Authors: Kim Wright
CITY OF BELLS
City of Mystery, Book 4
By Kim Wrig
, India – Byculla Club – The Kitchen
August 7, 1889
The two bodies lay face to face on the marble slab. At first their pose had been more decorous – positioned well apart, each with straightened legs and the
ir arms crossed over the chest, much in the manner of buried monarchs. But ice is a precious commodity in the summer, especially in India, so on the second day they had been inched more tightly together to conserve the cold, and on the third day they had been moved closer yet again, until the limbs of the man and woman eventually overlapped. Fused together in their icy dome, far more intimate in death than they had ever been in life, the elderly British woman and her loyal – but somewhat ineffectual – Indian bodyguard stared blankly into each other’s frozen eyes.
The officer charged with the investigation
had been trained as a military man. While he was comfortable with tribunals and inquiries of a certain nature, he was entirely out of his element here, at the Byculla Club, the most exclusive British enclave of the whole of the Bombay Presidency. He had tried not to gawk at the satin-draped manservant who had met him in the foyer and escorted him through the elegant rooms, his boots no doubt scuffing the floors with every step. Through the open doors and beyond the terrace he had caught inviting glimpses of a garden where women took tea, tennis courts which stood empty in the heat of the day, even a shimmer of light which promised the presence of a swimming pool. On the subcontinent, water was the greatest luxury of all.
Yes, the By
culla had everything – except, it would seem, a mortuary, which is why any persons who had the audacity to get themselves murdered within these high gates could expect nothing more than a transfer here, to the kitchens, where they would await justice in much the same resigned manner that their friends awaited the arrival of the cheese course.
e officer leaned against the marble slab, feeling the cold of it permeate through his thin linen trousers, and exhaled with a curse. He considered the haunches of meat hanging on hooks all around him, the bank of oysters heaped on a separate table, a flock of birds suspended, still feathered, from a corner. So much death in one room. He didn’t like death, a fact which might have surprised the men stationed beneath him. Despite thirty years in military service, he had never grown comfortable with the sight of the human form brought so low, reduced to just one more carcass in a room full of butchery.
But he had been sent to view them
, and view them he had done.
There was little to report. A
n old white woman. An old dark man. Neither corpse seemed inclined to reveal what had killed it, much less who. The lady was of an age and constitution that if she had simply fallen to the floor of the Byculla Club it would have been assumed she’d been taken by natural causes, and there likely would have been no investigation at all, even one as cursory as this. Only the fact that her servant had likewise succumbed minutes later had signaled that this was no heart failure or stroke. And thus, by so promptly joining his mistress in death, perhaps one could say that the fellow had performed his duty after all. At least a little. For now an event that might otherwise have been dismissed without thought was being classified as a crime.
In fact, this woman’s husband - just as frail as she and very nearly as dead - languished even now in the military jail, although why a sixty-nine year old man would kill a seventy-one year old woman, the officer could not hazard a guess. Women were vexing, this he knew, but no matter how unpleasant this particular old biddy had been, it seems that after surviving decades upon decades of matrimony, any man could white-knuckle his way to the end.
So what might have prompted the old duffer to put her away, and – even more troubling a question - to take the manservant as well?
With a sigh that was louder than his earlier curse, the officer pushed away from the table, pausing one last time as he left the room to consider the scene. No matter how pressing the need to conserve ice, whoever had made the decision to entwine the bodies of Rose Weaver and Pulkit Sang was a fool. When it came time to separate them, their limbs would likely break.
Rosemoral Estate –
The Peacock Lounge
“It seems that we are running the risk of becoming the last thing I thought we’d ever be,” Tom Bainbridge said, settling back in an elegantly shabby armchair and flicking his cigar in the general direction of an ashtray.
“And what is that?” his brother William asked, a bit warily. Tom may be the baby of the family, but he was also wildly confident, stunningly clever, and far too fond of his drink. It all added up to unpredictability, the one thing William couldn’t abide.
“I’m rather afraid to say,” Tom said. “I might be struck by lightning for daring to utter the words aloud.”
“It’s a cloudless day,” William said, with a glance toward the wide French windows. “Risk it.”
“We appear to be teetering on the cusp of being a happy family,” Tom said.
William chuckled, with both surprise and pleasure, for now that he stopped to consider it, Tom was quite right. The next day, their sister Leanna would marry Dr. John Harrowman, whom she incessantly referred to as “her intended,” and it seemed that whatever Leanna intended to have, she ultimately did. William had to admit that John was a pleasant enough chap, although a bit too inclined toward liberal causes, and he supposed that John was even what the ladies would call handsome, with his tall slender frame and wavy dark hair. The newlyweds would of course settle at Rosemoral following the obligatory honeymoon abroad, and shortly after they returned, William himself would march to the altar. He would be accompanied by the amiable heiress of the neighboring estate, Hannah Wentworth.
