It was a bright cold day in September, and the sun's powerful glare was irrelevant to the events that would partake later in the day. The docks were crawling with newcomers from New York City, New York. Nathaniel Hobbs strode down the ship's catwalk, scarf wrapped around his neck, mittens on his hands, and a bowler's hat placed awkwardly on his head. He ignored the stares he received from passerbys and the shipmates whom he had shared his space on the ship, Crusader, with and was more keen on making his way to a carriage with a golden coat of arms toward the nearest market place. Nathan was due to meet Inspector Sean Powell of Great Scotland Yard, who would introduce him to his new home in Westminster, London.
Hunching his shoulders and taking notice that his boots weren't the right kind for this snowy weather, Nathan observed the newcomers before him, all dressed in comfortable-looking outfits for the autumn season. On the way to London he had plenty of resting time, but Nathan knew Inspector Powell called him here for a reason. Since he didn't specify what exactly the reason was, Nathan had come all the way here to find out himself. As irrelevant the newcomers' conversation was to him, he couldn't help but notice their somber expressions as they read through the daily newspaper, which was being handed out by the managers of the newspaper stand in the street-market. Nathan didn't read the paper that much when he was living in New York, but he did know enough about what was happening in the public by listening to the gossip and truths from strangers in the area.
He was up late usually- well past when the small cuckoo clock in his living room struck midnight. And for that primary reason, it was the fear of thaasophobia that had Nathan Hobbes crawling his inner self for some peace. When he had not accomplished it through meditation, he sought a more riveting place to be in the world. Somewhere where there was the non-stop talk of crime and strange incidents, a place where he could get his brain to work whereas in other locations, it didn't. But before Nathan could start looking for boroughs in East London, he had received that letter from the inspector.
Of course, he was surprised that Powell even knew who he was. It was odd for someone to send him a letter like that; it was rather abrupt. And as queer as it was to him, Nathan gladly took the offer. So here he was, standing in half-an-inch of fresh snow on September 22st, 1892, waiting for the kind inspector to give him a ride. Nathan was considering walking, but he didn't know how long it would take- probably a good hour or so.
There were more passengers- the ones who were getting of Crusader, starting to avidly search for a newspaper, and one fellow with a white beard and pipe asked Nathan where he could find the newspaper stand. With a confused and slightly annoyed look, Nathan shooed him away by telling him that he was from Crusader and had no idea what was so important to be greatly concerned about right now.
"Oh!" cried the man, pointing to Nathan. "This man does not know a thing about the incident! The fool. . . he himself looks like he's in the mood for some exhilaration." There was a great deal of laughter from the docks, and Nathan was flushing red with a sort of embarrassment he hadn't felt before.
"Now, now, ladies and gentlemen," said a voice suddenly from behind Nathan, "leave the man be. He's a visitor just like you are, only he hasn't been keenly aware of why I wrote to him over the summer."
Eyebrows raised, Nathan turned around to find a man with neatly groomed hair, round face, and light blue eyes that matched his. "Inspector Powell," he said, fighting the urge to smile. For a good moment, Nathan thought he would be lost forever in this buzz of newcomers just like him: clueless and desperate to find whatever tragic incident that had occurred in the day.
"Excellent, you recognized me from the photo on the back of the newest novel I've published and sent to you as your gift. Am I right?" said the inspector proudly, brandishing his walking stick. The old man in the white beard flinched and went back to his business. He did look like he was grieving, though. What was up with these people? Just a few moments ago they were all fine, and then the next they were scrambling for the paper like dogs.
Nathan nodded, and Inspector Powell gestured for Nathan to walk with him. He said, "How was your trip, Nathan? I take it you've been content for the past week or so? The weather in London is starting to match the mood of my office; nobody's working these days, and they might just drop out completely before the day of Halloween."
After noting that Powell knew how to start a conversation, Nathan said, "It was all the same aboard Crusader, Inspector. Let me tell you, I'm not looking forward to the gloom that is to come."
The inspector chuckled darkly. "Oh, you'll enjoy it for sure. You have to learn to adapt. I'll introduce you to your new flat after we stop by at Great Scotland Yard. How's that for you?"
"I'll be glad, but we must do your business first," said Nathan as they headed toward the side of the street where all the carriages were parked. Inspector Powell tossed a bag full of Pounds to the driver of their carriage, who nodded before Powell opened the carriage door abruptly, startling Nathan.
