Alexandra Tennant: The truth will make you flee

Previous: Philip Tennant: a passing kindness

The sick bed of Jocelyn – A father’s care – Questions – Glad to see some, others not so much – Answers

These are the golden rules of the Algernon Rifle club.

1. Never point a firearm at any creature you are not prepared
to kill. Be aware at all times where your firearm is pointing.

2. Faith is not a virtue when handling firearms. Believing that
a rifle is clean, that a rifle is not loaded, that the safety is
on, that there is nobody ahead, has cost people their lives. Do
not believe. Know.

3. On the range, follow the instructions of the marshal exactly,
promptly, and without question. If you are the marshal, you are
the law. Act accordingly.

4. The rifle you are given is your responsibility for the duration
of the session. The session ends when the rifle is clean, oiled,
and securely locked away.

5. The highest scorer of the session is officially entitled to
the last biscuit in the jar.

— Alexandra Tennant, “Statutes of the Algernon Rifle Club”

“Oh drat!”

I looked up from my copy of the Gazette. Next to me, Jocelyn was sitting bolt upright in her bed, staring ahead of her.

“What’s the matter?” I put down the newspaper.

“What’s the time? My history test! I spent absolutely ages studying for it!”

“They’ll let you sit it later, don’t worry.”

Jocelyn lay back down. “Blast it. Spent three evenings learning all those bloody dates. All those stupid nations and whose side they were on.”

I kept my face completely straight. “That will serve you well later in life.”

Jocelyn gave me a hard look. “You’re selling me a dog, aren’t you?”

“Only a little one. How are you feeling?”

She thought a while. “Alright, I guess… Those doctors have some good dope here. Out like a light.” Her eyes opened wide. “What about you? Are you hurt?”

I pulled open my hospital gown, showing a plaster on my ribs. “Have had worse. And it could have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for you.” I reached out with my hand and touched her shoulder. “Thank you.”

“Any time,” said Jocelyn. She breathed in. “God, I actually shot someone. Oh damn am I getting arrested? They’re not gonna send me to prison are they?”

“Not for this,” I said. “This was legitimate self defence. Mind you, if they find the rest of the bodies…”

Jocelyn chuckled. “They’ll never find them. They’re too well hidden.”


The door opened at the end of the hospital ward, and a boy came in, He quickly looked round, saw me and Jocelyn, and came towards us. I gave him a smile.

“Hello Nigel.”

“Hi,” said Jocelyn.

“I…” Nigel stared at Jocelyn. “I heard you got shot! Are you going to be alright?”

“You heard wrong,” said Jocelyn. “I shot someone else.”

“Oh…” Nigel stammered a bit. “Good.”

“Nice to know you approve. Anything else?”

“No… No. Glad you’re alright.”

Nigel and Jocelyn looked at each other for a few moments, then Nigel turned round and made for the door. I looked at Jocelyn as an older sister might, and pointed at Nigel’s back. She looked back at me with an expression that clearly said: “What?” Then she sighed.

“Nigel!” Jocelyn called.

He turned round. “What?”

“Thank you… for coming to see me.” She paused a moment. “I’ll lay off you now, promise.”

Nigel sneered. “Gee. Thanks.” He turned round and went out the door.

I shook my head at Jocelyn. “Throw yourself into his arms, why don’t you?”

Jocelyn flopped back onto the pillows. “It’s a good offer. Don’t knock it.”

Next to arrive was Dr. Bernhardt, a friendly man in his fifties. He took the bandage from my chest, and inspected the stitches. He seemed satisfied with what he saw, put some ointment on and covered it with a new bandage while Jocelyn looked on. With me seen to, he turned to Jocelyn, listened to her heart, shone a light into her eyes with a little gas torch, and nodded.

“We’ll have you out of here by tonight, young lady. We’ll arrange a few sessions for you with Dr. Schmidt, so you can get things off your chest, and then the world awaits you.”

“And what about my daughter?” Father stood by my bed, leaning on his cane. He had walked all the way from his study to the infirmary, but the look in his eye had nothing to do with any discomfort he mght have felt.

Dr. Bernhardt turned round. “A nasty cut, Mr. Tennant, but she is healing well. No infection.”

“Excellent, thank you Doctor,” said Father. “Alexandra? Are you ready? We have things to discuss.”

I moved my arms experimentally. “I’m fine.”

“No bones were broken?”

“None to speak of.”

