Summary:— Fiona ‘Fay' Cartwright & Alice ‘Al' Drever are private detectives in an East Coast American city. A large luxury liner docks in the harbour, with a mystery on board which they are tasked with solving.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright © the author. All characters in this story are fictional and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Part 3 of
the 'Drever & Cartwright' series
1. The Packer Building Incident.
2. The Fowler St. Incident.
3. The Pier 7 Incident.
4. The Elevated Rail Incident.
5. The Charioteer Insurance Co. Incident
6. The Grand Banks Hotel Incident
7. The Vanishing Girl Incident
“The ‘ Colossus ' is in port, Al.”
“Whoop-di-doo. So what?”
They both lay together in their bed, covered by lavender-coloured silk sheets. Or, at least, Fiona declared they were lavender; Alice, on the other hand, was determined they were lilac. The on-going argument, pursued rigorously by both party's over three weeks, had still not reached a satisfactory conclusion.
“You were out most of this afternoon, so I didn't get a chance to tell ya.” Fiona shuffled round to touch shoulders with her partner. “I got a telephone call from Mr Hendrick Reymers around three pm. He has a proposition he wants to put to us.”
There was a pause, then Alice started giggling and drew the sheet over her head to hide. Fiona threw her gaze ceiling-ward, then grabbed the sheet and tried to pull it back down; but Alice resisted firmly.
“Come on, Al! Stop giggling like that. It ain't funny.” Fiona finally gave up tugging and lay on her back. “He wants to meet us on board the ‘ Colossus ' tomorrow morning.”
This brought a reaction. The sheet covering Alice's face was thrown back, allowing the brunette half of the duo to emerge like Venus from the sea; and with just as little in the way of clothes.
“Oh, yeah. Is he gon'na take us on a cruise? That'd be something.” Alice leant over to help her partner free herself from the silk sheet, which had now cascaded over Fiona. “So, what's up, doll?”
Fiona, seeing the state of undress of her ever-lovin' other half, was at first minded to draw the sheet up to cover the brunette's extant features. But then thought better of it. After all, she thought to herself, I've had a heavy day; I'm entitled to some perks.
“Mr Reymers, as you've clearly forgotten, is on the board of the Bremen-Oceana Line. And has kindly retained our services, to aid in a little problem that has come up regarding the ship.” Fiona suddenly found herself the centre of attention. Alice dearly loved a pay-check; especially one that threatened to be substantial. “So tomorrow morning, dressed in our best; exhibiting our finest manners; and willing to help in any way we can, professionally speaking that is, you and I will traipse along to Pier 7; clamber aboard the old ferry; an' proceed to trip the light fantastic. Wha'd'ya say to that, sunshine?”
“Sounds good t'me.” Alice gave it all of three seconds thought. She knew a good thing, when its delicate scent wafted in the wind past her perfectly formed nostrils. “I'll play along. So what's it all about?”
“Reymers ain't the sort who passes secrets over the telephone.” Fiona was now considering the likelihood of her succeeding in pulling the sheet even further away from the object it covered so delectably. She decided to take her chance. “We got'ta wait till the morning, then he'll wise us up. Whee! My goodness, gal, you do brush up well.”
A short scream followed, filled far more with delight than fear. A tussle developed on the bed, ending in a sort of three-way mess; one part lavender coloured sheet, two parts naked females, with long legs thrashing in the air and two sets of arms flailing around trying to get the upper hand. After a thrill-filled battle lasting three minutes, copiously enlightened by screams for mercy, shouts of delight, and short references as to what a certain brunette was going to do without fail to a certain black-haired Valkyrie, there came a kind of peaceful re-action. This, though, was soon followed by a resurgence of activity; gently amatory, romantic, physically tender, and wholly mutual. Having been forgotten, the bedside lamp burned all night.
There was nothing of the wallflower about the ‘ Colossus '. It stated vibrantly, to any who gazed upon its mighty form, ‘ here I am, take me or leave me '. By type it was a three-funnel trans-Atlantic liner. In size it closely equalled Cunard's ‘ Berengaria '. While in style, design, and comfort, it boasted of being supreme in its class. The hull was black; the superstructure white; and the three pale-green funnels were topped with thin painted black and yellow rings. The general effect was of imposing magnificence, allied to great beauty and speed. Moored now at Pier 7, Delacote City Harbour, NH, on this sunny morning of 17 July 1932, it sat on the water like a great giant at rest; though still easily dominating its surroundings.
“God! It's huge.” Alice was clearly impressed, as she and Fiona stood amid the crowds on the pier admiring the great ship. “It's about the biggest thing I've ever seen. It's—it's—gigantic.”
“No, it ain't.” Fiona spoke with finality.
“What?” Alice cast a questioning eye on her paramour.
There was a short pause, while Alice drank in this is awful joke, then she turned from her partner with a sigh. It was going to be one of those days.
“Good morning, ladies,” A well-dressed balding man in his late fifties appeared at their side, shouldering his way through the masses with an expertise gained from long experience. “I'm Hendrick Reymers. I remember you, Miss Cartwright, from that matter of the ‘ Bison Trucking Company ' six months ago; and the, er, stock that went missing. One of our subsidiaries, y'know. Follow me. The gangway's just a hundred or so feet along the pier. Once we're aboard, out of this damn throng of humanity, we'll be able to hear ourselves think.”
“Stock? That was beer barrels, full beer barrels, as I recall.” Alice managed a quiet whisper in the ear of her raven-haired accomplice, as they wended their way along the wooden deck of the pier.
“Shush.” Fiona grimaced at Alice. “It was a delicate matter at the time, an' I bet it ain't got any less so since.”
“OK, don't worry.” Alice gave her partner a knowing glance. “I'll keep my mouth shut.”
“ Humph! That'll be a first.”
Reymers waved them to a gangway near the centre of the ship, one which soared skywards till finally it reached the main deck, and peremptorily indicated they should precede him.
“Sorry about the confusion, ladies.” Mr Reymers was all apology when they eventually stood on the deck. “This way, please.”
They entered a long corridor. On their right hand the wall was pierced by a continuous row of windows, like a huge never-ending glass-house. On their left, across fifteen feet of open deck littered with low cane chairs and chaise-longues, were a series of doors interspersed by large brass-ringed portholes; the expensive state-rooms.
“Here.” Mr Reymers stopped beside one of these; opened it, then stood aside to let the women enter ahead of him. “Not one of the largest, but comfortable, all the same.”
The room was rectangular, with white-painted walls and ceiling. On the left another door stood shut, but was pretty obviously the entrance to a bedroom. In the right wall another door probably led to the bathroom. There were several deep leather armchairs scattered around the wide floor, with a long couch against the far wall. The room boasted two large porthole windows, and to the right-hand side sat a medium-sized desk. Reymers indicated two straight-backed chairs for the women, and went round to seat himself behind the desk, Here he spent a few seconds shuffling some papers littered haphazardly over it's surface, then looked at the women.
