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The Eagle Chronicles 30: (Meets Nick)

Title: (Meets Nick)
Series: The Eagle Chronicles.
Word Count 5382
Summary Steven goes on a TV talk show and joins up with a former con-man after his car is stolen
Notes: The majority of this series was written over 20 years ago and I like to think that my style has improved since then. I've been told that I should probably edit them before I post like this but I can't edit myself. To me it looks fine. If you see a section that needs work, please tell me! ALso, I never really got around to getting a real title for this so if you come up with anything, please let me know!




30. (Meets Nick)


January 1961

Steven Taylor read the letter again. It requested his presence at the BBC Studio for an interview. He had granted the request a month ago because the topic of discussion was one that interested him: crime and criminals. They also planned to have another former criminal who had gone straight. Steven didn't know his name, but was curious as to what he was like.

He picked out his favorite suit to wear then looked through an old scrapbook to refresh his memory. He, of course, knew what he had done, but he wanted to remember what the press had said about him.

The next day he went to the studio in his red Alvis convertible. He showed up two hours before the broadcast to get used to his surroundings; he hadn't given a forma interview in years. He also wanted to meet the other man involved.

The director spotted him and came over. "Ah, your Grace, we weren't expecting you for another hour. The set isn't even ready."

"I only came here to get a feel of the place. Formal interviews aren't a favorite thing of mine. I avoid them as much as possible. This seemed so different, I had to give it a go."

The director seemed confused. "Well, certainly, your Grace. The studio is at your disposal. I want to do the run-through in an hour, so if you could be back in good time. . ."

Steven walked through the halls and encountered stares, smiles, and a few autograph hounds. He went to the commissary and ordered a cup of tea. "It's on me, your Grace," the clerk said as Steven reached for his wallet. "Are you taking a tour of the studios?"

"Self-guided. I'm giving an interview and I have to be back in the studio in," he looked at his watch, "twenty minutes."

"Well, good luck, sir. I'll be sure to watch."

As Steven went to a small table to sit down, he was bumped into by a young man with brown hair. "I'm so sorry. I must have tripped." He looked at his face. "You're the duke of Edinburgh, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"Oh, then I'm doubly sorry. Please forgive me. I can be such a klutz."

"Think nothing of it. No bones broken."

The man shook his hand. "Thank you very much, your Grace. I'm so sorry." He left the commissary."

Steven finished his tea then headed back to the studio. The director and the interviewer were on the set talking with a third man he couldn't see. He approached and they turned to face him. The third man turned out to be the klutz from the commissary. "Your Grace, you're back. I'd like you to meet Neville Hastings who will be the conducting the interview. This is Nicholas Adamson who will also be taking part in this evening's discussion."

"We've met," said Steven.

The director seemed surprised. "In the commissary," clarified Nicholas.

"Oh, well. Let's do that run-through, if you don't mind. We need to figure out camera angles."

"Fine," said Hastings.

The practice discussion went well. They only talked lightly of what the main interview would touch on. Nick and Steven talked about their background. Nick was the oldest of five children, became a pickpocket during the Blitz, haunting the Underground waiting for the proper mark. He graduated to running cons after he ran away from home. He ran risks of life and limb all the time trying to go straight-- and failing. He finally overcame the temptation to play upon someone's gullibility but still kept his fingers nimble.

When the time for the real interview arrived, they were all relaxed and ready to begin. Hastings decided to start the discussion by asking Steven what made him decide to become a thief and how things were at the time.

"There was really honor among thieves. The group I was with in Connecticut actually became upset with me because I was such a loner and refused to work with anyone. The leaders told me I had to leave. Because they knew who I was, I left for London. The group there let me do things on my own as long as it didn't reflect badly back on them."

"But what made you wish to become a thief?"

"In New York before the war started, both extremes of living could be seen. I got fed up with that and decided it was unfair, so I stole to even things out."

Neville turned his questioning to Nick. "Was it easy for you to start?"

"I think it was continuing a family tradition. In the East End, it was a way of life. I wanted to get out of the rut I was in so I moved to Soho. One thing I accidentally became involved in was the death of Edmund Newbury. I tried to go straight then, but it wasn't easy."

"What do you think about the changes in crime?"

"Everything is so harsh now, there's more violence. All the subtlety is gone. I guess it's because the world is changing."

"Scamming and conning is on the downslide," said Nick. "Now it's robbery, theft, and even murder."

Neville asked them to give a demonstration for people so they would know how to avoid pickpockets. "You certainly must know the many ways that a pocket can be picked."

Both Steven and Nick smiled. "The ploy most often used is one that can be done solo," said Nick. "This is when a person bumps into you and, while brushing off your jacket and otherwise help straighten you out, the fingers reach in and take your wallet, like this." He put his hand to his pocket but couldn't find what he was looking for.

Steven pulled out a wallet. "Like this."

Hastings enlightened the audience by telling them that both Steven and Nick had been asked to pick the others pocket before the show and then reveal how they did it. He asked Steven to explain.