“Up you get then.”

Dr. Bernhardt bristled at Father. “I have not discharged her yet! She needs more rest. She was stabbed, Mr. Tennant. You don’t just shrug that off. I want to keep her under observation for a day or two.”

“Nonsense! What she needs, Doctor, is to get out of here and take action to keep this from happening again. You may be used to treating vulnerable young children…” he turned to Jocelyn. “Meaning no offence, young lady.”

“None taken,” said Jocelyn, with a gleam in her eyes.

Father turned back to the Doctor. “But we Tennants are made of sterner stuff. We must find out who has, twice now, tried to harm Alexandra.”

Dr. Bernhardt sighed. “At least let her have breakfast. Surely you can wait that long to return to fighting in the trenches?”

Father tapped his finger on the back of a chair. “Very well then.”

Dr. Bernhardt picked up his clipboard, gave us all a stern look, then walked off as the breakfast trolley rolled in. Father turned round the chair, and sat down with a sigh. He turned to Jocelyn and took her hand.

“My dear,” he said, “You have saved Alexandra’s life, and I thank you. You are a lady of uncommon courage, and if there is anything I can do for you, you have only to name it.”

Jocelyn looked at Father with large dark eyes. “I’m not so sure about courage. I nearly wet myself.”

Father nodded. “And still you did what you needed to do. There is no shame in being afraid, Miss Jocelyn, as long as you do not let it keep you from your purpose. Courage under fire is the highest achievable honour, and you have achieved it. If ever you find yourself in the same situation again, I am sure you will…”

“Father,” I interrupted, “Breakfast.”

Breakfast turned out to be a hearty bowl of porridge, toast and marmalade, a hard boiled egg, and a pot of strong tea.

“Luxury!” said Father. “When I was in the Military, the sick were fed gruel made more of water than anything else. It put some backbone into them. In the South-American jungle, we ate only what we could find. And still we ate well, after we freed ourselves of our Western sensibilities. You can make an excellent stew of insect larvae and fungi, as long as the larvae are still alive and fresh, and you have positively identified the mushrooms as non-poisonous.”

Jocelyn gave Father a dark look. “Not for me. I’m a vegetarian. Squirming insects are not vegetable.”

“Ah. In that case, may I have that egg?”

“Don’t give it to him,” I said. “He’s trying to put you off your breakfast with army stories so he can have it.”

Jocelyn picked up her egg and handed it to Father. “Wouldn’t have eaten it anyway. Eggs don’t grow on trees, remember?”

Father, looking rather pleased with himself, tapped Jocelyn’s egg on the side of the table and started peeling it. Despite his calm and casual manner, I could see he was fretting, and I put away my breakfast as quickly as I could. I got up, and changed out of my hospital gown. I assured Jocelyn that she was still a member of the Rifle Club and she was more than welcome to the next session. Then, we walked off the hospital ward and into the hallway.

As we walked to Father’s study, I noticed that he was walking better than he had done yesterday afternoon. I could only attribute that to additional resolve. I was on his blind side, and he had to turn his head further than usual to look at me.

“Really,” said Father. “How are you?”

I didn’t answer for a moment.

“Angry,” I said, finally. “This woman has put my friends in danger. If Jocelyn hadn’t shot her, she might have slaughtered all of them to get rid of the witnesses.” I paused for a few steps. “And I’m angry at myself for allowing her. I should have been alone and awake. I thought she was a man the first time she attacked me.”

Father only nodded.

“You’re supposed to say that it’s not my fault,” I said.

“But you would know I’d be lying,” said Father. “You are my daughter. I’ve never wrapped you in cotton. You don’t deny your mistakes, you correct them.” Father smiled at me. “On the infrequent occasions that they happen.”

“Have the police been back already?”

After my first attack, I had given the Constable a brief and mostly accurate account of what had gone on. He had nodded understandingly, written it all down in his notebook, and gone his way.

Father nodded. “I told them to get lost till you woke up, and that you were in no condition to talk.”

“For I am a weak and feeble woman,” I said. “And there is never a fainting couch around when you need one.”

“They bought it, too.” Father laughed. “They don’t know you. But they’ll be back. We have only little time to make some inquiries of our own. We must find out where this assassin woman came from. Who hired her. How she, and not someone else, managed to get chosen as Algernon University staff. Follow the bread crumbs. Ultimately, we want to know who wants you dead.”

