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Sunday evening: Late
Mr. Danforth handed Elliott a snifter of brandy. “I understand there was an explosion at your stables?”
Elliott let himself sink into the comfortable chair. Dinner had been pleasant enough, not too tense, not too strained. Miranda — Mrs. Danforth —had presided over everything; excelling as a society hostess. There had been other people there; Elliott had barely noticed them, or their comments about his bravery saving the Danforths from “common thugs.” After dinner the men had retired to the library, where they now sat, and the women to the sitting room.
”Yes.” The other man who’d been at the dinner table now sat across from Elliott. He leaned forward, a look of keen interest on his face. “Bad business that. Any idea what caused it?”
Elliott gave a small shrug. “I’ve had a few different stable hands recently. I would imagine they left something smoldering…” he let his voice trail off. He had questions for Danforth, he wasn’t at all happy there had been other people at dinner.
”Brown here thinks it was deliberate,” Danforth offered. “I’m afraid we were discussing it before you arrived. No one was hurt I trust?”
Elliott resisted the urge to touch his chin and the new scrape. “Not badly.” He answered.
”And the horses weren’t injured?” Brown asked. “Can’t abide someone being so careless as to put animals in harm’s way.”
”My animals are well cared for,” Elliott said.
”Hmph. Mark of a man’s integrity it is, how he treats his animals, and his women. Don’t you agree, Danforth?”
It was all Elliott could do not to laugh at the man’s last remark. “You’re not from around here, are you Mr. Brown?”
Brown smiled. “That obvious, eh? Just ‘passing through’ as they say. The wife and I are headed to Germany tomorrow.”
Elliott’s interest in the man had flagged but that brought it back. “Germany?”
Brown nodded. He’d finished the brandy in his glass and was watching Danforth refill it with an eagerness that Elliott found annoying. “Not fond of the place, I can tell you that. But, it’s business and Mrs. Brown is taking the opportunity to do a little touring in Britain while I’m working.”
Elliott nodded in what he hoped was an understanding manner that a husband would appreciate about a wife’s touring really meaning she was buying out the locals. “What field are you in sir?”
”Horseless carriages,” Brown answered.
For a moment it was as if he was playing tennis and was at that particular time in the game when everything was in perfect alignment and everything around him stopped dead, allowing him to move ever so slightly to angle for the ball — he shook the feeling off. “Horseless carriages?” he asked.
”Yes. The Germans have some pretty good ideas along those lines.”
They looked up at the butler standing in the doorway. “Mrs. Danforth informs me that Mrs. Brown is feeling a little indisposed and would like to go back to their hotel now, if her husband wouldn’t mind.”
Brown drained his glass as he stood, then dabbed at his lips with his handkerchief. “Probably one of her migraines. Poor old girl, they get worse the more my business gets better. You think it would be the reverse. No need to see me out, Danforth, take care of your guest here. He’s an exceptional one, he is. Young Elliott,” he held out his hand and clasped Elliott’s warmly, “a real pleasure, son, a real pleasure to meet someone who sees something amiss and steps in to right it. Good night to you.”
”Good night, sir.” And with that Brown followed the butler out of the room.
Silence prevailed for a moment, then Danforth sank into the chair Brown had vacated. “Bit of a hearty soul, Brown. Don’t you agree?”
Elliott smiled and murmured, “seems so.”
”It wasn’t something left smoldering, was it?” Danforth had fixed a stare on Elliott at this point and Elliott felt compelled to answer with the truth.
”Some sort of grenade, sir.”
Danforth nodded, thoughtfully. The fire was burning brightly in the grate. Its flames danced as the logs spit sparks against the firescreen futilely trying to effect change before they died into grey ash. “You’re a dangerous man to be around, Elliott DanBois.”
”Am I, sir? Funny, I was wondering the same thing about you.”
Danforth didn’t answer. Normally Elliott wouldn’t have said anything, he liked to let the silence grow in a conversation until the other participant was forced to fill in the uncomfortable gap. This time he didn’t allow for anything more than a few seconds of silence.
”After all,” he said, “Those men in the carriage weren’t after me.”
”You’re sure of that?”
”They attacked you first.”
Danforth gave a small smile. “That they did, that they did.” He coated the inside of the glass with the brandy left at the bottom of it. “But it was Brown they were really after. We’d been out socially, one of those tiresome dinners with business partners — never take on a business partner with whom you have things in common. You never get them out of your hair. In any event, Miranda and I got out of the carriage to catch a little of the night’s air. We had been riding with Mr. and Mrs. Brown and he’s a heavy smoker. They went ahead and we thought we’d walk the block or two to our house. The rest you know.”
”Looks like I came along at the right time.”
”Something for which I will ever be in your debt. But tell me, what really caused the explosion in your stables?”
Elliott paused a moment. Danforth seemed sincere enough. “Grenade.” He said.
Danforth stood and strode quickly to the library’s desk behind Elliott. Elliott didn’t watch him. He had a perfect view of him in the mirror over the fireplace. Danforth took a small box from off the top of the desk and returned, handing it to Elliott.
”Go ahead, open it.”
Elliott did as he was told. Snuggled into a nest of blue velvet was a small orb, not unlike the one that had blown apart the stall door. Elliott quickly put it down.
Danforth laughed. “Don’t worry. It’s been disarmed. Take it with you when you leave tonight. I can stare at its innards for the next hundred years and I’ll not know anything more than what I know now. If I remember correctly, you’ve a reputation as a bit of a mechanical tinkerer.”
Elliott picked it up again and turned it over in his hands. “When did you get this?”
”There you two are!” Mrs. Danforth swept into the room, all ruffles, silk and perfume. Elliott palmed the device into his pants pockets and hoped his long jacket would cover up its bulk.
He stood to greet her and obligingly kissed the back of her gloved hand when she held it out to him. He swayed a little as he bent to do it, but straightened immediately.
”Why, Mr. DanBois, are you quite all right?”
Elliott smiled. “A little residue of the past few days I’m afraid.”
”Then you must go home and rest. I take it, my dear, you have concluded your business with Mr. DanBois?”
The glance between the couple was full of import, but Elliott was damned if he knew what it was. Did she know her husband had handed him a diffused grenade? But Danforth was already striding from the room calling for the butler.
Mrs. Danforth took the opportunity, in her best hostess attitude, and linked her arm through Elliott’s as she walked him toward the door. “You don’t mind, do you, dear heart. Your presence here makes me — nervous.”
He patted her hand. “I understand. Perhaps another time.”
”Perhaps.” the word held great promise.
But before she could say anything more the butler was before him, his hat and coat in hand while Danforth called out from the open front door. “I say, we’ve a cab for you already!”
Elliott walked to the door, each step causing the little grenade in his pocket to bounce against the side of his thigh. All he wanted to do, at this point, was to divest himself of it.
Photo of Gregory Peck, not sure what site I got if off of, but will continue to hunt