A rotund, shabbily dressed man with a day’s growth of beard sat behind the shop’s counter. He was leaning on it and looking at the shelves filled with a myriad of unusual and tasteless decorative items. A large brown dog slept languidly next to him.
Sir John and Marie came into the shop.
“Are you Albert Cunningham?” said Sir John to the man.
“Maybe” he said, his eyelids heavy.
“You’re not sure?” asked Sir John.
“I’ve got an inkling,” said the man. “Why don’t you introduce yourself to me and then we can see if it becomes an opinion.”
“I’m Sir John Jennings, paranormal investigator,” said Sir John, “and this is my wife, Marie.”
The man’s back straightened involuntarily.
“Welcome Sir Jennings!” he said. “Just for absolute clarity, you are in no way connected to the revenue offices or the London constabulary.”
“Well, I think one of my maids is…” started Sir John.
“Non,” said Marie. “We are not either of those things.”
“Oh, French,” said the man, “Enchanted! I am Albert Cunningham, owner and proprietor of this fine establishment. How may I assist you in fulfilling your hopefully myriad and expensive needs.”
“We’re looking for some stolen artefacts, with a possibly magical provenance.” Said Sir John.
At this point a young man entered the shop. He was carrying a large bag and started walking toward the counter. Albert Cunningham started coughing.
“I am afraid sir that I have no knowledge of the whereabouts of articles from disreputable sources as I would never procure something in that manner,” Albert said loudly to Sir John. The young man quickly left the shop, looking startled.
“Look,” said Albert, leaning close to Sir John, “despite my apparent reputation, I don’t deal with anything that isn’t legitimate. But, as they say, I might know a gent who can help. If you tell me exactly what you’re looking for and perhaps purchase an item from the emporium, I may be able to guide you on your way.”
Sir John leaned in, too.
“We’re looking for artefacts belonging to Diarmuid Mac Dubh which were stolen from the British Museum.”
Albert looked carefully around him.
“Who are ‘we’?” he said quietly.
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you,” said Sir John equally quietly.
“Well then, sir, we are at what your wife might call an impasse,” Albert said.
Marie put down a small porcelain pagoda.
“’Ow much for this … Folly?” she asked. Albert grinned.
“Five shillings,” he said. “And if I were you, I’d go to the Royal Oak in New Malden and ask for Mr Bobblewit.”
Sir John handed over the money and the Jennings left the shop, taking the little porcelain building with them.
“So,” said Albert when they left, “the Foh-Lie boys are after them as well.”
*Thanks to The Graphics Fairy for today’s lovely image of a pagoda.