?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

The Eagle Chronicles 35: Act of Parliment

Title: Act of Parliment
Series: The Eagle Chronicles.
Word Count 7,966
Summary Steven gets called in to help in the investigation of an MP's murder
Notes: I really can't remember what inspired this one but I do remember writing certain scenes




35. Act of Parliament


The Duke of Edinburgh stood nervously as his wife straightened his robe of office. The State Opening of Parliament was one of the few times he indulged in the pageantry that went with being part of the Royal Family. He had only attended three times before: 1948-9 as King and just last year, 1964. His reason for stopping and starting had to do with his wives. He abdicated in 1950 after his first wife had been killed and withdrew from all royal functions, indulging in his pastime of amateur detective. He re-married in 1964 to a woman he had loved twenty years before, Alison Montclair. It was because of her that he began to take on his ducal responsibilities.

"What are you thinking about, Steven?" asked the newly-invested Duchess of York.

The Duke turned at the name he had used for half of his life. "Just the last few times I've done this, Jess. Also, while I'm acting in an 'official capacity', I'm James Stuart, not Steven Taylor. Okay?"

Jessica gave him a mock salute. "Whatever you say, Cousin."

"If anyone has a right to be nervous, it's Jessie," said Alison. "After all, she's only been a duchess for four months."

"I just have the feeling that something's wrong."

"You always do," his wife said with a smile. "It's time for us to go in now."

They heard the guns in Hyde Park. "The Queen's arrived!" cried Jessica.

"We're right on schedule, then," said James. "Don't worry about a thing," he said as he followed his young cousin down the corridor.

Once they entered the House of Lords, all occupants rose and waited until the Royals were seated on the cushioned benches before they resumed their seats. Jessie discreetly looked about herself. This was something she had only dreamed about, and now, here she was. James nudged her so she'd act more like a duchess. "This is a media event, after all," he whispered.

Horns sounded and the Queen entered with her husband, Prince John. All in the room stood. She stepped up on the dais and sat on the throne. Everyone resumed their seats. The Man of the Black Rod walked down the corridor to summon the House of Commons. Jessie could hear a policeman's muffled cry "Hats off, strangers!" to the public. Close to ten minutes later, she heard the footsteps of the MPs. When all were ready, the Lord Chancellor walked up the steps, removed the Queen's speech from his purse, then retreated backwards. In a clear voice, she read out her plans for the coming year.

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

The next morning while they were eating breakfast, the telephone rang. Dawson, the butler, answered it. "Your Grace, Superintendent Dolittle wishes to speak with you."

"I wonder what he wants."

"Don't keep him waiting, Steven. It could be important. Why else would he call this early."

Steven walked to the phone. "Good morning, John. What's up?"

"Certainly not Roger Evans. He was found dead in his garage in Wimbledon."

"Asphyxiated?"

"No doubt. The ME puts it at about 2:00 this morning."

"Pretty strange time to be in the garage. Why are you calling me? It sounds like something you can handle."

"We're talking MPs here, Steven. They don't take kindly to detectives sniffing about."

"Okay. Give me an address and I'll meet you there."

"I can do better than that. I'll be by to get you in fifteen minutes."

Alison looked up as he re-entered the room. "What did John want?"

"A man was found asphyxiated in his garage." He took a sip of orange juice. "He's picking me up in fifteen minutes."

"By why has he called on you for a possible suicide?"

"Because," he answered between mouthfuls of toast, "the man happens to be Roger Evans, the MP of Wimbledon."

"I can't believe it. Only yesterday after the Opening, he helped repeal the death penalty."

"I thought he had been against that. He was so vehement about it."

"The paper quotes him as saying that he re-read the files and changed his mind."

"That's pretty strange if you ask me." He finished breakfast. "I'd better get ready for John." He gave his wife a kiss.

He finished brushing his teeth just as the doorbell rang. When Steven reached the foot of the stairs, Dolittle was standing with Alison in the hall. "I won't keep him from you too long, ma'am," he said. "Midday at the latest."

"Just don't let him get into trouble, John."

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

Half an hour later, John pulled up in front of a modest home. The driveway was cordoned off. John flashed his badge to a constable and he and Steven were passed through. Steven automatically walked over to the cloth covered body lying on the floor while John spoke to the local detectives. Steven removed the blanket and stared at the dead man's face. The tinges of blue by his mouth and eyes was unmistakable proof of the cause of death.

Steven replaced the cloth and joined Dolittle. "Have you notified the next-of-kin?"

"There is none. He was a childless widower and an only child."

Steven this is Detective Sergeant Richards of the Wimbledon CID."

"A pleasure, your Grace. A pity it's under such circumstances."

"Yes, isn't it." Steven wasn't sure why, but he took an immediate dislike to Richards.

The body was taken away and Richards went to answer the call of a constable. Steven and Dolittle watched him go. "Well, what do you make of it?"

