The Reason Of Madness
“The name Royce was printed quite clearly on the clippings, as if they’d been collected over time,” the Constable said with a somewhat smug air. He was not about to be misled by two shiesters of this low caliber. “Furthermore, I believe I know exactly what has occurred here.” He continued walking, plainly in front of the now congealing body.
“I believe you are the London Cat, Earl Kenby. I believe that you, tired of earning your existencesuch as it isdecided to rush nature and off your Uncle at the hand of your love, the Lady Savannah. Then, further besmirch his dearly departed name by claiming he meant to assault her.”
“You sir,” Royce’s voice took on a dark, frigid tone that had even Lady Savannah’s spine tingling with quick fear, “have quite overstepped yourself.”
“No, my lord, I don’t think I do.” He showed them the notated clippings with the wave of a broad palm. Next he crossed to the desk and picked up two more from the pile there, both clearly labeled “Savannah”.
“Why that evil, scheming little monster,” Savannah grumbled, sparing a glance at the Earl (deceased) on the ground. She turned her head to the Earl (surviving) when Royce patted her legthough inappropriately, againin comfort.
“It was your birthday, Blossom. I suppose even a misbegotten blighter like him could have noticed that.”
“Are you admitting to the crime, sir?” The Constable asked, grinning like a hunter too close to realize his kill was escaping.
Royce stood to his full height, more than a foot taller than the unfortunate constable, who was foolishly trying not to look frightened when Prinny, himself, would have given a man Royce’s size a wide berth. “No, my dear constable, I only admit that when your inquisition is over, I will have your job, your interests, in fact, I plan to have your very head on a platter.”
“Royce,” Lady Savannah said carefully, slipping her gloved hand into his, hoping to calm the waves of rage radiating off him. She’d never seen him in such a state. But, except for a slight pause and the firm grasp of his fingers around hers, there was no sense that his mood had changed.
“You have insulted my Lady, sir, a much higher offense than insulting me. Thanks to that foul, loathsome little man who finally had the decency to die, I am used to such things. I will have no one impugning the honor of my wife, do you understand?”
The Constablewho finally seemed to realize that he was being threatened by a man he considered a murderernodded.
“It does not take a genius to deduce what happened here. My uncle has spent decades trying to ruin or disinherit me, with no success. It’s no secret he breathed like a man through a sponge. Have you considered that his doctors might have informed him that he had limited time? I wouldn’t be shocked if they did not, you could be blind and see that he was not much longer for this world.
“I fail to see-”
“Yes, sirrah, you fail. You will continue to fail as long as you approach a crime from the closed mind of an innocent man. Look around you. Do you not see the many guns on the wall? Each one with angled hooks to keep it hung perfectly.”
The constable peered around, noticing the dozens of firearms that many of the upper levels of society kept on hand, emblems of past wars and adventures in their family.
Royce crossed his arms. “Do you not note that they do not hang perfectly?”
The constable looked around again, surprised to find that many of them were, in fact, haphazardly lain. “I still do not understand what you are trying to prove, my lord.”
“My unclesuch as he wasenjoyed few things in his life. Shooting was one of them. He was an excellent marksman…he also happened to be an impatient mess. He would clean and use any of these guns at any time, then replace them to the walls himself because he didn’t trust his servants with them. I assume because too many of them wouldn’t mind shooting him and he knew it. Look again, Constable, what looks out of place?”
The Constable took several moments pause before crossing to the trophy walls. One by one, he saw a flawlessly clean firearm, laying crookedly in place. Except for one. “This one is placed perfectly,” he noted in surprise. A long-armed pistol, he could even now see the black powder still clinging to the stock.
“Your murderer chose a messy weapon, Constable. If you will note my Lady wearing pristine white gloves, you will note right away that it was not she who did this service, for I cannot call it a crime.” Royce pulled Savannah to her feet none too delicately, extending her gloved palm out to the constable’s frowning perusal. “Now, I will give you the opportunity to apologize to her, but I warn you, sir, if I do not believe you, it will be a long time before you take a breath with any comfort.”
“Royce,” Savannah said again, but oddly, her lips were curved and her eyes were moist as she did so.
