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J L Hazen

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   Recent stories by J L Hazen
· The Queen's Bench : Knitted Monkey
· The Queen's Bench : The Barrister and The Detective
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The Queen's Bench : Ghost of the Mutlah
By J L Hazen
Friday, May 30, 2008

Rated "G" by the Author.

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When a young heiress is found locked aboard an old sinking ship, Lord Justice Harold Stratford and QC Barrister, Sir John Willow, are called to solve a legal mystery as the couple the girl claims are her parents turn out to be childless and the police have no record of her kidnapping.

We were seated by the fire one evening, my wife and I, when the maid brought in a small parcel. As I had retired from the bar I was not accustomed to receiving deliveries after the usual post and so I eagerly looked for a sender. There was none. Suddenly, as if the past hauntingly infringed upon the present, my heart felt heavy in my chest. With trembling hands I opened it, pulling out an old careworn medallion attached to a chain. I recognised it at once, though it had been more than fifty years since I had seen it. It belonged to my brother; a little souvenir of our travels during the war. It was an odd little thing, but it once solved one of the most sinister crimes to cross the King’s Bench.

Fondling the medallion between my fingers I felt the years melting away until I could almost smell the spicy Jamaican food lingering in the breeze. Jamaica was hot and sultry; hotter even than Australia, which we frequented every summer. My brother Johnny liked it though. He never seemed to mind the heat. He climbed up on the railing letting his flaxen hair wave wildly in the breeze as we pulled into port. I had never seen water so clear. The sea seemed to hold the white sandy beaches in a gentle embrace. We were enthralled, imagining pirates around every corner with great stores of treasure stolen from strong British ships; ships we would have to avenge at the tip of a sword. We would have a homecoming of heroes, returning its horde to His Majesty for the good of the Empire.

I took my brother’s frail little hand and lead him down to safer shores, at least for the moment. We would indeed take up the cause, but it would have to wait until we were settled in the hotel. During those years, before the war, my grandfather and his partner, travelled as Law Lords to various countries, working with Colonial Judiciaries on behalf of the Crown. On the whole it was marvellous fun, filled with adventure and new experiences at every turn, but arriving at each new place was typically dreary. It entailed a couple of hours sitting stone-faced in a chair, staring out the window in inexorable boredom as their Lordships exchanged pleasantries with their peers.

Arriving at the hotel I gave a weary sigh at the thought of spending yet another day indoors. The streets were full of interesting faces and people in colourful garb glittering like the bay. Grandfather gave me a wink, rustling my hair as Johnny and I slunk out of the motor. He knew how hard it was for us. This time, however, he had a surprise waiting for us in the lobby. The Minister of Justice had two young boys accompanying him, very close on to our own age. We stared at each other, amidst the introductions, waiting anxiously to be released. Andre was the eldest and, like me, deported himself beyond his years. His English was so well spoken one might have taken him to have been educated in England, though we learned he had never gone beyond the boundaries of Jamaica. Trey was no more than seven or eight. He was a sprightly youngster whose curiosity knew no bounds. It did not take us long to become instant and life-long friends, racing down the hall to the outdoors.

Driven by the blistering sun, we headed first to the beach, spending the morning swimming in the lagoon and supping on ortaniques, ugli, and roasted breadfruit. After lunch Andre and Trey took us out past Charlotte’s Fort and around the cove to an old ship’s graveyard by way of the forest. There we transformed ourselves into the most ruthless pirates. We collected treasures of seashells, shiny rocks and discarded bits along the way, stopping at the picaresque pile of retired ships with great anticipation. It took a little doing to get Johnny to give up treasure hunting to climb aboard. He had done very well for himself, filling his pockets full of all sorts of bobbly bits while the rest of us fought off the British.

‘Come on, Johnny,’ I said, growing impatience at his reluctance. ‘You can dig for treasure later.’

Up until that point I felt I had been rather tolerant with him, but his constant lagging behind and drifting off had tested my patience. I wanted to play pirates with my new friends and I wasn’t about to let my little brother spoil it.

‘If you don’t come, I’m telling grand papa you wouldn’t listen to me,’ I insisted. I got nowhere, of course and felt a heavier hand was called for. ‘If you don’t listen, grand papa is going to send Mr. Willow away forever and ever and you’ll never get to see him again!’

I wasn’t deliberately trying to be cruel, though there was an angry part of me that wanted some sort of revenge for his insolence. Johnny wasn’t going to listen to me, nor would he care what grandfather thought, but there was one thing he did cared about. He was unusually close to Willow. In threatening to separate him from Willow I thought to give him a right good swat that would make him think twice before being disobeying me. Its effect, however, was vastly different than my intent. He stood there for a moment staring at me. I could see him trembling until a single tear escaped and ran down his cheek. His hand let go of his little bag of treasures and he sunk to his knees weeping inconsolably. It was heart-wrenching.

I rushed to his side, realising what I had done. ‘I didn’t mean it, Johnny. He’s not going to leave, I swear it. It’s alright,’ I consoled, rocking him in my arms.

‘What’s the matter?’ asked Trey, coming to see what had happened. ‘What’s the matter Johnny?’

‘It’s okay. He’s just upset.’

‘Why don’t he talk?’

It was such an innocent question, but one I hated to answer. For me, all I wanted was a normal life, but this one thing quite prohibited it. Johnny didn’t talk; he never talked. He hadn’t spoken a word over two years, ever since he saw mother gunned down outside of Willow’s Fulworth home. I cannot imagine what my brother saw, but it was enough to send him into a silent world of his own.

‘He’s just shy,’ I said, offering a small white lie.

It was at that moment, though no one realised it, that we held in our hands something that would greatly change the future. Though Trey was the younger of the two brothers and closer to Johnny’s age, what he did next cemented our friendship, which remains to this day.

‘Don’t be sad Johnny. You can have this if you want,’ Trey said, holding out what looked like an old thick coin with a hole in it.

‘Where did you get that?’ Andre asked as we crowded around him to have a look.

‘I found it.’

Johnny ran his finger over the surface of the coin as Trey held it open in his open hand. Then, as only a child can do, Trey put it in Johnny’s hand and draped a friendly arm over Johnny’s shoulder. In the next moment we all continued on as if nothing had happened. We were pirates again, racing down the beach to the old marina searching for a ship to take us across dangerous waters.

The Mutlah sat sadly in the water, slumping against a sandbar like a beaten dog. A break in the stern, rusted around its jagged edges, made her unseaworthy, but she was magnificent for hard adventurers like us. We climbed aboard, storming the deck with drawn swords, ready to take our prisoners. It was a fantastic place for adventure, with its dark eerie halls and rusted machinery. It stayed fairly steady in the water presenting no real threat at low tide. Still, it lent itself more as a ghost ship than for pirates. It took a vivid imagination to turn its modern features into ancient masts and sheet.

After hours of play, Andre and I discarded the past for more elevated discussions of girls and rock candy, Dickens and picture cartoons. We were leaned up against the railing watching Trey and Johnny captain the helm when the conversation grew thin. It was then that we came up with an idea, a terrible idea, that would have unforeseen consequences, both good and bad.

‘Want to scare our brothers?’

‘Sure,’ Andre agreed. ‘How?’

‘We’ll tell them the ship is haunted. Then, when they aren’t looking, you slip away and bang on the pipes and moan a little.’

