Sedders and the Stolen Skull

This is a story I wrote in the late 2000s, sort of 'Biggles with the serial numbers filed off' with a touch of Harry Stephen Keeler. 


Sedders and the Stolen Skull

Chris Amies


John Seddington, pilot for hire, on the reserve list of the Royal Air Force of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, stared fixedly at the opium pipe on the cunningly lacquered Chinese table before him. The pipe was twisty and brass, and held upon it many fine filigree figures such that Sedders ― as he was universally known ― understood that this was a fully Chinese pipe, and not some cheap copy manufactured in the West.

“You like?” said the Oriental gentleman standing over him. Yu Haifeng was a graduate of the University of Shanghai, a scholar of anthropology, and quite prepared in the name of research – or of his muse – to play the heathen Chinee to gweilos. To this end he was wearing a pale yellow robe ornamented with dragons in yellow, green and red silk, and a curious trapezoidal hat. Sedders was fully aware of Yu Haifeng ’s ‘act’, and also that the light made pretty patterns on the wall of the upstairs room of the former public house in London’s Limehouse district.

“Very much,” said Sedders, distractedly. There wasn’t much else he could do other than be distracted. For all this was before the matter of the parrot; and the black seacaptain with the wooden leg; and the peculiar encrusted item which came into Sedders’ possession shortly afterwards. Sedders could think of nothing but a little person – a very little person, being four feet and ten delightful inches tall in her tiny flat-soled shoes which were the height (or lack of it) of elegance, so stylish was this small person in her dark blue or black dresses and her prettily coiffed hair, and the Mexican sharkskin bag that she slung over her deliciously formed and lightly tanned forearm. From her dark hair and eyes and easily-tanned complection, she was clearly of somewhat mixed race, which many of Sedders’ less open-minded coevals had something to say about, but which Sedders found nothing less than encouraging, speaking as it did of a future where people of many races would live together in harmonious one-itude.

Less encouraging was it that Sophia Morgenuffer, who had sworn undying love for Sedders on the steps of the National Gallery in the Chicago of the East ― London ― not long before, now seemed dissatisfied with Sedders’ being a mere ‘flyboy’ as she put it, and as many of his missions were nocturnal, also a ‘fly by night’. Sedders was at a loss as to what he could do to win back her love. Not least when the spears of war were rattling in the east and even the most optimistic conceded that peace could not be maintained for more than two more years -- the end of 1940, say -- and it seemed likely that if war did break out, Sedders would be recalled to active service, which he didn’t really want to happen.

Sedders was equally aware that Yu Haifeng was still standing over him, concernedly. The Chinese sat by him on the padded dark red seat of the counch – that was a congress between a couch and a conch, a mere shell of its former shelf – and pressed a large bulky item into his hands. It was apparently spherical and covered in what, when Sedders could defocus his eyes from the non-present face of Miss Sophia Morgenuffer, his Tiny One – appeared to be black spiky baize, ruched in a way that was not entirely dispeasing. It was roughly the size of a small football, or a large cricket ball, not that cricket or foot balls vary from their normal size, but how else was Sedders to describe its size? As a member of the British sporting classes he was most given to describing things in terms of sporting equipment, especially when there was little of the aeronautical part about it, and in this case there was.

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