The clouds hung low in the darkened sky, and the rain drove down upon the small gathering as if it would never stop. The Reverend Carlton stood at the head of the grave solemnly intoning scripture, whilst the sodden congregation mumbled along with him from patchy memory, the prayer books tucked away from the rain in pockets and handbags. The only other sounds where the distant rumble of thunder, the perpetual drumming of rain onto hats, umbrellas and the spreading mud, and the gentle sobbing of Joan Merriweather.
It had, reflected Sergeant Taylor, been a long and bloody awful week.
“He maketh me to lie down in Green Pastures, he leadeth me beside the Still Waters”
The world seemed to slow down to Taylor as he raced forward towards the Frenchman, who was fumbling with his revolver in an attempt to reload. Part of his brain was screaming at him to attack, the adrenaline driving him forward, keen for some action after weeks of legwork and brainwork. Another was carefully gauging his own mortality, counting the rounds that the Frenchie had reloaded (…one….two) and somewhat cheerfully reminding him of all the shooting victims he’d seen in his life, right up to the false Kenton lying cold on the beach. A third part could only think of Joan.
He seemed for a moment aware of everything, the look of hate and anger on the face of the attacker, the shocked, wide-eyed patrons inside the restaurant, the slow fall of thousands of fragments of glass still raining down from the shattered window. He could smell the hot stench of food, mixed with blood and his own sweat, and overall that the cordite that hung in the air. He could hear Morris behind him, knowing that he was faster than the older man (first to be shot, part of his brain told him) and suddenly there was a great roar from the floor of the restaurant and time snapped back to it’s normal, too hectic pace.
The bloodied figure burst through the remains of the Bengal Lancer’s window with a bellow the like of which Taylor had never heard. It took him a second to recognise Lal Singh, his coat streaked with blood, his Turban frayed and reddened, and his usually impassive face wide-eyed and contorted as he leapt towards the frantically re-loading man. He knocked the Frenchman over, straddled him and clasped his great hands on his victim’s throat, his knuckles turning white with the pressure. Taylor reached him moments later, and with a policeman’s instinct grabbed the enraged Sikh in an attempt to stop him killing.
Before he knew it he was on the floor. He tasted blood in his mouth, and felt a tooth or two on his tongue, and before him he could see Singh rising to his feet, the Frenchman struggling with one hand still clamped around his throat. Morris, a few feet behind Taylor in the rush towards trouble, stooped to pick up the dropped gun, lying open, but partially loaded on the floor. Singh shouted incoherently, some Heathen tongue reckoned Taylor, and flung the now red-faced Frenchman towards the Inspector. Taylor leapt to his feet, slipping his trusted cosh from his coat pocket. There could obviously be no reasoning with the Darkie now.
There was a shot. And another. Singh’s blood-soaked face changed, registered shock, then pain, then relaxed as he slumped to the floor. Behind him stood the shooter, looking shaken but holding his gun towards Taylor. A short distance away Morris lay dazed next to the wall of the Bengal Lancer, suddenly looking older than Taylor could have imagined possible. There was a moments silence, and an almost eerie calm before the Frenchman smirked at the London Policemen.
“Thank you very much Gentleman, for you most kind assistance. Now, I must be going. Au Revoir, I am sure.”
After he had left, running with a curious, half-hobbled gait towards the docks, Taylor cursed. The Frog had only had two bullets loaded!
“He restoreth my Soul, he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s Sake”
Sir Archibald lay spread on the floor of the Bengal Lancer, his coat covered in Blood and the remains of his curry. A Doctor had been found in the pub across the street, and whilst there where doubts about his complete sobriety, the Inspector had made clear he was in no mood to argue, and Taylor knew better then to challenge him. And to be honest, Sir Archibald looked in a very bad way indeed, and to Taylor’s mind no Doctor, sober or otherwise, would be able to do much for him.
The word bubbled out from Sir Archibald’s mouth amidst dark, foamed blood. Never a good sign.
“No Sir Archibald, it’s Morris.” The Inspectors voice was low, gentle. “Who was that, Sir? Who shot you? Why? You must know him, Sir Archibald.”
“Sir?” Morris turned to Doctor. “Well, man?”
The Doctor quailed beneath Morris’ glare. “There’s nothing I can do, Inspector. The man’s been shot at least three times in the chest, and there’s one of them in his lung. He’s done for, I’m afraid”
Morris held the Doctors’ face with his gaze for a moment, then sighed, and turned back to the dying man on the floor.
“Listen to me, Sir Archibald. He’s done for you. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. You have to tell me who he was. You have to help me catch him. ”
“…I can’t…” The Old Man on the floor coughed, more blood spilling down his overcoat and staining Morris’ hands as he held Sir Archibald. “…security…you’re not to be told…own protection…”
“Dammit Man! Who’s going to get him if I’m not? I don’t care about your secrets and your security but I care about Murder!”
