Chapter Fourteen: The Trap
Charity was really enjoying herself at the cocktail party. Everyone was dancing and drinks were flowing and the room was bubbling over with laughter. But as the evening wore on, the little redhead kept being distracted by the oddest thing.
The rhinoceros head on the wall kept looking at her.
"Oh, I shot that fellow in Africa, and gave him to Lady Margaret as a present." Sir Humphrey took her by the elbow, dragging her over to the stuffed head mounted on the wall. "Look into his mouth and you'll see how many teeth he has."
"Why would I want to know how many teeth he has?" Charity didn't understand why she felt so frightened all of a sudden, with everyone having so much fun and the room so alive with music and laughter. But Sir Humphrey Babcock was really quite keen on having her take a look, so Charity peeked inside the rhino's mouth. It was dark, so dark. Charity felt afraid. And then she just vanished into the blackness!
"Charity? Do wake up, dear. Wake up! We've got Lars!"
"Lars? What? Who?" Charity drew a complete blank at first. The cocktail party! That was it. She must have drunk too much at the party. Now she was waking up in her own bed, and Lady Margaret was shaking her.
"Yes, Lars. The dirty thief never left England at all! He's modeling at an outdoor shoot in Rotherwood Park. It's barely an hour from here, but to catch him we must hurry!"
"Right. We must hurry." Charity's head was really throbbing. It was all she could do to slurp down some tea, wriggle into some clothes, and crawl into Lady Margaret's limousine.
"Ah, there she is! Good hunting weather, eh?" Sir Humphrey Babcock's cheerful, booming voice sounded unbearably loud in the luxurious interior of Lady Margaret's posh limousine.
"It's raining, actually," Lady Margaret said quietly, helping Charity climb into the long black limousine. "And it's still very early. Do keep your voice down, Humphrey dear."
"I had a dream about the rhinoceros you killed last night," Charity accused, sliding over on the cool, soft leather cushions and poking Sir Humphrey mercilessly with her finger. "Your stories about big game hunting in Africa gave me nightmares!"
"Sorry, old chap," Sir Humphrey laughed, clapping Charity on the shoulder as if she were a man. "Still, we've all got a touch of the killer instinct. You're the tiger, and Lars is the prey. Still keen on bringing the evil Swede to justice?"
"Of course I am," Charity grumped, massaging her temples as the huge chauffeur-driven limo started off down the road. Lars had to be brought to justice. Poor Violet at the Oakdale Arms had lost all her jewelry to the sexy, black-hearted liar. Of course Charity herself had given him the envelope – but how could she have known what was inside? Lars was so smooth, such a clever liar. And so amazingly handsome . . .
"Here we are, Detective Chalmers. Is the trap all ready? I've brought the witness you asked for!" Lady Margaret's voice rang out crisp and clear as the limo came to a smooth stop.
"The trap?" Charity opened her eyes, astonished by the sudden change of scene. She'd been dozing in royal comfort, it seemed, while the limo sped right along. Now here they were parked at the photo shoot, with lights and cameras all set up in the lush greenery of Rotherwood Park!
"This young lady is the witness?" Burly Detective Chalmers was peering into the parked limousine, a nasty expression on his unshaven face. "Seems to me, Miss Charity, you agreed to stay at the Oakdale Arms till we wrapped this up. Until we have the real thief locked up you're still a suspect!"
"Oh! I don't . . . I didn't . . . I mean I'm not . . ." Charity tried to explain, but her mind went utterly blank. All she could do was wriggle and squirm like a worm on a fisherman's hook!
"Detective Chalmers, Charity hasn't been out of doors since the accident," Lady Margaret said, making the last two words sound terribly grave. Her voice dropped, turning husky and persuasive. "I'm sure an arrest at an exclusive fashion shoot with lots of publicity would do great things for your career."
Now it was Chalmers' turn to squirm. "Well now, I don't . . ."
"Chalmers, Chalmers," Sir Humphrey Babcock rumbled, clearing his throat. His voice was rough and his eyes were puffy, so Charity could tell he'd been snoozing just like her. "Wasn't there a Chalmers on the British shooting team? Didn't you bring home a Gold Medal back in '76?"
"That was my father . . . sir." Chalmers hesitated, his sour suspicious features softening a bit. "I'd ask the three of you to stay right here in your car. When the suspect arrives, Miss Charity can just point her finger. My men will do the rest."
"Good man," Sir Humphrey rumbled approvingly, as though he were really the general in charge of the entire operation. Lady Margaret smiled, and Charity almost giggled. But then she took a deep breath, and sat up straighter in her seat.
Something terribly important was about to happen.