“Why, it’s outrageous!” Cady Delafield said with a laugh.
In the soft glow of the carriage lantern, she glittered in the familiar way which delighted Doyle to his very core. He’d missed seeing her bright smiles and playful attitude absent these past few weeks.
“It’s almost midnight,” she added and crimped her mouth in mock disapproval, but failed to mask her teasing. “Surely, Mr. Flanagan, you aren’t serious about traipsing about in a lumber yard near the docks at this time of night?”
“It’ll only take a minute.” Happiness strummed through his body with each hopeful sign of her recovery from the recent tragic events. She was plucky, determined and stubborn. But the death of three women and seeing a man blow his head off left a person altered. He knew this for a fact. He’d watched the man pull the trigger too.
“Besides.” He dropped a hand over his chest affecting a bit of melodrama. “Aren’t you the least bit curious to see where the master potentate, the supreme leader, the Great Poohbah—”
“Oh, please.” She thrust up a palm forestalling any more joking. “Great Poohbah, indeed!”
He chuckled and angled his long legs on the carriage seat so his knee leaned against hers. It struck him as unbelievable he’d known her only five weeks. Time enough to fall in love and fall he did with both feet crashing through the floor. His familiarity and ease with her made it seem as if they’d been the best of friends since childhood. Soon, when he believed the horrific events were behind them, when she no longer complained of nightmares or jarring flashbacks, when the world was again solid beneath her feet, he’d propose marriage. The notion made him smile.
“If I’d known you were having such a challenging time finding suitable lodging,” he said, admiring the new way she’d looped and curled her red hair on the top of her head. “I would have helped sooner.”
In the dim carriage light, her hair glowed with a rich, earthy tone. He longed to pull out the pins and let the silky mass slip through his fingers like cool water. “If I’d known, I would have brought the rental list along with me this evening and you could have looked it over before we went to the theatre. Besides, you’ve never seen my office.” He wagged his brows, projecting a playful leer, wishing for more of her musical laugh.
And just like that, her mood changed becoming grim and quiet. He suspected the memory of Edward Villard in her office, a gun pressed to his temples, had quashed her spirits again. Turning her face away, she drew back the window curtain. Beyond her shoulder, Doyle saw the brick and clapboard buildings. The blackened windows of Hibbard’s Hardware reflected a glimmer of yellow from the corner street lamps.
“So you’re still set against living with your grandmother,” he said, well aware the mention of the old woman seldom failed to get a rise out of Cady. He preferred her fired up than bleak and despairing.
“Grandmother Ophelia and I don’t see eye to eye on things.”
Cady blew a breath of warm air against the glass. It clouded over.
With the tip of a gloved finger, she delicately scrawled in cursive the letter D, paused then wiped it away with the heel of her fist. “She wants to run my life. Besides, she’ll never accept I’m a working woman. Hardly a day goes by when she doesn’t harp about me being a school administrator. The fact the school teaches women job skills so they can work goes against her grain.”
“The idea of a woman working outside the home doesn’t fit with her generation,” Doyle added.
Cady made a chirruping noise of disgust. “According to her, a woman should marry, preferably a wealthy man, have kids and sit on her duff commanding the lives of her family for the rest of her life.”
From what Doyle observed, Ophelia Prentice ruled the roost in her opulent home, managing to dominate her widowed daughter and four granddaughters. In a prudent move, he offered a polite smile and remained silent. If he hoped for a happy marriage some day, he’d keep his mouth shut on the subject of Cady holding down a job.
But despite the frequent strife between the two women, he couldn’t help but wonder if he figured into Cady’s reasons to flee the comfort and safety of her grandmother’s mansion. Ophelia made no secret of her dislike of the Irish and him in particular. It didn’t seem to matter that he’d been born in this country. The woman quivered with hostility every time he stepped into her parlor. “Has Ophelia expressed an opinion about me courting you?”
“We’re here,” Cady declared with exaggerated gaiety. The carriage jerked to a stop. Not waiting for assistance, she flung open the door and hopped out, pointedly ignoring him.