“…more important.…than me…you can’t know…too much will blind you like it has the rest…like Kenton…only the Box matters”
“Box?” Morris’ voice was starting to rise. Taylor could only stand mute and watch the strange, spice scented tableau before him. “I don’t care about your god-damned box, Kenton or anything else. No matter what you’ve read about me I’m a simple copper and I won’t see people gunned down on the streets of my country”
…am I really …dying, Morris?”
“Christ! Do you think I’d lie to you? Now?”
A ghost of a smile passed Sir Archibald’s lips, a quiet knowing smile. He coughed, a dreadful, wet, racking cough.
“…D’Huberries…the Frenchman…he knows, he…has the Box…he needs the key…find it, you, you…will find him…beware the…others…the Chinaman… …”
The siren wail of the approaching Ambulance drowned out any famous last words Sir Archibald Godfrey Wakely, VC may have had to share with prosperity.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, I will fear no evil: For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” The Boarding House was quiet now. Wilson had still not shown up from “calling London” and Lal Singh lay unconscious and desperately ill in a local Hospital Ward. Breakfast was silent, Joan Merriweather looking puzzled yet unquestioning at Taylor’s swollen jaw and the deep cut on Morris’ brow. What she would think when she saw the Laundry was anyone’s guess, and Taylor was in no hurry to have that conversation.
They had left the hospital in the small hours, returning to Daleview to the icy glare of a woman got out of bed for guests far too early in the morning. This had melted somewhat at the sight of the two policemen in borrowed overcoats, looking tired and demoralised, but Taylor felt that somehow his burgeoning relationship had taken a knock, and he was currently working on a way to somehow repair the damage. A meal? A trip to the cinema? There was that new whatisnance, dancing fella, Astaire! film doing the rounds…
There was a knock at the door, interrupting Taylor’s attempt to remember the location of the nearest cinema. Mrs Merriweather, still silently remonstrating with the absent Charlotte headed towards the door. Taylor heard it open, and the familiar voice of Sergeant Goodwood echoed along the corridor towards the dining room. He sounded subdued, thought Taylor, but then at this bloody time in the morning who wouldn’t?
Goodwood came into the Dining Room looking formal and grave. His hat was under his elbow, and his nod of recognition towards Taylor was stiff and somewhat distant. So much for bonding, thought Taylor. He gestured for his fellow Sergeant to sit, but he shook his head and instead pulled a chair out for Joan, who sat looking surprised and suddenly fearful.
“Inspector Morris Sir? I’ve been asked to bring a message for you. I understand you’re picking up Sir Archibald Wakely’s “business” for the moment” He rolled the word around his mouth as if it tasted badly.
“I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news Sir, Mrs Merriweather, but it appears that Mr James Kenton and Miss Charlotte Kingsworth have had an accident in their boat. Miss Kingsworth’s body has been recovered by the coastguard, Sir. I’m sorry but I’ll need someone to formally identify the body.”
Joan paled, and sagged into her seat. Taylor stood up, more on some strange instinct than conscious thought, and moved to crouch next to her, holding her hand as she started to shake. Morris glanced at the two of them and spoke gruffly.
“I’ll do it. Sergeant Taylor, can you make sure Mrs Merriweather is alright?”
Morris and Goodwood left to the sound of a woman’s gentle sobbing, into another cold, misty New Brighton morning.
“Thou preparest a table before me in the prescence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over”
“Jesus bloody Christ! Not another one! It’s like the bloody Somme!”
Taylor had had just about enough. After weeks of praying for a bit of excitement, half the people he knew in this godforsaken Northern hell-hole had been killed or vanished in the space of one night! And now more ministry men (and one woman in this case) had crawled out from whatever hole they had been hiding under and were now proposing some hair-brained scheme involving foreign climes. And to tope their presentation they had let drop the little fact that the dammed Froggie had killed Wilson on his way to his date with Sir Archibald.
“So, let me get this straight. Your lot had Kenton’s boat stopped, but instead he blew it up, killing poor Charlotte and presumably himself in the process? But you ain’t found his body, only hers? You sure he’s dead?”
“Not entirely, no” The leader of the four Ministry Men was a soft spoken bald man named Charles Thatcher. “We presume he is dead, however, because it is unlikely that after blowing the boat up he would have been in any fit state to swim ashore. And the local constabulary have been most helpful in searching for him”
Local Constabulary! Bloody Hell, whatever next? Taylor firmly expected Thatcher to start calling him and Morris “chaps” next. The inspector was in one of his contemplative moods again, gazing at the ministry team, sizing them up. Taylor however, was in no mood for quiet reflection.
“So he’s gone and you don’t know where he was headed or why? And this Frog, what’s that about?”
