Authors: Charles Todd
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #British Detectives, #Historical, #Traditional Detectives
ERE IN THIS
mini-anthology are two Inspector Ian Rutledge and two Bess Crawford tales for you to savor while waiting for the next pub date for the mystery novels! We love writing short stories, and many of them are about one or the other of our favorite characters. It’s an exciting way for us to get to know them even better. This collection is for you, after many requests for a print as well as an e-book edition. Enjoy!
Caroline and Charles
An Ian Rutledge Original Short Story
T WAS LATE
, the rain coming down hard, when the man hurried through the main door of Scotland Yard and came to an abrupt halt as he saw the sergeant at the desk.
“I must speak to an inspector at once,” he said, his voice that of a gentleman though his clothes were torn and disheveled, his hat wet and filthy.
“If you’ll give me your name, sir,” the sergeant said calmly, reaching for a sheet of paper, “and the particulars.”
“I tell you, I need an inspector. Look at me, man! Do I look as if I have all night to answer your questions?”
“All the same, sir—”
“Damn it,” the man said, and turned toward the door to one side of the desk.
“Here!” the sergeant exclaimed, rising. “You can’t go in there until you’ve told me your business.”
But the man was too quick for him and had reached the door just as it opened.
The tall, dark-haired man standing there looked from the agitated sergeant to the flushed and angry stranger.
“Inspector Rutledge, sir? This man refuses to give his name and his reasons for coming to the Yard.
“Inspector?” the intruder exclaimed, stepping back. “Thank God. I’ve just been robbed and beaten, and my daughter has been taken away by force. You must help me find her. Cecily is only twelve, she’ll be terrified by now. I can’t bear to think what she’s suffering.”
“Where was this?” Rutledge asked.
“On Christopher Street. Number 10. We’d just returned home from dinner with friends—this was a little after ten o’clock—and as we stepped out of the cab, two men accosted us. Before I quite knew what was happening, they had knocked me to the ground, kicking me repeatedly while a third man, our erstwhile cabbie, had caught my daughter by the arms and forced her back into the waiting cab. I was only half conscious when the two attacking me went through my pockets but took nothing, not my watch, not even my purse. I couldn’t stop them, couldn’t even cry out. And then they leapt into the cab and it set off at a fast pace, disappearing around the next corner before I managed to get to my feet and attempted to go after them.”
Rutledge regarded him. “Your face isn’t damaged.”
“No, they kicked me, I tell you. My ribs, my back, my shoulders.”
“Have you seen a doctor? Mr.—”
“Dunstan. Charles Dunstan. In God’s name, how can I think about going to a doctor when Cecily is in the hands of those brutes? She’s in danger, I tell you, and you must help me find her. What do they want with her? I’m not a wealthy man, I can’t pay a great ransom for her. That’s what frightens me. She’s a pretty child.” He fumbled for his wallet and brought out a photograph of a young girl with long fair hair and a sweet smile.
Rutledge studied it and returned the photograph. “Why didn’t you find a constable, set the police after them straightaway, rather than take the time coming here?”
“There was no constable in sight. Should I have lost time finding him? This is a Yard matter, surely, not the London police. I beg of you,
“Did you see the faces of these three men? Or of the cabbie?”
“No. He was just the cabbie, I paid him no heed until he leapt down to take my daughter. By that time, the other two had come out of the shadows before I could even turn and defend myself.”
“Did they speak?”
“No. The attack seemed all the worse for being carried out in complete silence.”
“Why had you taken a cab in the first place?”
“We’d had dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Lowery.”
“I’ve known them a year or two. He’s a member of my club.”
He put a hand to his ribs as he coughed, and Rutledge said, “Here, sit down.” Over Dunstan’s shoulder, Rutledge said to the Sergeant, “Send men to Number 10 Christopher Street, and three more to find this cabbie—or if possible, what became of the cab after the crime.”
The sergeant said, “There’s only the night staff on duty.”
“Then summon more men. I’ll take Mr. Dunstan to my office.”
He led the way up the stairs and along the passage to an office overlooking the street.
Mr. Dunstan, inspecting it, saying, “You
an inspector, are you not?”
Rutledge smiled. “Not precisely the accommodations of a banker, but I am most assuredly an inspector.”
“Perhaps I should speak to someone of greater seniority.”
“You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone of greater seniority at this hour of a Saturday night. For my sins, I’m on duty until the morning.”
