Case Notes: Solo
Wednesday, the 19th of March, 1924
I have a new client, and with that a new commission, which of course means gainful employment for the next few months. Already I have packed my few belongings in my old trunk, and this is the last entry I expect to pen before I shut up my office temporarily and leave to take ship tomorrow morning. My landlady, the long-suffering Mrs. Murlees, has been notified of my impending journey, and following my payment of the rest of the year’s rent in advance from my client’s generous fee, she agreed to help board and care for dear Millicent, who sits purring before my fireplace grate completely unsuspicious of my recent bustle and activity. I should be quite thoroughly out of work were we humans all as trusting and as loyal as this little orange cat.
My bell rang shortly after luncheon a week ago - it was a raw, rainy day outside, and I had therefore appeased my hunger with a cold, frugal lunch scavenged from a nearly-empty icebox and promised internally to make up for deficiencies later should my unexpected visitor be a client, rather than an acquaintance or, God forbid, a creditor.
My visitor was a small woman, dressed in the dull black of deepest mourning. A veil hung low over her face, concealing her features almost entirely, and her dress was sewn of black bombazine, a strangely old-fashioned fabric despite the modern length of her skirt. No doubt it had been cut down from an older garment in a display of sense and frugality, and the faintest, most grandmotherly fragrance of lavender water emanated from her person as I stood, shook her hand and invited her to sit down in the old but capacious chair before my desk. Her companion (a young woman scarcely free of her girlhood), dressed also in somber black, did not enter the room, but stood instead outside as guardian of our privacy.
There are some who glibly describe the kind of women who would cross a private investigator’s threshold as the kind who bring trouble, but according to my experience they are generally all troubled, and many of them should never have thought of bringing their troubles to my attention were their situations not so dire. This lady struck me at once as collected despite her great grief, of a heart bleeding even as its owner clung to dignity and etiquette as a prop and comfort in this dark time.
“My condolences, Mrs -” I had asked her, and she had reached up with a black-gloved hand and lifted the veil slowly away from her face, revealing a visage well-preserved still, the lines of age around her eyes and mouth lending her an aura of warmth and authority. My first instinct had been right - she was a troubled woman indeed, and once very fair in her vernal youth, I reckoned, despite my personal unfamiliarity with feminine ideals.
“I am Mrs. Leia Organa Solo,” she said, clasping her hands in her lap, and I nodded to myself, having read the obituary in the newspaper several days prior to her call at my office. Her voice was crisp, her accent pure but sharper than my own, having come from across the Atlantic. Mrs. Solo was a wealthy heiress and philanthropist, daughter of one of the oldest families in Boston. She had married Dr. Han Solo, an archaeologist and Egyptologist, whose recent finds in Fayum had stirred a new wave of Egyptomania across most of the Western world. The match was, by all accounts, a well-made one, and they had lived for the last thirty years in connubial bliss quite unheard-of amongst the names of the great and wealthy, where marriages are sometimes made for connexion and mutual advantage rather than the flush of romance and love.
The official accounts had described Dr. Solo’s sudden death as an accident, but there had been other unsettling rumours circulating around, of a son gone mad from drink or debauchery, of disinheritance, and of a last, fatal duel.
Most sensible individuals would give such racy and sensationalist talk no heed - and indeed I advise most people to ignore such rumors, but my profession as investigator often involves gleaning truth from exaggeration, and thus I had taken note of the rumors as they surfaced, albeit with the appropriate amount of scepticism applied.
“Your late husband was a great and learned man, Mrs. Solo, and we have lost much with his passing,” I said, regretting the meager fire I had lit in my grate for want of fuel.
“Thank you, Mr. Hux,” she said in a tone of voice that indicated quite plainly that the time for conventional pleasantries was over. “I have come to you because of your reputation and also your discretion, both attested to by my old family friend, Miss Mon Mothma.”
I had heard little more from Miss Mothma after the end of my commission (which I shall not detail herein for the usual reasons of client privacy), but it gratified me greatly to hear from Mrs. Solo that she had testified to my professionalism when queried.
“Of course,” I nodded, trying to conceal what would be an unbecoming satisfaction behind an appropriate degree of solemnity, remembering that I was speaking to a woman newly bereft of husband and protector in an unforgiving world.
