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Paul Temple and the Xavier Mystery

Chapter Text

oOo

"Steve, wasn't Beverly Kingston a friend of yours?" Paul Temple asked from behind the newspaper he was reading. He and his wife Steve were having a late breakfast in the dining room of the Laurent Hotel in New York City, where they had been staying since their arrival in the United States two days ago. Paul was scheduled to do a lecture tour at various universities along the North-East coast of the US and despite his best efforts to dissuade Steve from accompanying him, arguing that it would be terribly boring for her, she had insisted on traveling with him.

Steve put down her coffee cup. "Beverly Kingston?" she said with deliberation as if trying out the name. "No, I don't think so. Why? Who is she?"

"Apparently, she is or used to be an actress. Kingston is her married name, her maiden name is Beverly Lloyd."

"Ah, of course!" Steve exclaimed. "Beverly Lloyd! I knew her in Cape Town. But that was ages ago. She was an aspiring actress back then, always looking for her lucky break. We lost touch when I left for England. I remember reading her name in the gossip columns a few times. It seems like she married an American, Patrick or something or other..."

"Patrick Kingston," Paul supplied with a smile.

"Anyways, she finally had her big break and even starred in a few Hollywood films. But I haven't heard her name in years," Steve said with a frown. "What makes you mention her now, Paul?"

"Well, she's in the paper. Or rather her husband is. Apparently, he died several weeks ago and there is some question about the inheritance. Or at least that's what the gossip pages say, but you know how they are."

"Let me see, please," Steve demanded with urgency. Paul also noticed that his wife had suddenly gone rather pale. He carefully folded the newspaper and handed it to Steve.

"What's the matter, Steve?" he asked, careful to keep his tone casual.

Steve appeared startled by the question. "Oh, nothing." Then after a pause, she added. "I'm just surprised, that's all. Patrick Kingston couldn't have been much older than me or Beverly." She unfolded the copy of thew New York Ledger and quickly flipped through it until she reached the society gossip column.

For a while, neither of them spoke. Steve seemed completely absorbed by the newspaper and Paul was finishing his last piece of toast. Once done, he glanced at his watch.

"It's gone nine already," he remarked. "We best get going. The university is sending a car round for nine thirty."

Steve put down the newspaper. "You go ahead. I think I'm going to skip this one."

"Oh, you are?" Paul was surprised. "You haven't even heard my lecture yet."

"Yes, I have. Or do you forget all those practice runs I sat through on the voyage?" Steve tossed back playfully.

"There is nothing wrong with being prepared," Paul said with mock indignation.

"Of course there isn't, darling. But I'll have plenty of opportunities to listen to your lecture while we're over here."

"Sure. But don't complain to me if you get bored sitting around at the hotel all by yourself!"

"Who said anything about staying at the hotel? Besides, I doubt you could get bored in this town," Steve laughed.

"I can see the new hat already," Paul groaned good-naturedly.

"Besides, I think I'm going to give Beverly a ring." Steve said, now serious again.

"You do that, I have to get ready. I'm going to have lunch with some people from the university but I should be back here by three at the latest," Paul said and got up from the table.

"I'll see you then, Paul," Steve replied. She watched her husband thread his way through the tables and leave the dining room.

Frowning, she returned her attention to the newspaper article. It wasn't so much the article that had unsettled her, but the memories it had awakened. Her acquaintance with Beverly dated back a time of her life she had long since put behind her. Or at least so she had thought. She knew that it was unlikely that Patrick Kingston's death had anything to do with what had happened in South Africa, but there were too few details in the newspaper article to tell. She needed to be sure. For both her sake and Paul's. Steve folded the newspaper and got up. She had a phone call to make.

 

oOo

"Could you at least ask her if she's available?" Steve asked. Finding Beverly's telephone number had been easy, she was in the telephone directory under her maiden name. The hard part was getting past her maid. It felt like they were going in circles. "My name is...Louise Harvey." Steve hadn't used her given name in years. She had stopped thinking of herself as Louise Harvey. Even before her brother had been murdered, she had already been calling herself Steve Trent.

"Miss Kingston is unavailable, I'm afraid," the maid repeated.

"Please tell her that's important. Tell her that's Louise Harvey calling and that I need to speak to her about Cape Town."

"I don't think..." the maid began, but Steve cut her off.

"Just ask her, please," Steve pleaded.

This time she was successful and the maid excused herself to inquire whether her mistress would take the call.

Less than two minutes later, another voice came over the line.

"Louise?" the familiar voice asked. "Is that really you?"

"Yes, it's me, Beverly."

"Where are you calling from?"

"The Laurent Hotel, in New York City," Steve replied. "Listen, I really don't want to intrude, but I read in the paper what happened to Patrick."

There was a long pause.

"It's good that you've telephoned. I would have contacted you, but I had no idea where to find you. I think we should talk. Can you come and see me?" Beverly asked.

"I'm free this morning. Would that be convenient?"

"Yes, that would be quite all right." Beverly proceeded to give Steve the address of her flat in Manhatten and they agreed to meet there in half an hour.

 

oOo

Beverly had certainly done well for herself, Steve though as she climbed out of the cab at the address Beverly had given her. This was a far cry from that small flat that had shared in Cape Town before Steve had gone on to live with her relatives. No wonder that there was disagreement over who would inherit her husband's fortune. It had be enormous. Maybe this wasn't at all what she thought it was, Steve considered, maybe she was making mountains out of molehills. But then again, the way Beverly has sounded on the phone, she had been scared. But all the pondering in the world, wouldn't solve this, Steve decided and pulled open the door to the lobby.

The building looked even more luxurious on the inside.

Steve stepped up to the porter.

"What can I do for you ma'am?" the elderly man asked.

"My name is Louise Harvey. I have an appointment to see Beverly Kingston." Steve explained, trying hard to quell her nervousness.

The porter consulted a book laid in front of him, then nodded.

"Of course, ma'am. Mrs Kingston is expecting you. The elevator is to the left."

"Thank you."

oOo

Following the elevator attendant's directions, Steve stepped off the elevator, turned left and headed down the corridor. Passing flats number 3A, 3B and 3C, she stopped in front of 3D. Steve anxiously pressed the bell. She could clearly hear it ringing inside, but there was no other sound issuing from the flat. Steve raised her hand to knock and the door, calling out Beverly's name, but as soon as her hand made contact with the door, it slid open a fraction.

"That's strange!" Steve exclaimed to herself. "Beverly? Are you there, it's Louise!" she called out once again. When she received no reply, Steve pushed the door open all the way and peered inside.

A thickly carpeted hallway stretched out in front of her. She hesitantly took a few steps inside. Surely Beverly wouldn't just leave her door open like this, she wondered. Steve advanced along the corridor, walking all the way up to the door at its far end which stood half-open.

Calling out again for her old friend, Steve opened the door fully. Beyond it lay a spacious sitting room with large windows with the curtains drawn, shutting out the mid-morning sun and leaving the room in near darkness. Steve almost turned back, when she caught sight of a shoe out of the corner of her eye, peeking out from from beneath one of the curtains. Rushing across the dim room, she pulled back the curtain. Huddled on the floor in the window recess, was a woman. Her friend's name dying on her lips, Steve knelt down next to the figure.

Blood coated the side of her head which was visible, her sightless yes staring ahead. There was no question that she was dead. It wasn't Beverly, but Steve recognized her all the same. It was a face she hadn't seen in years, but there was no mistaking the freckled features and flaming red hair of Winney Morris. Steve couldn't explain the woman's presence here, the last time she had seen Winney had been in Cape Town, but there was no denying the fact that she now was here and that she was dead.

Murdered by the looks of it. First Patrick, now Winney? What was it that the paper had said about Patrick Kingston's death? An accident involving drink, but the details had been sparse. No doubt the press had covered the Broadway producer's death in all its gory detail after it had happened, but according to what Steve had read this morning, that had been several weeks ago.

A phone, she thought belatedly, she needed to get to a phone and call the police. She had barely finished that thought her head exploded in pain and she knew nothing more.

 

oOo

Paul Temple was pleased. His lecture had been exceedingly well received, judging by the wealth of interested questions he had been asked by his listeners after opening the floor to questions. Although the lecture had officially ended almost ten minutes ago, no one seemed anxious to leave. Paul was busy answering a young redhead's question that he never noticed that middle ages man wearing a coat who'd slipped into the room and was now discreetly standing near the wall. He was fidgeting impatiently, glancing back and forth between Temple and the listeners.

"Well, this seems as good a final question as any," Paul was just saying, "We are getting on, and I'm sure you are all more than anxious to get to lunch. It was a pleasure to be here today and I thank you all for listening."

An appreciative murmur went through the lecture theater and within moments the first people had gotten up from their seats and were heading toward the exit. Paul was gathering up his own notes, a smile still on his face, when he heard someone calling his name.

"Mister Paul Temple?" The voice sounded older than the typical student. Perhaps one of the lecturers, Paul thought, there had been a few in the audience.

"Yes, that's me," he rejoined and looked up to see a middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair standing in next to the lecture stand. "What can I do for you?"

"My name is Harrington, I'm a detective with the New York Police Department."

"I didn't think my lecture would be of any interest to the professional investigators," Paul said jokingly.

"I'm not here for the lecture," Harrington replied somberly. Paul only know fully took in the detective's grim demeanor. Alarm bells were going off in his head.

Harrington didn't wait for Paul to answer. "I'm afraid I have some bad news for you, Mr Temple," he began.

"Is it Steve? Has something happened to my wife?" Paul asked. His pulse was suddenly racing with panic.

"Your wife was found injured earlier this morning."

"What happened? How is she?" Paul interjected before Harrington could continue.

"It appears that your wife was shot. They have taken her to Mercy Hospital, but I'm afraid, it didn't look good."

Shot! But that didn't make any sense. A car accident yes, perhaps, but who should want to shoot Steve, here in New York of all places? Paul's mind was reeling with the news.

"Mr Temple? Did you hear what I just said?" Harrington's urgent voice suddenly broke in on the whirlwind of his thoughts.

"Uhm, sorry, I didn't..." Paul was, for once in his life, completely at a loss for words.

"I can drive you to the hospital, if you want, Mr Temple." Harrington offered.

"That's not necessary," Paul replied with some effort. "I can just as well take a cab."

"I'm going to there anyway," Harrington said. "No need for you to be hunting around for a cab at the time like this."

Paul nodded gratefully.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

oOo

 

Less than five minutes afterward, they were on their way, the detective expertly threading the car through the dense New York City traffic. Harrington, who was either fairly perceptive or just of a generally taciturn nature, didn't speak at all during the drive, leaving Paul to his thoughts.

 

They had been driving for a good ten minutes when Paul spoke: "Can you tell me what happened? How did my wife get shot?"

 

"That's what we're trying to find out. She was found inside a flat in downtown Manhattan by the owner of the flat, a Mrs Beverly Kingston. Is she a friend of your wife's?"

 

"Yes, although they haven't seen each other for years." Paul was silent for a moment. "Didn't Mrs Kingston tell you?"

 

"That's what's a bit odd. There was some confusion when the officers first arrived on the scene. Mrs Kingston initially identified your wife as Louise Harvey. It was only later that we found her papers and were able to properly identify her. That was why it took us so long to notify you."

 

"Louisa Harvey is my wife's given name, but she changed it before we met" Temple explained "She must still have been using it when she was friends with Beverly Kingston," he added, the last remark address more to himself than to the detective.

 

"Didn't anyone see who shot her?" Paul asked suddenly, his mind toying with one scenario after the other, discarding each one as it didn't make at least sense.

 

"Unfortunately, we haven't been able to find any witnesses so far. I's early days yet, Mr Temple. To be honest, though, I don't think there were any witnesses."

 

"Why not?"

 

"Well, from what we can tell at the moment, the shooter was most likely positioned on the roof of the building across the street."

 

"A sharpshooter?" Paul asked, incredulous. The more he learned, the less sense it all made. If there had been a sharpshooter, it hadn't just been a random act of violence. Someone had been lying in wait. But this didn't matter now. What mattered was whether Steve was going to be all right. Finding out who was too blame could wait, Paul told himself.

 

"That's what it looks like at the moment," Harrington answered Paul's rather rhetorical question. "That's the front entrance coming up right there," the detective pointed out as he slowed the car. "Is it all right if I drop you off here, Mr Temple?"

 

"Of course, detective. Thank you for the ride," Paul said sincerely. As soon as the car stopped, he got out.

 

oOo

 

Upon inquiry, Paul had been directed to a waiting area furnished with hard, uncomfortable-looking chairs. On a small table lay a pile of well-read, but largely outdated magazines. Paul reluctantly took a seat. Both physically and mentally, he felt to need to act, to do something, anything to fix this. It went against his nature to just sit quietly and await developments, not when the stakes were this high. He was used to being in control. Maybe his occupation as a novelist had fostered that trait in him, or maybe it was just part of his character make up. Even when he was on a case, he had always managed to retain at least some control over the events. Enough to keep Steve and himself reasonably save. Until now that was. Seeking refuge from the tormenting feelings of anxiety and helplessness, his mind turned back to what little he knew of the events that had brought him here. He was carefully examining every piece of information he had gathered from Detective Harrington, turning them over in his mind, when he spotted a man in a white coat – a doctor presumably – emerge from a door at the end of the hallway.

 

"Mr Paul Temple?" the man who looked younger, almost too young to be a doctor, now that Paul saw him up close, asked.

 

"Yes, I'm Paul Temple," he confirmed, while struggling hard to keep his voice from trembling.

 

"I'm Dr. Daystrom." The two men shook hands. "Why don't we go into my office?" he suggested.

 

Paul followed Dr. Daystrom into the room where the younger man had just come from.

 

"Please, take a seat. Mr Temple." The doctor indicated a chair opposite a large oak desk before sitting down behind it.

 

"Please, doctor, tell me, how is my wife? Is she alive?" Paul could bear the tension no longer.

 

"Yes, Mr Temple, your wife is alive, but I'm afraid her condition is extremely serious. She's suffered a penetrating gunshot wound to the head. We don't know how much damage was done exactly, but in view of the fact that the bullet exited on the other side, we have to assume that it is extensive."

 

"What are her chances?" Paul asked. He needed to know where he stood, if he could allow himself to hope. Because if he did and Steve should die anyways, he wasn't sure how he'd pick up the pieces.

 

"I don't want to give you any false hopes, Mr Temple. To be frank, I'm surprised she has lasted this long in view of the severity of her head injury. It's unlikely that she'll ever regain consciousness."

 

All the questions Paul might have had fled from his mind at the physician's words.

 

"Can I see her?" he finally managed, his throat having gone dry.

 

"Well, given the circumstances, I believe that can be arranged," the young doctor agreed sympathetically. "I'll take you to see her now."

 

oOo

 

Paul had to bite back a gasp when he first caught sight of Steve. He doubted he would even have recognized her at a casual glance. Most of her head was swathed in bandages. Her skin was pale to the point of appearing nearly translucent against the sheets, except where at the edges of the gauze, dark bruises stood in stark contrast to her pallor.

 

He nodded gratefully to the nurse who brought him a chair, not trusting himself to speak. He sank down in the chair, his eyes never leaving his wife's face. A few moments later, he tentatively reached out to take her left hand in both of his.

 

"Oh Steve..." he murmured.

 

The next hours passed in a daze for Paul as he sat by Steve's bedside, sometimes talking softly to her, but most of the time just sitting in silence. The only times he ever left her side was when the medical staff requested he do so.

 

He'd lost all track of time. It was only when Dr. Daystrom informed him that Detective Harrington was wanting to speak to him and Paul reluctantly left the ward to speak to the NYPD man that he noticed that night had fallen.

 

"I'm sorry to disturb you at time like this, Mr Temple, but the earlier we get going in a case like this, the better," Harrington began apologetically.

 

"It's all right, I understand," Paul replied with automatic politeness. "What is it that you need to know?"

 

"I understand that you arrived here in New York City three days ago from Southampton,"

 

"Yes, that's correct," Paul tried and failed to keep the impatience out of his voice entirely. He knew that such questions, however routine were necessary, but right now, he couldn't have cared less about the investigation. If Steve really was dying, then he needed to be with her, not out here answering routine questions.

 

"Listen, detective, I appreciate that you are just doing your job, but I honestly don't know anything. If I did, I would tell you."

 

"All the same, you might know more than you realize. Even the smallest detail can be valuable," Harrington persisted.

 

Paul was too weary to argue further. The sooner he answered the man's questions, the sooner he'd be done.

 

"As far as you know, did your wife know a woman named Winifred Morris?"

 

Paul shook his head. "No, not as far as I'm aware."

 

"Miss Morris was found dead in the same room where you're wife was found shot. It appears that she died around the same time your wife was shot. She too had been shot in the head."

 

Too tired and worn to contemplate the implications of that statement right now, Paul docketed the fact in his mind, storing it to be examined at a later time.

 

"Are you sure you haven't heard the name before?" Harrington broke in on Paul's thoughts.

 

"No, I don't think so," Paul shrugged.

 

"One more question, Mr Temple," Harrington went on. "Who knew that your wife was going to call upon Beverly Kingston?"

 

"Well, she mentioned her intention to me at breakfast, but I don't think anyone else knew. We don't really know many people here in New York City."

 

"But you do know some people?" Harrington asked sharply.

 

"Yes, but..." Paul began, but Harrington cut him off. "Do you think you could write down a list of their names for me?" the detective demanded.

 

With a suppressed sign, Paul gave in. Part of him knew that the man was only doing his job, but for the rest of him, it was very hard to care about anything except Steve right now.

 

Paul quickly scribbled down the names of his New York acquaintances on a piece of paper that Harrington had given him.

 

"Here, that should be everyone." Paul handed Harrington the list.

 

"If you will excuse me now. I need to get back to my wife," Paul said curtly and bade the detective good-bye.

 

oOo

 

In view of Steve's condition, Dr. Daystrom had given orders that Paul be allowed to stay even though visiting hours were long over. He stayed at Steve's side throughout the night, talking to softly to her for hours. He didn't recall falling asleep, but suddenly, he jerked awake, startled by the arrival of a nurse. He stared at her for a moment, then his eyes flew back to the bed. Steve was still lying exactly as she had before, only her chest moving up and down slowly with the rhythm of her breathing. Slightly reassured, he glanced at his watch. It was a few minutes after six.