"I don't know. I mean, an intelligent person such as Roger Evans wouldn't even contemplate suicide and would know enough to have proper ventilation. I think it was murder."

"Whyever for? The man was well-known and respected."

"Respect can be a shield for hatred, John. You must have suspected something like this or you wouldn't have asked me along."

"Never could put anything past you." John walked out onto the lawn and Steven followed. "This simply reeks of foul play. Since there's no family to contact, I was wondering if you would accompany me on my inquiries in the Commons."

"To add a bit of gentle persuasion?" Steven smiled. "I wouldn't be surprised if my appearance hindered you."

"Aren't you being a bit paranoid?"

"Let's just say I don't have many friends there."

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

Once at the Houses of Parliament, John showed his badge to a clerk and asked to see Michael Cooke, one of Evans' allies. They were directed to the Commons Library.

They found him without any trouble. He was a very unprepossessing man with greying hair and was of medium height and build. His face was pale and beginning to show wrinkles. He stood when they entered. "Good morning, your Grace, Superintendent. They phoned and told me you were on your way. Please, sit down. What can I do for you?"

"We're here to talk about Roger Evans. He was found dead in his garage this morning. He was asphyxiated."

"How horrible. Do you suspect foul play?"

"That is a possibility. We'd just like to ask a few questions."

"Certainly."

Steven sat in a chair in an out-of-the-way corner and let Dolittle handle the questions. "Did Mr. Evans show any favoring of the repeal before the voting, say, sometime within the week?"

"No. It happened suddenly. He felt very strongly about the death penalty. He believed in an eye for an eye. I don't know what made him change his mind, but whatever it was, it turned him into a different man."

"Mr. Cooke is very much a sensationalist, Superintendent," said a voice from the doorway. "He would like to use this as a final battle against life sentencing."

Steven recognized the man as Dwight Hill, the member from Birmingham, before he introduced himself to John. "What do you have to say on the subject of Mr. Evans' change of mind, Mr. Hill?"

"Just as you said, Superintendent. He changed his mind. He realized how he had been influenced by those stuffed shirts down the hall and decided to follow his own head."

"Speaking as a stuffed shirt," said Steven, rising from his chair, "We have no influence whatsoever on how the Commons votes. That is the purpose for its existence, the reason for your presence here."

Hill seemed surprised at Steven's presence, but recovered quickly. "Your Grace, what a pleasant surprise."

"I'm sure."

Cooke glared at his opposition. "Mr. Hill seems to forget that he was once a meek follower until a certain member advised him otherwise."

"That member being?" questioned John.

"Roger Evans."

"If that's true, Mr. Hill, than your explanation doesn't hold much water, does it?"

"Think what you will, Superintendent, but I had no reason to kill Roger Evans." He went to the door. "Now, if you will excuse us, Commons is convening."

Cooke stood and walked to the door, but not before John had thanked them both. "I hope we solve this soon, but keep yourselves available for further questioning."

"What do you think?" John asked as they crossed the lot outside.

"I'm not sure. Hill's acting like he's up to something, but then, he always seems that way."

John shook his head. "Let's hope it's only acting. He's too influential for my liking."

"He could be the future of British politics."

"I'll emigrate." His car radio crackled, asking for him. "Dolittle."

"Sir, the preliminary results of the autopsy are in."

"And?"

"Either Mr. Evans had found the Fountain of Youth or we've got the wrong body."

"Come again?" The shocked look on Steven's face must have mirrored his own.

"The ME reports that the body of the deceased was that of a male Caucasian somewhere in his late twenties or early thirties."

"OK. I'm on my way."

"Evans was fifty if he was a day!" declared Steven.

"You're on the ball today."

They arrived at the morgue and spoke to the coroner. "As you can see, gentlemen, his age was only skin deep. Make-up. I'm surprised you didn't notice. His hair was dyed from it's original brown and he wore colored lenses in his eyes."

"Any marks on the body?" asked John, steering the doctor away from his gloating.

He parted he hair on the back of the head. "Just a lump here."

"That would explain why he was in the garage. He was knocked out and put there."

Steven noticed the puncture marks on the arms. "How much cocaine?"

"Traces only. From the looks of those tracks, I'd say he was habitual, that is, until his source either dried up or was cut off."

"Great. Thanks. If you come up with anything else, let me know." Outside in the hall he said, "Just what I needed: a dead drug addict who impersonated an MP. Thank God if wasn't the real thing."

"If that's the case, where's the real Roger Evans? Did he run off with some starlet? Has he been kidnapped? Or is he really dead?"

"You depress me sometimes, you know that?"

They reached his office and a young policewoman called to him. "I was just going to page for you, sir. It's a Detective Robinson of the South Croydon CID. He wants to talk to you about a body."

