Chapter 34 - All in the Line of Duty
Jean G Hontz
@copyright 2009 all rights reserved
Rory, for the ninth time wishing he at least had the gun-stick, followed the mercs. “I suppose it’s completely against all the principles you hold so dear for me to expect you to just tell me who you were hired to protect Ainsworth from?”
Several mercs snorted.
“Ah, as I thought,” was Rory’s dry muttered reply. “Mercenary’s code and all that.”
One merc glanced around at him. “I’ve shot men for less.”
“But surely not policemen,” Rory replied batting his eyelashes.
The merc growled at him, entirely delighting Rory, who had a sad penchant for taunting bad guys, which would, no doubt, one day get him sadly killed.
The mercs led him to a door and the apparent leader said, “You’re on your own from here.”
“Right. Does this mean you’re not stickling around to make sure Nathan Ainsworth is truly dead? Not going to wait around hoping he's alive? Giving up on the concept of filthy lucre?”
The one merc growled at Rory again, the leader just grinned. “We get paid in advance.” He gave Rory a mock salute. And in a matter of seconds they’d all melted away into the gloom of the tunnel. They’d left Rory on his own but alive. He counted that as a win..
Rory stared at the door in front of which he stood thoughtfully. The problem of going through doors was that you never quite knew what to expect on the other side or who might be waiting on the other side. Similarly, whoever was on the other side had no clue about you. For instance, they'd probably not be expecting a fellow who carried a warrant card, nor one who was unarmed. Considering the firepower he’d so recently seen demonstrated in his city, anyone with any sense at all who had the means would shoot at him as he came through the damn door and worry about asking questions only afterward.
Still, he couldn't sit here in a gloomy moldy tunnel all day. Things were heating up outside and he wanted to be in on them.
As silently as possible he sidled up to the door. He put his ear to it but heard nothing. Well, that was a plus, he supposed. Probably no army of mercs on the other side.
He took a deep breath, grabbed hold of the door’s handle, was somewhat surprised when it turned, unlatched it then pulled it open with as much force as possible whilst diving head-first to the ground and off to the side.
Something hit his head with force. He reached for the back of his head expecting to see blood. Hmm. That was when he saw the weapon which had been used against him.
For his pains, he’d been hit on the head with a shoe. As he squinted at it he saw it was a woman’s shoe. A pretty little one with a rhinestone buckle.
Thank God no one was around to see this and tell the tale. He’d never live it down. He sighed. “Mrs Black, I presume?” he called out.
“Just who are you, young man, and what it is to you just who I am?” the woman demanded.
It had to be in the blood. At least Ned Black seemed to come by his effrontery honestly. “Chief Inspector Rory. Madam. I’m unarmed. Please put down the other shoe.”
“Or you’ll arrest me for assaulting a police officer?” she asked hopefully.
“Or I won't take you to tea and then ask your assistance in helping me find your son.”
She hesitated a bit, probably thinking over the offer of tea, Rory figured. Then she said, “All right. Come in. Slowly. I still have a weapon.”
Rory got to his feet and entered the room cautiously. He looked around.
She was standing just behind and a bit to the side of the door and had what looked like a wooden curtain rod in her hand. It would have hurt like hell had she brought it down on his head! He wasn't even wearing a hat, having lost it somewhere or other today. Damn. He’d liked that hat.
Rory showed her his hands then began slowly reaching toward his pocket. “I’ll show you my warrant card,” he explained, “so you’ll see I’m Kevyn Rory, Chief Inspector, Scotland Yard, Special Branch.”
“Is there a non-Special Branch?” she asked interestedly.
He grinned. “All of the others are boring as the devil.” He held out his warrant card and she read it without putting down her weapon.
Once she’d looked her fill, she stared at him. “You are far too cute to be a police officer. Even an inspector.” She batted her baby blues at him.
Rory fought with his lips a moment. “I’ve explained that time and again to my superiors. I think they should promote me. They, however, fail to appreciate all my talents.”
She laughed and laid down the heavy rod. Rory allowed himself to relax a bit.
“Well, Mrs Black...”
“Abigail, luv. Call me Abigail.”
“Abigail, then. It appears that Nathan Ainsworth has either taken to his heels or is quite dead. So here I am to rescue you.”
“Rescue me?” she asked, frowning at him.
“Well, then perhaps you can think of me as merely your escort away from this particular stopover.”
“Darling,” she said, “I doubt you’re merely anything.”
He bowed, doing his best not to smirk.
“Just let me pack my things.” She totally abandoned her weaponry and flounced off.
“Would you get my shoe, please? I like those shoes.”
“Delighted,’ he replied with alacrity and fetched it from the hallway for her.
She was wearing something all floaty and with a myriad of feathers, and she looked to be completely at ease despite the weirdness of the situation. She was still a very handsome woman, Rory noticed, although her hair no longer raven black but instead touched with silver. Her eyes were good, and her smile was stunning. She'd kept her figure too. Rory looked with some interest mixed with a good deal of horror at what she was packing.
“Oh, do stop pretending innocence,” Abigail huffed. “I have no doubt whatsoever that you’ve seen plenty of women’s underthings. I have lovely underthings, as you can clearly see, and I won’t have them left here for some drooling constable to go through using the excuse he’s searching for clues,” she replied. “Here. Make yourself useful and help me pack.”
Rory grinned. “Yes, ma’am.”
“You really are quite cute,” Abigail said, looking Rory up and down. “Tea, you promised? How about luncheon instead. I would far rather wine more than tea.”
He laughed. “Luncheon it is then. At Clarridge’s?”
“Such a sweet boy,” she said patting his cheek. “Now be a dear and bring that valise over here.”
Rory, bemused, did just that. And, he had to admit, she did indeed have some very nice underthings.
Once he'd gotten Abigail sorted, Rory had taken some time to look around Ainsworth’s townhouse and speak with the servants huddling down in the kitchen attempting to look innocent and ignorant. As he’d expected, they really did know little and had clearly been told even less. He advised them to start looking for new situations, given that Nathan Ainsworth would most likely have a date with the Old Bailey once they’d found him. If he were alive at all.
The servants, no fools they, scooted off the moment they could, probably taking the silver with them. Rory didn't blame them a bit.
Once that was done, he looked around the place further and saw no indication that Ainsworth had returned earlier to make a hasty collection of things to take with him into hiding.
Abigail then showed Rory where Ned had been held and explained what she knew of things, which turned out to be quite a bit, actually. Nathan had apparently pretty much dismissed her as an empty-headed woman of no consequence who couldn't understand words beyond two syllables. He’d spoken quite freely in front of her given what she now repeated to Rory. She'd had the sense to listen and mentally catalogue what he said. She explained that years of theatre training had taught her to memorize things quickly, and well. He believed it. Perhaps Mallister should recruit her, Rory wondered to himself.
As for the situation with regard to her son Ned, Rory was quite blunt about what he’d seen, and what he hadn't seen, and what he suspected. Abigail was a practical woman and appreciated his candor. She agreed that although things looked a bit bleak, they were not as hopeless as they appeared to be on first blush.
By the time he and Abigail were ready to repair to an expensive luncheon at Clarridge’s Rory had checked in and arranged for constables to guard the Ainsworth townhouse, just in case Nathan or Richard Ainsworth came slinking home.
He also knew, but had not shared with Abigail, that the Marchants and the Hollis-Reynolds were staying at the Clarridge. He decided he’d fully brief all of them together with regard to the current state of the investigations surrounding Ned's possible survival, the explosion, and the apparent all out warfare concerning Ned’s Assembler and who would end up controlling both it and its inventor.
That Mallister and the Prince were also in the middle of that particular war, Rory did not doubt for a moment. He, in fact, hoped they’d manage to convince Benedict Black of the wisdom of accepting the government’s protections. One could only hope the young man would see the sense in it. Particularly if he, Rory, could convince both Abigail and Lady Emiline, of the practicality of such a solution.
Such was the state of things when the car he’d called for arrived to take Abigail Black and himself to Clarridge’s.
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