“And when we do,” I said, “I’ll put a bullet in their heads.”

“How is she?”

Dr. Bernhardt looked at me over the rim of his glasses.

“Good. She is stable, and with proper care I believe she will make a full recovery. She will have her day in court.”

“I need to talk to her.”

Dr. Bernhardt shook his head. “Out of the question. You yourself are recovering. You are not ready for such a confrontation. She has not spoken a single word, even to me. In fact, I’m not sure she even understands English. This would serve no purpose, and can only harm things.”

I leaned forward to the doctor, and caught his eye.

“This woman has tried to kill me twice. I need to know why.”

“And you believe she will open up to you? How were you thinking of achieving that? I will not allow it. These matters are best left to the police. In fact, you ought to be in bed.”

“I speak seven different African languages, including Arabic. I hardly believe P.C. Plod has the same advantage.”

“Miss Tennant,” said the Doctor, “The matter is closed. You will not speak with this woman. Now unless you want me to sedate you and strap you to a bed like her, please leave my office.”

I do look fairly attractive in a nurse’s outfit even if I say so myself. I’d liberated it from the laundry. I also had a tray with some of Father’s pills in a paper cup, and a glass of water. The copper on duty in front of her ward was quite taken in.

“Well good evening, nurse…” he took a good long time to read my name badge. “Tennant. I was expecting someone else.”

“It’s her day off,” I said. “Medicine for the cleaning lady.”

“Wasted on her, if you ask me,” said the copper. “She’s been refusing her medicine. So when is your day off?”

My laugh was sparkling as a waterfall on a summer’s day. “Naughty naughty. May I?”

“I can refuse you nothing.” The guard stepped aside. “For all the good it’ll do.”

“Thank you,” I said, with a brilliant smile. I am such an actress. If ever I give up shooting people, the Ipswich Shakespearean Society will be lucky to have me.

I walked into the ward. They had pulled her bed to the middle of the room. Her arms and legs were tied down with broad leather straps. I was reminded that Algernon University had a psychiatric ward where the criminally insane were studied. A place where I sincerely hoped I would never have to go, even as an observer.

As I walked closer, the woman’s eyes turned to me once, then looked away again. There was no sign that she had even recognised me. I put down the tray on a side table. I picked up the glass of water and put it to her lips. The water simply poured down her face, down her neck. I put the glass back on the tray and looked at her. From her disguise, I had assumed that she had been in her sixties. She had lines on her face, but she could not be older than perhaps late forty. Her sleeves were pulled up, and a bottle of saline solution hung above her, keeping her from becoming dehydrated. Another smaller bottle contained pain killer. Her arms were thin, but there was a wiry kind of muscular tone to them, and I knew from experience how strong she was. I checked if the straps were still tight, then I moved my face closer to hers.

“Why?” I asked.

She blinked, but otherwise her face was completely motionless.

“Don’t you have anything to say? Nothing personal? Just a job?”

Nothing. Not even a muscle moved on her face.

“You wanted to kill me. Fair enough, if that’s your job, but you would also have killed my young friends. And that, I’m a bit disappointed with.”

Her eyes were looking right at me, but even so, there wasn’t even the smallest sign that she even saw me. I stood up with a jerk. I looked round the room. In one of the glass cupboards, I saw a pair of heavy cutters, normally used to remove plaster casts. I took it out and held it up for her to see.

“You’re all doped up with painkiller. Good. That means you won’t feel any of this.”

I put the cutters to the little finger of her right hand. I looked at her. The blades were pressing down on her skin, and still not a muscle stirred on that face.

“This little piggy went to the market,” I said.

I tightened my hands on the cutters. She didn’t even brace herself. For all intents and purposes, she might as well have been somewhere else. I could probably cut off all her fingers and still achieve nothing. I could do nothing to this woman that would not put me in serious trouble, and she knew it. Putting my real name on my badge had been a calculated action. All I could be accused of now was dressing up as a nurse, much to the guard’s enjoyment. If I had used a false name, I would have been guilty of fraud. If I were actually to go through with this… torture, I would be guilty of much, much more than that. And to be honest, I lacked the stomach for it. I took away the cutters.

“Sod you,” I said. She might have given me a little smug smile, but even now, her face remained completely motionless. I picked up my tray, pocketed Father’s pills, drank the water, and left.

