“What is the meaning of this?” Sly bashed at the roof of the carriage with the silver top of his cane. “We appear to have deviated from our customary route home. Chesterton! Chesterton, damn your eyes! I order you to turn around at once!”
The driver showed no signs of altering their course or of even hearing his master. The carriage continued to pelt down the backstreets of Wapping, the horses’ hooves thundering on cobblestones. Sly heard the protests of pedestrians as the wheels splashed them with filth from the puddles.
“Chesterton! What in hell’s name has possessed you?” Sly thrust his head through the window and tried to beat the man with his cane. “Chesterton!”
The blows had no effect. Hunched at the dashboard, in his shapeless overcoat and flattened top hat, his face bound in a muffler, the driver cracked the reins, whipping the horses into a frenzied gallop. The streets were alarmingly narrow; Sly had to withdraw his head a few times lest it be struck off by overhanging tavern signs and the like. On they plunged, bumps in the road lifting the wheels. Sly had to hold onto his hat with one hand and his seat with the other.
At last, they came to a sudden, jarring halt. Sly was unseated by the jolt. Cursing, he righted himself. The carriage door opened. Chesterton waited to assist the master. Sly waved away the offered hand and stepped out into mud. “I trust you have come to your senses at last,” he grumbled. “I shall have your hide for this, I -”
His words dried up as he took in his surroundings. They were at the river’s edge. The great Thames, brown and greasy, crawled sluggishly ahead. Far across, on the opposite bank, lights of taverns and brothels twinkled dimly, signs of city life beyond his reach. On this side, there was no one, no one at all. No one save the brute Chesterton and the horses.
Sly clutched his cane, preparing to defend himself should the brute have any untoward ideas in his lumpish head. He glared at the man. Where was his deference, damn it?
“Why have you brought me here, God rot you?” Sly’s voice betrayed his fear.
Above the muffler and beneath the brim of the hat, the driver’s eyes flashed, eerily green. An arm extended and a hand in a roughly-made glove pointed at the water.
Sly understood. He backed away, shaking his head.
“No, no! Please! I need more time! You must grant me more time! There is so much I have yet to accomplish, so much I want to do.”
The hulking figure was impassive, deaf to all pleas.
He took off his hat and dropped it into the mud. He unwound the muffler, slowly revealing a face that was gaunt and wan, like that of a fish from the deepest recesses of the ocean,the mouth a gaping circle of needle-sharp teeth.
Sly screamed and, dropping to his knees, sobbed.
“I beg you, please! I’ll do anything – anything at all!”
It was too late. He could feel it happening. He could feel himself shrinking within his fine clothes until they were smothering him. Tiny now, Sly flopped and flapped, gasping, panicking. Dying.
Chesterton picked up the clothes and put them on, then with the silver-topped cane he batted the little green-eyed fish into the river.
He turned to the horses and gave them a pat. They would soon get used to seeing him with the master’s face. The first thing he would have to do when he got back to the house on Grosvenor Square would be to hire a new driver.