"In we go," he said, and both of them climbed into the gleaming black carriage, which seemed to be the only carriage on the street not covered by snow. The driver took off then, heading toward Great Scotland Yard. They passed a street that was fully crowded with all sorts of people, who were covered with appropriate winter clothing.
Nathan looked out the window and saw that they were all crowded around a flat which was surrounded by officials that wore uniforms, whom he guessed was the police. This seemed to be the reason all the newcomers were so distraught when reading the paper.
"What's going on here, Inspector?" asked Nathan, leaning back in his seat.
Powell bristled before answering: "We've gotten a call from the residents of this flat at seven o'clock in the morning, saying that the Black family had been found unconscious in their beds, and showed no signs of life. I gathered my team, with the professionals as well, and went to investigate the scene. Sure enough, they were all there. Mr. and Mrs. Black in their own room, while the children in the others. It took a while to remove the crowd from the scene, though. We had to get all the photos taken, the finger-prints gathered, and make this a private investigation."
Nathan shivered at the thought of the dead children. "It doesn't seem like a private investigation, Inspector," he muttered under his breath.
"Oh, it is. The crowd that has begun to gather here will not get past the front door of this flat," said Powell reassuringly. "And no one knows the real cause of their death. There were no fingerprints anywhere, according to our scientists who scanned the objects we'd brought into the lab."
"That's a queer thing," said Nathan, furrowing his brows. "Though that could indicate that the attacker. . . or whoever broke in was using gloves."
At this, Powell nodded. "We did come to that thought, but we need more time on the case of the Black family. That's where you come in, Nathan."
Nathan smiled before speaking. "I- you want me to look into this matter? I'd be honored, Inspector. I haven't seen or heard of a single riveting thing ever since my last case in New York, a few months ago! It wasn't much, honestly. Alas, this must be a very primitive event for you to write to me to come all the way to London this morning."
Powell was satisfied enough to hear that his new acquaintance was enjoying the news of having an interesting case to work on. He, however, was careful to write very minimal in his letter in case it was looked through. He also knew he couldn't write it in code, because Nathan would most likely not be able to decode it by himself.
"Very well, then, Detective Hobbs. I shall give you more details when we reach there."
They arrived at Scotland Yard at around nine o'clock that morning, and Powell led Nathan into the lobby before heading to his office to speak with the desk lady.
"Ms. Dale, we have a visitor," said Powell sharply, and Ms. Dale, a lady with auburn hair, hazel eyes, and a petite body, looked up from her work. She peered at Nathan from above her glasses, and sighed.
"Is it Mr. Hobbs, the one who you've been talking about every single day for the last few months?" she asked critically, and Nathan coughed loudly. So, Powell knew Nathan before he even started working on that tedious case in July? It was tempting to think that he had been following Nathan's trails without his permission before the letter came. Which, of course, is what happened.
"Indeed. He is the one, Mrs. Dale," replied Powell, and Nathan extended his hand over the desk. Mrs. Dale took it and shook his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you in person, Mr. Hobbes. Inspector Powell speaks highly of you constantly. You should know you're a very talented man with a bright future."
Nathan shot a look of remorse toward the inspector, but he shrugged and raised his hands in surrender. How unfortunate it would be when they find out Nathan's not a man of many talents. He was nowhere near a genius, but he did have the stamina and correct mindset to aspire to the career of a detective.
With that terse introduction, Powell left Nathan to wander around the lobby while he went to retrieve something from the back closet. Nathan took a seat on one of the lush cream-colored chairs in the parlor and waited for Inspector Powell to return. He noticed the painting on the wall to his left and pointed to it.
"Mrs. Dale, at what place did the artist paint that?" he asked the lady, who was rapidly typing on her typewriter at that moment. Mrs. Dale looked up at what Nathan was pointing at and raised her eyebrows.
"I'm glad you mentioned it, Mr. Hobbs. My cousin from Denmark traveled to Philidelphia in the United States during the last few weeks of July and painted the Eastern State Penitentiary. I told him not to paint the interior of such a useless old building, but he didn't listen, of course."
Nathan had a smug look on his face as he said, "So, he's visited America? I hope you know that I was born and raised there my entire life. My Aunt Rosetta was quite keen on visiting her parents in Philidelphia but never got the chance. She was only thirty-five when she passed away."