“I am a Director of the Bremen-Oceana Line.” He sat forward as if this major position gave him extra energy and intensity, then scanned the contents of his desk-top as if seeking guidance from the varied objects thereon. “I am in need of some detective work, and the fact that you are women helped me make the decision to engage you. Something of a rather delicate nature has occurred here on board. It happened in the last day or two while the ship neared port.”
“Were you on the ship at the time, Mr Reymers?” Alice arched an eyebrow in enquiry.
“No.” He shook his head decisively. “I have been in my office, in the Bremen-Oceana Building, on Pataloc Avenue, for the last week. Preparing for the arrival and turnaround of the ‘ Colossus ', you understand. It is generally a very labour intensive, sensitive, and demanding business.”
“So, what's the nature of your problem? Robbery?” Fiona shifted in her chair, and eyed the small man with a firm directness. “If an actual crime has been committed you need to inform the police, y'know. We can act in a consultative position; but the police have to investigate, which may naturally cramp our style a little.”
Mr Reymers had discovered a silver pen on his desk, and now began playing with it, rolling the metal cylinder around the blotting-pad. He seemed quite intent on this, frowning the while. Then he raised his eyes to Fiona.
“Things are, er, as I said slightly delicate.” He paused yet again, obviously having trouble approaching the central aspect of the difficulty he found himself in. Finally he took his courage in both hands and started speaking in a more purposeful manner. “Two days ago, three in fact, I suppose now, a jewel—a small but expensive necklace—was reported stolen. It belongs to Lady Vivian Carmichael, of London. She wishes a full-scale police investigation. This is the crux of the affair, if I may say. We, of the Bremen-Oceana Line, would wish the whole business kept as private as possible. I have persuaded Lady Carmichael to allow me to engage yourselves in the hope this can be achieved.”
“The police'll have to be told.” Alice took a notepad from her handbag, and eyed the tip of a pencil she produced from the pocket of the short jacket she wore. “But we'll do as much as we can t'keep things quiet. We get a lot of clients in this position.”
“Oh, we have already informed the Police Department.” Reymers sighed heavily, turning his attention once more to the antics of the silver pen. His interest in which had risen to the level of actually doodling with it on the pristine blotting-pad. “I telephoned an Inspector Fletcher of the 5 th Precinct last night. He seems, uum, extremely efficient. Still, your best efforts will be very much appreciated.”
Alice and Fiona exchanged looks; they knew Inspector Jacob Fletcher from way back. On a good day he could be polite, if not exactly charming. On the much more usual bad days he was a damned pain in the neck to all concerned.
“The boat's fairly bubblin' with activity of an investigatory nature, then.” Alice curled a lip in half a smile. “Can't be much fun for you, I suppose.”
“You suppose right, madam.” Reymers abandoned his artistic interlude; cast the silver pen aside peremptorily; and pressed his lips together in an expression of distaste. “I expect the news of the, er, robbery will get out and end up in the popular press. That at least is unavoidable. But if no headway can be made in catching the culprits the effect on the Bremen-Oceana Line's publicity would be incalculably negative, which must be avoided at any cost.”
“We can't help ya there, Mr Reymers.” Fiona rose, to stand by the desk. “Maybe if you show us where Lady Vivian's cabin is, we can start our investigation at the scene. This may take some time, y'know. It's not likely to be sorted in just one day.”
“Yes, I suppose that's only to be expected.” Reymers detached himself from his desk, as Alice too stood and joined her companion. “Lady Vivian has a state-room on B deck. Let me show you.”
“What's happenin' with the passengers, an' all the pertinent witnesses an' whatnot?” Alice spoke as they left the cabin and proceeded along the enclosed deck promenade once more. “When are they being allowed ashore?”
“When Inspector Fletcher deems it acceptable. We haven't permitted the usual departures to take place. That may not happen for hours yet, I'm afraid.” Reymers looked even more miserable than before, as he brushed a hand over his high forehead. “That is, all passengers who should have vacated the ship at half past seven this morning are still aboard. They ain't happy.”
This last sentence was delivered in a decidedly Queens accent; perhaps revealing his antecedents, before certain attained social graces kicked in during his career.
“Well, looks as if we have all the possible culprits right under our noses.” Fiona grinned at her colleague. “Alice an' I will take care of it.”
“ Urmph , I certainly hope so.” Reymers came to a halt abruptly, nearly making Alice cannon into him. “Here we are, down this stair-well, please. Follow me.”
The state-rooms on board the ‘ Colossus ' consisted of a three-room suite; sitting-room, bedroom, bathroom. The appointments were luxurious, no expense being spared to give the passengers a feeling of palatial extravagance. Lady Vivian Carmichael stood awaiting the detectives in the centre of the Axminster carpet, looking for all the world as if she were on speaking terms with reigning monarchs; which she was.
“Lady Vivian, these are the, er, investigators I told you about.” Reymers studied the grande dame for a moment, with a hangdog expression. “I'm sure, uum, they will bring a quick end to this, aah, unfortunate incident. Miss Drever, Miss Cartwright, Lady Vivian Carmichael. I must leave you now, I'm afraid. I want to keep an ey—I mean I must see that Inspector Fletcher has all the necessary help he requires. Goodbye.”
After the door closed behind the harassed Board Director Fiona and Alice turned expectantly to their aristocratic client. In her turn the Lady spent a moment examining them , for all the world as if she were at the zoo in front of some exotic species. Then she spoke.
“Please, come over to the couch and sit by me.” Her accent was light, soft, with a glitter like silver, and very English indeed. “I find myself at a disadvantage, never having been burgled before. At such close quarters anyway, that is.”
She was, in form, somewhat below average height; of a slightly rounded embonpoint; and of a full face. Her dark hair was short and shingled in the current fashion. Her eyes were startlingly blue, and she smiled with open lips showing perfect white teeth. In age she may have been approaching the mid-forties. Her clothes were clearly, as Alice noticed immediately, from the House of Redfern; dull red with white edgings, the gown being ankle-length and the wide loose sleeves coming to her wrists. She wore a minimum of make-up. Her whole stance gave the impression of well-practiced social superiority, but without condescension.
“Yeah, these sort'a things tend to happen unexpectedly.” Alice nodded knowingly, not in the least put out by her situation. “We'd better start with exactly what was stolen, er, Lady Vivian.”
“Well, it was a single piece.” Lady Vivian made a movement of her hand, which might have expressed a certain delicacy at having to discuss such mundane matters of personal concern. “The necklace is one which has been in my family for some considerable time; since 1867, actually. It is a rather rare setting of amber-coloured rubies, given to an ancestor of mine by the Empress Eugenie herself. Although quite small and unobtrusive, it is worth a significant amount; and I would wish for its quick return, if possible.”
