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Eagle Chronicles: 2. The Chatterton Job

Title: The Chatterton Job
Series: The Eagle Chronicles
Word Count 6617
Summary Steven goes to a weekend house party in the country
Author's NoteNow that Steven had an origin story, I needed to fill in the space of years leading up to the first one I wrote so I worked up a few easy "jobs"



2. The Chatterton Job

Spring 1940

The plan had been a good one, or so he thought when his friend first told him. Ingratiate yourself with the snobs then fleece them when they're not looking. It sounded very crude and simple, but there were subtleties when handling swells. In order for them to approve of you, you act to act like you belonged to their set but without being pretentious and stuck-up. They approved of good manners and language, and, of course, good carriage and bearing.

The youth--he was barely into his twenties--walked across the lawn to the verandah where his friend--who was even younger than he was--was talking with the second daughter of the house, the reason they were here. "Good morning, Ian," his friend said. "You're up early."

"I wanted to take a walk before all the noise of the day started." Ian sat down beside them at the table and looked covertly at his friend. He was about 5'11" with black hair and blue eyes with a face that made girls sigh. He had come over from the States about 3 months ago because things "became too hot" as the detective novels liked to say. Ian didn't even know his real name; only two people in all of England knew. The reason for the secrecy was because of his nom de guerre: the Eagle. If other people found out, he would be ruined. Everyone called him Sebastian.

The girl they were sitting with had invited them to her father's manor for the weekend after she had fallen for Sebastian's charms. Her name was Lady Ainsley Chatterton and she was twenty today. She had auburn hair and pale green eyes. She seemed different from what Ian had pictured a young woman of her standing should be like. She dressed in slacks and could usually be found down at the stables or romping with her setters instead of going on about the latest fashions.

Sebastian refilled his teacup. "Would you like some, Ian?"

"Yes, thanks." Sebastian poured.

"Are you feeling okay, Ian?" asked Ainsley. "You're being very quiet."

"This just takes some getting used to. It's a far cry from the East End." Ainsley was surprised. "Not everyone that lives in the East End is Cockney. Some aren't just rich enough to live anywhere else in London."

"Good morning, everyone," said a man in his early fifties. "Happy birthday, m'dear," he said, kissing his daughter on the cheek.

"Hello, Daddy," she said

Sebastian and Ian both rose and greeted him. "Good morning, m'lord."

"Sit down, boys. While you're here as guests of my daughter you may call me Bertram." He sat down and poured some coffee. "Has Rhi come down yet?"

"No. She was probably out all night at some club. Sometimes I wonder if she really is my sister. She's more like a siren."

"I heard that, Ainsley!" yelled a voice from upstairs. "Wait till I get down there and then tell me to my face!"

"With pleasure!" Ainsley yelled back.

"Ainsley, you shouldn't yell at your sister like that."

"She started it, Daddy."

"Then I'm going to finish it. I'm sorry that you boys have to see them like this. They're normally quite well-behaved."

"Oh, Daddy, don't tell Ley's friends such lies," said the siren as she sauntered, squinting, onto the verandah. She was 5'6" and had black hair and dark brown--almost black--eyes. "So, Ley, aren't you going to introduce us?"

"Very well. This is Ian Russell and Sebastian Talbot. And this," she said to the men, " is my sister Rhiannon."

"How do you do?" Sebastian and Ian both said, nodding their heads.

Rhiannon dragged a chair up to the table and placed it next to Sebastian. "You're from America, aren't you?" He nodded. "I thought so." She leaned forward to reach the toast. "When did you come to England?"

"About three months ago. Ian and I share a flat in London."

Rhiannon didn't even give Ian a glance. "How come I haven't seen you? I usually go to London quite often."

Sebastian smiled. "Ian and I don't go to clubs much. They're not part of our circle."

"Oh?"

"Yeah, we live in the East End," he said, thinking it would repel her advances.

"Oh," she replied with renewed interest. She had never been with an East Ender before.

Ainsley became angry. Ian could see it though she tried to cover it up. She "accidentally" spilled coffee on Rhi's dress. Rhi rose with a scream. "Oh, you--you brat! You just ruined my new dress! Daddy, you saw what she did!"

Bertram hid a smile. "It was an accident, Rhi. I'd go change if I were you. If you give the dress to Kate, I'm sure she can get it out before it stains."

She groaned and ran into the house.

They all laughed. "She's certainly the shy type," remarked Sebastian with a smile.

"Why did you spill the coffee?" asked Ian.

"I thought it was pretty obvious. That was when she wasn't at her best, either."

"Could have fooled me. You wouldn't think she'd have to try so hard to get a boyfriend."

"I think it's all an act. She plans to marry a title but now she just wants some fun."

"How many does she juggle at a time? Is she trying for a harem?" questioned Ian.

Ainsley laughed. "One of them is coming later today, the Honorable Alexander Caldwell."

"Sounds like a fun guy," said Ian.

"He's very nice. Sweet, considerate, kind, and even-tempered."

"How did he get matched-up with Rhiannon?"

"As I said, Rhi wants to marry money. She's a definite schemer, that's for sure. Alex lets her do it and doesn't even get mad."

"What I think is that Rhi needs someone with a strong hand, someone to yell at her when she gets uppity. Alexander just doesn't have the backbone," remarked Sir Bertram.

"Hello, luvs!" called a voice from inside the house.

Ainsley groaned. "Who is it?" asked Sebastian.

"Robert Flyte, Rhi's other boyfriend."

"Robert's a fine man. His father was in my regiment."

"Yes, Daddy."

"Good day, Sir Bertram," Robert said with a wide smile. He turned to Ainsley. "Hello, Ley. Who are these fine fellows?" Ainsley made the introductions. Robert shook their hands. "Where's Rhi?"

"Upstairs changing. She spilled coffee on her dress," Ainsley answered.

"Sit down, Robert," said Sir Bertram. "Pour him some tea, Ley. Or would you prefer coffee?"

"Tea would be fine, thank you," Robert said, sitting. "So," he asked Sebastian, "how did you meet Ley?"

"Through mutual friends at a party."

"How come you're not fighting?"

"Two reasons. One: America isn't in yet. Two: I'm still studying."

"What about you?" he asked Ian.

"Still at university. I plan to graduate early then join up."

"How come you're not?" asked Sebastian.

"Asthma." He sipped his tea.

"Bobby!" Rhi came rushing out the door. "How wonderful to see you! I didn't know you were coming today."

"You invited me, Rhi," he replied, laughing

"Did I?" She looked at her sister and her two friends. "I see you met the East Enders."

Sebastian smiled sweetly in her direction. "I think we should leave the lovebirds alone," he said as he got up.

Ian and Ainsley both rose and followed him to the stables. Sebastian began to stroke the neck of a bay stallion. "Your sister certainly runs to extremes in boyfriends."

"It's amusing at times. I wouldn't be surprised if the servants wager on how long each will last."

"How about a ride?" asked Ian. "I don't think I could go back to the house."

"Sounds great. Any particular horses we should take?"

"It seems that Ard Ri has taken a liking to you. He's my father's--whenever he rides. He's well trained and responds to the rein. As for you, Ian, we'll see what we can find." She stopped in front of a stall. "How well do you ride?"

"I've only done it twice before. There's not much call for it in the City."

She smiled. "Don't worry. The best horse for beginners is Iseult. She's as gentle as a lamb."

******************************************************************************************
They returned in the afternoon and found that there were many guests milling around the verandah. "What are all these people doing here?" asked Ian.

"A birthday party. Most of the guests are friends of Daddy's that were always around when Rhi and I were little." She waved to an older couple who approached her, smiling. "Hello, Col. Beresford, Mrs. Beresford. I'm so glad you could make it."

"We wouldn't have missed this for anything, Ainsley. You know how much we like you," said Mrs. Beresford. She looked at Sebastian and Ian. "Your father told us you had friends up from London."

"Excuse me. This is Mr. Sebastian Talbot and Mr. Ian Russell." They all shook hands. "We must go change. We didn't realize that everyone was coming so early." She smiled. "I promise to talk to you as soon as I can." She made her excuses to a few other people and they finally made their way into the house and upstairs.

Sebastian and Ian took turns using the shower. As they dressed, Sebastian reminded him of the real reason they were there. "There is risk involved, of course. We have to be extra-careful because we'll still be here after we take the stuff. Because of this, I want to tell you something."

"Sebastian, you don't have to tell me anything you don't want."

"I feel I do. You've placed so much trust in me but you don't really know me. My real name is Steven." Ian opened his mouth to speak, but Steven stopped him. "I know you might feel that you don't deserve to know, that you shouldn't be entrusted with my name. I think of you as a friend and friends should trust one another, so think of this as a sign of my trust."

"Seb--Steven, I'm stunned. I will not betray that trust."

"Thanks." Steven patted him on the back. "Just call me 'Sebastian' in front of everyone else."

"Right," agreed Ian.

Steven adjusted his tie in front of the mirror. "Okay, let's go be ingratiating."

As they went downstairs, Ian suddenly remembered something. "What did you tell Hank?"

Steven thought of Hank Wright, the benevolent father figure of many a young crook. "I simply told him the truth; that we were planning a job and we'd be away for the weekend."

"Sebastian, there you are," came a female voice. It was Rhiannon.

"Oh, great," Steven moaned. "You wouldn't happen to want..."

"It's you she wants, not me. You're on your own. I'm going to find Ainsley." Ian went down the stairs and smiled at Rhiannon as he passed.

"Hello, Rhiannon," said Steven as he reached the bottom of the stairs.

"Call me Rhi, please," she said as she wrapped her arm about his.

"Where's Robert?"

"He's off listening to war stories leaving me alone at this boring party."

"He must be blind to leave you to your own devices."

"Why, thank you, Sebastian," she replied, misinterpreting his meaning. She led him to the bar. "What do you want to drink?"

"Whiskey and water." He rarely drank anything other than beer, but this choice seemed to impress Rhi. He wished he had chosen beer.

While Rhi was getting the drinks, Steven looked for Ainsley and Ian. He saw them by Sir Bertram and started to make his way to them. "Where are you sneaking off to?"

Would he ever be able to get rid of her? "I was going to see your sister. After all, I am her guest."

"Very well. But do come back," she added as she gave him his drink.

Steven took advantage of his reprieve and weaved through the guests to Ainsley. She smiled. "I'm surprised she let you go."

"She believes she has the whole weekend to steal me from your side." He saw Robert and waved him over. "Rhi is looking for you. She's over by the bar. I'd hurry before she finds someone else."

Robert thanked him and went to her.

"Rhi is going to be upset when you don't go back," Ian said.

"She won't care as long as she has male company."

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

A dowager sidled up to Sir Bertram after the young people had gone to mingle. "Ainsley is looking prettier than ever. She looks how Maire did at that age. Who's that young man with her, the one with the dark hair? They look quite well together."

Bertram barely had enough time to explain to her before she started talking again, this time on a different topic.

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

The three of them were out on the front lawn taking a break from the handshaking when they saw a small Mercedes pull into the driveway. A young man in his mid-twenties with blond hair stepped out. "The Honorable Alexander Caldwell, I presume," murmured Ian. Ainsley nodded.

Alexander looked up. "Happy Birthday, Ainsley," he called with a wide smile. He trotted over to them and gave her a fraternal hug. "Thank you for inviting me."

Ainsley hugged him back. "I'm glad you could make it, Alex. Let me introduce you to my friends."

From how Ainsley had described him, Steven expected he would have a soft handshake, but it was quite firm. The Honorable Alexander Caldwell, for all appearances, seemed to be just that: honorable.

"Let me take you inside," said Ainsley. She turned to Ian and Steven. "You can follow whenever you want. If not, go around to the verandah and I'll meet you there."

After Alex and Ainsley had gone inside, Ian laughed. "So that's the other man wishing for Rhi's attentions. You certainly have tough competition."

"This is a business venture, remember? The only pleasure I'll get out of this is a weekend in the country and the thrill of victory."

"If we're victorious."

"What do you mean, 'if'?"

