Mystery visits Horse You Came In On

July 12, 2004|By Martha Grimes

As visitors descend on Baltimore during the summer tourism season, staff writer Larry Bingham offers an occasional look at how the city has been portrayed by writers over the years. Today, an excerpt from Martha Grimes' 1993 mystery novel The Horse You Came In On. Grimes, who graduated from the University of Maryland, taught at the Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University during the 1980s.

"Fells Point (Ellen had told him, as he'd set off with his Strangers Guide) was the oldest part of Baltimore, was indeed what Baltimore had really grown out of, and was probably the last working waterfront in the country.

"Despite the obvious quaintness in danger of sliding into chic, Fells Point was a genuine period piece. Left to itself for over two hundred years, it was evidently becoming trendy, but it still kept the appearance of its eighteenth-century origins. It had about it a pleasant sort of scruffiness that the galleries and shops hadn't managed to glamorize or suppress. Narrow rowhouses faced narrow strips of sidewalks on narrows streets. Slate roofs crowned them and sally ports divided them, walkways with painted iron gates that Melrose assumed had once been used for the passage of livestock.

"Melrose walked around the streets along the waterfront for an hour before turning back, once again passing the Admiral Fell Inn in search of the pub where they were to meet and found it within perhaps a hundred feet of the inn.

"The flaking white paint on the sign made the swayback horse look even more like an old nag pressed into servitude by a bunch of Irish tinkers. Its expression was rather stupidly pleased, as if glad it had finally been put out to pasture. The sign of The Horse You Came In On hung over a door that probably hadn't been painted in this century. It was a door one would pause at before opening if he didn't know what lay behind it. It looked sly, that door.

"Melrose liked both the sign and the street. It was called Thames Street, and with its warehouses facing the water, its Belgian block, and its brick pavements, its cobbles, it reminded him a little of Whitechapel and Docklands. It was black night along the London river now, he knew, and even here a later-afternoon darkness seemed to be settling in. It had started to drizzle as he was walking, and out across the Patapsco River fog was rolling in, and the smaller craft that were moored along here would soon be enveloped in it.

"It was a low-key, no-frills little pub, narrow, with a bar along the left wall and tables and chairs along the right. He could barely see the ceiling for the substructure of smoke that clung to it, effluvium of cigarettes and cigars; and the humidity level must have risen thirty percent from the flow of beer - pitchers, bottles, cans. Still, it was a relief after the plummy Victorian accents of London's West End."

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