“Look chaps, I know you’ve had a hard couple of days and this must all be a bit of a shock to you, so I’ll go through it again. The Frenchman works for an criminal syndicate that is attempting to undermine British Rule in India. We believe that they have some pre-Raj artefact that they can use to inflame the natives into further unrest. However they are still missing part of it, a “Key” of some sort. It is my supposition that this pendant is either the key itself or in some way connected to it, hence the import attached to it”
“Mr Kenton appears to have been playing his own game I’m afraid. However assuming he kept it on his person it must now be at the bottom of the Irish Sea, hopefully thwarting any plans that this criminal group may have had for it. All we need to do now is to Monsieur D’Huberres and this should lead us to this gang of agitators. Unfortunately neither my friends nor myself have seen him, so we will need you two to accompany us in order to identify him. A man matching his description left the country bound for Cairo yesterday, so that will be our first destination.”
“Cairo? I’m not going to bloody Cairo! Inspector?”
But Morris was still lost in thought. Processing information, thought Taylor. If I didn’t know better though, he reckoned, I’d think that all he has doing was staring at that good-looking woman in the flight uniform.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”
And that was three days ago. The remaining days had been taken up packing, writing reports, and in Taylor’s case, comforting Mrs Merriweather. All of Charlotte’s past transgressions appeared to have been forgiven, and by the time they were standing at the sodden grave-side in the rain she had been transformed in memory into a model employee, pure and radiant and undone by the foul work of others. Again, Taylor reflected that he’d never understand women.
The three ministry men and their pilot stood nearby, swelling a depressingly small congregation, a couple of cars waiting to take him and Morris to the airfield where they would be flying out to Egypt. Taylor was still livid. He’d protested, complained, made calls, tried to pull in favours but he was still bound for the Colonies with their funny food and hot weather in pursuit of some guy that they’ll never find! The whole thing was fishy anyway – if it was all over some Indian agitators, why where him and Morris involved? And why would some pendant be important?
After a couple of chats with Thatcher and more usefully one of his sidekicks, a hefty Yorkshireman named Tanner he’d come to the conclusion that they knew little more (if that) than the Inspector and himself. Thatcher certainly thought he had it all sussed but he smelt of pencil-pusher to Taylor, and he reckoned that Morris would tear him to sheds given the chance. He was getting worried about Morris however. The Inspector hadn’t been the same since the fight with D’Huberres, and he seemed to spending a lot of time in thought. Hopefully he’ll snap out of it soon, thought Taylor, else I’m going to have no-one to talk to.
The service finished, and the party trudged slowly through the mud towards the waiting cars.
The heat haze across the Pyramids distorted the immense structures, shortening them, blurring them, and erasing the diggers around the base from D’Huberres’ view. He was nervous, sweating from more than just the heat, as he awaited his contact. Cairo was hot in more ways than one, he was sure. He couldn’t stay here long. The British would find him and put in some Rosbif jail cell before hanging him. That’s if his damned employers don’t kill him first.
“Busy, Alphonse? Can I join you?”
He froze at the voice, the heat suddenly forgotten. That voice, smooth, silky, seductive and, as he turned around, that body. Despite himself his eyes ate her up, smooth tanned legs, a man’s shorts rolled up to reveal more thigh than was necessary, the shirt open too low, just enough cleavage revealed to embarrass the on-looker without being too indecent, the long, slender neck leading up to a delicate face, deep dark eyes and a look of amusement written across her face. And the knife on the belt. Never forget the knife.
“Alphonse? Are you alright?”
“Katrina. How are you? Well, I hope?”
“As well as can be expected, in the circumstances. You’ve caused quite a fuss though, we’ve all been very excited by it”
“I can explain…”
“Silly. You don’t have too. It’s fine. Wakely is dead and those clowns in the Ministry won’t have a clue what he was really looking for. The Chinaman sits in his den and plots and spies but is still behind us, and nowhere near the box. But there’s still a few loose ends to tie up.”
“But….I lost the Pendant…”
“So you said. You must be tired Alphonse, you’re not thinking properly. Why would Kenton risk his life to steal the Pendant and then throw it away? What’s the sense in that?”
“Merde! He tricked me! The Bastard!”
“Yes he did. And then the ministry blew him up. But they think he’s dead, but I think he’s not. And I’m so rarely wrong, don’t you agree Alphonse?”
She leaned closer to him, and the fear heightened his senses. He could feel her scent, the power of it, the expensive perfume overlaying a more primeval sweat, and the potential mixing of sex and death was uncomfortable.
“So we’re going to play a little game. We’re going to flush Kenton, and let the ministry find him. And when they get the Pendant, then you, and me, in our ways, are going to get it off him.”
The passenger in seat 6 had certainly been in the wars, thought Maria, as she worked her way up the passenger cabin towards the front. Not The War, obviously, his injuries looked far to fresh, but the eye-patch certainly leant an air of daring to his face. Handsome too, she reckoned, one the bruising dies down. Certainly a confident type, but then as an American it comes with the territory. And finally there was the necklace. Must be a girlfriends’, from the way he kept it close. Shame, she thought, and continued down the aisle.
And in seat six, a tired, aching but elated James Kenton griped the Bulls-head Pendant tight, secure in his escape, and waited for the plane to land.