Andrea agreed and with plans set we gave them a few minutes before telling them our little made-up history about the Mutlah and how it became haunted. They bought it hook, line and sinker, following closely behind us as we took them on a tour of the lower deck. The deck was lit by a dim filtered light coming from gaps in the rotting planks above. The smell of rotting canvas was everywhere, like the dusty wrappings of an Egyptian mummy. Our younger brothers hadn’t even noticed that Andre had slipped away. The look on their faces when he moaned softly through the vents was perfect. It was all I could do to keep from revealing myself through laughter. Trey was whimpering and Johnny was hauntingly captivated.

Suddenly, after the moaning was joined by a vague rustling sound, a shaking voice behind me asked a question that chilled me to the bone. ‘What was that?’

I turned around to see Andre’s ashen face, his eyes wide as the others, peering into the darkness to decipher the sounds. I found my whole body shaking, too afraid to move, for if we were all there, who was making the noise?

Bravely, Trey put a question to the darkness. ‘Who’s there?’

We had expected our younger brothers to be frightened and cling to each other, but we had not expected for the tables to be turned. A sudden bang sent us bolting towards the exit. With each terrible moan rising from the bowels of the ship we hastened our journey further. Trey was frightened to the point where he passed us at the ladder, making it down first and heeling off across the sand waving his arms. I did not look back, but followed swiftly at his heal until we were well away.

It wasn’t until we were out of breath and stopped, sinking to the ground, that I noticed Johnny was not with us. A cold faint chill started in the pit of my stomach and made its way to my spine. I was frightened as I had never been frightened before. My side was splitting with pain, but I ran all the way back as fast as I could to find him. My mind was a flutter with guilt and fear. He was no longer a five year old burden I wanted to rid myself of, but my little brother, helpless and in my charge. I reached the ladder and climbed as fast as I could, falling on deck out of breath, but when I managed to right myself I did not see him. You couldn’t hear the ghostly moans on the upper decks, and I could no longer hear them below as I searched the boat, peering in around the door as if my own prank were about to come to life on me. I found him, standing in the middle of the hall of the lower deck, staring into the darkness.

I touched his arm, gently as not to frighten him again, whispering ‘Johnny, are you alright? Come on, I’ll take you home.’

Johnny wouldn’t budge. He stood there like a statue, staring into oblivion by way of a broken and splintered door through a dirty pane of glass. My fear at the discovery of leaving him behind was nothing to the horror I felt at his apparent trance. I had seen it before, usually preceded by a violent seizure. I was never allowed to witness them. I would always be shuffled off just before I could really see, but I was well aware of how they affected grandfather. He always withdrew for hours afterwards in his study, remaining quiet for the rest of the night after putting Johnny to bed.

Unable to move him, I feared the prospect of an attack. With grandfather and Willow so far out of reach, I bolted back up the stairs and down the ladder of the boat, running full steam back to the hotel. I burst into the room not caring what trouble might befall me for the interruption. I was so out of breath I could barely get the words out, angered at my own incompetence. I did the only thing I could.

I turned to Willow, confident he would understand without further explanation. ‘It’s Johnny.’

Instantly Willow leapt from his chair, without regard to his old wound, bounding out the door with grandfather close behind. Fortunately for me we took the motor. I was exhausted. By the time we arrived back at the boat, Andre and Trey were standing on deck, rushing down the ladder at the sight of their father, pulling in behind. Grandfather and Willow did not wait for me, but climbed on board and found the quickest way below deck, fearing as I did, what might be found. They stopped at the sight of my brother, who was standing where I had left him, still unmoved. They fussed over him, looking for signs of damage, but found him sound.

They were then faced with the same perplexity as I had been. If he wasn’t hurt or in seizure, what was wrong with him? When Johnny still hadn’t diverted his gaze since their arrival, Willow looked in that same direction. Perhaps it was the light, or a matter of timing, but as we stared after, a figure momentarily moved behind the filthy frosted glass of the door. It appeared, in the half light, like a ghostly apparition moving occasionally across the face of it.

Willow tried the door, but found it locked. ‘Is there anyone in there?’

A muffled haunting sound, barely audible, filtered through the door. Willow pushed hard against the door until it broke open, sending him full inward. We all moved in closer, curious to see the ghost which haunted both my brother and the ship, but found something quite unexpected. A girl was bound to a post on the wall, knee deep water, which had begun pouring in at the rising tide. Her mouth was wrapped with sticKing plaster, which Willow freed. I took Johnny’s hand, following after, as they took her above. I was morbidly curious, huddling in as close as I could to learn more.

Willow sat down with her, putting his coat around her shivering body. She looked up at him gratefully, taking comfort in his fatherly arms. ‘It’s alright. You’re safe now.’

‘Who are you?’ she asked.

‘My name is John Willow. This is my friend and partner, Harold Stratford. Can you tell me your name?’

‘Victoria; Victoria Greendale.’

‘Miss Greendale, can you tell me how you came to be tied up in that room?’

‘I don’t remember really. My parents had gone out to dinner and I to bed. I was sleeping when someone came into my room and a hand push something onto my mouth. It smelled horrible. The next thing I knew I was waking up down there, tied up to the wall. Water began coming in, but I could not break free. I heard someone on the boat and tried to call out, but I couldn’t.’

Willow looked up at my grandfather. ‘Harry, fetch the police.’

While the others went for the police Willow and I learned a little more about the girl, but very little about the circumstances of her kidnapping. Victoria Greendale was eleven years old and had come to Jamaica with her parents two days earlier. Her father, Geoffrey Greendale, had been conducting business most of the first day so she stayed in the room with her mother. Last night her father had a business dinner with Mr. Parker and so the four of them set off about six, leaving her alone. She fell asleep around ten, but was violently awakened in the early hours by someone dragging her out of bed. Before she could scream they put a strong smelling cloth over her mouth and carried her to the ship.

It was exciting to have rescued a girl. It was a pirate’s adventure unparalleled, outside of it scaring us half to death. Subsequent versions, however, would surely show us infinitely braver. The girl safely in the arms of the police, we bid Andre and Trey a good night and were shuffled off to dinner and a bath. Johnny seemed well again and the prospect of having saved a girl from certain death quite prohibited sleep, allowing me to hear a quiet knock and muffled voices at the front door. I drew on my robe and tip-toed my way to the door, peering through the crack to see who it was. A policeman and a man in plain clothes were talking to grandfather, who led them into the front room to Willow. I had to sneak into the other room to hear, but from what I make out, it was about the girl.

‘Frankly, I don’t know what to do with her, my Lords’ the plainclothes man said. ‘I’m not even sure how the law applies here, which is why I came to you.’

‘They are American?’ grandfather asked.

‘At least Mr. and Mrs. Greendale are. We couldn’t find any identification for the girl. She wasn’t even registered at the hotel.’

‘Did you check with the servants? Perhaps they merely neglected to report her.’

‘Room service shows that there was never more than two meals ordered at any given time during their stay. I have my men checking other hotels in the area, but so far no one has reported anything of use.’

‘I presume you did have a look around?’

‘Yes, my Lord. The Greendale’s were gracious enough to let us search their personal belongings as well as the rooms. We found nothing, not even a picture of her.’

‘And you examined their travel papers?’

‘We did. Their travelling papers did not state a child, though I don’t know if American’s list them together or separately.’

‘No; if the child is under sixteen she it would have been customary to put her on her parent’s authorization papers.’

