Hammersmith: Pour Some Gravy On (chapter twenty)
Piggott came to sit next to Hogben, settling into this chair with a luxuriant spread of knees and elbows, and motioning to the waiter.
“Give me a slab of that roast. Pour some gravy on. Think I’ll have a bite after all.” He winked at Mossbunker.
The next half-hour went as forecast by these signs. Even Aimee, who was feeling the strain on her stays, nodded to a few more potatoes, a last roll. It was something to do. Piggott proved one to grunt and hum over his plate, in his individual person offering the cover of a noisy feast.
Curach began a private chat with Vic. “And so. The note she left said, I’ll be getting that you had in mind.” He filled their two glasses from a carafe. “But she said also…”
Vic looked to Aimee somewhere between hangdog and caught-red-handed. He straightened, and gave this patent role a better essay: “Also, she wrote down, I will let the customer know we don’t give extras.”
“And she may well do.” Curach sighed. Then, undermining his friend’s caution, he said aloud: “Ah, but room enough, Mrs. Bard, to hear Vic describe it, for a young married couple to share the premises. June, now, may feel a filial obligation…”
“What! Is June thinking of marrying?”
“I doubt she can be. Allowing for the affectionate object.” Curach answered this too.
“If it helps you at all, Minnie’s mother was on the stage.”
“Born Leybourne,” Hogben put in.
Since they were throwing hints at one another, it was fitting that Mossbunker should wake to their table-talk, and take charge.
“Indeed, these foreigners like to make a channel, for all their relatives to float in upon. I am never surprised to hear of a houseful of jabbering… Leybournes, we will say.” Mossbunker expressed a second laugh. He took up the envelope, and what he drew from it was a clutch of images printed on card stock. “Hogben, have a good look at these. Comment, if you choose. Then I will put a question to you.”
Showing every evidence of a desire to bolt—another inch of clearance added between himself and the table, two darted glances in succession at the door, a third taking the waiter’s measure—Hogben accepted the photos.
And murmured, perusing, “That’s the professor.”
“You don’t deny it.”
“Looks like the professor. Looks a lot like him.”
“My agents,” Mossbunker said, “are professional men. Will you look more closely…not at the man you have identified, but… I believe there is a chalked-up schedule on the wall behind. What would be, were I to insist you name the fellow, your answer, sir?”
“Le Fontainebleau.” Hogben stopped, having pronounced this, and said, “Well…”
“Your partner was born near a city of that name, yes. Mr. Hogben, the schedule.”
Hogben looked. On his face the despair of a failing pupil grew fixed. Then: “Holy Moly! That says April eleventh!”
Vic jumped to his feet and snatched the picture, saying by way of excuse: “Gimme that!”
“You’re not accusing Monty of…of being party to…”
What? Wrongdoing, Aimee supposed. Of course he was. Why, though, did Mossbunker care to machinate over a petty swindle, aborted in any case?
Her intended sat benumbed, astonishment frozen in his eyes. She would have bet her remaining silver dollar he was not in cahoots with whatever his late…erstwhile…partner had done.
“Madam, perhaps you were not listening, when I said to Mr. Hogben that he might elucidate as he chose.”
“Must have been down under water, holding his breath,” he elucidated, still dazed.
“Hold it!” Vic said.
Hogben rallied. “You’re thinking, Mr. Mossbunker, there were sums involved. Let me tell you, we never earned so much we couldn’t spend it getting to the next stop.”
He said nothing more. Via an elbow applied to the ribs, Aimee’s persistent counsel had been, shut up, you’re walking into a trap.
“Cranston.” She dared it. “You say you have a question?”
“Aimee, that’s Shaw! Don’t tell me it isn’t.”
In the photo Vic slammed beside her plate, she saw the damning schedule, and once tugging the scene free of fingers, noted that the man whose hand gripped the sleeve of another she had never seen—who looked to be drawing him into place, so that the hidden camera might add this detail to the composition—did have Shaw’s face.
“Dang! I wouldn’t have pegged him. What is he, Mossbunker? A sort of detective?”
Silence fell heavy at this juncture. Mossbunker, two things demanded of him, regarded them all with Jove’s thunderbolt in his eyes. He ignored Vic.
“The question, Mr. Hogben, is—are you with us, or are you against us?”
Pour Some Gravy On
What’s the Game?
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster)