Authors: Gregory Harris
Tags: #dpgroup.org, #Fluffer Nutter
THE ARNIFOUR AFFAIR
THE BELLINGHAM BLOODBATH
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
A Colin Pendragon Mystery
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
For my parents, David and Jane...
two extraordinary people
ne of Her Majesty's coaches was waiting to whisk us off to Buckingham Palace. We had only just been told about the killing of a captain in Her Majesty's Life Guard and his wife, and were being summoned, presumably, to solve their murders. The sergeant they'd sent for us had made it sound like an ugly business indeed.
I stared across the room with a mixture of dread and morbid curiosity as I watched Colin continue to fiddle with one of his derringers. Surely he meant for us to leave . . . yet there he sat, painstakingly wiping every centimeter of the little gun until I could finally stand it no longer: “What the bloody hell are you doing?”
He looked up at me with an inconceivably guileless expression. “What?”
“Buckingham . . . ?!” I blurted as though speaking to someone quite undone. “The sergeant who came to fetch us is waiting outside . . .”
“I know,” he answered simply.
“Well, are we going?”
“The sergeant's a pompous little twit. He can wait.”
“He's an officer of Her Majesty's Life Guardâ”
“I don't care if he's having it off with the old girl herself; let him wait. Be good to teach him some manners.”
“So we're back in school then?” I parried just as a loud and insistent pounding burst up from the door downstairs.
“See what I mean,” Colin grumbled.
“I'm sure he's only trying to follow orders. He wasn't sent here to polish the cobbles pacing.”
A second pounding, even more determined, brought Colin to his feet. “If he does that again I shall go down there and shove my boot up his orders.”
“No doubt Mrs. Behmoth will beat you to it,” I said as the sound of her lumbering from the kitchen to the front door drifted up among her curses. I was certain she would roundly upbraid the young sergeant the moment she got the door open, but no such diatribe ensued. Instead I heard the voice of our elderly neighbor curl up the stairs. “It's Mrs. Menlo,” I said with little enthusiasm.
“And what is she complaining about now?” He shook his head as he set his derringer onto the mantel. “Is the soldier out front giving her vapors?”
“I should think she's trying to wheedle information out of Mrs. Behmoth. You know how she despises not knowing our business.”
“Yes . . .” He snatched up his dumbbells and began curling them over his head. “And I'm sure we could cause her a good deal of apoplexy with some of the things we get up to.” He snickered. “For the moment, however, I believe it's time we learned something about this poor captain and his wife. We mustn't show up at the major's office completely unawares.”
I stared at the stack of unread newspapers beside the hearth as he continued to train the already-taut muscles of his arms. “Fine,” I exhaled. “Let me see what I can find of it.”
“Excellent,” he muttered, dropping to the floor and busting out a set of push-ups on his dumbbells.
Turning my attentions back to the pile of papers, I was relieved when my search proved brief. Stretched across the morning edition of yesterday's paper was a banner that cried:
QUEEN'S CAPTAIN AND WIFE BUTCHERED IN BLOODBATH
. I read the article aloud while Colin continued his fevered push-ups, and it was only after I finished that he finally sat up, ran a sleeve across his sweating forehead, and asked me to read it again. This time he listened.
“Sometime during the night of Sunday last, Captain Trevor Bellingham, 32, of the Queen's Life Guard, and his wife, Gwendolyn, 29, were brutally murdered in the Finchley Road flat they shared with their young son. Miraculously, the young boy, just past his fifth birthday, was found unharmed in his bedroom. Police had to break the boy's door down, as it had been wedged tight, almost certainly by the murderer, though one source close to the investigation suggested that one of the parents may have secured the door in order to save their son.
“Mrs. Bellingham was reported to have been shot and killed in her bedroom, but Scotland Yard has yet to release the cause of death for Captain Bellingham, stating that the matter was still under investigation.”
I glanced over to where Colin remained sitting on the floor. “I wonder why the secrecy?”
“We shall have to find out.”
