Disarm a bomb and save the day? Yes. Solve a complex and infuriating cipher? But of course. Explain how you did it and face the fact that you are no longer safely tucked away behind the sturdy brick walls of your flat? Not so much.
Vincent found himself tongue-tied, terrified, and looking for a fast way out. But surrounded as he was by the stern, and admittedly curious, faces of his small audience, escape from the drab little office of MDOPFGIASA was simply not in the cards.
Goodness me, I'd forgotten how it is to interact with . . . normal people, he concluded, wondering why oh why he'd ever left home this morning.
Vincent's real mistake, to be honest, was in ever assuming that his audience counted as “normal people.” For really, the only truly normal employee of their ragtag department was Ins. Newberry. And he was decidedly absent at present.
“Where to begin, where to begin . . .” Vincent took his moment of shyness to center himself. “First off. I presume that Newberry's been keeping you informed about my activities as a consultant?”
The blank faces told Wexley that, no, Newberry hadn't made mention.
“Ah, yes. Well, Newberry needed some help on one of your—ahem—cases. A load of equipment with which nobody was familiar—its original owners having come to a bad end.” He paused before asking, “That common? The criminals dying on you before you can finish the case?”
Crothall growled. Actually growled.
Hurriedly continuing, Wexley tried to cover his faux pas, “Ok then. As I was saying, Newberry let me take a look at some of this equipment you found while pursuing these lovely little electrical lizards-”
“It was YOU!” It was Perrigordon's turn to explode, his pudgy face turning maroon while he shook an incriminating finger at their hapless guest. “He outsourced my work to YOU!”
“Beg pardon?” Vincent blinked in surprise and internally begged the fates to return him safely home without further delay.
“The lizard's case. Newberry mentioned he had a stooge outside the office doing work for us,” Perrigordon sputtered angrily, “Who, who are you? What are your credentials even?”
Crothall appeared decidedly pleased to have an ally in the professor.
“Well, I—I . . .”
“Let him be, please. The man just saved our skins this morning,” the voice of Newberry drawled through the doorway, immediately proceeding the speaker himself. “His credentials are sufficient and I vouch fully for my friend's character.”
The tiny crowd parted automatically for their leader, noting tired eyes and a slightly beaten demeanour. Clearly Newberry's trip upstairs had not been one of congratulations and thanks.
“Vincent Wexley, everyone. Everyone, Mr. Vincent Wexley. Friend. Confidante. And expert in all things mechanical, mysterious, and downright strange.” Newberry collapsed gratefully into a nearby chair, “Mr. Wexley, if you haven't already, please enlighten us with how you knew the teapot in the hallway to be other than an innocent tool of the kitchen.”
“With pleasure!” The sight of his friend seemed to cheer Vincent considerably and he now launched into his tale with gusto.
“Giles stopped by last evening to share with me the news on Miss Temble's re-surfacing at last. Or at least he shared her veiled telegram, knowing that I am something of a hobbyist in the area of cryptography.
“And so I spent the majority of the first hour pulling books and refreshing my memory on certain systems. It was in a moment of distraction—my eyes finally having tired of deciphering cramped script in century old tomes—that I chanced to look out the window.
“At first, I nearly overlooked what I saw. But then I remembered the other part of Ms. Temble's strange message . . . the gas light. It was flickering. But not just flickering. The flame at the end of my block seemed to be doing a funny little call and response with one further down the lane.
“And so I settled in to watch, finally thinking to grabb pen and paper. I managed to jot down only a few dots and dashes before the lively discussion ended.
“But it was enough to puzzle me through the night and into the morning.
“I still do not understand why Arabic cryptography was suggested. Had I not been led astray, I would have arrived at my conclusion sooner and saved us this morning's scene. The message is in some variation of English, I'll swear. But it's still a tad garbled, like the speaker wasn't right in the head. Except for three words that stuck out clear as day: teapot. Delivery. Scotland.
“And so I came as quick as I could, you see,” Vincent concluded, shrugging. “And at great peril to myself, I might add.”