Friday 15th of November is not far away now! The Kindle version of The Curious Disappearance of Professor Brown will be released on that day, closely followed by a beautiful large format colour paperback – perfect stocking fillers!!
Today I’m releasing the first two chapters of the book, together with the artwork that goes with those chapters. Everyone who leaves a comment on this post will be put into a draw to receive a free ebook copy once it is released. Don’t worry – there are other competitions coming very soon, giving you more chances to win ebooks and exclusive limited edition signed artwork.
Ladies and gentleman – I give you Lawrence Pinkley in The Curious Disappearance of Professor Brown…
CHAPTER 1. A Monkey Mystery
Have you ever wanted to be a detective
When my father died, I inherited a large sum of money, but I couldn’t touch it until after I had run his private detective business—Pinkley Investigation Group, or PIG, for short—for five years. I wanted to be a detective as much as I wanted to wear underpants made from sandpaper, but my dad’s instructions were clear.
The job came with a few other conditions, too. My father had always been a fan of the 1930’s, when all good private detectives were American and wore brown trench coats, white shirts, and Trilby hats.
But this was not Chicago; it was Whitby, in the cold north east of England.
Whitby was your traditional English coastal town: wet, windy, and smelling of fish. Whitby’s biggest claim to fame was the abbey made famous for being a scene from Dracula. Saturdays added new sights and smells brought by the market, but included yet more fish.
So here was I, Lawrence Pinkley—eighteen years old, in possession of a moth-eaten trench coat and greasy-rimmed hat, sitting inside a stale, smelly room— every young man’s dream.
It was a rainy, grey Monday morning. There was nothing else to do but tidy away some of the folders that contained my father’s life’s work. As I stacked them in a pile I added a tatty brown folder of my own, one that contained the case notes from my first investigation.
I had been called to the local wildlife park, where one of their monkeys had gone missing. “I’m here about the missing monkey,” I said to the girl at the ticket kiosk.
After a short wait, a tall, athletic-looking man with a blonde moustache appeared from behind an office door. “Hello there. Are you from PIG?” he asked in a loud, old-fashioned English accent.
“Yes sir, I’m here to investigate your missing monkey,” I said, offering him my hand to shake. “Lawrence Pinkley, Private Detective.”
“Major Bumble, Zoo Manager,” he said in reply, shaking my hand with a strong grip. “Mr Dingley, I’m so glad you could come.”
“It’s Pinkley,” I corrected. People often pronounced my name wrong, but I was used to it.
Major Bumble continued as if I hadn’t corrected him. “I arrived this morning to find that one of our Tibetan Red-Bottomed monkeys had gone missing.”
“And you are quite sure the monkey was here last night?”
“I can assure you, Mr Dingley—”
“Pinkley,” I interrupted once again.
“—that everything was correct before I left. I pride myself on completing a thorough check of the zoo every single night,” he explained.
“Could you tell me more about the monkey, Major?”
“Yes, of course. The young chap’s called a Tibetan Red-Bottomed monkey, so you can probably guess what his most recognisable feature is. They are quite rare, really. Worth a bit, I’d say.”
“Has anyone expressed an interest in buying the monkey?”
“Buying it? No. The only people we hear from these days are those people who think it’s cruel to lock up animals. If it were up to them, we’d have lions and tigers roaming the country, weeing up car tyres and leaving giant tiger turds on our lawns.” The Major’s cheeks puffed red. “Would be like the game hunts of Kenya all over again. Rhinos hanging around street corners and baboons harassing old ladies. Simply wouldn’t do, now would it?”
“Certainly not. Do you have a picture of the chimp, to help in me in my investigations?”
Major Bumble pulled a photograph out of his jacket.
Looking at the picture, it was easy to see where the animal got its name. It was a surprise that no one had seen its ripe behind disappearing up the nearest tree. It made me wonder why the monkey would be the lucky owner of such a red rear. Maybe it was due to its limited and prickly diet, or possibly a lack of soft jungle toilet tissue.
If an animal lover had taken it, it wouldn’t be long before we started hearing of sightings. After all, it would be quite against their beliefs to keep an animal drugged and confined to an escape sack for longer than necessary, so they would have released it at the first opportunity.
I decided to spend the afternoon exploring the countryside around the zoo, trying to tease the monkey from its hiding place with bananas hanging from my belt. A cloud of flies and wasps quickly began to follow me, attracted by my fruity perfume.
After two hours I had seen no sign of the monkey, so I sat down on the grass to have a rest. I had completely forgotten to remove the bananas attached to the back of the belt, which had pointy ends and caused some discomfort. My squealing attracted looks from concerned dog walkers, but no red-bottomed monkey.
The following day, I returned to the wildlife park. I needed to take a look at the animal’s enclosure to see if there were any clues to its disappearance. Major Bumble led me from the entrance kiosks past the tiger enclosure to a building that looked more like a museum than somewhere you would house an animal.