Mrs. Solo reached for the purse she had carried in her lap, and pulled out a small leather wallet which she opened and laid on my desk. “I want you to find my son,” she said as I picked up the wallet and looked at its contents. In the wallet was a photograph of a young man, his eyes extraordinary, dark and flashing even through the sepia of the print. In his face I saw a certain resemblance to Mrs. Solo’s, in the orbits of his eyes, in his high, sharp cheekbones and his dark, wavy hair. Surely her gray hair was once as dark as his, in her lost youth.
“This is he?” I asked her, just to confirm, and she nodded once, the edges of her veil trembling with the movement of her head.
“My only son, Ben. He -” she hesitated then, lowered her eyes, and then soldiered on, her gloved hands clenching into fists around the handle of her purse, “He is a sensitive soul, and has never recovered entirely from the trenches. He returned to us with shell-shock.” I nodded then, being myself a veteran of the Great War - have I not detailed in my personal diaries the nightmares from which I have woken, of the sounds of bullets whizzing past my head, and the bubbling gasps of dying men?
“I understand, Mrs. Solo,” I said, trying to sound as reassuring as I could. Some hardened hearts do not understand what trench warfare wrings out of a man’s soul, calling survivors cowards and madmen, but what is madness if not a wound in the mind that may never heal? She dabbed then at her eyes with a clean linen handkerchief, and I sat in silence, not wanting to press her. My clients all tell their stories at their own pace.
“We had Ben at a sanatorium in upstate New York at first, but the cold baths and strict measures they had recommended did little to restore him to himself. He only grew wilder and tried to hurt himself, scratching at his own skin, until the doctors were forced to put him in the most abominable restraints. My heart bled when I saw him raving to himself, begging to die, and I thought that if my son were to die, then he would die in the bosom of his family, with loved ones all around. So I persuaded Han to have Ben taken from the sanatorium after that first year and brought to our country estate near Arkham, in Massachusetts.”
I had heard of Arkham, seat of its eponymous county, and of the great and august Miskatonic University, an institution of learning almost as grand in scale, if not in age, as the University of Oxford, my alma mater. I had never been so fortunate as to visit Arkham, but I had heard many things of its healthy forests, free of insalubrious fog and miasma, and the beauty of the rural landscape. No doubt the Solos’ country estate would have been a better place for Ben Solo than the sanatorium he had resided in.
Mrs. Solo hesitated then, and dabbed again at her eyes with her handkerchief, and my heart went out to her, my dormant chivalry wakening again in the face of her fear and sorrow. I know myself to be a strange and sometimes heartless man, but the grief of a mother fearing for her son is one of the purest emotions left to mankind, and it began to thaw the germs of pity that I had thought frozen away in my bitter heart.
“Please, take your time,” I told her then, but she shook her head sternly, and mustered the strength to continue her sad tale.
“Ben remained insensate for days, but slowly he began to awaken, and to recognize me and his father, and I took that as the signs of recovery. By the end of the second year he was almost himself again, if languid and depressed, and Han thought that it would be better if Ben had something to occupy himself with beside his thoughts and night terrors. His education at Harvard had been interrupted by the war, and we thought it would be good for him to return to his former life, with few reminders of the horrors he had seen. My brother Luke is a professor at Miskatonic University, where he studies ancient mythology, and we made enquiries for Ben to enroll as a student under his charge.”
“That was when everything seemed to heal. Ben was wild, sometimes. He would claim to hear things that I did not, but that is something that happens with shell-shock. I imagined that he would sometimes be caught in a waking dream, enemies all around him, because he would sometimes fight opponents who only he could see. But those spells were rare and brief, and he seemed to improve with the regular discipline of classes and readings. Until last month.” Mrs. Solo hesitated then, paused, and looked down at her black-gloved hands still wrapped tight around the handle of her purse.
“What happened last month?” I asked her as gently as I could, sensing that we had come to the point of her tale where she needed prompting rather than silence.
“Ben had been amusing himself compiling the family genealogy as far back as he could take it, something he had decided to pursue in the days after Christmas last year. He began first with the Solo and Organa families, but then asked me for more information about my birth parents. It is common knowledge that my brother and I were adopted as infants and I had never hidden the truth from him. I had very little information to give Ben, but he was determined to search. He spoke with the family solicitors in New York, and then checked the records of the Episcopal Church in Boston, where I was baptised and christened. He managed to find out the name of his maternal grandfather after that - Anakin Skywalker, The Lord Vader, the last of his line. From there Ben managed to acquire several old books from a dealer in London, who acquired them in an estate sale after his death in 1872.”