Dunstan sat down, wincing as he reached to set his hat on the table against the wall. “Very well, tell me what we are to do about recovering my daughter.”
“First we must see what can be discovered at the scene, and where the cabbie may have got to. I’ll be leaving shortly for Christopher Street myself. But first I must ask if you have any enemies. And where, if you are here alone, is the child’s mother?”
“She’s dead. These past three years. As for enemies—I can’t think of any who would have taken out their animosity on my child.”
“Then you do have enemies?” Rutledge said.
“I am a King’s Counsel, Inspector. I have tried many men who have threatened to make me regret my part in sending them to prison.”
“And personal enemies, rather than professional?”
“My late wife’s brother. His name is Roland Paley. But he’s in western Canada. Vancouver. Has been for some twenty years. We quarreled when I married Grace. That was fifteen years ago. The family’s choice was a wealthy man in the City, much older than Grace. I was a struggling barrister then, not likely to provide for her as he could. Ours was a love match, you see. Her father finally came round, but her mother and her brother felt that she was merely infatuated with me, and in time would come to regret the match.”
“And did she?”
Rutledge rose. “I’ll ask you to remain here, if you will. I have work to do, but it’s important to know where to find you.”
“I can’t sit here!”
“You have come to the police, Mr. Dunstan. Let them do their work.”
“I’ll run mad with worry! At the very least, let me come with you.”
And so they found themselves out in the rain, taking Rutledge’s motorcar to Christopher Street.
There were two constables and a sergeant already there, combing the scene with their torches, their capes slick with rain.
Rutledge said, pulling his hat lower to shield his eyes, “Anything?”
Sergeant Dickens shook his head. “Not even a drop of blood.”
“And the neighbors?”
“Constable Hudson is speaking to them now, sir. So far, it appears they were all cozy in front of the fire with the drapes drawn. Not one heard anything, nor saw anything.”
Rutledge turned to Dunstan. “Did your daughter cry out?”
“The man holding her must have had a hand over her mouth. I didn’t hear her cry. He turned her away from the beating I was taking, then shoved her in the cab.”
“And she didn’t struggle?”
“I was frantically defending myself. I only know that I didn’t hear her scream.”
Which was, Rutledge thought, decidedly odd. If a girl of twelve was being torn from her father’s side by strangers on a dark, rainy night, she would not have gone quietly with her captors.
A constable came walking briskly toward them. Sergeant Dickens looked up and said, “What is it?”
“The Yard sent me to tell you, sir, that the cab has been found. It was left in a street in Chelsea.”
“And what if anything was in it?” the sergeant demanded.
“No one, sir. And nothing inside that would indicate why it was being abandoned as it was. The horse was standing there waiting. No drops or smears of blood. But there was one interesting thing, sir.” He held out his hand. In his palm lay a coin, dark and hardly visible.
Rutledge picked it up. “A penny. A Canadian penny.”
“Yes, sir. There’s no way to know who dropped it, or when. But it was there, and I made note of it.”
“Thank you, Constable. Take two men and see if you can locate the missing cabbie. Was he one of the kidnappers—or is he lying injured or dead somewhere? Look in the hospitals as well. He may have been found and taken there before we knew of the kidnapping.”
The constable touched his helmet and was gone, trotting back the way he’d come, his boots loud in the quiet night on such a quiet street.
“A Canadian penny,” Dunstan said, holding out his hand for it. Rutledge gave it to him, and he added, “There’s no way to tell the date. It’s rather worn.” He turned it this way and that in the torchlight.
“Did you keep in touch with your brother-in-law?” Rutledge asked. “Would he have reason to know where you lived?”
“We were living in Number 10 at the time of my wife’s death. I cabled him, but he never replied.”
“Why would he wish to harm your daughter?”
“I can’t think why he would,” Dunstan said. “Yes, he could very likely still harbor a grudge against me. But Cecily? No. He’s never even met her.”
“Did your attackers have good reason to believe they might have killed you, after the beating here, outside your door?” Rutledge looked up and down the street, but there was no sign of a scuffle, and only Dunstan’s word that the kidnapping had even occurred. Except for the very real fear in the man’s eyes.
Dunstan looked up at Rutledge’s face, shadowed by the brim of his hat. “Do you know, they could well have. I lay there, having troubles breathing from the blows. I’d fought back at first, but I couldn’t go on. It was all I could do to drag myself to my feet as they leapt into the cab and drove off.”