"You said there was risk involved. I wouldn't be so over-confident."

Steven slapped him on the back. "That's why I like you, you're so practical. Shall we rejoin our hostess?"

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

Not everyone who came for tea stayed for dinner, which turned out to be a formal occasion. Steven and Ian brought tuxedoes for when one is hob-nobbing with nobility, one must be prepared. Steven's only wish was that he wouldn't be placed near Rhi at the dinner table.

Ainsley greeted them as they came downstairs. She was wearing an emerald silk gown. She grasped them each by the arm and whispered, "Thank God, now I can engage in some real conversation." They both smiled. "I've placed each of you on either side of me. I couldn't expose you to old war stories or 'the good old days'."

Steven heaved a sigh of relief. He had gained a respite from Rhi's attentions.

Sir Bertram called everyone into the dining room. "There is a name at each place setting, so just search until you find your own." He sat at the head of the table.

Steven and Ian followed Ainsley to where she sat on her father's right-hand side. Ian's place was there, but not Steven's. He looked questioningly at Ainsley who was just as puzzled. Rhi sat across from her sister and glanced at the place to her left. "Why, Sebastian, you're sitting over here. I wonder how the maid knew?"

"You probably gave her an extra day off," Steven muttered. He didn't wish to cause a scene, so he settled on martyrdom.

During dinner, Rhiannon, at every possible moment, brushed against him, and it became harder and harder to ignore. Robert was at the other end of the table by the Beresfords. Steven could have sworn that he was brimming with hatred--whether for Rhiannon or himself, he didn't know.

The main course was roast pheasant, but Steven hadn't expected anything else. Ainsley was sorry he had been moved from his original seating and tried to engage him in conversation so he wouldn't have to pay attention to Rhi's overtures. Rhi, however, would not let go. She pulled the conversation away from Ainsley's topic and pursued her own: Steven.

"What did you do in the States?"

"I was a student."

"Why did you decide to come to England?"

"Change of pace."

"How could you afford the trip?"

"Independent means." Once he answered, he regretted it. "Now nearly depleted," he quickly added. "That's why I'm living in the City."

"Oh, too bad. It must be hard for someone used to the comforts of life. You'll have to visit us again."

"Living in the East End has certainly taught me," Ian said from across the table. "For instance, I've learned to fend for myself, I have a job, and I've had an education in the real world."

"Have you ever thought of going back to America?" asked Robert, who had caught the last part of the conversation.

"No money to get back."

"Certainly your rich father could cable you some," he said with a sneer.

"I've no desire to leave. England is a beautiful country--what I've seen of it--and London is a living history book."

"Next time I visit London you can show me around. You probably see what I've taken for granted," said Ainsley.

"I can't promise anything, but we'll see what happens."

Coffee and dessert were brought in and a maid followed with Ainsley's presents. Steven had the gift from him and Ian in his jacket pocket. They had decided to give it to her when they were alone. Sir Bertram gave her an original dress in pastel blue by some Parisienne designer ("Hard to come by because of the war"). Rhi's gift was an elegant scarf and a pair of earrings. ("I had to give her something," she told Steven.) The Beresfords gave her a beautiful sari from India. Alex gave her a gold necklace with a diamond pendant and Robert gave her a pair of emerald earrings. Ian seemed embarrassed that he hadn't given her anything yet. He knew that Steven had a present to give her, but that would be before they went to bed. He heard Robert whisper, "...they don't have one."

The Honorable Alex answered with, "But remember, my dear fellow, that they don't have as much money to spend on luxuries as we do."

Ainsley heard this. "They've given me they're company and friendship which is a true gift."

Rhiannon leaned on Steven's shoulder and whispered in his ear. "Isn't that just too much? It sounds straight from a Bible parable."

"I think she has a point. Sometimes parties like this get to be a place to show-off wealth. 'Let's see who gave the most expensive present.'"

"I never thought of it that way."

Steven finished the rich chocolate cake on his plate and his coffee. He planned to escape to the verandah but Sir Bertram caught him up in conversation. "Where in the States are you from, Sebastian?"

"Connecticut, Sir Bertram."

"New England, eh? Can't say that I've been there. At least I don't remember."

"Well, I grew up in Greenwich, about 45 minutes from New York City."

"Ah, New York, a magnificent place. Ever been there, Clive?"

Col. Beresford answered, "Once or twice. Too much hustle and bustle. Those tall buildings. I much prefer London."

"So do I," said Steven. "The people are much more friendly and take time-out to talk to you. There's also a sense of history."

"What is your opinion of the war in Europe?"

"It's terrible. Hitler is Mezmer reincarnated. How else could he get a whole country to follow him without question?"

"You call him Mezmer, Mr. Talbot? I call him the Devil," said the colonel. "People follow him out of fear. Chamberlain could have prevented it but he settled for 'peace in our time.' If this is peace..."

"Churchill wouldn't have let him get away with it."

Steven edged out of the room and to the verandah where he took a deep breath of fresh air, away from the cigars and perfume. "It's about time."

Steven turned to see Ainsley and Ian. "Sorry. Sir Bertram wanted to talk about New York. I only got away when he and the colonel began to talk politics."

"Ian said you had something to tell me."

"Oh, yeah." Steven pulled a box out of his jacket pocket. "This is from me and Ian. Happy birthday."

Ainsley opened the case and found a double-strand pearl choker. "Oh, thank you! It's beautiful." She hugged them both. "Why didn't you want me to open it at the table?"

"It's fake, of course."

"Does that really matter? This will mean so much to me. What they gave was a drop in the bucket to them while this must have been quite dear for you." She gave it to Ian. "Will you help me put it on? I've heard pearls glow when next to the skin."

"That's only for the real thing," remarked Ian. "These won't do anything."

"Just the same, I'd like them on."

Ian obliged and hooked the clasp. "Turn around and let me see."

She spun and laughed. Steven never would have thought a fake pearl choker could cause such happiness. He sat on the balustrade. Ian bowed and asked Ainsley to dance. She curtsied and they waltzed. This could almost make him forget the real reason he was here. Nevertheless, the next day, he and Ian would take their leave. That didn't mean they couldn't come back.

