DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
TEL. 01273 603766 - EMAIL [email protected] - www.fulltable.com/fj
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Four Fingers and a Thumb
The Brotherhood of the Hand, a small society, dedicated to mystery, consists of four elderly men, in equally elderly grey suits, who correspond to the fingers of the human hand. Simon and Annie, brother and sister, have now become members of the Brotherhood, with all the problems that might lie ahead
‘Who’s always pointing the finger at me? You of course! It’s always the same! You always blame me for everything! It’s not fair!’
‘Oh, shut up! Who was it that got us into trouble the last time? Trying to show that that old bat was a secret cat burglar! She couldn’t even get out of her own front door, never mind scaling up drainpipes and nicking huge amounts of jewellery from other people’s houses! A real mess, that was!’
‘Well she might have done it!’
‘Oh, yes. Ha, ha ,ha. She was eighty-five years old!’
‘My sister is a nutcase’, Simon decided. He looked at her as she strode in front, her dark hair blowing in the wind, and muttering at everybody in her path. Nor did he like the fact that she was taller than him already. He glared at her from behind his spectacles. Perhaps she needed a real mystery. That would keep her quiet. Little did he know that that was exactly was going to happen. And it would happen sooner than either of them would have expected.
‘Hallo, ladies and gentlemen! How are you today?’ It was their friend Jason,, who ran the eggs, cheese and bacon stall in the open market in Brighton. He was a very cheerful man, (except when he got his income tax return). ‘You want the usual?’ He carefully put what they needed into the plastic bag they had brought. A large hunk of cheddar cheese, a dozen free-range eggs, and two packs of smoky bacon. ‘Done any more detecting recently?’ winking at Simon. ‘Oh, yes’, said Simon wearily. ‘She certainly has’, glaring at his sister again, who sighed and rolled her eyes to heaven.
‘The reason I asked’, Jason added, ‘is that I found a letter for you first thing this morning, sitting on top of the eggs. No idea where it came from’, and he handed over a large, brown envelope, with ‘Annie and Simon Wheeler’ written on it, in a very neat way, in red ink. They looked at each other, puzzled.
‘Now I’m praying, praying very hard, I mean really praying, that you haven’t got us into yet more trouble’, said Simon mournfully.
‘Rubbish!’ snapped Annie. ‘You ought to thank me really, for bringing glamour and excitement into your boring, miserable little grey life’.
‘Oh, you mean glamour? Excitement? Just for once, just once, I would like to not have the evils and troubles of the world descend on us. Just for a change. That’s not much to ask, is it?’
‘I know what it is!’ cried Simon.
‘It’s a warrant for our arrest, on the grounds of causing damage, despair and disaster to everybody and everything in this complete area’.
Annie just snarled under her breath. Then she let out a gasp, as she slowly unfolded the sheet of paper inside. Even Simon looked surprised, and at last interested. ‘What is it?’ he asked. Annie, without a word, handed him what she had found. Simon peered at the paper in amazement. Neither of them was sure how to describe it. This was what it said:
It has come to our attention that the two well-known detectives, Annie and Simon Wheeler, have undertaken a new and baffling case. They are on the track of a strange and mysterious secret society, known only as Four Fingers and a Thumb, marked only by their strange drawings like the one above! Their headquarters are located somewhere in the centre of Brighton. The only initial clue that the two detectives have to go on at present is the following strange rhyme:
Wandering minstrels all are we,
We will keep our readers posted on developments. The detectives are confident that they can find out the truth about this society before the end of the day.
Watch this space!
‘Don’t you see what this means, Simon! We have a new case to solve! Whoever this is, wants us to do it! If we solve the clues, we can find this secret society and catch them! Both of us! Isn’t this great! I can’t wait! Let’s get started!’
Hold on a moment’, said Simon slowly, ‘did I hear you say “we” and “us?”
Annie looked at him in fury, but then thought better of it. Instead, she decided on a gentle approach. She put her arms around his neck and looked at him appealingly.
‘Oh, Simon darling’, she cooed, ‘You wouldn’t want your poor little sister to go all alone to find this secret society, would you? I might be kidnapped and tied up and you’d never see me again’.
Simon made a noise as if he was about to be sick.
‘Oh, please, pretty please’.
‘What do you mean, little sister? You’re three inches taller than me!’
Simon stared at his sister. After all, he was very fond of her, despite her silliness.