 

"If you would please step outside for a moment, sir," the nurse requested.

 

Paul acquiesced and went out into the hallway. He had no idea how long he'd been asleep, but it couldn't have been very long, as he was still extremely tired. Not to mention he was also aching all over from having spent the night in a chair. For the first time since receiving the bad news, his mind turned to the practical matters that he'd inevitably have the deal with. He'd have the cancel the remainder of his lecture tour. Doing so would involve more than a few phone calls. He loathed to leave Steve, but considering that they had been scheduled to depart New York City this afternoon, there was no putting it off. He hadn't looked in a mirror lately, but he also suspected that he could do with a shower, a shave and a fresh change of clothes.

 

"Is Dr. Daystrom in yet?" Paul asked the nurse when she emerged from the ward.

 

"Yes, sir, he just got in. I can see if he’s available to speak to you," she answered.

 

"Yes, please."

 

The nurse disappeared down the hallway. Paul didn’t have to wait long. Less than two minutes after his conversation with the nurse, Dr. Daystrom came up to meet him.

 

"Good morning, Mr. Temple," he greeted him amicably.

 

"Tell me doctor, how is Steve doing?" Paul asked, not wasting time on pleasantries. He dared not hope that somehow the grim outlook of the previous day had changed. The words still rang in his ears as if the earlier conversation had taken place only moments ago.

 

"There is still significant cause for concern, but she appears to have stabilized. What we have to watch out for now is infection. That’s the biggest danger at the moment. As for her chances at recovery, I’d hate to speculate. It may be that the injury wasn’t quite as severe as we first thought, but even so, it doesn’t look very good."

 

"Is there no way to tell?" Paul considered himself a well read and educated man, even without the expansive research he had done for his work over the span of his career so far. Medicine however was not a field he knew much about and he had no choice but to trust the professional’s assessment.

 

"Not unless she regains consciousness, but I have to tell you that that’s not likely to happen."

 

It broke Paul’s heart to hear that, but he hadn’t really expected anything else.

 

Paul nodded. "Listen, Dr. Daystrom, I need to take care of a few matters. It shouldn’t take me much longer than an hour or two, but could you please let me know if Steve’s condition changes at all? I’ll be at the Laurent Hotel here in town."

 

"Of course, Mr Temple. I’d suggest you get a few hours' sleep and something to eat as well."

 

"But..." Paul started to protest. It felt wrong to leave Steve when she was at her most vulnerable. It was true that, strictly speaking, Paul couldn’t do anything to help her, but he still hoped that at least on some level, Steve was aware of his presence.

 

"I doubt it will do your wife any good if you run yourself into the ground."

 

"I suppose you’re right," Paul agreed reluctantly. Not only wouldn’t it help Steve a bit, but it was also certainly not would she would want him to do.

 

"I promise I’ll telephone you should there be any change," Daystrom added.

 

"All right, I’ll be back sometime this afternoon, I hope." Paul said and bade the doctor good-bye.

 

oOo

 

The cab he caught outside the hospital’s main entrance got stuck in the morning traffic, causing his journey back to the hotel to take nearly twice as long as it normally would have taken. When he finally arrived and went to collect his room key, he was surprised to hear the porter inform him that three messages had accumulated while he was gone. He collected the slips of paper from the porter and also picked up a letter that had arrived for him the previous evening.

 

Once in his room, he took off his hat and coat, tossing both carelessly onto the bed before sitting down in one of the chairs. The room, though impersonal and generic, felt strangely empty without Steve. Everywhere there were little signs of her having inhabited the room that he hadn’t even noticed before, but which now painfully tugged at his heart. Determined to distract himself, he checked the messages he’d received. The first was from Dr. Wood, the lecturer with whom he had been scheduled to have lunch after his lecture at the university. Dr. Wood, obviously having heard what had happened, expressed his sympathies and asked Paul to call him if he needed anything. The second message was from Beverly Kingston, simply asking Paul to call if he got the chance. The third was from Detective Harrington, also asking him to call back. Paul dropped the notes onto the small table in the room to be dealt with later and examined the letter more closely. The envelope, made of good quality paper, bore no sender’s name or address. Paul reached for the letter opener.

 

The letter contained a single sheet of typewritten text. It ran thus:

 

Dear Mr Temple,

 

Please allow me to express my sympathies for what happened to Mrs Temple. It really was a most regrettable incident and believe me when I say I am sincerely sorry. Your wife was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. She did not deserve this. She was the only one who did the right thing. But do consider yourself warned Mr Temple. I know who you are and I will not tolerate you or anyone else meddling with my affairs.

 

Sincerely yours,

 

Xavier

 

Paul read the letter twice. He didn't know anyone named Xavier and the contents of the letter didn't make much sense to him either. It was possible, he supposed that Steve had indeed been at the wrong place at the wrong time. But why had he been sent this letter in this first place? He had come up against his fare share of killers, but had never encountered one who had shown even the capacity to feel remorse. It didn't make sense. And what did that mean: 'she was the only one who did the right thing'? That sounded like the writer of the letter knew Steve personally. Maybe that was why he had shot her, to prevent her from recognizing him? And then there was the warning, directed at him. It was possible that the writer might be someone Paul and Steve knew or had at least crossed paths with at some point.

 

Paul felt like he was going in circles. His head was far to overburdened to make sense out of this whole affair. He briefly considered trying to get some sleep, but decided to have a shower instead. Maybe that would help clear his head.

 

Paul indeed felt suitably refreshed after he'd showered and shaved. Wrapped in his dressing gown, he returned to the chair and placed the first of a number of telephone calls to Dr. Wood. Wood, who had helped Paul organized the particulars of his lecture tour to the East Coast was only too happy to offer his help in canceling it. He once again expressed his sympathies for what had happened to Steve and the rang off. Glad to have the matter out of the way, Paul turned his attention to the next message left for him. He wasn't sure what Beverly Kingston might want to speak to him for, but it would be rude to ignore her request, so Paul requested a call to be put through to the number she had left.

 

"Hello?" a woman's voice answered.

 

"Is this Mrs Kingston? It's Paul Temple speaking," he said.

 

"Oh, Mr Temple. I'm so glad that you've called. I can't tell you who sorry I am about what happened to your wife," Beverly Kingston sounded almost breathless.

 

"Thank you. What did you want to speak to me about?" Paul asked, not in the mood to waste his time on social niceties.

 

"Well..." she hesitated. "I was wondering if we could meet sometime. There is something I want to show you."

 

"Show me?" Paul echoed.

 

"Yes, Mr Temple. Please believe me when I say that it's important," she sounded pleading, bordering on desperate.

 

"All right, would this afternoon be all right?"

 

"Yes, that would be great. Shall we say in an hour?" Beverly Kingston sounded much relieved.

 

"I'm at home," she said and gave him her address.

 

"Yes, I'll see you in an about hour," Paul replied and rang off. What could Beverly Kingston possibly want to show him, Paul wondered. He didn't even know the woman. If she knew something about the shooting, why didn't she simply tell the police? Detective Harrington might not be the most imaginative of investigators, but Paul had no reason to think that he wasn't a thorough and dedicated detective.

 

One hour didn't leave him with much time, especially since he still had to get dressed. He had just enough time to give Detective Harrington a ring and see what he wanted. The call was quickly put through and second later, Paul was on the line with Detective Harrington.

 

"It's good of you to call, Mr Temple," Harrington said after they had exchanged greetings. "I would like to have another talk with you."

 

 

"Oh?" Paul queried, suddenly wondering for the first time if it was possible that the NYPD man suspected him.

 

"Nothing to worry about, Mr Temple, rest assured," Harrington said as if having read Paul's mind.

 

 

"I contacted Scotland Yard and Assistant Commissioner Graham Forbes vouched for you. Still, I'd like another word with you."

 

"As it so happens, there is something I'd like to show you," Paul said, thinking of the mysterious latter, signed Xavier. Before Harrington could answer, he went on: "I've got another call to make first, but I should be free around 11 o'clock this morning. Would that be convenient for you?"

"Yes, that's fine. I'll see you at 11 a.m. At the Laurent Hotel then," Harrington confirmed and rang off.

 

Paul leaned back in his chair. Normally, he wouldn't hesitate the get involved in a case when it interested him, but this time, it was different. Steve had been seriously injured, perhaps even fatally and while part of him wanted to find the person or persons responsible and bring them to justice, another part of him hesitated, feeling like he should be at Steve's side and not gallivanting about the city and the track of some mysterious letter writer. If, god forbid, Steve should die, he knew he would stop at nothing to bring her killer to justice, even if it was the last thing he ever did. But if she lived, if there was even a chance at recovery for her, she needed him to be there for her more than ever. But there was no time to ponder that matter further now. He had an appointment with Beverly Kingston and he was already running late. In any case, it wouldn't hurt to hear what she had to say.

TBC

Chapter Text

oOo

 

Beverly Kingston was a woman in her forties who, at first glance, could easily pass for a woman ten years younger. Up close however, the signs of approaching middle age were undeniable, despite the carefully applied make-up and perfectly coiffed hair styled after the latest fashion. She had once been very attractive, Paul was sure of that, and there was evidence that she had thought to conserve that beauty. However, Paul also noticed that the hard line of her mouth, which seemed incongruous with the rest of her person.

 

She received him in the study, a tastefully and expensively furnished room. Mahogany shelves stacked with books lined the walls and there were even more books piled on the desk and even the floor. Mr Kingston appeared to have been an avid reader. Paul now recalled that Kingston had not only produced a number of successful Broadway plays, but that he had also tried his hand at writing for the stage, albeit with less success

 

"It is very kind of you to come, especially on such short notice," Beverly Kingston was just saying. "I have to say I'm awfully sorry about what happened to Louise. It was of course a terrible shock for me. First Patrick's death and now this happening. Awful, just awful."

 

"Mrs Kingston, you mention on the telephone that you had something to show me," Paul interrupted before she could expound on the subject further.

 

"Yes, of course," she inclined her head in a somewhat bird-like fashion. "Mr Temple, I'm terribly worried."

 

Paul said nothing, waiting for her to continue.

 

"I'm worried about my safety. I think I might be next."

 

"Why don't you start at the beginning?" Paul asked. Somehow, he found it hard to believe that this woman was a friend of Steve's.

 

"As you may have heard my husband was killed a few weeks ago. He was knocked down while crossing the street late one evening. The police claim that they have the man responsible in custody,but to be honest, I don't believe they did a very good job investigating the case."

 

"Why so?"

 

"You see, I was looking through my Patrick's desk about a week after it happened and I found a bunch of letters. It seems like he had been getting threatening letters for months before he died."

 

"And you think they are connected to his death?" Something about this was bothering Paul. He couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something not quite right about Mrs Kingston.

 

"Wouldn't you?" Her tone sounded almost accusatory.

 

"Well, that depends," Paul answered non-comitally. "What exactly did the letters threaten?"

 

Mrs Kingston's eyes narrowed slightly, then she nodded. She opened a drawer and pulled out an envelope.

 

"Here, see for yourself," she handed him the envelope.

 

Paul accepted the envelope and looked it over. It was a generic, though good quality envelope, addressed to Mr Patrick Kingston. The postmark was dated eight weeks ago.

 

"This one arrived about a week before he died," Beverly said, having obviously noticed what he was looking at.

 

Paul removed a single sheet from the envelope. All it contained were a few lines of typewritten text.

 

You cannot get rid of me this easily. I warn you, do not try to trick me again. Unless you comply with my demands, you'll suffer the consequences.

 

Xavier

 

"Well, do you think the letter has something to do with Patrick's death?"

 

Paul ignored the question. "Do you have any idea who could have written this letter?" he asked instead.

 

"Of course not!" Mrs Kingston sounded positively scandalized. "I don't even know what this Xavier is talking about!"

 

Paul nodded. He had a shrewd suspicion that Beverly Kingston knew or at least suspected a great deal more than she was saying.

 

"You don't take this seriously, do you?" Beverly Kingston suddenly accused. "The police didn't either, you know. They think that they have their man and they are not interested in hearing about anything else," she complained.

 

"Usually the police don't make arrests without a good reason," Paul commented diplomatically.

 

"They did in this case. Arnold Westlake couldn't have possibly killed my husband," she protested, then broke off and added in a much softer tone: "I have heard about you, Mr Temple and I know you're good at figuring out the truth. I want you to find out who really killed my husband."

 

Paul was taken aback. He hadn't thought Beverly Kingston capable of truly caring about anyone, except herself. "I'm afraid, I'm not taking on any case at the moment," he answered, as politely as he could manage.

 

oOo

 

Paul barely made it back to the hotel on time by the time Detective Harrington arrived. By now, he was dead on his feet. The conversation with Mrs Kingston had been rather draining and he was starting to notice the lack of sleep and food that he'd been operating on. Paul met Harrington in the lobby and the two men settled down in a pair of armchairs.

 

"As I mentioned to you before, I contacted Scotland Yard to inquire about you and your wife. It seems that you have quite the knack for making enemies."

 

"Huh? You mean my helping out Scotland Yard on a few occasions?" Paul asked.

 

"On more than a few occasions, or at least that's what I heard," Harrington said lightly. "I know you have given me a list of all the people you know in New York City and we're

in the process of talking to the all, but do you think it is possible that your wife being shot was an act of revenge against you?"

 

"It's true that my actions have helped put some people in prison, but that was in England, not here."

 

"That's true. Still, I suppose it is possible that maybe a family member of someone you put away..."

 

"Everything is possible," Paul agreed tiredly.

 

"I don't suppose you're on a case now, Mr Temple?"

 

Paul shook his head. "I came here strictly for a lecture tour. I was asked to look into a matter yes, but I declined."

 

"It wouldn't happen to have been Mrs Kingston who tried to interest you in her husband's death?"

 

"As a matter of fact, it was."

 

"Yes, the lady isn't happy with how we've handled the case."

 

"Does she have any reason to be dissatisfied?" Paul asked.

 

For a moment, it looked like Harrington would take offense at the remark, but he replied quite civilly: "I don't think so. The case is quite clear, it was an accident, brought on by too much drink. Mr Kingston was crossing Broadway in early morning hours after attending the premiere of a play he produced. He was hit by a drunk driver coming from a party and died shortly after. The driver confessed. I really don't see what we could have done better."

 

"Any relationship between Beverly Kingston and Arnold Westlake?" Paul queried.

 

Harrington frowned. "Not that I know of. I wasn't on the original case, but I've been reading up on it. Any particular reason you would think so?"

 

"I was just wondering," Paul replied evasively. "By the way, I have been meaning to ask you, do you have any theories about what's behind all this? I mean the murder of the woman Winifred Morris and the attempt on my wife."

 

Harrington regarded Paul thoughtfully for a while, before he answered: "I don't supposed it can hurt telling you, Mr Temple. The thing is, as far as we have been able to find out, Winifred Morris was mixed up in something. What exactly we don't know, but we're working on it."

 

"I thought as much," Paul replied. "How do you think Steve figures into this?"

 

"She probably doesn't. Wrong place, wrong time, I'd say," Harrington ventured.

 

The detective's words echoed the words in the mysterious letter from 'Xavier'. They too had claimed that Steve was merely at the wrong place at the wrong time. And yet, there had been that phrase, 'she was the only one who did the right thing'. Whoever this Xavier person was, he or she appeared to know Steve.

 

"It may be an unorthodox question, but would you mind giving me the facts of the case, as they stand right now?"

 

Harrington shrugged. "Sir Graham Forbes vouched for you. He appears to think quite highly of you and he did mention how you helped Scotland Yard on several occasion with pretty tricky cases, so why not? Winifred Morris arrived in New York City a week ago on the liner Olympia from Cape Town. She checked into the Carlton Hotel. We found her diary in her hotel room. It contained only one appointment for the entire week leading up to her murder. It appears that on Tuesday night, she was scheduled to meet with a person whose initials are P.B.. We have no way of knowing whether or not she kept that appointment or who P.B. is for that matter. The only other item of interest in her possessions was a letter. It contained only the following text:

 

Don't think you can get away from me this easily.

 

It was signed 'Xavier'. I'm thinking she may have been running from someone who eventually caught up with her..."

 

"And killed her?" Paul asked.

 

"It's our best theory at the moment. I've sent a request for information to the South African authorities, but it will likely be some time before we get a response."

 

"You still haven't told me how she ended up in Beverly Kingston's flat'?" Paul reminded the detective.

 

"Oh yes, that's another rather confusing point in that affair. Mrs Kingston claims she has no idea who the dead woman was nor how she came to be murdered in her apartment.

 

"Wasn't the flat locked?" Paul inquired.

 

"She claims she locked it when she went to see a neighbor. According to her statement, it was still locked when she returned to find Miss Morris dead and your wife severely injured. It doesn't make any sense, and I'm pretty sure she is lying about something, but I'm not sure what."

 

"I suppose no one else has a key to her flat?"

 

"No one, except the maid, a certain Alice Conway. She was running errands in town for Mrs Kingston at the time of the murder and she still had her key when I questioned her. I think we can rule her out."

 

Before Paul could answer, a hotel porter came up to the two men. "Excuse me, are you Mr Paul Temple?"

 

"Yes, what is it?" Paul asked.

 

"You have a telephone call from Mercy Hospital."

 

It was the announcement Paul had both feared and hoped for. It was quite possible that Steve had died and the hospital was now calling to inform him. If he should have been here talking about what was by comparison unimportant minutia while his wife was dying, he would never forgive himself. He really should have stayed at the hospital, no matter what Dr. Daystrom said.

 

"If you'll excuse me, Detective Harrington?" Paul moved to get up before the detective had answered.

 

"Of course, I should be getting back to the precinct anyways," Harrington answered and got up as well.

 

"Good-bye, Mr Temple."

 

"Good-bye, detective," Paul replied absent-mildly and followed the porter. "You can take the call here," the porter said, indicating a public phone box in a corner of the

lobby.

 

"Thank you," Paul replied. He had no sooner entered the phone booth when the phone rang. He picked up the receiver with a trembling hand.

 

"Paul Temple speaking."

 

"It's Dr. Daystrom here. Listen, Mr Temple, your wife just regained consciousness."