"What about you, Sebastian?"

"Excuse me?" he asked, interrupted from his planning.

"I asked if you wanted to dance," said Ainsley.

"I'm not very good. Not many people waltz back home."

"Then I'll teach you." She took his hand and forced him to stand. She placed his left hand around her waist, took his right hand in her left, placing her own right hand on his shoulder. "Ian, will you hum something appropriate?" He chose The Blue Danube. "Okay. Now you count in threes. 1-2-3, 1-2-3. Watch my feet." She showed him a simple box step. "There are lots of variations, but this is all you really need to know."

Steven already knew how to waltz, but made Ainsley think she had taught him. "Why do I feel like I've stepped into some period movie?"

"Atmosphere," answered Ian. He looked to the garden. "Uh-oh, here comes Rhiannon and the harem."

Steven and Ainsley stopped dancing as the newcomers came onto the verandah. "Did we interrupt anything?" asked Alex.

"Can't you see they've been dancing," said Rhi. "What dance?" she asked Steven.

"The waltz," Ainsley answered.

"That stuff? What about jitterbugging? Certainly you should know how to do that," she directed at Steven.

"A bit." He had no desire to dance with Rhi.

"Where did you get the pearls?" asked Robert.

"Aren't they beautiful? Sebastian and Ian gave them to me."

"How lovely," remarked Rhi, with a sly smile in Steven's direction.

"You certainly look radiant," said Alex. Ainsley blushed.

"They're probably fake," Robert muttered.

"That's of no consequence," said Alex in their defense. "It's Ainsley's gift and if she likes it, that's all that really matters."

"Thank you very much, Alexander," said Ian as he stood. "We don't have money to throw about like you do, and, even though these are not from oysters, it doesn't mean they shouldn't be enjoyed just as much, or even more, than the real thing."

"Couldn't have said it better myself," Steven remarked.

Robert had nothing to say. He gave them all a sour look and went into the house.

"Can we interest you in a nightcap?" asked Alex.

"I guess it couldn't hurt," said Ian. "What do you say, Sebastian?"

"Sure," he answered, thinking this could be a good delaying tactic for the night.

"Capital!" Alex led the way into the study where the liquor was kept. "What would you like?" Steven and Ian chose Bailey's, Alex took peppermint schnapps, and Ainsley and Rhiannon both picked Harvey's Briston Cream. Tensions eased as sobriety was lost. Steven and Ian merely pretended to be as drunk as the others, but when a new round started, they only had half a glass. Steven feared that his time would be monopolized by Rhi thinking her inhibitions--the little she had left--would be released. He was pleasantly surprised when she curled up on the couch beside Alex, listening to everyone. He had heard that alcohol affected people differently, now he knew it.

Near 2:00am, the others started dropping off, and Steven and Ian went along with the act. They helped Ainsley to her room while Alex and Rhi leaned on each other for support. When they reached Ainsley's door, Ian opened it and Steven carried her to the bed. Ian turned down the sheets as Steven took off her shoes. "What a way to spend your twentieth birthday."

"I can't criticize her. I'll probably be pulling a job on mine," Steven said, as he unbuttoned her and took off her dress, putting her to bed with her slip.

"I think you're right."

They walked back to their room. Ian took gloves out of his bureau drawer. "Where do we start?"

"We can't do it tonight, it'd be too obvious. Besides, we wouldn't be able to leave once the police came. If we left too early, it would scream guilt."

"So, now what?"

"We leave for London tomorrow, but get off the train a couple of stops later, turn around and stay at one of the inns. Break in at night, take the stuff, leaving no one the wiser."

"What about the townspeople?"

"We haven't seen them and they haven't seen us."

"Then how will we get to the train? They can't help but see us at the station."

"Simple. We make a point of catching the train just as it's pulling out. No one will get a good look at us."

"You definitely have thought things out." Ian yawned.

"But having it thought out and having it work out are two different things," he said to himself. Steven was usually good at plans and most of them worked, but this was one of his more ambitious projects. This time it was just him and Ian, no Hank to find any wrinkles.

He went to sleep wondering if it would all work out and hoping Rhi would leave him alone.

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

When he woke up, Steven heard more chatter than he would have expected on a Sunday morning in the country. He sat up and looked over at Ian. "What's going on?"

"Sounds important."

The two quickly dressed in yesterday's clothes and went downstairs. Sir Bertram was talking with two constables and a plainclothesman. Steven suddenly went cold. What could have happened? Ian looked at him as if to say "Now what".

Ainsley saw them and came over. "Sebastian, Ian, you won't believe what happened. The house was robbed last night!"

"Oh?" Someone had beaten them to it. "That's terrible!"

"What's missing?" asked Ian.

"Some jewels--my presents from last night as well--money from Daddy's safe. The Beresfords are missing things as well. You might want to check your things."

"We will."

Sir Bertram came over followed by the detective. "Morning, boys. I'm sure Ainsley has told you of what happened. This is Sgt. Donnelly who is here to take statements from everyone. You don't mind, do you?"

"Of course not, Sir Bertram," said Ian with all innocence.

"Okay, gentlemen, let's start with your names."

"Sebastian Talbot."

"Ian Russell."

"Residence?"

"________, London"

"The same."

"How did you come to be here? You seem out of place."

"We met Ainsley at a party in London and she invited us here."

"Could you relate your activities of last night?"

"Starting when?"

"Dinner."

"Okay." Steven began. "We came down to dinner after changing. I think it was between 8:00 and 8:30. Anyway, Ainsley met us and led us to our places. Ian set next to her and I sat across from them next to Rhiannon, Ainsley's sister. The dinner was quite boring, as far as conversation went."

"Rhiannon kept pumping Sebastian with questions because she wants to know him better," put in Ian.

"That's not of major importance," said Steven. Donnelly raised an eyebrow. "She wants me to be the latest addition to her line of boyfriends," Steven told him. He continued, "During dessert, the conversation picked up because Ian and I held off giving our present at the table."

