Pearl and Coral Parkesson have graduated from their infamous
English Public School in the sultry Summer of 1937.
They are joyously preparing for their journey to their new school,
The Songmark Aeronautical Boarding School for Young Ladies.
Unfortunately, their traveling swag seems to be missing....
Share and Share Alike
by Simon Barber
Pearl and Coral Parkesson
prepare to travel to their new school on Spontoon Island.
But, first, they have to recover their funds.
Share and Share Alike
by Simon Barber
to official figures, we’ve almost finished what our archivist says
really was – ‘the jolliest term on record’ – such a shame you
missed most of it.” Pearl Parkesson enthused, walking with her
sister and the new arrival down the long corridors heading out of
their dorm at Saint T’s. *
“Oh, yes. Any jollier, and you’d puke. Many did anyway,” Coral Parkesson confirmed, checking the flooring around one of the cheap replica suits of halberd-wielding armour for pressure-plates that would activate the halberds. That, or their rivals managed to slip them military-grade purgatives again, she nodded silently to herself. “It’s been officially assessed as three percent jollier than the famous Spring 1934 term at Roedean, which got into all the record books.”
Maude, the newest girl in school nodded, her brow furrowed as she looked at the school notices – the usual sports teams, test results and the like were interspersed with less usual ones such as casualty lists and an international collection of Wanted posters.
The bovine girl frowned. When she had passed here the first time that morning, there had been an elegantly paw-written notice from the Headmistress on the board. It had read, innocently enough, ‘I cannot conceive why the girls are so noisy!’ Since then, some wit had strategically added two punctuation marks – a full stop and a question mark.
“Anyway – it’s a good thing you came here for two weeks before the end of term, like you did. Otherwise we’d have missed meeting you. We’d hate to think what could happen if you’d turned up in September and – fell in with the wrong people.” Coral waved blithely at various pinned-up lists of names officially known to Interpol. “That could be very bad.”
“I’m grateful.” Maude felt a wave of comradeship wash over herself as she looked down at her new pals. “Though when I’m out in the world as a missionary, I’ll need to weigh up people jolly well for myself.”
“Of course,” Pearl smiled cheerfully. She suddenly stopped, and sighed. “We had a bad start, didn’t we, Coral? Taken under the dark wing of that raven girl Hester. We thought she’d be a decent sort; our families knew each other in the War.”
“My Father was very brave in the War, a front-line chaplain,” Maude drew herself up as if standing to attention at the first notes of the National Anthem. She bowed her head in solemn remembrance. “He lived on despite his wounds till 1925.”
“I’m sure he was very brave. Hester told us hers was just very clever instead.” Coral reminisced. “He’d have been called up for certain when conscription came in – if the Authorities had found him. But he still made his killing as long as the War lasted – just on the stock market.”
“Shameful, we know.” Pearl shook her head, her round ears dipping. The story was quite true, but it would not do to tell Maude all of it. Hester’s parent had spent three years in the guise of a deaf mute gardener for a monastery by day, while managing to play the international stock market (Wall Street still being open when he could slip away to the telegraph station after dark, what with the time zones.) As to the fate of the fur he had replaced – well, presumably the genuine deaf mute gardener had always done his best to encourage the fertility of the monastery gardens, and a little judicious digging would probably show he was still contributing to it.
“We decided there and then we’d devote our lives to the study of crime. Sadly, the Good Lord gave us statures too short to ever qualify as Policewomen. But that won’t stop us!” Coral positively radiated resolute good cheer.
“If you can’t join the Police – you’re going to be private sleuths? Sherlock Hound types?” Maude hazarded a guess.
The twins exchanged meaningful glances.
“Well, we’d considered it. At the flying academy we’re booked for in September in the Pacific, they already have lady sleuths. Our big sister Beryl, she’s told us they’ve got a famous American one who’ll be a year ahead of us in class. We’re so looking forward to meeting her.” Coral replied, quite truthfully. There was a certain Nancy Rote they looked forward to clashing wits with; Beryl had evidently had much fun that past year making the sleuthing squirrel’s life miserable. It was good timing that the Parkesson family could effectively change shifts and tag-team her, with Beryl now having officially graduated and almost ready to depart Spontoon for her holiday in the Criminal Quarter of Marseilles.
“No, we decided we’ll be Criminologists.” Pearl’s sleekly furred tail swished, as they left the building and headed towards the tennis courts. “It’s a respectable career. We’ll do a lot of – criminal research. Research and Development.”
“That’s right!” Coral chipped in. “Oh, it’s terrifying what some furs come up with. Staggering new crimes. Self-protecting crimes so hideous the concepts actually corrode the minds of any policeman or detective daring to think about them!”
“Crimes so vast they can’t even be described! New, high-technology crimes that break no laws!” Her sister’s tail swished excitedly. “That’s the future of criminology.”
