'The Joan M. Lagan Library Incident'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever, lovers, are private detectives in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. They investigate a missing volume in a Reference Library.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2020 to the author. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Caution:— There is some light swearing in this story.
"What?" Alice being completely in the dark.
"A Folio of Shakespeare." Fiona, on the other hand, fully comprehending of the item in question. "An omnibus volume of all his plays."
"Oh, wrote plays, did he?"
Fiona, sitting at their shared desk in the offices of Drever and Cartwright, Private Detectives, Delacote City, NH, this warm morning of June 1934, wasn't standing for this silly attempt at humour.
"You know full well who an' what Shakespeare was, lady; comin' it real funny, ain't'cher?"
Alice, however, was unrepentant, especially after scoring a palpable hit such as this one.
"Just tryin' t'lighten the load, is all, lover."
"Har, well don't. Try, that is; you're not succeeding."
"Oooh, be that way, miss."
"God, ya love 'em, but ya just can't stand 'em, sometimes."
"Here, what was that last remark?" Alice suddenly all ears; and affront. "—'cause if it was what I think it was, you're in deep trouble, lady."
Acting swiftly, Fiona chose this delicate moment to bring the conversation back on course.
"Anyway, the Joan M. Lagan Library, over on Caister Street, wants our help in finding what happened to their treasured, er, treasure."
"Treasure? Come on, Fay, it's only a book; in fact a cheap compendium: ain't a first edition, or anything. What's the anxiety all about?"
Fiona gazed on the woman she loved most heartily in all the world, sighing softly.
A pause ensued, Alice not recognising this was a call for a reply; she being deep in a murder report in the 'Delacote News'.
"Al, wake up."
"Eh, what? Wha's'-a'matter?"
"We got us a case—interested, or what?"
Becoming aware she was not going to be allowed to finish the newspaper article Alice admitted defeat, though ungraciously.
"Just when I got to the bit where Crosby Coggins, ace reporter, is describing the blood-soaked scene, too." She now sighed, on her own part. "OK, what about the bloody book? God, a book; how the mighty have fallen. Ain't there any more juicy murders we can dig our claws in, round these parts?"
"It is a first edition—the First Folio, darlin'." Fiona waxing knowledgeable, though she knew this was still going well over the head of her inamorata. "Published in sixteen-sixteen, believe it or not—"
"Believe it. Ya asked me if I believed it, an' I politely declines t'do so, baby."
Fiona, faced with this level of apparently real indifference, gurgled wordlessly for a few seconds before regaining her power of speech.
"Al, I thinks those worms, bookworms, that munches their way through the pages o'books has a better an' more refined knowledge of Literature than you'll ever have, if ya lives ter be a dam' hundred."
Miffed, huffed, and haughtily indignant at this wholly unsolicited level of disdain, Alice came out fighting.
"This Joan Library, too; it's one o'those bookstores that don't let the Public borrow the books an' take 'em home t'read, ain't it?"
"Well,—" Fiona caught short by this well-known truth.
"You got'ta sit in some stuffy room, surrounded by shelves of other books, quiet as a dead mouse, not even sneezing under threat of instant dismissal, an' just take notes—if your goose-quill pen don't scrape across your parchment too loudly." Alice riding through the realms of Literary Fancy unconstrained by any known logic.
"Al, get a grip. They're payin' us top rate, fer a fortnight."
Alice, newly informed of the single fact pertaining to her career that most mattered, Profit, suddenly re-registered in the land of the living and the wide-awake.
"Thought that'd get your attention. So, are ya with me on this, or what?"
"Lover, tell me everything, from birth till t'day."
Having begun her description of the background details to the case by trying to catalogue the various dates of the Folio editions of Shakespeare, as provided in impressive miniutiae by the Library Authorities; but finding this merely tended to put her lover to sleep, Fiona began again—after shoving Alice's shoulder to awaken her once more.
"It dates from sixteen-sixteen—it does, so quit with the sour face." Fiona sighed inwardly, but sturdily continued; she being determined to get the job done. "All his plays, an' a number of poems, are included in it. There were later published editions but, as they seem t'you mere tickets t'the Land o'Nod, we'll ignore 'em."
"Al, can it." Fiona bowed her head over her notes, taken down from the telephone conversation she had just completed half an hour ago with the Library bigwigs. "There're only a few full copies left in the world, apparently. The Library lately became aware of one such, hiding in Europe, and decided to buy it."
"Al, yer last warnin', baby."