"Robert Flyte remarked on this by whispering to someone that we didn't have one. The Honorable Alex Caldwell defended us by saying that we were not in the same financial situation," said Ian.

"You said you held off giving her the present. You did have one?"

"Yes. Later, after dinner was over, we gave it to her on the verandah: a double-strand imitation-pearl choker. She liked it, which made me happy."

"What time would you say this took place?"

"10:30, maybe 11:00. I'm not really sure."

"Then what happened?"

"We waltzed," said Ian. "I danced with her first then she taught Sebastian while I hummed The Blue Danube. That's what we were doing when Rhi, Alex, and Robert came by. Robert noticed the pearls and remarked on them. When he found out we gave them to her, he said they had to be fakes. Alex defended us again and Robert went into the house. The rest of us decided to have a night-cap and we all went upstairs at about 2:00."

"You never saw Mr. Flyte again last night?"

"No. We haven't seen him this morning, either."

Sgt. Donnelly wrote this all down in his notebook. "When were you planning to return to London?"

"This afternoon."

"Hopefully, we'll have this cleared up soon. Thank you, gentlemen."

"That was painless," said Ian as they watched Donnelly walk away.

"The questioning itself was painless, but the subject was far from it. Someone beat us to it, Ian. We can't let this happen."

"Well, it has. We can talk later. Here comes Ainsley."

"What did the sergeant want to know?" she asked.

"He asked us to recount our movements of last night."

"Did he actually say that? It sounds straight from a detective novel."

"No, he didn't say that, but that's what he wanted. We told him basically what happened from dinner onwards." Steven looked in Donnelly's direction. "I don't think I could ever be a policeman. It must be so tedious asking the same questions to everybody. Very rarely does anything exciting happen."

"This is exciting," said Ainsley.

"For you, it is, but for him, it's just routine, another robbery." He changed the topic. "Where is everyone else?"

"Still sleeping, I guess." Ainsley looked at them. "Did I do anything silly last night? With the drink and all?"

"No, it was a quiet evening, considering. Even Rhi was quiet," remarked Ian.

"I also have no recollection of going upstairs, yet I woke up in bed in my slip."

"We took you up and put you to bed. We thought it the only decent thing to do."

"Thanks. Not a word to Daddy, though. He doesn't approve of over-indulging," she said with a smile.

"Whatever you say," Ian replied with a grin.

"Breakfast should be ready soon if you're hungry."

"I think we'll change into some fresh clothes and see if we're missing anything. Not that we have that many valuables."

"Okay. I'll see you then." She went over to her father.

"This is just great. This definitely will not endear our little trip to Hank any. We've got to get something out of this" They turned and walked into the house. "The problem is, we can't act without any information, and so we have to wheedle our way into Donnelly's confidence."

"If we can't?"

"Ainsley can."

"You can't mean it?"

"Why not? Some of her jewels are missing. She has every right to find out what they're going to do about it."

They had reached their room. "And you certainly have her charmed, don't you? She'd do practically anything for you. Then there's Rhiannon. Have you noticed the looks that pass between them when you're around? If one of them is murdered, I'd know the culprit."

"What's gotten into you? The fact that Rhi entered into the picture is a bad side effect, nothing else. We just have to work around it." He picked out a fresh suit. "Do you want to use the bathroom first?"

"You are one cool customer. You know, I think you're becoming a legend in your own time," Ian said with a smirk. "No, you go ahead."

Steven went into the bathroom and took out his shaving kit. As he lathered up, he looked in the mirror. This was the first time he had ever had two sisters fighting over him. There had been girls who had wanted to be seen with him in high school, but he never wanted anything to do with them. In their attentions, they seemed artificial; acting as if they liked him, just to be seen in his company. Maybe he had too strong an image in his mind for them to live up to. Ainsley, however, seemed very sincere and, if circumstances were different... He redirected his thoughts to the matter at hand. What was he to do about this mess? Robert was conspicuous by his absence, but maybe he didn't know about the robbery--unless, of course, he did it. But that was so obvious. He wouldn't have tried anything, not after the way he was acting last night.

Suddenly, he got an idea. Not a plan, an idea. "Oh, Steven, you are too devious!" he told himself. He passed Ian in the hall. "I'm going down to breakfast. I have an idea of how to find out who pinched the stuff. I'll tell you about it later."

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

He found the rest of the guests sitting at the dining room table. Rhi smiled, showing absolutely no sign of her previous night's drinking. Alex and Robert, however, glanced at him with glassy eyes. He took a seat next to Ainsley. "Where is Mr. Russell?" asked Sir Bertram.

"He's freshening up, but he should be right down."

"Then we can start breakfast." He rang the bell that was beside his place-setting. The maids brought in the serving dishes. There were eggs, sausage, bacon, kippers, and muffins. If Ian wasn't on his way down, he would be now.

"This was a very exciting morning," said Rhi. "Will that detective be around all day?"

"He'll be here until this is solved," said Sir Bertram. "Hopefully, that won't be too long."

Between mouthfuls, Steven began to ask questions. "Where have they looked for the missing items?"

"They're checking the bedrooms now. After that, they'll search the grounds."

"Which are quite extensive, if memory serves me right."

"Around 100 acres, Sebastian, with lots of hiding places."

Ian entered the room and began to serve himself. He sat down and whistled a little tune then realized that everyone was looking at him. "Sorry. It's just that nothing of ours was taken."

"That could count against you. Advanced knowledge."

"He only said nothing of ours was taken. That doesn't mean our things were left alone," Steven said in support.

"You could have done it yourselves," said Robert. "Knowing we would think it."

"True. I won't deny the possibility of that--"

"A-ha!"

"But I will deny the probability. Ian and I would be the prime suspects. If not for actual evidence, for subjective opinions. Use your head for its originally intended purpose. Ian and I are the least known here. We live in the East End and aren't as well off as you. However, we are not idiots. For all these reasons, do you think we'd even attempt it? You should credit us with more intelligence than that."

"Well spoken, m'boy," said Sir Bertram. "We shouldn't jump to conclusions like that. If falsely accused, a man's life could be ruined. We should only accuse based on evidence and logic."

