“Damn you, Mickey Mouse!” cursed Misty as the colourful red and yellow vintage alarm clock clattered into life, raising her from a particularly pleasant slumber. Surely it couldn’t be 6 o’clock already? She cracked open a bleary eye and stared across at her bedside cabinet. The accursed rodent’s arms were pointing accusingly towards the 6 and the 12.
Misty flung back her duvet and got out of bed. The midsummer sun was already streaming through the thin curtains and a filigree of dust hung ghostlike in the air. Weekday mornings; how she hated them. She stomped barefoot to the bathroom and had a shower. The cold water on her body woke her up a little, but not enough. Black coffee finished the job.
The cereal that Misty munched through a bowl of was unpleasant, but the box assured her that it was doing her good, so she persevered. A second cup of black coffee washed away the sawdusty unpleasantness.
Using her comb as a weapon, she fought to defeat the knots in her auburn hair and tied it up in a devil-may-care pony tail before dressing in an outfit that was businesslike, reassuring and comfortable enough to sit around the office in. Minimal make-up and a quick spritz of something that smelled of sandalwood and lemons and Misty Marshall was out of the house with her bag slung over her shoulder.
The train platform was its usual overcrowded self, and Misty had to share her personal space on the carriage with a construction worker whose jacket reeked powerfully of sweat and putty. The journey was mercifully short, however, and the fresh air at her destination was a blessed relief.
The walk to the clinic where she had set up her business as a hypnotherapist was always Misty’s favourite part of the day, especially on these warm summer mornings. She’d only been practising for a few months now and her catalogue thus far was less than glowing. Yesterday, she’d had the client who wanted to quit smoking but smelled like an explosion in an ashtray factory; then there was the man who was desperate to remember where he’d hidden the letters he’d exchanged with another woman before his wife found them. Neither was the sort of thing that she had gone into hypnotherapy for.
The unsatisfying breakfast cereal was lying heavy on her stomach, so she bought a coffee and a bacon sandwich from the cafe on the corner. Finding that she was a little early, Misty sat in the little gated park near her office and luxuriated in the additional unhealthy breakfast.
Who cared if she had an extra breakfast? She worked hard and earned these little treats. Unfortunately, they were becoming a bit too regular and were threatening to start making an impact on her waistline. Misty sighed and threw the last third of her sandwich in the bin. The coffee, her third so far today, she kept. Her life as a hypnotherapist wasn’t shaping up to be all that that she had wished – and trained – for. Lost car-keys and nicotine addicts were her bread and butter, but they were dull, dull, dull. She longed for something interesting to happen in her life.
With another sigh, Misty stood up and walked the rest of the way to her office. At the top of a short flight of stone steps, the oxblood doors that led to the office space she shared with a chiropodist called Malik were already open, indicating that the foot doctor was making an early start.
Misty looked at the expensive brass plate that she’d had fitted two weeks ago: M. MARSHALL C.Ht, HYPNOTHERAPIST. There was a streak of bird shit across the otherwise shiny plate. She made a mental note to find a piece of tissue and clean it up. That sort of thing didn’t give a terrific first impression.
There was a pile of post in Misty’s pigeonhole, mostly circulars, and a medium sized parcel that Misty surmised to be the new cushion covers that she had ordered for the office. She bundled them all, slightly awkwardly, into her arms and turned to head upstairs to work.
There was a man standing behind her. Misty nearly jumped out of her skin and the letters slid off the top of the parcel and scattered all over the floor.
“Oh, I do apologise, Miss; I didn’t mean to startle you,” said the man. He was well-spoken and polite in a way that you don’t often hear much these days.
“That’s alright,” gasped Misty. “I just wasn’t expecting anyone to be here, apart from Dr. Chowdhury, of course.”
“Chowdhury. The man upstairs. He’s…” Misty realised that she was gabbling. “Well, never mind.”
Misty made as if to pick up the letters, but the man beat her to it. “Please, let me.”
“That’s not necessary.”
“Oh, I insist.”
The man crouched and began to pick up the letters with meticulous movements. Misty observed him; he wasn’t the sort of person you saw every day – neatly pressed trousers, sharp waistcoat, crisp shirt with starched collar and cravat. She would have had him down as a particularly pretentious hipster, were it not for the lack of the obligatory tattoos and beard. Instead, his hair was a neatly trimmed mass of baroque curls, greying at the temples.
