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Title: The Fighting Eagle (2/6)
Series: The Eagle Chronicles
Word Count 4254
Summary Steven is back in London and meets up with some old acquaintances and tries to solve a murder
Author's Note This was one of the stories that came to me later so it got squeezed in. It ties in with 5. Inspector Hamilton and 6. Alison.

Part One.



10 The Fighting Eagle


II


March 1943

His days followed the same pattern: incessant question-and-answer sessions in the morning with free afternoons and evenings. He had most of his days to himself so he spent them touring the city on foot and his nights were usually spent going to nightclubs (what he called "clubbing"). He walked into his favorite club and checked his coat. He was led to a table near the dance-floor and ordered a scotch. As he was waiting, he saw her. She was still as beautiful, even more so, as when he first saw her. She was smiling, laughing, and enjoying herself, and he wondered what she would be doing now if they hadn't met on that trip to Capetown.

He finished his drink and, as the music began, approached and asked her to dance. She hesitated, but her companions persuaded her. As they twirled about the floor, they talked.

"You don't remember me, do you?"

"Should I?"

"I'll admit it's a far cry from South Africa."

She slowed. "It can't be."

"Yep." He got her moving again.

"What are you doing here in London? You must be crazy."

"Here on pleasure."

"In the middle of a war?"

"Mixed with business."

"I know your business, remember?"

"I don't do that anymore. I mean, I do but I don't. Understand?"

"Not in the slightest." The music stopped. "Thank you for the dance, Mr. Taylor. I'll join my friends now." She walked off and left him standing in the middle of the dance floor. He got his coat and left, feeling colder than when he came in.

Back at her table, Alison was being questioned by her friends. "Who was he? He's absolutely gorgeous."

"I met him three years ago when I was last in South Africa."

"Is he from there?"

"No, he's American."

"Why isn't he fighting?"

"It has something to do with his business. I'm not exactly sure." Deep in the back of her mind, she compared his smiling face of 1940 to the paler, forlorn face of 1943. What had changed him?

"Do you want to dance?"

"No, I'd like to go home. I don't feel like dancing anymore."

****************************************

As he walked back, Steven knew he had to tell her what had happened. Why did she act so cold? Did she wasn't to disassociate herself from 'his kind"? There had been a little something present in Capetown, or had he imagined it? Surely she couldn't have changed that much. He'd just have to continue clubbing until he found her again.

*************************************

Alison's friends took her home. "Hope you're feeling better tomorrow. I'll call, okay?" She nodded. "Good night."

She walked up the stairs to the flat she shared with her father. Mr. Montclair was sound asleep with the radio on. Alison smiled as she turned it off. As she looked at the sleeping figure, she tried to picture what they'd be doing if they hadn't met Steven. They'd probably both be slaving away in Capetown, saving money for passage to London. He just saved them the trouble by selling their worthless mine for 100,000 to a greedy, egotistical man.

Now he had entered her life again. She had felt elated dancing with him. Mystery still surrounded him even though she knew who he was--the Eagle. Did she still love him after three years? Yes!

*************************************

The next night Steven went back to the club and asked his waiter if he remembered the party that had sat at that particular table. "Yes, sir. They're regulars. They should be coming in within the hour."

"Thanks." Steven ordered a drink and waited for them to show. Half an hour later, the group came in but Alison wasn't with them. He swallowed the remains of his drink and walked to their table. "Excuse me, but weren't you here with Alison Montclair last night?"

"Yes."

"I'm an old friend of hers and I'd like to talk to her but I never asked for her address."

"I guess we could give it to you. How long have you known her?"

"I met her three years ago on the way to South Africa."

"You were the one who danced with her last night."

"Yeah."

"Did you say anything to upset her?"

"No. She was surprised to see me and wouldn't let me explain. That's why I need her address."

"Okay." The youth gave him the address.

"Thanks a lot." Steven smiled and left. He knew it was too late now to visit, but he would first chance tomorrow.

*************************************************

The following afternoon, Steven drove to the given address. He walked up and knocked on the flat door. "Anyone home?"

"Just a minute," called a man's voice. The door opened. "What can I do for you?"

