Wednesday, April 2, 2014

AUTISM In London in 1900: A Novel (pt 3)

Part 1

Part 2

Before he got to platform 3, even above the noise of the crowd, Latham could hear a man bellowing in pain. He ran up the platform stairs and saw a bunch of policeman standing around looking unsure and befuddled, including two constables who were holding a man still on a bench while a doctor, seemingly either quite oblivious to the man's pain, or simply a sadist, poked at him with a tongue depresser and a mirror. "What the hell, Raymond?" Latham said. "Does he plan to extract a tooth from your witness? You called me here to talk to that man, right?"

"Yes. How did you -- "

"For God's sake, get the doctor away from him, will you?"

Raymond looked uncertain.

"Raymond! Does it look to you as if this doctor is helping?! Does your witness seem to you to be composing his thoughts in order to give the clearest possible statement?! Please, trust me, I'll explain as soon as we get that doctor out of here! Raymond! You've trusted me before, trust me now! The first thing we have to do is remove that doctor! Look, let me pretend to be another doctor, one who's used to ordering other doctors about. Trust me, I know what I'm doing here, and he doesn't! Please, Raymond!"

"Okay, okay! Go into your doctor act, I'll back you up."

"What on Earth do you think you're doing?!" Latham shouted right away. He had an effective, theatrically-strong baritone. The two constables holding the man still looked up. "Let go of him right now, and back away!" They both did as he told them. One of them had a familiar face. Latham wondered whether Raymond was literally backing him up, gesturing for them to play along. The constables letting his patient loose made the doctor look up. Latham pointed a finger square into the man's face and boomed, "You! Leave that poor wretch alone, pack up your bag, scurry away immediately, and hope that no-one here has remembered your name! I shan't tell you again, Sir! Leave of your own accord, or these constables will drag you away and place you under arrest! Yes, now! Thank you! I'll take it from here!"

The doctor did as he was told. The man on the bench had become noticeably quieter as soon as the constables had let go of him, and as the doctor left he became quieter still. He rocked back and forth energetically, moaning and holding his head in both hands. Latham said, "Sorry about the shouting, friend. I didn't know how else to make him leave." The man nodded in Latham's direction as if he knew he had been addressed, took a deep breath, and then resumed the rocking and moaning. "Give him a good six feet of space in all directions," Latham said to the two constables. "Don't touch him unless you need to stop him banging his head on something solid. I wouldn't be surprised if the doctor made him so upset he'll do that, but let's hope not."

He turned back to Raymond: "Right. So this man -- "

"Charles Evans."

"Charles Evans." Latham turned back to Evans: "How do you do, Mr Evans?" and then back to Raymond.

"We found somebody who knows him, says he usually goes by Charlie."

"Ah. Hi, Charlie." Evans interrupted his rocking long enough to nod at Latham. His moaning was barely audible now.

"My God," Raymond said. "How'd you get him to calm down so quickly."

"He's calming himself down, actually. The rocking back and forth, the moaning, grabbing hold of his head like that -- that's all very good medicine for him. helps him to get right again. All I did was get him some breathing room. Good God, could you really not see how the doctor was upsetting him?"

Raymond threw up his hands in a gesture of helplessness. "Generally in a case like this a doctor'd be the expert."

"Yeah. Yeah, that's a good rule of thumb, ninety-nine times out of a hundred."

"And how exactly does it come that you're the expert this time?"

"Well," Latham said, "we need to talk out of earshot about that." He nodded toward the nearby glass-walled stationmaster's booth and asked, "Can we talk alone in there?"


"You've trusted me several times in several important criminal cases."

"And not had cause to regret it yet."

"Thank you. Now I'm going to have to trust you. I'm going to tell you something about myself, and ask you not to tell anyone else. Not the boys at the pub, not the Superintendent, not even your wife."


"I mean it. It could make things very difficult for me."

"I can see that you're asking seriously. I promise, it's between you and me. Like a priest at confession."

"So," Latham said. "The thing is, I can understand Evans there a lot better than I can understand you, or Smith, or my own father, or the great majority of the people I meet. Because I'm much more similar to him than to the rest of you."

"W-what? I mean, you both seem to have a thing for watches."

"That's just a coincidence. It's very lucky for old Charlie there that you called me. The way the doctor was going at him, it looked like he might be headed for what is ironically known as an 'asylum,' and iron chains and daily ice-cold baths and such. Do they still flog inmates in asylums, Raymond? Attempt to beat the demons right out of 'em?"

"Um... I don't know."

"Evans and I are both autistics. Our condition is known as autism. Well -- it will be known as autism, I'll wager. Eugen Bleuler coined the term. A Swiss psychiatrist. A colleague of Freud's. You know Freud."