Mrs. Dale's eyes saddened. "Dear me, what a short life. You've heard of Arthur Dale, then? He's practically from all over the world, but spent a good amount of time in the Americas. Were you from around the nearby states?"
"I lived in Washington Heights, New York for the past five years, and lived on Long Island three years prior to that," he responded, absently gazing around the foyer. "And yes, to answer your previous question, I have seen quite a few of Mr. Dale's works displayed in a nearby museum. They're made by an impressive artist, that's for sure."
Inspector Powell returned then, and Mrs. Dale and Nathan finished up their conversation. Nathan got up and turned to face Powell. He said, "What is it you have to show me now?"
"This," said Powell, handing Nathan a sealed envelope without a stamp, "is the file on the Blacks' sudden death. Every detail about them is in their, and you are free to look through it as much as you want. Until we have a lead, you will spend a good amount of time pondering what could potentially be a cause of their death."
"Thank you, Inspector," mumbled Nathan as he flipped through the Blacks' portfolios. Elizabeth and Jerry Black- the children- were only ten and twelve when they died. That meant their death was done deliberatly; they couldn't have just slipped into unconsiousness simultaniously.
Powell waited until Nathan was done scanning through the files before responding. "Of course, Detective. Now, we shall meet again tomorrow. I have put together a team who will help you with this case. You will be very greateful for them, as your file indicates that you are not the most sociable person."
Nathan looked up with surprise, though he knew he shouldn't have felt shocked. Powell would've done some research regarding Nathan, if he was going to be solving a case- in which Nathan was already beginning to have some superstitions about. He sealed the Blacks' envelope and tucked it under his arm then.
"Well, I thank you for this information, Inspector Powell. I will see you tomorrow as well. What time?" he said.
"Perhaps I'll let you know when the time is right for you to come," Powell said, shaking Nathan's hand. Nathan took it, feeling grim that he was only here to be introduced to Scotland Yard and the inspector.
Nathan was heading toward the door when he stopped abruptly, as if remembering something. Powell frowned, and narrowed his eyes.
"Did you forget something?" he asked. Nathan pressed his lips together before speaking.
"My address!" he cried. "You haven't told me that yet."
Inspector Powell's eyes widened and he raised a finger into the air. "Oh, of course, Detective. I had forgotten about it. Forgive me."
Nathan shook his head and said, "It's quite all right."
The inspector lowered his finger and said, "Make yourself at home at 41 Green Street, Mayfiar."
Nathan quickly remembered the address and headed out, noticing that the snow had begun to fall faster. Thick patches of fog had spread out on the front of Scotland Yard.
Fog, he thought, in winter? Now that's something to ponder. He was halfway down the street to a carriage when he tripped over something. Nathan looked down and realized it was a can of old tomatoes. Nothing to worry about. Slightly exasperated, he kicked it aside and continued on his way to home.
He was stopped by the driver of the carriage, who was very kind to offer him a ride to his flat. With a smile, he paid the driver and stepped inside the carriage.
By the time he reached 40 Green Street, the ground was covered in an inch of snow, and it was nearly nine forty-five. Nathan didn't have his breakfast while on the ship, so he decided to head down to the market. Only, he realized with a sigh that it would be closed due to the intolerable weather.
He noticed that his trunks and clothes were already at the top of the stairs for him, and so one of the captain's crew members must've delivered it. Deciding only to carry the trunk with the clothes and his necessities, Nathan headed into his room. After he managed that, he swung open the drab curtains of the parlor (he would have to replace them later) and was met with the snow that was still continuing to fall. Distraught by this gloomy weather, Nathan had nothing else to do than collapse into a recliner chair, and examine the strange case of the Blacks.
Now that he thought about it, he deduced that they, in fact, were deliberately killed. They couldn’t have been stabbed or shot, because the black-and-white pictures showed very clearly that their body positions were in their original sleeping positions, and there were no signs of injuries on any parts of the visible skin. Their eyes were shut tight, which meant they were possibly in a deep sleep. Which also meant. . . With a thought popping inside his head, Nathan’s eyes widened in realization and came to the conclusion that someone had tried- and succeded- to poison them.
