"Bertie," I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up from my fine roast duck.
"Good Lord, Marion, what are you doing here?" I asked as I stood up to pull out a chair for her.
"Looking for you, Bertie." She sat down with a sigh. "Jeeves said you'd be having lunch here today."
I nodded at a waiter and a moment later said waiter had laid out a second coffee cup and plate and was carving a slice of duck for her. I poured her a glass. "Coppers shut down Ciro’s?"
"In a manner of speaking. I need your help, Bertie." She sighed and looked set to let out a torrent of tears. "Can you be discreet?"
"Discretion is my middle name. Actually, it's Wilberforce, but..." Marion interruped me.
"We can't talk about it here." She pulled a slip of paper from her clutch and handed it to me. "Meet me here at seven tonight."
"Will do, old thing." I raised my cup up to toast hers but she shook her head.
"I can't stay, I have an appointment in an hour." She kissed my cheek and left, leaving one slightly stunned Bertram Wilberforce Wooster in her wake.
"Jeeves," I said later, sitting at the piano tinkling out an old favourite, "when Marion was here earlier, did she say anything to you?"
He paused his dusting of the mantlepiece. "She did not, sir. However, she appeared to be in a state of emotional distress and was quite insistent on speaking to you urgently. Given your previous encounters, I did not think it unwise to inform her of your luncheon plans. I trust I did not overstep, sir."
"Glad you did Jeeves, she was in quite a state at the restaurant. Gave me a slip of paper with an address and asked me to meet her at seven before rushing off to an audition."
"Most peculiar, sir." Jeeves said and continued his dusting.
The address old Marion gave me turned out to be a small flat in Brooklyn containing a bird the spitting image of Marion and overrun with children.
"Bertie, this is my sister Clara and her children Millie, Frank, James, Steve and Evelyn. Bertie's the one who helped me get rid of those two gentlemen a few months ago."
She gave me a queer look. "Weren't they your cousins?"
"And a continuing shame upon the good Wooster name. At least according to Aunt A."
"Mom," Steve whined, "it's nearly time for House of Myths."
"Go listen to the wireless, Steve, take everyone with you. Mrs. Stewart is still at work," Clara said with a nod towards the back door. “Should be private enough out there."
"Thanks, Clara." Marion said and led me to the back door.
On the fire escape, I pulled out my cigarette case and offered her a gasper. She took one and I lit it for her before lighting one for myself.
"Thank God you came, Bertie, I'm deep in the soup and I need your help." She took a drag in and blew it out, smoke curling around her face. She leaned against the fire escape railing and stared blankly at the garbage strewn alley.
"Whatever could be so bad that you left Ciro’s, you had a cracking gig there. They adored you."
"I was fired last week for lewd and indecent behaviour. The kind that can get you in real trouble with the law, more than selling booze these days. Especially in a clean club like Ciro's." She took a deep breath, "There are pictures of me and someone else at The Jewel Restaurant, Bertie."
"The Jewel Restaurant? I've eaten there, they do a passable escargots de Bourgogne. Not quite as good as Anatole's, but nothing is quite as good as Anatole's cooking."
She looked up at me through her lashes and sighed again. "The Jewel is well known in certain circles for being friendly to certain members of the theatre and music crowd. Robbie said he didn't want to fire me, but having someone of my persuasion working there would cause too much attention."
Oh, oh. The old Wooster onion was catching on to the problem at hand. "I say. Any idea who sent the snaps?"
"Robert Whitehill, he owns the Sapphire Sky. He asked me to sing there a month ago, I turned him down and didn't think of it again until he showed up at my apartment with pictures last week. I turned him down and then I got this in the mail yesterday." She handed me a letter.
If you don't sing at my club, I'll make sure that no reputable club ever hires you again. I know who the woman with you is and will expose her for the pervert she is as well.
"Why don't you leave the city?" I asked after reading it. "You could get a job anywhere."
Marion nodded towards her family inside, listening to the wireless. "I'm supporting them. Their father died a few years ago after being gassed in the Great War. They get a small pension from the government, but it isn't enough."
"I think, my dear Marion, that while I have an idea for this problem, Jeeves is needed for proper implementation." The Wooster noggin is good for many things, but this sort of intrigue required the assistance of Jeeves' fish fed grey matter.
"He won't go to the police? You trust him that much?" Marion asked, stubbing out her cigarette.