“We’ll cable the Vancouver police. If your brother-in-law is still there, we’ll have to strike him from our list of suspects.” He summoned one of his men and gave the instructions.
“He could have sent others to do his work for him. But why? I can’t think of a reason. I’ve told you, I’m not a wealthy man. Comfortable, yes. But hardly able to pay a ransom that would make such an enterprise worth anyone’s while.”
“It may not be a matter of ransom,” Rutledge pointed out.
“Yes, well, what other use could he possibly have for taking his sister’s child?”
Their search of Christopher Street had yielded no new information. Rutledge said to Dunstan, “I’d like to have a look in your house.”
“But I was attacked out here.”
“It’s a waste of time, but yes, come inside.”
He went up the steps of Number 10, and unlocked the door. “I’m grateful they left my keys,” he said as the door swung open.
Rutledge found himself in a short entry and through the next door saw that he was facing a staircase with more doors to either side of it.
When he opened the right hand door, Dunstan said, “The drawing room—”
He stopped, appalled at the sight before them.
The room had been ransacked. And not gently.
“My God,” he murmured, standing there in the doorway.
“Don’t touch anything,” Rutledge warned. “Show me the other rooms.”
They found that the study had also been ransacked as well as the master bedroom. But the rest of the house appeared not to have been touched save for a broken window in the kitchen.
“What the hell were they after?” Dunstan demanded. “I don’t keep any papers here. Or much in the way of valuables. My late wife’s jewelry, which will go to Cecily when she’s older. My will. My accounts.”
“But they must have believed something was here to find. Do you have any live-in staff? If you do, then we must get to them at once.”
“No, not since Cecily outgrew her governess. She goes to a day school now. The cook, the housekeeper, and the maids leave at seven every evening.”
“When did you go out to dine tonight?” Rutledge asked, surveying the damage done to a lovely maple chest at the foot of the bed.
“A little after seven. Mr. and Mrs. Lowery had been wanting to meet Cecily. Their nephew is coming to stay while his parents travel, and they’re anxious to find a good school.”
“Did your daughter enjoy her evening?”
“Oh, yes, very much so. She’s—she’s looking forward to meeting Stephen.”
“She wasn’t uncomfortable amongst the adults?”
“Not at all. They made much of her.”
“It’s likely that someone came here to search the house, knowing you were not at home. And not finding what they were after, arranged to meet you when you left the Lowery house. Who knew you were dining out? After dinner, did you have trouble summoning a cab?”
“I expect Cecily told any number of her friends. And the staff knew we weren’t dining in. My clerks because I was leaving chambers early. As for finding a cab when the evening was over, one was coming up Jermaine Street at that moment. I got the impression he’d just set down a passenger. I thought myself lucky.” Dunstan grimaced.
Rutledge turned and went to the door. “My motorcar is just outside. I think we’d better have a look at the situation at the Lowery house.”
Dunstan followed him, pausing only to lock the door, saying as he did so, “I don’t remember anyone on the street when the cabbie stopped here.”
Rutledge pointed to the servants’ stairs half hidden by shrubbery along the railing. “As good a hiding place as any.”
They found Jermaine Street quiet when they arrived. Like Christopher Street, it was upper middle class, the houses large and comfortable, the neighborhood respectable. Hardly the scene of any crime. Rutledge left his motorcar several doors away from Number 16, and they went the rest of the way on foot. Rutledge carried his torch in his hand. There were lights on in the house, mostly on the floors above, as the family prepared for bed. Rutledge continued past Number 16 to the corner, searching the stair wells leading to the servants’ entrance and even the small square with its gated garden and ornamental trees. On the far side of the square, at Number 23, he discovered the cabbie lying in a pool of blood at the foot of the servant stairs.
Rutledge felt for a pulse. “He’s alive. A blow on the head, as far as I can tell,” he said, shining his torch on the dark matting in the man’s graying hair. “Knock on the door. We’ll need an ambulance.”
Dunstan did as he was told, rousing the household and asking for the use of their telephone. When the cabbie had been taken away and the anxious owner of Number 23 had been reassured that he wouldn’t be murdered in his bed that night, Rutledge also put in a telephone call to the Yard, asking for men to examine the street. Meanwhile the local constable had come past on his rounds and could say with certainty that there was no body in the servants’ entrance when he looked at half past nine.