Chapter 1: Prologue
Harry started counting in his head how much time and air he had the moment water rose over his head and the steel lid of the milk can clunked into place above him. He was bent in half with his knees against his chest and his arms around his legs, his hands cuffed together near his feet. He worked the lock for the handcuffs solely by touch and by the forty-five second count in his head, had them off. Next he worked his right arm up and over his head and pushed at the lid of the milk can and grinned to himself; escaping in under a minute would set a new personal best time.
The steel cover didn't move.
He re-adjusted his body slightly and pushed again, but it still refused to come off. He realised Dunbury had closed the lid wrong and what should have been a simple matter to pop off with one hand, was now a challenge. The count in his head was now at two minutes as he continued to push at the metal cover.
There was no time, or reason, for panic. He re-adjusted again to give his legs more leverage and pushed first at one side of the lid then the other multiple times with his right hand, all the while still counting seconds as his mental clock told him he was past the three minute mark and the drape around the milk can would be removed soon. Finally, the lid popped loose and he climbed out, dripping and slightly breathless. He snapped the cover back in place mere seconds before the curtain lifted and the audience roared its approval.
Harry stood on stage as thunderous applause echoed around the theater. He smiled and waved, acknowledging the accolades from the crowd, but inside he was seething. He gave one last wave and left the stage. Bess, his latest assistant, took one look at his face and faded back against the wall as Harry stormed past.
"Where is he?" he growled to no one in particular.
"Who?" Bess asked since no one else backstage said a word.
"Dunbury, who did you think," Harry replied as he looked at her. "Three separate mistakes in this show alone, and the last one," Harry rubbed at his neck and took the towel one of the stagehands held out for him. "The last one was the last straw. He's done."
"I haven't seen him," Bess replied. She was small, a few inches shorter than Harry, with dark, curly hair and a dancer's innate sense of grace. For all her small stature, however, she didn't let anyone, including Houdini, bully her. Which was one of the many reasons Harry liked her.
Bess looked around and one of the other stagehands pointed to the backstage exit door. She nodded gratefully to the man as she followed Houdini to his dressing room.
The room was large with a mirrored dressing stand to the right of the door, a changing screen and clothes rack next to it. A long, leather sofa with a matching chair and coffee table sat opposite the stand, while props for several effects cluttered the far corner. The walls were bare except for a few old promo posters from America tacked up around the dressing stand.
Harry toweled his hair dry as Bess entered the room and stood by the door. He dropped the towel on the dressing table and turned to face her. "I'm lucky I'm not dead," Harry said bluntly as he walked by her and behind the screen to change.
"Frank thinks Pete went out for a smoke," Bess said. "He's gone out to get him."
Harry grunted but said nothing.
"He's had a run of hard luck, lately. You know his sister just lost her husband in Africa," Bess started to explain. "He can't seem to get a break."
Harry came out from behind the screen wearing a pair of brown pinstriped trousers and a clean white shirt with light grey stripes. He tossed a red and gold waistcoat and a tie on the sofa. "I'm sorry about that. But distractions get people hurt." He opened a drawer in the dressing table and found an envelope. From his trouser pocket he took a wad of cash, peeled off a few bills, and stuffed them in the envelope. Harry looked up at the soft tapping at the door as he put the envelope and the roll of cash back in separate pockets.
Bess opened the door and stepped back as two men entered. Frank, the taller one, was almost completely bald with a broad chest and thick, muscular arms. He let go of the arm of the shorter man he'd dragged into the room behind him. Harry nodded his thanks to Frank and he and Bess left. Harry rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and pointed the shorter man at the leather chair near the sofa. He studied the other man in the mirror as he attached his collar.
Peter Dunbury was about Harry's height with straight brown hair and brown eyes. He was in his mid-thirties, but the hard lines around his mouth and eyes made him look older. He wore tan work trousers and a blue work shirt over a dirty, white collarless cotton shirt. He dropped a brown corduroy coat over the arm of the chair and toyed with the flat cap in his hands as he sat in the chair Harry indicated.
Harry finished with the collar and turned to face the man in the chair. "I think we both know what's going to happen here," Harry started to say and tried to keep his voice calm as he stood next to the sofa.
"I can explain, Mr Houdini," Dunbury said without looking up but stopped as Harry interrupted.
"I'm sure you can, but that's not the point. You're making too many mistakes and someone is going to get hurt. Or worse." Harry paced behind the back of the sofa. "I hired you based on Dundas Slater's recommendation, and that he said you needed the job. But this isn't going to work for either of us." Harry stopped pacing and looked at Dunbury as he held up the envelope from his pocket. "You're fired," he said and dropped the envelope in Dunbury's lap. "There's your pay inside."
Dunbury glared sullenly back and picked up the envelope. "You can't do this to me," he said. "You said you'd give me a chance."
Harry stood with his hands on his hips as his calm faςade cracked and his voice rose despite his best effort. "You've had two weeks of chances, Dunbury. You're outta goodwill from me."
Dunbury stood from the chair and growled, "I know some of your secrets now, Mr Houdini. I'm sure someone would pay me a tidy sum to find them out, the London Daily maybe?"
Harry dropped all pretense of cordiality and stood toe-to-toe with the other man. "You say one word about what you've learned here and I will end you," Harry threatened. "You think you've got it tough now, just try and push me on this." He shoved past Dunbury and yanked the dressing room door open. Several people, including Frank and Bess, loitered in the hall between the room and the stage, and Harry was sure they'd heard at least some of the exchange.
"Frank," Harry said to the man waiting against the wall opposite the door. "Make sure Mr Dunbury here gets out of the theater and on his way."
"Sure thing, Mr Houdini," Frank said and stepped forward. "Come on, you." He grabbed Dunbury by the arm again and marched him to the theater exit.
"You call this giving a man a chance?" Dunbury yelled from the stage door.
Harry ignored him as he walked back into his dressing room and closed the door. He sat on the sofa and leant back with his eyes closed. A few minutes later there was a knock at the door and Frank walked in and stood near the chair.
"He's gone, Mr Houdini. Saw him walking up the road toward the pub. I'll just get the rest of the stage cleared and head out."
Harry opened his eyes. "Thanks, Frank," he said and stood up. "I'll give you a hand moving things since I just fired your assistant."
Frank ducked his head. "No need for that. I can manage."
Harry smiled and clapped the stagehand on the arm. "Come on. It'll be faster with two."
Pete Dunbury sat in the Red Lion and nursed his third beer. He'd stomped into the pub two hours ago, the envelope of money still clenched in his hand. He'd dropped the envelope on the bar and sat on the nearest stool, requested beer, and glared at anyone near him.
After his first pint, two men came into the pub and took a booth off to one side. Physically, they looked like any of the other men in the bar, well-worn clothes, utilitarian work boots, and scruffy beards. One had dirty blond hair past his coat collar, the other, greasy black, cut short. When the black-haired man spoke to the bartender on the way to the booth, Pete saw he had a tooth missing. For all they blended in with the rest of the pub's crowd, these two had an air about them, something that stopped anyone else from sitting near them or even looking in their direction for long.
Pete watched the two men out of the corner of his eye and halfway through his second beer he was convinced the two men in the corner booth were watching him. He didn't know either of the men and he hastily stuffed the envelope of money in his coat pocket before anyone got any ideas on a quick payday. He finished the pint, signaled for a third and went back to feeling sorry for himself.
He wasn't sure what he'd do next. He'd called in what favors he had to get the job at the theater with Houdini. He thought about the banknotes in the envelope and admitted to himself the magician had done right by him. Not only had Houdini paid his wages but he'd included a bit extra as well, despite his screw-ups with the show. The threat to sell the few secrets he knew was an empty one, he'd never been able to hold his temper and he didn't really know anything important anyway. Maybe if he talked to Houdini and explained things he could get his job back.
He finished the last of his beer and staggered out of the pub and into the chill night air. It started to drizzle as he walked and he wrapped his coat tighter around himself as he wandered down the nearest alley toward his rooming house. He was halfway down the alley when he heard footsteps behind him and realized he was being followed. He turned around and saw the two men from the pub a few steps behind him.
"Bugger off," he hollered and flapped an arm angrily behind him.
Dunbury walked faster toward the other end of the alley; as the footsteps behind him increased as well, he started to run. He was nearly to the other end, he could see carriages and a few automobiles on the road in front of him when he was tackled from behind.
He landed on his knees in a puddle, and immediately lashed out at the nearest body. He smiled grimly as he heard a grunt of pain come from the blond man on his right but his confidence was short lived as the dark-haired man who tackled him landed several punches to his side. As he tried to protect his ribs, the blond man recovered and kicked him in the stomach and again in the face as he fell forward.
Now he was lying on his side and could do little to defend himself as the two men hit him repeatedly. As he lost consciousness, a tiny part of his mind wondered what he'd done to deserve to die and what would happen to his sister once he was gone.
Chapter 2: Act 1
Doctor Arthur Conan Doyle sat at his desk and tried to weed through the backlog of correspondence from the past few days. Even since Touie woke up, he'd spent nearly every waking hour at the sanatorium; household concerns like the post and the bills sat neglected until Vera reminded him of them.
He'd declined several cases with the police and only assisted with one investigation for Constable Stratton in February. Thankfully, he'd finished The Hound of the Baskervilles soon after Touie regained consciousness, or it would be sitting forgotten as well. A large package at the side of his desk held the final published book and he picked up the leather-bound volume and idly flipped through a few pages stopping here or there to admire one of the illustrations.
Setting the book aside, he sorted through another stack of envelopes as a watery March sunlight played across his desk. There were the usual invitations to speak at one gathering or another on the Boer War. Now that the book was published, he knew the requests to promote Holmes would flood in soon as well. He glanced at return addresses and sorted the envelopes into smaller piles of speaking requests, dinner invitations, and household bills.
Halfway through the pile, he stopped and stared at a strange envelope with no postmark and no sender information. The lack of postmark meant the letter had been hand-delivered; that there was no return information wasn't that unusual, but he had an odd feeling in his stomach as he stared at the envelope. Whatever it contained would not be good news. He studied it a few more seconds then slit it open and pulled out the single sheet of paper.
Did you know Harry Houdini killed a woman in Vermont?
I wonder how many more there might be.
One. Two. Four.
Doyle read the brief lines again, then called for his housekeeper, "Vera!"
"Yes, sir?" she asked as she entered the room a few seconds later and stood at the corner of the desk.
"Where did this come from?" Doyle asked and held up the plain envelope.
"I'm not sure, sir," she said as she studied the envelope in his hand. "It may have been in with yesterday's post. I didn't think anything of it at the time. Is there something wrong?"
Doyle turned over the envelope and the letter again. "I'm not sure," he said mostly to himself. "Thank you, Vera. Are the children off?"
Vera smiled. "Yes sir. Just this last minute. Such a change in them these last few weeks. It's nice to see them happy again."
Doyle returned the smile with one of his own. "Please make sure the basket is ready to go in twenty minutes. I promised Touie her favorite dessert for dinner today."
"It will be ready, don't you worry." Vera left the study and Doyle heard her move down the back hall toward the kitchen.
The writing on the envelope and in the note was unremarkable. The only thing he could say for sure was the tip of the fountain pen the sender used was new as he found several minute scratches on the paper under the ink. The paper itself was a medium weight and decent quality but there was no watermark or other way of tracing who might have purchased it.
He read the lines again and realized guiltily that he hadn't seen much of Houdini once Touie woke up. His friend had been instrumental in her recovery and he hadn't really talked to him above a handful of times since that night six weeks ago.
"Harry, what trouble have you managed to land yourself in?" Doyle muttered and put the letter back in its envelope and the envelope in the pocket of his suit coat. He reached for the phone intending to call the Metropole Hotel, but instead called Scotland Yard.
"Doctor Doyle, how are you?" Adelaide asked once he got her on the phone. "How is Mrs Doyle?"
"She is doing quite well all things considered," Doyle replied. "I was wondering if you'd talked to Houdini recently."
The silence over the phone line lasted long enough for Doyle to ask, "Constable, are you still there?"
"Hmm," she replied. "You got one too, then. A letter about Harry," she stated softly.
"Yes, I did. Probably with yesterday's post, Vera wasn't certain, however."
"But it was hand-delivered, correct?"
"You received one as well." Doyle realised he wasn't very surprised. He sat straight in his chair. "Are the two of you investigating another case without me?" he asked and tried to sound calm though his concern for Houdini ticked up another notch.
"No, I haven't seen much of Houdini since we arrested Harold George for murdering the tenants of his rooming house. That was a two weeks ago," Adelaide said and Doyle could hear the worry in her voice as well. "Do you know what the note is talking about? Is it true?"
Doyle hesitated, Harry had told him once about the woman and how she'd died, but it wasn't his place to explain it to the constable. "Have you talked to him about it yet?" Doyle asked and dodged her question.
"No, not yet. If Chief Merring sees this, it would be all the excuse he needs to stop Harry from investigating any more cases for the police no matter what explanation he has."
Arthur glanced at the clock on the mantle and said, "I'll head over to the hotel and see if I can find him and talk to him about it."
"I would come with you, but I was handed a new case this morning," Adelaide said. Doyle could hear her turning pages. "The body was found in an alley not too far away from the Alhambra Theater," she murmured more to herself than to him.
Doyle felt another jolt in his stomach but only said, "I'm sure it's just a coincidence, Constable. I'll go talk to Houdini and find out about the letters, you worry about your case. I'll let you know what I find out."
He rang off and sat back in his chair. Houdini would scoff, but Doyle just knew there was trouble ahead for the magician.
Doyle knocked at the door to the Royal Suite and waited for Houdini to answer. He heard footsteps near the door as Harry opened it and let him in the hotel room. Houdini wore grey trousers and a collarless shirt but no tie or waistcoat, and Doyle realized it was probably still early in the day for a man who worked at night. He glanced toward the fireplace and his suspicion was confirmed as he saw the scattered breakfast dishes still on the table near the sofa.
"Hey, Doc," Harry greeted and waved Doyle in. "Haven't seen much of you lately. Is everything all right with Touie and the kids?"
Doyle took off his hat and dropped it on the table near the door. "They're all fine, thank you."
Harry followed Doyle back into the main room and sat on the sofa while Doyle took one of the chairs. "You know I'm still waiting to meet your wife," Harry teased. "It's been almost two months, since she woke up. If I didn't know better I'd think you were afraid to introduce us."
Doyle smiled slightly and leant back in his chair. "She's getting stronger by the day," Doyle said. "Doctor Biggs wanted her to rest and recover before she had any lengthy visits. When he left last month I told him I'd follow his instructions to the letter."
Harry nodded and reached for the coffee cup sitting on the table. "I can have another pot sent up if you want some." He picked up the cup and Doyle noticed the knuckles on his right hand were scraped and bruised.
"No need, I prefer tea in the morning. What did you do to your hand?"
Harry glanced down at his knuckles and shrugged. "It's nothing. Just helping move some stuff around the theater last night and I scraped it along a wall." He put the cup down and flexed his fingers a few times. "So what brings you by? Do we have a case?"
Doyle thought the scrapes looked infected, but he left that aside and instead replied, "Adelaide has a case, but it doesn't sound like anything she would need our help for."
"You talked to Addy already today? You don't have another case of writer's block already do you?" Harry grinned and leant back in the sofa.
Doyle reached into his pocket for the anonymous letter and shook his head. "This came in the post," he said and handed over the envelope.
Harry gave him a puzzled look but reached forward for the envelope and read the brief note inside.
"Adelaide received the same note at the station," Doyle explained as Harry handed back the letter.
"I don't get it," Harry said. "Why would someone bring this up now, and tell you and Addy in a note? I'm not proud of what happened, but it wasn't a secret either."
"Can you think of anyone that would want to do something like this?" he asked and held up the paper. "I know you usually don't care what people think of you, but this could seriously hurt your reputation."
Harry laughed. "There are any number of fake spiritualists that would like to see me suffer. Not to mention rivals in the magic world. I can think of better ways to go about it, though. Anonymous letters to friends? That's the best he can do?"
"What?" Harry asked with a grin. "It's nothing. Somebody's idea of a bad joke, that's all."
"I'm not so sure of that," Doyle said slowly as he put the envelope back in his pocket. "Are you sure you can't think of anyone specifically who would want to hurt you and knows what happened in Vermont?"
Harry leant back on the sofa. "Why are you so worried about this?"
"I just have a feeling -"
"There's more to this than just some prank," Doyle insisted. "This could be serious."
Harry studied his face for a moment and stopped smiling. "I really don't know who would be sending these letters," he said. "As for what happened in Vermont, there were a couple of small news articles about the woman and what happened." Harry looked away. "Anyone who wanted to go digging for dirt on me could find it if they tried hard enough," he finished.
Doyle waited until Harry looked at him again. "Just promise me you'll be careful," he said and stood from the chair.
"Always, Doc. You know me." Harry smiled as Arthur rolled his eyes. "I don't have any shows for the next couple of days so if Adelaide decides she needs our help after all I'm available."
Doyle picked up his hat and nodded at Harry as he left. He buttoned his top coat as he left the hotel and flagged a cab back to the townhouse. He'd pick up the basket with Touie's dinner and maybe talk to his wife about his concerns and what he could do to protect his friend.
Adelaide entered the alley and glanced at the white sheet covered body then turned to the bobby on duty.
"Did anyone see anything?" she asked the man as he saluted her.
"Not that anyone is admitting to, ma'am," the officer replied. "We found him a couple of hours ago. He was beaten. Probably robbed."
"Why is this a case for us?" she asked and looked over the crime scene again.
"We found this, too," the officer said and handed her a gold cufflink set with an opal and two diamonds, it looked vaguely familiar.
"Was there a second victim?" she asked as she studied the cufflink in her hand.
The officer shook his head. "No one else was in the alley when we found him." The officer hooked a thumb at the shrouded body. "It was caught in the clothes of the victim. It could belong to whoever killed him."
Adelaide frowned. "Beating someone to death doesn't really match with an expensive cufflink."
The bobby shrugged. "That's why we called you ma'am. Maybe belongs to the killer. Maybe another victim."
"Thank you, Officer Jackson," she said and handed back the cufflink. "I'll need your report as soon as possible."
She turned away from the bobby and knelt next to the body. She picked up a corner of the sheet and glanced at the remains underneath. Jackson was correct, the body was badly beaten, though his face was left mostly untouched. She dropped the sheet back over the body and slowly stood as the coroner's men stepped forward with a stretcher to take the remains for an autopsy.
She walked slowly back up the alley, spotted the Red Lion across the street, and entered the pub. Not surprising, there weren't many people around this early in the day and the bartender watched her from behind his counter as he slowly polished a mug with a rag. The bartender was around forty years old, with brown hair and a neatly trimmed beard. His hands were rough and the faint smell of malt and hops followed him as he moved around behind the bar.
"Can I help you with something, Constable … ," he paused in his polishing and stared at her.
"Stratton," Adelaide said and stepped up to the bar.
"I'm John," he replied with a pleasant smile and nod. "What can I do for you Constable Stratton?" he hung the mug off a hook in the beam above his head and picked up another from the bar.
"I'm investigating a murder that happened at the other end of the alley. Was there a man in here last night wearing a brown jacket, tan work trousers and a black flat cap?"
John finished another mug and hung it next to the first before tossing the rag next to the sink behind him. "I remember someone like that. Sat over at the end of the bar drinking beer and glaring at my other customers."
Adelaide took a pad of paper and a pencil from her pocket. "Did he seem angry or afraid of anyone in particular?"
John crossed his arms and shook his head. "He was more angry really than anything. Kept muttering to himself about losing his job."
"Any idea where he worked?" she asked and glanced up from her notes.
John shrugged and reached for the rag again. "One of the theaters, maybe? There are three or four around here and people come and go from them so fast I can't keep track of 'em all. He appeared here one night a couple of weeks ago, and came by every other day or so."
"Did he ever tell you his name or anything about family?"
John started polishing glasses. "I think I heard someone call him Pete once."
"Just Pete? No last name?"
"Nope. Sorry," he replied with a shrug.
Adelaide closed her notebook. "Thank you for your time, John. If you think of anything else about Pete, please let me know."
John just nodded and Adelaide left the pub and headed for the subway.
She was a block away from Scotland Yard when she saw Harry coming up the pavement from the other direction. He must have seen her as well, as he waited for her at the door to the station.
"Harry, how are you?" she asked as they entered. "Doctor Doyle must have found you. I can guess why you're here." She looked over to him as she led him to her desk in the corner.
Houdini shrugged out of his top coat and hung it on a peg next to Adelaide's police hat. "He came to the hotel an hour ago to talk."
She patted her hair back in place and stood behind her desk. "Doctor Doyle told you about the letters?"
Harry nodded and sat in one of the chairs in front of her desk as she sat behind it. "I told him it was a pretty poor attempt at a joke, but he still seemed worried."
"He should be worried. So should you," she told him as she took an envelope from her drawer and passed it over. "I wasn't sure what to do with it," she explained
Harry read the same brief note that Doyle had received, then look back up. "You didn't ask Doyle about this?" he asked.
Adelaide ducked her head. "I did. He didn't tell me anything. I got the impression he wanted me to ask you directly."
Harry leant back in the chair and stared out the window near her desk. "I told him about it last year, while we were looking for those kidnapped girls."
He stopped and Adelaide waited to see if he would continue.
"I used to be one. A psychic, medium, whatever," he confessed and glanced at her. "I could cold-read a person in seconds and tell them exactly what they wanted to hear."
He stopped again and Adelaide watched as anger, hurt, and sorrow all danced across his face. "I remember you showing me when we went to Korzah's reading," she said gently.
Houdini stood and paced between the chair and the wall. "I never liked doing that act," he admitted, "But it brought in people and the carnival I worked for only paid you if you had an audience." He pointed at the note on her desk and continued, "I had a woman so convinced her dead husband was still with her, watching over her … she killed herself to be with him."
Adelaide gasped softly and looked up at him. "Harry, I'm so sorry."
Harry turned back to the desk. "As soon as I read about her death in the newspaper I told the carny I wasn't going to do psychic readings in my act any more." He glanced at the paper on her desk again. "Let's just say he wasn't too happy with my decision."
"What do you mean?"
Harry sank back down in the chair. "He tried to talk me around. I kept saying no. I was barely twenty years old, he thought he could bully me into it." He smiled grimly. "That was a mistake."
Adelaide smiled back. "So what did you do?"
"I quit. I went to the police and tried to explain what I'd done, but they weren't interested. They told me it wasn't my fault, she'd been depressed, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before she did something, and sent me on my way." He looked back out the window. "That was seven years ago, why bring this up again now? I don't get it."
Adelaide started to say something but stopped when Officer Jackson walked up to her desk and gave her the scant evidence from the alley and his report. She nodded her thanks and he saluted before leaving.
"So what's your case about?" Harry asked and she let him change the subject.
Adelaide sorted through the items Jackson had collected from the crime scene and said absently, "A man was murdered, beaten to death, in an alley across from the Red Lion last night or early this morning."
Harry sat forward in his chair and picked over the various cigarette stubs and bits of paper and held up the cufflink. "Hey, where did you find this? I lost it weeks ago."
Adelaide looked up at him, eyes wide with shock, she knew it had looked familiar. "That's yours?"
"Of course it is," he replied. He looked a little sad as he continued, "My mother found the set and liked it." He sighed, then finished, "I took them off before a show and couldn't find one of them afterward."
"Did you report it as missing?" Adelaide asked and reached for a pen and paper.
Harry shrugged and put the cufflink back on the desk. "Didn't see much point. I figured it was in my dressing room somewhere, I'd find it eventually. Why?"
Adelaide dropped the pen and looked back at him. "Because it was found on the body of the man murdered in that alley," she explained. "Do you know someone named Pete?"
Harry stood and started to pace again. "Yeah, Pete Dunbury. I'd hired him a couple of weeks ago." He stuffed his hands in his pockets. "I fired him last night after he made one too many mistakes during a show."
"Pete Dunbury," she muttered to herself. "Do you remember what he was wearing when you fired him?"
"Blue shirt over a white one, brown coat, tan trousers." He glanced back at her desk. "Why?"
Adelaide felt the blood rush from her face and she quickly looked away. "That's my murder victim. Harry, you knew him."
"OK, so I knew him, so what? The Red Lion isn't that far from the theater, probably half the people who work there use that alley to get home."
"But their cufflinks weren't found on the body," she said and tried to sound reasonable.
"I didn't have any reason to kill the guy," Harry retorted and jerked his hands up. Adelaide noted the scraped knuckles on his right hand as he muttered and paced around the desk.
"You just said you fired him from your show for making too many mistakes."
"Yeah I did. I also made sure he was paid, including a little extra to see him through. I was mad, certainly, but that's all."
"We didn't find any money," she said quietly and looked down at the evidence on her desk.
"Well, then there's your motive. Dunbury was flashing around the envelope in that pub and someone decided to take it from him," Harry replied and she could see the hurt in his eyes that she could suspect him of murder.
"Maybe," she said doubtfully, "But what about your cufflink?"
Harry took his top coat from the peg and turned toward the station door. "No idea, Constable."
She inwardly cringed at the way he used her title instead of her name or the nickname he'd given her.
"Maybe someone found it and wanted to pawn it." He turned back to the desk and said in a lower voice. "I guess we know now why you got that letter." He threw on his coat and left her sitting at her desk in shock. By the time she'd gathered her wits to follow him, he'd disappeared from the pavement in front of the station. She ran to the nearest corner but Harry was gone.
"Officer Hopkins," she called to the nearest bobby as she re-entered the station.
"Ma'am?" Hopkins asked as he stood next to her.
"Go over to the Alhambra Theater and see what you can find out about Peter Dunbury. He was fired from his job there last night. Let me know what you find out."
Hopkins nodded once, saluted, and left.
Doyle entered the hospital room with the dinner basket in one hand and his hat in the other; the thrill of happiness at seeing his wife out of bed and sitting at the table near the stained glass window momentarily dampened his concern for Houdini. In the moment before she realised he was there, he smiled and gazed lovingly at her. The hospital frock wasn't the most flattering, but he didn't care. Her hair was tied back from her face with a blue ribbon and he studied the curve of her neck as she turned toward the door and smiled at him.
"Arthur, dear! There you are. I was beginning to wonder if some case had caught your interest."
At the mention of the word case, Doyle's smile faltered and he looked down at his hat and the basket.
"Arthur?" she said in a worried tone. "Is something the matter? Are the children all right?"
Doyle buried his worry again and walked over to the table. "The children are fine," he told her as he kissed her upraised lips. "Everything is fine." He gave her a fleeting smile as he put the basket on the table and started to unpack their dinner. "How are you doing today? I didn't see Doctor Perlow downstairs."
She sat back in her chair and Doyle knew she was studying him; he never could lie to her. After a few moments, she patted his hand and said, "I walked all the way down the hall to the stairs and back five times. Hardly out of breath at all."
Doyle frowned slightly, but only said, "That's wonderful progress! You'll be home before the summer at this rate. Just in time for the children to be out of school. Maybe we'll take a holiday, just the family."
Touie smiled and glanced out the window. "How are they? I've missed them." She looked over at Doyle as he set the basket on the floor in the corner and sat in the chair across from her. "I haven't seen them for almost a month, you know."
"Doctor Biggs -"
"I'm aware of what Doctor Biggs said," she interrupted with a smile. "But Doctor Biggs isn't a mother. Or a father as far as I know. He doesn't understand. Please, Arthur, I want to see Mary and Kingsley. I'm doing so much better."
Arthur squeezed her hand and said, "All right, my dear. The Easter holiday is coming up soon, they will be out of school for a few days. How about I bring them then. That way you can have a nice long visit with them."
She nodded and sighed. "That would be lovely, dear."
They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes then Touie said, "Will you tell me now what's bothering you? If it's not the children and you showed me your new Sherlock Holmes book yesterday …"
Doyle let go of her hand and stood from the chair. He wandered over to the desk and glanced at the medical record the nurse had left open when she'd left them alone before turning back to Touie.
"I think Houdini's in some sort of trouble," he finally said.
She twined her fingers in her lap. "In that case, you should go see what you can do to help him."
Doyle shook his head and came back to the table. "That would mean leaving you here alone. I can't do that."
Touie smiled up at him and slowly stood. "He's your friend. From how much you talk about him, I'd even go so far as to say he's your best friend. How would you feel if something happened to him and you weren't there to help?"
He ducked his head. He was torn between staying with Touie, and knowing Harry was in trouble, even if the magician refused to acknowledge the danger. How was he supposed to choose?
"You've spent an awful lot of time with me over the past month or so," she told him thoughtfully. "Did you feel guilty about leaving Mr Houdini to his own devices all this time?"
Doyle smiled slightly. "Not very guilty, no," he admitted.
"Well then," she continued, "I think I can manage for a few days if something happens and you need to help him. I can share you, you know." She gave him a teasing smile.
"I'll think about it," he told her and turned back to the table. "For today, I think I promised you ..." He took a covered dish from the corner of the table and removed the lid.
"Chocolate tart," she exclaimed and took the dish.
Doyle smiled and passed her a plate and the knife.
Harry threw his coat over the chair by the door as he entered his room at the Metropole. Doyle had tried to warn him there was potential trouble with the anonymous notes, but he'd ignored it. Maybe it really was more than a bad joke. He pulled one of the chairs over to the large window overlooking the street. The sun shone through the clouds and for once it wasn't raining though it was still rather cold. The people in the street below didn't linger long at shop windows or in conversations. He took a deck of cards from his trouser pocket and sat down to think.
Why write the notes? It didn't seem the most effective method of character assassination. Why not just send the information to one of the local scandal rags; any number of them would have published the story with little hesitation. He absently shuffled the cards a few times.
Was Dunbury's murder part of whatever scheme the note-writer had planned for him or convenient timing? He double cut the deck one-handed and shuffled again. He had to admit to himself, it probably wasn't a coincidence.
Did Adelaide really think he could get angry enough to go out and kill someone over mistakes made in a show? He stopped shuffling and stood to pace the room. They'd worked together for more than a year now, didn't she know him better than that? Would Doyle think the same thing when he heard?
He set the deck of cards on the piano and went to the library. He scanned the shelves and found the notebooks with all of the information on various spiritualists and other con artists he investigated and debunked, and carried them over to the desk. Someone in one of the books had to be the person behind all of this. He studied the pictures on the wall behind the desk intently, then sat down and started paging through the books looking for suspects.
"Stratton!" Chief Inspector Merring yelled from his office doorway.
Adelaide looked up from Officer Jackson's report and forced the guilty look off her face.
"Sir?" she asked as she entered the office and stood in front of his desk. Sergeant Gudgett closed the door as he followed her into the office, passed by her and stood behind Merring's left shoulder. Neither Gudgett nor the Chief looked very happy, but since that was normal when she reported on a case, she tried not to read anything into their frowning faces. Then she saw the envelope and note on Merring's desk.
"Would you care to explain this, Constable?" Merring asked, his voice a low growl, as he held up the letter.
"How? Did -," she started to say.
Merring stared at her for a moment. "You don't seem very surprised, Constable."
Adelaide stood straight. "Doctor Doyle and I both received similar notes, sir."
Merring huffed out a breath. "Gudgett tells me Houdini was here earlier. He went to find both of you to explain this but you'd disappeared. Care to explain where you were?"
She realised Gudgett must have come to find her when she was out looking for Harry after he'd stormed out. "I went to find Mr Houdini," she said as calmly as she could.
"To ask him about this?" Merring shook the paper before dropping it on his desk.
"No, sir. He explained about that." She tried not to fidget as she stood in front of the desk. "I wanted to apologize for something I'd said."
"That explanation better be a good one," Gudgett said.
Adelaide turned to face the sergeant. "He told me what happened and that he'd gone to the local police after he read about the woman's death in the local paper. The police in Vermont determined he was not at fault."
Merring glared up at her for a moment longer. "I plan to look into these allegations myself. If there's even a hint he did something wrong …" He gave her a significant look.
"Yes, sir. I understand," she replied and took a step toward the door.
"Not so fast, Constable. I still need an update on the case you're working."
Adelaide hesitated for a moment. As she turned back to the desk, she knew Merring had seen her flinch. "Spit it out, Constable," he said and glanced at Gudgett behind him.
She took a deep breath and said, "I have a tentative identification of the body as Peter Dunbury. He worked at one of the theaters near the Red Lion and was recently fired. According to the person I spoke to, Dunbury had an envelope of money when he entered the pub. Since we didn't find it, that may be why he was killed."
"Which theater did he work for?" Gudgett asked.
"The Alhambra, sir," she said without looking at him.
"Isn't that the theater Houdini uses?" he asked.
"Yes it is. Sir." She gave him a fleeting nod and focused on Merring.
"Did he know the victim?" Merring asked and leant forward in his chair.
She hesitated again. "Yes, sir. He's the one who gave me the name and the information about the money."
"Houdini was the one who fired, what was the name, Dunbury?" Gudgett guessed.
"Yes. He said Mr Dunbury had been making too many mistakes during recent performances and Har … Mr Houdini was forced to fire him." She clenched her hands tightly behind her back.
"And just where was Mr Houdini when the victim was murdered?" Merring asked and Adelaide felt her stomach drop as he glanced over at the letter.
"I'm not sure, sir. I didn't ask him."
Merring huffed out a breath and shuffled reports on his desk until he found the one he wanted. "Officer Jackson's report mentions a cufflink found on the body. That may be our best clue for finding the killer," Merring said and glanced up as Adelaide hissed in a breath. "What?"
"The cufflink belongs to Mr Houdini, sir," she said in a near whisper.
Merring slammed a hand down in his desk. "Let me make sure I understand you, Constable Stratton. We have a man murdered in an alley mere blocks from the theater Houdini uses. Houdini admits not only knowing the victim but that he fired the man for making him look bad on stage just hours before he was killed. Houdini is the one who told you about this envelope of money, that is now mysteriously missing, by the way. And, oh yes, a key piece of evidence found on the body belongs to none other than Harry Houdini. Do I have those facts correct, Constable?"
She took a step toward the desk and held up a hand. "Yes, sir. But -"
"Is he capable of beating a man to death?" Merring asked.
Adelaide thought about the case in Nethermore and the fight between Harry and Jim Gorton. If Doyle hadn't pulled him off the other man, just how far would Harry have gone? She refused to answer Merring's question, but her eyes betrayed her.
"That's what I thought," Merring said and his voice rose. "So our main suspect was in this station only an hour ago. Is that correct, Constable?" Merring yelled and stood from his desk.
"Harry was here, but -"
Merring turned to Sergeant Gudgett. "Find him, Sergeant. I want him back here, in handcuffs, and charged with murder."
"Yes, sir," Gudgett replied and slipped around Adelaide on his way to the office door. He gave her a look as he passed, and Adelaide thought he looked almost apologetic.
She turned to follow the sergeant but was stopped by Merring. "Oh, no, Stratton. You're not going with him. You are relieved of duty effective immediately." Merring sat back down and glared up at her.
She started to protest but he cut her off.
"I won't have this station raked through the muck the newspapers will kick up because you let a friendship get in the way of an investigation. Get out."
"Yes, sir," she said but refused to look away from him. "How long am I suspended, sir?"
"I haven't decided if you're suspended or fired yet," Merring said and started reading another report. "Get out of here."
"Yes, sir." She left the office and glanced around the outer room. No one looked at her, they were all suddenly very interested in their reports or conversations.
Chapter 3: Act 2
Adelaide took her police hat from its peg behind her desk and left the station. As she walked along, she tried to decide what to do next. She was about to turn down the alley to her flat when another thought hit her. She stopped in the middle of the pavement and was nearly run down by the pedestrians behind her.
"Doctor Doyle needs to know," she muttered to herself, turned around, and headed for the subway.
Her first stop was the townhouse, but Vera told her the doctor was out at the sanatorium with Mrs Doyle. She hesitated for a moment before she headed back to the subway as quickly as she could.
She entered the sanatorium and looked around for someone to tell her where to find Mrs Doyle's room. She followed the directions from an orderly up the stairs to the second floor, but she was stopped by a nurse stationed at the desk near the second floor landing.
"Can I help you, Constable?" the nurse behind the desk asked.
Adelaide stepped in front of the desk and said, "I need to find Doctor Doyle on an urgent matter. Is he here?"
The nurse looked her up and down for a moment before replying, "Doctor Doyle is here. He's with his wife, however she is not permitted other visitors at this time."
"It's extremely important I speak to Doctor Doyle," she pleaded and hoped her voice sounded official and didn't betray the worry and frustration she felt. "Would you please let him know I'm here?" She must have used the correct tone as the nurse nodded once and stood from her desk.
"I'll tell him you're here. You can wait over there," she said and pointed toward the landing.
"Thank you." Adelaide paced the landing and waited. She saw the nurse enter a room near the end of the corridor and a few minutes later Doctor Doyle came out and looked back up the hallway at her.
"Adelaide, what's the matter?" Doyle asked as he stopped beside her.
"Doctor Doyle, I'm so sorry to disturb you here, but I thought you ought to know."
"Know what? What's happened?" He took her arm and led her to a corner of the landing away from the nurse's desk.
Adelaide took a deep breath and told Doyle, "There was nothing I could do," she said. "Harry's been arrested for murder."
Doyle looked back up the hall to the closed hospital room door then back at Adelaide. "I knew something like this would happen. When was he arrested?" he asked and worked to keep the anger and worry out of his voice.
Adelaide shook her head and took a step back. "I'm not sure. He's probably on his way back to the station by now. Sergeant Gudgett wouldn't have had a very difficult time finding him."
"We need to get back there," Doyle said decisively. "Find out what's happening and try to get this mess sorted out."
He started to walk back up the hall to Touie's room when he stopped, Adelaide stood frozen at the head of the stairs. He came back to her and asked, "What else happened?"
"I-I can't come with you to the station," she told him, then took a deep breath. "I was suspended."
