The sunset over the Irish Sea had the unmistakable appearance of salmon soufflé. Low rolling clouds stretched as far the horizon, mottled with gentle shadows, and all suffused with a rosy glow in the last few minutes of daylight. Two men stood together on the seafront, gazing into the distance.
“Not a bad night, all in all.” Taylor had remarkably little to say this evening. The sea seemed to pacify him.
Inspector Morris was equally transfixed as he murmured a vague agreement under his breath. The two men both stood straight, each in the same repose - hands clasped behind the back, raincoats open to the mild breeze. Only the occasional cry of the gulls and the steady fall of waves in the distance marked the passage of time.
Their reverie was disturbed by the sound of an approaching automobile. Taylor glanced sideways, and his trance was broken.
“Aye, aye. Looks like they've picked up a motor from somewhere. Chrysler, isn't it? Nice one!”
The navy blue car drew up to the pavement, and the rear window wound down to reveal Sir Archibald's cheerful countenance. “Glad you could make it, chaps. I expect you'll be wondering where we're going?”
Sir Archibald opened the rear door and beckoned Taylor and Morris inside. The sikh Lal Singh was in the driver's compartment, inscrutable as ever. Yet, as he glanced out, for just a moment the sea captured his soul too.
“Tonight, gentlemen, I invite you to share my passion for India! Drive on, Mr Singh.”
Charlotte finished tidying the last of the towels in the linen cupboard. She looked at the cuckoo clock across the landing. It was just about a quarter to eight. She unfastened the apron from around her waist, and hung it carelessly over her arm. She took her hairband away with one hand and ran the fingers of the other through her dark hair. Such a tiring day it's been, she thought to herself, and began to stroll across to her own room. She paused at the top of the stairs when she heard the sound from the hallway below.
Peering downwards through the banister, she saw that Kenton was checking himself in the hallway's large mirror. Charlotte watched him tie the belt of his taupe coloured raincoat. On the floor at his feet was a small canvas suitcase, cheap and worn. He delved into a deep pocket, and drew out a revolver. He turned it over in his hands, checking it, and then slipped it back inside. Reaching across to the stand, he took a dark grey Trilby and put it over his head. It had to be adjusted a couple of times before Kenton seemed satisfied with it.
The last thing he did before leaving was retrieve something from the small shelf at the base of the mirror's frame. Charlotte gasped when she noticed. The pendant! He's taking the pendant!
Kenton reached down and heaved up the suitcase, and without looking back, walked out of Daleview's front door.
“The Bengal Lancer is the best kept secret in the whole of the north-west,” announced Sir Archibald as the waiter was seating them at a sumptuously dressed table in the middle of the restaurant. “Three years ago the only place for Indian cuisine over here was the excellent Veeraswamy's in Piccadilly. Since then a handful more have opened up, but as far as I know this is the only one outside of London.”
Almost as soon as they were made comfortable, a large plate appeared bearing some enormous and frightfully strange looking crackers. It was accompanied by half a dozen small pots of condiments the likes of which Inspector Morris had never seen before. Sir Archibald addressed the waiter, a young coloured lad, in a foreign language. Hindustani most likely, thought Morris. The fellow nodded, and disappeared behind an ornately carved wooden screen which seemed to depict an elephant dancing on top of a monstrous head. The woodwork must have taken a knock once upon a time because one of the elephant's tusks had broken away. This was just the sort of detail Morris was in the habit of noting.
“Well,” continued Sir Archibald, “you can imagine my delight at finding this little place. I've been coming here weekly since our arrival, to ascertain the quality, and now I can confidently share with you a meal of the highest standards, the likes of which I used to enjoy daily in the Punjab. Ah, here's young Wilson. Managed to find the place easily enough? Good. Sit yourself down, man.”