‘All right, then’ he said grudgingly.
‘Great, let’s get going! Follow me, Doctor Watson!’
‘Don’t call me Doctor Watson!’
He followed her as she ran towards the North Laines, muttering ‘Shirley Sherlock, Shirley Sherlock’, under his breath.
They came out to the small open space between Sydney Street and the pedestrianised Kensington Gardens, and stopped to draw breath. A group of buskers were playing there, one on drums, another on guitar, and a girl who was just about to raise her saxophone to her lips. As the guitar paused, she began to play. But what came out was a loud ‘Parp!’ She looked at her instrument impatiently, shook it, and tried to play again. This time, she blew even harder. Suddenly, a small rolled piece of paper shot out of the tube and dropped at Annie’s feet. The girl began to play again, sweetly. Annie picked up the scrap of paper. ‘It’s another clue!’ she yelled. Simon looked at the girl playing. ‘You’ll have to forgive my sister’, he said sadly. ‘She’s mad’.
Look out! Look out, Find out more,
‘But where?’ asked Annie. ‘I don’t know’, sighed Simon. “Just keep walking’.
They silently went on, down through Kensington Gardens, crossed over North Street, walked down past the new library on Jubilee Square, and found themselves entering New Road, which had just been repaved, with long wooden seats next to the Pavilion Gardens, looking across to the Colonnade pub and the Theatre Royal. Finally they sat down and looked at the theatre.
‘This is hopeless’, muttered Simon. ‘Where do we go from here?’
‘Time for some detective thinking! cried Annie, and struck a dramatic pose, with her finger pointing in the air.
‘Oh no, not the drama queen again’.
Annie leapt at him in excitement ‘ You’ve got it, You’ve got it! You clever boy, you!’
Annie decided to feel patient. ‘Someone who played at the theatre. Someone who came through the front door. Someone who did an act!’
Annie prowled up and down the pavement, looking right and left. Then she stopped suddenly.
He looked to where she was pointing, and he had to admit, he did gasp.
He looked at the famous statue of Max Miller, the famous theatre comedian, who had played Brighton a lot. He wore a hat, strange baggy trousers, and a big kipper tie. He dimly remembered that his parent had talked about him once.
‘He’s pointing! Look!’
He was, indeed, and in the direction they had just come from. They looked at the statue in admiration. He was indeed pointing, and it looked as if he was directing them towards the…library.
‘Right’. Simon said firmly. ‘Before we go in there, I need some food. It’s lunch-time. We eat first and then work out what we need to find in there. All right, Shirley…I mean Sherlock’.
She growled but they did. They ate their sandwiches sitting on the benches outside the library.
‘What are we going to look for? Do we need to find a particular book, or object? What was that last line, about the sign of four? Does that mean anything?’
Annie sighed. ‘I don’t know. We can look at the computers and see if anything comes up, which might give us a clue. It might be the title of a book, or a story, or something. Anyway, it’s cold, and we need to find out. Come on, please. You know you’re excited. We can’t stop now. Let’s just try’.
He looked at her and suddenly felt sad for her. She was so determined, and he decided he would not let his sister down. ‘Let’s do it’. he said. So into the library they went.
As they looked through the computer, lists, Annie gasped, They had found it, hopefully. The author of Sherlock Holmes, the writer Arthur Conan Doyle, had written a book called ‘The Sign of Four’ in 1890, which he had published in an American magazine. It was about a secret conspiracy between four men in India, who had found a treasure, and swore to keep it a secret between themselves. It was Sherlock Holmes who had discovered their secret. Neither of them had read it, but the word ‘treasure’ immediately made them both very excited.
They rushed down to the books. ‘I can’t find it!’ wailed Annie. ‘Perhaps somebody’s already taken it out!’
‘Aha,’, said Doctor Watson, ‘It’s under Doyle!’
They searched the shelves and at last, there it was! Together they opened the book. Just inside the front page was a scrap pf paper. They pulled it out and stared at it.
‘All right, Doctor Watson! What do you make of this?’
‘Stop calling me Doctor Watson!’
‘Oooh, I’m so sorry!
‘Just be quiet!’
‘It’s another clue, a rhyme. I think they’re really bad at poetry’.
‘Shut up and look!’
It was another rhyme, and Simon groaned. This is what it said:
The hand of four, oh my,
Far it takes you, to a golden city.
