Henry relaxed in the armchair he had adopted in the Explorers Club. As he expected a message had summoned him to meet with Professor Bottoms. Outside a chill autumn morning had turned to a cold rain and now a chill river mist was descending. Consequently he had retreated to the Club early with his newspaper and had spent a pleasant afternoon perched by the fire, with a view out at the bleak October scene. He had also sent his own messages to Bertie and the others, and they too had started to drift in. Professor Bottoms got straight to the point.
“Gentlemen, The Society have been approached by Scotland Yard , who in the present circumstances are looking for assistance to deal with some additional matters. Your name was mentioned, Mr. Rothmann-it seems you may have a connection there.”
“To get straight to the point: it seems that something has been attacking pedestrians in Hyde Park at night. They have offered the Society a small sum, and are also prepared to offer you a generous £1 per day. Needless to say, if we can assist them, the resulting goodwill for the Society will far exceed this mere monetary value. Gentlemen, you have an opportunity to make us shine.”
“An Inspector Fox has provided a copy here of all reports relating to the three incidents to date, along with the names and whereabouts of the eyewitnesses.”
“Bizarre as it may seem, it would seem that the pedestrians were accosted by a humanoid figure clad in a shiny black suit, but with a huge, frog-like head and brandishing a trident.” explained Professor Bottoms. Bertie snickered. The Professor frowned before continuing.
“The clearest witness, a groundskeeper for the park, called Albert Postlethwaite, claimed that the creature threw a net over a man and a woman, whereupon they both collapsed without resistance. According to the witness, the creature did not appear particularly agile, though the constables found nothing around the scene but odd footprints best described as a man-frog’s, trailing a few feet before they vanished. The other witnesses saw the pair walking but not the actual incident.”
“So far four people have disappeared in this way- the latest being a double incident. The matter is certain to generate rumour and gossip: something the Police are keen to circumvent in what are already difficult times for them.”
“If we hurry we might pop along and have a word with the Parkie before they lock up” suggested Sebastian. “No time like the present.”
A cab soon escorted Sebastian, Bertie, Henry and Marko to the eastern edge of Hyde Park, close to the Cavalry Barracks. Reading the notice they read that the park gates would be locked at 7 pm. With the nights starting to close in, it would be dark by then in any case.
Asking around a few park workers they soon located Albert Postlethwaite near the Potting Sheds, burning a pile of leaves. In the darkening gloom the burning file made a cosy red glow, as Albert offered them tin mugs of Tea: he seemed to have taken a liking to Bertie’s erratic banter.
“Yes Guv’nor, it were about 7 pm larst noight” said Albert, in a peculiar accent comprising his native Yorkshire, entwined with the particular mangled vowel sounds of the Londoner-or at least someone who had lived in their midst for some years.
“I was collecting leaves in me barrer, when them two walked paast-a nice yound gentleman and lady, I see’s ’em quite orften on their way too and from the Palace loike.”
“The Palace old chap? Kensington Palace you mean?” asked Bertie.
“Thaat’s roight Sir. Orn their way ‘ome I shouldn’t wonder” replied Albert. “They’s walkin’ ouit together by the look of it.”
“I see Mr. Postlethwaite” said Bertie, and then?…."
“Anyways I looked up, and there ’E were Sir, Like a thing out of ’Ell!” said Albert.
“All drippin’ and slimy ’e were, and with a face….” Alberts face paled slightly, “’Is face were loike a giant Frorg Sir, I promise you! And ’is feet, webbed loike a frorg too!”
" Anyway I took a step back, and ’e kind of waved a kind of net. ANd the two of them-they went limp loike rag dolls and fell to the ground!" continued Albert.
“I called for young Percy and Willaim, ’oo were round the other side of the Green ’ouse, but when I turned round again Sir, they were gorn: all three of them!” he concluded.
“I say!” said Bertie. “Dashed Rum, What?”
“Aye Sir! Rum indeed.” agreed Albert.
“And can you show us where this happened?” Asked Henry. He led them off a few hundred yards towards the eastern end of the Serpentine, and pointed to the strip of wet grass between the lake edge and the path. Henry moved closer to examine, while Bertie thanked Albert, who returned to his duties.
There were indeed, still to be seen, footprints which resembled those of some sort of giant man sized frog. Also present were two small circular burn marks on the grass, in the centre of two of the footprints.
“Most odd” thought Henry.
With the park about to close the group decided to leave and visit the lodgings of Percival Parker, located in nearby Pimlico: it was Percival who had disappeared on the second occurrence on 19th October at 7.10 am.
As they approached the address it appeared to be the sort of lodging house establishment typical of young working men in the city: a three story house run no doubt by a landlady, who let off several of her rooms to young men who worked as clerks, accountants or similar in the city.
Bertie’s charm worked again, and he soon had the formidable looking Mrs. Higgins eating out of his palm. With a voice that could have shattered glass she called down Mr. Theodore Roberts- a young clerk who was a particular friend of the missing Percival.
“Yes he is a decent enough cove old Percie” said Theodore, “He often comes for a drink with me and the other chaps at the weekend”.
“And did he work at the Palace?” suggested Bertie.
“Yes that’s right” replied Theodore, “Though of course he wouldn’t talk about it much. Some sort of under secretary or assistant I gather. He would have been on his way to work when he went missing.”
Examining his room they found a number of novels in French, Spanish and Italian: it appeared that Percival was a talented Linguist. His bicycle, which had been abandoned at the scene and recently returned by the Police, also had its lamp slightly dislodged and a mudguard slightly bent-furhter possible evidence of a collision or other calamity.
“It seems to me that this business might have something to do with the Palace” suggested Bertie.
“Agreed” said Henry. “With the disappearances either at seven in the morning or seven in the evening, I would guess that is when they change shifts at the Palace. Horace and Millicent would have been on their way home from work at 7 pm, and Percival on his way to at 7 am.”
“We need to stake the place out tomorrow morning?” suggested Sebastian, “And then maybe look for this Tramp chappie who was witness to the very first vanishing on the 15th.”