"It's true Mr. Adamson had picked my pocket the way he described. He had the advantage of me by knowing who I was. I had no idea my pocket had been picked until I met him in the studio. I retrieved my wallet by the same means. This demonstration proves we are not infallible." He tossed Nick his wallet.

"Thank you, gentlemen, for a very enlightening evening. Tonight has been a pleasure," said Neville as he shook their hands. "Maybe we can do a second show."

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

Steven was walking to the car park when Nicholas caught up with him. "I was wondering, your Grace, if you would like to join me for a drink?"

"You're not planning anything, are you?"

"Oh, no, your Grace, this is just an invitation for a friendly drink. I know of this comfy pub in Soho."

"Mr. Adamson--"

"Nick."

"Nick, the first time I saw you, you picked my pocket, and now you want me to go drinking with you."

"But that was just for the show. I was petrified knowing I had to do that."

"You're just trying to flatter me."

"I mean it. Won't you say you'll join me, your Grace?"

"Steven."

"Okay. Steven?"

"All right, you've won me over. If we're going to Soho, we'll take my car. You didn't bring one, did you?"

"No, I took the Tube." Nick looked around. "Where is it?"

"It should be right. . .there." Steven's classic convertible had disappeared. "It's gone! Somebody stole my car!"

"Are you sure this is where you parked it?"

"Of course I'm sure." He took three deep breaths. "We'll have to take a taxi to the Yard to report this."

"The Yard?" Nick was hesitant. "That's not one of my favorite places."

"We have to go. Don't worry. You're a confessed pickpocket--" Nick glared at him. "Sorry, a confessed con-artist. You didn't confess any crime in particular so they have no reason to arrest you."

"If you say so. Maybe afterwards we can still have that drink. I think I'll need it."

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

When they reached Scotland Yard, Steven walked as if he knew exactly where he was going. Nick followed closely, glancing nervously about him. Finally, Steven stopped in front of a door that bore the sign Superintendent John Dolittle. "Is this what they mean about friends in high places?"

"Don't worry. He started out as a safecracker. I met him during the war." Steven knocked on the door.

"Come in," said a voice. Steven entered and shook hands with a man who looked to be in his mid-forties with brown hair and eyes. "Hello, Steven. Heard you on the radio--no TV around here." He looked at Nick. "You must be Mr. Adamson." He held out his hand. "John Dolittle. Please, sit down. Now, what brings you here?"

"My car was stolen," Steven said slowly and succinctly.

"That's bad luck. When did it happen?"

"When I was at the studio. Nick and I walked out, planning to go for a drink, and saw it was missing."

"They certainly knew you wouldn't be right back," Dolittle mused. "I'll put Inspector Thompson on it."

"Thompson's an inspector?"

"When I got promoted, so did he. I don't think there will be anything to do until tomorrow."

Nick spoke up. "Excuse me, but I think the leads would be fresher now because (a) it was taken from the BBC lot during the height of traffic, and (b) that car is easily recognizable as Steven's, so if the driver wasn't him, people would notice."

"Good thinking, but, as I said, I don't think Thompson would get much."

"Then we'll do it," said Nick.

Dolittle looked at Steven who shrugged. "You heard what the man said. I'll call you tomorrow."

Steven followed Nick out of Dolittle's office. "We might as well go back to the BBC and start asking questions."

"How are we going to get there? We have so many options."

"Narrow it down by speed and finance. The Tube is definitely the fastest and cheapest in my mind. We'll just have people staring and possibly a few questions. What do you think?"

"They won't be staring at me--except those who saw the show. I'm with you."

They proceeded from Scotland Yard to Victoria Station and took the Victoria Line to Oxford Circus. From there they walked up Regent Street to Portland Place. They entered the car park. There weren't that many people left in the lot. "Keep an eye out," said Steven. "I'm going to question the attendant."

Nick shrugged. "You're in charge."

Steven went to the cubicle that was the attendant's office. "Excuse me, but how long have you been on duty?"

The man who came to the window stared at his distinguished guest. "Your Grace?"

"I said, how long have you been on duty?"

"I came on at 8:00, I remember because you were just coming on."

"Then you remember the people who came in and out?"

"Yes, your Grace, I had to check their passes."

"Did you recognize them?"

"There were some writers, producers, and interviewers."

"Now comes the important question; did you see who took my car?"

"Your car, your Grace? No, I didn't see it at all. Has someone stolen it?"

"Would he be asking you otherwise?" interposed Nick.

"I thought I told you to keep an eye out."

"You did, your Grace, but I wanted to see what was keeping you," Nick said with thinly disguised sarcasm. "It's obvious this poor soul knows nothing. You must admit you gave them ample time to take it." He turned to the attendant. "Where can we find the man who was here before you?"

"I don't know. You'll have to check with Personnel for his address."

"Thanks."