‘Now what?’ grumbled Simon. Annie, alias Sherlock, was busy trying to think. Was it another book? Where did you find books? It sounded like it might be about travel to distant places. Where? She knew. “Simon. We have to find a bookshop. There must be another clue there somewhere’. Simon, alias Watson. was feeling tired and hungry again, and definitely not feeling very happy. But he groaned, and said ‘Walk on, Sherlock’, grunting ‘Shirley’ under his breath. It was getting dark now, and they were both feeling low in spirits. Crossing busy North Street, they began to walk through the narrow, maze-like Lanes, finally emerging into Duke Street, and began to walk up it, in the direction of the clock-tower.
‘I’ve got an instinct! A book that takes you far away. A poem perhaps. Come and see. I think I know what we’re looking for’.
They stopped by the Colin Page bookshop in Duke Street, and peered in the window. There was nothing really that came into Annie’s mind. But she still had a feeling. Without saying anything to Simon, she opened the door and walked into the shop.
‘Excuse me’, she said politely to the bookseller, ‘Do you have any poems? About sailing far away to a golden city?’ The bookseller had to think about this.
‘The only thing that comes to my mind is a poem by the Irish author W.B. Yeats. It’s called sailing to something or other. Let me find you a copy’.
He looked around at the back-shelves of the shop. ‘Here it is. You can probably find something in that’. Annie looked through the book, turning page after page, while Simon stood, feeling very hungry, and, by now rather bored. Poetry? Not a chance.
This was the point that Simon felt that his sister had really gone mad. She was jumping up and down in delight, and even kissed the bookseller, who looked, not surprisingly, very embarrassed. ‘Look’, he said. ‘Take the book. I’m about to close the shop’. They both thanked him, and sat outside, Annie looking through the pages. ‘Here’, she said.
‘Look at it, you idiot! What does it say?’
‘That is no country for old men’
‘No-oo! Look at the last two lines of the second bit!’
‘You owe me for this! All right, here we go’.
‘And therefore have I sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium’.
‘Don’t you see? We’re really close to the Thumb and Four Fingers!. Look at this!’
Annie was holding a scrap of paper in her hand, which had fallen out from the book. She held it out to him. He looked, wishing that he hadn’t become involved in all this. Then Simon read it aloud.
‘Oh, such a thumb.
But pick out a plum’
Oh. sweet appetite that we crave!’
‘There you are. I told you that they were terrible at poetry’.
But Annie wasn’t listening. She was trying to think about what it meant. It seemed to be about…food? Something that they all liked? What was this about a thumb? She thought and thought but nothing really occurred to her. They walked slowly up Duke Street.
‘Let’s have a look at that special chocolate shop. The one with the funny name. It’s just up here’.
Simon, of course, was still thinking of his stomach. He was not expecting his sister to suddenly leap up into the air, and then spin around, waving her hands above her, whooping and screaming.
‘Do you know? You really are totally mad. I wouldn’t have thought that for a million years. I wonder what people will ask me? “It must be terrible, having a sister who’s completely insane”. “Oh”, I say. “It is terribly worrying sometimes, but I try to put a brave face on it’
‘Thank you very much. I do find it a burden to have a mad sister’. People feel very sorry for me, sometimes’.
‘You got it!’
‘Yes, I know. I’ve got you’.
Red-faced with fury, she dragged him over to the window of the chocolate shop.
‘What do you see?’
‘Look, my dear Holmes, I see a lot of chocolate and ………!
Inside the window, amongst all the other things, he saw a cake. A large cake, a very elaborate one with wonderful fans of chocolate, and covered in icing. From the top rose a shape that looked like, well, exactly like a large thumb. Annie said nothing more, but pushed the shop door open and went in. Simon followed. The shopkeeper looked up in surprise.
‘Could you tell us about that cake in your window? The one with the thumb? asked Annie.
‘Yes’, said Annie. ‘Did you ever meet whoever it was that ordered the cake?’
‘No. As I said, it was over the telephone. It was certainly a very strange commission. But you can have the card he sent, if you like. You’ll have to go now. We’re just about to close’.
She gave the card to Annie. With a nod to Simon, they left the shop, after thanking her, and stood outside, with the small card in their hands.
Well, well, who goes there?
