Things take a turn for the hallucinatory in the sixth instalment of “A Rainy Night on Drury Lane” as Detective Wentworth finds himself on the verge of death. Will he persevere or perish?
As always, those of you who have missed the previous instalments can catch up here.
“Here’s six bits and a dollar, but please never tell your father I gave you these, okay? You know how he can get.”, the concern in his mother’s voice was aimed towards both of them.
“Mom, you know I would never—“
“Sometimes your father just won’t take ‘No’ for an answer, you know that. We’ll say you earned them doing chores for Mrs. Wilson.”, having turned around before she had finished her sentence she was already walking away.
Richard Wentworth stood there for a moment, wishing he could run up to his mother to hug her and tell her that everything would be all right, but he couldn’t. No matter how vivid and tangible all of this felt, it was still a memory and nothing more. Losing its grip on reality his mind was finding safety in the few “good” memories he had. And in this memory of his, he hadn’t hugged her. Instead he had quickly turned around to run towards to the entrance of the World Fair. In hindsight he wished he had hugged his mother instead.
“That’ll be 25¢, little man.”, said the man in the ticket booth.
“I’m actually over fourteen”, replied Richard who was short for his age and was often mistaken for being two years younger than he really was.
“Well then, little man who’s actually over fourteen. In that case, you get to pay 50¢ like an adult.”, the ticket man appeared amused by his insistence on paying full price.
Richard stared in awe at the ticket in his hand. World’s Colombian Exposition it proclaimed proudly and he tried to ignore the thoughts of what his father would do if he ever found out that he had attended the World Fair.
It wasn’t until he reached a sight he had never seen before that he snapped out his trance-like state. Standing in front of him was the 250 feel tall steel construction of the Ferris’ Wheel. The first of its kind. Looking back towards the entrance he could see how the queue slithered all the way up to the man in the ticket booth. He knew he couldn’t be at the fair all day — his father would get suspicious — so he wouldn’t have time to ride the Ferris’ Wheel but he could at least enjoy the majestic shadow its steely skeleton cast on the ground.
He continued walking, stopping only to watch an exhibition called Street in Cairo with women dancing and shaking their bellies in a way he had never seen before. Plenty of men and women were standing at this exhibition mesmerized by the exotic dancers but Richard had something else in mind. According to George “Doily” Porter, a German company called Krupp were displaying “the biggest guns you had ever seen” somewhere at the fair and Richard was determined to verify Doily’s — often greatly exaggerated — claims with his own eyes.
But as he continued exploring the fair he started losing his sense of direction in the crowds of people and soon found himself in middle of an even larger gathering of people. As he tried to orient himself in the crowd he could hear a powerful voice rise above the crowd.
“Come on folks, don’t be shy. Come closer an’ let good ol’ Aunt Jemima shows you how you too can make dem dee-licious golden pancakes.”, said a woman wearing an apron, a bandana headband and calling herself Aunt Jemima.
Richard could only see glimpses of her between the shoulders in front of him.
“Only wif my magic recipe can you turn out dem appetitin’, taste-delightin’ jiffy-quick pancakes that makes ‘yo family happy. An’ you knows what they say; You doubled ‘yo own happiness when ‘yo shared it with dem other folks.”, she kept talking whilst stirring the batter, not missing the beat for a second, drawing the crown ever closer and Richard couldn’t help but get drawn in with everyone else.
“Mm-m-m! My secret recipe is made from wheat, corn an’ rice an’ I’s can guarantee that you ain’t neve’ tasted pancakes so temptilatin’ as these.”, she said as she poured up perfectly sized cakes of batter on the griddle.
The sweet aroma of pancakes blew through the crowd, turning an already hungry crowd into a starving one. Everyone was eager to taste Aunt Jemima’s pancakes and the people further back began to push themselves forward in an attempt to better their odds of tasting the first batch.
Special police officers had been assigned to keep the crowds moving but were finding it difficult to remain assertive in the escalating chaos. Richard — figuring he would never get a pancake anyway — took the chance to escape as he saw a small opening to his right.
A few hours later Richard found himself in front of the world’s largest flour barrel again, the lingering scent of pancakes still in the air, but no Aunt Jemima in sight. The previously enormous crowd of a few hundred people had thinned out to a few dozen and most of them seemed to be well fed at this point.
Sitting down on a nearby bench, Richard had to face the facts: Clearly he had no idea how to find the Germans and their big guns and it was getting late. As long as he made it home before 3pm his father wouldn’t see any reason to be suspicious but any later than that and Richard would have to answer questions he didn’t have answers to.
Somewhere along the way — following the directions of a young couple — he had stumbled into the building for Agriculture where he had found an elven-ton block of cheese from Canada and a miniature model of a Western farm but no guns.
“Why honey child, ain’t you the most saddest boy I’s seen today?”, Aunt Jemima exclaimed as she came walking out from behind the flour barrel shaped building.
“Yeah, I wath looking for thomething that I couldn’t find.”, Richard said with the sound of defeat only a child could as Aunt Jemima sat down beside him and gave him a piece of the pancake she was eating.
“Well, sometimes dem things we be looking fo’, arent’ dem things we be meant to find.”, she said and finished her half of the pancake.
Standing back up again, she walked back towards her flour barrel but before closing the door she turned around and left Richard with a final piece of advice.
“You’s know what they say; Dem happy folks don’t measure time by years, but by dem smiles they be spreadin’ in the world.”