Childhood is a mixed blessing.
Call that a cynical observation, based on 20/20 hindsight, if you like. But, it's an accurate observation, none-the-less. For children, in their innocence, believe everything they see without question! Whereas, we so-called "mature adults" (admittedly, through no fault of our own) are often, unavoidably, more narrow of vision.
And, thus (on occasion), more tragically self-deluded.
For example: some parents tell those of their children who awaken from a bad dream, in the middle of the night, that nothing exists in the dark that isn't already present in the light. Nothing dangerous, anyway. And, certainly, nothing dangerous in the vicinity of that youngster's bedroom, at that particular moment!
In the end, most children are successfully led into believing this. Yet, as a medical man, I can vouch for the fact that there are certain disease-carrying vermin which never come into the light. At least, not willingly. But, they are still ever-present; and they are not alone. There are other--far more dangerous-- exceptions to that rule in this world.
Allow me to elaborate.
It was the summer of 1921. I had just returned to my rooms, at the Manhattan Lodge of the Knights of Melion, from my rounds at Queens Mercy Hospital. Upon changing out of my sweaty work clothes, and donning cleaner leisure wear, I went down to the ornate saloon in the lodge's basement for an ice-cold drink. Non-alcoholic, of course!
Unfortunately, for me, I was diverted from that pleasantly anticpated thought by the desk clerk in the lobby.
"Excuse me, Dr. Thorpe. But, Sir Anthony would like to see you in the library, right away. He said something about...wondering where Death has its sting?"
At hearing the recognition code (signifying a possible recurrence of the threat the Knights had primarily been founded to combat), I headed straight for the in-house library as if it were the end of the world.
Which it just might be!
* * * * *
As soon as I entered, I saw Sir Anthony sitting in his favorite chair. The one that allowed him to sit with his back to the fireplace. Above the mantle of which was our organization's emblem; a yellow shield with the motto "Noblesse oblige," scrawled across the bottom of it. And, with an image of Blind Lady Justice (just above the motto) using her free hand to pet the head of a gray wolf!
Sir Anthony Banfield was a retired Scotland Yard inspector, whose knighthood had been bestowed upon him, thirty years earlier. The result of he and a Federal marshal named McGee helping to rescue a British diplomat's daughter (inadvertently abducted during a hunting trip to Montana) from a gang of border-hopping French-Canadian cattle rustlers!
That young woman had ultimately married him. Yet, while their union had been a long and loving one, it had never resulted in any children. So, after Dame Banfield had succumbed to the Spanish flu, two years earlier, her husband decided to emigrate to New York City, permanently. There, he became a mystery novelist who occasionally moon-lighted as a special consultant for the NYPD.
That was how I first met him. I occasionally performed autopsies for them. And, just last year, he had helped me solve a string of Chinatown murders that had borne uncanny similarities to the ones committed in the Whitechapel District of London, England, in 1888! A solution, I hasten to add, that led to our being inducted into the Knights of Melion in order to secure our co-operative silence with regard to the killer's...true nature.
We had been roommates ever since.
Sir Anthony now looked up as I closed and locked the library's soundproof doors.
"Ah, Peter!" he exclaimed: "You're just in time. Dr. Peter Thorpe? Allow me to introduce Mr. David Berkhart. The good doctor is my most trusted friend and colleague. And, Mr. Berkhart is personal assistant to the President of the Detroit Lodge."
We shook hands, accordingly. I then looked at Sir Anthony.
"The desk clerk sort of paraphrased the recognition code," I replied: "Does this mean...?"
"Possibly. But, I think it would be best to allow Mr. Berkhart to explain in his own words. Please, proceed, sir...and pray be precise as to details."
The other man (who was about my age; late thirties/early forties) nervously nodded, and sat down opposite Sir Anthony.
"As you know," he began: "...our lodges conceal their true activities by supporting many public philanthropies. Such as the National Children's Aid Society. And, last week...? Well, to put it bluntly, gentlemen; one of their orphan trains is missing!"
To be continued?