17. The Mystery Englishman

By Peter Fraenkel

Only one Englishman lodged at the Imp. Mr Stoddard-Quest was something of a mystery man. People said he had once been a district commissioner or even a provincial commissioner. He certainly looked the type – tall, slim with an aquiline nose. Double-barrel names impressed them but there were rumours that when he first arrived, years earlier, he had been a simple Mr Quest.  He had had some legal training and now earned a bit of money as a backroom lawyer. Foreigners found him useful: their English was weak and their knowledge of local legislation even weaker.  But why had he left an important job in the administration?  There were a variety of rumours: embezzlement? Homosexuality? Drunkenness? Incompetence?

“Incompetence?” quipped the wits in the Imp bar “has that now become grounds for dismissal – from our colonial service? And booze? That’s more likely to get him promoted!”

Mrs Salomon said that a small brown boy sometimes visited him after dark. She had seen Stoddart-Quest give him money.

So that was it! The Imp residents were outraged. “A one-hundred-and-seventy-fiver” said Naphtali the Red.

“What’s that?”

“It’s the paragraph in the German civil code that bans homosexuality.”

“Someone should tell the police!” said Kowalski.

“Weisbrot should kick him out”, said Mrs Salomon.

However, no one took an initiative. Perhaps they had brought with them, from old Europe, a distaste for all police. Somehow, however, gossip did reach them. One evening they pounced when the little boy was visiting. But then the police did nothing and said nothing. No arrest was made. No prosecution followed.

In Mr Kowalski’s opinion the police had been bribed. Police were the same the world over. He knew. Mrs Mazowiecka knew better: They could not touch him because he came from the upper classes. Hadn’t he attended one of those fancy prestigious English schools? Mrs Salomon, however, shrugged her shoulders and said to her husband that the English were all “that way” – the lot of them.

Most of our police were notoriously indiscreet but in this case they remained infuriatingly silent.

It was young Abie who eventually solved the mystery and informed anyone willing to listen. He had overheard the little boy address Stoddard-Quest as “Atate” – Dad.

That explained certain things, didn’t it? In that place and at that time it did.