Stubborn puss. When the feisty woman chose to avoid something unpleasant, she simply changed the topic. Yet indirectly, she’d answered his question. Ophelia did not support the courtship.
Lips pressed together, he followed her from the carriage and requested his driver to wait.
He and Cady would finish this conversation later. But for now...
He swung her into his arms.
“Doyle,” she squeaked. Inclining her head in the direction of the driver perched high on his seat, she mouthed, “Phelps.” The man, bundled in a heavy overcoat, had the professional poise to stare straight ahead at the empty, darkened street.
Doyle grinned. Undeterred, he gave her a kiss filled with promise and suggesting, for this one time, he’d allow her evasion.
“Come on.” He tugged her hand.
Together they crossed the walkway to his offices and lumber works. A globed-topped street lamp threw a whitish haze over the three-story brick building. He pulled a key from his vest pocket, unlocked the front door to Flanagan Woodworks and followed her into the front lobby. Two gas wall sconces hissed softly and spread a faint light over the room which, except for the large desk, resembled a comfortable parlor. A kerosene lamp burned at the corner of the reception desk. In the desk’s center lay an open newspaper weighted down by a half-eaten apple.
“Tatter, the night watchman, must be off doing rounds.” It struck him odd he should wonder why Tatter would leave behind his unfinished fruit.
“Oh, this is impressive,” Cady announced, eagerly scanning the plump leather sofa and jewel-toned brocade chairs in the reception area. A hint of light-heartedness was back in her voice.
“What? No Turkish rugs? No hookah for the Great Poohbah?” She slid him a mischievous look. “No lurking camels?”
Doyle bit back a laugh. “The Turkish rugs are upstairs.” He picked up the lamp. “Come on. My office is on the second floor.”
With a light hand to her elbow, he guided her toward the stairs.
Halfway across the polished oak floor lobby, his nose wrinkled at the rank smell of river water. Though the Chicago River ran behind the building, he found the strong odor out of place. Seldom did he notice the river’s smell during the day and only when the doors to the huge cutting shed located at the rear of the building were left open.
Cady shivered and drew her arms closer to her body.
“Cold?” he asked as an icy breath of air skittered down his neck. He paused near the base of the stairs, sensing a subtle change in the atmosphere.
“A definite breeze is coming from that direction.” She pointed toward a darkened hallway which led to the mill.
“The lumber is processed beyond that door.” An uneasy chill crept into his bones and propelled him down the corridor. “Stay here,” he directed over his shoulder. The swish of silk skirts followed behind him. When would he remember the sheer pointlessness of issuing directions to the headstrong woman? Swallowing frustration, he charged ahead.
Inside the massive cutting shed, the resinous odor of fresh cut timber mixed with the stench of the river. The glowing lamp clutched in his hand illuminated a circular area about ten to fifteen feet in circumference. Still, he didn’t need light to confirm what he already saw. A silvery beam of moonlight blazed through the back door which hung open at the far end of the building. He hurried forward. As he neared the door, his boot slammed against something hard and sent it skittering. He located the item, picked it up and swore.
“What is it?” Cady leaned so close her subtle scent of lilac and freshness cut through the fishy smell.
“A padlock.” He swung the lantern closer to the doorway. The recent nicks chipped into the wood of the door were sharp beneath his fingers. Anger surged through him. “This door is always locked at six. Somebody spent considerable energy breaking it open.”
“Oh, Doyle.” Sympathy wavered in her voice while her troubled face paralleled his emotions.
Five weeks ago a woman had been murdered in his home. The killer had been caught. Now, someone had broken into his business.
He found this latest breach following on the heels of the former difficulties almost too impossible to believe. His hand gripped tighter around the base of the lamp. Was nothing inviolate? Was everything he valued to be profaned and abused by others? He dragged a hand through his hair, determined not to be sidetracked by anger and gloom.
“I’m so sorry, Doyle.”