"What?" Doyle exclaimed loudly. The nurse at the desk gave him a disapproving look. "Why?" he asked in a lower tone.
Adelaide leant against the wall and replied, "Because according to Chief Merring, I refused to arrest Harry myself out of a sense of friendship." She looked over at Doyle and continued, "Harry came to the station after the two of you talked. I showed him the letter and he told me about when he was younger and working in a carnival. He told me about the woman and what happened to her. Before I could really say anything to him about it, I got the reports and evidence for the murder case I told you about this morning."
She stopped and looked anywhere but at Doyle.
"How did you get from investigating a murder to being suspended and Houdini arrested?" Doyle coaxed as the silence grew.
She took another deep breath and said, "He said a cufflink found at the scene was his so I asked him about the man found in the alley this morning and … it's all circumstantial evidence I know that." She pulled at her police jacket, then twisted her fingers in a knot. "I tried to get more information from him to clear things up, but he misunderstood me."
She pulled her hands apart and looked up. Doyle could see the guilt written all over her face.
"He thought I was accusing him and he left the station angry. I tried to follow him, but he was already gone by the time I got out of the station. I thought I would give him some time to calm down and then explain everything, but then Merring called me into his office because he'd received one of the notes, too. Combine that with the evidence and well …"
"He had Houdini arrested," Doyle finished. "Adelaide this isn't your fault," he tried to reassure her. "We'll get it figured out." He started back up the hall again. "I need to talk to Touie and let her know what's happened. Don't leave, I'll be right back."
He waited for her to nod in agreement then went back to Touie's room.
Touie stood in the doorway, a shawl draped over the hospital frock, one hand braced against her chest. "Arthur, what's happened?" she asked, slightly breathless, as Doyle led her back to the bed.
They sat side-by-side and Doyle said, "It seems I need to make that decision sooner than I thought, my love. Houdini is in far more trouble than I imagined."
"Then there is no decision to be made," she told him and kissed his cheek. "Your friend needs you. I'm fine here. Go."
Doyle hesitated and she squeezed his hand. "You're sure?"
"Go," she told him again.
He collected his hat from the desk and the basket from the corner, then came back to the bed. "I do love you, you know."
She smiled up at him. "I know you do. And you care about him, too." He kissed her and headed back up the hall to Adelaide.
"Come on," he said and led the way down the stairs and out of the sanatorium. Adelaide grabbed for her hat as a gust of wind blew past them and the sun disappeared behind the clouds.
"Where are we going?" She asked as she fell into step beside him as they walked out to the road in search of a cab.
"I'm taking you back to the townhouse, then I'm going to the station to try to see Houdini. Once I've talked to him, we can figure out what to do next."
"No," Adelaide said and stopped.
Doyle turned to her as he tried to flag down a cab and said, "Pardon?"
"If you're going to see Harry, I'll go back to my flat and … change." She looked down at her police uniform. "It will take you at least a couple of hours to convince Merring to let you see him and then talk to him," she said. "I'll go home and meet you at your townhouse tomorrow if you want to discuss what we can do for him."
Doyle studied her for a moment then said, "All right, but I'll have the cab drop you." He ducked his head as it started to drizzle and held the door to the cab open for her.
"I can take the subway," she started to say but he stopped her with a gentle hand on her arm.
"Adelaide, you've had a rough day as well. Let me get you home, then we'll deal with the rest."
"Fine," she conceded and stepped into the cab. Doyle gave the driver the address for her flat, then climbed inside.
Harry adjusted his tie in the mirror and reached for the dark green suit coat on the bed. He slipped on the coat and fixed the collar just as someone started pounding on the door to the suite. He tugged at his gold waistcoat as he passed through the sitting room to the door and frowned as the noise continued. He yanked the door open ready to give the rude bellboy a piece of his mind when a pair of bobbies, followed by Sergeant Gudgett, stormed inside.
"Hey!" he yelled and stepped back from the closest officer. "What the hell is going on here, Sergeant? Did the Metropolitan Police forget their manners today?"
Gudgett smiled thinly and waved one of the bobbies closer. "Place Mr Houdini here under arrest, Officer Clark." He met Harry's eye. "For murder."
Harry took another step back and he felt the edge of the entryway table against the small of his back. "You're kidding, right? The joke isn't very funny, Sergeant."
"No one here seems to be laughing," Gudgett said and nodded to the other bobby who then reached for Harry's arm.
Houdini wrenched his arm out of the bobby's grasp, but before he could do anything else, both officers had him in a bruising grip and his hands were tightly cuffed behind his back. The metal had missed the cuffs of his shirt and instead dug into the skin around his wrists. He grunted slightly as Officer Clark took him by the arm again and tested the cuffs with his hands.
Gudgett ignored Harry's glare and waved the officers and their charge out of the room. "Don't try anything with those cuffs, either," he said on the way back up the hall to the elevator. "My men here are authorized to use whatever means necessary to keep you in custody."
Harry stopped fiddling with the handcuffs and glared at the sergeant. "You're making a huge mistake, Sergeant," he hissed in an angry whisper. "You know that don't you? I didn't kill anyone and I think we both know it."
Harry was both surprised and grateful when Gudgett led them not out the main entrance to the hotel, but through the kitchen and out the door to the alley and a waiting police wagon. His gratitude was short-lived however when he spied the horde of reporters and cameramen lined up in front of the station waiting for them. Gudgett opened the back of the police wagon and Harry jumped out with all the dignity he could muster as he was led inside to the flash and pop of cameras while reporters shouted questions.
Sergeant Gudgett led Harry by the arm inside the station and over to Chief Merring's office. "Sit," Gudgett ordered and pointed to one of the chairs in front of the desk.
Harry stood where he was and rattled the handcuffs. "Is this really necessary, Sergeant?"
Gudgett traded a look with Merring and when the Chief nodded and flipped one of his hands, Gudgett unlocked one of the cuffs. Before Harry could say or do anything however, Gudgett swiftly cuffed him again with his hands in front.
Harry winced as the metal bit down on already tender flesh, but didn't say anything; he sat in the indicated chair and waited. He wasn't surprised at the treatment, he was tolerated at best by Merring though he thought Sergeant Gudgett felt a little better about him. He was a little surprised Adelaide wasn't there as well and tried to glance out the door to see if she was at her desk.
"If you looking for Stratton, you can stop," Merring told him and sat back in his chair with a satisfied smile. "It seems I'm finally going to be rid of you. Murder," he tsked as looked over the reports and bits of evidence from the Dunbury case on his desk.
"There's just one problem, Chief," Harry told him and eased back in his chair; Gudgett stood next to him, his hands comfortably at his side. "I didn't kill anyone."
"So you say," Merring replied. "But I have physical evidence," he held up the cufflink, "I also know you're capable of killing a man with your bare hands. And thanks to Officer Hopkins, I know why you killed him." Merring picked up a sheet of paper. "It seems the victim threatened to sell all your magic secrets to the press." He looked up at Houdini. "That would be motive." Merring carefully laid the report aside and Harry thought he saw the tiniest of smiles of the Chief's face.
Harry fiddled with his watch chain as he thought about the case. He knew where the motive came from; Hopkins had obviously interviewed everyone he could find at the theater and heard about the yelling match. He glanced at Merring's desk and wondered again about the cufflink. Was it just by chance the person framing him found it? He'd spent most of the afternoon looking through his notebooks, but none of the people he'd exposed as frauds seemed capable of such an elaborate means to frame him.
He flexed his wrists against the handcuffs out of habit. Had the cufflink actually been stolen, not lost? If that were the case, whoever was after him had been planning this for weeks. Who hated him enough to go through all this trouble?
He was distracted from his thoughts by Gudgett asking a question, but he ignored it and asked one of his own. "Where's Constable Stratton?" he asked and glanced out the office door again.
Gudgett and Merring traded another look before the sergeant replied, "She's been suspended."
"What?" Harry exclaimed and tried to stand, but Gudgett pushed him back into the chair. "Why would you do that?" he asked and shrugged off the hand Gudgett had on his shoulder. "She's one of the best investigators you've got!"
"That's something else you're guilty of, it seems," Merring told him. "She had all the same evidence at hand and refused to take the appropriate steps when you were here earlier today. It seems she values your friendship over doing her job."
Harry looked at the corner of Merring's office, he didn't want either of them to see the guilt in his eyes. He'd been angry and hurt by Adelaide's questions and had left the station in a hurry. What had happened after he left this morning? He turned back to Merring when Gudgett swatted his shoulder to get his attention. He glared up at the sergeant and looked at the chief inspector.
"I was saying," Merring repeated in an exasperated tone. "Since it's been quiet the last few days, you'll have the cells to yourself tonight. However, I will also be taking steps to make sure you don't wander off in the night."
Harry gazed back and raised an eyebrow. "How, exactly do you plan to do that?"
"I'll be taking your suit coat and waistcoat," Merring said and waved toward the door and Gudgett pulled Harry to his feet. "You will also completely empty your pockets, or I'll be having your trousers as well. You will be thoroughly searched and a man will be posted outside the door at all times. Get him out of here, Sergeant."
An hour later, Harry sat on the bed in his cell with his shirt sleeves rolled up. Among the many items Gudgett confiscated were his shirt collar, his cufflinks, and the sleeve garters he usually wore. His shoes were tucked under the bed and he was tempted to do something with the laces just to jerk Merring's chain a little, a tiny rope ladder out the window perhaps.
He sat with his back against the wall and his arms braced on his pulled up knees. He absently rubbed at the bruises on his wrists from the handcuffs and stared out the small window high in the wall opposite the bed as a March rain pattered softly against the window ledge and puddled on the floor. The cell was roughly eight feet wide and twelve feet long and made of well-mortared brick with a solid metal door. The room was bare except for the bed and a sink in the corner.
He heard voices outside and a few seconds later a key scraped in the lock of the cell door. He hoped it was the guard bringing supper, he hadn't eaten much since breakfast.
A man entered the cell and carefully ducked under the low-hanging beam just inside the door, but it wasn't a guard carrying the supper tray, it was Doyle a plate and silverware in one hand and a glass of milk in the other. Harry stood from the bed with a smile.
"I convinced them to feed you something resembling food," Doyle said and handed over the plate.
Harry took the plate and looked at the roasted chicken, potatoes, and chunk of bread. He sat back on the bed, carefully set the glass of milk on the floor and started eating. "Thanks," he mumbled after a few bites of chicken and a swallow of milk.
Doyle dropped his hat on the foot of Harry's bed and leant against the brick wall near the head of the bed with his arms crossed over his chest and watched as Harry ate. Once the plate was picked clean and it sat on the floor next to the empty milk glass, he said, "Adelaide told me about the case and the evidence against you this afternoon. I suppose you heard she was suspended?"
Harry ducked his head and looked down at the puddle of water under the window. "Yeah, Merring told me. He seemed just that little bit too happy about it. I need to fix this," he finished to himself.
"First we need to get your situation sorted. After that, Adelaide will be able to come back to work as well."
"We?" Harry asked wryly as he looked up at Doyle. "I'm in jail. Addy was sent home. Gudgett and Merring seem perfectly happy with the way things are now." Harry stood from the bed and paced near the wall with the window. "No one believes me, and everyone seems to think I'm capable of killing someone. Not seein' much in the way of a 'we' here, Doyle."
Doyle moved from the wall and stood in Harry's path. "Not everyone. Adelaide and I will figure this out. But I need you to promise me something."
Harry looked up at Doyle and waited.
"I need you to promise me you won't do anything to compromise your position further."
"Like what exactly?" Harry asked as he moved around Doyle and continued to pace.
"No making life difficult for the guards, don't give Merring an excuse to send you to the main lockup, and most important," Doyle gave him a significant look, "Don't try to escape."
"It wouldn't take that much effort, I've already figured out three different ways to get out of this cell."
"Restrain the impulse to test them," Doyle admonished.
"Where's the fun in that?" Harry replied and tried to smile.
"This isn't a joke, Harry." Doyle frowned.
Harry sighed. "I know. Really. It's been made very clear to me in the last couple of hours." He sat back on the bed, leant against the wall, and pulled his legs up again. "The only good thing about this is … she … won't know anything about it." He draped his arms over his knees and let his hands dangle in front of him. He caught Doyle's frown at the bruises on his wrists and tried to hide his hands in his lap instead.
Doyle gestured at the plate and glass. Harry bent forward and handed them to him and Doyle said. "I think it's Chief Merring who should be grateful. I suspect your mother would have read him the riot act in two different languages for arresting her son."
Harry smiled at the image and suddenly realised it was the first time since her death he could think of his mother and smile.
Doyle nodded once and walked to the cell door. He knocked on it and waited for the guard to come unlock it. "Do I have your word, Harry? No making trouble and no trying to escape."
The guard arrived and opened the cell door. "Try to get some sleep," Doyle said as he left. "Adelaide and I will sort this out as quickly as we can."
In a townhouse in a respected neighbourhood on the other side of town a man sat in his study, sipped at his glass of scotch, and smiled. The room was well-appointed with thick carpets on the floor, the walls papered in a rich blue with a fine pattern of paisley worked throughout in a pale gold. A fireplace in one wall warmed the room while the tall window opposite the door looked out on a bustling square of trees and flagged stone paths. The scotch was premium quality and he savored it as it rolled across his tongue and down his throat. None of this however, was the reason for the smile.
The late edition of the newspaper sat on the table beside his comfortable leather chair with a picture of Harry Houdini, hands cuffed behind his back, trying to look nonchalant as two police constables led him into the station.
"No more than you deserves after what you did to me," the man said to the empty room and took another drink. He picked up the paper and laughed as he read the story again.
World-famous magician, Harry Houdini, was arrested this evening on charges he killed a man police found this morning in an alley near the Alhambra Theater. A confidential source inside Scotland Yard told this reporter Houdini was arrested after numerous pieces of evidence, including a gold cufflink belonging to the famous escape artist, linked Houdini and the body. The source also stated, Houdini had threatened the deceased man mere hours before the murder after the victim, Peter Dunbury, claimed he would sell Houdini's magical secrets to the highest bidder.
Will Houdini be able to escape the swift justice of English law? Only time will tell.
"That will teach you not to interfere in things that are no concern of yours, Mr Houdini," the man said to the picture under the article. He savored another swallow of the scotch as well as his revenge.
Doyle glared at the morning edition of the paper before he threw it aside. He heard the front doorbell chime and then a knock at the study door as Vera led Adelaide into the room.
Adelaide glanced at the paper now on the floor near the desk. "So you've seen the paper this morning," she said with a wry smile.
Doyle smiled slightly as he picked up the paper and noted her subdued grey silk dress with thin pinstripes and hat. "They wasted no time in skewering him. I'm surprised they didn't try to blame him for the Ripper murders while they were at it."
Adelaide smiled, "Well he would have been, what, eleven year old at the time? A bit far-fetched even for them."
Doyle sighed and set the paper on the corner of his desk. "So, how do we go about getting him out of this, Constable?"
Adelaide shook her head. "I'm not a constable, remember?" she said and sat in one of the chairs in front of the desk.
Doyle waved away her correction, came around the desk, and leant against the front. "We solve this case and that will sort itself out, too," he told her. "This is just temporary."
"We need to figure out just what happened to Peter Dunbury. We should start at the Alhambra. Find out exactly what was said that night," she said took a pad and pencil from her pocket and made a few notes.
"Harry told me he didn't have any shows for the next few days. How do we find his assistant or any of the stagehands?"
Adelaide stood and Doyle led her out of the office. "We need to start somewhere, maybe there's a manager or someone else there that can tell us where they live."
Doyle nodded. "As good a plan as any." He took his hat from the stand near the door and led the way out to the street in search of a cab.
The cab dropped them in front of the theater and Doyle wasn't surprised to see the main door closed. He glanced up and down the block then led the way around to the side entrance he'd used before when he visited Harry at the theater. It was a slim chance the door would be unlocked, but he was pleasantly surprised to find not only the open door but a young woman just entering the theater as they came up to her. The woman was small, she didn't even come up to Doyle's shoulders, and she had the lithe movement of a dancer. He could see the skirt of a pale pink dress as it peeked out from under her coat.
"Excuse me," Doyle said and smiled at the dark haired woman. "My name is Doyle -"
The woman looked up at him and nodded with a smile. "Doctor Doyle, I've heard about you from Harry."
"Yes, well, Harry is the reason we're here," he replied and took a moment to recover from her statement. "This is Adelaide Stratton," Doyle pointed to Adelaide and continued, "We're looking for anyone who was here the other night and can tell us what happened between Harry and Mr Dunbury."
The woman smiled at Adelaide as well then held the door open wider for them to enter. "Come in, please. Just about everyone is here. We didn't really know where else to go, I guess." She headed down a short hallway and Doyle followed Adelaide inside. "I'm Bess by the way. Harry's assistant."
Bess led the way backstage where Doyle saw several other people standing in small groups or sitting on various boxes or crates. "Everyone, this is Doctor Doyle and Adelaide Stratton. They know Harry, too." She took off her coat and draped it carelessly over one of the stacks of crates.
Doyle nodded politely and waited to see what happened next. A few of the people stared warily at them, but most just ignored them and went back to their own conversations.
Bess shook her head. "Ever since Mr Slater showed us this note he got, everyone's kind of suspicious I guess."
"So he received a note as well," Doyle murmured at the same time Adelaide stepped forward and looked around.
"We're here to help Harry," Adelaide said to the room at large. "Anything you can tell us about what happened with Mr Dunbury the other night could be useful."
"Well, me and Frank are the ones you probably want to talk to then," Bess said and pointed to a large, bald man sitting on one of the crates. He wore tan coveralls over a blue shirt and heavy work boots.
"Is there somewhere we can talk in private?" Doyle asked.
"I guess we can use Harry's dressing room," Bess replied and pointed down the hall behind the stage.
Bess opened the door for the dressing room and Doyle entered the room and looked around. He expected to see the usual self-aggrandisement he knew from the outdoor advertisements for Houdini's shows and was surprised to find nothing more than a few old posters from shows in America hanging haphazardly along one wall. Bess led Adelaide to the leather sofa while he sat in the chair. Frank stood behind the sofa with his arms crossed and his face set in wary suspicion.
"Let's start with the basics," Adelaide said as she turned to sit sideways on the sofa so she could see both Bess and Frank, and took a pad and pencil from her pocket. "When did Mr Dunbury start working for Har- Mr Houdini?"
"Hmm, about two weeks ago," Bess replied. "Harry wanted to have another man to help with some of the heavier props and Mr Slater, he owns the theater, said he knew someone in need of a job. Harry hired Pete as a favor to Mr Slater."
"But things didn't work out?" Doyle asked.
Bess shook her head. "Pete tried, he did, but he was always getting stuff mixed up."
"What sorts of things did he get wrong?" Doyle asked.
"He didn't get props set where they needed to be," Frank said in a low growl. "Things would be out of place or just not on stage when they were supposed to be. Last show was the worst though."
"Oh?" Adelaide looked up from her notes. "What happened during that show? That was the night Mr Houdini fired him, correct?"
Frank nodded. "He's lucky that's all he was," he said ominously.
