Doctor Simmons was enjoying his post-prandial stroll through his local park. It was one of those rare fine days, with enough wind to whisk away the smoke that usually hung over the London roofscape, so that the sky was actually blue and not a grimy green. The wind was chilly, but his new – and rather expensive coat – was thick and so the chill didn’t worry him.
There were some nannies and children in the park, getting their daily allotment of fresh air and some of the rare sunshine. The children were so wrapped up that it was something of miracle they could waddle, let alone run around at the speeds they were achieving. Doctor Simmons quite liked children, if they were clean and well behaved, and he smiled as he watched one little tyke came running towards him, intent on chasing a windblown ball.
The ball rolled up him, and reached down to pick it up. The child, a boy about four, stumbled to a halt and stared at the man holding his ball. The boy saw a well-dressed man, tall and thin, a respectable gentleman with a pleasant and open expression, but still a stranger, and the little boy wasn’t sure what to do.
“Here you go, lad,” said Doctor Simmons, and handed the ball back its owner.
“Thank you,” said the boy, and hurried back towards the bench where his nursemaid was sitting.
“Thank you, sir,” called out the nursemaid. Doctor Simmons tipped his hat at her, and smiled, and continued on his walk.
He reached the park gate, and went to turn left, to walk down the street back to his residence. There was a black coach parked on the road, but he paid it no mind. His thoughts were on his latest experiment, and he wondered what results he might discover once he was back at work in his laboratory, as Doctor Simmons wasn’t a medical doctor, but a research scientist.
Just as he went to pass by the coach, three men tumbled out of it into his path. All three men were wearing masks, horrible masks made to look like devils or gargoyles.
“What in the blazes…” exclaimed Doctor Simmons, startled by their bizarre appearance. He took a firmer grip of his cane, but he wasn’t given the chance to use it.
Two of the men grabbed him by his arms, while the third held a strong-smelling cloth to his face, covering his nose and mouth. The doctor wasn’t a puny man, but he couldn’t jerk his arms free of his attackers. His cane fell to the street with a clatter, followed by his hat. His notebook and silver pencil fell out of his coat pocket and were tramped underfoot. He tried to call out, but the cloth muffled his shouts.
His struggles made him breathe hard; he took several lungfuls of the chloroform on the cloth, and blacked out.
“Here!” shouted a female voice. “What do you think you’re doing?”
The three masked men looked over to the park gate. The nursemaid and the little boy with the ball were standing there. She could clearly see Doctor Simmons was lying limp and helpless in their clutches, and then she caught sight of their masks. The woman screamed out. “Help, help! Police! There is robbery on the street!”
The men ignored her. They quickly dragged Doctor Simmons’s limp form into their coach with them, and then the coach took off at a canter.
The nursemaid was all a swither. She wanted to chase after the coach, as she was a pretty good runner, but she couldn’t leave her charge unattended. All she could do was watch the coach for as long as she could, until it turned off the road and disappeared.
Across the road, a door opened a few inches, and a cautious white face peered through the crack. It was a maid of that house, and she asked “Was that you screaming?”
The nurse bustled over, half carrying the little boy. “Yes. Do you have someone can we send to the police station?”
“I suppose I could send the kitchen boy…” said the maid, her voice laden with uncertainty. “But I don’t know if I’m allowed and the family are out.”
“This is an emergency,” said the nursemaid. “I’ve just witnessed a kidnapping. You could get into a lot of trouble if you don’t send the boy to fetch the police.”
Within the hour, the police were combing the streets for some trace of Doctor Simmons, but there was no clue as to who had taken the doctor, or why. No ransom was asked for his return. It was a three day wonder in the London papers. But it was if he had been swept from the face of the earth.
Doctor Simmons came to in a dingy room. It was a perfectly good room in the sense that it was warm and dry, and he was lying on a bed with a comfortable mattress and not a pile of straw, but there were no windows and the only light came in from a barred door. It was obviously a cell of some sort.
He struggled to sit up, but his head throbbed and he fell back onto the pillow. He still felt weak and dizzy, and his lips and nose felt sore and burnt. There was a sour taste in his mouth that made him slightly nauseous. On a small table beside him were a jug and a glass. He managed to pour himself a glass of water and take a few sips. He felt better for the drink.
A light went on in the ceiling, making Doctor Simmons squint.
A polite, educated masculine voice spoke, but there was no one in the room. The voice sounded like it was coming from the ceiling. It said, “We are pleased to see you’ve recovered from your anaesthesia. We do apologise for any discomfort you are currently feeling, but that should soon pass.”
“Who are you? What is going on?” shouted Doctor Simmons at the ceiling. He assumed they could hear him, since the light had only come on after he had moved about to have his drink.
“It will all be explained to you later on, once you have had a chance to have a wash and something to eat,” said the voice.