"Oh, go on, if you must."
"Right," Fiona happy she had asserted the necessary authority over her partner's quibbling soul. "They bought it, through an intermediary, an' awaited its arrival with beating hearts—only it didn't."
"Didn't?" Alice a little confused. "Didn't what?"
"Arrive." Fiona smiling grimly as the core of the case came to the surface. "They heard about it—they got an expert, over there in the Old Country, t'verify it—they bought it, with real dollars, ya won't believe how much they shelled-out—an', as of t'day as we sit here, it ain't arrived."
Alice, now firmly in the land of those highly interested in the whole sorry story, frowned darkly at her lover.
"How much did they pay for it?"
Fiona was prepared for this; knowing full well it would be the first question her partner asked, when clear-headed logic had regained its usual position in the brunette's head.
"Twenty-seven thousand dollars."
The pause which followed only lasted a few seconds, but they were seconds strongly imbued with astonishment, shock, incredulity, and simple wonder.
"Jee-sus Chr-st!" Alice looked at her partner with eyes wide open. "Bloody fools; they could'a sponsored a thousand soup kitchens with that. Ain't they got any sense o'moral worth, at all?"
Faced with a logic beyond all understanding Fiona tried her hardest to keep a firm grip on her own views of the world.
"Al, soup kitchens an' Shakespeare are mutually exclusive—mutually. They don't go t'gether, no-how."
"Y'sure there, darlin'?"
"Oh." Alice tried another track. "When did they, the Library authorities, that is, first become aware of their loss?"
Given, at last, the opportunity to answer a meaningful question Fiona strode up to the pitcher's spot with confidence.
"Nine days ago." She nodded to herself, gazing at her notes. "Should'a been here by Thursday last, but never showed up. They gave it till Saturday, then started sending anxious telegrams. All they can tell us is, it was sent in the hands of a special private courier on the Monday week previous an' should'a had plenty o'time t'be delivered as per instructions."
"But hasn't been?"
"Precisely; neither him nor it having turned up, apparently."
"So, what d'they want?"
By this time Fiona was beginning to wonder if her loved partner wasn't suffering from some Spring fever or other.
"Wha'd'ya mean, wha'd'they want? They wan'na know where the dam' the dam' thing is, if it ain't in their sweaty palms, is all; an' it ain't—that, darlin', bein' the whole basis of their consulting us, if ya follow along."
Alice, still partially absorbed in the murder report in the newspaper, hauled herself back to the ongoing world, but at a great cost to her personal esteem.
"Blood everywhere, the reporter says; God, I wonder if—what, dear?"
Niggled beyond all endurance Fiona did the only thing left to her to do; she picked up the softback 'Delacote City Business Compendium, 1934' by her elbow and threw it at her cherished partner. This mighty tome, weighing all of half a pound, luckily missed by a mile, skidding off the desk top and landing with a heavy thump by Alice's right ankle.
"Har, missed again. You'd never have made a baseball pitcher, lover."
The Joan M. Lagan Library sat four-square on the left side of Caister Street, just east outside of the main Downtown district. It had been built in 1915, that intermediary period in American architecture when Art Nouveau was slipping quietly into a little-mourned grave, leaving the industrial and business landscape to younger worthier up and coming styles. The fact none, as yet in 1915, of these competing modern styles had gained firm ground being partially responsible for the curious architectural style in which the Library was finally built—Late Art Nouveau-Young American Arts and Crafts-and Middling Gustav Stickley, all contributing to the end result; itself recognised across the knowing architectural world, as reported in several important journals at the time, as being, certainly, something to see. Alice, for one, was still not impressed.
"Jee-sus, I've seen it a'fore, sure; but, God, close up like this? Who in hell designed the ol' ruin? 'cause they made an awful mistake."
Fiona, sighing deeply, kept a stoic, even Spartan, silence; merely indicating the massive entrenched main entrance and leading the way like the masterful general she was. Having circumnavigated all the usual petty hindrances; clerkesses who knew not of what or whom the detectives were, minor officials who were more interested in acknowledging their own major importance to the Library than the minimal matter at hand, and a selection of secretaries, harried off their feet by Library strictures, who had no idea who to send the enquiring enquirers to, Fiona and Alice finally washed up in the office of Miss Ann Goldeneye, Deputy Manager, European Manuscripts and Texts.
Fiona eyed the tall blonde and lithe woman with a calculating gaze; sharp brown eyes, pale skin, dark auburn hair in long waves, and a wide friendly grin: Fiona finally admitting she could work with this representative of the higher echelons of Literature.