"Anything to help, your Grace." The man stuck his head out the window as they walked towards the main entrance.

At the front desk they were stopped and asked their business. "We'd like to see someone in Personnel, please," said Nick.

"There's no one there at this time of night, sir. They all leave at 6:00."

"Thank you very much."

The man looked at him closer. "You were on telly tonight, weren't you?" He answered his own question. "Yes, you were. You were interviewed with the duke of Edinburgh."

"Oh, yeah." Nick was embarrassed.

"Can I have your autograph, then?" Nick grudgingly obliged.

"Perhaps you can help us," said Steven coming forward. The desk clerk turned and saw him. His jaw dropped. "We need the address of one of your employees."

"Ah, let me see if I can locate someone who can help you."

Fifteen minutes later they were talking to a minor executive. "I was just going out the door. What exactly do you want to know?"

"We need the address of one of your lot attendants," said Steven.

The executive couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Could you repeat that, please?"

"He's not crazy, if that's what you think," said Nick. "It's just that his car was stolen from the car park and we want to ask the attendant who was on duty a few questions."

"I see." He checked a schedule from a clipboard hanging on the wall. "That would be Mick Johnson." He then went to a cabinet and pulled out Johnson's file. "15 Devonia Road, Flat 3, Islington."

"Thank you for your help," said Steven, rising from his seat.

"Yeah, thanks," said Nick.

"Would you like me to call a car for you, your Grace?"

"No, thank you. I'll be traveling with Mr. Adamson."

In the hall, Nick asked, "You're actually going to take the Tube again?"

"No, I'm going to call a friend." He spotted a pay phone.

"When are you going to see Mick Johnson?"

"Tomorrow morning, before his shift. Why, do you want to go, too?"

"If you don't mind."

" 'Course not." He spoke into the phone. "Hello, Tris. Yeah, I know. Listen, can you do me a favor? I need a lift. No, it was stolen. If I knew who, would I be talking to you? I'm at the BBC Portland Place. Fifteen minutes? Great." He hung up the phone and looked back at Nick. "How about that drink?"

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

Across the Thames in a garage in Lambeth two men were getting yelled at. "You idiots! Do you realize whose car you've stolen?" The two men stared dumbly at him. "Well?"

"It looked like it would bring in a couple hundred thousand. . ." said the first man.

" 'Course it would. It's the only one of its kind in thee country. Christ, it belongs to Edinburgh!"

The second man could not believe what he heard. "We nicked a royal car?"

"Do you imbeciles know what this means? Our operation is in jeopardy. The man is part bloodhound and won't give up until he finds it."

"Well, if we take the stuff out and leave it on the Heath, that would keep him away from here," said Number One.

"It just might work. Okay, take the long way 'round and keep off the main roads." As the men were unloading the packets, the office phone rang. "Yes, Boss, I've already yelled at them about it. Oh, they're safe. The boys are going to dump it in Hampstead." He listened carefully. "Shall we kill him? Yes, sir." The man replaced the receiver and smiled.

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

After dropping Nick off in Soho, Tristan Forbes and Steven arrived at the St. James townhouse they shared. Tris was Steven's "associate" and had been for three years. He still hadn't gotten used to Steven's knack of finding trouble. "So what's the deal with the car?" he asked.

"It was stolen from the BBC car park. Nick and I found out the name and address of the attendant who was on duty. Plan to visit tomorrow morning."

"Nick. He seemed quite a character. From what I saw the interview, he's quite a talker."

"The sign of a good con artist. I was like that in my better days."

"I'm sure you were."

The phone rang and Steven answered it. "Oh, hi, John. What was that?" Steven listened carefully to what Dolittle had to say. "Okay. I'll be here if you hear anything further." He replaced the receiver.

"What did he have to say?" Tris knew it was important.

"He said that the car was spotted over in Lambeth."

"Lambeth? What does he think it is?"

"Joyriders, most probably. He said he'd keep us posted." He sat down on the couch. "This has been one long night."

"Why don't you try and get some sleep? I'll wake you if Dolittle calls."

Steven yawned. "Sounds like a good idea. I'll sleep right here. The way I feel, I'll be off in seconds."

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

Steven heard his name and was instantly awake. "What is it?"

"They've found the car in Hampstead. No worse for wear, they say."

Steven stretched. "Okay, let's go."

Tris was reluctant. "Surely the police can handle it. It's only a car." He regretted saying that once it passed his lips.

"Just a car? You know how much that car means to me. That car was given--"

"To you by Churchill himself. I know." He tossed Steven his keys. "You drive, I'm bushed."

Steven headed for Soho. He remembered how Nick said he wanted to be in on this. He wasn't quite sure what to make of Nicholas Adamson. Sometimes he tried too hard to get into his good graces and at others he had to twist his arm to get a word out. All in all, he seemed all right.