"Mr. Montclair?"

"Do I know you?"

"Three years ago, Capetown. You sold a diamond mine."

"Simon, m'boy! Come in! Alison's out at the moment, but I'm sure she'd like to see you."

"She already has. I danced with her the other night." He sat down in an easy chair. He didn't bother correcting his alias.

"She's been acting strange lately as if something was bothering her. Did you say anything?"

"No. I've come to explain things to her. She left before I had the chance. When do expect her back?"

"Soon. Can I get you something to drink?"

"Tea would be nice."

"What have you done since Capetown?"

"I've traveled here and there."

"Why aren't you fighting?"

"I'm not in the army or anything, but my business helps the cause."

"That's good." Gordon Montclair brought the tea in. There were three cups. "She should be arriving any minute."

"Dad, I'm home," her voice called from the hall.

"We've company, m'dear. Someone's been trying to get in touch with you."

She came in and saw Steven. "Hello again."

He smiled. "I've got to explain to you what I'm doing. You know what I did in Capetown. I still do that but with a different purpose."

"How can you change that? You are what you are."

"If I am, you're in just as much trouble. You knew what I was yet you didn't say anything."

Gordon looked on in confusion. "What are you talking about? What do you mean, 'what you were'?"

"You never told him?"

"I told no one."

"Well, I will now."

"You can't! I mean, you can't tell everyone!"

"It's okay, I know what I'm doing." He turned to face Gordon. "I went to Capetown spur-of-the-moment. I was running from the police and boarded the first ship out of port. I was a jewel thief. Alison realized who I was because I didn't give you all the diamonds I took from Sinclair's mine."

"If you were just a thief, how did she realize who you were?"

"You might have heard of the Eagle? That was me." He looked at Alison who couldn't believe he was saying this. "This is what I wanted to tell you." He told her the whole story of how he came to be in London.

"Will you forgive me?" asked Alison. "I acted like such a fool."

"No, you didn't. You just thought you were helping me." He looked at his watch. "I'd better get going."

"Won't you stay for dinner?"

"I'd like to, but I can't."

"I'll walk you to the door."

"Thanks." He turned to her father. "It was great seeing you again, Mr. Montclair. Thanks for the tea." He walked with Alison. "Are you going clubbing tonight?"

"I wasn't planning on it."

"Will you go with me?"

"I'd love to."

"Pick you up at 9:00?" She nodded. "Great. See you then."

***************************************************************

That night they visited other clubs before they went to their "regular". "Why this?"

"Aren't you having a good time?"

"Yes, but I've never been to some of these clubs before."

"You're broadening your horizons. Besides, I wanted it to be just us before we met up with your friends."

"Oh."

They then joined Alison's friends who were surprised to see her with the man that had seemed to upset her the other night. "Alison," said one of the youths, "your father said you weren't going out tonight."

"It's all right, Charles. This is a friend. Charles Moreland, Steven Taylor."

"We've met," said Charles.

Alison looked puzzled. "He gave me your address," explained Steven.

They sat down at the table, ordered drinks, and watched the floor show. When it was over, they got up to dance. The music slowed and Steven held Alison close and began to hum along.

"How do you know this?"

"I keep in touch with everything. It's Glenn Miller."

"What are the words?"

Steven began to sing softly in her ear. "Moonlight becomes you, it goes with your hair..."

They returned to the table. Steven excused himself and went to the men's lounge. Making his way around the corner, he heard a gunshot and ran into the room. They body lay in the middle of the floor, a small puddle of blood beginning to gather underneath. Steven turned the body over and recognized the face as someone he had worked with in the past. He knew that the man was past saving and that the police had to be notified. He locked the door behind him and made his way to the manager's office. "Excuse me, but there's something I need to tell you."

"If it's about the drinks, we have to make concessions during wartime," said the manager wearily.

"No, it's not about the drinks. I just thought you should know there's a dead body in the men's room."

"What? You had better not be joking."

"Just call the police. I've taken the liberty of locking the door so no one can disturb the body."

"You sound like you've had experience in this sort of thing, mister."

"Yeah, I have. Now, are you going to call the police or shall I?" He reached for the phone.

