The Case of the Missing Seafarer

(///admiral.pram.orchestra – The Sherlock Holmes Museum, London, UK)

“You are here about your recently missing grandfather, Admiral Morton. You rushed to get here before your next teaching assignment, but you were careful to protect your precious violin. And you wish you’d drunk your tea more carefully before leaving home.”

Elizabeth Montgomery paused in the act of lowering herself into a chair. “Mr Holmes,” she gasped. “I have not even sat down. And I have barely spoken. How could you know all of that?”

Watson chuckled.

“It’s perfectly obvious,” Holmes said. “You are flushed, but your natural complexion is not ruddy, so you hurried. You keep glancing at the splashes of tea on your stole, so you drained it on your way out. And you brought a pram, though no baby. I observed from the window that the shape inside resembled a violin case, so I surmised it is a valuable instrument you wanted to keep from view.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “But my grandfather?”

“The cameo brooch with his portrait which you are wearing prominently. It brings you comfort.”

“But how did you know him?”

Holmes’ eyes twinkled. “There I must admit, I had a little prior knowledge. I deciphered a message secreted in yesterday’s Times crossword – the words Admiral, Lime, Grapes and Ransom pointed to someone being held in the Grapes Tavern in Limehouse. My irregulars confirmed suspicious activity and police found your grandfather there, unharmed. As I expected, he was holding a letter addressed to me. It simply said ‘The Game’s Afoot’, and was signed by Moriarty. And so another joust with my old adversary awaits.”

“My word. And where is Grandpop now?”

“My dear,” a voice behind her boomed. Elizabeth almost knocked over her chair as she ran to embrace him.

“Mr Holmes was preparing to escort me home. You could join us.”

Elizabeth turned to face the detective, her face wreathed in smiles. “However can I thank you?” she asked.

“Why don’t you fetch that violin of yours,” Holmes said. “A duet from our own tiny orchestra before you leave.”


Why this location?

The Middle of Everywhere

(///prosecuted.amplification.showings – Null Island (0 degrees lat, 0 degrees long), international waters)

The prisoners could scarcely believe their luck. Two weeks into the transportation, a card game between the captain and other senior crew members had escalated from a minor disagreement into open warfare, culminating in the deaths of those who had played.

The remaining seamen had no real quarrel with the prisoners they were taking to New South Wales. Feeling kinship with the deprivations which had motivated many of their crimes, they promptly freed them and declared that all those left on board now owned the ship.

“We are in the middle of everywhere!” declared Paddy, previously prosecuted and convicted for stealing a woollen jacket. “We can go where we please. The world is ours!”

They ate, they drank, they honed their cartography skills as they surveyed the surrounding seas and the stars at night.

And while they decided where next, they relaxed.

Molly, also a minor thief, indulged her passion for dancing and put on performances, two showings a day. Davey, condemned for political activism, experimented with the rudimentary machines on board to create different sounds, amplification or muffling. Thomas, admittedly a convicted murderer, was welcomed into the fold as people felt that disembowelling the former teacher who had flogged him mercilessly was simply justice and not a crime. And they liked the way he baked bread.

Two weeks passed in a haze as the ship sailed in circles and the food supplies started to dwindle. Two weeks to come up with a plan. Two weeks to take advantage of being in the middle of everywhere.

Until finally, a group of them sat down together. They ate a little. They drank a little. They shuffled the maps a lot. And then Paddy stood up.

“We are in the middle of everywhere,” he said. “But we are also in the middle of nowhere. And truth be told, we need to be in the middle of somewhere.” He stared ruefully at the map he held and then looked at the sailors. “Which of you knows how to get to Australia?” he asked.


Why this location?

A Worrying Decline

(///punt.calls.fell – Entrance to the old City of London School building)

Hector Tomkins surveyed his audience and cleared his throat.

“As headmaster, I have to tell this annual meeting that application numbers fell again last year. But the reason is clear. We are being systematically destroyed by Hogwarts!”

Nods of agreement.

“People no longer believe that the Webster Academy is a true school of magic. They have been seduced by the fictitious nonsense of Harry Potter and his friends. Real magic schools such as ours can no longer thrive!”

Jeers for Harry Potter.

“So what can we do? You have seen my proposal. It’s a punt, but a punt worth taking. Let’s have a show of hands!”

Unanimous support.


A year later the headmaster beamed at those in front of him.

“Calls have been flooding in for months! The future of the Webster Academy is assured!”

Huge cheers.

“We know some people viewed it as a little unethical. We know we had to get special dispensation from the Magic Council. But it was important to tinker with history to ensure that we didn’t become history!”