“I like Hannah,” Tom said, as if reading his mind. “She seems quite…forthright.”
“That she is,” William agreed, with another chuckle. Some gossips might claim his own intended to be plain, even horse-faced, with an unwomanly degree of interest in livestock and farming, but she suited William admirably well. And besides, when they combined the acreage of Hannah’s estate with that of Rosemoral, the result would be the finest farm in three counties, with William as manager of it all.
“Thank God she escaped the clutches of Cecil,” Tom added. “Now that time has passed and the dust has settled, it seems completely evident that he was the root of all our problems from the start. Well, Papa was actually first, I suppose, but after he got himself thrown from his horse, Cecil stepped into the vacancy rather well, did he not? Gambling and cheating and sowing discord in every corner.”
“Discord?” asked William. “Is that the proper word for what Cecil sows?”
The brothers sat for a moment in silence, each man lost in his own thoughts. When their grandfather’s will had quite unexpectedly – quite shockingly, in fact – left Rosemoral to Leanna and not to one of her three brothers, Cecil had exploded with rage. As it had turned out, his gambling debts were far more severe that anyone had guessed, and he was being aggressively pressed for payment by men he had once counted as friends. But even after losing Rosemoral, Cecil had one final ace up his sleeve – his courtship of the fabulously wealthy Hannah Wentworth. Unfortunately for Cecil, Hannah had found him canoodling with a maid in the rose bushes and thus she too had slipped through his hands.
And then, after causing the sort of “discord” that neither Tom nor William could bear to contemplate in the light of this lovely summer morning, Cecil had disappeared. The official story doled out to Leanna and their mother was that he had gone heiress-hunting in the fertile fields of America, a lie which anyone with any acquaintance with Cecil would readily believe.
The last nine months had brought great changes to the family. Within weeks of Cecil’s absence it was clear he’d been a cancer; once removed, the body promptly began to recover. Their mother Gwynette, worn down with worry over her middle son’s incessant escapades, had regained her health and even a bit of her legendary beauty. Leanna had promptly hired William as her estate manager, the function he had always secretly wanted, which allowed William to pay his uninspired but persistent court to Hannah Wentworth, who was a far better match for him than she had ever been for Cecil. Hannah seemed perfectly aware that she was fortunate to have avoided becoming yoked to Cecil, and transferred her affections from one brother to another with minimal fuss. Leanna’s own attention was focused on planning the wedding and helping her fiancé John establish his medical clinic. Their new brother-in-law seemed destined to become the saint of the county before his work was finished, bringing the wives of rural farmers a level of obstetrics care previously only available in London. And through it all, Tom had remained in that laudable city, comfortably housed with their Aunt Geraldine and somewhat less comfortably learning the ropes in his new position as chief medical consultant to the first forensics unit of Scotland Yard.
Thus there was peace in the valley – although both Tom and William knew that the ladies could not remain in the dark forever. The fact that Cecil had not returned for Leanna’s wedding was a strong hint he was not merely touring America, as was his complete lack of correspondence since November - a silence noteworthy even in a man with as little sense of family responsibility as Cecil. Leanna was too distracted by her role as bride to ponder the matter deeply, but their mother no doubt had already begun to suspect that he was truly on the lam from some latest bit of debauchery. It would all have to be faced someday, but not, it would seem, on this particular day. At least for the meantime, Gwynette Bainbridge seemed more than content to let things drift along precisely as they were – unquestioned and calm.
“He shall resurface eventually, you know,” Tom said.
“Let us hope not.”
“Hope strikes me as a highly imperfect defense against the evils of the world,” Tom said, reaching for the tumbler of brandy on the table besides his smoldering cigar. Spirits at noon were never a good sign, William thought with a small tickle or worry, but perhaps Tom was merely relaxing before the social duties of the weekend began.
“I know you have devoted your life to science and whatnot,” William said, “and I think that’s a fine thing. Precisely as Grandfather would have wanted it. But it seems a dangerous path you’re on, pursuing truth no matter what the cost.”
Tom shrugged, although he was feeling anything but nonchalant. He was just past twenty-one, while William had passed thirty, and he feared some sort of lecture was coming. “I am Scotland Yard now, as you know. And thus yes, of course I am devoted to the pursuit of truth at all costs.”
“Unofficially Scotland Yard.”
Tom took a gulp from his glass. “Quite unofficial. I am a volunteer, in fact, which is an embarrassing thing for a man to say aloud. Makes me sound like some well-to-do matron hell-bent on rehabilitating the whores. But Trevor Welles never makes a distinction between me and the others on the team, so I can’t see why you should.” He put the glass back on the table and pulled in a slow breath. There was nothing like an older brother, Tom reflected, to make you feel like a child again. To knock you right back to the nursery with just a few well chosen words. Best to revert the conversation back to its original topic. He nodded toward his brother and asked, “But seriously, don’t you ever wonder what became of Cecil?”