"Pete didn't put the cover on right for the milk can escape," Bess explained and knotted her fingers in her lap. "Harry could've died," she finished in a near whisper. "He was so angry when he got off stage. He fired Pete as soon as Frank brought him here." She waved a hand at the dressing room in general.
"So Houdini fired him and what, he just left?" Doyle asked.
"No, there was some yelling first," Frank said. "Then Mr Houdini came out and told me to get Pete out of the theater."
"So neither of you were present for the firing or the argument," Adelaide said.
"No but we could hear some of it," Bess admitted and glanced at Frank. "Pete said something like, 'You were gonna give me a chance.' and Harry said 'I gave you chances.'"
"Anything else?" Adelaide pressed.
Bess glanced at Frank again. "Then Pete said he was gonna sell Mr Houdini's secrets to some reporter," Frank said. "Mr Houdini didn't like that."
"What did Mr Houdini do?" Doyle asked.
Frank glared at Doyle and refused to answer.
"We're here to help," Adelaide said again. "We want to prove Har - Mr Houdini didn't kill anyone, but to do that you have to tell us what happened." She looked at Bess and waited.
Bess sighed. "Harry said he would end Pete if he even tried," she said in a low voice. "But he didn't mean it like that!" she exclaimed and looked from Adelaide to Doyle. "He was just angry about the milk can. Would he have let Pete keep the money if he really planned to kill him?"
"So there was money," Adelaide mumbled at the same time Doyle asked, "What's this about money?"
Bess stood and walked over to the dressing table. "Harry took an envelope," she pointed to the drawer in the table, "And put some money in it. When Pete left, he had the envelope in his hand. I saw it."
"Did you see it, too?" Adelaide asked Frank.
Frank nodded and uncrossed his arms. "Does this help?" he asked.
Adelaide smiled. "It might. The police only had Harry's word before that he gave Mr Dunbury an envelope of money. Now we can prove the envelope really did exist."
"I would have told that other copper who came to ask questions, but he only seemed interested in the argument once he heard about it," Frank said.
"The important thing is we know it now," Adelaide reassured him. "Is there anything else about that night you can think of that might help?"
Bess shook her head.
"Did Houdini do anything else after Mr Dunbury left?" Doyle asked and ignored Adelaide's questioning look.
Frank shrugged. "He helped me get the props off the stage. Said it was the least he could do after firing Dunbury."
"Anything else?" Doyle asked again when it became obvious Frank was finished.
"Not really. We moved the stuff and that was it. It was a bit of trouble as the theater recently did some remodeling back here and the hall was a little too narrow for some of the stuff. We both ended up with scraped knuckles." Frank held up his left hand and Doyle saw the same bruises and cuts on Frank's hand as he'd seen on Houdini's the day before.
Adelaide put away her notepad and stood from the sofa. "Thank you both for this, it's been helpful."
"Do you think Harry will be all right?" Bess asked. "The newspaper this morning said some terrible things about him. They don't really know anything about him at all. Did you know he does a show every month for free for the orphanage kids?"
Adelaide shook her head.
"Those newspaper men didn't know it either," Bess continued with a cross look at the two-day old newspaper on the edge of the dressing table. "He doesn't deserve this," she told them and in his head Doyle agreed with her.
Doyle thanked them again for their help and followed Adelaide back to the side entrance.
"Do you think we have enough for Merring?" Doyle asked as they left the theater and walked toward the alley where Dunbury was found. "We can prove Houdini gave Dunbury money, we know how he cut up his hand."
Adelaide shook her head. "It's a good start, I agree. What we really have to explain is the cufflink. How did it get on Mr Dunbury's body? And it wasn't just lying loose near the body, it was caught in a tear in his coat. Harry said he lost it weeks ago. Are we actually going to consider the idea of someone setting out to plan something this elaborate just to frame him?"
"I've heard of stranger ideas," Doyle said. "Houdini admitted to me there were any number of people eager to take him down a peg or two. I think we have to assume at this point those notes were part of someone's plan to frame him for something, murder or otherwise."
Adelaide nodded and stopped at the door to the Red Lion. "I want to talk to the bartender again. Find out if anyone else was acting suspicious that night. Now that we know Mr Dunbury had an envelope, let's see if anyone was interested in him. If we can prove that, then we can go to Chief Merring and at least get Harry out of jail if not completely exonerated."
John looked up from the end of the bar when Adelaide and Doyle entered. He nodded to them both and finished polishing the bar-top and moved on to the nearest table.
"Constable Stratton, back again," John said with a smile.
"I'm -" she started to say with a shake of her head, but Doyle interrupted.
"Sorry," Doyle interrupted, "My name is Doyle, and we're hoping you can help us."
John glanced from Adelaide to Doyle then nodded. "Sure. What can I do for you?"
"The other night," Adelaide began, "When Pete Dunbury was here. You told me he wasn't suspicious of anyone in the pub, but was anyone acting strange or paying particular attention to him?
John wandered behind the bar and washed the rag in the sink before setting it aside to dry. "You have to understand, Constable, I get all kinds in here. Some are the friendly type, talkative, you know. Others just want to drink and ignore everyone else."
Adelaide nodded. "I understand that, but anything you can remember could help us."
"Help you how? The newspaper says you caught the man. Never thought it would be someone like Harry Houdini, but I guess you never can tell with those famous types."
Doyle looked out the window and wondered when John would remember his name and put two-and-two together. He wanted to be away from the Red Lion before that happened if possible. "We're just tying up some loose ends," he explained and waited for John to answer.
John leant against the wall behind the bar and Doyle could see he was at least trying to think of something.
"There was one thing," John said a minute later. "There were these two men. Surly types. No one wanted anything to do with 'em. Now I think about it, they left right after that Pete guy. Didn't think much of it at the time, but they might have been following him."
"Did you actually see these two men follow Mr Dunbury after he left here?" Adelaide asked.
John shook his head, "Nope, sorry. The place was pretty full, like most nights. I only remember it at all as everyone sort of relaxed once they left."
"Can you describe these men?" Doyle asked.
John rubbed a hand through his beard. "Oh, about your height I guess, one of them might be a little taller. One had blond hair the other, taller one's hair was dark, brown or black maybe. He had a missing tooth, too." John pointed to one of his premolars. "Noticed it when he ordered."
Adelaide wrote down the descriptions and put away her pad and pencil. She thanked him again and they walked out of the pub into a rare bit of Spring sunlight.
"We need to talk to Merring," Doyle said as they walked along the pavement. "There's just as much evidence against those two men from the pub as there is against Houdini."
Adelaide hesitated. "He's not going to be happy about our investigating."
Doyle glanced up at the sky and noted the clouds looming behind them as they walked down the pavement in the direction of Scotland Yard. "Happy or not, we need to tell him." Doyle looked over at her as she stared across the road. "There's something else," he said as he watched her.
She frowned slightly as she turned to face him. "You should have let me tell John I wasn't there officially," Adelaide said as the clouds swallowed the sun again and it started to drizzle.
Doyle hurriedly flagged down a cab and gave the address for the station. Once they were inside and moving he replied, "It wouldn't've done any good to tell him. Besides, you didn't say you were there officially, he just assumed."
Adelaide smiled slightly. "You've been around Harry too long, that's the sort of thing he would think up."
Adelaide was aware of the stares from various detectives, including Sergeant Gudgett, she and Doyle received as they entered the station and headed for Chief Merring's office. She knocked politely and waited for the gruff, "Enter" from within before she opened the door. Doyle followed behind her and closed the door just as the Chief stood from his desk and growled, "Just what do you think you're doing here. You're suspended."
Adelaide stepped up to one of the visitor chairs and grasped the wooden back with both hands while Doyle leant against the cabinet near the window. "Yes, sir, I'm aware," she said. "But we've discovered a few things you should know about regarding this case."
Merring rounded the desk with a scowl and yanked open the office door. "Sergeant Gudgett!" he yelled. When Gudgett popped up from a desk in the corner, he continued, "Get in here."
Gudgett strolled in the office and Adelaide saw him smile slightly in their direction as he closed the office door. "I'm sure Miss Stratton and Doctor Doyle are here as private citizens, sir," he said and stood beside Merring behind the desk.
"She says she's been investigating the case," Merring retorted, slightly exasperated. "After being expressly told to leave it alone."
Gudgett smiled openly. "I imagine, sir, they merely overheard a strange conversation and wished to pass it along to the proper authorities." He gave Adelaide a significant look as he finished speaking.
"Exactly, sir," she said and gave Gudgett a tiny nod. "We happened to stop by the Alhambra today and learned Mr Houdini really did give Peter Dunbury a packet of money with his termination. We also discovered how Mr Houdini injured his hand and that Mr Dunbury was possibly followed by two men when he left the Red Lion the other night."
Merring sank into his desk chair and motioned Adelaide and Doyle to the visitor chairs. "All right, let's have it," he said resignedly and listened as Adelaide told him what they had discovered at the theater and the pub.
Merring listened and at the end of her statement said, "That's all well and good, but that doesn't explain his cufflink found on the body. And I've had several other people come forward today claiming Houdini threatened them, or worse, in the past."
"Is that really any surprise given what the papers have printed today?" Doyle said and pointed to the paper on the table by the door.
"Probably not, but these stories still have to be checked."
"What about releasing Houdini in light of our new evidence?" Doyle asked.
"Absolutely not," Merring insisted. "You've poked a few holes in the case against him, I'll grant you. But there are still questions about his involvement that need answers."
"But, sir," Adelaide said.
Merring held up a hand to stop her. "Let me put it another way. Until I have a better suspect in custody, Houdini stays where he is," Merring insisted. "Now, if you two private citizens are done, we need to get back to work."
"Can we see him first?' Doyle requested.
Merring looked from one to the other then over at Gudgett. "Fine. Ten minutes. Sergeant, let the guard know."
"Yes, sir," Gudgett replied and led the way to the holding cells behind the station.
Adelaide waited behind Doyle and Gudgett as the guard unlocked Houdini's cell.
"Hello, Sergeant," she heard Harry say. "Come to make sure I'm still here?"
"I brought you some visitors," Gudgett replied as she and Doyle followed him into the cell.
As Gudgett moved unobtrusively into a corner Adelaide was pleased to see Harry's face light up when he caught sight of Doyle and herself.
"Finally, a couple of friendly faces," Harry said and stepped away from the wall next to the bed. "You didn't happen to bring more of that chicken with you did you?" he asked Doyle.
Doyle shook his head. "Sorry. I didn't have time to ask Vera to make more."
She watched Doyle give Harry an appraising look. "Have you slept at all?" he asked. "You look exhausted."
Harry shrugged and wandered over to the bed and sat down. He patted the mattress and invited Adelaide to sit beside him. "Yeah, well, I'm not used to staying in a cell long enough to need to sleep in it," Harry said as she sat down.
She saw the dark ring of bruising around his wrists and gave Gudgett a withering look. Gudgett said nothing, he merely looked out the window at the setting sun.
"I don't suppose you're here to tell me I can get out of here," Harry said hopefully.
"No," she replied. "No yet. But we're close. Doctor Doyle and I did some investigating," She paused as Gudgett loudly cleared his throat. "We overheard," she glanced at Gudgett and when he didn't interrupt again she continued, "about the money you gave Peter Dunbury and how you scraped up your hand. We also discovered Mr Dunbury was followed when he left the pub the other night."
"So what's the problem?" Harry asked and looked up at Gudgett.
"The problem is the cufflink," Doyle explained. "And the press coverage has brought people out of the woodwork willing to accuse you of all sorts of things."
Gudgett looked at his watch. "Time's up," he said and walked to the door.
"Don't worry," Doyle tried to reassure as he followed the sergeant. "We've unraveled most of the story, the rest should be easy."
Harry nodded, and touched Adelaide's arm. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"
She glanced over at Gudgett and the guard then turned back to Houdini.
"Look," Harry started. "I'm sorry about yesterday. And I'm sorry it gave Merring a reason to suspend you."
Adelaide smiled slightly. "I think I'll forgive you," she told him.
"I'll figure out a way to get you your job back," Harry promised as Gudgett motioned at Adelaide it was time to leave. "Or if that doesn't work out, you can always come work in my show," he said with a grin. "I remember this idea described by Robert-Houdin of sawing a woman in half. We could make a fortune with a trick like that."
Adelaide laughed as she left the cell. "I think I'll stick with police work, thank you."
Across London in the townhouse, the gentleman sat reading a book. A fire crackled in the grate in front of his chair as the drizzle changed over to rain and rattled the windowpane to his right. There was a discreet knock at the door to the study and a tall, black-haired man with a missing tooth entered and stood a polite distance from the chair.
"What do you want, Slade?" the gentleman asked. "I thought I told you to clean yourself up if you were coming out here." He glared at the greasy hair and the several days old beard growth.
The black-haired man ignored the admonishment and replied, "There might be a problem with Houdini."
The gentleman slowly closed his book with deceptive calm before he slammed it on the table beside the chair and stood.
"What do you mean, a problem?" He glowered at Slade. "The plan worked. Houdini is arrested, his reputation is in tatters, and his friends, if they haven't cut him out completely are at least wary of believing anything he says."
The black-haired man shook his head. "That's just the thing, his friends are still helpin' him. Them notes didn't work." He looked up at his employer for a moment. "They've been lookin' into the murder and …" He shrugged and looked out the window at the rainy night.
"And what, you fool? Spit it out." the gentleman asked and poured himself a drink from the decanter on the table in the corner. He did not offer to pour a second glass for Slade.
Slade hesitated. "Archer overheard that lady constable and another man talking as they left the station. They seem to think they can get Houdini released from jail and prove he didn't do the killin'"
The gentleman swallowed the scotch with a practiced toss of his wrist and stared out at the rain, the knuckles holding the glass white as he squeezed the glass in anger. He turned to Slade still near the door and stalked over to him. "Since I can't seem to destroy his reputation, I'll just destroy him instead," the gentleman growled. "Kill him."
Slade nodded noncommittally. "Any way you want it done in particular?"
The gentleman went back to the table and poured another drink. "I don't care, just get it done."
"Yes, sir." Slade left the room.
The gentleman finished the second scotch and stood for a moment seething. Then he jerked his arm back and threw the glass at the fireplace. Crystal shards rained down on the floor around the grate and the gentleman stalked out of the room.
Hours later, Harry lay on the bed with his hands behind his head and listened as the rain pounded on the window ledge. The puddle on the floor had spread and he gauged the distance from the window to where his shoes sat under the bed and wondered if they would still be dry by morning. He started to drift to sleep when he heard muffled voices outside his cell and then a thump as something heavy hit the ground.
He was off the bed and standing bare-footed, his back to the wall opposite the door, ready for anything when the cell door swung open and two shadowy figures entered. It was hard to make out details in the dim light, but Harry could tell the men were slightly taller than he was and one held a length of wood in his hands. As the men moved further into the cell, Harry caught a glimpse of the guard outside his door sprawled on the ground.
"I thought visiting hours ended a while ago," Harry said and looked back at the intruders.
The two men froze a few steps into the cell and Harry realised they didn't expect to find their prey awake. They didn't hesitate for long, however, and Harry hurriedly ducked as the taller man swung the club at his head.
He dove forward and hit the other man, the one without a weapon, in the face. The man grunted and landed at Harry's feet and he glimpsed dirty blond hair as he danced around the body and turned just as the first attacker landed a blow to his side with the club.
Houdini ignored the pain in his side and had the presence of mind to grab the club and wrench it out of the other man's hands before the other man could hit him with it again. He threw the club over near the still open door to the cell and moved to attack. He landed a solid punch to the man's stomach but then his foot slipped in the puddle of rainwater from the window and he lost his balance.
As Harry staggered and tried not to fall, the blond man he'd punched in the face lunged at him and his, Harry's, head smacked hard into the brick wall under the window. He slid down the wall, stunned and unable to prevent another kick to his ribs.
He felt hands grab at his arms and he tried to struggle out of the hold but his head pounded and he couldn't think straight. One of the men punched him in the side again and he curled his arms against his chest and tried to protect his tender ribs just as his head was smacked against the wall again and he only saw darkness.
He was only vaguely aware of being carried from the cell, his hands tied in front of him, and dumped in the back of a wagon that smelled of fish and tar.
"We'll toss him in the river," a voice said as the wagon started to move. "We can weigh him down with some rocks and no one will find him for a few days."
Harry lay with his eyes closed as the wagon jerked into motion and tried to get his mind to work while he shivered from the still falling rain and cold. He knew he had to get out of the wagon, but for the moment the best he could do was concentrate on not losing the battle to stay awake. He felt the thin rope tied around his wrists and tried to work his hands free. The rope was rough and after only a few minutes he felt a burning along his wrists as the rope bit into his skin.
He stopped trying to free his hands and cracked open his eyes instead. He was on his side, thankfully not the one with the sore ribs and he could see the London street falling away from him since the back of the wagon was open. He glanced up and around and saw two men seated on a board at the front of the wagon. By the glow of the streetlights he could tell one had black hair, the other was the blond man Harry remembered hitting and he was pleased to note as the blond man turned toward his partner he had a swollen face and would have a spectacular black-eye in a few hours.
He rolled his head back around to the back of the wagon. It had to be very late, or very early, as they seemed to be alone on the street; he didn't hear any other sounds from vehicles or pedestrians. As he looked around, he recognised a building here or there and with a few more landmarks he knew he wasn't more than a mile or two from Doyle's townhouse. He waited until the wagon made another turn, and when he realised he was moving further away from the townhouse, he decided to take his chances getting away.
He slowly inched his body toward the back edge of wagon, stopping every few seconds to make sure the two men in front hadn't noticed his movements. As the wagon slowed for another corner, Harry dropped off the back of the wagon and rolled to a stop near an alley. He didn't fall very far, but with his hands tied he had no way to break his fall on the hard cobblestone pavement and let out a quiet groan as he jolted his ribs and head. He took a slow breath and watched as the wagon turned the corner out of sight before he got to his feet and bent forward, shuffled toward the alley.
He hid behind a stack of crates a few feet down the alley, leant against the dirty wall, and listened behind him. It didn't take long for him to hear a shout and soon the jangle of harness as the wagon returned. He ducked his head down as they passed his alley but he caught a glimpse of the blond man peering around while the dark-haired man whipped up the horse. The wagon kept going and he breathed out a sigh and sank to the ground. He closed his eyes against a sudden wave of dizziness and after the spell passed he went to work on the ropes again.
He twisted his hands forward and back, then tugged and pulled at the rope with his teeth, but nothing worked, all he managed to do was make both wrists bloody as the rope cut deeper into his skin. He gave up trying to free his hands that way and looked around for something sharp to cut the stiff rope. There was nothing at hand, so he slowly stood and made his way to the other end of the alley away from the road where the wagon had disappeared.
He stumbled along the pavement soaking wet from the rain and shivering from the cold and made his way back through alleys and along roads toward Doyle's townhouse. The less addled part of his brain knew he couldn't go back to the Metropole, the police and who knew what else would look for him there. The townhouse was closer, and he hoped safer.