Prolonged applause.

“People out there don’t know any better now anyway. To them, Hogwarts has always been fact and not fiction. Harry Potter films have always been documentaries and not blockbusters. The Goblet of Fire has always been a staple of the sporting year. We’re now mainstream, no longer hidden, and so our numbers have risen again.”

A standing ovation. Hector smiled. Saving his school had been a true feat of magic.


Why this location?

The Weight of the World

(///plenty.reject.fired – Weight Watchers International HQ, New York, USA)

If Professor Noel McMasters had learned anything, it was that skinny was bad. After all, historical images from Egyptian times onwards had shown rulers happy to carry a bit of weight, a sign of their power and prosperity.

But try as he might, he could never put on an ounce. He wolfed down large slices of cake, plenty of chips, mounds of doughnuts. He spurned all forms of exercise. But he remained scrawny, a man without real influence.

Until the miracle. He and his colleagues were translating the mystery Saqqara Tablet. It revealed the magic devised by the High Priest Amenatho and the incantations used by Pharaohs to quite literally transfer weight from their officials to themselves. That was how they had stayed in such rotund health! And power! Noel could see the path ahead. If he could affect the magic on himself, then surely genuine authority would follow.

Of course, he knew his colleagues would reject any request for help. Nobody would just put him in charge. Instead, he would learn the invocations by heart and recite them at the reception where the findings were to be announced. He could then take over proceedings, showing that he had mastered the magic and should therefore lead all research going forward. He could model his new portlier figure at the same time.

As the assembled sipped champagne and nibbled on crab puffs, he quietly pronounced the words. When he finished, he felt his body stiffen and tighten and then begin to whirl. People gasped and drew away from him as he spun quicker and quicker, and parts of his skin fired off randomly around the room, not stopping until suddenly he crashed to the floor. Skeletal. Dead.

If only Noel had been invited to the final research meeting, when the head of department had unveiled a missing piece of the tablet, Amenatho’s cypher for ensuring the incantations were recited correctly, together with a description of what would happen to those who tried the prayers without it.

At least Noel would always be remembered for his practical enactment of Amenatho’s words. It was a lasting influence of sorts.


Why this location?

A Taste Sensation

(///sushi.zest.crate – Gtech Community Stadium, Brentford, UK)

People told Sam he was mad to open a sushi stand at a football stadium. And they were probably right. He sold very few.

With money tight and panic setting in, Sam gambled on a new concept. The Sushi Pie. After all, football fans loved pies.

Initial sales were sluggish. But the early aficionados told others, and they spread the word and within a month there were long queues. Within three months, concessions of Sushi Pie vendors at other stadiums. Within a year, Sushi Pies in supermarkets.

Buoyed by success, Sam extended the range. But Sushi Sandwiches proved hit and miss, the Sushi Pizza was an acquired taste, the Sushi Smoothie flavoured with lime zest didn’t take off.

Undeterred, Sam ploughed his dwindling profits into Sushi Ice Cream. He was convinced that the salt of salmon and the bitterness of wasabi would complement the cream for a perfect balance.

He was wrong. Supermarkets tried it to no avail. Ice cream vans wouldn’t touch it. And football fans didn’t want ice cream with their pies.

Sam sat morosely on a crate of Sushi Profiteroles as supporters filed out. Sympathetic players smiled at him as they left. He gave them ice creams to say thank you.

As he finally dragged himself away, his phone pinged. The team’s star striker had posted a picture of himself with his ice cream, looking delighted with his treat. The image exploded. It swamped the internet. Online orders of Sushi Ice Cream rose from nothing to thousands within the hour.

Sam stared at his phone. It was incredible! They were selling like hot cakes.

Hot cakes!

Sam started formulating his next recipe.


Why this location?

Cooking with Robin

(///olive.gross.admit – YouTube Headquarters, San Bruno, USA)

The whole world watched ‘Cooking with Robin’. It was the weekly release from the rising illnesses and disappearances, the withering flowers and the dying animals, the events which billions increasingly had to admit were part of their everyday lives.

Robin had erupted into their lives when they had most needed him, when their other certainties had started to collapse. Daily, people debated the root of their troubles, arguing passionately for their conspiracy theorist of choice. But when Robin’s show came on, their hostilities subsided and the gross nature of the horrors was forgotten. Whatever the time of day or night, billions felt compelled to join his live broadcast.

Robin burst into view on every global screen, impossibly perfect face, lustrous blond hair, green eyes trapping the gaze of billions staring back at him and never letting go.