The manager reached the phone first. He gave the location of the club and told them what happened. "Please send someone as soon as possible." He replaced the receiver and stood. "Now, I must tell the patrons."

Steven rejoined Alison and the others. "What's going on?" asked Charles. "Someone's locked the gents."

"I did. I found a dead body in there."

"Oh, my God!" said one of the other girls. "How dreadful."

"Especially for him," said Steven.

Twenty minutes later, the police arrived. Steven had his back to them when the manager pointed him out as the one who had discovered the body. "It must have been quite a shock, sir."

Steven turned, recognizing the voice. "Hello, Hamilton. Want your £20 back?"

"Nice to see you again, Mr. Talbot," the detective said with a smile.

"Taylor. The name's Steven Taylor."

"Taylor. I thought they clipped your wings?"

"Americans respect their wildlife."

Hamilton let the subject drop. "Were you alone when you found the body?"

"Yes. I have no one to say that I didn't do it. I heard the shot as I was on my way. The body was still warm when I got there."

"I'm going to have to take you in for questioning."

"In other words, I'm under arrest, right?" Hamilton was quiet. "You're making a big mistake, Nigel. I didn't murder him. I don't have a gun and I've been pardoned, so why would I try it?"

"You could have hidden the gun."

"I've never killed anyone except in self-defense. I was outside dancing and having a good time. Do you think I would take a chance at ruining that?"

"You were faking it, using it as a front." He turned to the constable. "Take him out."

They walked past the table where the others were standing. Steven looked at Alison and told her not to believe it. She smiled encouragingly and nodded. He was ushered out the door and into a waiting police car.

He was taken to Scotland Yard and questioned. He answered lightheartedly, trying to hold back his temper. "If you'll allow me a phone call, we'll be able to straighten this whole mess up."

"Fine, but I'll be listening."

Hamilton watched as Steven dialed the number. He waited as it rang. "Hello, sir. I'm sorry about the hour, but there's been something of a misunderstanding. I'm at Scotland Yard. How did it happen? I was at a club and a man was murdered in the WC. The detective is sure that I did it, despite my protests of innocence." He paused and listened. "Certainly, here he is." Steven handed the phone to Hamilton. "He wants to talk to you."

Hamilton took the phone. "Hamilton." As he listened, a look of amazement spread across his face. "Yes, sir. I'll let him go, but if anything else happens while he's around...." He listened. "Yes, sir. Good-bye, sir." He hung up the phone. "You're off the hook, Taylor. It seems that Churchill holds you in high regard. Don't disappoint him."

"I won't. I'm gonna solve this. Someone conveniently let me take the fall and I hate getting hurt." He saluted mockingly and walked out.

He went to see if Alison was still awake. He knocked on her door until she answered it. "Steven, you're here."

"I had to talk to you about tonight. Can I?" She moved aside to let him in. "The whole thing was a set-up. I walked into the room after the man was dead. Now that I've finally got you understanding me, I don't want to lose that."

"You won't."

"I'm sorry I ruined your night."

"It's okay."

"Um, I'd better be leaving. Good night."

"Steven?" He turned and she kissed him. "Be careful."

"I will." He kissed her and left.

Steven knew someone else was letting him take the blame. The hard part was to prove it. There were quite a few people who would like to see him put away, but which, if any, was responsible?

*************************************************

A few mornings later found Steven walking in the East End. He stopped in front of a building that looked like it would collapse at any moment. The only sign of life was the blackout curtains at the windows. He walked up the steps and went inside. The main staircase had gaping holes in place of some steps and no banister. He climbed and prayed that the safe spots were as he remembered.

On the second floor, he stopped at the third door on the right and knocked three times, paused, then twice more. "Hold on, for God's sake!" called a voice. "What d'ya want?" The door opened a crack.

"I hear you're the best, Sammy."

"Yeah? Who told ya?"

"It's common knowledge in the proper circles. Ya gonna let me in or what?"

"Gimme a ref'rence."

"The Eagle. I know he's not a thief anymore, but he mentioned your name in conversation."

"You know 'im?"

"Better 'n anybody."

"Come in then." The door opened and Steven walked in. Sammy had his back turned. "So, how d'ya know the Eagle?"