“Got a photograph?” Fiona took a cool professional interest in the situation. “Doesn't need to be in colour. And was it in a case, or just loose, when it was taken. Also, by the way, are you sure it was stolen? Hasn't just been misplaced somewhere? Pretty fools we'd all look if we spent a week searching for it, only for you t'find it at the bottom of your handbag.”
Lady Vivian took stock of the two American women; her eyebrows, always mobile, rising to the extremity of their vertical height; but, like a scion of past Admirals, as she also was, she rallied.
“You can take it as certain, er, Miss Cartwright, that the necklace has been stolen.” She allowed a note of determination to enter her voice. “It is gone, and I wish it speedily returned. My maid put it away in its case in the safe over there in the corner of the stateroom two days ago; and now it is gone.”
“Was the safe forced, Lady Vivian?” Alice glanced at the square shape of the small door set in the wall a few feet away. “Or did someone have a key?”
“You need both a key and the combination.” Lady Vivian shrugged gracefully. “No, it was not forced. It seems to have been opened in the normal manner and closed again.”
“People come in daily to dust and tidy, I suppose?” Alice had her notebook in hand, pencil hovering over the page. “Any idea of their names, so we can check them.”
“Really, I cannot say.” Lady Vivian brushed this common-place enquiry aside, like a particularly annoying fly. “You will have to ask the Purser about those details, I fancy. Or perhaps my secretary, Miss Palmer, may be of assistance. We use her cabin as a kind of office, y'know.”
“Where would that be, Lady Vivian?” Fiona raised an eyebrow towards the Englishwoman enquiringly.
“On D deck. Cabin 131 on the starboard side.” Lady Vivian looked a little perplexed, as if the thought had only just occurred to her. “My maid, Saunders, is on the same deck, quite near Miss Palmer, I believe. Is all this helpful?”
“Sure.” Fiona nodded as she rose, casting a meaningful look towards her companion to do the same. “We'll follow up these items over the course of the day. Are you leaving the ship soon? Can you give us a telephone number and address where we can reach you?”
“I shall remain on board for the duration of today.” Lady Vivian stood, with a mournful expression. “I intend to disembark tomorrow. I shall be taking up a short residence at the Grand Banks Hotel. I cannot give you the address, I'm afraid.”
“No need.” Alice smiled as she accompanied Fiona to the door. “We know it. Well, if anything turns up we'll contact you. Goodbye.”
There seemed to be a great deal of activity on board. The decks were alive with what the two detectives took to be a fair selection of the ship's passengers. Aristocratic members of the hierarchy of several nations swanned past, accompanied by retinues of servants; haughty males, wrapped in fur coats and smoking large cigars as if it were their one accomplishment in life, paced slowly along the centre of the deck, making most people step aside from their stately progress; families, consisting of mother, father, laughing daughters and a surly son, rushed anxiously past on unknown errands; single gentlemen, who might have been parsons, storekeepers, or bank-robbers in mufti, sauntered by. There were Ladies; there were women; and, Alice and Fiona both surmised as they examined several doubtful specimens, members of the female species who were apparently no better than they should be: although to be fair, as Alice pointed out, there were several examples of the other sex visibly in evidence who left a lot to be desired too. Flitting in and out around the feet of these crowds were a multitude of children of various ages, all unreservedly noisy as only unrestrained children can be. To top everything the ship chose this moment to wet its whistle—the steam siren bellowed forth with a blast, set somewhere in the lower reaches of B flat, that was probably audible ten miles away.
“This way.” Alice grabbed Fiona's arm and dragged her to a nearby door. “See the sign. D Deck's down this stair. Let's go.”
“Hope the cabins are soundproof.” Fiona held a delicate hand to her ear. “God, that nearly deafened me. Do they hav'ta do that?”
“I think the Captain's just lettin' the world know his ship's come in.” Alice giggled quietly, in a refined manner. “There are people who long for that, y'know.”
“Huh! Well I ain't one o' them.” Fiona sneered as they went along the open deck, with cabin bulkheads on their left hand. “Too much on my plate as it is. Is this the right cabin? Yeah, OK, I see the number; I got eyes.”
In answer to Alice's firm knock the white-painted door opened to reveal a tall blonde of around twenty-five years of age and, as Alice remarked to her co-hort later, every year fully accounted for judging by the cut of her jib. She wore a pale yellow frock which swirled around her ankles, though it rose to a tight waist encircled by a thin red leather belt with a wide silver buckle. Her blouse, silk and of the same yellow tone, was form-fitting; and she clearly had a form for it to fit.
“Hi'ya. What's up?” Her accent was pure Brooklyn.
“We just came from Lady Vivian. We're detectives, working on the missing necklace.” Fiona put the record straight, eyeing the girl from head to foot. “She told us you were her secretary, so we thought we'd mosey along an' chew the fat awhile.”
“OK, first off, don't think for a moment I don't believe every word ya say.” The girl stood her ground calmly, eyeing the detectives with a raised eyebrow. “But these here are high social circles we're all movin' in. So, how about a licence-card, or whatever?”
Fiona heaved a sigh and began rummaging in the deep handbag slung over her left shoulder. It merited a deal of searching, being packed full with what Fiona always said were the mere necessities of life. Alice drew her card from the breast pocket of her short jacket, where she always kept it for just such an occasion as the present. Finally, identity having been accredited to her satisfaction, the girl stepped aside and waved the women in, with an elegant gesture.
Inside the overall tone was once more white. In fact almost every cabin and stateroom on the ship was white. Ceilings, walls, carpets, even the furniture were predominantly white. Made for cheap and easy decorating, so the Purser always said when tasked with the rather boring repetition. There was a door in the left wall which obviously led to an unseen bedroom; while in the centre of the room was a desk, covered with files, folders, and loose sheets of paper which looked suspiciously like bills, accounts, and lists.
“Ya seem t'be a busy, er, secretary Miss Palmer?” Alice shot a quick glance around, taking in the sights. “Nice couch. Nice chairs. Nice set-up. Lady Vivian payin'?”
“Yes.” Miss Palmer raised her eyes to the low ceiling for an instant, then re-focussed on her visitors. “She pays for everything; she's got oodles of oof!”
“Ya don't sound exactly—committed to the cause; if I may say so.” Fiona looked at the blonde with an enquiring eye.
“Nah. I've just now returned to the old backyard, an' got lots of greenbacks in my purse.” Miss Palmer crossed to the desk and sat on the corner, elegantly. “I think pastures new'll be callin' pretty soon. Is that a crime?”
