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Authors: Jessica Lawson

Nooks & Crannies

BOOK: Nooks & Crannies
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For Christopher Mallory Lawson,

who loves old houses

There are only three motives for all crimes, Tibbs: money, power, and love. Sometimes those things get muddled together, of course, and you could argue
that hunger is a bloody good motivator as well, but
one might lump that in with love of self or love
of others or love of food, and—well, never
mind all that. Pass the pickled radishes.

—Inspector Percival Pensive,

The Case of the Gilded Guardian



Thanks to an anonymous source, the
is pleased to share an exclusive list of the six children who were transported yesterday evening to Hollingsworth Hall, the magnificent and secluded home of Camilla Lenore DeMoss, the Countess of Windermere. They are, in no particular order:


Heir to the Appleby Jewelry fortune, this young chap is known to be an excellent student who also excels at rowing and cricket.


The Dales are well known throughout London for their dedication to social reform and relief for those in distress. Young Viola has been a presence on the charitable event circuit since the age of two.


Miss Wellington's parents are internationally known art collectors who have an impeccable eye for up-and-coming talent in sculpture and painting. They also delve into gems of historical value. Frances is privately tutored, and her deliciously expensive introduction to London society is already being buzzed about.


Young Barnaby attends school in South London. His father works in the textile industry. One of his teachers says Barnaby is “occasionally quick-tempered with other boys in his form.”


The Herringbones are close acquaintances with the aforementioned Dales, their own admirable interests lying mainly in reducing poverty by increasing educational opportunities. Edward has been called “an indubitable library of a boy” by one of his teaching masters at St. Stephen's.


Miss Crum's father is employed by the Wilting Bank of South London. A neighbor of the family says that the lucky child “talks to herself” and calls the Crums “socially famished.”

will be following this story with all due fortitude, and will be devoutly providing England with further reports as trustworthy divulgences become available.

Remember, my dear Mr. Tibbs, that mysterious circumstances frequently begin with an arrival: Unexpected letters or visitors or poisoned meat pasties are often indications that one will soon be forced into mental and/or physical strain.

—Inspector Percival Pensive,

The Case of the Petulant Postman

ust past three o'clock in the afternoon, when schools across London were releasing much-adored children by the bucketful, Tabitha Crum was ushered into the cold as well. She tarried at the edge of St. John's gate, threading an arm through the bars and observing the world for a moment, ignoring the jostling of boys and girls who seemed in such a hurry to return to the places they belonged. “Today,” she whispered to a small lump in her satchel pocket, “we find ourselves in a curious situation, sir.” Slipping an envelope from her bag, she lightly tapped it against the obtrusion. “Off we go.”

The cobblestone streets in the village of Wilting were made eerie and muted by thick November fog, and clip-clopping carriage horses snorted up and down the road, emerging and disappearing into the mist.
Almost like ghosts,
Tabitha mused. She clutched and rubbed the pretty envelope, letting one fingernail linger along the seam. The hand-delivery messenger had passed two letters to the teacher, glaring severely and emphasizing three times that they were
to be opened, but given to the parents of the children. What she and beastly Barnaby Trundle had done to deserve the elegant envelopes was unknown. The only certainty was that the glue was of a stubbornly good quality and Tabitha's nails were of a woefully short length.

“It's as though they've sealed it together with spite,” Tabitha muttered to the pocket lump, earning an offended glance from a passing elderly lady. Whether it was the muttering, the remark itself, her outgrown uniform, her worn grayish schoolbag that resembled a mangy rabbit, or a combination, Tabitha couldn't be sure. Perhaps the woman was offended by children as a whole, rather like her mum and dad.

Licking chapped lips as she passed the corner bakery with its beckoning aromas, Tabitha felt a stirring in her belly unrelated to having eaten only broken crackers and cheese rind for lunch. Ludicrous or not, it was impossible to ignore the tiniest possibility that the envelope might contain . . . a small bit of light. Hands shaking from chill and an unfamiliar amount of prospect, she lifted the paper to her nose and took a long sniff. It smelled faintly of flowers.

A summons from Scotland Yard to become an Inspector-In-Training.