An elderly coloured gentleman took away the ministry man's camelskin coat and trilby. No sooner was he seated than a set of menus was brought along. Morris began casting his eye around the rest of the room. He'd caught a whiff of a strange perfume as soon as they'd arrived, and now he could see that it was coming from a small smouldering stick, positioned by a large statue near the window. It was an enormous monkey with a golden hat upon his head. A vase of white flowers was next to it. There were patrons at about a dozen other tables. Most of them had chosen some kind of stew. Many of the diners had the appearance of being well travelled, and some were clearly ex-servicemen.
Three of the tables only had a single occupier, eating alone, which Morris thought was unusual. Over by the window, at the table next to the monkey, were a young couple who looked a little out of place. Another young waiter was assisting them with their menus. The waiters were all dressed in a manner which was clearly Indian, but not so ridiculous as Morris had expected from seeing photos and illustrations. Just a rather plainly cut kind of jerkin without lapels, and embroidered simply about the front. He bit into a cracker which had a surprisingly nice peppery taste to it. Taylor seemed to have taken a great interest in the pickles, and was already getting crumbs everywhere.
Morris' attention was caught by Sir Archibald saying something to him. “Inspector Morris? Yes, as I was saying, I don't imagine you'll be familiar with the dishes? Perhaps I could take the liberty of ordering something on your behalf?”
“Mmmph. Actually,” Taylor was interrupting, “I thought I'd try this Madras thing, since it's the only place I've heard of. And lamb sounds like the right thing, too.”
Sir Archibald and Lal Singh looked at each other for a moment, and then the host came back to Taylor. “A fine choice, indeed. Now then...”
“I suppose I'll just have the same then,” said Morris. Mr Wilson soon agreed. Sir Archibald summoned the elderly gentleman who had taken Wilson's coat earlier. They spoke for a short while, swapping between English and Hindustani. Evidently this man was the proprietor, with whom Sir Archibald had become well acquainted recently. Their order was placed, with Lal Singh pointing to something on his menu, whilst Sir Archibald also requested a number of side dishes.
The young waiter returned with two large jugs of a rather pale and yellow looking beer. Behind him was another young man bearing two jugs of milk. The conversation was dominated by Sir Archibald, explaining the pickles to Taylor and Wilson. Morris was quiet, only half paying attention. The burning stick was making him keen for a smoke on his pipe, but that would have to wait. The sikh said nothing, of course.
Before long the main course arrived, to the delight of their host and the bewilderment of Wilson, who couldn't believe the number of dishes involved. Lal Singh poured everyone some of the milky drink, which turned out to be a kind of yoghurt, with an unusual salty taste. All were eager to start on the food.
Only Inspector Morris noticed that one of the lone diners, a Frenchman to judge by the quiet voice with which he spoke to the young waiter, was leaving via the kitchens at the rear...
Kenton threw his case down onto the deck, and clambered onto the boat. He knew this was gonna be risky, but it was damn cocky too, and that made it feel like a dare worth taking. But what on earth was he thinking about, taking the police boat? He kept telling himself it was a crazy idea, and they'd have his balls for this one.
Well, only if they catch me, he reminded himself. He been over it in his head a zillion times. Aside from the lifeboat, this had to be the fastest boat here. And that means they'll have a harder time following him, at least to begin with. By the time the cops have got it together to call the Navy in, he'd be long gone. With Archibald reminiscing with his stomach and the rest of them out of the way, it might even be the morning before the Ministry cotton onto him.
Anyway, sure as heck wasn't any point hanging around in this crappy little burg. What the hell did they think they could gain, doing nothing but wait? They must know by now that they got the wrong man, so the onus was on yours truly to get a move on. See how far they can be led astray. It has to be even more important, now it turned out that the damn schmuck couldn't even be relied upon to be carrying the pendant when he got stiffed! Let 'em have the pendant, that was the plan. It was theirs, for all the good it would do them.
The sky was beginning to cloud over more heavily. Could even be rain. Good thing, too. Make it easier to slip out undetected. He checked over the engines, looked around the cabin. Everything was fine. The fuel tank would be kept full, of course, another good thing about this boat. He untied the ropes from the moorings on the jetty and tossed them inside carelessly.