It was only then that he told me the missing monkey was actually a showpiece in a stuffed animal display, and not a live animal at all.
Rule one of the detective handbook: ask the right questions before wasting time in the field!
“Was anyone working in the museum the night of the theft?” I asked Major Bumble.
“The cleaner would have been the last to leave.”
Putting my banana encounter behind me, I decided to question the only member of staff that had been present on the evening of the disappearance: Mrs Shirley Buff, the cleaner.
Mrs Buff was a short podgy woman that could easily have passed for a school dinner lady. “Oh yes, Mr Pinkleak—”
“—I was in the museum as usual. Mr Buff was going to be home late, so I told the major I would stay after all the visitors had gone home and give the cabinets a good polishing. Those kids do leave so many finger marks on the glass!
“Anyway, I worked my way towards the monkey display, as I do every night, and I saw the red rear of that monkey. I often look at his lovely big red bum and wonder why he’s like that. Mr Buff says he probably had fleas or something that made him scratch a little too vigorously, if you know what he means. Anyway, I saw his matted fur and thought he needed a bit of a clean, so I took him home for a shampoo and blow dry.”
Major Bumble gasped, the ends of his moustache raised almost to his eyes, whilst he clutched at his chest in shock.
“Mr Buff kindly gave his teeth a polish, and he looks as good as new. His fur took longer to dry than I thought, so he’s been hanging on the washing line. Amazing what a bit of shampoo and conditioner can do. The red-cheeked chap’s wrapped up in a blanket on the back of my moped. He’s all ready go back in the display.”
Accompanied by Major Bumble’s mutterings of disbelief, Mrs Buff took us to her moped. There, wrapped in a blue fleecy blanket, sat the Tibetan Red-Bottomed Monkey, his soft downy fur standing on end as if he’d been subjected to an electric shock. Static crackled as Mrs Buff removed the blanket and handed him to the major.
I don’t know what happened to Mrs Buff, but I had heard rumours she was now working in a nudist camp in Scarborough, polishing the tops of bar stools.
Reclining in my chair, I wondered what my father would have done differently if he’d been here. One thing I’d learnt from the monkey mystery was to ask the right questions, not jump to conclusions, and examine the evidence closely right from the beginning. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have had my own close encounter with a banana. I adjusted the pillow on my chair.
That’s the sort of thing a P.I. does. Missing items, the things the local police force lose interest in or don’t class as important, as well as situations of a more peculiar nature.
I kicked my chair away from the desk, unhooked my trench coat from the stand, positioned the trilby firmly over my wild hair, and walked out of the office.
I went to get a coffee: cream with two sugars. Stirred, not shaken.
After leaving the office, I made my way to a little coffee bar I had recently made my local hangout. “Piffany’s” was etched on the outside of the glass windows, and trendy canvas photographs hung on the walls. It was named after its owner, Randolph Piffany, a gentleman of unknown origin. Randolph—Randy to his friends—was rarely seen inside the café; he seemed to prefer spending his time at home on his computer.
The glass counter of the coffee bar displayed enough different cakes and pastries to tempt even the strictest dieter, together with an overly large variety of coffees available at overly large prices. But I liked it there.
Rather, I liked one of the waitresses that worked there.
I found a small table in a shaded corner and sat down.
Only a few of the tables were occupied this morning. A giggly young couple held hands around an oversized cappuccino, whilst at another table, an elderly man with a bushy black moustache was studying the menu, looking confused and worried.
“Morning, Mr Pinkley.” The young waitress smiled as she approached me. “What can I get you?” Her short blonde hair was tucked neatly behind her ears, and she was the only person I have ever met who managed to say my name properly.
“Hi, Vicky. The usual, please.” I smiled back at her.
“I should have guessed,” she joked and went back behind the bar.
The usual consisted of a toasted teacake accompanied by a coffee with cream—no frothy top, no flavourings, no ice, no bits, and no bobs.
I took the local newspaper from a stand on the wall and spread it out on the table. Front page news reported that a cut in budget would mean the Whitby Christmas lights this year would be reduced to eight flashing LEDs, one threadbare string of red tinsel, and one conifer tree (to be retained in its pot for recycling the following year).
As I scanned through the front-page article, Vicky brought my breakfast to the table.
“Lovely. Thanks, Vicky.”
“Not bad,” I said. I took a bite of the teacake and wiped a dribble of melted butter off my chin. “I just helped recover a very valuable and rare monkey that had gone missing from the wildlife park.” I dropped two sugar cubes into the coffee. “Maybe—if you’re free one day—we could go down there? Together?” I asked hesitantly, feeling rather embarrassed.
Vicky blushed slightly, “I—”
“Mr Pringley, I presume!” interrupted a soft but commanding voice from the entrance.
The smile dropped from Vicky’s face, and she turned around.
An elegantly dressed woman had entered Piffany’s and seemed to be floating gracefully towards my table.
I looked over to Vicky, but she had already retreated behind the bar.
