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Shadow on the Sun Ch.3: Talk of Shadows by Nils Durban
SUMMARY: In which Sleet's path crosses that of Helen O'Mara, and he receives a visitation from a strange young man, the bearer of information which will, once again, turn Sleet's world upside down.....
He felt as if he had trawled the City and now he found himself faced with the most insignificant little backstreet shop yet. ‘Dawson's', the dilapidated sign above the shop front read. He crossed to the window and looked within. A tiny chocolate Labrador puppy peered back at him, its eyes sparkling with excitement. Its fellows, presumably from the same litter, appeared to be snoozing fitfully, all rolled into a large cream and brown mass that gave an occasional quiver in its collective slumber.
Sleet turned to the door and pushed it open, causing an old fashioned bell to tinkle as he did so. As he stepped across the threshold he was assailed by an unmistakable animal smell which took him back about twenty years. Thoughts of his childhood pets sprang instantly to mind. The small pup stood up on its hind legs to greet him with a series of comical yelps which served only to alert the rest of the brood, the multi-coloured conglomeration pushing itself apart, eyes like little beads fastening upon his presence. They began to yap together and Sleet moved further into the shop in an attempt to reduce their agitation.
The owner of the shop, a small pot bellied and bespectacled gent, surely past retirement age, pushed through a beaded curtain that hung across the doorway at the rear of the shop. He looked his customer up and down before nodding a greeting, "can I help you, sir?" he enquired.
"Help you? Help you?" echoed a Mynah bird from its cage behind the wooden counter. Sleet was caught slightly off guard by this, "Ah, yes....well, maybe."
The shopkeeper stared at him questioningly as he took up his customary position behind the counter, "is it something exotic you're looking for?"
"Zotic!" the bird attempted to repeat.
"No, no," Sleet recovered himself, "I want a whistle, a dog whistle."
"Ohhh, a Galton," the old man beamed, "haven't sold one of those in years, doesn't seem to be a call for them any more."
"Sorry," Sleet interjected, "you said Galton?"
"Yes, Galton's whistle, that's what it's called, named after its inventor, as you might have guessed."
Sleet looked at him despondently, "so you haven't got one then?"
The shopkeeper appeared indignant, "never said that, did I!" he blustered, "just said I hadn't sold one in a while." He turned to rummage through the shelves beyond him, one by one pulling forth seemingly ancient cardboard boxes and arranging them in a haphazard pile on the counter-top. Sleet busied himself by bending down to examine a hamster, hypnotically scurrying around its wheel and next door to it a pair of albino mice attempting to climb the glass that divided them from him, their tiny pink noses twitching incessantly.
"Here we are!" announced the shopkeeper, "knew they were here somewhere." Sleet arose to find him wrestling with a small red and yellow striped box. Eventually he prised the top off and they both peered within. "Well, bless me," the old man chuckled, "it's the last one."
"Last one! Last one!" the Mynah shrieked out.
The idea of a dog whistle had occurred to him as a result of his recent close call with a Shadow in Hyde Park, during which his skin had been saved by the sudden appearance of a colony of bats.