He was alerted by the sound of footsteps on the jetty. A woman's heels by the sound of it, and in a hurry too. He looked up to see Charlotte running towards him, having some trouble with the boardwalk. Trust a dame to be wearing the wrong kinda shoes. What the heck was she doing here? She'd be about to mess things up, and no mistaking.
“Jack! You're leaving!” She was panting, out of breath. She was still wearing her uniform, and had a bag just crammed full of God-knows-what. Must have seen him leave and come running after him straight away. That's all he needed.
“Ten outta ten, sweetie. So what?”
“You can't leave! Ah... hh. I need the pendant! They'll be coming for me!” A light drizzle was starting to fill the air.
“Yeah? Who will? Huh, who's that gonna be?” Kenton should've known. A dumb-ass girl like her was just their kind of target. Easy to dupe, or lean on if you had to. Fed up with her crappy little life, head full of Hollywood dreams. Ah, there's nothin' wrong with her a hundred dollars wouldn't fix. “You let 'em get to ya, huh? What did they say they'd do for you, huh? Well you're on your own, honey. I got no business helpin' a sneak like you.”
“Jack! Please! I've been stupid!” wailed Charlotte. She had tears in her eyes, tears for fear. “I don't know what this is about anymore. I think they're here already. You've got to help me!”
“No way. Now get lost before someone hears your cryin'.” Kenton turned back in to face the boat.
“I'm afraid, Monsieur Kenton, that somebody already has.” What the heck? Kenton knew that voice! He wheeled his heels on the deck of the boat, looked through the darkness to see the man he knew he'd been destined meet again.
“This beer ain't half bad, even if it does look like catpiss,” offered Taylor. “Nice and cooling. Can't say the same for this white stuff though. Tastes like bad medicine.”
“I assure you,” began Sir Archibald, correcting his colleague's hasty assessment, “That the salted taste of the lassi is a fine accompaniment to mellow the warmth of the curry. But you are correct about the beer. The Indian pale ales are most refreshing, and are even more agreeable in the heat of the subcontinent. I'm glad you find it to your taste. Shall I have Ranjit bring some more?”
“I have to say,” interjected Wilson, “That you are correct in talking about the warmth of the curry. Compared to the dishes I've taken in Istanbul, this seems to be perhaps overspiced. Are all of the dishes cooked this way?”
“Oh, yes. It aids the digestion you know,” explained Sir Archibald.
The sikh smiled.
D'Huberres was standing at the far end the boardwalk, by the quay. He held a pistol out in front of him, polished and gleaming. Dressed in a handsome grey suit, his burgundy silk tie was offset by expensive Italian shoes. Needless to say, they were gleaming too. He was well dined and ready to kill.
“Get on the boat, sweetheart, and stay behind me.” Dammit, but she was just too pretty to take a bullet. Kenton cursed himself as she stumbled onto the deck, causing the boat to sway. He kept his balance, and never let his eyes off the gun.
The Frenchman started to walk slowly along the jetty, his heels clicking sharply in the cool night air. “Don't worry, madamoiselle. I feel certain that Monsieur Kenton and I can negotiate without recourse to any unseemly commotion. That would be to both of our advantage, wouldn't it, Jack?”
Kenton could do little right now. He kept his hands out to his side, in the clear. Any hasty moves right now could be fatal. All he could do was hope the frenchie was right about a parlay. Aw, who was he trying to fool? D’Huberres was a psycho, and there's nothing he'd like better than to plug a man like Kenton.
“You see, Jack, the girl is a part of this now. We need her knowledge.” The Frenchman spoke with a voice which offered trust, but the pistol in his hand and the gleam in his eye said otherwise. “Madamoiselle, we know you have the pendant. If you value your life you will tell me where you have it. I can be very forgiving. So then, what do you say?”
“Jack, I-” said Charlotte, her voice breaking. Kenton motioned her backwards.