"We talked on the phone, earlier; about Shakespeare's book."
"Of course; er, Shakespeare's book, indeed."
Taking the chair offered Alice sat down, arrranged her trusty notebook on her lap, sucked the end of her pencil, and pinned the librarian with a beady eye.
"So, what's up, lady?"
But Miss Goldeneye did not blanche under this attack; instead she grinned even wider, nodding gleefully at her interlocutor.
"Yeah, what's up? That about describes what Mr Leander's feeling right now."
"Oh, sorry, Mr Horace Leander, Library Administrator." Miss Goldeneye shrugging off-handedly. "Used t'be the Head Librarian; but new regulations have demoted him t'Administrator. He don't like it, so don't touch on the subject when you meet him."
"So, Shakespeare—what d'you both think of him?"
Faced with this unexpected request for a literary judgement, on a relatively exalted subject of which neither detective had much experience, both ladies paused to consider their options; Fiona finally leading for the Defence.
"Well, our teacher read 'Julius Caesar' to us at school; dammed dry, I thought; never read anything else since—by Shakespeare, I mean."
Miss Goldeneye, raising an expressionless eyebrow, turned her attention to Alice.
"I got 'Macbeth' read t'me, at school." Alice admitted, with a sour turn of her pale pink tinted lips. "Dam' gruesome, too, I thought. Never touched the guy since, thank Go—er, yes."
"Oh, well," Miss Goldeneye gazing sadly at her scratched desktop. "there you go. So, what can I tell you, then?"
"Oh, just everything, would be good for a start." Alice, rather spitefully trying to get her own back.
Still unfazed and oozing capability Ann merely batted this grasscutter past long-off with all the quiet elegance of a Jack Hobbs.
"Good, you came to the right person; I've been at the heart of the transaction from the start."
Foiled, Alice sat back, fiddling with her pencil and thinking dark thoughts.
"Well, first; we, the Library that is, heard of the Lascennes Folio just over a year ago—"
"What?" Alice piping up like the first tawny pipit of Spring.
"The Lascennes Folio—it's a rare example of a complete Folio." Ann deigning to glance knowingly at Alice as she scribbled in her notebook. "Held in the library at Lascennes Abbey in Rutland for three hundred years, absolutely unknown to the world till now. Though I have to admit, even the present incumbent, er, Miss Francis Lascennes-Lascennes, didn't know it was there till she had a cataloguer from the British Museum up to sort out the dusty mess her family library had fallen into."
But Alice was racking her brain cells over a much more important problem.
"Rutland? Where in hell's Rutland? Somewhere near Germany, maybe?"
Both Fiona, as well as Ann, took this opportunity to study the well-known lack of general knowledge appertaining to the average American—such presently, in person, being Alice as it turned out.
"What're you both staring at me like that for?" Alice, finally realising she was the cynosure of all eyes.
Taking pity Fiona reached across to gently hold the free hand of her revered partner.
"Never mind, dearest, just carry on taking notes; that's what you're good at."
Thankfully for all, before Alice could construct a fitting reply to this calumny, Ann strode into the breach.
"—er, um, yes, so Miss Lascennes-Lascennes, much to her astonishment, discovered she had a treasure lurking amongst the serried leather-bound ranks of the complete works of Lord Lytton and G. J. Whyte-Melville." Ann regaining her good humour as she proceeded. "Not being particularly literate—er, I mean, literature minded herself she put it up for auction in London, where we came to hear of it."
"Paid a dam' lot for it, didn't you?" Alice striding bravely in where demons from Hell would have paused to discuss the necessity in doing so.
Ann's chin jerked up in an instant; her expression one of a refined lady amongst the savages.
"Nothing of the sort; rather gained a bargain, than otherwise."
"Oh, how'd you make that out?" Alice gallantly determined to stick-up for her impression against all odds.
"Al,—" Fiona attempting to cut in to foil further discussion on this thorny subject.
"No, no," Ann waving a hand in the air. "A reasonable question, certainly. In fact, we have had queries along the same lines from, uh, certain other persons and Institutions already."
"And what did they say; or, indeed, what did you reply?" Fiona coming in with her own query about the matter.
"Only that the price paid was well within our budget for the year." Ann's tone that of a Library official certain of their standing. "We thought we might have to pay double, in the long run; but, in the event, two of our supposed rivals bowed out of the bidding whilst it was still quite low—so we were able to purchase at the reasonable total named."