Willow, who had been silent to that point, spoke up. ‘We know they arrived two days ago. If they came directly to Jamaica from New York they would have used the Hamburg-American Line. Did you check their boarding papers?’

‘We did. They sailed from New York last Tuesday, arriving in Jamaica two days ago. Their travelling papers listed only Mr. and Mrs. Greendale.’

‘But,’ Willow insisted, ‘did you check with the shipping line, not just their tickets.’

The policeman was clearly out of his depth, though he did not know it. He could not follow the logical line of thinking. ‘What would that tell us? We already know the Greendale’s were on that ship.’

‘Yes, but do you know that the girl was? There are two possibilities: either the girl was on that ship or she was not. If she was not, your task will be to determine where she did come from. If she was on board she will have had a ticket, luggage, and a cabin assignment.’

‘What will that tell us? If her name isn’t Greendale, how are we going to pick her out from all the other children on that boat?’

Willow gave a disgusted look. ‘Excuse me; how long have you been a policeman?’

The policeman drew himself up in a proudly. ‘Going on fifteen years, sir.’

‘Really? Amazing. How many unescorted eleven year old girls do you know of who can go unnoticed on a ship across the Atlantic? If she was alone she would stand out. If she was travelling with someone, the manifest will show it. The manifest will give you the names and ages of all passengers. Check all the families with girls who are eleven years of age. Find the name that isn’t accounted for.’

‘But that could take days, even weeks! What do we do with the girl in the mean time?’

Willow turned to my grandfather, who gave a nod and took over, ending the interview. ‘Where is the girl now?’

‘We have her in hospital being looked after,’ the Inspector replied.

‘I think we may be able to make arrangements for her if she can spend the night there.’

‘I’ll see to it my Lord,’ the inspector agreed.

Grandfather walked them to the door and then walked back slowly, lighting his pipe.

‘You’re thinking of Morris and Anna, aren’t you? Not a bad notion. It would keep the girl accessible.’

‘I want you to do one other thing for me. I want you to send this telegram to a friend of mine in America first thing tomorrow morning.’

Grandfather examined it, taking another few draws on his pipe as he thought about it. ‘What are you thinking?’

‘I’m thinking we must get to the truth as quickly as possible. I do not like the facts as they are forming. Now,’ he said, returning to his seat, ‘talk to me about Manning. Tell me what is going on and how he fits into this new mess.’

I wanted to stay and listen, but Johnny was tugging at me to read him a story. William Manning was a Barrister; I knew that much, but what he had to do with the case I could not learn.

When I awoke the next morning I rushed to the front room for breakfast, hoping to beat Johnny to the coconut crusted Jamaican toast with rum praline and fresh whipped cream, which had an odd but delicious taste. I had just portioned out a large helping on my plate when I heard muffled voices on the terrace. Taking my plate with me, I made my way quietly over to the doorway and saw grandfather and Willow talking quietly to the inspector from the other day.

‘There is no evidence the girl is telling the truth,’ the inspector insisted. ‘We checked the manifest as you suggested. Mr. and Mrs. Greendale booked a cabin for two, and according to the manifest, only two occupied it. We ran through the list of eleven year old girls and found them all accounted for.’

Willow suddenly took a greater interest, obviously taken by surprise. ‘All?’

‘Yes my Lord. All but one remained on the island. The girl left was positively identified by her aunt, who lives here on the island. We did, however, find that one young lady was unaccounted for. Her name is Carol Gibbs, registered at the Montego Bay Shore hotel. Her luggage arrived, but the woman herself did not. Carol Gibbs is sixteen years old and occupied a cabin on the same floor as the Greendale’s. It might interest you to know that Miss Gibbs spoke at length with Mr. Williams, a man not unfamiliar with the wrong side of the law. She spoke to him on the ship and again after they arrived.’

Willow now seemed genuinely captivated. ‘What is the source of your information? I assume you have not spoken to the crew.’

‘No my Lord, we have not. The ship is currently in transit across the Atlantic. Mr. and Mrs. Greendale recalled the young lady, when we asked about Miss Gibbs, and claim they remember her talking to Williams.’

‘Did they know Williams by sight?’ asked Willow.

‘No, but they gave a good description of him though.’

‘And we are sure Miss Gibbs and Miss Greendale are one and the same?’

The inspector handed my grandfather a piece of paper, which made him scowl at whatever was on it before handing it to Willow.

‘Carol Gibbs, born February 4, 1897, Syracuse, New York to Marvin and Ruth Gibbs,’ grandfather echoed.

‘That child does not look sixteen,’ Willow asserted.

‘Never-the-less, Sir John, birth records prove that she is. She and Williams must have learned that the Greendale’s were travelling to Jamaica and followed them; no doubt they thought our police force wouldn’t bother or didn’t have the where-for-all to find out about her. Williams set the stage, securing Miss Gibbs to the boat, and then planned to go to the Greendale’s with the ransom note when your boys came upon Miss Gibbs, spoiling their plan.’

‘Blackmail? You intend on charging the child with blackmail? On what basis; that the child asked to see her parents? There was no demand for money.’

‘The Greendale’s are very wealthy. He has a business in America. Falsely claiming to be his daughter could be construe d as ransom. Certainly the publicity this incident will create could adversely affect his business interests if people believe the girl’s story. Maybe Gibbs and Williams are wagering that Greendale will offer to settle the matter to keep it quiet. It doesn’t matter though, your lads put a stop to that and we’ll make sure the law is upheld.’

‘What was Mr. Williams convicted of?’ asked Willow.

‘Assault with intent. He cut a man during a drunken row. And yes, the man owed him money.’

‘Well that is conclusive,’ Willow remarked, turning away and lighting a cigarette.

It was a clear sign that the interview was over and that Willow was not impressed with the inspector’s theory of the crime. Still, his abrupt and almost rude dismissal of the inspector reminded me very much of my father.

Willow waited just long enough for the inspector to leave before venting his opinion. ‘Charging a child with blackmail, it is absurd in the extreme! The man is an idiot.’

‘Perhaps, but that idiot is building a good case,’ grandfather replied, walking over to the desk and pulling out a telegram. ‘When were you going to mention this?’

Willow obviously recognised it, dismissively shrugging his shoulders.

‘No records found for VG, 1902 New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Will make further inquiries. Mike Burley. This telegram supports the Greendale’s story.

‘That child is not sixteen,’ Willow insisted. ‘Trust me.’

‘Then explain her presence on the boat, John? Everyone was accounted for.’

‘Which means someone is lying.’

Just then my fork dropped, which drew my grandfather’s notice. I rushed hastily back to table to find Johnny shuffling half asleep to his chair, and tried to make myself small should they choose to investigate the source of the disturbance. Fortunately, when grandfather stepped into the room, he merely regarded us for a moment, and retreated. I was left with a great sense of relief at my good fortune and my neglected breakfast to consider what I had heard.

As it was Monday, our morning was spent seated before a blackboard for lessons. The heat was unbearable, making concentration a keen torture. Whenever I looked over at Johnny he would be staring out the window, lost in his own thoughts. Giles, our tutor, was relentless and by one o’clock we were quite ready for any interruption.

I heard grandfather come in the front door and offered up a small prayer that he would come in and rescue us. He peered in and I gave him my best pitiful face, but I believe it was Johnny that softened his heart. He stopped his writing and looked soulfully up at grandfather, his face red and moist from the heat. Grandfather gave us a nod towards the door with a smile and we flew from our desks with lightning speed.