"Yes. Die Traumdeutung.You gave me a copy, thanks. I'm still working on it. My German isn't half as good as yours. Still, it's really fascinating stuff. So, this... Bleuler? Came up with a name for something you and Evans both have. Called autism."

"Yeah, that's what it's known as. Well, known to a half-dozen people, maybe. Seven, now that I've told you. I imagine that's what it will be known as, soon as Bleuler publishes a paper on it. But that probably won't happen for another ten years or so. Anyway. I'll wager Evans hasn't looked any of you in the eye."

"Not that I've noticed."

"Have you noticed I don't make eye contact often?"

"I have."

"It's uncomfortable to make as much eye contact as I do. But I try to blend in."

"D'you go into agony when someone touches you? Evans definitely doesn't like it."

"At times. At times I do. And I'll wager there are times when Evans doesn't mind being touched. And he might make eye contact now and then. With his parents, perhaps."

"Parent. Stepfather. No one knows who the real parents are. He was found on the doorstep of a pub when he was a baby. I gather the pub's owner has raised him as his own, and that Charlie is happy there. He's said several times that he wants to go home. In fact, I believe that's the only thing he's said since he fainted. He was talking to himself a mile a minute, then he fainted, and since then we can't get anything out of him except 'I want to go home.'"

"Well then I'd strongly recommend letting him go home. In fact it's rather a mystery how he ended up here to begin with. The noise and the crowds can't be comfortable for him. Ah," Latham said and pointed to a clock partway down the platform. "Brand-new clock. He must've been here to have a look at that."

"Well, Latham. I feel for the bugger. I do. But he very likely saw the man we're chasing. We need to get a statement from him."

"And how's that going? Getting a statement from him? Look. Where's this pub? He lives next to the pub?"

"Yeah. Not far. round the corner."

"Brilliant. Send Charlie, me, Charlie's friend and a constable to Charlie's place, let him relax and recover from a severe shock, and that'll be our best chance of getting a good statement out of him quickly. So, what'd he say so far?"

"Oy. He hasn't actually said the word 'watch,' but he was talking about something in a man's pocket, a man who was running fast, something coming out of the man's waistcoat pocket attached to a chain. Sounds like a watch. The man we're after -- "

"He have a name, by the way?"

"I can't tell you."

"Can't tell me his name? Well, that sounds very ominous and murky. Fine, I'll just assume he's a Crown Prince. It'd be pointless, I suppose, to ask why you're chasing him?"

"Utterly. But I can tell you that the man is fat. Probably runs very rarely, so that when he does, it's possible he bounces up and down in a way that would cause objects to come out of his pockets. Such as this object on a chain which caught Charlie's eye, which he said didn't match the chain it was on, and which he said had a scratch near the stem -- "

"Sounds even more like a watch now."

"Indeed. -- and which he referred to as an 1883."


"So there is a watch called an 1883?"

"There's the Waltham 1883. There may be others."

"Charlie said there are millions of 1883's."

"It'd be the Waltham, then."

"Any chance Charlie was using the term 'millions' as a euphemism?"

"Sorry. I'm afraid you'll find that autistics -- me included -- use euphemisms exceedingly sparingly. And it so happens that there are quite literally millions of Waltham 1883's, manufactured from 1883 until the present day, and no sign of sales slowing down."

"Damn. I was so hoping this would be a rare watch. Easy to track down, easy to spot." Raymond gave a loud sigh of discouragement. "But it's a needle in a great bloody haystack of identical 1883's, eh?"

"Similar, not identical. I have several different 1883's, I'll have them brought around to the pub, see if Charlie can tell us which one most closely resembles the watch which was coming out of the mystery man's pocket. And Waltham's an American firm, I'm pretty sure that most of those millions of 1883's are still in the US. But yes, I'm afraid that that still leaves us with a great bloody stack of them in London. In fact..." Latham opened the office door and shouted into the crowd: "Gentlemen! Gentlemen, if you please! Are any of you wearing a Waltham model 1883 watch?" Two men that Latham could see took 1883's out of their pockets and held them up. "Thank you!" he shouted, closed the door and laughed. "Now, don't look so glum, Inspector. Charlie said that the chain didn't match the watch?"

"He said it was very unusual to see an 1883 on a chain like that."

"There you go. The 1883 is the quintessential ordinary watch. Sounds as if the chain may be extraordinary. Chains are sold with watches. Maybe we've got something like a solid-gold chain here. The chain may be very helpful after all, if, for example, you find a pawnbroker who bought a gold watch from someone who purchased an 1883 at the same time and put it onto the gold chain. Some scenario like that. The chain may be very, very helpful indeed."

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