“Me, too.” He closed the shed door and hooked the broken padlock around the handle before setting a course for the lobby.
“Let’s find Tatter and see what’s been stolen.”
Cady’s steps pattered at his side. He swung the lamp overhead expecting to see some mischief or damage to the huge lumber trolleys and saws. When everything appeared intact and in its proper place a breath of relief oozed from his lungs. How easy it would have been for a vandal bent on destruction to strike a match. A place stocked with all sizes of timber would make one hell of a fire.
Tomorrow he’d have his foreman do an inventory just to be certain nothing smaller was damaged or stolen.
“Where do you suppose Mr. Tatter is?” Cady asked.
“On one of the upper floors.” Doyle tried to keep the worry from his voice. In the hallway, he called out. “Tatter!” Wherever the old man was, Doyle prayed he was well.
He motioned for them to proceed. Their footsteps echoed in the silent building. “Tatter?” Unease wiggled up his spine.
“Will you do something for me?” Doyle asked as they neared the unattended desk in the lobby.
“Go wait in the carriage while I look around.”
Her mouth opened then closed. “Certainly not! If there’s trouble, I want to help.”
He’d anticipated as much from the maddening woman but still needed to ask. “All right. But stay close to me.”
“Tatter!” Doyle’s thunderous voice bounced off the walls.
Nothing. The absolute stillness amplified his disquiet.
“Should we send Phelps for the police?”
Police? Doyle flinched. Ever practical, her suggestion made sense but the notion of dealing with the hated police again turned his stomach. “I’d rather have a nail pounded in my ear.” Still, someone had broken in. A crime had been committed. Though he’d yet to discover what, he knew something was stolen.
Cady’s gloved hand folded and unfolded a top corner of the newspaper on the desk. “I can see your point given your recent dealings with Inspector Middendorf.”
“Let’s see what Tatter has to say first.” Muscles taut, gait long, Doyle strode toward the stairs determined to find the watchman, yet unsettled by what he might find.
“Suppose the vandals are still in the building,” Cady whispered as she caught up to him on the second floor landing.
He doubted they’d find the miscreants. The place was too quiet. He strained to catch a sound. Silence wrapped around them.
Offices, several closets and a storeroom comprised the second floor. He went left down the hallway motivated as much to walk off his mounting anxiety as his desire to locate Tatter. He jiggled the door handle of the first office and found it locked. Maybe this boded well. He moved on. Whatever luck he hoped for soon ran out.
The door to the second office stood open. Doyle swung the lamp in a wide arc illuminating the room. “Damn!”
“What is it?” she asked in a rush of alarmed words.
“See for yourself.” He’d expected to find some damage, but why vandalize an accounting office? Placing his feet with care, he worked his way through the mess of books and miscellaneous desk items strewn about on the floor.
“Oh, this is awful.” Face a mask of disbelief, she stared at the total disarray of pencils, pens, paper, spilled ink and shards of porcelain.
A favorite oil painting which used to hang on the wall now lay amid the clutter like a piece of unwanted garbage. He picked up the bucolic picnic scene. It looked like someone had plowed a fist through the canvas. His jaw tightened. Through the gaping tear, he saw Cady sidle over to the file cabinets.
“Tell me nothing of great import was stored here.” She poked through the few remaining files which still occupied one of the drawers.
“I wish I could,” Doyle muttered as fantasies of getting his hands on the crooks swirled in his head.
He leaned the painting against the desk. Jaw strained and aching, he picked up a thick, leather bound ledger. “Every business transaction is recorded here.” He dusted off the book and slipped it back on the bookshelf.
Cady stopped her rifling. “That means—”
“Every purchase, every sale, every cent earned or lost is documented in these records.” With a flicker of pride, he ran his fingers over the few remaining volumes. “These shelves held twenty ledgers. Two for each year I’ve been in business.” He toed the rubble, locating the hardback chronicles in the mess and ticked off numbers in his head. Six ledgers remained. He groaned with a mounting despair. The sheer inconvenience of missing documentation was colossal. Even worse, now someone beyond his closest accounting employees would be privy to the innermost workings of his entire business operation. A sharp pain stabbed his gut as though he’d been laid open and left for the carrion crows to pick away at his innards.