“This isn't putting you in a good light, y'know, Miss Palmer.” Alice brought up the obvious problem. “You sound like the cop's Best Bet. Opportunity. Lack of respect for your employer. Lookin' to make a break for the horizon the first chance that offers. Inspector Fletcher'll have you down at the 5 th Precinct in two shakes of a lamb's tail. An' he won't be lettin' you out till you come clean with the confession.”
“Huh. That's just where you're both wrong.” Miss Palmer was unaffected, running a hand down the length of her silk skirt. “First off, I didn't do it. If by it you mean swipin' her necklace. Secondly, I got'ta alibi; if alibi's still count for somethin' in this here town. So, what d'ya say about that, ladies?”
Fiona and Alice had slowly gravitated towards the couch during this discourse, and now made themselves comfortable. Fiona dumped her handbag by her side; while Alice contented herself by bringing out her trusty notebook and producing a pencil, whose tip she proceeded to lick slowly and carefully in a manner which made Fiona jealous as Hell.
“How d'ya know you have an alibi; when the time the necklace was stolen—if it was stolen—hasn't been determined yet?” Fiona accompanied this sharp interrogatory with a gentle smile, purposely aimed at angering its recipient.
“The necklace was stolen two nights ago; sometime after 11.30pm.” Miss Palmer, not in the least put out, replied in a quiet self-contained manner. “That's when Lady Vivian usually goes to bed. An' I was far away, in the 2 nd Class saloon at a party. We drank; we danced; we played poker; I won; I invited a friend back to the old rancho here; then, wouldn't ya know, it was eight o' clock in the mornin' an' Viv's maid Saunders was beating on my door screaming something about a robbery. How's that?”
“Well, it's a story.” Alice acknowledged the fact, though she drew her lips down censoriously. “I don't know how healthy it is; but it'll do till a better one shows up, I suppose.”
“What we'd really li—”
“ Thump! Thump! ”
Fiona was launching off in another direction when she was interrupted by a loud bang on the cabin door. This didn't seem to put off Miss Palmer, though.
“That's Saunders. The maid.” She rose and shimmied across the carpet, taking her time. “I'll bring her in. She'll go on banging like that for an hour, if you let her. Nervous type, y'know.”
“Is she tryin' t'copy Jean Harlow?” Alice felt impelled to whisper this character assassination to her companion, as they watched their hostess sashaying towards the door.
“If she is, she ain't got the hip thing quite right.” Fiona sniffed contemptuously. “Needs t'be slower, an' ya got'ta really throw your hip out an' bring it back smoothly. Nah, she ain't got it.”
Miss Palmer closed the door behind the latest guest, and brought her over to the couch.
“This here's Miss Milly Saunders, ladies.” Miss Palmer waved a hand towards a spare chair nearby. “There, park yourself, Milly. An' for God's sake, don't burst into tears. Tears, I can't be doin' with this morning. Oh God!”
Amid a loud staccato of expelled breath and unrepentant tears the young woman nervously pulled a large white handkerchief from her grey purse and dabbed at the twin sources of the flood.
“Oh, Roxy! She say's I done it.” Milly sat back, sniffed, then broke free from all boundaries of good taste. “The bitch! The rotten bitch. She's an old hag, that's what she is. Fancy sayin' I was a thief. Me, who's been the soul o' discretion all the three years an' more I been tending to the spiteful old—old—bitch!”
“Get a grip, dear.” Miss Palmer groaned in despair. “She's just flailing around, spitting at anyone in range. She wants that damned necklace back pronto, that's all. She didn't bring it all the way across the pond just on a whim; she wants t'impress the folks in Old New York; and Boston, come to that.”
“Roxy?” Fiona assumed a neutral expression as she asked this question.
“Rosalind.” Miss Palmer favoured her questioner with a high-lipped sneer. “Wan'na make somethin' of it?”
“Nah, just curious.”
Alice noted this fact in her notebook, but before she could enter the conversation Milly had started up again.
“But it's so unfair.” The brown-haired woman sniffed loudly, dabbing at her nose. “I put the thing in its case, just like always, an' put it in the safe an' closed it. An' the next morning, when she opened the safe for me to get her pearl ear-rings, there it was—gone.”
“Ah-ha.” Alice jumped on this opening. She poised her pencil, ready to take down all important information. “What time exactly would that have been?”
“7.40.” Milly thought about sniffing again, but was too taken up with remembering the facts. “Lady Viv had just finished her morning cup of tea. She opened the safe; the ear-rings are sort'a on display in the open tray, an' there's room for the necklace case at the rear. Well, it just wasn't there, an' that's the truth.”
“You're sayin' this jewel-case was locked in the safe all night.” Alice cleared her throat, and looked important. “Where no-one without a key could reach it?”
“Yeah.” Milly admitted the truth of this statement. “You'd think Lady Viv would'a heard anyone tryin' t'do that. At least I imagine she would.”
“Sounds like your classic locked-room mystery.” Fiona essayed a witticism. “Perhaps we'd better send a telegram to John Dickson Carr, Al?”
“Very funny.” Alice remained un-impressed. “So, if you didn't take the necklace, Miss Saunders; and Lady Viv didn't; an' you didn't Miss Palmer; well, who's left?”
There was a short pause; but the two suspects, knowing their status, soon pointed the finger at the next most likely in line. After all, it's a hard world.
“The cleaning staff.” Milly was firm, certain, and satisfied she'd put her finger on the right spot of grease.
“Mr Reginald Carlson.” Miss Palmer made this announcement with a stern expression of moral rectitude. “He's the ship's unofficial gigolo. Here, lem'me give ya his cabin phone number. It's 2053. He's been fluttering round Lady Viv all through this voyage, like a fly on a dung-pile.”
“Poetic.” Fiona sighed softly, watching Alice record this probably libellous fact in her notebook along with the number. “So, where can we find this guy?”
“I dun'no, ask the Purser.” Miss Palmer essayed a smirk. “Probably lying low in his cabin, wherever that is. From guilt, y'know.”
“Yeah.” Alice nodded without enthusiasm. “Every time we ask for more suspects, more suspects appear. Or at least, they're fingered; whether in jest or all seriousness, is kind'a hard t'tell.”
“Are you accusing me of flim-flamming you?” Miss Palmer extended herself to her full 5 foot 8 inches, and looked insulted. “Because if you are, clear out, that's all!”
Fiona rose, along with Alice. Together they walked over to the door with as much seemliness as the occasion offered.
“You're alright there, Miss Palmer.” Fiona favoured her hostess with a bright smile. “You've given us some useful information. Alice an' I'll be going along, to investigate further leads. I'm confident of an early result. Aren't I, Alice?”
“Oh yes.” Alice grasped the door as Fiona stepped out into the public deck in front of her. “My partner has every right to be confident. We've got some great leads now. Early arrest; all ending happily for everyone concerned; except for the thieves, of course. See ya.”