Fiona and Alice spent the next minute turning over in their separate minds the possible changes to their lifestyles which would then admit of $27,000 being regarded as a low total—but neither could comprehend such and gave up the struggle simultaneously.
"So, you were talking some, earlier, about a Mr Leander." Fiona changing the topic, if not the general subject. "Head of this concern, is he? What're his thoughts on the loss?"
"You'll have to go to the fountain of all knowledge on that, I'm afraid." Ann shaking her head, as one who knows full well of what she speaks. "He likes to hold the reins of power, if you follow me; not one to have underlings steal his thunder, y'know. Come on, I'll take you along to the lion's cage—I mean, his office, now, if you like—just don't blame me for what might follow, is all."
Rising together Fiona and Alice exchanged glances, both intrigued by this show of self-defence on Ann's part.
"Lead on, Mac—, er, yes, you go first, ma'am." Fiona very nearly making a faux pas of astronomical proportions, but just saving herself in the nick of time.
The office of the Library Administrator, née Head Librarian, took up a vast amount of space, being nearly thirty feet long by twenty wide; this being the outcome of the room originally being earmarked for a small children's Library annex, before wiser minds decided it would instead make a cheerful cosy nook for the Big Bohunkus in person; where he, for of course it would be a He, could engage in those curious alchemical and esoteric experiments of interest to only the most arcane of littérateurs. At the present time, Fiona and Alice being ushered by Miss Goldeneye into the Revered Presence as if to face an Ancient God, the long office was occupied by a small dumpy man with receding hair, wide jowls, a pasty skin, and black glittering deepset eyes like a serpent's. He sat in majesty behind a desk large enough to do sterling duty as a map-table in an Army Briefing-room, making not the slightest attempt to rise to greet his new guests.
"Humph, who're you? What d'you want? My time's precious; you may go, Miss Goldeneye. Well?"
The fact he knew perfectly well who the two women were, and their business with him, did not escape Fiona and Alice. Well used to persons more interested in their own worth than otherwise, the ladies now fell into their Meeting-plan A, Fiona leading the way with chin in the air and a cold tone to her voice.
"Who're you, ducks? Got any right t'be invadin' this here Palace Ball-room, have you? Got any credentials? We both, over here on the other side of this stupid wooden barrier, bein' dam' good detectives. Any funny business about ya, an' we'll have you in the hoosegow in half an hour, dead t'rights. Well?"
Here Alice stepped in with her ten-cents worth, before the shocked man could recover enough to make any kind of a reply.
"We know everything about the loss of your book, Mr Whoever y'are." She grinned icily; not an expression to make any man with a guilty conscience feel any better about same. "We also know the cops have been made aware of the situation. You called for our help; we're here t'deliver same, an' if you want t'go on playing silly childish I'm superior to you games, well, Fiona and I will just turn around, go to the Fifth Precinct, and tell Inspector Fletcher he need not pursue the matter any further; you clearly not wanting to take our help in any meaningful way. So, goodbye, Mr Whoever the dam' you are—see you around. Come Fiona, we are not wanted here; this child is obviously too immersed in his immature ego to notice his betters when they come to visit."
Like two automatons locked together by intricate hidden wires the detectives swivelled on their heels and, as one, made for the door; leaving their interlocutor a shattered wreck behind his immense desk—its vast bulk having been no defence against the worst most embarassing telling-off he had ever received.
"Ah-Ah-er, wait-ah, stop. I mean, will you reconsider? Please come back; we can talk, can't we?"
Having achieved the exact effect they had planned Fiona and Alice halted just by the door, paused silently and dramatically, then slowly turned to face the defeated librarian.
"Put that way, OK." Fiona was still determined not to give an inch, though. "Y'know, Mr Leander, you really need'ta work on your social skills, vis-à-vis meetin' people. Alice here, an' I, probably make at least three times as much in salary a year as you do, just sayin'. We have a huge amount of experience catching crooks, deadbeats, and gangsters; far more experience in our particular field than you've ever amassed about Literature. Maybe you should think about being a trifle more polite t'people in future? Before someone, at the cutting edge of your tongue like we've just experienced, decides to make a return visit to these hallowed halls,—with a baseball bat. Get what I'm sayin', laddie?"
By this time Mr Leander had been shocked into silence and immobility; making no sound or motion as the women seated themseleves on the hard wooden chairs dispersed on that side of the sea of wood marking time as his desk. Again, Fiona led for the Defence.