 

It was as if a weight was suddenly lifted from Paul's chest.

 

"I'll be there as soon as possible," Paul replied and hung up, not willing to waste another moment.

 

 

oOo

 

The cab ride seemed to take forever. Paul, normally not given to outward displays of emotion, was drumming his fingers anxiously on his thigh. His initial relief at the news that Steve had woken up, was now tempered by doubts. He had been so caught up in the excitement that he'd never even asked how Steve was doing. Sure it had to be a good sign that she had regained consciousness, but Paul couldn't shake the memory of the gloomy prognosis Dr. Daystrom had given. Only when the cab came to a sudden stop, Paul was shaken from his sombre musings and looked out of the window only to find that they had finally arrived in front of Mercy Hospital. He got out of the cab, paid the driver and hurried

towards the front entrance.

 

He quickly made his way towards the ward where he'd spent the night at Steve's side. He entered and stopped dead in his tracks. The bed previously occupied by Steve was now empty. A young nurse he had not seen before was in the process of stripping the linens. Was it possible that something had happened to Steve? Surely, Dr. Daystrom would have let him know if her condition was so unstable...

 

"Excuse me, do you know what happened to the patient who was here earlier?" Paul asked when he'd finally recovered his voice.

 

"I'm sorry, sir, but I don't know. I only came on duty just now," the nurse explained shyly.

 

"All right, thank you, nurse," Paul replied and retreated from the ward, his mind spinning with the possibilities of what might have happened. He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he nearly bumped into Dr. Daystrom.

 

"Mr Temple, I didn't expect you here so soon!" Daystrom exclaimed, clearly surprised. "It's good that you are here though," he amended in a more serious tone.

 

"What happened to Steve? Where is she?" The words tumbled from Paul's mouth.

 

"We moved her to to a different ward," Daystrom was quick to reassure Paul.

 

"Can I see her?" was Paul's next question.

 

"Yes, but first I'd like to have a word with you. Let's go to my office."

 

The words eerily reminded Paul of the previous day when he'd followed Dr Daytrsom into his office only to learn that Steve had been shot. He wondered what piece of bad news the doctor was going to give him this time that he felt shouldn't be discussed in public.

 

Once in the office of the physician, Paul had barely taken a seat when he asked. "What's going on, doctor?"

 

"As I already informed you on the phone, your wife regained consciousness a short while ago. While that is certainly a very good sign in general, I have to admit that I am worried about her mental state."

 

"Her mental state?" Paul echoed, not having expected this at all.

 

"Yes, when she woke, she was extremely confused."

 

"Isn't that normal with a head injury?" Paul asked, feeling like he was grasping at straws.

 

"To some extent, certainly. But she even didn't appear to recognize her own name. She got very upset and we had to sedate her. She really shouldn't upset herself in her present condition."

 

Something about what Dr. Daystrom had just said rang a bell with Paul. "What exactly did she say?"

 

"Well, most of it didn't make any sense, but she did insist that her name was Louise Harvey."

 

Paul nodded. "I think I understand. You see, Louise Harvey is my wife's given name. She changed it before we met though, so I can't imagine why she would use it now."

 

"That explains a lot," the physician agreed. "It is just possible that your wife is suffering from a certain form of amnesia – memory loss. In that case, she may have forgotten everything that happened to her after a certain point. As far as she is concerned, her name may well still be Louise Harvey."

 

Paul was too shocked to reply. If Daystrom was right, then Steve or rather Louise wouldn't even remember meeting him or anything else that had happened during the last five years or so. He would be for all intents and purposes be a stranger to her.

 

"At any rate, we cannot be sure until she recovers from the sedative. With any luck, she'll be a bit more lucid next time round." Daystrom went on. "We'll know more then."

 

"Can I see her?" Paul asked.

 

"Of course. Go easy on her though when she wakes up."

 

"I will," Paul promised.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

oOo

 

If anything, the bruising on Steve's face looked even more frightful now that it had when he'd last seen her. Paul sank down in a chair by her bedside. The adrenaline that had kept him going since he'd received the call from Dr. Daystrom was fading fast and was started to fully feel the effects of hunger, exhaustion and worry. While the initial shock over the shooting had started to fade, the news that Steve might be suffering from amnesia had hit him hard. It wasn't that he wasn't that he didn't feel grateful that she had beaten the odds this far. Yesterday at this time, her life had been despaired of. Part of Paul felt guilty that he was still feeling miserable even though it was fairly likely that Steve would survive. Another part of him however couldn't help but wonder how they would cope if there should be any permanent consequences of the shooting. He couldn't imagine his life without Steve being in it anymore, but what would happen if she truly didn't remember him?


oOo

 

Louise Harvey didn't want to wake up. She was perfectly content to drift along in the realm between dreams and waking, aware of the waking world, yet not touched by it. Something however was pushing her towards the surface. It was like this nagging sensation in the back of her mind that there was something important, something she needed to know. Finally, she stopped struggling and allowed her mind and body to gradually come to awareness. With it however came pain as well. It was an intense, piercing ache, feeling like someone had driven an icepick through her skull. It was intense enough to drown out most other physical sensation, at least at first. Only gradually, she became aware of the soft surface she was resting on as well as a jumble to faint noises she couldn't quite place. She didn't in the least feel like opening her eyes, but eventually curiosity got the better of her. With supreme effort, she managed to open her eyes a fraction, only to immediately close them again when painful light seemingly cut right into her brain. A series of pained moans escaped her as the pain became white hot with intensity. For what seemed like an eternity, it was all she could feel, all she could think of. Gradually however, it lessened back to its original level and she could heard a man's voice nearby. She clearly didn't recognize the voice and yet there was something familiar, something trust-worthy about it.

 

"It's all right now. I've turned down the light." Encouraged thus by the voice, Louise opened her eyes once again. She couldn't see much at first. Everything seemed blurred and indistinct. Gradually the blobs separated and coalesced into distinct shapes, though still somewhat fuzzy around the edges. Most of it was white in colour and that combined with the sharp smell of disinfectant made her realize that she was most likely in some sort of hospital. Had she been in an accident? Maybe that could explain why her head hurt so badly.

 

"Shall I fetch a doctor?" Louise had forgotten all about the voice until she heard it again. Here eyes quickly settled on the source – a man sitting in chair at her bedside. Much like his voice, his appearance seemed to inspire a measure of confidence in her, though she couldn't explain why. He clearly wasn't a doctor, no white coat, plus he looked really haggard and also increasingly worried as he regarded her carefully. The expression on his eyes puzzled Louise. He was looking at her in a way that clearly spoke of fondness.

 

"I'll get a doctor," the man finally declared. "You just hold on." With that he got up from the chair and left. Louise had only intended to close her eyes for a second in the hopes of easing her headache, but she must have dozed off, because she suddenly his voice was back, joined by a second one.

 

"She didn't say anything," the first voice said. "She just stared at me."

 

"I wouldn't worry just yet, Mr Temple. She is recovering from a severe head injury. Some confusion is normal." the second voice said in a reassuring tone. A doctor most likely, Louise concluded. She opened her eyes to see if she'd been right. Indeed, in addition to the first man who appeared to be called Temple, a young man in a white coat stood near her bed.

 

"Ah, you're awake," he said suddenly, having noticed her looking at him. "How are you feeling?"

"My head hurts," she admitted, her hoarse voice sounding almost strange to her own ears.

 

"Yes, that's quite understandable," the doctor agreed. "You can have something for the pain in a moment. First, I'd like you to try and answer a few questions though."

 

"All right," Louise agreed, hoping that it wouldn't take too long. She already felt tired again and if it hadn't been for the pain in her head, she was sure she would have fallen asleep already.

 

"Can you tell us your name?" the doctor began. Louise was aware that both he and Mr Temple were watching her closely.

 

"Louise Harvey," she replied without hesitation, watching the men's faces closely. While the doctor looked intrigued, the face of his companion fell noticeably.

 

"Do you know what year it is?"

 

"Yes, of course. It's 1934," she replied. "Why all these questions? What happened to me?" she added.

 

"You were severely injured in a shooting incident," the doctor told her. Louise didn't hear any more as her thoughts whirled off in a million directions at once. She had been shot? This was exactly what her brother always worried about. Maybe he was right after all when he said that she was danger in Cape Town, maybe she should have moved in with her relatives instead of taking that new job with the newspaper. But if they'd gotten to her, they could get to her brother just as easily. And besides, she knew her brother was busy, but if she'd really been shot, he would be here.

 

"What about my brother? Is he all right?" she asked anxiously.

 

The doctor shot a question glance at Temple. The man cleared his throat, then answered: "I know it may be difficult to accept, but when you were injured, it caused you to lose some of your memories..."

 

"You mean like amnesia?" Louise asked, stunned.

 

"Exactly," the man replied, his expression full of sorrow and pain. "You see, the year is now 1939 and you're no longer in Cape Town. This is New York City," he broke off, allowing his words to sink in.

 

For a long while, she said nothing, turning the words over in her mind. It didn't make any sense, she couldn't just forget five entire years. Maybe it was a trick of some sort? Her brother always said how devious and ruthless the man he was up against was. But something else told her that this man, Temple, was telling the truth.

 

"I believe you," she finally said, her voice devoid of any emotion. "But can you tell me whether my brother is all right?"

 

The man shook his head sadly. "He's dead, Louise. He died last year."

 

Louise swallowed hard. She didn't have the heart to ask how exactly her brother had died.

 

"Please leave me alone," she managed, struggling to hold back tears. Her self-control had been eroded by the shocking news, the pain and the fatigue. But she was determined not to fall apart in front of a pair of strangers.

 

The two men nodded.

 

"I'll send a nurse to give you something for the pain," the doctor said. Then they were both gone.

 

Louise closed her eyes, shutting out a world gone crazy, if only for a moment. Her moment of respite wasn't meant to last however. She had hardly closed her eyes when she heard footfalls approach.

 

"Mrs Temple?" A woman's voice, rather timid asked softly.

 

Louise's eyes flew open and she stared at young nurse, struck speechless.

 

"Is everything all right?" the nurse asked, looking concerned at her.

 

"Yes, yes. Why did you just call me Mrs Temple?" There really was only one logical explanation, but it seemed too unfathomable to be true.

 

The nurse blushed furiously. "But...that's your name, isn't it? If there's a mistake on the chart..." she eventually stammered.

 

"No, no. I don't suppose there is a mistake," Louise replied, suddenly feeling extremely weary. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to cause any confusion," she added apologetically.

 

"It's all right, Mrs Temple," the nurse replied. "I'm sorry if I startled you just now. I was told to bring you something for that pain."

 

"Yes, that will be great. Thank you." Louise meant it. Her headache had gathered momentum ever since she'd woken and the recent revelations hadn't helped. Not had she lost five years of her life, bu apparently her brother was dead and she had married. If it didn't all feel so painfully really, she would have been convinced that it was all a terrible nightmare.

 

oOo

 

Paul had fled from the hospital after the short conversation he'd had with Steve, or rather with Louise. Having had to tell her what he did had taken a lot out of him. He felt almost physically ill afterward. But worse than the words, had been the total lack of recognition in his wife's eyes. He supposed he should be grateful that the damage done by the bullet wasn't more severe. Steve's intellect and her personality appeared to be intact, only her memory wasn't. He didn't have it in him though to feel even the slightest bit of gratitude. The events were still too fresh, the wound too raw.

 

Paul tried to get some rest at the hotel, but he couldn't find peace, the conversation with Louise kept replaying in his mind. Finally, he left the hotel. It was still fairly early, but he had no trouble finding a bar where he could drown his sorrows, at least for the evening.

 

He was on his second whiskey and soda when he heard someone call his name. He turned automatically in the direction of the voice, before the temptation to simply ignore it took over. Sitting next to him at the bar of the rather dingy little establishment was a clean-shaven man in his early forties, beaming at him.

 

"Yes, that's me," Paul replied slowly, studying the newcomer intently.

 

"Oh you must excuse me for disturbing you like this, but it is just the most amazing co-incidence that I should run into you, here of all places!

 

Paul studied the newcomer blearily. He was not in the mood for conversation, all he wanted to do right now was drink enough to dull the pain, if that was possible at all.

 

"Do I know you?" he asked brusquely.

 

"Of course! Don't you remember? We met in 1925. I was in a play you wrote - or rather I would have been, but it fell through."

 

"Death of seasons?" Paul still couldn't place the man. But there was only one play of his that fit the description. Death of seasons had fallen through early when Seamus, the producer died shortly after the initial casting.

 

"Peter Baxter is the name!" the stranger proclaimed.

 

The name triggered a vague memory of a pale, reedy young man. Paul eyed Peter Baxter. The resemblance was there, albeit faint.

 

"What brings you here?" Paul asked politely, still hoping that Baxter would leave him alone.

 

"Oh, I'm here on business, I'm in the import-export business now." Baxter told him, then fell silent. Paul turned back to nurse his drink.

 

"I don't mean to pry, but is it true what the papers say?"

 

"What do they say?" Paul asked.

 

"Well, see for yourself." Baxter handed Paul this morning's copy of the New York Ledger. Buried in the society page was a mention of the shooting incident of the previous morning. Paul was described as a prominent British novelist and private detective who was in the United States on a lecture tour.

 

Great, if the incident had made the papers here, it would only be a matter of time until it hit the newspapers back home. Paul folded the paper and handed it back to Baxter. When he noticed the other man looking at him expectantly, he added solemnly.

 

"Yes, unfortunately it's true."

 

"I'm so sorry to hear that. It must have been an awful shock for you. As a matter if fact, I was a friend of Winifred's. It's really dreadful what happened. I guess you can't feel safe anywhere anymore these days," Baxter said shaking his head.

 

"Has this Detective Harrington spoken to you?"

 

"Yes, I've spoken to him a few times."

 

"What do you make of him?" Baxter asked.

 

"He seems a capable officer," Paul replied diplomatically, not sure what Baxter was driving at and not really caring either, as long as he was left alone.

 

"I just can't make him out. He's been asking me all these strange questions!"

 

"It's his job to ask questions," Paul replied, his patience starting to wear thin.

 

Baxter apparently ignored him. "The good detective appears to be under the impression that I'm mixed up in this business. All because of some note in her diary. You're there minding your own business and suddenly you are a murder suspect. This sort of thing would never have happened back in England."

 

Paul now remembered that Detective Harrington had mentioned that Winifred Morris had had an appointment with a person whose initials were P.B. in the days leading up to her death.

 

"So, you didn't meet with Miss Morris?" Paul queried, his interest piqued at least for the moment.

 

"Of course not, I didn't even know she was here in New York."

 

"So what do you think happened?" Paul asked.

 

"I think she was lured to Beverly's flat and killed there."

 

"Lured by whom?"

 

"How should I know? You see, Winifred really was mixed up in something, in something quite terrible I believe."

 

"How do you make that out?" Paul queried, waving to the man behind the bar for another whiskey for himself and Baxter.

 

"Winifred was worried about something lately. In her last letter, she told me she thought she was being followed. I believe that is the reason she left South Africa - to get away from whatever was troubling her."

 

South Africa. There it was again. It hadn't struck him earlier when Harrington had mentioned it, but now he was getting the distinct impression that whatever this affair was all about, South Africa somehow played an important part in it. Almost all the people concerned had lived in the country at some point. Baxter too if his memory was anything to go by. He now seemed to recall that the young actor, as he had been at the time, had come over from South Africa. Steve too had lived in South Africa before she had come to England where they had first met. Paul made a mental note to find out more about the players in this affair. He had a feeling that it would be crucial to find out where everyone had been in the last five to ten years and what they had been doing then. It occurred to him that he didn't know terribly much about Steve's life in Cape Town either, other than what she had told him when they'd first met, shortly after the death of her brother. He had always gotten the impression that it was a time that his wife would rather not relive, so he had never pressed the issue. Maybe he should have, Paul mused.

 

"But you don't know exactly what she was worried about or who was following her?" Paul asked, deciding not to mention the South African connection to Baxter. At least not until he knew more about just how deeply involved the former actor was and whether he really was just a concerned friend.

 

"I'm afraid I don't. I wish she had confided in me. Maybe I could have helped her and this wouldn’t have happened in the first place," Baxter replied. Then, after he pause, he went on: "It may be presumptuous of me to ask, especially in light of what happened to your wife, but I would really like you to look into this affair. I don't think the NYPD is doing a very good job of it and I myself have neither the time nor the skills to take on this case, but I really want to see Winifred's murderer caught and brought to justice."

 

"She must have been a very dear friend indeed," Paul remarked shrewdly.

 

"Oh yes, she was. We lost sight of each other over the years, you know how it goes, but I owe her as much," Baxter explained. "She once did me a great service, many years ago in South Africa. If it hadn't been for her, I can honestly say that I wouldn't be here today."

 

"That sounds like quite a story," Paul commented.

 

"Yes, it sure is." Baxter hesitated and pulled out his pocket watch. "Why don't I tell you all about it another time? I really ought to get going now."

 

"How about tomorrow? Are you free then?"

 

"That would be splendid!" Baxter exclaimed. "Can you come over to my place, say around 11 a.m. tomorrow morning? Here's my card," he handed Paul a small business card. Apparently, Peter Baxter wasn't staying at a hotel. Instead he maintained a flat here in New York City. Business had to be going well indeed if he was able to afford this neighborhood.

 

"I'll see you then," Paul confirmed. "Good-bye!"

 

"Good-bye!" Baxter said and left.

 

Paul took another sip from his whiskey. Suddenly, he found that wasn't in the mood for drink anymore. His problems hadn't gotten any smaller in the last hour, but he was starting to see how things in this affair might be connected. And if he was right, Steve was still in danger. Her checked his watch. It was still rather early in the evening and not to late to give Detective Harrington a call. Paul bade te surly bar man good-bye and left the establishment to search for the nearest public call box.

 

Having found one just down the street, Paul proceeded to place a call to the number Harrington had left for him at the hotel that morning. After two rings, the telephone call was answered by Harrington himself.

 

"Temple here," Paul spoke into the receiver. "I was wondering if you could do me favour?"