He was only a block or two away from the townhouse when he spotted a pile of rusted tools left outside the back steps of a shop. He scrabbled through the pile and at the bottom found the blade for an axe. The axe blade was dull and didn't have a handle attached so he had to wedge it between other bits of broken tools and the wall of the shop. It took an agonizing ten minutes to cut through the rope between his hands and he nearly sliced his arms a few times when the blade slipped from its position. He doggedly scraped the rope back-and-forth along the edge, cutting his wrists further, until the rope finally split and he pulled his hands apart.
It was nearly dawn when he finally reached Doyle's street and carefully made his way along the road to the townhouse. He spotted a few wagons carrying vegetables and other foodstuffs on the road ahead of him and staggered into another alley as they passed. It was getting hard to think again and his head and ribs ached from the abuse and the cold. He found the kitchen door to the townhouse and tried the handle. It took him a few seconds to realise the door was locked and another few seconds to remember he didn't have anything with him to pick the lock.
He gazed blearily around and finally spotted a bit of stiff wire on the ground by some discarded boxes and set to work on the lock. It took far longer than usual, but eventually he had the door open and he shuffled inside, closed the door, and sank to the floor. He closed his eyes and reveled in the fact the room was warm and he was out of the dripping rain. He never heard Vera's startled yelp when she found him slumped, unconscious on the floor half an hour later.
Chapter 4: Act 3
Doyle woke to frantic knocking at his bedroom door. He staggered out of bed, found his dressing gown, and opened the door to find Vera, near tears, on the other side.
"Vera?" he asked groggily as he stood in the doorway, "What's happened? Is something wrong with the children?" he glanced down the hall to the children's rooms, but their doors were still closed and he didn't hear either of them crying for him.
Vera shook her head. "It's Mr Houdini, sir." She didn't wait for him to say anything before she turned toward the back stairs and he followed her, still sleep-muddled and confused.
"Houdini?" he asked. He wondered if he'd misheard the housekeeper. "He's sitting in a cell at Scotland Yard," he explained as she led him down the hall and into the kitchen.
"No, sir, he's not," she replied as they entered the kitchen. "I found him just like that and when I couldn't get him to wake up I came for you."
Doyle stood in frozen shock for a moment when he saw Harry, barefoot, hair and clothes still wet, half-sitting against the wall near the back door. His eyes were closed and Doyle heard a slight wheeze each time Houdini inhaled a breath.
"Houdini?" Doyle said in a low voice and knelt in front of the other man and tapped his leg. When he didn't respond, Doyle shook the leg harder and called, "Harry!" in a louder voice.
Harry slowly cracked open one eye and stared dully at Doyle. "Hey, Doc," he mumbled. "Guess I picked the right lock." The eye drifted closed again.
"What in the world happened to you?" Doyle asked and ran an assessing eye over the other man. "Where are you hurt?"
When Houdini didn't answer, Doyle tapped his knee again and waited for him to open his eyes. "Where are you hurt?" he asked again once he had Harry's attention.
"Umm, head," he paused and looked around the kitchen. "Side, too," he continued after a few seconds and absently rubbed at his chest.
Doyle also added the bloody wrists, and as he felt Harry's forehead, a fever to the mix as well.
"Vera, please get a fire going in the guest room and bring one of my clean nightshirts. We need to get him out of these wet clothes." He stood up and added as Vera turned to leave, "Is my medical bag still in the study?"
"Yes, sir," she said with a nod.
"I'll need that, too," he finished.
"Should I fetch someone to help you get him upstairs?"
"I can walk," Harry stated from the floor and tried unsuccessfully to pull himself more upright.
"Harry, stay where you are," Doyle admonished. "I'll get him upstairs," he replied to Vera. "And Vera?"
Yes, sir," she said from the doorway.
"Don't tell the children about this. I don't want them worried or afraid."
Vera nodded and left the room while Doyle turned back to Houdini. "Come on, Harry." He wrapped an arm around Harry's shoulders, and being careful of the left side he was obviously guarding with one bloody arm, got Harry slowly to his feet.
Once he was upright, Houdini tried to shrug out of Doyle's hold, so he loosened his grip. Harry only managed a step or two before he slid against the wall. Doyle grabbed for him and refrained from saying anything and they left the kitchen.
"The back stairs are closer," Doyle said and guided them along the hall to the stairs.
Vera met them at the door to the guest room with the medical bag in one hand and a couple of towels in the other. A folded nightshirt waited on the turned down bed and a fire crackled cheerfully in the grate in the corner.
Doyle deposited Harry on the edge of the bed and turned back to Vera. "Thank you," he said as he took the bag and the towels. He glanced at the clock on the dresser near the door as he heard Mary and Kingsley at the other end of the hall. "Once the children are at breakfast, please bring up a basin of warm water and some bundles of ice," he requested with a glance back at Harry.
"I'll take care of it, and the children, not to worry," she told him. "I'll bring a tray up as well. He looks like he could do with something hot."
Doyle closed the door and turned to find Harry slowly unbuttoning his shirt with clumsy fingers. He batted Houdini's hands away and quickly unbuttoned the shirt. He hissed out a breath as he got a look at the purple bruises coloring Harry's left side and chest from his armpit to waist. He removed the shirt and Harry's trousers and dropped the still damp clothes by the door.
"What happened?" he asked again as he dried the other man off but Harry only stared blankly at the corner of the bed and said nothing.
"Lie down," Doyle directed gently once Houdini was mostly dry and helped Harry lie flat. He ignored the bruises for the moment and ran his hands over Harry's head. He easily found the knot on the back of his head and the scraped scalp, and looked closer at Houdini's eyes. "Are you feeling dizzy?"
Harry nodded. "This wasn't my idea," he whispered and tried to look Doyle in the eye. "I didn't break my promise."
"I gathered that from the amount of damage," Doyle said with a nod at Harry's abused ribs and a smile. "This is going to hurt, I'm sorry," he added as he moved his hands down to Harry's chest and side and carefully probed the ribs for breaks.
Harry groaned and squeezed his eyes shut as he tried to curl away from the pain.
"Almost done." Doyle felt the last few ribs and stood as there was a soft knock at the door. He opened it and stood back as Vera entered with a basin of warm water, more clean towels and two bundles of ice on a tray.
"I'll have some breakfast ready soon as well," she said to Doyle as she set the tray on the dresser near the door, collected the damp clothes, and quietly left again.
Doyle brought the basin of water and ice over to the bed and set it on the bedside table. He sat on the edge of the bed, squeezed water out of one of the towels and started to clean up Harry's wrists. Once he had some of the dried blood cleaned off, he shook his head when he found the rough rope still around Houdini's wrists and embedded in the wounds.
Harry watched him work with detached interest and Doyle half expected him to fall asleep again. "Try and stay awake, Harry. You're concussed, on top of everything else," Doyle said as he opened the medical bag and took out a pair of long tweezers and a small scissors and started cutting and picking the bits of rope out of the wounds.
He felt Houdini flinch as he tugged at bits of the rope stuck to the weeping sores. Once the rope was gone, he washed out the wounds on both wrists and the knuckles on Harry's right hand and checked them again. "I think I can just wrap these," he said as he tilted Houdini's hands at different angles. "It doesn't look like you need stitches." He glanced up at Houdini. "I'll cover those knuckles as well."
Harry nodded and Doyle set back to work with clean bandages and linen. One he was finished with Harry's hands, he sat the other man up on the edge of the bed to wrap his ribs as well. "Keep the ice on your ribs," he said as he worked.
"I look like one of those Egyptian mummies," Harry said as Doyle wrapped strips of linen around his middle.
"You have at least two cracked ribs. Those are just the ones I can feel around the bruising," Doyle replied as he tied off the last strip and handed Harry the nightshirt. Once he had it on, Doyle helped Houdini lie back so he was half sitting up in the bed and carefully placed the ice pack against Harry's injured ribs. "What were you hit with?" Doyle asked.
Harry stared at the ceiling for a moment. "Club of some kind, and a couple of fists." He paused for a moment "Might of been kicked, too, don't really remember that part." His eyes drifted shut again.
"Stay awake, Harry." Doyle said and nudged his arm. "Vera is bringing you some breakfast. Tell me what happened last night."
Houdini slowly blinked a few times and tried to shrug. "I'd say whoever tried to frame me for killing Dunbury, has decided that's taking too long." He took a shallow breath and continued, "Two men came into the jail cell last night, didn't get much of a look at them."
He stopped again and Doyle could see him trying to remember.
"One of them had dark hair, the other lighter, brown or maybe blond," Harry continued. "That's all I remember about them. I heard them attack the guard so I was ready when they came in the cell." He looked over at Doyle. "I don't think they expected me to be awake, I guess," he mumbled. "I was able to get in a few hits of my own." He smiled slightly. "One of them, the blond one, will have a hard time hiding that black eye."
When Harry stopped again, Doyle prompted, "Then what happened?"
Harry glanced down at his wrapped hand in his lap. "I was doing all right until I slipped and lost my balance. I don't know if I hit my head or if they hit me with something, things get fuzzy at that point. Next thing I know, I'm in a wagon and one of them was talking about dumping me in the river. I didn't like the sound of that, so I rolled out of the wagon and hid in an alley." He looked up at Doyle. "Couldn't think of anywhere else to go. Came here."
Doyle acknowledged the admission with a reassuring smile and a nod.
"Why decide now to kill you?" Doyle mused to himself a few minutes later as he put away the last of the medical supplies.
"Maybe he heard you and Addy were still investigating and they got nervous," Harry answered and Doyle could hear the exhaustion in his voice. "Who knows. I wish I could figure out who hates me this much."
Before Doyle could say anything to that, there was a soft tapping at the door and Vera bustled in with another tray, this one with a bowl of oatmeal, some dry toast, and milk. "I wasn't sure what your stomach could handle Mr Houdini," she told him as she set the tray across his lap. She turned to Doyle and said, "The children are off to school, sir, and Miss Stratton is down in the study waiting for you."
"Why is Adelaide here?" Harry asked as he awkwardly spooned up oatmeal with his bandaged hand.
"No idea," Doyle replied. "I'll go find out, you finish eating."
Sergeant Gudgett stood in the doorway of the empty jail cell with a frown. He'd been called when the morning guard arrived and found his counterpart unconscious and the cell empty. Now the guard, Hamilton, was in the hospital, in a coma, and Gudgett needed answers.
"Do you think Houdini did that to Hamilton, sir?" one of the bobbies asked as Gudgett moved further into the cell and looked around.
The more he saw, the more he was convinced something other than simple escape occurred during the night. He stepped over to the window and touched a reddish-brown spot just under the window ledge and discovered it was dried blood. As he turned to look at the rumpled bed, he noticed Houdini's shoes, with the socks neatly folded inside, were still tucked out of the way under the foot of the bed.
"No I don't," Gudgett said and picked up the shoes. "How many men do you know plan to escape and leave their shoes behind? I'm going to see Chief Merring. Do not let anyone in here, Lewis."
Gudgett left the cell with Harry's shoes and headed back into the station. He found Merring already in his office and as he closed the door, he noticed the Chief was fuming as he held up the phone receiver.
"I've had the London Daily on the phone already wanting confirmation that Houdini escaped from jail last night," he said as he slammed down the phone receiver. "How did they get wind of this so fast?" he asked.
Gudgett knew Merring wasn't expecting an answer and instead dropped the shoes on the nearest chair. "He didn't escape, sir. And he didn't go willingly. I found some dried blood in the cell."
Merring glared at the shoes then back up at the sergeant. "Houdini's blood?" he asked.
Gudgett shrugged. "Probably, but there's no way to tell."
"The man gives me a pain every time I have to deal with him," Merring muttered. "But he should have been safe in our jail. Find him, Sergeant. And find out what's going on with this case. Stratton and Doyle thought he was being framed, I'm even more inclined to agree with them."
"Yes, sir," Gudgett replied and picked up the shoes as he left the office. There were really only two possible outcomes to what happened last night. Houdini was either lying dead somewhere and they would get a call when his body was discovered, or he'd managed to escape his kidnappers and was hiding from his attackers. Gudgett hoped for the second option as he left the station with Harry's shoes in a box under his arm. If Houdini was alive and hiding, he had a good idea where to start looking for him.
Doyle stopped in his room long enough to throw on a pair of trousers and a clean shirt, then he went down to his study where he found Adelaide nervously pacing the floor near the fireplace.
"Have you seen the papers this morning," she asked in a worried voice as soon as she saw him.
"Adelaide," Doyle started to explain as he led her to a chair, but she cut him off.
"Harry escaped last night," she ignored the offer of the chair and instead stopped near the bookcases. "I thought you said he promised to stay there."
"He did," Doyle tried to say and stood near the front of his desk.
"We have to find him before Sergeant Gudgett does," she continued. "There's no telling what he will do if he finds Harry first." She glanced over at Doyle with a frustrated look. "What was he thinking? Doesn't he trust us to figure this out?"
"Adelaide!" Doyle said and stepped in front of her. "I already know where Harry is."
"What?" she asked and stared up at him.
"Come with me," Doyle said and led her out of the study and up the stairs to the guest room. Vera met him at the door with the only half-eaten breakfast tray and wet ice packs in her hands. She gave Doyle a worried look as she left the room.
"How did," Adelaide started to ask but Doyle put a finger to his lips and quietly entered the room with Adelaide behind him.
Harry was asleep still half sitting against the headboard and when Doyle pressed the back of his hand to Houdini's forehead he still felt the fever. He glanced down at the hand on top of the bed linen and saw a few spots of blood on the bandage around Harry's wrist. He'd have to change those dressings in a few hours.
"What happened to him," Adelaide whispered from the foot of the bed.
"Someone tried to kidnap him out of the jail last night," Doyle replied and carefully moved Houdini until he was lying flat.
Harry groaned quietly in his sleep as he was moved but he never woke up.
"He managed to get away and came here," Doyle continued "He said they were going to drown him in the river, I have no idea how long he wandered around London barefooted and in his shirtsleeves."
"Whoever is framing him must be getting worried about our investigation," Adelaide concluded.
Doyle tucked Harry's arm back under the covers as he rearranged blanket and they left the room.
"Will he be all right?" Adelaide asked as they sat in the chairs near the fireplace once they were back in Doyle's study.
"He should be," Doyle replied. "The worst of the damage is to his ribs and chest. If he doesn't get sick from being out in the rain all night, he should recover in a few weeks."
There was a knock at the study door and Vera entered. "There is a Sergeant Gudgett here to see you, sir. He says he wants to know about Mr Houdini." She nervously glanced back toward the front door and the entry hall.
Doyle and Adelaide traded a quick look before Doyle said, "Show him in, Vera."
Sergeant Gudgett walked through the door with a box under his arm. He peered around the office curiously before he set the box on the table between the two chairs. "I assume you both know what happened last night," he said and looked from one to the other.
"The papers are saying Houdini escaped," Doyle said carefully and glanced at Adelaide again.
Gudgett snorted softly and gave Doyle a sardonic smile. "We both know that's not true."
"Do we?" Doyle replied.
"Is there another reason for Stratton to be here this early in the morning?" Gudgett studied them for a moment longer. When it became obvious Doyle and Adelaide weren't going to say anything else, he added quietly, "Chief Merring is open to the possibility there's more to this case than we thought."
"That's something at least," Adelaide muttered.
"I found blood in his cell this morning," Gudgett finally said in a more conciliatory tone. "I don't suppose either of you know if it's Houdini's or not?"
Doyle glanced at the fire, then made a decision. "Harry showed up here sometime in the early morning with a concussion, two broken ribs, his hands and wrists a mess, and he'll probably end up with pneumonia from running all over London in the wet." Doyle stared back at Gudgett, accusation clearly written on his face.
Gudgett ducked his head then said, "He's not the only one."
Adelaide's eyes widened, "Who was on duty last night?" she asked.
"Is he all right?" she asked and stood.
Gudgett shook his head. "Someone clubbed him. He's in a coma. Doctors aren't sure if he'll wake up or not."
"One more reason to find out who's really behind this," Doyle said and Adelaide nodded.
"Did Harry tell you anything about the person who attacked him?" she asked Doyle and Gudgett took out a pad and pencil.
"He said there were two of them," he glanced at Adelaide, "one with dark hair the other lighter, maybe blond. He thinks he gave the blond man a black eye."
"They have to be the same two men," Adelaide said cryptically as recognition dawned in her eyes.
"Agreed," Doyle replied.
"You think it's the same men the bartender told you about," Gudgett concluded and looked from one to the other for confirmation.
"It makes sense," Adelaide explained. "We know Mr Dunbury was probably followed by two men when he left the Red Lion. These same two men try to kidnap Harry the same day we start to unravel the frame? That's too much of a coincidence."
Gudgett put his pad away. "I'll see if I can find anyone who fits a description like that." He paused for a moment and looked around the room again. "Is he safe here? Maybe you should think about moving him. You said he was injured, a hospital might be better for him."
Doyle shook his head. "He'd never agree to that and would just leave. Vera and I can take care of him. He safe enough here. No one has found him yet."
Gudgett shrugged and headed for the door. "I'll let you know if I learn anything."
"What's in the box?" Adelaide asked as Gudgett opened the front door.
"You knew he was here," Adelaide accused.
"That's why I'm a sergeant and you're just a constable," Gudgett replied and closed the door.
Adelaide reached for her coat from the rack near the door. "There are a few people I can talk to as well. Did you want to come with me?" she asked Doyle.
He shook his head. "I should stay here in case Houdini gets worse."
She nodded and opened the door. "I'll stop back by later this afternoon and let you know what I find out."
Doyle went back to the study and sat behind his desk. The piles of mail still waited for him to deal with and he spent the rest of the morning culling through it, paying bills and dealing with any immediate correspondence.
"Are you planning to go out to Mrs Doyle today, sir? I can have the dinner basket packed in a few minutes."
Doyle glanced at the clock on the mantle and was surprised most of the morning had passed.
He looked up near the ceiling and hesitated. He wanted to go see Touie but he didn't want to leave Harry alone, either.
"I'm not going out anywhere today," she said as Doyle didn't answer. "I can check on him and call you if I need you to come back."
Doyle smiled. "Am I really that easy to read, Vera?"
She laughed lightly. "It's no great mystery you're worried about him, sir. If I can handle Mary and Kingsley with chicken pox, I can deal with one sick magician."
Doyle stood from the desk and came around to the housekeeper. "He'll probably be worse," Doyle confided as he walked past. "I'll just check on him and I'll be ready to leave in twenty minutes."
Doyle entered the guest room quietly and studied the man in the bed. Houdini was sleeping fitfully. Doyle checked his temperature again and the fever was still present. It wasn't any higher, but it hadn't gone away either. Harry woke while he was changing the dressings on his wrists and Doyle said, "It's just me. How are you feeling?"
Harry thought for a moment. "Sore," he mumbled.
Doyle smiled slightly. "I can imagine. Still feeling dizzy?" he asked as he checked Harry's eyes.
Harry shook his head.
"Good. I think the worst we need to worry about are your ribs and the possibility of getting sick from being out in the cold all night." Doyle hesitated a moment then said. "Harry …"
"Go," Houdini said waved a hand at the door. "Go see your wife. I promise to stay in bed until you get back if it makes you feel better."
