Authors: Michael Kurland
Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Historical Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Mystery Fiction, #Detective and Mystery Stories; American, #Holmes; Sherlock (Fictitious Character), #Traditional British, #England, #Moriarty; Professor (Fictitious Character), #Historical, #Scientists
But this time it was real, and intense, and serious, and damnedly, irritatingly painful. And daily it grew worse and more intense instead of better. Barnett was in the unbearable position of being unable to declare his love to Cecily Perrine, and the need to do so was becoming overwhelming. Love is not normally a silent emotion. And the closest he could come to stating his feelings out loud was in the melodramatic banter that they exchanged. It gave him slight solace, but it was better than complete silence.
Barnett's reticence to speak to Cecily of his feelings lay in his contract with Professor Moriarty. As long as he was obliged to do the professor's bidding, and might at any time be required to perform a criminal act, how could he ask any girl, much less one as fine as Cecily Perrine, to marry him and share his life?
And so, except for the occasional histrionic outburst artfully disguised as melodrama, he kept his silence. He had never explained to Miss Perrine the exact nature of his relationship with Professor Moriarty, or the professor's strange attitude toward the law. How much of it she had deduced or assumed from the circumstances and events of the past two years he did not know. It was a subject that, by tacit agreement, they did not discuss. Nor did he know what Miss Perrine made of his strange ambivalent attitude toward her, and, being but a man, could not begin to guess.
"I've had a hard morning, but useful," Barnett told Cecily, leaning over to pick up his scattered mail. "And you, at least, should be pleased by the results."
"I am all ears, Benjamin; and my heart is aflutter with excitement!"
"John Pummery has been fired from the
The managing editor? When?"
"This morning. It was brewing for some time, he tells me. A political dispute with the new management. So, as of this afternoon, he is working for us!"
"Really?" Cecily said, her voice strangely flat. "That
Barnett caught the tone in her voice. "You are displeased," he said. "I thought the news would please you. Now tell me what the trouble is. Do you dislike the man? Are you peeved because I didn't consult you first? I felt that I had to act quickly, or I might lose the chance, and thus the man."
"I am not, as you put it,
Cecily said, tossing her head. "I am rather hurt. I thought I was doing a good job here."
Cecily. An excellent job."
"If I am doing such a good job, why am I being replaced? Surely that is what Mr. Pummery will be doing here—my job!"
Barnett sighed. Why was it that he no longer seemed able to say the right thing to Cecily? She seemed to find some source of hurt or anger in everything he said and everything he did for the past few months. He didn't understand what had changed. He knew that he was so blinded by the strength of his feelings toward Cecily that he couldn't be sure whether it was his behavior or her attitude that was now different. But whatever it was, it created, not exactly friction, but more a sense of confusion in his dealings with her.
"I am sorry, Cecily," Barnett said. "I thought you understood. For the past year you have been berating me for keeping you behind a desk. This, you have observed, is not journalism. In hiring Mr. Pummery I was only attempting to free you from what you now do as office manager so that you can become one of the principal correspondents of the American News Service. You will be doing the same job I am myself—covering those stories that are most important to us, or that require a special understanding of the American market."
Cecily looked at him skeptically. "I am not, I trust, expected to devote myself to such 'important' stories as the charity bazaar of the Duchess of Malfi, or the favorite dinners of Our Dear Queen. Or am I?"
"Not at all," Barnett assured her. "Miss Burnside does those stories very well, and would feel quite put out if you were to take them over. 'From each according to her ability,' as Professor Moriarty is so fond of repeating."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Cecily asked.
"This fellow who used to spend the better part of each day in the British Museum said it all the time," Barnett told her. "Something to do with an outrageous economic theory he was developing. Professor Moriarty had many long arguments with the man in the Reading Room before he went back to Germany or someplace."
"And what is my ability?" Cecily asked. "What sort of events am I to cover?"
"I have a subject in mind for you now that I believe you will find of interest," Barnett told her.
Cecily drew her legs up under her in the chair, tucking in the folds of her skirt, and gazed intently at Barnett. Some emotion that Barnett could not fathom sparkled in her eyes. "Elucidate," she said.
"Murder," Barnett stated, staring back into the sparkling pools of clear blue that were Cecily's eyes.
"Fascinating," she agreed. "And whom am I to kill?"
"You," Barnett told her, "are to report. Someone else has been doing the killing."