He pulled into Sutton Row and ran up the steps of #5. He checked the mailboxes. flat C on the top floor. He went inside and upstairs then pounded on the door. No answer. He didn't want to yell and wake up the whole building, so he took out his trusty picklock and opened the door. The flat was nicely decorated but he didn't have time for a good look. He went into the bedroom and sat at the edge of Nick's bed. He shook his leg. Nick murmured something. "C'mon, Nick, time to rise 'n' shine."

Nick sat up. "Wha'?" His eyes focused on Steven. "How'd you get in?"

"You shouldn't have to ask." He stood. "They found my car in Hampstead. I thought you might want to join us."

"Sure. Give me five minutes."

The trio arrived at the Heath just as the sun was rising. Steven's pride and joy was parked on one of the main streets lining the Heath. He ran up to the convertible and began to inspect it for any scratches, dents, rips, or tears it might have incurred.

"You won't find anything wrong with it," said Dolittle, walking up to him. "We've checked it."

Nick laid an appreciative hand on the bonnet. "So this is the famed Alvis known far and wide. That's probably why they ditched it here."

"Maybe, but it's a long haul from Lambeth," said Tris.

"If they live down there, they left it here to keep suspicion away from Lambeth," Steven answered.

"I don't think they were your ordinary joyriders. We found a little something in the boot." Dolittle waved his hand and a constable came over and handed him a packet. In turn, he handed it to Steven.

The packet was white powder wrapped in plastic. Steven opened the packet, stuck in his finger, then tasted it. "Cocaine," he stated simply. "They used my car for smuggling cocaine."

Dolittle took the packet back. "It seems I was right about you. Even when you're not involved, you're involved."

"Thanks, John. Do you have a theory, an explanation?" Steven asked as he sat on the bonnet of his car. "If so, please enlighten us."

Dolittle smiled at Steven's agitation. "If you want to hear it."

"Can we hear it someplace warmer?" asked Nick. "I've lost all feeling in my toes."

"There's a café nearby. That should be the ideal place."

"Will it be open?" questioned Tris.

"It opens early for the early shift."

"Let's quit all this talking and go," said Steven as he climbed into his car. Nick joined him. Tris drove his own car.

"You'll need these," Dolittle said, throwing Steven the keys. "You can follow me. It's not far."

During the drive to the cafe, Nick praised the Alvis. "For twenty years, this car has served you and it still looks like new. Just think of the workmanship."

Steven smiled. "It's the only model still on the road."

"I remember seeing you in the East End when I was younger. There was definitely no mistaking it."

"How old are you, anyway?"

"Thirty, last October."

"Tris just turned thirty as well. It's only a ten-year difference."

"Looks like we're here."

Steven parked the car next to Dolittle's. As he was taking the key out of the ignition, he suddenly stopped. "That's it."

"What's it?" asked Nick, who was halfway out of the car.

"That's why they left the car. You said yourself that there was no mistaking it. When they realized whose car they had, they had to leave it."

"Yeah, but why take it in the first place?"

"Maybe that's part of John's theory."

Tris chose a corner booth and Dolittle ordered the tea. He came back with teapot, four cups, cream, sugar, and cinnamon buns. He poured.

Nick took a sip. "Earl Grey. How fashionable."

"You're movin' in high circles now," remarked Tris with a smile.

"Oh, John, you remembered," Steven said, fluttering his eyelids like a coquette. "How sweet. Now tell us this theory of yours."

"Let's say that the thieves, loaded with their coke, need fast, immediate transportation. They try cars and find yours is the easiest to hot wire. Because of their rush, they don't realize whose car they've stolen. They take their stash to their hideout Lambeth-way. Once they've had the chance to see the car, they know they have to get rid of it, the further away, the better."

"Hampstead," said Tris.

"Hampstead," agreed John.

"Given time, I would have thought of that," said Nick.

Steven rolled his eyes. "Good, but sometimes you don't have the time."

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

"I've just finished counting, boys, and you're one short." He looked down at the two men. "You'd better have a good explanation. Number One is planning to stop here."

The two men looked at each other, fearing what happened to the packet. "You don't think . . ?"

"What are you mumbling about?"

"It's like this, Mr. Davies. One might have fallen into the boot of Edinburgh's car."

"What? You mean he has a packet of our coke in his possession? That means the Yard has it. You've really loused this one, haven't you? You know who has to answer to Number One, don't you? Me. And whatever he does to me, you'll get twice as bad." He looked at the two men. "Go get yourselves something to eat. I don't want you here when he shows." A door slammed. "Hurry. Out the back." The two men left.

"Mr. Davies?"

"In the office sir."

A tall, youthful man entered the room. He was dressed like an executive in a grey suit and tie. "This is our income-to-be, Mr. Davies?" he remarked, noticing the packets on the desk.

"Yes, sir. There is one hitch, however. The boys lost one of them."

"Lost one? Are you sure they didn't take one for personal use?"

"They wouldn't dare cross you, sir. No, it seems they had car trouble and had to improvise. A packet must have fallen into the boot."