"You could say we go way back," Steve replied, resuming his natural voice.

Sammy turned around. "It's great t' see ya, lad!" He took Steven's hand and gave it a hearty shake. "You've come by at a bad time. I'm on my way to a wake."

"I know. Tom Shaw. That's why I'm here."

"How do you know?"

"I was at the club the other night when he was killed. I found the body."

"Whaddya need t' talk t' me for?"

"I want to find out who killed him. Will you help?"

"I'd be a poor friend if I didn't. You hated guns and I trust you still do." Steven nodded. "So why would you shoot him?"

Steven smiled at this thought. "Didn't think it out like that. I don't think my prints are even on the gun. How could they be?"

"That's the way to think, boy. Let's go."

The wake was held at an East End funeral parlor where it didn't matter about the clientele. Steven and Sam stayed in the back while others paid their respects. Steven recognized some of them from previous "business" dealings.

Sammy went forward and Steven followed. He could feel all the eyes on him, and the animosity in the air would have been the same if he were Hitler. When he was finished paying his respects, he walked to join Sam and some others who were talking to one side. When he arrived, the others walked away. "Is it something I said?" he remarked, trying to be lighthearted.

"No, it's more like something you did, or what they think you did. They all think you killed him."

"You believe me, don't you? Why would I do it? These people don't know what I've been through this past year!" Steven regained control of his voice before he began to shout, and then left the building.

Sam watched him storm out then looked at the gathering. "I don't believe you people! That poor boy's just come back from fighting in France! He's trying to better his life yet you people are making him feel miserable! He liked Tommy and no way would hurt him. He saved the boy from prison, remember? He's been framed for this and those who can help him have turned their backs on him. I hope you're satisfied!" He caught up with Steven. "I gave them a piece of my mind. They'll be feeling like fools now."

"Thanks for backing me up, but I don't know how I'm gonna clear myself now. I feel so out of touch."

The older man knew he had to make Steven realize he could help himself once he put his mind to it. "The reason you feel out of touch is because a lot's happened to you since you were last here and all they've had to worry about is the bombing--and that's only a minor irritation."

"I notice you don't put yourself in that category."

"I know what you're going through, I experienced something like it once. If you know what you're about, it doesn't matter what others say about you."

"You're absolutely right." He stopped in the middle of the pavement. "I do feel better now." He looked at his watch. "I've got a meeting to go to, so would you mind doing a bit of footwork for me?"

"Nope. What do you want me to do?"

"Just ask about. Nothing too deep, understand. Enough information to work on. Okay?"

"Sure."

"Thanks. Get in touch with me at this number."

"No problem. Ta."

"Yeah, right. Ta."

*********************************************

After the meeting, Steven went to visit Alison. She wasn't home, but Mr. Montclair gave him her working address. Steven met her just as she was leaving the shop. "Hi," he said. "Can I walk you home?"

She looked at him. "Did Dad give you this address?" Alison turned her gaze to the woman at the counter. "Mrs. Meyers hates it when friends visit me at work."

"She's probably just jealous," he whispered.

Alison giggled. "Let's go. I hate staying here longer than necessary." They went outside. "So, what happened today?"

"I went to a wake," he said matter-of-factly. She looked questioningly at him. "Tommy Shaw, the man that was killed the other night. I knew him from before. I had a hostile reception, but found a friend as well. He's doing research for me now."

"Why aren't you doing it?"

"I had a meeting to get to. Besides, I don't think the people there would appreciate me questioning them." He smiled. "I'm sorry for the other night with all that confusion, but I really had nothing to do with it."

"That detective seemed happy to arrest you. I guess since it was publicized that you were pardoned, he's trying to prove you don't deserve it."

"That could be part of it, but I think it's because I stole his wallet."

"You what?"

"During a job I pulled in '40, I made a mistake and he caught on. When he was questioning me, I lifted his wallet and used the money to help pay for my trip out of the country."

"Your trip to Capetown."

"You got it."

They walked on in quiet. "My friends thought you added excitement to the evening. They couldn't get over the fact that I knew you." Steven gave her a modest smile. "You've got to admit, you're not one of the easiest people to say that about. I mean, you're the type that doesn't like being laid claim to."