“Be quiet back there. And get down.” Keep him talking for now, thought Kenton. A man with a voice like that just loves to. If he keeps talking, maybe the guard will slip. “The girl's got nothing to do with this. There's no reason to harm her. Anyway she doesn't have the pendant anymore. I do.”
“Ah, Jack, old friend. Always looking to the ladies, eh? Always forgetting yourself when your heart gets in the way. And always it betrays you. So. You have the pendant. Give it to me.”
“Well it's right here in my pocket.” Kenton moved his hands to his raincoat, which was getting a little damp now. D'Huberres eyes flickered, and he motioned with the pistol. Just a little too hasty. Slowly he moved his hands to his deep pockets... “Lets see now, it must be in the right- oh, no, here it is in the left.”
Had D’Huberres noticed? As Kenton slowly withdrew the chain from his left pocket, his right hand remained in his coat, where it found the revolver.
The Frenchman's eyes followed the American's hand as it lifted the golden chain and let the weighty trinket hang loosely, swinging a little to and fro. A smile came across D’Huberres' face. Now he had what he needed, he could do what he had been longing for years. His hand started to perspire a little, but his control of the pistol needed to be unerring. A single bullet placed carefully would be more satisfying than a barrage of shots. A killing so rare as this should be savored.
Kenton let the chain swing a little wider.
“Looks like I've left myself no choice,” declared Kenton, bitter resignation showing through in his voice. “Catch!”
He let go of the chain and let it fly in the direction of D’Huberres. But he placed it just right, and the pendant fell short, splashing into the water with a deep kerplunk! D'Huberres' eyes followed it. Kenton moved in that instant and fired a shot straight through the cloth of his coat. It took his opponent in the thigh, and the Frenchman fell to the boards with a startled cry of pain.
Kenton threw Charlotte and himself to the floor of the boat. Quickly he crawled to gun up the engine, freeing his revolver from the coat as he went. D'Huberres was lying on the jetty, but still had his pistol held firmly and was turning himself over for a shot in the boat's direction. The engines started to rumble as the wounded man propped his hand and took aim. A shot rang out from the pier and a bullet smashed into the dashboard in the cabin.
Kenton moved to the edge of the vessel and fired over the edge. He had a smaller target now, but the advantage of cover. The boat was moving away from the moorings. Both men fired another shot each, but none struck home. Kenton took aim again, and this time managed to put a bullet in his opponent's shoulder. The pistol flew out of D’Huberres’ hand and landed in the drink.
“Merde!” cried the Frenchman as he thrashed on the wooden boards, blood dripping between them into the sea below.
Kenton moved to the cabin and took the wheel and throttle. He took the police boat away from the town, running in the darkness without any lights. He looked out behind him to see D’Huberres staring down into the sea, cursing in french and crying about “La pendante!”. Hearing the sounds of approaching people from shoreside, D’Huberres had no choice but to slowly limp away into the blackness of the boathouses.
There was a clicking noise as the catch on the bathroom door released. The sound of the toilet flushing ended with an abrupt gurgle from the cistern. Mr Wilson emerged, dressed in a set of light blue flannel pyjamas. His countenance suggested blissful relief; it was the face of man who knows that the worst must surely be over. Porterhouse college had never prepared him for a morning such as this. Taylor and Morris, both fully dressed, were waiting in the hallway to greet him. Morris glanced back from the clock just in time to catch his eye.
“About bloody time! We've been waiting twenty minutes to get in there!” Morris and Taylor both started in the direction of the bathroom, and nearly collided crossing the threshold of that heavenly grotto. Both men turned their faces to each other, and Taylor graciously stepped back to allow the older man first call. He leaned back against the hallway wall. His shoulders slumped as he resigned himself to a further wait. “Sorry, inspector. After you.”