Doyle stood from the bed and said lightly, "Promise?"
Harry smiled faintly. "I'm pretty sure there won't be a repeat of last night."
Doyle studied the man in the bed and debated with himself for a moment then, "I can stop by the theater and tell them to cancel your shows for the next few days," he offered.
Houdini made a face and started to object, "I can do -"
"How long do you think you'll be able to hold your breath with broken ribs?" Doyle interrupted in a worried tone.
"Usually about two and a half minutes," Harry retorted with a scowl.
"I'm even more worried that you know that," Doyle said and shook his head. "But that's not the only concern. You have a fever, and with those ribs, pneumonia is always possible. Please, trust me. You'll get back to performing sooner if you give yourself time to heal now."
"Fine," Harry acquiesced, "But only for the next week. I keep missing performances, and I'll end up paying the theater instead of the other way around."
Doyle accepted the compromise and walked back to the door. "Vera is here. Call her if you need anything."
Harry nodded and squirmed around in the bed for a few moments; once he settled, Doyle closed the door.
"But he's going to be all right?" Touie asked as Doyle finished telling her about Houdini showing up in their kitchen before dawn.
Doyle set the rest of the dinner dishes back in the basket and nodded. "He should be fine. Assuming of course he takes things easy for a few weeks, which with Houdini is a big assumption. I stopped at the theater on my way here to tell the manager Harry wouldn't be doing any shows for a few more days. Chances are, though, he'll insist on performing after that."
"But you said he had broken ribs. How can he do a show in that much pain?"
"Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the first time," he replied and thought about the badly healed bones he knew Houdini already had. "Enough about Houdini," he said with a smile. "The weather is warmer today, we could take a short walk outside if you like."
Touie stood from her chair. "Just let me find a shawl and I'll be right with you," she said eagerly.
The time they spent outside walking through the gardens and seeing birds in the trees was among the best in Doyle's recent memory. The grounds of the sanatorium were landscaped and well maintained. The lawns blushed with the first hints of green and the smell of freshly turned earth was in the air. Only the tulips were blooming but they added a splash of color against the backdrop of a rare sunny spring day.
Touie walked at his side, her hand warm in the crook of his arm as she pointed out the bright flowers or the birds busy making nests in the trees. It took a moment for Doyle to understand he was truly happy and content for the first time in more than a year. There were no pending book deadlines, no speaking engagements to prepare. Even thoughts of the case and Houdini faded. There was just Touie and a quiet walk on a spring day.
They found a bench and Touie leant against his arm as they sat side-by-side and watched the high, puffy clouds slowly drift by. They stayed on the bench until a gust of wind made Touie shiver slightly and they returned to the hospital room.
"Oh, that was lovely," she said with a smile and a laugh once they were seated by the stained glass window in her room. Her laugh ended in a gasp for air as she clutched her chest.
"Touie?" Doyle asked in alarm as he knelt by her chair. "What's the matter?"
She shook her head and after a few seconds replied, "It's nothing, Arthur, really. I just got a bit too excited that's all."
"Oh, please, don't do that," she said and touched his cheek. "I've had a wonderful afternoon. I'm fine, really." She grasped his fingers, took a deeper breath, and smiled. "See. Nothing to worry about."
"Maybe I should get Doctor Perlow," he said and stood from his crouched position.
"Trust me, Arthur."
"If you're sure?"
She smiled up at him. "I'm sure. Now sit here and tell me what you plan to do with your case and Mr Houdini."
Doyle sat in the chair opposite Touie and replied, "I'm not sure, really. Sergeant Gudgett and Adelaide were going to try and find the men who attacked Houdini. I'm supposed to meet Adelaide and discuss what she found out. I guess we'll follow whatever leads we can."
"I would suggest before you do anything, you stop at the hotel and find some clothes for Mr Houdini."
"Why?" Doyle asked. "He promised me he would stay in bed and rest."
Touie laughed again. "From everything you've told me about him, he is not going to stay still for long and unless you want him to go around London in nothing but a spare nightshirt you'll find him some proper clothes."
"I wouldn't put it past him," Doyle mused.
"Exactly," she said and squeezed his hand. "Besides you need to bring him here. I want to meet him."
"The doctors said -"
"Oh I know what the doctors said," she interrupted briskly. "But I'm feeling much better and you're bringing the children next week. You said yourself he won't have any performances and I want to meet him."
"I'll think about it," Doyle said and stood. "I suppose I should find Adelaide. You're sure you're all right?"
"I love you, you know" he told her and kissed her.
"I love you, too."
"I'll see you tomorrow." Doyle picked up the basket, kissed his wife once more and left the hospital. He didn't hear the ragged coughing that started a few minutes later.
Harry woke to the late afternoon sun streaming in the bedroom window. He lay in bed and enjoyed the feeling of being dry and warm, maybe a little too warm, but better than the shivering cold he remembered from the night before. He pushed back the bed covers and maneuvered himself to the edge of the bed. Once sitting upright he was painfully aware of his aching ribs and gave passing thought to lying back down, however the distant sound to a door chime changed his mind.
He slowly stood, gave his ribs a chance to accept their new upright position, and slowly made his way to the bedroom door. He stood in the upstairs hallway and listened to the conversation below.
"Hello Vera, is Doctor Doyle back yet?" Adelaide asked and Harry heard the front door close.
"He just got in not ten minutes ago, Miss Stratton. He's in the study."
"How is Harry," Adelaide asked and he heard the voices move away from the entry hall. He crept to the top of the stairs, left arm cradled against his side, to hear the rest of the conversation.
"He slept most of the day," Vera replied. "Best thing for him, really."
Adelaide said something he didn't catch.
He heard a faint knock, then, "Miss Stratton is here, sir,"
He heard Doyle say something in reply but wasn't sure what. As Vera passed below him on her way back to the kitchen, Harry gripped the railing for the stairs and slowly made his way down. There was something going on and he wanted to be part of it; the fact he was still only wearing one of Doyle's nightshirts never occurred to him.
Halfway down the stairs his ribs throbbed angrily and a part of his mind told him this might have been a very bad idea. The more stubborn side however refused to listen and he nearly fell down the few remaining steps. He grasped the railing the best he could, his wrists were stiff and sore as well, then moved down the hall to where the study door stood partially open.
" - didn't have much luck either," he heard Adelaide say.
"I may have found them by accident," Doyle's voice replied. "Well not entirely by accident, I think I spotted one of them when I stopped at the Metropole. It didn't take long to find the other one, and I made sure they didn't see me. They obviously expected him to come back to the hotel and were waiting to finish what they started."
"It's always nice to be wanted," Harry said and entered the study.
"Harry!" Adelaide exclaimed at the same time Doyle stood from the desk and said, "Houdini, you're supposed to be in bed."
"You're home, kept that promise, too." Harry tried to smile, but it didn't quite work as his ribs twinged again and he put a hand against the nearest wall for balance.
Doyle moved to take Harry by the arm and led him to one of the chairs near the fireplace. "Sit down before you fall and do even more damage to yourself," he admonished, but he didn't let go until Harry was settled in the chair.
"So I assume what you found by accident were the two men who did this," Harry said once he caught his breath.
"Yes," Doyle replied. "They've staked out your hotel."
"Good, let's go find out why they're so eager to kill me," Harry said grimly and tried to stand, but Doyle pushed him gently back into the chair.
"Harry, you can barely stand," Adelaide said and Harry could see the worry in her eyes. "I can let Sergeant Gudgett know where to find them and he can have them arrested."
Harry shook his head. "The first sign of the police and they'll run. Right now we have the advantage, we know where they are but they don't know we know it. We can use that."
"How exactly?" Doyle asked suspiciously.
"Simple. I go to the hotel and let them see me."
"Absolutely not," Doyle said at the same time Adelaide gasped, "Harry, no."
"Do either of you have a better idea?" Harry asked and this time he managed to get to his feet. "We've got one shot at getting these guys and finding out what's really going on." He turned to Doyle, "I can't live in your guest room forever."
Doyle studied Harry's face and Houdini saw the moment he gave in. "He's right, Adelaide. We may not get another chance like this. And we can take some precautions."
"Great!" Harry said, then looked down at himself with a grimace. "I don't suppose either of you thought to bring me some clothes did you?"
Doyle pointed to a travel case against the wall. "You can thank my wife for this," he said as he picked up the case and started out the door and back up the stairs. "Come on," he said to Harry. "You need to get cleaned up and you'll probably need some help getting dressed."
Harry grinned at Adelaide as he passed her. "Don't worry, this will work."
Adelaide didn't look convinced but said, "I'll call the station and tell Sergeant Gudgett what we're planning. He can have some men waiting, discreetly," she assured him when she saw Harry about to object, "to arrest them."
Harry groaned as the cab pulled to a stop a block from the Metropole and ignored the concerned look Doyle gave him. Instead he toyed with the cuffs of his dark red suit coat and tried to pull them down enough to hide the bandages on his wrists.
"You don't have to do this you know," Doyle said quietly. "We can always find another way."
Harry tried to grin. "No, we can't. I'll be fine. All I have to do is walk through the hotel so they see me and go out the side door to the alley where you, Addy, and Gudgett are all waiting."
They stood on the pavement and watched the cab trundle off in search of another fare. Harry pulled himself painfully upright and forced himself to relax his arms and not guard his ribs as they walked to the corner and spied the main entrance to the hotel in the next block.
"Go on," Harry said and pointed toward the alley at the back of the hotel. "I'll see you in a few minutes."
Doyle frowned and shook his head but moved off to wait in the alley they'd chosen.
Harry waited until he was out of sight, then took a deep breath, winced at the aching from his ribs, then put all of it out of his mind. This wasn't the first time he'd performed in pain.
He entered the hotel with a smile and greetings for the doorman and the bellboys he recognised. He casually glanced around the wide lobby area and eventually found the men he was looking for against a wall near the smoking room. He grinned to himself as he saw the black eye the blond man sported and was trying to hide with his hat pulled low over his face. He felt a bit better knowing he'd given at least as good as he got.
He waited half a beat to make sure they'd seen him as well, then went to the front desk and spoke to Thornton, the day manager, "Any messages for me?" he asked and glanced around surreptitiously. The two men had left the wall and were standing closer to the front door.
"Just some mail, Mr Houdini," Thornton replied with a polite, but distracted, smile. "It was sent up to your room this morning." Thornton paused for a moment as he took a good look at Harry. "If you don't mind my asking, sir, are you all right?" he asked in a concerned tone. "I can have the house doctor sent to your room if you like."
The two men inched closer, and Harry decided to move before he was trapped against the long marble counter. "No, need," he said and moved away. "Nothing to worry about." He gave Thornton a brief smile then walked away.
He headed for the far corner of the lobby and caught a reflection of the two men in the glass door of the restaurant as he passed. The men were closer than he liked, but he was almost to the side door for the alley. He pushed through the door, quickly walked down the short hall, and exited out into the alley. It was cluttered with the usual assortment of trash and junk, a large bin against one wall held most of the hotel's garbage and bits of broken furniture leant against the metal container waiting for someone to claim them. About halfway down, the alley was completely blocked by two men busily lifting old tables from the restaurant into the back of a wagon.
He could see pedestrians and a few cabs and cars on the road at the mouth of the alley, as the late afternoon drizzle started again, but no one else. He had only taken a couple of steps toward the road when the door banged open behind him and the two men caught sight of him.
"I told you he went out this way, Slade" the blond man said to his companion. "Wasn't too smart comin' out here, though."
"Good for us though," the black-haired man, Slade, replied and Harry noted the missing tooth as the man grinned at him. "Fitting, don't you think that he should die in an alley just like poor Dunbury. The newspapers will love it."
Harry glanced around and suddenly realised Doyle, Adelaide and the police weren't there. The alley stretched the length of the hotel and he was on the end with the street. He realised with a sinking feeling in his stomach his friends were waiting at the other end near the kitchen for the restaurant. They hadn't planned for the carpenter's wagon separating the two exits.
Harry took a few steps away from the two men and looked around for something he could use as a weapon. Slade picked up a broken chair leg and slowly advanced toward Harry with a grin. The blond came up in his right and blocked the way to the street.
Not finding anything useful to defend himself, Harry decided to talk, "Why would you come here, of all places?" he asked with a theatrical head shake. "It's gonna be tough to explain how I ended up beaten to death in an alley. Besides, there could be police hiding anywhere nearby."
"You cost us a lot of money. The boss wasn't happy you scarpered last night," the blond said. "We owe you some payback for that."
Harry tried to move further away. He caught the word 'boss' which only confirmed his idea these two were hired help and said, "The only thing I can't figure is how you got my cufflink. Where did you find it?"
The blond man snorted. "I didn't find it, I nicked it from your dressing room weeks ago."
Harry stood in shock for just a second. All of this had been planned weeks ago. It was no accident about the notes, Dunbury, any of it. Who hated him so much?
He mentally shook himself out of that train of thought and back to the more immediate problem of being trapped in an alley and Doyle and the others nowhere to be found.
"I've spent the last few days trying to figure out who was behind this whole thing," Harry said and started to inch around the black-haired man toward the carpenter's wagon. "You could just tell me who your boss is," he continued, "Save me the trouble," he choked out in a slight wheeze as Slade shoved him against the brick wall of the building across the alley from the hotel. Harry groaned and tried to stay upright as his ribs throbbed with the fresh abuse.
"Why not," the blond man said with a feral grin. "It's not like you'll be able to tell anyone about Mr -"
"Shut it, Archer," Slade said. "He don't need to know." He took a step back ready to swing the chair leg. Harry glanced up and down the alley once more, then ducked as the chair leg descended toward his head.
Chapter 5: Act 4
Doyle stood in the alley with Adelaide and looked up and down the cluttered narrow area. Gudgett stood just outside the opening on the street while his men were stationed behind the few bins and other oddments. He glanced at the carpenter's wagon halfway up the alley toward the other end with a slight frown, but Adelaide distracted him from his concern.
"You know it wasn't that long ago you would have stopped a scheme like this," Adelaide said with a tiny smile. "I seem to remember the word 'fool' used quite liberally when Harry suggested getting shot at to protect Margery Maguire."
Doyle turned away from the cart and glanced in the other direction toward the street just as Gudgett peaked around the corner. "His plan then was foolish," Doyle said to her. "You didn't see his back afterward." He looked up the alley, then turned to her. "This plan is only slightly less foolish, by the way. He's using himself as bait. Again. At least this time we have more help, so hopefully there will be a less painful outcome." He pulled out his pocket watch and looked over at the door.
"Maybe he stopped to talk to someone," Adelaide suggested as she watched Doyle glare at the watch.
Doyle snapped the watch closed and looked up the alley again; the cart was a problem they hadn't thought of. "There are two ways into this alley and that cart is between them," Doyle pointed out and nodded at the two men loading broken furniture on the cart.
They waited a few more minutes then Doyle made a decision. "Something's wrong," he said and pulled open the door to the kitchen. "He should have been out here by now."
Adelaide waved to Gudgett and he trotted back down the alley to where Doyle stood with the door open.
"What's wrong?" he asked and signaled to the two bobbies waiting behind the bins to join them.
"That's a very good question," Doyle replied. "Houdini should have been here by now." As he spoke, all of them heard a crash further down the alley and Doyle fervently wished he could see around the cart as the two laborers looked behind them at something he couldn't see.
Come on!" Doyle shouted and led the way back through the kitchen at a run and out to the hotel lobby.
"Over there," Adelaide said and pointed down a short hallway toward a door.
They burst through the door in time to see a black-haired man lunge at Harry with a short piece of wood. Harry ducked in time to prevent the chair leg hitting him in the head but Doyle could hear the grunted "oomph" as Houdini's shoulder took the brunt of the attack.
Doyle and Gudgett grabbed the black-haired man before he could hit Harry again, while the two bobbies pushed the blond man against the far wall of the alley. "You're under arrest," Gudgett grunted as he pushed the black-haired man against the wall with his friend.
Once Gudgett had the man in hand, Doyle let go and steadied Houdini as he staggered against the brick wall of the hotel and bent over.
"Are you all right?" Doye asked as Harry leant against the wall.
Harry nodded and after a moment replied, "Now my shoulder matches the rest," he quipped and glanced up at Doyle with a weak grin.
Doyle kept one hand on Houdini's arm as he watched Gudgett and the bobbies led the two men out of the alley and to a waiting police wagon. The two men with the cart stared at the scene a few seconds more, then went back to loading up the broken furniture. A few moments later, they were done and pulled the cart up the alley and out the other end past the kitchen.
"I told Sergeant Gudgett we would meet him at the station," Adelaide said as she stood next to Doyle. "Is he all right?"
"I'm fine," Harry said and groaned as he tried to stand upright and Doyle let go of his arm.
Doyle frowned and Adelaide crossed her arms over her chest as she gave Harry an incredulous look.
"OK, I'm not fine," Harry amended, "But I'm not any worse than I was before."
"I suppose it would be futile to suggest we go up to your room so I can take a look. Your ribs should be checked as well," Doyle said.
"You may as well," Adelaide suggested. "Gudgett will be questioning those men for some time. You can do that and I'll go to the station and see what I can find out about them."
"Come on, Harry," Doyle nudged before Harry could say anything. "It won't take that long." He opened the door back into the hotel.
Harry glanced from Doye to Adelaide then turned to the door. "I can take care of myself," Harry groused as he and Doyle walked across the lobby and to the elevator.
"I never said you couldn't," Doyle replied as the elevator arrived. "You've got used to ignoring injuries, however. That's not a recipe for a long life, Harry."
Houdini shrugged, then winced slightly as they stepped off the elevator and Harry led the way to his suite. Once inside he glanced toward the library on the way to the bedroom. "I know one thing that would help," he hinted as Doyle closed the bedroom door.
"I think we can do better than opium smoking," Doyle stated as Harry took off his suit coat and waistcoat. Once the shirt was off as well Doyle sat Harry on the edge of the bed and looked at the blooming bruise along Harry's shoulder and back. He lightly brushed his fingers along the bright red welt and asked, "Can you move your shoulder at all?"
"Yeah, enough," Harry replied as Doyle took his arm and carefully tested his range of motion.
"I don't think you've broken anything," Doyle concluded and let go of the arm. "But you're going to be stiff tomorrow and probably for the next few days."
"I'm already stiff," Harry said, "One more ache isn't going to matter much."
Doyle said nothing but had Harry stand as he unwrapped his ribs. The bruising along Harry's chest and side had settled to a blueish-purple color. "Lie down and let me check your ribs," Doyle said and eased Harry back on the bed. He carefully ran his fingers along Harry's ribs; once he was done he stood back. "Still just the two I can feel," Doyle said as he quickly re-rolled the linen then sat Harry up to rewrap the tender bones. "I think you got lucky on that front."
Harry reached for his shirt and Doyle added, "You should probably ice your shoulder at least. It will help."
"No time," Harry replied as he slowly buttoned the shirt then reached for his waistcoat. "I want to know who those two men are." He looked up at Doyle. "I know they were just hired to do a job, but one of them almost let slip who their boss is and I want to know who they're working for. This mess has gone on long enough."