"I know whose car they stole, Mr. Davies. Your men must be rejects from a mental institution. That car is so well-known that any three-year-old could point it out on the street."

"So I've told them."

"You can also tell them that someone might have seen them take it; the car-park attendant. Stuart and some other man plan to visit him this morning. I want your men to get there first." He looked at his watch. "I have to be going. Here's the address. Good day, Mr. Davies."

After the man had left, Davies called the other men out. "It seems you boys have another job."

"We heard. What do you want us to do?"

"Prevent him from talking," Davies said simply.

"Yes, sir." They left.

"We'll prevent his Grace from ruining this scheme."

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

"I'd love to sit and chat," said John, looking at his watch, "but I have to get back to the yard."

"Will you need the car, or can I have it back now?"

"It's all yours. We'll know where it is if we need it. Forensics has already gone over it."

"I have to be going, too," said Tris. "I have to catch up on some sleep before work."

"You have a job now?" asked Dolittle, who had known Tris as a constable.

"Since I know your question was not heartfelt, I find no need to tell you. At least I no longer work for you." He turned to Steven. "See you later." He left.

Dolittle looked at Steven and Nick who tried to hide their smiled. "What are you smiling at?"

"Nothing," said Nick quickly.

"You must admit, John, he doesn't have to tell you a thing. However, as a superintendent, I'm sure you have ways to find out what it is."

"You think I'm going to waste the Yard's time and personnel to sniff out what an ex-constable does for a living?"

"No, I think you can handle it yourself."

John knew that he had lost the argument so he took his leave.

Nick watched him go. "Has he always been like that?"

"Not always. I think responsibility might have something to do with it." He pulled out his wallet to pay the bill.

"Now what?" Nick asked.

Steven looked at him. "What do you mean?"

"Either you're going to drive me home or we're going to visit the parking attendant."

"So you really want to join me on this escapade?"

"Of course. Dope smuggling has added a bit of intrigue."

Steven smiled. "This could turn out to be fun."

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

They arrived at 15 Devonia Rd on the milkman's coattails. Steven buzzed the doorbell and there was no answer. "Try a again," prompted Nick. "After all, it is early."

Steven did. "Something is not quite right. You'd think that with an afternoon shift, he'd be up to get things done." With a cautious glance down the street, Steven bent over the lock and inserted his pick. Nick looked on in admiration.

They went upstairs to #3 and knocked on he door. Again, no answer. This only deepened Steven's apprehension. He prepared to pick the lock. When he touched the knob, however, the door opened. He looked at Nick who merely shrugged. Steven slowly pushed the door open and was greeted by an overturned room.

"It looks as if someone's already had a chat with Mick Johnson," said Nick, looking over the room.

"And they've prevented anyone else from doing so," said Steven from the bedroom.

Nick joined him and saw Mick Johnson lying on his back, staring at the ceiling, a small red circle on his chest. "A dead end." Steven looked at him in disgust. "Sorry, didn't mean it that way."

"I know. This means just the opposite, though. Someone didn't want us to talk to him." Steven went to the phone in the living room. "Superintendent Dolittle, please. Yes, I'll hold."

A tired John Dolittle came on the line. "Dolittle here."

"John, it's me."

"Steven, I was just going home for some well-deserved sleep. What now? Did we miss reporting a dent? You want us to pay for the petrol? Next thing you'll be saying is that you've found a dead body in the boot."

"Not exactly."

"What do you mean 'not exactly'?"

"We found it in the bedroom, actually. I'll fill you in when you get here. 15 Devonian Rd #3." He hung up the phone before John could say anything else. "Well, we have about twenty minutes before the police arrive. Let's see what we can find."

"You're one smooth character. You get the bedroom."

They searched the flat but could find absolutely nothing. The murderer obviously forced his way in and challenged Johnson in the bedroom. He must not have been pleased by Johnson's answers and killed him. He then ransacked the room to make it look like a burglary.

Dolittle and the police arrived within the half-hour. The scene-of-the-crime men took photographs from every angle. Constables scoured for clues and the medical examiner looked over the body. He concluded that the man was stabbed in the heart some time between 6:00 and 7:00am.

Dolittle sat across from Steven in the kitchen. "What are you doing in Islington? Last time I saw you was in a café in Hampstead, oh, so long ago."

"Mick Johnson was the car-park attendant on duty when my car was stolen."

"How did you find out about him?"

"Personnel records at the BBC," Steven said as if it were the obvious answer.

"And?" Dolittle prompted.

"We thought we'd talk to him to see if he had seen anything. Unfortunately, someone got here first."

"Did anybody know you were going to be here?"

"No."

"Then the thieves were acting on their own in coming here."

"I guess so." Steven rubbed his left eye. "Do you need us any longer?"

Dolittle noticed how weary he looked. "No, I don't think so." He looked at Nick and nodded his head in Steven's direction as if to say Keep an eye on him. "I'll stop by later if I can."