It was getting dark, and worse still, it had begun to rain, with a steady drizzle. Simon suddenly pointed at Annie’s backpack. ‘You’re leaking!’ he cried. Annie suddenly realised about the eggs inside. ‘Oh, no!’ She swiftly took it off, and to their dismay, a long yellow and white gluey stream ran from the bottom. ‘Hold on’, said Simon, ‘I’ll call Mum and Dad’. He turned away and rang up on his mobile phone. After a while he came back.
‘Mum said it was all right, but you’ll have to clean up the backpack. If we’re not back by eight o’clock, then she’s going to tell the police. I told her we were on a treasure hunt’.
‘And then what?’
‘I don’t know. She just laughed . Then she said that if that sister of yours gets into any trouble again, I’ll not be responsible’.
‘You made that up!’
‘No, I didn’t’. His face looked entirely innocent.
‘Hah, oh yes!’
They slowly walked down the dark passage. The noise of traffic disappeared. Only the ‘splat, splat’ splat’ of water on the cobblestones and the bricks, that they trod on. They held hands together, without even realising, as they moved slowly down the narrow alley. The walls on each side were high. There was no glimmer of light from any of the small windows they passed. Everything was dark, apart from the gleam of the rain on the cobbles that helped to guide them. Nothing but the water drops sparkling in the far light at the end of the passage. The patter of rain sounded louder. Suddenly. they jumped. A large white cat sat staring at them from the wall at one side, and then flitted down and ran past their feet. The few small shops were all shuttered and closed, with no sign of life. The cat hissed behind them, and disappeared.
‘I don’t like this ‘, whispered Simon.
‘Oh, shut up!’ whispered Annie irritably. But she was beginning to be frightened too. The further they went, the more the cobbled walls began to loom around them. Simon had the feeling that they were slowly closing in, inch by inch, tightening around them, in a place where time itself seemed to have stopped. Then Annie came to a halt. ‘Look!’ she whispered. Simon looked. He saw a large black gate, set in a tall garden wall, Above the gate was a row of rusty, but sharp iron hooks designed to stop anyone climbing over. The gate, that was about six feet high, was set into the gleaming cobbled wall. They could just see what looked like trees and branches behind, and the outline of a large house.
There was no sound around them, only the splash and patter of rain on the brick pavement below their feet. There was a little white bell-push on the right of the door. Underneath it was a small notice. It simply said ‘Thumb only’.
‘Well, that’s not surprising’. muttered Annie with some annoyance. They climbed higher and higher, until, at last they came onto some kind of level space. ‘Where to now? ‘ whispered Simon. Annie had stopped, and if Simon could see in the darkness, he might have realised that she was pointing. ‘Can you see that little bit of light? Right at the end? It looks like it’s coming from underneath a door’. Simon nodded, which didn’t mean anything in the darkness that completely surrounded them. But there it was, a faint glimmer of light, the only thing that could guide them now.
They slowly crept towards it. At last they came to the door. Inside there was a light, the light that they had seen. But everything was totally silent. The silence, the complete lack of any sound, was, for them even more frightening than the darkness.They stopped. ‘Are you ready?’ Annie asked.
‘What! What for? You’re not going to…!’
Annie threw the door open and shouted ‘Hands up! Stay where you are!’
‘Right! Put your hands in front of your chest! No, that’s wrong! Put your hands behind your legs! Oh no! That’s wrong, too. Well, you all know what I mean!’
The four hooded figures did not move. She suddenly realised that they each had a gun lying on the table, in front of them. All in one movement, they picked them up and levelled their weapons at Simon and Annie. They both froze, and then Simon did one of the first and best things he had ever done in his life. He stood in front of Annie, and shouted. ‘You’re not going to kill my sister!’ The guns fired. ‘Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!’ their sound echoed through the room.
Annie went even further. She stood, hands on hips, red-faced with fury. ‘WE ARE NOT AMUSED!’ she shouted furiously But this only made the hooded figures shriek with laughter even more. At last, they stopped, apart from the occasional giggle. Then the smaller figure at the end decided to take control. ‘Let there be light!’ he commanded, and. at an instant, the room suddenly lit up, making both Simon and Annie blink, and rub their eyes. When they looked up, they saw that all four figures had thrown back their hoods.
‘Wait a minute!’ shouted Simon.
His sister, for a change, seemed speechless. He tried to remember all the gangster movies that he’d seen. ‘Right!’ he cried. ‘Talk! Sing, birdie, sing!’
