Marie and Sir John sat in front of a huge desk covered with various gold ornaments. This reflected the look of the room where expensive objects were displayed with seemingly little care for decorum. A particularly ostentatious statue of an ichthyocentaur caught Marie’s eyes as she looked around, trying to avoid the appraising gaze of the obese man behind the desk.
“So what have you found so far?” said Henry Copperwaite glaring at both his guests. His breathing was loud and rasping. Combined with his flaring nostrils, he reminded Marie of an elderly bull.
“Well,” said Sir John, “our enquiries are at an early stage. We have some interesting avenues to explore.”
“No,” boomed the man, “answer the blasted question. Not what are you going to do, what have you found?”
“Well, er, to be completely frank,” said Sir John, “very little. In fact, it wouldn’t be, er, completely inaccurate to say… nothing.”
The man grunted in what could have been approval or contempt.
“Same as all the other quacks, medics, and cranks that have come through the door. No surprise there.”
“Well, it’s early days…” started Sir John.
“Pipe down,” interrupted the man. “I know how this goes. You’ve things to check, something to test, blah blah. Well, the good news for you Mr Jennings…”
“Sir Jennings,” interjected Sir John. The large man glared at him and Sir John went red.
“Well, the good news for you Sir Jennings,” he said with mocking emphasis, “is that I am at my wit’s end and probably my life’s end but not at the end of my resources. I have little faith in your abilities no matter what I hear from other sources, but I am, frankly a desperate man.”
“I see,” said Sir John.
“I don’t need no doctor to tell me my days are numbered and all I want before I pass from this place is to see my daughter awake and alive. After her mother died young she is all I have. She’s a special girl you see, Sir John. She’s been raised well, not like me. I dragged myself up from the gutter with these grubby hands.” He showed Marie and Sir John a pair of spotless, fat fingers. “I worked like a Trojan for every penny. From nothing. I did all of this so she could have the finer things in life. And then a year ago, on the first of April…” He thumped his fist on the desk and looked away.
“I thought it was joke at first, because of the date,” said Copperwaite forlornly, “but she hasn’t woken up since.”
“You said she was special,” said Marie, “was there something she did, some interest she had, which might help us understand her.”
“Oh, well that’s a new straw to clutch at,” scoffed Mr Copperwaite, regaining some of his bullishness. “You could say that. She was one for the arts and the finer side of life, as she put it. She decorated this room for example. She had a…” he waved his hands, groping for a metaphor.
“Cultured eye?” said Sir John.
Copperwaite shrugged, “As you will. I’ve never understood it but there you go. She was interested in the ‘world beyond this’ as well. More tosh. I suppose when her mother died young, it got to her. She went to this church, spiritualist, to talk to the dead. Well, if she doesn’t wake up soon, she may need to go there to talk to me.”
Mr Copperwaite started to breathe heavily, and his head sank down a little. It was hard to tell if he was tired or sad or just bored. He waved his hand at them to indicate they could go.
“Well, that will be everything I suppose,” said Sir John starting to stand, seemingly keen to get away from the man.
“I wonder,” said Marie, “before we go, if you would have an address for that church.”