"So, let's start again; leavin' the mano-a-mano competition, as the Spanish say, aside, OK?"
"—'cause, Mr Leander, Fiona and I'll win every time at that game; believe me." Alice stoking the fires of annihilation on her own account.
The ensuing silence was so profound that Alice, later speaking to her inamorata, was sure that, over in the series of high bookcases lining the wall opposite the row of windows, she could clearly hear a bookworm going about its day-to-day lawful purposes. Then the Adminstrator struggled to the surface once more; though clearly now a mere chastened and subdued shadow of his former self.
"I, er, I, er,—" He leaned forward to grip the edge of his desk, for moral as well as physical support. "Yes, yes; I mean, yes;—er, you've come about the Lascennes Folio, of course."
"What d'ya know about it, Mr Leander?" Fiona snapping this question out like a Sergeant-major in front of a quivering group of slovenly soldiers. "Where is it?"
Mr Leander, assaulted by this question almost like receiving a bayonet thrust right in the solar plexus, was once again reduced to incoherency; it taking some considerable time for him to recover.
"I-I-I; that is, I have no idea." His mouth, surrounded by plump lips, looked as if he wished to start dribbling. "It was bought, over in England; it was given into the hands of a respectable and trusted courier; and since then, nothing. That's all."
"Which, in itself, ain't anywhere near enough." Alice setting out the basic standard by which the firm of Drever and Cartwright meant to operate. "We'll need a lot more'n that, by a long way. What ship was the courier supposed to arrive on?"
Mr Leander mopped his brow with a silk handkerchief printed in vivid red and light green squares—the ladies' averting their stunned eyes.
"The SS Philopus, a Blue Funnel liner." He frowned, puffing out his formidable cheeks by way of a safety valve. "We contacted the Captain at the time, who put us onto the Purser, who put us onto the Boarding Lieutenant, who said everything was in order."
The ladies had enormous experience in listening to garbled and half-cocked stories about what went forward where and when; no one of any set of witnesses ever telling the same tale in the same way. Leander, as he burbled and gibbered across the desk from them, being a classic case.
"In order, how?" Alice trying for the heart of the matter.
"—er, he reported, the Lieutenant that is, that according to his Passenger List Mr Shankley, the courier, had left in the ordinary manner, along with the majority of the other passengers."
"He left the ship under his own steam, apparently with the Folio?" Fiona striving to elicit as clear a set of facts as possible. "Did any anyone, passenger or officer, ever see the book during the voyage? Was it known for certain he left the ship with it in his custody?"
By this time Leander was flustered beyond redemption; sweating visibly, and beginning to shake with worry, obviously a spent force.
"You'll—you'll, ah, have to see Miss Goldeneye about those details; I having left the matter wholly in her hands; having, as you will readily understand, so much important Library business already I could not give any time to the unfortunate incident."
This abandoning of the ship as it metaphorically sank with all hands was too much for Alice to bear silently.
"You couldn't be bothered to investigate the loss of a Shakespeare First Folio, because you had better things to do? Jee-sus, how big is your ego, I got'ta ask? Jee-sus."
With this vituperation ringing in his guilty ears Fiona and Alice rose, once more as one, and exited the vast silly office without once looking back; something very like a soft moan or groan being the last they heard of the Administrator as the door closed behind them.
"Goldeneye's Domain?" Alice nearly gnashing her teeth in despair, or anger, or, very likely, both.
"You got it, babe."
The return journey to Miss Goldeneye's office along interminable corridors on the ground floor, their ceilings two storeys high, felt like parading through a Roman Emperor's palace, or a Court building; the Library having that sort of aura about it. The fact their heels cracked on the faux marble flagstones like mighty hammers on steel plate not helping their thought processes as they continued on their way.
"Jeez, can't hear myself think." Alice being cuttingly sarcastic about the whole concern. "Which is the exact opposite of what I took a Library's raison d'être to be, lover."
On reaching Miss Goldeneye's private nook, now looking somewhat more similar to a small cardboard box than previously after their experience of Leander's palatial premises, they found her prepared and ready—a tray with a large coffee-pot on her desk awaiting their appearance.
"Pour your own, dears; so, you've survived the lion's den, then? What did you think of our Lord and Master?"
"I know what Leander can go and do with himself, that's for sure." Alice carefully pouring three cups of the brew that revives. "But between us Fay and I put him in his place, pretty much. Sarcastic little sh-t, that he is."
"Oo-er." Miss Goldeneye hardly prepared for this level of open-handedness.