Dolittle thanked her and went inside his walled office. "Superintendent Dolittle. Yes, Inspector, I am in charge of that case. Just one moment while I switch you to the speaker phone."

He did so and told Robinson to continue. "We found the body two days ago, registered him as a John Doe and thought nothing of it until this morning when we heard about the Evans' case. From the description, this could be the same man."

"Any marks?"

"No, sir, not that I could see. I just thought you should be informed."

"Is the body still in the morgue?"

"Yes, sir. For one more day."

"Right. Robinson, I've got a few things to do here, but I should be there by 2:00 at the latest. I also what you to show me where the body was found."

"Yes, sir. Good-bye, sir."

John dialed for Research. "This is Supt. Dolittle. I'd like some photos of Roger Evans, MP, as recent as you've got, plus all the articles you can get your hands on about his stand on the death sentence. Try and get it up here as quick as you can. Thanks." He hung up the phone and looked at Steven. "You've got to be a jinx."

"I'm a realist. Because Body A wasn't the real Evans, it only stood to reason that there would be a Body B."

John sat behind his desk and fed a sheet of paper into his typewriter. "Make yourself comfortable while I type up this report."

"I think I'll get some coffee. Want any?"

"No thanks." He began clicking away.

Steven went outside to the coffee urn then stopped at a constable's desk. "Could you do me a favor?"

"Certainly, your Grace."

"Do you think you could get us a couple sandwiches? Once we get some articles from Research, we're off to Croydon."

"I'd be glad to."

"Thanks." He got his coffee and went back into John's office to bug him.

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

They arrived at the Croydon police station and Detective Robinson met them. He showed them the body first. Steven, by glancing at it, could have sworn it was Body #1's double. Upon closer examination, however, he could see that the body was definitely older; the skin more wrinkled, the hair greyer and thinner.

"Can I see the autopsy report?" asked John.

"Sure," said Robinson, "but I could tell you all the important information."

"I'd like to read it anyway." Robinson walked to a desk and took a file off it.

"I've never liked these places," said Steven, wandering about the disinfected room. "I mean, they're very gloomy places." He looked to the desk and saw that he was talking to himself. John was reading the file and Robinson was watching him.

"This is him," said John, looking up. "Description, age, everything." He turned to Robinson. "Ready to take us to the scene?"

"If you are."

Steven knew John was playing a little game by not showing him the report. He wanted Steven to play Holmes and tell him what he already knew just by viewing the sight. Gee, what fun!

The spot was by a small stream. The area had been cordoned off even though there wasn't much need for it. The body had been found lying with his head underwater, Robinson told them. Two boys found it when digging for worms. The ground was muddy and Steven leaned over to examine the ground where the body had lain. Something wasn't right. The prints left from the feet, knees, and hands seemed all wrong. "He wasn't killed here," he stated.

John and Robinson looked at him. "What makes you say that?"

"I'm not exactly sure, butt these body prints are not those of a man who laid himself down to drown. Once you kneel, you have your hands in one place then gradually 'walk' yourself down. He didn't do that. It was as if someone had put the body through the motions."

"Congratulations. The water in his lungs contained chlorine. This is fresh."

"Conclusion?"

"Drowned in his pool."

"Which takes us back to Wimbledon and Body #1."

Driving back to London, Steven read the autopsy report. "According to this, he had been dead some twelve hours before the boys found him. That puts his murder down for, what, 31/2 days ago?"

"Just about."

"Okay, so if he's been dead for 31/2 days, then it wasn't him in Parliament voting. That's where Body #1 comes in. He was paid to impersonate Evans for the vote, making people think he changed his mind and sway the vote. Once his part was over, the killed him. Odds are that #1 was an actor who needed the money."

"The marks on his arms say he was doing it for the drugs. It seems that there comes a time when someone will do anything for a fix."

"An addict." Steven stared at the folder in his hands. "Who do we know who would want to change the vote that bad?"

"All I can think of his Hill. You don't think. . ?"

"Scandals have been started for lesser things. Everything fits. He's perfect for the part of murderer. He's certainly ambitious enough."

"We have no proof and Hill is not the type of man who would take kindly to such accusations."

"Yeah, I know. That's always been the hard part."

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

That night as Steven and Alison were preparing to leave for a gala dinner, the phone rang. "Steven, we've just gotten some positive ID on #1. Can you get down here?"

"I was just on my way out the door."

"It won't take too long. I know you won't feel the loss."

Steven knew he was right. "Okay, give me ten minutes." He apologized to his wife. "Something came up on the case."

"Can't it wait until morning? You know this is a major event."

"I know. I'll meet you there. John said it wouldn't take long." Steven smiled at his wife and jumped into the Alvis and drove to Scotland Yard.

Needless to say, his tuxedo attracted attention and Dolittle tried unsuccessfully to hide a smile. "I didn't know this was a formal occasion."

