Authors: Dolores Gordon-Smith
Table of Contents
A FETE WORSE THAN DEATH
MAD ABOUT THE BOY
AS IF BY MAGIC
A HUNDRED THOUSAND DRAGONS *
OFF THE RECORD *
TROUBLE BREWING *
* available from Severn House
This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
First world edition published 2012
in Great Britain and in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright Â© 2012 by Dolores Gordon-Smith.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
1. Haldean, Jack (Fictitious character) â Fiction.
2. Detective and mystery stories.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-278-8 (Epub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8169-4 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-428-8 (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
Dedicated to Angela Churm,
old friend and fellow writer.
hat on earth could the man want? Jack Haldean checked the number of the house, stuffed the letter back into his pocket, mounted the marble steps between their pillars of Portland stone, and rang the bell of 14, Neville Square. He'd never heard of a Harold Rushton Hunt and yet, out of the blue, Mr Hunt had written to him, asking him to call.
The door was opened by a magnificently portly butler with a high-domed bald head and exuberant eyebrows. âGood morning, sir,' he said repressively.
âGood morning,' replied Jack, bracing himself under the butler's gaze. âI've got an appointment to see Mr Hunt. My name's Haldean, Major Haldean.'
âAh yes, sir. Mr Hunt is waiting for you in the drawing room.' He stood aside to allow him to enter. âAllow me to take your coat, sir.'
He led the way down a gloomy green-panelled hall, pausing outside a door, before turning to Jack with an anxiety at odds with the imperturbable mask of the well-trained servant. âYou will be careful, won't you, sir? Mr Hunt is not as young as he was and the strain of the last few months has taken its toll. Any sudden excitement or upset may prove too much for him.'
âOf course,' said Jack. âDon't worry. Wheel me in.' He received a glance of mingled disapproval and gratitude, before the butler opened the door.
âMajor Haldean, sir.'
A man with blue-tinged lips and the thinness of old age sat in a leather armchair, next to the comfortable fire. A tray of medicines stood on a small table beside him. He put a bony hand on the chair arm in an attempt to get up. Jack took one look at the proud face with its pale, keen blue eyes and checked his initial impulse to help. He had a feeling Mr Hunt resented his frailty being brought home to him.
âAllow me, sir,' said the butler.
âLeave me alone, Fields,' said Mr Hunt with more than a touch of irritation. Jack was glad he had kept quiet. âDamn it, when I can't manage to stand up, it'll be time to measure me for my box.' He slowly got to his feet. âMajor Haldean, it's good of you to call.'
âNot at all, sir,' said Jack, taking the outstretched hand.
The old man slowly re-seated himself, indicating that Jack should do the same. âCan I offer you a cocktail? I always drink sherry at this time but my son, Frederick, keeps me up to date.'
âSherry for me, please,' said Jack. There was something about Mr Hunt that made cocktails seem wildly inappropriate.
Fields served them with sherry then, with a doubtful glance at Jack, left the room.
Mr Hunt picked up his glass and settled back in the chair. âI suppose you're wondering what this is all about? Smoke if you want to, by the way. The box is beside you. I gather, Major Haldean, that you have a reputation for solving problems.' The searching look Mr Hunt directed at Jack told him this was not the moment for false modesty.
âI've been successful a couple of times, yes.'
âIt was George Lassiter at the club who suggested I get in touch with you. I gather you helped him with an odd business he was troubled with. Sir Douglas Lynton of Scotland Yard spoke well of you when I mentioned your name.'
âThat was very good of him.' Jack was frankly puzzled. Crime in these surroundings seemed not only incongruous but in bad taste, and yet it must be a crime or why should Sir Douglas be involved? âIs there any matter I can help you with, sir?'
For an answer Mr Hunt got painfully to his feet once more and walked stiffly to the table under the window. Picking up a silver-framed photograph, he stood and looked at it. Jack joined him at the window. âThis is my great-nephew, Mark Helston.'
Mark Helston was a dark-haired, clean-shaven man in, at a guess, his mid-twenties with an air of cheery good humour. His face rang a faint bell and Jack wondered where he had seen Mark Helston before.
âDo you recognize him?'
âI'm trying to place him, sir. I'm sure I've seen that picture before.'
âI'm sure you have. In January this picture was in all the newspapers.' Mr Hunt turned a slightly wistful glance to Jack. âPerhaps you remember what happened?'
The honest truth was that he didn't. âNot really, sir.'