“Thereafter Ben began a lengthy correspondence with various individuals, experts, he told me, at history and students of the practices of natural philosophy - a field that Han told me was long discredited with the modern advent of science. He would sleep only infrequently, and eat only when he was reminded to, but his spirits were high and he was still my own dear boy. ‘Mama,’ he told me once, when I summoned him down to dinner, ‘you might be the daughter of a queen! Imagine that!’ Surely not any of the crowned heads of Europe, I told him, I am certainly not a lost princess of any nation. He only smiled, and told me that he was fairly sure that I was the princess of an ancient and mysterious Oriental people whose royal house was once richer and more august than that of any European monarch ruling today.”
“And then -” Mrs Solo stopped, and shuddered, and I paused in the middle of my notes, leaning against my desk, my fundament perched at the very edge of my own wobbly chair. “He went mad.” Her voice was flat with the utter emptiness of someone who has cried so long and so hard that there is nothing left within except an abiding hollowness. I knew well how that felt, and I put my pen down and looked away from my notes. It seemed obscene then to be brisk and professional in the face of her great loss.
Mrs. Solo looked into my eyes, and her dark gaze was charged with unspeakable emotion, its intensity frightening in the calm set of her features. “Ben went mad. He shot his own father. And he has run away to the Continent, I am sure of it. And I am here to ask you to help me find him, detective, and bring him home again.”
I hesitated briefly, wondering then why she had chosen to come to me, a modest detective of small reputation, instead of turning to the Pinkertons or a similar agency such as the Thiel Detective Service Company. While such agencies had indeed suffered a loss of prestige with the 1908 establishment of the American Federal Bureau of Investigation, both agencies still retained a competent staff and would no doubt be highly interested in Mrs. Solo’s search for her missing son.
She looked at me then, as though reading my thoughts, and I sensed beneath the mantle of her grief a powerful force of personality, a kind of animal magnetism which compensated for her slight build and widow’s weeds to give her the command of an elder statesman. This was a woman whose gaze could put steel into the spines of fighting men, and whose words could stir an army, and I realized that I had already begun to admire her and would have gladly served under her generalship.
“Mrs. Solo,” I said, recalling myself to my small office, to the hard rain driving against the window behind me, “Do you know of your son’s whereabouts, or have you mostly conjecture at this point?”
“He has sent me a telegram.” She reached into her purse, again, and passed me a slip of paper, with the common Western Union masthead, across my scratched desk. I picked it up and glanced at it, noting that it had been sent from Paris two weeks before our meeting, on the 27th of February.
I SEARCH FOR GRANDFATHERS LEGACY
WILL WRITE SOON
From a letter dated March 13th, 1924.
I promised I would write, and so I have. I wish you and Uncle Luke had told me about Grandfather years before - I arrived in London to find most of his writings either destroyed or in the hands of private collectors. You would not believe the prices these puffed-up old bookmongers wish me to pay for my inheritance and legacy.
But what I have come here to find is beyond any material price. You, Mama, are a lost princess - I know you do not believe me, and I know you think me mad, but the kingdom exists. Grandfather did not falsify his findings. And if you are a lost princess, Mama, that makes me a foundling prince. Did Father think me a cuckoo’s get, planted in his home to batten?
Did he think me his? Does he not know the miracles of spontaneous generation, of the marvels and aberrations of life and its genesis? Did he know, Mama? Did he try to hide my birthright from me? Do not mourn him. You cling only to a narrow slice of the real world when you do so.
There is a man who worked acquisitions for a private athenaeum, who may know where some of Grandfather’s writings are now kept, and I go in haste to see him now.
I shall find Leng, Mama. I shall find Grandfather’s map, and I shall retrace his steps, and one day I shall return for you, and bring you to our true home.
Your loving son,
Investigator’s note: The above letter arrived at Mrs. Solo’s London lodgings, its contents sealed with crimson wax. The envelope bore no stamp or postmark, and there were no witnesses to its delivery. The seal on the envelope was compared to seals preserved from examples dating back to the life of Anakin Skywalker, The Lord Vader, and judged to be either an authentic imprint from his signet ring, lost after his death in 1872, or an imprint from an identical copy.
Entry from the personal diary of James Allan Hux, portions translated from Greek by Professor Poe Dameron, Philologist, Miskatonic University
Wednesday, March 19th, 1924
O heart, how fares it with thee now,
That thou should'st fail from thy desire,
Who scarcely darest to inquire,
'What is it makes me beat so low?'