I had no more than reached the threshold of freedom when a knock came at the door. I was hoping it was Andre and Trey so I rushed back, stopping short when I saw that it wasn’t. Framed in the doorway was a tattered looking fellow. He was certainly not from the bar. He was dressed in old threadbare clothes and smoked a cheap brand of cigarettes, looking very unhappy with his audience. He reminded me of a criminal, facing my grandfather.

‘Sit down Mr. Williams,’ Willow beckoned him like a spider to a simple minded fly.

Williams stepped through, taking a dim view of being surrounded by his enemies. ‘I got your note. What do you want?’

‘To help.’

‘I don’t need help,’ Williams insisted.

‘I think you do. A girl was kidnapped and left to die on an abandoned ship. As she was under the age of sixteen the charge will, no doubt, be greater. Kidnapping and attempted murder is a serious offence, especially for someone who has a criminal record.’

‘It weren’t me! I didn’t take that kid. I ain’t done nothing.’

‘You spoke to the girl, on the boat.’

‘That ain’t a crime.’

‘No, not for an ordinary man, but your conditions are far from ordinary are they not Mr. Williams? You were also seen talking to her on the day she disappeared. It doesn’t look very good for you.’

William suddenly got very nervous. ‘Who are you? What do you want?’

‘I want you to tell me about your conversation with the girl. Tell me the truth or I’ll have my friend here quash your appeal and have you sent back to prison without the possibility of release.’

‘You can’t do that!’

‘Oh I’m afraid we can. You see, my friend here is not a mere judge; he holds the highest position in law. If he doesn’t like what you have to say he can, at his pleasure, put you back in prison for the rest of your life.’

Williams sank into the chair, squirming nervously.

‘Let’s start again shall we? You spoke to her.’

‘Alright yes. I talked to her.’

‘What did you talk about?’

‘Nothing!’

‘You were the only person to speak to her. The very evening she arrived she disappeared from her hotel room and was later discovered bound on a derelict ship, left there to die a dog’s death if your plan didn’t succeed. A plan for the purpose of extorting money from her parents. It all seem quite clear.’

‘No! You’re wrong, sir. I didn’t take her. All I did was talk to her that one time.’

‘Her parents saw you with her on the boat and again the day she disappeared. You wouldn’t be lying to me, would you Mr. Williams?’

‘No! I swear I just talked to her on the boat. We didn’t talk about nothing. She was sad, that’s all.’

‘Sad? About what?’

‘On account of her mom just died.’

Willow sat expressionless as the man related his account, but it was enough to make my grandfather unfold his arms and shift his weight against the door frame.

‘They left her alone. I suppose they had their reasons, but it weren’t no way to treat the poor kid. She looked so lost and alone. I just…’

‘She told you her mother died?’

‘Yeah. I was just trying to comfort her.’

‘If all you wanted to do was comfort her, why meet up with her again when you arrived?’ grandfather asked.

‘I didn’t!’

‘You were seen.’

‘It wasn’t me. I talked to her once on the ship. Her father barely let her out. We didn’t even get more than a few words in when she was drug off again.’

‘By whom?’

‘Her dad. He was pretty upset with her for leaving the room. I suppose talking to me didn’t help matters for her, that’s why I didn’t try and talk to her after we docked. I liked her, Mr. Willow. I didn’t want her to get in any more trouble cause of me.’

‘Thank you, Mr. Williams,’ Willow said, rising from his seat with some excitement, ending the interview.

‘You’re going to talk to the police, right? You’re going to tell them I had no part in it, right?’ Williams asked.

Grandfather escorted him out with reassurance. ‘We’ll have a talk with them. If what you told us is the truth, you don’t have anything to worry about.’

Williams looked unconvinced, but I could not stay where I was any longer without discovery and so could not hear the tail end.

‘Well, well, well,’ Willow remarked as grandfather returned, ‘that was a little unexpected, though, now that I think of it, I should have suspected.’

Grandfather took a moment to light his pipe. ‘I’m glad you’re on our side. You were a bit harsh. Do you believe him?’

‘Yes.’

‘But the police said the parents saw them together again outside the hotel.’

‘So they did. What do you make of the dead mother?’

‘Unfortunately it bears out the Greendale’s contention that the girl is not their daughter.’

‘Oh Harry,’ Willow sighed, ‘if anything it casts long shadows over everything they’ve said. What about the father pulling the girl away from Williams?’

‘Are we sure it was Mr. Greendale? All Williams knows is that the man acted like, or purported to be, her father.’

Jolting the moment, my brother, in his own inimitable way, burst into the room and went directly to Willow, showing him something he had found outside. It was useless to hang around waiting for the conversation to pick up again. Old law could be argued in front of us, but never an active case. I grabbed up my bag and fishing gear headed for the door, giving a shouted ‘Good-bye, I’ll see you for tea!’ as I whizzed by.

I didn’t get far. I had no more than put my hand on the doorknob when my grandfather called after. ‘Sheridan – what about your brother?’

‘Can’t I leave him here? Andre and I are going fishing on the jetty. We’ll take him swimming later, I promise.’

‘Alright, but don’t be too long. It looks like it’s going to rain.’

‘I won’t,’ I called back, already with one foot out the door.

 

Montego Bay held the most spectacular sights. Along the coastal road there were three coves strung together by jetties and breakwaters. Across the bay was a large island, which hid a large bay housing several smaller islands. Walking out to the tip of the jetty, on the smaller cove, I could get a very good glimpse of nearly all of it, and the fishing was perfect. Andre caught me up just after two and by three we had already caught a dozen fish between us. We didn’t keep any of them, but the various species were beyond belief.

By four the clouds had moved in, blanketing the sky. The wind had picked up to the point where it was dangerous to be on the coast unsheltered. We ran all the way back, but I still got caught in the storm between Andre’s house and the hotel. I arrived, soaking wet, to an empty suite and a note.

‘Sheridan – be back shortly – Pap Pap’

I was amazed at how cold I was. The windows were open and the breeze from the storm whipped the curtains wildly until I had to close everything. Towelling off was not enough so I drew myself a hot bath and settled into the warmth of its embrace. When I got out my family still had not returned and I found myself having nothing to do. I tried half- heartedly to read, but my attention kept wandering. The storm had passed, leaving a small drip from the roof with the sun trying to break through. After an hour I was reduced to pacing, continually looking out the window for them. I wandered around the suite, finally settling at my grandfather’s desk, and sorted through the mail.

With nothing of interest in the post I noticed a stack of telegrams at the back, stacked on a folded newspaper. They were mostly addressed to Willow; two of them from America and the other, from Greece. 

 

--GR found dead. Stop. Situation volatile. Stop. Please Advise. Stop. – RD
--No records for VG plus minus five. Stop. No immigration. Stop. – MB
--Ruling on KG murder. Stop. Can you send SH. Stop. – RD
--Five infants missing. Stop. Two bodies recovered. Stop. None viable. Stop. – MB
--CG died of influenza November 10 1905. Stop. – MB
--Parts requested unavailable. Stop. – Altamont
--DC unrecovered. Stop. – MB
--Price for part #130000 increased 3.05 Pesetas. Stop. Check importer. Stop - Altamont

Telegrams were notoriously short and obscure, reducing them to little more than a spotty one-sided conversation. The newspaper they were sitting on, however, gave me the clue to some of them. The headline read "Βασιλιάς George της Ελλάδας, νεκρός." the date was 18 March 1913 and the newspaper was from Salonika, which I knew was in Greece. And though I could not read Greek, I could make out the name George. There was only one Greek by the name George, famous enough to make the news: the King.