I had left my clothes in a bag behind a rubbish bin. I picked it up and ducked into the ladies to drop my secret identity. Just as I walked in, one of the doors opened and out came Carrie. She stood still, staring at me. Her eyes went down to my feet, back up again.

“Oh come on,” said Carrie. “That’s just mean, tempting me like that.”

“Shh!” I said. “I have to get out of this uniform.”

“You are not helping here.”

“And into my own clothes. I’m in disguise.”

“So this is not for my benefit then?”

“No, for the copper in front of the cleaner’s hospital room.” I started to unbutton my uniform. Carrie looked away.

“How’s Jocelyn?”

I paused buttoning up my skirt. “She’s coping as well as can be expected. And winding my father round her little finger.”

“Crazy girl.” Carrie sighed. “It’s an act, you know? She’s not really… well that way.”

I buttoned up my blouse and put my shoes on. “Thought it might be. But unless she wants to tell me about it, it’s not really for me to pry.”

“I guess not.”

As I turned round to leave, Carrie’s hand was on my arm.

“I’m glad you’re alright.”

We looked at each other a few moments. Then, I gave her a grin.

“We’re like weeds, we Tennants. Impossible to get rid of.”

“Good,” said Carrie. As I turned round to leave, she added, “Oh. One more thing.”


“Keep that uniform.”

As soon as I entered the main hall, carrying the nurse’s uniform in a bag, because what can you do, Margaret saw me, pointed at me to fix me in place, and came towards me at full speed.

“I’ve been looking all over for you! Some people stay in bed when they’ve nearly been stabbed to death, don’t you know?”

“Lack of backbone,” I said. “What’s going on?”

“Guess who’s just turned up at the gates?”

Margaret and I walked double-time to the main gate, where I saw my long-lost brother help a woman dismount from a horse-drawn carriage. She was wearing Carl’s overcoat over a white dress. Her face was dark, hidden in the hood of the coat, and she was carrying a small bundle in a sling. I rushed out to meet them.

“Carl!” I grabbed him and gave him a fierce hug. I looked at him, and he looked a picture of health. I turned to the woman.

“Fatin! Salam Aleikum!” I had never got round to learning her language, and Arabic was the closest I could do, geographically. I held out my arms to hug her, but she put her hand up.

“Careful. Do not wake him.”

I looked, and saw a crumpled-up little brown face, eyes closed, poking out of the bundle of cloth Fatin was holding. I held my breath. Margaret stepped up and shoved me aside.

“Awww, look! He’s adorable.”

Carl put his arms on my and Margaret’s shoulders.

“Ladies? Meet Raage Tennant,”

“Well ain’t that just peachy?” Another man had just stepped down from the carriage, and I would have recognised that American drawl anywhere.

“Mr. Riley,” I said. “What brings you here?”

He gave me one of his unpleasant smirks. “Well how could I stay away? I heard someone finally managed to perforate that thick skin of yours, and I had to come and have a look-see. Who’s the lucky guy?”

“Woman,” I said. “Got a job as a cleaner here, and tried to stab me in my sleep. You’ll probably like her.”

“Lady, I’m gonna be her best new friend. Where is she?”

“Ask the doctor,” I said. “She’s in the hospital.”

“That’s the spirit,” said Riley. “Who’s in charge here?”

I pointed him at the Chancellor’s office, and he marched off. As I watched him, I noticed he had acquired a limp. But at that moment, Someone else, also with a limp, came walking up to us. I looked at Carl’s face, and secretly enjoyed the way his jaw dropped.


“Yes, my boy?”

“You’re back!”

“Evidently! Did you think I would just stay in South America when someone went and made me a bloody grandfather?”

“Um… Sorry?”

“Oh do stop talking nonsense, my boy.” He turned to Fatin. “I assume you are my son’s young wife?”

I drew a bit closer to her, because Father can be a bit overwhelming when the mood takes him. I needn’t have worried.

“I am his woman, yes. I bore his child. He was late in arriving, and for that he is named Raage.”

Raage, not to be left out of the conversation, gave a snort, woke up and started wailing.

Margaret laughed. “Well you old codger, look at that! He likes you.”

“He is hungry,” said Fatin. “He wants the breast.” She jiggled him up and down a bit. “Maybe both.”

Father took one look at the situation, then grabbed Carl’s arm. “Let’s leave the womanfolk to handle this, we’re not equipped for it. Alexandra? Did you get anywhere with you-know-who?”

“Not a chance,” I said. “Too tough a nut.”