"This place could use a little class. What's going on?"

"It seems that your theory was correct. He was an actor by the name of Brian Mason."

"Who made the ID?"

"His sister. They had kept up a correspondence when he moved to London. Then the letters stopped coming. At first she put it down to simple forgetfulness. After a month, she decided something was wrong and came here. She checked on his flat, but he had moved out six weeks before. She then visited the theatre where he said he had a job, but they had never heard of him."

"What brought her to your attention?" Steven sat on the edge of John's desk.

"She came to report him missing. As per procedure, pictures of John Does were brought out and she identified her brother. It being part of a murder case. . ."

"So now we have a name and a profession. All we need to find out now is where he was for six weeks."

"Wrong. One month." He showed Steven a letter. "This is the last one she received. Dated the end of last month."

Steven took it from his hands and read:

Dear Amanda,
I've finally gotten myself a job! Rehearsals start next week. Do you believe it? It'll be one of the major leads, too. You'll have to see it when it opens. It's a period piece called 'An Act of Parliament'. It'll be at the _________


It continued with questions about home and the townspeople, closing in brotherly fashion:

Come visit when you can,
Love, your working brother
Brian


"There was no return address on the envelope, but we've located the possible area by postmark: __."

"That really narrows it down, Steven remarked dryly. He fingered the stationery. "This is good quality paper, not the kind of stuff and out-of-work actor would have. Have you tracked down the watermark?"

"Comes from a stationers on Charing Cross. I plan to check it out tomorrow."

"Let me know what you find out. I have a dinner party to attend."

"Try to enjoy yourself, okay?" Dolittle told him with a smile.

"It'll be a struggle, but I'll try."

Steven arrived at the dinner an hour late. Of course, for most, it added a little spice to the evening. The arrival was just what people expected of him. He pulled up in front of the main entrance, went up the steps two at a time, ran his fingers through his hair, and straightened his tux before entering the ballroom. He was announced, as was traditional, and met at the foot of the stairs by his hosts, Mr. & Mrs. Buchanan. "My sincerest apologies for being late, but I had a little business to take care of."

"We appreciate your coming here tonight," said Mrs. Buchanan. "Please, enjoy yourself."

Steven smiled and weaved through the party-goers to his wife. "So, what did John have to tell you?" she asked.

"You don't want to hear about that at a party like this. It's not party-talk."

"I wouldn't have asked if I didn't." She refused to give in.

"Okay." He took her out onto the dancefloor. "The John Doe that had been impersonating Evans was identified by his sister. His name was Brian Evans and he had been an actor. We think that he had become addicted to cocaine and someone used that to make him carry out the impersonation. There is a period of a month for which we can't account for his whereabouts. John is going to follow a couple of leads in the morning. Satisfied?"

"For now." She smiled a little smile she knew irritated him.

After dinner, the topic turned to politics and the controversial repeal of the death penalty. He heard both Hill and Evans mentioned a few times. It wasn't the politicians who gave him a possible clue, it was the wives and their gossip. Knowing that gossip usually has some foundation in fact, he decided that he would follow his own leads in the morning.

The rumor was that, at the beginning of the summer, Hill had been asking for a four-figure loan, stating that his funds had been greatly depleted due to his campaign. Two months later, he had money to burn. Somehow, he had come into money and an inheritance was highly unlikely. Steven imagined that it could have been a payment of sorts: Vote against the death penalty and we'll cover your debts.

He found his way to Buchanan and asked if he could use a phone. "I have a private call to make. Shouldn't take too long."

"Certainly, your Grace. Let me show you to the study." He led Steven to the room. "I think you'll have more privacy if I close the doors."

Steven nodded as he left then picked up the phone and dialed Scotland Yard. "Superintendent Dolittle. He's not in? Okay, give me the number where I can reach him. Hold on." Steven took a sheet of paper from a tray and a pen from a holder. "Okay." He jotted it down. "Great. I'll try him there." Steven did try the number but there was no answer. He folded the paper, put it in his pocket, then joined the others in the withdrawing room. Alison gave him a questioning glance as he passed her. He winked which meant he'd explain later.

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

The next morning Steven received a call from Dolittle. "I think we've hit paydirt, Steven. I checked out that stationers this morning and there is only one person in the area in question that orders that particular notepaper."

"That man in Mr. Buchanan, my host of last night."

"Will I ever be able to tell you something you already don't know?"

"I found out by accident. I heard some interesting rumors last night and I called the Yard but you were out. I jotted the number where I could reach you on a convenient piece of paper. I still have it."

"Tell me about these rumors you heard." After Steven filled him in on the gossip, John took a deep breath. "That does sound shady. I'll put someone on it right away. Until they come up with something, we really don't have any substantial proof to connect the two."

"Can't you have somebody check on his banking records? Claim a government investigation?"