Doyle helped him with his suit coat and followed as Harry led the way back through the suite to the hotel door. "Let's hope Adelaide has found something out then," Doyle said resignedly as they left the suite.
Adelaide entered the station very much aware she was not in uniform, but this time she was basically ignored by the men at the desks around her. Harry had told her once the best way to sneak was to act like you belonged. She took his advice to heart as she confidently strolled across the room, skirting various desks and tables, to the back hallway where Gudgett was presumably interviewing their two suspects in one of the rooms set aside for the purpose. She stood in the hall and watched through the plate glass window as Gudgett questioned the black-haired man.
The room was small, brick-lined, and dimly lit. Gudgett walked around the black-haired man as he sat with his arms handcuffed to the chair behind his back. A bobby stood in the corner opposite the suspect looking bored, a small round table with a water pitcher and glass occupied the corner furthest from the window. The door was cracked open slightly and she heard most of Gudgett's interrogation.
"Did you beat Peter Dunbury to death?" Gudgett asked only a few inches from the black-haired man's face. Adelaide got the impression Gudgett had asked the same question several times already.
The man simply stared at the sergeant.
"You've been arrested for assault again Mr Harry Houdini," Gudgett tried again. "Care to tell me why?"
The man only smiled slightly and still said nothing.
"You'll answer one way or another," Gudgett threatened. "Why did you attack Mr Houdini?"
The man idly looked around the room until Gudgett slapped him across an already red cheek. The black-hair man rocked back with the blow, but still refused to say anything.
Gudgett glanced up and saw Adelaide standing at the window. He glared at the man in front of him once more, then left the room.
"His name is Jacob Slade, the other one's Henry Archer," Gudgett told her as he led her around the corner from the window. "Slade here thinks he's a tough guy. Won't say anything."
"What about Mr Archer?" Adelaide asked.
Gudgett shrugged. "May as well try, he certainly seemed scared on the ride over here. Slade isn't going to say anything."
Gudgett went back into the interrogation room and a few second later came out with Slade, his hands cuffed behind his back and a growing red welt on his cheek. Slade leered at Adelaide as he was led past her and Gudgett jerked his hands and slapped the back of his head. "Eyes forward," Gudgett growled and marched the prisoner away.
Adelaide paced up and down the short hallway while she waited for Gudgett to return with Henry Archer. She knew Harry wouldn't stay away for long and she wanted to have something to tell him when he inevitably showed up wanting answers.
She considered Gudgett's comment about Archer being afraid in the police wagon and wondered how she could use that. She didn't think Archer would break any faster than Slade under Gudgett's forceful method of questioning, but the fact Archer was afraid of something gave her an idea. She went back into the main room of the station and picked up a random file folder from the nearest desk. She went back to the interrogation room, gave Carter, the bored officer, a brief glance and a nod as she stood in the far corner and opened the file with an official air.
The bobby glanced over at her once, but she ignored him as Gudgett reentered with Archer. Gudgett forced Archer into the chair and made sure the handcuffs were secure before he walked over to Adelaide and gave her a hard look. She closed the folder and crossed her arms.
Adelaide waited and once she knew Gudgett would hold his displeasure until they were alone, she turned to Archer. "Mr Archer, my name is Stratton," she introduced herself and made sure she didn't use her usual title. "I'm here to make you aware of additional charges we plan to bring against you and to give you a chance to respond." She opened the file folder and glanced at its contents. The actual file was on a simple pickpocketing case, but she made a show of scanning the contents for a long moment.
"Officer Hamilton regained consciousness an hour ago, Mr Archer. He was able to describe both of his attackers." She looked over the edge of the folder at him. "Which means in addition to assault against Mr Houdini, we will also be charging you with kidnap of Mr Houdini and attempted murder of a police officer." She closed the file. "You'll be in prison for the rest of your life, Mr Archer."
"I didn't try to kill no copper," Archer said sullenly. "Slade was the one that hit him with the club."
"So you admit you were there and kidnapped Mr Houdini from his jail cell," Adelaide said in her most official voice and dropped the file on the table behind her. Archer gaped at her then glanced at Gudgett and Carter.
"Yes. I mean no," Archer peered back at her his eyes wide.
"Why did you kidnap Mr Houdini?" Gudgett asked from where he stood beside the chair and leant forward toward Archer.
Archer pulled at the handcuffs and looked around the room again. Adelaide stood with her arms crossed and a frown on her face, Gudgett walked behind Archer and pulled his arms back down. Carter stood at attention and ignored everyone.
Adelaide watched as Archer seemed to shrink in his chair. "Slade said to," he eventually mumbled and shrugged.
"Slade told you to kidnap a man out of a jail cell?" Gudgett yelled at him.
Archer blinked up at Gudgett as the sergeant stood in front of him.
"Mr Houdini stated you planned to dump him in the Thames. Was that your plan, Mr Archer?" Adelaide asked.
Gudgett stared at her for a moment before he turned back to Archer. "Answer the Constable's question," Gudgett ordered and Adelaide ignored the happy jolt in her stomach at the sound of her official title.
"Slade was going to," Archer admitted in another mumble.
"So Slade is the one behind all of this, then?" Gudgett stood back. "You only went along because he told you to, is that it?"
Archer stared from one to the other then shook his head. "I ain't sayin' anything else. Slade said to keep my mouth shut, so I'm shuttin' it." Adelaide watched as he pressed his lips closed and looked down at his feet.
"Sergeant Gudgett," Adelaide said as Gudgett stepped toward the chair. She motioned to the door and picked up the file on her way out of the room.
"What?" Gudgett demanded once they were around the corner from the room again. "We had him talking, he admitted he and Slade kidnapped Houdini and wanted to kill him. We've got them dead to rights."
"I think there's more to this," she said in a low voice. "Why would these two want to frame Houdini for a murder and then try to kill him? They're both just street criminals."
Gudgett paused and glanced back toward the room. "So you think there's some mastermind behind this? Slade and Archer are just the hired help?"
"Exactly," Adelaide replied with a grim smile. "Harry told Doctor Doyle there were several spiritualists as well as other magicians with grudges against him. Several of them would have enough money to try something like this and hire these two to carry it out for them."
Gudgett crossed his arms and rubbed one hand over his moustache. "So we go back in there and ask Archer who hired him." Gudgett started back for the room but Adelaide stopped him.
"I doubt he'll tell us," she said. "Archer may only be following orders Slade gets from whoever is paying them, but you saw him. He won't say anything else to us voluntarily."
"What do you suggest we do then?" he asked impatiently.
"I have an idea," Adelaide said. "What if we put Slade in the room with him and left them alone?"
Gudgett shook his head. "This is why you don't interrogate suspects, Stratton. What good would that do?"
"We leave them alone and see if they drop any names while they think we aren't listening," Adelaide explained patiently. "We hint to Slade that Archer gave him up for the kidnapping, the murder of Dunbury, all of it, and see what happens."
"How are we going to hear any of this if we aren't in the room with them? And there's also the small matter of making sure they don't escape." Gudgett smirked slightly.
Adelaide thought for a moment then said, "Station Carter at the end of the hall. He can look bored there as well as in the room. He can also keep anyone from coming back here and spooking the suspects. We make sure Slade and Archer are at opposite ends of the room away from each other and use an extra set of handcuffs to secure them to the chairs. Then we leave the door open slightly and wait out of sight."
Gudgett snorted a laugh and shook his head. "You want to eavesdrop, is that it?"
Adelaide crossed her arms and frowned. "Unless you have a better plan, yes."
Gudgett looked up and down the hall for a moment and Adelaide could see he was considering the plan. "How did you know Hamilton was awake?" he asked curiously. "Last update we had was this morning and he was still out and it wasn't looking like he would recover."
Adelaide shrugged at the apparent change in subject. "I lied," she said with a straight face.
Gudgett gave her a surprised look and she thought she saw a glimpse of respect as well. He stared at the wall near her head for a few more seconds, then dropped his arms. "This better work," he growled. "I'll never live it down otherwise."
Gudgett had a couple of bobbies bring Slade back and told the officers they had permission to gossip about what they knew about the case so far while they escorted the prisoner back to the interrogation room.
Adelaide waited at the end of the hall with Officer Carter as Gudgett met the bobbies with Slade and they reentered the room; she was pleased to see his face wore an angry expression. Whatever the officers had said while bringing him back to the room had worked.
Gudgett left the room a few minutes later, left the door cracked open, then squatted on the floor under the plate glass window. Adelaide came back down the hall and knelt on the other side of the door and listened.
"You're an idiot, Archer," Slade growled. "All you had to do was keep your fat gob shut."
"I didn't tell 'em nuthin'," Archer whined in a low voice.
"You told them enough," Slade retorted. "Told them I was the one to hit the guard. I was the one going to get rid of Houdini in the river."
"Oh, yeah, Archer, cops gossip more than women."
"I didn't say nuthin' about -"
"Shut it," Slade exclaimed.
"What?" Archer asked. "There's no one here but us. Butler can't complain about the job too much, the newspapers ruined Houdini with that murder rap which is what he wanted. He'll take care of this for us won't he? We did what he wanted."
Adelaide and Gudgett shared a stunned look across the doorway. Of all the potential people they'd thought of in the case, none of them had considered Jonathan Butler as someone with a grudge against Harry.
Gudgett waved to her and then carefully crawled past the door and joined her. "We need to talk to Merring. Now," Gudgett said and helped her to her feet. She nodded and led the way back up the hall and to the chief's office.
They'd opted for the subway instead of a cab and Harry tried to hide the twinges of pain his ribs broadcasted every time the subway car swayed or rocked. Doyle gave him several worried looks and after the third one Harry decided to distract him. "How is Touie? You haven't said anything about her the last couple of days."
Doyle smiled slightly. "She's doing better. We walked outside today for the first time in a year."
Harry grinned. "That's great." When Doyle seemed to hesitate he continued, "Isn't it?"
Doyle nodded. "Yes, wonderful," he muttered distractedly and looked down.
Harry ducked his head in an effort to catch Doyle's eye. "Doc?"
Doyle glanced at Houdini. "She had trouble breathing once we were back in her room," he admitted. "She said it was nothing, but … ."
"Maybe she just pushed a little too hard or something," Harry suggested. "You did say it was her first time outside in ages."
"I just … I was always told there was no cure for tuberculosis," Doyle admitted. "I want to believe Dr Biggs' cure worked, but …"
"There have been other cases where patients were cured," Harry said quietly. "It's been almost two months since she woke up. I'd say that's a pretty good indication Biggs' treatments worked."
"I'm sure you're right," Doyle said but Harry wasn't sure he was convinced. "Which reminds me, Touie wants to meet you. I'm to bring you to see her next week."
"Finally!" Harry said with a cheeky grin.
Doyle smiled as well. "The children will be off from school as well for the Easter holiday."
"Oh. I don't want to invade her time with the kids," Harry backtracked and grimaced slightly as the subway made the turn for their stop.
Doyle stood up in anticipation of the subway stopping and looked down at Harry. "It was her idea, Harry," he said with a smile. "I learned a long time ago when to admit defeat and go along with her plans."
The subway rumbled to a stop and they climbed the stairs up to the street. The sun had set and the streets were a bustle of people walking home to supper or evening entertainments. The streetlights glowed in soft pools every few feet and the police station was its usual blaze of light at the end of the block.
They entered the station and met Adelaide as she and Gudgett stopped outside Merring's office.
"Hey, Addy," Harry greeted as he and Doyle walked across the room. "Find out anything from those two men?"
"You could say that," she replied, her face a serious mask. "They were hired to attack you and we know who hired them."
"Yeah, one of them mentioned a boss back in the alley right before his buddy took a swing with that chair leg. So who is it?" Harry asked.
"Come on, we need to report to Chief Merring," Gudgett said and held open the office door. "You two may as well hear it at the same time," he added with a nod to Harry and Doyle.
The four of them entered Merring's office and Adelaide took one of the visitor chairs when Merring nodded to her. Harry took the other while Doyle stood behind him and Gudgett stood at the side of the desk.
"From the looks in your faces, I assume you have news," Merring said and leant back in his desk chair.
"The two suspects, Jacob Slade and Henry Archer, were hired help," Gudgett began. "They were ordered to kidnap Houdini from the cell."
"By who?" Harry demanded as he looked up at Doyle then over at Adelaide.
"Whom, Mr Houdini," Merring said and held up a hand in Harry's direction. "Let him finish."
"We didn't get any information questioning them separately, and Const- Miss Stratton suggested we put them in the room together and listen to what they said to each other if they thought we were out of the way."
Merring glanced over at Adelaide with disapproval but said, "Since this apparently worked, I'll forgo asking for an explanation as to why you were participating in an interrogation while suspended."
"Once they thought they were alone,"Gudgett continued, "Archer let drop that he hoped 'Butler' would be able to fix things for them."
"Butler?" Harry asked with a frown. "I don't …" He screwed up his face in thought. "Jonathan Butler? The guy that hired Thomas Sullivan to rob houses? Why would he come after me?"
"When you find him, you can ask him," Merring said and stood from the desk. "He got away then, I don't want to lose him again. He'll hang for murder if I have anything to say about it."
"Sir?" Adelaide asked.
Merring frowned. "Hamilton died this afternoon. Hospital told me an hour ago." He turned to Gudgett. "Book Slade and Archer. Murder, assault," he glanced at Harry. "And kidnapping."
"Chances are they're the ones who killed Peter Dunbury, as well, sir," Adelaide added.
"Probably but we still need to prove it."
"Does this mean I don't have to go back to jail?" Harry asked with a hopeful grin. "One of them told me how they got my cufflink, stole it from my dressing room weeks ago."
Merring grimaced and shook his head. "I'll clear that up as well. Find Butler," he ordered and waved them out of his office.
There was still a light mist in the air the next morning as Adelaide rang the bell at Doyle's townhouse. She glanced up and down the street at the morning traffic as she waited for the door to open.
They'd spent several long hours the night before pouring over every document, record, or piece of gossip the Metropolitan Police had on Jonathan Butler. They eventually narrowed down his possible location to two places, a townhouse in the city and a small house outside of town. By then, all of them were exhausted and Houdini no longer even tried to hide how much pain he was in. Doyle called a halt for the night and took an uncomplaining Harry back to the townhouse with the agreement they would start fresh in the morning.
"Good morning Constable Stratton," Vera greeted as she opened the door.
Adelaide smiled. "I'm not a constable at the moment , Vera," she said as she took off her hat and coat.
"Tosh," Vera dismissed as she started down the hall. "It was a silly thing for your chief to do and he'll see that as well soon enough, don't you worry."
Instead of the study, Vera led her to the dining room where breakfast was laid out. Doyle and Harry both stood as she entered the room while Vera moved to the sideboard for the coffee pot. The table was laid with eggs, fruit, breads, and juice as well as three place settings.
"Just in time, Constable," Doyle greeted her with a smile as he held her chair.
Adelaide sat and smiled at Harry.
"How are you feeling?" she asked him as Vera poured coffee.
"Still sore," Harry admitted. "My doctor doesn't think I'm taking enough care of myself." He gave Doyle a wry smile and said doctor just rolled his eyes.
"So what's the plan for catching Butler?" Doyle asked as he pushed the dish of eggs toward Houdini.
Adelaide spooned up some fruit and replied, "Last night, Chief Merring contacted the local station in Surrey where the house is located. He had a wire this morning they'd gone to the house, but it was empty and probably had been for some time."
"That leaves the townhouse," Harry said as he swallowed coffee. "What do we do if that's abandoned, too."
Adelaide sighed to herself. She'd had the same thought while she dressed that morning and didn't want to consider it. "We cross that bridge if we have to," she said. "Sergeant Gudgett is meeting us there in about an hour. Let's hope we find Mr Butler at home."
They stood in a group in the alley across the street from the townhouse and stared at the building across the street. The white stucco of the four story building gleamed in the late morning sunlight. Deep bay windows at the front of the house created a sunken area for the dark paneled front door and a wrought iron fence guarded the front of the house.
"The men are here," Gudgett said as Carter and another officer walked up the alley and joined them. "We're ready to go."
"Hang on a second," Harry said with a frown as he studied the house.
"What's wrong?" Adelaide asked.
"You remember his office," Harry said to her and looked across the road again. "Butler had all of those hidden panels and even an escape route."
"Good point," she replied. "How many secrets would he have in his house?"
"The house is attached to the buildings either side of it," Gudgett said, "He can't escape that way."
"But he could sneak out the back some way," Harry said. "If he sees the police coming to his front door, he'll rabbit out the back and be gone again before we even get in the house." He glanced over at Doyle then said, "We'll take the back of the house, just in case." He looked at Adelaide. "You and Gudgett knock on the front door and see what happens. If no one is there, or if someone let's you in, we can come back around to the front and meet you after a few minutes."
"Carter, go with them," Gudgett ordered. Carter saluted and followed Harry and Doyle as they crossed the street and walked down the block and around the corner of upscale townhomes.
"Do you really think Butler has a secret passage out of his house?" Doyle asked as they walked up the alley toward the back of Butler's townhouse. "Seems a little ridiculous."
Harry smiled. "You'd think so, but you should have seen his office at the docks. Not only did he have a hidden door to escape through, he had trick panels hiding a couple of safes and other valuables. I was never sure if the guy was paranoid or just crazy."
Doyle stood with his hands in his trouser pockets and glanced up at the back of the house once they were close to the townhouse. There were two small windows high in the wall, as well as a door. Harry felt along the wall then studied the windows.
Carter stood off to one side opposite the back of the building and after giving the house one last suspicious look, Harry paced back and forth along the alley between Doyle and the police officer. He just didn't understand it. Why would Butler want to do something like this to him? Granted he'd given chase when Butler escaped from his office, but the mobster had got away. Maybe because he, Harry, had found the safe with Mrs Ellis' jewels? The details of the search had come out at Red Flanagan's trial, so Butler would know what happened after the hitman was arrested.
They'd been waiting several minutes, when Harry said, "Maybe we should go back. If Butler was here, I'd've expected him to run by now."
Harry started back down the alley toward the street but stopped when he heard a faint thump.
"Did you hear that?" Doyle asked as Harry stopped and they both glanced back at the townhouse.
As they watched, one of the windows at the back of the house swung open and a short ladder was lowered down to the alley. A man dressed in an olive green suit coat and trousers slowly descended the ladder and once he reached the ground, looked back up at the house with an angry scowl.
"See this is what I mean," Harry said loudly as he and Doyle walked back a few steps and stopped next to Butler. "Paranoid or crazy?" he asked Doyle with a grin as he reached for Butler.
Butler growled and lunged at Harry but Carter grabbed him from behind and quickly cuffed his hands. "Jonathan Butler, you are under arrest by the authority of the Metropolitan Police," Carter told him in an official voice as Butler continued to struggle.
"Bring him inside, Officer Carter," Harry said from the back steps of the townhouse. "Sergeant Gudgett is probably wondering where his prey got to." He took a lockpick from his pocket and quickly picked the lock for the kitchen door. Doyle shook his head at Harry's actions but held the door for Carter to lead his reluctant prisoner back in the house.
