A 17-year old boy named Billy Weaver went to London to find a job. When he got off the train, carrying his suitcase, he went looking for somewhere to stay for the night. There was a line of tall houses on each side of the street and all of them looked identical.
Billy noticed a sign in one window that read: “Bed and Breakfast”. He crossed the street and peered through the window. There was a fire burning in the hearth and a little dog was curled up asleep on the carpet. He saw that the room was nicely furnished. There was a piano, a big sofa and in the corner, there was a parrot in a cage. It looked like a nice place to stay.
He rang the doorbell and before he even had time to take his finger off the button, the door swung open and a middle-aged woman was standing there. She gave him a little bit of a fright.
“Come in, come in,” she said with a welcoming smile.
Billy went inside and she closed the door behind him.
“I was looking for a room for the night,” he said.
“It’s all ready for you, my dear,” she said as she took his coat and hung it up in the hallway. “Five pounds a night, including breakfast.”
It was very cheap and the woman seemed nice and friendly. She reminded him of his mother.
“We have the place to ourselves,” she said as she led the way upstairs. “It isn’t very often I have visitors. You see, I’m inclined to be just a teeny weeny bit choosey and particular.”
Billy followed her up to the 2nd floor.
“Here’s your room,” she said. “I do hope you like it.”
“Thank you,” Billy said.
The bed was made and the bedclothes had been neatly turned back on one side, all ready for someone to get in.
“I’ll leave you to unpack your things,” she said. “Then you can come downstairs and sign the guestbook.”
She gave him a little wave of the hand and went quickly out of the room and closed the door.
The landlady was a bit odd, but that didn’t bother Billy. After all, she was harmless and she was obviously a kind and generous soul.
After unpacking his suitcase and washing his hands, he went downstairs. In the living-room, the fire was still burning in the hearth and the little dog was still sleeping in front of it.
The guestbook was lying open on the piano, so he picked up the pen and wrote down his name and address. There were two other entries above him on the page. One was a Christopher Mulholland from Cardiff. The other was Gregory Temple from Bristol.
“That’s funny,” he muttered to himself. “Those names ring a bell. Where have I heard them before? Christopher Mulholland? Gregory Temple?”
“Such charming boys,” said a voice behind him. He turned around to see the landlady coming into the room with a tea tray in her hands.
“I’m sure I’ve read those names before in the newspaper,” he said. “They weren’t famous, were they?”
“Famous?” the landlady said as put the tray down and sat on the sofa. “Oh no, I don’t think they were famous. They were just young and handsome, my dear, exactly like you. Come over here now, dear, and sit down beside me on the sofa and have a nice cup of tea before you go to bed.”
“I’m almost positive it was in the newspapers I saw them,” Billy said. “I’ll think of it in a second. I’m sure I will.”
“Come over here now and sit next to me and warm yourself in front of this lovely fire. Come on. Your tea’s all ready for you.” She patted the empty place beside her on the sofa, and she sat there smiling at Billy.
He sat down on the edge of the sofa and she placed his teacup on the table in front of him.
“There we are,” she said. “How nice and cosy this is, isn’t it?”
Billy started sipping his tea. She did the same. For a while, neither of them spoke, but Billy could feel her eyes watching him.
“Mr Mulholland was a great one for his tea,” she said at length. “Never in my life have I seen anyone drink as much tea as dear, sweet Mr Mulholland.”
“When did he leave?” Billy asked.
“Leave?” she said. “But my dear boy, he never left. He’s still here. Mr Temple is also here. They’re on the third floor, both of them together.”
Billy set down his cup slowly on the table and stared at his landlady. She smiled back at him, and patted his knee. “How old are you, my dear?” she asked.
“Seventeen,” he replied.
“Seventeen!” she cried. “Oh, it’s the perfect age! Mr Mulholland was also seventeen. But he was a bit shorter than you are and Mr Temple was a little older. He was actually twenty-eight. And yet I never would have guessed if he hadn’t told me. There wasn’t a blemish on his body. His skin was just like a baby’s.”
Billy picked up his cup and took another sip of tea. He stared at the parrot in the cage and noticed that it wasn’t moving at all.
“Is that parrot stuffed?” he asked. “You know something? It had me completely fooled. I could have sworn it was alive. Who did it?”
“I did it myself,” said the landlady. “And have you seen my little Basil as well?”
Billy looked at the dog curled up in front of the fireplace and suddenly, he realized that the whole time, it been just as silent and motionless as the parrot. He reached out and touched the dog. It was hard and cold.
“Wow,” he said. “That must be very difficult.”
“Not at all,” she said. “I stuff all my pets when they pass away. Will you have another cup of tea, my dear?”
“No, thank you,” Billy said.
He didn’t like the tea. It had a strange taste, something like bitter almonds. The room was beginning to feel very hot and Billy was having trouble catching his breath.
“I’m glad you signed the guestbook,” said the landlady. “Because I’m very forgetful. Later on, if I forget what you were called, I can come down here and look it up. I still do that almost every day with Mr Mulholland and Mr… Mr…”
“Mr Temple,” Billy said. “Haven’t there been any other guests here except them in the last two years?”
“No, my dear,” she said with a smile. “Only you.”