“Our grand finale, a sweet treat,” he purred, subtly licking his upper lip and starting a gingerbread dough. Billions tore open the ingredients bags whose weekly arrival they never questioned.

“We knead and knead,” he continued. Billions pounded away, never wondering how they understood Robin’s every word, whatever their own tongue might be.

“A savoury twist,” he winked, adding paprika and mandrake. Billions mixed them in.

“And now our creation. A gingerbread soldier.” Billions shaped and decorated their figures, with candied peel epaulettes, golden sultana buttons and dried mango trousers, the face completed with piercing glace cherry eyes and an olive for a nose.

“Finally we bake. And while we bake, we sing.”

Mesmerised, billions read the words on screen and found they somehow knew the tune to ‘Kill, Soldier, Kill’.

“And now they are ready.”

Soldiers leapt out of ovens.

Fresh. Hot. Six feet tall.


Billions lay slaughtered.

Robin nodded triumphantly and headed into his new world. He and his soldiers would enjoy devouring the feast which they had painstakingly prepared.


Why this location?

A Nice Cup of Tea

(///damage.tags.path – PG Tips tea factory, Manchester, UK)

Gerald slurped his tea and made a mark in his book. “That’s my 500th cup of the year!” he announced loudly to Barbara. She smiled wearily.

“I’m on the right path,” he blathered on. “May 5th today, 125th day of the year, four cups a day, it’s as predicted. I’m going to have an answer soon!” Barbara stroked Minky, who purred supportively.

Gerald continued inscribing furiously, his pursuit of knowing unknowable facts coming closer to fruition. After all, there was an absolute answer to the number of cups of tea he had drunk in his life. It was an indisputable fact about his life on Earth. Only he didn’t know what that figure was.

So this year he had recorded his every cup of tea to ratify his general habits, confirmed with his mother when he had first drunk tea and reached a hypothesis on how to calculate a reliable estimate of cups of tea drunk over his entire 48 years, taking into account his early office years, his teenage tea resistance phase and his tea-free childhood.

With some confidence, he was homing in on an estimated total for his lifetime of 55,000 cups

“Next year, trips to the toilet. Harder to calculate. Then maybe crisps. Packets and individual ones, list of different flavours. Or tags I’ve cut off clothing. The facts I’m going to uncover!” Gerald beamed. Barbara sighed.

“Have a biscuit,” she said by way of changing the subject, “I baked them specially.”

Gerald snatched it off her, gobbled it up, and smiled. Then he crashed face forward onto the table.

Barbara breathed out. The internal damage from the herbs in the biscuit would resemble a heart attack. She would be the grieving widow.

“That’s one murder in my life,” she told Minky. “That’s a confirmed unknowable fact. And now I’m going to enjoy my 44,326th cup of tea.”

Minky nuzzled her. “Do you know what Gerald’s problem was?” Barbara continued. “I’ll tell you. Gerald’s problem was that he wouldn’t stop talking.”


Why this location?

The Eggs-treme Omelette

(///reading.readjust.nominations – Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone, Wyoming, USA)

Egbert hated many things, chief among them his name. But his angry adolescence had given way to a mature acceptance, and he had vowed to make a virtue of his anger. His Egbert’s Eggs café was a roaring success.

He continued to loathe specific objects though, and needed outlandish diversions to cope. So he invented Extreme Egg Cookery, and was soon frying, poaching and scrambling in deserts, forests and oceans.

Eggs-treme omelette became his most popular dish, and nominations for ever more dangerous locations flooded in. Reading them, Egbert decided on the ultimate challenge.

Old Faithful, world-famous geyser – hot and dependable, while suggesting an inner rage that could only be satisfied by its regular plumes of boiling water.

Authorities agreed. Egbert brainstormed. One method emerged. The omelette mix would need to be encased.

He created a metal ball to be shot into the air with the jet, with the heat of the water trusted to do the cooking. He simulated a geyser to try, test, adjust, test again, readjust, and test again until he had the perfect size and weight.

The day arrived. The cooking sphere sat on a stand above Old Faithful. The waiting proved interminable – Old Faithful was toying with them, but eventually it burst into life and carried the vessel skywards, keeping it up there while superheating it.

As Old Faithful shrank back, the sphere was thrown in an unexpected direction at extreme velocity. The crowd scattered, but Egbert was too slow and the cooking ball smacked him on the head. He lay dazed on the ground. But the crowd seemed more interested in the contents of the dome, which now lay open on the ground next to him.

A perfectly cooked omelette.

People whooped and cheered.

Egbert lay back, his world view confirmed.

He really, really hated eggs.


Why this location?