The cabin door closed on a secretary who was frowning, whether in doubt or fear only she could say.
“Where to, doll?” Alice was stuffing her notebook back in her handbag; looking as pert as a robin on a rail as they traversed the open deck once again.
“The Purser's office, where else.”
“I knew it. I did. I can read you like a book, Fay. Here's a stairwell. Do we go up, or down?”
The Purser's office turned out to be on the top ‘A' deck; just before the gated section of the forward deck, past which was the sole territory of the uniformed and official. Alice gave a hearty rap and stood back to await the result. A tall man in uniform opened the door, took a glance at the women, and stepped back with a gesture for them to enter his abode.
“My name's Alastair Benson, ladies.” He smiled calmly at his new guests. “Purser of this fair craft. Are you the lady detectives Mr Reymers told me about?”
“That's us.” Fiona replied cheerfully. “Looks like our reputation's forestalled us. Yeah, we're looking into Lady Vivian's ruby necklace. Any help would be appreciated.”
“Hmm. so far as Lady Carmichael's loss goes,” The Purser inclined his head thoughtfully, “there is nothing I can really say; except that we will, of course, offer any help that is consistent with the Shipping Line's regulations.”
“Yes, well, there is something you can do, Mr Benson.” Alice took out her notebook and turned to the appropriate page of her shorthand hieroglyphics. “Those of the crew with permission to enter Lady Carmichael's stateroom would consist of the, er, cleaning staff. If you could give us their names, an' where we can find them aboard ship at the present time, that'd be great.”
“All the crew will be remaining on board for another day at least.” Mr Benson nodded, as he went over the situation in his mind. “Most, of course, will actually be going back on the return trip. But individuals, hmm. I'll need to send to the Quartermaster, for his records. It may take some time, I'm afraid. Turning around a ship this large in dock, metaphorically speaking, for the return voyage is a mighty complicated procedure.”
“Yes, Mr Reymers told us that, too.” Fiona gently dropped this fragment of their intimacy with the higher echelons of the Ship's Board into the silence. “We're working here at his personal invitation, y'see.”
“Ah well, yes.” Mr Benson let this information percolate into his consciousness for a while, then came to a decision. “I'd better write a note to the Quartermaster. I'll just slip next door, and have a man go in search of him. Won't be a moment.”
After he had grabbed his cap and exited the office there was a further silence of a few seconds, but Alice came valiantly forward to fill this vacuum.
“What d'you think the chances are of a quick result, Fay?” Alice looked around the office, taking in all the filing cabinets and the two tables. “He keeps a spick an' span office. Everything in its place.”
“Yeah, makes a difference from—”
“ Knock! Knock! ”
“Hell, he don't need'ta knock to enter his own office.” Fiona sniggered quietly. “Open the damn door for him, Al.”
Obediently Alice did as she was bid, though not without making a mental note to bring up the subject of her paramour's cranky attitude when they were together in bed that night. However, it was not the returning Purser standing outside, but the wholesome square-jawed features of Inspector Fletcher of 5 th Precinct; and he wasn't smiling.
“Oh God, it's you two.” He gave the semblance of a snarl as he entered.
“Hallo, Inspector.” Alice tried the soft soap approach.
“Hi'ya, Fletch.” Fiona went for the short and snappy.
“What's the big idea?” The irate Inspector glared from one woman to the other. “I got a robbery investigation goin' on here, in case you didn't notice.”
“Mr Reymers hired us t'do exactly the same, Inspector.” Fiona wasn't put off by his attitude at all, having had several years experience of the irascible officer. “You know, the head of the Shipping Line.”
“Damn him.” Inspector Fletcher made his feelings on the subject known to all and sundry. “I got me a nice juicy robbery, here in my Precinct. No-one but no-one gets in the way of a Police investigation in New Hampshire, or I''ll dam' well know the reason why; an' that goes for you, too.”
“ Humph . Look Inspector, we both got our rules an' regulations we need t'work around.” Fiona smiled sweetly, and tried to bring the conversation back on track. “What say we try not t'get under each other's feet, OK? Al an' I got our job; you got yours. I think there's space on this tub for us all to go about our business without interfering with each other, while we all look for Lady Carmichael's ruby necklace in our own ways.”
“ Rrrr! ” The Inspector fell back on an inarticulate growl; then twisted his lips in a dismissive smile. “I thought it was diamonds? Probably paste, anyway. You know as well as I do, most of these so-called aristocrats are on their uppers; as a result of the Depression, an' all. Paste, mark my words. Insurance scam. Even Duchess's know the colour of money.”
“Inspector,” Alice spoke in awe, casting a twinkling eye on the seething man. “you got some snazzy ideas about how the upper classes operate over there in Blighty. Out-dated ideas! Where have you been all these years? Lady Carmichael knows the British Foreign Secretary. Hell, she knows Royalty in three different countries. That sort'a trumps your hand, buster, don't it?”
“ Haarph! Bullshit! ” Fletcher wasn't getting any calmer; and he knew how to treat snarky ladies when he met them. “I could think of seven different reasons to run you both downtown for a few hours, just to keep you from gettin' under my feet, y'know.”
“Do that, Inspector, an' I'll see that the Police Federation Board receive a writ that'll bankrupt the state for the next twenty years.” Fiona's voice dripped with quiet venom. She didn't like being bullied. “How does that sit in your tobacco pipe?”
“ Graagh! ” The Police Inspector lowered his brows and glared, impotently. He knew when he had gone too far. “Just keep out'ta my investigation, that's all.”
“Any suspects?” Alice took pity and smiled, not unkindly, at the scowling official as she eased the conversation into calmer waters. “You've been here all mornin', after all?”
“I started off by suspecting everyone on board—all 2,325.” Fletcher favoured the women with his famous 3 rd degree smile—but it bounced off harmlessly, they were both tougher than that. “Finally I cut back to just suspecting the passengers—that'd be, oh, some 1,460 people. But that was just boring—I like t'get t'grips with my suspects face to face, y'know. Look ‘em in one eye, an' punch ‘em in the other, if they get frisky. You know the routine.”
“Hell, Fletcher, if ya keep talkin' that way people are gon'na start believin' you.” Fiona snorted with suppressed laughter. “Everyone in Delacote City knows you ain't never laid a hand on any suspect, ever. Quit boasting.”
The Inspector looked at the tall dark-haired woman, transferred his gaze to the slightly shorter brunette; then gave up, beat. He sighed again; it was tough trying to keep up a street-wise reputation.
“Bah.” He felt in the pocket of his long tweed coat, as if searching for a cigar; then thought better of it. “I decided, in the end, that Reginald Carlson needed keeping an eye on. You come across him yet?”
“Ship's gigolo.” Alice nodded wisely. “At least, as far as Miss Palmer says.”
