Driven to the Edge: Chapter Eight
By Coral Bale, known on the Forum as Reefgirl
There were no more gunshots after that. I could hear the sound of a police whistle, and several men came out of the law offices to help us up. Several cards were handed to us too, in case we needed help.
“I say, someone shot at us!” Johnny remarked. I didn’t say anything – it wasn’t the first time I’d been shot at – but I was also angry with myself. I had a gun in a locked box in my desk drawer in the office. What good was it in there when I needed it with me?! I made up my mind then to keep it in my bag at all times.
“Are you all right, miss?” the constable asked me. I composed myself and nodded,
“It’s a good job you hit the deck when you did, the next shot could have killed you!” The constable asked us a few more questions and then asked us to come to the station to give our statements.
“If that’s all constable, I’d like to get Lady Amy home, this must be an ordeal for her,” Johnny said. The constable nodded in agreement.
I opened my mouth to protest – I didn’t want to go home! I wanted to go back to the office and tell Daniel what had happened. Was it me the gunman was after or was it Johnny? I’d been standing on the street for at least five minutes before Johnny turned up, and my visit to Charlie’s office was spur of the moment. I visited him a couple of times a week, but never on the same day or at the same time – unless someone was following me, but then why wait until Johnny was there? Would Reginald Markham kill his own nephew? I really wanted to talk to Daniel now, but Johnny was pushing me into a cab, and I couldn’t let him know I worked for a Pinkerton agent.
I gave the cabbie my address and let Johnny’s questions wash over me without response. We pulled up outside our house and I let him usher me up the stairs. Thompson took my coat as Johnny explained what had happened to Father, who called for coffee and brandy in the Morning Room and looked quizzically at me as if to say “Not again!” I asked him to call Daniel at the office and explain what happened but not to come over until I called him back – I didn’t want compromise my position in front of Johnny. He nodded and went to make the call. I entered the Morning Room and accepted the brandy Thompson poured for me.
“Why would anyone shoot at us?” I asked, playing the brainless socialite.
“No idea, dear heart, mistaken identity?” he said airily, as if he getting shot at was an everyday event. “Thwarted suitor?” he added with a wink. I was beginning to like Johnny a little less at this point.
“I don’t think so.”
“Don’t take it personally dear heart, I just took it for granted there was a trail of broken hearts across the land. We chaps can get passionate when unfulfilled.” he finished his brandy and stood up. “I’ll push off. I expect you’ll need a lay down after all this, it’s a shame about lunch but we’ll make another go of it shall we? I’ll send you a note.” He bent down, kissed my cheek, and let himself out of the Morning Room as Father came in. I waited until the front door closed and then let out a growl of fury.
“That man is the absolute limit!” I declared.
“What on earth happened?” Father asked.
“He thinks it’s mistaken identity or a thwarted suitor because I must have left a trail of broken hearts across the land and ‘we chaps get passionate when thwarted dear heart’; the nerve of the man!”
Father poured me another brandy. “I gave Daniel your message. He seemed concerned and wondered if your cover’s been blown already. What did he mean?”
I chuckled. “It’s an American way of saying we’ve been exposed as investigators, but I can’t see how, we only took the job a couple of days ago, and no one but you and Beatrice, Nell and Charlie know about my work with Daniel. I’m always very careful about the work we do.”
“Were they shooting at that Johnny do you think?”
“He didn’t seem to think so, but . . . oh, I don’t know, it’s very fishy. I’m liking that man less and less now.”
“Seems like a typical Lounge Lizard to me,” Father replied.
“He’s Reginald Markham’s nephew and Nelumbo Racing’s chief mechanic, not really the lounge lizard type.”
“Never judge a book by the cover, isn’t that what you say?” Father replied.
I went out into the hall and phoned Daniel back to tell him Johnny had gone. Daniel told me he’d be call as soon as he could and that Janet was sending some of her shortbread over as well. I laughed; Janet was of the opinion that her shortbread would cure anything.
I was pacing the Morning Room like a caged tigress when Thompson ushered Daniel in.