"You're starting to sound like Sherlock Holmes, Daddy," remarked Rhi as she buttered her toast.

"Well, that didn't hurt him, did it?" said Ian. "Worshipped around the world with letters flooding to an address that doesn't exist. I'd say he did quite well by it."

"I have a few ideas of my own, but, unlike some, I'm not foolish enough to express them without facts to back them up," Steven said as he wiped the corners of his mouth with his napkin. "If you will excuse me, I think I'll go talk with Sgt. Donnelly." He rose and stepped out onto the front porch. He saw the sergeant conducting a search of a grove of trees and sauntered over. "Mind if I join you, sergeant?"

Donnelly looked up. "Mr. Talbot. What can I do for you?"

"I'd like to join you in your search." He took out a packet of cigarettes and offered one to Donnelly.

"No, thank you. American?"

"Yes, a major weakness of mine. My family sends them over for me." He lit it. "Are you sure you don't want one? No intention of bribery."

Donnelly shook his head. "You realize you're one of the suspects."

"Of course. But the only reason I'm here is to quell my curiosity. I hope you don't mind. I'll be within sight the whole time. I might also want to ask a favor."

"All right, Mr. Talbot. What better way to keep an eye on you."

Steven smiled and began to help. He asked silly questions and put forth impossible theories just to find out what the police knew; answers he knew he'd never get with straight questions. Three hours later, they were done, and not one clue had been found.

Donnelly turned to Steven. "I know you've been pumping me for information. So, what do you have to say?"

"I think it hasn't left the grounds, maybe not even the house."

"What proof do you have?"

"None. That's the favor I want to ask." Donnelly didn't say a word. "I've narrowed it down to two people and my plan is this." Steven explained his idea.

Donnelly was quiet for a moment. "Why are you doing this?"

"Do you think I want to be thought of as a thief? It could ruin my future."

"What's the catch?"

"You police always think of catches. There aren't any, I swear. Just have your men watch the village road. You'll see for yourself."

"When is this going to happen?"

"Tonight, midnight or so. I'll call you."

"Fine. If I don't hear from you, you'll be taken in and put away for so long, you'll have forgotten the reason."

"On that note, I think we should say good-bye, sergeant."

Steven made his way back to the house. What had he gotten himself into? He prayed his theory was right. He'd have to tell Ian that the job was postponed another night, possibly two.

"There he is!"

Steven looked around to see Ian and Ainsley heading in his direction. "Hi," he said, burying his thoughts. "What are you guys up to?"

"Finding you," said Ian. "What did Donnelly have to say?"

"He was a veritable fountain of information. All the clues lead to an inside job. The thief knew the combination to the safe, knew what to take, and there are no outside footprints other than those from the party."

"Those were all in a jumble. How could they know that no one from outside was there?" asked Ainsley.

"There were no prints leading off into the grounds or the road."

"Okay. But what about my pearls? If it was an inside job, the thief would know they were fake."

Ian answered her. "Exactly. If the thief left them, it would be almost certain proof. We would question that it was an inside job."

"How do you two know all this?"

"We read a lot of Christie and Sayers," Steven said with a smile.

Ian looked at him. "You said you had your own opinions on who the thief is. Can you tell us?"

Steven looked at them, then up at the house. "Where can we talk?" he asked Ainsley.

"The folly, I guess. We don't use it that much."

"Folly?"

"Yes. It's a building my great-grandfather erected to look like a Greek temple. It's on the far side of the gardens."

"That should be fine."

They arrived at the folly where the only other creatures that would hear were the swans on the lake. "We're all ears," said Ian. "Tell us."

"All right. It all comes down to money. Most thefts do, of course, but with high society thefts, it's usually someone who can't deal with being poor. In some cases, families keep up the appearance of wealth when the purse is shrinking due to the upkeep of ancestral homes."

"But why would they rob us? Why don't they rob...?" She was lost for words.

"Poor people?" Steven finished for her. "That's just it. He knows what it's like to be poor, so he leaves them alone. He robs from his own class to rise again at their expense."

"Who do you think did it?" Ian didn't care about the sociological aspects.

"Think and you'll come to the same conclusions I did. Remember our conversations, especially the ones where we had to defend ourselves." Steven walked away.

"Where are you going?" Ainsley called.

"Research! Give me half an hour then we'll go to the pub for lunch!"

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

At one o'clock, Steven was waiting for Ian and Ainsley in the front hall. As they were leaving, Rhiannon, Alex, and Robert saw them. "Where are you going?" asked Rhi.

"To the pub for lunch. Do you want to join us?" asked Ainsley.

"I'm sure it could be arranged," Rhi said as she sidled next to Steven.

"Well, we'd better hurry, we've got two hours before they close."

"We can take my car," said Alex.

"Let's go," Ian said.

They all piled into the Mercedes, Ainsley, Ian, and Steven in the back. The ride into the village took about fifteen minutes along a narrow country road past grazing cows. The village consisted of a church, school, police station (the constable's house), a few stores, scattered houses, and the pub. As they stepped out of the car, Steven could see the manor in the distance. "I wonder if anybody here noticed anything wrong."

"We came here to get away from all of that. We also won't talk politics or money," Ainsley told him. "Understand?"

"Okay," everyone agreed.

The group entered the pub and Robert found a table while Steven and Alex took orders. As they were waiting for them to be filled, Alex asked about his theory. "You said this morning that you know who did it."

"I said I had an idea, that doesn't mean I know. Why? Are you nervous, Alex?"

"Why should I be?" He paid the bartender.

"Heard 'bout what happened up a' t'manor. Too bad," the barkeep said.

"Yes, but the police are working on it," Steven assured him. He felt for his wallet to help pay. "It must have fallen out of my pocket in your car. I'll be right back." Steven went out of the pub and ran to the constable's house. A thin, balding man in uniform answered his knock. "Sorry for the inconvenience, but is Sgt. Donnelly here?"

"He's havin' his lunch. Can I deliver a message?"

"I'm from the manor and I want to ask a question. Shouldn't take too long." He walked past the man towards the kitchen.