"Okay." Steven stifled a yawn. Once outside and on the stairs, he picked up his pace. "Hope you have nothing pressing," he said to Nick as he got behind the wheel.

"Nope, not a thing." He laughed to himself at how easily Steven had lied to Dolittle. "Why? Where are we going?"

"My place. We need to plan."

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

Later that afternoon, Nick was roaming the streets of Lambeth to find where Steven's car had been taken. The idea was simple. He would pose as a journalist writing an article on unique and classic cars. He would ask people who lived in the area if they had noticed a red sports car in the vicinity.

He had narrowed it down to the streets between Waterloo Station and the Lambeth North Underground. His feet were aching and his hands were cold. Up ahead he saw a pub. "A warm place. Thank God." Nick made his way to the bar. "Pint o' bitter." He rubbed his hands together. "A bit nippy out there," he said to his neighbor. He took a long sip from his beer. "I was wondering if you could help me," he asked the bartender.

"Sure. Ain't got much else to do."

"I'm writing an article on classic cars and I had a report that one was seen in this area." He described Steven's car. "It'll be my neck if I don't get this."

"Lemme think. Yeah, I saw one like that last night pull into the garage down the street. It looked a lot like the duke o' Edinburgh's car."

"Fantastic! You don't know what this means to me." He paid for the pint and moved to a table to think things out. The best plan of action, he decided, was to call Steven and tell him what was going on. "Where's the phone?"

"Down in back," the bartender told him.

"Thanks." Nick dug in his pockets for the proper change. He also reached for the paper that had Steven's number on it. There was no answer. That decided him. He thanked the bartender and stepped out into the cold to go to the garage.

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

Steven drove to the BBC to talk with anyone who might have noticed something different. There had to be a reason why the BBC car park was used as the drop site. This meant talking to janitors, secretaries, personalities, and executives. He parked his car and paid the attendant extra to keep a close eye on it. He turned to walk away, but returned to the attendant. "Did you notice anything unusual during the past few days?"

The attendant looked at him almost in awe. "Does this have to do with a case, your Grace?"

"Let's just say I'm doing some research."

The man thought. "No, nothing. One doesn't see much excitement in a car park."

That's what Mick Johnson must have thought. "Okay. Thanks for your help."

He walked in to Reception. "May I help you, your Grace?" asked the young woman behind the desk.

"Yes. I'd like to conduct a few enquiries."

"Any particular section?"

"No. Pretty much everywhere."

"Let me just fill out this pass for you," she said as she typed in the information. "This will allow you to go practically everywhere, except for places marked No Admittance."

"Thank you, very much," he said as she clipped the pass onto his jacket. "You'll see me when I leave." He walked away.

The receptionist picked up the phone and dialed. "You wanted to know if his Grace came to ask questions? Well, he just showed up. I gave him a pass. What else could I do?"

Steven roamed the BBC halls and witnessed the shooting of some shows. Everyone seemed to take his presence for granted. In such a tight gathering of people, word spreads, so they must have known his reason as well. No one seemed to have noticed anything unusual. Everything he was told leaned towards gossip. One piece that he filed away in his mind was that a minor executive was fired due to drug use. It was hushed-up, of course, the public was told his dismissal was due to "irreconcilable differences".

Steven then found himself outside the executive offices. "Maybe I was meant to dig up dirt on this guy."

He entered the first office and the secretary looked up from her desk. "Oh, my." She buzzed her boss. "You had better come out here, sir."

The inner door opened and a man in his forties entered the room. "What is it, Jennifer?" He then saw Steven. "Your Grace, how can I help you?"

"I'd just like to ask a few questions about Ben Jordan."

"Of course. Hold all my calls, Jen. Right this way, your Grace."

Steven followed Jason Gash into his office. "I've been hearing nasty rumors about his dismissal."

"I'm sure they weren't far from the truth. The poor guy was so deep into drugs, he couldn't do his job right, and it was good-bye."

"That explains some of the programming," Steven cracked. "Sorry."

"That's only half of it. Some say that Jeremy Rice was the one that got him hooked."

"Jeremy Rice? Who's he?"

"One of the execs in programming. A high roller. It wouldn't surprise me if it were true."

"Is he here now?"

"He should be." He looked at his watch. "Unless, of course, he's taken a long lunch."

"I'll take that choice." Steven left Gash's office. It looked as if he had found the drug dealer.

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

Nick looked into the open garage but saw no one. He did, however, see a phone and tried Steven's number again. Still no answer. As he was putting down the receiver, he heard voices talking about drugs, car theft, and murder. He definitely had the right place. To keep from being seen before he was ready, Nick exited then re-entered, calling for help.

Two men came out. "What can we do for you, sir?"

"My car ran out of petrol just a few streets away. I was wondering if I could buy a container of it."

"How much will you be needing?"

"A few gallons, I guess. However much I can carry."

"I'll go out to the pump. You can keep warm in here."