“What the hell happened?!” he demanded.
“I have no idea. One minute I’m outside Charlie’s office wondering whether to hail a taxi or wait for an omnibus, then Johnny Markham asks me to have lunch with him, then someone shoots at us!”
Daniel laid a hand on my shoulder to stop me pacing.
“Hey, take it easy.” he said.
I stopped and slumped down onto the sofa.
“I’m sorry, it’s Johnny Markham; the man is insufferable! He thinks it’s a thwarted suitor because ‘men can be passionate when thwarted dear heart,’” I said, imitating Johnny.
Daniel’s eyes widened. “He actually said that?” he asked.
“I’m liking him less and less after today; his attitude was so annoying.” I thought carefully for a moment about his attitude. “He seemed to think it was my fault, trying to sow seeds of doubt. Most men would wonder who was trying to kill them and apologise for getting a woman in danger, but not him, he bundled me into a cab, drank Father’s brandy made that comment about thwarted suitors, asked me out to lunch and left.”
“That was brazen, so what do you think really happened?” Daniel asked.
I told him everything from the moment I left Charlie’s office to the minute Johnny left the house.
“I don’t think our cover’s been blown,” Daniel responded. “As you said, it’s only been a couple of days, and you were outside for at least five minutes before Johnny joined you. If they were after Johnny, who was it? If it was Reginald Markham, there are better, less public ways of doing it, unless it was a warning of some kind.”
“I think I need to ask Nell a lot more about Johnny Markham,” I said.
“Agreed, oh, and I brought you this.” He handed over my locked gun box. “It’s no good to you in the office – keep it in your purse at all times.”
“I thought the same when I was lying face down on the path,” I replied.
We decided that now would be a good time to tell Father of our plan, so we laid out our intentions and reasons and let him think it over.
“I can’t say I like the idea of you gallivanting all over Europe chasing a murderer, especially after what happened today, but I’m glad you’re taking Daniel with you. If you need a place to stay or somewhere to base yourself, you know, a place for us to send your correspondence to, don’t forget your Aunt Suzanne has a villa in Nice,” Father said.
I hugged him. “I’ve learned a lot since the incident with Sir Richard. I’m not going to put myself in such danger again, but I’m glad I have your approval and we will visit Aunt Suzanne while we’re in France.”
I decided not to go back to the office and instead invited Nell to have tea with me at Gunters – she agreed and I went upstairs to get ready.
Nell was already waiting for me when I got to Gunters, I kissed her cheek and then we ordered tea, with a large selection of cakes. I explained what had happened outside Charlie’s office and how Johnny had behaved at home. She blushed slightly.
“Yeah, I should have warned you about that. He’s got that ‘I’m Man, I know everything and if I say something is true it is, you sweet but dim little thing’ attitude about him.”
“So what did you see in him?” I asked.
“Well it was never serious, just a fling, you know, dinner, parties and ‘Things,’” she winked. “You can make allowances if that’s all you want, although, towards the end he was making excuses not to meet – breaking dates I believe the American’s call it.” I nodded. “Business, meetings, waiting for telephone calls, things like that were the excuses he gave me. I thought he was seeing someone else, I even thought about following him, doing my own detective work, but I didn’t, it’s not like he was my husband or fiancé. So I ended it, never bothered returning his calls – let the other woman put up with him!”
I squeezed her hand in sympathy, even though I’d heard this kind of story hundreds of times before – it still upset me that women had to put up with it. I was glad Nell was a modern girl and didn’t feel the need to be a man’s chattel.
“Have you heard anything about Johnny getting mixed up in anything that may get him shot at?” I asked.
Nell snorted. “Cuckolded husband would be top of my list. When I was in Nice, a few people who knew about me and Johnny suggested he was not a one-man woman and did I know what I was doing? As it was just a fling for me, I didn’t pay much attention. It does seems the most likely, especially if the husband was French, Italian or German; they’re the kind that demand honour with a duel and things like that.”
I nodded, it did seem the most likely. I decided to keep Johnny at arm’s length and Daniel by my side in future.