“Right. I expected as much. Come on, Carl. we’ll compare notes.”

The men made their cowardly retreat, no doubt into one of the houses of ill repute on the Algernon campus, leaving us women with the task of providing for our young. Isn’t it ever so? I looked around, wondering what to do, and spotted Rina lurking by the door. The Clarion’s reporters were always ready for a story, and there was usually a good story to be had from arrivals at the gates. I caught her eye and she came walking up.

“Hi Miss Tennant. What’s going on?”

“Family reunion,” I said. “My brother has just returned from Africa. This is my sister-in-law, and that is my nephew. He’s called Raage.”

“Aww cute,” said Rina. “Good pair of lungs.”

“He is hungry,” said Fatin. “I need a place to sit down and give him the breast. Too many people in the…” She waved her hand at the horse and cart.

“Carriage,” I said.

“Carriage,” repeated Fatin.

“Well come on inside then,” said Rina. “Let’s go to the dorm.”

Margaret threw open the door to the girls’ dorm. “Incoming teacher! Put out your fags, hide your booze!”

Christa looked up from her maths coursework. “Intoxicating liquour and tobacco are against the rules, Ma’am.”

“Thank goodness someone remembers. Get off the sofa, Miss StJohn, it’s needed for lactative purposes.”

We installed Fatin on the sofa, where she could lower her dress, and finally Raage went quiet. The girls pulled up chairs and watched. Having an African lady breastfeeding in your very dorm was not a common sight after all.

Rina pulled out her notebook. “Um, Ma’am? What’s your name please?”

“I am Fatin. I come here with my man Carl Tennant.”

“Fatin… How do you spell that?”

“You are writing what I say?” Fatin laughed. “You will write it right when I say it wrong?”

“Sure,” said Rina. “Where are you from?”

“I travel the dark forests by the an nil al ‘abyad river.”

“Sudan, by the White Nile,” I added. “That’s what the English call it.”

Rina gave a nod. “And what brings you to England?”

“The dirigible,” said Fatin, pronouncing the word slowly. “And the train. I ate fish in the clouds!”

At that moment, the door opened and Jocelyn came walking in. Everyone cheered her. Jocelyn raised her arms. “Yes! The conquering heroine returns. Schmidt wanted to stick me in a straitjacket, but I tied him to his chair and made my escape.”

“Well done,” said Margaret. “I’ll write to the chancellor to have him released.”

“I’ll get to you in a minute,” said Rina. “When I finish interviewing Mrs. Tennant here.”

Mrs. Tennant stuck a finger in Raage’s mouth to dislodge him, and moved him to the other side. Jocelyn flopped down on the sofa next to Fatin. She tried to get Raage to grip her finger, but young Mr. Tennant was busy.

“Aww, he’s so cute! Can I hold him?”

Fatin grinned. “Only if you can give milk. If you can’t he’ll eat you.”

Jocelyn’s jaw dropped. “Do your folks eat, um… people?”

Fatin looked at her with large round eyes. “Does not everyone?”

There was a somewhat uncomfortable pause.

“Only temporarily,” said Anna.

Everyone burst out laughing. Fatin looked at me.

“Only for a little time,” I said. Fatin shook her head, and I made an explanatory gesture. Fatin threw her head back and laughed out loud.

“Only stupid people cook and eat men,” said Fatin. “Think it makes them strong. Their camps are not good places to live in.”

Rina made a note of this, then looked up. “What do you think of England so far?”

Fatin took a deep breath, staring far away. “Cold. Colder than waters of the Nile. There are so many people. No one looks at each other as they pass. They only looked at me when I was not looking at them.” Fatin looked into Rina’s eyes. “So many people, and they all look so… alone.”

Rina held Fatin’s eyes for a moment, then wrote in her notebook.

“Don’t the big machines scare you? Locomotives, um, the iron horses, can be awfully loud.”

“Raage sleeps through it,” said Fatin. “There are soft places to sit everywhere. And they make the world go by faster than birds. Almost like there is no place between sitting down and getting up again.” She smiled. “And there are nice people who bring you tea. When next we meet, I will make flat bread and roasted goat for her.”

Fatin looked down on Raage. He had stopped feeding and his eyes had fallen to.

“Sleep, eat, make water and filth,” she said.

Rina reached out and touched Raage’s head. “He’ll be a mighty hunter some day.”