Clutching the lamp, he bounded out the door. When he reached his private office at the opposite end of the hallway, his shoulders heaved with his fast breathing. Desk drawers gaped open.
Others lay overturned and their contents spilled in a heap over the Turkish rug.
“Oh, no,” Cady wailed.
Doyle advanced into the chaos, careful to avoid stepping on anything. Plaques and awards, small objet d’art, precious mementos, things he cherished and earned from his hard labor lay scattered to the four corners of his office. His body stiffened, angry at the violation of his property and the affront to his peace and security.
What had they hoped to find? Money?
“It almost seems like this person, or persons, relished destroying and making a mess,” Cady said. “Who would do such a thing?”
“John Grover Gilbert,” he blurted.
Perhaps this was Gilbert’s attempt to even the score between them. A dose of revenge. The man nursed an unending hatred of Doyle and blamed him for his bad luck in business. He suspected Doyle had broken into his house and walked off with incriminating evidence Gilbert used for blackmail purposes. While this was true, the man didn’t have a shred of evidence. Doyle considered his actions a service to the community.
Cady rummaged around in the pile. “What’s this?” She held out a slender piece of wood as long as a new pencil. “There are pieces lying all over the floor.”
Fury surged through him. “It’s from a design model I built for new housing. I want to build something more habitable for the average worker then those cramped tenements.”
“Oh, Doyle.” Offering a consoling smile, she stepped into his arms.
He relished their natural fit and drew comfort from the solid feel of her body. Brushing his chin across her silky hair, he stared at the destruction. What a waste of time and energy.
“My plans!” He jolted away from her. Grunting, he dragged the heavy couch from the wall. A hand drawn over the cool metal of the wall safe assuaged his fear. “Thank God. All my notes and original drawings for future projects are still locked up.” With a parting thankful pat to the safe, he said, “Let’s find out where Tatter is.”
They checked several more offices. It was as if someone had swiped a hand across the top of all the desks and whisked everything to the floor. Except in an odd twist, all the desk lamps remained untouched. “It’s a good thing those oil lamps didn’t get knocked over,” Cady said, amplifying his very thought. “All that fluid soaking into the wood floor.”
Adding to the risk of fire.
How strange someone should have gone out of their way to create chaos but held back from burning the place down.
“Let’s continue on,” Doyle said, and pushed the horrific notion of fire from his brain as he ushered her back into the corridor.
He opened another door and swung the lamp inside. “Stay back!”
“What is it?” She lurched to the side, peeking around him before he could stop her. Clamping a hand over her mouth, she made a gulping noise like she might lose her dinner.
He threw an arm about her shoulder and drew her some distance away then held her close, trying to quiet her trembling and drawing comfort from the nearness of her.
After she’d collected herself, she said, “Is it Tatter?”
“Yes.” He tucked her head into the hollow of his shoulder, regretful she’d seen the dead body and wishing to God it wasn’t the old man.
“Who would do such a thing?” she mumbled, her cheek pressed against his coat.
Wasn’t it bad enough to kill the man but to… Doyle flinched and gagged. Tatter sat on the closet floor, one leg stretched out while the other angled at the knee, the toe of a scuffed boot under his calf.
His head lolled against the wall. White hair fell over his forehead while his right hand, severed at the wrist, was shoved into his mouth.
The fingers stuck out like a rooster’s tail.
“Go downstairs and wait for me,” he said, sickened by the image. He gave her bottom a gentle pat.
She stiffened, her shoulders drawing in. Expecting her objection, he was shocked when, without argument, she hurried off, skirts flapping behind her. When she was out of sight Doyle, seething with a need to avenge the old man’s death, turned back to Tatter. He extracted the dog-eared pamphlet from the man’s serge vest and scanned the notice with a frown. Doyle’s blood chilled.
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