Having settled around her cluttered desk, hardly in itself four feet long and two wide, the trio fell to discussing the only topic of importance covering the affair so far.
"What struck me as Fay and I came back from him, was the lack of customers hereabouts." Alice brooding on a subject of moment to her. "I mean, where are the Public, taking out books and what-not? The place's deserted."
"It is a reference library." Miss Goldeneye pinning the tail to the donkey with unerring diligence.
"Meaning?" Fiona as interested in the answer as her cohort. "Nice coffee, by the way."
"Thanks, I bring in my own; much better than the slop rationed out by the Library, I assure you." Ann smiling widely. "If you're ever offered a cup from anyone else here, don't accept, believe me."
"—er, the Public; or lack of such?" Alice cold-bloodedly bringing the conversation back on track.
"Oh-ah, yes, of course." Slightly flustered Miss Goldeneye replaced her cup on its saucer before replying. "Well, this place being a Reference Library only, means there isn't much need—er, I mean, rationale—er, reason for members of the Public to attend the place."
"A lot'ta words; but like I asked before, what do they mean and where are the folks in the street?" Alice showing the iron fist below the velvet glove.
Faced with no other course, Miss Goldeneye came clean.
"Still out on the sidewalks, I'm afraid; with no earthly likelihood of their ever entering the hallowed halls of this establishment in their lifetimes, for sure." She had the curtesy to look embarassed as she continued. "We stock only highly technical works; aimed at the Higher echelons of Education; and, of course, rare and esoteric ancient volumes of great historical value; of use and interest only to those of University level educations. The works we have on our shelves would be no earthly use to the outsider—er, the ordinary member of the Public."
Alice considered this proposition, then rejected it with distaste.
"Mighty high-falutin'." She compressed her lips into those of someone just having eaten a lemon whole. "No Murder mysteries? No Detective novels? No Thrillers? No sexy biographies of Film Stars? No Hot Stuff in general? Jeez, how do you make a profit?"
"Yeah, in these circumstances, where'd ya get enough dough t'buy Shakespeare Folios'—just askin'?" Fiona putting her tuppence-worth in simply to twist the knife.
Having risen from her bed that morning with a slight headache and the feeling it wasn't going to be one of her good days, Miss Goldeneye now acknowledged her supposition had been correct across the board.
"Well, we have, er, supporters, er, subscribers,—uum, sponsors; people who give charitable donations to, er, help the Library along, you know."
"Tax deductible?" Alice pricking up her accountant's ears.
"Thought so. So much for Charity." Alice unashamedly showing her true colours.
A silence reigned as all three took refuge in Miss Goldeneye's truly delicious coffee.
"So, what about this SS Philopus?" Fiona bringing the Board to order once more.
"Docked in Delacote Harbor ten days ago." Miss Goldeneye consulting a form on her desk. "We contacted the Captain three days later, the courier not having turned up, you see."
"What happened then?" Fiona raising enquiring eyebrows. "We got a garbled version from the Leander, but we'd like yours better, probably."
"Well," Miss Goldeneye shrugging as she recalled the events of the last week. "he told us he'd see his Purser about it. The next day we had a call from the Purser saying he'd placed the matter in the hands of the Boarding Lieutenant; whoever, or whatever, that might have been. The next day we had a call from the Boarding Lieutenant asking what the problem was, everything having passed-off according to Hoyle as far as his dis-embarking records showed. Mr Shankley having departed to ports unknown along with the majority of the other passengers on their reaching Delacote."
Fiona and Alice mused on these facts; mulling over one thing then another, to no clear purpose.
"Doesn't tell us much." Alice hitting the mark first time. "Need more'n that."
"Anyone got a physical description of this Mr Shankley?" Fiona grasping at straws. "That might help. Have the authorities over in England been informed about all this, by the way?"
"Yes, we had a message from Scotland Yard just two days ago." Miss Goldeneye perked up as she recalled this unexpected event. "Rather curious; he, the Inspector, can't remember his name offhand, asked if we knew anything about a Mr Joesy 'Jack Flash' Arbuthnot; apparently someone well-known to the Yard. What the connection was, I haven't as yet discovered."
Alice turned to her compatriot with a worried frown.
"Fay, I got me a curious feeling, myself, about this here odyssey."
"Like what, lov—er, lady?"
"Like what, for instance, if the original courier—this respected and trusted Mr Shankley—wasn't?"
"Wasn't what, dear?"