“I've got my eye on that little—lady, too.” Fletcher snorted, then turned to the door. “Better be gettin' on about my business. I've ordered all the passengers to stay aboard till further notice, just in case. But I may change my mind. That includes Reggie boy. So, if ya wan'na talk to him he's somewhere about aboard the old tub. OK?”
“Yeah, sure.” Fiona sniffed, as the women stood beside the Inspector. “We better be on our way as well. Suspects to interrogate. Robberies to clear up; just in passing, y'understand.”
“Beat it, the both o' ya; before I run you in, anyway.”
The ship's decks were still crowded; people in groups or couples were talking about the only subject of interest; saloons were packed with passengers, even though there were no alcoholic drinks available while in harbour; internal corridors rang with the echoes of a multitude circulating aimlessly; a palpable hum of consternation and exasperation hung in the air; it felt almost like one of the outer circles of Dante's Inferno. Fiona made this classical allusion.
“Huh.” Alice was more realistic. “There are over two thousand people on board. Where d'we look first? An' how do we prise any information out'ta them.”
“Like winkles from their shells maybe, with a pin.” Fiona shrugged disconsolately.
Echoing footfalls, ringing out at the far end of the nearly empty corridor they were walking through, drew their attention at this point. A distant figure appeared, both women instantly recognising Mr Reymers approaching them once more; like a visitor bearing gifts.
“Hallo, ladies.” He took off his wide-brimmed Homburg and tried to raise a smile, but failed. “Glad I caught you. Forgot to mention there's a cabin given over to your use while you're both here. It's on ‘B' deck, I'll show you. The Captain, an' other people, know about it. Here, follow me. It's not far away.”
There followed an expedition along several further corridors on two separate decks, down two stair-wells, before the Director stopped outside a neutral looking door.
“No.73, ‘B' deck. Yes, this is the place.” He swopped his hat to his left hand; searched in his coat pocket, and produced a brass key. “Here you are, ladies. You'll find a desk, typewriter, and telephone inside. We're wired up to the outside world while we're docked, y'know. There'll be a small kitchen too. Everything's on the Company's account; so feel, er, free. The dining room on ‘D' deck is still functioning, for the crew and staff's benefit. You can take any meals there. The food's very good, if I say so myself. All these passengers will be gone in a couple of hours, anyway, I hope. Sorry I can't stop. If you leave the ship ask a steward to let the Purser know. Goodbye.”
With that he headed off at a fast pace and was soon lost round a corner. There came the echoing rattle of diminishing footfalls, then silence.
“Oh well, at least we get t'park our butts in private.” Fiona sniffed. “You gon'na do the honours? You've got the key.”
Alice inserted the key, opened the door and entered first. Inside they found a perfectly set-out small cabin. It was fitted up as an office, with a desk, filing cabinets and chairs. To the left were two doors, investigation of which discovered a small bathroom with the usual conveniences; while the other gave access to a small kitchen with sink, fridge, oven, and various cupboards. On the far side of the main room another door led to a small bedroom with two separate bunks.
“Altogether, a tidy little pad.” Fiona nodded happily. “I like it.”
“Well, it's somewhere t'call home.” Alice was harder to please, but she seemed content. “It'll do. At least we can escape Inspector Fletcher an' his uniformed myrmidons. So, what's doin'?”
“Suppose we better get on the track of darling Reggie Carlson.” Fiona wrinkled her brow in thought. “Find out what he knows about the cavortings on the ship.”
“If he ain't otherwise engaged.”
“Hah! Who with?” Fiona laughed at this indelicate reference. “The staff? I don't think so. Anyway's, there's the phone; get to it, lady.”
“Hummph. Always the secretary, never the boss.” Alice groaned, but crossed to the desk and sat on the chair. She consulted her notebook for the number Miss Palmer had given her, and dialled. “Oh, hallo, is that Mr Reginald Carlson? It is, good. My name is Alice Drever, I've been engaged by Mr Hendrick Reymers, Director of the Shipping Line, to investigate the robbery of Lady Carmichael's ruby necklace. Do you mind coming round to cabin 73, ‘B' deck? We might discuss various points concerned in the business. Yes, well, it ain't no good taking that attitude. Why? Because if ya don't wan'na talk to me, you'll just hav'ta talk to Inspector Fletcher of the 5 th Precinct, that's all. Oh, you'll be round in ten minutes? See ya.”
“That went well.” Fiona smirked. “Always a good thing to threaten ‘em with Inspector Fletcher. What'd he sound like?”
“A sulky old soak.” Alice never felt it necessary to hang back with character descriptions. “He came round, though. Must'a met Fletcher in the past, maybe, an' decided t'take the lesser of two evils.”
The women were still engaged in putting their new office to rights a few minutes later when duty called once more.
“ Rat-a-tat! ”
“Alice, open the door.”
It was Mr Reginald Carlson's inveterate ploy, on first meeting one or more of the female of the species, to make a good initial impression. His invariable method for achieving this wished-for result was to stand at bay and favour the ladies with his patented broad grin. Reginald caught both women in his sights, stood back, paused, and grinned panoramically. Nothing happened.
The ladies looked at him, standing on the doorstep; glanced at each other; then Alice took the initiative with a sneer that was almost a smile, but wasn't.
“Say buster, are ya goin' t'stand there all morning lettin' the wind blow in?” Alice knew just the right accent to use in such circumstances. “Step in, slam the door, park it on that chair. We got business with ya.”
Chastened, if not actually humbled, Reginald did as asked. He sat; he slung one leg over the other in a casual attitude; he pulled the lines of his perfect white slacks up, to stop them creasing; he thought about grinning again, but realised instantly it was a no-go.
“What can I do for you?” He battled on unbowed. “If it's about Lady Carmichael's necklace I can't help.”
Alice had been examining her target during this preamble, and was not impressed. Reginald favoured slicked-back hair. He stood around five feet seven inches tall; had a long face with a thin jaw; and sported pale skin; the skin of someone un-used to morning light, or daylight of any kind. His eyes were dark brown, though his eyelids covered them till they were mere slits. His expression was, by habit, neutral to the point of complete inactivity. He acted as if he were suspicious of the world at large, and anyone he was speaking to in particular. He didn't radiate confidence.
“Lady Carmichael has engaged my partner and I to investigate.” Alice started with the bare facts. “When did you hear of the robbery?”
“The whole ship knew about it thirty minutes after it happened.” Carlson shrugged, and tried to look un-interested. “Lady Carmichael told me about it herself. In front of witnesses, of course.”
“Why'd she do that?” The brunette detective spoke softly, her notebook prominent on her lap.
“We'd had, er, some connections.” He had the good taste to look uncomfortable, fiddling with the crease of his trousers. “I'd, er, made myself, er, acceptable to her during the course of the voyage. We danced on occasion. But nothing more than that. I believe Lady Carmichael held me to be, er, honourable and so, er, confided in me.”