“But you do not hunt kudu here,” said Fatin. “You keep them in farms so you do not have to run after them. Carl told me. Maybe Raage will be a farmer.”

“He is here now,” said Carrie. “He can be anything he wants.”

The door opened and Carl came in, furtively, a man in a place where men fear to tread. He was appropriately stared at by the Algernon Rifle Club.

“Um… Alex?”

“Yes?” I said.

“They have tidied up your room, and put us in the room next to yours, but apparently they assumed that Mr. Riley was with us, so they have put him in the same room as us.”

I sneered. “That is very efficient of them. I assume you are less than thrilled about this?”


“Well, he can sleep in the bed above me. On the day that little demons go to work on skates. What do you suggest?”

Jocelyn laughed. “Why don’t you two and the little one sleep in Miss Alexandra’s room, and she sleeps here? We love having her here. Never a dull moment!”

I hesitated a moment.

“They did catch her,” said Carrie. “Should be safe now.”

“Alright then,” I said. I pulled the key from my pocket and gave it to Carl.

“Thanks, Sister,” he said. “Fatin? Let’s go to our room.”

My room, dear brother of mine. Until you can arrange for a room with no irksome Yanks in.”

“A thousand apologies, Sister. Fatin? Let’s go to the room that my darling sister is letting us use at great cost to herself.”

Carl and Fatin weren’t gone for more than a few moments, when there was another knock on the door, and once more a male person graced us with his presence. This time, it was Professor Alan Wadcroft, the leader of the expedition that took me and Margaret to darkest Africa, where we found an extinct species of scientist, my brother, and a mysterious kind of metal ore that seemed to intrigue Wadcroft a great deal.

“Dammit Alan,” said Margaret. “This is a girls’ dormitory. You’re not a girl so push off there’s a good chap!”

Wadcroft gave Margaret a look over his half-moon glasses. “But then how would I bask in the warm glow of your kind personality? Be that as it may, we’ve been summoned. You, me, even Miss Tennant. Chancellor’s office.”

“Who by?”

“Our good American friend Mr. James Riley. Quite insistent, he was. Something seems to have him all excited. Wouldn’t tell me what it was because he doesn’t like to repeat himself.”

“What, he doesn’t like to hear himself talk? Must not be from around here, then. Alexandra, we have been summoned.”

I got up. “On pain of death!”

“Only the lucky ones,” said Margaret.

The way from the girls’ dorm took us past the hallway to the infirmary. As we walked past, I saw Dr. Bernhardt, who stopped me. I could see the man was shaking with anger.

“Miss Tennant? A moment of your time, please.”

Margaret looked at me over her shoulder, but I waved them on. I’d catch up.

“Doctor? What can I do for you?”

The Doctor took my arm and pulled me aside.

“Did you go and see that woman?”


I really must train myself to come up with more coherent answers when confronted with Life’s little quirks. Dr. Bernhardt glared at me.

“When you left her, was she alive?”

My jaw dropped. “Yes… yes!” I stammered. “Do you mean that she is dead?”

“She is very dead indeed, Miss Tennant. Now a little over two hours ago, Mr. James Riley from Arkham came to me, waving official documents, demanding to be admitted to her ward. I verified with the Chancellor, who authenticated his document. When I returned not fifteen minutes ago to check on her, I found her dead. Mr. Riley is not speaking to me.” The Doctor moved closer. “I will have to perform an autopsy, of course, but I know what a person looks like who has died of suffocation. Would you be so good as to enlighten me?”

“I did enter the ward, Doctor,” I said. “But I only spoke to her, and got no response from her at all. When I left, she was still alive.” I paused a moment. “Are there no poisons that kill by depriving the victim of oxygen? She might have hidden a dosage in her mouth, to be used when caught.”

“I could easily name half a dozen such poisons,” said the Doctor. “Toxins, curare, even hemlock. But there is one thing I am quite sure of.” He scowled. “None of these poisons leave a deposit of adhesive around the victim’s lips, accompanied with reddening of the skin. This woman was murdered. Whoever did this, bandaged her mouth shut. Then, it was a simple matter of pinching her nose. This was done several times, Miss Tennant. She was tortured, and finally killed. Under my very nose. You were the last person, besides Mr. Riley, to see her alive.”

“Riley,” I said. I recalled with distaste the occasion when he had described to me the ordeal he had witnessed, of men and women. At the time, he had told me this to warn me against getting caught.