Nick thanked him and loosened his jacket. He noticed a man in the office looking his way. He hoped he hadn't watched the BBC. If these were the men who peddled the drugs and killed Johnson, another death wouldn't matter, even if it was just an ex-thief who was too nosy. Nick turned to the other mechanic who was working under a car. "Cold day, isn't it?"

"Mmmm," he grunted. The phone rang and he slid out on his dolly, stood, and answered it. "Yes, sir," he said with a glance at Nick. "At once, sir." He hung up the phone.

The first man arrived with the petrol. "Here you are, sir."

"Thanks." Nick reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet to pay him. As he did so, he noticed that the first nodded towards the office. "You'll have to break a fiver. I don't have anything smaller."

"I'll be right back."

"Don't hurry on my account." Nick watched him leave.

The mechanic standing behind him raised a spanner and brought it down on his head. Nick fell to the floor. "Pleasant dreams, Mr. Adamson."

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

Steven was ushered into Jeremy Rice's office. He was on the phone which gave Steven ample time to observe. He was on the lean side with chiseled facial features, hazel eyes, and brown hair. He glanced in Steven's direction and waved him to a seat. "Fine," he said, "I'll get on it right away." He replaced the receiver and turned to Steven. "What an unexpected pleasure, your Grace. What can I do for you?"

"I'd just like to ask a few questions."

"Sure. Planning a follow-up show?"

"Maybe. As you may have heard, my car was stolen from the car park last night. We did find it, but we have no idea of who took it or why. So I'm here asking everyone questions. Your name has continually come up connected with Jason Gash."

"Poor Jason. But what has this to do with your car?"

"I'm sorry. I forgot to tell you a packet of cocaine was found in the boot."

"What a story this will make for a show." He moved to a connecting door and knocked. It was opened by a stocky built man with a nasty scar on his forehead. "Unfortunately, no one will ever see it." He turned to the man in the doorway. "You will escort his Grace to the others. I'll join you in a couple of hours."

"BBC not paying enough?" Steven stood unaided and preceded his escort out the door. "Maybe ITV will be interested in the documentary."

Once inside the waiting car, Steven was blindfolded. He was beginning to feel like the hero in some penny dreadful. His ears told him that they had crossed the Thames and it was then that he remembered his car had been seen in Lambeth. God, that's where Nick went! Rice was clever; he had to know about Nick.

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

Nick was tied up in the garage storeroom waiting for them to decide what to do with him. His head ached and he had lost all feeling in his arms. "Thought you could talk yourself out of anything, Adamson? What happened? Has your silver tongue tarnished from lack of use?" he berated himself. "No, it was accepting the TV offer. How can you expect to con properly when you're on sets across the country?" He stopped when the door opened. He squinted into the light. There were two people there. "Okay, get it over with," he told them. "I'm ready."

"Don't worry, they're not."

"Steven? What happened? How did they get you?"

"He was a bit too clever for his own good," said Mr. Davies as he tied Steven to a chair. "When Mr. Rice gets here, we'll carry out the corresponding punishment. Make the most of your remaining minutes."

After he left, Nick asked, "What happened? Tell me everything."

"It seems that Mr. Rice is Mr. Big. I only stumbled onto it from rumors about a young programming exec who was dismissed for drug use. Rice got him hooked."

"So you confronted him and he brought you here. God, what a set-up. I mean, there are people continuously moving in and out of there. Just think of the money he must make."

"I'm just surprised he hasn't been caught."

"Unlike us. How the hell are we going to get out of this? It's very unlikely that they're going to let us go, considering we can prove they killed Johnson. I hate to say it, but things were a lot quieter before I met you."

"This from the man who tried to con one of the biggest Christmas charities in the country and also found the murderer of an MP."

"How did you know about that? I made sure that my picture was never taken."

"I was there. Incognito, of course." Steven wriggled in his seat. "As for getting out of here, the first part is almost done." He freed his hands.

"How did you do that?"

"It's all in the placement of your hands as you're being tied," he explained to Nick as he undid the rope. "See what you can grab off the shelves. We might have to knock a few heads before we get out of here."

Nick found two crowbars and handed one to Steven. He then hid behind the door and waited as Steven called one of the mechanics. When he entered, Nick hit him on the head then dragged him to one of the chairs and tied him up. Knowing the second would come looking, he hid behind the door and repeated the process.

"You handle a crowbar quite well," Steven told him. "Maybe you should give lessons."

"Thank you, no. What about Davies?"

"We bring him with us. C'mon." He left the room.

"Of course, I should have known," Nick said, following.

Steven opened the door to the office and smiled at Mr. Davies. "We're going for a ride, Davies. Then you are going to tell a lovely story to a Mr. Dolittle. Now, move away from the desk. I want no mistakes made. Search him," he directed Nick. Nick did so and discovered a gun in the man's jacket pocket. "Naught, naughty, Mr. Davies. Which car can we take? Answer truthfully. Remember, we have the gun."