“Hmm, very altruistic.” Alice allowed herself the faint hint of a smile. “Didn't she suspect it was you who had stolen the necklace?”
The porthole-window was partially open, allowing cool air and some sounds of activity on the ship to enter from outside. Carlson sat forward in his chair, paused as if thinking carefully about his reply, then spoke in a curiously calm tone.
“She did not.” He took a deep breath and slapped both hands on his knees. “She specifically told me she did not believe I had anything to do with the affair. Then she asked me for advice and I explained the cops would have to be told, it being an offence an' all. I also told her engaging a private detective might be a good idea; which she passed on to higher authorities, I believe. That's about it.”
“Hmm, well, yes.” Fiona, from her position sitting behind the cabin desk, allowed a slight note of scepticism to echo in her words. “So, apart from all of what you've just told us, did you have anything to do with the heist?”
“No, nothing.” He gazed at Fiona with a straight look. “I may be, er, considered a gigolo by some folks whose names I won't mention, but I ain't a low-down thief who'd steal some dame's jewels when she wasn't looking. That's just—immoral.”
Faced with this denial the two women raised their eyebrows in unison, then Alice took the reins again.
“ Hrrm . Were you ever in her stateroom when Lady Vivian had the wall-safe open for any reason?” Her tone clearly echoed an attitude of non-belief in her subject's answers. “When she was puttin' her jewellery t'bed for the night, or whatever?”
Carlson fidgeted in his chair, suddenly becoming once more deeply interested in the hang of his nether garments. Then he looked up at his interrogator with a slight frown.
“No, never.” He shrugged, with a clearly affected nonchalant air. “She had an almost chronic distrust of virtually everyone, when it came to the old family gems. I never saw her open the safe, when anyone was present. Maybe with the servants or Miss Saunders, I don't know about that, but certainly not while any of what you might call her intimate acquaintances were around.”
“Trusts her servants more than any friend?” Fiona laughed mirthlessly, glancing at her companion with a cynical eye. “Not a lot of the milk of human kindness visible there, I fancy.”
“She's a British aristocrat.” Alice stated the obvious. “Look down their noses at everyone, including their own grandmothers; an' the servants ain't people, just automatons takin' orders. That's the way they live in the upper echelons, over the pond.”
“Al, ya still reading that book? What is it, again, Bernstein's ‘The Preconditions of Socialism '? You got'ta give it up.” Fiona lifted her chin to gaze at the cabin ceiling in mild disapproval for a second. “Only one step away from Red Communism, y'know.”
“Well, well, Mr Carlson, it seems you've given us about all we need, for the moment.” Fiona nodded at him, and offered a quick efficient smile. “If we need to contact you again, we'll let you know.”
A minute later the somewhat relieved man passed through the cabin door and Alice closed it behind him.
“What d'you think of that?” Alice flung her notebook on the desk-top and raised an eyebrow at her partner.
“Seems believable.” Fiona rose and circled the desk to stand beside Alice. “He didn't appear t'be lyin', t'me. Sometimes these guys do have a sort'a off-kilter kind'a honour about them. They'd take $500 from a woman in payment; but they wouldn't steal her diamonds.”
“We've seen Miss Saunders, an' Miss Palmer.” Alice mused on the subject, passing a finger slowly over her chin. “Looks as if we're gon'na have to go in search of the other staff who had occasion to enter the stateroom. See if they can shed any light on the subject.”
“That'll bring us directly in the path of dear old Inspector Fletcher.” Fiona smiled at the possibilities this would open up. “Kind'a like walking into an erupting volcano. He won't be happy when we show up.”
“Yeah well, we hav'ta make progress somehow.” Alice put her hand on Fiona's shoulder and sighed. “God, it's gon'na be a regular grind.”
In the event circumstances conspired to ease their burden. They had finished arranging the office to their combined satisfaction. Fiona sat at the desk, mistress of all she surveyed. Alice had just completed sorting her notes, where she was relaxing on the long couch; and both were contemplating searching out the dining-room on ‘D' deck for a furtive cup of coffee and a biscuit, before starting on the trail of the stateroom staff, when the telephone rang.
“ Yyy-uup , whad'ya want?” Fiona took the casual approach to this sort of thing, as was her wont. “Whad'ya mean, that's a helluva way t'answer the phone? It's only you, Fletcher. Ha, very funny. No, we ain't solved the case yet. Oh, is that so, well lem'me tell ya, buster—what? What? In a pig's eye ya will, Fletcher. Hey, ya can't do that. What about all our witnesses? The damn ship'll be empty, an' what'll we do about interrogating anyone then? Oh, is that so? You're a real clown, ya know. Yeah, an' I'd tell you what t'do; if I thought for a moment you could ever manage it. Goodbye t'you, too, sweetie. Ha! ”
“That was informative.” Alice gazed across at her partner with a broad grin. “I figured out who was speakin', but what did he hav'ta tell you?”
“Only that he's decided t'let the passengers run for freedom.” Fiona slapped her palm on the desk-top in frustration. “That means most of our potential witnesses will be gone. Scattered over the state. Hell, probably headed for New York, or somewhere further off. Damn!”
“It still leaves the staff.” Alice smiled in a special way she had when contemplating something altogether beyond the pale. “Maybe we can still pin it on one of them. Y'know, they overheard or saw Lady V using the combination; then crept back in the dead of night, using their pass-key, an' opened the safe.”
“Holds water.” Fiona mused on this theory for a while, but no holes came to mind. “Yeah, there's something in that, Al. So, who are these people—the staff, I mean.”
“The Purser'll know.” Alice stood up purposefully. “Come on, let's pay him another visit. He was goin' to get just those names from the Quartermaster, remember. He must have them by now.”
“Al, you're firin' on all six cylinders today—will ya marry me?”
“ Huh . Thought I already had, pussycat.”
“Here we are, ladies. Sorry for the delay. I've been harassed by all sorts and conditions of people in the meantime.” Benson sighed heavily as he stood beside his visitors in his office. “First Mr Reymers came back and grumbled for a solid twenty minutes, and he'd hardly sailed over the horizon when Inspector Fletcher returned, to grill me about the staff. Good grief, I could murder a cup of tea.”
“ Ahem! ” Alice made this noise in a marked manner, and lifted her right eyebrow.
“Oh, ah, yes.” Benson turned a fetching shade of light pink, and stepped hurriedly to his desk, where he grabbed a bundle of thin cardboard folders. “Here they are. The personnel files and photographs of those staff authorised to enter Lady Vivian's stateroom. We photograph our staff as a matter of policy, y'know. Only three, I'm afraid. Two women, and a man.”
Fiona took the proffered files and glanced over their contents. Then she grasped one in particular with both hands and gave the photo therein a closer examination, after which she whistled softly.