 

TBC

Chapter Text

oOo

 

Paul Temple returned to the Hotel Laurent around eight thirty that evening. His mood, though still sombre and worried, had brightened a little during the course of the evening. He was starting to become interested in this affair. If only because it would save him from going crazy with worry over Steve. It probably wasn't fair to her if he were to take on a case now, but the thought that he was helping to bring the man who'd done this to her to justice helped soothe his conscience.

 

As he ascended in the elevator to the floor where his room was located, Paul started to plan his next steps. He wasn't sure how far he could rely on the local police force to help him with his inquiries and in any case it would probably be wiser to ask Sir Graham for the background information he sought. If the papers in England had indeed picked up the story of the shooting, his friend would probably be quite worried. Steve and his daughter got along well and the chief commissioner had also taken a liking to Steve. Steve had a habit of inspiring that response in people. Paul thought back to their first meeting at his country house in Bramley, sobering instantly at the memory.

 

As far as Steve was concerned, it had never happened. Steve was strong, but he couldn't imagine how frightened and confused she must be right now, having not only to deal with her injury and the news that she had lost five years of her life, but also having the lose her brother all over again, all in the span of less than thirty minutes. No wonder she had asked him to leave her alone! Still, the dismissal had hurt him even as he understood intellectually. He wanted, needed to be there for her, but what was he to do if she didn't want him there? What if she never again wanted him at her side? Paul's grim thoughts were interrupted when the elevator reached its destination. He had not yet reached his room when a page boy caught up with him.

 

"Mr Temple, sir!"

 

"Yes, what is it?"

 

"A cable's just arrived for you from England," the page handed Paul the telegram. He tore it open and quickly scanned its contents to judge if a reply was in order.

 

"There will be no reply," he finally said, thanked and tipped the page who quickly retreated again. Paul shoved the cable into the pocket of his coat and proceeded to his room.

 

Taking off his hat and stripping himself of his coat, Paul tossed both aside rather carelessly, a gesture that Steve would surely disapprove of were she there to witness it.

 

The cable had been from Sir Graham Forbes, chief commissioner of police back home at Scotland Yard. After the inquiry by Detective Harrington, it hadn't been too surprised that the story of the shooting had made the papers in time for the evening editions. Naturally, Sir Graham was concerned for Steve, as well as Temple and was offering his help should the couple need it. Paul intended to avail himself of that offer soon, he was merely going to wait until it was daytime again in England. Until then, he decided, he might as well try and get some rest, as it had been over 36 hours by now since he'd any real sleep. First, however, he was going to grab a bite to eat, it having been equally long since he'd last had a proper meal. He was even started to feel slightly nauseous as a result. He didn't feel like company, so he decided to have something sent up to his room.

 

The sandwiches arrived in due course and while not being particularly delicious, they did the job of settling his queasy stomach a little. By the time Temple had finished and smoked one of his cigars, it was almost ten o'clock in the evening. It was however still to early to place a call to Sir Graham in London were it was now close to four in the morning.

 

Feeling somewhat drowsy from the alcohol and overall lack of sleep, Paul decided it wouldn't hurt to lie down for a while. He changed into his pajamas and dressing gown and settled down on top of the covers. For a while, he tried to read a book, a detective novel he'd bought shortly after his arrival in America, but his mind kept drifting, so that e eventually gave it his efforts. Intent on just closing his eyes for a second, Paul was startled awake by the ringing of the phone. He was stunned to see that it was dawning outside. Swearing softly under his breath, he got up and went to pick up the phone.

 

"Excuse me for disturbing you at this time of the morning, but there is a call from London for you," the porter announced apologetically.

 

"It's all right, I'll take it," Paul replied groggily. He waited patiently for the call to be put through. The line wasn't very good, but he could clearly recognize Sir Graham's voice at the other end.

 

"Temple is that you?"

 

"Yes, it's me, Sir Graham."

 

"Listen, I apologize for ringing you at this time of the morning, but I thought you should know that your flat was burgled last night."

 

"What exactly happened?" Paul asked, now wide awake. "Was anything stolen?"

 

"The whole place was turned upside down, but it doesn't seem like anything has been stolen. We got one of the burglars in custody right now, but it looks like there were two of

them and the other one got clean away."

 

"You certainly work quickly," Paul commented.

 

"Well, as it so happens, we had a little help from your man Charlie. He came home late and surprised them. He was able to lock one of them into the kitchen until the police

arrived. It's a fellow called Blake, Cecil Blake."

 

"I can't say that name rings a bell," Paul said.

 

"I'm not surprised. Mr Blake doesn't have a record and it's pretty obvious that he's no pro. He's scared out of his wits, but he won't talk."

 

"Because you arrested him?"

 

"Not exactly. He won't say why an upstanding citizen like himself decided to suddenly burgle your flat, but we found a letter on him. It seems that he was being blackmailed

into committing burglary. We don't know yet what he was being blackmailed about, but it's safe to say that whatever it is, it must be pretty terrible."

 

"Can you tell me how that letters reads that you found on him?"

 

"Why not?" There was a brief pause followed by a rustling noise. "It reads as follows:

 

'Be at the Blue Parrot Club at 9 o'clock tonight. A Mr Smith will contact you there. You are to follow his instructions to the letter. You'll know what will happen if you

don't.'

 

The letters is simply signed Xavier."

 

"That's interesting, that's very interesting," Paul commented. "Do you have any idea who this Smith fellow could be?"

 

"Yes, we think he might be one Jeremiah Adderley a thoroughly unscrupulous character known for stealing high end items to order."

 

"But I though you said that nothing was stolen," Paul interjected.

 

"Nothing as far as we know," Sir Graham confirmed. "But he must have had some reason to burgle your flat."

 

"Probably someone hired him," Paul conjectured.

 

"That's what we've been thinking," Sir Graham replied. After a pause, he added: "You wouldn't happen to know what all this is about, Temple?"

 

"I don't, not yet at any rate." In fact, Paul had his suspicions, but he liked to keep his cards close to his vest. At least until he was sure of all his facts.

 

"Be careful, Temple," Sir Graham urged, then abruptly changed the subject. "How's Steve doing?"

 

"She's still in hospital," Paul couldn't bring himself to tell his friend about Steve's amnesia. He wasn't quite sure why, maybe doing so would make it all too real, he supposed. "It will probably be a while before we can even think about returning to home."

 

"I understand."

 

"In the meantime, could you do me a favour? There i some information I need." Paul went on the explain exactly what he needed to know. Sir Graham promised to do the best he could and again warned the private detective to be careful, before ringing off.

 

oOo

 

Temple met Detective Harrington punctually at nine o'clock in the lounge of the Laurent Hotel. Although the amount of alcohol he'd consumed the previous night at the bar, hadn't been enough to make him really drunk (as had been his initial intent), the combination of more drink than usual and very little food had resulted in a mild hang-over. But after a shower, shave and hearty breakfast, he felt quite able to face the world. He still had no idea what was going to happened between Steve and himself. He knew he had to see her again eventually, even though she had pretty much thrown him out the last time. For now however he would content himself with assuring her safety. Detective Harrington had been somewhat reluctant, but he had eventually acceded to Paul's request of placing an officer at the hospital to stand guard over Steve.

 

"Good morning, Detective Harrington!" Paul greeted the NYPD man was somewhat forced cheerfulness as he spotted him enter the lounge of the hotel. The meeting had been called at the request of the detective and Paul was wondering what he wanted to talk to him about. It might be par for the course for Sir Graham to keep him in the loop about any case Paul happened to be concerned in and currently working on, but he expected no such service here in the United States.

 

"Good morning, Mr Temple," Harrington replied somewhat stiffly.

 

"What is it that you wanted to speak to me about?" Paul asked, now slightly concerned.

 

"Is it true that you met a man called Peter Baxter at the Cheshire Cat bar yesterday evening?"

 

"Yes, that's true," Paul replied cautiously. "What happened?"

 

"Peter Baxter was found badly beaten in an alley behind the Cheshire Cat late last night. According the the bar keeper, you two had quite the argument."

 

"Argument?" Paul echoed. Sure he had been somewhat short with Baxter in the beginning, but in no way had they argued.

 

"Yes, according to the witness, you accused Baxter of being involved in your wife's shooting and even threatened him."

 

"That's absolutely not true!" Paul protested, his mind going into overdrive at the same time.

 

"Does Baxter confirm this story?" he asked presently.

 

"We haven't had a chance to speak to him yet. His injuries are pretty bad. Are you saying that you didn't have an argument?" the detective asked severely.

 

"That's exactly what I'm saying. In fact, Baxter hired me to investigate a case for him. He wanted me to find Winifred Morris' murderer. Apparently he wasn't satisfied with the official inquiry," Paul couldn't resist that last remark, observing carefully the effect it had on the NYPD detective.

 

"It's true that we've spoken to Baxter on several occasions during the investigation," Harrington relented. "And it's also true that he's been pretty vocal about his misgivings with our investigation, but even then, why should the bar man invent such a story, assuming that it is a fabrication?"

 

"That's the question, that is exactly the question I'm asking myself," Paul answered cryptically.

 

"By the way, did you do as I asked last night?" Paul changed the subject.

 

Harrington looked slightly ruffled, but went along. "Yes, I've posted a man at the hospital," he said then paused. "Listen Mr Temple, I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt as far as last night goes, but I'm answerable to people further up the ladder and they might not see eye to eye with me."

 

Paul nodded. "I appreciate that. For what it might be worth, I give you my word that I had nothing to do with what happened to Peter Baxter." Being regarded as a suspect in a crime was a novel experience for Paul Temple. He was squarely used to being on the right side of the law, even though his methods were sometimes rather unconventional. This made for an interesting change which would certainly result in fodder for his next novel, but he found himself unable to really appreciate the situation. On one had, his deepening involvement made for a compelling distraction from his worry over Steve, but on the other hand, he was increasingly convinced that he was up against one or more

pretty ruthless individuals as this latest episode well showed and he needed to stay save, if only for Steve's sake. She needed him, whether she liked it or not.

 

Paul was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he barely noticed Detective Harrington being called away to answer a phone call. Paul lit a cigarette, leaning back in his chair. This latest development was certainly interesting. The fact that he'd been dragged into the case by virtue of a false witness statement meant that although he was still at the beginning of his investigation, someone had already taken notice of him. He thought back to the letter he'd received when he'd returned from the hospital. At the time, he'd taken it to mean that Steve had been an accidental victim, truly at the wrong place at the wrong time, as Xavier had put it.

 

But what if he had been wrong about that? What if Steve had been shot quite deliberately? Perhaps it hadn't been planned from the start, but he could well imagine that if for example, she had walked in an Winifred Morris being killed, or arrived shortly after, then the killer might have shot her too to eliminate any witnesses. After speaking to Baxter the night before, Paul had had a vague idea that

Steve might still be danger, but he hadn't really thought it through. He had acted on a hunch when he'd called Harrington. And good thing it was. Had Harrington already known about the attack on Baxter, he would have been much less likely to oblige him. It was funny, he always tended to dismiss hunches, joking that they were Steve's territory and now there he was. Steve would surely appreciate the irony, if it weren't for the amnesia of course.

 

It was at that moment, that Detective Harrington returned.

 

"Peter Baxter has regained consciousness. It seems that he's asking for you," Harrington reported somewhat uncomfortably.

 

"I assume you're heading to the hospital to take a statement from Baxter?" Paul asked.

 

Harrington nodded.

 

"Then would you mind terribly if I came with you? He is, after all, asking to see me."

 

 

oOo

 

Peter Baxter had admitted to Mercy Hospital the same as Steve, a coincidence which wasn't altogether to Paul's liking. He knew fully well that he couldn't avoid Steve forever, nor would it be fair to her, but he didn't want to rush her either. She was the one who was really suffering.

 

After they’d spoken to Baxter's doctor, who had informed them that the business man's condition was quite serious, Paul was shown to were Baxter was resting. The doctor had insisted that only one visitor be allowed at any one time and much to Paul's surprise, Harrington had suggested that he go first. Temple still couldn't quite make out the NYPD investigator. At times, he seemed to trust Temple whereas at other times, he appeared to regard him with the utmost suspicions. It was if he couldn't quite make up his mind what role Temple played in this case.

 

Baxter's face was barely recognizable, he'd been beaten so badly. At first Paul thought he was asleep and was about to quietly leave again when the man's eyes opened.

 

"Mr Temple, is that you?" he rasped.

 

"Yes, Baxter, it's me," Paul answered softly and bent down closer to the injured man.

 

"I need to tell you something," Baxter ground out with obvious effort. "Beverly...Kingston, she knows...tell you..." It was all Baxter managed to say before lapsing into unconsciousness.

 

Paul quietly left his bedside, pondering the words he'd just heard. Outside the ward, he met Harrington who'd been waiting there for him.

 

"Well?" the detective asked.

 

"Not much, I'm afraid. He managed to say Beverly Kingston's name, but that was about it before he passed out again," Temple reported.

 

"What do you suppose that mean, Mr Temple?" Harrington asked after a short pause.

 

"I don't know, I don't know, Detective." Paul admitted honestly.

 

"Well, I'm going to have another word with Mrs Kingston. Maybe she can shed some light on what he meant," Harrington decided. Before Paul could reply, he had left him behind

standing in then hospital hallway.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

oOo

 

Louise had had restless night that had somehow seamlessly blended into morning. It hadn't been so much the pain that had disturbed her sleep, but rather the revelations of the previous day. And when she had been able to drift off, her dreams had been filled with strange images, face she couldn't place and events she couldn't remember, should they have really happened. Louise didn't frighten easily and had seen her share of dangers, but her current situation filled her with unease. Though she had always prided herself on her independence, she had never felt as alone as she felt right now and it scared her. In her waking moments which never seemed to last very long and only too often alternated with restless sleep, she wondered what would become of her. Granted, she was married now, but what if her husband didn't feel like taking care of an invalid wife? A wife who didn't remember him or their times together, or even knew as much as his first name? He was a complete stranger to her and hadn't it been for the nurse's chance comment, Louise wouldn't even have known that he was her husband. There were so many things she didn't know about her own life and it felt like merely thinking about those unanswered questions, made her head hurt worse. It was as if she had woken one morning to a world gone mad, a world filled with strangers claiming to know things about her that were completely foreign to her.

 

Adding pain to her insecurities and fears only made it all worse, pushing her further over the edge and into panic. Every slight movement, such as nodding her head or turning it, triggered a wave of agonizing pain that threatened to bring tears to her eyes. Lying as still as possible was the only way she could have some respite. So she was lying with here eyes closed and her mind drifting near the edges of unconsciousness when she became aware of voices nearby.

 

"Mr Temple!" a female voice was saying. She sounded quite young, maybe one of the nurses. "I'm afraid your wife is asleep right now, sir."

 

"That's all right. I'll just sit with her for a while then,"

 

"Of course, sir. Shall I tell Dr. Daystrom that you are here?"

 

"If he isn't too busy, yes. I'd like to have a word with him," a man replied, most likely Mr Temple. Or rather, her husband, Louise corrected herself mentally. She listened as footfalls came closer, then stopped. They were followed by a scratching noise she couldn't place and then silence. Louise briefly wondered if she shouldn't open her eyes, but the thought of a confrontation with the stranger and the many unanswered questions associated with him only made her want to flee deeper into the realms of sleep and unconsciousness.

 

oOo

 

Paul was secretly glad that Steve wasn't awake. It wasn't that he didn't know what to say to her. On the contrary there was so much he'd never had a chance to say. He'd never worn his heart on his sleeve and talking about his feeling for her didn't come naturally to him, but now he regretted his reticence. The trouble was though, the the woman lying in the bed wasn't Steve. She was the same person of course from a purely technical point of view, but to him, there was a world of a difference between the two, so much so that he'd mentally started to refer to her as Louise, and not Steve. Steve, for all intents and purposes, was gone.

 

"Listen, Steve. I know it's too late now, but there is so much that I've never told you," he paused. "In fact, I think or at least I hope that you've always known just how much I did love you. And still love you. Nothing will ever change that." Paul lapsed into silence once again before continuing. "I suppose all I can do now is to try and get to the bottom of this whole business, find the people responsible for doing this to you and see that they are brought to justice. I promise you that I'll do everything in my power to see justice done, even if it is the last thing I do. You know how I always tried to keep you out of danger and you would never let me and always insisted on being right there with me? I guess I failed. I don't know whether you had any idea of what you were walking into and I suppose I never shall, but the fact is that I wasn't there for you when it mattered. And for that, I am sorry." Paul broke off.

 

The last words came out a mere whisper. He spent some minutes sitting in silence, lost in thought, until the sound of someone clearing this throat brought him back to reality.

 

Paul turned around to see Dr. Daystrom standing there, watching him.

 

Paul got up to meet the physician. "Good morning, doctor," he greeted him in a low voice.

 

"Good morning, Mr Temple," Daystrom returned the greeting.

 

"How is she doing?"

 

"About as well as can be expected," Daystrom replied, also keeping his voice down. "She's in and out of consciousness most of the time. She also must be in a lot of pain, at least a great deal more than she's letting us know about," Daystrom reported.

 

"What about her long-term prospects?" Paul asked.

 

"Impossible to tell at the moment. Assuming she doesn't develop an infection, I don't see why she shouldn't recover, up to a point at least, but I have to tell you that there it's very likely that some of the damage is permanent."

 

"What sort of damage are we talking about?"

 

"Memory problems, trouble concentrating, frequent migraines, those are among the most common. We've seen a lot of that with combat injuries after the war. But every case is unique, and I'm hardly a specialist in this area. When the time comes, I'll be happy to recommend someone for you to consult."

 

Paul nodded. The news wasn't good, but he hadn't expected it to be.

 

Daystrom checked his pocket watch. "If you'll excuse me, I'm late for an appointment," Daystrom said. Paul bade him good-bye and was soon along once again with Steve, or rather Louise, as he corrected himself mentally.

 

"I'm sorry," a sleepy voice suddenly said, nearly making Paul jump. He looked over to the bed and found that Louise's eyes were open and she was looking at him.

 

"Sorry, I uhm, I thought you were....asleep," Paul stammered, acutely wondering how long she'd been listening. Presently, he asked. "What are you sorry for?"

 

"Well, I heard what you said earlier and I know it can't be easy for you, suddenly losing the woman you married like that," she explained. "I don't know who shot me or why, but..." she trailed off.