Maude scratched her horns, puzzled. “I didn’t know criminologists did that,” she admitted.
“Oh, it’s a long-running family tradition. Our Great-Uncle James, he knew Sherlock Hound well. Their paths often crossed, they were pioneering consultants in their professions,” Coral looked up at her, eyes wide with a frank, honest gaze she had spent much of the fourth-form year working on.
“Ah! He was a friend of the great Detective? That’s jolly good,” Maude beamed.
“A friend? Between them they knew about most of the famous cases in Europe, one way or another. One time, Mister Hound went half-way across Europe just to meet him. That’s how close they were,” Coral assured her. “That’d be something even nowadays with air travel.”
“Yes indeed. Though our Great-Uncle James preferred to stay out of the lime-light. A very modest man.” Pearl added. Even a star-nosed mole could not have detected any hint of dishonesty in her words. Their Ethics teacher Mrs Gomez had hired a professionally accredited one for her classes every Friday afternoon the previous Spring term, and all sixth-formers had tested their wits and techniques against his natural lie-detection skills. The inconvenient fact that their Great-Uncle’s surname was Moriarty and not Watson, was simply not something Pearl let interfere with a good tale well told.
The three halted outside the tennis court, where a lively game of local rules Tennis was in play. Cricket had been famously enlivened in the past few years with the Australian ‘bodyline’ technique of aiming at the batsman rather than the stumps; at Saint T’s they had conceptually picked that ball up and run with it. Still surviving on one side of the court was a lean hound of the greyhound type, almost as tall as Maude but scarcely a quarter of her weight.
Maude watched as the evidently non-standard solid rubber ball was smashed over the net and evidently hit a vulnerable but quite legal spot – at least the Umpire had calmly called “Game, Set and Match!” and declared the last one standing the winner.
“Waal, slap me down if t’ain’t the terrible twins,” the hound strode over towards them. towelling her fur vigorously in the July heat. “And who’s your big pal?”
“Charlene, meet the Honourable Maude Sedgeley, she joined us this morning – we happy band of the Upper Sixth. Though unlike us, she’s got another whole year of it to look forward to. Miss Sedgeley, meet Charlene so-called Jackson **, of the Western Tennessee Jacksons.” Coral made formal introductions. “Her family have been suppliers of fine wines and imported spirits to the Tennessee aristocracy for more than twenty years.”
“Glad to meet you,” Maude offered a meaty paw to shake. “I’m here for a year. I’m in final training for missionary work in whatever savage lands are still available.”
“A missionary gal at Saint T’s? Waal, I’ll be hog-tied!” Charlene exclaimed.
“As indeed she will.” Pearl whispered. “I’m sure of it.”
“She must be psychic,” her sister agreed.
Maude beamed. “I can see I’ve a lot to learn here. That new sort of tennis – it looks jolly vigorous. But don’t people get hurt sometimes?”
The long, lean hound grinned, stretching lithely. Her canine teeth grinned. “Hell, no. I’m not even scratched. It’s the education does it.” She pointed proudly at the Latin motto carved on the wall above the tennis court. Most classically inspired Public Schools boasted a snappy motto – here it was ‘Vae Victis’ – Woe to the Vanquished.
“In this school,” Coral said firmly “we believe in something less abstract than mere crime and punishment. You can get that anywhere.”
“That’s right! We believe in competence… and no punishment!” Pearl finished. “With great power comes freedom from consequences.”
Maude scratched her head. “It seems jolly strange,” she said. “But I can see why Uncle sent me here. A lot to learn. My family usually sent its girls to St. Cadfael’s, on the Welsh frontier.”
“A respectable place, I’m sure?” Coral asked politely.
“Oh, yes! A lot of retired vicars choose it for their daughters.” Maude closed her eyes in contemplation. It would have no doubt been more conventional – but she expected to spend her life among the head-hunting cannibal natives of the Trobriand Islands, and evidently Saint T’s was a far better acclimatisation for that career.
The twins exchanged glances. Closing one’ eyes within striking range of other waking people was a dangerous thing to do at their school – it was dangerous enough doing it while asleep. “Respectable folk DO send their girls here, sometimes. There’s our pal Lucretia, for example – she’s a retired clergyman’s daughter,” Pearl offered. “Her Father was quite high in the Church.”
Her twin merely nodded vigorously. “In the Vatican itself. Very high!” Being a defrocked Cardinal surely outranked a mere retired vicar any day.
Charlene sniffed disdainfully. “Preachers. There’s a world out there that’s short of all kinda things – but one thing they never stop sending out is preachers.” She hiked her tail up, and headed towards the showers.
“I’m afraid you’ve got your work cut out for you here,” Pearl injected just the right note of sorrow into her voice. “It’s a hard sell, being a missionary at Saint T’s.”
