Hammersmith: Chickens in a Mood to Roost (chapter twenty-six)
An unusual sight greeted Minnie and Shaw, as they strolled onto Hammersmith’s Main Street. Not that either newcomer could know it. A family-sized carriage, one confiding wealth, stood before the Main Street Hotel, its brass lamps gleaming, their glass intact, its side-panels burnished under a coachman’s care; its wheels rubber-tired, metal parts rust-free.
Shaw’s mind percolated in a way alien to the cautious Medlow’s Detection Agency operative of an hour past. He fell off from laughing at something she’d said, to search for a comeback using actual words…
Few, somehow, had got out in pace with Minnie’s remarks.
She remarked the coach.
“There, look! Now that would be the life. And a private car, like Lillian Russell’s, done up as a boudoir, with a kitchen of its own. Take your sweet time getting ready, send your man to do the dirty work at the station, lounge in a private waiting room if the train’s late…”
“One day,” Shaw said.
“Oh, Bladon. What are we talking about? I’ve been touring since I was fourteen. There’s singers enough to fill the bill at Carnegie for the next twenty years. What a girl needs in her corner is a pistol, a guy who’s heck or high water gonna push her to the top. I’ve never had that.”
She looked into his eyes, and he looked back into hers…remembering that this was what they’d been talking about. Shaw felt an urge to say, “I do.” He said instead, “I wish I…” and was cut short.
Vic Mack had heaved open the hotel door. He was followed onto the walk by Aimee.
This was a rough accusation to fling on the street, but Vic, without turning, flung back: “You come dictate to me, ma’am, if you’re wanting to speed things along, and I’ll be obliged to you. Otherwise, I’ll sort this my own way!”
He crossed and heaved a second door, that to his offices.
“Aimee! You’re back!”
Aimee turned her head at Minnie’s call, and when she noticed Shaw, her eyes seemed to light. The light was more that of Nemesis closing, than the enchantment he would, only that morning, have taken as his life’s culmination.
“Oh!” He threw this out in a hurry. “Your nephew’s up and about, ma’am. And Ruby…”
Derfinger appeared, peevish scanning Vic’s treatment of his door glass, running a hand along the edge. He shouted to the driver:
“You move that rig now! The Count von Zetland says he is finished for the day.”
The coach glided off, leaving to mark its presence only a manure pat of superior oats. Minnie, informed by the start Zetland’s name had wrought upon him, tugged Shaw by the arm.
Aimee said, to Shaw: “Since you’re a friend of Cranston’s, I suppose you know Ludi. Would you like to come up with me? I don’t think he’ll be surprised.”
To which Minnie answered: “Oh well, the programmes will have to wait. Let’s go!”
The street drama had one final scene to play.
The door of the Daily Clew swung back, the hand at work unseen, but the figure sluing out and landing in the gutter was Nico’s.
Crossed by her lover’s unresting glance, her arm caught linked through Shaw’s, Minnie calculated herself two-thirds of the way jilted. A window came up in the Clew building, and June leaned from the second story.
She had got something, Minnie thought, since last seen. Not nicer clothes, not powdered cheeks or tidied-up hair. She dared think it was the eyes…which might be described as battle-fired.
June gestured Nico to his feet, and mouthed, “Catch this!”
Derfinger’s upper chambers were a thing Aimee had never seen. She hadn’t, for her years in Hammersmith, much to do with the hotel. Even the coffee room Vic patronized was for her taste masculine, Aimee always countering his, “Buy you a cup?” with “Come up to the house and I’ll make lunch.”
She took her survey of the amenities—small balcony spanning two rear windows (view of Mossbunker’s factory), washstand, fireplace—as a matter of practicality. Abel’s offer might be the meek answer left her, after her failure with Monty.
And she had yet to recover her niece.
Zetland, at the writing desk, having shared over his shoulder that he had a number of telegrams to compose, sat humming a tune.
Le Fontainebleau whispered stagily: “Ee, lad, time yet to bring it off!”
And it was Shaw at whom, like a man accustomed to drawing them on with greasepaint, he lifted his eyebrows. “The freight arrives tomorrow noon.”
Shaw, at this bald allusion, and under the eye of Minnie, grew crimson.
“You see, one booking’s much like another. Do your turn, and move on. You’ll understand that, Miss Leybourne.”
“So you never were drowned, Mr. Beauregard. What a good thing!”
And thinking she sounded like Ruby…and feeling shame for admonishing herself with the comparison…Minnie took a grip on the bull’s horns. “What freight is that? Bladon, are you a train robber?”
“I’m a detective, ma’am.”
Chickens in a Mood to Roost
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster)