Poor Hardworkin' Pleeshman
Fandom: Dorothy L Sayers - Lord Peter Wimsey series
Written for: Nineveh_uk in the Yuletide 2008 Challenge
The prisoner made a half-serious attempt at bolting, but the beefy sergeant standing next to him was quicker than he looked. There was a brief scuffle, and a moment later the man was being led away by two officers with iron grips.
A diminutive long-nosed man in a grey suit and a taller man with broad shoulders stood watching the process. Both were sporting near-identical airs of satisfaction, like a pair of cats covered in yellow feathers.
"Well, Charles, that was rather enjoyable," said the grey-suited man, turning to his companion. "A brief bit of ratiocination, some poking around, and a charming resolution emerges! Attenbury shall have his pretties returned to him by nightfall." His expression fell a bit. "It was all over quickly, though. Are all criminals that bad at logical planning? One would think they would take more care, it being their stock-in-trade, as it were."
"I'm rather relieved that they don't, in general. Makes catching them much easier."
"Yes, I suppose. But not nearly as entertaining as it should be."
The other man's posture became slightly wooden. "Entertaining, Lord Peter? I don't think I realized that police work was expected to be a frolic."
"Don't try that duty-before-all rot on me, old man. I saw your face when we cornered him. You were positively gleeful, in that restrained policemanlike way of yours." His lordship thumped his hand against his chest in a theatrical gesture and declaimed, "Yet I suppose him virtuous, free, learned, valiant and in the shape of nature a gracious person...You've been a terribly good sport about letting me tag about after you, Charles. It's been awfully divertin' and educational. Stop by when you're faced with another puzzler - Bunter knows to always let you in, day or night." The man sauntered off, whistling, and disappeared into a hailed cab.
Detective-Inspector Charles Parker was left to stare after him for a moment before shaking his head in dismay. Whatever possessed a sprig of the nobility to take up detective work in his spare time was no concern of his, no matter how engaging his manner. The theft of the emeralds would have been a knotty problem to untangle without his help, but doubtless Lord Peter Wimsey's involvement in the whole affair had been a passing whim born out of boredom. Pity. He'd have made an excellent policeman, if you could tack a few more inches onto him. On the other hand, keeping up with Lord Peter's quicksilver mind took a great deal of effort, especially when the man would dart sideways into some impenetrable lingual thicket where Parker would not - could not - follow.
Nodding to his constables, he hopped into one of the police vehicles and headed back to face the mountain of paperwork that invariably followed an arrest.
Two months later, at about ten in the morning, a desperate Parker stood in front of Peter Wimsey's flat, trying to determine whether or not he really wanted to ring the bell. As he wrestled with himself, a pale head poked out of a second-story window, and hailed him in dulcet tones.
"Hallo, Parker! I thought you'd be along soon enough. Come up and have some refreshments and polite conversation."
The door opened and Bunter ushered him up the stairs and into a paradise of an apartment, where Wimsey sat at a breakfast table consuming sausages, eggs, and toast. His dressing-gown was of surpassing magnificence, and he looked very pleased with life indeed. Parker declined breakfast, accepted coffee, and was seated in a comfortable armchair.
"What kingpin of crime has put that expression on your face, Charles? You look positively perturbed. Tell Auntie Wimsey all."
"Well," began Parker, then paused, still unsure. But Peter cocked an inquisitive eyebrow at him, and Parker sighed and surrendered to fate.
"I've got a case that's an absolute impossibility. It's one of those cast-iron alibis that novelists love so dearly. I have my man, I'd swear to it, but I'm dashed if I can prove it. I don't even know where to begin explaining it."
Wimsey sawed off a piece of sausage and popped it in his mouth, chewing ruminatively. "I tell you what, old son. I was planning on bargin' down to Duke's Denver today, to visit m'mother. Come with me and be introduced - she's ever so curious about you since I told her I had taken up poking my nose into police business. I'll put my grey matter at your disposal, and perhaps I can be the Watson to your Holmes and help you solve the case in a blaze of glory."
"It's likely to be the other way around," said Parker mournfully.
Wimsey's mother proved to be a bewildering woman, although a benevolent one. She came whirling up to them like a small tame cyclone, embracing Wimsey fondly, shaking hands with Parker, and bustling them off to a sitting room and ordering tea all within a matter of seconds. Perched on the edge of a chair that seemed much too frail to support him, Parker sipped his tea gingerly while being eyed by a magnificent Persian cat with an outlandish name. He looked away from the cat's penetrating gaze, only to find that he was being scrutinized by the Duchess with much the same sharp expression. He blinked at her stupidly, and she smiled and turned back to her son, who was asking the whereabouts of his sister.