An invitation from King Edward to attend and gamble on a horse race.

Notification from a long-lost relative who actually wants me and wouldn't view me as an imposition.

“What's that, Pemberley?” Tabitha whispered to the lump, which was now squirming and fretting about. Mouse whiskers poked out, followed by a mouse face. “I don't know how you manage to read my mind, but I suppose that's what best friends do. And yes, those are all unlikely scenarios, but it's nicer to imagine such things than to rip into the paper and find an advertisement for tooth powder or elocution lessons, isn't it?”

Not caring to dwell on the possibility of such disappointing contents, Tabitha was grateful when a distracting bellow sounded behind her. Oddly enough, the bellower seemed to be calling her name from the street. Before she could turn, a familiar bicyclist veered close to the curb and sprayed Tabitha with filthy water left by a midday storm.

“Your invitation is bound to be a mistake. There's no way she'll let
in!” yelled a horrid voice.

Wafting alongside the insult were the scents of burned toast and rotting cinnamon. There was only one boy at St. John's who wore such pungent odors. Sure enough, she turned to see Barnaby Trundle pedaling a slow circle in the road.

“Best to stay home, Drabby Tabby! I've heard the place is haunted and the spirits are hungry for filthy, ratty girls like you.” Barnaby stuck his tongue out as far as it could go.

Tabitha wiped a muddy water streak from her face and flushed, both at the insult and the realization that he had opened his envelope and she had no idea what he was referring to. She thought of exactly seven things that she would like to do to her classmate, one involving a rather nasty collision with a refuse wagon.

Barnaby took one hand off the handlebars to send her a mocking wave before smoothing his reddish locks and disappearing around a corner.


Tabitha pulled Pemberley from the satchel pocket. “Nice and dry, are you? It was clever to tuck yourself away like that.” She nodded seriously. “And yes, Pemberley, you're right. I should have defended us.”


“Oh, I don't know, something like, ‘Believe me, Barnaby Trundle, I won't be staying home. I rather think
should, though. I've heard most spirits have a fondness for repulsive boys with no manners and an excess of their father's hair crème. And an obscene amount of completely unnecessary aftershave. Any ghosts will smell
out in a minute.' ” She let Pemberley sniff her hand for crumbs, run up her sleeve, and burrow under her shirt collar. “It's a shame I'm not just a bit bolder, isn't it? One day you and I shall make good on a bit of mischief.”

Even soaked and unavenged as she was, a flutter of excitement warmed its way up Tabitha's back and neck, tickling the tips of her ears.
So, he's opened his.
And according to Barnaby, her envelope was a mistake. Based on the boy's despicable nature, his claim must mean that the contents were sure to be something quite good.
(Well done, Inspector Crum.)

Tabitha put a pencil in her mouth as she walked along. Instead of reading through reports at the Scotland Yard office of the Metropolitan Police Service, Inspector Percival Pensive always did his deducing in a corner booth of his favorite pub, puffing a pipe or chewing pensively on his pocket watch chain. Neither pipe nor pocket watch was practical for an inspector of her youth and means, and so Tabitha made do with pencils. “Now, Pemberley,” she whispered, “what could it be? Let's review the clues. Barnaby said to stay home, so that would make it an invitation to go somewhere . . . .”


“Yes, yes, a place owned by a woman . . . haunted, he said, though that bit was clearly rubbish.” It would be easy enough to find out more. There was a moment, one brief moment, where the act of disobedience hung in the air like a buttered crumpet, waiting to be fetched and gobbled up. Tabitha's hand lifted as though of its own accord, and her free fingers rose to meet the envelope's edge. Carefully, deliciously, she held her breath and began a tiny tear at the corner.

And stopped.

She dropped both hands, holding the note to her side as she continued toward her home.
Tabitha Crum,
she scolded herself,
they'll never grow to love you if you can't even follow a clear and simple rule, especially one that was emphasized three times and accentuated with a glare.
A second voice, that of her mother, snuck in to repeat the answer to a much younger Tabitha's question.
You want us to love you, is that right? Love, Tabitha Crum, is to be earned, not given away to just anyone like a festering case of fleas.

BOOK: Nooks & Crannies
9.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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