“Here, Al, take a look at this.”
Alice straightened the file and scrutinised the photo in turn. It didn't take her long to see what her partner had noticed.
“ Whee! Looks like we're finally on the right track.” She grinned widely at her better half. “Harold Kinsyker. Also known to his intimates as ‘Harry the Cat'. Thanks, Mr Benson. I think you've just solved the case for us.”
“Oh, have I?” Benson smiled vaguely. “Damned if I know how. I take it you know this, er, character ‘ Harry '?”
“He's a petty cat-burglar.” Fiona's tone oozed satisfaction. “ We know him. I don't think Inspector Fletcher does, though.”
“Yeah, that's right.” Alice excitedly grabbed her companion's wrist. “Harry only slid into Delacote about a month ago, then disappeared again. He must'a taken ship on this old tub. Er, sorry, Mr Benson.”
“Not at all, ma'am.” Mr Benson scratched his chin and frowned, obviously under the onslaught of an original idea. “I wonder if I may make a suggestion?”
“Yeah, but make it quick.” Fiona was literally dancing from one foot to the other by this time. “We got us a hood t'catch, before Fletcher gets his hooks into him. Time's a'wastin'.”
“It's only that I can send a couple of men, and have this ‘ Harry ' put in irons and thrown in the brig in two shakes of a lamb's tail.” Benson grinned happily. “They're right next door, in the Quartermaster's office. I can send him too. Ex-military, y'know. If Harry cuts up rough, the Quartermaster'll bang him on the head with a marlin-spi—er, I mean his baton. We'll have the blighter in the brig in less than ten minutes. How's that?”
Between the two women it was Alice who gave their considered reply.
“Go to it, Mr Benson. An' if the Quartermaster does have t'hit him; tell him to hit the damned slippery son-of-a-bitch hard.”
“Who is he, again?”
Inspector Fletcher stood in Lady Vivian's stateroom, staring at the short, thin man whose arms were being tightly held by two big strong uniformed police-officers.
Lady Vivian sat on the couch in regal majesty, like Queen Elizabeth preparing to give sentence on a particularly disloyal courtier. Mr Reymers sat beside her, looking quietly pleased with the world around him. Seated on other chairs were Miss Palmer, Miss Saunders, and Mr Carlson. Alice and Fiona stood by Mr Benson on the thick Persian carpet. Everyone but Inspector Fletcher and the prisoner were exuding various degrees of happiness.
“His name's Harold Kinsyker.” Alice offered this information with a broad grin. She dearly loved to close a case efficiently. “Mr Benson, here, put us on his trail by presenting certain information—the files and photo's of those staff allowed to enter Lady Vivian's stateroom here.”
“Kinsyker?” Fletcher frowned heavily, obviously wishing to swear freely, but constrained by present circumstances. “Never heard of him. Who is he?”
“He's a cat-burglar, from NY.” Fiona took up the story, smiling happily. “We know him from when we used to work in New York ourselves. He crossed our paths in Delacote about a month ago. Only saw him in passing; didn't make personal contact. Then he was gone again.”
“Yeah, he must'a took ship on this, er, ship.” Alice jumped in, full of glee. “Obviously having thought of a cunning plan to get to know the rich passengers, in his guise as a steward, an' then take the first opportunity to fleece them. Probably thought there were too many people on board for him to be caught. Then he'd smuggle his ill-gotten gains ashore sometime later. That was your plan, wasn't it, Harry?”
Harry remained silent.
“OK, that's enough for me.” Fletcher nodded at the officers in charge of the miscreant. “Take him t'the Precinct. I'll be there in an hour. We found the missing necklace in his cabin. He hadn't had any opportunity to hide it yet. The onboard investigation by the officers an' crew must'a been hotter than he expected; too hot for him t'chance it.”
“Well, I must say I did not contemplate such a quick, and successful, end to the affair.” Lady Vivian rose and advanced on the two women. “I am most grateful to you both, Miss Drever, Miss Cartwright. Most meticulous. Thank you. Well, Inspector Fletcher, I will take my necklace now. I shall not be happy till it is back in my possession. You did good work, but you were forestalled by these most efficient ladies. The necklace if you please, thank you.”
This last was given in a tone of superior command, as of a Lady to her servant. Alice and Fiona immediately recognised the effect this attitude would have on the Inspector, and quietly started to make for the door.
“Can't do that, ma'am.” Fletcher tightened the muscles in his jaw to breaking point, obviously containing himself with difficulty. “Material evidence. Has to stay in the custody of the Police Department till the trial. I'll give you a receipt, of course.”
“Mr Fletcher,” Lady Vivian straightened herself to her full height and looked down her nose, as at something nasty on the sidewalk, “you do not appear to quite understand who I am. My husband is the Earl of Tadmarsh. He sits in the House of Lords. The Prime Minister is a personal friend. I believe I shall take my necklace now.”
Fletcher grimly held his ground.
“And I believe I shall take the dam—the necklace, to the Precinct and place it under lock and key.” He slipped the long thin blue-satin case into his inside coat pocket, and glared at the descendant of Earls past and spou se of Earls present. He was a Republican. “The next time you see it, ma'am, will be at the trial—on the evidence exhibit table.”
“Mr Fletcher, if I have to contact—”
The rest was lost, as both Alice and Fiona stealthily made their escape through the door onto the wide deck. Thirty seconds later they were at the head of the gangway, with the pleasant prospect of Pier 7 lying sixty feet below them.
“You first, Fay.” Alice grinned. “Got the cheque Reymers wrote out for us?”
“In my handbag.” Fiona grabbed the ropes on either hand and started down. “An' anyone who tries to take it off me'll get a load o' buckshot in their rump.”
“Fay, anyone with ordinary vision can see these sheets are lilac.” Alice stretched out in the wide bed, pulling one of the items in question higher over her naked form. “As lilac as lilac could be. No argument.”
“ I'm arguing, lady.” Fiona had long ago determined not to lose this dispute. She was also nude, though a little more laid-back than her partner. She drew lower the section of the offending object which covered her own form, and grabbed its folds in one hand. “Look at it. Anyone with any sense can see this is lavender. Lilac, my eye and Betty Martin. Look.”
Alice was looking, but not at the sheet. Fiona was uncovered from neck to waist—and the sight revealed to view was well worth looking at. So she did.
There was a long pause.
“Al, what're ya doin'?”
“Lookin', dear.” The brunette nymph was unrepentant, as she snuggled closer to her love. “Just lookin'.”
“Ya sure know how t'change the subject.” Fiona touched her paramour's silken hair softly with her fingers. “Say, lady, where's that hand goin'?”
“To Heaven, lover-girl, to Heaven.”
To be continued in the next instalment of the ‘ Drever & Cartwright ' series.
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