They crossed through the empty kitchen and along the hall to the front of the house where they could hear voices arguing.
"Where is he?" Harry heard Gudgett demand from the entryway.
"As I explained, sir, Mr Butler is currently not at home to visitors," an officious voice explained.
"Then I suggest you inform Mr Butler this is a police visit and he better be at home."
"Technically he is correct, Sergeant," Harry said as he, Doyle, Carter and a fuming Butler entered the front hall. "Mr Butler was busy escaping when you asked about him."
Harry gently moved the doorman aside as they joined Adelaide and Gudgett.
"Secret passage?" Adelaide asked and glanced at Butler.
Harry shook his head with a smile. "Back window."
"This is an outrage," Butler blustered. "You have no right, no case against me. You can prove nothing."
"Actually, Mr Butler, we can prove quite a lot," Gudgett replied. "Not only did one of your men confess about the details of our current case, there are several station chiefs that would like to talk to you about other open cases in their districts as well."
Butler growled and said nothing.
"Let's get him back to the station, Carter," Gudgett ordered and smiled as he took Butler's other arm. "I'm sure Chief Merring would like to discuss a few things with Mr Butler."
Adelaide couldn't remember the last time she'd seen Chief Merring so happy. The man was cheerful and actually smiled as she, Harry and Doyle entered his office later in the afternoon.
"The chief prosecutor plans to charge Mr Butler with several counts of murder, including Peter Dunbury," he added as an aside to Houdini as Doyle and Adelaide sat in the chairs in front of the desk and Harry leant against the filing cabinet in the corner. "He's also bringing charges for theft, extortion, and kidnapping. For once the newspapers will have something good to say about the effectiveness of the police." Merring leant back in his chair and twined his fingers together across his chest and looked at Adelaide. "Sergeant Gudgett's report reflects that you were instrumental in solving this case."
"What about Slade and Archer?" Harry asked and Adelaide noticed he still held one arm protectively near his ribs.
"Oh, they will be charged as well, kidnapping, the murders of Dunbury and Hamilton, assault."
Harry nodded and pondered his fingernails.
"Harry?" Doyle asked and looked over at Houdini.
"Oh, I was just thinking about what the newspapers would say if they found out the person who broke this big case was actually on suspension from the police force and may lose her job." He looked Merring in the eye.
Merring's good mood evaporated and he glared at Adelaide.
"I didn't tell him to say that, sir," she said and looked over at Harry. "I'm sure Mr Houdini didn't mean that to sound like a threat."
"Threat?" Harry asked with an innocent smile. "I was just thinking about it that's all."
"It might sound better," Doyle added, as he toyed with the hat balanced on his knee and refused to look at Adelaide, "If someone were to explain to the press how Constable Stratton when above and beyond the normal call of duty to make sure a dangerous criminal was taken off the street."
Adelaide made an exasperated noise and rolled her eyes.
"Maybe a bonus of some sort," Harry finished. "Or just to act like that suspension never happened at all."
Merring humphed and bent forward in his chair. "Get out all of you." He pointed at his door. "And Stratton,"
"Yes, sir?" she asked as she stood.
"The next time I see you in this station, you had better be in proper uniform."
Adelaide smiled slightly as she followed the others out of the office. "Yes, sir."
Harry and Doyle stood at her desk and watched her as she walked over to join them. "You didn't have to do that," she said to Harry.
"Sure I did," he replied. "You were suspended because of me, least I could do was make sure you got your job back. Though that offer to work in my show is still open if you prefer that."
"I think I'm better at this," she said with a smile. "I don't much like the idea of being sawn in half."
Harry shrugged but grinned as he headed for the door.
"Where are you going now?" Doyle asked.
"Something I need to take care of," Harry replied cryptically and left.
"Maybe he needs to do something with the show?" Adelaide asked as she and Doyle watched Harry leave.
Doyle shook his head. "He doesn't have any shows, he promised me he'd take some time to heal." He paused for a moment and glanced out the door where Harry had disappeared moments before. "I think I know where he's going, Constable." Doyle put on his hat and started for the door. "Congratulations on solving the case," he added with a smile.
Doyle followed in Houdini's wake and Adelaide stared after both of them for a moment before she sat at her desk.
"Everything worked out I see," Gudgett said a few minutes later as he passed her desk.
Adelaide looked up at him. "Chief Merring seems to think I so." She paused for a moment and toyed with the tiny Eiffel Tower model on her desk. "Why did you tell Merring I solved the case."
Gudgett shrugged. "It was your idea to put Slade and Archer together."
"Yes, but you didn't have to agree with me. You said yourself, that's not how a proper interrogation is conducted."
Gudgett looked across the room then bent forward, "Maybe I've got used to having you around Stratton. Be a shame to lose you now." He walked away and Adelaide couldn't keep the shocked look off her face.
Harry tapped the evening newspaper against the plain wooden table as he sat and waited. The room he was in wasn't very wide but it was long with several other matching plain tables and chairs. The door behind him led back outside, while the door in front led back into the main holding area for the prison. He'd talked his way into this after hours interview and as a result he was the only one in the visitor's room. He glanced around the cold sterile room and was glad Merring had agreed to hold him at the station instead of the central lock up; even if he did end up kidnapped and beaten as a result.
The door on the other side of the room opened and Jonathan Butler was led in, his hands cuffed in front of him. Butler was sat in the chair across from Harry. The officer didn't leave, instead he stood against the wall behind Butler and watched the conversation.
"I just want to know one thing," Harry said as Butler made himself comfortable in the chair opposite. "Why?"
Butler sneered. "Why what?"
Harry sighed. "Why the notes, why all of this," he pointed at his injured ribs. "What did you hope to accomplish doing all this?"
Butler leant back in his chair. "Turnabout is fair play. You ruined my reputation, I ruined yours. The newspapers had a field day with your arrest. You're gonna be working to fix everything for a long time. Wonder how long that theater will keep you around if your shows don't sell."
"Me?" Harry asked, confusion written on his face. "It was the police that tried to arrest you at the docks."
Butler snorted. "Who figured out about Sullivan? Who chased me all over my own docks? I found out you were the one to find the safe and the jewels, too. Nah, it may have been the cops at the door, but you led 'em to me."
Harry stared at the man for a few seconds, then shook his head. "Well it seems you lose again, Butler," Harry said and dropped the newspaper on the table in front of them.
Master escape artist, Harry Houdini has been cleared of all charges in the murder of his stagehand, Peter Dunbury. Chief Horace Merring of the Metropolitan Police stated Mr Houdini was the victim of a plot perpetrated by associates of none other than notorious crime boss Jonathan Butler and had no involvement with the murder of Mr Dunbury.
In response to this stunning development, a daring raid by the Metropolitan Police led by Sergeant George Gudgett and Constable Adelaide Stratton arrested Butler at his home this morning for the murder of Dunbury. Chief Horace Merring told the press the arrest was the culmination of several months of investigations by various police departments throughout London and charges against Mr Butler range from theft to the murder of several individuals.
When asked about his arrest, Mr Houdini would only say the right man was caught in the end. As further proof the world-famous magician holds no grudge against the stolid London police, this reporter has learned from confidential sources inside Scotland Yard, that Mr Houdini, along with Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle, actually helped with the capture of Butler at his townhouse. Both men were involved in the investigation as well as the apprehension of the dangerous criminal. A real life Holmes and Watson helping Scotland Yard catch lawbreakers and making the London streets safe for all decent people.
"I particularly like the master escape artist part," Harry said as he picked up the paper. "I'm gonna have to find a way to add that to my show advertisements," Harry said and stood from the table, nodded at the officer in the corner, and left.
He wasn't surprised to find Doyle waiting for him outside the building.
"Did you find out what you wanted to know?" Doyle asked as they walked down the pavement in search of a cab.
Harry glanced up at the setting sun then over at Doyle and smiled slightly. "He blamed me for what happened at his office in January." Harry shrugged and stuffed the newspaper in his suit coat pocket. "Said it was my fault the police raided him."
"That's … ," Doyle started to say. "That makes no sense." He flagged down a cab and held open the door.
"The funny thing is I haven't thought about Butler since Addy tried to arrest him. I knew his crooked businesses were shut down and accepted it was the best we could do this time and at least he wasn't hurting people anymore." Harry looked out the window at the passing foot traffic.
The cab was quiet for a few minutes as they drove back to the Metropole. Harry knew Doyle was watching him and he smiled and shrugged again. He was grateful when Doyle chose to change the subject. "You've seen the newspaper, I take it," he asked and held up the London Daily with the same article Harry had shown Butler.
Harry's melancholy smile changed to a mischievous grin and took his copy of the paper out of his pocket. "Merring is gonna love the Holmes and Watson comment." He glanced up at Doyle.
Doyle smiled as well. "Any goodwill we earned with catching Butler is probably gone already, yes. There will be no end to his disdain the next time Adelaide has a case. Not to mention the jabs as to which of us is Holmes."
"Well that part is at least obvious," Harry teased. "I'm Holmes and you're Watson. Everybody knows that."
"Where would you get that idea? I wrote the stories, I'd think that would make me Holmes and you Watson." Doyle folded the paper and laid it in the seat beside him.
Harry shook his head. "You're the doc, Doc. It just fits better."
"I'm taller than you are," Doyle countered without a pause. "Holmes is the tall one."
Harry simply laughed.
Chapter 6: Epilogue
Harry adjusted his tie in the mirror as he heard Doyle's usual knock at the door. He grabbed the slate blue suit coat from the end of the bed and strolled back through the sitting room to the door.
"Hey, Doc," he greeted as he opened the door and stood back for Doyle to enter. He glanced back out into the hall and asked, "Where are Mary and Kingsley?"
"Vera is waiting in the lobby downstairs with them," Doyle answered as Harry shrugged into the suit coat. "How are the ribs?"
Harry adjusted his suit coat collar and waved Doyle back out into the hall. "Better. I can move all right as long as I'm careful. The bruises are turning a nice shade of green as well."
Doyle nodded and led the way back downstairs. Harry greeted Mary and Kingsley and took the basket from Vera as they headed out of the hotel in search of a cab. The cab ride out to the sanatorium was a bit crowded, but with Kingsley on Doyle's lap they all managed to fit. The children both eagerly looked out the windows and Harry could tell they were both excited to see their mother.
The cab dropped them at the gate to the sanatorium and Harry tugged his suit coat straight as they walked up the gravel drive to the main doors. It was another pleasant spring day, unusually warm for late March and even better, no rain. As they walked closer to the large wooden door, the children ran forward while Harry found himself slowing down and soon was a few steps behind Doyle and his family.
"Houdini?" Doyle said as he stopped and turned around. Mary and Kingsley were already at the door impatiently looking back at the others.
Harry drew next to Doyle and stopped. He suddenly felt very out-of-place, an unusual feeling for someone who was comfortable in any sort of crowd. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea," he said quietly to Doyle, glanced over at the door, and took a step back.
Doyle touched his arm and waited for Harry to look at him. "What's the matter?"
Harry looked at Mary and Kingsley and shrugged. "I just have a weird feeling like maybe I shouldn't be here."
Doyle glanced at Vera and nodded at the door. She took his hint and led the children inside. "I thought we'd settled that. She wants to meet you. She asked me to bring you today."
"Yeah, I know that. Still it just feels … off or something."
Doyle smiled. "I thought you didn't believe in such things."
Harry shrugged and looked away. He fiddled with the sleeves of his suit coat and tried to pull the material down to hide his still healing wrists.
"Harry," Doyle said and Harry glanced back at him. He was surprised to see concern mixed in with the amusement on Doyle's face but still he hesitated.
"Come on," Doyle said, taking charge. "Touie will be wondering where we disappeared to." He pulled Harry gently toward the door.
Harry followed Doyle inside and up the stairs to Touie's room. From the head of the stairs he could clearly hear the giggles and happy voices of Mary and Kingsley coming from the room at the end of the hall as they talked to their mother and showed her the presents they'd brought her. He steeled himself and stood just inside the door as Doyle moved toward the table by the window, put the basket down, and greeted Touie with a kiss.
"How are you today, my dear?" he asked as he took her hands.
"Much better now that I've seen these lovely faces," she said and smiled at the children sitting on the bed.
Harry stepped further into the room and she turned toward him. She let go of Doyle's hand and walked over to him. To his utter surprise, she stopped in front of him, smiled, and without waiting for any sort of introduction, kissed his cheek. "Mr Harry Houdini. I am so happy to finally meet you," she said as she stepped back, took his hand, and led him to the table. "I've heard so much about you from Arthur."
Harry pushed aside the nagging feelings and smiled back at her. "Mrs Doyle - "
She squeezed his hand. "You gave me back my family, Mr Houdini, please call me Touie."
Harry glanced at Doyle. "Touie," he said. "I was beginning to think Doyle was never going to let me see you. I think he's afraid of the stories I'd tell you about him." He grinned at Doyle.
"And he should be," Touie replied with a laugh. "I expect to hear everything about your cases together that Arthur conveniently forgot to tell me."
Doyle rolled his eyes and Harry was distracted from telling tales as Mary and Kingsley wanted to show Touie the Easter decorations they'd made for the hospital room.
Harry found he enjoyed the morning and was about to suggest he take the children out to see the grounds so Doyle could be alone with Touie for a little while when Touie glanced at him and spoke, "Now my lovelies," she said to Mary and Kingsley. "I've heard a rumour Vera has a plum pudding for our lunch. Why don't you take your father and the basket and go find her. Maybe we can spread everything outside like a picnic."
Harry started to protest he could find the housekeeper, but Touie shushed him and gave Doyle a look that Harry suspected only married people would understand.
Harry watched Doyle translate the look then nod. He gave Harry an odd look, but didn't protest as he picked up the basket, kissed his wife, and led the children away. Once the hospital room door was closed, Touie let out a ragged sigh. "Too soon," she whispered softly then turned to Harry. "Mr Houdini," she said. "There is something important I want to discuss with you. About Arthur."
Harry wasn't sure exactly what was happening, but he brushed off the renewed feeling of foreboding and tried to keep the mood light. "OK what did you want to know?" he sat in the chair across from her and continued, "There was this one time -"
She touched his hand and he stopped.
"I meant what I said before, about you giving me back my family. I have treasured these last weeks. It's a gift I will never be able to repay."
"You don't - "
"Even though I am in your debt," she continued and ignored his attempted reassurance. "I have something else to ask of you, Mr Houdini. Something very important." She twined her fingers together then looked him in the eye. "I want you to look after Arthur for me."
Harry leant back in his chair. "I may joke about our cases, but I'd never let anything happen to him," he said seriously.
She looked over at him and smiled. "I know that. Which is why I know you will do what I'm about to ask." She took a deep breath. "The treatments didn't work," she said softly and Harry felt the blood drain from his face.
"Oh things are all right for now," she assured him. "I may have several more months before … . But I can feel it," she pointed at her chest. "I can be fine one minute and coughing the next. Sometimes, I feel I can't catch my breath for several moments." She stopped and watched his face.
"Does he know?" Harry asked quietly. "Don't ask me to keep this a secret because I can't. I won't."
Touie smiled. "I knew I could trust you. Arthur doesn't know, but he does suspect. I would never ask you to keep something like this from him and I will talk to him as well." She put a hand over his again. "No, what I'm asking is for you to be there for him, keep him engaged with the world. I've seen how much he cares for you and heard how much you care for him. Mary has told me a few things about what happened from the last time I … fell asleep. How you helped all of them." She looked out the stained glass window. "Arthur tends to close himself off from his feelings, be a proper British gentleman." She smiled slightly. "It's a bad habit he picked up after his father … when he was a child. I'm afraid, after I'm gone, he will shut himself off from everyone and forget to live." She glanced over at him, and Harry could see the worry in her eyes. "I want you to promise me you won't let that happen."
Harry thought of August Ellis sitting in his study, bitter, angry at the world, and lonely. "That I can promise," he told her. "I'll do everything I can to make sure that never happens."
"Thank you … Harry." She squeezed his hand then let go with a relieved smile.
Harry slouched on the sofa in his shirtsleeves and stared at the fire burning cheerily in the grate. He'd left the sanatorium soon after his talk with Touie telling Doyle he had an errand to run and he wanted to give them some time alone as a family. Doyle had given him another strange look, and Harry wondered what the other man could read on his face, but Doyle let him leave without much fuss.
He glanced at the crystal decanter of scotch and two glasses sitting on a tray on the table in front of him. Thornton had assured him it was good quality liquor when Harry asked for something to be brought up to the room. He knew Doyle was going to need a drink after he heard what Touie had to say and Harry hoped he would come here instead of drinking himself into a stupor in his study.
He heard a soft tap at his door and let out a sigh when he recognized it as Doyle's usual pattern, then he took a deep breath, heaved himself slowly up and answered the door. Doyle stood on the other side, hollow-eyed and hunched. He gave Harry a fleeting look as Houdini opened the door and Harry caught Doyle's arm and pulled him in the room before the other man could change his mind about the visit.
Neither of them said anything as Doyle dropped his hat on the table by the door and hung his topcoat on the rack. Harry led the way back to the fireplace and sat on the sofa again while Doyle took the chair next to him. Harry poured out scotch into the waiting glasses and handed one of them to Doyle before he took the other and sat back with his head leant against the back of the sofa. He was content to let Doyle dictate what happened next.
Harry stared again at the fire and occasionally sipped at the scotch. Doyle toyed with the glass and watched the amber liquid as it sloshed and rippled against the sides of the crystal tumbler.
"She told you," Doyle eventually whispered but didn't look up from his study of the scotch.
"The children are devastated," Doyle continued quietly. "Both of them were in tears all the way back to the townhouse."
"Arthur - "
Doyle heaved a sigh and gulped some of the scotch. "What am I going to do," he mumbled. "There are no more cures, no more miracles."
"Maybe there's -"
Doyle shook his head sadly. "She talked to Dr Perlow before we arrived. She wants to come home. He agreed there was no need for her to stay at the hospital, but tried to talk her out of leaving." Doyle gulped more scotch and Harry bent forward to refill the glass. Doyle smiled slightly. "He should've known better than to try and talk Touie out of something once her mind was made up."
The silence stretched between them again and Harry closed his eyes and listened to the fire crackle in the otherwise silent room.
"She asked you something," Doyle stated a few minutes later.
Harry nodded and opened his eyes. "She made me promise something," Harry told him and when Doyle looked over at him, he continued, "She's afraid you'll disappear in grief. Kinda like August Ellis, I guess." He took another small sip from his glass. "She made me promise not to let you do that."
Doyle stared at him his mouth slightly open.
"I think that's one of the things that scares her the most," Harry added quietly. "So I promised. And you know how I keep my promises, Doc."
Doyle ducked his head and finished the scotch. After a few more minutes, he carefully set the glass back on the table next to the decanter and stood.
Harry put down his glass as well and followed Doyle back to the door.
"Thank you, Harry," Doyle said with a tiny smile.
"For what? The scotch?"
"No, for making a promise."
Enter RUMOR painted full of tongues -- Henry IV Part 2