"To be trusted or respected." Alice hitting the barrel first ball. "Say, for instance, he takes the Folio, finds a private buyer unknown to anyone, skips to, oh, I don't know, somewhere on the Continent; leaving this 'Jack Flash' to impersonate him on the voyage to America, grasping an attache case full of nothing but air. Jack vanishes somewhere safe on arrival over here; while Shankley completes his private sale on the Continent, then retires to Deauville to live out the rest of his days amongst luxury and easy women without number?"
Fiona considered this interesting theory, taking it from every direction; then came to a conclusion.
"Al, you're on top form t'day, no kiddin'. Miss Goldeneye?"
"You've just heard my partner—she bein' some on the ball, an' no mistake." Fiona nodded in satisfaction. "You've engaged us to investigate this missing volume from this end—here in New Hampshire, I mean. When, in fact, the Folio probably hasn't ever left the confines of England and the Continent. There's been a double-blind pulled on ya, is what."
"You were made t'believe the book was headed in one direction, over here; but, actually, it went in exactly the opposite direction, to somewhere on the Continent." Fiona sat back, now sure of her position. "Some mean-minded rich foreign dude, with more dough than moral worth, paid plenty t'this Shankley to become a turncoat. As we speak the Folio's almost certainly residing in some collector's secret bunker, being gloated over by the new unofficial owner. Jack Flash, meanwhile, having a gay old time in parts American unknown on his large salary for playing a part all the way over on the Philopus. Very nicely done, if I say so myself."
"That's what that English Inspector chap's talking about, referring to this Jack Flash character." Alice nodding contentedly in time with her lover. "He's probably got the Bobbies out in force tracking the weasily little shi—, er, guy down as we speak. You might even get a phonecall in the next few days saying an English police officer's on his way here in person."
While her partner discoursed on what-may-be's, Fiona had been thinking more about the general possibilities.
"What's that, dear?" Alice having been interrupted in full flow.
"Sorry, only, the Continent ain't so large as ya may suppose." Fiona continued her line of thought. "A thing like a Shakespeare Folio ain't gon'na disappear, even if taken feloniously by night. I mean, it's got a reputation; people know about it; it'll be so hot I wonder it don't scorch the new owner's fingers every time he touches it: what I'm sayin' is, all we have t'do is wait."
"For what, lov—er, Fay?" Alice just a little out of the loop.
"For someone to get a sniff of both its existence and probable whereabouts; then all we need t'do is sit back an' wait for the fabled honor among thieves to take effect."
"What honor amongst thieves?" Alice taking the realistic view. "Ain't no such thing."
"Exactly." Fiona triumphant. "Once knowledge of the Folio seeps out, around the general area of the owner's residence, there'll be an army of blackmailers or informers fighting each other t'tell the authorities where they can reclaim the missing tome. Only take time, is all."
This aspect of the convoluted history of the volume intrigued Alice; to such an extent, in fact, she discarded all her former theories as one bundle of worthless cargo, settling instead for something much more acceptable.
"Yeah, yeah—see where you're coming from, lover." She throwing caution to the winds in her excitement. "Well, you know what this means, dear?"
Fiona, a far sight calmer than her companion, turned to cast an enquiring eye over her volatile associate.
"What would that be, my friend?" She having a fair idea already, actually; knowing full well the way her lover's mind usually worked. "Tell all."
Nothing loath, Alice set to with a free and easy will, which was just what Fiona was afraid would happen.
"Here we all are, loafing around in New Hampshire; when we should all be over in England and France, on the still hot trail of the Folio—'cause, baby, that's where the dam' thing definitely is." Warming to her new concept of the working of the Infinite Spheres Alice went large. "We can hop on the SS Carinthia, it's pre-loading down at the Harbor as we sit here. What is it for the crossing? Four, five days? Then we can get to work in dear old Blighty. Visit Scotland Yard, stir them up, get some action out of them; hop on over to France, search Paris down to the last blind alley—what d'they call such, there? Oh yeah,-Impasse'. Like I said, Deauville's a likely starting point to pull Shankley out of his new lair; like using a pin to extract a winkle from its shell, if you follow me. Then putting the pinch on the scraggy new owner of the Folio should be child's play—don't you both agree?"
In reality Fiona, and to a much greater extent Miss Goldeneye, had stopped following Alice's mental processes virtually from the start of her diatribe. It was the Librarian, however, who first found strength and logic enough to bring a counter-attack.