Hearing Johnny run down the hall, I quickly returned everything to its place and stood trying hard not to look guilty. Johnny burst through the door and made his way straight for me, handing me the remnants of what looked like a white mush covered in cream. He was so proud when he handed it to me, standing there with an ice cream on a cone, licked down to the brim and a smile a mile wide, I didn’t have the heart to turn it down.

I hadn’t realised how hungry I was until grandfather brought in Chinese take-away. I loved Chinese take-away. It had had a mix of flavours entirely unique, like Indian. I wouldn’t like either routinely, but the odd occasion kept me eager for the taste. Johnny and I started right in, barely waiting for Willow to come. He had lagged behind to answer the door, strolling slowly into the room still reading a delivered telegram. His expression as he handed it to grandfather told me it was not good news.

‘They’re leaving,’ grandfather replied.

‘He means to get away from me, but he won’t.’

‘Let it go, John.’

‘And the girl? What did she do to deserve this?’

‘Legally, our hands are tied.’

‘Oh stop hiding behind the law!’ Willow raised his voice.

The growing argument made me very self conscious about how I appeared. It was easy to figure out they were talking about the Greendale’s and the girl, but they never talked of current cases in front of us. I wanted to hear, but I was afraid, if I let on that I was paying attention, they would take the conversation in the other room or stop altogether. I looked over at Johnny, who stopped eating when Willow raised his voice, and kicked him under the table, motioning for him to continue eating. We both slowly put a bite of food in our mouths, chewing slowly as if somehow that made it less conspicuous.

‘I’m not hiding behind the law, John; I’m looking at the matter practically. The facts are that Mr. and Mrs. Greendale applied for travel papers without listing a child. They booked a small cabin typically used by a couple, not a family. No one on the boat saw the Greendale’s with Victoria except for Williams. Williams is a convicted criminal for assault involving money and was arrested for attempting to blackmail. His word that Mr. Greendale was the man who took her back to the cabin is shaky at best and he did not hear the man claim to be her father. We only have the girl’s word for that. No one saw them together at the hotel and there was no evidence to suggest the girl had been in their hotel room. Her luggage was found in another hotel under another name.

‘The travel papers for Carol Gibbs were applied for several days before the Greendale’s applied for theirs. She is sixteen and did not need to apply under her parents. Carol Gibbs booked her own cabin and hotel. Her luggage was sent to the other hotel and the order slip for the porter to take it was signed by Carol Gibbs. There is proof of some relationship between her and Williams, admitted to by all parties. It doesn’t have to be subversive, but it does forge a link. And what about motive? What possible motive do the Greendale’s have for setting up this elaborate hoax? The only losers would be them.’

‘Come on, Harry! You read the telegram. Carol Gibbs is dead,’ Willow tried to maintain his composure, seeing Johnny was getting nervous at the argument. ‘She died of influenza at the age of eight. She could not possibly have applied for her travel papers or booked a holiday. Someone used her birth record to hide Victoria’s identity. You know as well as I do what is going on here. You saw the telegram about the money.’

‘Yes, but there is no evidence to support it in law. And what you have to face is that Victoria could just as easily have applied for travel papers in Carol Gibbs’ name or had someone else do it, someone who looked older. No one saw them together and there is no evidence that the Greendale’s were involved in her abduction. They have no apparent reason to want to harm the girl.’

‘Not even one hundred and thirty thousand American dollars? They deposited that money the fifth of March, the same day Victoria was picked up from the convent.’

Grandfather shook his head. ‘The police questioned them about the money and they claim it was the proceeds of selling his business, which is entirely plausible.’

‘No small business is worth that.’

‘Then prove otherwise! The fact is you can’t. You can make no connection between the money, the girl and the Greendale’s at all. We must be prepared to look at the possibility that it will bear out the girl and William concocted this story to extort money from the Greendale’s and the boys inadvertently disrupted their plans.’

‘Yes, and saved that child’s life.’

‘Perhaps,’ grandfather conceded, ‘or she was never in danger because Williams could no longer carry out his plans. I’m sorry, John. It’s not enough. I suggest, when Anna and Morris come over this evening, we ask them to help find a permanent arrangement for the girl.’

Willow was not happy. He looked at Johnny and I, no doubt seeing that we had heard every word, and left. Grandfather became very quiet and I no longer found my dinner as flavourful as before.

Willow returned just as I watched Andre and Trey get out of the motor and head inside the lobby. Victoria was with them, staying close on beside Anna as they walked. She was a pretty girl. Her hair was an Irish shade of red, which she wore in a pony-tail with ribbons and a white floppy hat covered her freckled forehead like a lady. It was her smile though that caught my eye. There was something behind that smile, a sadness which gave lie to the message her expression was trying to convey.

The boys and I quickly separated from the adults and the young lady, bounding off for a game of war in the other room. As I was holding the British forces, I only managed to sneak off long enough to claim a toilet break as my excuse to hear what was going on in the other room. I stayed as long as I dared, fortunate that Willow only asked Victoria three questions. He asked her what she had for dinner the evening of her abduction, when her parents registered at the hotel if she had been with them and what her mother’s name was.

She said her father had brought in take-away for her and her mother because he had a lunch date with a business client. Her luggage had been mislaid by the porter on the boat and they spent the day trying to track it down, while her father checked them in at the hotel. But then Willow asked her something I could not have foreseen.

‘Mrs. Greendale is not your real mother, is she, Victoria?’

‘No. My mother died two months ago.’

‘I’m very sorry for your loss. What was her name?’

‘Angela Hartland. She was very beautiful.’

Willow smiled softly. ‘Miss Hartland, was it then that Mr. Greendale came for you, on the fourth of March, saying he was your father?’

‘Yes. Mother never spoke about him, even when I asked. My father said it was because he was married already. He told me he would have come sooner had he known about me, but mother never told him.’

‘About your father being married already?’

‘Yes, but it made perfect sense from other things she had said.’

‘When did your mother send you away to school?’

‘When I was very small, but she would always come to visit me on my birthday. I knew she was sick this last time,’ Victoria explained, ‘because we spent Christmas together and my birthday is in August. I tried talking to her about it, but all she didn’t want to. It made me think about my father. I would dream about him coming along with mother and we would be a family. When they told me that she had died I prayed for my father to come. And then my prayers were answered. My father came to get me. He said he was going to take me on holiday, just so we could get to know each other.’

‘And were you happy? Did you spend time with him?’ Willow asked.

‘Sometimes, but he was always so protective, even more than mother. He wouldn’t let me go anywhere. He didn’t want me to be alone, but he didn’t want to talk either. Halfway here, on the boat, I just wanted to get out for awhile. I wanted to see the ocean and see all the different people.’

‘He didn’t like that you left, did he?’

‘No. He got angry with me. When we pulled into port both my father and his wife got even angrier with me for losing my luggage. Mrs. Greendale, I mean my new mother, stayed with me at the boat trying to find it while father checked us into the hotel.’