 

Paul took a seat. "You don't have anything to be sorry for, I want you to know that. This wasn't your fault. And you still are the woman I married, even if you can't remember me," he added when he saw the sadness in her eyes.

 

"Do you really believe that?" she asked after a long pause. Her tone was so much like Steve's that for one tiny moment, he could almost forget. But only almost.

 

"To be honest, I don't know," Paul admitted finally. "I'm sorry," he added, not meeting Louise's gaze.

 

"I'm glad," she said. Paul looked up in surprise. "I'm glad that you didn't lie to me," she clarified and stifled a yawn. "I'm sorry, I'm really tired for some reason."

 

"Don't worry about it," Paul tried to reassure her, all the while thinking back to what Dr. Daystrom had told him about possible long-term problems. "Just rest. There will be plenty of time to talk later." Paul sincerely hoped this was true. So far Steve had beaten the odds at every time, defying the doctor's dire predictions, but how long could luck and strength hold out, Paul couldn't help but wonder.

 

"Be careful, Mr Temple," she murmured drowsily before he eyes slid completely shut. Paul stayed for a few more minutes, until he was sure that she was fast asleep. When he finally rose, he felt lighter than he had since the whole ordeal had began. They still had a long way to go, but he felt like they had taken the first step today.

 

oOo

 

When Paul was shown into the sitting room of Beverly Kingston's flat, the former actress was enjoying her afternoon tea. He had telephoned her after his return from the hospital in the morning and made an appointment to see her. She'd sounded surprised on the phone, but had agreed to see him readily enough.

 

"Good afternoon, Mr Temple! What a pleasure to see you again!"

 

"Likewise, Mrs Kingston," Paul replied politely.

 

"I hope you don't mind," she said, gesturing at the table set for two. "In fact, I'd hope you'd agree to join me."

 

"Of course," Paul took the offered seat.

 

"I've been in America for years, but I still miss my afternoon tea. It's a shame the custom has never taken root over here."

 

"You are originally from South Africa, aren't you?"

 

"Yes, my parents moved there when I was a child. I grew up in Cape Town. It was there that I meet Louise. Speaking of the poor dear, how is she doing?"

 

"She's recovering, but it will be a while before she's out of the hospital," Paul replied guardedly. Until he was sure that Beverly Kingston had nothing to do with this affair, he had to be careful how much he said. He also thought it best not to mention her memory loss for now. If the person or persons behind the shooting thought that Steve might remember the shooting and perhaps had even seen the shooter, they would have to be on their guard. He was fairly sure that Steve was safe in hospital, but the guard Harrington had agreed to post, gave Paul additional peace of mind.

 

"You'll let me know when she's up for receiving visitors, won't you?" she asked, giving Paul the smile that had enchanted millions of men who'd seen her in one of her films. Fortunately, Paul was quite immune to the charms of beautiful women. Maybe except those of the beautiful woman he' married, his mind added ruefully.

 

"Of course," Paul answered Mrs Kingston's question with a smile of his own.

 

"Tea?" she asked presently.

 

"Yes, thank you."

 

Beverly poured Paul a cup of tea. It smelled heavily of flowers, jasmine probably. Beverly then offered Paul a plate of muffins.

 

"Forgive me for asking," Beverly began, taking a sip from her cup. "But was there any particular reason you called to see me today?"

 

"Yes, as a matter of fact, there is." Paul said, taking a sip from his own cup. "I wanted to let you know that I've changed my mind."

 

"Oh? You mean about the case?" She took another sip.

 

"Yes, I'm willing to investigate your husband's death," Paul clarified.

 

"That's wonderful," she exclaimed. "I.." she began, then suddenly broke off, a puzzled look crossing her face.

 

"Is something wrong?"

 

She hesitated for a moment. "No, no, everything is quite all right." She sounded tired all of a sudden. "What do you need to know?"

 

"Well, it'd would help if I knew more about your late husband and especially about the time leading up to the accident."

 

Paul waited for her to answer, but it seemed like she hadn't even heard him. She was looking at him, but her eyes had a far away look, like she was looking through him instead of at him.

 

"Mrs Kingston?" he asked. Had the room always been this stuffy? It felt like the temperature had gone up ten degrees in the last minute and he was starting to feel rather drowsy.

 

She twitched, as if startled. "Mr Temple?" she asked, her voice small and insecure. Suddenly, she slumped forward, like a marionette whose strings had been cut. Paul reached over to catch her, but the sudden movement unbalanced him. He managed to grab the edge of the table to steady himself, unable to help Mrs Kingston as he fought to remain on his feet. He briefly contemplated trying to make it over to the door, but after the first step brought him to his knees, he realized that he wasn't going to make it.

 

"Help!" he shouted as loudly as he could. "Somebody help!"

 

He was fighting back unconsciousness, too far gone to scream again, when the door flew open. Beverly's made, the one who had shown him in earlier, stood in the door frame, staring at the display in front of her.

 

"Call an ambulance!" Paul managed, before slumping to the ground unconscious.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

oOo

 

Cold, it was too cold. Paul shivered, unconsciously drawing his arms around himself.

 

"Easy there, Mr Temple. Just take it easy," a voice off to his side said and a hand briefly rested on his arm before being withdrawn again. Paul lazily opened his eyes, his brain and body being oddly sluggish. At first, he couldn't make sense of the blurred outlines in front of him, but they cleared as he blinked slowly and coalesced into a small room, from the looks of it most likely in a doctor's surgery. Gradually, the memory of earlier events slowly percolated into awareness.

 

"Drugged," he mumbled, "she's been drugged..."

 

"As have you been, Mr Temple," the voice said. Paul turned his head to come face to face with an avuncular, gray-haired man in a white coat and thick horn-rimmed spectacles.

 

"How long...?" he asked, still struggling to awaken fully.

 

"Not long. Only about an hour," the doctor reassured him. "You were very lucky. The dose wasn't strong enough do any serious harm." Paul might have been tempted to argue the point, given how lousy felt right now, but decided that his energy would be better spent elsewhere.

 

"What about Beverly Kingston? Is she all right?" Paul asked, pushing himself up on his elbows. His head felt like it was filled with cottonwood.

 

"She's still unconscious, I'm afraid," the doctor explained. "Are you a friend of Mrs Kingston's?"

 

"She's an acquaintance of my wife's," Paul wondered whether the doctor was just a naturally chatty fellow or he had an ulterior motive for asking about his relationship with Beverly Kingston.

 

"Yes, I read about what happened to your wife," the doctor said, nodding. "A most regrettable incident," he paused. "There is a police detective here who wants to ask you a few questions. Do you feel up to seeing him?"

 

Paul nodded. "Yes, it'll be all right." He sat up all the way, his head still swimming. He took a deep breath, trying to gather his thoughts. He still felt rather muddled. He hadn't even noticed the doctor leaving and only looked up when he heard the sound of a door closing.

 

"I see we met again, Mr Temple," the familiar NYPD Detective had entered the room.

 

"Not that I mind, but to be honest, I had hoped it'd be under different circumstances," Paul said, trying for a smile.

 

"As had I, believe me Mr Temple," Harrington said. "Now can you tell me what happened at Mrs Kingston's apartment this afternoon?"

 

"I don't really know," Paul confessed. "If I had to guess, I'd say someone drugged our tea."

 

"That's our theory as well," Harrington confirmed somberly. "Did you see Mrs Kingston about anything in particular?"

 

"Yes, in fact I did. I came to tell her that I had changed my mind and would investigate her husband's death after all," Paul told the detective.

 

"I'm afraid you might soon find yourself without a client," Harrington commented dryly. "According to the doctor's, it doesn't look good for her."

 

"I'm sorry to hear that," Paul replied, only now starting to realize that he'd had quite the narrow escape himself. "Do you have any idea who did it yet?"

 

Harrington eyes him sharply, but answered: "Just between you and me, Mr Temple, it looks like the maid, one Alice Wade might be involved. She is the only one who handled the tea before it was served as far as we can make out. Of course, she denies it utterly and we aren't too clear on her motive either, but we'll get there in the end."

 

"So does that mean I'm no longer a suspect?" Paul asked cheerily. He didn't really much care what the police thought of him, but it would greatly help his investigation if he wasn't actively suspected in thr very affair he was trying to clear up.

 

Harrington huffed a laugh. "Come on, now Mr Temple. I believe a man of your experience would have better sense than to nearly consume a fatal dose of the drug himself! Besides, I don't think this affair has anything to do with the Peter Baxter business. Although I have to say that people around you certainly seem to live dangerously, considering recent events at any rate."

 

"What drug was it, by the way?" Paul asked, using the lightened mood to slip in a question. Truth be told, he still wasn't sure what Harrington really thought about him, but he believed him when he said that he didn't think Temple had been involved in drugging the tea.

 

"We don't know yet for sure, but the doctors think it must have been some sort of sedative."

 

"That makes sense," Paul commented. It tallied with how he'd felt and still did feel.

 

"I don't suppose you've got any idea who's behind this?" Harrington asked. Paul was slightly taken aback by the question, but didn't show his surprise.

 

"Why, according to what you told me, the maid is the only one who could have done it. That is, assuming that neither Mrs Kingston nor I were foolish enough to take an overdose of a sedative voluntarily."

 

"Yes, that's true," Harrington agreed, but something appeared to trouble him still. "Unless of course someone put the woman up to it," he suggested tentatively.

 

Paul didn't reply. His own thoughts had been running along similar lines, but he wasn't ready to reveal as much. Not yet at any rate. Not until he was certain.

 

"How is your wife doing, by the way?" Harrington asked, interrupting Temple's train of thought. "Is she up for visitor's yet?

 

When Paul shot him a questioning glance, he elaborated: "We still need her official statement, just for the record. Although Dr. Daystrom already mentioned that she wouldn't be able to give us anything."

 

 

"He's right," Paul confirmed grimly. "She won't be able to tell you anything. She's suffering from a form of amnesia and doesn't even remember the shooting."

 

"I'm sorry to hear that," Harrington sounded sincere. "In that case, the statement can definitely wait." Harrington pocketed his notebook and pencil. "Good-bye, Mr Temple!"

 

Paul nodded and moved to get up as well. He wobbled slightly on his legs and had to brace himself on the exam table for a moment, before he regained his equilibrium. It was only then that he noticed that he was missing his jacket. He spotted it, neatly folded, on a small table standing against the wall. Paul put on his jacket and proceeded to look for his hat and coat until he occurred to him that they were probably still at the Kingston flat. He was still thinking about his unconventional attire when he nearly bumped into the avuncular doctor from earlier.

 

"Mr Temple, but where are you going?" he queried. "You shouldn't be exerting yourself like this just yet."

Paul felt like a little bit like he was child caught up way past his bedtime. "I feel all right now," he replied somewhat sheepishly.

 

The doctor looked at him, cocking his head slightly. "All right, as you wish, Mr Temple. I can't keep you here against your will. Just make sure that you see a doctor, should you feel any sort of delayed ill-effect."

 

oOo

 

Paul had contemplated visiting Louise in hospital after discharging himself, but not only was it rather late for a visit, but he himself didn't really feel up to it, not after the events of the afternoon. He was tired and his mind was still slightly sluggish, so he decided to post-pone the visit, partly also because he suspected he looked even worse than he felt and didn't want to worry Louise unduly.

 

Instead he returned to the Laurent Hotel where a telegram from Sir Graham was waiting for him when he collected his room key. Paul collected the envelope and the key and made his way to up to his room.

 

As soon as he got to his room and closed the door behind himself, he tore open the envelope and examined its contents eagerly.

 

"By Timothy," he exclaimed under his breath as he read about the results of the background checks he had asked Sir Graham to perform. He had been right! Every single person on the list - Beverly Lloyd, now Beverly Kingston, Patrick Kingston, Winifred Morris and Peter Baxter had all lived in Cape Town during the same period of time in the last ten years. While it was gratifying to see his theory proven right and to know that he was on the right track, but there was another thought that intruded, making him feel uneasy. Steve had lived in Cape Town during the same period of time. Paul didn't know much about Steve's life back then, except for what little she had told him when they first met and he'd never asked for any further details. Now he wondered if things had been different if he had. Maybe he could have prevented the shooting form happening in the first place...

 

Paul shook his head. It wouldn't do to dwell on that now. Things were as what they were and there was no way to change what had happened. All he could do now was try and keep Steve safe and the best way to do that would be to figure out what had happened in Cape Town all those years go, connecting all the players concerned in this affair. He was sure that there was something linking them, beyond having lived in the same place at the same time. With Patrick Kingston and Winifred Morris dead, and the other two, Peter Baxter and Beverly Kingston, in hospital, the only person who could possibly tell him more about that time was Louise. Always, assuming she would trust him that was. The very thought of her having any reason to mistrust or even fear him cut deep, but he was determined to give her the time to learn to trust him again, no matter how long it took. He only hoped that it would time that they had, because whoever was systematically killing these people might, was moving fast.

 

oOo

 

Louise was startled awake by a faint noise. Ever since the shooting, she had been sleeping very lightly and often times was woken by the routine sounds of the hospital. Usually she fell asleep again almost immediately, often times not even remembering later that she had woken, but this time, she paused and listened. At first, she could hear nothing but the permanent cacophony of background noises of the hospital that seemed to go on day and night. Opening her eyes, all she could see was the dim light that illuminated the ward at night. Nothing appeared amiss, yet she had the strangest feeling of foreboding that something was about to happen. Suddenly, she heard footsteps. They sounded different, heavier and quicker than the usual footfalls of the nurse doing her nightly check. Louise strained to see in the dim light, but her vision was still somewhat blurry and she couldn't make out anything in the murky distance. Suddenly however, a hand was pressed over her mouth. Louise screamed in surprise and fear, or rather she would have done so, had the gloved hand not muffled the sound of her voice almost completely. She attempted to turn around to see te intruder, but before she could move, a cold, thin object made contact with her throat.

 

"Do not move," a voice whispered. "I have a knife."

 

Louise held very still, the blade pressing against her neck as she waited.

 

An eternity seemed to go by, before the man spoke again. "If you scream, I'll cut your throat. Do you understand?" The hand was lifted from her mouth. For a moment, she contemplated screaming, in spite of the warning, but as if he'd read her mind, the blade pressed deeper all of a sudden and she kept quiet. Then there was a rustling sound, and a piece of cloth was pressed over her nose and mouth. She tried not to breathe, realizing that it must have been soaked in something - chloroform maybe, but eventually her body's survival instinct won over and she drew a shuddering breath, inhaling the sickly sweet smelling substance involuntarily. She tried to struggle, the knife all but forgotten, but it was too late.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

oOo

 

Paul slept in late the following morning, but by the time he woke up, he felt his old self again. The after-effects of the drug had clearly worn off. While he had been too tired to fully notice the previous day, it now struck him how empty the double room felt without Steve's presence. It was strange how quickly he had gotten used to the routine of married life, even after having been a bachelor for years. He wondered whether things could ever go back to the way they had been, between Steve and him. But wondering and thinking about it, Paul reminded himself, wasn't going to help. Only time would tell. He had just emerged from the shower when the phone rang.

 

"Hallo?" he picked up the receiver and answered.

 

"A Detective Harrington wishes to speak to you on the phone, sir. Shall I put him through?" a male voice, most likely belonging to one of the hotel porters asked.

 

"Yes, put him through," Paul replied, wondering what news the detective had for him. He hoped he wasn't calling to tell him of Beverly Kingston's death. While Paul did not like the woman very much and frankly wondered how she and Steve had come to be friends, he held no ill will toward her. To his investigation she would be more use alive anyway, even if she wasn't tell him everything she knew. Much the same went for Peter Baxter, who also knew more than he was telling, that much Paul was certain of.

 

A click indicated that the call had been put through. "Mr Temple?" the now familiar voice asked.

 

"Yes, speaking. What's happened, Detective Harrington?"

 

"It seems that your wife has gone missing from hospital. As has Beverly Kingston."

 

Paul could hardly believe his ears. How could anything have happened to Steve?

 

"What happened?" he managed eventually.

 

"We don't know yet. She was discovered missing earlier this morning by a nurse. They unfortunately took their time in alerting us. Apparently, they first thought she had wandered off in confusion and searched for her all over the hospital. When they couldn't find her, they finally called us. About ten minutes earlier, we'd gotten the news that Mrs Kingston was nowhere to be found either."

 

Paul's mind was spinning. He felt almost like he had been thrown back in time to when he'd first learned that Steve had been shot. It was like falling into a bottomless pit for the second time.

 

He was barely listening when the detective went on. "My men are questioning hospital personnel right now to see if anyone saw anything. The way I figure it, their disappearance must be connected in some. It would be an awfully huge coincidence if they weren't."

 

"I agree," Paul said. "What about the man you posted for Steve's protection? Didn't he see anything?"

 

"He was knocked out from behind, tied up and dragged into a supply closet. We only found the poor devil just now. Needless to say he didn't see anything."

 

"What about Peter Baxter? He's still at Mercy Hospital, or has he disappeared as well?"

 

"Why? No, not that we've heard of," Harrington paused. "So you still think there is a connection?"

 

"Yes, I still think so. In fact, I'm convinced that it all ties into the same affair."

 

"You wouldn't happen to know what sort of affair that is, Mr Temple?" Harrington asked, a tinge of exasperation showing in his voice. Unlike Sir Graham Forbes and the Scotland Yard men, Harrington hadn't any experience with Temple's particular brand of investigation and the fact that the novelist didn't like to share his theories until he'd completely solved a mystery to his satisfaction.

 

"I have some suspicions, yes, but it's too early to say for certain." Then he added: "I know it's all connected, but I don't know yet by what."

 

"Well, I hope you plan on letting us know at some point, because if there is any sense behind this business, I sure can't make it out," Harrington replied somewhat gruffly.

 

After promising that he'd keep Temple apprised of any developments, the NYPD detective rang off.

 

Paul sank down in the chair near the phone, still reeling from the shock. He hadn't seen this coming, not in the least. He'd guessed that someone might try to get to Steve yes, but what about the disappearance of Beverly Kingston. And why kidnap the women, why not just kill them right then and there?