“Of course,” said the Doctor, but the tone in his voice clearly indicated that he had not cleared me of suspicion. “There will be an inquiry, Miss Tennant, and I promise you, whoever is at the bottom of this, will pay the price.”

I walked into the Chancellor’s office, to find not only Professor Wadcroft and Margaret, but also my brother. The Chancellor was not there, and Riley was sitting on the edge of his desk.

“Sit sown, Miss Tennant, and we’ll begin.”

I gave him a dark look, then found a chair. Riley stood up and looked at each of us.

“I have found out who it was that tried to kill you.”

“So have I,” I said.

Riley scowled. “Sure you did. But I managed to find out who sent this woman.”

“And how did you manage to do that, Riley?”

“Same way you tried, only I’m not a goddamn amateur like you.”

“You tortured her, Riley, and then you murdered her.”

Riley crossed the room towards me and glared at me from a distance of hardly ten inches.

“Damn straight I did! What the hell did you think you were going to do? Sneak in and beat the crap out of her? Good thing you got out when you did.”

“People under torture will tell you whatever they think makes you happy, Riley. What makes you think you got the right answer?”

Riley held his mangled right hand in front of my face. “Damn you, do I look like some goddamn greenhorn who don’t know that? I already knew most of what I was going to ask. All she needed to do was confirm it. And putting the screws on them works just fine for that. Now do you want to know what I found out?”

I said nothing.

“Good,” said Riley, sitting back down. “Then keep that pretty face of yours shut and listen.” He looked round the room. “Any more stupid questions?”

Carl sat back in his chair and gave Riley a friendly smile. “Mr. Riley, please do enlighten us. We are all eager to know how clever you have been.” His smile disappeared in a splintered moment. “But if you talk that way to my sister again, I’ll break your bloody neck.”

“Oh for God’s sake…” Riley started.

“Get to the bloody point Riley,” said Professor Wadcroft.

Riley gave kind of a grunt. “You’ll all remember the Balian-Ibelin Mining Company. They tried to kill us back in Sudan.”

“What? They’re all the way over in Africa!” Margaret shook her head. “What would they want with us here?”

Riley thumped his fist on the desk. “Can I finish a goddamn sentence here? Our pretty rifle girl here is not the only target. Why the hell do you think you’re all here?”

Wadcroft put his hand to his forehead and sighed. “Everybody, pipe down and stop interrupting. Riley, start talking.”

“Thank you. Turns out, that mine is only one operation of many. They are overseen by an organisation that is mighty interested in those glowing rocks our dear departed friend Hammond was digging up.”

I could see Professor Wadcroft stirring, but he kept himself quiet.

“They seem to think that there’s huge amounts of energy in them,” said Riley. “More than in coal, hell, more than in all the coal in the world. And they get a bit annoyed when someone else gets in on their turf. Now Hammond did them the favour of dropping dead on his own, together with his whole damned expedition…”

“Present company excluded,” said Carl.

Riley gave him the evil eye, and continued. “But we managed to get out of there in time. Heh. They tried to assassinate Oberst Klemm as well, but he’s a bit hard to assassinate. So someone had the marvellous idea of hiring him instead. As I told young Mr. Tennant here, stay the hell away from Klemm and any of his soldiers.”

“Staying the hell away from enemies is what I do, Riley.”

“We still have some of Hammond’s rocks in our collection,” said Wadcroft. “Haven’t been able to find out more about them than that they glow prettily. Less and less every day. Apart from that, it’s perfectly boring and ordinary pitchblende.”

“So they’ve found something you can’t find out about, Prof? Say it ain’t so. And here I was, high hopes and all.”

“Fascinating though it is, Riley, I do have other projects.”

“What interests me more,” I said. “Who are they?”

“Ain’t got a smidgen of a clue,” said Riley. “Could be a secret chapter of the goddamn Boyscouts of America for all I know.”

“I met Lord Baden Powell once,” said Wadcroft. “Batty old chap. Wanted to turn our children into little soldiers. Wouldn’t have thought he’d go in for assassination though. A Scout Does Not Assassinate People. I’m sure that’s in the Rules somewhere.”

“Dyb dyb dyb dyb, Professor. I did manage to over hear a name though. While they were beating the crap outta me. The organisation is called…”

Even Riley, consummate pragmatist as he was, could not resist a dramatic pause.


Next: Carl Tennant: The big sky theory


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