Mr Hunt put the photograph back on the table, letting his hand linger on it for a few seconds more than strictly necessary, before walking back to his chair. âI'm correct in thinking, aren't I, that my name means nothing to you?' A gleam of humour in his eyes cut off Jack's apology. âDon't apologize, young man. Have you ever heard of Hunt Coffee?'
âWell, of course I have. I say, do you own Hunt Coffee?'
âIndeed I do. My son, Frederick, is in charge of the actual business nowadays, but the firm is mine. Frederick is a widower with no children but my sister, Enid, was fortunate enough to have two grandchildren, Patricia and Mark.'
He sighed. âMy sister and I did not always see eye to eye, but she was devoted to her grandchildren. Enid took care of them both after their parents died more than twenty years ago. Patricia is married and has no interest in the firm, but Mark, under my son's tutelage, developed a keen sense of business. Mark had plenty of money and nothing to worry him. His private affairs â let me stress this, Major â were completely without fault. Completely,' he added with a fierce glare, as if Jack was going to argue the point.
âI'm sure of it, sir,' said Jack, mentally reserving judgement.
Mr Hunt subsided. âThat is more than the indulgent opinion of an old man. The police investigated Mark's life thoroughly and found nothing amiss.' He looked into the fire for a long moment. âI told 'em they wouldn't,' he added in an undertone. Jack waited patiently for him to continue.
Mr Hunt gave a little shake of his head. âAnd yet at half past seven on the evening of the ninth of January, Mark walked out of his Albemarle Street flat and from that day to this, no one has cast eyes on him.'
âWhat? No one, sir?'
âNot a soul. We contacted the police as soon as it became apparent that Mark was missing. We assumed he was either injured or taken ill. The police checked all the hospitals, but found nothing. The police then made a suggestion which I considered to be disgraceful and confessed themselves baffled. There the matter rested and, as far as they are concerned, will continue to rest. Meanwhile, my nephew is either dead, injured, or being held against his will.' He looked Jack straight in the eyes. âI appeal to you, sir. Help me find Mark. The police have proved useless and until George Lassiter mentioned your name, I was completely without hope.'
Jack finished his sherry in silence. âI'm sorry, sir,' he began, then stopped as he saw the light die out of the old man's face. He simply couldn't refuse, any more than he could have kicked a puppy. He put down his glass and linked his hands together, trying to find the right words. âIf the police have failed, Mr Hunt, then, although I'll try, I can't see how I can possibly succeed.' His voice was very gentle. âYou see, they have resources which I can't hope to match.' He glanced at Mr Hunt, seeing anxiety twist new lines around his mouth.
âBut you will try, won't you?' he asked urgently.
Jack nodded. âOh yes, sir, I'll try.' He couldn't, in common humanity, say anything else.
âThank you for that, Major.' A spark came into his eyes. âLassiter told me you wouldn't let me down. Any information you think might prove useful, I will gladly give you. Any expenses you incur, I will meet. If you can only find Mark or . . . or â' he swallowed â âtell me what has become of him, I will be forever in your debt. Is there anything you wish to ask me?'
âI think I'll find out what the police have done first. That'll probably give me an idea of where to start. Then, if I may, I might have some questions for you.'
Mr Hunt got to his feet and stretched out his hand. âAs you wish.' He rang the bell. âAnd thank you again, sir. Even if you fail, you have given me back some hope.'
âI went to see a Mr Harold Rushton Hunt today, Bill.'
Inspector William Rackham stirred a spoonful of sugar into his coffee and relaxed into his green leather armchair in the Young Services Club smoking room.
âYou poor beggar, Jack,' he said, pushing his ginger hair out of his eyes. âI thought you might get lumbered. Mr Hunt visited the Yard yesterday. From what I could gather, old Mr Lassiter has been singing your praises and Mr Hunt wanted Sir Douglas's opinion of your talents. Were your ears burning?'
âNo,' said Jack, offering his friend a cigar. âShould they have been?'
âNeed you ask?' said Bill with a grin. âMind you, the Chief was probably so relieved at the prospect of palming Harold Hunt off onto someone else, I think he'd have given the thumbs up to anyone. I'm up to my eyes with the Leigh Abbey lot at the moment, so the last thing I want to do is get involved with ancient history. You're as good as anyone.'
Jack laughed. âDon't go overboard, Bill.'
âI didn't. Sir Douglas might have praised you to the skies, but I was trying to get you out of it. Mr Hunt won't hear of the only explanation for Mark Helston's disappearance that makes any sense.'
âHelston hooked it for reasons of his own, obviously.'