Saturday, February 19, 2011

WiP - This Rough Magic

It was always a dame, wasn’t it? In the dime novels, it was always a dame.
A smart and sassy society dame smelling of gardenias, with a fox stole thrown over her bony shoulders, and a mouth that would make a French maid blink. In real life, the dames Rafferty met were of a different breed. They wore Vogue Pattern #7313 and lines of worry in their tired faces. They came to him in the hope that he could locate a missing son or daughter -- or straying husband.
There had been one society dame. Rafferty had helped her get back some letters, and her marriage to a Texas oil tycoon had gone right ahead as scheduled. Every now and then she threw some business his way. He could only think that Mrs. Charles Constable was somehow to blame for the very handsome and very nervous young man currently perched on the uncomfortable chair in front of Rafferty’s desk.
The chair squeaked as Brett Sheridan, of the Nob Hill Sheridans, gave another of those infinitesimal shifts like a bird on a cracking tree limb. Sheridan’s eyes--wide and green as the water in San Francisco Bay--met Rafferty’s and flicked away.
Yes, a very handsome young man. From that raven’s wing of soft dark hair that kept falling in his wide, long-lashed eyes, to the obstinate jut of his chiseled chin.
Not so young, but not so old either. Twenty six? Twenty seven maybe? Sheltered, most certainly. The Brett Sheridans of the world were always sheltered. Right up to the moment the world decided to puncture their bicycle tires. Still, a nice ride while it lasted.
Rafferty said, “And you think your sister took this, what d’you call it, folio?”
Sheridan had a nice voice too. Low and a little husky, not too affected though he’d obviously spent time at a fancy New England boarding school. “Not Kitty. The thug she’s running around with.”
“Harry Sader.”
“Right. Do you know him?”
Rafferty’s mouth quirked. He reined himself in ruthlessly. “Despite how it looks, I’m not on nodding acquaintance with every bum in town.”
“No. Quite.” Sheridan’s color rose. Rafferty tried to recall what the story was on him. There was some story. That much he did remember. “I just thought that in your line of work you might have crossed paths before.”
“I’ve heard of him. He runs with Kip Mullen’s gang.” He could have told Sheridan a story or two about those boys that would have curled his hair, but scaring the client was rarely good business. “Explain to me again what this folio is?”
“It’s a book or a pamphlet. In this case it’s a book of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.” Sheridan bit his lip rather boyishly. “I suppose, technically, it’s a quarto, but I admit I don’t fully understand the difference. The only thing I know for certain is it’s the earliest printed version of the play. It was printed in the sixteenth century, nearly a decade before the First Folio.”
Rafferty opened his mouth and then closed it. It probably didn’t matter, right?
“And this folio that is or isn’t the first folio is worth a bundle?”
“It’s not the First Folio. That was printed in 1623. It contains thirty six of Shakespeare’s plays, nineteen of which previously appeared in separate, individual editions. All the separate editions are quartos except for one octavo. But Mr. Lennox refers to it as a folio. The Tempest, that is.”
Rafferty could feel his eyes starting to spin. He resisted the temptation to hang onto his desk.  “This thing is worth a bundle?”
“It’s priceless.”
“Sure, but I bet the insurance company tagged it with a dollar amount.”
“Mr. Lennox is very wealthy. The insurance money means nothing to him. He wants the folio back.”
“The quarto.”
“Correct. He wants it back at any cost.”
“Ah. He’d pay a king’s ransom?”
Sheridan nodded unhappily.
“And the last time anyone saw the-folio-that’s-really-a-quarto was the night of your engagement party?”
“Last night. Correct. Mr. Lennox hosted a garden party for us -- Juliet and me -- at his home in Pacific Heights.”
“And you immediately jumped to the conclusion that your sister’s beau was responsible?”
“There isn’t anyone else likely.”
Rafferty dropped his pencil and pushed back in his chair. “That so? All swell society folk with arm-long pedigrees, were they?”
There was that delicate wash of color again. Not exactly what you expected from hale and healthy young Harvard bucks. Not unless they were given to unwholesome activities like painting watercolors or writing feverish poetry. Or worse. Rafferty was pretty sure worse was the not the rumor he’d heard. He’d likely have remembered that.
“No. That is… Yes.”
“Which is it? No or yes?”
 “It wasn’t my immediate thought, no,” Sheridan said stiffly. “But Kitty was acting so…so oddly. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized what must have happened. Sader took the folio and Kitty knows about it.”
“You mean she was his accomplice?”
Sheridan’s mouth thinned down to a line. His jaw lived up to the promise of that obstinate chin. “Maybe.”
“And you want me to find this folio and return it to its proper owner, your fiancée’s father?”
“Yes. That’s part of it. Mr. Lennox has given the culprit seven days to return the folio. After that, he’s going to the police.”
“Why the stall? Why didn’t he ring for the cops last night?”
“Because--because it’s obvious to everyone that the crime was what you’d call an inside job.”
“Well, that’s one thing I might call it.”
“Perpetrated by one of the Lennox’s guests. Lennox is trying to save…someone from social ruin.”
“Not to mention prison.”
Sheridan paled. “Yes.”
“Okay. Seven days to find this book or whatever it is and return it to old man Lennox. What’s the rest of it?”
“I want you to convince Sader to keep his mouth shut about Kitty’s involvement--if any--and to get him to agree to stay away from her.”
“That’s a tall order. Doesn’t Kitty have a say in all this?”
Sheridan’s throat moved as he swallowed. “No.”
“And how am I supposed to convince Sir Lancelot to give up the Lady of the Loot?”
Sheridan’s chin lifted. He said unconscious arrogance, “I understood from Pat that you’re reasonably inventive.”
“Pat Constable. She’s the one who referred me to you. You to me. Anyway, I should think that the threat of jail would be sufficient to steer Sader away from Kitty.”
Rafferty’s brows rose. “You want me to blackmail him?”
“I don’t want to know anything about it. I just want Kitty out of his clutches.”
Rafferty managed not to laugh. The Brett Sheridans of the world did not like to be laughed at, even when they were talking what they would probably refer to as poppycock. Rafferty would have referred to it as something else, but not in polite company, and this company was about as polite as it got. Requests for blackmail and intimidation not withstanding.
“All right,” he said.
Sheridan’s eyes widened. “You’ll do it?”
“Wasn’t that the idea?”
“Yes. I just wasn’t sure--didn’t think it would be this simple.”
“Yeah, well, it sounds straightforward enough. Right up my alley.” Rafferty tried to look suitably disreputable. He didn’t have to try hard these days.  
“There’s a time element to all this--”
“Seven days. I didn’t miss it. And it’ll cost you more.” Rafferty named a figure that should have made the sensitive Mr. Sheridan blanch. He didn’t bat an eye as he reached inside his Scotch wool topcoat and withdrew a leather wallet. He counted out the crisp notes.
“You always carry this much cash?” Rafferty inquired taking the bills, folding them, and tucking them in the breast pocket of his suit.
“Pat told me you weren’t cheap.”
Rafferty snorted. “I’ve been called many things, but never cheap.”
Sheridan’s lashes flicked up and he gave Rafferty a long, direct look. So direct a look, in fact, that Rafferty wasn’t quite sure he was reading it correctly.
“What will your first move be?”
Rafferty blinked. “Huh?”
“How will you proceed with the case?”
“Are you sure you want to know? It’ll probably be necessary to, er, bend the rules a little….”
Sheridan drew back as though from a flame. “No. You’re quite right. It’s better if I don’t know. But you’ll…keep me posted on your progress? There’s so little time.”
Rafferty rose from behind his desk, and Sheridan rose too, automatically. “The minute I find anything out, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Right. Of course,” Sheridan said doubtfully. “Thank you.”
“No, no,” Rafferty replied urbanely. He was starting to enjoy himself. “Thank you.

