seemingly due to neglect. The crime rate was much higher then. After the Reformason Movement, criminals seemed to have taken to other means of livelihood, at the cost of detectives like us. My landlady had been demanding the overdue rent for the past few weeks, but had been kind enough to pass on my letters to me.
One of the letters, written in heavy cursive hand, had read,
Dear Mr Aldric, If it will please you to come to New Grillsbury Station, I promise to make it worth the efforts.
In the envelope, I found a train ticket to the said place, and where I now stand. Perhaps the other fellow knew about this, and hence decided to press upon my need of immediate money. It was true. Hence, shaking my head reluctantly, I gestured at him to lead the way.
In the darkness, I made out the faintly visible estate car as we made our way to it. It was black, extremely black. “Ventablack”, my companion added, and blindfolded me before I could react or resist.
“Why!?”, I let out, but he countered,
”... just a precautionary measure, sir. The boss does not intend to let his whereabouts be known”.
“Oh dear”, I sighed, and got into the car. It hurtled ahead.
Now, it made no difference to me being blindfolded. Having visited New Grillsbury since my toddler days had enabled me to have a fairly good sense of direction. I figured out that we were headed north. I remembered the local market which I had visited with my father, here in this place. He had been out looking for some antiques.I recall the attendant having almost hunted out the tankha. But that all was so long ago, of what relevance was it now?
We went round in a circle, once or twice, possibly to confuse me, but all in vain. After another tedious and bumpy ride, we came to a halt. The cloth was taken off my eyes, and I saw four other people getting down from the car. “Wow! Personal escorts,” I started abruptly, but stopped as I saw Mr Boss( I shall call him that, for till date, I have not found out his name) walking towards me.
“Mr Aldric ”, he said, “ I need some important work done. My Tibetan bell has gone missing, and I need to find it by tomorrow evening”.
“So let me guess, he needs a professional detective to hunt for a ding-dong?”, I thought, furious. “Unfortunately, the clapper’s gone, so you cannot find it by its ringing”, he added.
“Splendid! Find a ding-dong without making it ring. Moreover a time limit. What has the world come down to?”. But I had to push away these thoughts, as I was desperate for cash.
I started hunting on the estate grounds, running after small, insignificant things, and finding them to be a rock, or a bit of muck. “Nothing doing till morning”, I decided. As I walked into the mansion, I couldn’t help being amazed at the enormity of the entire setup. I strode up to my allotted room, and plopped straight into bed, and fell into deep slumber.
Around 3 AM or so, I woke up. My throat felt parched. As I proceeded to pour myself a glass of water, I glanced at the open window. I made out the silhouette of a hand, clutching the godforsaken ding-dong without a clapper. I went closer, but in a flash, the hand disappeared, even as the bell tumbled into my room. “Nice. My object of investigation being delivered to me.” I made sure the bell was the one I had been asked to find. Placing it on the table, I went back to sleep with happy thoughts.
The next day brought for me quite a surprise. The bell had disappeared from my table!!
I thought, “Well,now at least I can try to FIND it for once.”
As I went down into the hall to ask for something for my gnawing stomach, I looked up at a hook, and lo and behold, it was right there! Hanging as though it had never been lost. I soon realised that Mr Boss had not yet seen the restored object.
As he came down, greeting me good morning, I said, “Sir, your ding-sorry!, bell…” suddenly, but checked myself. After all, he had made me, a pro detective, sign up for such an absurd task, only because of my financial trouble. “Let’s have a little fun, shall we?” , I thought, eyeing my client. “… will be found by evening only”, I finished my sentence. “That’s all right.” he said.
I relaxed the entire afternoon, leafing through the pages of a book I found on my bedside table, my feet propped up on the window. No one came to ask any questions. As the sun began to set, I stood up, and stretched myself. I went down into the hall, only to see that now, nothing hung by the hook.
“Oh dear me,” I thought, “ This is a problem .“
I immediately began to think of a plan. Aha! The shop I had visited in my childhood! I rushed out, and literally ran the whole way to the local market, and hunted up the same fellow. He brought out a similar bell. I rushed back and hung it up on the hook, avoiding suspicious eyes of the servants, and when Mr Boss walked down, I dramatically gestured towards it, hoping he would not notice its clapper. He broke into a smile. “ You shall find your payment on the garden table, my dear detective”, he said.
As I walked out, glad at being able to fool Mr Boss, I found the packet which had my payment. On the return train (which I had to pay for), I opened it.
No cash. No, really, no cash.
Just a Tibetan bell without a clapper. A note lay by its side. It read,
You cannot hoodwink me, Mr Aldric. I saw you put up the bell you bought. Consider mine as your payment.
Ahh!! How can a ding-dong make up for my shortcomings?
Well, my showcase had one empty spot left.