Jeeves was the most trustworthy cove I'd ever clapped eyes upon. In his years as my man, he's never blinked at his young master's occasional proclivity towards other young gentlemen. "I trust Jeeves, his discretion is second to none."
"Okay, let me know what Jeeves thinks up."
I paused a moment, tapping the ash from my gasper onto the alley below. "Who were you with?"
"I want her kept out of it," she said and sighed.
"I trust your visit to Miss Wardohl was illuminating?" Jeeves asked as he took my hat and coat.
"Jeeves," I said, "it most certainly was. The problem the old girl seems to have is one of blackmail."
"Oh, sir?" Jeeves asked as he set a dry martini on the table next to me.
"The story boils down to thus, Marion refused to leave Ciro's to sing for another club. Owner of said other club then produced pictures of a potentially incriminating nature."
"It would seem, sir, that going the police would be the wisest course of action."
"She wants this thing kept private. Didn't even want you involved until I assured her of your trustworthiness."
"I am honoured that both you and her think I am worthy of trust in such a delicate situation." He replied in deucedly soupy tone.
"Jeeves, my trust of you was never in question. It was her I had to reassure. The poor soul barely knows you."
"Very well, what is the delicate nature of the blackmail?"
"Do you know The Jewel Restaurant?"
"I have heard it mentioned, sir. Very popular among certain theatrical circles."
"Well this Robert Whitehill chap got snaps of her there with another woman. Marion assured me that nothing criminal happened in the snaps but is worried about her association in such a place with another woman. Her old club owner is willing to take her back, as long as the situation is dealt with. Fortunately, the old Wooster brain has come up with an idea."
Jeeves was silent.
"Well, aren’t you going to ask what said i. is?"
"What is your plan, sir?"
"A damsel in distress asked for a Wooster's help and the Wooster Code demands that I assist. I am a talented pianist, if Robbie Jackson were to employ me as a pianist and Mr. Whitehill were to hear of my talents, he may attempt to blackmail me in the same way."
"A most profound plan, sir." Jeeves said crisply.
“It has been my experience that persons who blackmail often have their own secrets to hide, Jeeves.”
"Now that that's sorted, we can start tomorrow." I finished my martini and placed the empty glass on the table.
"You aren't worried about being linked to certain scenes, sir? Lady Worplesdon would be most displeased if she were to find out."
"Banish the thought, we Woosters are made of sterner stuff."
"If you say, sir."
"Now the question is, which chap will be photographed with me. Rocky Todd is too far away..."
"I was thinking of myself, sir."
I looked at him. "You'll have to change your togs, my dear fellow. No one will believe that we're around the bend for each other ." I eyeballed him. "Something more flamboyant than black and white."
Jeeves stiffened and paled.
"You can burn them when we're done and I shall never speak of it to anyone. Your reputation is safe."
"Very good, sir."
I visited the club that evening and found the owner staring morosely at the singer on the stage. She was topping, but not as topping as Marion was. "I say, old boy, what is the matter?"
"The singer. Since she started singing three days ago, revenue has dropped by half. And the pianist quit yesterday.”
“If the nasty blackmail business were resolved, would you hire her again?”
“Who are you?” He asked skeptically.
“Bertie Wooster, a friend of Marion’s.” I assured him with a tip of my hat.
He studied my visage. “You’ve been here before. With those blasted Wooster twins.“
“The shame of the fam, I assure you. I’m not like them, my taste is far more refined and better taste in clothes.”
He took a drink of his martini, “What’s this plan of yours?”
I laid out my cracking plan to him.
“Be here tomorrow at one. If you’re as good a piano player as you say, you can practice tomorrow afternoon with the band and start tomorrow night.”
Two weeks later
Having a job was a deucedly rummy thing and I wasn't sure I liked it, I decided. Even if it did keep normal hours and not require getting up an the unreasonable hour in the ack. emma. Too much responsibility or whatsit. It was rather like having D'Arcy Cheesewright draw you in the Drones Club darts tournament whilst you were trying to not be engaged to his ex-fiancee, if you get my drift.
It was rather nice to have Jeeves close to me and touching me more. Even if it was all for show.
Still, it warmed the cockles of my heart to hear the audience applaud after a jaunty tune or wipe away tears after a melancholy one. Seeing Jeeves sitting perched at the bar watching me play was rather nice. Having him close to me and touching me more was a most welcome additional bonus. It had crossed my mind on more than one occasion that maybe this pretend couple thingamabob wasn't so pretend.
