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Authors: Carola Dunn

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“Your turn, lad, if you’re up for it.”

“I’m ready, Captain.” Patrick slung his kit over his shoulder.

“Just sign my copy of the manifest here—the true manifest, not the one we show the Yanks if they stop us.” White teeth glinted in a grin. “So there’s no trouble when we get back to Blighty.”

Shading the torch beam with his hand, he pointed to the spot on the top sheet of his sheaf of papers. Patrick scribbled his name.

“Thanks, Captain. You may be sure I’ll tell my father he can rely on you in any future business of this kind.”

“You’ve not done too badly yourself. Watch your back when you get among those cutthroat bootleggers. They owe you plenty, and who knows how keen they are to pay. Right, over you go.”

The bo’sun himself took charge of the sling to which Patrick now entrusted himself. Dangling from the side of the black ship, he looked down at the strip of inky water between the freighter and the launch and prayed he wouldn’t get a dunking. He was concerned less about an icy soaking than the humiliation involved.

With a thud, he dropped safely to the deck. A waiting seaman disentangled him from the sling and tugged twice on the rope. As Patrick waved good-bye at the darkness above, the idling engines of both vessels took on a more urgent note and they began to move apart.

He hadn’t paid much attention to the captain’s warning. His father had been doing business with the same people—at least, the top man—since before Prohibition. A Boston Irishman whose father owned a bar, he had a ready market for good stuff, the best wines and Champagnes and, in particular, Haig & Haig and Gordon’s gin, both for some reason especially popular with the smart set.

In view of all the tales of piracy on Rum Row, they had arranged a code between them, so that no cash need change hands at sea. In a belt pouch sewn by Patrick’s mother were the playing cards, torn in half, used as identification by the inshore boats as they arrived at the
Iphigenia
to pick up their loads. Now matched with the halves Patrick had brought with him, they would prove to the agent ashore that business had been properly transacted as planned. No cash to be seized by pirates, Coast Guard, or Treasury men—the agent would transfer
payment to a New York bank to be transmitted to the firm’s London account.

But first, Patrick must reach the Irishman’s agent.
Iffie’s
bo’sun had warned him that the Coast Guard, rather than merely firing warning shots at suspected boats, had actually killed several seamen.

He had chosen adventure, yet he watched
Iffie’s
shadowy shape disappear into the night with a shiver of apprehension. Behind her spread her wake, pointing at her as plainly as a white arrow painted on tarmac.

THREE

The day
after Lambert’s arrival, having gone into town with Alec in the morning, he turned up in St. John’s Wood again in the middle of the afternoon. When Mrs. Dobson showed him into the small office Daisy shared with Alec, he stood before her desk, more sheepish than ever.

“Mr. Fletcher told me to come back,” he mumbled miserably.

“Still no money for a hotel?” Daisy enquired with resignation, lowering her hands from the typewriter.

“No, ma’am. The guy at the embassy took the chief inspector’s word that I’m Absalom Lambert, but—”

“You are?” Trying to hide her incredulity, she wondered what sort of person could saddle a child with such a name. It was tempting Fate to kill him by way of a nasty accident. Of course, he wore his hair cut too short to get entangled in a tree, but still … “I don’t believe I ever heard your Christian name before.”

Lambert blushed. “I guess you never asked me to show my credentials back home, but I did show Mr. Fletcher in New York. So today he told them I used to be a federal agent, but he
couldn’t vouch that I still am, though with a different department. They wired Washington.”

“With any luck, then, they’ll hear back tomorrow.”

“Gee whiz, don’t I wish! The trouble is, the embassy wants a photograph, so it’ll take at least a week, maybe more.”

“Good gracious! I’d have thought they’d be more cooperative, more helpful to a citizen in distress.”

“I expect they are, normally. See, they don’t like the Prohibition Division. No one—well, hardly anyone—does. They don’t understand over here how bad things are getting in the big cities, what with the bootleggers, like I was telling you. They’ll have to help, though, soon as they get my credentials.”

“In a week or so. Did Alec invite you to stay here in the meantime?” Daisy enquired dangerously, ready to be furious.

“Oh no, Mrs. Fletcher! He said it’s entirely up to you.”

Pipped at the post. With Lambert standing in front of her, unhappily studying the toes of his shoes, how could she not offer to put him up?