"It's not that easy. There's a lot of red tape involved."

"It doesn't have to be made public or anything."

"Hill will have to be told he's being investigated. If the claims are false, then he can make things very hot."

"If necessary, I'll talk to the Commissioner myself, John. If things prove wrong, they prove wrong. Process of Elimination."

"I'm sure you will. Just take it easy. We don't need this blowing up in our faces."

"That would be messy, wouldn't it?"

"Just take care."

Steven knew that Dolittle would follow through on his part, but he decided to do a bit of investigating on his own. He chose to follow up on those rumors he heard, but knew that the women wouldn't talk freely to him. This line of questioning needed a woman's touch. "Alison, how would you like to do me a favor?"

"What are you planning?" she asked.

"It has to do with the Evans-Mason case. I need to do a bit of research, but you'll be able to handle it better than I."

"I'll need more of an explanation."

"I need you to check up on the rumors of Hill's financial status. You have to talk to the old ladies of Parliament. Women have a way of wheedling out answers without asking questions. They'd know I was working on something and would probably make up stories to impress me."

"You have a point there. I'll see if Jessie wants to join me. I'll need help." She began to dial the phone. "What will you be doing?"

"Some research of my own," he said with a smile.

"Ask a silly question."

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

Dolittle argued with his superior. "But, sir, we have to search his finances. We don't know what he could be hiding."

"We are not going to accuse a prominent member of the government of anything criminal based on nasty rumors."

"Sir, they are from a reliable source." The Assistant Commissioner smirked. "All I ask, sir, is that the IRS look into it. So much money at one time when only two months before he was asking for a loan. And Steven said--"

"I knew it. What has he gotten you involved in this time?"

"Quite the contrary, sir. I brought him in. I thought that he would be able to help in my inquiries. Some politicians don't take kindly to the police asking questions."

"Fine. I'll contact Inland Revenue and have them send someone over. Do you know his bank?"

"No. I'm sure the IRS does, however."

"Your job is on the line with this, Dolittle. If I get any flack from upstairs, you'll be back pounding the pavement."

"Yes, sir." Dolittle left the AC's office and made a face at the closed door. The secretary looked up and spared him a rare smile. It was moments like this that made the job worthwhile.

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

Steven parked down the street from the Buchanans. He knew that both Mr. And Mrs. were out so he had no worries about being seen in the house. He approached the servants' entrance and knocked on the door. A young maid with her hair pulled back answered the door. "Your Grace," she said after she recovered from her shock. "The Buchanans aren't in. They won't be back until this evening."

"Yes, I know. I came to speak with you. All of you," he said to include the housekeeper and the butler.

"Please, come in." She stepped aside.

Steven walked into the kitchen. It was spotless. "To what do we owe this visit, your Grace?" asked the butler as he pulled out a chair for him.

"I'm trying to track down somebody." He pulled out a copy of the photo of Brian Mason. "His sister received a letter from him with a postmark from near here. I was wondering if you might have seen him."

The housekeeper took the picture. "Quite a good-looking boy. I'd've remembered a face like that." She handed it to the butler.

"I can't place him, sir. Why are you asking us? Surely you should be asking the Buchanans."

Steven smiled. "It is a well-known fact that servants see more than their employers think. Extra linens or dishes. A room suddenly out-of-bounds. Things add up." He reached for the photo. "Think it over. If your memory clears, let me know."

"May I see the picture, your Grace?" asked the maid.

"Certainly." Steven handed it to her, not expecting much.

"He does look familiar." She stared at the photo. "Now I remember. It was about a month ago. I was cleaning in the front hall when he came in with Mr. Hill. He smiled at me as Mr. Hill hustled him into the study. I never saw him leave."

"There's nothing unusual about that." He sounded dejected.

"I was there, within sight of the door, for almost three hours. I saw Mr. Hill leave, but not the other man."

Steven turned to the other two. "And you still say you saw nothing?"

"We were afraid to speak out. We don't want to lose our jobs," said the housekeeper.

"It will be hard to find a good job without references."

"This man was found murdered two days ago. We had reason to suspect Hill and now Mr. Buchanan. It seems that they kept him here while they worked out their plan. If necessary, will you be willing to testify?" They hesitated. "I'll help place you in new positions if I can."

"I'll be willing, sir," said the maid. "Besides, things have been quite dull since Jeffrey left."

"Jeffrey?"

"Their son," answered the butler with a nod upstairs. "He left for Europe in the spring."

"Why? Was it to study, or just to get him out of the house?"

"It was quite sudden," said the housekeeper. "I think he was involved with a girl his parents didn't approve of."

"So they sent him out of the country." Steven stood and thanked them for their information. "You've been a great help. I'll let you know how things progress."

Steven drove away, trying to sort out all this new information.