"How much longer will this wheeze go on for, Jeeves?" I asked him, stripping out of my bow-tie and tux; the bath he was drawing me was going to be heavenly.
"I suspect that a gentleman will be handing you a card either tomorrow night or the night after. I observed two gentlemen in Mr. Whitehill's employ watching tonight at the club. They watched you keenly and departed shortly after you left the stage. Later, as I escorted you from the performers’ entrance, I noted one of the gentlemen watching the door and following us home."
I rubbed my hands together, "I do love it when one of your plans comes together, Jeeves. Shall we dine at the Jewel tomorrow night or The Angry Beetle tomorrow night?"
"I think it would be prudent for us to dine at The Jewel, sir. Their food is superior to The Angry Beetle’s."
"Very good, Jeeves. Any intriguing details into Mr. Whitehill's personal life?"
"There are one or two items that may be of interest. It seems that Mr. Whitehill is delinquent on his taxes and frequents clubs that cater to certain fancies."
“Tax evasion. Isn’t that a bit pedestrian for a blackmailer like Whitehill?” The clubs catering to certain fancies did not surprise me.
“The criminal element is not known for being overly concerned with trivial matters such as taxes, sir.”
I guess it made a certain sort of sense. “Very well, Jeeves. I shall see you in the morning.”
“Very good, sir.” Jeeves shut the door behind him and I ducked my ears under the water and contemplated my rubber duckie.
I must have had my ears under water, contemplating my rubber duckie, for rather longer than I thought because Jeeves shimmered into the room as I was buttoning up my nattiest set of heliotrope pajamas. Jeeves had raised an eyebrow when I pulled them from their box and showed him, but they had yet to meet an untimely demise like my blueberry check handkerchiefs and spiffing green spats.
"Mr. Whitehill and two acquaintances are here to see you, sir."
"At," I checked the time, "3 o'clock in the m. Tea Jeeves, and biscuits if you have them."
"Yes, sir. I took the liberty of laying out your brown suit."
"Very good, Jeeves. I shall be out shortly."
I strode out into the living room, sitting in the chair opposite Mr. Whitehill, and lit a gasper. Mr. Whitehill's acquaintances, I noted, were standing behind him in a decidedly menacing fashion. It was like being between McIntosh and a strip of sirloin.
I wasn't keen on it.
"I've come to offer you a job, Mr. Wooster." Mr. Whitehill said, tapping his cigar ash into the teacup. In the corner, Jeeves stiffened and his jaw clenched.
"What if I don't want one?"
"I have some snaps of you and your 'valet'," and you could hear the quotes around valet, "that might convinced you otherwise. Vinnie," he gestured with his cigar, "show Mr. Wooster."
Vinnie loomed over me, dropping a snap of me and Jeeves at The Jewel earlier tonight into my lap.
I tapped ash out into the ashtray, "We were just out for dinner."
Mr. Whitehill nodded at Vinnie, who dropped another two snaps into my lap. These were along the same vein as the first, innocent when viewed separately, but taken together they told a less than innocent story.
"What will happen if I say no?" I asked.
"Robbie Jackson gets copies and I send copies to your Aunt, Lady Worplesdon. I hear sodomy back home gets you a couple years hard time or a stint in the loony bin. Or I’ll just have your fingers broken." He leaned back and ashed in the teacup again.
I paled, dearest Aunt A.'s influence meant I'd get the loony bin but Jeeves'd get hard time. And be marked off at the Junior Ganymede's club from ever getting a job as a valet again. Still, I had to trust in Jeeves' plan and his history of getting the young master out of the soup.
Jeeves inclined his head at me. I sighed and took a sip of tea, "I'll do it."
Mr. Whitehill grinned broadly and stood, "Band practice is at four this afternoon."
Vinnie collected the snaps from my lap and they left. Jeeves collected Mr. Whitehill's cup with a white handkerchief, shuddering as he looked at the ashy liquid in the cup.
The flat's bell rang. "Tell them to go away, Jeeves. I've had quite enough visitors for tonight."
Jeeves set the cup down, and answered the door. "It's the police, sir."
I sat up straight, nearly tipping my tea over. “The police?”
“Yes, sir. I believe they will be able to help our situation.”
I decided to put my trust in Jeeves. He’s gotten the Wooster corpus out of the soup on more than one occasion. “Show them in, Jeeves.”
"And you're positive James "Little Napper" Philip McGee was here tonight?" Sergeant Stanley Dobson asked.