Nathan’s first instincts were to contact Inspector Powell, but after giving it a second thought, he reasoned that it would be inadequate to do so, as Powell stated that they would meet tomorrow, at an devised time. He sealed the file again and set it on the coffee table in front of him. Nathan decided that he would give himself a mini-tour of the flat, but he was halted when he heard the knock on the door.
He was frozen on the spot, slightly startled, but gathered enough courage to go to the door and opened it. In front of him was a middle-aged lady, with auburn hair and chocolate brown eyes. Before he could speak, she spoke first.
“Mr. Hobbs, welcome to Mayfair, London,” she said, and Nathan bristled. Something about this lady’s appearance sparked a faint realization inside him, but he decided to keep quiet. And how was it that she already knew his name?
“May I help you, miss?” asked Nathan in a tentative voice. The somewhat familiar lady nodded.
“I will be your landlady for the time you’re staying here. Allow me to introduce myself as Agatha Black,” she replied, and outstretched her hand for Nathan to shake it. He did, and when he stepped back, his eyes went wide. So that’s where he recognized her from. It was a peculiar thing, to have a Black as his landlady.
“Nathaniel Hobbs, as you already know,” said Nathan promptly as Agatha smiled. She said, “But you prefer for people to address you as- and only as- Nathan. Is that correct? I’d be surprised that your brother is the only one who calls you Nate.” Nathan was indeed taken aback by her sudden knowledge of him having a brother and the fact that he did prefer for people to call him by “Nate.”
“How did you- how did you-?” he sputtered, clearly not have expecting this.
“How did I know?” Agatha finished for him, and Nathan’s cheeks turned red. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out, Mr. Hobbs. I’ll be back later in the afternoon. Good-bye.” With that she left, leaving Nathan standing in the doorway with his mouth hanging open.
He would find out, and Agatha being a Black and his landlady was something he was already suspicious about. But Nathan being Nathan, he was suspicious about anything that stuck out of the ordinary.
Agatha Black, who had dampened his mood even more than the gloomy weather of London, kept Nathan pacing in the parlor of his flat all afternoon. He couldn’t find anything better to do; and having already thought through every single abstract theory of the Blacks’ case, he the rest of the day all to himself. The clock ticked by as he pondered Miss Black’s reason to be his landlady. There could possibly no actual reason behind it at all, but he had thought she would be mourning with her family and friends. He was wholly astounded when Agatha presented her knowledge of knowing his personal preferences. Agatha probably knew Nathan’s brother from somewhere- and well enough- to know that he called Nathan “Nate” half the time.
That thought, in particular, was constantly emerging into his mind whenever he stared at the Hobbs family crest placed on top of the mantel. He had finally unpacked everything, and was settled into the flat. Now the only thing left for him to worry about was lunch and Black.
She had said she'd come back in the afternoon, and he was dreading that moment. There was no reason for him and Agatha to become allies, or maintain any form of partnership at all, especially since he was working on the Blacks' case right now.
There was some use she could provide, however. Nathan thought that he could question Agatha about her counsins' wherabouts and personalities, but he was also sure that she would remain uniamous on those factors. So he was back to square one, it seemed. When he had thought about the Blacks being poisoned, his idea was rejected, because he recieved a letter from the medics that there was no evidence of liquid of some sort in their bodies.
So what could've happened? It was the one question that everyone wanted an answer to. And it was up to him- and later the members of his team- to find out. He was dreading tomorrow, too. When Inspector Powell informed him that he'd be working with a team, Nathan was about to say that he always worked alone. He'd solved at least twenty cases solo during the past ten years or so, and he was sure that he could manage this one by himself.
How wrong he was. The thing is: Nathan did not know anything about any of the team members he'd be introduced to, and perhaps now would be the time to get a head start on trying to grasp some idea about who they could be. Earlier in the day, when Agatha had gone, he was looking through the newspapers. Most of the ones he saw most of were written and published by the Walters' Publishing Corp. They'd have more insight on the incidents than he did because they were most likely on the scene when the bodies were found.
Yes, he thought. I'll start there. Nathan headed into the kitchen to cook himself something nice. Perhaps, since Agatha said she'll be back at his flat, he would cook up something for her too. Or not. She had already planned out her visit beforehand, so she’d have had her lunch already. The only food wich came to mind and could cook properly, without having to start over more than once, was a plate of Bangers and Mash.
It was a good thing that he had managed to find his way to the indoor market, because, of course, it was almost impossible to