“It’s Pinkley, Lawrence Pinkley,” I corrected.
“Whatever,” she said, standing in front of my table. “I’m Brown, Russet Brown,” and she was. Her red-brown hair tumbled across her shoulders, framing an olive-toned face and dark brown eyes. A thick coat that reached down to her knees was tightly wrapped around her body.
The scent of her perfume carried on the breeze from the open door. It had an exotic, sweet smell that matched the wearer perfectly.
“May I?” Miss Brown motioned to the chair opposite my own.
“Of course,” I answered as I made an effort to politely stand.
I cast an apologetic look to Vicky, but she was noisily creating the froth for a coffee. She didn’t look up.
“What can I do for you?” I asked.
Miss Brown glanced at the newspaper spread out on the table. “I see you’ve been reading the local gazette, Mr Pringley, so you may already know why I’m here.”
“You wanted to see me about the Christmas decorations?” I replied.
“No, I am the eldest daughter of Professor Cobalt Brown, the world famous plant scientist,” she said dramatically.
The name meant nothing to me, but I tried to look impressed, for appearance’s sake.
‘My father mysteriously disappeared three days ago from his laboratory in Goathland, on the North York Moors, and has not been seen since. There were signs in his office door of a break-in—papers and equipment were scattered all over the floor—but nothing had been stolen. The laboratory assistant made a list of all of the equipment and supplies, which the police checked against the room contents. The only thing not present was my father.”
Miss Brown sniffed and lightly dabbed a tissue against her nose. She then reached over and began nibbling delicately on one half of my toasted teacake. She was clearly upset, so I didn’t like to protest. I looked up guiltily to see if Vicky had noticed I was sharing my teacake with Miss Brown. Fortunately she was re-sticking a blue plaster back on her finger after its little adventure into a tuna mayonnaise club sandwich.
I waited until Miss Brown had sufficiently composed herself.
“I’m afraid the police have registered him as a missing person and at the moment can do nothing else.”
“Do you think your father was kidnapped?” I assumed she was there to consult with me as a detective rather than just wanting to talk about her problems to the first stranger with a hot buttered teacake that she saw.
“Possibly,” she responded.
“Would there be any other reason for him to go missing? Arguments with your mother, for example, or with you?”
“My mother, Golden Brown, has been dead now for six years. He has no other relatives except for me and my younger sister, Sienna Brown, who is currently living in America. I have a very good relationship with my father, and I can assure you that he is not the sort of man to run away.”
“So if your father was kidnapped, do you have any idea who may have done it and why?” I asked.
“I don’t know who, Mr Pringley, but I assume the why would be the sensitive nature of his work. The night before he disappeared, he came home all excited. He couldn’t contain himself. I hadn’t seen him looking so young and alive for years.” She smiled as if remembering the image.
“Did he say why?”
“He mentioned an exciting development on an experiment that involved pumpkins.”
Well, I’m excited, I thought sarcastically.
“Could you help me find my father, Mr Pringley?” she finally asked. “Money is no object. I will pay you twice your normal fee. I just need to know where he is.”
Twice the normal fee!
I quickly made my decision. “Of course I’m happy to help, but I will need a little more information about certain aspects of his disappearance first.” After the case with the missing monkey, I wanted to make sure I had all the information I needed right from the start.
“Thank you, Mr Pringley.” She ate the rest of my teacake.
I took my notebook from my coat pocket. “Where did Professor Brown work?”
“He was working at a research laboratory on the outskirts of Goathland. The facility belonging to the ZIT Corporation,” answered Miss Brown, who now had a raisin skin stuck to her front tooth.
I chewed on the end of the pen. “What does the ZIT Corporation stand for?”
“I believe they’re all for equal opportunities and the female vote, but I don’t see what moral issues have to do with my father’s disappearance.”
I tried again. “No, you misunderstand me. Do you know what the initials Z.I.T. stand for?”
“Zenith Intellectual Technology.”
“You mentioned a laboratory assistant— what’s his name?”
“Rodney Tangle. Nice chap, but a bit slow.”
I scribbled the name in my notebook. “Thank you, Miss Brown; this gives me something to start on. Do you have a number I can reach you on if I have any further questions?”
I wrote down Miss Brown’s telephone number and slid the notebook back inside my coat pocket.
Miss Brown stood to leave. “Goodbye for now.”
“I’ll be in touch,” I said as I shook her gloved hand.
As she floated out of the door, Vicky came back over to the table.
“Here you go, Mr Pinkley. Another toasted teacake.” Vicky gave a sympathetic smile. “And this one’s not for sharing. Except with me.”
“Are you free Saturday night?” I quickly asked before I lost my nerve.
“Why?” she teased, obviously pretending not to understand the meaning of my question.
“I’d like to cook you a meal.”
“I would like that very much, Mr Pinkley.”
“Please,” I said. “Call me Lawrence.”
THE END… for now!
An Exclusive interview with Mr Lawrence Pinkley
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