"What is it, Edwards? Oh, it's you." Donnelly took a sip of his pint. "What do you want?"

"I just want to know how your background check on the suspects went." Steven sat opposite him. "I want to know if you're headed in the same direction I am."

"Well, it's nothing you can't read in the papers. Flyte's father's in hospital and the cash flow isn't what it used to be. They've had to see some paintings and antiques. The Honorable Alex Caldwell has a weakness for the horses. Old money doesn't go as far as it used to."

"What about the Beresfords?"

"Lost a little money in the market, but they're comfortable."

"Any others having rough times?"

"No."

"Great. Thanks. I'll call you tonight. You'll be here?"

"If not, I'll get the message."

Steven ran out, picked up a copy of The Times to cover his long absence. When he returned to the pub, the others were halfway through lunch. "Sorry I took so long, but Donnelly saw me when I was buying the paper."

"What did he want?" asked Robert.

"He just wanted to know why we were here and I told him. He was quite nice about it." He took a bite of his sandwich. "So, what were you talking about?"

"Let's see," said Rhi. "Fashion, movies, music, the Royals, history, philosophy, and literature."

"Definitely university-influenced. Pray, continue."

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

They returned to the manor at 3:30. "Now what do we do?" asked Ainsley. "It's much too nice to go inside."

"How about cricket?" ventured Alex.

"That sounds like a great idea," agreed Ian. "What about you two?"

"I'll give it a go, novice that I am," Steven answered.

"What about us?" put forth Rhi.

"You can play if you want. I know you both do."

"Let me go up and put on some trousers and I'll be right back," said Ainsley. Rhiannon stood fuming for a few minutes, then joined her sister.

"Where are we going to get the equipment?" asked Ian.

"I wouldn't have brought it up if I didn't have any," said Alex, as he opened the boot of his car to display two balls, a bat, and leg pads.

"You came prepared," Steven told him. He helped Alex take the stuff out. "Could you refresh my memory on the rules?" Alex did. "Maybe I'll do well, anyway."

Ian and Robert began to mark the field with sticks and other pieces of nature. "How will we decide the order?" asked Robert.

"Let's see," thought Ian. "We'll have (a) a batter, (b) a bowler, and (c and d) two fielders. We'll rotate A to D, B to A, C to B, and D to C. How does that sound?"

"Fine, but what about the girls?"

"Just add E and F. The problem is deciding who will start at what position."

"Scissors, Paper, Stone," said Ainsley upon her return.

They played cricket until about 6:00 when Sir Bertram came out and told them that Sgt. Donnelly had called to say that everyone had to stay the night. "He's convinced it was done by one of us. If you need any clothes done for tomorrow, leave them out and I'll have a maid collect them."

"It's a good thing he came out," said Steven, wiping his forehead. "In this fading light, I was afraid of getting hit in the head!"

"I could go for a good shower," said Robert.

"Give me a nice relaxing bath with warm, bubbling water up to my neck where I could stay put for hours," said Rhi.

"Let me go first, then," Ainsley told her with a grin.

The Chatterton Six may their way upstairs to shower and change. Steven and Ian put yesterday's suits out for the maid according to Sir Bertram's instructions. They then flipped a coin to see who would take the first shower. Steven won and made his way down the hall in his bathrobe. He needed this time to think out his plan for the night. What he planned was risky, that was a definite given. Of course, the plan was sketchy; all he was going to do was wait in the brush--pretending to be a poacher--for his suspect to walk by with the jewels. This didn't mean the suspect would go past him or even walk out at all! He stepped out of the shower, wrapped a towel around his waist, and looked in the mirror to plan his make-up. There was a tap on the door and Rhiannon walked in. Steven was shocked. "What are you doing here?"

"I wanted to talk to you."

"Couldn't it wait?"

"Come now, Sebastian, don't be shy. I've seen men in towels before, although, they never looked this good."

"What do you want to talk about?"

"The jewels, of course." She moved closer. "I know you have them and it would be in your best interest to return them. If you did so tonight, no one would be any the wiser."

"Except you."

"Except me."

"I hate to disappoint you, but I didn't take them."

"You can do better than that." She was inches away from him. She put her arms around his shoulders, pulled his face close to hers, and slowly began to kiss him. "Where are the jewels?" she whispered.

"I don't know. Honestly." Steven's left hand firmly gripped the towel.

She tried one last time with a long, full kiss on the mouth. "Where are they?"

"Do you always interrogate this way? You could probably teach the Yard a thing or two." In frustration, Rhi stormed out.

Steven dried off, slipped on his robe, and went back to his room to dress. Ian looked up from shining his shoes. "What kept you?"

"I was held back by questioning."

"I don't think Donnelly uses lipstick. Rhiannon?"

Steven nodded. "She came in when I had on nothing but a towel and proceeded to accuse me of stealing the jewels. She then tried to kiss the information out of me."

Ian grinned. "Oh, to be so cursed."

Steven couldn't help but smile. "What scares me is she thought we did it."

"Why should it?"

"She saw through us. She believed we could do it."

"We know we didn't, so there's no real base for her assumptions. I'm going to take my shower now. Maybe she'll question me. Don't do anything rash, will you? At least, not until I can be part of it."

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

The rest of the evening went according to plan. Steven had even allowed for Rhi's flirtation. At 7:00, he suddenly "remembered" he had to notify the college about what happened. Sir Bertram said he could use the phone in the study. Steven called and was able to get a hold of Donnelly. "It's on for tonight. Everything seems to be going as I expected."

"You'd better not be pulling my leg, Talbot, or you'll be put away so fast you won't have time to blink."

"I'm glad you have so much confidence in me, Sergeant," Steven said as he hung up the receiver.

Everyone seemed subdued that night. The only real topic of conversation was the theft, but no one actually wanted to talk about it. Ainsley was the first to declare that she was going to bed. Everyone agreed and it was an early night at Chatterton Manor.

Back in their room, Steven told Ian of his plan as he put on his make-up. "You're crazy! What if it backfires? You'll be arrested or dead."

"Not if I play my cards right. Don't worry." He put on the final touches. "How do I look?"

"Totally disreputable."

