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Memento Mori


Paul Holbrook 

Paul’s first novel ‘Memento Mori’, is a dark Victorian tale of murder and Post-Mortem photography.  ‘Memento Mori’ is a novel based in 19th century London and concerns Sibelius Darke,  a photographer who offers a special service to those that have lost loved ones by photographing them as a ‘memento’ of their life.  His services are popular with the upper classes and he is quickly climbing the social ladder.  This changes however when, during one particular appointment, through the lens of his camera, he is spoken to by his subject, the ghost of a young girl, who warns him of a coming danger.


Paul is currently fighting hard through the detritus in an attempt to get the book noticed and published.


During daylight hours, Paul manages to hold down a job, something which provides him with no end of inspiration.  In the darkness of the night however he can be heard cackling maniacally and expressing his darker side.


He is currently putting the finishing touches to his second novel ‘Domini Mortum’ the sequel to ‘Memento Mori’.


He can also be found on the following social network sites @cp_holbrook

Paul Holbrook 

     Shortly before midday, I stood on the street as two carriages arrived outside my doors.  The first was a small hackney, from which stepped two men in brown suits and bowler hats.  One of the men was much broader than the other and a good head higher, and I thought that, had they not been so well dressed, I would have sworn that their normal employment would be as enforcers of some kind.  Between them, they carried a large trunk, which I assumed would be filled with clothing props or other items required for the photograph. The other carriage was a hearse pulled by two well-bred horses.  The casket held within would contain the centrepiece for today's photographic assignment.


     ‘I trust you are Mr Darke, Sir?’ the smaller of the two men asked as they approached the doors.  I nodded and held them open, so that they could go through to the studio.  ‘My name is Dawes, sir and this is my colleague Mr Soames.  We have been sent by His Lordship, delivering a package that we are to return to him later this afternoon.’


     ‘Yes, come this way,’ I said motioning towards the studio which they entered placing the trunk on the floor. ‘I trust everything that I need is contained within?’ I asked pointing at the dark wooden box.


     ‘Yes, sir, His Lordship, said everything you needed would be found in this trunk, as per his instructions, which he has given to you previously.  There will be just one other item which my friend and I will fetch from the other carriage.  It wouldn’t be much good without her, would it?’  They walked back out to the street, Dawes laughing and slapping his large colleague on the shoulder.


     I allowed myself a smile, which reminded me, with a small stabbing pain, that my face carried bruising.  He was right though, without the girl in the box it would indeed be a wasted afternoon.  As usual with any new appointment of mine, I had gone through the process of gathering background information through my normal sources.  Apart from a natural curiosity, it paid to know who you were dealing with when it came to matters of death.  Today’s assignment had filled me with particular interest.


     Annie Lowther was an actress on the up.  From lowly beginnings in the small music halls she had been fortunate enough to meet some very influential people and rose quickly appearing at The Canterbury and The Middlesex, where she became the darling of the crowds.  She had higher dreams though and wished to become an actress, spending her spare moments perfecting some of the most famous female roles.  She had appeared in some small productions and, regarding her talents as an actress the initial reviews were very favourable.  It was predicted that she would have been one of the greatest actresses of our age, if she had not suffered an unfortunate accident involving a large set of stairs and the badly stitched hem of an expensive dress.  Oh how they wept in the bars of Shaftesbury Avenue when they heard the news,


     'Our little dove has flown, stolen from us by the fickle hand of fate, torn from the prospect of a life of fame and fortune, forever to live in our memories.'


     The truth behind her demise was, however, a much more unfortunate and seedy story.  She had been first sighted by Lord William Falconer when just seventeen years of age and appearing in an unpublicised role at a local brothel.


     He had been mesmerised by the simple beauty of this young waif who came from such sad beginnings.  The daughter of a local abbess, she had never met her father, truth be told her mother had only met him twice, once when he had come to her abode one night as a young street girl, carrying a terrible collection of expensive liquor and opium and the second time when he returned for another piece of her and had been informed that he had placed a very potentially expensive bun in a cheap but operational oven.  The woman finding, herself with an ever expanding midsection, lost herself in dreams of being taken from her poor lodgings by this mystery man and would find herself content in the life of a respectable lady, happily married to a rich man who loved her and her baby.  This was not to be the case, however as the man told her in a most direct of terms, that this would never be the case and that she should,


     ‘Get rid, as soon as possible’. 


     The mystery man must have had some degree of morality about him, either that or he was terrified by the thought of scandal, because he gave the woman a large sum of money to end the pregnancy and keep her silence.  She was a smart woman however and, rather than carrying out his wishes, she had kept the child and the money so that she would be able to start a 'business' of her own. 


     The baby, Annie, had been born and was raised within the confines of this den of inequity.  Her mother, rather than seeing the good fortune that Annie had brought about, resented her, reminding the abbess, as she did, of the man who abandoned her.  This resentment saw her put Annie 'to work' as soon as she was old enough to turn a man's head and make her mother some coin.  Unfortunately for young Annie, there were men who visited her home for whom the only thought of age was whether it was not yet double figures.  This was the terrible life which Annie Lowther, future star of the west end stage, endured until Lord Falconer visited her establishment one evening and 'saved' her from her mother.  This salvation, as had been the case throughout her short life was sealed with a cash payment.  Her mother sold her.


