A Prisoner Goes Missing: Hammersmith (thirty-eight)
A Prisoner Goes Missing
“Now, it’s true, the Seltons have their origins in Nottinghamshire. To whatever degree circus people have origins. It’s also true they were off in France, waiting out their creditors, at the time Charley hatched. He was the eldest, second Mrs. Selton’s first. Then came Cedric, and Cyril. After that, twin girls, Victorina and Ruth.”
“But…wait a second. The brothers…Charley…Cedric… And then the twins…?”
It puzzled Shaw, the Selton nomenclature. Medlow, however, not.
“Don’t carry on like that, Shaw. I’m only explaining. Much as I know.”
This last, an aside to Commander Washburn. Congenial, rueful. It would soon become Shaw’s responsibility to have known more of le Fontainebleau than he told of himself.
“Thoroughgoing show people. Earn their keep from the cradle, Chillingsworths. That’s the name they took on when they turned up in the U.S. of A. Bought them a cottage up Wisconsin way. Never been vaudevillians, exactly. Stunt artists, more like. Then Charley had to part company with Ringling…some trouble bout borrowing a tiger. Next seen, Philly, stage comedian. Plays a little piano. Now that big water tank business you heard tell of, more like a carnival act…theater owners ain’t like to have to do with it, most of em. When, Shaw, did Cedric and Cyril show up?”
“Er. Well. I’m suspecting…but only Hogben can say. Mr. Piggott was pretty certain he saw a letter change hands between them. Him…Hogben, I mean, and the Professor. Mossbunker’s plans got in the way of Piggott having a talk with Hogben. And then…”
It would take some disingenuousness. Shaw had been walking down to Derfinger’s every day, checking for telegrams. There’d been no Zetland in the picture. No Minnie Leybourne.
And if you’ve done your best convincing a dodgy customer you’ve got a client for him, hinting your man has the money of a Mossbunker (which, if not that of a J. P. Morgan, the U.S. government did), and then a woman you’ve made the acquaintance of comes at you dropping strangers’ names, accuses you of being on Cranston terms with Mossbunker…
And next, you find your quarry upstairs cahooting with this Ludi…
And next (but this for Minnie’s sake—no concern of Medlow’s), you end up joining the gang…
“Shaw, make sense,” Medlow suggested.
“McKeefe hasn’t got any doors that lock, is the trouble. I suppose he did… But he doesn’t.”
“I get what you’re saying. That hullaballoo Oldfield ginned up. McKeefe says he’s not got a stick of furniture left, and all the panes out the windows.”
This remark of Washburn’s relaxed the pouches of Medlow’s eyes, those which signaled, when approaching the close and narrow stage, a writing-up. Oldfield was a rabble-rouser, a proven anarchist, a sort of boss to Nico Raymond.
As to the broken back door, Shaw had helped Curach kick it free.
The professor, first met with—state of humor buoyant—had ferried Minnie into his arms. “There’s your gal. You take good care of her, mister…and I’ll just say adios.”
To himself Shaw could admit a five-second reverie of chucking it all right there. Why not tell Medlow, I let him go. You can have my license back. It’s the stage life for me…
He could picture a look coming over Medlow’s face, the pouches, as to parting or closing, this once confounded.
Minnie had said, “What now? Are we all going up to the factory?”
Curach: “I’ll go up myself. The young fellow can see Miss Magley and Miss Leybourne home.”
He nodded at Carey Littler, sunk to the ground and rubbing a foot. A sort of backwash of non-combatants had burst outdoors; Shaw, and these flotsam with whom he had business, now left behind at the tide mark. The insurgents surged uphill, their riotous way with McKeefe’s property proving an hors d’oeuvre to the main course.
Curach said, “I could just bring the professor along with me. I know Zetland…”
Capable, Shaw himself knew this much of Zetland, of spiriting away a confederate. If not two. Or Curach might equally be Mossbunker’s man. He was Piggott’s, at any rate. Something in a nature born to simple attachments had kept Shaw’s fingers tight on le Fontainebleau’s coat sleeve.
“No, now… Best if you take charge of the women, Curach. Professor, you’re in custody. There’s no adios about it… Minnie…Miss Leybourne…”
“Gracious, Bladon, the Professor knows my name is Minnie! We’ve been on terms for hours.”
The sheriff and his men had gathered and gone, their mission a tracking-of-the-quarry compromise; they were short-handed with two deputies sent riding different routes (to be safe), carrying duplicates of a signed affirmation that the telegram summoning the militia was no joke.
“McKeefe! You got a barman?”
“Well…you got someone who sweeps up your floor?” Shaw cast an eye over his shoulder, at shattered glass and legless tabletops.
“Counting me. What you need a man for?”
“What I need is a room…you have that attic room upstairs.”
A noise like fa escaped McKeefe’s lips, then, thinking better, he said, “Ten bucks.”
Shaw’s simple plan had been to get le Fontainebleau alone, to hash through with him all they had officially discussed. Psychological, if you liked. He would at least fix these things in his own mind, if not the prisoner’s.
The telegram he’d got to picking up late, had been Medlow’s, letting his operative know a piece of ill-boding news. Medlow was on his way.
NT SAT REP. N B$. SELL PENS! ARR HSMTH TM AFN
Not satisfied with Shaw’s reports. Paying no bonus, which Shaw, running his own agency, would not have paid either, as a matter of policy. After all, if he’d wanted money badly, he could have arrested Raymond days ago (that would be selling pens), a citizen’s arrest…
Any country sheriff, though, was bound to cooperate with a Medlow’s man. Nico was almost, or could have been, a bull’s-eye in the dark. And yet, neither Nico nor Oldfield was the Purchaser. Medlow knew this, for the Purchaser was Mossbunker.
(Mossbunker first having purchased his senator, and imposed on him the Knightly Oath, then wove through a long dinner at the St. Bernard a net of circular reasoning, of pure blood, manifest destiny, and sugar. The senator dozed over his brandy. He woke to find himself confided to…too late to talk Mossbunker out of it. Instead, he’d talked to a friend in the War Department.
“McKinley can’t have this thing dragging on. Well…America neither.”
Hence, Medlow, discreet inquiry agent. Medlow found the juggling act tricky enough that he’d hashed it over with Shaw…a rare and unwelcome frankness.)
Yes, Mossbunker was the Purchaser…but the Purchaser was not the Procurer.
Someone had sold those two anarchists, instead, a promising tip. And not even that. Le Fontainebleau knew the guns weren’t in usable condition.
Le Font…oh, the hell! Charley…had done all Shaw would expect of him. He’d hired himself for a job, a job outside his purview, a pitch made no doubt with swagger and boast—and run a fiddle of his own on the side. The thing no right-minded person would expect of him, he had not done. Not, and Shaw would bet anything, maybe even a last word with Minnie.
A Prisoner Goes Missing
(2019, Stephanie Foster)