How sweet you are
Annie looked at him with withering scorn.’What he really means
‘Well, it is perhaps time to introduce ourselves’. It was the little tubby bald man who spoke, but the others all nodded in agreement. ‘To answer your last question first, we are…..’he paused significantly, ‘The Brotherhood of Four Fingers and a Thumb’. We exist in order to develop and promote the idea of ‘mystery’. We came together to make and enjoy mysteries in general. The things that have no immediate answer, those that are clothed in strangeness. Things that have to be solved, before they can be understood. That is the whole pleasure in what we do’.
‘Well, sometimes we do, But only when it becomes a mystery. Now meet my colleagues. By the way, I am Little Finger’.
‘And I, intoned the taller, thin and bald man sitting next to him, ‘am Third Finger’.
‘As for me, spoke the very tall bald man in the middle, ‘I am Middle Finger’.
‘And I’, squeaked the next, in a rather high voice, ‘…am Index Finger’.
‘But where is Thumb?’ asked Annie suddenly.
The Four Fingers looked at each other, and bowed their heads.
‘Alas’, said Index Finger quietly. ‘Our brother Thumb passed away last month. At present we have no Thumb. ‘But…’ he brightened suddenly, ‘that is where you come in. We would formally and officially like you both to replace brother Thumb’.
Annie sat there with her mouth open. ‘You’ll have to forgive my poor sister’, Simon said. ‘She likes catching flies’. Annie jerked upright.
‘Why us? She suddenly realised. ‘All this was a test, wasn’t it? To see if we were up to the job!’
‘Of course’, replied Middle Finger in surprise. ‘I came to our attention that you were of a naturally…..curious nature, and we felt it would be only right to make sure that we found the right people. And we have. You can now be a joint Thumb’.
‘I say, that’s a bit near the knuckle, isn’t it’, said Index Finger. The Fingers all shrieked with laughter, slapping their hands hard on the table. Simon turned to Annie. ‘If we’re going to join them, they’re going to have to improve their jokes’.
‘Agreed’. said Annie.
‘Right, what do we have to do?’
Little Finger raised his hand. ‘Do you swear to be true to mystery, and all that it holds?’ Simon and Annie both raised their hands. ‘Yes’. they said. ‘And do you swear to be faithful to the beliefs of the Brotherhood of Four Fingers and a Thumb?’
‘Sisterhood as well’, said Annie. ‘Oh, yes, that too. You are now, formally and officially, brother and sister Thumb’. The fingers all clapped and applauded. But Simon was looking at his watch, and dug his elbow into Annie’s ribs. ‘We’ve got to go! It’s really late!’
‘Wait a moment’, whispered Annie. ‘How do we get in touch with you?’ she said loudly.
‘Oh, we’ll arrange that’, said Middle Finger. ‘Just be prepared to receive mysterious messages. You’ll know what they are. And now, farewell’. All the fingers raised their hands, palm forwards. Simon and Annie did the same.
‘However’, It was Index Finger that spoke, the next to tallest of the four.
‘I must warn you’, he continued. ‘This is not a game. You will meet some very deadly people. They are wicked and evil. You see before you four elderly men who have experienced some terrible things. You will meet, as we have done, many strange and fearful characters, in the future. Do not, for one moment, think that this is a joke, which may turn out to be…fun. Believe me, you are going to find yourselves pitted against many fearful enemies, who are both treacherous and fearsome. Make no mistake, you will need all your wits and ingenuity against them. I am telling you this for your own sakes. You will find yourselves in a battle between good and evil. Do you still want to be part of the Brotherhood? You must say now’.
Simon and Annie looked at each other.
‘Yes we do’. Annie said firmly.
‘Then so be it’.
Without another word, they got up, turned and went out, following the same path down the passage. At the end they stopped, and stared back. It was still raining, and the brick pavement still glistened under the rain. Without another word, they walked together to catch the bus.
‘You know’, said Simon as they finished supper, ‘Are you scared in any way?’
Annie looked down at the table. ‘I suppose I am. I just don’t know what might happen. Are you?’
‘A little bit. It’s not knowing what is going to happen. But I also feel a kind of excitement as well, not knowing what’s ahead’.
‘I feel the same’.
Watch this space!
Frank Jackson (1/04/09) Word count - 5333
The passageway to the entrance of the headquarters of the Brothrhood of the Hand.
The doorway of the Brotherhood.