“Yes, Sergeant. I insist,” said Morris as he took hold of the door. Mrs Merriweather was marching up the stairs, her slippered feet clumping on the carpet. Morris spotted her as he was standing in the doorway. “Oh, just a minute. Mrs Merriweather? When Mr Kenton comes down for breakfast, could you tell him I'll need a word with him? It's just that I might be in here some time.”
“But that's what I came to tell you, inspector. Mr Kenton's gone. He left last night.”
“What?” retorted Morris abruptly. “Why didn't you tell us earlier? I mean, where's he gone?”
“I've no idea. He didn't say anything about where he was going. In fact, he didn't even bother to check out at all, leastways not properly.” Mrs Merriweather seemed a little put out by the morning's events, the inspector's brusqueness had put her on guard. Her own voice took on the matriarchal tone that the policemen had all come to fear. “He just left an envelope of money in my study, to cover the rent. Left his keys, too. I've only just discovered them. It's that useless girl's fault! She's been out all night you know! Didn't ask me for time off, oh no. Just left it up to me to do everything. I've had to be busy with the breakfasts. Cooking and serving them as well.”
Morris had loosened his grip on the bathroom door. Taylor saw his chance. He quickly slipped behind the inspector's back, seized control of the handle and locked himself in. The door slammed into Morris' elbow as it shut.
“Oi! I was just about to... Oh, sod it. Look, are you trying to tell me that Charlotte's missing too?” Morris started to move downstairs, ushering Mrs Merriweather in front of him.
“Well, I wouldn't exactly say missing. It's not the first time she's done it. I'll be docking her wages and no mistake!” The landlady was indignant. This was just the kind of situation that brought her assertiveness to the fore.
“Ahhh!!! Jeeeee-sus Chriiist!!!” Morris and Mrs Merriweather both looked up as the muffled cry came from inside the bathroom. The inspector waved his hand dismissively, shaking his head, and urged Mrs Merriweather downstairs. Just as they were approaching the dining room, the doorbell sounded loudly throughout the hallway of the Daleview guesthouse.
“Oh good grief! Who on earth can that be at this time of morning? My wandering stop-out, I'll warrant!” Mrs Merriweather clumped off to answer the door, while Morris entered the dining room.
Sir Archibald was at a table, tucking into an enormously full English breakfast. The mere sight of this sent the inspector's belly into a rolling lurch which threatened an unpleasant indiscretion. His sikh companion was relaxing in an armchair at the window, sipping tea.
“Good morning to you, Inspector!” bellowed the old man heartily. “You're up rather later than usual. Is Sergeant Taylor going to be joining us?”
Morris had regained his composure, but had to decline the invitation. “Not bloody likely, thanks to that coolie slophouse of yours!”
“I say, that's a bit uncalled for!” The old man was disheartened by his colleague's frankness, but wasn't going to let it interfere with his breakfast. “You'll be fine once you get some porridge inside your stomach. Now, what's this I hear about Mr Kenton checking out?”
Morris was about to give his answer when a rain-bedraggled constable from the local force appeared behind him. Apparently the fine weather of the previous evening had given way to rain in the morning.
“Sir? There's been an incident.”
Morris turned around. “Right, well you can tell us the details later. Just give us a summary for now and we'll deal with it when we can. It's just we're a little busy right now.”
“Well, sir, this will in all likelihood interest you. You see, there was a shooting incident last night at the seafront. No direct witnesses, though. And our patrol boat's been stolen. We've already been onto the Admiralty about it.”
“Ah... good.” The Flying Squad veteran was rather impressed by this unusual display of initiative in the local bobbies. It might have taken Morris an hour or so to think of the Navy.
“There's another thing, sir, most irregular.” The constable seemed a bit nervous. “I-It's Mr Kenton, sir. He's missing.”
“Yes, yes, we know that, constable.” The inspector's voice took on an air of condescension. “We gleaned as much when he didn't turn up for breakfast!”
“Oh... er...,” the constable said falteringly. His face showed confusion for a few moments before he managed to continue. “No, sir. I mean the other Mr Kenton. The dead one. The body's gone missing from the morgue!”