"I am sir, I recognized his photo from when his father was arrested for tax evasion in Chicago," Jeeves said. "He departed shortly before you arrived."
"Did you see anything, Mr. Wooster?" Dobson asked me.
I shook my head, "I wasn't following the papers when his father was arrested in Chicago."
Dobson flipped his notepad shut. “Thank you for your assistance, sirs. We’ll call if we have any other questions.”
Jeeves saw him out.
"How did you know who he was, Jeeves?" I asked, draining a much needed stiff w. and s.
"While you were on tour with Messrs Cyril Bassington-Bassington and Corky Corcoran , I followed reviews of the musical. Just after you departed Chicago, it was reported that Mr. McGee's father was arrested for tax evasion and bootlegging. The article noted that his son was also a suspect in a murder that occurred in his speakeasy, but did not print his photograph. After meeting Mr. Whitehill, I noted a striking resemblance between him and a blurry face in the background of his father's picture in the paper."
"Jeeves, you are a genius. But what about the snaps?" I asked.
"The gentleman standing behind you, Vinnie, expressed a desire to cooperate with police regarding Mr. McGee. He had similar photographs taken of him and initially refused to cooperate with Mr. McGee, Mr. McGee showed the pictures to his family, resulting in his family disowning him. The threat of the police being contacted ensured his cooperation with Mr. McGee."
"I say, this McGee chap was quite the criminal. But how did you know Vinnie wasn't a criminal? And what of the snaps?"
"He is a distant cousin, I recognized him from a photograph in my Mother's album. With the exception of the pictures shown here tonight, all pictures and negatives in Mr. McGee's possession were delivered by courier shortly before we arrived home tonight. Whilst you were in the bath, I took the liberty of separating the photographs of you and Marion from the others." He unlocked my writing desk's top drawer and pulled out a brown paper envelope, placing it in front of me.
I opened the envelope and perused the snaps, McGee was right, there were snaps of me and Jeeves out and about that taken with the pics taken at The Jewel led only to the conclusion that Jeeves I were a thing. An item, joined at the hip, well, you get the idea.
I stopped dead when I got to Marion's snaps, "Jeeves!" I exclaimed. "She's with Bobbie Wickham!" I shook my head, it explained certain things. Like her never letting me propose to her for one.
"Indeed, sir. I deduced the recipient of Miss Wardohl's affections after Miss Wickham approached me for advice wooing a lover back."
"Now we just need to get the two lovebirds back together."
"I took the liberty of inviting them both to the flat tomorrow afternoon. Miss Wardohl will arrive at 3:30 and Miss Wickham will arrive at 3:45."
"Jeeves, you are a genius. Burn these," I handed him the stack of snaps and negatives of us together to him. "What shall we do with the rest?"
"I placed them in the safe. Vinnie assured me that he kept a secret list of Mr. McGee's victims. Once he has dealt with the police, he will contact them and return the photographs and negatives to them. What do you want done with the pictures of us together?”
“With great pleasure, sir.”
"Jeeves," I said as he was burning the snaps of us together. "I feel that New York is getting a bit stuffy. What are your opinions on São Paulo?"
"That sounds like an excellent choice for a holiday, sir. I shall start packing in the morning."
I leaned on the mantle as Jeeves swept ashes into the fireplace grate and touched his shoulder. "Thank you, Jeeves. Most valets wouldn't help their invert master out of a bind like this."
"Sir, you never enquired as to why I left my former employer?" Jeeves asked into the fireplace quietly, his shoulder tightening.
"Your cracking morning pick me ups were enough for me. Never saw the need to ask why you left your previous employer."
"I am afflicted with your condition as well, sir. My previous employer found letters of mine to a friend that were of a very intimate nature. I was let go the next day, sir."
"Jeeves," I said, squeezing his shoulder, "you have nothing to worry about from this chap. Goodnight."
There was a decided spring in Jeeves' step when he brought in my tea early the next afternoon. "Jeeves," I said, taking a sip of the hot ambrosia, "a less stoic man than you would be skipping through the halls."
"Vinnie telephoned this morning to inform me that Mr. McGee was arrested for tax evasion as he arrived home last night, sir. They have wired the Chicago Police about his arrest for tax evasion and his possible involvement in a murder committed there."
“And do they expect him to be nabbed for that as well?” I asked.