Cecily turned her head to the side and gazed thoughtfully through the glass window in the office wall. "Why?" she asked. "I appreciate the compliment, of course. But I can foresee many problems arising if I attempt to report on murder stories. I'm sure you must already have realized that."
"There will be difficulties," Barnett agreed. "Having a woman journalist following the course of a murder investigation and reporting on it will be an original idea to the authorities, and I'm sure they will react in an original manner. But I think you will do an excellent job with the story, if the gentlemen of the CID don't put too many obstructions in the way of your journalistic endeavors. I think it's worth giving it a shot, if you're willing."
"A shot?" Cecily smiled. "One of your American expressions? How apt in this instance. I am certainly willing to 'give it a shot,' if you think any good can come of it. But tell me, why do you suppose the readers of two hundred newspapers in the United States are going to be interested in a British murder?"
"The interest that the public—British or American—has for the sensational should not be underrated," Barnett told her. "And I, for one, am perfectly happy trying to fill that interest."
"Very good, Mr. Barnett," Cecily said. "Repellent as the idea is to us, we shall explore the sensational and examine the
for the sake of our readers. I shall write a series of closely reasoned articles that fascinate by the compelling logic of their conclusions and the immense understanding of human nature so displayed. And I shall sign them C. Perrine, so that none of our readers will be shocked by the knowledge that a member of the fair sex has been delving into the sordid, seamy side of life in the world's greatest metropolis."
"I thought the idea would interest you, Miss Perrine," Barnett said. "But first, of course, we are going to have to go out into the world and catch our man."
"And what man, may I ask, are we looking for?"
"There have been three murders in London within the past month," Barnett told her, "that were, apparently, all done by the same man. The victims were all upper-class, and all three murders were committed in circumstances that were, if not impossible, at least highly improbable."
Cecily Perrine nodded. "Lord Walbine," she said, "and the Honorable George Venn, and Isadore Stanhope. Very interesting cases."
"That's them," Barnett agreed. "I've noticed that you have formed the practice of rewriting all the murder stories yourself, which is why I decided you would be interested in this assignment."
"I consider myself a competent writer, Mr. Barnett, as you know," Cecily said. "But I would not altogether affirm my competence to interview a Scotland Yard inspector in such a manner as to command his respect, and otherwise conduct the necessary investigation. This is my only hesitation."
"I'll assist you the first few times you conduct such interviews, until you get over your tentative feelings and the gentlemen at the CID get accustomed to your presence."
"I would appreciate such assistance," Cecily said.
"It will be my pleasure," Barnett told her. "I, also, am fascinated by mysterious murders."
"A fascination that I trust the rest of your countrymen share," Cecily said. "With both of us working on it, the stories are going to have to be carried by over three-quarters of our total subscription to pay for our time."
"We'll have over ninety percent," Barnett assured her. "This story has the one element that a purely American murder can never have: nobility. Two out of three of the victims were possessed of noble blood. You'll have to remember to play that up."
"Yes, indeed," Cecily agreed sweetly. "I shall research the lineage of Mr. Stanhope, the deceased barrister. Perhaps somewhere this side of the Domesday Book we can find the taint of noble blood running, in ever so diluted quantities, through his veins also."
"Not a bad idea," Barnett told her enthusiastically. "Put someone on that."
"Dear me," Cecily said. "I thought I was being humorous."
"Americans take British nobility very seriously," Barnett told her, "being deprived, as they are, of one of their own."
"It is of their own doing," Cecily said. "Had they remained loyal British subjects a hundred years ago, they could have their own nobility living among them now, and be as lucky as the Irish in that regard."
Their conversation was interrupted by a small person in a loudly checked suit with a spotless gray bowler tucked firmly under his left arm, who trotted between the desks in the outer office and rapped importantly on the inner office door.
Barnett pulled the door open. "Well," he exclaimed, "if it isn't the Mummer!"
" 'Course it is," the little man replied. "Who says it ain't?
Mummer" Tolliver was a fellow resident of 64 Russell Square, occupying a low-ceilinged room under the eaves and serving the professor as a general factotum and midget-of-all-work.
"Hello, Mummer," Cecily said. "My, you're looking natty today."
"Afternoon, Miss Perrine," the Mummer said, holding his bowler stiffly in front of his chest and giving his head two precise nods in her direction. "You're a rare vision of dainty loveliness yourself, Miss Perrine. S'welp me if you ain't!"
"Why, thank you, Mummer," Cecily said.
"I have a communication for Mr. Barnett from the professor," Mummer said. " into his hand,' the professor told me."