“I suppose I’d better drive you to the station to retrieve your bags from left luggage,” she said with a sigh. “Or was your luggage ticket pinched, too?”

Lambert perked up. “No, I stuck it in my hat band. It got soaked, but Mrs. Dobson kindly dried it out for me, and I think it’s OK. Here,” he said, handing it to her, “don’t you?”

The man at left luggage gave Lambert an extremely dubious look. He examined both sides of the wrinkled scrap of cardboard carefully, while Daisy held her breath. But a glance at Daisy, who was wearing her most respectable coat, reassured him and he handed over Lambert’s belongings.

Lambert fitted himself into the household with remarkable ease. He had a good appetite, which endeared him to Mrs. Dobson. The helpless quality, which sometimes made Daisy
want to scream, appealed to Nurse Gilpin. He was always welcome in the nursery, where he soon made himself popular with the twins. Daisy would feel quite jealous when she went upstairs and found Miranda sitting on his lap, studying a picture book, or Oliver shrieking with laughter as he climbed over the American’s recumbent form.

Not that there was much room to recline, what with all the babies’ stuff as well as Mrs. Gilpin’s bed and chest of drawers. The Hampstead nursery was going to be a great improvement.

Daisy’s pangs of jealousy abated when Miranda held out her chubby arms to her mama to be picked up for a kiss and Oliver raced across the floor with his spiderlike crawl to pull himself up by her leg to a wobbly standing position. Daisy’s stockings might suffer, but she reaffirmed her determination to be a modern mother, not the sort who left her children’s upbringing to a nurse, however capable. Besides, the older the babies grew, the more fun they were.

Lambert was popular with the dog, too. He was always ready to take Nana for a walk, whatever the weather. What was more, on returning, he washed her down if she was muddy and dried her off when she was wet.

In fact, such were his domestic virtues that Daisy thought it a great pity he was so determined to make a go of it in the cloak-and-dagger world. He ought to go home to a safe if dull job in his father’s business—insurance, she recalled him mentioning—marry a nice girl, and have a family.

Whatever his failings as an agent of the law, however, he was an excellent guest. It was just as well. Ten days passed and still the American embassy had not received any response to their wire.

“Perhaps they never will,” Alec said morosely at bedtime, wrenching off his tie. “Is one evening alone, just the two of us, too much to ask?”

“I could give him money for the cinema,” Daisy proposed, “though it seems a bit inhospitable when he’s so helpful during
the day. Darling, you don’t think he actually did make up the whole story, do you?”

“Not really. Why would he choose to foist himself indefinitely on
us?

“I expect it’s just that his department has lost his photo. On purpose, I shouldn’t be surprised. Or they haven’t got one. Oh dear, I hope they don’t have to get in touch with his family to ask for one. Goodness knows how long that might take.”

“More likely they’re happy to have lost him and hope he’ll disappear for good.”

Daisy giggled as she helped him undo his collar stud. Though they didn’t usually change for dinner, he’d had a meeting that afternoon with the Assistant Commissioner (Crime), who didn’t approve of soft collars.

“Now that we
are
alone,” she said, “don’t let’s waste time talking about Lambert.”

So they didn’t.

The very next day, Tommy Pearson telephoned to say the Fletchers could move into the Hampstead house as soon as they wanted. Daisy was startled. With memories of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, she had anticipated a
Bleak House-like
sluggishness in the windings of the law. Certainly she hadn’t expected to be able to leave St. John’s Wood before the new year.

“Did you just say what I think you said?”

“What do you think I said?” Tommy asked patiently.

“I can start putting the Hampstead house in order?”

“That’s not precisely what I said, but that’s what it amounts to. There are a few
i
’s to be dotted and
t
’s to be crossed, and Alec’ll have to sign more papers. However, I’ve managed to convince Irwin that given Walsall’s explicit instructions, the sooner you take possession, the less likely the will is to be contested.”

“He really doesn’t want us there, does he.”

“So it would appear,” said Tommy with lawyerly caution. “At least, he’s unenthusiastic. I dare say he was had up for
pinching a bobby’s helmet in his salad days and has developed an inhibition about the police.”

“A complex, I think, not an inhibition. Is one allowed to become a lawyer after pinching a bobby’s helmet?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact.”