"Perfect." He went to the window. "See you in the morning, partner."

Steven found himself a hiding place from where he could see all possible avenues of escape. He was going to catch this amateur who had ruined his job, who had gotten in the way of his livelihood. It's amazing how many one-time crooks get away with it, he mused. Steven thought back to his first job. The idea was born out of idealism; that money was unevenly distributed. He had robbed a safe, something he had only read about in novels.

Close to midnight, he saw a shadow move away from the back of the house and head towards the stables. He followed at a careful distance, trying not to draw attention to himself. The figure went into the stables and Steven waited. The figure emerged about twenty minutes later with something under its arm. Steven guessed it to be the missing jewels. He kept following. Now the figure moved slowly, almost as if it had a limp. Must have bumped into something in the stables.

They were headed towards the village road--and the police. Steven began to wipe off some of his make-up. When the figure paused, Steven reversed he coat he was wearing and was ready to play a drunk if necessary. He stayed in the bushes, noticed a few plainclothes policemen in the shadows, and was surprised that the figure didn't see them. There could be two reasons for that, he thought: (1) he knew they would be there and, (2) he seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to police.

Once inside the village, Steven moved to the opposite side of the road and began to walk unsteadily. As the figure stepped into a patch of light, Steven saw the face. Something had gone wrong. This was not the person he had expected. Somewhere along the way, something had definitely gone wrong. The man continued until he stopped in front of the only pillar-box. Steven lurched across the street, but not before helping himself to some whisky out of a hip flask. Time for confrontation.

"'Scuse me, shir, I wash wond'rin' if you could help me?"

"The pubs are closed, so you'll get no money out of me."

"No, no, no, shir, don't want that. No, I've been sheein' thinsh, people in dark plashez and I wanna know if you c'n shee 'em too."

"Of course not." The man was annoyed.

"What about over there? Or there?" Steven pointed to shadows and the policemen moved.

"What is this?"

Sgt. Donnelly moved out from the shadowed entry to the post office. "By all means. Alexander Caldwell, you are under arrest for theft." He motioned for a constable to handcuff him. He then moved to Steven who was wiping off the rest of his make-up. "Quite impressive, Mr. Talbot."

"Thanks, sergeant. There's one thing, though. You should send somebody to the stables. Alex spent too much time there for my liking."

"You think he did something else?"

"Yeah. Maybe murder. Don't charge him yet, but I think he met somebody there."

"Who?"

"Robert Flyte."

Alex glared at Steven. "You? What are you doing here?" He turned to Donnelly. "He's your thief!"

"If he's the thief, what were you doing with these?" Donnelly held up the package.

"I...I...I found them in the stables."

"And it just happens to have your name on it."

"He was going to use it to frame me."

"Then why were you mailing it?"

Steven had watched this exchange without saying a word. Until now. "What made you do it, Alex? It was for the money, wasn't it? Yes, those loan sharks can be nasty." He had hit a nerve. "You knew that Rhi wanted to marry a title, or a titled family, so you just put out all your influence. Won't she be upset to know that one of her boyfriends is a murderer?"

Alex tried to take a swing at him but was held back. "You certainly turned on the charm," he sneered. "She couldn't stop thinking about you."

"Oh? You have it all wrong, Alex. I want no part of Rhi. I came here as Ainsley's friend." He turned to Donnelly. "Let me go with whoever you send to the stables. I want to be the one to break the news to the house."

"Fine." Donnelly had three constables escort Alex to the station while he and two others went with Steven to the stables by car.

Steven was afraid he was right, afraid that Robert was dead in the stables. Even though Robert had been critical at times, Steven was sorry for him. They searched the stables and found him in the tackle room. Steven was amazed that Robert was still alive, though just barely. He smirked when he saw Steven as if to say "I should have known." It appeared that Alex had attempted to strangle him with a set of reins. Robert must have struggled and Alex was forced to hit him with that thing they use to clean horses hooves. Robert was taken to the local doctor where he died in the morning.

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

But why did he do it?" asked Ainsley the next morning.

"Rob or murder?" Steven asked.

"Both, I guess."

"Both Alex and Robert needed money, each for different reasons. Alex's, in my opinion, was the stronger. He was in debt to some loan sharks and needed money desperately. Robert needed to help pay his father's hospital bills. They decided to go in on this together and split the money. Some rift happened and they fought. You know what happened then."

"How did you get involved like this? Are you with the police?" asked Ainsley.

"Oh, please," Steven laughed. "I guess I just have a knack for solving crimes. Besides, I had an incentive."

Sgt. Donnelly came into the room. "Mr. Caldwell admitted that he and Mr. Flyte stole the jewels. He also admitted to attacking him in the tackle room."

"Does that mean we can go back to London?" asked Ian.

"Yes, but you'll need to come for the trial."

"You have our address," said Steven.

"Guess this means you'll want the first train out," said Ainsley.

"Maybe the second," Ian said.

"I'll go find a schedule." Ainsley left on her search.

Steven looked at Rhi. "I'm really sorry," he said softly. "I know it must be hard on you. I can't say I understand how you feel, because I don't, but I just want you to know that you have my sympathy."

Rhiannon looked at his face, tears in her eyes. "Thanks. I really appreciate it." Steven patted her hand, rose, and walked outside.

Ainsley found him on the verandah. "Here's your schedule." She handed it to him. "It was nice having you here, Sebastian. You're very kind and sweet, and I'm glad you tried to keep the family out of scandal."

"I don't think I did that good a job."

"Don't be so modest. Do you think we'll see each other again?"

"We just might meet up again. You know where to find me. Don't wait for it, though." He gave her a soft kiss before going upstairs to pack.

Steven and Ian took the noon train to London. Steven looked out the window, not saying a word. "What's bothering you?"

"Nothing."

"How come we didn't get out at the last stop? I thought we were going back to Chatterton."

"I changed my mind."

"Ainsley got to you, eh?"

"I just couldn't rob them again. Maybe it was the girls. Maybe it was the look on Robert's face. I just couldn't."

"What will Hank say?"

"I told him we were planning a job, not pulling one."

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