"Mary is in the city, dear, and I wish you would have a word with her when you can. I dare say she's having a delightful time gallivanting around with that young man she's so attached to - I did tell you about him, didn't I? He's a revolutionary Free Thinker, or a Leninite, or something like that, and has an unfortunate weak chin. I can't think how Mary doesn't notice it, and I don't think it speaks well of his character. I told her I really didn't think it was right for her to be so attached to a man sworn to destroy her class; after all, it's so wearing on a man to have love interfere with principles. But she says she won't, and you know your sister: stubborn to the bone, just like the rest of you."
"Hrm," said Wimsey. "Mary's a silly chit, but her heart is oak and her bottom is sound, if one can speak of one's sister that way. She'll be all right." He put his teacup down and stood up. "Parker, old horse, we shall have a turn about the grounds and you can unburden your soul to me. All shall be made well and all shall be well and we'll nab your unusually efficient criminal with style and panache."
"Well, Peter," said his mother as the two men rose to leave. "I am glad to see you usefully occupied."
Two days later, at about eight in the evening, Parker made a jubilant return to Wimsey's flat, announcing his news even as he stepped through the door.
"You were absolutely right! I traced the second truck, and found out that company doesn't actually exist. It's completely a sham, something he cooked up to get around a tax law of some sort or another. Once we knew the driver wasn't an independent witness, our man's alibi went bust and he confessed to everything."
Peter clapped him on the shoulder enthusiastically. "Knew you'd do it, Charles! The hound has seized his quarry and borne him off in triumph. Although you could stop seizing me, I'm not the quarry." He detached his hand from Parker's, who had been shaking it vigorously, and waved the enthused detective into a chair.
"I don't think I can take a bit of credit for this. I'd never have thought to challenge that witness. It looked completely straightforward at first glance, and I'm dashed if I know how you thought to ask the questions you did. I don't suppose you'd like to quit your life of rampant luxury and join the police force?"
"As tempting as that offer sounds, I regret to inform you that I have flat feet and completely undisciplined habits. I shouldn't suit the police, and I daren't think they'd suit me, although I suppose you and I getting along tolerably well." The men grinned at each other in mutual pleasure for a moment, before the mischievous glint in Wimsey's eye faded. He glanced down at his hands for a moment, and then back up at Parker.
"Tell me if this is pushing my nose into things too far, Charles, but I have rather a favor to ask you, and please tell me to push off if I'm intruding too much." His speech was more rapid than usual, and Parker frowned at the strained note that had appeared in his voice. "That is, I wouldn't mind at all if you let me barge along on some of your cases. The ones like Attenbury, where you needed a little help sussing out the villain. Maybe a nice little murder - you know how I dote on corpses." Wimsey's face was studiously indifferent, but his mouth was curved in a tense parenthesis. Over his shoulder, Parker saw Bunter pause to glance at his master, the slightest crease appearing between his brows.
Parker was taken momentarily aback. "I have to say, Peter - I didn't expect all this to be anything more than a lark for you. You're interested in continuing on? Investigating as a hobby?"
Bunter had given up any pretence of being about to leave the room, and now stood unmoving behind Wimsey's chair.
"Very interested. I did a spot of intelligence work in the War, and I daresay I developed a taste for it. Working on these two cases with you has been a fearfully good time, although I'm sure it's been far more of a slog for you, having me as a millstone 'round your neck."
"We-ell...I can't say anything except both of these cases turned out brilliantly because of you. I can't say I would mind continuing on as we've begun." He grinned as Peter's expression lightened dramatically, like a storm cloud blowing past the moon. "I can't promise you anything yet. Let me run it past Sir Andrew, just for formality's sake - although as you fish with the man every year in Scotland, I doubt he'd take badly to you putting your oar in occasionally." Parker paused, struck by a thought. "You know, though - it'll be a field day for the press. They'll adore having a nobleman Sexton Blake."
Wimsey waved an elegant, dismissive hand. "Fie on the press. I know how to manage that lot. I was more worried about how you'd feel, having a rank amateur constantly peppering you with bright ideas and helpful suggestions and, in short, running you every which way 'round the mulberry bush."
"Honestly, I'd be delighted to drag all my trickiest cases to your door. Otherwise I'm forced to talk things out with Inspector Sugg, and he's a bit..."
"Say no more. With a name like Sugg, how could he be otherwise? I thank you and your willingness to share your corpses, Charles. It's a kindly gesture on your part." Peter leaned back in his chair, the note of strain in his voice now quite gone, and began to babble of the delights of murderers and untraceable poisons. Parker listened, interjecting with occasional comments.
Behind them, Bunter slipped away noiselessly to fetch the brandy.