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

"So, what you're telling me," Dolittle said into the phone, "is that in the period in question, Hill received three large checks all from the same source?"

"Yes, Superintendent. We don't know exactly who--or what--but we're almost positive they're all from the same."

"Is there any way to trace this source? This could be the clue we've been looking for."

"The bookkeepers are checking their files to see if a record was kept of the checks. However, if it was a cash deposit, it's near impossible."

"Okay. Thanks. I'll keep in touch." He hung up the phone. This was turning out to be more than a straightforward murder case. One thing was bothering him though. If Hill was doing something illegal, why didn't he do a better job of hiding it? Maybe he had a good excuse for these deposits. Campaign funds, perhaps. He spoke through the intercom to a constable who acted as a secretary. "Get me the name of the treasurer for Dwight Hill's election committee and the number where I can reach him--or her."

Fifteen minutes later he had the needed information. He made the call. "Yes, sir," the treasurer replied, "we do keep records of our donations."

"Do you have any large ones that coincide with these dates?"

The treasurer checked the ledger. "Why, yes." She told Dolittle the amounts. "One more thing, Superintendent; they are all from a Mr. Buchanan. I hope that helps."

"You've been a wonderful help. Could you please make a copy of that and send it to me here?"

He replaced the phone and smiled. Steven needed to hear this.

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

That evening, John stopped at Steven's house. The door was answered by Dawson. "Is his Grace in?" Dolittle knew that Dawson liked the use of proper titles.

"Yes, Superintendent. Follow me, please."

John followed the butler into the study where Steven was sitting behind a desk. "John, have I got news for you, " he said as soon as he saw his friend.

"Superintendent Dolittle to see you, sir," Dawson said, undaunted.

"Thank you, Dawson." The butler left. "I went over to the Buchanan's today. Don't worry, they were both out. I talked to the staff who told me that Mason came to the house about a month ago with Hill. They never saw him leave. They'll testify in court, too."

"Well, I talked with the auditor who discovered that the deposits were probably from the same source. They have to do a bit more research to get the name. Afterwards, I called the treasurer for Hill's campaign. She told me of amounts that coincided with the deposits--they were exactly the same. She also mentioned that the man making the donation was a Mr. Mark Buchanan."

"All we have to do now is figure out a motive."

Alison appeared in the doorway. "Hello, John. I thought I heard someone arrive. Are you ready?" she asked her husband.

"Yeah, I'll be there in a minute."

"You're going out? Sorry if I'm keeping you from anything."

"Why don't you come along? We're going to Sarah's for dinner. It's Harry's birthday."

"I don't know. . ."

"Come on. You know you're an honorary member of the family. It'll do you good."

They arrived at Buckingham Palace and made their way to the private gardens where they were immediately pounced on by the Prince of Wales. Henry greeted his aunt and uncle and gravely shook hands with Dolittle. "You're here," he told them. "I'm glad you didn't take too long. Mum said I had to wait."

"It's only right, don't you think?" said Alison. "After all, it wouldn't be fair if we missed something."

"No, I guess not." He ran ahead to his mother.

Sarah greeted them and then poured some drinks. "You two have been in the papers a lot recently. How is the case going?"

"Okay. We have a connection now. We just have to find a reason." Steven explained the situation.

"Have you thought of blackmail?" asked Sarah.

"That was one of my first thoughts, but if that were the case, he wouldn't be so forward with it," said John.

"Okay, Hill was a major proponent of repealing the death penalty and Evans was the opposition. The removal of Evans seems to be the key to the whole thing. With him gone, the vote went through. Could Buchanan be protecting someone?" said Fitz, Sarah's husband.

Steven looked at him. "That's an idea. I didn't think of that."

"Enough talk. Harry's been dying to open his presents."

The murders were dropped and temporarily forgotten as they watched the eight year old open his gifts.

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

The next morning, in his waking moments, Steven thought he had come upon the solution. What Fitz had said started him thinking. Buchanan could be covering for someone and paid Hill to make sure the death penalty was repealed. Someone he knew must have committed murder and he didn't want them to die. He remembered what the Buchanans' servants had said about the son leaving for the Continent somewhat suddenly. "That has to be it."

"What does?" asked Alison.

"I was just thinking about what Fitz said last night, about Buchanan possibly protecting someone. His son left for his 'Grand Tour' somewhat spur-of-the-moment. I've got to tell John."

"At least give him a chance to wake up," she said as he reached for the phone.

"It's only. . .8:00," he said, looking at the clock. "He'll be awake. He's CID." There was no answer. "I'll go to the Yard after breakfast. I need some information."

"I don't know how he puts up with you."

"I think he asks himself the same thing."

After a light breakfast of coffee and toast, Steven drove to the Yard and found Dolittle bent over his desk. "Tough morning at the office, dear?"

Dolittle glared. "I got a call from the AC this morning. Hill called him to ask about his audit."

