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Thompson’s Lost Plimsole

Part 36

The Curse of the Maharajah’s Ruby

Donald Dray sat looking at the gold and ruby ring that had been stolen from the bank. Holding it between his fingers and turning it in the light, he was mesmerised by its faceted brilliance. The ruby was large and shone as if there were a fire inside it. Donald couldn’t take his eyes off the jewel. The shank of the ring was adorned with the intertwined bodies of two snakes, with the head of each snake terminating at the shoulders of the ring. Each of the four prongs holding the ruby in place was shaped to form the fangs of the snakes, and each fang was inset with a small teardrop shaped ruby which gave the impression of blood droplets. On the inside of the shank was some sort of inscription that was indecipherable to Donald and the longer that he looked into the ruby, the more he became hypnotised by it. Local forger, Antoine Leroux, was well known to the twins and Donald was sure that he would be able to decipher these inscriptions for him. The rest of the jewels, pearls, precious metals, and other valuable objects were well on their way to London to be converted into hard cash, so Donald had plenty of time to seek out his French associate.  Antoine rolled the ruby ring between his fingers whilst using a magnifying glass to look at the strange inscription. “It’s Indian”, he said. “These snakes on the sides are Cobras, they have their own place in Hindu mythology, you know. They represent rebirth, death and mortality and these are Burmese rubies, very nice, but I can’t help you with the writing”. Something, or someone, was compelling Antoine to put the ring onto his own finger, but his hands were far too small for a ring of this size and weight. Whispered voices filled Antoine’s ears, his eyes widened as the light inside the ruby intensified and now his head was swirling with malicious thoughts. Donald was a big man, but Antoine had a loaded pistol in his desk drawer, it would be a minute’s work to dispatch Donald and the ring would be his. Antoine’s heart was pounding. Without taking his eyes away from the ruby, Antoine asked, “Do you want to sell it?”. “No”, replied Donald, as he snatched the ring away from Antoine’s trembling fingers. “It’s a keeper”. Antoine looked at the ring one last time as Donald placed it back onto his own finger. In that moment, the whispered voices ceased, and Antoine’s hands stopped trembling. Donald was now by the shop door and ready to step back out onto the street. Antoine called after him. “If you ever want to sell it, you know where I am”.

It felt strange to be wearing this ring, although it was a cold day outside, Donald’s body felt warm, more than warm, his skin actually tingled. The jewel sparkled as Donald clenched his fist. He felt powerful, invincible. He imagined that he could hear music, strange music, nothing like he’d ever heard before. Drums, strange stringed instruments and the ting, ting, ting of what sounded like tiny cymbals. Donald shook his head to clear his thoughts and then thrust his hands into his coat pockets. The music in his head stopped. Donald made his way to one of his favourite drinking dens, he needed a beer and he needed to find someone who could decipher the inscription on the ring. It was as if the thing was possessing him, driving him to discover its secrets.  

Clarence Butterfield, reporter for the Hallifield Globe, had already started poking around and asking questions regarding the raid on the bank. His usual contacts were claiming to know nothing, unless of course they were too afraid to say anything. Even the merest hint that the Dray twins were involved in anything was enough to silence the most voluble blabbermouth.  Clarence had been back to the bank, but the manager and his staff were also remaining silent. However, a press photographer had been allowed access to the tunnel at the bank and also to the inside of the shop. The items that could possibly link Billy Nutmeg to the crime, had already been removed from the shop.

Clarence did manage to overhear snatches of a conversation between a couple of miners from the nearby Bickerdyke colliery, whilst he was partaking of a late lunch in The Admiral Nelson. The landlord of this pub was called Alf Topper. All three of Alf’s sons had died during the war and he had recently been widowed. His wife had never really recovered from the loss of her sons and Alf would not allow the name of the Kaiser to be uttered in his presence. Also, there was no love lost between Alf and the Dray twins. He despised them both for dodging war service. The twins had managed to grease a few palms and get themselves exempted as being in reserved occupations. What those supposed occupations were, no-one ever found out, but Alf had a good idea. Black marketeers, spivs, debt collectors and extortionists. Even now, the twins were running protection rackets, taking hard earned cash from honest businesses. Clarence had heard these miners talking about a couple of the lads at their pit who seemed to be spending money like water. This piqued Clarence’s interest, so he engaged the men in conversation. Plying them with drinks soon loosened their tongues. It would appear that at least four of the men at the Bickerdyke pit had been off sick for a couple of weeks with some sort of stomach bug. At least two of them had been seen leaving their homes early every morning and not returning until late evening. Armed with a few names, this would be a good starting point for Clarence’s investigations.

Donald found out that there was only one Indian family living in Hallifield. A former merchant seaman, Arjun Kumar, his wife, their two children and her elderly parents. Donald knocked on the door of their terraced house and introduced himself to them. Unusually for Donald, he was actually very polite, but then he was hoping that these people could help him decipher the writing on the ruby ring. He was invited into their home and served tea. After a little chit-chat and an introduction to the aged parents, Donald advised the family that he had acquired an ornate ring with an inscription that he needed translating. However, when Donald took the ring from his pocket and presented it to the family, the man’s wife shrieked and then fainted. Mr Kumar reeled back in horror, whilst the elderly parents shuffled from the room as fast as their slippered feet would carry them.

Donald was both alarmed and confused at this unexpected reaction. “What?”, he said. “What’s wrong, it’s only a bloody ring!”. “Please, Sir”, answered Mr Kumar. “It is not just a ring, that ring is known to nearly everyone in my country. It carries a curse to anyone who owns or wears it”. Donald scoffed at the idea of a curse and laughed as he posed the question to Mr Kumar. “Why would someone put a curse on a piece of jewellery?”. Mrs Kumar came round from her faint and pleaded with Donald to take the evil object away. Donald refused to leave until the Kumars had told him what this curse business was about. Mr Kumar turned to his wife and bade her go and tend to her parents. He waited for her to leave the room and then related the story of the ring to Donald.

To be continued…


Published by crispinunderfelt

All round good egg. Humanist and red wine drinker.

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