“Oh Tommy, you, too? What is the fascination of bobbies’ helmets for young men?”

“Daisy, I do have other clients—”

“Sorry, but you raised the subject. To return to Mr. Irwin, complex or no, he could have refused the Jessup ladies’ request to introduce me to them, or vice versa, but he didn’t. They were friendly and welcoming. I should think they’ll be good neighbours, and the house is perfect, except for a lot of cleaning and a lick of paint. I wonder whether we’ll be able to move in before Bel comes home for half term.”

“Is that odd Yankee still hanging about? Have him give you a hand with packing up and so on. He must be good for something. Tell Alec to give me a ring, will you?”

“Right-oh.”

“Speaking of which, you’ll want to get the house wired for telephone service. The old man electrified, but he didn’t believe in the infernal apparatus.”

“Oh bother! Thanks, Tommy. Love to Madge and Robin.” Daisy rang off.

Lambert came down the stairs and found her sitting in the hall, feeling rather stunned.

“Gee whiz, Mrs. Fletcher, are you OK? I hope you haven’t had bad news?”

“No, good news. At least, it’s what I was hoping for. The trouble is, I just don’t know where to start!”

Alec was called away to the outer reaches of the kingdom, whether by good (from his point of view) luck or good management. Lambert, still without papers or money, offered to accompany Daisy to the new house to go over it thoroughly
and see what needed to be done before the Fletchers could move in.

After touring the house in increasing consternation, they stood in a sitting room at the rear, peering out into the dusk—made duskier by the grimy French windows—over the paved terrace and the weed-grown terraced garden to the leafless trees at the top. Though Mr. Irwin had had the furniture uncovered and dusted, Daisy was dismayed anew by how dismally dingy the old man had let his home become.

“It’s a nice room,” Lambert said doubtfully.

“It could be. Before, I was concentrating on the size and number of the rooms,” she explained. “But after a proper cleaning, the whole place is going to have to be painted and wallpapered from top to bottom. Bother! Choosing colours and patterns could take ages, and then Alec might not like my choices. I wish he hadn’t gone away just now. I’d hoped to have it ready for Belinda’s half-term holiday.”

His ears turned red. “It looks like Miss Belinda will need her old room. Don’t worry about me, Mrs. Fletcher. I’ll find somewhere to stay.”

“I wasn’t exactly worrying.” Daisy couldn’t keep a note of asperity from her voice, and his flush deepened. “All the same, I would have liked to move before she comes home.”

“How about you just paint everything white? That way, it’d look nice and fresh, and it wouldn’t be too hard to paint or paper over if you wanted to change.”

“Light and bright.” Perhaps even a judicious use of looking glasses here and there at strategic points, avoiding the excesses of the house next door! “Yes, that might work. I’ll think about it. Thank heaven Mr. Walsall preferred good-quality, comfortable furniture rather than the latest fashion. Much of it is perfectly all right.”

“And so little used, it’s hardly worn.”

“The cleaners are going to be here for the next couple of days and I can’t—Isn’t that the doorbell? Someone at the front door? Who on earth …?”

“Must be a Fuller Brush man.”

“A what?”

“Don’t you have them here? A door-to-door salesman. Shall I get rid of him?”

“Yes, please.”

As he went out, Daisy turned away from the window. The room was larger than their only sitting room in St. John’s Wood, and there was the drawing room at the front, as well. The furniture really wasn’t bad, though she might use the St. John’s Wood stuff in here. White paint and new curtains—yes, she could see the possibilities. Once the electricity was turned on, and the boiler stoked and lighted to run the radiators—

“It’s a maid from next door, Mrs. Fletcher,” Lambert announced buoyantly. “We’re invited for cocktails.”

“Oh dear! I can’t possibly go. I’m covered in dust and cobwebs.”

The maid had followed him in. “It don’t show, ma’am,” she said.

“That’s because I wore brown tweed, on purpose.”

“I’ll fetch you a clothes brush.”

“Thank you. But no amount of brushing will transform a coat and skirt into a cocktail dress.”

“Not to worry, ’m. It’ll just be family. Mrs. Jessup said to tell you it’s just so’s the master can meet the new neighbours, seeing he came home yesterday from foreign parts. Mr. Aidan’s back from the shop, too.”

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