‘But they didn’t find it, did they?’

‘The porter said they sent it onto the hotel, so we went on, but when we arrived it wasn’t there. Father went out later to go look for it. He brought back some dinner because it was getting late and then they had to get ready to meet a client of his.’

‘He went out to look for the luggage?’ Willow asked, looking at my grandfather.

‘Yes. Can I see my father now? Is he alright?’

Grandfather hesitated in telling her that it was not possible, unwilling as he was to offer up the unpleasant truth of the situation. The girl began to cry and with no one being able to answer, she wept all the more. She couldn’t understand and telling her the truth of the matter would be no easier for her. I felt my heart go out to her, remembering my own loneliness and longing at losing my mother, wanting my father but knowing I could not have either of them.

I hadn’t realised that Johnny had missed me and had come to look for me, nor do I know how long he had been standing behind me. His little hand rested momentarily on my shoulder as if to say he too felt her pain and then brushed past me. He walked past the adults, who tried to redirect him, but his path and determination held fast. He stood before Victoria and, unable to speak, he put his hand on her head. She looked up at him, her tears streaming over her cheeks. Johnny reached into his pocket, struggling to free its contents, and pulled out the medallion Trey had given him. He stretched forth his hand and, in offering it to her, provided the comfort no one else seemed able to give.

She took it ever so gently and smiled. ‘My necklace. Where did you find it? I thought I had lost it forever.’

Grandfather and Willow rushed to see it, taking it from her for closer examination.

‘That is very unusual. It looks Spanish in nature, don’t you think?’ asked Willow.

Grandfather nodded his head in agreement. ‘This symbol is indicative of the Spanish monarchy. It’s tarnished, but if you scratch the surface you can see that it is solid gold.’

Grandfather knelt down and put his hands on her arms. ‘Where did you get this child?’

‘My mother gave it to me. I’ve had it ever since I was a baby.’

Grandfather convinced her to let him keep the medallion for a day or so, changing the subject to ice cream and chocolate, which put a spring in my brother’s step all the way to the shoppes.

I had never been privy to my grandfather’s actual practice of the law. Johnny would often sit in court, but I had always remained detached, finding the banter of monotonous argument to be incredibly boring. Now, with the girl we saved at the heart of it I saw the whole story. I saw the victim’s suffering and the relentless search for truth. I saw the complexity of proving guilt and how that could affect a person’s life. I found myself eager to see the law applied, for without it, nothing else mattered.

Willow had been out all morning, while Johnny and I laboured to concentrate on our lessons again in unbearable heat. It was hot when we arrived in Jamaica, but never more so than on that day. The humidity made it ten times hotter and I felt as if my brain were melting. I could not conceive of how Andre and Trey managed to survive, let alone receive an education in such unbearable conditions.

Johnny, on the other hand, seemed overly anxious to learn, though not altogether what Giles had on the lesson plan. He opened his book, leafed through the pages, and returned it, looking in the pile for another and still another. The heat had boiled my brain or I should have realised sooner that he was looking for a picture of the medallion. He cared little for the Roman Empire, but cared very much about what grandfather was talking about. His pursuit of the missing puzzle piece negated any inconvenience of sweltering conditions. In the end, Giles threw up his hands in defeat. My brother could be very troublesome and frustrating at times, but I rather enjoyed those times where he overturned the adult world and let us fly free, especially during lessons. I wasn’t about to enlighten Giles to our little secret. Giles was a good teacher and would have gladly substituted a discussion of Spanish history for the comings and goings of the ancient Romans if he knew Johnny would have been all attention.

It was too hot to study and my mind was on other matters. I found my grandfather in the front room reading a book. It seemed cooler in there somehow. I sat in the chair opposite his and put my head back.

‘Lessons over for today?’ grandfather asked.

‘Johnny is still reading,’ I replied. ‘What’s going to happen to Victoria?’

I couldn’t believe the question blurted out of my mouth. I had never been so bold before and sank almost in fear having heard myself say it. Had I gone a step farther, being as bold as my brother, I would have told him the whole truth about my eavesdropping. I was terribly interested in his case. It wasn’t a long brief with reams of written testimony to sift through. It wasn’t pasty faced people sitting in court listening to partial truths interrupted by endless objection. It wasn’t about people I didn’t know or couldn’t imagine; it was about a girl I had helped to save. She was pretty and kind. I wanted to know who had done such horrible things to her and why. I wanted to serve terrible justice upon those who had committed the crime. It was real to me, as if I were part of it. Suddenly getting to the truth became a matter of life and death and our part could tip the balance. Getting to the law meant justice would set matters right. Law had vividly come to life and I could see why grandfather was so passionate about it. For the first time, I wanted to see the law in action.

‘Well,’ he said, putting down his book, ‘that depends.’

‘Her parents did it to her, didn’t they?’

‘Only a court of law can decide that.’

‘But you are the law. You can make them pay for what they did to her,’ I insisted.

Grandfather put down his book. ‘My little prosecutor; I should have pegged you more for defence. Tell me, which do you seek, law or justice?’

‘Aren’t they the same thing?’

He smiled. ‘Not always. Let me see if I can explain it. It is my job to apply the law. I cannot be persuaded by emotion or fact obtained outside the law. It is grandfather Willow’s job to apply justice. He is the human element, the emotion, the Knight Protectorate of the innocent and avenging angel of the guilty.’

‘But that makes you sound like the bad guy. I thought you put the guilty in jail.’

‘I do, but I cannot argue. All I can do is to make sure that whatever is said stays within the law and I must do so without emotion.’

I began to see the dilemma of his question. Even in my limited understanding I saw that each choice meant a sacrifice. If I sided with the law Victoria could lose even more than she had. If I sided with justice I may have to concede that not all the evidence could be presented. This would force me to admit my grandfather was not the all powerful man I thought he was.

‘Can’t I choose both?’

A pained look came over his face. ‘Come here,’ he said, giving me a hug. ‘Why don’t you take your brother swimming? You look hot.’

I knew then the difficulty of his profession. If he and Willow could not bring the perpetrators within the grasp of the law there would be no justice, but bringing them firmly within the law was not as easy as finding the truth. It was a hard concept to grasp and it took me many years afterwards to fully understand how difficult, what my grandfather was about to do, was for him. For me it was the beginning and I had to know.

‘Do you think, just this once, I could stay. I won’t say a word, I promise. I just have to know. I can’t explain it. I just feel responsible for her.’

Whether it was the pitiful expression on my face, my sudden interest in the law, or that he knew I had been eavesdropping little by little, I do not know. He kissed me on the forehead and agreed.

‘If I let you stay I need you to stay out of sight and quiet. Whatever is said or done you must not interfere. Do you understand?’

‘Yes sir.’

‘And I must ask one thing further of you. You cannot repeat what you see or here today.’

‘Not ever?’

‘Not for a very long time or it could hurt Victoria. Will you promise?’

I promised without understanding the full magnitude of it all, but I would not have given it up for the entire world. It set my feet upon a path I never had found cause to regret. Anna and Morris came to collect Johnny to spend the day with the boys, and as I waved my brother goodbye I knew I had passed the point of no return.

Willow arrived just after lunch, handing grandfather a fresh stack of telegrams. Willow seemed a little dubious about my presence, but gave no formal objection. He simply walked over to the cabinet and retrieved a large bottle of port, which he poured out for himself and grandfather. After about the second glass, downed rather quickly, Willow pulled over a small glass and filled it half full, placing it down in front of me. I did not understand what the consumption of port had to do with anything, but I swallowed it, feeling a true member of court.