            Gee.” Linda’s tone was wistful. “He even smells beautiful.”
“That’s Lenthéric aftershave, sugar.” Rafferty turned from the grimy window as Brett Sheridan’s tan V-8 convertible sedan sped away down
California Street
. “He fills the suit out all right, but if he’s got the brains of a Pekingese I’ll eat my hat.”
Linda laughed. She was a blonde bit of a girl, barely five feet in her socks. Not that Rafferty had seen her in her socks--or anything but those prim little numbers she wore on the Saturdays, Mondays, and Wednesdays she manned his front office. He’d met her--rescued her, if you took her word for it--the morning she’d escaped with hours-old Baby William from the Drake Home for Unwed Mothers.
“Do we have a case?”
Rafferty reached into his pocket and showed her the wad of bank notes.
Linda gasped. “Who do you have to kill?”
            “This is honest dough for honest labor. I may have to rough Harry Sader up a little.”
Linda’s big brown eyes went saucer-like. “Harry Sader?”
“He’s managed to get his claws into Little Lord Fauntleroy’s big sister. I’m going to encourage him to let go--among other things.”
“What other things?”
“Our client thinks Harry stole a book.”
“I didn’t know Harry could read.”
“I guess it’s a very valuable book, and it would keep Harry in gin and greyhounds for the foreseeable future.”
“Harry Sader is trouble.”
Rafferty flashed her a grin. “Trouble is my business.” He reached for his hat.
* * * * *