"Why didn't he call the IRS?"

He did. They told him it was part of a CID investigation. I just might be back on a beat if this falls through."

"Don't worry. I think I'm on to something. I've got a nagging feeling."

"Not another one."

"Hey, they've come through before. Wasn't there a 'mysterious death' case in the spring? A young socialite?"

"Yeah, I remember that. I thought it was murder, myself."

"You just might be right." He smiled. "Can you ask Research to dig up the files?"

"I can try. They'll ask if it has any bearing on this case."

"You'd better believe it. This is the missing link."

"You had better be right. After all, it's not your job on the line." He called Research. "Yes, it's me again. Could you send me the file on the Wellington case? That's the one. Thanks." He hung up the phone. "Where are you going?"

Steven stopped at the door. "To stock up on coffee. It could be a long morning."

He returned when the file arrived. "Perfect timing," said John. "Take a seat while I divide the spoils."

Three hours and two pots of coffee later, Steven was reading the inquest report for the third time. There was something not quite right in the testimony. Maybe John would know. "Do me a favor and read this section."

Dolittle took it from him and read the passage. "This witness can't tell time, can he?"

"That's what I thought." Steven took the paper from him. "The landlady said she came in at about 11:00 and said good-night to her boyfriend before going upstairs. She didn't see her again. The second boyfriend calls on the phone at 11:15 and there's no answer. He says he rushed over from his place in Belgravia but didn't get there until 11:45. Now, it doesn't take half-an-hour to cover that distance at that time of night."

"The coroner puts the time of death as 11:30. He was juggling for an alibi."

"I'm surprised no one caught on."

"Who is this anyway?" Steven showed him the name. "Jeffrey Buchanan? What are you driving at?"

"Fitz said that Buchanan could be protecting someone. Why not his son? Why send him off suddenly to the Continent?" Steven told him his theory.

"You're reaching at straws. None of this will hold."

"This is the time when you confront the baddies with everything you know and then they do something foolish to prove their guilt."

"I knew it would happen sooner or later."

"What?"

"You're beginning to believe in your own legend. Just promise me that you won't do anything idiotic without back-up."

"You know me."

"Why do you think I'm asking?"

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

Steven drove to the Buchanans' and rang the bell. The butler was surprised to see him again so soon. "You can see I used the front door this time. Is Mr. Buchanan home?"

"Yes, right this way, your Grace."

Buchanan rose and greeted him when he walked into the study. "Your Grace. To what do I owe the honor?"

"I guess you could say Parliamentary procedure." He looked knowingly at Buchanan.

"That will be all, Andrews." Once the butler left, Buchanan said, "We can speak in privacy here, your Grace. What's on your mind?"

"Quite a few things, actually, but only three pertain to you," he said, taking a seat.

"What three might those be?"

"Murder, three of them. All this year, as a matter of fact. The first necessitated the others."

"I'm afraid I have no idea of what you're talking about."

"A few days ago, the body of Roger Evans, MP, was found asphyxiated in his garage. I was called in to help because you know how much MPs hate being put on the spot. That afternoon, the coroner discovered that the body was not that of Evans, but of a young man in his late twenties. Now, for some reason, that poor man was impersonating Evans. We had little time to ponder this because of the Croydon police called to report a John Doe that matched Evans' description. There had to be a connection.

"At this point, we were stumped. We had no idea of the young man's identity. That is, until his sister came to London. She was worried because she hadn't received answers to her letters. She went to Scotland Yard to report him as a missing person. She had his last letter with her, dated the end of last month. It was also written on special-order stationery, postmarked from this area. Very similar to what you have in your study."

Buchanan said nothing and Steven continued. "We came up with the hypothesis that Evans was put out of the way because he was a supporter of the death penalty. Someone who was strongly against it found this actor to portray him and change the vote. It is common knowledge that the strongest voice for the repeal was Hill. Some rumors were floating about that raised questions about his finances. The IRS was brought in to investigate him. They discovered that he had received large payments at regular intervals from the same person--a certain Mark Buchanan."

"Such creativity, sir. Have you ever thought of taking up fiction?"

"Ah, but I'm not done yet. The piece of information that ties everything together is from an unsolved case from the spring. I had the files brought up and they were read through. A slight discrepancy was found in a witness's testimony. That witness, a young man, went to the Continent quite suddenly the following week. Usually, such flights are an admission of guilt.

"In piecing this together, my friend and I found a thread. If this young man were guilty, his family would not want him to die, so they send him away. However, if the truth is discovered, the penalty of death still hangs over him. The thing to do is to get rid of the death penalty by an act of Parliament. The rich father chooses an ambitious MP and pays him to bring this about any way he can. The murders."

"Most clever," said a new voice. "I think you've been reading too much Agatha Christie."