It was horrible. I could not fathom why anyone would ever willingly subject themselves to such a taste. Willow then rearranged the chairs in the front room as if preparing a stage, draping grandfather’s High Court Justice Robes over one chair and his own court robes on the other. As he finished I began to see the vague resemblance of a courtroom. My adrenaline began to rush at the knock on the door and my body suddenly felt all tingly. Motioning for us to take our places, Willow composed himself and slowly opened the door.

‘Mr. and Mrs. Greendale; please come in.’

‘Our boat leaves in two hours. I fail to see why we should be summoned before a judge in his hotel room? Is this about that girl again?’

Willow motioned for them to have a seat, waiting to answer until they obeyed. ‘First let me introduce you to his Lordship, Justice Harold Stratford. He is the highest judicial authority representing His Majesty’s Court in all the provinces of the Realm. You may address him as ‘my Lord’. I am Justice John Willow and you may address me as Sir John. I feel at such a distance when people address me as my Lord,’ he offered with a friendly smile. ‘I am so sorry to detain you, but certain facts have come to our attention that requires we detain you a little longer.’

‘Is this normal procedure in Jamaica, to drag people from their hotels and haul them up before Lords and Judges in their hotel room?’

‘His Lordship felt, under the circumstances, that privacy and discretion would serve better than a public hearing.’

‘A public hearing? Concerning what? I don’t know how we can possibly be of help. We’ve already told the police we don’t intend on pressing charges. The girl is obviously delusional.’

‘Oh, I disagree. I think she is confused, misguided perhaps, but that is because she has been provided with erroneous information. Actually, she is a rather bright and personable young woman.’

‘Be that as it may,’ Mr. Greendale persisted, ‘I don’t see how we can be of the least amount of assistance. We had nothing to do with it.’

Willow turned sharply towards them. ‘Now that is a very interesting statement. So you no longer believe the girl was trying to blackmail you? You believe she was genuinely kidnapped?’

‘I didn’t say that. I simply meant that we have nothing to do with the girl or this entire affair. I don’t know what you think we can tell you?’

‘I think you can tell me the truth. Better yet, why don’t I tell you and you can correct any little misconceptions I might have. I’ll start with a little story. A young woman had a friend, a young man she had grown up with in one of the poorer sections of New York. They talked about everything together and even when the girl grew up they still corresponded. One summer she wrote to him about falling in love. Some month later she wrote to him in tears. She was going to have a child and there was no marriage prospect forthcoming. After the child was born, the two of them went to the state of Louisiana and placed the child in a convent school. Eleven years went by and just before Christmas the woman told her friend she was dying. Her only concern was for her daughter and made the friend promise that he would watch over her and that when she became of age to ensure she received her inheritance.

‘The young woman died and the friend began to think about his own life, his own failing business and his constant struggle to make ends meet. Then he thinks about one hundred and thirty thousand dollars sitting there for years promised to a child no one wants. The child doesn’t know the money is there. She’d never miss it and he would no longer need to worry about anything.

‘He gathers all the letters the young woman had written to him and has his wife write one or two new letters that ensure that others will confirm that he is the father of the child. It was a good plan, an excellent plan, but what to do with the child. It’s not his. He doesn’t want it, especially not an eleven year old. He would be obliged, in just a few short years, to give her finances of her own. A lie claiming that the mother left no inheritance might suffice, but the mother may have told the child of it. There was only one thing that could be done. Pick up the child, collect the money, go to some faraway country and discard the child.

‘The man and his wife find a dead child similar in age, apply for a duplicate birth record and apply for travel papers for the child in the dead girl’s name. Two cabins are purchased, one small enough that it could not be mistaken for housing more than one occupant and the other no bigger than could accommodate two.

‘The child was told to stay inside the cabin under some false pretence, not for her safety and comfort, but so that she would not be discovered, ruining their plans. In fact, keeping her from the public until after her death was paramount to the plan working. If she so much as talked to anyone or was seen by anyone, questions would be asked. So, in the middle of the night, after the child had gone to sleep, she was rifled out of bed, a handkerchief with chloroform was placed over her mouth and she was taken unconscious to a dark dank abandoned ship, which was to be her grave.’

Willow faced Mr. Greendale and pulled something from his pocket. As he let the pendant slide free and dangle at the end of the chain, I could see that it was the medallion Johnny had given Victoria. Willow moved in close, resting his one hand on the arm of Greendale’s chair and the other holding the medallion toward Greenwald, close enough that he could not help but examine the markings upon it.

‘The King of Spain wishes to know if his daughter’s necklace was ripped from her delicate neck and cast into the sea before you took her to her death or if it slipped from her young neck as you carried her through the dark night to her watery grave? You’re going to jail, Mr. Greendale, you and your pathetic wife. You’re not going to see the outside of those walls until you are ready to die the death of an old man.’ ‘Inspector!’ he shouted.

If I tell you now that my mouth fell fully open it would be nothing in comparison to the sudden shift in the Greendale’s posture. His body stiffened, his face drained of all colour and contorted itself in a rictus of terror. The woman buried her face in her hands and wept quietly. I wanted to jump up and applaud Willow for striking a blow so hard that it could provoke such a reaction in this fiend. But of course what Willow had related of the girl’s history couldn’t be true . Victoria was pretty and very kind, but hardly a princess. I knew all the monarchs of every country and none were named Hartland, not to mention that she grew up in a second rate boarding school and that Mr. Greendale had to offer proof of parentage to collect her. Those facts not withstanding, he was guilty alright, and I was glad Willow was giving him a right good thrashing.

But suddenly Greendale cracked. ‘No, that’s not how it happened! It was him! He told us to do it!’

‘Who? Who told you to kill her?’

‘Her father. He paid us to do it.’

Grandfather stood, his majestic presence quieting the room. ‘How dare you slander the name of a King to cover your crime of greed? You will go down, sir. You will be taken down for the kidnapping of a child under the age of sixteen, for the theft of her estate under falsehoods and for her attempted murder.’

‘No, I swear! Check if you don’t believe me. She didn’t have an inheritance. Sister Agatha can confirm it. Angela died penniless. She wanted to leave her daughter something, but had to cash in the insurance policy to pay for her medical bills. It’s true , I knew her. We were friends, like you said. She told me about the girl’s father. I always thought she was kidding when she said he was a prince, but after she died someone came to see me about the girl.’

‘Who?’

‘He never gave a name.’

‘On the fifth of March you were paid in pesetas. Was he Spanish, Mexican, Latin – what?’

‘I don’t know. He said he would pay us 130,000 dollars to fetch the girl. We didn’t forge the letters; they came from him, the father. Angela had written to him about him being the father and we used the letters to say that I was the man referenced. Sister Agatha remembered me from when Angela and I took the kid, so she believed me. Don’t you think we would have been questioned harder if there was that much money involved?’

Willow frowned. ‘So the King paid you to fetch the girl. Why try to kill her? Wasn’t the money enough? Were you blackmailing the King for more?’

‘No, I swear! When we got the girl we were sent travelling papers and tickets to Jamaica and told not to let anyone see the girl. Everything was already arranged for us. We didn’t know he was going to tell us to kill her. We didn’t know until we got here, until we went out to dinner that night. We met a man, just like we were told, who instructed us to kill the girl and dump her body in the ocean. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t murder a child.’