“That’s all right. I didn’t set out to preach to the converted, anyway. Nobody’s all bad. And nobody’s all wrong.” Maude declared.
“Oh, we quite agree. There was that fourth-former girl who we caught stealing, last year. But even she wasn’t all wrong.” Coral mused.
Her sister cast her a knowing glance, fondly recalling that day. You can torture me, but I won’t talk, she said, Pearl reminisced, a gentle smile on her silky-furred muzzle. Well, she was half right.
Evening fell, and sunset found the Parkesson twins back on their rooftop perch. It was their favourite spot; there was a good all-round view, and nobody was too likely to sneak up on you. Most days they sat back-to-back anyway on general principle.
Coral stood, and stretched her lithe figure. “Well! That’s a day for the diary. It’s not every day we manage to spring a surprise on the old place... “
“Saint T’s is never dull, I’ll say that much,” Pearl mused “but it just got even livelier. Maude the righteous missionary, let loose on our crowd! Fox in a henhouse… no, she’s not that smart. I think. Bull in a china-shop really seems about right for her.”
“Right. For a couple of days everyone’s going to be watching her. Now we can get busy with treasure-hunting. The weird thing is, it’s legal. Hunting our own stolen treasure, even.” Her sister relaxed. Suddenly she snickered, and her silky tail swished. “Just think – how about that, we really are becoming righteous sleuths! Investigating theft and while we’re at it, murder.”
“How terrible. Accidentally seduced onto the path of law. Better not let Father or Beryl find out – we’d never live it down.” Pearl shook her head in mock sorrow.
“Good thing we’ve already got our Schools Certificates. If word got out, we’d be disqualified. It was hard enough getting in here without a criminal record – but being caught is for amateurs.” Coral agreed. “They nearly threw Beryl out when they found she’d forged hers.”
“Nobody ever put the cuffs on Great-Uncle James,” Pearl nodded vigorously.
“So. Phoebe Helmsworth, our late and fairly great School Bully. Possessor of our loot. The thing is, for how long did she have it? Is it still wherever she hid it, or has it already moved on?” Coral mused, tapping her sharp-chisel-teeth thoughtfully with a pencil. “If so, did whoever bumped her off get it? Did someone else find it independently? We’re going have to check all the angles.”
The twins stared moodily across the grounds. Although in other places having one’s School Bully assassinated might be an occasion the Police would investigate, at Saint T’s the local constable had merely turned up to note the fact (escorted for safety by three troops of Vickers Mediums whose tracks made something of a hash of the croquet lawn) and gone away again. It was a long-standing British tradition that country manor-house murders in the social season would be discreetly handled by the guests turning sleuth, with the villain exposed after dinner on the Sunday evening, and the more classical Public Schools fell under the same legal jurisdiction.
“The trouble is around here, with a bump-off,” Coral noted “either around here everyone knows who did it, so no sleuthing is needed…”
“That’s right! Like Letitia on Sports Day last week – she’d have won a shilling bet if she’d managed to actually catch that javelin.” Her twin reminisced. “A useful sport – you see so many streets in town with ‘no ball games’ signs on them, but they never mention javelins.”
“…Or for some people, nobody cares. So lawful investigation’s a new thing for us.” Coral’s round ears dipped. “We’ll have to do the whole thing – motive and opportunity. There’s Daisy Whitlock, her brother’s School Bully at Marlborough College – they paid sixty guineas transfer fee to get him from Charterhouse. I’ll bet she’d love to upstage him. And get the salary.”
“But then, we all would,” Pearl looked downcast. “In the books, you just look around for suspicious characters with a bad record. Here – that’s just about everyone.”
“We really will have to sleuth it,” Coral shook her head sadly.
“Mmmm. It’s giving my conscience a twinge, I can tell you.” Pearl sighed. Suddenly her whiskers perked up. “Still – soonest started, soonest over. We still don’t know exactly what happened to Phoebe. But I know who would have all the facts – our dear Headmistress!”
“She would. But we can’t afford to make it worth her while to tell us. Most of our float’s sunk already, just finding out who bought the shares with our money.” Coral said.
“Necessary investment. Without that we wouldn’t even know where to start looking. No, we couldn’t pay her enough to tell us, and it’s saleable information. She’ll have the documents somewhere in her safe, I bet. Time for Plan B.” Pearl rummaged inside her armoured blazer, and pulled out the padded cotton roll that held her lock-picks. “So, are you up for a little burglary?”
Coral sighed happily, her conscience assuaged. “I thought you’d never ask.”
*( Saint T’s; for some odd reason the surviving records do not give the full-name of that fine establishment; the few scholars brave and foolish enough to cautiously peer at the subject through their 1918-vintage trench-telescopes report it might have been something like Saint Theresa’s or Saint Trinidad’s. Or possibly not.)
**(Editor’s note: on her birth certificate, her middle name really was “So-Called”.)