     She had been set up in apartments, financed by Falconer, and provided with all the means necessary for her to attain her dream of performing on the stage.  Falconer’s idea, it is said, was that she could have a little career in the theatre whilst ensuring that she was suitably grateful to him and showed her gratitude as and when he demanded it.  What the philanthropist Lord neglected to consider however were her natural talents and charisma when treading the boards.  Her star rose over the London sky and, rather than playing a small but happy part in the dramatic arts, she soon became the ‘bright new maid of the music halls’.  Falconer, distressed by her sudden fame and high ideals threatened to bring her down unless she slowed in her rise to the top, but this butterfly was not for hiding and, as a result of believing the critics words, she developed even greater dreams of becoming a true theatre actress.  The flight of her success however, was dealt a disastrous blow when the accident clipped her wings to a mortal extent. 


     Hushed rumours of a violent argument, fed by the drunken rage of her benefactor Lord, now wracked with guilt and grief, remained unproven and I wondered, as her casket was unloaded from the hearse, whether Falconer made a habit of killing those who did not obey him.


     Dawes and Soames entered the studio, carrying the casket containing the unfortunate girl and I began to wonder if I would be forced to witness another talking corpse through my lens this afternoon.  If this was to be the case, it would be better if these men were not present.  I decided to find out tapping the large man on the shoulder as he passed me. 


     ‘Mr Soames, I am afraid I may be over an hour with my task, do you care to wait here or will you return later?’  They placed the casket on the floor next to the camera and Soames turned to me smiling but not speaking.  ‘Well?’  I said.


     ‘He don’t speak no more, sir.’ Dawes said, motioning to the larger man with his thumb.  ‘Poor old Mr Soames here can’t, on account of his accident.  He had a previous engagement with a knife.’  Soames smiled at me and motioned with his finger to a large star shaped scar on the left side of his throat.  ‘He shouldn’t have survived really, lucky he was, I never saw so much blood as what came out of my good friend here.’


     Mr Soames grinned in a way which told me that this was a routine which they were used to performing for anyone new that they met.


      ‘Four inch blade what did it, I was surprised not to see it come out the other side.’  Laughed Dawes and his large friend smiled and shook in a silent display of laughter. ‘I saved him I did,’ Dawes continued the patter, ‘left the blade in there and stopped the blood coming out with a handkerchief I had in my pocket.’  His eyes studied my face looking for any sign of shock or horror.  He saw none.  ‘Lucky we were near the Belgrave on Gloucester Street so we rushed him right in and found a doctor.  Saved his life but lost his voice he did.’  He looked at me again, waiting for a reaction.  It was clear that they were not going anywhere until they had completed telling the story and I decided to press him to continue.


     ‘That is a fascinating story, Mr Dawes.  How lucky he is to have a friend like you around to save him.  Did they catch the man that did it?’


     ‘Well it’s a funny thing that, Mr Darke, very funny indeed because you see it was me.  I stuck the knife in him.’  This time my shock was difficult to hide and I supposed later that this was the effect that the story received each time the tale was told and was a daily source of entertainment to them.  Shocking or not however, I needed them to leave so that I could proceed with whatever strange experience the afternoon held for me. 


      ‘So you are saying that you stabbed your friend in the throat and then saved him from dying?  I must say Mr Dawes that Mr Soames and yourself are very surprising characters indeed.  How did you come to stab him?’


     ‘Well it was his own fault, Mr Darke.  You see we were playing a game of cards and he cheated me, I knew he had and he has since admitted it, haven’t you Will?’  He looked to the larger man who smiled and nodded at me.  ‘I didn’t mean him no great harm, I was aiming for his cheek, thought I’d give him something to remember not to cheat his friend in future, but he moved you see, and bang! There it went, right into his throat, claret everywhere and a right mess on the card table.  Still he won’t forget it now will he?  At least some good came of it and he’s never cheated in a game of cards since, have you?’  Mr Soames shook his head; the smile had faded from his face.


     ‘It looks like you’ve just come back from the wars, if you don’t mind me saying.  I hope the other fella looks worse.’ Dawes continued and I smiled in return, I was not about to say how I sustained my injuries and let these men know that I was an easy mark.  Dawes noted my lack of response and saw it as a sign that I wanted to start my work.  ‘Anyway, we won’t take up any more of your precious time, Mr Darke.  We will return for her at three this afternoon if that’s convenient for you.  We will be taking our lunch at the pub on the corner.’


     ‘Very well,’ I replied and led them to the door.  I watched them as Dawes told the carriage drivers of their plans and told them to meet back outside the studio in three hours.  They wandered down Osborn Street, side by side towards Whitechapel Road, and I decided that if I ever needed anybody stabbing, that I would do no better than to call on those gentlemen.  

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