“Of course I wonder,” William said, his gaze moving to the wide open windows and the soft green lawns of Rosemoral beyond. “Only a fool wouldn’t wonder and only a fool wouldn’t worry. But, trust me on this, Tom. Some stories are better left untold.”
The Gardens of Rosemoral
12: 50 P
“I knew the Bainbridge family was rich.” Trevor said, “but somehow I never grasped that they were quite this rich. Actually seeing the estate in all its glory puts another perspective on the matter, does it not?”
“Indeed it does,” said Rayley. “How many bedrooms would you guess the house to have?”
The three official members of the Scotland Yard forensics team – Detectives Trevor Welles and Rayley Abrams, along with bobby Davy Mabrey – were strolling the gardens of Rosemoral while the three unofficial members – Tom, his Aunt Geraldine, and Geraldine’s companion Emma Kelly – were presumably somewhere inside. As a close friend of Geraldine’s and a frequent guest at her legendary dinner parties, Trevor had certainly enjoyed the benefits of the Bainbridge family fortune on many occasions, but in the city the money at least was contained within the walls of Geraldine’s handsome home. Here, in the country, it seemed to spill out in all directions, engulfing every meadow and hill within view.
“I have no idea the number of bedrooms,” Trevor said, “but bedrooms at least serve a definite purpose. What I find truly amazing about Rosemoral is all these vague public rooms which seem to have no function at all. Consider this. Last night, Tom asked me to have a drink with him in the Peacock Lounge. Now what would you imagine a Peacock Lounge to be?”
“I should think it was painted blue,” Rayley said mildly.
“As would any sensible person,” Trevor said. “But as it turns out, it was a room filled with peacocks. Huge stuffed creatures fanned out across every surface, all staring at me with the most disconcertingly beady eyes. As a result, I fear I took more brandy than was prudent.”
“I don’t like them either,” Davy blurted out. He was younger and shorter than the other two men, looking more like a school boy than an adjunct to the Yard. Knowing this, Davy had decided to treat his misleading appearance as an asset and not a liability; it seemed that suspects were often willing to confide any number of things in the harmless seeming bobby that they would never say in the presence of his superiors. “I don’t like the birds or the stuffed monkeys or that pig thing with all the bristles standing at the end of the hall. I was looking for the privy in the middle of the night and ran right into it. For a moment I thought it was real and set to charge me.”
“There are indeed many remarkably convincing examples of taxidermy within these walls,” Rayley said with amusement. “Evidently the grandfather was quite the naturalist and a sworn devotee of Darwin. Tom’s own eccentricities make a bit more sense now, do they not?”
“Leanna’s too,” Trevor said, his eyes coming to rest on a full-blooming rose. “I keep forgetting, Rayley, that you were gone to Paris and didn’t know her like the rest of us. But she is quite extraordinary, I assure you.”
A small pause. That silent second, maybe two, that always seemed to follow any mention of Leanna’s name. For Trevor had been enchanted by the young heiress as well, but - unlike John Harrowman, the man she would marry on the morrow - he had lacked the courage to pursue his inclinations. Trevor was notoriously plodding with women, seeming to somehow always end up as more brother than lover, and Rayley suspected that his friend might now be well on the way of making the exact same mistake with Emma Kelly that he had once made with Leanna Bainbridge.
Rayley thought, following Trevor’s gaze toward the rose bush.
For pretty young girls are like these flowers. There seem to be so many, blooming here around us, each more delightful than the last. But someday soon, with the slightest turn of the sun, they shall all be gone.
Aloud, he ventured a joke. “And what made Leanna so eccentric? Besides, of course, the fact she was mad enough to prefer another man to you?”
It was a risk. A test of how well Trevor might manage attending the wedding tomorrow. To Rayley’s relief, as well as that of Davy, Trevor laughed.
“Just as well it didn’t work out,” he said. “The girl is lovely, no doubt of that, but can either of you imagine me here, the master of a country estate?” He tapped the rim of his bowler with a fingertip and shook his polished walking cane at them. “See? Even my clothes are quite wrong for the task.”
“As is your pace,” Rayley said. “We are supposed to be strolling the garden, are we not, and yet I swear we have passed this one particular rose bush at least three times. You stride about like a man rushing to catch a train, not one who is out to admire nature. And what crimes should you find to investigate, here in the hills?”
“The theft of a cow?” suggested Davy.
“Indeed,” said Rayley. “I can see you now. Constable Welles, formerly of Scotland Yard, dispensing justice on the issue of Bossy’s true owner. Summoned to the home of the village drunk who has just set upon his wife. Helping to pull overturned carts from the ditch.”