“I am most indutably sorry, my Lady. To have cast such aspersions…” The constable continued groveling, but Savannah no longer cared to listen to him.
“No one has ever defended me before,” she murmured, still in awe.
“You don’t make it easy, Blossom,” Royce said, his voice somewhat gritting, but still softer than before.
“You called me your wife,” she whispered.
“You will be,” he replied with a shrug. “Isn’t that what this whole thing has been about, right from Bond Street?” Finally, he turned those familiar blue eyes her way, his typical humor there in the depths. His mouth quirked to the side. “You’d never have married the thug who knocked you to the ground if he hadn’t made himself interesting, would you?”
“I don’t recall agreeing to marry you now,” she replied, but with a smile.
“You will,” he replied, touching her cheek carefully with his large hand. “As soon as we turn this blighter out of my house.”
The blighterer, the Constablewas still frowning at them. “While this proves that the Lady did not commit the crime, it does not clear you, sir, of either the murder or the burglaries.”
Royce sighed. “I am going to have to see that smarter men are placed in seats of authority in this town. My uncle was sick, in body and mind. He was determined to his final breath that I would not inherit. This is not a difficult puzzle. I did not pull the trigger, either, since I was most definitely elsewhere at the time of his death. There was only one other soul here in the house other than my betrothed.”
Royce raised an eyebrow until the Constable bellowed out a command for his second in command.
“Bring me the butler.”
His man scrambled to bring the harried older soul into the room, but once he smoothed his hair into place, he seemed to gather control of his nerves. He’d also just implicated himself.
“Arrest him,” the Constable added grimly, eyeing the dark powder liberally sprinkling the snowy white cuff of the houseman. “Why ever would you kill your master, sir?”
The extremely pale man turned a new shade of pasty, but he did not bother to deny his crime. “He paid me, sir. And he owed me. He’s dying. But not before he’d abused three of my daughters. He paid a bundle for me to shoot him when I’d have done it for free. I’m not sorry.” The butler allowed the officer to shackle his hands and walked out of the room as proudly as he’d arrived, leaving an extremely nervous Constable behind.
Royce stood, arms crossed, a glower on his face such as had never been survived by man before.
“I am…so sorry, my lord-”
“No groveling, Constable. I expect only one thing.”
“You will never darken my door again, nor cast so much as an adoring glance upon my wife. My family is a long-standing, very well financed business, Constable. And I am not a forgiving man. Given any kind of impetus, I am sure that I can unearth every secret and misery your family has ever produced. I can rain shame on you that even London has never seen. Do you take my meaning, Sir Constable?”
“Then leave.” Royce turned away, facing Savannah as if the older man didn’t even exist.
“If I may,” the Constable unwisely raised his voice again, making Royce’s lid twitch unpleasantly. “How did you know, sir? The criminal mind?”
“Tis simple, Constable,” Royce said, looking over his shoulder with pinpoint accuracy straight to the heart of the fearful man. “Because I am a criminal. Now get out of my house.”
The Constable all but scrambled to leave and it was only when the door slammed behind him that Royce took another breath, this time of relief.
“Was that very intelligent, Royce?”
He shrugged. And he smiled. Always a bad sign in Savannah’s memory, because it meant she was either going to be kissed out of her own self-cognizance or she was going to be tumbled onto the closest bit of furniture. She backed up, holding her hand out in warning. “Do not even think it, Royce Summerville.”
“Wouldn’t My Lord be more appropriate?”
She snorted in a ladylike manner. “As if you knew what appropriate was. If I gave you two seconds, you’d have my skirts over my head in no time.”
“You do say the loveliest things, Blossom.”
“No,” she said firmly. “I demand two things first.”
Royce stopped his catlike stalking, eyes widening. “Which are?”
“You marry me first.”
He smiled wider. “And?”
“And you do something with that mess over there before I’m ill. I wasn’t joking about his smell.”
Royce’s frown returned and he glanced over at the Earl (deceased). “I’d rather forgotten about him.”
“Yes, well,” Savannah said with a sniff. “I haven’t. Now, I must go. I want to make some arrangements.”
Royce’s face was grim. “Why do I get the feeling that you’re escaping?”
She smiled, sashaying to the door. “We’ll find out if you can’t find me.”
Then she disappeared through it.