“After his father was found guilty, sir, a number of previously reluctant witnesses came forward to say that they had seen Mr. McGee arguing with the deceased the night he died.”
“Would sir prefer wearing the fawn check or brown pinstripes this afternoon?”
“The brown pinstripes Jeeves, if you’d be so kind.”
Marion arrived at 3:30 precisely, her high heels rapping loudly on the marble floor. “Bertie!” She exclaimed. “Is it true what Jeeves said? You’ve solved my problem?”
“My fingers did the work, but it was Jeeves’ brain that solved it.” I handed her an envelope. “The pictures are in there.”
She opened the envelope, looked at the pictures and letter and started to sniffle. “Do I have my job back?
“That you do, old thing, and that rotter Whitehill is in jail. I rang first thing this afternoon and he agreed to take you back on one condition.”
She narrowed her eyes at me, “And that condition was?”
I gave her the best Wooster smile. “We play together tonight.”
She squealed and then the Wooster bod was engulfed in a hug. “You’re the best, Bertie. You too, Jeeves. I don’t know what I would have done without you,” she said letting me go.
Jeeves shimmered to her side, silver cocktail tray in hand. “A bourbon and soda, miss?”
“Thank you Jeeves,” she took the glass and sipped it. “What did they collar him for?”
“Tax evasion in New York and suspected murder in Chicago, miss.” Jeeves said, mixing me a drink.
The flat's bell rang again.
I poured myself the drink as Jeeves answered the door.
“Jeeves, any luck solving my problem?” A female voice asked him.
“I believe I have found a satisfactory conclusion.” He stepped aside.
"Marion?" Bobbie exclaimed and then glared at me. "Jeeves, I thought you told me Bertie wasn't going to be here. This is a delicate matter."
Jeeves coughed. "I'm afraid a degree of obfuscation was required, Miss Wickham. Mr. Wooster understands the delicacies surrounding the blackmail."
She glared icily in my general direction. "I saw you two together at The Ritz."
"Please, Bobbie, don't be mad at him," Marion asked, rising from her chair. "It's all my fault. I had to let you go." She sniffed and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief.
"And why did you have to let me go?" Bobbie demanded.
"I was being blackmailed." She handed the photographs and letter over to Bobbie, who looked at the snaps and read the letter, frowning.
“That utter blot, tell me he’s been taken care of?”
“He was arrested last night, actually. Tax evasion and suspected homicide. Nasty stuff.” I said and finished my drink.
“Does this mean we can be together again?” Bobbie asked Marion, smiling more than a bit soppily.
“It does,” Marion replied, equally soppy, and kissed Bobbie sweetly.
“Jeeves,” Bobbie said, breaking their embrace and handing the letter and photographs to Jeeves, “burn these.”
“With pleasure, miss.”
Later that evening, as I was putting on the old black and white tux one last time, Jeeves entered my room carrying a telegram.
"Who is it from, Jeeves?" I asked, straightening my bow tie.
"It is from Lady Worplesdon, sir."
"And what did the old battle-axe want?"
Jeeves read the telegram out loud to me:
"TWO DAYS OUT FROM NEW YORK STOP EXPECT A VISIT SOON STOP"
I shivered, any wire from dear Aunt A. that brief meant only one thing: she'd found a new filly for me to marry. "Have you booked our passage to São Paulo yet, Jeeves?"
"Indeed sir, we are leaving tomorrow afternoon." It was the damnedest thing, Jeeves looked momentarily sad that we were leaving New York. Even with Aunt Agatha coming for a visit.
And then it struck me, did Jeeves feel about me the way about me that I felt about him? Was he going to miss acting as my s.o. and even worse, did he think that I'd find a more suitable match in São Paulo? "Jeeves?" I asked quietly.
"There is no competition." I said, closing the distance between us with a meaningful nod.
"Of course there is no competition, sir, there are no other pianists playing tonight." Jeeves said seriously, studiously examining the painting behind me.
I wanted to shake him, kiss him and tell him that I liked him too. Instead I squeezed his shoulder. "I wasn't talking about other piano players, Jeeves."
Jeeves licked his lips. "Are you implying..." he trailed off.
Of course it was bloody then that the door bell rang. Jeeves pulled away, his spine stiffening. "I believe that is Miss Wardohl and Miss Wickham arriving, sir."
“One last show and then we’re off to sunnier climes, eh Jeeves?” I said with a wink.
“Indeed, sir.” He said with a smile and biffed off to answer the door.