 

Paul thought back to the morning all this had first started. Steve had been reading a story in the newspaper about Beverly Kingston. It seemed like a lifetime ago, but in reality less than week had passed. What was it that the newspaper article had been about? Paul tried to remember. Yes, it had been about the fortune of the late Mr Kingston. Maybe there was a motive to be found there. He hadn't considered it so far, but maybe this was about Kingston's money. In Paul's experience, kidnappings served one of two functions, either to extract money, or to blackmail somebody into doing something. The former might conceivably apply to Mrs Kingston, if she did inherit, then she would be a very wealthy woman indeed. The Temples weren't nearly in the same league financially. Blackmail on the other hand might be the object in taking Steve to force his hand in some way. But who was there to blackmail in the case of Mrs Kingston? Her husband was dead. Who else was there? None of it made any sense.

 

 

oOo

 

Louise, though she usually regarded herself as quite fearless, couldn't deny the fact that right now, she was more than a little scared and quite confused as well. She had found herself in a medium-sized bedroom, clearly not a hospital ward, with no memory of how she had gotten there. She did remember the night's events at the hospital, but between the chloroform infused cloth being pressed against her face and waking up in this place, her memory was an absolute blank. Clearly some time has passed, because although the curtains on the window opposite the bed were drawn, light was filtering in through the fabric. There wasn't much else she could tell about her current situation merely from the room - it was simply, yet tastefully furnished, but there was a certain generic quality about it that made it difficult to deduce much about her location or who the owners of the house might be. If she had to guess, she would have said it looked like the guestroom of a country house. But that wasn't the real mystery as far as she was concerned. What puzzled her the most was why anyone should go to the trouble of kidnapping her. She had no enemies of her own, not as far as she knew at least, unless one counted the man whom her brother had been chasing and who had already killed a police officer. With her brother dead however, what would be the point of abducting her, she wondered and for the first time, she realized that she knew hardly anything about the shooting that had landed her in hospital in the first place. She had been too distracted by her injury and the revelation that she had lost five years of her life to even ask who had shot her. There was so much she didn't know and it frightened her more than she had ever been frightened before.

 

Giving into fear and confusion wasn't going to solve anything, she told herself as she tried to pull herself together and analyze the situation as rationally and calmly as possible, a task hindered by the headache that was building slowly but surely between her temples.

 

At that moment, the there was a knock on the door. Louise froze, uncertain of what to do. Before she could make up her mind however, the door was opened and in walked a matronly woman in her fifties, her gray hair pulled into a tight bun from which a few strands had escaped. She was carrying a small black tray on which stood a glass carafe filled with a clear liquid, a small vial filled with white powder and an empty glass.

 

She appeared startled when she spotted Louise looking at her.

 

"Oh, excuse me, Miss Harvey. I had no idea you were awake. I shall inform Mrs Kingston." She deposited the tray on the bedside table.

 

"Mrs Beverly Kingston?" Louise questioned.

 

"Yes, I believe she is an old friend of yours, ma'am."

 

Louise nodded, still perplexed by the situation. Beverly Lloyd was one person she had not expected to see again. From the looks of it she had married Patrick.

 

She remembered the two well, but according to what she had been told, five years had passed, she had since married and come to America. It seemed like the three of them had stayed close over the years. But that didn't answer the question of why she'd been kidnapped from the hospital and she was now doing with Beverly.

 

Her frantic thoughts were interrupted when the door opened again and Beverly entered. She looked older than Louise remembered her, but the her smile was still much the same. Louise couldn't help but smile back.

 

"Beverly..." she began, not sure what question to ask first.

 

Beverly came over and enveloped her in a hug. "Oh, Louise, I'm so glad you're all right. I can't tell you how worried we've been about you."

 

"What happened?" Louise finally managed when Beverly released her.

 

"It's a long story," Beverly said. "The important thing is that you're safe here."

 

"Save from whom?" Louise questioned, getting more confused by the minute.

 

"Oh dear, so you really don't remember?" Beverly seemed genuinely shocked.

 

"Well, I do remember you and Patrick, but nothing at all about the last five years."

 

"That's terrible! I can't imagine how frightened I would be in your place," Beverly exclaimed.

 

"To be honest, I'm pretty scared myself," Louise admitted to her friend. "What happened to the man who kidnapped me? From the hospital I mean." Unconsciously, her hand went up to where the knife had cut her neck.

 

"That was William, he's good friend. We had to get you out of there quickly and it was the only way we could do it. I'm so sorry if we frightened you unduly."

 

Louise took a few moments to process the information. "What about my husband? Is he here as well?"

 

"No, no, he's not. You're quite safe here. Nobody but Patrick, William and I know that you're here. And of course Elizabeth, our cook and maid whom you have already met. But she can be trusted, so there is no need for you to worry at all."

 

"I don't understand," Louise protested. This was all going a little bit too fast for her liking.

 

Beverly sat down on the edge of the bed, looking at Louise earnestly. "I suppose I better start from the beginning," she said. "Patrick and I have lived here in America for about three and a half years now. We hadn't heard from you in a while when suddenly you telephoned out of the blue, saying that you were here in New York City and that you needed to talk to me. You sounded terribly upset and we met that same afternoon. It was then that you told me what had happened to your brother and about the man he was chasing. You told me that you had come to America on the track of an agent of the Knave of Diamonds, hoping to find out from him where the Knave had disappeared to after your brother's murder. You were planning to meet that agent that very night. I tried to talk you out of it, but you were determined to go. The next day, I learned that you'd been found shot the previous night. I immediately knew it had to have something to do with your appointment. I tried to come and see you at the hospital, but they would only let family members see you. It was there that I ran into your so-called husband, a man calling himself Mr Paul Temple. You had never mentioned to me that you were married and the way you had described the Knave's agent, I just know it had to be him, so Patrick and I decided to get you out of there, before anything else could happen to you," Beverly finished, reaching for Louise's hand, gently squeezing it.

 

Louise was speechless. For the second time in as many days, her world had been turned upside down. She had started to get acquainted with the notion of being married and her husband had seemed like a good man who was genuinely concerned about her. Was it possible that it had all been a charade, put in for her benefit?

 

"I know it must be a great shock for you to hear this, but please you must believe me Louise that I only acted for your protection," Beverly said softly.

 

Louise nodded. In a way, it all felt so unreal, more like something out of a novel instead of something that could really happen. Happen to her of all people. For the first time, she truly understood the depth of her brother's fears and the ruthlessness and cleverness of the Knave, his enemy. She shivered in spite of herself.

 

"Are you all right?" Beverly's question brought Louise back to the present.

 

"I'm not sure," she replied truthfully. "My head hurts something fierce, to be honest." Louise found t hard to admit weakness. It was something she wasn't used to doing, even in front of her best friend.

 

"I understand, my dear," Beverly replied. "Patrick and I have hired a nurse to look after you, until you get back on your feet. She should arrived later today. In the meantime, I got you some medicine for your head." Beverly indicated the tray the maid had brought in earlier. She put some of the powder from the vial into the glass and filled it up with liquid from the carafe.

 

"Here, drink this." She handed the glass to Louise.

 

oOo

 

"How is she?" Patrick Kingston asked over then rim if the newspaper he was reading.

 

"I told you not to bring that kind of thing here!" Beverly snatched the newspaper from her husband. "What if she sees it?" she questioned angrily.

 

"Then I guess you'll have to make sure she doesn't see it," Patrick replied, seemingly undisturbed by Beverly's outburst. "If you ask me, it was a damn foolish idea to bring her here in the first place."

 

"I suppose you would have killed her straight away?" Beverly's voice was dripping with sarcasm.

 

"Yes, and if we had, we'd be in the clear right now, and on our way to South America." Patrick said, completely unruffled.

 

"Whether you like it or not, she's a friend."

 

"You forget that she's also a friend who knows far too much about our operation and who could very easily land us both in jail or worse, especially now that she's married to Paul Temple." Patrick lit a cigarette and puffed out a blue-gray cloud of smoke. "We can't keep her here forever, you do know that," he remarked after a while.

 

"I'll think of something," Beverly replied tersely. A worried frown had appeared on her face.

 

TBC

 

Chapter Text

oOo

 

Paul had been pacing up and down his hotel room for most of the morning, not knowing what to do next. The normally very self-possessed novelist was at his wits end. He would have headed over to the hospital immediately if he'd thought it would do any good, but no doubt Harrington and his men were doing all that could be done there.

 

Although there was no way he would have been able to foresee Steve being kidnapped despite police protection, Paul still blamed himself. She had needed him and he'd let her down. Once again he'd not been there when she had needed him. The chant of self-reproach went on and on in his head, interlaced with thoughts of worry, until he could stand it no longer. He had to do something, no matter what. If he stayed here at the hotel, he felt like he should go insane. In a fit of desperation, he picked up the phone and asked for a call to London to be put through.

 

"Sir Graham?" Paul asked once the connection had been established.

 

"Is that you, Temple?" the familiar voice queried.

 

"Yes, it's me, Sir Graham." Paul suddenly wasn't sure why he was calling his friend. There was nothing he could do from London that Temple couldn't do in New York.

 

"What's happened?" the commissioner asked when Paul didn't continue.

 

"Listen, I'm sorry to telephone you like that but Steve's been kidnapped and...and frankly, I'm at my wit's end." It took a lot for Paul Temple to confess that for once, he needed help, but the events of the past few days had pushed even him to his limit.

 

"Did you call in the police?"

 

"As a matter of fact, they called me to tell me that Steve had been taken from the hospital sometime last night. The detective on the case seemed like a reliable chap and I'm sure he's doing all he can, but...I wish there was something I could do," Paul confessed.

 

"I assume the kidnappers haven't made any demands?"

 

"No, not yet at least," Paul replied. "I wish I had a better idea what this was all about," he lamented.

 

"You're on a case at present?"

 

"Yes. You know me, Sir Graham, after I got that letter, I could hardly stay away from the affair. Maybe I should have though..." Paul was interrupted by Sir Graham.

 

"What letter? You didn't mention any letter." Paul realized that he hadn't mentioned the letter or Xavier to the other man until now.

 

"I received a letter, just after Steve was shot," Paul went on to recite the contents of the letter, which he'd memorized, over the phone.

 

There was a long pause after he'd finished. The silence went on for so long that Paul wondered if they'd been cut off. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, Sir Graham's voice came over the line.

 

"Did you say that it was signed 'Xavier'?"

 

"Yes," Paul replied slowly. "Does the name convey something to you?"

 

"As a matter of fact, it does. I don't think I've ever mentioned the case to you, but a few month ago, we had a murder suicide. Most vexing affair. A woman, one Andrea Miller, shot and killed a man in crowded restaurant just before shooting herself."

 

"I seem to remember reading something about that in the papers at the time."

 

"You might well have. It was all over the news. But what the press didn't get a hold of was the fact that when the police searched Andrea Miller's flat, they found a number of blackmail letters. They were all signed with the name 'Xavier'."

 

"What was she being blackmailed about?" Paul asked, his curiosity piqued.

 

"We never found out. Either Xavier had communicated with her some other way, or she destroyed some of his letters, but I'm convinced that she committed the murder on the behest of this blackmailer. It’s the only explanation that makes sense."

 

"Do you know if Andrea Miler ever lived in South Africa?" Paul asked. It was his theory all along that everyone concerned in thus business had at one time been to South Africa. If it should turn out that Andrea Miller had lived there as well...

 

"Yes, as a matter if fact, I remembered she lived there for several years. We had a devil of a time tracing her relatives." Forbes paused. "What are you thinking about Temple?" he then asked.

 

"I have a theory, that's all," the novelist replied evasively.

 

"I know better than to ask you what exactly your theory is," Sir Graham grumbled. "Just do me a favour and be careful."

 

"I intend to be," Paul replied. His mood was still dark and the worry for Steve was agonizing, but at least now he felt that he could do something. "Can I ask you another favour?"

 

"What is it?"

 

"I need to know more about what happened in South Africa. Do you still have the names I asked you to check up on the the last time we spoke?"

 

"Yes, I have the list right here."

 

"I need to know what everyone on that list was doing while they were in South Africa, who they were mixed up with and if anyone was ever investigated for any crime. Oh and add Andrea Miller and Louise Harvey to that list as well."

 

"Louise Harvey, but isn't that..?" Sir Graham sounded taken aback.

 

"Yes, that's Steve's given name," Paul confirmed in a somber voice. "I don't believe for a moment that she was mixed up in anything, but if we are to believe Xavier, something happened back then where 'she did the right thing' as he put it. I want to find out what that thing was exactly," Paul explained.

 

"And you think that finding out will get a closer to figuring out how took Steve?"

 

"I hope so," Paul said quietly. Without knowing what exactly the kidnappers' agenda was, it was difficult to tell how much time he had.

 

"In the meantime, I'm going to contact on old acquaintance of mine, Agent Gerald Tobin of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and ask him to have a look at the facts of the case. He's got plenty of experience with kidnappings and isn't averse to using unconventional methods. He's a rather strange fellow, but a first rate investigator."

 

"Thank you, Sir Graham." Paul's words were heartfelt. They bade each other good-bye after Sir Graham promised to inform Temple the moment he found out anything. Hanging up the receiver, Paul felt slightly more hopeful. Things were still bleak, but at least he'd been able to do something. That alone made him feel a bit better and marginally less useless. Still, it didn't change the fact that he had no practical way of getting Steve back. Sir Graham might or might not be able to discover something of use, but even if he did, it might be already to late for Steve. Even provided that whoever had kidnapped her didn't intend to harm her at this time, Steve was still in need of medical attention. Dr Daystrom repeatedly spoken of the dangers of an infection taking hold. What if it did? Paul shook his head in a vain attempt to clear it. He couldn't afford to dwell on what-ifs right now. He needed every ounce of brains he had to figure this out.

 

oOo

 

Beverly Kingston was worried. She had the distinct feeling that her carefully laid plans were falling apart before her eyes. It had all started out so well. The alleged attempt on her life by poisoning had gone off without a hitch, if the papers were to be believed. As far as the papers were concerned, Beverly Kingston had been kidnapped by persons unknown, less than twenty-four hours after an unsuccessful attempt to kill her. Steve was mentioned as well, but most articles only briefly mentioned her disappearance from the hospital the same night in passing, focusing mainly on the fate of famous actress. All had seemed well just a few short hours ago.

 

And now? Now the nurse she'd hired to look after Louise kept telling her that the injured woman was running a fever and needed to go to a hospital, something that was quite impossible under the circumstances. The nurse had been carefully selected and very well paid, so Beverly doubted she would cause any trouble, but should Louise die, all her plans would be for naught. Patrick was no help, as usual, as he had made himself scarce hours ago, with a vague excuse that he had errands to run and had yet to return. Beverly had the distinct feeling that her husband was up to something she wasn't going to like. He had better realize that he couldn't afford to be seen or the whole charade would be blown out of the water so fast it would make their heads spin. Beverly lit a cigarette on the end of the previous one and took a deep drag from it. In that moment, the phone rang. Beverly sighed and stubbed out her just-lit cigarette before she went to answer the telephone.

 

"Hello?" she said into the receiver, wondering who of the few people who had this number would telephone.

 

"It's Williams," a familiar voice said, sounding out of breath.

 

"What is it?" Beverly barked. Williams had the annoying habit of not coming to the point. Beverly didn't like that trait, especially in a man. But Williams had his more endearing qualities as well. He knew people, useful people.

 

"It's Patrick. He's dead!" Williams told her excitedly.

 

"Of course, he's dead," Beverly snapped, secretly wondering if Williams was drunk. It wouldn't be the first time. "Haven't you read the papers this past month?"

 

"I don't mean that. He's dead. I mean he's dead for real this time!"

 

"What happened?" Beverly asked.

 

"We were supposed to met at the usual place, but when I showed up, he was just lying there. He'd been shot, dead."

 

"But no one knew about the meeting place!" Beverly exclaimed.

 

"Yes, I know. Someone must have followed him there, it's the only way. I..."

 

But Beverly cut him off. "Did he tell you what he wanted to me you for?"

 

"No, he didn't. But I found a letter in his pocket, addressed to Mr Paul Temple."

 

"Well, what's in it?" Beverly demanded impatiently when Williams failed to continue his narrative.

 

There was a tearing sound, then Williams began reading the letter to her over the phone.

 

"Dear Mr Temple,

 

Your wife is safe for the moment and upon the payment of 5000 GBP she will be returned to you unharmed. Further instruction will follow.

 

A Friend.

 

P.S.: Do not speak to police."

 

"I don't believe it!" Beverly exclaimed, more to herself than to Williams.

 

"What do you think this mean?" Williams asked.

 

"What the devil do you think this means? He was planning on double-crossing me!" Beverly was furious. She would never have thought Patrick capable of coming up with a plan of his own. Despite his grand-standing demeanor and professional success, he wasn't actually very clever, at least not in her eyes.

 

"Listen," she said, turning her attention back to the telephone conversation. "You have to get rid of the body. He can't be found or it will be all over."

 

"How..."

 

"You'll think of something!" Beverly hung up. She started to pace the sitting room of the sprawling country mansion in agitation. Think, she told herself, she needed to think. If Williams managed to get rid of the body, there would be no need to alter their plans as far as Louise was concerned. Unless of course that nurse was right and she was developing an infection. In that case, she'd have to get rid of her. She had put a sufficient amount of money aside, enough to allow her to live the rest of her life comfortably somewhere in South America and Williams had the connections that would get here there. It wasn't what she wanted, not be a long stretch. She wanted her old life back, before this Xavier person had cast a shadow over it with his constant demands and threats. And she had planned it all so perfectly and she wouldn't even have to life a finger to get rid of Xavier. No, Paul Temple was going to do that for her. And with Louise on her side now, there was no way Temple could uncover the truth.

 

oOo

 

Louise could hardly believe her ears. It simply couldn't be...What she just heard through the door standing ajar was impossible. Maybe it was the fever messing with her head, she did feel awfully hot. Or maybe she had misunderstood, after all she had heard only half of a telephone conversation. She simply had to be mistaken or delirious, she tried telling herself, but in her gut, she couldn't help the feeling that the telephone conversation was important and that Beverly and Patrick were mixed up in something, something secret and probably criminal.

