A Death in Sheffield
Soft-footed, Artemis approached the Innkeeper at his desk, and asked in a low voice, “Excuse me—may I speak with you privately, for a moment?”
Eager to grant any request for his exalted guest, the man stepped out and bowed low. “Certainly, my lady.”
“I’m afraid my friend, Lady Tallyer, is quite drunk.”
Aghast, the man stared at her, as Artemis nodded sadly. “It is true; she is passed out in the private parlor.”
“Goodness—this is most unfortunate—” the man stammered.
“Yes. I wondered if I could enlist a servant or two to carry her to her room with as little fuss as possible, and then I will sit with her until she recovers. The least said the better, of course.” Privately, Artemis hoped the servants here gossiped as much as they did at Stanhope House.
“Of course—of course; allow me to call for assistance.”
Artemis supervised the transport of the unconscious woman to her room upstairs, where she instructed the servants to lay her down on the bed. “Thank you,” she told them gravely. “I will sit with her, whilst she sleeps it off.”
Eying the woman’s prone form askance, the two men bowed and exited, followed by Katy, who closed the door behind them after giving Artemis a conspiratorial wink.
Artemis pulled a chair up beside the bed, checked her pistol, and laid it on her lap. She then settled in to wait, hoping it wouldn’t be too long.
After an hour, a soft tapping pattern could be heard on the door, and Artemis lifted her pistol and held it on the doorway. Without waiting for a response, an unknown man entered and then froze in the doorway as he took in the tableau before him. Artemis recognized the grey eyes of the Bow Street Investigator—now dressed as the gatekeeper, complete with a beard and cap. “Sir,” she said in an even tone, as the man stared down the barrel of her pistol. “I must beg a word with you.”
“You have my undivided attention.” He sketched a little bow as he turned to close the door, and she saw his hand slide toward his waistband.
“Hold.” She pulled back the hammer of her pistol with a click, and wondered how many more times this fine day she’d be required to hold someone at gunpoint. “There’d be none to gainsay me, were I to shoot a gatekeeper bent on ravishment. Show me your hands, and you will suffer no harm from me—which is more than I can say of you.”
Slowly, he turned back to face her, holding his hands where she could see them. “On the contrary; I dare not harm you—your husband is vehement in your defense.”
“As well he should be; I am true. And I do not appreciate your making him miserable, so let us put an end to it.”
The gentleman stood at his ease, but Artemis had the impression he was on high alert, and carefully assessing enemy terrain. “How so?”
“I am tired of trying to determine what is afoot here, and so I would appreciate it if you would tell me straight-out what it is you are trying to vex me into doing.”
He answered without hesitation, “I would like you to give your doll to Miss Valdez.”
Artemis stared at him. “Truly?”
“Truly,” he assured her.
Her brows snapped together. “Oh; oh—I am such an idiot. You have switched the plates; that’s why the doll was opened.”
Bowing his head in acknowledgement, he continued, “I would appreciate it if you would make a show of reluctance, nonetheless.”
“I will,” she agreed. “How are the new ones different?”
“I am afraid I do not care to discuss the matter further. Perhaps you will be kind enough to set down your weapon.”
But Artemis did not move, and said slowly, “This one—” she indicated Lady Tallyer with her head. “Are you certain she is true?”
He cocked his head, and regarded her narrowly. “Explain yourself.”
With reluctance, Artemis admitted, “Nothing specific; only a feeling I have.”
The other made an impatient gesture. “Your husband has been a bachelor for some time; if you are going to enact a Cheltenham tragedy every time you meet one of his former lovers, you will have a very rocky road of it.”
But Artemis would not be taunted. “You are trying to vex me again,” she replied in an even tone, “But I assure you, Miss Valdez is the more trustworthy of the two.”
He made a derisive sound. “We must disagree, then.”
“Who is the Rebecca, who seeks to steal the birthright?”
The grey eyes regarded her without expression. “I have no idea.”
“No,” she replied with a frown. “Neither do I.”
There was a pause, and then he asked, “Where is my lord Droughm, this fine evening?”
Artemis matched his impassive tone. “I have no idea.”
With narrowed eyes, he made it clear he did not appreciate her impertinence. “Do not trifle with me.”
“No, sir,” she said steadily.
He watched her without speaking for a moment, and then asked, “Are we quite finished?”
“We are; although I will warn you that if you cause any harm to Droughm—any injury whatsoever—I promise I will hunt you down, and put a period to your miserable existence.”
“You terrify me,” he said with a full dose of derision, and then turned to open the door, and slip out.
He doesn’t like me much—not that I care, Artemis decided as she stood to remove Lady Tallyer’s shoes and cover her with a blanket. She had a lot to think about, as she performed these services—the plates had been switched, and presumably the new plates could be traced. Did this mean the counterfeiting would be allowed to continue? There seemed little benefit to switching the plates, if the process was to be shut down as soon as Droughm seized control. Or perhaps—here she paused, thinking—or perhaps they wished to be certain the scheme would not simply pick up and make a new start elsewhere—the new plates were presumably not as good a counterfeit, and could be easily spotted, unlike the old ones. Whatever the reason, it seemed evident they did not mean to arrest Miss Valdez on her receipt of them, but instead they wished to see what she would do with them next.
Artemis gave up trying to puzzle it out—perhaps she would never discover the reason behind the subterfuge. With one last look at her unconscious companion, she locked the door behind her, and returned to her rooms.
It was late when Droughm carefully rested his weight on the bed, but despite his efforts, the movement woke her, and she sleepily moved over to him, receptive. He needed no further urging and wordlessly took her in his arms as he rolled his warm body atop hers, his mouth searching in the dark.
There was something to be said for lovemaking born of remorse; the man went out of his way to please, and as a result, she lay in an aftermath of drowsy contentment, feeling as though her bones were made of jelly.
“Who was the noisy one, tonight?” he murmured, very pleased with himself.
“You are a master,” she murmured in response. “I will ask how it went with the Coroner, when I can muster up some energy.”
“I am cautiously optimistic.” He nuzzled her neck.
“That is to the good; I had my own conversation with the gatekeeper, this evening.” Earlier, she’d debated whether to tell Droughm of it, but then decided that she would always be honest with him—she was more soldier than spy, and didn’t know how to be otherwise.
His mouth paused on her neck, and she could feel his wariness. “Did you?”
“Yes; I will need you to go on some sort of errand tomorrow morning so that I can give my doll to Miss Valdez. Although I’m supposed to feign reluctance, so I hope I can be half-way convincing.”
There was a pause, and then Droughm began to laugh—such a glorious sound, she hadn’t heard it in a few days. “Good God, Artemis; what have you done?”
“I took matters into my own hands,” she replied complacently. “I happen to think there is nothing more important than the truth.”
“How did this come about?”
“I held him at gunpoint, I’m afraid. He is not very happy with me.”
“Good God, I should have liked to see his face—he doesn’t like to be outwitted.” He laughed again.
It was so wonderful to hear his laughter, to feel his relief. She rubbed her cheek against his chest, feeling the coarse hair on her skin and thinking it was all—finally—coming to an end, so they could settle into some semblance of a normal life.
“How tired are you?” he whispered, his hands drifting down the sides of her hips.
“I suppose we will find out,” she murmured in reply.