"Miss, er, Drever—you can't possibly imagine the Library will countenance you both skipping,—I mean, taking a voyage to the Continent? Why, the cost would be prohibitive."
"Twenty-seven thousand dollars worth?" Alice producing her fatal counterblast like a card-sharper producing an ace. "You paid that for a book three hundred years old, sight unseen. What's a few hundred dollars more, t'get the dam' thing back? Only saying."
But Miss Goldeneye had an irrefutable retort to this.
"Mr Leander would never give his approval to such a hair-brai—er, illogical step." The Deputy Head, European Man. and Texts, sniffing austerely at this inane proposal. "Put all such out of your heads; Europe, as far as you both are concerned, is staying where it is. No, that's not right. No,—you both, as far as Europe's concerned, are staying right here. Yes, that's what I meant."
Before Logic, as a philosophical concept, could twist itself into an even larger Gordian Knot Fiona took control.
"Nobody's talkin' about a sea voyage t'Europe, take it easy." She shook her head sadly. "Al, what are ya thinkin',—get a grip, woman? Miss Goldeneye, there's a likelihood, possibly a large one, that the Folio is on the Continent; but that's something the English authorites, and the European ones, will have to investigate. Al an' I would have no idea of how to start, in foreign climes like those. If you decide to take the investigation in that direction then we, Drever and Cartwright, will have'ta give it a miss, is all."
"Nice coffee, though." Fiona striving for the gentle goodbye, but failing.
The next day, hardly before the brilliant detectives had settled in their office in the Packer Building and brewed their first hit of morning coffee, the telephone began ringing imperiously; Alice taking the first call.
"What was that about, lover?" Fiona asking after Alice had replaced her receiver only to fall into deep thought.
"Oh, the Library—someone sayin' we shouldn't go out this morning, they'll have someone on the line soon with important news."
"Ah—were we goin' out anywhere?"
"Not that I know of, no."
"Well, that settles that question, then."
Five minutes later the telephone woke the echoes in the large office again.
"Jeez, can't a gal get any peace?" But Alice, all professional, took the call once more.
"Yeah—yeah—you don't say—I'll be dam'med—What? Oh, I only said I'd be dam'med—yeah, that's alright—what? I suppose so, but make it dam' quick, we got work of our own here, you know—yeah—yeah."
Replacing the receiver gently, as if it were a new-born puppy, Alice took time out for another silent foregathering with the Infinite—Fiona, as Honor bound, taking umbrage straight-off.
"Al, fer God's sake make free with the news—what in Hell's goin' on?"
Requested in such glowing terms to open a dialogue Alice gazed at her revered lover with a curious light sparkling in her eyes.
"You know what, darling?"
This was too much for Fiona, whose daily stock of patience had refused to rise from bed with her that morning.
"Love of My Life, but God, if ya don't start talkin' in the next thirty seconds I'll wreak vengeance an' disarray across the globe so awe-inspirin' it'll make that Assyrian in the poem look like a Sunday School preacher by comparison—What?"
Finding herself with her back against the wall, apropos punishment of a condign nature—Alice wondering gleefully exactly what that might amount to—she came clean.
"Miss Goldeneye—she says the Library's had a huge amount of telephone calls from Scotland Yard, over there in London—"
"I know where dam' Scotland Yard is, thank you."
"—the general trend of which is," Alice ignoring the gallery like a seasoned trouper. "the authorities over in France have caught not only Shankley—in his den of iniquity, surrounded by a bevy of houri's—but the guy who bought It as well."
"Yeah, just what I thought." Alice nodding her agreement. "Don't know how they did it—must be sharp characters, the police in France? Anyway, Miss Goldeneye says, with her Lord and Master's wholesale approval, he being in a good mood for once, that if we, Drever and Cartwright, want to busy ourselves looking for the piece o'crap who pretended to be someone he wasn't, amongst this whole stinkin' affair, then, why ain't we out on the streets, wearing out shoe-leather as we speak?"
"Hmm, it ain't much, but a job's a job—"
"An' a hard-earned salary's a hard earned salary from whichever angle you look at it." Alice concentrating on the point that mattered. "So, where d'we start?"
"Oh, no problem there; I'll take New Hampshire, you take the whole of the rest of the United States of America—shouldn't be more'n, oh, I don't know, thirty year before we make a break-through."
"Partner of my Heart."
"Love you, snookums."
"Love ya too, angel."
"That right, lady of my soul? Prove it."
"That's easy—you come right over here, and I'll kiss you like you've never been kissed before."
Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.