 

Possibly they were even responsible for kidnapping her from the hospital. Louise swallowed hard, trying to quell the incipient nausea. She didn't know whether it was from the migraine headache or the sudden and dreadful suspicion that had taken root in her mind, but she felt sick to her stomach.

 

For a moment, she thought about confronting Beverly with what she had heard, but she quickly buried that notion, realizing that she would never managed to get down the stairs and into the sitting room. She would be lucky if she managed to get back into bed without falling on her face. The only reason she had gotten up was because when she had woken, she had felt terribly thirsty, eve after consuming the remaining water from the carafe. Slowly, bracing herself with her hands on the wall, she began to long and arduous trek back to the bed. The effort took command of all her remaining energy and concentration, so that after a few steps, the overheard conversation had all but faded from her feverish mind.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

oOo

 

"One whiskey, straight up!" Roger Williams ordered even before he'd taken a seat at the bar of the Cheshire Cat. By God, he needed a drink right now, he thought, hoping that the bar man, who was drying glasses with a rather dirty dishrag, would be quick about it. Although he'd never admit as much to Beverly Kingston, the events of the evening had shaken him but good. In the afternoon, he'd received a call from Patrick asking him to meet him at the usual place, an abandoned cottage in the middle of nowhere. He had thought nothing of it at the time, especially since it had been agreed that he'd supply the Kingston's with everything they needed for the moment. But when he'd arrived at the cottage, all he'd found was Patrick's dead body. He'd been shot once in the back of the head. Poor devil, Roger thought. If someone deserved to die like that, it was Beverly.

 

Finally, the glass appeared before him. He nodded to the bar man, who nodded back to his regular patron, and gulped down his whiskey, relishing the burn in his throat. He would need many drinks tonight until he could forget Patrick’s face, his sightless eyes staring at him with what he could swear was accusation.

 

"Another one, Jimmy!" he called out to the man behind the bar, one James Stevens, known as Jimmy among his better customers.

 

Jimmy grumbled a reply, but proceeded to move his considerable bulk in Roger's direction.

 

The worst was what he found pinned to Patrick's chest. He hadn't even dared to mention the small piece of paper to Beverly. There had only been one word on it, but that had been enough to nearly scare him witless. The note had read: Xavier. How Xavier could have possibly known about their meeting place, he had no idea. The man seemed to have near supernatural powers. Not only was he in possession was unequivocal evidence implicating Roger Williams in the death of a young woman, but also evidence linking him to a number of lesser crimes.

 

It was just over two years ago, that he'd received the first letter from Xavier. At first, he hadn't known what to make of them. There had been no threats or demands in those first letters, only veiled hints at his less than savory past. Then Xavier had started to make demands: a false passport here, a sum of money there. Nothing big, never. Just enough to remind Roger that he was in this man's power. He wasn't the only one, as he had later learned. Patrick and Beverly had gotten them too and Peter as well. Probably everyone from their old gang, even though Roger had lost touch with several of them over the years. Patrick was the first who gotten death threats. Then Beverly had gotten one herself. That was when she had decided that Xavier had to go. And when Beverly made up her mind to do something then God have mercy on whoever stood in her path.

 

The second whiskey had appeared on front of Roger Williams without him even noticing. When he did, he grabbed the glass and quickly gulped it down as well.

 

"Tough night?" Jimmy inquired.

 

"As tough as they come," Roger replied. It hadn't been easy to get rid of Patrick's body and car. At first, Roger had considered burning them, but then had thought better of it. He'd shoved the body into the boot of Patrick's car and had driven it a few miles to an out of the way lake. It was into it that he'd pushed the car along with its contents. Without a car, it had been a long walk back to the cottage and by the end of it, he was thoroughly freezing. Unable to stand the empty cottage for a moment more, he'd jumped into his own car and driven straight back to town.

 

"Get me another one, will ya, Jimmy?" Roger called out, already feeling effect of his first two drinks.

 

"You sure are knocking them back tonight!" Jimmy exclaimed as he poured Roger his third drink.

 

"Good old Irish therapy." Roger simply replied, reaching for the drink as soon as it had been poured.

 

"Wanna talk about it?" Jimmy asked solicitously.

 

Roger heaved a sigh.

 

"Come on, man, It'll do you good to get it off your chest," Jimmy encouraged.

 

"All right, but you can't breathe a word of this, to anyone!"

 

"Mum's the word," Jimmy promised.

 

oOo

 

Paul Temple couldn't sleep. He'd spent most of the day waiting for the phone to ring. Sir Graham Forbes however had yet to get back to him. Paul had also half expected Steve's kidnapper to make contact with him, but that hope too had been unfulfilled so far. Detective Harrington had called on him in the afternoon.

 

The detective had not been too pleased to have received a telephone call from Agent Tobin of the FBI, but other than express his displeasure, he had had little information to impart. There was still no trace of either of the missing women and all avenue's explored so far had been dead ends. Paul had been tempted to share what he knew about Xavier with the NYPD man, but had thought better of it. As long as Steve was missing, possibly in the hands of the blackmailer himself, he dared not go through official channels.

 

Now it was well into evening and Paul was restlessly pacing the room once more. He was startled however by a knock on the door. Swiftly crossing the room to open it, Paul came face to face with one of the porters of the hotel.

 

"What it is?" he barked, his tone tense and abrupt. He had hoped it would be the detective bearing good news, but instead the porter informed him that a young woman was waiting downstairs and insisted on seeing him.

 

"What name did she say?" Paul asked.

 

"Jocelyn Raynor."

 

Paul didn't know anyone by that name, but betrayed no hint of surprise. He agreed to see her and followed the porter down into the lobby.

 

Jocelyn Raynor was fidgeting agitatedly, a tense frown on a face that only lightened marginally when she spotted Temple.

 

"Mr Temple!" she exclaimed.

 

"What can I do for you, Miss Raynor?" Paul inquired politely, hoping that she wasn't a reporter on track of a story.

 

"I need to speak to you, Mr Temple."

 

"Well, what about?"

 

"It's about your wife. Or at least I think it is," she didn't meet his eyes.

 

Paul was as if electrified by her words. All fatigue and weariness he had felt just moments ago vanished instantly. "Do you know where my wife is?" Paul had to restrain himself to just one question, not wanting to scare the already frightened-seeming woman.

 

"I can't tell you here," she shot a nervous glance at their surroundings.

 

"We can go into the lounge," Paul offered, trying not to let his anxiety and impatience get the better of him. "Would that be all right?"

 

"Yes, that would be better," Jocelyn replied gratefully and followed Paul into the lounge. He indicated a seat and she sat down. Paul followed suit. She looked around, still seeming anxious, as if she expected to have been followed.

 

"Do you know where my wife is?" Paul repeated his earlier question.

 

The woman nodded. "Yes, I do. She is at a mansion somewhere near Glennview, a small town in upstate New York. I don't know exactly where, but it was fairly long drive from the Glennview station by car."

 

Paul looked at her quizzically.

 

"You see, I'm a nurse. I usually find work through an agency. Yesterday, the agency telephoned me and told me that they had a job for me. All I had to do was take the train out to Glennview and my employer, a Mr Williams, would pick me up there. I did as I was asked and a man picked me up at the station. When we arrived at the mansion, a woman told me that I was to care for her sister who was recovering from a horseback riding accident. I didn't recognize the woman at first, but now I'm sure that it was Beverly Kingston - the actress! The papers said she'd been kidnapped and yet there she was!"

 

"And what about the woman you were supposed to look after?" Paul asked, struggling to keep his anxiety in check and maintain his self-composure while Jocelyn Raynor told her story.

 

"I didn't recognize her, but when I changed her bandages, I could see that she had been in no horseback riding accident. She had been shot. Then I remembered reading in the papers this morning about that other woman who they said had been kidnapped with Beverly Kingston. I wouldn't have cared about that, you see, because I really need this job, but when I told her, Mrs Kingston, I mean that her sister needed to go to a hospital because she was running a fever and Mrs Kingston told me to shut up and go back to work, I knew that something was wrong. I waited until everyone was gone and then I snuck out."

 

Though the nurse's account was somewhat muddled, Paul was able to extract the salient points from it quickly.

 

"Then you came here? Why not just phone for the police?" There was a note of reproach in his voice that he'd been unable to suppress.

 

"I'm sorry, I really am, I couldn't do that," she blushed furiously. "I just couldn't."

 

Paul didn't press her for details. It was probably that she had been in trouble with the law before and had been chosen for that very reason, her employers thinking that she wouldn't dare to go to the authorities even if good pay didn't silence her.

 

 

"Please, you must keep me out of this. I can't be mixed up in this," Ms Raynor pleaded, returning Paul's attention to their conversation.

 

"I'm not sure I can do that," the novelist replied slowly. "By the way, if you didn't know the location of the mansion, how did you get back here?" The inconsistency in her story had struck him before, but he wanted her to tell him what she knew before he taxed her with it.

 

"Oh, I knew you wouldn't believe me!" she cried. "You think I'm mixed up in this don't you?" She sounded close to tears and Paul noticed that they were starting to attract attention from the other patrons in the lounge.

 

"No, that's not what I think," he said soothingly. In reality he didn't know yet what to think. Her story made sense, but only up to a point. He was determined to find out what she wasn't telling him or he might just find himself walking into a trap. "But I need to know everything you know and if you know how to get to the mansion, I'm going to need your help."

 

"I can't go back there," she wailed, burying her face in her hands. Paul felt acutely uncomfortable faced with the display of emotion, but wondered at the same time how genuine it was.

 

"Nobody is saying that you have to go back there. I all want is to know how to get there," he asked, his voice hard. He couldn't allow himself to be taken in by a few tears. And even if she was genuinely upset, Paul had bigger worries than the possibility that he might hurt her feelings.

 

"I followed the tracks to the road, that's all I did," she told him. "When I got to the road, I just looked for the tracks and started walking along the road in that direction." Her sudden calm after the fit of hysterics struck Paul as unnatural. Unless of course, the hysterics had been solely for his benefit.

 

"So there is no road leading to the mansion?" he asked, pushing his doubts to the back of his mind for the time being.

 

"Not real road no, just a sort of dirt track," she explained.

 

"Then you'll have to come with us," Paul decided. "I'm going to call the police and..."

 

He was cut off by her tearful protests. "I told you, I can't go back there," she managed, choking back a sob before starting to cry in earnest. Once again Paul noticed that people had started staring, but he paid them no mind.

 

Paul moved to get up to place the call to Detective Harrington, but then hesitated. He had no choice but to leave Jocelyn alone while he went to telephone. There was a significant chance that she would take off the moment he turned his back to her. Still, he could hardly chain her to the table. Of course, he could tell the hotel staff what had happened and, in case they did indeed believe this rather extraordinary story, he could ask them to keep an eye on her. After brief consideration however, he decided against it. If she wanted to run, he would let her. Whether she had told him to truth or not, he had no choice but to pursue this lead. If there was a mansion as she had described, the local police in Glennview was bound to know about it, so her presence wouldn't be essential after all.

 

oOo

 

"Jocelyn! Jocelyn!" Beverly Kingston called out for the third time. As before there was no answer. Beverly got up from her armchair, resigned to having to find the wretched woman herself when the door to the sitting room opened, revealing Rodrick, the Kingston's faithful manservant.

 

"You haven't seen Jocelyn by any chance?" she barked at him angrily.

 

"No ma'am, I have not," Roderick, who had been in their employ for years and wasn't easily fazed by her stormy temper, didn't betray any hint of being offended.

 

"Well, go look for her! I want to see her immediately!" Beverly ordered. Rodrick, looking as placid as ever, quietly withdrew.

 

Beverly began to pace. She had the distinct feeling that evening would bring even more unwelcome surprises than she'd already had that day. While she didn't feel grief over Patrick's death, it had been an unnecessary complication that left her with a problem and more than a few unanswered questions. She could only hope that Williams had managed to dispose of his body all right, the fellow was none too bright. At any rate, he should have been back by now, and his absence further fueled her uneasiness.

 

"Mrs Kingston?" Rodrick's voice shook her from her worries.

 

"Well?" she asked, already suspecting what the answer was going to be.

 

"I was unable to locate Jocelyn. Her hat and coat have disappeared as well," he reported matter-of-factly. Beverly could feel the fury rising in her. How dare that miserable creature run away? She grew livid just thinking about her.

 

Rodrick cleared his throat, reminding her of his continued presence.

 

"That will be all, Rodrick." Beverly dismissed him casually, all the while already pondering where exactly Jocelyn's disappearance left her.

 

It all depended, she thought, what the silly girl was going to do. Beverly doubted she would go to the police, not with that matter of a young girl’s death at her last post hanging over her. Besides, she could have just called the police from the phone here, if that was what she wanted. But she might tell someone what she had seen. Maybe she had recognized her, after all, Beverly had been fairly well-known as a film actress and despite changing her hair, people were bound to recognize her. In that case, Jocelyn might even go to the papers. What a disaster that would be, assuming that anyone would believe her story. It might just interest an enterprising young journalist enough to investigate the story and make his way out to this god-forsaken place. And if it wasn't a journalist it would be some other busy-body. It simply wouldn't do. Beverly walked over to a small writing desk. Opening the top drawer, she took out a thick manilla envelope along with a smaller one. It would have to be, whether she liked it or not. If she had learned anything in her years if struggling for the big break, it was that she had to think of herself first.

 

oOo

 

"Do you have any idea when he'll be back then?" Paul didn't try to hide his considerable irritation at the fact that all the officer manning the phone at Harrington's precinct would tell him that the detective was currently in the field and could not be reached.

 

"I'm sorry sir, but it's impossible to say when Detective Harrington will be back, he is currently.."

 

"In the field, yes, I know," Paul finished the sentence, curling his left hand into a fist in frustration.

"Would you like to leave a message?" the officer on the other end of the line added after a short pause. He sounded rather flustered.

 

"No, thank you." Paul hung up without another word. He walked over to the reception desk.

 

"I need to hire a car as quickly as possible," he told the head porter. "Where can I go?"

 

"There is a garage down the block, sir. Just go out the main entrance and turn left," the porter informed him, "You can hire a car there."

 

Paul thanked him. He hurried back into the lounge, but wasn't surprised to see Jocelyn Raynor gone. Paul wasn't surprised in the least. She had most likely left as soon as his back was turned. He would simply have to find Steve without her then.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

oOo

 

The dark streets seemed to stretch endlessly into the night. Paul checked the clock on the dashboard for the umpteenth time. According to what the people at the garage had told him, the drive to Glennview would take a good ninety minutes. He had already been on the road for ninety-five minutes interminable minutes and had yet to regain civilization or even see as much as another vehicle on the road.

 

Factoring in the time he would likely need to obtain the information he was after and then another drive of probably a few miles to reach the mansion, Paul was deeply worried that he might be too late. By now, the kidnappers had surely noticed that Jocelyn Raynor had fled. They would likely leap to the conclusion that she had done so with the intent of betraying their secret and would act accordingly. In the best possible case, they would simply leave Steve behind, but it was also possible that they would take her with him, or, and that was what Paul feared the most, kill Steve in order to silence her. Paul was so lost in his thoughts, that he was startled when another car suddenly overtook him, racing down the narrow street at an alarming speed. The other car had hardly gained a distance of 30 meters when without the last warning, an explosion erupted in its place, a bright ball of fire enveloping the space where it had been mere moments ago. In the same instant, something slammed into the windscreen of Paul's hired car, shattering the glass. Paul instinctively raised his arm top protect himself, loosing control of the steering wheel in the process. The car swerved widely and finally came to a crashing halt in a ditch at the side of the street.

 

Paul was stunned for a moment, but soon regained enough presence of mind to turn of the engine which was still spluttering despite the accident. It was only when he'd clambered out of the wrecked vehicle and back onto the road, that he noticed that he was bleeding quite profusely. Probably from where the shards of the windscreen had cut him, he thought, still too numb with shock to register any pain. The other car burned brightly in the night, filling the air with the stench of burning flesh and rubber. Even if he'd been able to approach the burning vehicle, there would have been nothing he could do for its driver. For what felt like an eternity to him, but could in reality only have been a minute at the most, Paul stood, still dazed and stared at burning car ahead. Eventually, the pain brought him back the his senses. His right cheek was hurting furiously, from what was most likely a bad cut from flying glass. Paul turned around in circle, looking and listening for any signs that someone other than himself had heard or seen the explosion or the subsequent fire. But the crackling of the fire remained the only noise. However, as he looked closely, he spotted a faint glimmer of light to his left. It was completely stationary, indicating that it might be a building in the far distance. He would have to walk straight across the fields to reach it, but with the light on, it was likely that somebody was home. With the hired car wrecked and no help in sight, it seemed like the only option to try and reach the distant dwelling.

 

oOo

 

More than once while Paul Temple had been stumbling towards the faint light in the distance, he had been certain that it had to be moving away from him, as he never seemed to get any closer, no matter how long he walked across the rough countryside. Finally, however, the light grew and brightened and five minutes later, a sizable estate came into view. Paul nearly tripped when the uneven surface suddenly made way to a gravel path leading up to a wrought iron gate looking very solid and formidable. It was only when he was quite close to the gate that he noticed that it stood ajar. Paul slipped through the opening, quickening his steps as he approached the building. Its whole appearance was one of neglected wealth. The building was large and sprawling, set in vast grounds. However, the garden was ill-kept and the facade was in need of repair. All these observations registered in the back of Paul's mind, his main focus on reaching help. He climbed up the stone steps leading up to the front door and pressed the bell. When he received no reply, he tried again, holding down the button longer. He could hear the sound of the bell reverberating inside, but once again there was no sound betraying the presence of any occupants. Not willing to give up so quickly, not after he had come this far, Paul walked around the side of the building. He wasn't sure what he was hoping to find exactly, but he knew he had struck gold when he came upon a backdoor standing half open.

 

He knocked against the wood for good measure, but didn't bother to wait for a reply this time before he pulled open the door and peered inside.

