Hammersmith: A Prisoner Goes Missing (part three)
A Prisoner Goes Missing
A month ago, or two days ago, or some measureless measure of time in between, Shaw had collected a telegram. It was Medlow’s, informing his operative of an ill-boding development. Medlow was on his way.
NT SAT REP N B$ SELL PENS! ARR HSMTH TM AFN
Not satisfied with Shaw’s reports. Withholding bonus, which Shaw, running his own agency, would not have paid either. If he had wanted money, after all, he could have arrested Raymond (that would be selling pens). Any county sheriff would offer a cell to a Medlow’s man.
But while Nico might prove a bull’s-eye in the dark, his senior in equality, Oldfield, was not the Purchaser. Medlow knew this, as the Purchaser was Mossbunker.
And where you have a Purchaser, you have a Procurer.
An army, when it wanted weapons, contracted with a manufacturer of these, a thing the layman could not do. Some depot would receive the shipment, some sergeant check off its contents, eyeball a sample and inform a superior, who would sign off on the shipment’s movement from depot to destination.
Superiors, like Medlow, liked to see lackeys report a job finished, more than they liked watching a job finished. If Major Fritz looked for thirty guns, and Colonel Fratz initialed the paperwork on twenty-four, Colonel Fratz would hardly trouble himself whether Sergeant Frotz had cited delay, damage, or misdirection. Major Fritz would not pass along what he expected Frotz to sort, until Frotz had reported it sorted.
Zetland’s carriage was exceedingly upright. Military service, for a Prussian of that class, Shaw thought a requirement. And Mossbunker’s mind would work this way…with the mogul class, a trusted collaborator got carte blanche. Count von Zetland, a pouter pigeon couched in a parlor car, where the Professor, talking up his shares, had cadged a ride…
At least Shaw imagined their meeting this way.
If Zetland, like any scalawag ought, sought to hide his activities, Shaw could have bought his name, passed it to Medlow that evening, committed a mild (or retaliatory) double-cross in handing over an informant unworthy of protection, to the man who had hired him (Le Fontainebleau, in fine, to Mossbunker). Shaw still would look the reliable, if not spectacular, seller of pens that he was.
“Room’s all yours, Mr. Shaw.”
McKeefe’s lantern made boulders of discarded bedrolls, shot long shadows that groped the low-beamed, sweat-scented space. But the light danced away, as McKeefe remarked: “I’ll just take this, leave you and the Professor to your little talk…”
“McKeefe,” Shaw said. “Could I rent that light for an hour? Fifty cents?”
“Dollar. Run out of kerosene, come let me know.”
The attic had a body in it. A young postal clerk, a Wesley Crumpacker, a Patriot who had failed his rendezvous.
“See, mister, I’d just remembered…when I got up to the guardhouse…it was my week to lead the blessing. I said to Ben, I have to go back home and get what I got wrote down…”
At that moment a voice sang out. “Bladon! Looks like the boss is in town!”
Minnie! Why had Curach not taken her off?
Another voice: “Mr. Shaw up there? Man outside with a message!”
Shaw, overmuch in demand, had rattled out: “Crumpacker, guard the prisoner! I’ll be back in a second.”
Medlow was in town, but snubbing his employee for the attentions of Washburn.
Freed, Shaw sidled aside, and whispered: “Minnie! You can’t stay!”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Why didn’t you go with Curach?”
“Ha!” The under-the-lashes glance almost drove meaning into Shaw’s head. But he didn’t know Curach.
“I know,” Minnie said, “a certain look when I see it. You just leave Ruby to her own devices.”
A Prisoner Goes Missing
(2019, Stephanie Foster)