“Police did state that there did not appear to be any signs of forced entry, pointing to the possibility that the killer may have been known to Captain and Mrs. Bellingham. Scotland Yard's Inspector Emmett Varcoe”
âI read his name enunciating it with mock esteemâ
“assures that everything possible is being done to solve this terrible crime against one of the Queen's own men and his young wife. However, the
would like to remind its readership that Inspector Varcoe is the same investigator who remains befuddled by the identity of the vicious killer known only as Jack the Ripper.”
“It all sounds rather odd,” Colin muttered as he stood up and hurried off toward our bedroom, “though a spot-on summation of Varcoe. He should have retired a decade ago.”
“That he should . . . ,” I agreed as Colin returned with his straw-colored hair slicked back and our coats over his arms.
“Shall we . . . ?”
Twenty minutes later the carriage that had been awaiting us swung around the drive of Buckingham Palace and once again I was struck by how austere and remote it looked. Partially colonnaded in the Federalist style, it appears like neither a true palace nor a home. Sprawling behind its massive bronze and iron fencing with a contingency of guards precisely stationed across its front, it seems very much to be holding itself with the same reserve as our Queen.
I took note of the lone Union Jack on the roof and knew Victoria was not in residence. Her colors would be flying atop Sandringham this time of year, though even if she had been here I knew it would have made little difference. One does not happen upon Her Majesty in the hallways. Nevertheless, it would have been the closest I had ever come to royalty.
The coachman brought us alongside the gates and slowed almost to a stop as they began to swing inward at the behest of our escort, Sergeant McReedy. We were ushered through and driven across the parade grounds to the far side of the building under the watchful eyes of a throng of spectators.
“They must think us special.” I chuckled.
“We are,” Colin murmured as he surreptitiously squeezed my hand.
“Perhaps so, but they'll still be disappointed when we climb out.”
He laughed as I turned to watch the stiff-postured guards we were clattering past with their blazing red jackets and high bearskin hats. They ignored us as we went by, none so much as moving his eyes to follow our progress. “You can always count on this lot to put us in our place,” Colin said.
Before I could answer we came to an abrupt stop and both doors were immediately swept open. Sergeant McReedy dismounted and led us through a side portico and down a hallway of unremarkable design that I decided no royal had ever passed along. Tiny offices lined both sides, providing the only contrast in the otherwise stark space. It was hardly what I had expected until I reminded myself that these were the niches of those who kept the palace functioning; what use did they have for moldings, ormolu, filigree, or even art?
The sergeant stopped at an office near the end of the corridor and barked out, “Colin Pendragon and Ethan Pruitt!”
An alabaster-skinned young man who looked too young to be in the service sat behind a small desk in the anteroom to a much larger office. “Oh . . . ,” he said with notable surprise as Colin and I walked in. “Oh . . . ,” he repeated as his eyes fell on me before quickly shifting back to Colin. “It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Pendragon,” he said, holding out his hand. “I'm Major Hampstead's attachÃ©, Corporal Bramwood.” His gaze drifted in my direction again and I knew what was coming. “I am terribly sorry . . . ,” he said coolly, “. . . but there seems to have been a misunderstanding.” He looked back at Colin. “The summons from Major Hampstead was meant for you, Mr. Pendragon, and you alone.”
“Ah . . . then there has indeed been a misunderstanding.” Colin offered a smile. “I'm afraid I don't work alone, Corporal. You and your major will take us together or you will settle for my regrets.”
Corporal Bramwood opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. I saw him glance behind me to where Sergeant McReedy remained in the doorway and then heard the sound of the sergeant moving off. This young man was apparently on his own.
“Have a seat . . . have a seat . . . ,” he mumbled quickly. “I shall let Major Hampstead know you are
here.” He gave an awkward nod before disappearing through the door behind his desk, making sure it latched firmly behind him.
“This lot seems to think they're all ordained by God,” Colin muttered as he sat down.
I snickered. “I don't think that young corporal is used to having his major's orders countermanded.”
“I was civil about it,” Colin blithely protested.
Before I could say anything more the inner door burst open and Corporal Bramwood hurried out with an older man at his heels. “Mr. Pendragon . . . Mr. Pruitt!” he sputtered. “This is Major Hampstead.”
The major stepped forward, a tall man somewhere in his late fifties with a generous middle. He wore a thick white mustache and sported huge sideburns that fanned out several inches along his jawline. His deportment suggested he had been a leader most of his life: ramrod straight with a swagger of marked self-assurance. “It is an honor to meet you, gentlemen,” he said, and I knew he was also a diplomat.
“It is always a pleasure to meet one of Her Majesty's lifers.” Colin smiled.
Major Hampstead snorted a laugh. “I should doubt the son of Her Majesty's emissary to India is so easily impressed. I would say your father has given nearly the whole of his life in service to her.”
“He has.” Colin flashed a tight grin. “But the life of a diplomat hardly compares to the work of a regimental guard. You mustn't give my father too much credit.”
“I doubt that I am,” he chortled. “Please come in, gentlemen. Tea, Corporal,” he ordered before retreating back to his office and seating himself behind his massive desk.
Corporal Bramwood brought in a tray of tea and biscuits with a speed that conveyed just how much time he spent in that endeavor. The straining seams along the sides of the major's red tunic also attested to that fact. “I appreciate your willingness to come here without the slightest notice,” he said. “I'm afraid I have a very difficult matter to discuss. One that requires the utmost discretion.”
“You are referring to the murder of that captain and his wife?”
The major winced. “I am. It's an awful business that has been made even more unseemly by the newspapers heralding it the way they've done.”
“I'm afraid our countrymen are always keen for a scandal.”
“Which is precisely my point.” I could see him relax a bit at Colin's pronouncement. “The Queen's Guard simply
be party to any such scandal. It is inappropriate and unacceptable.”
“That may be, but it would appear it is already done.”
The major knit his brow. “I would venture otherwise, Mr. Pendragon. I have asked you here because I believe you can do a great deal to help us staunch this damage. You can impact the public record to not only cease the gossip concerning this very private, very regrettable event, but to allow
to deal with it ourselves, outside of the public's lecherous purview.”
“Us . . . ?”my
“The Guard, of course.”
“I see,” Colin said even as his own brow creased a notch. “You have summoned us here to divert the newsmen while you and your regiment, untrained in such things, attempt to solve these murders?”
“It is the Guard's business and should be handled as such.”
“It is the murder of two British subjects, Major Hampstead, one of whom was in service to the Queen. I'm quite certain the public will remain very concerned about it until it is resolved. The inference being, of course, that the very men prescribed with protecting Her Majesty cannot even protect themselves. Trying to steal this behind the public's eye will be quite impossible, Major. Unless, of course, you are trying to hide something . . . ?”
“Hide something . . . ?!” His face creased into a scowl. “I trust you are being facetious, Mr. Pendragon.”
“I've been accused of worse,” he muttered.
“Let me assure you that my request comes only out of concern for Her Majesty's Guard,” the major said in a tone as filled with condescension as assurance. “The first lesson a man learns when he enlists is that it is not about the individual, but the regiment. Every man who serves under Victoria's banner understands that.”
“While I'm sure that's true,” Colin allowed with a tightening smile as he fished a crown out of his pocket and began effortlessly weaving it between the fingers of his right hand, “I don't see how it is relevant.”
“Then you are missing my point,” the major sniped. “The Queen's regiment has a prestige to uphold and cannot afford to be mired down in such things. This Bellingham situation is anathema to everything the Guard represents.”
Colin instantly palmed the crown. “Do I understand you correctly, Major? Do you presume to speak for the Queen with such rhetoric?”
“Now Mr. Pendragon”âhe exhaled deeply before popping a biscuit into his mouthâ“you misunderstand me. Captain Bellingham was one of my most trusted leaders and a man I considered a personal friend. No one in this company is more determined to bring the perpetrator of his murder to justice than I. And I had the utmost respect and adoration for his lovely wife. A kind and wonderful woman whose senseless killing demands all the resources at the Guard's disposal. Yet even so, decorum dictates that it
be done with discretion. You said yourself that the public will have no faith in our Guard if they perceive that we cannot even fend for ourselves. I'm sure I do not need to remind you that Her Majesty's Life Guard represents the finest of our country's protectors and as such cannot bear so much as a
of scandal. This matter
be solved by this regiment, but we shall do it
of the gaze of the common masses.”