 

The lights were on inside, but there was no sign of the occupants. Paul cautiously stepped inside, following the narrow passage until it opened into a spacious entrance hall. Paul wasn't more than two steps away from the end of the passage before he spotted the slumped form of a man on the stone floor at the foot of the stairs. A pool of crimson surrounded his head, indicating some sort of catastrophic injury there. The novelist was certain that the man was dead, but nonetheless he bent down to check for a pulse. The skin under his fingers was still warm, but he wasn't surprised to find no pulse. Suddenly feeling faint and rather dizzy, Paul had to grip the railing of the stairs to steady himself. It struck him, rather belatedly, that he had probably hit his head harder than he had first thought when he'd crashed the car. He would be lucky if he didn't have a concussion. But he was getting side-tracked, he reminded himself sternly, he had come here to find help and the notify the police, so that he could get back to finding Steve. He found it strangely hard to concentrate, struggling to remain focused on the task at hand. A phone, he said out loud, I need a phone.

 

It was in that moment, that a noise registered in his ears. It was faint, barely audible, but it sounded like a person moaning in pain or some other kind of distress. It was coming from upstairs. He grabbed hold of the railing once again and made his way up the broad staircase as quickly as his condition would allow. Trying to track to source of the sounds, he paused for a moment once he'd reached the first floor and listened attentively. Now that he was closer, he could make out more than just moans. Interspersed between these pained noises where indistinct words, muttered and barely audible, let alone comprehensible. He passed several door as he let himself be guided by his hearing, pausing briefly in front of each one. Finally, he reached the door from behind which the sounds seemed to emanate. Without losing a second, a turned the handle and stepped inside. The room was completely dark. Only the sliver of light coming in through the opened door allowed him to make out the outlines of various pieces of furniture. In the center of the room, facing the large windows was a bed in which a woman's figure was huddled, moving restlessly as if trapped in a nightmare. It only took Paul a second to realize who it was, even though her face was turned away from him, He would recognize the figure and hair anywhere. It was Steve! Losing no time, Paul crossed over to the bed, ignoring the pounding ache in his head.

 

"Steve? Steve!" he called out. As soon as he laid his hand on her shoulder though, he realized that she wouldn't answer. Through the thin fabric of her nightgown, he could feel the heat radiating off her. Even in her fevered state, Steve tried to shift away from his touch, nearly breaking Paul's heart. What if she died without ever regaining awareness, without any chance for them to say a final good-bye? Paul forced himself to reign in his thoughts. He needed to get it together and get Steve help. He loathed to leave Steve even for an instant, but had no choice. He needed to find a phone quickly. With a last look at Steve, he hurried from the room and back down the stairs. He had already noted that there was no phone in the entrance hall, so he proceeded to the first door leading from it. Beyond it lay a sitting room, its furniture though once luxurious, was several decades out of fashion and visibly worn. But there was a telephone all right.

 

oOo

 

It was early morning before Temple was finally free to leave mansion. Steve had long since been taken to the nearest hospital, he'd been question, quite at length, by the local police and finally, had been seen to be doctor one of the officers had called in. The physician had urged him to go to hospital himself, but Paul had been adamant in his refusal. He had allowed the medical man to see to the cut on his face however. Stranded as he was at the lonely estate, he was glad when the detective on the case, one Detective Curtis, drove him back to an inn in the small town of Glennview. He longed for news of Steve, but reason told him that he was unlikely to be able to satisfy that need until dawn at least.

 

He was dead on his feet by the time he more or less stumbled towards the reception desk of the small inn. The porter eyed him dubiously, with a distinct hint of fear, but Paul was too tired to care about his appearance. The sight of several dollar bills appeared to mollify the porter and five minutes later, Paul had obtained a room for what was left of the night. Staggering inside, all he could do was collapse onto the bed. He was asleep before he hit the pillow.

 

It was from seemingly the exact same position that he was roused seven hours later by pounding noise. Still half-asleep, he attempted to burrow further into the pillow, but as that action caused a sharp pain from the cut to his face, he only succeeded in waking fully. Realizing that the pounding noise was coming from someone knocking at the door very insistently, he called out: "Just a moment!" before climbing out of bed.

 

Looking down on himself, he was somewhat dismayed to find his attire more worthy of a tramp than a successful novelist: his shirt was not only extremely rumpled, but also covered with brown stains of dried blood both down the front and on both sleeves, which also bore quite a few rips from where they had been cut by flying glass. His trousers were slightly better off, but stained with mud almost up to the knees. His shoes were positively ruined, too, by the mud. Since there was nothing he could do about his ragged appearance, he simply ignored it for the time-being and opened the door. Outside stood the some porter whom had manned the reception desk earlier.

 

"Visitors to see you, sir. Detective Harrington of the New York City Police Department and another gentleman. Shall I tell them to come up?"

 

"Yes, please." In light of his appearance, it seemed safer to receive the visitors up here in his room, rather than downstairs were people would be passing.

 

Paul did not have to wait long before Detective Harrington arrived, along with another man, a tall spruce-looking fellow in his early thirties.

 

Harrington immediately introduced the second visitor to Paul as one Agent Tobin of the FBI. Paul, having pictured Tobin as at last fifteen years older, managed to conceal his surprise.

 

"You arrived here very quickly," he commented instead. "But it seems like you came all this way for nothing."

 

"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Tobin replied evenly. "Detective Harrington has filled me in on the details, and it seems like you got involved with some rather ruthless people, Mr Temple. After what happened last night, I'd say you need all the help you can get on this."

 

"What did happen last night, as far as you're concerned?" Paul asked. "I have to admit I'm a bit fuzzy on the details, and what I do remember doesn't make a lot of sense to me."

 

"Well, we were hoping you would complete the picture for us," Harrington said, avoiding the question. "How did you find out where your wife was being held?"

 

"A woman came to me yesterday at the Laurent Hotel and told me as much. I tried to reach you, Detective Harrington after I received this information, but it seems that you were unavailable, so I decided to investigate on my own. I hired a car and as I was driving up to Glennview, another car passed me before it suddenly exploded."

 

"Beverly Kingston was driving that car," Harrington informed him solemnly.

 

"That's interesting, that's very interesting indeed," was Paul's only remark. When he noticed that both investigators were looking at him with unbridled attention. "Well, I assume you already know the rest. At any rate, I told everything to the Glennview police last night."

 

It was Harrington who picked up the thread. "What interests me most is that woman you say came to see you at your hotel. Did she tell you her name?"

 

Paul nodded. "Yes, she did. She called herself Jocelyn Raynor, but I doubt it's her real name."

 

"Why do you say that?"

 

"Because," Paul began deliberately, "I believe that she is both an accomplished blackmailer and a multiple murderess."

 

The two men stared at him, completely aghast. It was Agent Tobin who recover first from the shock.

 

"Assuming you're right about this, I understand what murders you mean, but blackmail? Who did she blackmail and why?"

 

"I can't answer the question of why just yet, but I m convinced that she blackmailed both Patrick and Beverly Kingston, Winifred Morris, Peter Baxter, Andrea Miller and Cecil Blake . And those are only the people I know about, there may have been others."

 

"And then she murdered some of them? That doesn't make any sense!" Harrington exclaimed.

 

"It does if her ultimate motive was murder all along," Paul replied. "I think the blackmail was only a means to an end and she planned to kill all her victims eventually."

 

"But that's all just speculation!" Harrington exclaimed.

 

"I will give you the proof along with the killer." Paul promised coolly.

 

"When? How?"

 

"I ask you to leave to how up to me. As for the when,I propose tonight. All you have to do is give me a little bit of help to set the trap. This is what I need you to do..."

 

oOo

 

After he'd finished the conversation with Tobin and Harrington and they'd, albeit reluctantly, acceded to his requests, Paul hired a car at the local garage in Glennview and drove to the hospital where Steve had been taken. She was, as he soon learned, still in the throes of fever. Paul spent the day by her side, refusing to believe the doctors' dire predictions about her chances to make it through. She had defied the odds ever since the initial shooting and Paul fervently clung to the hope that she might do so yet again. The fear however was undeniable and as night started to fall, he regretted bitterly that he'd have to leave her side soon in order to catch the woman who'd done this to her. He had made a promise to the investigators though and had no choice but to follow through. Sir Graham had furnished some of the missing information when Paul had telephoned him earlier and all that was left now was to trap the murderess once and for all.

 

With a last look at Steve's now still form, he quietly left the ward.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

oOo

 

Violet Vorback threw the morning newspaper to the floor. Her hands clenched into fists and her face contorted in anger for an instant, before, with a deep breath, she regained control of herself. Over the years she had spent pursuing her mission with single-minded determination, she had learned that the emotions that fueled her quest could also be dangerous. They could cloud her ability to think clearly and foil her plans and that was the one thing she couldn't allow. Not after all she had done, all the time, money and energy she had invested to make them pay for what they had done. She knew when it was time for cold reasoning and when for heated passion. Now was a time for the former. It was unfortunate that the car bomb had failed, but it couldn't be helped. If the gossip rags were right then she had until 8 p.m. tonight to finish with Beverly Kingston once and for all before she was transferred back to New York City where she would most likely to under close surveillance. She had failed with Peter Baxter, but she wasn't going to fail again. She had to get to Beverly before she was transferred, it was that simple. At least she would be able to use the nurse's uniform again.

 

oOo

 

Despite her best intentions, Violet Vorback was excited as she strode down the hospital hallway with an air of purpose. Once you got the hang of it, she thought, it was so easy to fool people into thinking you belonged.

 

Violet would have thought that the intensity of the feeling would dull with experience, but the opposite was true. Every time she was on the verge of completing yet another step on her mission, she felt herself truly come alive, tonight more so than ever. Maybe it was Beverly who inspired such passion in her. She had always blamed the actress more than the others. It was her who gotten Emily involved and ultimately killed, even if she hadn't held the weapon that had shot Emily.

 

The bomb would have been too easy and in a way Violet was glad that it had failed. Now, she got a chance to look Beverly in the eye while she killed her. She deserved no less fate, of that Violet was certain. She discretely ran her fingers along the lower seam of her uniform, where she had hidden the long, thin blade. It was going to be a pleasure using it. Of all the ways to kill, she preferred the hands-on approach. Stabbing were quick and silent, exactly what she was looking for tonight. They carried none of the noise of guns or the uncertainties of poison. Reaching the door of the private room, Violet cast a quick look around before turning the handle. It was unlikely that she would be recognized even if someone saw her. The dark wig pulled into a severe bun and the thickly rimmed glasses perched on her nose drew attention away from her face and onto features that could easily be altered.

 

She slipped into the darkened room, pausing just inside it to gently close to door behind her. The thin beam of light from the corridor had been enough to tell her that she'd come to right place. The blonde haired shape on the bed was huddled and facing away from her, but it had to be her all right. She quickly pulled the blade from its hiding place and in a flash, had crossed the room, ready to thrust it into her victim's ear, thereby piercing the brain and killing her. She reached for the blonde head. The instant she registered that something was off, a torch blazed alive, blinding her. Her arms flew up to shield her face. The weapon cluttered harmlessly to the floor. She bent down to retrieve it, but a voice stopped her.

 

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," it said calmly. "You see, it's only a few pillow and a blond wig on that bed."

 

Violet snarled with uncontrolled anger. Reason took leave of her as she picked up the blade and blindly charged in the direction of the torch. There was a brief scuffle which couldn’t have lasted for more than two seconds before the door flew open and the main lights were switched on. Violet whirled around and found herself faced with two gun aimed directly at her.

 

"Drop the knife now!" one of the men shouted.

 

Violet threw the knife with the flick of her wrist. It hit one of the man square in the shoulder and with a cry, he promptly dropped his weapon. The other man fired, but missed. Before Violet could react however, a strong pair of arms enveloped her, immobilizing her and dragging her her across the room against her will.

 

"Don't shoot, Detective, a voice near her hear shouted. "I've got her. You can cuff her now."

 

oOo

 

As he watched Violet Vorback being led away by Detective Harrington's men who'd arrived within seconds, Paul couldn't bring himself to feel any satisfaction about the conclusion of this affair. He had caught the woman who'd shot Steve as well as blackmailed and murdered a number of other people, but it didn't fill the void that had been left behind by the actions of this young woman driven solely by the need to exact vengeance.

 

After making sure that Agent Tobin's wound would be seen to, Paul quietly slipped away. There would be no rest for him tonight as he resumed his vigil at Steve's side.

 

oOo

 

Eventually, his body had given in after what he'd been through not only the past forty-eight hours, but also ever since the affair had first started, but Paul Temple had still managed to stay awake until, finally at 3 o'clock that morning, Steve's fever had broken. He had still refused to leave her side, arguing that after he'd stayed this long, he might as well spent what was left of the night camped in a chair next to her bed.

 

It was from exactly that position, with a cramped neck and aching back that he awoke sometime the next morning. All his aches were however forgotten when he caught sight of Steve looking at him intently.

 

"Steve?" he asked, his heart pounding in his chest all of a sudden.

 

"Louise?" he tried again, when she showed no reaction, but just kept staring at him.

 

At that, she frowned.

 

"Am I awake?" she finally asked. Her voice was hoarse and was barely recognizable, but to Paul's ears, it was the best, most beautiful thing he'd ever heard.

 

"Yes, you are awake, darl-." Te term of endearment came naturally, but he cut himself of. He didn't want to frighten her unduly.

 

Steve however seemed not to have even noticed his blunder. "Then you are real?" she questioned after a lengthy pause.

 

"Why?" Paul erupted without thinking. "Yes, of course I'm real," he managed eventually, too shocked to even ask a question.

 

"It's all so confused in my head," she began, clearly hesitating to open up to him in this way. It cut at Paul's heart to see her not trust him with this information, but he said nothing, wanting to give her all the time she needed. "I don't know what really happened and what was just a dream."

 

Paul fought to hide his immediate worry. Was it possible that the fever had done some additional damage? The doctors had mentioned the possibility and she sounded awfully confused.

 

"Maybe I should get a doctor?" he suggested and moved to get up.

 

"Wait! Please..." she said and there was a catch in her voice. Paul couldn't help but obey her plea and sat back down.

 

"What happened to me? What really happened?"

 

"I don't think that's such a good.." Paul began, but Steve cut him off.

 

"Please, Mr...Paul, I really need to know." Once again, Paul was powerless to deny her request.

 

"All right. What do you remember?" Paul queried, chiefly to gain time.

 

"I remember being shot..or rather I don't remember the shooting itself, but I remember being in hospital and being told that I'd been shot and had been hurt very badly," she said slowly, as if struggling to put the facts in order. Haltingly, with many pauses, she continued to narrate the events from her point of view, up to the time when she'd woken up at the mansion.

 

"I don't think I dreamt it, I think Beverly Lloyd really was there. I know it doesn't make any sense, but I do remember talking to her." At this point, Steve paused, lowering her gaze to the blanket covering her.

 

"She told me...things about you," Steve continued after several minutes. "At the time, I believed her, but when I overheard her talking on the telephone later on, I didn't know anymore. I didn't know who was telling the truth, and to be honest, I'm still not so sure."

 

Paul's heart sank. He didn't need to ask what Beverly had told Steve, he could very well guess that she'd tried to make him out to be the bad guy, probably by claiming that he had something to do with the Knave. The question now was how could he make Steve understand that she could trust him. She had known Beverly for considerably longer, and her memories of him were limited to a hospital visit or two.

 

"Do you remember your first job?" he asked, suddenly having thought of a way he might be able to gain her trust and make what he was about to say less painful.

 

"Yes, I was working for a small newspaper in Cape Town. I wasn't a reporter or anything, I was just there to make tea and do other odd jobs. It was extremely boring," Steve recalled.

 

"Until you decided to look into the death of a young woman name Emily Vorback," Paul prompted.

 

"She was shot during a robbery at a jeweler’s. The reporter who caught the story didn't think anything of it, but I couldn't stop wondering how an eighteen year old from a good family, who had never been in trouble could be involved in a robbery. Since I had nothing else to do, I decided to do some investigating of my own," Steve recounted. "Why are you asking me about all this?" she asked, interrupting her narrative rather abruptly.

 

"The woman who shot you was determined to avenge that girl's death," Paul explained.

 

"But why shoot me? Granted I never found out the truth, but surely that can't be a reason to shoot somebody," she protested.

 

"You got in her way, that's why she shot you. I don't think she ever intended to hurt you. She was after the people whom she thought had gotten Emily involved in the robberies."

 

"Beverly is one of them, wasn't she?" The question came out of the blue for Paul. He hadn't expected Steve to catch on this quickly.

 

"Yes, she was the mastermind of the group," Paul confirmed. When he saw Steve's worried expression however, he added. "You needn't worry about either of them, anymore. Emily's sister murdered Beverly. She was arrested for her murder along with several other murders last night. She can't hurt you again. You're quite safe here."

 

They were both silent for quite some time until Steve spoke.

 

"Thank, you. For telling me all this I mean. I appreciate it."

 

"Anytime Steve, anytime," Paul replied, his gratefulness evident in his voice. He had missed Steve in his life more than he'd allowed himself to acknowledge, even in the privacy of his own thoughts. Now that the danger had passed, he could permit himself such realizations. Violet Vorback was safely in custody, although whether she was sane enough to be tried in a court of law was an open question at the moment. Consumed with the thirst for revenge, Violet had only been to eager to tell her story to the police. As it turned out, the attempt to murder Peter Baxter hadn't been her doing, but that of her accomplice, a bar man maned James Stevens. Investigations were under way to determine of a case could be made against the remaining members of the Cape Town burglary gang.

 

Epilogue:

 

It was another ten days before Steve was reluctantly declared fit enough to leave the hospital. Her rapid progress had astounded both Paul and her doctors. Steve had been complaining for days that she was ready to get out of hospital and this morning, she had finally been declared ready. Paul was helping her gather and pack the few things he'd brought her over the past few days.

 

Steve herself was sitting on the bed, fidgeting nervously and tugging at her clothes with an absent minded expression on her face.

 

"Another headache?" Paul asked gently when he noticed her far-away look. Despite her progress, Steve was still suffering from headache.

 

"No, no," she replied distantly. "My head's fine."

 

"You seem worried," Paul commented, pausing in his efforts to fit everything into a small valise and turning to face his wife.

 

"I am worried. What if I never remember? What am I going to do then?"

 

"First of all, your memory has already started to come back. You heard the doctor, it may take time. And second," Paul crossed over to her and took her hand in his. "Even if you never remember all of it, you're still not going to be alone in this, ever. I'm going to be with you every step of the way."

 

The End