The Case of the Lascivious Lord
Homer Featherstonhaugh (pronounced Fan-shaw) stood in the cathedral praying to God that his lunch wouldn’t repeat on him. A minor royal had been beaten to death with a bust of St Thomas Becket. There was blood everywhere, and any chance of the fellow lying in state so mourners could see him at rest had been dashed across the cobblestones, alongside his coltish good looks.
‘He’d just come down from Ascot’ said Chief Inspector Worthing of Scotland Yard. ‘Not a particularly religious chap, either, so what he was doing here is a mystery in itself.’
‘I only left him a few minutes!’ declared Sally O’Connor, the dead man’s PA, a good Irish girl who’d just about stubbed out her accent, though it still snuck through when she was excited. ‘I can’t think why he wanted to come to this place. Normally, Lord Wallace has to be bullied by his mother to attend church on Christmas Day. But we were heading home in a Hackney carriage when he saw the spire over the rooftops and said that he needed to go there at once.’ She played with a cross around her neck. ‘Maybe the spirit of the Lord just... overwhelmed him.’
‘The lad was certainly overwhelmed’ said Worthing to Homer when they were alone, in the bishop’s office. Homer had arranged for the girl, who still seemed unstable from the shock of having found half her employer's head sprayed across the altar, to be taken to his townhouse in a private car. He now ensconced his enormous bulk in a chair that groaned beneath him like a sherpa asked to carry too much luggage. He seemed distracted, rolling a cigar between his fingers and gazing at a portrait of the Madonna and child. ‘Pretty little thing, isn’t she?’
Worthing grinned. ‘Thought you were above noticing such things, old man. Besides, what would your poor Protestant mother say if you eloped with an Irish girl.’
Homer ignored this. He'd have liked to smoke the cigar whose plastic still crinkled between his fingers. He reminded himself that he wasn’t at his club now. For a start, no one was playing cards and there were no canapés.
‘Do I remember correctly that Lord Wallace was exempted from service in the War?’
‘Not exactly. He was out there briefly, in France, but a shot to the hip sent him home. When it was time to go back the army had him examined and decided that the permanent limp he’d been left with made him pretty useless. Didn’t stop the young cur sewing seeds in every willing furrow. Mother twisted someone’s ear, you ask me.’
The steps of the cathedral gave an excellent view of bustling London. Women hawked flowers and market stalls lined the streets. The air was filled with shouting and the clatter of carts going past, and on it all shone a bright British sun. Homer finally unrolled his cigar, lit, and popped it in his mouth. It was a cheerful 1922, all things considered.
Worthing’s driver picked them up. ‘No reporters about’ said Homer on the way.
‘Of course not’ said Worthing. ‘My lads are better at suppressing a scandal than you might think. And you’ll keep quiet as well, Mr Gentleman Detective, unless you want to end up in the Tower of London, without your cigars and fancy dinners.’ Worthing took the still smoking stub from his friend’s mouth and flicked it out the window, where it landed in a carnation seller’s wicker basket. She screamed something most unladylike at them as they sped away.
‘So who are our suspects?’ said Homer. ‘Unless you’ve already chalked up the girl as having crushed Lord Wally’s head?’
Worthing burst out laughing. ‘That frail thing? You saw the bust that did it. It took two strapping lads from Lambeth just to move the sodding thing. No. The way I figure it, our young gadabout had been at games of cards and dice. He owed some thug money, and whoever it was did him in at the cathedral.’
The car took a turn into a seedy-looking street with an Oriental tea room, a bookmaker’s, and a pub outside which were men in flat-caps playing cards. Anyone dressed well in a place like this was either a pleasure-seeker or a copper, and if Homer seemed like a rather jaded instance of the former, Worthing was definitely the latter.
The pair of them went into the pub, which was dimly lit as if inhabited by dwellers of the underworld seeking respite from the sun. A crusty old landlord in frayed suspenders and a filthy apron looked at them. 'Anything you've got to say, you can say out here.' he said without inflection.
'Good to know' said Worthing. 'We both know that gambling goes on here, so let's get that out of the way. I just need to know whether a well-dressed, blonde, curly-haired young chap ever frequented the games.
'He'll be easy to remember if he did' he added, looking around at the sooty and ratty-clothed regulars. 'Reckon I know him' said the landlord with a slight smile. 'Last time I saw him, though, he was visiting Ma Drake, down the alley.'
Worthing went pale. 'Was he now?' On their way back to the car, Worthing explained to Homer that Ma Drake was a suspected abortionist.
They drove to Homer's townhouse, where Sally O'Connor lay resting on a chaise-longue. In her long black skirt and white blouse that terminated at her elbows, she was dressed a little scandalously for London society. 'Wally said that if a girl has good arms, she should show them off' she said, smiling in a faraway manner. 'He said that about ankles too, but I have my modesty.' She started to tear up a little. Homer handed her a card for his doctor. She looked at it, gazed at him for a moment, and smiled. 'Thank you...'
Home and Worthing sat in the latter's office at Scotland Yard. Homer went to light a cigar, saw his friend's stern face, sighed, and put it away. 'I just wonder how much the O'Connor girl knew?' Worthing continued.
'Quite a bit more than you might think' said Homer.
'What are you getting at?'
'I suspected what had happened from the start. But our visit to Ma Drake's domain sealed it. When I was with The Times and covering the War, in France, I stayed with some officers at a woman's farmhouse. One day her ten-year-old daughter was crushed by a gun carriage when its wheel collapsed.
'The girl screamed and her mother, barely any taller than the child, managed to lift the carriage at least half an inch, which two five-a-side teams of men would struggle to do. The girl still died, but can you imagine the superhuman level of strength, all generated by a mother's desperation to save her child's life?
'While you're at it, also consider this: Lord Wallace has a reputation as a gadabout, a user and discarder of women. Sally O'Connor is a handsome Irish girl with a cross hung from her neck. What if he was to... take advantage of her, and due to his arrogance not consider the ramifications?
'Suddenly he's saddled with a bastard child, which might break his mother's heart. More importantly, it might cause her to revoke his allowance so that he can no longer gamble the family fortune away. So, what does he do?'
Worthing narrowed his eyes. 'He takes a trip to Ma Drake.'
'He takes a trip to Ma Drake' Homer repeated. 'And arranges for a certain Irish assistant to have an appointment. He takes her to the cathedral to break the news, knowing that as a Catholic she'll find it abominable. Perhaps he was hoping to convince her that a bastard child would be the greater sin.
'He might even have told her that should she die on the table in that godforsaken back-alley, God would consider her punished enough. She realises the bind she's in, and like the farmer's wife her concern for her child manifests in a burst of strength that, in a last desperate act, causes her to break the fifth commandment.'
Worthing leaned back in his chair and took this in. 'I suppose we'll have to do something about her.'
Homer grinned, a trifle sheepishly. 'I've already taken care of that.'
Worthing narrowed his eyes at him. 'Homer Featherstonhaugh, what have you done?'
'That card I gave the girl. The address on it belongs to a chap who owes me a favour. Our belle is on her way back to Belfast City, and unless you want to risk a scandal, I'd leave her be.' Homer unwrapped a cigar, lit, and started smoking it. 'You ought to let me have this one' he said, popping it between his fingers. 'I won't be getting any more in the Tower.'
Written by Casted_Runes
Go To Page