He had promised Sykes that he would try to keep out of trouble, but now the name Prenderville had come up, Harry would ask the Detective his opinion of them first before he did anything he might regret.
If they were behind the first kidnapping, Harry suspected, if there was going to be a second, they would have learned from their previous mistakes and he would never be seen again.
That also, Harry considered, may happen to his father if he was, in some way, involved with them. And, by the nature of his absence, and the tenor of his note to his mother, his father had stumbled in their direction, and he was trying to keep his family safe.
On that score, his father had failed.
But Harry had one more problem to surmount before he left that office, and it came in the form of the devil, Alicia Wentworth.
She’d been waiting for Harry to come out of the rat’s nest as she called it, particularly to see him. Since most of the time Harry visited the office she made herself scarce and dealt as little as possible with others of the family, he was not so much surprised as he was curious.
“You’ve been down in the dungeon weaving plots with the white witch, have you?”
Grandmother Giselle called Alicia the black witch mostly because she chose to wear black clothes. Grandmother Alicia called Giselle the white witch because she pretended to be nice to everyone, including Giselle, but harbored murderous thoughts.
A few people other than Giselle did that. Alicia was not a woman who made friends easily and was prone to speaking her mind. It may have impressed Harry’s grandfather, but it didn’t cut it with a lot of other people, especially those with influence.
Harry’s father had been known to liken her to a poisoned chalice.
Harry’s older brother lusted after her, and the younger despised her as much as their father.
Harry was very glad he didn’t work in this office.
“Damn. Sprung again. Can’t fool you, can I?”
Harry always found a congenial approach always worked, though she had lashed out once or twice, but not without provocation. Harry thought himself now older and wiser.
“You hear about your father?” she asked him.
“Word travels fast.”
“The walls have ears. Let’s go to my office.”
Her office, of course, used to be his grandfather’s, the most elegant and largest in the practice. His father had tried to move in the day my grandfather died, and the next, Alicia had his stuff thrown out into the passage.
Her husband, her office.
My father’s notion that he was next in line for the office and the head of chambers had been hotly contested and narrowly won. To say he was still on a knife-edge was an understatement. But as head of chambers didn’t get him the office.
She waited until he had passed into the kingdom’s antechamber, one step removed from the throne room, and closed the door behind him. Her personal assistant was not at her usual seat. She ushered me through herself, and then closed that door too.
The cone of silence, it reminded Harry of, out of old episodes of a television show called Get Smart. There was also the same comic value.
She sat in her seat, and he sat opposite. He felt like an errant schoolboy having been summoned by the headmaster.
“Your father is a fool.” Her opening statement was to either annoy him or be her opinion of him. If it was the latter, it hadn’t changed since the first day she met him.
“Twenty plus years of hard work trying to change your mind hasn’t worked then?”
“So, you think screwing two clients and three personal assistants is not a good reason to call him a fool.”
Harry did not know about the clients. But what had started with his grandfather had been inherited by his father, and then by his older brother. Only she had made my grandfather marry her when she became pregnant. Or not as the case may be as she mysteriously had a miscarriage after she had landed the big fish.
No more children had ensued. She hated the idea.
Harry shook my head. “As bad as that sounds, you cannot take the moral high ground here. Not with me. But, as you say, at least my grandfather didn’t screw the clients. Who in particular?”
“He wouldn’t tell me. All he said was that this new client would be the turning point, the start of an upward trajectory. His words. I thought he was on drugs. Since then I have neither seen or heard from this client, and he’s disappeared. I suspect it might be with one of the client’s wives. Do you have any idea what he’s up to?”
“No. As far as my mother’s concerned, he’s gone missing, but not necessarily with another woman. But it’s not the first time he’s done this, and won’t be the last.” Harry decided not to tell her about the note.
“I’m surprised she’s still with him.”
“I was surprised you remained with my grandfather after he cheated on you. I’m willing to bet my mother stays with my father for the same reason you did.”
Secrets, Harry knew a few. Some that no one else knew. That one he’d kept to himself, an ace to play when he needed to. It seemed like the right occasion.
“And,” I added, “don’t bother trying to make excuses or lie. I have photographic evidence. It was my first case.”
“You were fifteen.”
“I knew then what I wanted to be. Uncles, Grandfathers, fathers, and brothers, I had all the material I needed to hone my skills as a private detective. Cheats, liars, and sometimes worse. I’m not holding it against you, only to say the pot can’t call the kettle black.”
The old saying, very appropriate.
“Alright. Point of order to you.”
“Have you got anything else more substantial than rumors fuelled by hatred?”
“I know who the woman is, and I think I know where they are.”
“And you’re going to tell me this, why?”
“At first out of malice. Now, seeing you, and I’m guessing you’re here because there has been a development, and it would be remiss of me if I kept it to myself and something happened to him.”
Contrition didn’t sit well on her shoulders.
She took an envelope out of the top drawer and handed it to me. “It’s all I know. Don’t open it here, and don’t ask any questions. I don’t want anyone to know what I’ve told you.”
If the woman was a Prenderville Harry could understand why. If it was not, he would be back if he had to.
“I’ll try to keep your part in it anonymous.”
With no more to say, he left. Outside the outer sanctum Harry stopped for a moment to see just how badly he was shaking, and, yes, to breathe again. That woman could reduce any man to a gibbering idiot in three minutes. He’d been in there more than five.
© Charles Heath 2020