Misty smiled at the man as he handed her the letters in an almost obsessively neat pile. He was handsome, in an old-fashioned sort of way, impossible to age, but with a twinkle of simmering intellect in his blue-grey eyes.
“I’m looking for Mr Marshall,” said the man.
“Mr Marshall…?” queried Misty, uncertain whether to be offended by this polite inquiry.
“The hypnotist,” confirmed the man.
“It’s Miss Marshall,” corrected Misty, politely but firmly. “And it’s not hypnotist, it’s hypnotherapist.”
A look of realisation came into the man’s eyes. “My most humble apologies, dear lady. I meant no offense, of course. I am a firm supporter of women’s suffrage.”
Misty looked sideways at him. Was this guy taking the piss? Or was he just very, very eccentric? She decided, by his general demeanour, on the latter.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” said the man. “Professor Templeton James Albery Fugit.” He offered his hand to shake, but swiftly realised that Misty was too tied up in the support of her various items of mail.
“How can I help you, Mist… Professor Fugit?” asked Misty.
“I would like to engage your services in a matter of some urgency,” said the man.
Misty knew that her appointment book was clear for the whole morning, but she didn’t quite fancy taking on this eccentric gentleman straight away. “I think I can fit you in at two o’clock.”
The man who had introduced himself as Professor Fugit wrinkled his brow. “Hmm,” he considered. “That could be too late. That could be far too late.”
For a reason that she couldn’t quite reconcile, Misty felt sorry for the man. Oh, to hell with it – why couldn’t she see him first thing this morning? She’d need another coffee first though. “Look, I think I can fit you in first thing this morning, if that’s okay. I don’t open until nine though”
The man drew a gold pocket watch from his waistcoat on an Albert chain and flicked it open. The expensive looking timepiece played a brief snatch of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf before he snapped it shut again. “That would be absolutely splendid, Miss Marshall. I shall wait, if you have a suitable vestibule.”
Misty led the man to the waiting room that she shared with Dr. Chowdhury and went to make preparations for her morning’s work. By the time she’d taken off her coat, unlocked her drawer, touched up her hair and put the kettle on, the strange man was sitting in the waiting area, reading an ancient copy of Woman’s Realm.
He looked up and smiled “This periodical has a delightful recipe for something called a pineapple upside-down cake, I must ask Cook to try it out upon my return.”
Misty could not think of anything to say in reply to that, so she motioned with her hand; “If you would like to come this way, Professor?” He put the magazine neatly aside and followed her into the clinic.
After directing him into a seat, Misty asked the Professor if he would like a cup of coffee. He made the same furrowed brow expression as earlier; “Do you have any tea?”
“Certainly,” Misty nodded. She found coffee easier but always kept in some tea for such occasions.
“Erm, probably not,” said Misty, wishing that she hadn’t thrown the box away. “PG Tips, I think.”
“Do you have any lemon?”
“Very well, milk will suffice and two lumps of sugar.”
Lumps, thought Misty. Where the hell did this guy usually get his beverages? The Dorchester? Actually, by the look of him that probably wasn’t too far from the truth. Wait a minute – that means he’s got money. You might have fallen on your feet here, Misty old girl.
When she brought him his tea in a mug sporting the Rolling Stones’ ‘tongue and lips’ logo (note to self: get more professional looking mugs to go with new cushion covers), he looked at it with confusion and handled it like he’d never picked up a mug before in his life.
Misty smiled. “Alright, let’s get down to business. How can I help you?”
The man almost blushed; “Well, it’s a bit embarrassing…”
Misty raised her hands, plams forward. “No need to be embarrassed here, Professor. I’ve heard it all.”
“I’m sure,” agreed Professor Fugit with an awkward smile. He continued: “Well, it’s rather complicated. You see, there’s this thing I have to do; it’s a very important thing. Possibly the most important thing that anyone’s ever had to do. The fate of the entire world and every living thing upon it hangs in the balance. But the Dickens of it is… I can’t for the life of me remember what it is!”
The End of Chapter One
Join us shortly for Chapter Two, in which Templeton is placed in a mesmeric trance by Ms. Marshall.