"Let's change the subject before this goes to my head. You never told me what you've done since Capetown."

"Nothing all that exciting. I was able to finish school and then I got a job."

"Something else must have happened."

"Nothing. Not everyone can lead a full life like yours."

"Okay. Tell me how you met Charles."

"Jealous?"

"Do I have reason to be?"

"None at all." She kissed him. "I met Charles at a dance at school. He's very kind and considerate and we're just good friends. Happy?"

They reached her building. "Here we are," he said.

"Can you come in?"

"I'd like to, but I can't. I'm expecting an important call at home."

"Oh." She was disappointed.

"I won't be able to go clubbing for awhile, but if you want to go with your friends, don't give me a second thought. I'll see you if I can, but don't think I'm dead if I don't show up." He kissed her good-bye and left.

**************************************************************

When Steven returned to his flat, he heard the phone ringing and picked up the receiver. "Taylor here. Oh, Sam. What have you come up with? You don't want to talk over the phone? Okay, here's my address. Come over as soon as you can." Steven hung up the phone, went to his refrigerator and took out a cold beer. Sam sounded excited. He must have learned something important.

Twenty minutes later, there was a knock on the door. Steven let Sam in. "What have you got?"

"The first thing is I know why Tom was at the club. It seems that he was onto something big. I think he accidentally overheard something or stole some important documents without realizing their significance."

"Was it blackmail?"

"It could have been."

"But why? Tommy couldn't read, at least not very well. How did he know what he had?"

"I think he must have shown his sister. She could have told him what it was."

"Tommy was clean when I checked the body. Do you think whoever killed him took the information?"

"It's possible. Either that, or he didn't bring them with him."

A new idea hit Steven. "Or he didn't have them to begin with." Sam looked at him in confusion. "It was just a thought. Do you have a list of possibles?"

"Yeah, right here." He pointed to his head. "I was afraid I'd lose the paper." He began the list. "There are his two friends, Connors and Sullivan. Wouldn't give a second thought to killing if enough money was involved. Next is the Man of the Street, Hank Wright."

"Hank and I are old friends. What could he have to gain?"

"He feels that all major workings should go through him and he takes part of the profits. Tom never told him, so maybe he wanted the whole thing for himself."

"Could be. I'll make a point of visiting."

"The last one who could have a motive would be his brother-in-law Jack Adams. He might have been there when Tommy showed his sister the documents."

"What does he do?"

"He's a bit of a fly-by-night con-man. Does almost anything. He's not a bad looker, I guess, and a smooth talker."

"He'd have to be, to pull cons. I've done a few good ones myself. Is that the list?"

"Yep. If I get anything more, I'll let you know."

"Do you want a lift home?"

"Nah, I'd better walk. Don't want people suspicious of me working with you. They won't talk."

"Good thinking. Thanks for your help."

"You be careful. Ta." Sam left.

Steven locked the door behind him. This could take time. He went to the kitchen to prepare dinner. As he was opening a cabinet, he heard screeching brakes and a blaring horn. He ran out the front door and saw a crowd gathering in the middle of the road. He pushed his way to the center and saw Sam lying on the macadam, his body twisted, neck broken.

A constable came over after calling his precinct. "Clear the way, please." He saw Steven. "Sir, you must move back, the ambulance is on its way."

"It's too late. He's dead."

"Case of hit-and-run." The constable jotted it down in his notebook.

"Looks that way, doesn't it?" Steven thought it more than just a hit-and-run. More like murder.

"Did you see the accident, sir?"

"No, but he was just visiting me."

"May I have your name, sir? There might be an inquiry." Steven told him. "Ah, yes, sir. I am aware of what happened the other night." The policeman became secretive. "Do you think this has anything to do with it?"

"Maybe."

"You'll probably get a visit from Detective Hamilton. Good night, sir."

Steven accepted this as a dismissal and went back to his flat. He knew that Sam had hit on something, else why would they want him out of the way? If they knew that Sam had talked to him, he'd be next. It was narrowed down to a race against time. Get them before they get you.

Part 3

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