I spent most of the last week cudgeling my brains out over the S case - I still do not understand why Mrs. S has engaged me. I watched her leave my office and noticed that her chauffeur was more than just a chauffeur. He was a strong young man with the bearing and posture of a soldier, perhaps a veteran from one of the American colored regiments that served on the Western Front.
Call it instinct, or maybe an overly suspicious mind, but the man carried himself like a professional bodyguard. I made several inquiries, all of them private, and received an answer from a contact two days later. Not only is her ostensible chauffeur F a veteran of the 369th Infantry Regiment, the famed “Harlem Hellfighters”, but Mrs. S has also retained the Pinkerton Detective Agency for her personal protection.
Perhaps she fears her son. I cannot blame her if that is the case, but then I wonder why she then went to the additional trouble and expense of retaining me as her private investigator. I do not mistrust her, but I suspect that in engaging me she seeks a more delicate, discreet handling of the matter. Nevertheless I am aware of the potential for danger in this commission, and I have taken the appropriate steps - retrieved my old pistol from the locked case under my bed and checked the renewal date on my license. All seems to be in order.
Earlier this afternoon I went to see Dr. K for a physical examination as I try to each time I take a new commission. I wonder why I bother sometimes - he asks the same questions always: whether I have been taking care of myself, if I have taken care to wrap up warmly. He chooses his words carefully, as always, so as not to alarm me, but I need no cosseting from the truth.
Today he asked none of the usual questions. He only looked at me with those sad, solemn eyes and asked me only if my chest had hurt more than it had before, which it had not. He assures me my lungs are clear and that it is not tuberculosis yet, only the ghost of the mustard-gas, but the cough bothers me more each winter, and I am sure that it is only a matter of time before I find blood spotting my handkerchief.
I could have returned to my office and lodgings afterwards for a quiet dinner alone, and heated myself a hot bath with the coal my advance had bought me, but I dreaded the prospect of climbing the stairs with the drizzle outside. The cold and exertion would only provoke my cough into more acts of mischief. Instead I walked down to the Turkish baths, where, as you know, I prefer to retreat every time the weather is raw and my chest poorly. There were several others in attendance, as was usual, but I fended most of the enquiries off politely, and ensconced myself in the steam-room, breathing the hot air gratefully for some time.
I felt the pain in my ribs lessen and start to fade, and I shut my eyes and let myself lose track of the passage of time, marking only the breaths I took and striving to keep them slow and even when someone sat down beside me on the wicker couch. It was M, who appeared distinctly glad to see me at this hour.
“I didn’t think you would be out on a day like this,” he said by way of greeting, and I could not help but smile at his earnestness. He has always been rather intimidated by the larger men here, although I do not know why. I do not question his tastes, and he seems glad to spend his time with me.
“The warm air helps my cough,” I told him. We repeat our conversations constantly, leaning on familiar mummeries for want of a more authentic connection. “Besides, I’ll be out of the country for the near future,” I shrugged, and he tipped his head to the side, curious.
M looks utterly fresh and boyish most of the time, for all his Broad Street solicitor’s airs, but in that moment he looked very adult, and very grave, and I realized that I had grown very tired of the solemnity and pity that others present in my direction once they discern my failing health. “Another commission?” he asked, breaking the moment, “or are you actually giving yourself a well-deserved holiday?”
“Work,” I said, and he nodded once, let his long eyelashes veil his eyes in an expression that I have always found quite irresistible, and at length I let him comfort me with his touch and his kisses, shared with him what relief my poor body could give. I miss you, Thomas, but you are not here, and you can never be here, and I can only keep chasing the faintest shadow of what it is to love and be loved by you.
Entry from the journal of Kylo Ren, undated.
I dreamed myself awake today, and I saw him. I saw more clearly when the dream recurred this time, when Grandfather held the mirror before me yet again. Always I look into the mirror to see a strange scarred mask of silver and ebony, find myself transfixed painlessly with a burning sword, and I think of the stanzas of Dante’s La divina commedia.
ne le braccia avea
madonna involta in un drappo dormendo.
Poi la svegliava, e d'esto core ardendo
lei paventosa umilmente pascea:
appresso gir lo ne vedea piangendo.
My heart burns within me, it is true, but who shall I feed it to?
But I saw my quarry behind me, in the reflection of the mirror. His shadowed blue eyes, and hair like red gold, and a death’s head in his face, hiding death full blown in his heart. He coughed and rose petals drifted out of his mouth like Heliogabalus’ folly and drifted away on a dry desert wind.
He hunts me on wings of hunger with a weapon in his hand, but I do not fear him.
He is coming for me.