‘So you tied her up in a boat that you knew would fill with water and left her to die. That is still kidnapping and her abandonment in dire circumstances is tantamount to attempted murder.’

‘What could I do? I couldn’t do it myself, not with my own hands, but the man has men everywhere. He’s going to kill us when he learns that she’s not dead. I swear to you – that’s the truth!’

Grandfather paced for some time, saying nothing. Occasionally he would look up at Willow, but would then turn away, continuing on his path.

‘What did you report to the King of Spain?’ grandfather asked.

Greendale looked sheepish. ‘We told him that she was dead.’

Grandfather gave a nod and turned away, whispering something to Willow before turning back around. ‘Very well. We will detain you no longer.’

Standing, the Greendale’s seemed as surprised as I was. ‘You’re letting us go?’

‘Conspiracy to kidnap and murder a child is a serious offence, Mr. Greendale. Do not abuse my leniency with you by discussing what transpired here today with anyone. You have communicated that the girl is dead. Let that be an end to the matter.’

With a sigh of relief, rushing to the door, the Greendale’s did not waste time in their retreat.

‘One last thing,’ grandfather called after them, just as they came to the door, ‘pray our paths never cross again, or whatever crime you may have committed, no matter how small, will be met with the harshest punishment allowable by law. On that, sir, you may depend. You will forget the child ever existed.’

I stood there for a moment, too shocked to move, outraged at the total disregard for Victoria’s life. The door had no more than closed when I rushed at my grandfather, furious at the idea of him betraying his profession.

I practically screamed at him. ‘How could you? You let them go. You let murderers go!’

All the anger in the world seemed to pour out from me at that moment. I came as close as I ever dared to hating him. He understood, of course, that the anger had deeper connotations than one small solution that, for all intents and purposes, harmed no one. Johnny had closed himself off from the world and I – I kept it all inside until an opportune moment opened the gates. I wanted him to avenge my mother’s death. I wanted closure, which could only come at the hands of Justice. But she would not receive justice for many a long year. Not even the great Sherlock Holmes could provide a solution.

In that moment, with my anger filling me so that I could not see, my grandfather knelt and took me tenderly by the arms, his large soft hand stroking my face. ‘The solution to this case may have been difficult for you to understand, but necessary for you to see. Though it may take many years for you to grasp the full meaning of what transpired here today, it is my hope that it will temper your judgement on the Bench.’

‘I don’t want to be a judge. I hate the law,’ I shouted.

‘Do you remember what I asked you earlier? I asked which you would choose, to live by law or justice. You questioned why we could not have both. Usually when a child is born it is because two people, who love each other, marry and raise a family. Sometimes men do things that are wrong. They use women and then cast them aside with very little regard, often resulting in a child. Sometimes these scurrilous men are placed very high in the world and the law cannot always reach them.’

‘But everyone is bound to the law, even the King. You said so.’

‘Our King, yes, but the reach of the law does not always extend to those who rule another country. Victoria’s father was once a prince, now he is the King of Spain. His encounter with Victoria’s mother was a brief passion, an affair. He could not marry her, but Victoria’s existence was an embarrassment to him. I think we can be sure that his wife does not know about Victoria and her mother. Can you understand that?’

I begrudgingly gave a small nod. ‘Yes, but he didn’t have to try and kill her.’

‘I agree and had Victoria’s mother lived Victoria may have remained safe. However, when Angela Hartland died he stood the risk of people asking questions. It is typical for British Territories and Colonies, even former ones, to seek out surviving relatives for the child so that she is not an orphan and not a burden to the State. Now surely you can see how dangerous this would be for the King.’

‘He would have to take care of her and treat her like he treats his other children.’

‘Yes, but can you not see that he probably presented himself as a pure and righteous man to his prospective wife. It is tradition. Now, years later, when he is King and they have children of their own, a reputation to keep to their nation and to the world, his wife finds out that he has a daughter? You’re an intelligent young man. What do you think would happen?’

‘He would be disgraced. His wife and his people would not trust him.’

‘They would portray him in the worst possible light in every newspaper in the country, and in the countries of his enemies. One may argue, and rightly so, that he had other options. He could have paid to have her remain where she was, had her cared for by a trusted agent or even left matters alone, resting the burden of proving her parentage on others, but there was always the possibility of discovery. Mr. Greendale knew Angela Hartland had an affair. He had letters from her to prove it, and though they did not mention the prince by name, it was a dangerous link.

‘A good soldier knows that using one enemy to kill another is of an extreme advantage. So, he pays Mr. Greendale, to kidnap Victoria and kill her. Because Mr. Greendale has broken the law, he can never go to the police, and with Victoria dead there is no one left to threaten him. When you boys saved her you inconvenienced him greatly. Now the police are involved and Mr. Greendale is under suspicion for kidnapping and attempted murder. As you saw, he did not keep quiet about who was behind it all. You inadvertently outwitted a very powerful villain.

‘Yes, I could have had the Greendale’s arrested, tried and convicted for their crimes. But answer me this: what would happen to Victoria? She would not be entitled to the money her father gave Mr. Greendale to kill her. The King would suffer great suspicion and humiliation, so he would not like her very well. He would not bring her to live with him and I doubt he would give her money to live. With the King under suspicion of being the father she could not be adopted, so what would happen to her?’

I suddenly began to realise how precarious her situation really was. In applying the law, Victoria’s life would not be worth living. I had to agree, that was not the justice I had in mind. My anger melted away with the reality that the justice I wanted for her did not exist in the world we lived in. I looked with sagacious eyes at my grandfather and saw the great pain of his sacrifice. The law meant everything to him and yet, to find justice and peace for Victoria, he had to betray it.

‘What will happen to Victoria now?’ I asked.

‘Carol Gibbs’ death had no purpose other than suffering when she died. This time she will not die in vain, but her death will save the life of a girl who can live. The Greendale’s will slip away, probably hiding for the rest of their lives so as not to be caught out by the King of Spain or the British police, and Victoria will be placed with a family who will love her. She’ll get what she has always wanted.’

‘To have a family,’ I finished, now understanding.

It was a hard lesson, but grandfather was right; I needed to learn it. It has shaped my life and made me a better judge, if not a better person. We stayed on several more weeks, including Victoria in our pirate adventures and daily outings. She never learned about her father or what he tried to do. She was told only that her family had been randomly attacked and that she was the only survivor, thus releasing her from holding on to a family that did not exist. She eventually found a new family. An American judge and his wife adopted her the day before we left, having lost their own daughter to pneumonia.

It was a sad good-bye, especially for Johnny, who seemed to have gained a special friend in Victoria. I remember that she and her parents came down to the boat to say goodbye. Johnny didn’t want to let go. She knelt down in her pretty white dress with pink ribbons and floppy white Jamaican hat and kissed him on the cheek. He gave her a sea shell and she gave him the medallion. And as I sit by the fire running my hand over its intricate features I am reminded of how her ‘death’ gave her a chance at life and I hope against hope the same could be true for my brother. His body was never recovered from the torn and twisted metal of his motorcycle at the bottom of Beachy Head, and I hope, at each letter unaddressed, each phone call made without a word on the other end, that somewhere in the void between life and death, like Victoria, my brother will be.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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