Steven turned to see Hill standing by the closed door with gun in hand. "I was wondering when you'd show up. Things just wouldn't be complete."

"Yes, well, things do have to come to a close. Thank you for a most entertaining story. I think I will let Mr. Hill provide you with an ending. My wife and I have a dinner to attend." Buchanan headed for the door. "When you're done, tie up all the loose ends."

"Yes, Mr. Buchanan. It will be a pleasure." Hill grinned as he looked at Steven, a mad glint in his eyes.

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

Dolittle called Steven's home and Alison answered. "Is Steven home? I'm ready to visit Buchanan."

"He's not here, John. I thought he was with you."

"He never came back? Dammit, he must have gone to see Buchanan himself. I'll go get him. You stay there in case he calls you on the phone." He slammed down his phone and called a sergeant and constable, telling them that they were going to prevent a murder. He left a message with Inspector Thomspon "Just in case".

They drove to Buchanan's and Dolittle knocked on the door. Andrews opened the door and joined them outside. "They have the duke of Edinburgh in the study."

"Hill and Buchanan?" asked John. "When did he arrive?"

"A little over an hour ago, sir. Mr. Hill had a gun. I'm afraid at what might have happened."

"Thank you. You had better go downstairs with the others. My men and I will handle Misters Hill and Buchanan."

"Mr. Buchanan isn't home, sir. He and his wife went to a dinner."

"That's even better." Dolittle followed Andrews inside quietly.

"Andrews! Who's at the door?" came Hill's voice from the study.

"Just a salesman, Mr. Hill. I've turned him away."

"Good. Now go belowstairs and don't come up no matter what you hear."

Andrews looked at Dolittle who waved him on. He then motioned to the sergeant and constable to move quietly to the doors. "We must move fast," he whispered, "but do nothing to endanger the duke's life." John knocked on the study door.

"I told you to go downstairs, Andrews."

John opened the door quickly, his gun out. "Andrews has gone down."

"Hello, John." Steven was tied up in a straight-back chair with a rifle facing him, booby-trapped to go off at the slightest movement. "Excuse me for not getting up."

"What might you be doing here, Superintendent?" Hill asked casually.

"It seems that I'm preventing a murder."

"Murder? What a laugh. His Grace was just showing me how he was tied up in one of his cases."

"Come now, Mr. Hill. You can come up with something better than that. I've known his Grace for almost twenty-five years now and nothing like this has happened before. Correct me if I'm wrong, Steven."

"Quite right, John. Never been in this situation before. Don't like it now."

"I'll untie you in a moment. We must deal with Mr. Hill right now."

"You have no reason to arrest me, Superintendent. I've done nothing."

"Holding a nobleman at gunpoint is nothing? What about taking a struggling actor, getting him hooked on cocaine, then murdering him when he was of no further use? Then there was the murder of Evans, oh, and the taking of bribes."

"You and his Grace must have practiced your stories. I have two people who swear that I was with them when Evans was killed. As for Mason, I only met him once, and he was quite alive then."

John smiled. "Ah, Mr. Hill, you have just made me a very happy man. Mr. Hill, I arrest you in the name of Her Majesty for the murders of Roger Evans and Brian Evans, the attempted murder of the duke of Edinburgh, and the taking of bribes."

Hill didn't know how to take this news. He reached for the door but the police Dolittle brought with him blocked his way. He backed up and bumped into Steven who rocked precariously with a sharp eye on the rifle. With his hands, he grabbed at Hill's coat and held onto him as they tipped over. The gun went off and Steven found himself alive yet felt blood on his hands.

"Steven, are you okay?"

"I've been better. Help me up, will you? And call a doctor. Hill is still alive."

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

Hill lived. He had been shot in the thigh, and, after the bullet was taken out, he confessed to the killings and Buchanan's part in them. Steven's theory was correct. Buchanan, in wanting to prevent a scandal, made it even worse. Jeffrey Buchanan was extradited from France and convicted of murder. Even though the murder took place when the death penalty was in effect, he was convicted afterwards. He was sentenced to life, as was Hill. His father received 30 years.

Evans was buried next to his wife in a dignified ceremony. Brian Mason was buried in his hometown. Steven sent flowers to both funerals, feeling somewhat close to them in a strange way. He received a note from Amanda Mason thanking him for finding her brother, even though it was too late.

My brother was wonderful, your Grace, and must have changed terribly if he had become addicted to cocaine as you said. I think dying was a much more merciful way out for him. This may sound strange to you, but I'm glad that Brian's death could help you catch those two men plus the boy who murdered that poor young girl. I find myself forever in your debt. Thank you.
Your servant,
Amanda Mason


Steven kept the letter as a strange memento of a very strange case.

Profile

SPN Dean Writing
blazoningpen
blazoningpen

Latest Month

June 2017
S M T W T F S
    123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930 
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Witold Riedel