Davies looked nervously at the both of them, taking in the gun in Nick's hand. "The blue sedan. The keys are in it."

"Okay. Grab your coat and off we go."

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

Steven and Nick dropped Davies off at Scotland yard telling Dolittle where to find the other two. "We have a little business to attend to. Have someone waiting at the garage. We'll bring Mr. Big to you there." They left before Dolittle had time to argue.

"Where do you think you're going?" Nick called to him as he walked down the street. "It would be helpful if you told me. That way I could at least try to talk you out of it."

"Victoria Station. We're going to the BBC, remember?"

Nick followed, led by his curiosity.

Arriving at Victoria, Steven did not enter the Underground, but walked up to a waiting taxi and tapped on the driver's window. The cabbie rolled down the window. "Good afternoon. I was wondering if you could settle an argument for us. We were discussing how much it would cost to rent a cab for a few hours. I say it would be paid in a lump sum according to time, while my friend said it would be according to fare."

"You're friend is right, guv. It's according to the fare, 'cos the meter don't always agree with the clock, if you get my meaning. Hey, what're you doing?"

Steven had opened the door and was helping the man out. "We need your cab to get to the BBC. The thing is, we don't need you."

"Is it gonna be on telly?"

"Right. We will keep the meter running, and if you come to this address, say, 8:00 tonight, we'll pay you for it." He handed the driver his card. "Okay, Nick. Climb in."

"You know, I'm glad you never tell me things before we do them. Otherwise, I'd be too nervous to carry it out," Nick said, driving.

"There's nothing to worry abut. It's a very simple plan. You will drive Mr. Price to the garage. He's never seen you, but to be safe, you have a cap and glasses. I'll be following at a safe distance and Dolittle will be waiting there. Okay?"

Nick nodded, wondering why he ever asked Steven for a drink.

Steven got out unseen and walked to the car park. He paid the attendant then waited for Rice. He didn't have long. He must have seen the cab from his office. He waited until Nick was well into traffic before he followed. Sufficient cover was essential with his car. Sighting it would make Rice suspicious and he wouldn't go to the garage. He kept Nick in sight as the cab weaved its way among the cars towards Lambeth. Steven decided to get there ahead of time, so he turned into Whitehall and crossed Westminister Bridge while they took Waterloo.

The police cars were thankfully out of sight and the garage didn't look any different. He parked behind the garage and walked around front. The cab was just pulling up. Steven watched as Rice leaned in and said something to Nick; what it was, he could only guess. Nick stayed, however, and Steven ran over and got in the back. "How did it go?"

"Not bad. He didn't talk much. I tried to get him to talk about work, but he refused. He told me to wait, so I don't think he had nice plans for us."

"I'm not so sure. Did I tell you he mentioned doing another show?" He looked out the window. "Here he comes. Set?"

"Ready and waiting."

Rice rushed into the car. "Paddington Station! Double fare if you do it in under 30 minutes!"

"Fleeing the country, Jeremy? What will your connections think?"

Jeremy turned to face Steven. "You're behind all this! You've been meddling too long in other people's affairs, your Grace. It's about time somebody put an end to it." He pulled out a gun.

"Put that toy down. It didn't do Mr. Davies any good, did it?"

"You can't be omniscient."

"But I try. I know you didn't have a gun when you arrived and I took the precaution of removing the bullets." He turned to nick. "How much farther?"

"Almost there. How about you?"

"We almost have a confession. He's building up to it, aren't you, Jeremy? We can always have you arrested for abduction, anyway, until we dig up the proof. Shouldn't take too long after Davie's turns Crown's Evidence."

"Okay, we're here," Nick told him.

"Good. Bring out a constable while I keep an eye on our fare."

"Gotcha, guv." Nick ran into Scotland Yard and came back with an eager young man, anxious to please. "Keep an eye on the cab, mate," Nick said, dropping the keys into his outstretched palm. "We have to return it tonight."

Steven and Nick led Rice to the front desk. "I'd like to charge this man with kidnapping. Is Inspector Thompson or Superindentent Dolittle here?"

"The Inspector's just come in, your Grace," said the Sergeant-on-Duty. "Let me call him down."

Thompson lost no time in responding to the call. "Steven, what's going on?"

"This is Jeremy Rice, an executive at the BBC. He had me kidnapped and there may be a few other skeletons. I'm formally charging him now. A Mr. Davies may have more to add. He's all yours, Thompson. If you have any questions, you know where to find me."

Steven and Nick drove back to the garage to pick up Steven's car then returned to St. James to return the cab to its driver. "I want you to know this is the end of our partnership," Nick told Steven. "I want no part of your lifestyle anymore. It's too fast for me."

"You forget, I know where you live."

"While you two were away," said Tris, "the BBC called. They want you to do another show. They would like you to do it ASAP while the news is still fresh."

"I guess you'll have to put up with me a while longer."

"Oh, wonderful." Nick rolled his eyes as the other two laughed.

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